Three centuries have rolled by since the accomplishment of the glorious Reformation. These centuries have a double aspect a Protestant, and a Papal. On the one hand, they present the spectacle of an era of liberty and light; and, on the other hand, of reaction and revolution. In the history of Protestantism these centuries have been an era of liberty, civil and religious. In A.D. 1500 there was not a free nation in Europe; all were subject to the tyrannical government of Rome. Now half Europe and America are free from that intolerable yoke. In the year 1500 there was hardly a Protestant to be found in the world; Rome had exterminated them all by prolonged and cruel persecution. At the present day Protestants are 150,000,000 in number.
And the last three centuries have been an era of light. At their commencement the human mind experienced an emancipation, and was furnished with new instruments. Learning was revived, and the art of printing discovered. Since then the Word of God has been multiplied, translated, and expounded as never before. And the understanding of prophecy has shared the general advance. During this time libraries have been written on the prophetic Scriptures. Mighty interpreters have been raised up, men such as Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, Elliott, whose investigations have drawn back the veil of long continued ignorance, and let in new light upon some of the darkest obscurities of the theme. Interpreters have risen in groups like constellations of stars, and knowledge has increased.
On the other hand, post-Reformation times have been times of Papal reaction and revolution. In the first place, the Protestant Reformation was encountered by a tremendous Papal reaction, the rising wave of life and liberty was met by a counterwave of resistance. Hardly was the ship of a Protestant Church set free and launched upon the deep than there arose a mighty tempest. The resurrection of the slain “witnesses” of Christ in the person of the reformers was answered by a resurrection of all the powers of the pit. The awakening of men’s souls brought war, ecclesiastical and civil, a war of anathemas and a war of extermination. Swords flashed forth, flames were kindled; Rome rose in its anger and its might, and did wondrously. She thundered excommunications, she slaughtered millions; not without an awful struggle would the prince of darkness give up his kingdom. No! Look to it, ye brave reformers; ye will need the armory of heaven and its help, for the hosts of hell are roused against you. Ye may conquer, but it shall be through strife and anguish, and seas of blood.
Draw up your confessions of faith, ye blessed restorers of a pure gospel; dare to give them to the world if ye will, but ye shall be stoutly answered. Against your Confession of Augsburg Rome shall erect her Council of Trent: she shall formulate her canons and decrees; she shall impose her Creed of Pius IV, and utter her chorus of anathemas.
Rise up, O Luther! cry out concerning “the Babylonian captivity of the Church,” burn the Papal bull, rouse Germany; but you shall have your match. Satan shall bring forth his Loyola, and Loyola his Jesuits subtle, learned, saintly in garb and name, protean in form, infinite in disguises, innumerable, scholars, teachers, theologians, confessors of princes, politicians, rhetoricians, casuists; instruments keen, unscrupulous, double-edged; men fitted to every sphere and every enterprise they shall swarm against the Church of the Reformation, each one wise in the wisdom and strong in the strength which are not from above but from beneath.
Rise up, Zwingle, thou lion of Zurich! lead forth thy brave Swiss against the enemies of liberty and truth! but ye must perish on the field of battle ere your cause succeed.
Ride forth, fair flower of France! strive, ye brave Huguenots, for your country’s freedom and the faith of the gospel! But Paris shall run with your blood; ye shall fall like leaves from a tree shaken by tempest; ye shall lie in heaps, like rubbish in the streets; your bodies shall choke the streams, they shall rot in rivers, they shall hang in chains, they shall be shoveled into cemeteries, or buried in dung-heaps. Rome shall ring her joy- bells and sing her Te Deums, and fill her cathedrals and palaces with acclamations because the massacre of St. Bartholomew has overthrown, for a time, the work of the Reformation in France.
Stand up, ye Hollanders! stand up, William the Silent! stand up, ye men of Haarlem and Rotterdam, of Amsterdam and Leyden, ye brave burghers and earnest theologians. Ye dare to contend for civil liberty and sacred truth: your land shall groan beneath the tread of Alva’s troops; your fortresses shall fall, your citizens shall be thrust through with Spanish swords, your possessions shall be plundered, your wives and your daughters shall be dishonored and foully murdered, your children trampled beneath horse-hoofs, and trodden down like mire in the streets.
Break thy chains, O England! Rome shall find means to rivet them again; thou shalt have thy bloody Mary, and thy fires of Smithfield. Protestant bishops shall burn for it; against thy seagirt isle Spain shall send her proud armada; a fleet of one hundred and thirty great ships of war shall come across the seas, twelve of them named after the twelve apostles; they shall be laden with seamen and troops, with swords and guns, with priests and Jesuits; the pope shall bless the banners. Woe to thee, O England, if Heaven help thee not, if its winds forsake thy cause!
