You are hereCalvin is a Preterist according to his translators

Calvin is a Preterist according to his translators

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By Virgil - Posted on 22 February 2002

In attempting to determine the intrinsic value of these Lectures, it becomes necessary to compare Calvin’s Prophetic Interpretations with those of the Divines who preceded and have followed him. The scheme proposed for interpreting, these Visions may be classed generally under this threefold division, viz., the Præterist, the Anti-Papal, and the Futurist Views. The first view is that usually adopted, with some slight modifications, by the Primitive Church and the Earlier Reformers.The second, sometimes called rite “Protestant” System, supposes the Papal power to be prominently foretold by both Daniel and Sir John; while the Third System defers the accomplishment of many of these Prophecies to times yet future. If these three Systems be borne distinctly in mind, it will become easy to understand how the most popular modern explanations differ for in those of the earlier period of the Reformation. The Primitive Church has, with few exceptions, agreed in considering The Head of Gold to mean, either the Babylonian Empire or the person of Nebuchadnezzar; the Silver denoting the Medo-Persian; the Brass the Greek; and the Iron the Roman; while the mixture of the Clay denotes the intermingling of Conquered Nations with the power of Heathen Rome. In interpreting the Four Beasts, the Lion denotes the Babylonian Empire; the Eagle Wings relate to Nebuchadnezzar’s ambition; the Bear to the Medo-Persians; the Leopard to the Macedonians; and the Fourth Beast to the Romans. The Ten Horns were differently explained; some referring them to Ten individual Kings, and others to Ten Divisions, of the Empire; some supposing them to commence with the Roman sway in the East, others not till the Fourth or Fifth Centuries after Christ.

Calvin differs slightly from the earlier, and most materially from the later Commentators. Supposing the Fourth Boast to typify the Roman Empire, “The Ten Kings,” he says, “were not persons succeeding each other in dominion, but rather the complex Form of the Government instead of a unity under one head.” The number “ten” is, he thinks, indefinite, for “many,” and the Sway of a Senate instead of a Monarchy is the true, fulfillment of the Prophecy. The rise of one King and his oppressing three, refers to the two Caesars, Julius and Octavius, with Lepidus and Antony. How unconscious was Calvin that succeeding Protestant Writers would determine The “Little Horn” to be the Pope, and the Three Kings, the Exarchate of Ravenna, the Kingdom of Lombardy, and the State of Rome. Here the multitude of modern commentators differ most materially from the author of these Lectures. The “Time, Times, and Half a Time” of this chapter, Calvin refers to the persecution of the Christian Church under Nero, and similar tyrannical Emperors of Rome, and gives not the slightest countenance to any allusion in these words to a specified number of years. “Time and Times” are with him a long undefined period; and “Half a Time” is added in the spirit of the promise to shorten the time, for the Elects sake. Those modern Writers, who think the Year-Day theory essential to the full exposition of the Visions of Daniel, will be disappointed by the opinion of our Reformer. He takes no notice of either the 1260 years of the Papacy, or the 1290 years for the reign of Antichrist. Again, there are Writers who deny the Fourth Beast to refer to Rome at all. Rosenmuller and Todd are instances; and each of these has his own way of interpreting the concluding portion of this chapter. The former asserts it to be fulfilled in the Greek Empire in Asia after Alexander’s death, and the latter supposes it to be yet future. According to Dr. Todd and the Futurists, it has yet to be developed. Its fulfillment shall be the precursor of The Final Antichrist, whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his Personal Advent. This Antichrist shall tyrannize in the world for the “Time, Times, and Half a Time,” that is, for the definite space of three years and a half, till the Ancient of Days shall proclaim The Final Close Of The Gentile Dispensation.

The three views, then, of the Interpretation of these Prophecies are thus clearly distinguished. The Præterist view treats them as fulfilled in past historical events, taking place under the several Empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Heathen Rome. The modern Anti-Papal view treats “The Little Horn” as the Pope, and the drays as years; and this stretches the predictions over the Twelve Centuries of European struggle between the Ecclesiastical and the Civil Powers. The Futurist is dissatisfied with the Year-Day theory he cannot agree with the past fulfillment of these glowing images of future blessedness. Hence, instead of either Antiochus, Mahomet, Nero, or the Pope, he sees a future Antichrist in the Eleventh Horn of the seventh chapter, in The Little Horn of the eighth chapter, and The Willful King of the eleventh chapter. He rejects entirely the Year-Day explanation, and every assertion which is based upon it,; he takes the days literally as days, and supposes them yet unfulfilled. The “Toes” of the image, and the “Horns” of the beasts, are not to him Kingdoms or Successions of Rulers of any kind, but single individual persons. The phrase, The Pope, as equivalent to a “Horn,” is to him a fallacy as it does not mean one person, like an Alexander or a Seleucus; or a single despotic Antichrist — but a long succession of Rulers, one after another. f44 Faber, for example, interprets “the Scriptures of Truth,” chapter 11, by extending it throughout all history, till the end of the Gentile Dispensation. Dr. Todd refers it solely to its close, and contends very strongly against the usual explanation of the Fourth verse. Elliott, again, (Horae Apoc., volume 3,) expounds this chapter to the 35th verse with great propriety and clearness, but passes at once from the Ptolemidae and Seleucidae to the Pope, as signified by “The Willful King.” The Days then become Years, and. the various phases of the Papacy throughout many centuries are supposed to be predicted here, and fulfilled by the decrees of Justinian, persecutions of the Waldenses, French Revolutions, and catastrophes and convulsions yet to come. Our American brethren have adopted similar theories. Professor Bush in his “Hierophant,” has inserted an able exposition of the “Little Horn,” as unquestionably the Ecclesiastical Power of the “Papacy,” f45 and introduced the Goths and Charlemagne as fulfilling their own portions of this interesting Vision. Professor Stuart, however, of Andover, and some of his followers, have returned to the simplicity of the Earlier Expositors f46

CALVIN'S PROPHETIC SCHEME.

