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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 48

Chapter I. — The Argument Stated

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Chapter I.

The Argument Stated.

It is a rule, established by the best and most judicious interpreters, that in explaining the Sacred writings we ought never, without the most apparent and indispensable necessity, to allow ourselves the liberty of departing from the plain, obvious, and literal meaning of the words.—Bishop Porteous.

The Bible is sufficiently plain to those who search it with simplicity of faith, and with minds untainted with philosophy and science, falsely so called. Hold fast and inculcate those precious truths, which are written, as with a sunbeam: and which are plain to those whom Christ calls 'babes,' though contrary to the reasoning of the wise and prudent.—Dr. Woods.

The prophetic portions of the books of Daniel, the Prophet of the Captivity, and of John, the Prophet of Patmos, are by the general readers of the Bible, perhaps the least consulted sections of the sacred volume. The story of Daniel's life and the historical parts of the book are by no means neglected. In our earliest acquaintance with the Bible, these stories are among some of the most conspicuous. No story is more interesting in the ears of children than that of Daniel in the lion's den, or that of the three Hebrew youths cast into the fiery furnace. They are sublime themes for sermons, delighting subjects for Sunday school lessons, as well as consoling topics for the mind of a Christian in a time of trouble and distress, or for the bed of sickness. And what powerful warnings have been drawn from the hand-writing on the wall, which alarmed the king in the midst of his gay festivities. "Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting" has been the text for thousands of arousing sermons. So is it with some portions of Revelation, notably the Epistles to the Churches. But the wonderful and sublime prophetic utterances of these two "holy men of old" who spake as the spirit directed them, have been looked upon as almost beyond the power of page 4 explanation, or at least beyond the comprehension of a common reader. It is impossible that this seeming difficulty can have arisen from any ambiguity of the text. That is distinct enough. But the whole affair has come about through the notions which have become prevalent throughout the entire range of acknowledged and celebrated commentators. They have missed the main current of the theme, and have tried to supply the last connecting link by one of their own manufacture. It is most wonderful to note how unanimously they have agreed on the nature of this link, in spite of their diverse opinions on questions of greater and lesser moment. Of course the ingenious inventor of the artificial connection had hit upon an idea which fitted tolerably well with a theory that had taken firm possession of what is called the "Christian mind."

In reality, this seems to have been a part of the amazing Divine scheme. The full meaning of certain portions of prophecy was not intended to be understood through all periods. These utterances have been sealed until the time should arrive when they should be useful in making known—when the beginning of the period approached—the nature of the events predicted in them. Both in Daniel and in Revelation certain passages are ordered by the spirit to be "sealed up" for a time. The end of this period is evidently near at hand, and even now at least one-half of Christendom acknowledges that we see the dawn of the long-expected era, creating the roseate hues of morning in the eastern horizon.

Although the seals now seem to be broken and removed, all the students of the Bible have not learned to read the words with the light of reason. Many are still in the condition of Saul of Tarsus before the scales fell from his eyes. These modern scales are caused by the chronic trouble known as the "spiritualizing mania." Those suffering from it labour under the hallucination that this great and Universal Kingdom, which is to succeed the four great, but only local and limited powers, is to be a development of Christianity through the entire system of human affairs to such an extent that all nations will acknowledge God, and be governed by His Divine rules. Certainly the worship of the true God is to cover the earth as the waters cover the bed of the ocean. There is a substratum of truth in this notion, but it is only one-half of the fundamental fact, and it acts as a veil or obscuring shade to prevent a realization of the beauty, and the delightful harmony which shines in splendour from this grandest of all prophetic visions. The seal has been broken, but many still cling to their eye-shades, and refuse to look on the vision with pure transparent lenses. They prefer the old and opaque obstructions to light. But the time has come for those who have, by the grace of God, cast aside the man-invented principles of interpretation for the plain consistent meaning of the words which record the sublime story, to use the power with which they have been intrusted, to impress upon their friends and the people generally the glorious fact in its true form, and thus aid in removing that defect which so seriously dims intelligence.

The great image, which appeared in a dream to the monarch of the most extensive of ancient empires, known as Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, page 5 has in all ages of Bible study been an object of admiration and wonder. Its great lesson, however, has been only partially understood, notwithstanding its particular interpretation by the inspired writer. There is no material difference in the present day with reference to the current interpretations applied to the different parts of the metalic image, so far as the head of gold, arms and breast of silver, the body and thighs of brass, and the legs of iron are concerned. But when we consult the commentators and prophetic writers upon the feet of iron and clay," we are met with the commencement of the confusion, as difficult to harmonize as are the Chinese characters with the Roman letters. As, however, each of these sets of symbols are understood to represent a method of writing human language, so all interpretations of the imago agree in regarding these several parts as representatives of succeeding political powers or nations, the diversity being as to which historic or modern nation or nations may be selected as those specially referred to by the feet of the image.

