6 SEPTEMBER 1890, Page 12


NvE do not know whether the Conference of the students of prophecy, recently announced by the Daily Telegraph, is really coming off, or whether the project is only the idea of some fervent devotees; but we do know that, if it meets, Exeter Hall will hardly hold those who will attend. The class of Christians to whom the Book of Daniel is the book of the Old Testament, is by no means extinct. They have re- ceded a little from public view, being half-unconsciously a. little cowed by modern criticism, and a little ashamed of their constant failures to interpret anything correctly; but they retain their curious faiths as strongly as of old, and their numbers, if suddenly revealed, would give men of the world a -moment of amazed as well as amused surprise. Men who possess the faculty of listening with interest to out-of- the-way opinions, or who are consulted for any reason on religious questions, know well that scores of persons in every class of society, including classes, strange to say, by no means professedly pious, are devoted to the study of " ancient prophecy," read everything that comes out about it, elaborate from different theories a sort of pseudo-science, and honestly believe that the successive Hebrew reformers were inspired with heavenly wisdom in order that they might reveal to peoples of whom they had never heard, future events which can by no possibility have any spiritual interest what- ever. They honestly believe that if we would only understand Daniel and Ezekiel, we should know what France will do in the near future, what will be the result of Russian intrigues, and what will become of the British Empire, though not, it is usually admitted, of its mighty offshoots. We have somewhere a book in which the proposition is disputed, but it is, so far as we know—and besides much reading, we have talked for hours with devotees of the system—usually admitted that there is no mention in Scripture of the United States, and that no Hebrew prophet has revealed the future destiny of Australia. Those regions were not included in the Roman Empire ; but as to all countries which were, and Russia besides, and India, it is only our want of insight and humility which prevents us from knowing all the great events which are speedily to happen there. It is a singular faith, and the strangest thing about it is that those who hold it do not always belong to the category of the simple. It is the consolation and the intellectual luxury of scores of competent officers; of men who have governed provinces ; of gentlemen who seem, when talking on any other subject, efficient men of the world ; of some clergymen who are really in a way learned men ; of a few keen City traders ; and, to our minds strangest fact of all, of a remarkably fine type of skilled artisan. They will all, if their confidence is once given, say to you things about " Prophecy" which, to men not subject to the glamour, are positively bewildering, and make them doubt, not their interlocutors' sanity, which is patent, but their own power of comprehending what is said. We have ourselves heard a man whose career of official success has been unbroken, declare, evidently from the deepest conviction, that England ought to attack Russia at once, because if she did not, there would in Palestine in 1894 be a disastrous event, an event so grave for the world that it had been predicted by Daniel in the clearest terms 2,500 years ago. Now, what can be the explanation of that—we do not mean of that faith, for any faith is possible, and we have heard an astronomer who could calculate eclipses, declare his conviction that they were caused by a dog swallowing the moon—but of the fascination of that faith ? Why does the judgment of men otherwise able fail before the charm of a study which to all but themselves . seems a pure waste of thought. If the thing is predicted of God, it must happen, and we may as well wait in tranquil resignation ; while, if it is not predicted of God, studying it is studying without data a rather dull puzzle in pro- spective politics. Where is the charm ? Is it that which bound the astrologers of old to their lifelong waste of time, the charm of guessing by rule ; or is there some subtle influence, akin to that often felt by the devotees of a recondite science, the fascination of knowing what is hidden from the majority of mankind ? Either explanation is plausible, but there is a third, which seems to us more probable than either. ,.Most capable men—and it is the essence of our statement that these devotees of a fantastic study are often

unusually capable men—possess imagination, and in a certain number, either from early education, or a perception of the poetry in the Hebrew prophecies, or political dreaminess, this imagination feeds upon the only predictions they recognise as divine. They are carried out of themselves as other men, often in appearance very prosaic men, are carried out of them- selves by lyric poetry or heroic romance, or a certain kind of music, and find in that rapture—using the word in its older sense—a relief from the concrete facts of the dull daily life around them. Look how their eyes kindle when they dare let themselves go upon their topic, and mark how upon this one 'subject, and this only, opposition is almost insult.

