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rusalem was lying in ruins, the Jewish polity had been finally overthrown, and Lesser Asia was filled with the remnants of a dispersed nation. Within a circuit of less than four hundred miles, were seven flourishing Christian churches, which had been planted by the hands of the Apostles, forming, together with the neighbouring churches,* the centre and most important portion of the Christian community. St. John himself, according to the general voice of antiquity, long resided at Ephesus, if he did not close his days there; and these seven churches had, probably, all been favoured with the personal instruction and ministry of the last surviving Apostle. It is not surprising, therefore, that to these churches in particular, the Divine communications contained in this book should have been primarily addressed. But there were other reasons, con. nected with the “ tribulation" under which they were at that time suffering, and the further trials which impended over them, on account of which St. John was directed to shew to them, for the confirmation of their faith, the things wbich should “ shortly come to pass.” The primary design, then, of this prophetical book was, to prepare the minds of those who lived at the commencement of the second century, for “the hour of temptation or trial that was at hand, for events which they were personally to witness; and to incite them to watchfulness, repentance, zeal, and holy perseverance in the prospect of such calamities.
Some expositors, with little propriety, represent the prophetical part of the book as commencing at the fourth chapter, For this arbitrary division, there is no foundation. The several messages to the Seven Churches are strictly prophetical; and the vision which commences in the first chapter, is still continued in the fourth. By disconnecting the different portions of the Revelation, not only is its primary design obscured, but an advantage is given to those who call in question its inspired character. Michaelis, after remarking, that the Author of the Apocalypse expressly declares that it contains things that must shortly come to pass, thus argues. • Consequently, • either a great part of them, I will not say all, must have been • fulfilled, or the Author's declaration, that they should shortly • be completed, is not consistent with matter of fact. It is true, • that, to the Almighty, a thousand years are as one day, and • one day as a thousand years; but, if we therefore explain the • term “ shortly" as denoting a period longer than that which • has elapsed since the time when the Apocalypse was written,
• Colosse and Hierapolis were both in the neighbourhand m67, odicea.
• we sacrifice the love of truth to the support of a precon
ceived opinion. Besides, in reference to God's eternity, not * only seventeen hundred, but seventeen thousand years are • nothing.'* This learned Critic was consequently led to think, that, if we consider the Apocalypse as a divine work, we • must confine our choice,' in reference to the time at which it was written, 'to those dates which precede the commencement • of the Jewish war; for thus only shall we be enabled to shew • that its first prophecies were fulfilled in a short time.' All external evidence, however, is against the supposition which assigns it to so early a date ;t and the German critics who have attempted to point out the accomplishment of the predictions, in the Jewish wars and the times preceding Domitian, have met with insuperable difficulties. Indeed, no reason can be given, why predictions respecting the overthrow of Jerusalem should have been specifically directed to the Christians of Asia Minor; and nothing can be more absurd than the supposition advanced by Harenberg, that the Seven Churches denoted seven synagogues in Jerusalem. The proper answer to the objection urged by Michaelis, would be, that the events in which the members of the Seven Churches were immediately interested, did shortly come to pass in fulfilment of the predictions ;# which events were the commencement of the series more obscurely unfolded in the subsequent parts of the prophecy, and which, from their very nature, could not be completed shortly. The declaration at the commencement and close of the Revelation, is strictly parallel to that which we find recorded in the xxivth chapter of St. Matthew,—that the existing generation should not pass away before the predictions for which they were instructed to prepare should be fulfilled : at the same time, those occurrences were introductory of a train of succeeding events extending to the end of time.
It may, we think, safely be assumed, that this inspired book, as a whole, was delivered to the Asiatic Christians as fraught with important instruction to them, in the first instance ; in the same manner as the book of Isaiah, or that of Ezekiel, was, as a whole, committed to the Jews primarily for their instruction. And it seems to us, that by ascertaining, so far as practicable, with what express design the Revelation was
* Marsh's Michaelis, vol. iv. p. 503. + See Eclectic Review, vol. xxiii. p. 343. Art. Tilloch on the Apocalypse.
# We agree with Archdeacon Woodhouse, that Rev. ii. 10. for this reason cannot refer to the persecution under Diocletian, which did not take place till two centuries after the address to the Smyrnæans. vouchsafed, as it regards those to whom it was first delivered, we shall be most likely to arrive at right views both of the general scope of the Revelation, and of its proper use to ourselves.
