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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

     

Part III: Striking Fulfillments of Prophecy

Chapter 2

Who Can Prophecy?

     BEFORE I present what I believe are a few instances of fulfilled prophecy that meet our stated criteria, it seems desirable to consider some thoughts about related matters. To begin with, there are a few rather remarkable instances of prophetic utterances by individuals who made no claims to divine inspiration. An educated audience may very well refer to these and question whether Scripture is unique in this respect, and it is important to know at least something about them.
     Consider what is perhaps the most outstanding example in "modern times," the prophecies of Mother Shipton. This lady, whose real existence has been held in question, is said to have been an Ursula Shipton, who was born in Knaresborough, England, in 1488; married a Tony Shipton, a builder, in 1512; and died about 1560. She was not recognized apparently until in 1641 it was pointed out that she had foretold the death of Wolsey. She is then credited with having predicted the fire of London in 1666 and the Civil Wars. A published account of her utterances appeared in the seventeenth century, and probably the best-known and most remarkable of these is the following poem:

A house of glass shall come to pass,
In Merry England, but alas
A war will follow with the work
In the Land of the Bloody Turk.
And State and State in fierce strife
Shall struggle for each other's life.
Carriages without horses shall go
And accidents fill the world with woe,
And the centre of a bishop's see
In London, Primrose Hill, shall be.
Around the world thoughts shall fly
In the twinkling of an eye.

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Through the hills men shall ride,
And neither horse nor ass astride.
Under the water men shall walk:
Iron in the water men shall float
As easily as a wooden boat.
Gold shall be found and shown
In a land that's now unknown.
Fire and water shall wonder do
And England shall admit a Jew.
Three times three shall lovely France
Be led to dance a bloody dance
Before the people shall be free
Three tyrant rulers shall she see.
Each sprung from a different dynasty:
And when the last great fight is won
England and France shall be as one.
And now a word in uncouth rhyme
Of what shall be in latter time.
Women shall get a strange new craze
To dress like men and breeches wear
And cut off all their locks of hair,
And ride astride with brazen brow
As witches do on broomsticks now.
Then love shall die and marriage cease
And babies and sucklings so decrease
That wives shall fondle cats and dogs
And men live much the same as hogs.
In eighteen hundred and ninety-six
Build your homes of rotten sticks
For then shall mighty wars be planned
And fire and sword sweep o'er the land.
And those who live the century through
In fear and trembling this will do.

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Fly to the mountains and the glens
To bogs and forests and wild dens.
For tempests will rage and oceans roar
And Gabriel stand on sea and shore
And as he toots his wondrous horn
Old worlds will die and new be born.
In the air men shall be seen
In white, in black, and also green.
Now strange but yet they shall be true
The world upside down shall be.
And gold shall be found at the roots of a tree
When pictures look alive and movements free.
When ships like fishes swim below the sea,
When men, outstripping birds, can scour the sky
Then half the world deep drenched in blood shall die.

      Many of these statements show remarkable foresight. Even if they are forgeries written much later in history than Mother Shipton, the poem has been known for probably one hundred years at least, and if one projects oneself back only this length of time, the statements are remarkable enough. The house of glass could conceivably be the Crystal Palace. The "admitted Jew" could have been Disraeli. That women should wear their hair short and "ride astride" would even seventy-five years ago perhaps have been considered exceedingly unlikely. Submarines and movies and aircraft form part of the prophecy also.
      In 1862 a Life of Mother Shipton, written by Charles Hindley, was afterward (1873) admitted by the author to have been a forgery. But this does not really tell us too much about when her prophecies were written and whether they were written by Ursula Shipton at all. Consequently, one really cannot take any position with respect to them except to point out once again that substantially in this form they have been known for a sufficient length of time to have some prophetic content. Yet an informed mind with keen insight into the course of events might have foreseen some of these changes. The prophecies which had to do with the life of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey and the city of London cannot be assessed, for we have no proof that they were ever prediction

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     So much, then, for Mother Shipton: not a very satisfying account, but perhaps sufficient to leave one at least informed and therefore able to answer questions. Moreover, it is unlikely that anyone else in the audience will have any more information than this.
     Another interesting prediction uttered in 1737 by the poet Thomas Gray who is probably best known for his "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" appeared in a poem under the title "Luna Habitabilis". The portion of the text which is of interest here reads as follows:

When thou shalt lift thine eyes
To watch a long drawn battle in the skies,
While aged peasants, too amazed for words,
Stare at the flying fleets of wond'rous birds:
England, so long the mistress of the sea,
Where wind and waves confess her sovereignty,
Her ancient triumphs yet on high shall bear
And reign, the sovereign of the conquered air.

