The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 3


II. President Mather-Most Comprehensive Expounder

Unquestionably the most notable witness of the seventeenth century was INCREASE MATHER (1639-1723), 7 Congregationalist pastor and author of Boston and president of Harvard. He was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard in 1656. He visited England, and in 1658 secured an M.A. from Trinity College, Dublin. He first preached in Eng land at Great Torrington and Guernsey, but refused to comply with the Act of Conformity. So he returned to Boston in 1661, where several churches sought his services. Mather became minister of the North Church of Boston in 1664, holding this office, along with his other responsibilities, for fifty-nine years, or until his death in 1723. Of strictly Calvinistic mold, and “austerely forbidding,” and with strong theocratic convictions, he was tolerant only of “views that were not error.” 8 He presided at the Synod of Boston in 1680, already noted, which adopted a Confession based on the Savoy Confession, which concurred in the Westminster Confession of Faith. (Portrait appears on page 34.) PFF3 125.1

In 1685 Mather was chosen president of Harvard, 9 in which position he served for about fifteen years. In 1687 he was selected by the New England ministers to convey their vote of thanks to James II for the latter’s declaration of liberty for all faiths. This vote of thanks Mather conveyed to the king when he went to England in 1688 to negotiate a new charter for Massachusetts. In 1701 he retired from the presidency of Harvard but retained his pastorate until his death. He was the first Doctor of Divinity in British America. PFF3 125.2

It was Mather’s habit to spend sixteen hours daily in study. None exercised a more potent and prolonged influence upon early American Congregationalism. 10 By the time he was -forty-five Mather had produced twenty-five volumes, and in all between 102 and 158 different books and pamphlets-the number depending on whether smaller works are included. 11 Ten of these 12 bear more or less upon prophecy. In one of his earliest books he tells of his slow acceptance of pre-millennialism: PFF3 126.1

“I was exceeding backward to entertain such a notion, and did long oppose it, as conceiving it might be at best an innocent errour of some that wished well to the kingdom of Christ: But blessed be the Lord God who gave me an heart at that very time to search (according to my poor measure) the Scriptures and other Books which might be helpful in this case, both such as argued for, and such as argued against the Chiliad; and to look up to Him that is in heaven and heareth on earth, that I might see and embrace the truth, and only the truth. And methinks, I would desire no more, if I could but persuade all serious and gracious men to go that way to work in this matter.” 13 PFF3 126.2

Shortly after returning to America Mather became fully persuaded that the millennium would begin and the kingdom of God would be established by the second advent at the close of the fourth empire-after the long tribulation allotted under Antichrist and after Antichrist’s destruction by the advent Then would occur the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the Happy State and the restitution of all things. This, he came to find, was the belief of the early church before the Bishop of Rome sought to supplant the true concept of the kingdom of Christ by the false kingdom of Antichrist. This view he wrote out in 1668 in Diatriba de Signo Filii Hominis, et de Secundo Messiae Adventu, 14 later published at Amsterdam in 1682. 15 Mather constantly sought God for direction and assistance in the composing of his book. 16 PFF3 126.3

With Increase Mather we reach the high-water mark in seventeenth-century prophetic interpretation. In fact, Mather is the connecting link binding the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries together, as his prophetic writings span a period of three or four decades. We now note Mather’s leading positions as unfolded in the chronological progression of his published books on prophecy. PFF3 127.1


In The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation, Explained (1669)-with introductions by John Davenport and William Hooke-while the con version of the Jews is the main theme, 17 Mather held that the thousand years are not past but future, and that the coming of Christ to judgment is near. 18 Asserting that “one of the greatest sins of many that truly fear God” is that they are “so slow and negligent in searching into the things spoken by the prophets,” 19 Mather deals succinctly with the “Saracenical locusts” and the Turks of Revelation 9, which he believed must be destroyed- as well as papal Rome, the Antichrist-before the conversion of Israel. 20 The Turks and Jews are both thought by him to be involved in Daniel 11:44, 45, the Roman Antichrist having been introduced in verse 36 as the “willful king.” 21 Then come the “fearful devastations, which the Ottomanical family hath made upon the Roman Empire.” Mather plainly calls the “King of the North” the “Turkish Ottomanical family.” 22 Of this same power in Revelation 9 he says:” PFF3 127.2

