Without study of the prophecies, no adequate idea can be obtained of the kingdom.
PROPOSITION 17. Without study of the prophecies, no adequate idea can be obtained of the kingdom.
The doctrine of the kingdom is a revelation from God, and “God spake by the Prophets,” for “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (Luke 1:70, 2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16, etc.). The descriptions of it come to us mainly through prediction, embracing a Divine Purpose pertaining to the future beyond the power of human sagacity and knowledge to discern and portray.[*]
Note. Fairbairn (On Proph.) has the correct idea, when, as the Amer. editor remarks, “We find as the result that prophecy is a sublime portraiture of the Kingdom of God.” How faithfully he followed the prophetic portraiture is another question.
Obs. 1. Hence arises the necessity, if accurate knowledge of the Kingdom is desired, of receiving what God, through the prophets, has revealed concerning it. Jesus was the subject of prophecy, and we know that He truly came because in Him the prophecies pertaining to His First Advent were strictly fulfilled. Jesus and the apostles constantly appeal to this: that the Scriptures testified concerning Him, and that their testimony was true, being verified. Precisely so with this Kingdom; for it is the great theme of the prophets, and we can only know that it has really come when the predictions relating to it are realized.[*]
Note. Prophecy has been compared (Wilson’s Three Sermons, p. 6, quoted by Stanley) “to a golden thread” stretching to the end of the web. But in our estimation it is more than this: it is the warp, the golden chain into which time fills and weaves its threads, the latter interlinked and supported by the former. It contains the substance of Revelation and History. Strike out of the Scriptures Prophecy, fulfilled and unfulfilled, and the very essence of them the most precious portion—is also removed. The early Fathers, when they designated the Prophets “Theologians,” were evidently impressed by the profound relationship that their utterances sustained to our knowledge of divine things. The church, if it desires an increase of knowledge, must return to this Scriptural attitude. Some writers in their haste and eagerness to oppose the study of Prophecy (because we lay much stress on it), tell us that its doctrinal aspect is of little account, and dare to assert, that “the folly of basing a tenet upon unfulfilled prophecy has grown to be an axiom in theology.” Such an axiom was unknown to ancient worthies before and immediately after the First Advent, and is discarded by a sound theology since the establishment of the Christian Church, seeing that quite a number of doctrines are dependent upon unfulfilled prophecy, as, e.g., the Second Advent, the Antichrist, the restoration of the Jews, the Millennial age, the consummation, the judgment day, the resurrection, the realization of eternal life in the final restitution, the New Heavens and New Earth, the New Jerusalem, etc. The promises of the New Test. relating to the future are based on unfulfilled predictions of the Old, are repetitions of the same, and thus renewed predictions. Surely if angelic beings take a deep interest in the divine predictions—if the redeemed are represented as rejoicing in their bestowal and realization, we, who need their light, ought to receive the bright assurances with gratitude and joy.
Obs. 2. Prophecy takes higher ground than that of merely being a prediction of the future, or a witness to the truth, or a message of hope. Whilst all this, it is above all a Revelation of God’s Will and Purpose; and, therefore, while the preceding flow from it, a still grander result is attained when combining and linking together the predictions of God. Then we find, from first to last, that they publish a predetermined counsel of God, a great Redemptive Process, all centering in the predestined King and Kingdom.[*]
Note. Negative criticism endeavors here and there to break this connected chain; unavailingly, however, seeing that “all the prophets witness,” and their united testimony, separated by centuries and ages, form an unbroken unity. God has given us numerous prophecies, some in detached portions, others in brief fragments, which require special attention to systematize, but when once brought together and compared evince a most blessed design, a most glorious Plan, such as man and creation needs to secure permanent, everlasting happiness. Together they form “a sure word,” something “where-unto ye do well that ye take heed,” being eminently worthy of the most careful investigation. Together they give “a light” (comp. Barnes’ admirable remarks on 2 Pet. 1:19), which is the only safe guide until the greater illumination of the coming day. It is a matter of amazement that so many professed Theologies either ignore or slightly touch this God-given “light.” Within the limits and design of this work it is impossible to give the rules for interpreting Prophecy; and, indeed, they are not needed, seeing that we have various works on the subject. The principle of Interpretation adopted (Prop. 4) by us sufficiently explains our position, showing that the ordinary rules for interpreting literal, figurative, symbolic, and typical language are to be observed. The reader will find these presented in Bickersteth’s Guide, Brooke’s El. of Proph. Inter., Lord’s Lit. and Theol. Journal, and Introd. to the Apoc., Horne’s Introd., Winthrop’s Premium Essay on Proph. Symbols, Stuart’s El. of Interp., etc. Davison’s Dis. on Proph. fixes a “Criterion of Prophecy,” and ably shows its application to Jesus at the First Advent, to the Church, Jewish Nation, etc.
In reference to the definitions, a few words are in place. Horne (Intro., vol. 1, p. 119) says: “Prophecy is a miracle of knowledge, a declaration, or description, or representation of something future, beyond the power of human sagacity to discern or to calculate, and it is the highest evidence that can be given of supernatural communion with the Deity, and of the truth of a revelation from God.” M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclop. defines it: “God’s communication to the Church, to be her light and comfort in time of trouble and perplexity,” and adds the following, from Vitringa: “A prediction of some contingent circumstance or event in the future, received by immediate or direct revelation”; Dr. Pye Smith: “A declaration made by a creature under the inspiration and commission of the omniscient God relating to an event or series of events which have not taken place at the time the prophecy is uttered, and which could not have been certainly foreknown by any science or wisdom of man;” other writers: “Prophecy is nothing but the history of events before they come to pass.” It refers also to Dean Magee as dissenting “from this popular but erroneous view,” and making the prophet to be “the religious teacher of his age, whose aim is the religious education of those whom he addresses.” This is a fair specimen of numerous similar definitions, and there is an element of truth in all of them. But, after all, they only give a partial view, for while neither ignoring the predictive character, nor its evidential nature, nor the moral element (the religious instruction of the age in which delivered and of successive ages), it is self-evident that prophecy is largely intended to reveal the Divine Purpose relating to the Plan of Redemption. To illustrate our meaning by a single prophecy: take Deut. 32, and we have not merely a prediction of a series of events and valuable religious instruction, but we have a divine explanation of the manner in which ultimately—after a terrible trial, etc.—covenanted promises are to be realized. Hence prophecy is an essential part of the system of revelation, revealing, incorporating, and systematizing truths, which could in no other way be obtained. Therefore in Theology proper, in order to comprehend God’s purpose in Redemption and present a systematic statement of the Plan of Salvation, it should be brought forth prominently, and subjected to careful study. The lack of this presents us with serious defects in the various systems of Theology, especially in the part pertaining to Eschatology.