    This prediction, equally remarkable though it is, considering the date (and in this case undoubtedly authentic), might still very well be the result of a perceptive mind reflecting upon the future in the light of technical advances which were beginning to appear as the result of scientific inquiry even in those days. It is quite analogous to what Aldous Huxley has done in his Brave New World, and George Orwell in his 1984. Each of these is a logical extension of present trends rather than prophetic in the biblical sense. As such, the authors took little risk on the whole in making them, for "coming events cast their shadows before."
     By contrast, there are biblical predictions so specific in detail and so far removed from being merely logical extensions of the present, that only God, or someone who has opened his mind to another source of inspired knowledge that is wholly evil, would risk making them.
     This distinction is a very important one. Yet it must be admitted that there have been examples of quite specific predictions made by gypsies (and others who obtain a livelihood by such means) which must be acknowledged. It would probably be wrong to attempt to explain -- and almost inevitably to "explain away" -- all the predictions of this nature that might be brought forward for discussion. However, not infrequently, if examined carefully they are found to bear the marks of very shrewd guesses made on the basis of information obtained from the listener without his being altogether aware of it. Let me give one illustration and comment upon it in this light.

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    In her Memoires the Comtesse de Boigne (vol.2, pp.322-25) set forth a striking narrative which she received from her father, the Marquis d'Osmond (French ambassador to Great Britain), who was intimately acquainted with the Chevalier de X----, of whom she wrote, he being fully cognizant of the facts. The chevalier was lieutenant colonel of the regiment which the marquis joined in his youth. A man of striking personality and most amiable disposition, he was adored by his regiment; and being a relative of the marquis' family, the young officer and he were close friends from the first. When camping in a small German village during the Seven Years' War, a gypsy was brought into the officers' saloon after dinner. At first the chevalier remonstrated with his fellow officers, but finally yielded and allowed the gypsy to inspect his hand. After a close scrutiny she said, "You will advance rapidly in your military career; you will make a marriage beyond your hopes; you will have a son whom you will not see; and you will die from a shot before you have reached your fortieth year."
     The Chevalier de X____, continued Madame de Boigne, attached no importance to these prognostications. However, when in a few months he obtained two successive promotions due to his brilliant
conduct in the war, he recalled to his comrades the words of the fortuneteller. They recurred to his memory also when he married, some years afterwards, a wealthy young lady of good family.
     His lady being near her confinement, he obtained leave of absence to join her. The evening before he set out he said: "My faith! All that the sorceress said is not true. I shall be forty in five days. I leave tomorrow, and there is little likelihood of a gunshot in perfect peace!"
     He was detained on the way by an accident to the carriage in which he was travelling. He was invited by the officers of the garrison of the town, in which he was thus forced to remain a few hours, to join a hunting party, and he was shot by accident. He was badly wounded, though not mortally. While he lay under the surgeon's care a letter came for him, saying that his wife had been safely delivered of a boy. "Ah!" he cried, "the cursed sorceress was right! I shall not see my son!" He was attacked with sudden convulsions. Tetanus followed, and twelve hours afterward he expired just as predicted. His friends explained the end by the effect which the remembered prediction had upon his mind. But no such explanation seems possible of the other four predicted events -- his rapid promotion, his fortunate marriage, the birth of a son whom he did not see, and his receiving the gunshot wound.
     By way of comment on this story, and many others like it, I should like to make a slight excursion. Such a digression is allowable in this context only because it is not expected that the reader will use it for any other purpose than to stimulate his own thinking around the problem.

