by Sir Robert Anderson
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The Coming Prince
Sir Robert Anderson
PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION
"THIS is a work which I find deficient; but it is to be done with wisdom,
sobriety, and reverence, or not at all." Thus wrote Lord Bacon in treating of
what he describes as "history of prophecy."
"The nature of such a work," he explains, "ought to be that every
prophecy of the Scripture be sorted with the event fulfilling the same, throughout
the ages of the world, both for the better confirmation of faith and for the better
illumination of the Church touching those parts of prophecies which are yet unfulfilled:
allowing, nevertheless, that latitude which is agreeable and familiar unto Divine
prophecies; being of the nature of their Author with whom a thousand years are but
as one day, and therefore are not fulfilled punctually at once, but have springing
and germinant accomplishment throughout many ages, though the height or ruiness of
them may refer to some one age."
If the many writers who have since contributed to supply the want Lord Bacon noticed,
had given due heed to these wise and weighty words, prophetic study might possibly
have escaped the reproach which comes of its followers being divided into hostile
camps. With the Christian the fulfillment of prophecy does not belong to the region
of opinion, nor even of fact, merely; it is a matter of faith. We have a right,
therefore, to expect that it shall be definite and clear. But though the principles
and maxims of interpretation gained by the study of that part of prophecy which was
accomplished within the era of Holy Writ are by no means to be thrown aside when
we pass out into post-apostolic times, surely there is no presumption against our
finding hidden in the history of these eighteen centuries a primary and partial fulfillment
even of prophecies which will unquestionably receive a final and complete accomplishment
in days to come.
Only let us not forget the "wisdom, sobriety, and reverence" which such
an inquiry demands. In our day prophetic students have turned prophets, and with
mingled folly and daring have sought to fix the very year of Christ's return to earth,
– predictions which possibly our children's children will recall when another century
shall have been added to the history of Christendom. If such vagaries brought discredit
only on their authors, it were well. But though broached in direct opposition to
Scripture, they have brought reproach on Scripture itself, and have given a stimulus
to the jaunty skepticism of the day. We might have hoped that whatever else might
be forgotten, the last words which the Lord Jesus spoke on earth would not be thus
"It is not for you to know the times or the seasons
which the Father hath put in His own power." (Acts 1:7)
But what was denied to inspired apostles in days of pristine faith and power,
the prophecy-mongers of these last days have dared to claim; and the result has been
that the solemn and blessed hope of the Lord's return has been degraded to the level
of the predictions of astrologers, to the confusion and grief of faithful hearts,
and the amusement of the world.
Any man who, avoiding extravagant or fanciful views, both of history and of Scripture,
points to events in the present or the past as the correlatives of a prophecy, deserves
a calm and unprejudiced hearing from thoughtful men. But let him not forget that
though the Scriptures he appeals to may thus receive "germinant accomplishment,"
"the height or fullness of them may refer" to an age still future. What
is true of all Scripture is specially true of prophecy. It is ours to assign to it
a meaning; but he who really believes it to be Divine, will hesitate to limit its
meaning to the measure of his own apprehension of it.
The prophecies of Antichrist afford a signal and most apt illustration of this. Were
it not for the prejudice created by extreme statements, prophetic students would
probably agree that the great apostasy of Christendom displays in outline many of
the main lineaments of the Man of Sin. There is, indeed, in our day a spurious liberality
that would teach us to forego the indictment which history affords against the Church
of Rome; but while no generous mind will refuse to own the moral worth of those who,
in England at least, now guide the counsels of that Church, the real question at
issue relates to the character, not of individuals, but of a system.
It is the part, therefore, not of intolerant bigotry, but of true wisdom, to search
the records of the past – terrible records, truly – for the means of judging of that
system. The inquiry which concerns us is not whether good men are found within the
pale of Rome – as though all the moral excellence of earth could avail to cover the
annals of her hideous guilt! Our true inquiry is whether she has suffered any real
change in these enlightened days. Is the Church of Rome reformed? With what
vehemence the answer would be shrieked from every altar within her pale! And if not,
let but dark days come again, and some of the foulest scenes and blackest crimes
in the history of Christendom may be re-enacted in Europe. "The true test of
a man is not what he does, but what, with the principles he holds, he would do";
and if this be true of individuals, it is still more intensely true of communities.
