CHAPTER 9 - Unfulfilled Prophecy - Predicting the Future

 

"Prophecy is not given to enable us to prophesy, but as a witness to God when the time (of fulfilment) comes."

Even if limits of space allowed of it, my appreciation of these words of Pusey's would prevent my indulging here in any forecasts of the future, beyond what Scripture expressly warrants. Certain extra-Scriptural forecasts have been discredited by the present war. For example, the language of the opening verses of Zechariah 14 were taken to indicate that the future siege and capture of Jerusalem will be the work of half-savage Oriental troops. For, it was argued, Western civilisation would not tolerate the excesses hers described. How foolish this appears in view of the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in this war!

But while avoiding flights of fancy as to the means by which, and the manner in which, the events foretold in prophecy will come about, we may well take note of present-day movements and occurrences, which seem to be preparing the way for their fulfilment. For example, appeal may be made to the probable effect of the war on the future of Palestine. If the Turk be driven out, the attempt of any one of the Entente Powers to seize possession of that land would be the signal for another war! And this consideration will, in all probability, lead to its being constituted a protected Jewish State. And thus the present generation may possibly witness the building of the very temple upon which the Prince of Daniels prophecy will yet sot up his image. But this is merely a probable surmise, and the introduction of it here is possibly an indiscretion.

If Pusey's axiom were construed strictly the study of prophecy would be valueless until the time of its fulfilment. But this was far from his intention. For not only is it of fascinating interest to the thoughtful, but of great practical importance to every Christian. It serves to put us on our guard against evil influences and movements, of which the ultimate development and full fruition are described in the prophetic Word. Spiritualism, Christian Science, and other cults of a similar character, may be mentioned in this connection. These cults are daily winning over not a few, even among those whose Christian profession seemed to be above reproach. And the experience of many gives proof that those who yield to these demon influences soon reach a stage where recovery seems impossible, even if they wish to escape from them.

In view of the genuine miracles by which they are accredited, to denounce them as mere charlatanism is idle. And as their miracles are of a beneficent character their votaries regard them as Divine. In dark days of persecution Satan was as "a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour." And in that character he will be known in the darker period of the coming age. But now "he fashions himself as an angel of light," even as he did in Eden, and in the Temptation of the Lord.
But, it may be asked, how can this be reconciled with what was stated on a preceding page as to the contrast between the present age and that which is to follow it? Here we must be guided by what Scripture records of former "changes of dispensation." These changes find an illustration in the sphere of nature. For while Science can mark with accuracy the changes of the seasons, the actual transition is unnoticed by the observer. And this has its parallel in the spiritual sphere. The law and the prophets were until John, and then the Kingdom of God was preached. But yet the Lord reproached the Jews that though they could discern the face of the sky they could not discern the signs of the tunes. And so was it again when Israel was set aside, and the present Christian dispensation was inaugurated. The change was a crisis of extreme significance, but yet it passed unnoticed; and many characteristics of the new dispensation had marked the later stages of that which it superseded. And as we observe the present-day manifestations of the sinister spiritualist influences and movements which will be fully developed in the coming age, may we not hail it as giving hope that the present dispensation is nearing its end, and that "the coming of the Lord is drawing nigh?" And that hope will be intensified if we are given to see "the land of the promise" restored to the people of the Covenant.

On yet another ground the practical importance of prophetic study is incalculable. To all who pursue it intelligently it affords full and irrefutable proofs of the Divine authorship of the Bible, and it thus provides an antidote to the poison of the "Higher Criticism." The writings of the eminent scholars who have led or championed that sceptical crusade will be searched in vain for proof of acquaintance with the scheme of Divine prophecy, a scheme that can be traced, like a silver thread, through all the Scriptures. And still more remarkable is their neglect of the typology of scripture. which is so closely allied with prophecy. Indeed, their "learned" writings are notable examples of exegesis on the text-card system. These Critics are like men who empty the works of a watch into a bowl, and then, after examining them in detail, arrive at the sapient conclusion that they present no proof of unity or design!

The aphorism that "truth is one" applies unreservedly to Holy Writ. But if we read it on the text-card system we lose all sense of its "hidden harmony." We cannot intelligently apprehend what God has revealed about the future if we are ignorant or unmindful of His revelation respecting the past and the present. We need, for example, to recognise the dual character of this "Christian Age." For, as already noticed, the root error of the Apostasy of Christendom is the failure to distinguish between the Professing Church, the administration of which is committed to man, and the true Church which Christ is building. The Professing Church is for earth and time, whereas the spiritual Church stands related to eternity and heaven. The truth respecting it is a "mystery" of the Christian revelation. And its temporary connection with earth will cease at that Coming of the Lord, which is another of the "mystery" truths revealed in the Epistles of the New Testament.

In this, its higher aspect, the present dispensation is not within the purview of the earlier Scriptures. And, viewed in relation to earth and time, it is an interlude in the great drama of prophecy as unfolded in those Scriptures. To rule out in this way some two thousand years of human history will seem neither startling nor strange, if we remember that, with God, a thousand years are "as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night."

