Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, by William Miller, , at sacred-texts.com
THE two witnesses in our text have caused as much speculation among the writers on the New Testament, as any other passage in the word of God. Some have supposed that it was a succession of orthodox divines, whom God had raised up to witness to the truth, during the time specified, which all agree is twelve hundred and sixty years. And those writers who have taken this side of the question, have endeavored to find some favorite divines, among their sect, answering to the description given of the two witnesses. Upon this construction every sect might claim the honor of giving to the world the two witnesses. And were this explanation true, instead of two witnesses, we should have more than eight hundred; for every sect must have a set, and I dare not give preference to any. This would destroy the idea of two witnesses at once.
Other writers have fixed on the church as the two, clergy and laity; but here are many difficulties to encounter, the same as above. Every sect must have their own church and clergy, or admit at once that they are not the true church. But let us now come to the word of God. And if the word of God does not explain the "two witnesses," I shall despair of ever coming to the truth on this subject, for I am commanded by Christ himself to call no man master. I shall, then,
I. Attempt to show what the Bible calls the two witnesses.
II. What we may understand by their being clothed in sackcloth.
III. Their history, prophecy, and time specified.
I. What is the Bible account of the two witnesses? And, first, What is a witness? I answer, A witness is a person, or legal instrument, testifying to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, on matters of fact which are supposed to be known no way but through testimony, either oral or written. Oral testimony is given by a person who is sworn to tell the whole truth, as above, and relate what he actually knows, by the medium of his own senses, and no more nor less. The apostles were such witnesses; for they testified to the things which Christ did in public. And when Judas fell by transgression, Peter informed his brethren that one must be chosen, "of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning at the baptism of John, unto the same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection." But these could not be the "two witnesses;" for here were twelve. But we learn by this history what a witness must be. He must go in and out; he must know by actual observation, or he could not testify any thing concerning Christ. That was the manner of oral testimony in that day, and so it is at the present. This, then, precludes the idea at once of any men, or set of men, being Christ's witnesses at the present day, or since the days of the apostles. But, says the objector, does not the word of God call all Christians witnesses for Christ? I do not know of any scripture where Christians are called witnesses, except the prophets and apostles, or inspired writers, that is, concerning Christ. They may witness a good profession, or they may witness for themselves, that they believe in Christ or his word; but further they cannot go. They are not witness either to the person of Christ, to his works, death, miracles, or resurrection and ascension; and if there was no other testimony but oral, we should be no better off than the darkest Hindoo or most ignorant Hottentot. But, thanks be to God, he has not left us without a witness. There is a better testimony than all Christendom, which is written; and it is this which I hold in my hand; it is the word of God. It tells the truth; "for not one jot or tittle of this word shall fail." It tells the whole truth, "that the man of God may be perfectly furnished to every good work." It tells nothing but the truth; for it is the truth indited by him who cannot lie.