Combine yourselves together, ye Protestant states of Germany: claim your rights of conscience; stand for the truth; establish your Protestant liberties: but you shall have your desolating war of thirty years! From Bohemia to the broad waters of the Scheldt, from the banks of the Po to the shores of the Baltic, whole countries shall be devastated, harvests destroyed, cities and villages reduced to ruins! half Europe shall be set on fire, and civilization shall be buried for a season in bloodshed and barbarism.
The apostate Church commands the swords of Latin Christendom the harlot rides the beast, and the beast has claws and great iron teeth, and sharp, strong horns, and inhuman ferocity: she sits proudly upon it, and it obeys her, grasping, rending, and crushing whom she will. But what if the beast should grow weary of carrying her? What if the beast should take a dislike to her usurping ways? What if it should resist her, and cast her off and turn its power against her, and serve her as she had served others? Ah! that would be a different story, but not an experience unforetold. John foresaw it would be thus eighteen centuries ago, and history has fulfilled his predictions: for Romish reaction was followed by democratic revolution; 1572 was followed by 1793, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew by the Reign of Terror. France Papal crushed France Protestant, and was crushed in its turn by France infidel. Have you not heard of Voltaire, of Rousseau, of Robespierre, of Danton, of the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, of the massacres in Paris in 1793, of the guillotine, of the noyades or wholesale drownings, of how the river Loire was choked with corpses, of the war in La Vendee, of the worship of the goddess of reason, of the turning cathedrals into stables, of the forty thousand churches, chapels, and oratories tom down by the revolutionists, of the massacre and banishment of priests and Jesuits, of the burning of palaces, the beggaring of princes, the overthrow of monarchy and government and aristocracy and corrupt religion, as by the heavings of a social earthquake, or the outburstings of an irresistible volcano? Have you not heard of how the infidel democracy rose in its might, struck down the powers which had deceived and oppressed it, confiscated all the vast revenues of the Church, the domains of the Crown, the estates of the nobles, “slaughtered one million and twenty-two thousand persons, of all ranks and ages, and both sexes, till the streets of Paris ran with blood, and the guillotines could not overtake their work”? And have you not heard how a little later on the Papal States were conquered by Napoleon, and converted into a Roman republic; how the Papacy was extinguished, the Vatican plundered, ecclesiastical property confiscated, and the pope dragged from the altar, and sent as a prisoner to die in exile? Are not these matters of history, and of recent history? Here is Thiers’ “History of the French Revolution”; here is Alison’s history of that revolution, in twelve volumes; and here is Carlyle’s history of the same, written as with a pen of fire. It is but a century since these things were accomplished, and the after-waves of that mighty revolution are rolling still.
These two great movements which have followed the Reformation, the Papal reaction of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the Revolution of the 18th century, have mightily helped to open men’s eyes to the true character of Romanism, and to the fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures. The last three centuries have consequently witnessed a great advance in the comprehension of prophecy, and we are this evening to study the expositions which have resulted.
First, note the fact that Rome’s reply to the Reformation in the 16th century included an answer to the prophetic teachings of the Reformers. Through the Jesuits Ribera and Bellarmine, Rome put forth her futurist interpretation of prophecy. Ribera was a Jesuit priest of Salamanca. In 1585 he published a commentary on the Apocalypse, denying the application of the prophecies concerning antichrist to the existing Church of Rome. He was followed by Cardinal Bellarmine, a nephew of Pope Marcellus II, who was born in Tuscany in 1542, and died in Rome in 1621. Bellarmine was not only a man of great learning, but “the most powerful controversialist in defense of Popery that the Roman Church ever produced.”
Clement VIII used these remarkable words on his nomination: “We choose him, because the Church of God does not possess his equal in learning.” Bellarmine, like Ribera, advocated the futurist interpretation of prophecy. He taught that antichrist would be one particular man, that he would be a Jew, that he would be preceded by the reappearance of the literal Enoch and Elias, that he would rebuild the Jewish temple at Jerusalem, compel circumcision, abolish the Christian sacraments, abolish every other form of religion, would manifestly and avowedly deny Christ, would assume to be Christ, and would be received by the Jews as their Messiah, would pretend to be God, would make a literal image speak, would feign himself dead and rise again, and would conquer the whole world Christian, Mohammedan, and heathen; and all this in the space of three and a half years. He insisted that the prophecies of Daniel, Paul and John, with reference to the antichrist, had no application whatever to the Papal power.
The futurist writings of Ribera and Bellarmine were ably answered by Brightman, of whose work on the Apocalypse, published about the year 1600, this is a copy; and they have been answered since his time in a succession of learned works which I cannot stop to enumerate: for I desire to dwell upon another, and, as I regard it, a more important phase of prophetic interpretation marking the last three centuries, a phase not of a negative but of a positive character. Protestant interpreters have done more than answer the false futurism of the Church of Rome. They have built up the true historic interpretation of prophecy; they have built up a solid and symmetrical system, a system which has developed slowly, which has progressed constantly, which has been born not of diligent investigation only, but of profound experience; a system whose truth has been sealed and demonstrated by its ever-growing correspondence with the actual course of events. True theology, like true science, is slow in development. The growth of astronomy, for example, has extended through six thousand years. The system of Ptolemy was corrected by that of Copernicus; that of Copernicus was advanced by the laws of Kepler and the wonderful discoveries of Newton; and then further perfected by the Herschels and many others in recent times.
