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own nature, and so much perplexed and obscured by recent controversy, that it deserves, and almost requires, a separate consideration. The true meaning of the prophetic times has a close and vital connexion with the general exposition of these sacred visions. It has been the general impression of the best Protestant interpreters, for near three centuries, that a prophetic day signifies a natural year, and that all the other periods are to be expounded by the same rule. It will be my object, in these next chapters, to ascertain the truth or falsehood of this hypothesis, called, popularly, THE YEAR-DAY
When the new school of interpretation arose, this theory was almost the first object of attack, as the least defensible outwork of the Protestant expositions. The arguments in its favour had never been fully collected, or very clearly stated, and its implicit reception, for many years, by a large class of readers, made it be held very loosely, and gave a skilful assailant many advantages. Several pamphlets, in succession, from the pen of Mr. Maitland, had a powerful effect in breaking the spell of mere authority, and compelled his readers either to abandon the opinion, or to seek some better reasons for maintaining it than the mere fact of its extensive prevalence. Several replies appeared; but all of them were partial in extent, and some. very defective, either in their facts or their reasonings; and his rejoinders seemed to leave him in possession of the field. Hence there is no branch of controversy on which writers of this school assume a more confident tone. Dr. Todd assures his readers that the year-day theory is "an untenable assumption, which an eminent living writer has so completely refuted, that no theory built upon it can now be considered as requiring any further confutation." It is true that any one who reads
his work with any discernment, will attach very little weight to the author's judgment on any subject involving the interpretation of prophecy. But still the fact, that such confident assertions are made, proves the need there is for a calm and full review of the whole question, in order to dispel the mists by which it has been obscured.
The remarks of Mr. Faber on this subject in the « Provincial Letters,” like most of those which proceed from his pen, are distinct and forcible. But even these are confined to one or two topics out of many, and exhibit only a small part of the evidence, from Scripture and from reason, which may be brought to converge on this difficult and important inquiry. Two or three chapters shall therefore he devoted to the argument, in the hope that, by an orderly treatment, the objections may be fully removed, and the evidence for the theory be placed in a stronger and a clearer light than has been attempted by previous writers.
The simplest arrangement is, first, to define the real question, removing those objections which have arisen from the frequent misconceptions of its true nature: next, to exhibit, under distinct heads, the scriptural evidence, proceeding from the more general to the more specific arguments : and thirdly, to unfold more clearly those principles of reason or sacred analogy which confirm the same view. I will then, finally, reply to all the remaining objections, which could not be treated under the former divisions, and subjoin a few remarks on popular errors connected with this whole subject of prophetic dates and sacred chronology.
I. THE GENERAL NATURE OF THE THEORY has already been, in some measure, explained in the first chapter. It may be convenient, however, to present it more fully in that particular form of it which will be here maintained, and which exhibits, in the clearest
light, the scriptural basis on which it rests. It may be summed
in these maxims : 1. That the Church, after the ascension of Christ, was intended of God to be kept in the lively expectation of His speedy return in glory.
2. That, in the divine counsels, a long period of near two thousand years was to intervene between the first and the second advent, and to be marked by a dispensation of grace to the Gentiles.
3. That, in order to strengthen the faith and hope of the Church under the long delay, a large part of the whole interval was prophetically announced, but in such a manner that its true length might not be understood, till its own close seemed to be drawing near.
4. That, in the symbolical prophecies of Daniel and St. John, other times were revealed along with this, and included under one common maxim of interpretation.
5. That the periods thus figuratively revealed are exclusively those in Daniel and St. John, which relate to the general history of the Church between the time of the prophet and the second advent.
6. That, in these predictions, each day represents a natural year, as in the vision of Ezekiel ; that a month denotes thirty, and a time three hundred and sixty years.
The first of these maxims is plain from the statements of Scripture; and the second from the actual history of the world. The third is, on d priori grounds, a natural and reasonable inference from the two former, and is the true basis of the year-day theory, viewed in its final cause. The three following present the theory itself, under its true limits. Perhaps no simpler method could be suggested in which such a partial and halfveiled revelation could be made, than that which the Holy Spirit is thus supposed to adopt, resting as it does on one plain analogy of natural times.
Now the mere statement of these axioms removes at once several main difficulties, which have been used to perplex and embarrass the whole inquiry.
1. First, it has been urged that this larger interpretation of the prophetic times is inconsistent with the repeated commands of our Saviour, that the Church should always be watching for His return. How could this be possible, it is asked, if it were revealed from the first that 1,260 years must elapse before that advent should arrive?
This objection disappears in a moment, when the facts and the hypothesis are simply compared together. The very reason for which the times are asserted to have been given in this unusual form is, that they might not be understood too early, when they would have interfered with the earnestness of continual expectation. The two opposite arguments, indeed, which have been brought against this view, destroy each other, and help to 'establish its truth. One writer condemns it, because it was unknown for twelve centuries ; and others, because, if it had been understood in those days, it must have paralyzed all watchfulness for the return of the Lord. Surely these objections, when compared together, yield a presumption in favour of the view they were designed to confute. They prove that these revelations, as thus explained, were exactly suited to the need of the Church; that they concealed the length of the delay, when the knowledge might have been injurious; and revealed it, when once it became a help to the faith of the Church that it should be known.
The only way of sustaining the objection is to assume that the fact of such a revelation being given made it the duty of the Church to understand at once its true meaning. Two duties would then seem to contradict each other-the obligation of continual watchfulness,
and the duty of understanding the message, that more than twelve centuries would intervene before the advent. But the contradiction is not real. There must either be a defined measure of light, which the Christian is not allowed to pass, or else a duty and privilege of unlimited progress. In the former case, the difficulty ceases, since there could be no obligation to understand the times from the first: and on the other supposition, the motive to watchfulness, which was drawn from the ignorance of the Church, would be replaced, as her knowledge increased, by higher motives, drawn from a lively sense of the real vastness of eternity.
2. Again: it has often been argued that the mystical interpretation would compel us to lengthen the millennium into 360,000 years. But the principle on which the theory has just now been founded removes this objection also. The millennium is not included in that time of waiting, which made it desirable to conceal the times under a symbolic veil. There are, indeed, other internal reasons, which furnish a still more evident warrant for the distinction between this period and all the rest; but that which has now been assigned is sufficient, even alone.
3. It has been further made a prominent objection to the year-day, that it was totally unknown for twelve, or, as some assert, for fifteen centuries. The fact, however, has been greatly exaggerated beyond its true limits. And besides, the late period at which this interpretation was unfolded was a natural and necessary consequence of the principle on which it depends. Instead, therefore, of being a valid objection, it forms a remarkable presumption in favour of its truth. In fact, this exposition appeared first at the very time when it must have appeared, if the principles on which it is founded had a real existence.