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Significant Scots
Robert Fleming


FLEMING, ROBERT, an eminent divine and theological writer, was the son of the Rev. Robert Fleming, a clergyman, first at Cambuslang, and afterwards at Rotterdam, and author of a well known work, entitled "The Fulfilling of the Scriptures." The subject of this memoir received his education partly in his native country, and partly in the universities of Leyden and Utrecht. He first officiated as a clergyman to the English congregation at Leyden, and afterwards he succeeded to the church at Rotterdam, where his father died in 1694. In the year 1698, he removed to London, to settle as pastor of the Scottish congregation to Lothbury; not only at the earnest invitation of the people, but by the desire of king William, with whom he had formed an intimacy in Holland. This monarch used frequently to send for Fleming, to consult with him upon Scottish affairs; an intercourse conducted, at the desire of the divine, with the greatest secrecy.

Fleming, though a dissenter from the church of Scotland, as now established was an admirer of her fundamental and original institution. It was not inconsistent with this profession, that he zealously upheld hereditary monarchy as principle in government. Popery in the church, and tyranny in the state, were what he most detested. In personal character, Fleming was a pious, mild, and affable man. In learning, he stood very high, being conversant not only with the fathers and councils, and the ecclesiastical and civil historians, but with the Oriental languages, the Jewish Rabbi, and the whole circle of polite authors ancient and modern. On account of his amiable manners and extensive knowledge, he was held in great esteem both by the foreign universities, and by the most learned persons at home. The archbishop of Canterbury, and many other eminent dignitaries of the English church, extended their friendship to him. By the dissenting clergymen of the city, though connected with a different national church, he was chosen one of the preachers of the merchants’ Tuesday lecture at Salters’ hall. Lord Carmichael, the secretary of state for Scotland, offered him the office of principal of the university of Glasgow, which he declined, from conscientious scruples.

Fleming published various works in divinity; but the most remarkable was a discourse, printed in 1701, on " the Rise and Fall of the Papacy." Like many other sincerely pious men of that age, he was deeply afflicted by the position in which the protestant religion stood in respect of the papacy, threatened as Great Britain was, by the power of France, and the designs of a catholic claimant of the throne. Proceeding upon the mysteries of the Apocalypse and other data, he made some calculations of a very striking nature, and which were strangely verified. On the subject of the pouring out of the fourth vial, he says: - "There is ground to hope, that, about the beginning of another such century, things may again alter for the better, for I cannot but hope that some new mortification of the chief supporters of antichrist will then happen; and perhaps the French monarchy may begin to be considerably humbled about that time: that, whereas the present French king takes for his motto, Nec pluribus impar, he may at length, or rather his successors, and the monarchy itself, (at least before the year 1794,) be forced to acknowledge, that, in respect to neighbouring potentates, he is even singulis impar.

"But as to the expiration of this vial," he continues, "I do fear it will not be until the year 1794. The reason of which conjecture is this – that I find the pope got a new foundation of exultation when Justinian, upon his conquest of Italy, left it in a great measure to the pope’s management, being willing to eclipse his own authority to advance that of this haughty prelate. Now, this being in the year 552, this, by the addition of 1260, reaches down to the year 1811; which, according to prophetical account, is the year 1794. And then I do suppose the fourth vial will end and the fifth commence, by a new mortification of the papacy, after this vial has lasted 148 years; which indeed is long in comparison with the former vials; but if it be considered in relation to the fourth, fifth, and sixth trumpets, it is but short, seeing the fourth lasted 190 years, the fifth 302, and the sixth 393."

It is important to observe, that Fleming immediately subjoins, that he gave "his speculations of what is future, no higher character than guesses." He adds: "therefore, in the fourth and last place, we may justly suppose that the French monarchy, after it has scorched others, will itself consume by doing so; its fire and that which is the fuel that maintains it, resting insensibly till towards the end of this century, as the Spanish monarchy did before, towards the end of the sixteenth age."

In the month of January, 1793, when Louis XVI. was about to suffer on the scaffold, the apparent predictions of Fleming came into notice in the British newspapers. Again, in 1848, the attempt to liberate Italy, and the temporary flight of the pope, attracted attention to Fleming’s very remarkable calculation as to the time of the pouring out of the fifth vial. "This judgment," says he, "will probably begin about the year 1794, and expire about the year 1848; . . . .for I do suppose that, seeing the pope received the title of supreme bishop no sooner than the year 606, he cannot be supposed to have any vial poured out upon his seat immediately (so as to ruin his authority so signally as this judgment must be supposed to do) until the year 1848, which is the date of the 1260 years in prophetical account, when they are reckoned from the year 606."

The anxiety of this worthy man respecting the fate of protestantism and the Hanover succession, at length brought on a disease which obstructed his usefulness, and threatened his life. Though he recovered from it, and lived some years, his feeble constitution finally sank under his grief for the loss of some dear friends, the death of some noble patriots, the divisions amongst protestants, and the confederacy of France and Rome to bind Europe in chains. He died May 24, 1716.


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