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PROPHETIC HISTORY OF EMPIRES
"There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known. . . what shall be in the latter days." Dan. 2:28.
As we near the close of the eighteenth century, the works dealing with prophecy become more numerous; moreover, the tone of the writers grows more confident, the books take on a more popular air, and it is easy to see that the number of persons interested in such reading is steadily increasing. One of the most scholarly works of the time bears as its title, "The Divine Origin of Prophecy Illustrated and Defended," being the Bampton Lectures of the year 1800, delivered by George Richards, M. A., D. D., vicar of Rainham, Kent. In his introductory remarks the author dwells at some length on the unique character of prophecy, and the definiteness with which it deals with individual cities and nations:
"In predicting the fate of the great cities of the East, the prophets foretold, not only the general overthrow of all, but the particular and characteristic ruin of each. Of Tyre it was predicted that the solitary fisherman should spread his nets over the rocks, on which her towers and palaces were raised; of Babylon, that her ruins should bear the appearance of a desolation occasioned by the overflow of waters; that the sea should come up upon her, and that she should be covered with the multitude of the waves thereof; that she should be made a possession for the bittern, and for pools of water: and of Nineveh, that she should entirely disappear from the earth, and that her situation shou'd nowhere be found.
"Again, in anticipating the great empires of the world, the prophets did not simply enumerate their regular succession; they marked also their distinct and appropriate features. The Macedonian was portrayed by rapidity of conquest, and by the quadruple partition. The Roman was distinguished by a peculiarity of government, a tremendous and irresistible power, universality of dominion, and a final division into ten independent kingdoms." Pages 61, 62.
"But the clearest proof [he continues] of a preternatural foreknowledge displaying itself in the discovery of minute circumstances, may be derived from the precision with which the prophets frequently fixed a particular time for the accomplishment of events, even when no human motive could be assigned for their preference of that to any other period. . . . Thus a period of four hundred years was named for the sojourning of the people of Israel in Egypt; seventy for the temporary punishment of Tyre; seventy for the captivity of the Jews in Babylon; and four hundred and ninety for the interval between their return to Jerusalem and the appearance of their expected Messiah.
"The time fixed for the continuance of the papal usurpation is still more extraordinary, because it is much more extended. The most able interpreters of the Sacred Scriptures have limited it to twelve hundred and sixty years, upon the concurring testimony of Daniel and St. John. The severe shocks which it has received, and the weakened condition in which we now behold it. justify the supposition that the period of its duration, no less than the characteristics by which it has been distinguished, will be found faithfully to coincide with the descriptions of the prophets." Pages 65-68.
Of prophecy in general he says:
"It carries us back into past ages, and interests us in the most important transactions which are recorded in the history of the human race. By the
absolute certainty which it affords of the interposition of the Supreme Being in the affairs of the world, it is calculated to fill the mind with astonishment, and a kind of sacred delight. And when, in addition to these powerful considerations, we reflect that it is one of the most effectual means of bringing the creature to a more perfect knowledge of the Creator, and of strengthening the confidence of mankind in divine revelation, we need not hesitate to pronounce it the most interesting and the most momentous which occupy the attention of a being endued, like man, with reason, and formed for immortal life."- Pages 343, 344.
Like other writers of the time, Richards refers repeatedly to the deepening interest in prophetic studies, growing out of political and social developments then taking place in Europe.
"In seasons like the present [he says], the argument from prophecy in particular is likely to attract a more than ordinary attention, and to make a very strong impression upon the public mind.”— Page 9.
"It appears that the wonderful scenes which have of late been presented to the view of the Christian world, are particularly favorable to the enforcement of the argument from prophecy, and that they seem to render it more peculiarly incumbent upon us to place it in that high rank among the evidences of Christianity to which, from its impressive nature, it is justly entitled, but from which, for a considerable length of time, it appears to have been undeservedly degraded."- Page 11.
References to current events which throw light on the prophecies become increasingly frequent in the books on prophecy that were published in the early years of the nineteenth century. George Faber, in putting out a second edition of one of his works in the year 1808, expresses his firm conviction "that the hand of God is stretched forth over the earth in a peculiar and remarkable manner; and that all things will assuredly work together to fulfil those prophecies which yet remain unaccomplished, and to prepare a way for the last tremendous manifestations of God's wrath.”
Some years later, in a new edition of Sir Isaac Newton's work on Daniel, the editor speaks of the time as one "when the dark forebodings of judgment rise in thickening gloom over Christendom; when every state feels in its own feverish agitation the sympathetic echo to the rumors of war which reach it from every other; nay, when the events of the day so fulfil the predictions that they are described by the politician in language unwittingly borrowed from the page of the seer, and the burdens of judgment have become familiar in our mouths as household words.'"
The widespread interest in the subject of fulfilled and fulfilling prophecy, and the demand for popular instruction on the subject, is well illustrated in a work of fifty pages entitled, "The
Elements of Prophetic Interpretation, or Easy Lessons Introductory to the Study of Prophecy," which was published in London in 1828. Reference is made in the introduction to "the present day when a new interest in the prophetic parts of the Sacred Scriptures is rapidly spreading, publications on the subject are successively appearing," etc. The author goes on to say that most of these books assume a knowledge of the elements of prophetic interpretation. He proposes in his little work to give some necessary information, in order that the other books. that are coming out on prophetic subjects may be read more intelligently.
He also refers to the timeliness of prophetic study in view of things then taking place in the world, asserting that the movements of Providence in reference to certain events particularized, "may well lead the most cautious and sober Christian to conclude that we are actually in a great crisis of the world." In the foregoing pages we have mentioned a few, a very few, of the representative works dealing with prophecy, which may be said to have prepared the way for the advent movement of the nineteenth century. Lack of space makes it necessary to omit scores of vitally interesting and profitable works. It also hinders our giving even a very general summary of the contents. of the few that have been mentioned. But this much may be said: Allowing for differences of opinion on various matters, mostly of a comparatively unimportant character, they agree in the large essentials. They breathe a spirit of open-mindedness, pure devotion, and firm trust in God; they are instinct with the hope of a coming Saviour, and the ushering in of His kingdom of universal peace; their authors wrote from conviction, not with any desire for human applause. Moreover, while the works of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries laid a broad foundation of scholarship, which was exceedingly helpful to those who came after them, their authors seemed to realize that the crisis was yet some years ahead, while those written in the early nineteenth century give evidence that their authors felt that they themselves were in the crisis and a part of it, and wrote from that standpoint.