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Prophet. A transition from one image to another is not any infringement of unity of idea or of design. If synonymous words are permitted in the case of common language, why not synonymous hieroglyphic signs in a symbolic writing? If the synonymes do not destroy the unity in the one case, neither do they in the other. It is of great importance to note, that the symbolic prophets by no means make it a principle of their writing to preserve this kind of unity, which is a mere unity in expression, because by looking for it and calculating on it we are apt to be misled. Probably the most of commentators have been misled by this very circumstance, else it is not very easy to see why they should have so much neglected and disregarded unity of design in the composition they were interpreting as they have done. Seeing the prophet passing rapidly from one image to another, they appear to have fancied that he was following no design at all. Nearly all the interpretations which have been rendered of the first six seals, and they are very many, for no part of the book has been subject to such a variety, have been grounded on a total ignoring on the part of commentators of all design here. Neither the introduction by the living creatures nor the disposition of the seals one to another have been held to afford evidence of design in the composition. Seeing the prophet pass from a contest, or at least from that which indicates a contest, to a sacrifice, and from a sacrifice to a tempest, they, as it appears, have supposed that the apostle had cast away the wings of the symbolic prophet altogether, without which he
never could raise himself from the ground and outstrip, as lie does, the flight of time, and that he is treading the mere pedestrian pathway of the annalist who follows no design at all, except that which the mere position of his facts in the order of time furnish. Nothing, accordingly, can be more indefinite, not to say jejune and absurd, as they mostly are, than the applications made of these seals. Commentators begin in a certain indolent and indifferent manner, and apply them to such events, which are of a very various and piebald character, as are nearest hand the time of the prophet, regarding no design at all in the disposition of the symbolical pictures excepting that of the annalist. But the arrangement of the annalist is not his but that of the facts themselves, and such as cannot be held worthy of the name of design. According to the chronicle principle of arrangement, the first seal comes first, the second, second, the third, third, and so on to the seventh. The Trumpets then follow, but these and the remainder of the prophecy cannot be disposed of by this principle. It is, accordingly, good for nothing, for it breaks down and leaves the interpreter at a stand still ere he is half through with the book. That the prophet prefers the order of time and that he has arranged some parts of his book upon this principle, as for example the Trumpets and the Vials, is a reasonable supposition, and is one supported by evidence, the evidence of a really satisfactory application of these symbols. But that he is guided by no other principle of arrangement excepting this, is impossible, because there
is in such a simple principle of arrangement nothing worthy of the name of design. But without design John is no symbolic prophet, and without a design which is profound, his long and complex prophecy were destitute of all definite meaning, and in every proper sense of the word unintelligible.
The ignoring of design in the interpretation is an error of the first magnitude. Design, however, has here been entirely ignored, for the plan of the annalist can never be held to be a design for an allegory. This circumstance accounts for the unsatisfactoriness of all the interpretations rendered of this part of the book. It is design which gives to the pictures of the prophet their fixed and definite meaning. If the prophet writes without design, his pictures, which are for the most part general, can have no real sense. If the interpreter explains without the apprehension of this design, his interpretation can have no value, for rival interpretations will follow his in swift succession. But design here has not been apprehended, hence this part of the book cannot be said to have been interpreted. But it is no evidence of the want of design that it has not been apprehended. Nor is it any evidence of the want of design that the design does not lie in the connection of the imagery. The prophet himself furnishes us with evidence that his design lies deeper than this mere superficiality ; for this were nothing more than a design in mere expression ; the design which he follows is not a design manifesting itself in the mere vehicle of expression. There being no design in this latter respect in the
First Six Seals, as is apparent, it must be that other and more recondite design which he follows—the design in the subject. The case stands thus : He must manifest design, in order to be intelligible, either in subject or in expression. It is not his principle to manifest it in expression nor does he do it here, in expression, as is evident: the conclusion follows, he must manifest it in subject, since he must do it in one way or the other. It will be difficult, we believe, to discover any other design in the subject than that which has been above stated, and when we reject, as the prophet intimates we should reject, the mere concatenation of the imagery, it is very plainly discoverable, and it is a design which the expression itself develops with sufficient clearness, provided the due bearings of the symbolical pictures one on the other are sufficiently regarded.
The very fact itself that in the interpretation of the First Six Seals there has existed such endless variety and such uncertainty, naturally inclines the mind to the supposition that there has been a fatal error committed in the interpretation of this part of the book. The assumption, very unwarrantably made, that the prophet follows no deeper design than that of the mere annalist, and, as a consequence, that this part of the book is merely the commencement and not the whole first version of his prophecy, form together a combined error of such gigantic magnitude as is perfectly sufficient to account for the total failure of the interpretation of these Seals.
A pause intervenes between the first and second
allegories, or the first and second versions. “A silence in heaven about the space of half an hour,” ch. viii. 1, takes place, during which all representation is suspended. This silence is full of significance.
Before we enter on the consideration of the second allegory, divided from the first by this pause, it may be requisite to make a single preliminary observation. We have already taken notice of one feature which serves wisely without doubt to cloud and to conceal the prophet's design. This is the change of imagery. The practice of this change is in unison with the spirit of his writing, and eminently subserves the main object of it. It is dark, enigmatical, cryptogrammic; its professed object is to conceal the meaning. The prophet, with this object in view, inverts the words of ordinary language and uses them, attaching totally different senses to them. This he does to conceal the meaning of his language. He employs a change of imagery, as we have seen, and it is a very effectual method to conceal his design. If he preserved the same image throughout, his design would be very easily apparent; but he does not do this; he changes his imagery perpetually, and thus waylays his reader, or rather his searcher, in the pursuit, not insidiously but wisely, and tasks his utmost intellectual efforts to follow him. No sooner has the latter approached him, it may he, in one image, than the prophet has abandoned it and has taken up a totally different one, so that the connection of one part of his plan with another is apparently dissolved, and the thread of his design is made nearly undiscoverable. This is doubt