Someone has been kind enough to send me a copy of a prophetical magazine issued just fourteen years ago (August, 1880). My unknown friend gives no indication of his reason for sending me this paper; but one article contained in it attracts my attention, and I seize on it "to point a moral."
"The Crisis Of The End" is the startling title of this article, and its avowed purpose is to meet the unbeliever's objection to the study of prophecy that no two expositors agree. To refute this it gives a list of 120 writers — many of them authors of repute, some of them of undoubted eminence — "all of whom reckon some year between 1866 and 1890 to be most probably the crisis of the end."
The Article proceeds to set out the authorities, specifying the name of each author, the title of his book, and the year of its publication. And these authorities are grouped according to the data on which their calculations are based. "Fifty-five writers ground their calculations principally on the 1335 years of Daniel xii. 12." Fifty-seven "on the 1260 years (Rev. xi. 3; xii. 6) which measures (sic) the duration of the chief power of the Papacy from its full establishment to its final downfall." The others rely "chiefly on the 2300 years (Daniel viii. 14)." Years, mark, in every case, though the Scriptures specify "days."
Now is there nothing to be learned from all this? We can well understand how in the darkness of former centuries, or amidst the excitement caused by the startling events of the first half of our own, Christians should be thus misled. But have these foolish and yet disastrous blunders no voice of warning for us? The folly of them the lapse of years has proved, and how disastrous they are eternity alone will unfold. To the "sure word of prophecy" (2 Peter 1:19) we do well indeed to take heed as to a light shining in a dark place. And unnumbered thousands can testify to its power to strengthen faith in these days of doubt and blasphemy. But who can tell the number of those who have been turned against the truth by the failure of all these human dogmas and theories which have well-nigh supplanted the word of God in the minds of so many! If the matter were not so intensely solemn it would be highly amusing to realise that only a dozen years ago the unanimity prevailing among the prophecy-mongers was appealed to silence the objections of unbelievers. The unbelievers have short memories where the exposure of their own ignorance and folly is in question. But they remember these things. And they are entitled to remember them. For these predictions were not offered as the outcome of human foresight; they are put forward as bearing the sanction and authority of the inspired Scriptures. And the word of God is blasphemed because of their failure.
The study of prophecy is working positive mischief, and not good, in the case of large numbers of its votaries. Just as it behoves us - things have come to such a pass - to emphasize constantly, and almost aggressively, the difference between a Christian minister and a priest, and between Christian ordinances and priestly rites, so we need emphatically and without ceasing to bear a testimony against this false and baneful system of prophetic study. It becomes us to cherish the kindliest and most generous thoughts of the good and holy men who have erred thus in the past. But to suppose that we shall succeed where they have failed is entirely in keeping with the ineffable conceit which marks the day we live in. Their failure should promote in us humility, and not pride. It was due to no ignorance on their part of the text of Scripture or the facts of history, nor yet to any moral or spiritual unfitness for the task they undertook. And anyone who enters now on the path so strewn with the wreckage of their mistakes deserves to be denounced as a pedant or a charlatan. A few years ago the striking agreement of their united testimony was pointed to in proof of its truth. We point to it today in proof that the entire system which they followed was false.
Chronology must be allowed no place, as we seek to discount the Church's hopes. The Lord's return, the promised kingdom, and the coming glory are no fabled myths. They are realities, more real than any which press upon us in our daily life. But if, in accordance with the natural instincts of our hearts, we raise the question, "when shall these things be?" the answer comes from the lips of our blessed Lord himself: "Take heed that no man deceive you (Matthew 24:3-4)." "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power (Acts 1:6-7)."
His coming is the near horizon of our hopes. Saints have waited for His return ever since the day He was caught up to heaven. The apostles looked for it. The Church's million martyrs yearned and prayed for it. They died with their fares turned towards the heavens which hid Him from their gaze. And that hope seems growing brighter even amidst, the vulgar glare of this prosaic age, in which scoffers scoff more insolently than ever, asking "Where is the promise of His coming? (2 Peter 3:4)" The promise of His coming is in the sure word of God, and in the hearts of His people. And the delay in its fulfilment is to be measured by the long-suffering of God, and not by the lapse of years upon human calendars (2 Peter iii. 3-9).
It may be "at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning" — at any stage of the passing day. But with Him a day is as a thousand years, and possibly, our children's children shall still be waiting its accomplishment. And if His coming should be even then deferred, and if I might fain think that any words of mine would be read and remembered, then I should like to leave this protest and warning against a system which has brought this hope into contempt by linking its fulfilment with events upon our history date-charts. God has linked it only with the Cross. It was not dull fanaticism which led the early saints to look for it while Pagan Rome still ruled the world and the apostasy of Christendom existed but in crnbrvc. It is neither ignorance nor prejudice which leads us to look for it today with vision unclouded by thoughts about the fall of empires or the decrees of the popes. We take fast hold of the promise that "Yet a little while and the Coming One will come and will not tarry (Hebrews 10:37)."
And our part is not to puzzle out the date of His return by the help of astronomers and chronologists, but to cherish the hope of it in its ennobling and purifying power, and to be like men who are waiting for their Lord.