Bible Prophecy - An Introduction
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
In taking up the subject of prophecy, however simply, one feels a certain amount of trepidation for two reasons. In the first place, dogmatic assertions have been made in the past which subsequent events have proved false, and thereby the study of ' prophecy ' has been brought into disrepute. In the second place, generally-unacceptable views have been the cause of much dissension, and, alas ! often of bitterness and division among those who are exhorted to " love as brethren " (1 Pet. 3. 8).
Like Christian in the Pilgrim's Progress, however, we shall endeavour to avoid the very deep ditch on the one side, and the very dangerous quag on the other, and our efforts can alone be successful inasmuch as we eschew the personal role of prophet and avoid " foolish and unlearned questions which do gender strife." 11 must, of course, be admitted that some questions are not of this order and present great difficulties to the honest and intelligent Christian who is seeking the truth. These we must humbly examine in the light of Scripture, and it is encouraging for the young believer to remember that things which are abstruse to the very learned may be clear to the simplicity of his early faith. Did not the Lord Jesus say, " I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes " (Matt. 11. 25) ?
Let us, therefore, ask ourselves three questions :—
(1) What is Prophecy ? Strictly speaking, it is the forth-telling of the Word of God. The prophets came of old to the people with the impressive declaration, " Thus saith the Lord." Today, however, we always associate the word with the telling of future events, and it is in this sense that we shall consider prophecy in our papers, if the Lord will.
(2) What is the Purpose of Prophecy ? This is a much more complex question. There are a few negative answers which may be given immediately. Its purpose is
(a) not to satisfy intellectual curiosity. God never satisfies mere curiosity. To merely curious questioning may we not apply the words of our Lord, " It is not for you to know . . ." ? Its purpose, clearly, is not to give the young believer a " superiority complex." The more we learn of the wonders of God's works, of the glory of Christ, of the matchless purposes of grace, the more humble we become, and the more we appreciate how little we know of the perfection of wisdom and of the knowledge of God, which is eternal life.
(6) not to interpret current historical events ! A friendly warning may well be given against jumping to rash conclusions about the course of historical events. Some of the things that the man-in-the-street and even some Christians have found foretold in the Scriptures are truly amazing ! The Bible is, we are assured, the inspired Word of God.- (See Mr. Lovering's helpful article in the current issue). It is a spiritual book to be understood by spiritual men and women for spiritual ends.
Prophecy was sometimes given in warning to call people to repentance : sometimes to cheer the faithful with promises of future blessing : but the over-riding use of prophecy is to reveal the glory of God's purposes which have both their centre and circumference in His Only Begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
(3) How shall we study Prophecy ? We shall study
(a) in faith. " Believest thou the prophets ? I know that thou believest." Since this is so it may be taken for granted that the Scriptures are never self-contradictory, and that if at times they should appear so, then it is our understanding which is imperfect, and not they.
(b) in confidence. It is surely reasonable to state that no difficult verses (and there are some !) must be allowed to shake our confidence in truths that are slated in such simple terms that it is impossible to misunderstand them.
(c) in humility, realizing our limitations but praying for the Lord's blessing and taking courage from the words, " But if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not ; and it shall be given him " (James 1.5).