Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER III.

ON THE FOUR EMPIRES.

Of the various presumptions which the Futurists urge against the Protestant interpretations, the two first have been proved to be groundless, and all the others furnish strong arguments against their own theories. The necessary clearness of all fulfilled prophecy, which forms the basis of their assault, is a fiction without warrant either in reason or in the word of God. The objection of novelty brought against the obnoxious system is equally groundless. In all its main foundations the Protestant exposition has the full consent of antiquity; and in those parts of it which are really modern, we have the direct authority of Scripture for preferring the judgment of later times. The disagreement of different authors is not greater than might be expected, when the number of their writings, the difficulty of the prophecy, and the wide field of history embraced, are taken into view. The study of history which those interpretations require is authorized, and even expressly commanded, in the word of God, and forms one main element of its divine glory. The exaggeration of events close at hand is falsely charged upon the Protestant system, and really belongs, in its most unnatural form, to that of the Futurists themselves. The unsuitableness, also, of the common expositions to convince infidels, as regards some parts of them, is entirely untrue; and with regard to the rest, is accounted for by open declarations of Scripture; while the scheme

of more than one of the Futurists outstrips the infidels. themselves in its superlative scepticism, and yields them fresh pretexts for unbelieving scorn.

Nor are these writers more happy in the reasons which they allege in behalf of their own theories. They assert, with one voice, that the prophecies of Scripture are mainly occupied with the crisis; and the exact reverse proves to be true, that they are commonly long and continuous periods of time. They allege the authority of early tradition; as the latest of them, for instance, informs us that “ Mr. Burgh has restored the system advocated by the ancient commentators." Yet that tradition, in reality, gives its weight, by a tenfold preponderance, against their theory. And while they magnify the discord of the Protestant interpreters, and extol the simplicity of their own scheme, the boasted system itself, when closely examined, proves to be one vast pile of enormous contradictions. The

way is now open for a direct examination of the prophecies, the true meaning of which is in debate. And here it is most desirable to bear in mind, from the first, their momentous importance. They are not subjects of a transitory nature, but the deep counsels of the eternal God. They involve the grand outlines of His providence for near three thousand years; and on their right determination, the welfare and safety, or the apostasy and ruin, of the visible Church mainly depends. It was a blind ignorance, or perverse distortion of the word of prophecy, which brought on the ruin of the Jews; and we have no security in our own case that the same causes might not produce effects equally fatal and disastrous. To treat any part of that word, not merely with open irreverence, but even with a hasty and careless precipitance and rashness, is treason against the highest interests of the Church of Christ. Here, if

I

[ocr errors]

anywhere, there is an urgent and imperative call for seriousness and calmness—for caution and accuracy of statement, strictness of reasoning, and a tone of deep and pious reverence. No one can read either Mede, or Vitringa, or Bengelius, or many other leading interpreters of our own Church, without seeing that these features are eminently conspicuous. How far these excellencies are to be found in the writings of the new school, will appear more plainly in the course of this inquiry.

The subjects in debate may be arranged in three classes. First, those in which the early Church, Romanists and Protestants, all agree, and are opposed, in some by two or three, in others by all the Futurist writers. Of this kind are the following:

1. The meaning of the four prophetic empires. 2. The history of Persia and Greece (c. viii.)

3. The history of the kings of Persia, Syria, and Egypt (c. xi.)

4. The prophecy of the seventy weeks.

5. The prophecy of our Lord (Matt. xxiv.) in its main outline.

6. The Catholic scope of the Apocalypse, as reaching through the whole Christian dispensation.

Secondly, those in which a general assent of Protestant writers is opposed, sometimes to a partial, sometimes to a general assent of the Romanists and Futurists; and also diverges, more or less, from the expectations of the early Church. Such are the following :

1. The prophetic use of kings to denote ruling dynasties.

2. The little horn of the fourth beast (vii. 20-47).
3. The abomination of desolation, &c. (xi. 20-35).
4. The prophecy of the man of sin.
5. The apostasy of the latter times (1. Tim. iv. 1-6).

[ocr errors]

6. The ninth, thirteenth, and seventeenth chapters of the Apocalypse.

7. The year-day theory of prophetic times.

A third class will include those points on which the best Protestant expositors vary widely from each other. But these it seems needlesst to specify. The present volume will be chiefly occupied with the more elementary subjects which belong to the first of these divisions.

I. THE FOUR EMPIRES.

in

The visions of the great image and of the four beasts,

every age of the Church, and with a consent almost universal, have been referred to the same four kingdoms of history—the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Here the early fathers, the writers of the Roman Church, and Protestants, all agree. Thus St. Jerome speaks of it as "perfectly plain," and 6 the common opinion of ecclesiastical authors." Malvenda, one of the most laborious of the Roman expositors, calls it a doctrine “.certain and fully received (certum ac pervagatum) by all professors of the Christian name." Especially, he says, of the application of the fourth to the Roman empire, no one can be found who contradicts it" (nullus qui contradicat reperiri quibit). And Mede, the most distinguished, perhaps, of Protestant interpreters, declares the consent to be so general, that he deems it “all but an article of faith” (tantum non articulus fidei). Most of the Futurists themselves own, on this point, the weight of reason and authority, and concur in the generally received view. Mr. Maitland and Dr. Todd stand alone in their rejection of this first basis of all sound interpretation.

I. THE INTERNAL EVIDENCE for this common acceptation of the empires may be summed up in the following propositions ;

[ocr errors]

1. The four empirea in c. vii. are successive in their gule.--For in the symbols, the second, third, and fourth are plainly asserted to appear in succession. And the distinct stages of the first and fourth are successive also. “I beheld, until the wings were plucked." "I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn." There can be no reason, then, to doubt that the second succeeds the first; the only point not expressly stated.

Again, that the second arises after the first is clearly implied in the words—" And, behold, another beast, a second." Since it is first described as another, the only reason why the further epithet “a second" should be added, is because it is really the second in the order of its dominion.

Further, the spirit of the contrast in vv. 17, 18, shows that the rule of these four kingdoms occupies the whole space

till the time of the dominion of the saints and the visible kingdom of Christ. The whole force of the passage is lost on any other view. They must, therefore, be successive.

Again it is said." The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth." Let us compare vv. 3, 7, 17, and it will be plain that this means fourth in order of succession of the four kings or kingdoms just named by the angel. Any other exposition is either a mere tautology, or involves a greater absurdity.

From all these reasons, the four empires of the second vision must be successive in the time of their rule.

2. The four empires are the same in each vision.--For the last of the four, in each, is immediately followed by the visible kingdom of Christ. It must hence be the same in each. The third, in each vision, is that main ruling kingdom which next precedes the fourth, and must also be the same. And so of the second and the first.

« PreviousContinue »