Elements of Prophecy: 2. Historical School

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Chapter 2
The historical school allege in favor of their view certain presumptions, such as these:—
(1) That it is the nature of scripture prophecy to occupy a continuous range of divine providence, and that this must he especially true of such detailed and symbolic visions as those of Daniel and John; (2) that the writers of the primitive church almost unanimously contradict the theory of a future crisis, and agree with the Protestant interpreters on the most material points; and (3) that the discordance of those who contend for a convergence on the end of the age is fatal to the alleged superiority of their interpretation in point of simplicity, harmony, and clearness.
(I.)—The following scriptures have been produced to prove, not only that the inference is unsound, but that the allegation is entirely false. The test chosen is to take the leading prophecies in order from the first and to observe the length of the continuous period over which each of them extends.
1. Gen. 3:1515And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15) is supposed to denote a continuous period of seven thousand years from the death of Abel to the judgment. But surely this is an arbitrary view, and though in the scripture there may be included the enmity between Satan and man, no spiritual mind can fail to discern that according to scripture the grand bearing of it is found in the two great crises of the cross and the appearing of the Lord Jesus.
2. Gen. 6:33And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3). No one doubts the striving of God's Spirit, or, at least, the days of man an hundred and twenty years; but again, the interest is concentrated on the judgment which closes all rather than spread that interval.
6. Gen. 22:16-1816And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: 17That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice. (Genesis 22:16‑18). Gal. 3 shows us that no long period is the point meant, but Christ the risen Seed of Abraham through whom blessing comes to all the nations. The Jewish promise of supremacy for the countless seed of Abraham is as yet unfulfilled. There is no question here of a space of 4000 years, but of the consequences of Christ's first coming and of His second.
7. Gen. 49:3-273Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch. 5Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. 6O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their selfwill they digged down a wall. 7Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. 8Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. 9Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? 10The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. 11Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: 12His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. 13Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon. 14Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens: 15And he saw that rest was good, and the land that it was pleasant; and bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute. 16Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. 17Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. 18I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord. 19Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last. 20Out of Asher his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties. 21Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words. 22Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall: 23The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: 24But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:) 25Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb: 26The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren. 27Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil. (Genesis 49:3‑27). Here too, in the scattering of Levi, we think not so much of a space as of a fact. There is more ground to speak of continuance in the case of Judah; but it is to me clear and certain that the gathering or obedience of the nations to Shiloh is yet future. It is the kingdom, not the gospel, which is before us here, and a future crisis, not past or present history.
9. Lev. 26 No doubt the chapter speaks of past sorrow and desolation; but the remembrance of Jehovah's covenant and of the land, when Israel repent, is absolutely future.
11. Deut. 32:7-437Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee. 8When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel. 9For the Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. 10He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. 11As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: 12So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. 13He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock; 14Butter of kine, and milk of sheep, with fat of lambs, and rams of the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the fat of kidneys of wheat; and thou didst drink the pure blood of the grape. 15But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. 16They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. 17They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. 18Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. 19And when the Lord saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. 20And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. 21They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. 22For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. 23I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them. 24They shall be burnt with hunger, and devoured with burning heat, and with bitter destruction: I will also send the teeth of beasts upon them, with the poison of serpents of the dust. 25The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also with the man of gray hairs. 26I said, I would scatter them into corners, I would make the remembrance of them to cease from among men: 27Were it not that I feared the wrath of the enemy, lest their adversaries should behave themselves strangely, and lest they should say, Our hand is high, and the Lord hath not done all this. 28For they are a nation void of counsel, neither is there any understanding in them. 29O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end! 30How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up? 31For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges. 32For their vine is of the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrah: their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter: 33Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps. 34Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures? 35To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste. 36For the Lord shall judge his people, and repent himself for his servants, when he seeth that their power is gone, and there is none shut up, or left. 37And he shall say, Where are their gods, their rock in whom they trusted, 38Which did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offerings? let them rise up and help you, and be your protection. 39See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. 40For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever. 41If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. 42I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy. 43Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people. (Deuteronomy 32:7‑43). I see nothing properly to be styled a history of Israel in their own land in verses 7-20 extending over a long period, but rather Jehovah's blessing, Israel's rebellion, and then His judgment, morally pronounced, followed by its execution; then the day when Jehovah's hand will take hold on judgment to render vengeance to His enemies. Is not this crisis rather than the continuous range of events regulated by providence?