The Turkish power is signified by Euphrates, Revelation 9:13, 14. / heard a voice saying, loose the four Angels which are bound in the great River Euphrates. The meaning of the place may be, That the Turks which lay on both sides of the River Euphrates, and were divided into four Sultanies or Kingdoms should be let loose, partly by composing their civil dissentions, and partly by being united under one Ottomanical head, to make a dreadful irruption upon the Roman Empire.” 23 PFF3 128.1

This treatise was greatly admired by John Caryl, prophetic student in England, and extensively circulated and read in Europe. Mather at this time refused to have anything to do with time setting and the “great variety of computations.” 24 PFF3 128.2


Heaven’s Alarm to the World (1680), on great signs in Heaven as “the Presages of Great Calamities at Hand,” deals with the “thickening” wars, earthquakes, and commotions of Luke 21 that would constitute signs of Christ’s coming to judge the world, 25 the literal resurrection of the saints taking place thereafter. Uttering a warning of danger to colonial America, he writes, “The Roman Eagles, those birds of prey, are hastening upon you,” and he closes with the suggestive appeal: “O New England! New England! dost thou not know that the birds of prey are designing to devour thee?” 26 (Title page reproduced on page 206.) PFF3 128.3


Mather’s “Discourse About the Day of Judgement” (1686) 27 pictures that great day which will mark the glorious appearance of the returning Christ. All the angels of heaven will attend Him, and in numerable thousands minister unto Him. Then the saints of earth shall be caught up to meet Him. And then shall the ever lasting reign and dominion of the Messiah take place. 28 PFF3 128.4


In his Ichabod or ... the Glory of the Lord, is Departing from New-England (1702), Mather portrays the various inroads of the great papal apostasy in Africa and Europe: PFF3 129.1

“Look into Africa. Time was when there were Thousands of Glorious Churches there: & many Famous Ministers, some of whose writings are still of use to the Church of God; such as Tertullian, Cipran, Austin. But now the Glory is wholly removed out of that vast Continent. Look into Europe, and we shall see many places there from whence the Glory is gone. There was once in Rome it self, an holy Church. A People beloved of God, called to be Saints, whose Faith was spoken of throughout the whole world. Romans 1:7, 8. But what is that Church come to? Her Name is now, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS, AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. Revelation 17:5.” 29 PFF3 129.2


Discussing Europe as the seat of the Beast and the location of the ten kings, Mather declares: PFF3 129.3

“Our Lord will have a Church somewhere or other in Europe until his Second coming. The witnesses must there Prophesy in Sackcloth; there be Slain, there Rise again. The Ten Kings which give their Power to the Beast are in Europe: That part of the world was to be principally the Seat of the Church of Christ during the Reign of Antichrist, who must continue until Christ Himself shall destroy him with the Brightness of His coming.” 30 PFF3 129.4

Mather was concerned that God had not seemed to indicate a special work or achievement for the Americas-with most of the inhabitants pagan or Antichristian. He refers to the aborted attempt from Geneva to settle the Protestant religion in South America. 31 PFF3 129.5


Mather’s Discourse Concerning Earthquakes (1706) stresses the increased number of earthquakes as a predicted sign of Christ’s coming, which growing fulfillment indicates that the second advent is nearing. 32 Examples are cited in Asia, Europe, and America. PFF3 129.6


Mather’s Dissertation [on] ... Strange Doctrine (1708), with an appendix showing that “within a very few years there will be a Glorious Reformation,” is devoted to a study of how long the reign of Antichrist would continue, till his allotted end-whether three hundred years, as one “late writer” places it. 33 He cites Mede, Whiston, Beverley, Jurieu, and others as having varied views. Mather held that it would be within a relatively “few years.” 34 In presenting his reasons for the near approach of the “Happy Time,” he again stresses the fulfillment of the Turkish, or second, woe, citing Brightman: PFF3 130.1

“It is generally agreed among Interpreters, that by the Second Wo, the Turkish Empire is intended, which has for many Ages been a Woful Plague to the Third Part of men, by which Europe, a Third part of the formerly known World may be meant. It is said of the Turkish Empire, That it is prepared for an Hour, and a Day, and a Month, and a Year; Which according to the Prophetical account, is Three Hundred Ninety Six Years [365 +30 + 1], Revelation 9:15 (a) Mr. Brightman, above an Hundred Years ago, did from thence conclude, that the Turk, who began his Reign Anno Domini 1300 would cease to be a Wo to the Apostate Christian World, in the Year 1696.” 35 PFF3 130.2