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    It is commonly acknowledged that women rather than men are gifted with a certain sense of premonition. Sometimes such premonitions are exceedingly specific. Although we shall run the risk of causing offense, a question may be asked, the answer to which might have considerable significance. The question is, Has there ever been a class pf male witches? Have they traditionally always been female: and are they not always such in the Old Testament?
     Primitive witch doctors might seem to be a contradiction of this statement, but actually they do not exist as fortunetellers at all. They are primarily concerned with the past and the present -- not the future. The very idea of treating such a subject seriously may seem ridiculous, yet just by asking the question some further light may be obtained. As far as I know, the oracles of classical antiquity were female, and indeed one wonders whether the term priestess was not largely reserved in those days for women who had proved themselves
to be possessors of a feminine intuition of unusual power and to some extent under control. We do not at all understand such powers; but if the stern warnings against resorting to them in the Old Testament have any meaning at all, they are evidence of real danger because of a real power. Why this should be largely if not entirely a feminine art, I have no idea; but I think it very dangerous to resort to people who have such powers -- even in fun.
      Even in those cases where it should be possible for man to predict the course of human events in the immediate future with almost complete certainty, the errors here have usually been considerable. It might be said to be a law that the more clearly the future can be predicted on the basis of present events, the less wise it is to attempt to do it! There are some striking illustrations of this. For example, in 1957 we had a general Federal election in Canada, the results of which were pretty well a foregone conclusion in everyone's mind. The two contending parties of major importance at this time were the Liberals and the Conservatives. The Liberals had been in power for so long that many of us could not remember any other government, and their position seemed absolutely secure. A few days before the election, MacLean's, which is known by many as Canada's national magazine and which is published in Toronto, committed itself to the following statement in an editorial:

     For better or for worse, we Canadians have once more elected one of the most powerful Governments ever created by a free electorate. We have given that Government (the Liberals) an almost unexampled vote of confidence considering the length of its term in office. . . .

    This issue went on the stands even while the results of the voting were coming in. And what were these results? An overwhelming victory of the Conservatives, with such a majority of seats in the House that the

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word landslide would be considered mild as expressive of the change in public opinion! Over against this, we read again the words, "We have given that Government an almost unexampled vote of confidence."
     One can well imagine how the editors of MacLean's felt as they compared their confident prediction with the events of history. They acknowledged the blooper! In the editorial of July 6, 1957, this prophetic howler reappeared as a heading, followed by these words:

    The above collector's item, displayed prominently on our editorial page, began reaching readers of this magazine on the day after the recent federal election. . . .  We consider it worthy of a place in our trade's Chamber of Horrors beside the newspaper headline and magazine covers which in November, 1948, greeted Thomas E. Dewey as the new President of the United States some hours and days after he had been liquidated by Harry S. Truman.


     The reference to Dewey and Truman requires this much explanation for those who are not familiar with the American scene at that time. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, Vice-President Harry Truman naturally assumed his position for what remained of the term of office. Unexpectedly he carried his responsibility remarkably well -- but it was not commonly supposed that he could survive the next presidential election and stay in office. When election time came, many American newspapers were so absolutely certain that his opponent, Thomas Dewey, would be elected that they went ahead and had their front pages, not merely set up, but in many cases actually run off ready to hit the newstands first thing in the morning: and they were completely wrong! Truman became President, and an awful lot of newspaper people worked overtime to get some kind of edition on the newstands which was consonant with the facts. And remember that in both instances the prediction did not have to look ahead for centuries or even days, but merely hours.
     If one can predict the course of natural events with such absolute certainty that eclipses can be clocked with precision almost any number of years ahead and indeed science itself is based upon prediction -- then why can one not do the same with human events, even when only a few hours away? Some have held that history is so determinate that given precise information about the present with no essential details missing, the whole of the future ought to be predictable. However, there is one great difference between history in which men and God take part and that in which only forces of Nature are involved. Natural history is repetitive, not always and absolutely so, but sufficiently so to allow one to extract the laws governing its behaviour to allow their use as a guide for the future. Human history is not repetitive. Like culture, it is cumulative. Experience grows, not only

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in the individual, but in societies and nations, so that no situation can ever be exactly repeated a second time. Consequently there is always something unpredictable, because a new element is added with every consecutive moment of unfolding.
     Although it may appear a simple matter to predict what will happen a few years from now in some particular context, in actual fact it becomes more and more impossible as one tries to be more and more explicit. Generalizations are easy, and their fulfillment can be claimed when events bear any semblance at all to the prediction. But the mind somehow refuses to create any exact picture of the future. It sounds simple, yet the difficulty can be verified experimentally by anybody who is willing to make the attempt to put down on a piece of paper some striking event that he is prepared to state will happen on his own street or in his own home one year from the present -- excluding natural events. If the one-year limit is too restricting, try ten years. If this won't work, enlarge your horizon to include your city, not just your street: or, if you like, take the world. I believe this simple test will demonstrate to any honest mind the sheer impossibility of predicting history in any specific detail unless one falls back upon making pretty safe assumptions about events linked directly to situations of which one is able to make reasonable "extensions". Biblical prophecies are not this, and the distinction is of fundamental importance. God may use, but is not bound by, the present when He predicts the future.

