To the Editor of the “Christian Herald “
The increasing extent and progress of conviction as to the truth and nearness of our Lord’s coming (to which I can bear personal witness), and the practical shape which it has assumed, makes it the more important that those most occupied in it, and therefore most likely to speak much of it, should have clear and consistent views upon the subject—clear, and consistent with the full statement of scriptural truth.
The publications which are set at the head of this article contain the most popular and common exposition—perhaps the only full one—presenting, on some very important points, a very distinct view, commonly current amongst the expectants of our Lord’s coming. Into this view many have been led by the actual clearness and apparent accuracy of the statements in these very books. You will not, therefore, I trust, think it amiss that I should briefly attempt to inquire into their soundness, and expose the error into which the author appears to me, as to a part of his subject, to have fallen. They have, however, I should state, very different value in my eyes. Of the first of them, I can say that I read it with the greatest satisfaction; perhaps the more so, as, with the exception of that part which more properly belongs to the second publication, I found it so exceedingly consistent with my own views. I should except, indeed, also the view given of the seventy weeks, on which I will offer some comment.
The introductory and sixth lectures are as clear and succinct an exposition of their distinct subjects as one could desire in so brief a shape. In fact, on all prophecy that is properly Jewish, it appears to me that Mr. Burgh has been favoured (with the exception only of what I conceive to be a confusion between the Assyrian and Antichrist) with great clearness of apprehension; as all, I suppose, will recognise the lucidness of statement which, with a supposed carefulness of proof from Scripture, has given currency to his views, even where they appear to me to be unfounded. But, on the other hand, I think that Mr. Burgh has wholly failed in this—that he does not see the mystical use of the language and circumstances of literal prophecy to the great parenthetic anomaly of the Gentile dispensation; and that consequently, as a whole, his exposition of the book of Revelation, which is the expression and history of this, is founded on a false principle, and fundamentally erroneous. It is a transfer of that in which he is right as to the Jews, to that which uses the characters for another purpose, and in which, therefore, because he continues its original use and force, he is precisely and exactly wrong: that is, his view of the book of Revelation arises from his not seeing that in which it consists—the use of the language and characters of prophetic testimony hi another and special way, by which the history of the mystical body of Christ is developed, as that of His literal bride, the Jewisir church, was by its ordinary use. This is a definite and important principle, as it is evident that upon its truth or error depends the whole tissue of the interpretation of the book, whatever diversity there might yet be in detail; while we shall see that the principle on which it is founded affects many other scriptural interpretations. The confusion which has consequently arisen in Mr. Burgh’s mind, by the exclusion of any general development of the character of the Gentile apostasy, and the confinement of the statements of the Revelation to “Crisis,” has, as I think I shall be enabled to shew, by leading him to confound Antichrist’s actings amongst the Jews, where it is in Crisis, both as to them and the Gentile powers, with his actings in the general Gentile apostasy, induced direct contradictions and inconsistencies in his statements. And at this we cannot be surprised; for, if he has forced himself to apply to one period, passages applicable to two very distinct states of things, it is no wonder that, when brought into juxtaposition, they are not found to hold together. Some of these contradictions I shall now notice—not, I trust Mr. Burgh will feel, with any invidious object, but as illustrating the error on which, it appears to me, he has framed his system. I will only make two observations before I do so. One is, sir, to complain of the Church a little, for their readiness to receive a system when any one will make it for them, without investigating the proofs of its statements; and the other is, that the importance of my present inquiry consists in this— that Mr. Burgh’s views divert the attention of Christians from the present actings of antichristian principles, as now deceiving the nations, to some supposed or future actings of a personal Antichrist, with which they may have nothing to do; and this I conceive to be most injurious. The time and principles of Antichrist I believe to be daily developing themselves, and the time to be fast approaching in which it will be said, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still. And he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still.” Nor do I know a more solemn consideration, nor one which drives a believer closer to Christ, and the supply of the Spirit, for salvation and direction.
The first example which I shall take, as illustrating the careless confusion of Antichrist’s actings in Jerusalem, and his evil in the Gentile apostasy, is the exposition of the little open book, in the Sixth Lecture on the Apocalypse. Mr. Burgh applies the whole of this to the personal acting of Antichrist in the literal temple of Jerusalem. Now that Antichrist will place his abomination there, in the way understood by Mr. Burgh, I fully believe, and think it a very important truth. But it is equally evident to me that this passage can have nothing to say to it; for the very gist of this passage is precisely opposed to the special point of Antichrist’s actings there. There the point of Antichrist’s actings, is, that he sits in the temple, and the sanctuary is defiled. Here the precise point is, that they are measured, and the rest is given—the court without and the city is given—to the Gentiles; so that they are diametrically opposed in their essential characters. I do not notice this as an error merely, but as illustrating the confusion of principle in applying what is literal, and Jewish, and consummating, to what is Gentile, and moral, and mystical.