8. TURKISH PERIOD, MAY 19, 1300, TO SEPT. 1, 1697

Alluding to his own published statement, made twenty-six years previous, Mather notes how William Whiston, professor of mathematics at Cambridge, emphasizes the period down to a day, with “an accuracy not elsewhere to be observed in the Prophetical Writings.” 36 Taking the 365-day common year instead of the 360-day prophetic year, here are the specifications: PFF3 130.3

“An Hour, in the Prophetical Style, is Fifteen Days: A Day, is a Year: A Month, is Thirty Years: A Prophetical Year, is Three Hundred Sixty Five Years. The Total is, Three Hundred Ninety Six Years, and a Hundred and Six Days. This author, by a diligent search into Histories and Chronologies, finds that the Beginning of the Turkish Empire, is to be Dated from May, 19. Anno Dom. 1301. To which add, 396 Years, and 106 Days, and we shall come to September the first, Anno Dom. 1697. On which very Day, by a famous Victory over the Turk, it seems as if an End was put to the Second Wo; and immediately followed the peace at Carlowitz; which no Temptations have prevailed with the Turk to Violate.” 37 PFF3 130.4


Turning next to the end of the 1260 years (forty-two months, or three and a half times) of Antichrist’s evil reign, which will be followed by Christ’s glorious reign, Mather says, “If we can find when there were Ten Distinct Kingdoms in the Roman Empire, we are to reckon the Beasts reign from that very Hour.” 38 To this end he cites Mede, Lee, Jurieu, and Allix-how they did not rise all at once. Then he lists the ten kingdoms, which were established within the old Roman Empire by 456, he thinks, and adds: PFF3 131.1

“Consequently from that Year, we are to Date the Commencement of Anti-Christs Reign: which is to continue from First to Last, but 1260. years, which added to 456 brings us to the Year, 1716.” 39 Others, he observes, date the period from 476 or from 606. 40 PFF3 131.2


Mather also notes, without comment, Whiston’s allocation of the 2300 years, on the year-day principle, from the third year of Belshazzar to 1716. 41 But this prophecy did not particularly attract his attention, nor did he attempt an application. PFF3 131.3

11. 666 YEARS: FROM 1050 TO 1716

Identifying the “Pope of Rome” as the Man of Sin, the False Prophet, the two-horned Second Beast, and the Little Horn of Daniel, Mather cites Pastor Samuel Petto, of Sudbury, Suffolk, as dating the 666, as years, from 1050-likewise leading to 1716. 42 These are given as the suggestions of others which “may not be so understood.” PFF3 131.4


Irrespective of differing details, “things are now hastning to their centre.” The tyranny of the Little Horn was soon to end, as was the 1260 years of the Witnesses’ sackcloth. Moreover, the principal kingdom of the ten supporting the Beast-a tenth part of “Babylon the Great City”-was to undergo a revolution. Citing Good win’s conjectures that it would he France, Mather adds, “Several things may incline us to he of that Opinion.” 43 PFF3 131.5


Tabulating men like Wycliffe, Huss, Jerome, Luther, and Zwingli, who looked forward to the great era of the last days, Mather comments on the remarkable declaration of Nicholas Krebs of Cusa (Cusanus), 44 as pointing to the same general conclusion: PFF3 132.1

“It is a little surprizing, that a Cardinal, who lived 250 Years since, should be aware of this. Yet so it was: For disarms so long ago, building his Opinion on Daniels Numbers, concluded that soon after the Year 1700, Anti-christ will be Destroyed, and the Church have a Glorious Resurrection.” 45 PFF3 132.2

Mather was remarkably familiar with contemporary and prior Old World interpretation. PFF3 132.3


Then Mather concludes, “That the Time for the fulfilling of Glorious Prophecies is near, we have Scripture ground to Hope.” 46 Again citing eleven Old World expositors with whom he found himself largely in agreement, he declared that the “Un-sealing of these Mysteries, is a sign that the Time of the End is at hand,” 47 and adds: PFF3 132.4

