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Adverting now only to the prophecy of Daniel : consider the pains bestowed on its interpretation with reference to this question, and the perplexity and confusion that have the more prevailed among its interpreters. From age to age, pious and learned men have pored over its pages, yet what endless diversity, what total repugnance, in their conclusions. It is strange that men who know the history of prophetic interpretation, can rely on their own with all the confidence they wonder at in their predecessors
. And nothing in this book is more open to diversity of interpretation, than the indication of time. It must be made out by a comparison of several particulars, each of which is matter of dispute. Any conclusion as to the precise time when the present state of things will terminate, must rest on the decision of several subordinate questions, and partake of the uncertainty belonging to each and all of those questions. I can only name some of them here. Whether the kingdom signified by the “fourth beast" in the 7th chapter was the Roman empire or not, is a matter of doubt. If it was, there is still more difficulty in determining what were the “ten horns" or kingdoms, that arose from it. Nor is it clearly proved that the “ little horn” or kingdom, which afterwards came up among them and subdued three of them, was the papal power, rather than Antiochus Epiphanes; indeed this interpretation is comparatively modern, and not universal even among Protestants. If it was the papal power, and if the "time and times and the dividing of time," during which the saints were to be “given into his hand,” signified 1260 years, it is more than difficult, it is impossible, to determine positively when that power began; for instead of dating, as some suppose, from A.D. 538, the pope gained ecclesiastical superiority long before that period, and did not become a temporal prince till long after it, and therefore several dates are nearer the truth than this : nor can the end be foreknown from the duration of his sway, until its beginning is ascertained. Again : it is left exceedingly doubtful who was meant by the “ little horn," in the 8th chapter. It came from one of the four that rose up in the place of the great horn, which signified Alexander, whose empire was divided into four parts after his death ; and this king or power, springing from one of those divisions, has been most generally understood to signify Antiochus.* That the Roman power, whether pagan or papal, is signified by it, I take to be a modern and certainly doubtful theory. Then, aš to the 2300 days, which were to elapse before the sanctuary should be cleansed : it has never been proved that those days signified years, and so long as there is nothing said in this book to that effect, it cannot be proved by two or three instances of some such usage in other books where the context requires it. Indeed, so far as the language is considered, the argument is in favor of their being literal or natural days. And as such, they allow the plausible application they have generally
• Bishop Newton, though he prefers another view, admits that “this little horn is by the generality of interpreters, both Jewish and Christian, ancient and modern, supposed to mean Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, who was a great enemy and cruel persecutor of the Jews."-Diss. on Proph., 15.
received to Antiochus. If they were years, it does not appear that they were of the same length in the chronology then used among the Jews, as in our own; nor, if they were, can it be shown from what point they were computed; for to make them include, as some do, the seventy wecks, or 490 years, mentioned in the 9th chapter, is taking for granted the thing in question. The same may be said of the numbers given in the 12th chapter. It remains to be shown that those days meant years ; and if years were meant, still the date of their beginning remains uncertain, and therefore the date of their ending. And if all this were determined, we are left uncertain as to what will happen when they terminate.* These instances are enough for our present purpose. Not only have they been all controverted among pious and learned men, but they have given abundant occasion for controversy. They are attended with difficulties and perplexities which, to say the least, leave great room for doubt, and ought to check the confidence of the most capable interpreter. Let it be considered, too, that any conclusion drawn from this prophecy as to the time of the end, will be invalidated by mistaking the truth on any one of these chief questions. They are closely connected among themselves; one stands upon another. For example, if the fourth beast” in the 7th chapter does not signify the Roman empire, then the little horn that grew from it cannot be the papacy; and if the little horn there or in the 8th chapter be the persecuting king Antiochus, instead of the papacy, then its history was all told, in literal days, long before the Christian era ; and of course, if the days, in Daniel's usage, do not signify years, they have nothing to do with what we now call the time of the end. If, therefore, there is a single item, in the calculations drawn from this source, on which there is room for great uncertainty, the whole chronological argument built upon them is undermined. If there is considerable uncertainty as to two or more items on which the other must rest, the result cannot be relied on, according to any just doctrine of probabilities. But without applying a method that might be thought too rigorous in matters of this kind, the uncertainty I have pointed out is enough to show that the book of Daniel-esteemed the stronghold of prophetic chronology -does not warrant the minute and confident predictions sometimes based upon it, nor authorize us to believe that God intended we should know the precise time of the end. Did this opportunity permit, some similar uncertainty, as to that time, might be pointed out in John's Revelations. If these two prophecies do not teach men, beyond reasonable doubt, when the present dispensation will end, then it is not for men to know that season which the Father hath put in his own power. IV. From the ignorance of the apostles
and even of the man Christ Jesus-on this subject.