Take another point, arising from the same principle—page 152 of the “Lectures on the Second Advent.”
“For half of the week (three-and-a-half years) he (Antichrist) is true to this covenant; but he then breaks it, and for the last half, the remaining three-and-a-half years, the “time, times and a half,” “forty-two months,” or “one thousand two hundred and sixty days,” he “causes the sacrifice and the oblation to cease”; and …” he places the abomination that maketh desolate.”
Now, if we turn to chapter 8 of the same book (of Daniel), we shall find the consequence of thus forcing all interpretation into the literal crisis; for there we learn— “How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice” (that is, “by him was the daily sacrifice taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down”), “and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” Now, if I am to take these things as declaring the literal actings of Antichrist for so many days, I have, in one case, the dominion and treading down of Antichrist to continue 1,260 days, or half the week; and, in the other, 2,300 days, or very nearly the whole week. (Compare “Lectures on the Revelation,” pages 133, 134.)
Again, in Lecture 8 on the Revelation, the 144,000 are the remnant among the Jews.
“In verse 6 commences the part of the prophecy which more immediately and exclusively affects the Gentile world.” “Hitherto we have been occupied with the future destinies of the Jewish people; … now the Gentile world and the other nations of the earth come under consideration. This is after the beast has arisen, etc. Nor even is this preaching of the gospel for the purposes of conversion; it will be to test, not convert, the nations— “for a witness to all nations”; that is, as I take it, finally to decide the great controversy between Christ and Antichrist—to shew who is for Christ, and who is against Him.”
Mr. Burgh then refers to the warning of the third angel, as confirmatory of this character of the testimony: that is, that “If any man worship, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God,” etc. (Rev. 14:9).
Mr. Burgh continues:—
“As, then, I before said, the period here alluded to is the period set for the decision of the great controversy on this earth between Christ and Antichrist—between the true God, as revealed in the gospel in the Person of Christ, and him who will then “sit in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” This eventful crisis will be ushered in by a renewed preaching of the everlasting gospel to every nation under heaven,” etc.
In the ninth lecture we then read, that in which I fully agree:—
“The faithful servants of God are removed from the scene of judgment.” (Page 158.)
But previous to this crisis, every nation under heaven has been tested. Those that have been faithful, and killed, or appointed unto death, removed; and those that worshipped the beast are to be tormented, day and night, for ever and ever. Who is for Christ, and who against Him, has been shewn. But
“The apostasy must first be consummated, and afterwards judged, before there will be a free course for the word of God.” (Page 160.)
“Then shall the nations be converted to the faith of Christ.” (Page 161.)
Here, again, in the course of these two chapters, from this love of crisis, concentrating all the prophetic testimony of the Revelation to the actings of Antichrist in that crisis, we have a positive interpretation inconsistent with itself. For, after the withdrawing of the saints, and giving up of all others to the worshipping of the beast, and therefore to irremediable torment consequent upon the critical test of the everlasting gospel being put to them, we have, upon the judging of Antichrist, the nations converted by another and subsequent preaching of the gospel, as associated with the new dispensation.
Another instance of inconsistency, arising from the same cause, is to be found in the view taken of the dragon and the beast, in Lecture 3, on the Second Advent, and Lecture 7, on the Revelation. All is to be forced into the crisis in Judea. But what is the consequence? The dragon is the fourth beast, previous to the existence of the ten kingdoms; the little horn, before whom three fell, is the Antichrist, the second beast, during whose continuance the ten horns are in existence. That is, Antichrist personally, as the head of the ten, or rather seven, horns, is the persecuting power of the Jews in Judea. But this dragon, during whose time the horns had no existence,
“Persecuted the woman, that is, the Jewish nation, against whom Antichrist, in this his short reign, will, for reasons before stated, direct all his malignity,” etc.
