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The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4

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    I. President Dwight-Expounds Prophecies in Yale Chapel

    TIMOTHY DWIGHT (1752-1817), illustrious grandson of Jonathan Edwards, was born in Northampton, Massachusetts. Graduating from Yale in 1769, at seventeen, he served as tutor at Yale, then as a member of the Massachusetts legislature for two terms, next as chaplain in the Army during the Revolutionary War until 1778, and then as pastor of the Congregational church at Greenfield Hill, Connecticut. Next, he was president of Yale from 1795 until his death in 1817. His was a life of tireless activity and singular achievement. Brilliant and precocious, he was reading the Bible before he was four, and had begun Latin when but six. At eight he was reading Josephus, Prideaux, and Rollin, and at eleven was seriously studying Latin and Greek. He entered Yale at thirteen, and was graduated with honors four years later. (Portrait on p. 61.)PFF4 153.2

    No day could justify itself in Dwight’s eyes that had not yielded fourteen hours of close study. Later, however, his eyes were so seriously affected that others had to read for him. And all of his writing had to be done by dictation to an amanuensis. At nineteen he composed an epic poem, “The Conquest of Canaan,” comprising eleven books. Then in 1788 he wrote a satire, “The Triumph of Infidelity,” as he began to assume the role of defender of the Christian faith, contending against the sophistries of Hume and Voltaire, ridiculing the theory of origin by chance, and emphasizing the law of cause and effect. Many other poems were written and published by him, as well as hymns, before his call to Yale’s presidency.PFF4 154.1

    It was, however, as a speaker that he excelled. His voice had an extraordinary strength, and a richness that enthralled his hearers. Of fine presence, he was a great preacher and theologian and molder of men, and was one of the best-informed men of his time, with an amazing faculty for acquiring and holding knowledge. 1See “Memoir,” in Timothy Dwight, Theology; Explained and Defended, vol; Moses C. Tyler, Three Men of Letters; William B. Sprague, “Life of Timothy Dwight,” in The Library of American Biography, 2nd series, vol. 4, pp. 223-364. When, at the age of forty-three he became president of Yale, as well as its professor of divinity, the institution was in a deplorable state spiritually. To its upbuilding Dwight gave himself without stint, teaching as well as administering, and serving as chaplain of the college all through the years of his encumbency. His fame grew, and his leadership as educator and publicist and moral and spiritual guide became widespread. He was conspicuously the champion of the Christian faith against the Deism of the French Revolution, which seemed about to sweep over all of Puritan New England. The impression seemed to be general that Christianity could not gainsay this new criticism, which derisively called the Christian faith the “cult of the ignorant.”PFF4 154.2

    Upon his inauguration as president of Yale, Dwight found that the members of the senior class had jocularly assumed the names of leading infidels, calling one another Voltaire, Hume, Rosseau, Chubb, Paine, et cetera. Their first proposition for debate was, “Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the Word of God?” In this most of the students assailed the Bible. When they had finished, President Dwight proceeded clearly and conclusively to point out the inaccuracies and fallacies of their one-sided arguments, and then advanced impressive and positive proof of the divine character of Christianity. One by one the students were convinced. News of that episode sped through the college and town, and the fashionable doctrine that Christianity was just for the feeble mind and the cowardly heart was soon shattered.PFF4 155.1

    Dwight gave a masterly baccalaureate discourse in 1797 on “The Nature and Danger of Infidel Philosophy,” and yet another in 1801, on “Events of the Last Century,” which we shall note. His Sunday morning sermons in four years covered the entire range of theology. 2His theological sermons were published in five volumes, as Theology; Explained and Defended. Dwight was conspicuous for his conscientious regard for truth. He would not sanction exaggeration and misrepresentation. 3Memoir,” in his Theology, vol. 1, p. Ixx.PFF4 155.2

    In 1802 a momentous revival broke forth in the college, in which more than a third of Yale’s students were converted, over thirty of whom entered the ministry; and nearly half of the students joined the college church. In this connection it is to be particularly observed that, as far back as 1781, while still pastor at Greenfield Hill, the torch of Bible prophecy was one of the guiding lights for Dwight in his understanding of the troubled times through which the newborn nation had been passing, as well as in meeting the menace of infidelity and re-establishing faith in the hearts of his countrymen. And as Dwight was one of the outstanding leaders in the Great Revival in the early decades of the nineteenth century, his conspicuous exposition of prophecy was one of the definite factors in that great spiritual awakening that marked these impressive years at Yale. Note his views.PFF4 155.3