Williamson (Letters to a Millenarian, p. 177) informs us that the restoration of the Kingdom and Christ’s future reign (i.e., its proper conception) is not dependent on “the meaning of certain predictions of the prophets, for I am no student of the prophets, but on the question, Who are the lawful heirs of the bequests made to the seed of Abraham? This seems to be a question totally distinct from the question, What are the contents of the will? and should surely be definitely settled before we look at the contents of the will; for before I know whether I am an heir, the contents of the will are of little consequence to me.” This author, an amiable writer, and free from the usual reproaches against us, in striving to wrest from us our vantage ground on prophecy, makes a confession that vitiates his own labor. If no student of the prophets, how can he even undertake the expounding of his prior question, seeing that the prophets enter largely in both questions, respecting the will (to use his figure) and the heirship—they being the expounders of the Divine Purpose concerning both. This lack is seen throughout his “Letters,” reversing a logical consideration of the whole subject. He overlooks two essential points: (1) That before we are heirs, we are invited by prophets and apostles to consider and study this “Will,” in order that we may be induced to become heirs through the acceptance of the Christ, and (2) that the contents of the will are of primary importance, because unless we first “look at the contents” it is impossible to determine the heirship. It certainly needs no discussion, that the contents of the will precede the heirship, and that, therefore, the first question to be decided is that referring to the will itself. When it is found that a will is really made, and that we are noticed in it, being assured of an heirship under certain conditions imposed by the testator, a deepened interest arises to make ourselves acquainted with all the details, and worthy of its provisions, and this will correspondingly—inevitably—make us students of prophecy. (In ref. to his view of the heirship, see Prop. 64.)
Obs. 3. Conceding that Prophecy has thus a higher province than that of merely foretelling future events, yet every believer in the Word ought to insist, that such a foretelling is a most important, essential feature and proof of the Prophet’s mission. That spirit of compromising with Rationalism, by which, under the shallow pretence that the Prophets had nobler duties to perform than that of predicting, the predictions themselves are lowered or set aside, is to be avoided as derogatory to the prophetical office.[*]
Note. As we shall largely use their predictive authority in our argument, placing it in the front rank where the Bible and the early Fathers set it, some additional remarks may be needed. Infidels, next to miracles, have most violently assaulted prophecy (also a miracle). Seeing how largely the Word of God is dependent upon it, how believers have appealed to it as evidence of its credibility and inspiration, how the very life of Christianity is bound up with it, they directed their attack with the cry that it was either disparaging to God, or a tender to fatalism, or incredible to reason, or mere foolishness, or the natural suggestions, shrewd foresight and guesses of man; some predictions were given after the events, others were never fulfilled, some were so obscure that they are utterly unreliable, others were interpolations of a succeeding age to subserve political or religious purposes, etc. With such men it is, of course, vain to reason, for the case is prejudged; and any move to get rid of, or weaken, its testimony, is deemed honorable. To appeal to prophecies fulfilled, such as related to Babylon, Tyre, Nineveh, Jerusalem, etc. (showing also that the writers lived long before the events transpired), is to exhibit our ignorance; to show that prophecies are now fulfilling in the dispersion of the Jews, in the continued down-treading of Jerusalem under Gentile feet, in Mohammedanism and the Turkish Empire, in Gentile domination, in the Papacy, in the condition of the church and the world, etc., is to manifest our credulity; to indicate the relationship that individual prophecy sustains to the whole, and to point to the future as the period when those, claimed by them as unfulfilled, shall be realized, is to display an unreasonable faith. So be it then, if men desire to elevate themselves to the judgment seat, deeming themselves perfectly adequate to decide what is proper and what improper for the Almighty to perform; what is worthy and what unworthy of credence in His Word. The opposite reasons, influencing them in their rejection, are aptly delineated by Isaiah (ch. 29:11, 12): “The vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I cannot, for it is sealed; and the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee; and he saith, I am not learned.” It is impossible to conciliate such a class, for the objections come more from the heart than from the mind, rather from indisposition, lack of moral sympathy than from careful study, and every effort in the way of concession to their demands, is only hailed as an evidence of weakness.
There has been a tendency, especially in German Theology, arising from the contest between Rationalism and Orthodoxy, to settle down in the conviction that Christianity cannot be demonstrated by historical proofs, as many authors and apologists have attempted; and that as Twesten (quoted by Dorner, His. Prot., vol. 2, p. 428) remarks: “It is not possible to prove, independent of Christian faith, that there is a Divine Revelation, and that this is deposited in Holy Scripture, nor can such proof be the foundation of faith,” etc. While freely admitting the higher and more satisfactory testimony of Evangelical faith, which produces a personal, practical knowledge of the truth and thus impresses its divine origin, yet such a statement is far too sweeping, removing the responsibility laid upon all men to receive God’s Revelation, rejecting the evidence afforded by the experience of men that many have been led by the reading and study of the Word to acknowledge, without and before such faith, that God’s Word is truth; and discarding the labors of Apologists and others whose works, as the conversion of many testifies, have not been in vain. Indeed, the very men who insist upon such a theory constantly violate their own rule by appealing to historical proofs, or by bringing an array of evidence obtained through the fulfilment of prophecy to substantiate revelation against unbelief. In their writings there is a constant appeal to reason in behalf of the positions taken by them. It is one thing to lay down a one-sided rule, but it is quite another to apply it. The Bible speaks of two kinds of evidence; one, the most gratifying, comes from faith, but this, in many aspects, must be sustained by the other; the other is derived from historical evidence, including the fulfilment of prophecy, the dealings of God, the works performed, etc. God Himself appeals to the latter evidence as desirable, as introductory to the other, and also as condemnatory if not received. The first preaching of the apostles is based on it; Stephen’s address is full of it; Christ refers the Jews to it; the Jews themselves received the Old Test. in view of it; the New Test. is a record of its value; believers have been first led to faith by it; even the devils themselves are under its influence, and unbelief has often, in the dying hour, confessed its claims. We cannot do without such an attestation to existing Revelation, for even the way of Evangelical faith (which simply appropriates to self what the other brings) is prepared by due reference to historical facts, as, e.g., the fall, the sinfulness of man, the foretelling and coming of the Messiah, etc., so that every Christian writer, whatever his theory in the study, will practically, more or less, endeavor to secure the approval of reason by the use of such testimony, a process favored by our mental and moral constitution.