You are well aware, my friends, that written testimony is considered in all courts, under all laws, to be stronger than any oral testimony whatever. For instance, take the last will and testament of any man; if it was written or indited by himself, signed by his own hand, sealed with his own seal, in presence of witnesses chosen by himself, and ratified by his death, no oral testimony can be brought against it; unless the instrument itself shows some contradiction or discrepancy, it cannot be destroyed. So it is with these two testaments, revealed, indited, confirmed, witnessed, and ratified, by the death of the testator, the Lord Jesus Christ. And although wicked men and devils have endeavored to show some contradiction or discrepancy in its testimony, it has stood the shock of ages, the wreck of kingdoms, and will stand when these heavens and this earth shall pass away with a great noise and the elements melt with fervent heat; for by this word we must all be judged; by these witnesses we shall be justified or condemned. Christ says, "Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me." The angel tells John, in the next verse following our text, that the two witnesses "are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth." The angel, in his allusion to the two olive trees, quotes the prophet Zechariah, iv. 3, "And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof." Here the olive trees are used in a figurative sense, and properly denote the "sons of oil," or the two cherubims which stood over the ark, and spread their wings over the mercy seat. The wings of the cherubims stretched from either side of the house to the centre over the mercy seat, and their faces turned inwards down upon the mercy seat, and the glory of the God of Israel was above the cherubims. These cherubims are a lively type of the Old and New Testament. The signification of cherub is "fulness of knowledge;" so is the word of God, "that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished, perfect in every good work." They have the whole truth, all we can know about Jesus Christ in this state. They stand on either hand of Christ, one before he came in the flesh, pointing to a Messiah to come, by all its types and shadows; and like the cherub whose wings touched the outer wall of the room and reached to the centre over the mercy seat, so did the Old Testament reach from the creation of the world down to John's preaching in the wilderness, and like the cherub looking down on the mercy seat, it testified of the Messiah. The other cherubim's wings reached from the centre over the mercy seat, and touched the other wall of the room, while his face was turned back upon the mercy seat. So does the New Testament begin at the preaching of John, and reveals all that is necessary for us to know, down to the end of the world. And all the ordinances of the New Testament house look back to the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and are to continue until his second coming and end of the world. These cherubims were made of olive trees, and overlaid with pure gold, 1 Kings vi. 23-28. Again: the angel tells Zechariah what the two olive trees are, Zech. iv. 4-6, "So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord?" (the two olive trees.) "Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubabel," &c. Here we are plainly told that the two olive trees are the word of the Lord, and the angel tells John, Rev. xi. 4, that "the two witnesses are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks." As candlesticks are the means of light, so is the word of God. Candlesticks are used in Scripture in the same sense as lamps. And David says, "Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Therefore I humbly believe that I have fairly and conclusively proved that the two witnesses are the Old and New Testament. And I will,
II. Show what we may understand by the two witnesses being clothed in sackcloth.
Sackcloth denotes a state of darkness, as in Rev. vi. 12, "The sun became black as sackcloth of hair;" that is, the sun became dark, invisible, and did not give its light. Just so during the dark ages of papal rule, the word of God was darkened by monkish superstition, bigotry, and ignorance in its sacred principles. It did not give its true light, because the laws, doctrines, and ordinances were changed by the laws of the Latin church; its doctrine was perverted by the introduction of the doctrine of devils and the anti-Christian abominations: its ordinances were so altered as to suit the convenience of carnal men; and it was obscured, because the common people were forbidden to read it, or even to have it in their houses, by the Papal authority. It was hid from the world in a great measure; for the Papal beast, the church of Rome, forbade its translation into any language except the Greek and Latin, which languages ceased to be spoken in the Roman government in the middle of the sixth century. Sackcloth denotes great calamities and troubles, as in the days of Hezekiah, 2 Kings, xix. 1, 2, "When king Hezekiah heard (the threatenings of the king of Assyria,) he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth;" also, the Ninevites put on sackcloth at the preaching of Jonah, when their city was threatened with a final overthrow. So with the two witnesses; while they were clothed in sackcloth, it was a time of great calamity and trouble to the people of God; persecution raged without any mitigation in some or all parts of the Roman government, and the church of God, which was fed and nourished by the "two witnesses," during her residence in the wilderness, was threatened with a final destruction by the Papal armies, the inquisition, and every other means that could be devised by wicked men or devils. But God has preserved his word, through all the persecutions of the Roman power. I shall now,
III. Show their history, prophecy, and time specified in the text.
1st. Their history, contained in Rev. xi. 5-13, inclusive. Let me read and explain. 5th verse, "If any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies, and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed." If any man shall add or take away from the book or revelation of God, "God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city;" and "God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book." This verse has been verified in our day in the history of deistical France. The rulers of France, in the revolution, proclaimed a war of extermination against the fishermen's Bible, as they were pleased to term it; and within six years they exterminated themselves, the republic, and almost their principles. The kingdom was deluged in blood; anarchy was the law of the land; and the judgments denounced by this word were literally accomplished, so that deists themselves stood appalled at the horror and confusion their own principles had brought upon their heaven-daring crimes.