    In A Sermon, Preached at Northampton, in 1781, Dwight emphasized the precursors of Christ’s glorious kingdom in the latter day and the coming overthrow of the Papacy as the prophesied Antichrist seated in the Christian church. It was delivered just after the capture of the British Army under Cornwallis. Citing the apostle Paul in Thessalonians and Timothy, and also Peter, concerning the prophesied general wickedness of the latter times, Dwight stresses the coincidence of these prophecies with conditions of the previous two centuries and declares, “The prophets abovementioned saw with intrutive [intuitive] certainty the general state of events among the Christian nations.” 4Timothy Dwight, A Sermon, Preached at Northampton, p. 5. Discoursing then on the character of Antichrist in 2 Thessalonians 2, Dwight identifies it especially as the Papacy, but applies it also to Protestant princes who rule state churches. He calls this policy the “most fatal opposition ever made to the kingdom of Christ,” and declares that God calls for “entire separation between civil and ecclesiastical things.” 5Ibid., p. 28. And its destruction he connects with the “sixth vial,” or plague. Here is his depiction of the historical Antichrist, bestriding the centuries, as “unfolded to us by St. Paul“:PFF4 156.1

    “This description, the clergy, especially the Popes, of the Romish church, have, for many ages, literally verified. They have seated themselves in the church, or temple of God, and shewed that they were God, by assuming powers, which belong only to God: The powers, for instance, of making laws to bind the consciences of men; of pardoning sin; of forming religious establishments; of introducing new laws for the conduct and government of the church; or, in one word, the mighty powers, denoted by that comprehensive title; The supreme Head of the Church; which belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ. They have even gone farther, and claimed a power, to which God himself never pretended, the power of indulging in sin. Thus have they exalted themselves above all that is called God, or is worshipped.” 6Ibid., pp. 27. 28.PFF4 156.2


    Comparing Isaiah 59:18, 19 with 2 Thessalonians 2:8, he interprets the destruction of “that Wicked” by “the breath of his [Christ’s] mouth” and “the brightness of his coming,” as the “moral or spiritual” brightness of the Word and Spirit of God (through truth and holiness) coming to “accomplish the ruin of the enemy.” He alludes to that “most fatal wound” dealt to the Papacy by the suppression of the Jesuits, and notes skepticism’s part, as well as America’s Revolution, in bringing civil and religious liberty to realization. From this freedom of inquiry he hopes for advancement in the sciences, in truth, in the “reception of the grace of the gospel”—universal improvement. 7Ibid., pp. 28-31, 33, 34. Dwight’s concept of the millennium is disclosed by this clear observation on the thousand years as still future:PFF4 157.1

    “The great period of a thousand years, in which the church shall enjoy unexampled peace and felicity, is yet to begin. Its commencement is expected by the most judicious commentators, at a time, near the year 2000. It begins, in the Revelation of St. John, with the destruction of Antichrist, under the seventh vial.” 8Ibid., p. 27. Later, when president of Yale, in a sermon delivered January 7, 1801, on “Some Events of the Last Century,” Dwight refers to the Great Revival in this country. He mentions some of the weakness and error attendant on enthusiasm, but bears witness to its relative freedom from fanaticism in most sections. “Of the last of these revivals of religion, that which still extensively exists, it ought to be observed, that it has absolutely, or at least very nearly, been free from every extravagance.” 9Timothy Dwight, A Discourse on Some Events of the Last Century, p. 18.PFF4 157.2


    After reviewing America’s grave spiritual and moral declension, the product of the French and Indian War, and showing how the Revolutionary War had “increased these evils,” he notes how infidelity began to obtain currency in this country, and undertakes to trace its development through successive stages. 10Ibid., pp. 18, 19. Then, following the searching question, “What shall the end of these things be?” Dwight makes the impressive statement:PFF4 158.1

    “The present time is, at least in my view, distinctly marked out in prophecy, as a time of singular deception, sin, and hostility against religion and against its author. In exact accordance with Revelation, spirits of singular falsehood, foulness, pertinacity, and impudence, have issued from the mouth of the Dragon, or secular persecuting power, of the Beast, or ecclesiastical persecuting power, ... That these two persecuting powers are in the view of the scriptures wholly united, and that they entirely cooperate, cannot, I think, be reasonably questioned. Both of them are described as having seven heads, and ten horns. From the angel interpreter we know, that the seven heads are the seven mountains of Rome, the great city which at that time reigned with undivided empire over the kingdoms of the earth; and that the ten horns are the ten kingdoms, into which that empire was finally divided. Those spirits, therefore, that is, the false teachers designated by them, were to spring, as they have sprung, from Antichristian ground.” 11Ibid., p. 35.PFF4 158.2


    After rehearsing the various prophetic names applied to Antichrist-Beast, the Man of Sin, the Son of Perdition and the Wicked, or rather the Lawless One—he explains:PFF4 158.3

    “Each of these names is intended to denote some particular characteristic of this power. Thus the Beast directly exhibits its ferocious, sanguinary, or persecuting character; the Man of sin its pre-eminent wickedness; the Son of perdition its certain destination to singular perdition; and the Lawless One its distinguished refusal of being restrained by the laws of either God, or man.” 12Ibid., p. 36.PFF4 158.4

