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Humility, from the sense of our limited powers; resignation in the hour of trial; trust in God under the most frowning aspect of his providence; a serious inquiry whether we indeed belong to that kingdom, the management of which is under the direction and care of the Redeemer; pity for the forlorn condition of the enemies of Jesus, who, continuing in their rebellion, must perish; and the faithful and tender use of every means calculated to enlighten and to touch their hearts: These are other effects, which, it would be easy to show, result from the study of prophecy.
Why then, do not Christians more attend to the prophecies of the holy scripture? Principally from the obscurity that is found in them when we commence the examination of them. There is a partial obscurity that is perhaps essential to prophecies that have not been fulfilled, and that depend for their accomplishment upon the conduct of free agents. But the great cause of difficulty to the superficial reader is the symbolic language of the prophets. Let us explain this.
There were two principal modes in which the prophets were taught the things of futurity. Sometimes the Spirit directed them to use those plain and express words by which events to come were predicted: here their language differed little except in its glow and animation from the other sacred writers. But very often emblematic pictures were presented to their minds, and the description of these pictures was substituted in the place of express declarations. These pictures were of two kinds: symbols and hieroglyphics. By a symbol is understood one thing, which by some apparent affinity represents another, as a star denotes a minister of Christ, and a candlestick,
a Christian church. By a hieroglyphic is meant a group of symbols united in one object; as in the description given of our Lord. (Rev. i. 12-17.) These symbols are derived from all the objects of nature, the visible heavens with their luminaries, the earth with its productions; from the arts and manners of nations, particularly those of Judea and Egypt; from the tabernacle and temple, and their ordinances; and from history, especially that of the creation, the flood, the destruction of the cities of the plain, and the exodus.
From the variety of these symbols, we at first find a difficulty in the prophetic writings; a little attention removes, however, much of this difficulty: every symbol has one precise and definite meaning throughout the whole book of God; and when this prophetical alphabet, if I may call it so, is acquired, the language thus formed by symbols becomes perfectly intelligible. It is with this only as it is with all arts and sciences, which have their elementary principles and progressive intricacies, the knowledge of which prepares for rapid future proficiency. And when these first principles are acquired, the writings of the prophets become not only clear, but attractive; their predictions interest us, not merely for their magnificent subject, the purposes and conduct of Jehovah, and the gracious reign of the Saviour, but also for the mode in which they are conveyed. Their sublime instructions break upon us through the blaze of metaphor, adapted to the subject with unerring skill. Their figurative ornaments are so captivating, that we are excited by pleasure and solemnity to inquire after the truths which are thus clothed with the richest drapery of style.
The particular illustration of a great part of the prophetic symbols, will necessarily occur during the
course of these lectures. I had intended to have given you a general view of the nature and rules of prophetic chronology: but I have not time now to enter upon this subject. Perhaps it may more properly be introduced when we come to examine some of the important dates that are contained in the Apocalypse.
Passing from these general remarks to the book which we are particularly to examine, we shall only observe in this lecture, that it was written in the close of the first century. Daniel had predicted four universal monarchies; three of them had risen and fallen; the fourth, the Roman, was in its power in the time of John; he takes up the thread of Old Testament prophecy, and points out in exact order the principal events that should happen to the church, and those great revolutions in the world affecting the church, till the consummation of all things.
The grand division of the book is given ch. i. 19. "Write the things which thou hast seen," the events recorded in the previous part of the chapter; " and the things which are," the state of the churches in Asia, contained in the 2d and 3d chapters; "and the things which shall be hereafter," which are contained from the 3d chapter to the end of the book, and which reach to the general judgment.
There is a subdivision in the last part, of seven seals opened in their order; seven trumpets sounded in their order; and seven vials poured out in their order; together with fourteen solemn visions. This emblematic diversity cannot fail to excite attention, by the sublime novelty of the scenery.
All the intelligences which we know in the universe, divine, or angelic, or human, holy or unholy, appear symbolically, or really, in this book. But
the two leading and opposite characters are the great Redeemer and the prince of darkness. The Saviour protects, blesses, guards his people; renders the temptations and the persecutions of Satan unavailing; and at last causes his church to triumph in all the holiness and joy of the millennial day. In tracing this combat, in showing the overthrow of heathenism and corrupted Christianity, the contrast between saints and sinners is constantly presented, until Christ appears on his great white throne, and makes a final separation between his friends and his enemies.
To which of these two great classes that divide the world do you belong? In reading the account of the holy warfare exhibited in the Apocalypse, do you find your character delineated in the description of those who are fighting under the banners of the Redeemer? Have you like them come out from the world, and opposed the enemy of souls by pure principles and by a holy life? If so, you have in the prophetic writings, promises and encouragements that can cheer you in the deepest gloom; that can dispel the clouds of temporal distress; that can fill you with rapture in the hour of dissolution; that assure to you the crown of glory. Resting on these promises, supported by these encouragements, you in the field of battle, in the heat of this spiritual conflict, sing the song of triumph not only with respect to your personal salvation, but also with respect to the ultimate and complete victory of the church.
But if this cause, dear to the heart of the Son of God, and of all holy intelligences, is not dear to you; if by sentiment or conduct you are opposing
the gospel, all the predictions of scripture utter against you the most tremendous denunciations, and proclaim "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish," against your soul, and the unholy cause in which you are engaged. Abandon the hopeless contest: you cannot expect to pull Messiah from his throne; you must be subdued either by his grace or his power. Yield yourselves then to him; he is now waiting to be gracious; he delights in unbloody conquests: long as you have been in rebellion, he is willing to receive you as his friends, and make you participate in his triumphs.
And suppose not for a moment that you are safe, if you do not actively oppose the cause of God; there is no neutrality in this holy warfare : " He that is not for me, is against me," is here the language of › Jesus. Unless you become the open, firm, decided soldier of the cross, you must with "the fearful and unbelieving," sink under all the agonies of the second death.