Page images
[ocr errors]

Heaven is the Church general ; the same as the holy, city, mentioned in the last chapter. The woman is the spiritual church, consisting of true believers ; the same as the temple, and the two witnesses. And the part of heaven, occupied by the dragon, is the nominal church of the Apostacy; the same as the outer court trodden under foot by the Gentiles, and as the great scarlet whore, hereafter inentioned by the Apostle as riding triumphantly upon the ten-horned beast.

The woman is represented, as being clothed with the Sun ; to denote that her spiritual nakedness is only clothed by the righteousness of Christ : as standing upon the Moon, which, like herself, is a symbol of the Church ; to mark, that she shines only with a borrowed light, being naturally a dark opaque body :* and as wearing a crown of twelve stars ; to shew, that, as the Church is a “crown of rejoicing”+ to the Apostles, so the Apostles are the brightest crown of the Church.

The dragon, as the Apostle himself teacbeth us, is that old serpent, called the devil and satan.He is here represented with seven heads and ten horns, to shew us by whose visible agency he should persecute the woman ; namely by that of the seven-headed and tenhorned beast mentioned in the next chapter : and he is

just observed, must be either successive or parallel to each other. This being the case, if Bp. Newton makes the third chapter succeed the second, he ought likewise te make the second succeed the first, and the fourth the third : instead of which he selects one of the middle chapters of the book, and makes it precede all the otbers, wbich he supposes to run parallel to each other. This he does in direct opposition, both to the plain language, and the plain tenor, of the little book. Its three first chapters respectively declare, that they treat of the events of the 1260 years : Rev. xi. 2, 3. xii

. 6, 14. xiii. 5.) hence it is evident, that they must be parallel, not successive, to each other. As for tbe last chapter, (Rev. xiv.) though no such declaration is explicitly inade respecting it, yet its contents, as Bp. Newton rightly observes, sufficiently shew, that "ic delineates, by way of opposition, the state of the true Church daring the same period, its struggles and contests with the beast, and the judgments of God upon its enemies.” On the whole, I think it abundantly evident, that all the four ebapters of the little book run parallel to each other : consequently tbe second of them can have no connection with the age of Constantine.

* Bp. Newton supposes the moon here to mean the Jewish new moons and festivals as well as all sublunary things : but I cannot find, that this interpretation at all callies with the general analogy of symbolical language. When the Sun means a temporal sovereign ; the Moon, as Sir Isaac Newton very justly observes, and as I have stated in my chapter upon symbols, is “put for the body of the common people, considered as the kirg': wife :" when the Sun is Christ; the Moon will, in a similar manner, signify bis mystival wife ibe Church.

+ 1 Thess. ï. 19.

said to be in heaven, because the empire, which he used as his tool, made profession of Christianity ; and therefore constituted part, although an apostate part, of the visible Church general.*

As he is described with seven heads and ten horns in allusion to the first apocalyptic beast, or the Papal Roman empire : so he is said likewise to have a tail in reference to the corrupt superstition so successfully taught by the second apocalyptic beast, or, as he is elsewhere styled, the false prophet. With this tail he draws the third part of the stars of heaven, and casts them down to the earth : in other words, he causes those Christian bishops, whose sees lay in the Roman Empire, † to apostatize from the purity of the apostolic faith. The appointed time, during which he is permitted to reign, is the 1260 years of the great Apostacy : hence the woman is said to flee from his face, during precisely that period, into the wilderness, as Elijah heretofore did from the face of Ahab : and there, in the midst of the spiritual barrenness which spreads far and wide around her, she is fed with the heavenly manna of the word in her prepared place ; as Elijah was, in the waste and howling desert, by the ravens.

Thus far the prophecy is sufficiently easy of interpretation, but the character of the man-child is attended with wonderful difficulties. That he must be Christ in some sense, is manifest, as Mr. Mede very justly observes : I but the matter is, how we are to interpret his character, so as to make it accord with the general tenor of the prediction. It seems at once extremely harsh, and altogether incongruous with the universal phraseology of Scripture, to suppose that the absolutely literal

It is observable, that our reformers never thought of unchurching the church of Rome ; though they freely declared it to have “ erred, not only in living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.” Hence, while they rejected its abominations, they did not scruple to derive from it their line of episcopal and sacerdotal ordination ; well knowing, that boliness of office is a perfectly distinct thing from boliness of character, and that the consecration of a Judas was no less valid than that of a Paul or Peter.

+ We have already seen, that the Roman Empire is frequently represented in the Revelation as being a third part of the symbolical Universe.

* “ Cum verba sint Christi periphrasis, necesse est ut iisdem Christus aliquis des signetur.” Comment. Apoc, in loc.

Christ can be intended by this symbol ; for our Lord is invariably represented as the husband, never as the son, of his Church. Hence Mr. Mede conceives, and perhaps not without reason, that the mystic Christ is here meant, or Christ considered in his members ; in other words, that by the man-child we are to understand the whole body of the faithful, or the spiritual children of the Church. Thegreatest difficulty however yet remains. Supposing this interpretation of the symbol to be the right one, how are we to interweave it with tlie prediction, so as to make them properly harmonize together ? Mr. Mede believes the pains of the woman previous to her parturition to denote the persecutians of the Church during the days of paganism ; and the catching up of the child to the throne of God to signify the introduction of the Christians into sovereign power by the conversion of the Roman empire under Constantine. This interpretation however both completely violates (as I have already observed) the chronology of the prophecy, by carrying us back to a period long prior to the commencement of the 1260 yeurs ; and, in other respects likewise, is very far from being unexceptionable. If the manchild denote the whole body of Christians, why should they be said to be born more in the age of Constantine than in any other age? And, if numbers of spiritual children still continue to be born to the Church by the laver of regeneration, how can the pangs of the woman signify the pagan persecutions ?

