“The Destiny of the Nations, as indicated in Prophecy” (by John Cumming, 1864).
Our old acquaintance Dr. Cumming has published another little prospective history of the world, not differing very materially from its predecessors. He entertains a pious opinion, though he does not put it forward as an article of faith, that we are now on our very last legs. Probably the year 1867 or 1868 will see the end of us all. He may be wrong, he will not speak with confidence, but this is what things look like. Shake up in a bag Togarmah and his hands, Daniel’s times, time, and half a time, the little horn, the beast, the false prophet, and the other figures of the Apocalypse, and this is the net result. We have between two and three years to run, either before or after which—as far as we can make it out—not only the end of the world, but many other surprising events are to take place. There is a great difficulty about this, for Dr. Cumming is so profuse with his illustrations, and so cautious and humble when he comes to his predictions, that it is extremely hard to make out what he really does mean. The following programme, however, appears to him probable. Speaking of 1867, or the beginning of 1868, he says:—“At which period they that arrive are blessed, for then Romanism should die or be destroyed, and the sun should rise over nations wrecked but then restored—that sun that shall one day have no western declension.” In plain words, the world is to come to an end in 1868.
Before the world comes to an end, various nations are to fulfil their destiny. The prospects of Russia, oddly enough, are the clearest. Its destiny is foretold in Ezekiel xxxix.2,4.:—“I will put hooks into thy jaws (to wit, in the Crimea, says Dr. Cumming), and I will bring thee forth after many days, and I will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel. Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee.” This means, according to Dr. Cumming, that Russia is to conquer Constantinople and attack Palestine, where she will find the Jews—who in the meantime will have been restored—and will attempt to conquer them. “Her success, however, is her calamity. Her reaching Palestine flushed with victory is her ruin. Having forgotten the lesson read her in being turned back with books in her jaws, she returns to her never-forgotten enterprise, cleaves her path to Jerusalem, and falls with the weight, and disappears with the speed, of an avalanche under a tropical sun.” Therefore Dr. Cumming thinks it probable that between 1864 and 1868 the Jews will be restored, and Russia destroyed in the attempt to conquer them. Rome, too, is to be destroyed. Not merely is the Papacy to fall, but Dr. Cumming seems to think the city itself will be miraculously overthrown.
There is a good deal of difficulty about France, which it appears has a “prophetic destiny,” part of which is that she is to be the leading country of Papal Europe, and the headquarters of some at least, perhaps two, of three Apocalyptic frogs which play an important part in one of the Apocalyptic visions. These frogs have a good deal of English spawn. Mr. Pope Hennessy and Sir George Bowyer, whose activity Dr. Cumming appears to consider portentous and more or less supernatural, are the junior tadpoles of the family. Dr. Colenso is the youngest tenant of the adjacent ditch. What is to happen to France for breeding these frogs does not precisely appear. Perhaps the French may be called upon to devour their own children. It appears, however, on the whole, that something dreadful is to happen to them.