They do good service, therefore, who keep before the public mind the real character
of Rome as the present day development of the apostasy.
But when these writers go on to assert that the predictions of the Antichrist have
their full and final realization in the Papacy, their position becomes a positive
danger to the truth. It is maintained at the cost of rejecting some of the most definite
of the prophecies, and of putting a lax or fanciful interpretation upon those very
Scriptures to which they appeal.
Indeed, the chief practical evil of this system of interpretation is that it creates
and fosters a habit of reading the Scriptures in a loose and superficial manner.
General impressions, derived from a cursory perusal of the prophecies, are seized
upon and systematized, and upon this foundation a pretentious superstructure is built
up. As already noticed, the Church of Rome displays the chief moral lineaments of
the Man of Sin. Therefore it is an axiom of interpretation with this school that
the ten-horned beast is the Papacy. But of the beast it is written that
"power was given to him over all kindreds and tongues and nations, and all that
dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of
life." (Revelation 13:7, 8) Are these commentators aware that one-half
of Christendom is outside the pale of Rome, and in antagonism to the claims of the
Papacy? Or do they suppose that all who belong to the Greek and Protestant Churches
are enrolled in the book of life? By no means. But they would tell us the verse does
not mean exactly what it says.
Again, the ten-horned beast is the Papacy; the second beast, the false prophet,
is the Papal clergy; Babylon is Papal Rome. And yet when we turn to the vision of
the judgment of Babylon, we find that it is by the agency of the beast that
her doom is accomplished! "And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast,
these shall hate the whore (Babylon), and shall make her desolate, and naked,
and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire; for God hath put in their hearts
to fulfill His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until
the words of God shall be fulfilled." "These have one mind, and shall
give their power and strength unto the beast."  The governments of Christendom, therefore, are to lend their
power to the Roman Pontiff and priesthood in order to the destruction of Papal Rome!
Can absurdity be more
transparent and complete?
1. According to these interpreters,
such a statement must be taken cum grano salis, as we term it; and the like
remark applies to their rendering of every verse of the thirteenth chapter
The question here at issue must not be prejudiced by misrepresentations, or shirked
by turning away to collateral points of secondary moment. It is not whether great
crises in the history of Christendom, such as the fall of Paganism, the rise of the
Papacy and of the Moslem power, and the Protestant reformation of the sixteenth century,
be within the, scope of the visions of St. John. This may readily be conceded. Neither
is it whether the fact that the chronology of some of these events is marked by cycles
of years composed of the precise multiples; of seventy specified in the book of Daniel
and the Apocalypse, be not a further proof that all forms; part of one great plan.
Every fresh discovery of the kind ought to be welcomed by all lovers of the truth.
Instead of weakening confidence in the accuracy and definiteness of the prophecies,
it ought to strengthen the faith which looks for their absolute and literal fulfillment.
The question is not whether the history of Christendom was within the view of the
Divine Author of the prophecies, but whether those prophecies have been fulfilled;
not whether those Scriptures have the scope and meaning which historical interpreters
assign to them, but whether their scope and meaning be exhausted and satisfied by
the events to which they appeal as the fulfillment of them. It is unnecessary, therefore,
to enter here upon an elaborate review of the historical system of interpretation,
for if it fails when tested at some one vital point, it breaks down altogether.
2. Revelation 17:16, 17,
18. In ver. 16 the best reading, as given in the Revised Version, is "and
the beast," instead of "upon the beast."
3. Mr. Elliott's romance
on this subject is disposed of by the events of recent years, which have made Rome
the peaceful capital of Italy. Of the beast and false prophet it is written, "These
both were cast alive into a lake of fire" (Revelation 19:20). It may be pleasing
to Protestant zeal to suppose the Roman hierarchy and priesthood are "reserved"
for such a fate.