The argument observable throughout the treatment of the verses referring to the four parts of the image supplies the basis which, from its consistency and appropriateness, commends itself to the truth-seeker as the one to be acted upon for the remaining verses of the vision. What I desire to be specially noted is, that each particularised portion of the image is unhesitatingly taken to represent some particular political or imperial power, some individual nation. Not a political principle such as Cæsarism, Romanism, Judahism, Communism, or any spirit of opinions which might spread through many different nations. Nothing of this kind, but simply and distinctly "a nation" in the literal and practical sense of the term. A people owning one governing head.

Moreover, it is commonly accepted that the gold, the silver, the brass, and the iron which formed the distinguishing parts of the Colossus, were really peculiarities of the nations they are taken to represent. Not merely emblematic, but important distinctive features. Gold, for instance, was a singularly plentiful commodity in the realm of Nebuchadnezzar. Isaiah (xiv. 4) calls Babylon the "Golden City." Jeremiah (li. 13) speaks of it as "abundant in treasure." A Greek writer has written of Babylon as "abounding in gold." Barnes says: "The appellation, "head of gold," may have been given to him on account of the splendour of his capital, and the magnificence of his court." This king was the greatest conqueror of his day, and he levied tribute in "gold" from all his subjugated dependencies. Nothing in history is more striking than the fact that the dishes of this king's table were all of gold. The adornments of the city, effected by Nebuchadnezzar, are said to have been one of the wonders of the world.

Silver is the characteristic symbol of the Medo-Persian empire, which succeeded the Babylonian. It is a historical fact that during the dominancy of this power "silver" became a most common metal, because of the extensive and rich mines then opened up and worked in the very "home seat" of the empire, and which Gibbon tells us gave employment to many thousands of men, even after the Romans had taken page 6 possession of the eastern world, and brought a great revenue to the coffers of the Roman treasury. Many commentators have argued that silver is used as representative of the Medo-Persian empire, because, as silver is inferior to gold, so was the latter empire to the Babylonian. To me there is something quite irreverent in this view of the Divine Being, whom we all regard as the author of the symbols chosen. Were we commenting upon the imagery of some human poet there would be every excuse for the adoption of this system, for man does look upon the metals as differing in money value, but to Him who created all things they differ not in their intrinsic value. It is impossible to conceive that to Him one pure metal is superior to another, and we should never forget that the symbols are His choice, not man's. If it were that these selected metals stood before Him in a gradation of worth, how very unworthy and low must the "common stone" be when contrasted with the "pure gold!" Yet when we consider the Divinely given interpretation we find that the stone is chosen to represent the grandest, purest, sublimest of all the kingdoms! Consequently, it seeems imprudent in the highest degree to suppose that these metals were chosen from their human standard of value. Human value changes with the scarcity or abundance of any article. Were gold more plentiful than silver they would change places in the market. Naturally, therefore, our argument concludes that silver represents Medo-Persia, not because it is inferior to gold, but because it was a conspicuous characteristic commodity in the prime of that second great empire.

For the same reason brass (or copper) is chosen to represent the third powerful empire, by whose power the silver state was overthrown. Brass was first used by the Greeks as a coat of mail and shield; their arrow and spear heads were often, if not generally, made of this metal—which was not the compound which we call brass, but is believed to have been hardened copper. History knows these Macedonian warriors as the "brazen coated Greeks." Brass, or copper, was more extensively used in the Greek nation than in any other, constituting it a notable characteristic of the people.

What brass was to the Greeks "iron" became to the Romans, which caused that material to become the chief distinction or characteristic metal of the fourth great empire of the world.

Will it not be wise, therefore, to carry this harmonizing principle of interpretation further, and apply it to the signification of the stone which "was cut out without hands?" Are we now to depart from the harmony evident in the interpretation of the Image, as we proceed to consider the meaning of the last part of the same vision? Is this stone, which is destined to crush the entire image to atoms, to be interpreted as representative of an individual person, or as a nation? No person will presume to deny that, so far as the power to crush the great political institutions of the Gentile world, being applied to Christ, the personal method of interpretation is quite compatible with the nature and prophetic description of the future mundane reign of our Lord. But is it not much more consistent to follow out the same principle which charac- page 7 terizes the prophecy of the image, and regard the "stone cut out of the mountain without hands," as representative, not of a person, but a nation? See how this would agree with Daniel's inspired interpretation (ii, 44)—"And in the days of those kings shall the God of Heaven set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and the kingdom thereof shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." No explanation could be more distinct. It is to be a people, a community, a nation, organized as a political energy. Moreover, it is to break in pieces all those antagonistic kingdoms which are represented in the Image. Now were not these kingdoms all composed of organised communities? Is the kingdom which the stone represents not also of a similar constitution? From history we know that the kingdoms representing the "Times of the Gentiles" have been for the greater part united in their nationality, not only by the powers of the government which ruled them, but more by ties of race, or consanguinity. Although they all vanquished other peoples and brought them under their sway, yet in their beginning they were all held together by their pride of ancestry.

