H. GRATTAN GUINNESS:
Preacher, Teacher and Astronomer
J. L. Haynes
Can the progress of science be facilitated by a reverence of Gods Word, and a familiarity with its contents? There is some evidence in history that this is the case. The famous Irish revivalist, theologian, missionary, and amateur astronomer, Henry Grattan Guinness, made some remarkable discoveries that were made possible because of his knowledge of the Bible and his obedience to its divine Author.
Many people today have never heard of Henry Grattan Guinness, so it might be difficult at first to understand why I call him famous. To be sure, the Guinness name is well known, but more for the legendary beer (or stout as they say) than for ministry under the influence of a different kind of spirit. However, as Michele Guinness, author of The Guinness Spirit writes,
In 1880 few ordinary people in England would have heard of Lord Iveagh, owner of the Guinness brewery. Everyone would have heard of Henry Grattan Guinness, the legendary preacher, whose influence was more extensive than Guinness beer imports, the catalyst for most major faith missionary societies, Barnardos Homes, the World Council of Churches, A. B. Simpson and New York Bible College (not to mention the Missionary Alliance denomination of churches-J.H.), the Moody Bible College, to name but a few (p.4).
Henry Grattan Guinness was born in 1835. The year of his birth, like the year of his death, 1910, was marked by the visit of Halleys Comet: a propitious omen for a future astronomer (51, 405). It was in the field of astronomy that Henry would eventually be led, by his study of Bible prophecy, to a remarkable discovery that, for him, supplied proof that the God of the Bible is the Creator of the Cosmos.
By the time Henry was 22, he was already gaining a reputation as a preacher. He was tall, good looking, passionate and eloquenta combination that made him a serious risk to unattached young ladies (88). Some suspected that the two famous preachers of the previous century, Wesley and Whitefield, were about to be paralleled by Spurgeon and Guinness (89). After his death, he would be hailed as one of the three greatest preachers of the nineteenth century along with D. L. Moody and Charles H. Spurgeon (The Guinness Legend, 281).
In 1864, Henry and his wife, Fanny, decided to move to Dublin to establish a missionary-training school. What motivated Henry to give up preaching and take up teaching was a complex series of events including a disappointing preaching tour in America, and the publication five years earlier of Darwins On the Origin of the Species. Guinness saw the need for men and women to be properly equipped and trained in the Word of God. The need was for a Christian defence, led by Christian missionaries, to counter the growing threat of evolutionary, atheistic theories.
Eventually the Guinness missionary-training project would blossom into the prominent East London Training Institute and Harley College. But its beginnings were humble, with evening classes attended by just eight men, four evenings per week. As a result of their concern to battle the effects of Darwinism, those early classes were based on the text of Paleys Evidences of Christianity (Spirit, 131). Already Henrys life and ministry was showing an interest in applying Biblical thinking to areas of science. This would prove to be a key interest throughout the remainder of his life.
At the Guinness invitation, Hudson Taylor travelled to Dublin to share his vision with the little school. Henry was so moved, that he pledged to move his family to China to join the pioneering Gospel work. Wisely, Hudson Taylor urged Guinness to stay in Britain, to train missionaries for the work overseas. This was a disappointment for Henry and Fanny, but they took it in stride. What followed was three years of preaching, and missionary effort, first in England, and then in Paris.
While on holiday in Spain, Henry had a life-changing experience. He heard of a discovery, made by a group of workmen building a road, of a mass grave of ashes and bones: victims of the Spanish Inquisition. Visiting the site, Henry was moved to tears in righteous indignation at the crimes of the Roman Catholic Church. The events of the next few years, together with his visit to the Quemadero (the mass grave of victims of the Inquisition), would awaken a passion for the prophetic word of God.
Henry and Fanny moved their family back to England as France and Prussia moved toward war. The day before France had declared war on Prussia, the Pope declared his infallibility (145). Henry saw this as the height of blasphemy. Following Frances declaration of war, the French troops at the Vatican were called home. This provided an opening for Victor Emannuel, King of Italy, to unite Italy by seizing Rome from the hands of the Pope. The year 1870 saw the end of the temporal power of the Papacy, and an altered Europe. In Henrys eyes these were events of apocalyptic proportions (145).
Back in England, Henry began to seriously study Bible prophecy. His study gave birth to his first book, The Approaching End of the Age, and a writing career which would exercise a profound influence on government policy in the Middle East even after his death (146). In the following years, the Guinness renewed their training of missionaries, establishing the East London Training Institute. Henry wrote several more books on prophecy, many of which enjoyed huge success. It was his study of prophecy which led him to discover a new passion for astronomy.