Does the Apocalypse, then, belong to the sphere of prophecy accomplished? Or, to
reduce the controversy to a still narrower issue, have the visions of the seals and
trumpets and vials been fulfilled? No one will dispute the fairness of this mode
of stating the question, and the fairest possible method of dealing with it will
be to set forth some one of the leading visions, and then quote fully and verbatim
what the historical interpreters put forward as the meaning of it.
The opening of the sixth seal is thus recorded by St. John:" And I beheld when
he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun
became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of
heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she
is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled
together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings
of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the
mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, hid themselves in the dens and
in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us,
and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of
the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?"
The following is Mr. Elliott's commentary upon the vision:
"When we consider," he declares, "the terrors of these Christ-blaspheming
kings of the Roman earth, thus routed with their partisans before the Christian host,
and miserably flying and perishing, there was surely that in the event which, according
to the usual construction of such Scripture figures, might well be deemed to answer
to the symbols of the profigurative vision before us: in which vision kings and generals,
freemen and slaves, appeared flying to and seeking the caves of the rocks to hide
them: to hide them from the face of Him that sat on the throne of power, even from
the wrath of the Lamb.
"Thus under the first shocks of this great earthquake had the Roman earth been
agitated, and the enemies of the Christians destroyed or driven into flight and consternation.
Thus, in the political heavens, had the sun of pagan supremacy been darkened, the
moon become eclipsed and blood-red, and of the stars not a few been shaken violently
to the ground. But the prophecy had not as yet received its entire fulfillment. The
stars of the pagan heaven had not all fallen, nor had the heaven itself been altogether
rolled up like a scroll and vanished away. On Constantine's first triumph, and after
the first terrors of the opposing emperors and their hosts, though their imperial
edict gave to Christianity its full rights and freedom, yet it allowed to the heathen
worship a free toleration also. But very soon there followed measures of marked preference
in the imperial appointments to the Christians and their faith. And at length, as
Constantine advanced in life, in spite of the indignation and resentment of the pagans,
he issued edicts for the suppression of their sacrifices, the destruction of their
temples, and the toleration of no other form of public worship but the Christian.
His successors on the throne followed up the same object by attaching penalties of
the severest character to the public profession of paganism. And the result was that,
before the century, had ended, its stars had all fallen to the ground, its very heaven,
or political and religious system, vanished, and on the earth the old pagan institutions,
laws, rites, and worship been all but annihilated."
"A more notable instance of inadequate interpretation cannot be imagined."
What wonder if men scoff
at the awful warnings of coming wrath, when they are told that THE GREAT DAY OF HIS
WRATH is past, and that it
amounted to nothing more than the rout of the pagan armies before the hosts of Constantine,
– an event which has been paralleled a thousand times in the history of the world?
4. Horae Apoc., vol.
1., pp. 219, 220.
For, let the point at issue be clearly kept in view. If the reign of Constantine
or some other era in the history of Christendom were appealed to as affording an
intermediate fulfillment of the vision, it might pass as a feeble but harmless exposition;
but these expositors daringly assert that the prophecy has no other scope or meaning.
They are bound to prove
the vision of the sixth seal has been fulfilled; else it is obvious that all
which follows it claims fulfillment likewise. If, therefore, their system failed
at this point alone, its failure would be absolute and complete; but in fact the
instance quoted is no more than a fair example of the manner in which they fritter
away the meaning of the words they profess to explain.
5. "Another such landmark
is found, I believe, in the interpretation of the sixth seal: if it be not
indeed already laid down in what has just been said. We all know what that imagery
means in the rest of Scripture. Any system which requires it to belong to another
period than the close approach of the great day of the Lord, stands thereby self-condemned.