The prospects of England are entirely satisfactory. Queen Victoria is the Queen of Sheba, which means India. There is a verse in Ezekiel which says that Tarshish and his young lions (the junior members of the well-known British firm), with Dedan and Sheba, shall go in vessels of bulrushes to a people scattered and peeled; and this probably means that the English people will carry the Jews back to Palestine in their steamers, which are obviously alluded to by the vessels of bulrushes. England, moreover, as a Protestant country, gets out of a variety of complications about the ten horns of the beast; and altogether, in a national point of view, we are to go to heaven, or at least to sail straight into the millennium with every sail set and all our colours flying :—
‘ENGLAND [says Dr. Cumming, in small capitals] WILL NOT GO DOWN AMIDST THE CATASTROPHE OF NATIONS. IT WILL LAST TO THE END, STRONG, PROSPEROUS, AND GREAT. I believe on two grounds—first, because she left the apostasy at the great Reformation; secondly, because we are reserved for the very last day in full force as the Tarshish of prophecy, to lend all our greatness to carry the children of Zion home—that our country’s sun will go on brightening like the shining light; and that. Old England’s glory will not set till it melt into the splendour of a millennial and lasting day.It is a curious question what will be the practical effect of this. There are in all probability as choice a collection of rascals within the four seas as are to be found in any part of Europe, not to say the world at large. Is every thief, burglar, garotte robber, and religious hypocrite like the gentlemen of distinguished piety who live by forging acceptances, who can manage to live into the millennium, to have a thousand years’ lease of heaven from some day in 1867 or 1868? If this i8 the case, it will certainly be the oddest arrangement that can be conceived. If not, what meaning is it possible to attach to the special advantages which Dr. Cumming claims for this country? Think of the vast number of thoroughly respectable people in Russia and of outrageous villains in London, and consider the propriety of taking some 60,000,000 Russians all the way down to Jerusalem to be utterly destroyed, whilst all the convicts at Portland are singing Hosannah, and otherwise “fading into the light of the millennial day.” This, or something like this, Dr. Cumming considers probable, natural, and the sort of event which a good pious man would expect (though he may not venture to predict it with absolute certainty), on the and of certain barely intelligible verses in the Book of Ezekiel, which, by trying desperately hard and making all sorts of guesses, it is just possible to strain into something a little like a metaphorical hint at the required result. It must, indeed, be observed that the importance of living on into the millennium is somewhat diminished by various hints which are thrown out to the effect that it is to be followed by a general restoration of the nations previously destroyed. If Russia is to last up to the year 1866 or thereabouts, and is then to be destroyed, and to be set up rather better than new in 1868, there is, after all, not so much difference between that wicked nation and our own blessed and holy native land. It is difficult to say whether this improves Dr. Cumming’s case. It makes it harder to understand it, and it deprives his prophecy of some at least of those occasional glimpses of a meaning which at times appear to enlighten it.
This is perhaps enough for our readers about Dr. Cumming. We have often had occasion to expose in detail his monstrous ignorance, impartially distributed over a great variety of subjects. The present work affords the usual harvest of blunders, thong we are glad to be able to say that he appears to be rather more careful with his classics than of old. Is it a groundless vanity to hope that our gentle remonstrances induced him to take a turn at his Arnold's Exercises? Perhaps in some future work he may give up the assertion, which is flatly contradicted by all maps and geography books, that Bagdad is on the Euphrates; and in recess of time he may possibly believe our reiterated statement that the Turks were a Tartar horde who had nothing particular to do with the Euphrates. The Ottoman Turks who conquered Constantinople had no sort of connexion with the Arab caliphs who established themselves at Bagdad. This admission no doubt would damage his favourite argument, that the drying up of the Euphrates must mean the fall of the Turkish empire, because Bagdad on the Euphrates was the starting-point of the Turkish power; but when there are so many arguments ready to his hand which no one can refute, why insist on this? Could not he say that the first syllable of Togarmah stands for Turk, and the last for Mahomet; or that, if the Turks had nothing to do with the Euphrates, the principle is the same, as the Arabs had much to do with the Tigris.
Perhaps the most curious illustration which the present book affords of its author’s marvellous either of ignorance or impudence is to be found in his reply to the Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics, he says, charge the Protestants with want of unity of opinion. They say, You all contradict each other, whereas we all agree. To this Dr. Cumming actually replies that Protestants differ only in discipline, and not in doctrine. Even in religious controversy, no more monstrous assertion than the following has ever been made:—“I answer, we are divided into various sections, but our difference is only about discipline, not about doctrine: we hold all essential doctrines. We do differ in discipline, but has not the Church of Rome also differences in discipline?” This is worse than his old bad Latin. It is not half so bad to be unable to parse, scan, or construe correctly as to make a statement so outrageously at variance with fact that it is inconceivable how any human creature can believe it. Are not Unitarians Protestants, and do they agree with the Church of England or of Scotland as to the Trinity or the Atonement? Do Lutherans and Zwinglians agree about the Sacrament? Does the Church of England agree with the Westminster Confession in supposing that almost all men are predestined to be eternally damned, being “ordained to dishonour and wrath for their sins, to the praise of God's glorious justice?" Do any two Protestant bodies agree in their doctrine as to the nature of the Bible? Especially, does the Church of England agree with the Church of Scotland? and are differences on the Trinity, the Atonement, the Sacraments, predestination, and the Inspiration of Scripture, differences of discipline merely? If so, what are differences of doctrine?