Guinness begins the third section of his monumental The Approaching End of the Age with an investigation into soli-lunar cycles and their relation to the chronology of history (384). He introduces the subject as follows:
The three great tasks assigned to the sun and moon in the first of Genesis are to rule, to give light, and to divide; to mark out the boundaries that separate day from night, month from month, year from year, appointed time from appointed time. The sun and moon are thus constituted not merely beneficent fountains of light to a dark world, and all-influential rulers over our globe, but also principal hands of the divinely constructed and divinely appointed chronometer, by which, in all its course, terrestrial time is measured.
Nor does the record imply, that this chronometer is to be used by man alone! Let them be for signs and for seasons, or appointed times, is an expression which may legitimately include a fact, which it is our object in the present chapter to demonstrate. God, who assigned to these worlds their paths and their periods, has regulated all his majestic providential and dispensational dealings with mankind, by the greater revolutions of the same chronometer, whose lesser revolutions mark our days and months and years. That chronometer is adjusted to measure periods which are incalculable by human intelligence, and which border on infinity. (384-385)
Guinness explains in the following pages, that different units are needed to measure different spans of time. For instance, a day is appropriate for certain lengths of time, but it is awkward and inefficient to measure years by units of days, e.g., 3650 days, instead of 10 years. God has ordained, created, established, or appointed, the movements of the sun and the moon, and even the other planets in our solar system, to measure other larger periods of time. In the use of the phrase appointed times he hints at his thesis that foreordained movements of human history are in accordance with a cosmic chronology built into Creation and revealed in Bible prophecy.
One key measurement is, according to Guinness, the soli-lunar cycle. This is not just a revolution of the sun, or a revolution of the moon, but a cycle that harmonizes both. It is worth pointing out at a fact that is so well known, so as to be easily overlooked in its significance for measuring time: that one revolution of the Earth around the sun very nearly approximates 12 revolutions of the moon around the earth, but not exactly. In one month, the Earth revolves on its axis approximately 30 times. The exact time of one month however, is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. Similarly, the exact measurement of the Earths orbit around the sun is 12 months, 10 days, 21 hours (or 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 49 seconds) (390).
As ancient civilizations developed the calendar to mark off and measure the passing of time, what seemed like close-enough measurements must have led to an increasing accumulated error as the slight differences in actual days, months, and years grew to become significant differences over the passing of several years. Therefore, in order to harmonize the calendar measurements, these periods were properly measured in fractions. Otherwise, the difficulties in a calendar that was so inaccurate would make its practical use impossible.
If it was at one time decided to celebrate the new year in the spring, sixteen years afterwards, new years day would fall in the autumn, and in thirty-three years it would have worked its way all through the seasons, back to spring again (390). By inserting days at given intervals, such as an extra month every third year, the impracticality of the natural calendar could be remedied (Maunder, 2). This is called intercalation.
A major reform of the calendar was needed, however, and in the year 45 B.C., the Julian Calendar was instituted. This system adopted months that alternated between 30 and 31 days, except for February which had 28 days, and every fourth year 29 days. This was by far the most superior calendar yet developed, but it still had significant inaccuracies: it was longer than the actual solar year by 11 minutes and 11 seconds (391). In the space of 130 years, this error equalled one day. By the 16th century, the Vernal Equinox, used as a basis for determining the day of Easter, was found to occur 10 days earlier than expected as a result of the accumulation of this error.
The Gregorian Calendar was instituted in 1582 to correct this problem. However, it was still impossible to determine when the full moons would fall, which was also necessary for determining the day for Easter. This was solved by adopting the calculation of epacts, that is, the number of days by which the moon is late each year, following a starting point when the new moon occurs on a given day. By harmonizing these epacts with the 19 year soli-lunar cycle named for Meton, the difficulty was resolved, and the calendar we use today was established (393).
The Gregorian Calendar is so accurate that it would only produce an accumulated error of 1 day after more than one thousand years. It is interesting to note, however, that the Persian astronomer, Omar, in 1079, proposed a calendar which was much simpler than that of Gregory, and much more accurate: producing an accumulated error of 1 day in 5000 years (394). The significance of this fact is to point out that we do not, in the western world, use the Gregorian Calendar merely because it is accurateif that were the case, we would long ago have adopted Omars calendar. The reasons for the long survival of the Gregorian Calendar have as much to do with the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, as with science (The Essence of the Church Calendar).
