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LECTURES ON THE APOCALYPSE.
2 PETER i. 21.
Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
HAVING reviewed with you, my brethren, the lives of some of the principal men, whose history is recorded in the holy volume; I have been thinking by what other course of lectures your scriptural knowledge will be best promoted, and your devotional feelings excited. I have thought, that these effects may, by the divine blessing, be produced by a regular illustration of that sublime and instructive book which closes the canon of scripture. I know that much study, and thought, and judgment, and humility, and prayer, are requisite for a proper explanation of the Apocalypse or Revelation to St. John; but I know also that, if we are not wanting to ourselves, the highest benefits may result from such a
course of lectures. Favour me then with your attention: let me also have your prayers, that I may have spiritual wisdom to preserve me from important error; and that I may be enabled to exhibit with force those lessons, and warnings, and instructions, that are contained in this book.
The present lecture will be merely introductory, and will be devoted to the examination of some preliminary points, a consideration of which will aid us in the remainder of the course.
A considerable part of the word of God consists of prophecies. From the earliest period God gave the most clear and definite predictions of the great events that should occur to the church, and of the history of the world, as connected with the church; the various fortunes and characters of the different nations that should respectively spring from the sons of Noah, of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; the events that should occur to the Jewish nation; the time and manner of the destruction of Nineveh, and Babylon, and Tyre, and Egypt; the history of the four successive universal monarchies; and especially every thing relating to Messiah, the time, the place, the circumstances of his incarnation, the events of his life, the mode of his death: these were all proclaimed by the Old Testament prophets, in the most marked and definite manner long before their accomplishment.
In the New Testament we have many predictions in the gospels and epistles, which could have proceeded only from Him to whom the future is as naked as the present; and the sacred canon is closed by a book, the greater part of which is prophetic, and which contains the history of the church, and of the
kingdoms of earth, as they affect the church, from the time that John wrote till the end of the world.
It is certain, that these prophetical writings are too much neglected, even by many Christians who diligently study other parts of the scriptures. It is certain that they were not given to us to be treated with indifference and disregard; and I know not what excuse we can render at the day of judgment, for refusing, according to the command of God, diligently to study them.
There are many motives thus to study them.
1. They afford an undeniable proof that there is a wise and powerful providence presiding over all the changes of the world, and arranging, combining, and modifying all events. This is a proof, depending not upon subtle and metaphysical reasonings, level to the capacities of few, and scarcely felt by those who do comprehend them, but upon facts which are exhibited to our senses. When in so many thousand instances things are predicted which ⚫ are so unusual, so peculiar, so dependent upon the free and unconstrained motions of the will, and upon numberless circumstances not yet in being; that none but a madman, or a fanatic in the worst of causes, can fail to see in them the evidences of Omniscience; can we doubt of the secret and powerful providence of the Most High?
2. They afford an irrefragable argument for the inspiration and divinity of the scriptures; an argument that courts examination, and appears more firm in proportion to the strictness of our scrutiny and the profoundness of our examination; an argument continually brightening and becoming more striking in each successive generation. We must indeed renounce all the rules of evidence, if we do not believe
in the miracles wrought for the confirmation of Christianity; but still we do not see these miracles; but by the study of prophecy we are placed in a more favourable situation than were even the first believers; for we see the whole history of the world coming and giving its testimony to the truth of Christianity; we see Him, who is the Adorable Principle of all things, and the Eternal Truth, predicting by his Spirit what he will accomplish by his providence; and then behold his providence explaining the events that he had foretold by his Spirit. Viewing so admirable an accordance between the divine paraphrase and the sacred text, the event and the prediction, that there is not a word in the one, nor a fact nor circumstance in the other, that does not display this wonderful agreement; we can no more doubt of the truth of our religion, than we can of the reality of our existence.
3. The prophecies cherish religion in the heart, by giving us a practical illustration of the perfections of God; inspiring profound veneration for that amazing wisdom from which nothing can be hidden, which beholds the future thoughts and actions of those that are not yet in being; and reverence for that power whose decisions cannot be frustrated, and whose counsel shall stand; and love for that great Being who thus proves, that he is careful of his creatures and interested in their concerns; and the most exalted sentiments of that Redeemer, who is the great subject of prophecy.
They cheer the believer, by showing whither the purposes of God are tending, and what shall certainly be the ultimate state of the church, notwithstanding its trials and the opposition with which it may have to contend. When the termination of the cap
tivity in Babylon was prophetically announced to the Jews, they took their harps from the willows, and raised the song of triumph in anticipating the approaching deliverance. And when the darkness with which the church is now enveloped, is dispelled by the light of prophecy; when the bright visions of millennial glory burst upon the enraptured Christian, he forgets the pains which afflicted him, while he participates in the approaching triumph of his Saviour, and of that cause which is so dear to him.
And this joy, instead of relaxing, impels him to vigorous exertions. While he delights in the thought that the cause of Jesus, with which his eternal interests are inseparably linked, is not precarious; but strong as Omnipotence, holds on its course, and will bear down all opposition, he rejoices, by every means in his power, to concur in the promotion of such glorious objects. It is not from the attentive observer of the purposes in God, as they are declared in prophecy, and as they are unfolding in providence, that we hear those pitiful and despicable excuses made, when we apply to them in behalf of Bible or Missionary Societies; excuses which make us blush for them that they still retain the name of Christians.
This study cements thè ties which unite real believers of all denominations, and produces common affection in that great common cause which is the subject of prophecy. "We are thus made to feel an interest in the lot of the righteous; our religion assumes more of the social, and less of the selfish character; we become identified with the whole family of God, not only in fact, but also in our own uninterrupted apprehension.”*
* McLeod, p. 18.