« PreviousContinue »
4. The above maxims enable us, further, 'to avoid those loose and vague assertions which have given a great advantage to the opponents of the theory. The term, a prophetic day, has been used, till many writers seem to have lost all clear apprehension of the limited extent of the principle, and fallen into serious errors in its application. We have no warrant, either from the reason of the case, or from direct evidence, for extending the maxim, as a general law, to all other predictions.
Even Mede is not quite faultless in this respect; yet it may be not improper to digress for a moment, to clear him from a charge of gross and inexcusable error, to which a misconception of his words has given rise. He had said in his argument on this subject, " Secondly, let it be shown in all the prophecy of Daniel (or, for aught I know, in any other of the prophets), where times of things prophesied expressed by days are not to be understood of years."
Mr. Maitland replies to this remark in the following words :
“I am perfectly amazed at this brave challenge, which I sincerely lament, because I know that bold assertion will generally carry the multitude by storm, and that comparatively few readers take the trouble to inquire whether a writer has good ground, or any ground, for what he affirms with confidence. I answer, that I know of only these prophecies in the Scriptures which predict a period in terms of days; and whether any one of them is to be understood of years, let the reader judge."
He then adduces eight passages (Gen. vii. 4; xl. 12; Exod. viii. 10; X. 4; Josh. vi. 4; 2 Kings vii. l; Jonah iii. 4; Matt. xii. 40; John ii. 19; Rev. ii. 10); and subjoins : “I am not aware that any individual has supposed the word day in any one of these passages, except the seventh and eighth, to mean a year. I would beg the reader to look again to Mr. Mede's question, and I
think he will wonder how a writer so well acquainted with the Scripture could ever propose it."
Now the natural inference of the reader, from these remarks, must be, that Mede is guilty either of great ignorance, or of a worse fault-controversial dishonesty. One such blot would go far to damage his reputation, and cast suspicion on all his other statements. Yet the mistake is entirely Mr. Maitland's own, in extending the challenge beyond its evident meaning. Of the eight examples he brings, the five first are not in the
prophets" at all, but in the historical books of the Old Testament. The sixth is the message of Jonah to the Ninevites, which, if meant solely of literal days, was not fulfilled at all, but averted; and if it were fulfilled, must have implied, as many have thought, a judgment after forty years. The next is our Lord's own prediction (Matt. xii. 40; John ii. 19). This is a clear instance of literal fulfilment, but does not occur strictly in the prophets. The last is the ten days' tribulation of Smyrna, of which the literal fulfilment is unknown, but which many commentators have referred, and with apparent reason, to the ten years' persecution of Diocletian. There is a further passage (Hos. vi. 2), which Mr. Maitland has overlooked, and which seems to have both a literal and mystical fulfilment, though not on the principle of the year-day.
The words of Mede, then, do not imply the gross oversight which Mr. Maitland's readers would infer. Their fault is of a different kind. They aim at an illusive generalization, for which there are no sufficient materials. In the prophets there are only two instances given by Mr. Maitland, one possibly, and the other with high probability, fulfilled on the year-day principle; one of them certainly, and perhaps the other, having no fulfilment in literal days. On the whole, therefore, Mede has more warrant for his assertion, than Mr. Maitland for contradicting it so strongly. But still the remark is faulty, because it tends to place the argument on a false basis. The real contrast is not between predictions in the prophets and in the historical books, but depends on a cause of a very different kind.
II. THE NATURE OF THE EVIDENCE TO BE EXPECTED niust be the next object of our inquiry. This requires us to notice, first of all, the indictment preferred against the truth of the theory.
The first and palmary argument of its opponents is the general duty of adhering to the literal sense. The words of Hooker are frequently adduced:“I hold it for a most infallible rule, in the exposition of Scripture, that, where the literal construction will stand, the furthest from the letter is commonly the worst. There is nothing more dangerous than this licentious and deluding art, which changeth the meaning of words, as alchemy doth, or would do, the substance of metals, maketh of anything what it listeth, and bringeth, in the end, all truth to nothing." If it be replied that these dates occur in the symbolical prophecies, it is rejoined at once that they are given in the explanation of the visions. To this general reason other arguments are added, of much apparent weight. Every prophecy, it is said, except those in dispute, has been fulfilled literally. Twelve or more instances occur of intervals predicted in years, which were all fulfilled in years, and five or six predicted in days, which have been fulfilled in days. The year-day interpretation was not only unknown for above a thousand years, but has given birth to many conjectures which have been successively falsified by time. Finally, the contrast is drawn between the prophecies whose fulfilment is allowed by all Christians, and the disputable nature of all the expositions connected with the mystical times. This argument is advanced, not with perfect correctness of statement, but with much point and forces in the close of Mr. Maitland's “ Enquiry :"
"We point the infidel to the captive Jew and the wandering Arab; but who challenges him with the slain witnesses? We set before him the predicted triumphs of Cyrus; but do we expect his conversion from the French revolution and the conquests of Napoleon? We send him to muse on the ruined city of David and to search for the desolate site of Babylon; but who builds his argument on the opened seals of the Apocalypse? And why is this? I do not speak hastily, and I would not speak uncharitably; but I cannot suppress my conviction, that it is because the necessity of filling up a period of one thousand two hundred and sixty years has led to such forced interpretation of languages and to such a constrained acquiescence in what is unsatisfactory to sound judgment, that we should be afraid, not only of incurring his ridicule, but of his claiming the same license which we have ourselves been obliged to assume" (Enq. p. 84).
The previous remarks seem to comprise the chief strength of the argument against the year-day system. Let us now examine more closely the elements of whick it is composed, and we shall find that this imposing array has only a seeming strength, and will not bear the test of a strict inquiry.
1. The maxim of Hooker is doubtless important, when restricted within its just limits; but, without the help of other principles, it will be found quite insufficient to ensure a sound and just interpretation. Often as these words have been quoted, it seems to have been overlooked, that, in the very instance referred to, Hooker's own maxim fails him, and the interpretation which he advocates is just as far from being strictly literal as that which he condemns. Indeed, it may be questioned whether the deviation from the exact letter be not twice as great as in the exposition which he condemns. Now, if so profound a reasoner could be so deceived in
the application of his own principle in the very instance for which it is adduced, it must be clear that the greatest caution is needful in its use at all times. No interpretation can properly be literal which neglects any indication, whether direct or indirect, of the mind of the revealing Spirit. If we read no deeper meaning in a message from the Infinite Wisdom, than we should suspect in the same words had they been spoken by a mere child, we adopt a false maxim, which would freeze out all the life and glory of the oracles of God. Where a phrase is distinctly marked out and separated, as containing a hidden sense, the meaning which lies on the surface, and which might otherwise have been counted literal, ceases to be such, strictly and exclusively, any longer.
2. Let us next consider, for either hypothesis, the circumstances which would indicate its truth. If the meaning of the times had been designed to be clear from the first, we might reasonably anticipate that they would be given in the most usual and customary form. On the other hand, if they were intended to disclose their true sense only after the lapse of ages, they would then be presented in a more ambiguous manner. The true meaning would not then lie on the surface, but would depend on some combination of indirect evidence, all pointing to something hidden and mysterious, and only after close inquiry revealing definitely the exact sense really conveyed. Evidence apparent at first sight, or strictly demonstrative in any one part, would be excluded by the object of the revelation. We might therefore expect, in this case, that the terms would suggest a shorter period, and yet bear such marks of peculiarity and strangeness as to hinder us from resting with confidence on that outer sense, and to suggest strongly the existence of a deeper meaning. But if short periods were really designed, there seems no ima