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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    II. Moderator Wilson-Anticipates Cleansing of Sanctuary in 1847

    DR. JOSHUA L. WILSON 1JOSHUA LACY WILSON (1774-1846) was born in Virginia. His father was a physician and his mother a minister’s daughter. His stepfather was the first Presbyterian minister to enter Kentucky. And the books with which Joshua early became familiar were, significantly a valiant “contender for the truth,” he was called in 1808 to the First Presbyterian Church of the rising frontier town of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he ministered for thirty-eight years, until his death. An assiduous student himself, he taught Greek and Latin. He assisted in founding Cincinnati College in 1819, where he was professor of moral philosophy and logic for several years, and from which he received the degree of D.D. in 1823. and Ph.D. in 1837. He was also the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lane Theological Seminary, likewise at Cincinnati, from 1828-1830. He was a hard worker, frequently preaching several sermons in a single day. Indeed, his eyes were affected by his excessive studying, it being his custom to rise at 3 A.M. He suffered much, and in later years was at times obliged to preach in a sitting posture. was a prominent frontier Presbyterian minister and sometime General Assembly moderator, of Cincinnati, Ohio. More than six feet tall, and somewhat resembling Andrew Jackson in appearance, Wilson was aggressive and decisive, and a vigorous promoter of moral and religious welfare. (Portrait appears on p. 227.) He fostered Sunday schools, Bible societies, and libraries. Wilson was an outspoken Old School Calvinist, and was constantly in controversy. He opposed the New School theology and “Plan of Union,” and accused Lyman Beecher, the newly appointed president and professor of theology of Lane Seminary, of heresy in a trial before the Presbyterian Synod of Cincinnati, in 1835. Wilson helped to prepare a memorial (in 1834) against the “prevalence of unsound doctrine and laxity in discipline,” and signed the “Act and Testimony” of 1835, setting forth the Old School view. He was a member of the Old School convention in 1837, and moderator of the Old School General Assembly in 1839. He wrote numerous pamphlets and newspaper articles against Methodism, Deism, and Roman Catholicism, and founded the Calvinistic journals, The Pandect, in 1828, and The Standard, in 1831. 2The Joshua L. Wilson Papers form a part of the Durgett Collection in the Library of the University of Chicago, In these the MS. of Wilson’s “Memoirs” is found. He was also a conspicuous expositor of prophecy, as we will now note.PFF4 227.1


    In 1828 Wilson preached a remarkable sermon at the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, on “The Sanctuary Cleansed,” based on Daniel 8:14. It made such a deep impression that, by request, it was repeated in substance in three churches in Philadelphia in 1831. Then it was later repeated, likewise by request, both in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Louisville, Kentucky. This attests the deep and widespread interest in the theme. This initial sermon of 1828 was therefore given orally in four States—Ohio, Pennsylvania, (West) Virginia, and Kentucky—before going into print in Ohio in 1833. And these six oral presentations were made during the period of Wilson’s most prominent connection with Lane Theological Seminary. He was thereafter chosen as moderator in the Presbyterian Church in Ohio. Its importance calls for a fairly full resume” here.PFF4 228.1

    This particular discourse, Wilson states, was not preached from full notes. But now, in 1831, he “has written it out—and he gives it to the Church with his fervent prayers, that those who read may understand.” 3Joshua L. Wilson. Note to Sermon XVI, “The Sanctuary Cleansed,” in Original Sermons; by Presbyterian Ministers in the Mississippi Valley, pp. 308, 309. In the printed collection of sermons it is preceded by another sermon—No. XV, “The Sanctuary Polluted,” for which Wilson chose the text, “Her prophets are light and treacherous persons: her priests have polluted the sanctuary, they have done violence to the law.” 4Ibid., Sermon XV, “The Sanctuary Polluted,” p. 262. This, Wilson contends, was accomplished by the priests “perverting the ordinances of the Lord’s appointment and uniting with the Prophets in ‘doing violence to the law.’ “* Noting the various uses of the term “sanctuary,” in Scripture, Wilson applies it to the church, and contends that “the sanctuary in its prophetical and evangelical import, signifies any place in the Church of God, where His people are allowed to offer to Him public and social worship.” 5Ibid., p. 264.PFF4 229.1

    Then follows the corollary that “to pollute the sanctuary, in any period of the Church, means to corrupt the word and ordinances of divine appointment.” 6Ibid. Maintaining that “the Sanctuary has been, and still is, polluted by the professed ministers and professing people of God,” Wilson sketches the “corruptions of Israel” and its tragic condition when Jesus was on earth, and the false teachers of the apostolic age, then the age of heresies, particularly Arianism and modern heresies. Then, touching upon the “tyrannical, idolatrous, and intolerant power Antichrist” Wilson declares that such “ministers in the church of God and God’s professing people, have, from age to age, polluted the SANCTUARY, corrupted the word, institutions, discipline, and worship of God’s house!” 7Ibid., pp. 267-275.PFF4 229.2