Keeping strictly to the prophecies relating to Romanism and the Reformation, I will now endeavor to show you some of the analogous progress which has been made in their comprehension during the last 250 years. The following names represent a complete pillar of prophetic interpretation: Joseph Mede, Sir Isaac Newton, Jurieu, Vitringa, Daubuz, Fleming, De Chesaux, Bishop Newton, Faber, Cunninghame, Keith, Bickersteth, Wordsworth, Elliott, and Birks. Their principal works are on this table, and I will now briefly trace the progress they exhibit in prophetic interpretation made in the last two and a half centuries.
Joseph Mede was a fellow of Christ’s College in Cambridge, and lived in the first half of the 17th century, the century immediately succeeding that of the Reformation. He was a man of great learning and diligence, and deep insight into the Divine word, and made prophecy his special study. Dr. Twisse, who was prolocutor in the Westminster Assembly of Divines, wrote a preface to Mede’s work on the Apocalypse, in which he says that “as it is written of the virtuous woman in the Proverbs of Solomon, ‘many daughters have done virtuously, but thou surmountest them all,’ so it may be said of Mede’s exposition of Revelation: many interpreters have done excellently, but he surmounteth them all.” Mede’s key to the Apocalypse, written in Latin, was translated into English by Richard More, one of the burgesses in the English Parliament; and the House of Commons published that translation in 1641, the year of the great massacre of Protestants in Ireland. Here is a copy of that work published by the House of Commons. The Puritan Parliament set its seal thus upon the historical antipapal interpretation of prophecy, and upon this valuable work of Joseph Mede. Mede did what no interpreter had previously done; he laid down the important principle, that, for the correct understanding of the Apocalypse, it is necessary, in the first place, to fix the order of its principal visions apart from the question of their interpretation. Accordingly Mede sought to exhibit the synchronism and the succession of these visions, or the order of the prophecies contained in the Apocalypse. Setting aside and ignoring for the time all question of the meaning of these prophecies, he endeavored to demonstrate from the visions themselves the position they occupy with reference to one another. Their mutual relations once proved serve as a most valuable clue to their significance. Mede prefaces his work with the prayer: “Thou who sittest upon the throne, and Thou, O Lamb, Root of David, who wast only worthy to take and open this book, open the eyes of Thy servant, and direct his hand and mind, that in these Thy mysteries he may discern and produce something which may tend to the glory of Thy name and profit of the Church.”
The first synchronism which Mede establishes is that of what he calls a “noble quaternion of prophecies,” remarkable by reason of the equality of their times. First, of the woman remaining in the wilderness for three and a half times, or as it is declared in the prophecy, 1,260 days; second, of the beast whose deadly wound was healed ruling forty-two months; third, of the outer court of the temple trodden underfoot by the Gentiles for the same number of months; fourth, of the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth 1,260 days. Mede points out that not only are these times equal, but they begin at the same period and end together, and must therefore synchronize throughout their course. The events of the last 250 years have confirmed Mede’s interpretation as to the general synchronism of these times, but they have also shown that these periods should be reckoned from an era rather than from a point of time; and that they terminate in a corresponding era. The three and a half times of prophecy date from the era of the rise of the Papal and Mohammedan powers, and extend to the era of the overthrow of those powers; in which era we are living at the present day. Let me refer you to a work on this subject which I published a year ago, entitled “Light for the Last Days,” tracing these prophetic times, and the eras of their commencement and close. Mede established several other synchronisms; as, for example, one between the revived Roman head of Revelation 13, and the two-horned, lamb-like beast, which John calls elsewhere “the false prophet,” which acts for the revived head. He shows that the two are inseparable companions; that they are together alike in their rising and in their ruin, that the one exercises the power of the other, and thus, whatever be their meaning, that they are necessarily synchronous. He then traces the position of the remaining visions of the Apocalypse as they stand related to these, showing which precede these central visions, which synchronize with them, and which succeed them; thus making out and establishing the connection and order of the entire series of visions; and this, as I have already stated, apart from all question of interpretation. Having gone through the book of Revelation thus, Mede next proceeds to expound and demonstrate its fulfillment in the events of history.
I have said that Mede’s work on Revelation was approved and printed by the Puritan Parliament. Just at that time the Westminster Assembly of Divines drew up its most valuable Confession of Faith, a Confession subsequently accepted by the national Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Here is a copy containing a list of the hundred Puritan divines who met in the Westminster Assembly, headed by the name of Dr. William Twisse, the prolocutor, who wrote the preface to Mede’s work to which I have already referred. The Westminster Confession of Faith endorsed the historical interpretation of prophecy, and declared the Roman pontiff to be the predicted “man of sin.” Weigh well the following words of the Westminster divines upon this subject, embodied in the 25th chapter of their solemn declaration of the things they held and taught on the authority of Scripture. “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ, nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof but is that antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ and all that is called God.”
