« PreviousContinue »
false prophet (Rev. xiii. 14-17, xvi. 13, xix. 20), in the later chapters, forms a precise antitype of Balaam, both in the name he bears, his sin, and his punishment. The rise and spread of this doctrine of Balaam is, in this second chapter, distinctly pourtrayed in the very time of St. John. In the nineteenth chapter is the final punishment of the false prophet himself. Nearly half way between these limits, in chapter xiii., the deceiver is symbolically presented to us in his subtlety and power. What simple mind can fail to see in this the marks of a regular connexion and sequence, and the entire absence of all marks of gap and omission ? The evil was actually working, and needed a stern reproof, in the apostolic age. Midway in the prophecy it is seen rampant-in the height of seeming triumph: at the close it is judged and sentenced. It is pourtrayed both in its first rise and final ruin. What reason can be assigned why the Spirit of God should deny the Church all instruction concerning the intermediate stages of its growth and progress? The double allusion, also, to the wilderness, throws light on the later chapters. It proves how unlikely it is that the Spirit of God would confine that description of the Church to a few years only at the last, when this epistle extends it so plainly through the main part of the Christian dispensation.
3. The mention of Jezebel, in the next epistle, has just the same character, and yields a similar argument. It must be plain at once that Babylon, the harlot splendidly attired, is the true counterpart of the Tyrian queen.
It is also clear that the name is employed in this passage by way of allusion, and denotes either one or several seducers in the Thyatiran Church. There is just the same conclusion, therefore, to be drawn from these passages as from the former. The seductions of the figurative Jezebel were already at work. In the
seventeenth chapter, for the first time, we have her full description. How can we doubt that the intermediate parts of the prophecy range from one limit to the other through the whole interval of growing corruption and degeneracy in the Church of Christ?
4. The local fulfilment of these opening predictions points to the same conclusion with all the previous-arguments. It has often been shown how exactly the later history of the seven Churches has answered to these divine warnings. And this is surely a strong presumption that the Spirit of prophecy does take cognizance of the successive changes in the Gentile Church, and that there can be no mysterious bar, which shuts out one third of the world's whole history from being shone upon by the light of the prophetic word. If the later changes of Ephesus, and Smyrna, and Philadelphia were thus foretold, the fall of Paganism, the spread of Mahometan delusion and Papal idolatry were surely not likely to pass without a record. Such reasoning is not presumptuous; the presumption lies rather in neglecting and casting aside such clear helps with which the Spirit of God has supplied us, to fix the true meaning of these mysterious portions of His word.
XV. THE NATURE OF THE PROPHETIC SCENERY, as described in the following chapters, would be found, if possible, still more fertile in evidence of the same truth. This, however, would lead too far into the details of specific interpretation to find a suitable place in this volume : yet there are two or three remarks which will be evident on a more general view, and which yield us decisive reasons for abiding by the larger interpretation.
1. And, first, it is clear that the opening of the visions is eminently symbolical. This is admitted by some of the Futurists themselves. The living creatures, the Lamb, and the sealed book, the vials and the odours,
the lamps of fire, the voices of thunder, all have this
2. Next, all the action of the prophecy is derived
songs of the redeemed. The fountain head, so to speak, of all these streams of prophecy, is the virtue of the atonement, pleaded and made effectual by the Lord himself in the courts of heaven. Now if the atonement of our Lord had been, for eighteen centuries, idle and powerless, there might be a plausible argument for deferring the date of the prophecy till after so long a time. But since the very reverse is true, and the parting words of our Lord himself (Matt. xxviii. 18), and those of his greatest apostle (Phil. ii. 8, 9), prove that the whole course of Providence has been impressed with a new character by that great and wonderful sacrifice, no reasonable doubt can remain that the prophecy has the same extent of range, and reveals the triumphs of the cross from the earliest times of the Church.
3. But, further, there is no event, between the ascension of our Lord with his solemn inauguration in heaven, and his visible return in glory, and especially none in the last days, which can claim to be the true commencement. To suppose the visions to begin from such an undefined origin as is done by the new theory
is to act the part of a voyager, who should take his departure, not from the main shore, but from a floating bank of mist. Till the return of our Lord, all is one continuous dispensation-one ceaseless progression of Divine Providence, and which, through its whole extent, is denoted by one expressive title—the mystery of God. The second advent itself is so far from being the commencement of the prophecy, that it is not described in the visions till near their close.
This want of any fixed and clear point of departure is of itself a fatal objection to the new scheme. It becomes impossible thus to identify any part of the prophecy with its actual fulfilment, whenever it may arrive. The first events, on this hypothesis, are war, and famine, and pestilence. But these have often occurred in history, and in the same order; and should they recur again, we should have no proof that the partial resem.. blance is not a mere illusion, and that the Church may not have to wait another eighteen centuries for the real fulfilment. For, by the same theory, the prophetic dates throw no light whatever on the approach of the advent, till the last generation is begun and almost ended. What view can be more destructive than this to all lively expectation and hope of the coming redemption ?
XVI. THE OATH OF THE MIGHTY ANGEL furnishes another mark, not less decisive, of the larger acceptation of the prophecy. “In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be finished.” The mystery of God, as is plain from many other texts, is a phrase to describe the period of Israel's rejection, while the Gentile Church is called in their room. Now the words of the oath declare plainly that the time of the six first trumpets falls within the range of this Gentile mystery, and not after its close. They therefore disprove at once every exposition which assigns the
beginning of the whole to the time of Israel's restoration. They also contain a strong presumption, that both the seals and trumpets, if parallel, or the seals, if the two are successive, begin from the opening of that Gentile mystery, which appears plainly to be the main object which they record.
XVII. These reasons might easily be enlarged, if it were needful, by others drawn from the latter parts of the book, and by many more which depend on the specific nature of the symbols. It will, however, be enough to add one only, of a different kind-the universal concurrence of the Church for si.cteen centuries.
There has been, from the first, a small minority of interpreters who applied the book cliefly to the times of the Jewish desolation. There were others, who, by a vague interpretation, turned it into a history or book of morals, rather than a prophecy. In the seventeenth century there arose a small school of Romish expositors, who, after earrying the seals through eighteen centuries, maintained the rest to be future: but these appear almost the extreme limits of former aberration. Before the rise of this school, within the last few years, there is no writer, I believe, to be found, who has held the book to be prophetic, and yet fixed its very date in times still future, except, perhaps, one or two Gerinan authors in the last century.
And surely, unless a direct revelation on the subject had been given to us from heaven, it is hard to conceive a fuller combination of evidence, than that which Scripture has thus afforded us, in disproof of this novel hypothesis, and in confirmation of that nobler view of this holy book which has been held from the beginning.
The clear evidence of its own title; the analogy of all former prophecy, and, most of all, of that book which it resembles so closely; the time and the place of the