    After warning against adding to or taking from the Word of God, Wilson brings this first sermon to this impressive close:PFF4 230.1

    “I stand before you in solemn and trying circumstances. If I am true and faithful, and you neglect the great salvation, I shall save my own soul; but you must perish. If I am a blind guide, and you are led by my false counsel, we must perish together. Such is the state of the Presbyterian church now, that no man can be indifferent, no tongue can be silent, no hand idle. It remains yet to be seen whether we, as the polluted sanctuary of God, shall be cleansed, or whether, when the sanctuary is cleansed, we shall be swept away with ‘the besom of destruction.’ Solemn thought!” 8Ibid., p. 281.PFF4 230.2


    Everything to this point is but prefatory to the main discussion, published as “The Sanctuary Cleansed.” The text chosen was Daniel 8:14: “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed. “First, Daniel’s concern over the pollution of the sanctuary is stressed, as the result of the corruption of the worship of God, and the emblem of long desolations in the future. The prophet’s solemn meditation, anxious inquiry, and fervent prayers are noted, and then the divine assurance received through the “visions of God.” Wilson takes as axiomatic the threefold proposition-PFF4 230.3

    “that the sanctuary means the church of God, or visible kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, on earth; that the church has been greatly corrupted in all ages, by her own professed ministers and members; and that her purification will take place at the time appointed by Jehovah.” 9Ibid., Sermon XVI, “The Sanctuary Cleansed,” p. 283.PFF4 230.4

    This last, Wilson takes to mean that “she shall enjoy a season of transcendent purity, peace, and prosperity on earth.”PFF4 230.5


    To this end he recites the inspired predictions of the “time of blessedness” for the triumphant church on earth after the cleansing of the sanctuary, drafting upon the predictions of Solomon, David, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, Zechariah, and Malachi. The testimony of the vision of Daniel 2 is then adduced, consummated by the kingdom of God:PFF4 230.6

    “Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, embracing the existence, duration, and destruction of a great, bright, and terrible image, commenced with the head of gold, and ended with the stone cut out of the mountain, without hands, which became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth—meaning a kingdom set up by the God of heaven, which should triumph over all opposition, and stand forever.” 10Ibid., pp. 284, 285.PFF4 231.1

    4. THE CLIMAX OF Daniel 7, 8, and 11

    Similarly, “Daniel’s vision of the four beasts and little horn ends in the people of the saints of the Most High possessing this kingdom”; likewise the line of Daniel 11 culminates in the overthrow of the willful king—“Napoleon”—in agreement with which view he cites British Edward Cooper’s Crisis, and the vision of the ram and the he-goat in Daniel 8, which “ends in the cleansing of the Sanctuary.” 11Ibid., p. 285. Cooper’s treatise (see Prophetic Faith, Vol. III, pp. 537-539) was reprinted just two years before, in 1827, at Cincinnati-Wilson’s home town—from a London original (first edition, 1825). Cooper ends the 1260 days in 1792. the beginning of “the time of the end,” and he ends Daniel 2, 7, and 11 with the time of blessedness at the beginning of the millennium about 1867.PFF4 231.2


    All these and other prophecies, Wilson contends strongly, point cumulatively to the future “predicted glory to the church.” The “Christian world” is held to be the “sanctuary polluted/’ which “must be cleansed before the day of blessedness.” This means that “the Ministry must be purified,” the church must be purified in her beliefs, and every member will “know, love, and obey the truth.” 12Ibid., pp. 286-292. But shortly before the purifying process is completed, we are to expect a day of uncommon trouble. In Wilson’s vivid language, “Before Isaiah was permitted to dip the pencil of peace in the rainbow of mercy, he was commanded to brandish the forked lightnings and hurl the thunders of heaven.” 13Ibid., p. 292.PFF4 231.3

    Then Christ’s great prophecy is presented, beginning with the destruction of Jerusalem and leading on to the day of His “power and GREAT GLORY,” describing deep distress of nations, with perplexity—utterly beyond all past “wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences,” and “unparalleled in extent and diversity.” 14Ibid., pp. 294, 295. in common with the some other Wilson here applies the “generation” of Luke 21:25-33, to the” progeny or race of the Jews” that were not to pass away until the fulfillment. In a footnote he adds: “Generation-Gr. genea; lat. progenies; Eng. progeny, or race.” (Ibid., p. 295 note.)PFF4 231.4