It is, therefore, with deep regret that we see eminent and devoted men, for the sake of gaining the good-will of unbelievers, forsake a principle of prophetic interpretation and application, that God Himself has laid down, viz.: the strict grammatical interpretation of prophecy and a literal fulfilment of the same. Thus, e.g.,Dr. Dorner (His. Prot. Theol., p. 445) in view of Rationalism in some quarters declaring “that a transference of Old Test. occurrences, images, and Messianic features to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, is the source of the Gospel,” asserts: “the more literal the fulfilment of Old Test. sayings found in the New, the more difficult will it be to dispel the suspicion that the former is the source of the latter.”* To rid ourselves of so unjust a “suspicion,” it is requisite to accommodate ourselves to unbelief, and yield up everything that may be too “Jewish.” This theory is opposed (1) to the facts in the case; for (a) if this literal fulfilment were missing, the unbelievers would be the first to take advantage of it; (b) it can be proven that the prophecies preceded, and hence the fulfilment the more obvious; (c) it can be shown, as an essential element in the Divine Plan, that both the prediction and the literal fulfilment are a necessity to constitute Jesus the Messiah; (d) it can be pointed out, that the fulfilment, in most cases, is one adverse to the anticipations of Jewish opinion based on Jewish Scriptures, and yet necessary in the Divine Purpose; (e) it can be boldly assumed, that without such a correspondence we can have no assurance that the Christ came; (f) it can be affirmed, that such concessions do no good to the class for whom they are intended, but that they rather confirm them in unbelief. Then, again, the theory is opposed (2) to the criterion established by God; for (a) the plainest and most triumphant exhibition of veracity and union with the Divine is a literal fulfilment of prediction, and hence the failure of such is the test of a false prophet; (b) a literal fulfilment is adapted to all classes of minds, for which the Bible is designed; (c) the literal fulfilment manifests the Divine Will, and is a part of the Divine Purpose, and as such is appealed to in order to indicate it; (d) Jesus and the apostles represent it as a decided proof and reality of the Divine, thus flatly controverting the far-fetched “suspicions” of early and later opposers of Christianity; (e) if it were desirable to avoid such an objection, the Bible, the product of Divine wisdom, knowing how to reach men’s minds and hearts, would not lay stress upon it; (f) it is not a literal fulfilment that leads to such “suspicions,” but the heart desires them to silence the sense of responsibility; (g) it forms, then, a substantial reason—for if missing the chain would be broken—in behalf of Christianity; adapted to all minds; preserving the unity of the Record; attesting to the Divine Plan; giving a proper insight into Redemption; revealing the future history of the race and the ultimate triumph of truth and holiness over error and evil; and practically illustrating the power of an all-pervading Providence in the most forcible manner. Let it be repeated: it is impossible to satisfy the demands of opposing parties. Objection is made that there is too literal a fulfilment, which is adduced as evidence of collusion, etc. Frazer (Key to the Prophecies) informs us of some infidels, who object to Revelation because there is no accurate, literal fulfilment of its own predictions. So Renan also objects, and claims that Jesus was disappointed in His fond anticipations. The Jews also objected to Christ that all the prophecies pertaining to the Messiah were not literally fulfilled at the First Advent. Here, then, are two objections, the exact opposite of each other: the one rejecting Scripture because of a too literal fulfilment, the other doing the same on the ground that a sufficiently literal aspect is wanting. This should teach us to accept of God’s wisdom in the matter, receiving His testimony as superior to man’s, and not weaken its force in the vain attempt of conciliating unbelievers.
It is comparatively easy to endure the reproaches of unbelievers, but not so readily those of excellent men, believers, who, by their sweeping statements, are justly chargeable with moulding the minds of multitudes to a rejection of a true, consistent interpretation of Scripture, preparing the masses of the church to have no faith when the Saviour comes. Unable to reconcile with their views of Scripture and of the future, a literal fulfilment of prophecy, such Prophecy must submit its grammatical sense to another that is more accommodating. But this is not all: the most ultra positions are taken to sustain such a departure. Thus, e.g., Pressensť (The Redeemer, p. 100) asserts: “Literal interpretation of prophecy is, therefore, nonsense,” etc., declaring that all prophecy is in its “form essentially symbolical,” and adduces the Psalms relating to Christ as first applicable to David (?), then to Solomon (?), and finally to Christ. Yet he is inconsistent with himself, for in other places and works he repeatedly presents this same “nonsense,” i.e., literal fulfilment of prophecy, as evidence of the Messiahship of Jesus. Adopt his rule, and it plunges us at once into the most varied and contradictory interpretation, and makes it impossible to meet the arguments of infidels against prophecy without a pitiful retreat into mystical subterfuges and the plainest violation of the laws of language. Alas! otherwise able works abound in this species of damaging statement, and set themselves in direct antagonism to Jesus (John 14:29): “And now I have told you before it come too pass, that when it come to pass, ye might believe.”
Obs. 4. The prophecies referring to the Kingdom of God, as now interpreted by the large majority of Christians, afford the strongest leverage employed by unbelievers against Christianity. Unfortunately, unbelief is often logically correct. Thus e.g. it eagerly points to the predictions pertaining to David’s Son, showing that, if language has any legitimate meaning, and words are adequate to express an idea, they unmistakably predict the restoration of David’s throne and kingdom, etc., and then triumphantly declare that it was not realized (so Strauss, Baur, Renan, Parker, etc.). They mock the expectation of the Jews, of Simeon, the preaching of John, Jesus, and the disciples, the anticipations of the early Church, and hastily conclude, sustained by the present faith of the Church (excepting only a few), that they will never be fulfilled; and that, therefore, the prophecies, the foundation upon which the superstructure rests, are false, and of human concoction. The manner of meeting such objections is humiliating to the Word and Reason; for it discards the plain grammatical sense as unreliable, and, to save the credit of the Word, insists upon interpreting all such prophecies by adding to them, under the claim of spiritual, a sense which is not contained in the language, but suits the religious system adopted. Unbelief is not slow in seizing the advantage thus given, gleefully pointing out how this introduced change makes the ancient faith an ignorant one, the early Church occupying a false position, and the Bible a book to which man adds any sense, under the plea of spiritual, that may be deemed necessary for its defence.[*]
Note. Some unbelievers even go to the length of denouncing the Saviour and the apostles as being “deceivers,” Indian jugglers,” etc., who endeavored, without success, to appropriate the predictions to themselves. Others inform us that the prophecies inflamed the imagination of Jesus, and that under their influence His ministry started, but that He discarded much as unable to be realized in the condition of things then existing. This is a favorite topic of Renan’s, the result of his own unreliable imaginings. Parker and his followers, of course, tell us that there are “prophecies which have not been, and never will be fulfilled,” referring especially to those relating to the Kingdom promised to David’s Son. The Liberalist, M. Grotz, and others, advise us to keep prophecy in the background as a very minor question, and not worthy of serious consideration—i.e it is only worthy the contempt of the enlightened. Even Schleiermacher (Sys. of Doctrines) objects to nearly all the prophecies, especially the more prominent, as proceeding from a material spirit of the people, and hence places the Old Test. containing them far below the New. As we proceed, there will be found abundant and painful evidence of this spirit and lack of faith in the Word of God, extending from the most virulent of unbelievers down to semi-unbelievers and even believers. It is a lamentable fact that prophecies, en masse, which have no relation to the church as organized at present, are appropriated and applied to the church as now existing, that cannot and do not thus apply, and that this has necessarily caused unbelief in many who detect, easily, the utter discrepancy. We only now say, that there must be a sad defect somewhere in human systems, which causes prophecies to promise, plainly too, one thing and yet mean quite another; this, we affirm, is an imperfection existing, not in the language of the prophets, but only in the interpretation of them, and in the limiting of their fulfilment to the past and present, as if God was unable to carry out His purposes in the future. A renewed study, a thorough examination of them, and a return to the grammatical sense, will alone enable us to close the wide gap left open for opposers to enter.
The student will observe also that the evidence in behalf of the predictive nature of prophecy is not dependent—as in alleged human—upon single or isolated predictions, but brings to its support a grand series of predictions, one hinging upon the other. In this work we shall frequently avail ourselves of this connected succession. The destructive theories respecting prophecy (e.g. in Davidson’s Introduction, with which comp. the “Reply” in The Princeton Review, Jan., 1864), which bring it down to something like human sagacity, are fully met by the simple fact of this divine order, and their forming integral parts of a divine system, imparting to us a knowledge of the Divine Purpose. The fulfilment of prediction is evidence of the truth (Archb. Sumner’s Essay on Proph., etc.), and in the preparatory measures relating to the Kingdom, confirms the office of prophecy (Kurtz’s Sac. His., p. 32).
Obs. 5. Multitudes are found, who deliberately and persistently refuse to study the Prophecies. To such, at least in part, applies the language of Bengel (Gnomon, Apoc. c. 1:1), who, after directing attention to the fact that Revelation is given “to shew unto his servants,” etc., says: “He who does not permit the things which must come to pass to be shewn to him, is wanting in the duty of a servant.” There is propriety and force in the remark, which those who object to our making these things a special subject of study, would do well to ponder. A servant cannot, without injury to himself, neglect a large portion of Scripture, which God, with a merciful object in view, kindly presents to him. He will rather imitate the Prophets themselves, who “inquired and searched diligently”—not a mere cursory examination, but a profound and extended inquiry—into the revelations made to them (1 Pet. 1:10, 11). God’s wisdom and power (Isa. 43:9, 13) is found in prophecy; to many, however, it is foolishness. Blessedness is attached to it (Apoc. 1:3, comp. Bengel, Barnes, etc.), but to many it is evil and drudgery.[*]
Note. Instead of a careful investigation, some refuse to receive it; others quote isolated passages to support some doctrine or opinion, without the least idea of the context or real prophetical meaning. Popes, e.g., have applied prophetic announcements pertaining to the Messiah to themselves; Papists and Protestants have appropriated what exclusively belongs to the Jewish nation; sects and individuals have presumptuously claimed as belonging to themselves what really is predicted of “the age to come.” Prophecy has been made a plastic mortar to daub over the crudest and most mystical conceptions. Rejection or misconception has triumphed, and thus it will continue down to the harvest itself. Pious and able men, such as Bh. Newton, Meade, Bengel, etc., are ridiculed for having studied and written on the subject. Voltaire’s sneer at Sir I. Newton, that he wrote on the Apocalypse to console mankind for his superiority in other matters, has been reproduced in another form by Renan (Life of Jesus, p. 138): “Newton thought his crazy exposition of the Apoc. as certain as his system of the world.” (Which clearly shows that Renan never read Newton’s book, which claims no such certainty, but represents itself as a humble attempt to approximately elucidate, if possible, a difficult subject, containing both modesty and valuable suggestions. The remark reveals the animus of Renan.) Valuable information and suggestions imparted by such a class of writers is studiously ignored, and mistakes, to which the best of men are liable, are joyfully paraded as evidence of the sad results of prophetical study. How true it is that to the mass of mankind and to many believers, it is a matter of the utmost indifference whether Jesus opened the seals of the book or not, whether He gave a farewell testimony or not, whether He enjoined special attention to it or not, whether John was deeply affected, even to tears, or not. John wept because the things fastened by the seals could not be revealed, and he rejoiced when Christ opened them; but now, although those things are plainly recorded, it is deemed foolishness to be in sympathy with John, or to search into them with an interest becoming the subject. Let a man enter this field of investigation with sobriety, honesty, and humility, and epithets the most derogatory are heaped upon him indicative of “folly,” “weak-mindedness,” visionary,” “fanatical,” etc., so that it requires some degree of courage to face the obloquy, to endure the loss of sympathy, to suffer the reproaches of withdrawn confidence, and to receive the imputations of mental and moral weakness. Rashness, however, consists not only in attempting to interpret in a trifling way, without due comparison, reflection, moderation, etc., but is equally to be found in neglecting or despising prophetical truth; indeed, the latter exceeds the former in one respect since it lacks even the respect shown to prophecy by the most injudicious of interpreters. Alas! how comparatively few have, at present, the spirit of Daniel (2:19–23), who manifested his reverence and gratitude for and interest in the prophecies given. Indeed, such as ancient believers received with faith and praise, are now regarded either with unbelief, or indifference, or scorn and reproach, and “the testimony of Jesus (which) is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10) is not only rejected, pronounced unworthy of special study, but rebukes are heaped upon those who devote time and labor to its elucidation and enforcement. It is true of prophecy, as of all God’s works: “The works of the Lord are great (vast in magnitude), sought out (investigated) of all them that have pleasure therein” (Ps. 111:2).
Obs. 6. It is the united testimony of all who have devoted much time to the study of prophecy, that it is exceedingly profitable in many respects; and they exhort others, in view of personal benefit derived therefrom, to devote special attention to the same. This testimony is the more worthy of consideration, since it comes from the most talented, scholarly, devoted men that the Church has produced, and fully accords with the promises of the Word. Fully acknowledging the correctness of Stanley (His. of Jewish Church), Payne Smith (Mess. Inter. of Isa., Introd.), Fairbairn (On Proph.), and others, that the teaching of the Future or simple prediction was only one part of the Prophetic office or duty, we firmly hold that, viewed correctly, this is far from being “subordinate.” Reflection shows that its distinguishing peculiarity consists in this: under the form of Prophecy, the Divine Purpose, not merely in particular cases, but as a grand whole, is developed. Therefore it is, that he who studies and compares Prophecy (teaching respecting the future), keeping in view that it is far more than mere prediction (in the sense of foretelling to convince men of the truth, etc.), that it is designed to teach a system of truth (one part adjusting itself to another in the thus revealed Plan), will obtain a deeper and more satisfactory insight into Redemption, as carried on and finally realized. We cannot call that “subordinate” which materially aids—is essential—to such knowledge.[*]
Note. It may be well, in the briefest terms, to enumerate the reasons why the study of Prophecy is important. (1) It evinces due respect for “all” Scripture. (2) It shows that we believe that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (3) That it is “a sure word.” (4) It affords the satisfaction of performing a duty. (5) It is fruitful in bringing forth treasure. (6) It increases faith, hope, and love. (7) It exalts our conceptions of the attributes of God, His knowledge and power. (8) It reveals the results of depravity. (9) It teaches forbearance and patience under the trials to which the church and believer are subject. (10) It gives the Second Advent its due prominency. (11) It enforces the motives, hopes, etc., grounded on the Second Advent. (11) It enlightens us respecting the mission of the First Advent, and shows how it is preparatory. (12) It imparts accurate information concerning the Kingdom of God, its nature and re-establishment. (13) It explains the intercalary period, the Times of the Gentiles. (14) It teaches us more clearly upon what the engrafting of the Gentiles depends. (15) It presents us with the career of the church and anti-Christian powers. (16) It gives us distinctive knowledge of God’s Redemptive Purpose. (17) It secures the blessedness of obedience to the truth, if received, hereafter. (18) It increases the range of prayer, and stimulates to its employment. (19) It is a preservative from sin. (20) It leads to separation from the world, but to labor for its warning and welfare. (21) It preserves us from the rebuke given to the non-discerning Pharisees. (22) It alone will prepare believers for the terrible trials of the still future great tribulation. (23) Being received by faith and appropriated, we may, according to Promise, escape from the sad scenes to be ushered in (this will be explained under the Translation). (24) Its tendency is to produce love toward the brethren, sinking the present into the future. (25) Its revelations may, when presented to others, warn, instruct, and guide to the knowledge, service, and obedience of God. (26) It prominently holds forth the Theocratic relationship of Jesus. (27) It specifically instructs us concerning the Jewish nation, the true people of God, and the enemies of Christ. (28) The design of the present dispensation, its introductory character, etc., are delineated by it. (29) It enforces and confirms the covenants. (30) It tells us when we are to be rewarded, when we shall inherit. (31) It makes the promises of God consistent and more precious. (32) It materially aids to explain Scripture. (33) It shows us how Redemption is complete—a recovery from all the effects of the fall. (34) It gives us a clearer idea of the resurrection, translation, judgment day, etc. (35) It enables us to understand and appreciate the reign of the saints. (36) It indicates the ending of Gentile domination and the supremacy of the Theocratic ordering. (37) It presents us with a more enlarged view of the future agency and power of the Holy Spirit. (38) It vindicates the glory of God in the Salvation portrayed in its sublime language. (39) It makes the Bible a harmonious whole. (40) It prevents us from predicting falsely. (41) It helps us to meet the objections urged by infidels, Jews, etc. (42) It serves to explain, more satisfactorily, the world’s history. (43) It honors, exalts the mighty King, giving us the most enlarged views of His majesty and power. Considering the value of such study, it is inexcusable to neglect it. The remarks of Dr. Schmucker (Proph. His. of the Ch. Relig., p. 44, on Apoc. 1:3) are but too applicable: “Oh! the guilty backwardness of many in our days, to read and study this invaluable treasure of the Christian, for fear of incurring the ridicule of infidels, or the piteous smile of the wise men of the world. Some in our days neglect this kind of study even from hypocrisy. They assume a superior air of sanctity, as if their minds were employed in matters of far greater moment than this, and therefore pray to be excused. Should a mortal presume to know better, what he ought to read than God? However the study of the prophecies should not be our first care; for what will all this knowledge avail, if we die in our sins at last. Our first duty is to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. We must be experimentally acquainted with the ways of God in Christ Jesus, to derive real benefit from knowledge of this kind. He whose eternal interest is truly settled will study the prophecies to the advantage of his soul’s concerns, when the unconverted speculation only satisfies vain curiosity.” This rebuke and caution is well deserved; for neglect, on the one hand is criminal, whilst, on the other, without an appropriating of Christ, the sum of all prophecy, by the elementary principles of repentance and faith, its study only increases our condemnation. (Comp. Commentators, generally, on Apoc. 1:3.) In view of the general neglect of prophecy, even by ministers eminent for ability, it is to be feared that Daniel’s prayer is applicable (Dan. 9:6): “Neither have we hearkened unto Thy servants, the prophets, which spake in Thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” For if Daniel could include this in a confession of sin and unworthiness, how much more pertinent is it, when regarding the additions made to prophecy since Daniel’s time, some even given under the direct auspices of Jesus Himself and called His “testimony”? Jesus (Matt. 24:15) refers to Daniel’s prophecy, saying, “Whoso readeth, let him understand,” and both He and the apostles allude to unfulfilled prophecy, calling attention to it, and assuming that it was imparted to secure knowledge of God’s ways. Indeed, we have intimations that in the private and unrecorded instructions much stress was laid on the study of prophecy (e.g. as to Jesus, Luke 24:25–27; as to the apostles, 2 Thess. 2:5). Comp. “On the Importance of Prophecy,” Brookes’s Maranatha, Seiss’s Last Times, and kindred works.
