Concerning Prophecies that determine the end of the World; Of what order soever, Prophane or Sacred: Jewish or Christian. That no certain judgment can be made from any of them, at what distance we are now from the Conflagration.
THE bounds of humane knowledge are so narrow, and the desire of knowing so vast and illimited, that it often puts Mankind upon irregular methods of inlargeing their knowledge. This hath made them find out arts of commerce with evil Spirits, to be instructed by them in such Events as they could not of themselves discover. We meddle not with those mysteries of iniquity: but what hath appear’d under the notion of Divine Prophecy, relating to the Chronology of the World: giving either the whole extent of it, or certain marks of its expiration: these we purpose to examine in this place. How far any thing may, or may not, be concluded from them, as to the resolution of our Problem, How long the World will last.
Amongst the Heathens I do not remember any Prophecies of this nature, except the Sibylline Oracles, as they are usually call’d. The ancient Eastern Philosophers have left us no account that I can call to mind, about the time of this fatality. They say when the Phœnix returns we must expect the Conflagration to follow; but the age of the Phœnix they make as various and uncertain, as they do the computation of their Great Year: 1 which two things are indeed one and the same in effect. Some of them, I confess, mention Six Thousand years for the whole age of the World: which being the famous Prophecy of the Jews, we shall speak to it largely hereafter: and reduce to that head what broken Traditions remain amongst the Heathens of the same thing. As to the Sibylline Oracles, which were so much in reputation amongst the Greeks and Romans, they have been tamper’d with so much, and chang’d so often, that they are become now of little authority. They seem to have divided the duration of the World into Ten Ages, and the last of these they make a Golden Age, a state of peace, righteousness and perfection: but seeing they have not determin’d, in any definite numbers, what the length of every Age will be, nor given us the summ of all, we cannot draw any conclusion from this account as to the point in question before us. But must proceed to the Jewish and Christian Oracles.
The Jews have a remarkable Prophecy, which expresseth both the whole and the parts of the World's duration. The World, they say, will stand Six Thousand Years: Two thousand before the Law, Two Thousand under the Law, and Two thousand under the Messiah. This Prophecy they derive from Elias; but there were two of the Name, Elias the Thesbite, and Elias the Rabbin, or Cabalist: and ’tis suppos’d to belong immediately to the later of these. Yet this does not hinder, in my opinion, but that it might come originally from the former Elias, and was preserv’d in the School of this Elias the Rabbin, and first made publick by him.
[paragraph continues] Or he added, it may be, that division of the time into three parts, and so got a Title to the whole. I cannot easily imagine that a Doctor that liv’d two hundred years, or thereabouts, before Christ, when Prophecy had ceas’d for some Ages amongst the Jews, should take upon him to dictate a Prophecy about the duration of the World, unless he had been supported by some antecedent Cabalistical Tradition: which, being kept more secret before, he took the liberty to make publick, and so was reputed the Author of the Prophecy. As many Philosophers amongst the Greeks, were the reputed Authors of such doctrines as were much more ancient than themselves: But they were the publishers of them in their Country, or the revivers of them after a long silence; and so, by forgetful posterity, got the honour of the first invention.
You will think, it may be, the time is too long and the distance too great betwixt Elias the Thesbite, and this Elias the Rabbin, for a Tradition to subsist all the while, or be preserv’d with any competent integrity. But it appears from St. Jude's Epistle, that the Prophecies of Enoch, (who liv’d before the Floud) relating to the day of judgment and the end of the World, were extant in his time, either in writing or by Tradition: And the distance betwixt Enoch and St. Jude was vastly greater than betwixt the two Elias's. Nor was any fitter to be inspir’d with that knowledge, or to tell the first news of that fatal period, than the old Prophet Elias, who is to come again and bring the alarum of the approaching Conflagration. But however this conjecture may prove as to the original Author of this Prophecy, the Prophecy it self concerning the Sexmillennial duration of the World, is very much insisted upon by the Christian Fathers. Which yet I believe is not so much for the bare Authority of the Tradition, as because they thought it was founded in the History of the Six days Creation, and the Sabbath succeeding: as also in some other Typical precepts and usages in the Law of Moses. But before we speak of that, give me leave to name some of those Fathers to you, that were of this judgment, and supposed the great Sabbatism would succeed after the World had stood Six thousand years. Of this opinion was St. Barnabas in his Catholick Epistle, ch. 15. Where he argues that the Creation will be ended in Six Thousand years, as it was finish’d in Six Days: Every day according to the Sacred and mystical account, being a Thousand Years. Of the same judgment is St. Irenæus, both as to the conclusion and the reason of it. He saith, Li. 5. c. 28, 29, 30. the History of the Creation in six days, is a narration as to what is pass’d, and a Prophecy of what is to come. As the Work was said to be consummated in six days, and the Sabbath to be the seventh: So the consummation of all things will be in six thousand years, and then the great Sabbatism to come on in the blessed reign of Christ. Hippolitus Martyr, disciple of Irenæus, is of the same judgment, as you may see in Photius, ch. 202. Lactantius in his Divine Institutions, li. 7. c. 14. gives the very same account of the state and continuance of the World, and the same proofs for it. And so does St. Cyprian, in his Exhortation to Martyrdom, ch. 11. St. Jerome more than once declares himself of the same opinion; and St. Austin, C. D. li. 20. c. 7. tho’ he wavers and was doubtful as to the Millennium, or Reign of Christ upon Earth, yet he receives this computation without hesitancy, and upon the foremention’d grounds. So Johannes Damascenus de fide Orthodoxâ,