The brief history of the calendar, as outlined above, serves to illustrate the enormous difficulty in the history of science that has accompanied the measurement of mere days, months and years. The kinds of artificial harmonizations that have been used in the past serve well for such short periods of time, but what about much longer ones? Guinness writes,
The Metonic Cycle is such a soli-lunar cycle. The cycle, discovered by Meton, is a 19 year cycle corresponding the 235 lunar months, over which phases of the moon almost land on the same dates of the year. This cycle was the basis for the Greek calendar (Moon Phases). For centuries, the Metonic cycle remained the primary soli-lunar cycle used by astronomers because of its relative accuracy.
Before proceeding to outline the discoveries of Guinness and others related to soli-lunar cycles, it will be necessary to define the basic types of lunar revolutions called months, since the terminology itself, to the uninitiated, can be very confusing.
- A Sidereal month is one revolution of the moon around the earth, relative to the position of the stars. In other words, lining up the moon to stars that are in a fixed position in space, relative to the earth at least, the time it takes the moon to return to precisely that same position, is called a sidereal month.
- A Synodic month is one revolution of the moon around the earth, relative to the positions of the earth and the sun. We on earth observe one synodic month from new moon to new moon, or from full moon to full moon.
- An Anomalistic month is the time it takes for the moon to return to the same place in its elliptical orbit of the earth. Since the elliptical orbit itself is in motion, the anomalistic month varies in length over time.
- A Nodical month is a little bit harder to imagine, so I have included a diagram. This kind of month plays an important role in the occurrence of eclipses. It is the time it takes the moon to return to a particular point in its orbital plane. The earth, in its orbit around the sun, orbits on a plane (A). The moon, in its orbit around the earth, also orbits on a plane, but this plane is on an angle to that of the earth around the sun (B). For an eclipse to occur, the moon must be full (for a lunar eclipse) or new (for a solar eclipse); [and] the moon must be at a node, i.e., it must be cutting the ecliptic, the plane in which the earth revolves about the sun Hence it is evident that eclipses will recur only at intervals which are synodic nodical cycles (Ridgway, 4).
In the middle of the 17th century, a Swiss astronomer, Jean Philippe Loys de Cheseaux, discovered, for the first time, a connection between soli-lunar cycles and Bible prophecy. De Cheseaux is famous for his discovery of two comets, one a six-tailed comet, in the years 1744 and 1746 (Philippe Loys de Cheseaux). The following excerpt from de Cheseauxs book, Memoires posthumes de M. de Cheseaux, published by his sons in 1754, is from his essay Remarques historiques, chronologiques, et astronomiques, sur quelques endroits du livre de Daniel, translated in The Approaching End of the Age:
De Cheseaux lists the four different kinds of cycles connected with the sun, the moon, and the earth, summarised by Guinness as follows:
1. Those harmonizing the solar day and year.
2. Those harmonizing the solar year and lunar month.
3. Those harmonizing the solar day and lunar month.
4. Those harmonizing all three, day, month, and year.
As de Cheseaux explains,
And so he did find a cycle of the second kind, a soli-lunar cycle of 315 years. The previously mentioned Metonic cycle, has, after its span of 19 years, an inaccuracy of .09 days. De Cheseauxs cycle of 315 years, has after that period, an inaccuracy of .12 days (Ridgway, 14-15). Over the same period of 315 years, the Metonic cycles error will accumulate to nearly 1 ˝ days; the error of de Cheseauxs cycle, over the same 315 year period, amounts to only three hours and 24 seconds. De Cheseaux writes, I had no sooner discovered this cycle, than I observed that it was a quarter of the 1260 years of Daniel, and the Apocalypse, and that consequently, this period is itself a soli-lunar cycle (Approaching, 398) .
This 1260 year soli-lunar cycle will see the sun and the moon return to the same point on the ecliptic, from the point of view of the earth, to within ˝ a degree, with less than one hours difference (398). When de Cheseaux realized this, and that the 1260 year period was both an appointed season for earthly political events prophesied in Scripture, and an accurate soli-lunar cycle, he wondered if the 2300 years of Daniel 8, might also be a soli-lunar cycle.
The view that both the 1260 days, and the 2300 days, should be interpreted as years, was assumed by de Cheseaux and Guinness. The passages referring to 1260 days, believed to by identical with 3 ˝ time and 42 months, are Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 11:2, 3; 12:6,14; 13:5. Other notable prophecies believed to be interpreted as a day for a year are, the 2300 days of Dan 8:14; the 70 weeks of Dan 9:24; the 1290 days and 1335 days of Dan 12:11,12; the five months of Rev 9:5; the hour and day and month and year of Rev 9:15; and the 3 ˝ days of Rev 11:9. The hermeneutic of interpreting prophetic chronologies as symbols equalling one prophetic day for an historical year, is a common feature of the historical (or historicist) interpretation of Bible prophecy.
