Page images
PDF
EPUB

We cannot but think then, that Howe is right, when he says: • The safest course is, without God's warrant, not to prophesy • at all.' The danger of tampering with unfulfilled prophecy could not, indeed, be placed in a stronger light, than it is by Mr. Irving's plea for its necessity. We cannot conceive of a much more pernicious and mischievous notion infecting the Christian Church, than that we are to suspend any exertions for the advancement of religion, to withhold our countenance of any religious undertaking or institution, till we can ascertain from the page of prophecy,—in other words, from the expounders of prophecy, from Mr. Frere or Mr. Faber,—whether we shall, in so doing, be working with or against the purposes of God. It was not in this spirit that Carey and Martyn set forth on their heroic enterprise. It was not under the guidance or from the impulse of such prophetic discoveries, that the various Institutions have been formed, and the vast exertions made for the spread of Divine truth, which distinguish the present era. The Gospel of St. Matthew contains, in the last chapter, all the warrant and all the promise that are necessary to sanction and to inspirit such undertakings. And as to those who would stand at a gaze,' trying to read the stars in the canopy of prophecy,' the aphorism is but too likely to be veritied_" He that observeth the clouds shall not sow, and he “ that regardeth the winds shall not reap.”.

We cannot allow the remark to pass, that prophecy, when fulfilled, ceases to be prophecy--is no more than an empty cask. What! have the prophecies of Isaiah become spiritless and useless to the Church of Christ, because they have been historically fulfilled ? Is the evidence supplied by fulfilled prophecy of no avail or importance? If Mr. Irving has lost his relish for these sublime portions of the Inspired Volume, and prefers the Book of Esdras, he is indeed far gone in fanaticism. He cannot mean this. But he further maintains, that the notion that the prophecies were not intended to be known

till the event should reveal their application,' is contradicted by the whole testimony of Scripture.'

• First, with respect to time. Daniel knew by books when the captivity of Babylon was to be accomplished. And he revealed by date when Messiah the Prince was to come. Then, with respect to person, Cyrus is named by his proper name in the prophecies of Isaiah, and both the Persic and the Greek empires are named by name in the prophecy of Daniel. Then, with respect to place, the place of Messiah's birth was so well known and decided

from the prophecy, that the chief priests at once agreed upon it when asked by Herod; and every burden of Isaiah is directed, with the exactness of a letter, to the city for which it was intended, and to which, doubtless, in some way or other, it was made known. But it is useless to contend with ignorance in its dark places. Vol. I. p. 27.

upon

We unfeignedly wish that our Author would leave off this discreditable habit of imputing ignorance, stupidity, shallowmindedness, and wickedness, to those who differ from him. If the view we have taken of the broad distinction between the two collateral series of prophetic revelations be correct, the instances here cited will make little to his purpose. No one doubts or can deny, that many of the prophecies were intended to be known, and would not fail to be understood, prior to the event. Their definiteness and explicitness prove this, as well as the obvious design for which they were given. But does it follow that all prophecy was intended to be understood, before the event interpreted it,-even when the prediction was implicated in mystery and indefiniteness? Would not the marked contrast of character rather imply a difference of design ? And does not the fact, that the one class of prophecies were not understood, with the exception of the definite predictions respecting the place and time of Messiah's birth, and his royal lineage, render it in the highest degree probable that they were purposely veiled till the event should interpret them? If so, it is at least supposable, that the prophecies which still remain unfulfilled, may not be intended to be known till the event shall reveal their application.

In the twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew, we have a remarkable instance of both descriptions of prophecy in immediate succession ; the one strikingly definite, the other purposely indefinite; the one intended to warn the disciples of the coming event, the other designed to check and to regulate their hasty anticipation of the final issue. The double question of the disciples, which gave occasion to our Lord's uttering the twofold prediction, evidently betrayed mistaken ideas respecting the consequences of the overthrow of their temple and polity. Their first inquiry, " When shall these things be ?" referred simply to the preceding prediction relating to the destruction of the temple. But with that event were associated in their expectations, the second coming of our Lord, and " the end of the world.” It is evident, too, that having as yet no correct conception of the spiritual nature of our Lord's kingdom, they expected his speedy return for the purpose of restoring the Jewish commonwealth. Instead of giving at once a direct answer to their question, Our Lord begins by cautioning them against becoming the dupes of those impostors who should come in his name or assume his character ; intimating that they must pay no attention to such rumours of his return, for a succession of events must previously take place, which should try their faith, and put the characters of his professed followers to a severe test. Many, it is predicted, would apostatize ; but, to inspire them with confidence in the issue, it is added, that the Gospel should triumph over all opposition, and spread through the whole of the known world, and that then the end” of the Jewish polity should come. Having thus intimated that the predicted event was not to ensue immediately or “ as yet,” Our Lord proceeds to communicate to them the unequivocal signs which should precede the horrors of the siege, in order that, warned by the presage, they might effect their timely escape : “When ye shall see,” &c. (ver. 15). So specific was the event foretold, su distinct the mark, that the Christians were at no loss how to understand its application, but, when the event took place, profited by the information, and were saved from the miseries which befel their unbelieving and devoted countrymen. Arguing from analogy,' Mr. Cooper observes, it might not be unreasonable to sup.