And as regards the past we must keep in view the Divine plan of the ages. The Adamic dispensation was brought to an end by the judgment of the Flood; and the Noachic was marked by the Babylonian apostasy, in which the primeval revelation was utterly corrupted. An apostasy so subtilly adapted to our fallen nature that even Evangelical Christianity is leavened by it. God thereupon took up Abraham and his race to be His agents and witnesses upon earth, and "unto them were committed the oracles of God." But the nation of Israel proved false to that trust; and instead of being light-bearers to the world, they proudly claimed a monopoly of Divine favour. The Holy Temple, designed to be "a house of prayer for all nations," they regarded as their own house, and ended by making it "a den of thieves." Here, then, we have the clue to a right reading of the 11th chapter of Romans. It is a chapter of cardinal importance to the student of prophecy, but it is much neglected. And the Apostle's warning to us Gentiles not to be "wise in our own conceits" is practically ignored, as witness the figment that "the Christian Church" has ousted Israel from the olive tree position. The teaching of the chapter is explicit, that Gentiles are wild olive branches, " grafted, contrary to nature, into a good olive tree," the natural branches being Israelite. But they are only branches. For the allegory of the olive tree points back to the Abrahamic covenant and promise. And it is not as "members of the Church" that we are grafted into it, but as Gentiles, who, in virtue of faith, are become "children of Abraham." In the true Church there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Neither is there in the Vine, which represents a vital relationship with Christ, to be manifested by fruit-bearing.

And this chapter teaches emphatically that the present age is not only parenthetical but, in its earthly aspect, abnormal. And further, that as Israel was cut off because of unbelief, so the Professing Church of this age will be cut off. And then "There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And so all Israel shall be saved" (v. 26) Not "every Israelite," but Israel as a nation. For this chapter does not deal with the position and destiny of individuals, but with national and dispensational distinctions and changes.

Neither does it deal with Churches in the sense of our English word "denominations," but with the Professing Church on earth as a whole. For Scripture recognises only two Churches, namely, the Church the Body of Christ, which, when complete, will be manifested in heavenly glory; and the Professing Church, "the outward frame of so-called Christendom," now drifting to its "fearful end." Even with knowledge of its evil history and present condition, we can form no adequate conception of what it will become when all true Christians are called away to heaven, and the influence of the Holy Spirit is no longer felt. But with awe we ponder the words of the Apocalyptic vision, that when the day of its judgment comes all heaven will ring with Hallelujahs, and the wonderful Beings who sit around the throne will fall upon their faces in adoring worship as they join in the refrain, "Hallelujah, Amen" "All Israel shall be saved." "And if the casting away of them was the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead!" The cemetery condition in which Christendom will leave the world shall give place to the life and gladness of a summer garden! For when the People of the Covenant have been regenerated in the great revival foretold in prophecy, "the gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world." And the result of their testimony will be the in-numerable multitude of earth's great Feast of Ingathering "out of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues." Let us then shake free not only from the errors, but from the mean pettiness of Latin theology on this great subject. One of the most popular of its accredited exponents in our own day describes the present age as "the last great eon of God's dealings with mankind," Could we but realise aright the significance of the Ministry and Death of Christ in God's purposes for earth, we might be tempted to declare that this age of ours is the first great eon of the unfolding of those purposes. And the statement, though unwarranted, would not be so flagrantly false as is the "pandemonium and conflagration" theory of this theology.

If only we knew more of God, and if we realised that earth's history runs its course in open view of all the great intelligences of heaven, the mysteries of both the past and the present might perchance seem less perplexing. And we should be led with eagerness to scan the prophecies still unfulfilled, to find there that this sin-cursed earth is yet tc be a scene of blessedness and peace - all that we should expect a God of infinite goodness and power to make it:

"When a King, in kingly glory,
Such as Earth has never known,
Shall assume the righteous sceptre,
Claim and wear the holy crown."

Let us then, with the intelligent enthusiasm of faith, take our stand by the side of the inspired Apostle as, surveying this glorious vista of the Divine "plan of the ages," be exclaims, "0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments. and His ways past finding out!"

But no intelligent student of these prophecies, and very specially of this eleventh chapter of Romans, can fail to recognise that before they can be realised there must be "a change of dispensation" as definite and drastic as that which was signalised by the call of Abraham, and again by the "casting away" of Israel, and the welcoming of Gentile slum-dwellers, and tramps of the highways, to partake of God's great supper of salvation. The reader of these pages, therefore, will appreciate their second title, and the prominence here given to the Coming of the Lord. It is not intended to suggest that "the hope of the Church" is within the scope of the Hebrew Scriptures. But the realisation of that hope will usher in the age to which the great field of unfulfilled prophecy pertains. And therefore it provides the only standpoint from which that field can be surveyed in a true perspective.