They were soon broken down by the strong arm of the hierarchy, and dispersed over Europe; and as their sufferings continued, their exasperation increased. The odious phrase they had so happily applied in their wrath, was not forgotten; and from them it was readily adopted by the heretics of that period, among others by the Waldenses, who had now become numerous. Indeed, so manifestly did the thorough corruptness of the Church seem to invite the appellation, that some of the more virtuous prelates even among the steadfast adherents of her faith, pointed out her resemblance to the woman clothed in scarlet, or to the beast with seven heads and ten horns. In this way the phraseology was transmitted down to the age of the Reformation; when Luther took it up (Calvin seems never to have employed it,) and flung it with his accustomed violence in the teeth of his enemies. Among the more zealous Protestants it furnished a sort of proper name for the Romish Church. Thus far, however, it had been for the most part applied merely in that style of coarse declamation, or of rude and foul-mouthed abuse, which characterized the times. No formal attempt had probably been made to establish its relevancy, by systematically explaining the train of Apocalyptic visions in accordance. Calvin did not venture to interpret the book at all; Zuinglius doubted its authenticity; even Luther in his cooler moments said, 'Let every one think of it what his own spirit suggests—my spirit can make nothing out of it; and the Reformers in general seem to have hesitated with regard to its full canonical authority. Some of their successors, however, began to cast longing eyes towards its mysteries, in hope of finding the Papal monster not barely referred to, but pourtrayed there at full length; and the project of systematizing the Revelation to this purpose was soon commenced in earnest. The English divines seem to have taken the lead. A little after the year 1600, Mr. Mede, an author of extensive learning and indefatigable application, drew a plan which has served as the ground-work of all subsequent schemes of this class. Omitting the names of several obscure speculators, there followed him, at the distance of a century, Vitringa,

the locusts who ascended out of the bottomless pit. The mistake we have mentioned arose perhaps from certain forged books and traditions which were circulated in his name after his death, and of which the Franciscans are known to have availed themselves. They pretended to sanction most of their opinions and practices by his authority. See Mosheim.

an eminent Dutch divine, and Daubuz, an English vicar, each of whom (A. D. 1719) made some alterations in his outline, and filled up his sketch, though in different ways. The next who contributed materially to its developemnt, was the celebrated bishop Newton, in 1758: the most learned by far and the most ingenious and persuasive of all its advocates whose works are now in current use. Meanwhile, it should be particularly observed that of the class of more profound critics among the Protestants, both in England and on the continent, the larger part had all along stood aloof from this hypothesis. Lightfoot, Hammond, Grotius, Le Clerc, Whitby, Wetstein, &c. either adopted other plans of interpretation, or declined an attempt to trace out the allusions of the book.

Bishop Newton's Dissertations may be said to have formed an era in the history of the scheme in question. They became, what Mr. Mede's works had been before, a sort of textbook for succeeding authors to quote, to follow, or to modify, accordingly as the course of speculation might run. Nor was their influence confined to authors. Notwithstanding the various and extensive learning with which they abound, they were composed in a popular style, well adapted to give the hypothesis currency throughout the whole reading community. Together with some later works to which they furnished the principal materials, they have done more perhaps than anything else to produce the existing state of common opinion on the subject among the people of Great Britain and America. They have been extensively circulated in all classes, and followed by most of our religious teachers, who in their turn have contributed to the general effect by transmitting their borrowed views with more or less distinctness to the multitude at large. The numerous coincidences that were made to appear between the several visions of the prophecy and the great train of historical events, could scarcely fail to convince common observers that the enigma was fairly solved. The writer of this article remembers the surprise and delight with which he first read the bishop's Dissertations many years ago. There lay the broad course of the world's history for seventeen hundred years marked out on one hand; and on the other, the emblematic representation of it in the Apocalypse, parallel throughout, turn answering to turn, and part to part. How wonderful to observe the precise periods of time in the prophe

cy, the ten days, the five months, the hour and a day and a month and a year, &c. all realized exactly in the respective events! and then, the mysterious number of the beast, six hundred and sixty-six, made out to a unit in a certain name which might easily be supposed to signify the Roman power, thus verifying the whole interpretation! It seemed demonstration. It seemed as if the veil had been stripped from the very secrets of prophecy, and the hidden counsels of omniscience laid bare to our view. And so doubtless it has seemed to many a reader.

