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Those who have most attentively studied the prophecies are best acquainted with the great obscurity in which they are involved, and the difficulties attending their explication. A scheme, then, which will remove those obscurities and difficulties,—that will render their meaning simple, clear, easy, and in perfect harmony with each other,—and which, at the same time, exactly conforms to the acknowledged rule of interpreting Scripture, namely, “ that the literal sense is never to be departed from without necessity,”—such a scheme must appear exceedingly desirable.
How far the following may answer this description, the reader will be best able to determine after an attentive perusal and thorough consideration.
The principal ideas contained therein have been familiar to the author's mind for several years past; but a variety of circumstances have, till lately, prevented him from doing anything in order to their publication. His situation was very peculiar. His views of the nature of the approaching age were altogether different from those entertained by all the writers of the Christian Church ever since the apostolic age. To oppose, therefore, his feeble efforts to such an immensity of wisdom, piety, learning, and talents, as have been displayed in the voluminous writings on the subject, appeared to him something like an attempt on the part of a glow-worm to supersede the sun. Thus circumstanced, it was natural to conclude, that if he published his sentiments, it would unavoidably draw on him the imputation of the most consummate vanity and arrogance; as it would carry the appearance of thinking himself wiser than any who had lived and written since the time of the apostles. On the other hand, the overwhelming evidence he felt, that the substance of his ideas was no other than what was intended by the sacred Spirit, produced a very painful consciousness, that through an improper fear of suffering reproach, he was culpably hiding that light which the Lord had imparted.
The agitation of mind caused by those reflections have sometimes produced a wish to relinquish his peculiar views, and to rest satisfied with the sentiments generally entertained; but the more he investigated the subject the more powerfully was he convinced and satisfied, by increasing evidence, that his ideas were just. But these painful feelings were in some measure allayed by the consideration, that if, after all, he should be found in a mistake, no essential harm can be likely to ensue; as the plan, if adopted, is not calculated to produce any injury. But if the ideas are correct, their publication cannot fail to produce much satisfaction in the mind of every lover of the Word of God.
Under these impressions, and conscious of the purity of his motives, what imputations soever he may sustain, he ventures, in the fear of God, to engage in the work,* earnestly beseeching the Father of lights, through the merits of His Son, so to enlighten, assist, and direct his mind, that "in His light he may see light,” and be thereby conducted to such conclusions as may be for the advancement of His glory, the honour of His Word, and the welfare of mankind.
In prosecuting this design, it is not intended to write anything professedly on the prophecies which are generally allowed to have had their accomplishment; nor to attempt to decide concerning dates, or precisely when the events referred to will take place. So far, indeed, as the nature and order of circumstances are calculated to direct, we may form a probable conjecture. But as numerous mistakes have been made by writers in attempting to determine the times of the fulfilment of events then future, even where a clew was given to guide them in their inquiries, it highly becomes us to be very cautious, especially where no such clew is given. Conjecture, also, respecting the nature of circumstances, beyond what the apparent import of relative passages of Scripture will warrant, will scarcely ever be indulged; and when anything conjectural is introduced, care will be taken to distinguish the different degrees of probability which they contain.
Many quotations from authors of celebrity in support of the ideas advanced must not be expected. This advantage is almost totally prevented by the circumstance of the ground being, in a great measure, new.
Elegant or refined language the reader must not look for. What defects soever of this kind he may meet with, and probably they will not be few, he is requested to exercise his candour in overlooking.
In pursuing so devious a plan, and in exploring a domain so trackless, it will not appear at all strange to any candid or considerate person, if it should be found that some mistakes had been made, especially concerning a few passages in which the evidence is not so clear as in others. Not to be found in any error would, when the nature of the case is considered, appear strange indeed, if not miraculous.
* This was about the year 1812, when the ideas were first committed to writing; circumstances of a different kind have since that prevented their publication. This note was inserted in 1822.
One principal motive in giving publicity to the subject is, a hope of exciting men of greater abilities and acquirements to investigate the subject more fully, to rectify mistakes, and to improve the leading ideas, if correct, so as to obtain all the ends designed by the Most High.
The Searcher of hearts knows that the discovery of truth is the writer's grand aim. And if the scheme should be ultimately found to be erroneous, either in its foundation or any particular part of the superstructure, nothing will give him greater satisfaction than to see it fully and clearly pointed out and proved, by a plan that will give to the prophecies more perspicuity and harmony than the one now before the reader.
An earnest desire to obtain the real import of the prophecies which relate to the future kingdom of Christ, induced the author to peruse the various writings on the subject that fell in his way. But the diversity and opposition of sentiments therein contained, and the utter impossibility of reconciling any of their views with many of the plainest and clearest declarations of the Sacred Spirit, very powerfully concurred to produce a conclusion, that there must exist some radical mistake, which for so many ages has prevented a clear perception of the proper meaning, and at the same time concealed the beauty and
harmony, of those predictions.