    Now follows the crucial question, “When shall the sanctuary be cleansed?” The answer given by Wilson is clear and explicit. Applying the year-day principle to the 2300 days, Wilson observes that in “prophetic computation” we must count “a day for a year.” And he adds, significantly, that “the conclusion of the calculation will differ from our dates just as much as the Scripture date differs from the common or vulgar chronology.” This is to be particularly noted, for, like many others, he disregards the 4 B.C. factor in his calculation. Wilson expressly declares that the 70 weeks (to the calling of the Gentiles) form the first segment of the 2300 years. Also (like Davis) he felt that the 1260 years form the last part of the 2300 days. 15Ibid., p. 296. Wilson says that the prophetic days are “Jewish years” of 360 days, but his figures (p. 297) indicate solar years in fulfillment—the seventy weeks, 453 B.C.-A.D. 37: and the 1260 days A.D. 587-1847.PFF4 232.1


    In a frank footnote Wilson acknowledges indebtedness to “William C. Davis, of South Carolina, Th. R. Robertson, of Indiana, and Wolff the Jewish Missionary”—all of whom fixed upon 1847 as the terminus—for “pointing out a clue by which I can arrive at certainty as to the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary.” Wilson observes that for the year 1847, Davis expects the “commencement of the Millennium”; the supposed “Robert son,” “the downfall of the Pope”; and Wolff, “Christ’s personal appearance in Jerusalem.” 16Ibid., p. 297. On Wolff, see Prophetic Faith, Vol. III, chap. 24. Davis, and the “Robertson” reprint (which Wilson obviously mistook for an independent work) are already covered in the preceding chapter. On the contrary, Wilson held, as we shall see, that it involved the cleansing, or purification, of the Christian church and the overthrow of Antichrist. So his were independent conclusions.PFF4 232.2


    The 70 weeks were “determined” for “thy people and thy holy city,” the Jewish church. Paraphrasing Davis, he defines, “to finish the transgression and make an end of sin,” as the “atonement of the cross”; the sealing of the vision is to fulfill the prophecies concerning the Messiah; and the anointing of the Most Holy—actually the inner sanctuary refers here to the anointing of Messiah. So Wilson concludes, borrowing Davis’ words: “Thus we plainly see that the ‘seventy weeks’ were to continue till the close of the Jewish dispensation,” and adds for emphasis, “and no longer.” The three divisions were: The 7 weeks or 49 years, to rebuild Jerusalem; the 62 weeks, or 434 years, till the public inauguration of Messiah; and the final “one week,” in the midst of which Messiah was cut off. 17Ibid., pp. 297, 298.PFF4 233.1

    Fortifying his position “that the 70 weeks was the beginning of the 2300 days,” Wilson summarizes two reasons from Davis and adds a third: (1) “The angel gave the explanation of these weeks as a clue to the interpretation of the whole vision, which was to extend till the cleansing of the sanctuary”; (2) the 70 weeks reach back from Rome, through Greece to Persia, to designate the first part of the vision; (3) because the angel considered both as one vision—to be for many days. 18Ibid., p. 300.PFF4 233.2


    Wilson’s entire argument was based on Davis’ premise that the whole vision was 2300 years in length, and that the 1260 years of Antichrist’s reign end with this period, but that it is impossible to find a clearly obvious beginning year or to determine independently which of three decrees—of Cyrus, Darius, or Artaxerxes—should be used. He therefore counts back from A.D. 37, which he takes as the demonstrated end of the interrelated 70 weeks of years. He presents Davis’ computation, stated in somewhat expanded form, in Table I:PFF4 233.3

    “Daniel’s 70 weeks, each 7 days, a day for a year - 490
    These ended A.D. 37: Messiah being inaugurated A.D. 30;
    cut off in the middle of the last week, A.D. 33i/z; the
    gospel preached to the Jews 3 yz years—end the
    Jewish dispensation, A.D. - 37
    Subtract 37 from 490-leaves - 453
    before the Christian era; the time of the decree to
    build again Jerusalem.
    Subtract 453 from 2300, the whole time of the vision,
    and you have the end A.D. - 1847 19Ibid., p. 301.
    PFF4 234.1

    He similarly reproduces the rest of the tabulation, fixing the rise of Antichrist in 587, 1260 years before 1847, and reiterates Davis’ observation that “we must not conclude that the Bible has given us descriptions and numbers for nothing.” 20Ibid., p. 302.PFF4 234.2


    Then Wilson gives his own reason “why the cleansing of the sanctuary and the downfall of Antichrist form a synchronism.” We are to look for Antichrist not “out of the church, but in the church, sitting in the temple of God.”PFF4 234.3

    “This antichristian power was to rise within the limits of the Roman empire, after pagan Rome was taken out of the way, (Daniel 7:24; com. 2 Thessalonians 2:7;) was to arise within the church, with all ‘deceivableness of unrighteousness,’ (2 Thessalonians 2:10;) and was to fix the seat of ecclesiastical domination in the city of Rome. Revelation 17:9, 18.” 21Ibid., p. 303.PFF4 234.4