12. Deut. 33:5-115And he was king in Jeshurun, when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together. 6Let Reuben live, and not die; and let not his men be few. 7And this is the blessing of Judah: and he said, Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people: let his hands be sufficient for him; and be thou an help to him from his enemies. 8And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; 9Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. 10They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law: they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt sacrifice upon thine altar. 11Bless, Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands: smite through the loins of them that rise against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again. (Deuteronomy 33:5‑11). Past discipline appears here and there, but the prophecy points to the known and final crisis. What we see in the Pentateuch is abundantly confirmed in the rest of the Old Testament. Hence we may conclude that, with few exceptions, the nature of prophecy is to deal in crisis rather than to occupy a continuous range of providence. At another season we may look into the symbolical and detailed visions of Daniel and John in detail.
(II.)—It is supposed that a full induction of facts proves that the writers of the primitive church agree with the Protestant interpreters on the following points:—
1. That the head of gold denotes the Babylonian empire, not the person of Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon and Persia in one.
2. That the silver denotes the Medo-Persian empire.
3. That the brass denotes the Greek empire.
4. That the iron denotes the Roman empire.
5. That the clay mingled with the iron denotes the intermixture of barbarous notions in the Roman empire.
6. That the mingling with the seed of men relates to intermarriages among the kings of the divided empire.
7. That the lion denotes the Babylonian empire.
8. That the eagle wings relate to Nebuchadnezzar's ambition.
9. That the bear denotes the Medo-Persian empire.
10. That the rising on one side signifies the later supremacy of the Persians.
11. That the leopard relates to the Macedonian empire.
12. That the four wings denote the rapidity of Alexander's conquest.
13. That the fourth beast is the Roman empire.
14. That the ten horns denote a tenfold division of that empire, which was then future.
15. That the division began in the fourth and fifth centuries.
16. That the rise of the ten horns is later than the rise of the boast.
17. That the vision of the ram and he-goat begins from the time of the prophecy.
18. That the higher horn of the ram denotes the Persian dynasty beginning with Cyrus.
19. That the first horn of the he-goat is Alexander the Great.
20. That the breaking of the horn, when strong, relates to the sudden death of Alexander in the height of his power.
21. That the four horns denote four men's kingdoms into which the Macedonian empire was divided.
23. That the expedition against Greece is that of Xerxes, B.C. 485.
24. That the mighty king (ver. 3) is Alexander the Great.
25. That the king's daughter of the south is Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy Philadelphus.
26. That the one from the branch of her roots is Ptolemy Euergetes.
27. That the sons of the king of the north are Seleucus Ceraunus and Antiochus the Great.
28. That the battle (ver. 11) is that of Raphia.
29. That the battle (ver. 15) is that of Panium.
30. That the daughter of women (ver. 17) is Cleopatra, daughter of Antiochus the Great.
31. That the expedition (ver. 18) is that of Antiochus against Greece.
32. That the prince (ver. 18) denotes the Roman power.
33. That the death of Antiochus is predicted in verse 19.
34. That the raiser of taxes is Seleucus Philopator.
35. That the letting person or thing (2 Thess. 2) is the imperial power of Rome.
36. That the Apocalypse begins from the time of John.
37. That the first seal relates to the early triumphs of the gospel.
On the other hand it is allowed that the early Christian writers are opposed to the Protestant school as to the following weighty points:—
1. That the ten toes denote individual persons.
2. That the ten horns denote the same.
3. That the little horn (Dan. 7) is an individual king.
4. That the times, time, and a half of Daniel are three and a half years.
5. That the period of Dan. 8 is 2300 literal days.
6. That the 1200 days, and 1335 days in Dan. 12 are to be taken literally.
7. That the man of sin (2 Thess. 2) is an individual.
~8. That the 42 months are three and a half years literally.
~9. That the 1260 days are literal.
~10. That the two witnesses are individuals.
11. That the beast and the false prophet are two individuals.
12. That the ten kings (Rev. 17) are individuals. The points are marked with ~ where concurrence is but partial. Thus some at least of the ancients apply the toes of iron and clay, or divisions of the empire, not to the barbarian kingdoms which sprang up in the 4th and 5th centuries, but to the kings of it at the very end, whom the Lord will find and crush at His second advent; as they also interpreted the little horn in Dan. 8 of Antiochus rather than of Antichrist, and some of the periods indefinitely.
But it is a total mistake that any, save a few extreme futurists who never exercised influence on serious souls in general, differ from the former list, save as to 35 and 36 in part. Thus the letting power is, I believe, the Spirit of God, and this not merely as dwelling in the church, but yet more distinctly as acting governmental in divine providence. Hence the ancient reference was imperfect rather than false. Corrupt as Babylon is, it is not yet the apostasy nor the man of sin revealed. He who letteth acts still, though imperial Rome is long gone. The Holy Spirit is that power and person who hinders as yet the display and working of the lawless one, whatever governmental means He is pleased to employ in the world's government. Again, I do not doubt a general application of the Revelation since the time of John, viewing the seven churches as past, instead of as “the things which are” followed by the rest of the book as converging on the great future crisis. Of 37 the less may be said, as almost every person of intelligence has now abandoned the old fancy of early gospel triumph and among them the very person who first drew up this list.
