For some time now I’ve been interested in Victorian Biblical interpretation, particularly regarding the Apocalypse. I love this stuff! One of the major authors on the subject in the period was a man who was somewhat of a Hal Lindsey in his day, the Reverend Alexander Keith of Edinburgh, who I’ve mentioned before. Two of his works, The Signs of the Times and Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion, were immensely popular, the latter going through thirty-nine editions! I’ve got a fifth edition (1834) of The Signs of the Times, and a thirty-fifth (1854) and thirty-ninth (1872) editions of Evidence…. Both books are often referred to in later works in the historicist tradition of interpretation of prophecy, like Daniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith of the Seventh Day Adventists, but were of less direct lasting influence in the genre than Edward Bishop Elliott’s four volumes of Horae Apocalypticae, which went through five editions by 1862. In common to all of the above are the direct linking of the prophecies of the Book of Revelation to various historical events long post-dating the Apocalypse’s writing, in Keith’s place, particularly, bringing it up to the immediate past of his own day, as we’ll see below. Perhaps it’s the sheer, outrageous boldness of the interpretations that strikes me so, and to which one cannot respond but with some certain amount of gentle amusement, really, and a degree of bewilderment. It’s fascinating stuff.
In the back of volume two of Keith’s Signs of the Times is a tabular summary of the two volumes of his interpretation, serving as an index. If you never thought to see the American Revolution or Napolean in the Apocalypse, be prepared! The language and emphasis in the below is his, of course. So, here we are, an historicist interpretation of the Book of Revelation from 1834:
The First Seal: The crowned and conquering Rider, sitting on the white horse, descriptive of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Christian religion.
The Second Seal: Another horse, that was red; or another religion, not pure, but bloody, and propogated by slaughter—Mahometanism.
The Third Seal: A black horse and his rider, with a yoke in his hand. Not said, as of Mahometanism, to be another. Contrast to the light of the gospel. The yoke in his hand. Popery, in the dark ages, ruled by the pope.
The Fourth Seal: The last hostile form is a religious view, opposed to the Christian faith. A Pale Horse, and he that sat on him was Death. Infidelity, perfected into a system, and possessed of power, when all Religion was abjured in France. Reign of Terror, and of Death.
The Fifth Seal: The depressed and persecuted state of the true church of Christ in past agest.
The Sixth Seal: yet unfulfilled.
First Trumpet: Invasion of the Roman empire by the Goths and Germans.
Second Trumpet: Ravages of Genseric along the coast and Roman colony of Africa. Naval wars of the Vandals and Moors against the Romans.
Third Trumpet: Attila in northern Italy.
Fourth Trumpet: Extinction of the imperial power of Rome.
Fifth Trumpet, or First Woe: Mahometanism, Saracens.
Sixth Trumpet, or Second Woe: The empire of the Turks identified with the King of the North.
First Thunder: 1569-1607. Civil and religious wars in Holland and Zealand against Spain. Holland casts off the Spanish yoke. Wars against the Huguenots in France.
Second Thunder: 1618-1648. The thirty years’ war. The Bohemians elected a Protestant king—repressed by Austria and Bavaria. General war throughout Germany. Protestants headed by Gustavus Adolphus. War between Spain and Holland—Civil war in Great Britain. General peace by the treaty of Westphalia.
Third Thunder: 1685-1697. War of Louis XIV. He revoked the edict of Nantz in 1685. League of AUgsburg, 1687. France, Spain, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, and Savoy, all engaged in the war. Terrible desolation by the French in Bavaria. Terminated in the treaty of Ryswick in 1697.
Fourth Thunder: 1702-1711. Grand alliance against France. Wars of Marlborough. Louis utterly discomfited, and humbled.
Fifth Thunder: 1739-1748. The wars of Louis XIV were succeeded by a period of comparitive repose, which was followed by a general war. First wars of Frederick the Great.
Sixth Thunder: 1755-1763. The seven years’ war. Britain and Prussia against the other kingdoms of Europe. The war extended to America, where Protestants contended with Catholics, or the British with the French, and Canada was added to the colonies of Britain.
Seventh Thunder: 1773-1782. The American War. Britain also at war with France, Spain, and Holland.
First Vial: The French Revolution.
Second Vial: Naval wars of Great Britain against France and Europe.
Third Vial: Instructions of the French Directory to Bonaparte. Bonaparte’s campains in Piedmont, Lombardy, &c. Suwarrow’s campaign. Defeat and expulsion of the French from Lombardy and Piedmont. Bonaparte passes the Alps. Battle of Marengo.
Fourth Vial: Bonaparte elected or crowned Emperor, the successor of Charlemagne. Napolean king of Italy. Imperial wars and oppressive government of Napolean. Power given him to scorch men with fire, &c. Downfall of Napolean, invasion of Russia, &c. Abdication of Bonaparte, and extinction of his empire.
Fifth Vial: Re-establishment of Popery and the inquisition.
Sixth Vial: Euphrates, or Ottoman Empire.