Calvin, then, was, on the whole, a Præterist. He saw i the history of the world before the times of the Messiah the fulfillment of the Visions of this Book. They extended from Nebuchadnezzar to Nero. “The Saints of the Most High” were to him either the Hebrew or the Christian Church under heathen persecutors. the had a glimpse indeed of the times of the Messiah, and expressed his views in general language; but he rejected the idea of any series of fulfillment’s through a succession of either Popes or Sultans. He saw in these four-footed beings, neither Mahomet, nor Justinian, nor the Ottoman Empire, nor the Albigensian Martyrs. Heathen Rome, and its Senate, and its early Caesars, were to him what Papal Rome, and its Priesthood, and its Gregories, have been to later Expositors.

Our Second Volume, which contains The Prophetical Portion of the Book, will be illustrated by many Dissertations, which will condense the sentiments of later Expositors. Ample scope will then be given to important details. Extracts will be made from the most approved Moderns, and copious references to the best sources of information. IT will be sufficient here to insert the reply of Professor Bush of New York to Professor Stuart of Andover, as illustrating the importance of the difference between those who adopt the Year-Day theory and those who do not “Denying in toto, as I do, and disproving, as I think I have done, the truth of your theory in regard to the literal import of Day, I can of course see no evidence, and therefore feel no interest in your reasonings respecting the events which you consider as the fulfillment of these splendid Visions. If a Day stands for a Year, and a Beast represents an Empire, then we are imperatively remanded to a far different order of occurrences in which to read the realization of the mystic scenery from that which you have indicated. As the Spirit of Prophecy has under his illimitable ken the most distant future as well as the nearest present, I know nothing, in reason or exegesis, that should prevent the affairs of the Christian economy being represented by Daniel as well as by John. As the Fourth Beast of Daniel lives and acts through the space of 1260 years, and as the Seven-headed and Ten-horned beast of John prevails through the same period, and puts forth substantially the same demonstrations, I am driven to the conclusion that they adumbrate precisely the same thing — that they are merely different aspects of the same really — and this, I have no question, is the Roman, Empire. This you deny; but I submit that the denial can be sustained only by shewing an adequate reason why the Spirit of God should be debarred from giving such extension to the Visions of the Old Testament Prophets. Until this demand is satisfied, no progress can be made towards convincing the general mind of Christendom of the soundness of your Expositions. The students of Revelation will still reiterate the query, Why the oracles of Daniel; should be so exclusively occupied with the historical fates of Antiochus Epiphanes? If I do not err in the auguries of the times, a struggle is yet to ensue on the prophetic field between two conflicting parties, on whose banners shall be respectively inscribed, Antiochus and Antichrist. f47

The followers of Mede have met with a formidable antagonist, and the adherents of Calvin a staunch supporter in the late Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Cambridge. Dr. Lee, in his pamphlet on the Visions of Daniel and St. John F50 has stated his reasons for adhering to the Older Interpreters, thus adopting the principle of the Præterists, and entirely discarding the slightest reference to the Pope and the Papacy. His conclusions may be exhibited in a few word. Respecting Nebuchadnezzar’s Image, “the feet must of necessity symbolize Heathen Rome in its last times.” “Papal Rome cannot, therefore, possibly be any prolongation of Daniel’s Fourth Empire.” “These Kings,” represented by the Toes, “may, therefore, be supposed in a mystical sense to be, as the digits ten, a round number, and signifying a whole series.” F52 “The Little Horn” is said to be Heathen Rome — its persecuting Emperors from Nero to Constantine fulfilling the Prophetic conditions. The phrase “a Time, Times, and a Half,” is said to refer to the “latter half (mystically speaking) of the Seventieth Week of our Prophet.” “Daniel’s Week of seven days — equivalent here to Ezekiel’s period of seven years — is, we find, divided into two parts mystically considered halves, or of three days and a half.” F54 ... “That the Roman Power took away the Daily Sacrifice, arid cast down the place of its Sanctuary, it is impossible to doubt. Titus, during the reign of his father Vespasian desolated Jerusalem by destroying both the City and the Sanctuary.” Thus in his general principles of Exposition, this celebrated Hebraist pronounces his verdict in favor of Calvin and his interpretation.

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"The Fourth Beast of this verse has so usually been treated as the Roman Empire, that it simply becomes necessary to cite the exceptions to this opinion. Rosenmuller records an attempt to refute this interpretation by J. C. Becman, in a dissertation on the Fourth Monarchy, published in 1671, at Frankfort-on-the-Oder, and gives a slight sketch of his argument. Dr. Todd, in his able "Lectures on Antichrist," has made use of every possible argument against applying this to the Roman Empire, and his theory has been fairly stated and ably opposed by Birks in his "First Elements of Sacred Prophecy." London, 1843. With reference to this fourth beast, Dr. Todd believes it to be still future; and hence his expositions are classed with those of the Futurists. Our readers will remember, that as an expositor of prophecy, Calvin is a Præterist, and that his general system of interpretation is as remote from the year-day theory of Birks, Faber, and others, as from the futurist speculations of Maitland, Tyso, and Todd. Notwithstanding the disagreement between these Lectures and the writings of Birks, we strongly recommend their perusal by every student who would become thoroughly proficient in the prophecies of Daniel. The first step towards progress, is to surrender all our preconceived notions, and to prepare for the possibility of their vanishing away before the force of sanctified reason and all-pervading truth.

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