CHRONOLOGICAL MEASURES OF THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES. "JERUSALEM SHALL
BE TRODDEN DOWN OF THE GENTILES, UNTIL THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES BE FULFILLED."-#Luke
"WHEN THE TIMES OF REFRESHING SHALL COME FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD; AND HE SHALL SEND JESUS CHRIST, . . . WHOM THE HEAVEN MUST RECEIVE UNTIL THE TIMES OF RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS." -#ACTS 3:19-21.
WE must turn now from history to chronology, and we may say of this branch of our subject what Mr. Birks says of his exposition of the two later visions of Daniel: "From the nature of the details of which it is composed, it may perhaps fail to interest general readers; but those who study it will find themselves repaid by a more deep and lively sense than ever of the actual providence of the Almighty in this fallen world.
Why have we in the word of God itself so many genealogies and lists of names, of offerings of princes, of journeys in the wilderness, and other passages that seem dry and barren, but to teach us that we must stoop to details and individual names, if we would rightly understand the condescension of our God, and the reality of His special oversight of the children of men? Those who are soon weary of these details must pay the cost of their own impatient spirit by a more loose, unreal, and slippery faith.
The tree of faith must throw out ten thousand little roots into the lowly soil of prophetic history if it is to grow and expand into that noble confidence of hope, which no storms of temptation can uproot or destroy."
Here we have to deal with dates and with periods, instead of with names, and these are perhaps even more unattractive to most people, as involving the mental effort of calculation; but we venture to assert, that those who take the trouble to follow the investigations of this chapter Bible in hand, will not fail to be at the close more profoundly convinced than ever before of the inspiration of the sacred volume, of the all-embracing providence and foreknowledge of God, and of the near approach of the end of this age. We would earnestly request that our readers verify the chronological calculations of this chapter for themselves. They must indeed do this in order to have any firm, well-grounded conviction on the subject.
Merely to read a number of statements as to events, dates, and intervals produces but an evanescent impression on the mind. Our desire is that every student of the subject should he able to say with the men of Samaria, "Now we believe, not because of thy saying;" for we have studied for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the truth.
The events should be considered, whether they are indeed as critical and important, in connexion with the historical movements to which they respectively belong, as we represent them to be. The dates should be verified where needful, and above all, the calculations on which our conclusions rest. [The simple operations of addition and subtraction are alone required for this.] It is one thing to receive a dogmatic statement, and quite another to investigate the facts for oneself. We should wish our readers to share the feelings of surprise, of awe, and of adoration, which we ourselves have experienced, when earnest prayer, patient, reverent searching of the Scriptures, and study of "books," have from time to time been rewarded by an opening of the eyes to see, one after another, the facts which form links in a chain of evidence, which demonstrates the system of prophetic chronology.
Only gradually and one by one did they come to our knowledge; many a calculation made revealed nothing, but we believed that a Divine order pervaded the times of history and prophecy, as it pervades all the other works and ways of God. We knew that appearances were not to be trusted, that the seemingly lawless and erratic movements of planets and comets are in reality regulated by the most exact laws, that the countless apparent anomalies of nature are all capable of classification, and exhibit perfect and wonderful order. We had no doubt that it was the same with these sacred "times," and hence we continued our search, till all became, step by step, clear. And now we invite other Christian students critically to examine the results here presented; for if they are true, every Christian ought to know it, every preacher ought to proclaim it, the world ought to be warned of its fast approaching doom, and the Church ought to be cheered by the assurance of the nearness of her "blessed hope."
Sacred chronology is no barren field to cultivate. The Scriptures contain no unedifying statements, and they contain thousands of chronological ones? Has the Church ever yet received from them any great comfort or consolation? Is not the time come that she should do so? Is she likely to do so without study? Has nature yielded to scientists her potent secrets without long and patient investigation and meditation? Are the material works of God more profound and more worthy of research, than that WORD which is magnified above all His name, which is "for ever settled in heaven"-that word which is "truth," and which liveth and abideth for ever? A living thing has always something new in it; the Bible is no more exhausted than the rich storehouse of nature! The very truths needed for our days of doubt and dark infidelity-new and glorious evidences of the inspiration of Scripture-are there. Let us be hopeful and diligent, and seek to develop them to the glory of God.
Before we begin to consider the exact chronological intervals lying between the events of the three eras of history we have now treated, it will be well briefly to summarise the general conclusions we have already reached.