6th verse, "These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy." Allusion is here had to "the three years and a half," in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up, Luke iv. 25, which is the same time the witnesses prophesy clothed in sackcloth, 1260 days, forty-two months, thirty days to a month; that being common time, and this prophetic. The Scriptures are the means which God has made use of to convert sinners from error to truth, from sin to righteousness, and to convey the knowledge of grace, (which in this verse is compared to rain,) to a lost and perishing world. During the reign of anti-Christ, 1260 years, the church in the wilderness, and the two witnesses clothed in sackcloth the same 1260 years, the doctrine of grace in Jesus Christ was but partially taught. Much of the professedly Christian world have been taught that doing penance, purchasing indulgences, obeying the holy Catholic church, or performing some outward act for pardon, would answer them heaven and happiness. But when the Scriptures began to be read and understood, and where the doctrine of grace in Jesus Christ has been published by the translation and circulation of the word of God, how different the scene! Now, we can hardly find a Roman Catholic who will pretend that heaven is purchased by infliction of bodily torture, by doing penance, or by a monastic seclusion from the world; neither do we see them selling indulgences, and promising the holders pardon for the most abominable crimes. And but rarely do we hear the infallibility of the mother, or holy Catholic church, advanced from pulpit or press. Why this mighty change in public sentiment? Because the reign of grace is not withheld; the two witnesses are no longer clothed in sackcloth; "Michael has stood up, that standeth for the children of thy people." And the "angel is flying through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth." "And have power over the waters to turn them to blood." By waters, we understand people; and by blood, wars. This text has been amply fulfilled in the wars of Europe, fighting for religious tenets and ecclesiastical power, claiming their prerogatives from the two witnesses, and wresting and perverting the word of God to their own destruction. "And from thence come wars, tumults, fightings," because they understand not. "And to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will." In Old Testament times, it was the word of God, through Moses and Aaron, that smote Egypt with the ten plagues, and through Joshua the Canaanites. So, in New Testament times, the seven last plagues, and the three woes, are denounced against the anti-Christian beast, who dwells on and has great power over the earth. "As often as they will," meaning as often as they have prophesied of them, so often will the plagues be sent. Not one jot or tittle of the word of God will fail.
7th verse, "And when they shall have finished their testimony," that is, when the 1260 years are about fulfilled, the "beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit;" this beast is the same as the little horn, Papal Rome, and is said to ascend out of the bottomless pit, because it is founded on error. The principles taught by this beast were first Paganism, and ended in Deism, which are not built on the word of God; and, therefore, have no foundation, and may truly be said to be "bottomless." "Shall make war against them." The governments, under the authority of Papal Rome, shall endeavor to exterminate the "two witnesses," the word of God. "And shall overcome them, and kill them;" have power over them, pass laws or edicts against them, and, by this means, destroy their usefulness, life, and activity. For where the Scriptures are not read, and believed in, they become a dead letter; but when read, and believed, "they are spirit, they are life," John vi. 63.
8th verse, "And their dead bodies shall lie in the streets of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." This verse teaches us, that the word of God would be made a dead letter, by the authority of one of the principal kingdoms out of one of the ten into which the Roman government was divided, and that they would be guilty of the same sins that Sodom and Egypt were guilty of; and, also, of crucifying our Lord, that is, in a spiritual sense. This will apply to France in particular. France, previous to, and in the French revolution, was guilty of Sodomitish sins; she also had held in bondage, like Egypt, the people of God; and, in France, Christ had been crucified afresh in his people, on St. Bartholomew's eve, A.D. 1572, when 50,000 Huguenots were murdered in one night. The people of God are called Christ's spiritual body, 1 Peter ii. 5, Col. i. 24.
9th verse, "And they of the people, and kindreds, and tongues, shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves." This decree, or edict, should be generally known among all nations; and although they could not prevent the witnesses from lying in the streets of the great city three years and a half, yet the nations about them would prevent the Scriptures from being buried, or put out of sight.