“For my own part, I do not expect to Live to the accomplishment of these things, which I have now mentioned as not far off. Nor can I desire to continue so long in this Sinful World. Nevertheless, I am comforted in seeing the Day is approaching, when the Kingdom of Anti-christ will receive an happy fatal blow, & the Holy Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ will prevail, & break in pieces all that shall stand in opposition there unto.” 48 PFF3 132.5


In introducing Mather’s Discourse Concerning Faith and Fervency in Prayer (1710), respecting the kingdom of God, which he expected soon to compass the earth, and “the Time wherein our Lot is cast, “ Joseph Jacob, 49 in the London edition (1713), employs these significant words in his comprehensive dedication: PFF3 132.6

“It is Now indeed the Last Time, for the Last of all the four Monarchies is upon its Last Legs, or rather on its Stinking Toes of Iron and Clay (Its Political, and Ecclesiastical Contrivances) which as they could never well cement, are now about to be quite broken to pieces, to make way for That Kingdom which shall fill the Whole Earth; Now are the three Less Numbers and Last Epocha’s drawing to an End, which Daniel mentions in his Last Chapter, and which terminate his Large Number of 2300 Mornings and Evenings; for Now is hastening to be sounded the first of the three last [vae-euge tubae] Wo-Joy Trumpets, which with the same Breath sound Wo to Antichrist, but Joy to the Saints of the Most High; The Reign of the Locusts (People or Priests of any Sort, with Mens Faces and Womens Hair) is Now well nigh at an End; The Fall of the tenth Part of the great City hastens apace; with the pouring out of the Vial on the Seat of the Beast, which shall be attended with the rising of the Witnesses, or the Call of the Jews, and a large Accession of Gentiles.” 50 PFF3 133.1


Mather registers agreement with numerous authors in Old and New England-Mede, Goodwin, Davenport, and others-that the “Millenary Reign will begin after the Death of Antichrist.” 51 This is to be so because the “sure word of Prophesy has foretold, that it would be so.” 52 Mather maintains that the stone has not yet become the mountain filling the whole earth, citing numerous supporting texts. 53 PFF3 133.2


The four kingdoms of prophecy are expounded thus: PFF3 133.3

“It was reveal’d to the Prophet Daniel, that there should be Four great Monarchys on the Earth successively; First, the Babylonish, after that the Persian, then the Grecian, and lastly the Roman: And that this should be divided into Ten Kingdoms; and that among them there should spring up an Horn (a King) which should be diverse from the other Kings, viz. Antichrist: All this has been fulfilled. But then ‘tis foretold that this Horn should make War with the Saints and prevail over them, and continue for a Time, and Times, and the dividing of Time, and after that be destroyed, and then shall be given to CHRIST, Dominion, and Glory, and a Kingdom, (Daniel 7:14) that ALL People, Nations and Languages should fear Him.” 54 PFF3 133.4


Mather declares that “the Seventh Trumpet will sound e’er long,” when the kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of Christ. 55 Then he writes concerning Antichrist: PFF3 134.1

“Antichrist’s Kingdom is contrary to CHRIST’S: For a Scepter of Righteousness is a Scepter of CHRIST’S Kingdom. But Antichrist is made up of Unrighteousness. Hence he is call’d, The Man of Sin. There is a World of Iniquity in his Kingdom, in respect of Corruption both in Doc trine, and in Manners. It consists in idolatrous Superstition; and subsists by Persecution. We should pray for the Downfal of that Kingdom: And that therefore the Kings of the Earth, who have given their Power to the-Beast, may have their Eyes opened to see how they have been deluded, and that they may hate and destroy that Great Whore, of which Antichrist is the Head. For this also there is a sure Word of Prophecy, that it shall be done; and therefore we should pray for the Fulfillment of it; and this the rather because the Time draws on.” 56 PFF3 134.2


And as to the approaching end of the 1260 years Mather says: PFF3 134.3

“Let us consider what Scriptures are now Fulfilling. We know that when Antichrist’s Kingdom is destroyed, CHRIST will have a glorious Kingdom over ALL the Earth. Antichrist has in all but Twelve Hundred and Sixty Years allowed him to reign in. If we consult Historians and Chronologies, (as Daniel understood by Books) and we shall find that those Years are almost finished.” 57 PFF3 134.4

That is the explicit testimony of the clearest and most comprehensive of the colonial expositors-Harvard’s illustrious president. PFF3 134.5