    Then, climaxing with the prophesied destruction of that Wicked One, Dwight expresses the belief that the process is under way, but adds, “Yet some time must doubtless elapse before this abomination of desolation shall be finished,” and states:PFF4 158.5

    “The kings, or states, into which the secular persecuting power was divided, have begun to hate the Whore, to eat her flesh, and to burn her with fire. The ecclesiastical persecuting power is in a fair way to be soon destroyed. The secular persecuting power is rapidly wasting itself, and that not the less because of the present splendour of one of its constituent parts. The reign of the spirits of deceit is exhibited in prophecy, as short, and the coming of Christ to destroy them, as sudden, unexpected, and dreadful.” 13Ibid., p. 39.PFF4 159.1


    Perhaps Dwight’s most comprehensive survey of prophetic exposition is found in his really remarkable Discourse in Two Parts, delivered in the chapel of Yale College on July 23, 1812, and its continuation in another Discourse in Two Parts on August 20, 1812. These were given on state and national fasts respectively, in connection with the War of 1812. In the first Discourse, he warns against any alliance with France, the chief representative of the divided “Romish empire,” or “Babylon.” 14Timothy Dwight, A Discourse in Two Parts, ... July 23, 1812, pp. 50-54. In common with various others Dwight believed that the seven vials of Revelation 16 were then in process of being poured out on the earth. Thus—PFF4 159.2

    “The period in which we live is, in my own belief, marked out in prophecy as a part of that which is included within the effusion of the seven vials. The fifth of these I consider as unquestionably poured out at the Reformation. According to this scheme, we are now under the sixth or the seventh.” 15Ibid., p. 8.PFF4 159.3

    Noting that several recent expositors differ from such a view, he gives the reasons for his position, contending that the fifth vial had already been poured out on the “seat of the beast” in the Reformation. Everyone, he holds, knows that this is the pope and his hierarchy, and the immense body of people under his control, “agitated by a general convulsion,” as a large part of his spiritual dominions revolted and were freed. Thus the kingdom of the Beast was in “darkness.”PFF4 159.4


    The sixth vial was to dry up the river Euphrates. Dwight reasoned that, as the literal river ran around the walls of literal Babylon, so “the symbolical Babylon ... of the Apocalypse, is the Romish spiritual empire.” This drying up would therefore “diminish, or destroy, that source of wealth, strength, and safety.” The kings of the East are simply the “destroyers of spiritual Babylon. “The three evil spirits like frogs come, he says, out of the secular and spiritual powers of this empire and out of the body of monks. That is, as this Romish empire declines, there will come demon like men, “clamorous and intrusive, impudent and obstinate,” to deceive “the potentates of the earth, or Roman Empire.” Then comes Armageddon, denoting the place where the war will be carried on—Christendom—and the destruction of spiritual Babylon will occur as the Redeemer comes as a thief. 16Ibid., pp. 10-14. In the second part of this discourse he applies this to the infidels who sprang from the countries under the control of the hierarchy and gathered the kingdoms to war and revolutions. Thus Christ has come in sudden judgment as a thief, and the hierarchy is ruined. 17Ibid., pp. 29-38.PFF4 160.1

    The seventh vial will bring its final destruction in a terrible convulsion of nations. Then Great Babylon-Rome, the seat of its hierarchy, its power, and its corruption-falls. 18Ibid., pp. 8, 9.PFF4 160.2


    Next he proceeds to give reasons why “the present period falls under the last two of these vials.” He describes the rise of Deism, followed by the era of infidelity, when atheism and profligacy swarmed through schools, palaces, and churches, spreading their evil literature and attendant philosophy. He mentions the society of the Illuminati, and the French Revolution, with its Reign of Terror, that seemed like “a prelude to the funeral of this great world,” when the Goddess of Reason was worshiped in the form of a dissolute woman, when the Bible was banished, and religion lay virtually dead “in the streets of the great city,” and finally recounts the conquest of Europe. Already a voice sounds out from heaven, “It is done.” On the other hand, other signs are the Great Revival spreading through a considerable part of the land, and touching Yale, the missionary and Bible societies, with knowledge increasing, according to the prophet Daniel, and the abolition of the African slave trade. 19Ibid., pp. 10-23.PFF4 160.3


    In the second of his two-part discourse, given in August, Dwight expounds the prophecies of Daniel that correspond with those of the Apocalypse. In Revelation 17 the fallen woman, riding the scarlet beast, is the Roman Catholic Church, pompous and persecuting, reigning over the kings of earth. She is in contrast with the bride, the Lamb’s wife. And she is to be “destroyed, immediately before the introduction of the Millennium.” 20Ibid., pp. 6-9.PFF4 161.1