     Before proceeding in the next chapter to those examples of fulfilled prophecies which seem to me to be as nearly as unchallengeable as one could hope for, it may be appropriate to explore for a moment the purposes of prophecy as it appears in Scripture.
     The objective in this Paper is to anticipate as much as possible the kind of questions which an intelligent audience with some hostile members in it might raise in order to confuse the issue. Someone might very well say, "It seems to me that prophecy is a dangerous subject because people abuse it and try to predict the end of the world and ridiculous things like that." This criticism would be just and should be fairly met. Sometimes one can go to the enemy's side and with good humour take his weapons away from him and then, having done so, regain control of the conversation by pointing out what the study of prophecy is not intended to accomplish.
I'm sure prophecy is not intended to tell us the date when the world is coming to an end. As a humourous

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illustration of this, I recall a man who in about 1935 stood on Bloor Street in Toronto handing out leaflets declaring with absolute certainty that the world would end at midnight October 1. An unbelieving - -but worldly wise -- press photographer visited this gentleman's home about 11:30 the same evening and took a photograph of his front door. In the morning paper this picture appeared on the front page, and it showed the empty milk bottles with the proper supply of tickets already laid out on the doorstep to catch the milkman in the early morning hours!
     Prophecy is not for such a purpose as this. But the study of it makes at least three contributions to the life of a Christian. In the first place, the fact of fulfilled prophecy serves as an assurance to the child of God and may serve as an assurance to the unbeliever that God is Master of the events of history. I say "Master" rather than "Determiner", because God sometimes allows events rather than explicitly ordaining them to happen, while remaining complete Master of every circumstance. In Isaiah 41:23 a challenge is made to the pagan world to demonstrate that their deities really are gods by predicting the future successfully. Scripture reads as follows: "Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods." The Lord in the New Testament (John 13:19) in effect made the same claim before the disciples when He said, "Now I tell you before it comes, that when it comes to pass, ye may believe that I am He." The "proof" followed a fulfillment -- not preceded it.
     A second use of prophecy is, to coin a phrase, to "tell the time". Note that this is to allow a reading of the present time -- not the future. This distinction is important, because the attempt to "time" the future by studying prophecy has tended to bring its legitimate study into disrepute. There is a difference between reading the Word of God to discover from it the pattern of future events and subjecting it to microscopic examination in order to time them.
     There is no question that the Lord is coming again and that events happening now give many of us the feeling that his coming may be soon. Nevertheless, the early Christians believed the same thing. Therefore, strictly speaking, I should myself use the word soon with care when making a public statement. The broad principle which Paul lays down is that we should be so cognizant of what Scripture has to say about the purposes of God for this world that when something suddenly happens that is illuminated by Scripture, we should be able to recognize it for what it is and rejoice. It becomes a signpost which is legible only when you

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are abreast of it. But when you are abreast of it, you must be able to read it, since it will not usually be self-evident. The Lord rebuked the Pharisees and the city of Jerusalem, because when the time was right upon them, they simply did not recognize "this time" (Luke 12:56) of all times! 
     There is a third and less happy aspect of this matter, namely, that prophecy is sometimes a "ministry of condemnation." Men and nations may be warned, and if they pay no heed to such warnings, they are without excuse when judgment comes.
     In conclusion one might say that the purpose of prophecy was not at all to enable us to write history before
it happens, but (1) to assure us that God is omnipotent: (2) to give us clues as to where we are in the outworking of God's plan; and (3) to leave men who refuse God's warning without excuse.

     Perhaps it would help in keeping things straight if we were arbitrarily to adopt the semantic principle that we reserve the term prediction for the foretelling of the future by extrapolating from present events, and prophecy when the prevision of the future in no way depends upon the course of current events. Strictly speaking, then, prediction could be the work of man without reference to divine inspiration, whereas prophecy would be something that only men inspired by the Holy Spirit could presume to do. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

 

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