10th verse, "And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt upon the earth." We learn by this text that the nation, who would suppress the reading of the word of God, would make great rejoicings upon this occasion, and congratulate each other upon the destruction of the Bible, as they would suppose, for this reason, because the doctrine and precepts of the Bible would be hateful and disagreeable to them.
11th verse, "And after three days and a half, [years,] the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them." After the Bible would be dormant three years and a half, God would so order in his providence, that they would again be permitted to be read and enjoyed as usual, and the Bible would again stand upon its own foundation, or merits, and would again have their bearing on the hopes and fears of mankind, and the governments of the world, and their enemies would see it and tremble.
12th verse, "And they heard a great voice from heaven, saying unto them, Come up hither; and they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them." This verse shows us that many voices would unite in calling for a general spread of the Bible through the world, and that the Bible would be exalted among the nations, and great multitudes of them circulated, and the enemies of the word of God could not prevent it. Here we have a plain and distinct prophecy of the Bible societies.
13th verse, "And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men [names or titles] seven thousand, and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven." At the same hour the witnesses would be slain, there would be a great revolution, and one of the ten kingdoms, which had given their power and support to the Papal beast, would fall; and seven thousand names, or titles of nobility, in church and state, would be destroyed; and this revolution would produce great fear among the nations, and some would acknowledge that the word was fulfilling, and God was producing these wonderful events. Here we again see exactly depicted the French revolution, and its effects; and we cannot but see that the whole of this prophecy has been literally fulfilled.
In the beginning of the sixth century, about A.D. 538, Justinian, emperor of Constantinople, in his controversy with the Arians, and other schismatics in the Greek church, constituted the bishop of Rome head over all others, both in the western and eastern churches, who, by his authority, suppressed the reading of the Bible by laymen, pretending that they could not read and understand without the assistance of the clergy. About this time, too, the Latin language ceased to be spoken in Italy, and the Greek and Latin both became dead languages. The Bible at that time not being written or translated into any other languages in Europe, it became an easy task for the bishop to obscure the doctrine and discipline of the word of God, so far as suited his convenience, and to obtain universal power over the minds and consciences of men, and clothe the Scriptures in sackcloth. If, then, the Scriptures were first clothed in sackcloth in A.D. 538, and were to prophesy 1260 years in this situation, their prophecy would end in 1798. About the close of the eighteenth century, in consequence of the abominable corruptions of the church of Rome being exposed to public view, the men of the world began to treat revelation as a fiction, and religion as priestcraft; and instead of searching for the pillar and ground of the truth, "their imaginations became vain, and their foolish minds were darkened." They declared war against the Bible, the "two witnesses," which war became general all over Europe and America. Some of the most eminent and principal writers in this controversy were in France, the principal kingdom among the ten, into which Rome had been divided at the close of the fifth century; and so successful were these writers, that almost the whole nation of the French became Deists, or Atheists, in a short time. This nation had long been guilty of the abominations of the anti-Christian beast, the sins of Sodom and Egypt, and the persecution of those who protested against her national corruptions: the slaying of the witnesses; their lying in a dead state three years and a half in the street of the great city; the revolution spoken of in this prophecy--all happened in the French revolution, between the years 1793 and 1798. A decree was passed by the council and directory of France, prohibiting the Bible to be read in public, in any of the chapels in France, and Bibles were gathered in heaps, and bonfires were made of them, and great rejoicings were had all over the kingdom at the downfall of priestcraft, as they called it; and particularly at Lyons, where the scriptures were publicly dragged through the streets, with circumstances of the greatest contempt, and other things transacted in the exultation of their triumph, which are too shocking to narrate. Let it suffice, then, to say, that after three years and a half the Bible was again permitted to be read, and religion had free toleration in France; and what is equally as remarkable, is, that the same year a few individuals in London established what has since been styled the Bible society, which has been instrumental in sending Bibles among all nations, and of translating them into more than 150 languages since that period; and almost all the writers, who acknowledge the Bible to be the two witnesses, do agree that the events, prophesied of in this passage, were literally accomplished in the French revolution. Now, the Bible is more than restored to its former state in society; it is exalted, and every person can have, and read, and examine for themselves into its sacred truths. It is also a fact, that the progress of the Bible society has exceeded the most sanguine expectations of its advocates; and the Atheists and Deists of our day appear to be perfectly confounded at these events. Instead now of declaring open war against the Bible, they make pretence at least of drawing their rules of morality from this blessed book; and the man who should now undertake to write down the word of God, would be considered either a madman, or a fool. One thing more: In the French Revolution, the names or titles of men were abolished; and it is said by some writers, that, in the long list of titled nobility, and the great catalogue of priestly orders, there were seven thousand destroyed at once. Well might the remnant be affrighted, and give glory to the God of heaven!