One of the divines who put his hand to this statement was the famous Puritan writer, Dr. Thomas Goodwin, of London, and he has left us an exposition of the book of Revelation of which this is a copy. It belongs, I need hardly say, to the historical school, and describes the Apocalypse as “the story of Christ’s kingdom.”
Sir Isaac Newton followed Mede and the Puritan writers and further advanced the comprehension of prophecy. He was a Christian as well as a philosopher, and took delight in studying and comparing the works and word of God. The vastness of his genius led him to the most extensive views of things natural and Divine. He studied nature as a whole, history as a whole, chronology as a whole, and, in connection with these, prophecy as a whole. While Mede directed his attention especially to the Apocalypse, Newton investigated both it and the book of Daniel, tracing out their connections with the course of history and chronology, utilizing in the latter his unrivaled astronomical skill. Here is a copy of his “Observations on the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of John,” printed in the year 1733, six years after his death. In the first chapter Newton says: “Among the old prophets Daniel is most distinct in order of time, and easiest to be understood, and therefore in those things which relate to the last times he must be made the key to the rest. In the third chapter he says: “The prophecies of Daniel are all of them related to one another as if they were but several parts of one general prophecy given at several times. The first is the easiest to be understood, and every following prophecy adds something new to the former.” “In the vision of the image composed of four metals the foundation of all Daniel’s prophecies is laid. It represents a body of four great nations which should reign over the earth successively, viz. the people of Babylonia, the Persians, the Greeks, and Romans; and by a stone cut out without hands which fell upon the feet of the image and brake all the four metals to pieces and became a great mountain and filled the whole earth, it further represents that a new kingdom should arise after the four, and conquer all those nations, and grow very great, and last till the end of all ages.” In chapter 4 he says: “In the next vision, which is of the four beasts, the prophecy of the four empires is repeated with several new additions, such as are the two wings of the lion, the three ribs in the mouth of the bear, the four wings and four heads of the leopard, the eleven horns of the fourth beast, and the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days sitting in judgment.”
In chapter 7 he expounds the “little horn” of the fourth beast, with eyes as a seer and a mouth speaking great things, and changing times and laws; and shows it to represent a power both prophetic and kingly, and that such a seer, a prophet, and a king is the Roman Papacy. He traces its rise, and the contemporaneous rise of the ten horns at the fall of the western Roman empire. He traces also its dominion, and anticipates its doom at the close of the foretold period. He interprets the days of prophecy as years, reckoning, to use his own words, a prophetic day for a solar year. He shows the futurity in his time, and proximity of the worldwide overthrow of the Papal power. He says that the time had not then come perfectly to understand these mysterious prophecies, “because the main revolution predicted in them had not yet come to pass. In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets; and then the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign for ever.” Till then, he says, “we must content ourselves with interpreting what hath been already fulfilled.” He adds: “Amongst the interpreters of the last age there is scarce one of note who hath not made some discovery worth knowing, and thence I seem to gather that God is about opening these mysteries.”
He points out that an angel must fly through the midst of heaven with the everlasting gospel to preach to all nations before Babylon falls and the Son of man reaps His harvest, and says: “If the general preaching of the gospel be approaching, it is to us and our posterity that those words mainly belong, ‘In the time of the end the wise shall understand, but none of the wicked shall understand.’ ‘Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.'”
How marvelously has Sir Isaac Newton’s anticipation of a general preaching of the gospel been accomplished in the glorious evangelization of the world during the last century!
This judicious writer expressed it as his opinion to Whiston, his learned successor, that the Church of Rome was destined to be overthrown by a tremendous infidel revolution; in other words, that superstition would be trodden down by infidelity. Remembering that Sir Isaac Newton died half a century before the French Revolution, this was a very remarkable anticipation!
One of the most important features of Sir Isaac Newton’s work is its exposition of the use of symbolic language in prophecy. He lays it down as a principle, that “for understanding the prophecies we are in the first place to acquaint ourselves with the figurative language of the prophets.