takes seven Millenaries for the entire space of the World, from the Creation to the general Resurrection, the Sabbatism being included. And that this was a received and approv’d opinion in early times, we may collect from the Author of the Questions and answers ad Orthodoxos in Justin Martyr. Who giving an answer to that enquiry about the six thousand-years-term of the World, says, We may conjecture from many places of Scripture, that those are in the right, that say six thousand years is the time prefixt for the duration of this present frame of the World. These Authors I have examin’d my self: but there are many others brought in confirmation of this opinion: as St. Hilary, Anastatius Sinaita, Sanctus Gaudentius, Q. Julius Hilarion, Junilius Africanus, Isidorus Hispalensis, Cassiodorus, Gregorius Magnus, and others, which I leave to be examin’d by those that have curiosity and leisure to do it.
In the mean time it must be confest that many of these Fathers were under a mistake in one respect, in that they generally thought, the World was near an end in their time. An errour, which we need not take pains to confute now; seeing we, who live twelve hundred or fourteen hundred years after them, find the World still in being, and likely to continue so for some considerable time. But it is easie to discern whence their mistake proceeded: not from this Prophecy alone, but because they reckon’d this Prophecy according to the Chronology of the Septuagint: which setting back the beginning of the World many Ages beyond the Hebrew, these six thousand years were very near expir’d in the time of those Fathers; and that made them conclude that the World was very near an end. We will make no reflections, in this place, upon that Chronology of the Septuagint, lest it should too much interrupt the thred of our discourse. But it is necessary to show how the Fathers grounded this computation of six thousand years, upon Scripture. ’Twas chiefly, as we suggested before, upon the Hexameron, or the Creation finish’d in six days, and the Sabbath ensuing. The Sabbath, they said, was a type of the Sabbatism, that was to follow at the end of the World, according to St. Paul to the Hebrewsch. 4.; and then by analogy and consequence, the six days preceding the Sabbath, must note the space and duration of the World. If therefore they could discover how much a Day is reckon’d for, in this mystical computation, the sum of the six days would be easily found out. And they think, that according to the Psalmist, (Psal. 90. 4.) and St. Peter, (2 Epist. 3. 8.) a Day may be estimated a thousand years; and consequently six days must be counted six thousand years, for the duration of the World. This is their interpretation, and their inference: but it must be acknowledged, that there is an essential weakness in all typical and allegorical argumentations, in comparison of literal. And this being allow’d in diminution of the proof, we may be bold to say, that nothing yet appears, either in nature, or Scripture, or humane affairs, repugnant to this supposition of six thousand years: which hath Antiquity, and the Authority of the Fathers, on its side.
We proceed now to the Christian Prophecies concerning the end of the World. I do not mention those in Daniel, because I am not satisfied that any there (excepting that of the fifth kingdom it self) extend so far. But in the Apocalypse of St. John, which is the last Revelation we are to expect, there are several Prophecies
that reach to the Consummation of this World, and the first Resurrection. The seven Seals, the seven Trumpets, the seven Vials, do all terminate upon that great period. But they are rather Historical Prophecies than Chronological: they tell us, in their Language, the Events, but do not measure or express the time wherein they come to pass. Others there are that may be call’d Chronological, as the Treading under foot the holy City, forty and two months. Apoc. 11. 2. The Witnesses opposing Antichrist, one thousand two hundred and sixty days, Apoc. 11. 3. The flight of the Woman into the Wilderness, for the same number of days, or for a Time, Times, and half a Time. Apoc. 12. 6. & 14. And lastly, the War of the Beast against the Saints, forty two months, Apoc. 13. 5. These all, you see, express a time for their completion; And all the same time, if I be not mistaken: but they do not reach to the end of the World. Or if some of them did reach so far, yet because we do not certainly know where to fix their beginning, we must still be at a loss, when, or in what year they will end. As for instance, If the Reign of the Beast, or the preaching of the Witnesses be 1260 years, as is reasonably suppos’d; yet if we do not know certainly when this Reign, or this preaching begun, neither can we tell when it will end. And the Epocha's or beginnings of these Prophecies are so differently calculated, and are things of so long debate, as makes the discussion of them altogether improper for this place. Yet it must be confest, that the best conjectures that can be made concerning the approaching end of the World, must be taken from a judicious examination of these points: and according as we gather up the Prophecies of the Apocalypse, in a successive completion, we see how by degrees we draw nearer and nearer to the conclusion of all. But till some of these enlightening Prophecies be accomplish’d, we are as a Man that awakes in the Night, all is dark about him, and he knows not how far the Night is spent: but if he watch till the light appears, the first glimpses of that will resolve his doubts. We must have a little patience, and, I think, but a little; still eyeing those Prophecies of the Resurrection of the Witnesses, and the depression of Antichrist: till by their accomplishment, the day dawn, and the Clouds begin to change their colour. Then we shall be able to make a near guess, when the Sun of righteousness will arise.