    The derivation of the “Beast” of the Apocalypse from Daniel’s fourth beast, is noted:PFF4 161.2

    “The image of this fierce and savage Beast, as a representative of power, was undoubtedly taken from the prophet Daniel; who exhibited the four great ancient monarchies under the successive images of fierce animals; the first resembling a lion; the second, a bear; and the third, a leopard. The fourth, which denoted the Roman Empire, was not only unlike the other three, but widely different from anything else in the animal world. The Beast of the Apocalypse is plainly derived from the last, mentioned by Daniel. He is said in some respects to resemble the three first; the leopard, the bear, and the lion; that is, to have the activity of the leopard, the greediness of the bear, and the fierceness of the lion. Like the fourth, he had seven heads and ten horns; and is unquestionably the same; only as his nature was more amply revealed to John, he is more extensively, and completely, described. On this Beast the woman sat.” 21Ibid., pp. 9, 10.PFF4 161.3


    Dwight’s terse summary of the evidence concerning the woman of Revelation 17, and her destiny, is as follows:PFF4 161.4

    “The Woman, here presented to us, is an idolatrous church; distinguished by wealth and splendour; pompous in the ritual of its worship; exercising great cruelty towards the real followers of Christ; having its principal seat in the city Rome; sustained by a persecuting power, which was either the seventh, or eighth, form of Roman government, (according to different modes of construing this subject;) and destroyed immediately before the Millennium.” 22Ibid., p. 11.PFF4 162.1

    And he notes how Bishop Newton, almost sixty years prior, had forecast France as the instrument of her overthrow. 23Ibid., p. 12. (On Newton see Prophetic Faith, Vol. II, p. 724.)PFF4 162.2


    Dwight now proceeds to identify the ferocious “Beast, or Ecclesiastical persecuting power,” with its seven heads and ten horns. The “Romish Hierarchy” is one of the seven heads of the Roman Empire, which were, in order: kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, military tribunes, emperors, dukes, and the hierarchy or popedom. 24Ibid., p. 13. The ten horns are the ten kingdoms into which Rome was divided through incursions of the northern barbarians. For this Dwight cites Mede, Lloyd, Isaac Newton, Daubuz, and Whiston, but especially Eberhard of Salzburg, back in 1240, as well as referring to Irenaeus, Cyril, Jerome, and other early writers who were expecting the division shortly after their day. After dilating on its blasphemous pretensions and its dreadful persecutions, Dwight gives this further explicit conclusion:PFF4 162.3

    “From these observations, if I am not deceived, it is unanswerably evident, that this profligate Woman, seen by St. John, is the Romish Church; and that the savage Beast, on which she sat, is the Romish Hierarchy. If these conclusions be admitted; it follows irresistibly, that the seven vials are poured out upon the Romish Empire, and its Hierarchy.” 25Ibid., p. 17.PFF4 162.4


    Then comes the proclamation of the flying angel announcing the doom of the Roman church, and the call to come out of her before she is cast as a millstone into the depths. Next comes the greatb battle of God Almighty (under the sixth vial). Dwight declares, “Speedily after this awful event, the Millennium commences.” 26Ibid., p. 18. So, chapter 17 is the description of the Papacy, he avers, chapter 18 portrays its destruction, and chapter 19 the final overthrow of its hierarchy.PFF4 162.5


    In common with various other expositors of the time-stemming from Whitby, Jonathan Edwards, and others—Dwight believes the millennium will not make its full appearance suddenly, but come on gradually, though perhaps rapidly. And the first resurrection, at its beginning, he thinks is to be spiritual, not literal—the “conversion of mankind.” The full establishment of the millennium, he holds, involves the entire reformation of all the erroneous doctrines of the Protestant nations and churches, the renovation of sinners, the abolition of all sects, and the acknowledgment by the Jews of the true Messiah. The mouth of infidelity will then be stopped, and all nations cease from wars, jealousy, and hatred. 27Ibid., pp. 23-26.PFF4 163.1


    When shall all this be? According to Daniel, thinks Dwight, it is in the “time of the end”—“after the prediction [of the three and one—halftimes] shall have been fulfilled;” and specifies two other periods, one of 1290 days; and another of 1335 days. But, he reasons curiously, as there were three decrees of Persian monarchs for the restoration of the Jews, so “in the same manner the period of 1260 years may commence at several different dates, and be completed at as many extraordinary, successive epochs. “And so “in a similar manner,” thinks Dwight, “will the Millennium commence,” and “its complete establishment” will “not take place before the latest of these times.” Then he adds that, in his opinion, “this happy period, has, in the sense which I have specified, already begun.” 28Ibid., pp. 28-30. Such was Dwight’s view of prophecy, expounded in the chapel of Yale in 1812.PFF4 163.2

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