This language is taken from the analogy between the world natural, and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic.” The prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse being symbolic in their language are not to be interpreted literally. In these books the sun, moon, stars, earth, fire, meteors, winds, storms, lightning, hail, rain, waters, sea, rivers, floods, dry land, overflowing of waters, drying up of waters, fountains, islands, trees, mountains, wilderness, beasts, as the lion, bear, leopard, goat, with their horns, heads, feet, wings, teeth, etc., are all symbolic; they are symbols of things of a different nature, though things analogous to these, or in some sense resembling them. On this principle, for example, the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are symbolic, and do not represent two actual men from whose mouth literal fire proceeds, and who literally shut heaven, and literally turn waters to blood, and smite the earth with literal plagues, and who are slain and lie dead for three and a half literal days, and then literally rise from the dead, and literally and visibly ascend to heaven in a cloud; nor is their ascension followed by a literal earthquake, and a literal fall of the tenth part of a literal city, and by literal lightnings, voices, thunderings, and hail. All these are symbols of other things, and their literal interpretation is an absurdity. Futurists utterly degrade these solemn and majestic predictions by their pernicious attempts to expound them on the principle of a literal fulfillment. The first step in the direction of the comprehension of these prophecies is the consistent recognition of their symbolic character. A sufficient number of these symbols are divinely interpreted for us, to serve as a clue to all the rest, as when a beast is explained to represent a kingdom, and a candlestick a local Church. The second step to a comprehension of symbolic prophecy is the settlement of the meaning of the various symbols which they employ.
Contemporaneous with Sir Isaac Newton there were several great Huguenot expositors of prophecy. Among these I may name Jurieu and Daubuz. Both these were exiled Huguenots, and belonged to the five hundred thousand Protestants who were compelled to leave France by the persecuting action of Louis XIV in revoking the Edict of Nantes. Their sufferings under the Papal power turned their attention to the prophetic word, and in it they found support and consolation. Jurieu, for example, begins his prophetic work with the sentence: “The afflicted Church seeks for consolation. Where can she find it but in the promises of God?” Here is a copy of this work by Jurieu, published in 1687, entitled, “The Accomplishment of the Scripture Prophecies; or, The Approaching Deliverance of the Church,” “proving that the Papacy is the antichristian kingdom, and that that kingdom is not far from its ruin; that the present persecution may end in three years and a half, after which the destruction of antichrist shall begin, which shall be finished in the beginning of the next age, and then the kingdom of Christ shall come upon the earth.”
Here is another work published at the same period by one of the exiled Huguenot ministers. Its title runs thus: “A New System of the Apocalypse: written by a French Minister in the year 1685, and finished but two days before the dragoons plundered him of all except this Treatise.” The author anticipated that the reformed religion overthrown by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes would be again reestablished in three and a half years; which it was in the most remarkable manner, though not just as he expected. The great English Revolution, which brought about the re- establishment of Protestantism, followed three and a half years after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and these men lived to see it, and to rejoice in it. The author of this little work points out the futurity at that time of the vials on Papal Rome, in which he was evidently correct. Here is another Huguenot work of the same period, written by an exiled minister, describing the way in which all Protestants throughout France had been forbidden, under the severest penalties, to assemble for the worship of God; and also forbidden to leave the country under pain of the galleys or even condemnation to death. This work traces in a very remarkable way the similarity of the experience of the reformed Church in this last great Papal persecution, to that of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes in the time of the Maccabees. It contains in an appendix the famous bull of Pope Clement XI, condemning a hundred Jansenist propositions as “false, pernicious, injurious, outrageous, seditious, impious, blasphemous,” etc. The hundred propositions taken from the works of the Jansenists are given here, and they are all most excellent and in perfect harmony with the teachings of Scripture. Among them are the following:
“Proposition 79. It is useful and necessary at all times, in all places, and for all sorts of persons, to study the Scripture, and to understand its spirit, piety, and mysteries.”
“Proposition 84. It is to close to Christian people the mouth of Jesus Christ to take from their hands the holy word of God, or to keep it shut in taking from them the means of understanding it.” In other words, to take the Bible out of the hand of Christian people, or to take away from them the means of understanding the Scripture, is to shut the mouth of Christ Himself as far as they are concerned.
“Proposition 85. To forbid the reading of Scripture, and particularly of the gospel, to Christians is to forbid the use of light to the children of light.” Which proposition also the pope condemns as an insufferable and abominable doctrine, and adds: “We forbid to all the faithful of both sexes to think, teach, or speak on these propositions in any other way than as we lay down in this constitution or bull; and whoever shall teach, understand, or expound these propositions, or any of them, in public or private in any other way than is laid down by the pope, subjects himself to the severest censures and condemnations of the Church, and incurs the indignation of Almighty God, and of the holy apostles Peter and Paul.” All the propositions cited by Clement XI in this bull, and condemned by him as “scandalous, impious, blasphemous,” are as scriptural as those we have quoted.
I have mentioned Daubuz among these exiled Huguenots. He was the author of a large and learned commentary upon the Apocalypse of considerable value, with which I must associate, as belonging to the same period, the “Commentary on Revelation” published by the learned Dutch professor, Vitringa. Here are copies of these two works. Vitringa’s was published in 1695, and the commentary by Daubuz in 1720. They both belong to the historical school, and exhibit an erudition of the widest range, both secular and ecclesiastical, embracing Hebrew, Greek, and other literature bearing on the interpretation of prophecy.