1. That the fourfold image of Daniel ii., symbolising the succession of Gentile monarchies, extends from the rise of Babylon, and the fall of the throne of Israel and of Judah, to the yet future establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.
2. That the appointed duration of this succession of four Gentile monarchies is "seven times," or 2,520 years (seven times 360 years), a great week, harmonious with all the various weeks of the Levitical economy and of Jewish history.
3. That these 2,520 years of "the times of the Gentiles," like other periods of chronologic prophecy-and notably the great prophecy of the "seventy weeks" to Messiah-may be measured by either the solar, calendar, or lunar scale, warrant for the employment of each and all existing both in nature and in Scripture; and that sometimes the same period runs out on two, or even all three, of these natural scales.
4. That the difference between these three scales is such that "seven times" runs out on the lunar scale seventy-five years earlier than on the solar. This difference between the two measures, or the inequality between the solar and lunar year, is called EPACT. There is also an intermediate calendar scale; so that "seven times" may be either 2,520, 2,484, or 2,445 ordinary years, according to the scale employed; and similarly its half, "time, times, and a half" may be 1260, 1,242, or 1,222, ordinary solar years. All these three scales are and have been in use among different nations in different ages.
5. That these prophetic periods should be regarded as extending, not merely between certain events, but between certain groups of events; not so much between certain YEARS, as between certain critical ERAS OF HISTORY; the first of these is the, captivity era of Israel and Judah, the second is marked by the fall of the western empire of Rome, and by the rise of the Papal and Mohammedan powers; and the last is called in Scripture "the time of the end."
6. That in the course of these eras there occur certain salient years of crisis, which are frequently answered by chronologically correspondent years of crisis in a later era, though the principal measures are between the eras themselves.
7. That the events foretold by chronological prophecy arc exclusively those bearing directly or indirectly on the history of the redemption of the human race. Even when apparently mere political changes-such as the rise and fall of the pagan empires, wars, battles, sieges, victories, defeats, treaties, accessions of kings, changes of dynasty, publication of edicts and decrees, etc.-they will yet be found on reflection to be important incidents in the history, either of the typical or of the anti-typical Israel-the people of God, natural or spiritual, the Jewish nation or the Christian Church,-who have been and still are the channel of the worlds redemption. Every change in the environment of an organism has a hearing on the organism itself, and the story of its development cannot be told without reference to the history of its environment.
We must also remind our readers here that the events with which we are now dealing lie in the region of certain and not of uncertain chronology. Prior to the era of Nabonassar, there is a measure of uncertainty as to very ancient dates, and as to the intervals between any two given events of antiquity, so that it would be impossible to measure many such intervals accurately.
Bible chronology, calculated as it largely is by the lives of the patriarchs, the administration of judges, and the reigns of the kings, leaves two narrow gaps which can never be bridged over with absolute exactness; one between the death of Moses and the servitude under the Midianites, and the other between the election of Saul and the death of Samuel. The limits of doubt in these two intervals are very narrow, but they prevent absolute certainty as to the exact length of any interval which includes both or either of these gaps. A near approximation may be made, but accuracy cannot be claimed for any such calculation. After these two gaps, however, Bible chronology is consecutive and certain, and from the era of Nabonassar it is confirmed by astronomy. At that point all becomes perfectly clear and unquestionable; the dates of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman kings are just as certain as those of the Plantagenets or the Tudors. The exact chronological position of the era of Nabonassar has been accurately determined by the verification of a series of astronomical observations, including eclipses recorded by Ptolemy, the time of whose occurrence was measured by ancient astronomers from this point. In dealing with the dates of the events of the "times of the Gentiles," we are throughout consequently in the clear sunlight of authentic chronology, and we can calculate the chronological distance between any two events of which we possess the exact dates to a day, and in certain cases even to an hour. A fixed astronomical starting-point makes everything clear, and all the intervals which we mention in the following pages are just as easily ascertained as the period which elapsed between the battle of Trafalgar and the battle of Waterloo, or between the accession of William the Conqueror and the present day. It should be noted also, as regards the number of events which we have mentioned in the chapter on history, and with whose dates we have now to deal, that though considerable in itself, it is small in comparison with the number that actually took place in the course of these twenty-five centuries of the history of all the important countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Moreover, the events which we have selected arrange themselves into three distinct groups, and they all happened in three distinct and widely separated eras.