De Cheseaux found that the 2300 years was also a noteworthy soli-lunar cycle. He further noticed that the error of the 2300 year cycle, was nearly identical (by his methods of calculation) to the error of the 1260 year cycle, being -.42 days and -.48 days respectively (Ridgway, 21). This led him to realize that the difference in years between the two cycles, 1040 years, must itself be a nearly perfect cycle. His suspicions turned out to be correct. More importantly though, was the discovery that this 1040 year cycle was of the fourth class of soli-lunar cycles, the kind that harmonized the day, the month, and the year. This cycle is wonderfully accurate, with an error of only +.07 days in 1040 years (Ridgway, 17). He named this cycle, The Daniel Cycle (Approaching, 399).
This discovery of de Cheseauxs was forgotten for about 50 years until first, W. Cunninghame, and then Professor T. Birks of Cambridge, brought it to light again. Guinness comments on his introduction to the Daniel Cycle, as quoted in Dr. Walter Ridgways masters thesis:
Guinness main discoveries were as follows:
1. That 2,300 years is not simply a soli-lunar cycle but a soli-lunar-anomalistic cycle.
2. That astronomy as well as Scripture knows of a 75 year period supplementary to 2,520 years (Ridgway, 66).
This period of 2520 years is called by Guinness, the Times of the Gentiles based on Luke 21:24. It is the full duration of time prophesied in the visions of Nebuchadnezzars statue, in Daniel chapter 2, and Daniels vision of four beasts, in Daniel chapter 7. It is the lifetime, as it were, of the succession of Gentile empires predicted in these visions, the half of which is the 1260 years persecution of the saints by the enemy of Gods people symbolized by the 11th horn of the fourth beast:
In Daniel chapter 12, verses 11 and 12, there is added to this period of 1260 years, in two stages an additional, supplementary period of 75 years. "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days (Daniel 12:11-12 NAS95). Guinness discovered that the difference of 75 years is exactly the epact between 2520 solar and 2520 lunar years. (1290 - 1260 = 30) + (1335 - 1290 = 45) = 75 years) If 2520 years is properly understood to be the duration of the Times of the Gentiles, then the fact of the epact being precisely equal to the supplemental periods added in Daniel 12, may well indicate that the Times of the Gentiles can rightly be interpreted in either solar or lunar years. This was further shown to be the case when, in 1905, the Canadian scientist, Dr. Dawson Bell, discovered that the cyclical periods in the book of Daniel apply not only to solar years and lunar months, but also to lunar years (Ridgway, 68, 72).
Finally, according to Dr. Walter Ridgway, the most interesting of Guinness discoveries was that the hour, day, month and year, of Rev 9:15, is a soli-lunar-nodical cycle. And the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released, so that they would kill a third of mankind (Revelation 9:15 NAS95). Calculating this period on the hermeneutical basis of one prophetic day for an historical year, we arrive at the sum of 391.041 years* (or 391 years and 15 days) (Garrat, 102).
This 391 year soli-lunar-nodical cycle is also fairly accurate, with a soli-lunar error of +.22 days, and a lunar-nodical error of -.19 days. The discovery of this prophetic period as a soli-lunar-nodical cycle is original to Henry Grattan Guinness. In his thesis, Dr. Walter Ridgway explained the marvelous nature of this cycle:
A possible historical fulfillment of the 391 year prophecy in Rev 9:15, can be measured from the commencement of Turkish aggression into Europe, in cooperation with the Catalan Grand Companys attack on Emperor Andronicus in 1308, until the Peace of Karlowitz, on January 26, 1699, marking the end of Turkeys power of offence in Europe, is 391 years (71).
Of the several implications of these discoveries, the most obvious is theological in nature. How could the human authors of the Biblical prophecies have known to use soli-lunar cycles in their predictions? What explanation can be seriously entertained except that the God of the Bible is the Creator of the universe?
Although numbers which happen to be soli-lunar cycles of some accuracy are not very rare, a few things about these Biblical soli-lunar cycles should be pointed out.
- Cycles of the accuracy of the 1040 year soli-lunar cycle are quite rare, occurring only once in 350 years.
- Dr. Dawson Bells discovery, simply put, was that the 1260 year cycle and the 2300 year cycle, both from Daniel, taking the half of the sum (the fractional errors of which nearly form a unity), make a soli-lunar cycle of incredible accuracy. 1780 lunar years are 1727.000236 solar years. This cycle falls short of perfect exactitude by only two hours in its whole period, as shown by the above decimal of a year (.000236) (68).