The well-known prophetic student Robert Fleming lived at the time of Vitringa and Daubuz. He published, in the year 1701, a small but remarkable work, of which this is a copy, entitled, “The Rise and Fall of Rome Papal.” Its theme is the relation of Papal and prophetic chronology. Fleming shows, as others had done for many centuries, that the 1,260 days of prophecy represent 1,260 years, and advocates their interpretation upon the intermediate or calendar scale, which would shorten the whole period by eighteen years. Reckoning from the most important dates in the rise of the Papacy, and guided by the prophetic times, Fleming indicated two years then future which would be marked in all probability by crises in the overthrow of the Papal power, the years 1794 and 1848; he also mentions 1866. Now it should be remembered that Fleming published this work in 1701, and that the French Revolution fell out at the first of the dates which he indicated the Reign of Terror took place, as you will remember, in 1793; and that the year 1848 brought another tremendous crisis in Papal history. The revolution that year broke out in Paris on February 23rd, and before March 5th every country lying between the Atlantic and the Vistula had in a greater or less degree been revolutionized. On March 15th, a fortnight after the fall of Louis Philippe, a constitution was proclaimed at Rome, and the pope fled to Gaeta, and was subsequently formally deposed from his temporal authority, and an Italian republic proclaimed. The year 1866 was equally or even more important, as introducing the series of Papal defeats which culminated four years later, in 1870, in the overthrow of the Papal monarchy in France, and the fall of the Papal temporal power in Italy.
“Is it not a proof that this historical expositor Fleming was working on right lines, and had seized the true clue, that he should have fixed, nearly a century beforehand, on the close of the eighteenth century as the commencement of the era of Divine vengeance on the Papal power, and have pointed out, within a single year, the very central period of that signal judgment; 1 and that he should have similarly indicated the years 1848 and 1866 as years of Papal overthrow, saying, with reference to the former, “We are not to imagine that this vial will totally destroy the Papacy, though it will exceedingly weaken it, for we find it still in being and alive when the next vial is poured out”? The vial which succeeds he interprets as the judgment on the Mohammedan power, especially as existing in Turkey; and by the vial which follows that again, the seventh vial, he understands the final destruction of Rome or mystical Babylon. He says: “As Christ concluded His sufferings on the cross with this voice, ‘It is finished,’ so the Church’s sufferings are concluded with a voice out of the temple of heaven, and from the throne of God and Christ there, saying, ‘It is done.’ And therefore with this doth the blessed millennium of Christ’s spiritual reign on earth begin.” 2
About fifty years later than the time of Fleming, or in the middle of the last century, was published a work by a Swiss astronomer named De Cheseaux, entitled “Historical, Chronological, and Astronomical Remarks on Certain Parts of the Book of Daniel.” A copy of this book exists in the British Museum. It demonstrates the astronomic character of the prophetic times. It proves, in the clearest and most conclusive way, that the 1,260 years of prophecy, and the 2,300 years of prophecy, and also the period of 1,040 years which is their difference are astronomic cycles of one and the same character, luni-solar cycles, or cycles harmonizing the revolutions of sun and moon, and affecting the order of time dealt with in the calendar. These discoveries are of the deepest interest. As M. de Cheseaux says: For many ages the book of Daniel, and especially these passages of it, have been quoted and commented on by numerous and varied authors, so that it is impossible for a moment to call in question their antiquity. Who can have taught their author the marvelous relation of the periods he selected with soli-lunar revolutions? Is it possible, considering all these points, to fail to recognize in the author of the book of Daniel the Creator of the heavens and of their hosts, of the earth and the things that are therein?
I cannot enlarge at the present time on De Cheseaux’s discoveries. If you desire to know more about them, you will find a chapter on the subject in my work on the “Approaching End of the Age.” I must notice one more writer of the last century, the excellent Bishop Newton, whose deservedly popular work on prophecy has gone through so many editions. Newton acted on Lord Bacon’s suggestion, expressed in his “Advancement of Learning,” that a history of prophecy was wanted, in which every prophecy of the Scripture should be compared with the event fulfilling it. The twenty- sixth dissertation of Newton’s work recapitulates his exposition of the prophecies relating to Romanism. In it he says: “The prophecies relating to Popery are the greatest and most essential, and the most striking part of the revelation. Whatever difficulty and perplexity there may be in other passages, yet here the application is obvious and easy. Popery being the great corruption of Christianity, there are indeed more prophecies relating to that than to almost any other distant event. It is a great object of Daniel’s, and the principal object of St. Paul’s, as well of St. John’s prophecies; and these considered and compared together will mutually receive and reflect light from, and upon, each other.” Bishop Newton considered that the sounding of the seventh trumpet, or pouring out of the third woe, the woe of the vials, upon the Papacy was still future in his day, and he was evidently correct, as he lived before the time of the French Revolution. He held also that at the fall of the Ottoman empire and the Christian antichrist the Jews would turn to the Lord and be restored to their own land, and says that the prophecies relating to the conversion and restoration of the Jewish people are simply innumerable. 3
We must now, in the last place, briefly consider the progress made in prophetic interpretation during the present century. I have already said that the French Revolution cast a flood of light upon the whole question of prophetic interpretation. It strongly confirmed the historic view, including its leading feature, the year- day chronology of the prophetic times.
