« PreviousContinue »
appealing to a proof which has never been admitted, in respect to former revelations; a prophet who, both in doctrine and imagery, is seen to contradict, or add strange conceits to, the credible and wellattested revelations of foregoing ages.
There is nothing of this kind in the Apocalypse: compare its prophecies with those known to be forged;' these, if they amaze, as appearing to have been fulfilled, are found to have been written after the events foretold. But no one can show that the Apocalypse contains prophecies fulfilled before they were written.
We have accounts in Ecclesiastical History of several Apocalypses or revelations beside this of St. John; of St. Peter, of St. Paul, of St. Thomas, of St. Stephen. Will these bear any comparison with the Apocalypse of holy Scripture? Let Michaelis speak of them; for be knew perfectly all that remains of them, and what the ancients have said concerning those that have perished. 6. The spurious productions of those ages,” (he speaks of the two first centuries,)“ which were sent into the world under the name of apostles, are, for the most part, very unhappy imitations, and discover evident marks that they were not written by the persons to whom they are ascribcd. 3
Fragments of these may be seen in the Codex Apocryph. of Fabricius, in Grabe's Spicilegium, and in Jones's Canon of the New Testament, and may be compared with the simple scriptural dignity of our Apocalypse. The Fathers of the Church compared them at length, and rejected all, but this ac
1 The Sibylline Oracle, the testaments of the twelve Patriarchs, &c.; to which we may add, Virgil's Anchises in the Elysian Fields, Gray's Bard, &c.
2 Euseb. H. E. lib. iii. c. 3,25; vi. c. 14. Gelasius de Lib. Apocryph. 3 Introduction to N. T. vol. iv. ch. 28, sect. i. p 349.
knowledged work of St. John; and this they guarded with so sedulous a care, as to preserve it in the main from interpolations, while the genuine productions of apostolical men, of Ignatius, Polycarp, &c. are known to have suffered from the touch of pro
Two works of ecclesiastical writers of the first or second century, still preserved, and in some degree venerated by our Church or its members, may compared with the Apocalypse. They are the rivals which come nearest to it, proximi, longo intervallo. I mean the visions of Hermas, and of the apocryphal Esdras. The former contains the relation of some dreams, which the writer may possibly have believed to be inspired, or may have invented as useful allegory. The imagery of this book is borrowed from Scripture, but in a style of servile imitation, which does not indicate any communication of an original vision. There is nothing to make “our hearts burn within us," as we read. The preceptive and doctrinal parts are simple and moral, and were therefore used in the ancient Church to initiate youth into religion.' But although such an use of the book could not fail to spread a prejudice in its favour, it does not appear to have been received by the ancients as a divine work; at least it was so received by very few.”
The second book of Esdras, though preserved by our Church among those which may be read “ for instruction, but not to establish doctrine,"s is nevertheless convicted of evident forgery. The author has assumed a name, and an age, to which he had no
1 Eusebius H. E. lib. iii. c. 3. 2 See Leland's Cred. Gosp. art. Hermas; and also vol. viii. 98; xii. 158; where he speaks with much learned information on the apocryphal books of the New Testament. 3 Articles of Religion, art. vi.
title; and such of his prophecies as appear fulfilled, were evidently written after the events foretold. He has otherwise a greater dignity than Hermas, and more successfully imitates the sacred prophets. He has made much use of the Apocalyptic prophecies.
These observations may suffice to defend the Apocalypse from the objections raised by Michaelis and others against the internal structure of the book. We will proceed to consider the doctrines delivered in it.
The DOCTRINES of the Christian Religion are by no means a principal object of the Apocalypse, they occur only incidentally : but it may be safely affirmed, that no doctrines are therein advanced, which are in any degree at variance with those of the New Testament. Michaelis entirely acquits the Apocalypse of the general and unfounded charge against it advanced by Luther, “ that Christ is not taught in it;” but we must be sorry, on his account, to see that he afterwards attempts to qualify this just concession, by asserting that “ the true and eternal Godhead of Christ is certainly not taught so clearly in the Apocalypse as in St. John's Gospel.”. Could he expect so clear a doctrinal exposition from a book of prophecies relating to future events, as from that Gospel which the ancients have considered as written principally to set forth the divine nature of Christ? But this divine nature is also set forth in the Apocalypse; and as clearly as the nature of the book and prophetic symbols can express it. He is described as sitting on the throne of his Father's glory, “ in the midst” of that throne, far beyond the cherubim, above all principalities and powers; and all the heavenly inhabitants are represented as falling prostrate before him with worship as to their God. And this is exhibited in a book which has expressly forbidden the worship of angels.' But, lest symbols should not carry sufficient expression in them, words unequivocal are thus added. He is called (and no where else in Scripture, but in St. John's writings) the Word of God, which, notwithstanding all that has been advanced to lower the meaning of the expression, can be understood only in the same sense as the same words in the Gospel to which indeed it evidently refers. The primitive Christians understood it in this sense; and because it was understood by them in no other, the Alogi rejected the Apocalypse, for the same reason as they rejected the Gospel of St. John.3
1 See a learned and judicious Account of this book in Gray's valuable Key to the Old Testament.
2 Page 538.
Our Lord also describes himself in the Apocalypse, as the “ Alpha and Omega,” the first and the last; which expression cannot be understood otherwise than as forcibly denoting the eternity of Christ's divine nature, which " in the beginning," as St.
was with God, and was God”- the original Creator and final Judge of the world. The Apocalypse and the Gospel, so far as relates to this doctrine, are the same, and must stand or fall together.
With the same view of supporting his argument, Michaelis has represented the dignity of Christ as lessened in the Apocalypse, because he happens to be mentioned after the seven spirits, which this interpreter supposes to represent seven angels. But there is no such diminution of Christ's dignity; no, not even if the spirits should prove to be angels; because the seven spirits stand before the throne, but Christ has his seat upon it, and in the midst of it. They are represented as standing in the presence of the throne, before he enters to take his seat there.
1 Ch. xxii. 8.
2 Ch. xix. 13.
And if the Son of God is mentioned last in order, it is only to dwell longer on his heavenly glories, which occupy four verses in the description, whereas the seven spirits are only named.
There is one passage in the Apocalypse which, from having been literally and improperly interpreted, has given offence to some pious Christians in all ages of the Church, as introducing doctrines subversive of gospel purity. It is in the twentieth chapter, where the servants of Christ are described as raised from the dead, to reign with him a thousand years. But this is not a doctrine, but a prophecy, delivered in a figurative style, and as yet unfulfilled. Such a prophecy no judicious person will attempt to explain otherwise than in very general terms: much less will he derive from it any doctrine contrary to, or inconsistent with the acknowledged word of God. We are not to argue from the abuse of such a prophecy by ignorant fanatics, against the use of it, which will be apparent in its due time. The extravagant notions of the Chiliasts are no more to be taken as evidence against the Apocalypse, than the inventions of transubstantiation and purgatory in the dark ages, are to be received as objections to the pure Gospel.
Other places which are objected to by Michaelis in his section of “ the Doctrine of the Apocalypse,” will be found to contain no doctrines, but figurative representations of future events, which he appears to have misconceived.
We will pass on to consider an objection to the Apocalypse, preferred against it in early times, and repeated to this day-the obscurity of the book. Michaelis frequently urges it."
To this general charge of obscurity, a general
1 P 459, 502, 503, 511.