- There are only five solar year-lunar year cycles shorter than 1000 years, of which 391 years is the most accurate.
- There are 16 cycles of the same kind, shorter than 3000 years: 1727 years being the most accurate as well.
- 391, 486 (the cycle connected with the 70 weeks of Daniel 969 ˝ weeks until Messiah is cut off = 486.5 years), 1260, 2300 and 2520 are all soli-lunar cycles with errors less than one day.
- 1040 years is almost an exact philosophers stone cycle, with only one other that is so short, 706 years, being so close to a perfect year-month-day cycle. 706 years, however, happens to be the sum of 315 (the base of 1260 and 2520) and 391therefore, its connection to the Biblical texts can also be established.
- The odds of any number being a soli-lunar-anomalistic cycle are 1/100. But of the four Biblical cycles, 315, 391, 486, and 2300, two are, in their basic form, anomalistic, while the other two are anomalistic in their fifth multiples (68-70).
Two of the non-theological, practical applications of Guinness work are as follows. In his book Creation Centred in Christ, Guinness presented a remarkable calendar based on the 2300 year cycle, that added one day for correction, every second Jubilee, or 7-year period. This calendar is both accurate and comparatively free of artificial corrections (Maunder, 39).
A second application of Guinness work was also presented to the public in the same book. Guinness devised a table of charts for use in determining equinoxes and eclipses that he sent to the major observatories in the world at that time. I have confirmed that copies of the second volume of his book are still held in the University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy Library, the Observatoire de Paris Library, the Royal Astronomical Society Library, and the U.S. Naval Observatory Library. A sampling of the excerpts from appreciative astronomers, who received copies of his book after its publication, fill 6 pages in his later book, On This Rock. These letters were written by leading astronomers of their day.
Guinness describes this second volume in On This Rock:
The whole of these Tables have been calculated by means of the prophetic Times in the Book of Daniel (150).
The scope and significance of Guinness discoveries, and of his charts, in that pre-computer age, was clearly astronomical. For this work he was admitted as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. It would be difficult to overstate the theological importance of these discoveries (Benson). The discoveries of de Cheseaux, Birks, Guinness, and Dawson Bell, were enabled by familiarity with the prophetic Word of God and confirmed by the scientific methods of the discipline of Astronomy.
Guinness own discoveries were facilitated by the passionate responsiveness to Gods leading demonstrated throughout his ministry. In fact, it was Henry Grattan Guinness obedience to God, and his knowledge of the natural and Biblical revelations of God, that made his scientific discoveries possible. Conversely, his discoveries serve to strengthen later generations of Christians in their faith in, and obedience to, that same Creator God. They establish with some certainty the historical method of prophetic interpretation and the existence, and providence, of the God of Israel whom the Bible reveals.
Benson, Clarence H. The Greatness and the Grace of God Conclusive Evidence That Refutes Evolution. Chicago: Scripture Press. 1953.
Birks, T. Thoughts on the Times and Seasons.
Eric Weinstein's World of Astronomy. "Moon." http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/astronomy/Moon.html
________. "Moon Phases and Cycles"
Garratt, Samuel. A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John, Considered as the Divine Book of History. 3rd Ed. London: Chas. J. Thynne. 1897.
Guinness, H. Grattan. The Approaching End of the Age. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1867.
________. Light for the Last Days. New Edition. Ed. E. P. Cachemaille. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott. 1934.
________. On This Rock. London: Morgan & Scott. 1909.
Guinness, Michele. The Guinness Legend. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1990.
________. The Guinness Spirit. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1999.
Maunder, E. Walter. The Astronomy of the Bible. Book 3, Chas. 4-6. http://www.cwru.edu/cgi-bin/edocs/fetch.pl?item=4146
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'ASTRONOMY, I'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". http://www.studylight.org/enc/isb/view.cgi?number=T910>. 1915.
"Philippe Loys de Cheseaux (May 4, 1718 - November 30, 1751." http://www.seds.org/messier/xtra/Bios/decheseaux.html
Ridgeway, Walter. Soli-Lunar Cycles in Greek Research and Jewish Revelation. Masters Thesis. University of British Columbia. 1945.
"The Essence of the Church Calendar" http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/calsci_ch4.htm
* This is based on the so-called calendar year which is based on the simple usage of 12 months of 30 days each. This is the type of year most indicated in the prophecies: e.g., a time, two times, and half a time = 1260 days; 1260 ÷ 3.5= 360. The actual lunar year is approximately 354 days, using 12 actual months discussed earlier in this paper.