Faber and Cunninghame wrote very fully upon this subject during the first twenty years of the century, showing the true measure and position of the “seven times” of prophecy, as extending from the rise of the four monarchies to the fall of the fourth, in the days in which we live; and of the three-and-a-half times as reaching from the rise to the fall of the Papal power.
Among the most valuable expositors who have succeeded these I may mention Keith, who deals mainly with the evidential side of prophetic interpretation. One of his most important works is entitled, “History and Destiny of the World and the Church according to Scripture; or, The Four Monarchies and the Papacy.” He quotes throughout, from first to last, the testimony of the Romanists themselves, in confirmation of his assertions. His work is an unanswerable argument for the Protestant interpretation of prophecy.
The time would fail me to speak of the works of the well-known Bickersteth, or to refer in detail to the many able writers in England, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and America, who within the last fifty years have expounded Scripture prophecy on the historic principle. I can do no more than say a few sentences in closing about three of the greatest of these writers, Bishop Wordsworth, Revelation E. B. Elliott, and Professor Birks, of Cambridge.
The works of the late Bishop Wordsworth, that learned and eloquent commentator, demonstrate with perfect conclusiveness that Rome Papal is the Babylon of the Apocalypse. Wordsworth understood the Church of Rome better than any commentator, Elliott excepted, in recent times; and he was familiar also with the entire history and literature of the Christian Church. His testimony on the fulfillment of prophecy in Papal Rome is such as to settle the question finally for all intelligent and unbiased minds.
The learned commentator, Dean Alford, who was a semi-futurist, says: “I do not hesitate..to maintain that interpretation which regards Papal and not Pagan Rome as pointed out by the harlot of this vision (Revelation 17). The subject has been amply discussed by many expositors. I would especially mention Vitringa and Dr. Wordsworth.”
While quoting Dean Alford, I would warn you against the snare into which many have fallen, of trusting themselves implicitly to the guidance of Greek scholars such as Alford, Tregelles, and Ellicott, in the study of prophecy. These students of the letter of sacred writ have their place and value, and should stand high in our estimation; but their special work did not qualify them for the comprehension of the far-reaching system of prophetic truth. The instrument they employ in their researches is the microscope, not the telescope. You cannot scan the starry heavens, or the breadth of the earth, with a microscope; you need a telescope for that.Greek scholars of such eminence are naturally short-sighted. They pore over manuscripts, words, letters, points. They seldom grasp the meaning of history of prophecy as a whole. They generally neglect the philosophy of history, and the light which astronomy has cast on the chronology both of history and prophecy. Besides this, they are too much influenced by traditional testimony, by the views of antiquity. The notions of the Fathers as to an individual, short-lived antichrist, notions which grew up in the twilight of early times, weigh more with them than the teachings of ages of subsequent experience. Wedded to the past, they are blind to the progressiveness of prophetic interpretation. They do not grasp the simple principle that the true interpreter of prophecy is neither tradition nor speculation, but ever-evolving history; that prophecy must be studied in the light of its fulfillment, and the future in the light of the past. Prophecy is vast, mountainous, and far- reaching sight is needed for its elucidation. A Christian philosopher like Sir Isaac Newton, accustomed to the study of the facts and laws of nature, and the entire course of history and chronology, is a far safer guide in this extensive subject than a Greek scholar whose whole business is the study of words. The man with the microscope sees small points uncommonly well, but he fails to perceive great general relations. As he does not steadily contemplate these relations, they produce no vivid impression upon him, and he is often led to conclusions totally at variance with the whole course of experience, and even with the teachings of common sense.
Not that all scholars however are shortsighted. Occasionally scholars are met with like Revelation E.B. Elliott and Professor Birks, both fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge, equally able to use the microscope and the telescope. Unquestionably the most learned and able work ever written upon the book of Revelation is Mr. Elliott’s “Horae Apocalypticae.” The late Dr. Candlish, of Edinburgh, no mean judge, describes Elliott as “among the most learned profound and able expositors any of the books of Scripture ever had.” 4
Elliott’s commentary on the Apocalypse is to historic interpretation what Butler’s “Analogy” or Paley’s famous work is to the evidence of Christianity a solid foundation. It is learned, candid, and conclusive. It assumes nothing without ground. It deals with unquestionable facts, and that too with great fullness. It compares history with prophecy in a more elaborate way, at all points, than any work which preceded it. In style it is somewhat involved and overloaded, and its ten thousand references repel the superficial reader; but it will remain a masterpiece of exposition while the study of the sure word of prophecy endures.
