Page images

The very

Now those who 'reason in this manner do equal violence to the evidence of facts, and to sound reason. It is not true that the 1,260 days were taken for years at so early an age of the Church as to make the difficulty real. It is not true that, when so expounded, their commencement was or could be plain at once. The general effect of them has never been to quench and extinguish the hope of the Lord's return. contrary is true. Ever since the Reformation, those who have most studied the prophetic dates, as an actual chronology of sacred times, have been the main instruments in awaking the Church to a lively expectation of the coming of Christ. Every fact, without exception, contradicts and refutes the objection.

But it is equally opposed to the maxims of sound reason. In every age, and on every subject, the increase of knowledge has been slow and gradual. This seems to be a general law of divine wisdom. In the case of the prophetic times, this truth is even the object of a separate prediction—“Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased." To require, then, an interpretation of the prophecy to start forth at once full grown and complete; and that the Church, after total ignorance of the times, should be able to fix, by the year-day theory, the exact time of the end, is a demand so absurd and unreasonable as to bear the stamp of its own condemnation. Yet this is the real postulate assumed by those who would entirely cast aside all prophetic chronology on the ground of these partial failures. The midnight has not changed suddenly into noon-day; and hence they deny that any tokens of the dawn have appeared in the horizon.

7. The increase of light, we may therefore assume safely, would be partial and gradual. The Church would not be left in total ignorance under the growing


temptations of a prolonged delay; but would have fresh tokens by which she might discern the times, and “see the day approaching." On the other hand, we could not expect that full light would be given till the very time of our Lord's return. Now the history of the yearday expositions will be found to accord, in the closest and most striking manner, with these truths. They have been like successive steps of approach towards the just apprehension of the course of Divine Providence.

To understand this clearly, we must remember that the Church has always been placed between the two extremes-complete ignorance of the times, and perfect knowledge. When the end was more than eighteen centuries distant, an almost entire concealment of its real distance, with general exhortations to be always prepared for its arrivals, was the most favourable to hope and watchfulness. Whenever the advent shall be, in truth, only two or three years distant, it is plain that a knowledge of this fact will be an immeasurably stronger motive to prayer and watchfulness, than the ignorance which knows only that eighteen centuries have passed, and therefore as many more may still intervene, before the fulfilment of the promise.

Between these limits of time, increasing knowledge would plainly be safe and desirable. This partial light would place the Church in an intermediate condition. There will neither be the total ignorance, which thinks the advent to be possibly within four years, or possibly at a distance of forty thousand; nor yet the full knowledge which can assign the very year, much less the hour and day. There will be a gradual progress only from the first state towards the second, as the course of Providence moves on.

Let us now suppose that the year-day theory is the divine instrument for conveying to the Church this partial light. Every exposition based on it must then partake of two opposite characters. Compared with the exciting prospect of the instant coming of Christ, as in the Thessalonian Church, it would be a protraction. Measured by the event, or by a full and perfect knowledge, it would be an anticipation. It would serve as ballast to those who were shaken in mind, and troubled, by a false impression of the imminent nearness of the judgment; and it would be a wholesome stimulus to the slothful servant, who should say in his heart, “ My lord delayeth his coming."

Now these, which are the very marks of its practical worth, form the two counts of the inconsistent indictment which has been laid against it. " It interferes with the expectation of the advent.”

That is to say, in reality, it serves, from age to age, for a partial corrective of false anticipations, like that of the Thessalonians :“ It has repeatedly failed in its predictions, ministered occasion to the scoffers, and thrown discredit on the study of prophecy." In other words, it has not prematurely revealed the whole interval, while the end was still distant, nor given more light to earlier generations of the Church than was profitable for them to receive. It has ministered occasion to the scoffer, and in so doing has fulfilled the prediction, that none of the wicked shall understand; while, by the gradual approaches to a just estimate of the times, it has fulfilled the contrasted promise, that knowledge shall be increased, and that the wise shall understand. The opposite objections urged against it are the very proofs of its adaptation to the wants of the Church.

These remarks will be made clearer by one or two examples. Let us take one of the earliest instances, that of Walter Bruté, in the fourteenth century. He wrote, as Mr. Maitland tells us, about A.D. 1390,

and dated the one thousand two hundred and ninety days, as years, from the destruction of Jerusalem under Hadrian, A.D. 118. This reckoning would place the close of the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days about fifty years distant. Now a literal view of the times might have led him to contract the distance to five years, and a perfect knowledge to enlarge it to five centuries. The case of Mede is very similar. His view of the probable date led him to place the end at from thirty-five to a hundred and ten years after the time when he wrote. There was a protraction, when compared with the instancy of a false expectation, and yet an anticipation of the true period. The successive failures, then, as they have been called, are no real failures in a practical sense. They are only waymarks in the progress of the Church, from that entire ignorance of the times in which she was purposely left in the apostolic age, to the full and certain knowledge that the Bridegroom is at hand, which shall prepare her, like the wise virgins, to enter in with her Lord to the marriage feast.

8. Besides, however, this general defence, which fully disproves the charge of total failure and deception brought against the prophetic chronology, we may advance a step further in its vindication. From the nature of the event, an exact apprehension of the time of the advent could not be expected until the end should be really at hand. On this subject, then, dogmatical assertions must always have been rash and presumptuous; and even the modest conjectures which have often been confounded under the same censure would of course be defective, though far from being practically useless. But on subordinate events, if the general outlines of a past fulfilment be true, there might be a more correct judgment. And, accordingly, in spite of all the vague declamation on the total failure of these prophetic times, there are several instances on record of such anticipations, drawn from the prophecy, which have proved singularly correct in their main features.

First of all, about the year A.D. 1600, Brightman, in his commentary, calculated that the overthrow of the Turkish power would occur A.D. 1696. In the year A.D. 1687, Cressener renewed the prediction, placing the time a year earlier, but restricting it to the close of the Turkish encroachments,” or “the last end of their hostilities.” In almost exact accordance, the year 1697 was marked by that most signal victory of Prince Eugene over the Turks, which has proved the final limit to their aggressions upon Western Europe.

Secondly, at the deepest depression of the Protestant cause in England, and a full year before the Revolution, Dr. Cressener wrote as follows:-"I make account it is demonstrable that the true religion will revive again in some very considerable kingdom, before the general peace

with the Turks, or eight years at furthest.” "The next year seems, in all probability, to be a year of wonders for the recovery of the Church."

Accordingly, only one year after this time, the Protestant Revolution took place in England, and within about eleven years that general peace of Carlowitz was made with the Turks, which has proved a fated barrier to their destructive inroads upon Christendom.

At the same time this writer announced his conviction, drawn from the prophecy, and especially from the 1,260 days, that before A.D. 1800 Rome would be destroyed, and “soon after, the chief supports of the Roman Church, ecclesiastical and civil, would be destroyed also." In August, 1797, Cacault wrote to Napoleon, “ Discontent is at its height in the Papal states; the government will fall to pieces of itself. We are making it consume by

« PreviousContinue »