    Wilson then plainly identifies and names Antichrist as “the Bishop of Rome,” arising “after the downfall of the Western Empire,” “amidst the ruins of that mighty power,” and “in the very seat and throne of the Caesars.” 22Ibid.PFF4 234.5


    Wilson’s wide reading and research and his accurate familiarity with the earliest recorded recognitions of the identity of this power are revealed in his reference to three noted men appearing in the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries. He cites the remarkable speech (at the Synod of Rheims, in A.D. 991) in which “Arnulphus, Bishop of Orleans, speaking of John XV,” said that the pope, if destitute of charity, was “Antichrist, sitting in the temple of God, and showing himself that he is God.” Wilson also cites Berengarius, in the eleventh century, who “called the Church of Rome the seat of Satan, an Apocalyptic name of Antichrist.” And finally, he tells of Bernard of Clairvaux, who asserted that “the beast of the Apocalypse had seated himself in the chair of St. Peter.” 23Ibid., pp. 303, 304. On Arnulf, Berengarius, and Bernard, see Prophetic Faith, Vol. I, pp. 540-543, 648-651, 632-642, respectively. (Wilson seems to make Bernard apply the name Antichrist to the pope, whereas he actually applied it to an antipope, the rival of Innocent II.)PFF4 234.6


    Next, after alluding to the witness of the Reformers on the pretended Vicar of Christ as the Antichrist, Wilson says, “The cleansing of the sanctuary is not accomplished till the downfall of Antichrist is complete.” Then comes this impressive declaration of belief: “This event, so long the subject of prophecy and promise, o* prayer and expectation, must take place within a period less than twenty years.” 24Ibid., pp. 304, (Preached in 1828, this would mean before 1848.) But in a footnote to this 1833 printing Wilson adds: “14 years, if the Bible date and the vulgar date agreed.”PFF4 235.1


    Wilson appeals to all to “watch and pray.” And if the time seems too short for so much to be accomplished before the sanctuary is cleansed—the destruction of popery, “intemperance, Sabbath-breaking, slavery, freemasonry, idolatry, war, and all erroneous creeds,” he avers this will not be man’s work, but God’s. And the church shall witness His “fiery indignation against his enemies.” 25Ibid., pp. 304, 305. Adopting the reasoning of many con temporary expositors, Wilson refers to two time periods which he believed would extend beyond the close of the 2300 years—the 1290 and 1335 years, which he declares, “both begin with the commencement of the reign of Antichrist [587],” and adds:PFF4 235.2

    “The first extends beyond the time of the cleansing of the sanctuary, 30 years; the second extends beyond these, 45 years more. These two periods together make 75 years, which, added to the 1847, the time when the sanctuary shall be cleansed, carries us down to the year 1922, for the day of blessedness, or rather the dawn of the Sabbatical thousand years of the world.” 26Ibid., pp. 305, 306.PFF4 236.1

    But Wilson assumes that in this seventy-five years “the progress of the gospel will be attended with very signal and rapid effects,” and adds:PFF4 236.2

    “Its light and truth will go forth conquering and to conquer. Papists, infidels, Jews, and nominal Christians must all yield to its divine energy, or be broken in pieces, like a potter’s vessel.” 27Ibid., p. 306.PFF4 236.3

    In any event, time and further events clearly extend beyond the close of the 2300 years in 1847.PFF4 236.4


    After declaring, “All nominal Christians must turn to God, or be suddenly destroyed by Jehovah’s vengeance,” Wilson utters a solemn admonition to prepare to meet God, as he appeals to the surrounding evidences in the political and ecclesiastical world, such as truth fallen in the street, the “drying up of the great river Euphrates—the Ottoman empire,” famines, earthquakes, pestilence, destruction, all speaking in the ears of this generation. Then he calls upon all to protest the “corruption of the church and the impieties of the state” and the sinister efforts to “elevate to honor and influence the ministers of Antichrist.” Appealing to the church to put away her iniquities that “she may not be swept away in the day of God’s vengeance,” Wilson closes with the admonition, “Let us wait in expectation of the approaching day of our Lord.” 28Ibid., pp. 307, 308.PFF4 236.5

    It must have been a tremendously solemn discourse, coming from a man of such prominence, learning, and power in the pulpit. Little wonder it was given six times in four States within a relatively short space of time! It was clearly another of the earlier American counterparts of the slightly antecedent Old World emphasis on the approaching end of the 2300 years, soon destined to take on amazing force and volume. 29In the closing footnote, in the printed form, Wilson appeals to any to point out mistakes discoverable in his presentation. (Ibid., p. 309.) It is apparent that not only was prophecy regarded as an integral part of the Word of God, and its study and exposition deemed proper and profitable, but it was enjoined as an inseparable part of a well-rounded ministry by this prominent Presbyterian minister.PFF4 236.6

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