But it must be repeated, that among sober Christian inquirers the long first list is accepted on all sides; so that the second tells against the historical interpreters with unbroken force. This demonstrates how far any are justified in affirming that the Protestants have the warrant from antiquity tenfold on their side. The truth is that in all their distinctive features they stand wholly unsupported and opposed.
Yet one must frankly allow that no importance whatever should be attached to early tradition. Scripture, and scripture alone, is the only sure arbiter, the sole reliable source of the pure truth of God; and the children of God should be the more jealous on this score, as we see around us the unmistakable results of recurrence to tradition in the revived Judaism of our day. It is ridiculously ignorant however to suppose that the mass of Christians who look for the brief future crisis of a personal Antichrist in Jerusalem and a revived Roman empire to be destroyed by Christ in person have ever questioned these thirty and more points any more than the dozen which follow. The representation to the contrary is a mere disreputable trick of controversy, unless indeed those who made it knew very little of the real thoughts of those who have most studied prophecy in our day.
(III.) The last head remains to be noticed, the discordance of such men as Drs. Maitland, Todd, and Burgh, of Messrs. Tyso, &c. The believer is in no way concerned in defending the discrepancies of all, any more than the desire on the part of some to palliate Romanism. They were none of them men who took their stand in simple faith on the word and Spirit of God. Nevertheless, faulty and rash as their interpretations may be, and in points of detail often at variance with one another, they did service in recalling attention to the neglected and imminent end of the age, “the time of harvest,” as in other senses, so for prophecy also. There would be little edification in occupying the reader with a collation of their mutual contradictions or with those of the Protestant school, which simply show how far both are from deserving confidence. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light (no morning) in them.” The Christian has no interest save in God's communications, which are very sure, and make wise the simple. In keeping them there is great reward.
Here too appears the importance of seeing that the manifestation of God's glory in Christ is the proper object of prophecy. Had this been seen and held firmly, men could not have lost themselves in vain efforts to find in the past or the present what answers not to it save in scanty measure. Before Christ God was proving in every form the first man: since His rejection and the accomplishment of redemption on the cross, the Holy Spirit is revealing the mystery hidden from ages to the church, as well as publishing the gospel to every creature. It is of the scenes called the consummation of the age, συντέλεια τοῦ αἰῶvος, as well as of the subsequent kingdom, when the Son of man is manifested in power and glory that prophecy treats, whether in the Old Testament or in the New. Rarely does the Spirit touch on any circumstance of guilt on man's part or of judgment on God's, without going onto these solemn times which introduce the days of heaven on the earth; and this is just as true of the symbolic visions of Daniel and John as of the rest, although there is no doubt expressed in the last a more systematized series.
But other dealings of God at the time of the prophet were but inchoative and germinant: the crisis is, as the rule and with very few and slight and evident exceptions, the plane of incidence where prophetic words and visions and types meet in Christ, then revealed and no longer hidden as now the center, of all things in heaven and on earth. To stop short of this, and arrest the mind meanwhile on analogies supposed or even occasionally real, is not only an error fatal to the true understanding of prophecy but bears evidence of a heart not in accord with the mind and purpose of God in glorifying His Son. For special reasons there might be a chain of comparatively ordinary events in providence revealed, as for instance from the first and through the greater part of Dan. 11, where in scripture historical account fails. But even there it is but introductory, as invariably, to the great principle of crisis. For we are only brought down continuously on the one hand to Antiochus Epiphanes and his iniquitous efforts against the Jews, the temple and the law, with the disastrous issue for himself, his instruments, or his victims, and the Maccabean stand on the other hand. Then follows a vast break, and we are abruptly landed in presence of the last willful king in the land of Judea, and the final conflicts of the kings of the north and the south, terminated by divine intervention and the deliverance of the chosen people. It is plain to any upright and intelligent mind that, whatever be the importance of every word (and this it is not for me to deny or weaken), the grand point of the Spirit is to direct all hearts to the tremendous catastrophe of the close, which follows, not the merely introductory thread of continuous facts, 2000 years past, but the vast gap, after Antiochus Epiphanes and the Maccabees, till the personal Antichrist reigns in the land, the old jealousies of the north and the south reproduce themselves round devoted Palestine and the Jews, and the power of God interferes to put down all rebels within or without, and establish the wise and holy in peace under the reign of Him who is Ancient of days no less than Son of man, and who must yet be honored on earth as well as in heaven to the glory of God the Father. “And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us; this is Jehovah; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” The risen saints will reign along with Him over the earth, but from their own proper heavenly sphere: He is head to the church over all things.