Let us now for a moment see what follows the history of the two witnesses.
14th verse, "The second woe is past, and behold, the third woe cometh quickly." The second woe began by the civil wars in France and Germany, and ended in the French revolution; and the third woe will come quickly. It is the last great woe denounced against the woman sitting upon the scarlet-colored beast, and against the earth, which she hath filled with her sorceries, and the kingdoms of this world, which must all be destroyed under this woe.
15th verse, "And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." The third woe and seventh trumpet are both the same thing, (see Rev. viii. 13;) and the seventh trumpet is the last trump, when the dead shall be raised. See 1 Cor. xv. 52. It is evident, also, that we are carried into the eternal state forever and ever.
16th verse, "And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell on their faces and worshipped God." By the four and twenty elders, I understand the true ministers of Christ, alluding to the twenty-four courses of the priesthood appointed by David, 1 Chron. xxiv.
17th verse, "Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned." This is the language of every humble and devoted minister of Jesus Christ, who makes the word of God his study, and believes in the overruling hand of God as accomplishing the great designs therein revealed.
18th verse, "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great, and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth."
This verse shows us what takes place at the sounding of the seventh trumpet and third woe, which the angel says will come quickly after the French revolution, if I am right in my explanation of the two witnesses. It is morally certain that the word of God is not now in an obscure state; it is not hid from the world, neither is clothed in sackcloth. It is true that many voices have united in the Bible societies to spread the knowledge of the word of God; and that it is translated into about all the known languages in the world. It is almost absolutely certain that the French people are the nation that is compared to Sodom and Egypt, in the passage we have been examining; and likewise the earthquake spoken of is the French revolution. Then if the two witnesses are the Old and New Testament, we are certain the third woe is coming quickly, and the seventh trump must shortly begin to sound, as I have already proved in my lecture on the trumpets, in the year 1839. You have undoubtedly seen, my friends, that we are likewise brought down to the judgment, when God will reward the righteous, and destroy the wicked, who have persecuted the saints and trampled them under foot.
And once more let me inquire how it stands with you, my dear hearer. Are you prepared for that great and solemn day? Are you ready to meet the judgment? The two witnesses will appear for or against you. Their testimony will not fail. Do you believe them? He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned. "The word that I have spoken," says Christ, "the same shall judge you in the last day." Why will you not be warned? If half the evidence that I have brought of our being on the end of this dispensation, was brought to prove there was a great treasure hid in your field, how soon would you search and how diligently would you seek until you found it!
In this book, of which we have now been speaking, are durable riches, gold tried in the fire, seven times purified. "Search for it as for hidden treasures; seek and you shall find." Can you tell me where the word of God, the Bible, has failed of being accomplished literally, and in the time specified? Many events have been foretold, the times given, and not one failed. How can you disbelieve? How can you shut your eyes against so much light? Where will you have an excuse in the day of judgment? I have repeatedly brought you down to this time, and shown, by Scripture proof, the judgment must commence immediately. You are in your hearts convicted that what has been declared concerning the two witnesses, in this discourse, is true. And if so, your reason must teach you that what follows under the third woe must be equally as true. "And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth."