« PreviousContinue »
the whole world: he was cast ont into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him."
Here is the Devil, it is said ; the book expressly states that the Dragon is the Devil, and whom are we to believe if not the prophet himself? Now in reply to this statement, which is generally made with a boldness and curtness which seem to set contradiction at scorn, one should be inclined to say, not overhastily, and point to such passages where it is said, “here is the mind which hath wisdom," and," let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast," and suggest, that here also there may be wisdom to be exercised, and that here also there may and indeed there must lie wisdom concealed underneath these words, whose plain and obvious meaning is foolishness to the prophecy, and dissolution to its language.
It is no doubt more easy, simple, and childlike to take the words in their plain meaning and obvious sense ; but then it is to be borne in mind this is not the sense of the book, which is enigmatical. That it is such is apparent from the whole style of it, as well as from the incitements which the prophet affords to stir us up to the exercise of our intellectual faculties in the discovery of his meaning which is hidden. A mere idleness-loving disposition to accept the first, plain, easy, and obvious sense, without any farther trouble, is clearly not the spirit in which the interpretation of the Revelation is to be approached.
Now to the above statement that there is an interpretation of the symbol, the Dragon, to be taken
literally--a statement which is advanced with great confidence by those who make it, and in such a manner as if it appeared to them to preclude argument on the subject, we shall, nevertheless, take the liberty of stating two reasons which will not a little shake it. We shall then state and prove the real interpretation which is at variance with it. But before we proceed to this object, let us weigh once more the perils of accepting these words in their literal sense, and consider whether these perils in themselves do not furnish a valid objection against it.
Let it be admitted that this is a real interpretation, and that the rule observed by Scripture is to deliver an interpretation literally; even then we should feel authorized to make the passage an exception to the rule, on the ground, simply, that it is impossible that Satan, the Spirit, can be prefigured by a symbol so entirely analogous to a Seven-headed Ten-horned Beast, which is interpreted by the angel to represent a political dominion, as a Seven-headed Ten-horned Dragon certainly is. The two symbols
as analogous, as well can be; the applications are as different as can well be conceived. Besides, it may be regarded as clearly not in the power of any statement whatever, no matter how express it may be, to establish a sense which involves the dissolution of the language in which it is contained; because it is then suicidal to its own authority. It may likewise be added that no sense in an allegorical composition can be admitted which destroys the allegory. But both of these results follow if we are to
accept the averment made, that the Dragon is here interpreted to be Satan the Spirit. However strong the reasons then might be, which are here in the last degree meagre and frivolous, for accepting the supplemental designations which are given of the Dragon, in the verse above quoted, as an identification of this symbol with Satan, it is impossible, from the nature of the case, that they counterveil the reasons for rejecting it. These reasons, even if they were strong, must bend before a reason which is stronger.
The intelligibility of the symbolic language which is destroyed by the effect of the above statement, is a priceless gem which must be sacredly upheld by the interpreter. If the prophecy has no intelligible language it is clearly no prophecy, and more than this, it contains no sense. But let these words be taken literally, and what results? As with a tempest-sweep, the symbolic imagery is cast adrift from its moorings, and becomes the prey of the winds and waves of imagination. The political anchors loosened from, as fixed in ch. xvii., the whole fleet of splendid and magnificent imagery sails away under the gale, might it not rather be said, the tempest of fancy, commentators hoisting a press of canvas upon a voyage of discovery into the spiritual world, that is, in the direction of Cloudland. From this country the navigators return, bringing reports at once uncertain and grotesque. Paganism is seen flourishing in one place; its dissolution is predicted in another; Mahometanism is found in one place; Arianism in another; all sorts
of heresies have been found rampant, while Infidelity has been seen stalking about in the form of Death and the Pale Horse. A strange medley of things spiritual and political is made out of the book; some commentators apply the whole of it in a spiritual sense, and ities and isms of all kinds are discoverable in it, spiritual manifestations being in the highest degree multiform, Protean, and indefinite. On what authority have such liberties been taken with the interpretation of this divine book? On the authority of the interpretation, as it is called, which is rendered in this passage. The prophet himself, it is said, asserts an important symbol in his book to be spiritual. 'Doubtless the interpretation contained in ch. xvii., which is long and very distinct, and which, being the longer and more explicit of the two, ought to have a corresponding weight attached to it, refers the reader to the political world. This, however, is in the estimation of many comparatively a hard and dry field; it bears as they think no flowers, and it is even thought to yield but little grain, and this has an earthy flavor; accordingly the other interpretation, as it is called, is looked on with predilection. Now, if there were but one real interpretation, and this referred the reader to the spiritual world, it would be a matter of less moment and there would still be hope to the sense. The allegory would still preserve unity, and its language consistency, although the spiritual world thus opened up is boundless, and is filled with innumerable shadowy and undefined forms, as it is, which are but ghosts, and which effectually elude the powers of hieroglyphics.
But unfortunately there stands the interpretation in ch. xvii., which assigns a share in the prophecy to the political world, and a corner, however reluctantly, must be assigned to this also. The wedge of the catastrophe is now inserted, and the prophecy is rent in twain. Between these two cross fires the last intelligible vestige of allegory and hieroglyphic is consumed. The book is deprived, at once, of language and of allegory.
But commentators flourish under this system, for it is an organized system of interpretation; one writes a book, overthrowing his predecessor's rendering and setting up his own, which falls a prey to his immediate successor, who sets up his. This process may be, and is, carried on almost to an infinitude. It is perfectly clear that an infinite number of meanings may be readily educed from a book which has been divested of its language, and which has no principle of cohesion. A language, the signs of which rest on no fixed basis, can signify any thing, and an allegory from which the allegory has been taken is a most pliant species of composition, and will do its master's bidding like an Ariel.
Now the Revelation has long suffered under this deadly blight of no language, or what is the same thing, no fixed and definite sense for its signs. We have already called attention, in some of the foregoing pages of this work, to one of the causes of this blight, to wit, the ignoring on the part of commentators, of the three fundamental laws of the prophetic allegory, unity of design, reduplication, and the quaternal structure, which laws, alone, can invest the