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sincere believers—the public testimony of others to the truth, and protest against the special errors of their day—their sufferings—the unhappy state of the nations during the period of their testimony—the death and resurrection of the witnesses the dissolution of the old imperial government—the rise and establishment of a new ecclesiastico-civil power in Europe—the establishment of the papal sovereignty, and of the kingdoms which, receiving the laws and religion of the papacy, form with
, it a great ecclesiastical system—its dark, sanguinary, and persecuting character—the desolating European war, which, beginning at the end of the fifteenth century, continued, with little intermission, till the peace of Cambray, A.D. 1558—the Reformationthe influence of this war on the progress of the Reformationthe religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
As an interpreter might readily lose his way in the mazes of a prophecy so vast and complicated, before we attempt to trace them, a few remarks shall be made to explain its structure and scope, and the principles on which the interpretation is conducted; for if these shall be ascertained and kept steadily in view, the expositor will be less likely to wander, and the reader will, at all times, be enabled to judge of the soundness and consistency of the exposition.
I. The Revelation, from chapter vi. to the end of chapter xix., contains a number of distinct but by no means independent predictions; for not one of them can be satisfactorily discussed without examining and comparing, perhaps every vision in this portion of the Book. For instance, as no explanation is given in the first seal of its symbols, the Apocalyptic inquirer is naturally led to study the vision in chap. xix., where the " white horse” is again introduced, in the hope that it may reflect some light on the seal. But, before the later prediction can be understood, its symbols; the “ beast," the “ earth,” the “ kings of the earth," the “ image,” &c., must be known. Hence he is compelled to consider attentively chapters xvii. xiii. xii., where the same, or like symbols occur; and, meeting here new images and unexplained terms—as“ the bottomless pit,” “ the sea,” &c., which are seen in previous visions, these are, in like manner, to be investigated. He is thus forced from one prophecy to another, until he finds himself at the first seal, the point from which he has started. It is, therefore, apparent that this part of the Apocalypse is a prophetic system, having its accomplishment, not in independent events, but in a system, or systems of things.
II. Prophecy, in general, whether of the Old Testament or of the New, forms one great system—the Redemption of Man, and the establishment of the Redeemer's kingdom, being the theme of all the prophets. The first Evangelical prediction, “ I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel," contains the germ and substance of the whole prophetic volume. Subsequent revelations only prepare and fix the place, character, time, and other circumstances of this great contest. Now, although the Redeemer's sufferings were at an end, and the price of man's redemption' paid in full, when Jesus “ bowed2 his head and gave up the ghost," yet as Satan is still permitted to exert a fearful power over individuals, multitudes, and nations, deceiving, seducing, blinding, terrifying, and making them the instruments of his will, thereby opposing and retarding the universal reception of the Gospel, the conflict is still going on, and is evidently the subject of the Apocalypse; for the agents4 introduced in it are, on the one hand, the Lord and his armies, and, on the other, Satans and his instruments, who make war with the Lamb, persecute the woman and the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus.“ The business,” therefore, “ of the whole work is manifestly to pourtray the state of the religion and Church of Christ"6.
And the angel who revealed the Apocalypse has told us that this is the object and scope of it. “See," says he to St. John, 7 who was about to worship him, “thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God; for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”: or, rather as it ought to be rendered in an inverted
i Coloss. ii. 14, 15; Heb. ii. 14, 15; Eph. i. 7. ; Isaiah, liii. 2 John, xix. 30. 3 Acts, v. 3 ; xiii. 10.; 1 Peter, v. 8.
4 Rev. i. ; xix. 11, &c. 5 Rev. ii. 13. ; xii. 9, &c.; xvii. 14.
6 Davison on Prophecy, 461. 7 Rev. xix. 10.; compare xxii. 9, Luke xxiv. 25, Acts iii. 18, 1 Peter, i. 10, 11, 2 Peter, ii. 19.
order, the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus.' The angel warns St. John not to worship him, because he is his fellow-servant; but he is a fellow-servant because, being a prophet, or having the spirit of prophecy, he is appointed to discharge a like office with the apostle, namely, to bear testimony to Jesus; for the spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. To bear witness to Jesus is, therefore, the end and object of all prophecy, and, consequently, of the Revelation in particular.
“ The text,” says Bishop Hurd, “is properly a key put into our hands, to open that dispensation (the nature and genius of prophecy) which had in view ultimately the person of Christ, and the various revolutions of his kingdom. The spirit of prophecy is universally the testimony of Jesus.
The text implies the fact that prophecy, in general (that is, all the prophecies of the Old and New Testament) hath its ultimate accomplishment in the history and dispensation of Jesus."