Professor Birks, of Cambridge, while equal to Elliott as a scholar, and nearly equal to him in painstaking research, was his superior in philosophic grasp and logical ability. He was a comprehensive synthesist, a keen analyst, a convincing reasoner, an eloquent writer. He was accurate, clear-headed, patient in investigation, fair in statement, ripe in judgment. His works are an intellectual feast, as well as full of spiritual instruction. One of his books, that for example on “The Earlier Visions of Daniel,” is worth more than all the futurists ever wrote on prophecy put together. His work on the “First Elements of Sacred Prophecy” is an overwhelming answer to futurism. Dealing with the most learned and masterly works in exposition and defense of that system which have ever appeared, those by Maitland, Tyso, Burgh, and Dr. Todd, without an effort it shivers them to fragments, and scatters them to the winds. It is a pity that this work has long been out of print, and that futurism is left to flourish in certain quarters in ignorance of this able demonstration of its error and absurdity.
I shall ever esteem it as a great privilege to have known Professor Birks. To him I communicated the earliest discoveries I made on the astronomic nature of the prophetic times discoveries afterwards embodied in my work entitled “The Approaching End of the Age,” now in its tenth edition. Of my subsequent investigations on the same line I will say nothing here, save that I have partially published, and hope yet more fully to publish, the evidence that the whole of revealed chronology Historic, Levitical, and Prophetic is so related to natural chronology, or the time order of nature, as to form with it a single system, united and harmonious in all its parts. This is an important department of the connection of the natural and revealed; a connection involving the unity of their authorship. Nature and Scripture are not the works of two minds, or of many, but of one. They are two testaments, but one book, and as such are the work of the same Divine Author.
And now in conclusion. We have traced in these last three lectures the antiquity, the practical use, and the systematic development of the historical interpretation of prophecy the interpretation which regards Rome as the Babylon of the Apocalypse, and the Roman pontiff as “the man of sin.” We have shown that the historical interpretation was the earliest adopted in the Christian Church; that it developed with the course of history; that it sustained the Church through the long central ages of apostasy; that it gave birth to the Reformation; that it has been since confirmed by the events of several centuries, and elaborated and defended by an unbroken series of learned and unanswerable works. In vain do the waves of controversy rage against this stately rock. It has stood for ages, and is destined to remain till the light of eternity shall break upon the scene. The historic interpretation is no dream of ignorant enthusiasts. It is no speculation of fanciful, ill-balanced minds. It has grown with the growth of generations; it has been built up by the labors of men of many nations and ages. It has been embodied in solemn confessions of the Protestant Church. It forms a leading element in the testimony of martyrs and reformers. Like the prophets of old, these holy men bore a double testimony a testimony for the truth of God, and a testimony against the apostasy of His professing people. The providential position which they occupied, the work they accomplished, gave singular and special importance to their testimony; and this was their testimony, and nothing less, that Papal Rome is the Babylon of prophecy, drunken with the blood of saints and martyrs; and that its head, the Roman pontiff, is the predicted “man of sin,” or antichrist.
To reject this testimony of God’s providential witnesses on a matter of such fundamental import, and to prefer it to the counter-doctrine advocated by the apostate, persecuting Church of Rome, is the error and guilt of modern futurism.
And that futurism is self-condemned. Futurism is literalism, and literalism in the interpretation of symbols is a denial of their symbolic character. It is an abuse and degradation of the prophetic word, and a destruction of its influence. It substitutes the imaginary for the real, the grotesque and monstrous for the sober and reasonable. It quenches the precious light which has guided the saints for ages, and kindles a wild, delusive marsh-fire in its place. It obscures the wisdom of Divine prophecy; it denies the true character of the days in which we live; and while it asserts the nearness of the advent of Christ in the power and glory of His kingdom, it at the same time destroys the only substantial foundation for the assertion, which is prophetic chronology, and the stage now reached in the fulfillment of the predictions of the apostasy.
But in spite of the injurious effects of these false interpretations, “the foundation of God standeth sure”; none can cancel the prophecies which He has written in His holy word, and none can deny or destroy the mighty and far-reaching results which their true interpretation has already accomplished in the world. It has given us, and this is its glory, it has given us the REFORMATION. It has broken the iron chains of superstition and despotism, and lifted nations from the depths of their abasement. It has reared a temple whose walls no enemy can ruin. It has reopened, it has given back to the world, that book whose teachings have led millions into the way of life and peace.
And the sacred light of these prophecies is still guiding the Church of God across the wide ocean of her dangerous way. Those steadfast stars of prophecy which lighted of old the persecuted Waldenses through the darkness of the middle ages, which lighted the progress of the Lollards and the Bohemians before the Reformation, which lighted the noble reformers through gloom and tempest three hundred years ago, and which have since lighted watchful saints through troubled centuries, are shining still in that high and holy firmament, whence no mortal hand can pluck them down; and they shall shine on those thousand glittering stars of prophecy till they have fulfilled their glorious mission, till they have guided the Church in safety to her celestial haven, and their long-enduring radiance melts at last in the rising splendors of eternal day.