Signs of the Times – Maps and charts of history and prophecy

Signs of the Times Maps and charts of history and prophecy

A magnificent chart, A Prophetical Stream of Time (1849), acquired for the Christian Brethren Archive in 2022, is generating renewed interest in Brethren thinking about ‘End Times’ or the end of the world, as proposed in the Christian Scriptures.    

Since the Reformation, prophetic charts have been used to teach the chronology of Scripture (God’s word). The biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, with their mysterious prophecies of the future, have posed a particular challenge to readers throughout the ages. Attempts to understand the texts’ predictions have led commentators to break the books down into highly decorated and original charts which set out both key historical events, and future fulfilments.   

Image of the Antichrist from The Antichrist, Beatus on the Apocalypse (193v), 12th century.
The Antichrist, Beatus on the Apocalypse (193v), Latin MS 8, 12th century.

In its two hundred years of history, the Brethren movement has become well-known for the interest of many of its leaders in the prophetic Scriptures.

A Prophetical Stream of Time, chart by Sir Edward Denny C.1849.
A Prophetical Stream Of Time; or An Outline of God’s Dealings With Man, From The Creation To The End Of All Things, [1849].

Created by Sir Edward Denny (1796-1879), an Anglo-Irish baronet and composer of hymns. This early chart is a basic outline of the ages of biblical history in which Denny formulates what had been plainly laid down by the founder of the Exclusive Brethren movement, John Nelson Darby, in several early tracts and lectures. The drawing of the chart is attributed to Denny’s friend, the artist John Jewell Penstone (1817-1902), also of a Brethren background. Penstone was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite artists.

Denny wrote a book of the same title as a key to understanding his chart. Charts were often designed as an insert in the flap of a book such as Denny’s, so they could be removed and consulted separately or carried within a personal Bible. 

Premillennialism, the belief that the world will get worse until Christ returns to set up a visible, thousand-year reign of peace, had fallen out of favour in Christian thought for 1,500 years until around 1830, when the charismatic John Nelson Darby (1800-82) developed a belief, which he called ‘dispensationalism’, the division of history into eras or dispensations in which God acts in specific ways at specific times, culminating in the ‘End Times’. 

God's own plan of the ages, pictorial chart. The Witness magazine, 1934.
God’s Own Plan of The Ages. Published in the Open Brethren magazine, The Witness, January 1934.

Centre is the statue from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the biblical book of Daniel. The territorial range of the empires is depicted on the left. To the right are images of the terrifying beasts from Daniel, representing those empires. Below is the revived Roman Empire, depicted as a confederacy of ten kings drawn from the biblical book of Revelation. 

Darby’s dispensationalism involved a novel method of biblical interpretation, which consisted of a strict literalism, the absolute separation of Israel and the Church into two distinct peoples of God, and the separation of The Rapture (an end-time event when all Christian believers who are alive, along with believers who have already died, will be raised up to meet the Lord in the air, as described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5: 13-17) from Christ’s Second Coming which would occur later.

A Chart on the Course of Time by A.E. Booth, 1896.
A. E. Booth, A Chart on the Course of Time from Eternity to Eternity, originally published in 1896 by the Loiseaux Brothers, Bible Truth Depot, New York, USA.

Denny’s A Prophetical Stream Of Time chart was modified in 1896 by Albert Edward Booth (1860-1953), a Canadian itinerant preacher. A Chart on the Course of Time from Eternity to Eternity has remained in print and is used around the world as a teaching aid to give a clearer understanding of the timing suggested by Scripture, the relationship of one event to another, and of Dispensational Truth. 
Some of the maps of prophecy and history currently on display in the Rylands Gallery at The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, until 11 November 2023.

Signs of the Times event, 31 March
Led by historians Professor Crawford Gribben, Queen’s University, Belfast, and Dr Andrew Crome, Manchester Metropolitan University, this free public event provides a unique opportunity to see first-hand some of the mysterious maps of history and prophecy in the Special Collections of The University of Manchester Library and to get an overview of their history and purpose. Signs of the Times will discuss texts and images of apocalyptic imagery from the 8th century to the present day.

Join us in what promises to be a fascinating discussion!

This event has been made possible with funding from the John Rylands Research Institute.

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