III. The Apocalyptic prophecies are generally delivered in symbols, and often with such seeming ambiguity that it appears impossible to determine satisfactorily the place, the time, and the characters of the events predicted. For instance, on opening the first seal a victorious horseman is seen.
consider this vision simply by itself, as it has been recorded by St. John, no notes are given to enable us to ascertain the specific character, the time, or place of the events represented. Victories are undoubtedly intended; but who is the conqueror ?—what is the nature of his conquests ?—are they temporal or spiritual? If it be asserted they are temporal, it may be asked, how do you know they are such?—where do you find their time and their place? If, on the other hand, it be alleged they are victories over sin and Satan, how is this to be decided ?-for evidence, proof--not assertion, are required in a question of this kind.
In another vision an earthquake is seen. Is it a natural or a symbolical earthquake?-a convulsion in the kingdoms of this
" The Greek article being prefixed to testimony and spirit shows that the subject and predicate are equipollent, and the proposition may be converted simply. Compare “Sin is the transgression of the law "--1 John, iii. 4.
2 Sermon on Prophecy, pp. 22-30.
world, or a convulsion of nature, such as we believe will take place at the general judgment?
Now, ambiguous, in appearance, as these and some other visions are, their scope is so far from being uncertain, that it is fixed beyond the possibility of doubt.
All prophecy must be fulfilled either before or after the Ascension of the Lord; and its ultimate object being the Lord Jesus, the predictions which have their accomplishment in the latter period, have their completion in his kingdom of grace or power. For, as the most eminent theologians observe, His kingdom is double. “A double kingdom,” says Bishop Pearson, " there is of Christ: one of power, in which all are under him; another of proprietry, in those which belong unto him: none of us can be excepted from the first; and happy are we if, by our obedience, we show ourselves to have an interest in the second, for then that kingdom is not only Christ's but ours."
And, in like manner, Bishop Butler, in his sermon for the propagation of the Gospel, adverts to the double dominion of the Lord—“The righteous government of the world must be carried on, and, of necessity, men shall remain the subjects of it, by being examples of its mercy or of its justice.”
This double power of the Lord, to save and to destroy, is often and emphatically brought before us in the Old Testament and in the New, where it is not unfrequently represented by a single symbol, that of the stone; which is a “sure foundation"
, and " sanctuary” to the believer; but " a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence," which falls upon and grinds the disobedient to powder.
Now many of the prophecies, whose subject is the one or the other of these dispensations, are often interwoven with a single Apocalyptical vision. If, then, the time and the scope of the
| Exposition of the Creed, Art. vi. p. 463.
2 Isaiah, viii. 14 ; xxviii. 16 ; Daniel, ii. 34; 1 Peter, ii. 16 ; Romans, ix. 13 ; Matthew, xxi. 44. Compare Zech. ix. 9, and the second psalm: in the one prophecy he is the King who comes to the daughter of Zion, having salvation; in the other, he is the King who breaks those who take counsel against him with a rod of iron, and dashes them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
3 A writer on prophecy (Bishop Warburton, I think) has observed that the interwoven prophecies determine the scope of the Apocalyptic, but I cannot recover the place.
interwoven prophecies can be determined, the scope and time of the visions with which they are combined will likewise be ascertained; for both sets of predictions coming from the same Author, being fulfilled in the same period of time, bearing testimony to the same Person, and being expressed in the same language or imagery, will necessarily have their accomplishment in the same events. This appears self-evident, and to arise inevitably from the nature of language and of prophecy. suppose a man of sense and integrity writing the history of a monarch who, by one series of actions, had delivered his people from a state of misery, and, by another, had crushed his and their malignant enemies, to appropriate, in one part of the book, certain terms and images to describe the king and each set of actions respectively, it cannot be imagined he would employ, in another portion of it, the same words and figures to denote different persons and things; much less that he would elaborately construct and insert in a very significant place a sentence, or several sentences, composed chiefly of these leading phrases and images, not one of them being applicable to the person or things they signify elsewhere.
Now apply this reasoning to the interpretation of prophecy. All prophecy is given by God, who has the past, the present, and the future alike before him, the whole of which forms one system, its various parts tending, as the radii of a circle, to a common centre. If, then, the imagery and terms of earlier predictions foretelling the propagation of the Gospel by the Lord, or the destruction of His enemies, be interwoven in obscure symbolic visions, which are revealed and are to be fulfilled in the latter or Gospel times, their object and end being ultimately the Lord and His kingdom, it is surely a plain intimation that so far as their language and imagery are the same, their scope and the events which fulfil them are the same: consequently if the time, place, or scope of either sets of predictions can be ascertained, the time, the place, or the scope of the others will likewise be determined. They are parallel passages of Scripture, and to be regarded as other texts, the language and imagery of which are the same.
The most eminent writers on prophecy have recognised the validity of this principle, and frequently resort to it in their