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the distance of the advent, and defeated the purpose of divine wisdom in its temporary concealment from the Church. It is only, then, in later times that we could expect an approach to uniform and consistent historical explanation.
Again, the prophecy distinctly reveals a mighty corruption and apostasy in the times to which it refers. Let it be granted, for the moment, that these are not future, but mainly past: it is clearly impossible for those who adhere to the corruptions denounced, or the fearful apostasy exposed, to admit the true sense of the prophecy which denounces and exposes them. Hence, , even in later times, only a minority of the visible Church could be expected to receive its true application; and these, in all likelihood, would be subject, on this very account, to obloquy and reproach.
But further, even limiting our view to later times, and to the minority of the visible Church, we have still no warrant to expect formal and complete agreement, for many reasons. First, the predictions are conveyed by symbols, which need scriptural research and sound judgment to determine their meaning. Next, the arrangement of the visions is by no means self-evident; and while they are only in part fulfilled, it would not be reasonable to expect a full and exact knowledge of their relation to each other. From this cause many partial errors would arise. Thirdly, since the book forms one connected whole, the cloud which rests on the parts yet unfulfilled would naturally, in proportion to the dramatic unity of the visions, reflect some obscurity on those other parts which were actually accomplished. The same causes, again, which have filled the Church of Christ with unceasing debate, on almost every topic of theology, would operate, with increased force, in the study of a book so comprehensive and mysterious,
and affecting, by its interpretation, the spiritual character and prospects of every larger portion of the visible Church. Finally, in every subject we may observe that the systematic and formal agreement of Christians is much less than the substantial harmony of judgment to which they attain.
Now these remarks are quite enough, of themselves, to explain the actual measure of disagreement among interpreters of the prophecy. Before the time of the Reformation, as might have been expected, the historical insight into its meaning was dim and general. Yet even then many specific lessons of prophetic truth were drawn from its pages. The picture set up by Constantine, and recorded by Eusebius, affords a proof that the triumph of the Church, in the twelfth chapter, was actually referred to those times, which most Protestant expositors believe to be its true meaning. The predictions of chapter xviii. were the main source of those expectations of the fall of Pagan Rome which are well known to have prevailed in the first centuries; and that event, though short of the full meaning, is included in the prediction, as the less in the greater, by the close analogy which it bears to the proper fulfilment. The chapters xii. and xiv. were seen, from the days of Tichonius and Primasius, to refer to the desolate and lonely state of the true Church, through w all the times of Christianity," after its early triumphs. The trumpets, again, were at least understood to this extent, that they were seen to be a series of judgments on opposers of the Gospel, from early times down to the second advent. Whatever might be the varieties of error in their precise application, the main practical lesson, and the consequent insight into the main outlines of God's providence, was still secured. And even the seals, the most disputable part of the visions, yielded three clear and constant lessons of the same kind-the first triumphs and victories of the Gospel; the strife and conflicts through which it had afterwards to pass; and the glorious and blessed assembling of God's people, which was finally to close the dark and mysterious course of Divine Providence. These truths, with several others of the same kind, have been derived from these visions, amidst all the obscurity which rested on them for the first thousand years.
Again, if we proceed to a second stage of history, the instruction derived from this book becomes still more conspicuous. Nearly all the witnesses who arose to bear testimony against the prevailing corruptions, from the eleventh to the fifteenth century, drew both weapons of defence and courage in their profession from the sayings of this book. Let us make every concession which can be demanded by the opponent. Let us admit that the testimony of some was very imperfect that in others it might be mixed with heresy; and that others, who applied the prophecy to their own times, were still, to a great extent, involved in Papal superstition. Still, it is a remarkable fact, that wherever a front was presented to resist the tide of superstition, there appears along with it a reference to the words and visions of this prophecy. We see it in the “ Noble Lesson" of the Waldenses, and in the constant charges against the Albigenses. We see it in the words of Arnulf-in the declamations of Bernard-and in the laborious expositions of Joachim. However various or imperfect the form of protestation against dominant error, this part of God's word is sure to be one of the chief weapons employed. It is not, perhaps, too much to assert, when we combine these facts with the crushing power of the idolatrous hierarchy of those ages over the thoughts and consciences of men, that truth and righteousness would have become extinct in the visible Church, and tyranny and superstition would have reigned triumphant, if it had not been for the strength and energy which the vivid portraitures of this book supplied to the witnesses of Christ.
When we pass on to the times of the Reformation, the practical effect of the book of Revelation in promoting that great event, and, still more, in deepening the steadfastness of the Reformed Churches after the first shock of separation, is too evident to be denied. Even those who believe that change to have been a great evil and a fearful schism, are compelled to see that its course was accelerated and it sinfluence increased by general conviction among Reformed Christians, that the Babylon of the Apocalypse was Papal Rome. In fact, the objection here changes its form, It is not drawn so much from the disagreement of Protestants as ifrom their harmonious consent. The application is ascribed to the heat of polemic excitement, and is charged with the fault of infusing a fresh bitterness into theological strife. It is, therefore, clear that, amidst all the diversities of detail, the prophecy did exercise a mighty influence, and that the uncertainty which is alleged in disproof of its fulfilment does not reach to the main outline of those events which it announces to the Church of God.
But here the objection meets us in another form. The agreement, it is said, of the Reformers and their successors, in referring Babylon and the kindred symbols to Papal Rome, and their great disagreement in every secondary feature of the exposition, is together a clear proof that this view arose only from the bigotry of controversialists, and that the prophecy has been wrested from its true meaning by the blindness of mere
This explanation, at first sight, appears candid and plausible; but, when closely examined, it will be found most delusive and untrue. The substantial agreement, amidst minor differences, was due to the structure of the prophecy itself, and not to a foreign bias in the interpreters. The local reference to Rome, in the description of Babylon, is too plain to be denied by the Roman divines themselves, except a small minority. The future application of the nineteenth and following chapters is equally clear. The commencement of the visions from the apostolic age was also admitted, we have seen, from the earliest times. Now when these three maxims are received, adopt almost any arrangement you please, vary as you will, within reasonable limits, the precise distribution of the parts, and the lot will still fall on the true Achan; and Papal Rome will still appear the rightful owner of these predictions of Babylon. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion, except by violating all natural proportion, or introducing some enormous gap into the midst of the prophetic history. This fully explains the fact, that with various schemes of arrangement, involving a partial distortion of the prophecy, and, therefore, a partial confusion of particular emblems, Protestant commentators of different countries, and the most diverse judgments in other matters, are found here in close agreement. It is not heated controvertists, but men of the calmest minds, far removed from the immediate stir of debate, and of undoubted honesty, who have concurred in the general truth.
Nay, even in those minor differences on which the objection is sometimes made to rest there is more substantial agreement than can be detected by a cursory or prejudiced observer. If we reject those expositions which never obtained any currency, and which are due to the eccentric fancies of hasty minds, the others may