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THE GENERAL DESIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE.
This present state of Apocalyptic interpretation is one, among many features in the actual condition of the Church, which should lead the Christian to humiliation and sorrow. That holy prophecy, which was given for the guidance of believers to the end of time with such a peculiar solemnity and so repeated a blessing, still remains, to most Christians, a watchword of silent contempt, a signal for controversy, or a field for conjecture. Few, comparatively, seem to have gained for themselves an assured conviction even on the main outlines of its meaning. The bare fact that a school of interpreters should have risen, whose aim is to prove that all before them have quite mistaken even its general object, and this after seventeen hundred years have past, is a most humbling lesson of caution and prayer. It proves how needful it is, in searching into its meaning, to see that we have sure footing at every step, and to establish every maxim or principle by the most cautious and strict comparison of all the evidence which the Scripture affords for its decision.
It is not too much to assert that, had this plain duty been fulfilled, the new school would never have appeared. One single objection, very plausible on a hasty view, but hollow and unsubstantial, has been taken as conclusive. And hence all the various evidence, which combines to fix the nature of the Apocalypse, has been passed over in silent neglect; and a new theory has
sprung to light, which contradicts, not merely the conviction of all Christian divines from the first ages, but every hint and proof, without exception, which the word of God supplies, to determine the true reference of its last and noblest portion.
This evidence it now remains for us to consider. Some of the elements which compose it are more indirect than others; but all of them point, with entire harmony, to the same conclusion.
I. THE TITLE OF THE PROPHECY is the first and fundamental argument to determine its true application. It is “the Apocalypse,” or “unveiling of Jesus Christ.” Let us consider what meaning these words, in the present instance, are designed to convey.
It has sometimes been imagined that these words denote simply the second coming of Christ, because that great event forms one mnain subject described, and the very same term is used to describe it in several passages. But this view is plainly erroneous. No one can read the three first verses, with a simple mind, and not be conscious that such an interpretation involves a palpable absurdity.
A more general view is, that the words are simply the name of the book, as it now appears in the canon. Those who adopt this opinion often identify it with the sealed book in the fifth chapter.
This exposition is doubtless much nearer the truth, yet it is not strictly correct. To pass by the further question of the meaning of the sealed book, the prophecy itself was clearly written down by the apostle, in the isle of Patmos, as the visions were successively revealed (i. 11; x. 4; xxii. 10). "It had no existence as a book till the last vision had been exhibited and recorded, when that impressive sanction was added at its
close (Rev.xxii. 18,19). And hence the book itself, strictly speaking, was never conveyed by an angel to St. John.
The true reference of the words, therefore, is to the truth which the book contains, and of which it is the designed vehicle to the Church. It is a title which describes the sum and purpose of the whole; just as the words “the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” describe the substance and object of the record in each of the four Gospels.
The essential character, then, of the book is simply—the unveiling of Jesus Christ. It is a removal, for the instruction of the Church, of that veil which conceals her Lord now that He is ascended into heaven. . It is not, in its proper character, an arbitrary selection of events, nor yet a separated fragment of Jewish and local history. It is a divine help to the Church, that she may behold her Lord, as the angels in heaven beheld Him, in His gracious attributes, His wondrous offices, and His unceasing acts of love for the redemption of this fallen world.
Now, ever since the ascension of our Lord and His. entrance within the veil, His Intercession in heaven and His Providence on earth have been perpetual and unceasing. This prophecy, since it removes the veil from His person, must have the same character. To suppose a chasm of nearly two thousand years, is either to make it contradict its title, or else, a virtual denial of the ceaseless intercession and providence of that Lord whom it unveils.
On the other hand, the words, received in their simple meaning, suggest a glorious view of the nature and objects of this book, which is confirmed by the examination of its separate visions. Each of them presents to us, in its opening, some distinct view of the per
son of our Lord in heaven, and unfolds some new aspect of His Providence here below; till at length, when the mystery of God is finished, all these aspects of His divine glory are blended together in the brightness of His manifest appearing
II. THE ANALOGY OF OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY is a second argument to fix the true character of this sacred book. This will require to be unfolded rather more fully, as it depends on a wider range of subjects.
1. The prophecies of the New Testament are almost limited to the discourse of our Lord, three or four passages in St. Paul's epistles (2 Thess. ii.; 1 Tim. iv.), one of St. Peter and St. Jude; and this book of Revelation. Our Lord's discourse has been proved to refer mainly to the generation then alive. The prophecies of St. Paul bear evident marks that they refer to the same time with the Apocalypse itself. So that on the true application of this book the decision must rest, whether the New Testament contains any prophecy of events between the fall of Jerusalem and the future Jewish restoration.
2. The Christian dispensation, in its whole extent, corresponds with the Jewish, from the call of Abraham to the coming of our Lord. By a parity of reasoning, the book of Revelation, as the prophecy of the New Testament, corresponds, in its office, with the collective prophecies from Abraham to Malachi, when the canon of the Old Testament was closed in words that exactly resemble the parting sentences of the Apocalypse.
3. Now the predictions of the Old Testament were not limited to a few years in the last generation of the Jewish economy. On the contrary, they include nearly all the main events from Abraham to Christ. Among the predicted facts are the four hundred years'
sojourn in Canaan and Egypt, with the Exodus by which it was closed (Gen. xv. 13, 14, and 24; Exod. iii. 8, 12); the forty years' abode in the wilderness (Num. xiv. 33, 34); the possession of the land, and local disposition of the tribes under the judges (Gen. xlix.; Deut. xxxiii.); the victories of Samson (Judges xiii. 5); the reigns of David and Solomon (1 Sam. xv. 28; 1 Chron. xxviii. 5), and building of the temple; the separation of the kingdoms (1 Kings xi. 31); the successive famines; the Assyrian invasion and commencing captivity (Is. X.; Joel i.; Hos. viii. xi.); the time of its commencement (Is. vii. 8); the reign of Jehu's family (2 Kings x. 30); the reign of Josiah (1 Kings xiii. 2); the seventy years' captivity and return from Babylon (Jer. xxv. 11, 14); the succession of the Persian kings (Dan. xi. 2); the reign of Alexander, and the wars of Syria and Egypt (Dan. si.); the birth, ministry, and death of Messiah, his resurrection, the spread of the Gospel, and the fall of the city and the sanctuary (Dan. ix. ; Zech. ix.) Thus we see that an almost unbroken series of predictions extends through the whole course of the former dispensation.
Now, if the Apocalypse contain a prophecy of events from the days of the apostle to the return of Christ, this analogy is full and complete. But, on the opposite view, it is entirely destroyed : instead of analogy, we find a total contrast.
4. The force of this argument can only be removed by alleging some feature of contrast between the two dispensations, which might account for such an entire change in the provision made for the wants of the Church. But no such reason can be given.' On the contrary, every feature of difference between the two economies would lead us to expect a fuller, and not a scantier, gift of prophetic instruction. The Church of