I may illustrate this by reference to Mr. Elliott's continuous historical system,
which requires that it should mean the downfall of paganism under Constantine. A
more notable instance of inadequate interpretation cannot be imagined. Closely
connected with this last is another fixed point in interpretation. As the seven seals,
so the seven trumpets and the seven vials run on to the time close upon the end.
At the termination of each series, the note is unmistakably given that such is the
case. Of the seals we have already spoken. As to the trumpets, it may suffice to
refer to ch. 10:7; 11:18; as to the vials, to their very designation tas
eschatas, and to the gegonen
of ch. 16:17. Any system which does not recognize this common ending of the
three, seems to me to stand thereby convicted of error." – ALFORD, Gr. Test.,
4., Part 2., ch. 8., §§ 5, 21, 22.
hamera ha megala tas orgas autou (Revelation
7. If such statements were
put forward in wantonness, and not in folly, they would suggest a reference to the
solemn words, "If any man shall take away from the words of the book
of this prophecy –" (Revelation 22:19).
We are now, they tell us, in the era of the Vials. At this very hour the wrath of
God is being poured out upon the earth. Surely men may well exclaim, – comparing the present with the past, and judging
this age to be more favored, more desirable to live in than any age which has preceded
it, – Is this all the wrath of God amounts to! The vials are the seven last plagues,
"for in them is filled up the wrath of God, " and we are told that
the sixth is even at this moment being fulfilled in the disruption of the Turkish
Empire! Can any man be so lost in the dreamland of his own lucubrations as to imagine
that the collapse of the Turkish power is a Divine judgment on an unrepentant world!
Such it may appear to
be to the clique of Pachas, who, ghoul-like, fatten on the misery around them; but
untold millions would hail it as a blessing to suffering humanity, and ask with wonder,
If this be a crowning token of the wrath of God, how are simple souls to distinguish
between the proofs of His favor and of His direst anger!
8. When the historical
interpreters approach the Second Advent, they lose the courage of their opinions,
and earnestly contend for literalness, though if their scheme be genuine, the predicted
return of Christ may surely have its fulfillment in the present revival of religion
and the concurrent spread of Christianity.
If the event were cited as a primary fulfillment, within this day of grace,
of a prophecy which strictly belongs to the coming day of wrath, it would merit respectful
attention; but to appeal to the dismemberment of Turkey as the full realization of
the vision, is the merest trifling with the solemn language of Scripture, and an
outrage on common sense.
9. And I saw another sign
in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues, for in
them is filled up the wrath of God…And the seven angels came out of the temple, having
the seven plagues…And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels seven golden
vials, full of the wrath of God, who liveth for ever and ever…And I heard a great
voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the
vials of the wrath of God upon the earth" (Revelation 15:1, 6, 7; 16:1).
10. The Austrian Pester
Lloyd of 21st Nov., 1879, in commenting on the British line of policy with regard
to Turkish affairs, charged Lord Beaconsfield's government with "confounding
Mohammedanism with the Turks, the latter having been always regarded as the scum
of Mohammedanism by all Mohammedan nations who were conscious of their own strength."
Prophetic students appear to be thoroughly possessed by this error.
But there are principles involved in this system of interpretation far deeper and
more momentous than any which appear upon the surface. It is in direct antagonism
with the great foundation truth of Christianity.