It is lost time to go on exposing Dr. Cumming. His books have, we believe, an enormous sale. They are probably read by a class of readers with whom our censure has very little weight, and their author may always find a place in prophecy for his reviewers amongst the scoffers who are to come in the last days. It is a satisfaction to be a sign of the times in our humble way, and to wriggle about in the same ditch with Sir George Bowyer, Mr. Hennessy, and Bishop Colenso. There is, however, one reflection which might perhaps be addressed to Dr. Cumming with advantage, if he were in the least degree capable of understanding it. It is that he is doing more than a whole army of scoffers could do to bring into discredit the book on which he lives. If he really succeeded in persuading people that the Book of Revelation foretells that the world will be all knocked to pieces in three years, and that during those three years the whole order of Providence will be replace by a set of arbitrary fantastic tricks utterly devoid of any moral significance, and totally unlike the previous history of mankind—tricks like the destruction of Russia for fighting the Jews, and the miraculous end of the poor old Pope-- the inference would be, not that the predictions were true, at that the book was false and was written by some one who had only the rudest and most barbarous notion of the Divine character. The Church of England, with characteristic good sense, has had the wisdom to leave undisturbed the mystery in which the Book of Revelation is shrouded. Hardly any of it is read in church, and those parts which are read are not the ones on which Dr. Cumming delights to expatiate. Various very unpleasant questions are left on one side by this praiseworthy caution. It is one thing to say that the Book of Revelation forms part of the canonical Scriptures, and is therefore entitled to share in the reverence paid to them as a whole, and it is another thing to put it forward as the prominent bulwark of the Christian faith. The Christian religion may carry the Book of Revelation, but it is altogether a different proposition that the Book of Revelation can carry the Christian religion. If an indiscreet caterer for the public appetite for marvels—a sort of Sunday Zadkiel—will insist on investing the whole subject with needless prominence, he will end by forcing upon public attention the fact that the chief difficulty about explaining the Apocalypse arises from the assumption that all its prophecies must be true. Once admit that they may be wrong, and the difficulty is at an end. The book then becomes a prophecy of the approaching destruction of the Roman Empire, and the second advent of Christ, falsified by the event. Considering the undoubted fact that the early Christians, and even some of the apostles, had such expectations, and the further fact that the authorship of the Apocalypse is altogether uncertain, and that for a length of time its canonical authority was considered highly doubtful, it is just as well not to press people too hard with it. There are predictions to which the public at large would reply by saying, not that they never were made, but that whoever made them talked great nonsense.
The really melancholy part of Dr. Cumming's popularity is the proof which it affords of the miserably low notions of the Divine character entertained by his many readers. The fact of his popularity appears to show that there are a number of people who have no other notion of God or Divine Providence than that which is put into their beads by such blind guides as be. To a person who knows ever so little of history, or who even opens his eyes and looks round on the world in which he lives, all this melancholy rubbish about Togarmah and Tarshish is simply intolerable. To such a person, if he believes in God and Providence at all, it needs no proof that all nations and all creeds have an important part to play in that vast whole which forms the providential scheme for the government of mankind. The Roman Catholic as well as the Protestant faith has its special merits and defects; the Russian could as ill be spared from the world as the Englishman or the Frenchman. Each has his own character and his own task; each may help and each may learn from the rest. We my hope and believe that in time each will do so, and that by slow and gradual steps the state of the world will be considerably improved. The miraculous and arbitrary devastations which Dr. Cumming anticipates, on the strength of a few obscure texts, are as inconsistent with the Divine character, as revealed in the net history of the world, as the miraculous millennium which in three years' time is miraculously to wipe up the miraculous mess which the interval will have been passed in producing.
Saturday Review, January 23, 1864.