Obs. 7. The nature, characteristics, etc., of the Kingdom, should not be determined by one, two, or even more, predictions, unless very specific, but by a comparison of all, or at least a large number of, the predictions relating to it. One or more, taken separately, may give us but slight evidence, whilst the whole, or a large proportion, will present such abundant proof that the correctness of view will be fortified against assault. The neglect of this caution has been fruitful in mistake; a passage or two is selected and a plausible theory is erected upon it, which, however, cannot bear the test of accumulated light. Inferential or one-sided testimony must give place to the direct and abounding.[*]
Note. Bh. Horsley (Sermons, vol. 2, p. 13), showing that the prophecies were parts of a system which pointed to the establishment of the Messiah’s Kingdom, takes 2 Pet. 1:20 to express: “Not any prophecy of Scripture is of self-interpretation” (i.e. isolated from others), but must be interpreted in its unity with others or the whole (so also Faber, etc.). However the passage is rendered, the rule of comparison is essential to preserve from error. Horne (Introd.) adopts this as the first rule for ascertaining the sense of prophetic writers. (Many authors indorse Horsley’s rendering, whilst others make it to denote “that what they communicated was not of their own disclosure;” “that the prophecy cannot be understood until compared with the event,” etc. (Barnes’ Com. loci.). Fairbairn (On Proph. Ap. G. p. 496) interprets it to mean: “No Scripture comes of one’s own solution;” and he refers it not, as others, “how the meaning of prophecy is made out, or interpreted, but how prophecy itself came into existence, whence it drew its origin,” etc. The Roman Cath. application of the passage is refuted by Barnes and others. Bh. Van Mildert says: “That the sense of no prophecy is to be determined by an abstract consideration of the passage itself; but by taking it in conjunction with other portions of Scripture relating to the subject.” Comp. Bloomfield, loci, who quotes Van Mildert, but agrees with Horsley, who, in addition, includes more than mere comparison, viz.: that in virtue of its divine origin, it sustains a necessary relation to a system of truth and must find its true interpretation in that relationship, and in the history (fulfilment of the world).* In reference to the double fulfilment of prophecy, while we would not entirely reject it, yet great caution is required in its application, being convinced that in many instances it is faulty and erroneously applied. Our argument makes it unnecessary to be employed by us, and therefore we refer the reader to works that adopt it, as Bh. Newton’s Diss. on Proph., vol. 1, p. 70; and vol. 2, p. 92; Horn’s Introd., vol. 1, p. 390; Bacon’s Adv. of Learning, B. 2; Bickersteth’s Guide; Brookes’s El Proph. Inter., etc.
It may be added that the very cautions given respecting the study of prophecy, indicate that no man can make himself conversant with the same without considerable labor and time. The Bible implies this in the manner in which it is given, and clearly teaches us that God exercises the talent and wisdom of His people in the searching of His Word; and that in condescending to such revelations He leaves us to investigate in order that the wise only may understand. The labor necessarily bestowed causes the laborer to appreciate the treasures dug out, and, at the same time, prevents those who are the special subjects of prophetic judgments—owing to sin—to see and understand the impending doom. The range of prophecy, dealing with the deepest and most vital theological questions, with the highest and noblest things pertaining to man and his destiny, demands, to insure successful prosecution, a cultivated mind as well as a heart of faith. In its relationship to history it calls for an acquaintance with ancient and modern, sacred and profane history. For, as Bh. Newton remarks: “Prophecy is history anticipated and contracted; history is prophecy accomplished and dilated.” Von Dollinger (Essay on Proph. Spirit) calls the historian “a prophet looking behind.” In addition to this, its relationship to, as an essential part of, a great redemptive system, calls for a comprehensive view of the numerous details, fitting them into their several designed places, and bringing forth the unity of design exhibited. While all men can derive benefit from its study, yet few men are really qualified to perform the amount of labor required to bring together prophecy connectedly and systematically. And among the few, nearly all, possessing the requisite talent and ability, are so occupied with other labors that they cannot bestow the time that the subject demands.