Bishop Newton admits, “Here are then three different periods assigned, 1260, 1290, and 1335 years; and what is the precise time of their beginning and consequently of their ending, as well as what are the great and signal events which will take place at the end of each period, we can only conjecture; time alone can with certainty discover,"
As to the apostles, the text is decisive. After our Lord's resurrection, the eleven inquired of him, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel ?” Probably, as I have intimated, their notions of his reign were as yet vague, if not erroneous. Perhaps they retained some such expectations as they had before betrayed, of a worldly kingdom, which he would set up to the subversion of the Roman power and the aggrandizement of the Jewish people; for if these expectations had been discouraged by his violent death, they might easily have revived in view of his glorious resurrection. The nature of his kingdom was not, however, the main subject of this conversation. The question regards the season of its establishment and triumph. And in his answer, he neither confirms nor contradicts their opinions as to its nature, but only meets their question, whether he is about to assume it at this time. On this point he tells them, it is not for them to receive the information they are seeking, or such knowledge does not of right belong to them : the Father hath put in his own power, or determined by his own authority, the times or seasons in which the events he has predicted will take place, and he does not see fit to make known those periods. The answer clearly implies, that our Lord had not then in every sense restored the kingdom to Israel, or that he had not already fulfilled the most glorious predictions regarding the Messiah's kingdom ; and that at some future period he would reign, according to those predictions, in the splendor of a triumphant and acknowledged king. But in whatever sense it was true that he would restore the kingdom to Israel, whatever was the glorious reign predicted for the Messiah by the ancient prophets, he here affirmed most pointedly, that it did not belong to his apostles to foreknow the period which God had appointed for it. We are left to apply the declaration, generally, to those great events which had been foretold, and among them to this event of Christ's future reign. The words, “ times or seasons,” are suited to occurrences more or less definite, the last being the more specific designation of time. Thus, notwithstanding the minute and positive anticipations that are held forth on this subject—and one would think there ought to be no room for doubt in a matter so confidently handled—the apostles were explicitly taught, that it was not for m to know the times or the seasons which the Father had determined.
Accordingly their epistles show, in several places, that neither they, nor the Christians to whom they wrote, foreknew the date of what is called “ the day of the Lord.” Peter says, it “will come as a thief in the night;” (2 Pet. iii., 10.) that is, suddenly, or without forewarning as to its season. In Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians, immediately after that description of the Lord's descent from heaven which raised such expectations that in his second letter he proposed to allay them, he adds, “ But of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you, for yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” (1 Thess. v., 1, 2. And when he adds, “ But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief,” he does not teach that it would not come suddenly to Christians, but only that since they were enlightened as to the fact that it would so come, it would not injuriously surprise them, because, with such a conviction, they would live in habitual p eparation for it; and accordingly he adds again, “Therefore, let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch.” The suddenness of the event thus spoken of, can scarcely be ascribed by those who now claim to have ascertained its date, to the unbelief and negligence of the church in those days; for these persons contend that the early Christians held a doctrine like their own on this subject, and were consoled and animated by the conviction in the most trying circumstances. Nor did this language imply that the event was, strictly speaking, near; or if it did, the apostles are shown to have mistaken the time, since it has not yet arrived. In Paul's second epistle to the Thessalonians, he would not have them troubled by what he had said before, as though “ the day of Christ were at hand,” for there was to be “a falling away first;" from which he appears to have been aware of some interval, yet not of its length. The manner in which the apostles spoke of that day, naturally meant, that, for aught they knew, it might then be near, because they knew not whether it was near or distant; and in speaking of it, they lost sight of intervening time. In a word, they knew as little on the subject as we would have expected them to know, from our Lord's answer to their question. Nor can it be said that though destitute of this knowledge at first, they might have acquired it afterwards. To suppose such a thing, is a mere assumption. If this knowledge did not then belong to them, with the prophecies in their hands, what reason have we to suppose that they ever obtained it from the study of those same prophecies, or ever became entitled to it in this world? As if to guard them and us against such an impression, Jesus told them, not merely that they did not know the time, but that it was not for them to know; not only they were without this knowledge, but without any right or title to it.