With respect to the events which were shortly to come to pass, there can be no question, that the design of the prophetic warning was, as already stated, to incite them to prepare against the approaching trial. And we cannot err in supposing, that one object of the intimations vouchsafed respecting the history of the Church in succeeding ages, was to confirm their faith in the ultimate triumph of that kingdom which cannot be shaken. It is difficult for us, perhaps, adequately to appreciate the consolatory and beneficial effect of such intimations, how general soever and obscure, at such a crisis. To them more especially, the revelation must have been of inestimable value. The glorious vision of the celestial temple with which the fourth chapter opens, and that of the New Jerusalem, which closes the whole, were wonderfully adapted to ani. mate the faith, and to elevate the conceptions of believers, under their tribulation, by affording them a glimpse of the things that are unseen, and of the “ far more exceeding weight” of future glory which should compensate their sufferings. Those parts of the Revelation which are the most obscure to us, the symbolic imagery and the allegorical allusions, must have been to them the most intelligible and obvious; and such representations would have, to their minds, a force and beauty which are in great measure lost upon an English reader. We think it highly probable too, that they would be less liable to mistake the meaning of the prophetic language. For instance, we cannot imagine that the word living creature. (Zwoy) would be of equivocal import to the Christians of those times; or that, as to the events symbolized by the four horses in chap. vi., they would be so far in doubt as to be unable to decide, whether, by the last three, war, famine and pestilence were intended, or persecuting zeal, sacerdotal tyranny, and moral corruption. There are obscurities in the figurative language of prophecy, which the fulfilment of the event predicted is not adapted to remove. Thus, in the prophecies of the Old Testament, which we know to be fulfilled, and the general import of which is clearly ascertained, there are many passages which baffle the Biblical translator and critic, owing to our imperfect acquaintance with the sacred idiom and the allusions present to the mind of the inspired Writer. · Whatever difficulty there *may be in understanding prophecy not yet fulfilled,' remarks Mr. Maitland, I believe I only express the opinion of the • Christian world in general, when I say, that we are warranted
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to hope that we may arrive at some tolerable understanding • of those predictions which have long been accomplished.' And he cites from Mr. Scott, the expression of an opinion, that, when fulfilled, the prediction which is now dark, will • cease to be obscure.' But such an expectation will become unreasonable, if it lead us to anticipate a higher degree of satisfaction on this point, than is now to be obtained in reference to the accomplished predictions of the Old Testament. It must not be forgotten, that the persons to whom the prophecies were originally addressed, were, in some respects, better able than ourselves to judge of the general import of the prophetic language. Were a writer in our own day to predict, that the Crescent should be trampled upon by the Bear, or that the Harp should be torn from the Lion, no one would be at any loss to understand his meaning; but, supposing such events to have taken place, the time might come, when the precise meaning of such phraseology would be doubtful. lo like inanner, we apprehend, much of the figurative language of prophecy, which has become equivocal, was originally clearly understood in its designed import.
To advert again to the prediction contained in 2 Thes. ii., the Apostle says : “ And now ye know what withholdeth." But what they knew, is, to lis, matter of considerable uncertainty. Protestants are, indeed, pretty generally agreed, that the Roman empire is alluded to; the interpretation put upon the passage by Chrysostom, but Calvin rejects it as improbable, Here, then, is an instance of a prediction which has not ceased to be obscure, but has become obscure, subsequently to its fulfilment. Again, in the xxivch chapter of St. Matthew, our Lord declares, that " where the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” The expression appears from Job xxxix. 30, to be proverbial, but it must have been employed in the prediction with a specific reference; and there can be no doubt that the furce and bearing of the declaration were at the time clearly understood. Yet, let any one turn over the pages of different commentators, and they will see, that the meaning of the figure has become extremely uncertain. We must not be surprised, therefore, that the figurative language of the Revelation should now be to us enigmatical, and that a difficulty originating in this circumstance, should attend the interpretation even of those predictions which we know to have been accomplished.
While, however, we are disposed to think, that much that is now obscure in the Revelation, was originally sufficientiy plain and unequivocal, because the figurative language would be a source of little difficulty, we still contend, that the precise nature of the events foretold, would remain in designed concealment, till interpreted by the event. It is one thing, not to understand the language of a prediction, in which case it can be of no use or benefit to us; and another thing, to be unable to lift the veil of futurity, and to anticipate what the prediction leaves unexplained. ' General notions and as
surances,' as Archdeacon Woodhouse remarks, ' are suf• ficient to support our faith, if not to gratify our curiosity." And such general assurances, we apprehend, the Christians of the second century would be at no loss to deduce from the Divine communications made by the Beloved Apostle. The general subject of the Apocalypse is, the sufferings of the Church, and the eventual punishment of its adversaries; and in the twentieth chapter is described the happy kingdom of a thousand years, that is to put an end to all former sorrows. It is, in fact, St. Paul's prophecy delivered to the Macedonian Christians, uritten large for the benefit of the Asiatic Christians. The general argument of the book might be couched in the very language of the prediction more summarily delivered forty years before :- The day of Christ shall not come . till there shall have taken place an apostacy, and the man of • sin, the son of perdition, be revealed, whom the Lord shall • consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the • brightness of his coming.' As our Lord appealed to the Old Testament predictions, in proof that all that had taken place concerning himself was in accordance with the language of prophecy~" Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, " and to enter into his glory?"-so, of the prophecies of the New Testament, a similar use might be made, to confirm the faith of believers in the day of darkness and declension, or, of fiery persecution, whether from Pagan or from Papal RomeOught not the Church to have suffered these things, and through such tribulation to enter into glory? How obscurely soever the nature and origin of those calamities were intimated, enough was revealed to satisfy the believer, that their occurrence was not at variance with the purpose or fidelity of God, that Christ had not abandoned his Church, but that all was permitted in pursuance of the determinate counsel of God, though wrought by wicked agency,—and that the final issue would be glorious.
It is important to bear in mind, that one design for which the Almighty has been pleased to vouchsafe to his Church prophetic intimations with regard to the undeveloped schemes of his providence, has been, to correct mistaken notions, to rectify erroneous anticipations relating to the present. world, to repreșs impatience, and to prevent discouragement