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of interpretation can be justly decided ; and they are a rebuke to the superficial petitio principii, which first confounds the sign with the thing signified, and then is astonished that all writers do not adopt implicitly the same glaring and palpable error.
To conclude this topic, the province of the literal interpretation in this book is strictly confined to the task of placing us in the same point of light with the apostle himself, when the visions were given. If it professes to do more than this, it intrudes into an office. which does not belong to it, and becomes a delusion. It remains, then, to discover from the signs the events which were divinely signified. And here we may distinguish them into three classes. In the first, the thing signified is its own fittest sign; and conversely, the sign will be expounded by an object or event like itself, only
ture, instead of past. This may be called, loosely, a literal interpretation, though, in strictness of speech, it is really symbolical, like the rest; for a past appearance in a vision can never be really a literal event in a distant age. In the second class, the sign contains some feature of unreal strangeness, which clearly shows, to every one of spiritual discernment or common sense, that it denotes something distinct from itself, as well as future in time. Such are the two beasts, the sun-clad woman and the harlot, the eagle in mid-heaven, and the serpenttailed chivalry. The third class is of an intermediate kind, where the sign is something possible, and with the range of natural or supernatural experience. And here the character of the book, the connexion of the whole vision, the peculiar features of the passage itself, need all to be carefully weighed and combined, in order to obtain a well-founded conviction of the true meaning. All pretended methods of ascertaining their true sense, by a shower course, and without this comprehensive
research, must, of their own nature, be an utter delusion; they can only serve to furnish the superficial with a plea for despising those labours from which they are thenselves too indolent or careless to derive instruction.
III. But it is further objected, that the common view of this prophecy has its source in a lurking unbelief of all supernatural agency. This argument, in the revelation literal and future," takes precedence of all the rest. The reader might almost infer that the majority of interpreters are viewed by the author as little better than Deists in disguise.
The objection does not need a long answer. It rests on an entire oversight of the most plain and evident facts. Most of the commentators against whom it is brought have helieved, and professed their belief, that miracles will again occur before the second advent. The habit of mind which would naturally result from their views, the continual acknowledgment of a special providence of God, over-ruling and controlling the ordinary events of history, is the most remote possible from the sceptical disbelief which rejects the notion of miracles, and says merely with the scorner--- All things continue.”
These commentators, however, without any repugnance to the admission of the miracles in general, might well shrink from receiving such prodigies as some of the Futurists have created, by their own mistakes, in confounding the sign and the object signified. Such wonders as appear in these novel theories they may well reject -first, because they have no warrant in any sound laws of interpretation ; next, because they are quite alien from the character of the real miracles which the word of God records for our instruction; and, finally, because they degrade the highest and latest of God's holy revelations into a grotesque patchwork of unmeaning pro
digies. These reasons are amply sufficient to justify us in rejecting them, amidst the fullest conviction that signs and wonders will get re-appear.
IV. One further objection may be noticed before passing to the direct argument for the more general view of prophecy. The vision of the seals, it is affirmed, is clearly identical with the opening of our Lord's discourse in St. Matthew. But this relates to the last generation before the advent; and hence the whole Apocalypse must be included within the same limits.
This argument appears in three of the Futurist writers, and nearly in the same words : and yet each of the two premises on which it rests is equally groundless. Let us examine them in order.
(1). First, let us allow that the two passages refer to the same time. The effect would be to prove that the seals were fulfilled long ago, in the apostolic age. Our Lord's prophecy has been carefully examined in a former chapter. And the whole connexion in which it occurs, and the words of the discourse itself, with the clearer statement in St. Luke, combine to prove that all its first part refers to the generation which was then living. The correspondence in the events, also, has been fully traced by many able writers, as by Mr. Greswell, in his learned work on the Parables. The argument, therefore, so far as it has any force, would establish the theory of Grotius and Hammond, and not that of the Futurists, which is the other extreme pole of interpretation.
(2). But, secondly, the parallelism between the two prophecies does not, and cannot, prove more than a close and striking analogy. This is evident from the last remark only; for the parallel parts of the discourse in St. Matthew had been fulfilled before the other prophecy was given. An analogy is almost equally
close, in the Apocalypse itself, between the trumpets and the vials; which all the best commentators, and the Futurists besides, hold to be distinct from each other. Again the principle will require us also to allow the sameness of the prophecy in Ezek. V.-xi., xiv., although its proper reference is evidently to the times of the prophet and to the judgments which were then falling on Jerusalem. In the twenty-sixth of Leviticus is another prophecy, which has resemblance enough to fix it to the same time with the seals, if the maxim were allowed that resemblance alone is a proof of chronological sameness : and yet it is clearly quite general, and applies to the whole course of the national sufferings of the Jews.
The source of error in the whole of this reasoning is apparent. The laws of divine government, in their main outlines, are constant and uniform. The weapons of judgment which the Almighty commonly employs are of a similar kind. The sword, the wild beasts, famine, and pestilence, are expressly, in Ezekiel, as the four heavy and sore judgments of the Lord. In every main period, whether short or long, in which God visits the nations in anger, we may expect these to appear. Again, the last generation under the Jewish economy has a marked correspondence with the last of the Christian, and each is like an epitome also, on a narrower scale, of the whole course of Providence through the whole Gentile dispensation. It is clear, therefore, how ưnsafe every conclusion must be which confounds a remarkable analogy with actual sameness of meaning. This one mistake would turn every natural science into one vast heap of confusion; for beautiful and close analogies between things that differ abound in every part of the works of God.
These are chief objections, of seeming weight, which
have been alleged against the wider application of the Apocalypse to the whole extent of the Christian dispensation. But it is time to consider the direct evidence of Scripture which bears on this important subject : and since this involves many particulars, and will require, from its peculiar interest, a full inquiry, it may be treated with more convenience in a distinct chapter.