Now from this undeniable ignorance of the apostles as to the time in question, two things may be inferred
1. The obscurity already pointed out in the prophecies we have respecting it,-supposing it to be a subject of those prophecies. If Daniel foretold the time, why did they not learn it from that teacher ? They were apt pupils of the inspired masters before them, and themselves inspired also for the future guidance of the church. If they did not see the date in Daniel's pages, we may well believe he does not there disclose it. And then the book of Revelations, so often quoted also on this subject, was the work of one of the apostles. Has he taught us what it was not for him to know? If so, we have indeed grown“ wiser than our teachers.” Can it be thought that an important date is definitely marked, as some would have us believe, in Daniel's prophecy, when the apostles did not there discover it; and in their writings also, when they did not themselves know it?
2. Another inference from their ignorance, is our own. If it was not
for Christ's chosen disciples to know particularly when his most glorious reign would begin, neither was it for other Christians then. Is it for Christians now? If indeed it is for us, rather than the apostles, to foreknow that season, we must learn it from one or more of these three sources :
First: Can we learn it from Daniel's chronological predictions ? But the apostles obtained no such information from that prophet. Yet they had access to his numbers as well as we, and surely they were not less capable of ascertaining the measures of time given to their own nation in their sacred books. Second: Can we learn it from the writings of the apostles themselves? Then they have taught us more than they ever knew. Third : Can we learn it from later developments than the apostles witnessed, under the providence of God? These may, indeed, be otherwise instructive; and no doubt it is possible for us to gather from the succession and concurrence of events, important lessons, partially or wholly unknown to the wisest men of earlier ages, on the subjects of ancient prophecy. The study of events, however, leads us over a vast field of most uncertain conjecture as well as salutary instruction, and therefore must teach us modesty rather than presumption, or else we are taught to no good purpose. But from the nature of the case, past events alone can never determine for us the date of that future event we are contemplating, if they can alone assure us of anything respecting it. And further, when they are employed for this purpose, not alone but in explanation of the prophetic numbers which are supposed to fix the date, observe that these numbers cannot depend upon those events for their significance. The times measured off by the prophets, were described according to some law or usage of human speech; and the prophets and their readers, and the apostles after them, were as capable as ourselves of ascertaining that method. The days enumerated by Daniel were no measure of time, except as they were either literal days, or years; and which of these two they were, the first Jewish readers ought to have known as well as we. But whether the first readers knew it or not, the apostles unquestionably did; for they lived long after the literal days, foretold in some places, had elapsed, and therefore, knowing whether the predicted events had occurred already, they could not fail to know whether those events would occur after the lapse of the literal years. For example, taking the largest number given, the apostles were at least as capable as ourselves of knowing what event was to take place after the 2300 days, announced in the 8th chapter of Daniel, and the point from which they were computed; they were at least as capable of knowing whether that event had happened in as many days; and knowing this, they knew whether it would happen in as many years. Thus, if that event was the one we have in view, they could learn its season from the prophetic number as well as we. Such knowledge, therefore, did not depend on the observation of subsequent events. In truth, it was to be obtained, not from “leadings of Providence," but from processes of arithmetic. Notwithstanding the later developments we witness, the ignorance of the apostles