Obs. 8. In almost every work written against the doctrine of the Kingdom as held by us, great stress is laid on the obscurity of prophetic announcements arising from their figurative or symbolic language. Some even go so far as to say, that prophecy can only be understood after its fulfilment. Admitting a degree of obscurity in some details, in the order of some events, in the manner in which some things are to be fulfilled, etc., it is sufficient to reply, that the objection only has force when applied to our method of interpretation, but is forgotten and overridden when the substitution of a spiritualistic interpretation is attempted.[*]
Note. This requires some additional remarks. It has already been shown under several Propositions that there is mystery attached to some things, that a degree of obscurity is intentionally given, that laborious study and diligent comparison is required, etc., but have also stated (which will hereafter clearly appear) that this mystery and obscurity does not refer to the nature of the Kingdom, but to events connected therewith, the exact order to be observed, the time of accomplishment, the brevity of expression, the figurative language used, etc. Bh. Newton, who gave much thought and attention to the subject, justly says (On Proph., vol. 2, p. 91): “Though some parts are obscure enough to exercise the church, yet others are sufficiently clear to illuminate it; and the obscure parts, the more they are fulfilled, the better they can be understood. In this respect, as the world groweth older, it groweth wiser.” The present and past fulfilment of prophecy gives us a clue to its language and the expressions peculiar to itself, and thus constantly enlarges the facilities for comprehending the same. Without diligent study of the more obscure allusions, it would be impossible to predicate a fulfilment of them when accomplished, unless proper comparison were instituted. It was, probably, in view of this, that Sir I. Newton, Obs. Apoc., ch. 1, p. 253) said: “Amongst the interpreters of the last age there is scarce one of note who has not made some discovery worth knowing.”
The objection grounded on alleged obscurity is urged to evince that we can know but little concerning it, and that, therefore, our explanations are worthless. For the present, it is only necessary to reply: (1) How comes it, then, that if they are necessarily so obscure that nothing certain can be gained respecting the Kingdom and its manifestation, they themselves so confidently appeal to and interpret them concerning the same? Thus e.g. every one of them brings forward a favorite theory of the Kingdom and Millennium, and to sustain his position largely quotes the figurative and even the symbolical prophecies, and these, when thus applied by themselves, are no longer obscure; nay, more, are become so decidedly clear that they are used in preaching, prayer, and singing. Singular change! In sermons, prayers, and hymns, when confidently used by themselves, prophecy is easily apprehended, but when Millenarians refer to it and endeavor to show its relationship to the future, then, all at once, it is considered too dark and incomprehensible! Alas! men of ability resort to so pitiful a subterfuge, and actually influence the ignorant by it. (2) They themselves, being the judges, decide after all that if desirous to become acquainted with what God has revealed concerning the Kingdom and its glory, we must turn to the prophecies abounding in figure. Hence censure in this direction is scarcely compatible with their own course, they themselves affirming that “vagueness” gives place, by comparison and study, to certainty. (3) That when not directly writing against us, they overlook this obscurity, making all the concessions that are needed. (Comp. e.g. Barnes, Com. on 2 Pet. 1:20, 21; Rev. 1:1; The Presbyterian Quarterly Review for 1853, quoted by Lord in Theol. and Lit. Journal for 1853, p. 258; Stuart’s Com. on Apoc. ch. 1:1–5; in brief, compare their expositions of such passages and all others urging us to the study of prophecy.) (4) That really there exists but little difference—if any—between us so far as the grammatical and rhetorical meaning is concerned; and the same is true even in many cases of the symbols employed; we both are agreed how the tropical language is to be interpreted, viz.: by the ordinary rules governing all language. The difference between us lies in the fact that after the plain, unobscure sense is presented, then, in opposition to us who hold to the sense thus conveyed, another ungrammatical and unrhetorical operation must be performed, viz.: this sense thus obtained must have engrafted upon it (as e.g. David’s throne and kingdom) a different and very spiritual or mystical meaning; must be tortured by the Origenistic process until it evolves something that suits the taste or option of the interpreter; must, in brief, be explained by a mode that has never been applied to any other written document in existence, and which is utterly unknown to the laws of language. Here is where the obscurity obtains—certainly not on the side which limits itself by regular, well-known law, but on that which passes beyond those ascertained rules, and allows in addition a sense which is unconfined and unlimited in variety at the discretion of spiritualistic assumption, making the plainest of passages inflated, involved, and transcendental. The writer does not exaggerate on so important a point, for the proof of its being unconfined and unlimited consists in this: that no work, addicted to spiritualizing, is in existence (within the knowledge of the author) that gives the laws regulating the obtaining and applying of such an added sense, thus leaving it unconfined at the pleasure of the expositor; the unlimited variety can be readily seen in e.g. the meanings attached to the Kingdom, in various commentaries, in Swedenborg’s works, in the writings of the mystics, etc., numerous examples of which will be quoted as we proceed.
In reference to the old and oft-refuted objection, making a total obscurity—“that prophecy is so arranged that it is not to be understood until its fulfilment”—this too is already answered by the course of our opponents, who against this alleged axiom profess themselves able to express a confident opinion as to fulfilment. Some professed Christians almost seem to have adopted, with reference to unfulfilled prophecy, the inscription (“nil scire tutissima fides”) over the gateway of the famous mansion of Claas van Olden Barneveld, expressive of the faith that to know nothing is the safest belief. Let those who urge such objections answer questions like the following: What propriety and force is there in Amos 4:7, 8, Hos. 14:9, Dan. 12:4, Apoc. 1:3, and kindred passages? Where is the Scripture that contains such a rule for our guidance? Why are we so expressly exhorted to read and study it, and why is the non-discerning and neglect of it so rebuked, if we can know nothing about it until fulfilled? How can prophecy be a light, if it is dark? What encouragement, profit, hope, etc., is to be derived from it previous to fulfilment? Why do some of these very men rashly attempt to elucidate prophecy, as in commentaries, sermons, books on prophecy, etc.? Why confidently declare that we are certainly wrong, if they know nothing about it; for might we not even happily guess at the true meaning? Why, in contending with unbelievers, quote prophecy against them, if it has no more weight than this? Why refer to it in encouraging the faith and hope of the church? The reader must not censure because so much space is occupied with such objections, for the writer has been often pained to find good and learned men urge them against us, and then turn around and, in the same book, plead the usefulness and benefit of prophecy in throwing light upon the, what would be otherwise a dark, future. Some are like Sir Thom. Browne (Christian Morals, s. 13), who said: “Study prophecies when they are become histories, and past hovering in their causes;” but they do not assign as a reason one given by him: “The greatest part of time being already wrapt up in things behind us, it’s now somewhat late to bait after things before us; for futurity still shortens, and time present sucks in time to come.” … “If the expected Elias should appear, he might say much of what is past, not much of what’s to come.” On the other hand, Moody (How to Study the Bible) remarks: “If God did not wish us to understand the Revelation, He would not have given it us at all. A good many say that it is so dark and mysterious common readers cannot understand it. Let us only keep digging away at it, and it will unfold itself by and by. Some one says it is the only book in the whole Bible that tells about the devil being chained; and as the devil knows that, he goes up and down Christendom, and says: ‘It is no use, you reading the Revelation; you cannot understand the book; it’s too hard for you.’ The fact is, he doesn’t want you to understand about his own defeat.”