Mr. Lowman's scheme appears to me liable to much fewer objections than Mr. Mede's. Like myself he confines the whole war between the woman and the drag. on to the period of the. 1260 years, instead of going back to the days of primitive Christianity, and the age of Constantine ; and most justly observes, that the prediction "plainly describes an afflicted and persecuted state of the Church in general, during this period.” Having taken this ground, which to myself at least appears absolutely impregnable inasmuch as it is twice so particularly marked out by the Apostle, * he paraphrases

* Rev. xii. 6, 14,

the passage relative to the birth of the man-child, as fole lows. The woman ready to be delivered brought forth a mun-child, to intimate that the Christian Church should be continued by a constant succession of converts, notwithstanding all opposition. Thus Christ's kingdom should prevail over all enemies, and break all opposition, as the ancient oracles prophesied concerning him, That he should rule all nations as with a sceptre of iron. As soon as this child was born, I beheld it caught up to God and his throne, to intimate God's care and protection of the true Christian Church, and the safety of the Church in God's protection.”*

This exposition is incomparably the best that I have hitherto met with. In the first place, Mr. Lowman assigns the prophecy to its right chronological era ; namely the period of the 1260 years. In the next place, he very justly, I think, supposes the travailing of the woman to “mean her fruitfulness and to denote the number of converts to true religion ; rather than the afflictions of the Church on account of her profession," as Mr. Mede imagines. And he lastly adopts the most natural interpretation of the catching up of the man-child to the throne of God; namely, that it signifies the superintending care with which the Almighty for ever guards his faithful people. Yet even this exposition is not free from every objection. The question will still recur, Why should the woman be represented as bringing forth the man-child immediately before her flight into the wilderness during the 1260 days, rather than at any other era ? Did she bear no spiritual children before that era ? Has she borne none since ? If the text indeed will sanction the gloss which Mr. Lowman has put upon it, that the bringing forth of the man-child intimates that the Christian

Lowman's Paraph. in loc. He adds in a note, “ Grotius supposes, I think, with great probability, that these expressions, And ber bild was caught up unto God and bis throne, are an allusion to the preservation of Joash, in the time of Athaliah's usurpation, when she put to death all the rest of the royal family. (2 Kings si. 2, 3.) Jebosbebab took Foasb the son of Abaziah, and stole bim from among the king's sons abich were slain-And he was bid in tbe bouse of the Lord six years. He was kept safe in one of the chambers of the temple, till he was brought out by Jeboiada the high-priest, and restored to the kingdom of David. Thus the true worshippers of God shall not all be destroyed by the enemies of religion ; some, like Joash, shall be kept safe, as if in heaven, the true temple, till they shall appear publicly with victory over their enemies."

Church should be continued by a constant succession of converts, I would without hesitation adopt the whole of his exposition ; but I am not perfectly satisfied, that such a gloss is allowable. Let every person however judge for himself. The symbol of the man-child has always appeared to me by far the most difficult in the whole Apocalypse ; whether we consider its general interpretation, or its particular application to the prophecy in question. Hitherto I have met with no exposition, that gives me entire satisfaction : but, at the same time, I readily confess, that, after much thought and labour bestowed upon the subject, I can produce nothing that pleases me better, or indeed so well, as this exposition of Mr. Lowman.* In short, I consider the symbol of the man-child as a complete crux criticorum. Much has been written on the subject, but I have read nothing that is wholly unobjectionable. It is possible, that some future commentator may be more successful in his inquiries than those who have preceded him.

But, whatever difficulty there may be in satisfactorily interpreting the symbol of the man-child, every other symbol and every other particular in this vision are sufficiently plain. The whole prophecy relates to the persecution of the true Church, by the papal Roman empire under the influence of the devil, during the allotled period of three times and a half or 1260 days.

“ And there was war in heaven : Michael and his angels fought against the dragon : and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not ; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon

* The Jesuit Cornelius à Lapide supposes, like Mede and Lowman, that tbe mar child denotes the faitbful people of God. " Propriè et genuinè, filius masculus est populus fidelis et sanctus, quem Christo parit Ecclesia.” (Comment. in Apoc. in loc.) The objection, which I urge jointly to the opinion of Mede and Lowman, he rather cuts through, than answers. The Church," says he, “ brings forth, and chiefly in the end of the world will bring forth, a masculine offspring to Christ, that is the faith. ful.This however by no means meets the question. The point is, if the man-child denote the whole body of the faithful, why is he said to be born at one era rather than at another ? The prophecy does not represent the woman as incessantly bringing him forth. I once thought, that the man-child or the mystic Christ might denote tbe word of God, both Cbrist and the Scriptures being equally so denominated by a conversion of terms not unusual among the sacred writers ; and i bestowed some la. bour upon an attempt to prove this point : but I wholly failed of success, and I am convinced that such an exposition is altogether utenable.

« PreviousContinue »