St. Luke narrates (Luke 4:19, 20) how, after the temptation, the Lord "returned
in the power of the Spirit into Galilee," and entering the synagogue of Nazareth
on the Sabbath day, as His custom was, He stood up to read. There was handed Him
the book of Isaiah's prophecy, and all eyes being fastened on Him, He opened it and
read these words, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed
me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted,
to preach deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
"And the day of vengeance of our God" are the words which followed, without
a break, upon the open page before Him; but, the record adds, "He closed the
book, and He gave it again to the minister, and sat down." In an age to come,
when the prophecy shall have its ultimate fulfillment, the day of vengeance shall
mingle with blessing to His people. But the burden of His ministry on earth was only peace. And it is the burden of the gospel still. God's attitude
toward men is grace. "GRACE REIGNS." It is not that there is grace for
the penitent or the elect, but that grace is the principle on which Christ now sits
upon the throne of God. "Upon His head are many crowns, but His pierced hand
now holds the only scepter," for the Father has given Him the kingdom; all power
is His in heaven and on earth. "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed
all judgment to the Son"; (John 5:22; Compare 3:17; 12:47) but His mission to
earth was not to judge, but only to save. And He who is thus the only Judge is now
exalted to be a Savior, and the throne on which He sits is a throne of grace. Grace
is reigning, through righteousness, unto eternal life. (Romans 5: 21)
"The light of this glorious gospel now shines unhindered upon earth. Blind eyes
may shut it out, but they cannot quench or lessen it. Impenitent hearts may heap
up wrath against the day of wrath, but they cannot darken this day of mercy or mar
the glory of the reign of grace."
It will be in "the day of wrath" that the "seven last plagues,"
wherein is "filled up the wrath of God," shall run their course; and it
is merely trifling with solemn and awful truths to talk of their being now fulfilled.
Whatever intermediate fulfillment the vision may be now receiving, the full and final
realization of it belongs to a future time.
11. Compare Isaiah 63:4:
"For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come."
12. "He came and preached
peace" (Ephesians 2:17).
13. The Gospel and its
Ministry, p. 136. True it is that the great principles of God's moral government
of the world remain unchanged, and sin is thus ever working out its own punishment.
But this must not be confounded with immediate Divine action in judgment. "The
Lord knoweth how to reserve the unjust to the day of judgment, to be punished"
(2 Peter 2:9). Or, according to Romans 2:5, "After thy hardness and impenitent
heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath."
And these pages are not designed to deal with the primary and historical fulfillment
of the prophecies, or, as Lord Bacon terms it, their "springing and germinant
accomplishment throughout many ages." My subject is exclusively the absolute
and final fulfillment of the visions in that "one age" to which, in their
"height and fullness," they belong.
The Scripture itself affords many striking instances of such intermediate or primary
fulfillment; and in these the main outlines of the prophecy are realized, but not
the details. The prediction of Elijah's advent is an instance. In the plainest terms the Lord declared the Baptist's ministry
to be within the scope of that prophecy. In terms as clear He announced that it would
be fulfilled in days to come, by the reappearance upon earth of the greatest
of the prophets. (Matthew 11:14; 17:11, 12) St. Peter's words at Pentecost afford
another illustration. Joel's prophecy shall yet be realized to the letter, but yet
the baptism of the Holy Ghost was referred to it by the inspired Apostle. (Joel 2:28-32;
To speak of the fulfillment of these prophecies as already past, is to use
language at once unscriptural and false. Far more unwarrantable still is the assertion
of finality, so confidently made, of the prophecies relating to the apostasy. There
is not a single prophecy, of which the fulfillment is recorded in Scripture,
that was not realized with absolute accuracy, and in every detail; and it is wholly
unjustifiable to assume that a new system of fulfillment was inaugurated after the
sacred canon closed.
14. "Behold, I will
send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the
Lord" (Malachi. 4:5).
Two thousand years ago who would have ventured to believe that the prophecies of
Messiah would receive a literal accomplishment!
"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son."
"Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly,
and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9)
"They weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver;" "And I took the
thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord."
(Zechariah 11:12, 13; Compare Matthew 27:5, 7)
"They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." (Psalm
22:18 Compare John 19:23, 24.)
"They pierced my hands and my feet." (Psalm 22:16)
"They gave me vinegar to drink." (Psalm 69:21)
"He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of my people
was He stricken." (Isaiah 53:8)
To the prophets themselves, even, the meaning of such words was a mystery. (1
Peter 1:10-12) For the most part, doubtless, men regarded them as no more than poetry
or legend. And yet these prophecies of the advent and death of Christ received their
fulfillment in every jot and tittle of them. Literalness of fulfillment may therefore
be accepted as an axiom to guide us in the study of prophecy.
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