Another and favorite mode of discrediting prophecy as employed by Millenarians must, in justice to ourselves, be briefly noticed. It is charged that its study has led to foolish interpretations and rash expositions. This, alas, is true, and one of the results of human infirmity. But the abuse, the perversion does not discredit a proper use of the truth, for otherwise no truth—for what has escaped—would be left to us. After many years of careful study and reading, embracing the writings of all classes, it is correct to assert as a well-weighed opinion, that if we were to measure the extravagance of Anti- and Post-Millenarians—our opponents—with that of Millenarian writers, the former would greatly exceed in the scale of folly and rashness. Thus e.g. Pres. Edwards (His. of Redemp.) employing prophecy to make this earth (to which prophecy offers redemption) the future, eternal hell; Prof. Stuart’s Neroic theory; Dr. Berg making the Fifth Kingdom of Daniel the United States; Swedenborg’s appropriation of the New Jerusalem prophecies; “the Apoc. Unveiled,” making the angel of Rev. 10 the symbol of “the present age of steam-power and the magnetic telegraph,” etc., etc.
Obs. 9. Millenarians, in order to secure the belief of others, constantly appeal to a literal fulfilment of prophecy. They indorse the language of Tertullian): “The daily fulfilment of prophecy is, surely, a full proof of revelation. Hence, then, we have a well-founded belief in many things which are yet to come, namely, the confidence arising from our knowledge of the past, because some events, still future, were foretold at the same time with others which are past. The voice of prophecy speaks alike of each; the Scriptures record them equally; the same Spirit taught the prophets both. In the predictions there is no distinction of time; if there be any such distinction, it is made by men; while the gradual course of time makes that present which was future, and that past which was present. How can we, then, be blamed for believing also what is predicted respecting the future, when our confidence is founded upon the fulfilment of prophecies relating to the present and the past” (quoted by Cumming’s Lect. on Dan., p. 425, from Chevallier’s Trans.). We lay much stress on this feature in the present work.[*]
Note. In view of this fact, something more may be said to impress its value. No one can fail to see that prophecy in the past and present has been minutely fulfilled—i.e. fulfilled according to the plain grammatical sense contained in it. Analogy, logically applied, demands, as Tertullian asserts, a confident belief that that portion relating to the future will be fulfilled in the same manner. The same God gave both, and the same power will be exerted in fulfilment. The value of prophecy in this direction arises from the fulfilment according with the grammatical sense—the one that the language obviously conveys, for then only can it be legitimately employed as an argument against unbelief. Thus e.g. in the prophecies pertaining to Tyre, Babylon, Nineveh, Jerusalem, the Jewish nation, the church, Rome, etc., all writers lay great stress upon history accurately corresponding with the predictions in their grammatical sense. No one doubts the propriety and force of this so far as it relates to the past and present, but just so soon as we undertake to insist upon the same grammatical sense pertaining to prophecies describing the future, then a multitude arises and derides our system of interpretation as crude, unreasonable, Jewish, etc. The experience of the past and present is set aside, the appeal of Scripture to such a fulfilment is ignored, in order that a favorite system of Eschatology, inconsistent with a continued application of this sound principle, may be saved. Our adherence to such a literal interpretation is pronounced extravagant, enthusiastic, and even fanatical, because, forsooth, in every case we may be unable to explain just how the things predicted are to be accomplished. Our faith in God taking care that His Word shall be fulfilled when the time arrives is decided as childish and unworthy of intelligent piety. Soberness, intelligence, and piety, they inform us, call for a figurative, spiritual, or mystical interpretation of these prophecies. Alas! what exhibition of faith in God’s Word! Learning, ability, piety, are joined in resisting one of the plainest and safest rules of interpretation given in Scripture and corroborated by history, and no sarcasm or ridicule is spared to make our position odious. Let it be so; nothing that we can say or do will alter the Word or retard its fulfilment. Wisdom will be justified by her children. But may we appeal to such by making a supposition: Suppose that we and our opponents lived just before the First Advent of Jesus, with our respective systems of interpretation. Suppose these systems be applied by us to the prophecies pertaining to the coming Messiah, what would be the inevitable result? Our literal system would, of course, bring out the birth, life, sufferings, death, burial, etc., of Jesus as they took place. The other system, spiritualizing on account of supposed difficulties, would necessarily make figurative or symbolic the facts as predicted. The supposition shows how contradictory the one system would be to fulfilment. But to neutralize this supposed case, it will, perhaps, be said, that we are under another dispensation, and that the history of the church indicates that much is also to be spiritually understood to make it harmonize with the Scriptures. As this matter will hereafter be fully answered in our line of argument, it is sufficient now to say that the change of dispensation does not affect the interpretation of the Word, no change of the latter being anywhere intimated; and that the reason why so much is spiritualized respecting the church, etc., is simply owing to the sad fact that predictions solely relating to the future, to another dispensation, to the Jewish nation, to the period after the Sec. Advent, men apply to the present time, to this dispensation, to the Gentiles, and to the church, and the result unavoidably is, that an immense amount of spiritualizing and accommodation must take place to cause these things to fit into their system of belief. A system of interpreting prophecy that cannot be equally available in any period of history, in any dispensation, is open, at once, to the gravest suspicion of unsoundness. We, at least, with the early church, reject it as entirely untrustworthy, and in the following pages assign our reasons for the same.