So much for Prophecies. There are also Signs, which are look’d upon as forerunners of the coming of our Saviour: and therefore may give us some direction how to judge of the distance or approach of that great Day. Thus many of the Fathers thought the coming of Antichrist would be a sign to give the World notice of its approaching end. But we may easily see, by what hath been noted before, what it was that led the Fathers into that mistake. They thought their six thousand years were near an end, as they truly were, according to that Chronology they followed; and therefore they concluded the Reign of Antichrist must be very short, whensoever he came, and that he could not come long before the end of the World. But we are very well assur’d from the Revelation of St. John, that the reign of Antichrist is not to be so short and transient; and from the prospect and history of Christendom, that he hath been already upon his Throne many hundreds of Years. Therefore this Sign wholly falls to the ground; unless you will take it from the fall of Antichrist, rather than from his first entrance.
[paragraph continues] Others expect the coming of Elias to give warning of that day, and prepare the way of the Lord. I am very willing to admit that Elias will come, according to the sence of the Prophet Malachi,c. 4. 5, 6. but he will not come with observation, no more than he did in the Person of John the Baptist; He will not bear the name of Elias, nor tell us he is the Man that went to Heaven in a fiery Chariot, and is now come down again to give us warning of the last Fire. But some divine person may appear before the second coming of our Saviour, as there did before his first coming: and by giving a new light and life to the Christian Doctrine, may dissipate the mists of error, and abolish all those little controversies amongst good men, and the divisions and animosities that spring from them: enlarging their Spirits by greater discoveries, and uniting them all in the bonds of love and charity, and in the common study of truth and perfection. Such an Elias, the Prophet seems to point at; And may he come, and be the great Peace-maker and preparer of the ways of the Lord. But at present, we cannot from this Sign make any judgment when the World will end.
Another Sign preceeding the end of the World, is, The Conversion of the Jews; and this is a wonderful sign indeed. St. Paul seems expresly to affirm it, Rom. II. 25, 26. But it is differently understood, either of their Conversion only, or of their Restoration to their own Countrey, Liberties and Dominion. The Prophets bear hard upon this sence sometimes, as you may see in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos. And to the same purpose the ancient promise of Moses is interpreted, Deut. 30. Yet this seems to be a thing very unconceivable; unless we suppose the Ten Tribes to be still in some hidden corner of the World, from whence they may be conducted again into their own Countrey, as once out of Egypt, by a miraculous Providence, and establish’d there. Which being known, will give the alarum to all the other Jews in the World, and make an universal confluence to their old home.Joh. 19. 37.
Apoc. 1. 7.
Mat. 23. 39. Then our Saviour by an extraordinary appearance to them, as once to St. Paul: and by Prophets rais’d up amongst them for that purpose, may convince them that he is the true Messiah, and convert them to the Christian Faith; which will be no more strange, than was the first Conversion of the Gentile World. But if we be content with a Conversion of the Jews, without their restoration; and of those Two Tribes only which are now disperst throughout the Christian World and other known parts of the Earth: That these should be Converted to the Christian Faith, and incorporated into the Christian Common-wealth, losing their national character and distinction. If this, I say, will satisfie the Prophecies, it is not a thing very difficult to be conceived. For when the World is reduc’d to a better and purer state of Christianity, and that Idolatry in a great measure, remov’d, which gave the greatest scandal to the Jews, they will begin to have better thoughts of our Religion, and be dispos’d to a more ingenuous and unprejudic’d examination of their Prophecies concerning the Messiah: God raising up men amongst them of divine and enlarged Spirits, Lovers of Truth more than of any particular Sect or Opinion; with light to discern it, and courage to profess it. Lastly, it will be a cogent argument upon them, to see the Age of the World so far spent, and no appearance yet of their long expected Messiah. So far spent, I say, that there is no room left, upon any computation
whatsoever, for the Oeconomy of a Messiah yet to come. This will make them reflect more carefully and impartially upon him whom the Christians propose, Jesus of Nazareth, whom their Fathers Crucified at Jerusalem. Upon the Miracles he wrought, in his life and after his death: and upon the wonderful propagation of his Doctrine throughout the World, after his Ascension. And lastly, upon the desolation of Jerusalem, upon their own scatter’d and forlorn condition, foretold by that Prophet, as a judgment of God upon an ungrateful and wicked People.
