The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 3


III. Summary of Early American Prophetic Interpretation

Through the accompanying tabular summarization, or charting, of the “Leading Views of the Principal American Writers on Prophecy” prior to the nineteenth century, an over all picture emerges that is most illuminating. (See pages 252, 253.) Affording a scientific basis for analysis, certain impressive conclusions inevitably take shape there from in the mind. Well-defined deductions are inescapable that are of vital import in grasping the full picture of distinct advances in prophetic interpretation revealed in these first two centuries of American interpretation. PFF3 255.2

This earlier section of New World prophetic exposition has been, in the very nature of the case, similar to the Old World British and Continental exposition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The earliest writers on prophecy in America came from Britain, and of course brought their initial concepts of interpretation with them across the Atlantic. Theirs is the familiar pattern of European exposition of the seventeenth century, covered in Volume II of Prophetic Faith. PFF3 255.3

But as this group continued on in the new overseas colonies, they came to constitute a second, or paralleling, line of independent prophetic exposition witness. While their testimony had many similarities, yet they came to their own independent and sometimes different conclusions. In fact, there was comparative freedom from some misconceptions obtaining in Europe. Certain Old World trends-such as the inroads of rationalism, that cursed much of the theological thinking and prophetic interpretation of Germany in the eighteenth century, and affected England as well-at first made little headway in the American colonies. And the New World was largely free from the Preterist school of prophetic interpretation until the early nineteenth century. However, the return-of-the-Jews concept was woven all through the writings of the colonial interpreters, just as it was characteristic of many Old World expositors. But in the nineteenth century it became a point of cleavage. PFF3 255.4

The detailed evidence of the witnesses from 1800 to 1831, the date of William Miller’s first sermon, is reserved for the final volume in the Prophetic Faith, of Our Fathers series. There they will form the immediate background for the distinctive nineteenth-century Advent Movement, which is the objective of the final treatise, and the goal of our quest of the centuries. And only the leading expositions of the forty-three expositors listed are here tabulated. The new concept introduced from 1808 onward, concerning the 2300 years, in contrast to the scattered and hazy concepts prior to 1800, will be noted particularly. This is, in fact, one of the most significant features brought into focus by the new century. PFF3 256.1

While there were many minor writers on prophecy, covered in the preceding chapters of this volume, who are omitted from the chart because of space limitations, their expositions are usually more or less incidental-appearing in connection with other writings, or dealing with single aspects of prophecy. How ever, had they been included in the tabulation, these witnesses would not modify any general conclusions, but would rather intensify the main features of the over-all picture. PFF3 256.2

For example, virtually every minor American writer on prophecy recognized the Papacy as the Antichrist, predicted under various prophetic symbols-either the Little Horn, Man of Sin, Mystery of Iniquity, Beast, Babylon, or apocalyptic Harlot. Inclusion of their names would simply swell the list in those particular columns. The same unanimity applies to the year-day principle for the prophetic time periods of Daniel and the Apocalypse, or the Turk as involved in the sixth trumpet, etc. The list of leading writers here presented therefore gives a wholly fair cross section of the evidence. PFF3 256.3

We now set forth a comprehensive series of vital points, based on the chart, that need to be clearly noted ere we take leave of the stalwarts of early American days, and approach the climax of our investigation in the nineteenth century. These match to an impressive degree the positions held by European expositors during the same period. The major facts and similarities of the New World expositors, in comparison with the Old, are these: PFF3 257.1

1. The four empires of prophecy of Daniel 2, with the smiting stone as God’s future but coming kingdom of glory, was uniformly held whenever expounded. This was even clearer in instances in the New World than in the Old. PFF3 257.2

2. The same standard series of empires in Daniel 7, with Rome as the fourth, and the Papacy as the Little Horn arising among the divisions of Rome, was one of the most pronounced and uniform characteristics of American, as well as European, exposition prior to the nineteenth century. (The Futurist view of an individual Jewish Antichrist was unknown among the Protestants of North America prior to the nineteenth century.) PFF3 257.3

3. The year-day principle for the 1260 days, as well as for all other time periods, was likewise the common view. The determining of the location of the 1260 years, chronologically, progressed toward a more accurate placement as the French Revolution period is entered, as with Old World calculators. PFF3 257.4

4. The hazy, variable, and only occasional discussion of the 2300 year-days-remarkably similar to the European uncertainty-in this same period-continued until the nineteenth century. PFF3 257.5

5. The same division of opinion as to whether the Turk or the Papacy is the culminating power of Daniel 11 obtains in the New as in the Old World. PFF3 257.6

6. Similar variableness in timing the 1290- and 1335-day periods is likewise observable-saving only that they are always recognized as year-days. PFF3 258.1

7. The same frequent application of the fifth and sixth trumpets to the Saracens and Turks appears as in Europe, and the “hour, day, month, and year” as a period of 391 (or 396) years has about the same proportionate frequency. PFF3 258.2

8. Similar recognition of France as the “tenth part of the city,” that was to fall away from Rome, is found, as well as the slaying of the Witnesses near the close of the 1260 years. This was particularly true when the French Revolution was actually under way. PFF3 258.3

9. The virtually uniform application of the Papacy to the ten-horned beast from the sea is to be noted, but with two interpreters applying the second symbol of the two-horned beast from the earth to Protestantism, and several expounding the two horns as involving civil and ecclesiastical aspects. (In contrast, the majority of European writers considered the first beast to be pagan Rome, and the second beast papal Rome, as did Miller later in this country.) PFF3 258.4

10. The same common application of the plagues was to past judgments, or as in process of falling during the French Revolution, and not future-and with the seat of the Beast as Rome, and the drying up of the Euphrates as commonly apply ing to the Turk. PFF3 258.5

11. There was constant and uniform application of the woman of Revelation 17 to the Papacy, as in Europe. It is to be particularly noted that practically every writer on both sides of the Atlantic stresses this symbolism. PFF3 258.6

12. The premillennial concept of the second advent was commonly held on both sides of the Atlantic, until Whitby’s postmillennial theory took root in the New World, with a growing conflict over the issue of a coming world betterment or an approaching world catastrophe. PFF3 258.7

13. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was similarly recognized in the New World as well as the Old as one of the series of prophesied signs of the approaching end, with others awaited. PFF3 258.8

14. The Dark Day of 1780 was first awaited, and then ob served and recognized by some in America as a sign of the approaching advent. But only in America, apparently, were men awaiting the falling of the stars as the next imminent celestial sign in the sequence. PFF3 259.1

15. Increasing allusions to the angelic messages of Revelation 14, the approaching end and advent, and even to the great day of atonement, occur as we close the eighteenth century. PFF3 259.2


It therefore follows, from the evidence adduced, that for the first two centuries of American history the Papacy, as the prophesied Antichrist, was the universally reiterated concept among Protestants. And the paralleling year-day principle was the common and constant measuring rod for all prophetic time periods. Moreover, the 1260 year-days for the Papacy and the 391 years for the Turk were the common objects of calculation. On the other hand, a distinct epoch of interest in, and understanding of, the 2300 years, their inseparable relationship to the seventy weeks, and the terminus of the longer period to take place about 1844, is a characteristic confined to the nineteenth century and unknown to the first two centuries of colonial and early national interpretation. This pronounced development in emphasis is not with out significance. PFF3 259.3

Such is the New World setting and summary of advancing prophetic interpretation, as we come to the threshold of the nineteenth century with its truly epochal developments. PFF3 259.4