Does Scripture indicate that the nation of the latter days is to originate in any different way? Is it to be composed of a people of a common history and fountain head, or of peoples of diverse histories, and many fountain heads, or sources of origin? Does it indicate that these kingdoms are to be overthrown by a gathering out from the midst of them of a special people or class, which shall form the kingdom of the great king? Daniel is not obscure in this matter. The Stone had no common origin with the Image. The Stone had its origin in the mountain, and was not there managed and controlled by human hands, being singular in this respect. The great Image must have been the work of the most skilful human artificer, for it was an artificial construction, in this being the antithesis of the Stone.

Nor does the Stone take its political rise in the midst of the Image, and gradually assimilate the entire fabric to itself. It is represented as commencing its course from the vantage ground of the mountain side, whence it descends to the plain with irresistible force, and dashing against the man-made power crushes it to atoms by the force of its impetuous velocity, and then, after its power has been manifested in this remarkable manner, it establishes a world-wide empire in which the nations of the Image-power form a portion.

There does not in this seem to be a prefigurement of the Christian church, or Christian dispensation, as we see it existing in these days, for it has never shown any tendency to break down and destroy the kingdoms of the world, but on the contrary, wherever a nation has become prominently Christian in its general character, its royal house and form of government have become more secure and prosperous. But this kingdom to be ushered in as the Stone Kingdom is to be established after the judgment has sat (vii. 26), when they or the people who form the empire "shall take away his (the beast's) dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the page 8 greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, and all dominions (margin, 'rulers') shall obey him."

It is of great importance to notice two other facts mentioned in Daniel's interpretation of the vision.

According to this the God of Heaven is to set up a kingdom "in the days of those kings." Which kings? Evidently the kings of the four great empires. It was to be a growth of many centuries, even from the days of Assyria's greatness to the decline and fall of haughty Rome, the gradual development of a solid and substantial nation. Then we are informed "the kingdom shall not be left to other people." On this passage Barnes has the following very appropriate remarks:—"No foreign power shall sway the sceptre of this kingdom. The government will never change hands. There may be an allusion to the fact that in respect to each of the other kingdoms mentioned, the power over the same territory did pass into the hands of other people. Thus, on the same territory, the dominion passed from the hands of the Babylonian princes to the hands of Cyrus, the Persian, and then to the hands of Alexander, the Macedonian; and then to the hands of the Romans. But this would never occur in regard to the kingdom which the God of Heaven would set up. In the region of empire appropriated to it it would never change hands; and this promise of perpetuity made this kingdom wholly unlike its predecessors." It shall not be transferred from them to another race. Surely this indicates very conclusively that the latter day kingdom is to be a people distinct in their nationality from others, and that although they subdue all other nations, they shall retain their supremacy throughout, (vii. 27, xii 1.)

If by this the Church of Christ is meant—which by all is acknowledged to be a company of all kindreds, tongues and nations—then the words of the prophecy are reduced to mere foolishness. If this "kingdom" means a community of all peoples, in which all nations form an equally important element, or in which all national and race differences are obliterated, as many suppose the great extension of Christian worship throughout the world will effect, then it would be absolutely absurd to speak of such a "kingdom" not being "left to another people," because already it embraces within its limits "all peoples," and there no longer exists any "other people." Amongst them there is no division and no distinction, for they are one people, and possess the kingdom.

To be logical, and to attribute common sense to the Divine Word—and surely this we are bound to do—we must regard this kingdom which the God of Heaven is to set up, as a literal ethnic people, one which is distinguished from all others by its family history and paternal origin. The passage most certainly does mean this. We must refrain from reducing the Bible to a compilation of grotesque incongruities. It is a reasonable book, and we are to examine it reasonably.

In the Seventh chapter of Daniel the plainness of this argument comes out very distinctly, for in verse If we read, "And there was given unto him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, and nations, and page 9 languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." In this there is a clear, unmistakable distinction made between his "kingdom" and his "dominion." His kingdom is surely a people or nation with whom he is immediately connected as their king, but all nations, tongues, &c., are to submit to, and be included in, his "dominion." He will be king of his own people, but also monarch of the world. In the 18th verse we are told that "The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever and ever." The 21st verse informs us that there are, at this time, people who are not in the kingdom, for those under the influence of the Horn make war against the saints, but ultimately judgment is given to the saints, and the time arrives in which they "possess the kingdom." But even then all men do not become saints, for many continue to show a strong opposition to the favoured ones. Subsequently the power of the horn is destroyed, then the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven is given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions (rulers) shall serve and obey Him, who is its king. There can be no reason to doubt that this kingdom is nothing else than a natural, real, organised nation under the rulership of a king—a constitutional monarchy, to which all other monarchies willingly submit, as to the chief and perfect or Divinely modelled realm. There is nothing in the book of Daniel, or elsewhere in the Bible, requiring us to give a spiritualised interpretation to this kingdom; while order, logic, and common sense require a literal treatment.