This I have said to state the case of the Conversion of the Jews, which will be a sign of the approaching reign of Christ. But alas, what appearance is there of this Conversion in our days, or what judgment can we make from a sign that is not yet come to pass? ’Tis ineffectual as to us, but may be of use to posterity. Yet even to them it will not determine at what distance they are from the end of the World, but be a mark only that they are not far from it. There will be Signs also, in those last days, in the Heavens, and in the Earth, and in the Sea, forerunners of the Conflagration; as the obscuration of the Sun and Moon, Earthquakes, roarings of the troubled Sea, and such like disorders in the natural World. ’Tis true, but these are the very pangs of death, and the strugglings of Nature just before her dissolution, and it will be too late then to be aware of our ruine when it is at the door. Yet these being Signs or Prodigies taken notice of by Scripture, we intend, God willing, after we have explained the causes and manner of the Conflagration, to give an account also whence these unnatural commotions will proceed, that are the beginnings or immediate introductions to the last Fire.
Thus we have gone through the Prophecies and Signs that concern the last day and the last fate of the World. And how little have we learned from them as to the time of that great revolution? Prophecies rise sometimes with an even gradual light, as the day riseth upon the Horizon: and sometimes break out suddenly like a fire, and we are not aware of their approach till we see them accomplish’d. Those that concern the end of the World are of this latter sort to unobserving men; but even to the most observing, there will still be a latitude; We must not expect to calculate the coming of our Saviour like an Eclipse, to minutes and half-minutes. There are Times and Seasons which the Father hath put in his own power. If it was designed to keep these things secret, we must not think to out-wit Providence, and from the Prophecies that are given us, pick out a discovery that was not intended we should ever make. It is determin’d in the Councils of Heaven just how far we shall know these events before-hand, and with what degree of certainty: and with this we must be content whatsoever it is. The Apocalypse of St. John is the last Prophetical declaration of the Will of God, and contains the fate of the Christian Religion to the end of the World, its purity, degeneracy, and reviviscency. The head of this degeneracy is call’d The Beast, the false Prophet, the whore of Babylon, in Prophetical terms: and in an Ecclesiastical term is commonly call’d Antichrist. Those that bear Testimony against this degeneracy, are call’d the Witnesses: who, after they have been a long time, in a mean and persecuted condition, are to have their Resurrection and Ascension: that is, be advanc’d to power and Authority. And this Resurrection of the Witnesses and depression of Antichrist, is that which will make the great turn of the
[paragraph continues] World to righteousness, and the great Crisis whereby we may judge of its drawing to an end. ’Tis true, there are other marks, as the passing away of the Second Woe:Apoc. c. 9.
Apoc. c. 16.
ch. 11. 14. which is commonly thought to be the Ottoman Empire: and the Effusion of the Vials. The first of these will be indeed a very conspicuous mark, if it follow upon the Resurrection of the Witnesses, as by the Prophecy it seems to do. But as to the Vials, tho’ they do plainly reach in a Series to the end of the World, I am not satisfied with any exposition I have yet met with, concerning their precise time or contents.
In a word, Tho’ the sum and general contents of a Prophecy be very intelligible, yet the application of it to Time and Persons may be very lubricous. There must be obscurity in a Prophecy, as well as shadow in a Picture. All its lines must not stand in a full light. For if Prophecies were open and bare-fac’d as to all their parts and circumstances, they would check and obstruct the course of humane affairs; and hinder, if it was possible, their own accomplishment. Modesty and Sobriety are in all things commendable, but in nothing more than in the explication of these Sacred Mysteries; and we have seen so many miscarry by a too close and particular application of them, that we ought to dread the Rock about which we see so many shipwrecks. He that does not err above a Century in calculating the last period of Time, from what evidence we have at present, hath, in my opinion, cast up his accounts very well. But the Scenes will change fast towards the Evening of this long day, and when the Sun is near setting, they will more easily compute how far he hath to run.
258:1 Symbolum ἀποκαταζάσεως πολυχρονὶου, Phœnix. Hor. Apol. l. 2. c. 57.