There are two other forms of this great craze—we mean no affront, but there is no other word—for one of which we -confess a kindly tolerance. It is difficult to be entirely patient with the man who talks nonsense about Russia on the faith of a text in Daniel which it would take an inspired being to -explain ; but it is hard to be honestly contemptuous of a con- vinced Millenarian. He is generally so very good, and the -origin of his faith is traceable to such a pardonable impulse. He has hardly more evidence for his belief than the man who is so sure about the " Horns," and as to the time of his great event he has no evidence at all; but he means nothing but good to his kind. He is simply supplying, as he thinks, a perfect cure for all the sin and misery and unrighteous inequality he sees around him in the world. The perplexity of things has mastered him till he sees but one remedy, a divine Dictator 'visible in the flesh, with power and knowledge to right all wrongs, punish justly all wickedness, and make of earth a kind of materialised heaven, such as most Christians, perhaps, hope in their hearts that they will find "the future state" to be. The impulse which moves such dreamers is a passion at «once of despair and hope, despair of cure for the world through human agency, hope that the cure is at hand ; and it is a most potent impulse, so potent that, with many devotees of this thought, life is but one long pause of half-breathless expecta- tion. Why, being so good as they are, they do not see that if the Millennium came God could only rule, and that he is ruling now, we are unable to understand ; but so it is, that variety of spiritual fog occasionally appearing even in minds saturated with the very spirit of pions resignation. Many of our readers will be inclined to deny that such persons exist ; but if they will call a conference of those only who believe that the Millennium will come in their time, they will be astonished at .the response. There are plenty of them left, though we will admit a suspicion that their numbers among the educated grow fewer. Forty years ago it seemed as if Millenarianism was mastering so many pious minds that it might become an .active faith, with serious social consequences ; but after pro- ducing an extraordinary mass of literature, still to be found in old houses of the humbler clad's, the idea receded into the background of popular thought, and the faith is now less readily confessed than almost any other. We fancy, too, it is weaker. It has not been struck by the " scientific spirit," which, indeed, scarcely affects it at all, any more than it affects the love for lyric poetry, or for day-dreaming; but it has been sorely wounded by the new hopefulness of men, the new conviction, we fear the delusive conviction, that

society," if only it is guided aright and ceases to be selfish, will of its own strength be able to cure all evils. That is the ,governing idea of the hotter minds of our day, and will before long provoke some great, it may be some disastrous, experi- ments ; and under its influence, that despair of human agency which is the ultimate cause of Millenarianism has temporarily died away. There are sufficient believers, however, left, as any religious paper would find which opened its columns to the discussion, and we see no reason for either ridiculing or denouncing them. They may perhaps, in some places, manure the soil for startling impostures—we shall see some day great religious impostures among the Slays, and our own Asiatic and African converts—but the majority of even perfervid Christians are not so good that the expectation of a personal .reign, whether the Dictator be Christ himself, or only a fore- runner cif Christ—opinion, we believe, varies on this point- Aliould de them any harm.

This is not the case with the last of these strange ideas that we shall mention, for there is yet a fourth, the expectation of a personal reign of Satan, which we do not care to discuss. The " Moribundi," as they might fittingly be called, are numerous still, and their faith is this. They are sure, basing their certainty upon the Hebrew prophets and the Book of Revelation, that the world will, at some unfixed but proxi- mate date, be totally destroyed by some undefined cataclysm. They used to define it, and to write of an outburst of the " interior waters," or the " subterranean fires," or of a sudden increase in the heat of the sun, or of a coming collision with a wandering planet or a rushing comet—this latter notion actually produced panics—with a confidence from which, just at present, they shrink ashamed. The " progress of science "- which for ninety men in the hundred has not progressed in the least—has daunted them in publishing their predictions ; while the queer notion of the hour, that science is necessarily benevolent, has made their inner anticipations curiously vague. Still, however, they hold to their central tenet, that the world is to be destroyed, with a faith all the stronger because, as they say, they receive no reply but ridicule or denial. How should they, when they are affirming what may conceivably be perfectly true ? There is not the smallest reason for their faith, or for the nearly universal disbelief in it. The whole world may be swept away or burnt up next week, just as a town may be swept away or burnt up. The only certainty is, that if that happens, everybody must die ; and as everybody must die whether or no, and probably by a more painful death than the cataclysm would inflict, its occurrence does not seem a matter justifying much disturbance of mind. Clearly we cannot prevent it, any more than we can prevent death ; and what conceivable good are we to get from calculating without data the time of the inevitable ? We could prepare ? So we could now, for death could not be more inevitable than it is ; nor does anybody doubt, in his most secret heart, the certainty of its coming. The only effect of this kind of prediction is terror among the weak ; and those who believe that the terror of death makes the majority of the weak much better people, know nothing of the history of the world. The fear of imme- diate death may, and we trust does, purify the very souls of the men who have volunteered for a forlorn-hope ; but it turns the majority of human beings, as we see when a theatre burns or the cholera breaks out, into selfish cowards.