Casting aside, therefore, all dependence on human authorities, the method pursued has been, to examine and compare with each other the different parts of prophecy, in order to find out the real plan designed by the Most High.
It was natural to conclude, that whatever scheme is made use of by a Being of infinite wisdom, it must be consistent in all its parts, and
its import likely to be plain and easy. The more the case was investigated, the more clearly it appeared, that in the literal sense of those passages was to be found the real intention of Jehovah.
By following this clew, it was clearly seen that many of those passages which have been generally thought to have only a figurative or spiritual sense, evidently required a literal interpretation, and some of them to a far greater extent than has hitherto been admitted. Those passages will be particularly considered in the body of the work.
But the reader will probably be ready to ask, “As the predictions which relate to past events, and are universally acknowledged to have been fulfilled, were undeniably given in highly figurative or symbolic language, why should not the others in question, by parity of reason, be interpreted by the same rule?” The following answers, it is hoped, will be satisfactory :
First, When the accomplishment of a prediction depends on the will or voluntary actions of men, especially when the action predicted is of a very atrocious or offensive nature, it was absolutely necessary that it should be expressed in such a manner as not to be apparent to the minds of those concerned in its fulfilment, otherwise it would effectually have prevented its own accomplishment.
But when its fulfilment depends, not on the will or voluntary actions of men, but on the immediate exertion of the Divine power,—or when the application of the prediction is plain, but the nature of the circumstances thereof is not calculated to hinder its completion,—the case is widely different; no such concealment then being necessary.
And if we attentively search the sacred records, we shall find that Infinite Wisdom has generally acted accordingly.
For instance, with respect to the predictions concerning the Messiah; had the time of His advent been unequivocally foretold, and had it been explicitly announced that Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and the elders of the Jews, would pass sentence upon and crucify the true Messiah, they never would have done it. This the apostle plainly declares, 1 Cor. ii. 8, “ For had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
So also with regard to the prophecies which relate to the Papacy; had they been so expressed that no doubt could have been entertained respecting the place, the persons, and the actions designated therein, it is highly probable that by far the greater part of the errors and horrors of Popery would never have had an existence.
But in both these instances, as well as in many others, the language and symbols are so admirably adapted, that, although they are perfectly sufficient to identify the characters and conduct intended in them, especially after their fulfilment, they have been sufficiently dark to the persons concerned to produce no improper restraint on the liberty of their wills and conduct.
On the other hand, when the knowledge of the actions predicted had no tendency to counteract the completion, Divine Wisdom has expressed them in plain and literal language. Thus in 1 Kings xiii. 2, where Josiah is expressly forenamed, as well as the actions he was to perform. So also with regard to Cyrus, Isa. xliv. 28, his name and work are foretold in the clearest manner.
Secondly, Another reason why those passages should be understood literally, arises from both the nature of the language and that of the circumstances described in them. These are oftentimes so very peculiar, so appropriate, and limited to the things expressed, that it is impossible to apply them to any other as their proper objects, without the greatest impropriety, and at the same time involving such imputations on the Divine perfections as are truly shocking.
Thirdly, Many of the prophecies consist, in a considerable degree, of descriptions of the enormities and destruction of various governments, especially those which have existed during the Christian dispensation. Had those descriptions been given in literal and plain terms, it would not only have been an improper restraint on the liberty of the human will and conduct, as before hinted, but in many other instances, through the jealousy of those governments, (especially if influenced by infidel principles,) would have exposed the followers of Christ, as avowed believers in and abettors of such obnoxious sentiments, to still more extensive sufferings than even those which have been inflicted on them. Hence, to prevent additional cruelties, Infinite Wisdom, doubtless, saw it necessary to reveal them under such figures as were calculated both to instruct the sincere inquirer, and at the same time to conceal their meaning from the wicked : Dan. xii. 10, “None of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.” But here let it be particularly observed, that the necessity of this concealment can extend no further than the present Aion,* while those governments continue.
As it was not necessary that the circumstances relating merely to the "Aion to come,” or the kingdom of Christ, should be enveloped in coverings, so we shall find, upon an impartial examination, that the Holy Spirit has communicated them to us in literal language, with only one exception, namely, the creation of the new heavens and earth, or governments, &c., which, as it so nearly relates to the destruction of the old ones, the same symbolic style, in a few passages, for the reasons just now specified, is still retained. It is certain that figurative language is frequently used in describing the cir
* The term “ Aion” is here used because there is no word in the English language that will fully express the idea contained in it. The word, in its limited sense, appears to signify an extensive portion of time, during which the state of human affairs, and the scenes of Divine Providence, continue much in the same condition, without any important change.