1. The era of the rise of the literal (typical) Babylon.
2. The era of the rise of the mystical Babylon, or anti-typical Babylon-called in Scripture "Babylon the Great," Rome Papal.
3. The era of the fall of this latter power, cotemporaneously with the fall of the Moslem power, in these days.
Or to look at these eras from the other side; the events with which we are dealing are connected with-
1.The era of the fall of the natural Israel under Babylon.
2.The era of the fall of the western Church under Rome Papal (Babylon the Great), and of the fall of the eastern Churches and of Jerusalem and Palestine under the Moslem woe.
3.The present era of the rising again of the Jewish nation and land, cotemporaneous with the fall of the Papacy and the Porte.
Now these historic movements are far removed from each other, and none but Bible students can see any relation between them. Certainly nothing but prophecy indicates any chronological relation between them; the predictions of Daniel asserted, twenty-five centuries ago, that there would be such a chronological relation, and that "seven times," or 2,520 years, would separate the first from the last, and especially that the Papal apostasy would last for half that time, or 1,260 years; indicating thus that the whole week would be divided into two halves (#Dan 7:25). The question we now have to study is, whether the chronological relation predicted in prophecy can be traced in history.
This is the kernel of our argument-the chronological relation between the three eras of which we have treated, and between the years of crisis in the first, and those in the second or third. In considering this question we must needs pass into the regions of clear arithmetical calculation. If we would know whether the "time is fulfilled" and the kingdom of God in glorious manifestation at hand, we must consider, like Daniel, "the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord has spoken."
Let it not be for a moment imagined that accurate chronological statements are unworthy of a spiritual revelation, or of Him who gave it. Not only are order and symmetry apparent in every branch of natural science, but harmonious relations of number meet us everywhere among the works of God. Is not chemistry to a large extent a science of number? In the laws of heat, light, sound, and electricity, in music, in botany, in anatomy, and in a host of other sciences numerical relations are paramount. Now, if God governs matter thus, if His material work betrays at every turn that calculation and orderly arrangement have presided over its genesis, how likely is it that His providence should have similar features!
And if history, with its successive eras, and its chronological epochs, be, as it undeniably is, the record of Divine providence, the story of Gods moral government of men, may we not expect to find order underlying its apparent chaos? If a wonderful and world-wide septiform periodicity has been impressed on nature, organic and inorganic, by its Maker, as it assuredly has, may we not expect to trace something similar in His providential arrangements? [See "Approaching End of the Age," Chapter on "The Divine System of Times and Seasons," p. 230.]
The Bible is full, not only of history, but of chronology. It positively bristles with dates and periods, and this is one of the features which most plainly distinguish it from all spurious revelations. "Its doctrines, precepts, promises and its prophetic imagery and hymns of holy worship, are all inwoven into a narrative of Gods moral government, which reaches from Adam to Nero and Vespasian, from the garden of Eden to the city of Rome. This comprehensive history is taken up and completed by a prophecy, no less comprehensive, which stretches onward from Patmos to the new Jerusalem, from the age of the Apostles to an eternity still to come. The Bible may thus be called Gods own] history of our world, from the first entrance of evil to its final overthrow, and from the dominion of Adam in paradise to the reign of the second Adam, the Lord from heaven. With such help it is easy to trace the main outlines of Providence in the six thousand years which have already passed away."
In the Bible alone we can see at once the past and the future of mankind. Other books give parts of the story of which Scripture gives the whole; in it therefore alone shall we find the whole moral and the whole chronological plan of Gods dealings with the human race. In its light alone need we expect to discern the glorious truth, that the apparent chaos of history, with its wars and fightings, conquests and overthrows, rise and fall of kingdoms, is "a mighty maze, but not without a plan," even as regards its chronological features.
Moreover, if the Maker of the universe, and Architect of the solar system, be the Author of the chronological prophecy, as well as of the plan underlying history, we may expect to find that all the three years, which the great orbs He has appointed to be time-measurers for man mark off as such, will be employed as units of measurement.
These two thoughts ought to abate any foolish prejudice against calculation in connexion with chronologic prophecy. Of it as a whole we may say, what inspiration says of a special point, "Here is wisdom; let him that hath understanding count "(#Rev 13:18).
Proceeding then to count or measure from the extreme limits of the captivity era- that is, from its earliest and latest dates-first three and a half, and then "seven times," let us observe, first, the dates to which we are led, and, secondly, the events which took place in the years indicated.