So that, from pressing it all into one scene, the identity of the dragon and the beast is denied and affirmed almost in the same breath; for the dragon is affirmed to be the fourth beast, exclusively before the ten kings, and they to have their place with and under Antichrist, directing all his malignity, when thus formed, against the Jews. Yet have we the dragon, as Antichrist, acting against the woman, that is, the Jews, and that in the land (see page 136, on Revelation), though, as yet, characteristically of his dragon state, there are no kings at all. And yet, Antichrist is the horn that rises after the ten horns, or kings, and subdues three. The cause of the inconsistency is obvious: all was to be brought, at any rate, into the climax. And indeed, though all the malignity of Antichrist is here directed against the Jews, elsewhere we learn that he is to kill all the Gentile saints also, or, at least, they are to be delivered to death. What conclusion do I draw from all this? That the attempt to force everything into the three years and a half, during which Antichrist is to sit in the temple of God in Jerusalem, involves necessarily, in contradictions and inconsistencies, which prove the falseness of the principles from which they flow; besides that, the exercise of that power by which all the nations are wielded against the Jews in that day, supposes, and especially as regards the ten kings, the exercise of all that evil and deceivableness, as “man of sin,” previous to the holding and exercise of that power in Judea, which especially concerns Christendom to beware of; and that the system, which supposes the dangerous actings of Antichrist to be confined to the time of his evil reign in Judea, necessarily, in contradiction of itself, supposes him to have previously so powerfully practised by deceit or violence, that the ten kings have given their power to him, and that he is there, by virtue of those deceivings, as agent of Satan, the prince of this world. And, what is remarkable, Mr. Burgh’s system precisely puts out of sight, and treats as a nullity, all that part of Antichrist’s actings, in which alone, even according to his own system, we are concerned; that is, the power by which he deceives and carries after him the ten kings, or kingdoms; and, I may add, this confirms the argument previously gone into, as to the everlasting gospel. For the. kingdoms of Christendom have manifestly been deceived previously to the preaching of the everlasting gospel, if that be subsequent, as Mr. Burgh supposes, to the setting up of Antichrist’s throne in Jerusalem.
You will observe, sir, that I am not considering these merely as particular misinterpretations, but as inconsistencies flowing from, and therefore shewing the fallacy of the system of interpretation. It seems to me exceedingly inconsistent to call the beast Antichrist, when Antichrist cannot be till the horns are all crowned; for he is to arise up as a little horn after them, and subdue three; and yet the ten are to “have power as kings one hour with the beast.”
But I have no object in going at large into mere errors. One or two, which in another way affect the system, I shall notice. Popery, by those who hold these views, is made but little of, and all that is not concentrated in the personal Antichrist is immaterial. Thus, the fifth trumpet having been settled (for no other reason, that I can see, but having a king called Apollyon) to be Antichrist, that is, observe, the last great final opposer of Christ, including everything, of the next, “far more terrible,” nothing decided can be spoken. No wonder! Again, the sixth seal, it is quite clear, we are told, can be nothing but the final wrath of the Lamb, closing the whole scene of earthly power. It is so plainly His second coming, that “there is no room for difference of opinion “(page 52). Yet the next thing we read of, is, the holding of the winds, previous to the outbreaking of all Antichrist’s doings; and, says, Mr. Burgh, “the trumpets are but the detail of the seventh seal” (page 87); that is, after the final wrath of the Lamb, which none could abide, come all the manifestations of Antichrist’s power; and the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, set up against the Lamb; and Antichrist himself desolates, according to Mr. Burgh’s system, for the whole period of prophetic history, sitting in the temple of God, as God, raging against all, even to death, who will not worship him. The question, then, sir, is, who is able to endure his wrath?
I confess, sir, that, plausible and easy as it may appear, when read by itself, it appears to me a very superficial system, and, when compared with Scripture, not to be for a moment tenable; and the whole of it arises from the effort to contract all to the three years and a half, and apply it to Judea, with yet the forced consciousness that it does concern the Gentiles. Thus, the prayers of all saints are the prayers of the hundred and forty-four thousand sealed Jews, wherever all the other saints are, and whatever they are doing; yet, the first four trumpets, in answer, fall literally on the earth, sea, rivers, and trees, sun, moon, and stars. The fifth, however, and (page 87) all the trumpets, afflict only the Jewish nation; though, what part of the Jewish nation the literal sun and moon are, it would be hard to say; however, so it is argued (pages 87, 88). Again, as to the seals, we are told to conclude that, because there is, “Behold a white horse, and one that sat on him,” and that a white horse is mentioned in chapter 19, therefore he that sat on him is clearly the same. It may be so, but I do not see why, on any ground that would not prove each individual in the armies of heaven to be Jesus Christ also, for they all sat on white horses. The emblem of the white horse has nothing to do with who sits on him. But we are told that it is Christ’s second advent, and the horses which follow it are the actings of Christ in judgment, as come—I say, as come, or else the coming, after all, is figurative; and, to say the least, Mr. Burgh’s language here is very vague. But, as far as I understand, it is King Messiah Himself come forth to destroy His enemies; and then we are referred to Matthew 24 for the identical signs. But there, all these things precede the coming of the Son of Man; and we are expressly told, that “the end is not yet”; in a word, they are but “the beginning of sorrows”; and, after all, the coming is as the lightning. Yet we are told that the parallelism is perfect, not only in the events, but in the order of their occurrence. I wonder the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom, the great test, as Mr. Burgh has stated elsewhere (a statement I am by no means disposed to question, though I do his use of it), did not arrest his mind as to the accuracy of this most unfortunate comparison.