pose, that, in the present crisis, the Lord might be pleased • to grant some one signal and specific mark which' might

strongly arrest the attention of his people, and rouse them • without hesitation or delay to the faithful discharge of those • peculiar duties on which their safety and happiness at this * juncture would depend.'* And he imagines that the appearance of Napoleon Bonaparte was such a mark. But the object of the distinctive signal furnished by our Lord, was not to rouse his disciples to the discharge of any duty, but simply to enable them to avoid, by timely flight, a specific calamity. It seems to us very unwarrantable to suppose that any sign from heaven, any specific note of preparation, will be given to rouse Christians to the faithful discharge of their duties. Mr. Cooper wholly fails, in our opinion, to establish the most distant resemblance between the sign given by our Lord, and the event which he fixes upon as the distinctive ‘mark' of the present Crisis. And had such sign been given, it might naturally have been looked for, not in the book of Daniel, but in the chapter now under consideration, where it is confessedly wanting

At verse 29, the prediction respecting the “ tribulation of " those days," closes. And now we find our Lord proceeding, in language as highly poetical and figurative as that of the former part of the chapter is distinct and literal, to intimate the changes and transactions which were to take place, subse

• Cooper's “ Crisis." p. 96. See Ecl. Rev. vol. xxv. p. 521.

quently to the overthrow of the Jewish nation, “ till the times " of the Gentiles should be fulfilled.” (Luke xxi. 24). Our Lord's object was simply, we conceive, to teach his disciples not to identify with that tribulation his final coming in the clouds of heaven; to lead on their anticipations to a far more * glorious period, when they should indeed behold their Mas• ter and Lord on the throne of his glory, and themselves par• take of that glory.'* With regard to the first train of events, which were to take place in the life-time of the generation to whom the prediction was delivered, a specific sign was given. “ When ye shall see all these things,”-the predicted signs and visible presages of the approaching destruction, -“ know that it is near, even at the doors.” And it has been remarked, that the budding of the fig-tree might itself serve as a presage; for the siege commenced precisely at the same time of year as that at which the prediction was uttered-just before the Passover, when the fig-tree was putting forth its leaves. But, with regard to the final coming of our Lord, the subject of the second part of the prophecy, no specific sign is given. On the contrary, " of that day and hour” (vx&vns) when “ heaven and earth shall pass away,” it is added, “ no “ man knoweth ; no, not the angels in heaven.”+ It is among the times and seasons which our Lord was not commissioned to revealt, which the Father hath " put in his own power.” Do we ask why a sign was given in the one case, and withheld in the other, when, as it is argued, the presumed analogy would have led us to expect a similar signal ? The reason is obvious. In the one case, a specific direction and command were connected with the specific sign; and it was requisite that they should know the day and hour in which immediate flight became necessary. In the other case, no specific duty is enjoined,

* Ecl. Rev. vol. xix. p. 224, where this remarkable chapter is considered more in detail.

+ In this interpretation, which the connexion, the emphatic pronoun, and the general sense alike demand and jusiify, we are supported by Lightfoot, Grotius, and other learned Commentators; and among others, we are glad to find this sense adopted in Dr. Valpy's Greek Testament with English Notes, a new edition of which is now on our table. To us, it has always appeared surprising, that this solemn declaration should have been supposed by any respectable commentator to refer to an event which was to take place in less than 40 years, and of which almost the day and hour had just been specified. Is it conceivable that the time of an event so circumstan. stantially predicted and so near at hand, should have been unknown to the angels ?

So the best critics understand, Mark xiii. 32.

which would require a signal of our Lord's approach; and therefore, the direction given is, to “ watch" and " be ready,” as those“ who know not at what hour their Lord shall come.

In the Book of Daniel, again, we have instances of both descriptions of prediction, the definite and the indefinite; the one of a temporary, the other of a standing and permanent interest. The prophetic interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and that of the hand-writing, clearly belong to the former class. The greater part of the historic revelation falls under the latter description. But there is one very remarkable prediction, that of the Seventy Weeks, which requires distinct notice. In point of literalness and explicitness, it stands almost alone, and is clearly one of those predictions which was intended to be in part understood, and was understood, prior to its fulfilment. As a mark of time, there is every reason to believe, notwithstanding the critical difficulties which may embarrass the passage, that it was certainly made the basis of accurate calculation respecting our Lord's advent; and this fact furnishes, perhaps, the best reply to captious objectors. Gibbon, who seems to avow that he was one of those who neither under• stand nor respect the Mosaic dispensation and the prophetic style,' says, in one of his venomous notes : •If the famous prophecy of the Seventy Weeks had been alleged to a Roman philosopher, would he not have replied in the words of • Cicero,' Quæ tandem ista auguratio est, annorum potius quam aut mensium aut dierum ?'* The Christian Public are much indebted to the learned and ingenious Author of the fourth publication enumerated at the head of this article, for shewing, (though he does not allude to Gibbon's note,) that this pointless sarcasm is founded upon ignorance, not of the prophetic style, but of the Hebrew language. The word translated “ weeks” in the Authorized Version, simply signifies sevens ; and it is a mere assumption, that the seventy-sevens spoken of by Daniel, would, if taken literally, imply sevens of days.

• On this point,' says Mr. Maitland, . I think that Christian writers have made a concession to infidels, which the Jews themselves do not ask, and which truth does not require. The Jews, however blind they may be to the fulfilment of this prediction, have never been wholly unacquainted with the language of the prophet, and the mode of computation and expression used by their own writers; and when these points are considered, perhaps the reader will agree with me, that there is no such absolute necessity for a mystical interpretation of the seventy weeks as he may have supposed to exist.' p. 5.

[ocr errors]

* Decline and Fall, c. XV.

« PreviousContinue »