But this appearance is not a little deceptive. Nobody, versed in the subject, can suppose, for instance, that the correspondence of a name with the number of the beast, is at all extraordinary. What proof is there in this, when different speculators have found the exact computation in the name also of the emperor Trajan, in the term the Latin Kingdom, in the name of Albinus a Roman general of the second century, in the name Mahomet, in some of the favorite titles of the Pope, in the name Luther, in the name Louis XVI. of France, &c. &c. and have seriously applied the prophecy accordingly. In ridicule of these puerile calculations, the fatal number has been pointed out likewise in the Hebrew phrase, The Most High, the Lord, the Holy God! Besides, it is altogether uncertain by what rule the author of the Revelation computed, whether by the numerical force of the Greek letters, or by a Jewish method, now lost, but then in great repute, of discovering mysteries in the characters composing a word. And as to another striking coincidence, that of the definite periods to time-who does not see that an author intent on shaping history to a given. model, can place his epochs very much at will? The begining of a power he may date either back among the doubtful causes which he thinks produced it, or at the time of its actual appearance, or of its complete ascendancy; its end, at its first decline, its prostration, or onward at its total extinction, just as he finds it necessary. The scenes in public affairs do not present themselves in solid masses well defined; they rise shifting, revolving, constantly assuming different relations; and he may fix at pleasure on some of these changes as marking the commencement and termination of an act in the drama. This allows him in some cases a latidude of many years, and in others, of several centuries. Bishop Newton, like the rest of his school, has, in most of his exactly corresponding periods,

availed himself of this wide license as in his interpretation of the locusts which came from the smoke of the bottomless pit, and which he discovered to be the Saracens ravaging the Greek and Roman territories. Now, since the text had fixed the time at five months (150 days,) during which the locusts were to torment the men who had not the seal of God, it was requisite that the bishop, according to his arbitrary scale of an Apocalyptic day for a natural year, should find one hundred and fifty years to have been the precise period of the Saracens afflicting the apostate churches. How does he succeed? Well. He begins his measurement, not at the year 630, when they first entered the Christian territories, but at the year 612, when Mahomet undertook, peaceably at first, to propagate his imposture in the heart of Arabia; and thence he extends it to the building of Bagdad in the year 762, stopping in the very height of their success, and leaving more than a century in which they tormented' Christendom, out of his account. Thus he finds his period of a hundred and fifty years. But as if to show that he would not have been baffled by any period whatsoever, he adds, that some have supposed, from the five months being twice mentioned in the paragraph, that it should be doubled, making three hundred prophetic days, or natural years. If so, then he will shift the position of his dividers on the scale: he will set them forward, the first point at the capture of Damascus by the Saracens in A. D. 637, (actually in 634,) and measuring off three hundred years, he reaches the end of their dominion at Bagdad in A. D. 936. Or if neither of these computations should be satisfactory, he has another resort: the Saracens made their excursions only in the five summer months, from April to September. So that, as the bishop justly remarks, 'let these five months be taken in any possible construction, the event will still answer. Sancta Simplicitas! what then would it not answer to? Again: the four angels bound in the great river Euphrates, whom he considers the four principal sultanies of the Turks, were prepared to slay the third part of men in an hour and a day and a month and a year,' that is, in about three hundred and ninety-one days, or years, as he will have it. We pass over his questionable array of four, and only four, principal sultanies: let us see how he verifies the period of the Turkish devastations. Going back some twenty years before their formal descent on the Christian provinces, he discovers that one of their chieftains took a town

from the Greeks in A. D. 1281; and, reckoning from this event so obscure, the space of three hundred and ninety-one years brings him to A. D. 1672, when their dominion reached its utmost extent; though they have continued to prosecute de structive wars with the Christians even down to our day. Thus we have the three hundred and ninety-one years, exact as usual, by the help of antedating a little at one extremity, and cutting off from the other a century and a half. To the church at Smyrna it is said, 'Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days; or, ten years, according to the bishop. Fortunately, there is recorded in the early history of the church a persecution of just the length supposed; only he must overleap two centuries of shorter ones in order to reach it. This however is no difficult exploit ; and accordingly he passes by the several persecutions of Domitian, of Trajan, of Adrian, of the Antonines, of Severus, of Decius, &c. and applies the prophecy to that of Diocletian, from A. D. 303, to A. D. 313; though after all, it happens to have been a general one, and not such as we should apprehend from the text, which evidently alludes to some affliction peculiar to the Christians of Smyrna. Let the reader now judge how much reliance is to be placed on these forced coincidences of time. If he is still dis

posed to wonder at the success with which the history of the church has been arranged parallel with the train of Apocalyptic visions, let him consider that in order to effect this result, it was found necessary, after all the expedients, resources and modifications which a century of learned research had furnished, to break the chronological order of the book itself. Thus, according to bishop Newton's scheme, the sixth chapter begins with the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus; and following the prophecy onwards to the end of the eleventh chapter, we arrive at the consummation of all things. But the twelfth chapter, without any notice of the change, commences again in the times of the heathen emperors before Constantine the Great; nor is it till the middle of the fourteenth chapter that we reach once more the age of the Reformation. Where the scheme will not conform to the text, an agreement may still be obtained by conforming the text to the scheme! We have spoken very freely of the shifts to which the bishop was reduced; it should be observed, before we pass, that in most of them he but followed his renowned predecessors, and that the

« VorigeDoorgaan »