Again, sir, the supposed uncertainty of interpretation, as to the two-horned beast, is made the subject rather of triumph, on the part of Mr. Burgh, though he gives no additional light whatever on the subject. But it ought to have led Mr. Burgh, I think, to more soberness of consideration on the subject, when he found, besides his favourite Antichrist, the beast, the third, or two-horned beast, at Armageddon, as the false prophet, and a distinct subject of destruction. He appears, too, in his zeal to substitute the personal Antichrist for Popery, to forget, that whatever may be the wicked and monstrous presumption of the Antichrist in Jerusalem, in Babylon “was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.” I leave to more full development the connection between this and chapter 17. This only, that it is not itself the beast, and that in her was found, etc.; and that, supposing, now, it be merely the literal city of Rome (the lowest supposition), it is not Antichrist at Jerusalem which is thus charged with the accumulated guilt of the blood of all that were slain upon the earth. In a word, sir, it is plain to me that there are two characters in which Antichrist (I use it now in an extended sense) is developed. The one of deceivableness, and perhaps using power, and so sometimes causing to be killed; the other of power, in which he acts haughtily against God as the revealed “man of sin.” In the latter of these two characters he acts against the Jews in Jerusalem; in the former, and now especially, in deceivableness as separated from power, we particularly have to do with it, and in this is his great guilt. In this way he gathers the power which he will use to his own destruction in that day. I say not what desperate deception, as well as power, he will use in that day amongst the Jews; but I say that the spirit of evil, by which he gathers and carries up there the power which he then exercises, is that with which we have to do. And “the deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they receive not the love of the truth that they might be saved,” will find its application, not amongst Jews, but amongst Gentiles, to whom the truth was preached. And this character, though finding its full manifestation in his false anti-regal power, and therefore not excluding this, is that in which he is also fully developed in the New Testament scriptures. And if this be once admitted, the system on which this interpretation of the Revelation is founded falls to the ground; and we are enabled, with whatever additional light the investigation may have afforded us, to pursue our inquiry into the Revelation, unfettered by a system which, as it appears to me, must be added to the many which it rejects; and which, while I must feel it to be superficial in its inductions, is founded on a principle as all-important, which, to my mind, is simply ignorance of the whole frame of New Testament prophecy, and mars its great aim— the warning of the Gentile church. For, I repeat, it is quite clear that, with all its confusion of application, Mr. Burgh’s system does not at all contemplate those actings of evil, by which the nations are carried up by Antichrist to, and against, Jerusalem, and their doom irrevocably sealed.
Save as applied to the point in question, I have stated little of my own views. I confess I find it more profitable to learn from Scripture, than to frame a system. If the Lord permit me, in time and service, I will send you some things which appear to me the mind of God in Scripture, and shall be glad to be corrected by any of your correspondents; merely saying, that the two great symbolical powers of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius seem to me to give the full clue to the history of the times of the Gentiles, ended in and by Antichrist.
As regards, then, the Jews, and the great results, it appears to me that Mr. Burgh is exceedingly clear, and may be always read with profit. As regards the Revelation, I think he has manifestly mistaken the whole principle and structure of the prophecy, from beginning to end. I must also add, that his views of symbol appear to me to be without any principle whatever, as his statements on the subject are most astonishingly hasty and unfounded. It would be impossible to go into this at large in such a communication as the present; I will only remark, that his assertion (page 83 of the “Lectures on Revelation”), “Scripture history affords a precedent for one interpretation, but Scripture does not afford any precedent for the other,” is one of the most unprecedented assertions anybody ever met with, to a person who had ever read the Scriptures at all.
And I would here, sir, remark, that, clear as Mr. Burgh’s interpretation of the seals may seem to some, I confess I can gain no determinate idea of what he means from it. I find, in page 28, that
“The book of Revelation is thus the book of the Lord’s second advent, and is solely occupied with the account of the last great crisis, with the coming of Christ, and the attendant events, during the several acts of His taking to Himself, and redeeming, His inheritance.”
Accordingly, the first seal is Christ going forth, to which he makes parallel the question, “What shall be the sign of thy coming? “though, what the force of such a question can be to the parallelism, I cannot see. However, it is the last great crisis, and Christ’s going forth to it. Now, I must ask, What does Mr. Burgh mean by “Christ’s going forth to it”? It is not, manifestly, His personal coming in Judea, though the quotation of Psalm 45 would lead one to suppose so; for, in page 55, we have merely preparatory judgments, instead of improvements, till “God’s four sore judgments shall have devastated the world. And all this is to be but “the beginning of sorrows”—the beginning of sorrows, I will here ask Mr. Burgh, to whom? He has parallelised Matthew 24 with this: whose sorrows does he think Matthew 24 refers to? Here he says, “Will the Church of Christ remain couched?” etc. However this may be the first seal is,
“The Lord Jesus Christ Himself going forth—going forth in the character of His second advent—going forth to redeem His inheritance, and rescue it from the hand of the enemy, and assert His claim to His possession.”
Then, the following seals are the arrows in His hand (see page 48), and are said (page 47) to be
“Sharp in the heart of His enemies, in reference to His conflict with the confederate nations, who, at the era of His advent, shall oppose Him, and shall then fall under Him, as in Revelation 19; and thus is every part of this seal proved to refer to that conflict.”
That is, Mr. Burgh allows (and indeed reasons at large elsewhere, and, as I have said, I think very clearly), in Judea; yet, as we have seen, all these arrows are the judgments which devastate the world, and all this to be but the beginning of sorrows. Again, all the arrows refer to that conflict, the book being occupied solely with the last great crisis; yet, speaking of these very seals, or arrows of judgment Mr. Burgh says:
“And when these several signs have been developed, these several seals opened, then the sixth seal opens with the day itself of His coming, or, at least, those signs by which it is more immediately announced.”
So that, after they have been shewn to be arrows in the hearts of “the confederate nations, who, at the era of his advent, shall oppose them, and who shall then fall under Him, as in Revelation 19,” we find the sixth seal itself to be after all those as signs— “at least those signs by which it (His coming) is more immediately announced.” To me, clear as it may seem to others, there is nothing but confusion in all this; and the confusion, it appears to me, is simply this—that Mr. Burgh saw nothing but with the last great crisis before his eyes, and it mingled itself confusedly with all, while the intrinsic evidence of the passages gave them a positive force which he could not help stating; and in the system he had formed obliged him to put them in an order, which made the confusion more determinate and marked.
I think students of prophecy are indebted to Mr. Burgh, as to every one else who has written candidly on the subject; but I do not think he has interpreted the book of Revelation rightly or successfully, and, by making a system of it, he has made all his errors hang together. I will freely submit my own thoughts to his judgment and criticism, I trust for the same just and useful purpose that he has done, when opportunity is given me.
I have merely been able, my dear sir, in much occupation, to trace hastily those things which appear to me evidences of the fallacy of the system which Mr. Burgh has put forward in his Lectures on the Revelation; and I point this out as the fallacy—the concentrating the actings of Antichrist to the last exhibition of him in Judea; and it is exceedingly material for us to see it so, because it is his previous actings with which we are concerned, and by which, as Mr. Burgh’s system implies (while it denies), we are liable to be deceived. And here I must charge these lectures with inconsiderate confidence of haste; because, if Antichrist was to sit in Jerusalem, as head of a great apostate system, it ought to have involved, instead of refuted, the consideration of the apostasy of which he had previously made himself the head—an apostasy at present working in the world, and in which we are all vitally and immediately concerned. How much this presses upon my mind, I shall not at present dwell upon; and
Remain, dear sir, Yours unworthily in the Lord,
John N. Darby.
P.S.—This paper has extended to such a length, that I have omitted some remarks I had to make on the seventy weeks, and the days. I shall only now say, that I do not think (though quite open to believe it) that the covenant is Antichrist’s, as Mr. Burgh supposes; and that he is unwarranted in so constantly putting 62, 7, 1, when the Scriptures as decidedly put 7, 62, 1; yet on this his view depends; I have already stated that it appears to me erroneous. As to the days, the readers of The Christian Herald may recollect a principle once stated by me in it,2 that, as to the Jews, we might look for what was literal; as to the power of the Gentiles, and their times, we might expect protracted symbol. However imperfectly stated there, I am still inclined to believe in the truth of the statement. If you, or your correspondents, think it worth while, I will give you the evidence and interpretation which is connected with this subject, and the distinction between Antichrist and the Assyrian, as well as some remarks on Matthew 24, and the analogous passages.
1 By the Rev. William Burgh, A.B., Tims, Dublin, 1832.
2 See an article on “The Twelve Hundred and Sixty Days,” in Vol. 1, No. 12, for December, 1830. (Collected Writings, Vol. 2.)