« VorigeDoorgaan »
hovah's throne; and in the foreground appeared an innumerable multitude of glorified spirits, clothed in white robes, with palms in their hands. All was regarded as real, with perhaps a little allowance here and there, for figurative expression. In another quarter, far below, yawned a pit, huge, bottomless, pouring forth smoke from a raging lake of fire and brimstone. Evil angels and monstrous shapes were let loose upon the world was seen shaken in pieces and passing away; war actually broke out in heaven, and the devil with his host was cast down. People did not much trouble themselves with the chronology of these events, nor with the order in which the several appearances were represented as following each other. They seemed to think themselves at liberty, in so dark a book, to take the scenes backwards or forwards, or confusedly, just as was convenient for the time ; and accordingly they found in one passage the final dissolution of the universe, and saw in the next, without the least surprise, the earth with its green fields still remaining as before, and after all this, the expulsion of Satan from beaven into the earth, which took place, however, some time before the world was created.
This absurd mode of interpretation is not yet wholly abandoned in practice, though in theory it is universally discarded, A new scheme has succeeded it; and the common and confirmed impression now is, that the book consists, not of literal descriptions, but of symbolical imagery, shadowing forth important transactions that were to be realized, for the most part in this world, and according to the regular course of nature. As far at least as the twentieth chapter, which is the last but two, it is generally supposed to represent the history of the Christian religion, or of its professors, from the apostolic age downwards, through succeeding times. So great is the change of popular opinion, in this respect! It is curious, however, to observe that in applying certain favorite and noted passages, the habits which were formed under the old views, still continue in full force, though nothing could be more repugnant to the scheme of interpretation at present received. We will mention some of the most striking instances. The terrific representation of the opening of the sixth seal, is often applied as formerly, to the end of the world, even by those who adopt the scheme of interpretation which refers it only to the overthrow of heathenism in ancient Rome, and the establishment of Christianity under Constantine the Great, somewhat more than fifteen hundred years ago : 'I beheld, when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood, and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind; and the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the rocks and mountains, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?'1 We repeat : when this passage is taken with its context as belonging to the sixth seal, nobody pretends that it refers to a period later than the fourth century ; notwithstanding, when quoted separately, it is still applied to the end of the world. Again : what is said of war in heaven, in which the devil and his angels were cast out into the earth,2 is sometimes adduced at this day, to countenance the old, gross idea, (not the literal one, since it is supposed they were cast into hell instead of the earth, )--the old gross idea of fallen angels; although when explained in connexion with the rest of the prophecy it is never referred to any thing of the kind, but made to signify some crisis in the state of the Christian church, such as the conversion of the Roman government, or the Reformation under Luther. The same inconsistency appears in the popular use of that noted passage in the fourteenth chapter : “And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation ; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever; and they have no rest, day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his pame.' 3 According to the popular views of our day, this passage also relates to the time of the Reformation ; and the judgments it announces should be supposed of course to follow at no great distance. Why then are they so unceremoniously referred, not only to another period, but to another world ?4 With regard to all this double-dealing, however, we must not be too ready to charge it to absolute and conscious dishonesty, since it may be owing in part to old habits that grew to inveteracy under a former scheme of interpretation, and which are now continued, like other habits, without examination, and consequently without observing their palpable absurdity. It is doubtless from the same cause, also, thai Universalists have not wholly ceased to quote, as proof of the final reconciliation of all men, the following text: Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever :' 5 a text, which, if we mistake not their views concerning the general plan of this book, they can by no means suppose, on careful reflection, to refer to a period yet future. It should not be forgotten, that all the passages we have set down, are taken from those very chapters which are now universally regarded as having their fulfilment on earth ; and that, unless we renounce this opinion, we are of course precluded from adducing them as proof of the state of things in another world.
1 Rev. vi. 12–17. * Rev. xii. 7-9. * Rev. xiv. 9–11. Bishop Newton makes this third angel to be Luther and the other Reformers ; Faber, having other wise'dio
We have mentioned the change in the common sentiment with respect to the character of the Apocalypse. On the whole it is doubtless a great improvement. Still there are some things in the present views of the subject which we wish to bring into question. That the larger part of the book, if not the whole does indeed refer to occurrences or dispensations in this world, we suppose to be evident enough; but in the application of the several visions to the particular events, expositors have led
posed of Luther and Calvin, is obliged to apply the prophesy exclusively to the early divines of the Church of England.
• It is worthy of remark, though perhaps not very surprising, that even Professor Stuart, while treating philologically after his manner in his 'Exegetical Essays,' &c. uses this passage thus : • Is it then a Scripture doctrine that the Lord brings up from the eternal pit, those who are once confined there? Or rather do not the Scriptures teach that the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever?' Exegetical Essays on several words relating to Future Punishment. p. 79. * Rev. v. 13.
the way, and the people have followed them, through a vast field of details which are probably altogether fanciful. The common opinion now is, that we find in this prophecy the whole history of the world in epitome, from the apostolic age to the consummation of all things: the persecutions of the Roman emperors, the political establishment of Christianity under Constantine, the irruptions of the northern barbarians, the fall of the Western Empire, the rise of Mahommedanism, the conquests of the Saracens and Turks, the apostacy and abominations of the Church of Rome, the faithfulness and sufferings of the Waldenses, the fortunes of Luther and his coadjutors, the subsequent revolutions of Europe, and other events not yet transpired, down to the millennium, and finally to the close of time,-all are supposed to be here shadowed forth.
It is certainly a grand and imposing idea, whether founded in truth or fancy; and no wonder it has taken well, especially since the studies of learned divines for several generations have been employed in harmonizing the prophecy and history to this result
. A long and perplexing task! which they accomplished only by degrees and after many rough draughts.
But it was impossible they should not at length succeed, by perseverance, by repeated revisions, when they had the ten thousand times ten thousand circumstances in the revolutions offifteen or sixteen centuries from which to select and form their chain of coincidences; when too they took the liberty to transpose the order of the sacred text where all other means failed ; and when they allowed themselves a great latitude, much greater than cursory readers are aware of, in explaining its figures sometimes after one rule and sometimes after another, in order to make them comport. Indeed, we believe that of all the various contradictory schemes to which the Apocalypse has ever been applied, there are few in which there is much lack of coincidences sufficiently striking. But to Protestants, the hypothesis now in view has had the paramount recommendation that it seemed to make the voice of God himself speak out audibly, from the depths of the ancient oracle, in favor of theinselves, and to denounce vengeance on their hated foe, the Church of Rome, as the mother of harlots and aboininations. An idea so flattering, so congenial with their prejudices, would naturally obtain the preference over others equally plausible, and receive all the contributions which the most patient research could supply towards its developement.
The first germ of this hypothesis appears to have sprung up in the darkness of the thirteenth century, and among some of the disaffected Catholics themselves. A party, the most ignorant and superstitious of the Franciscan friars, took upon themselves to defend the rule of absolute penury, mendicity, and the wearing of strait instead of loose cowls. In the contention which followed, they quarrelled with the pope and the church, who sided with their opponents. Fanatical in the extreme, they proceeded to assert that the late founder of their order was the angel whom John saw flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach, and that he had established a new dispensation which was about to supersede that of Christ. For these sentiments they were persecuted, as well as for their contumacy; and they retaliated by declaring the church of Rome to be the whore of Babylon, mentioned in the Apocalypse. This was about A. D. 1250.
o If the reader have the curiosity to ask, What was the view commonly taken of the Apocalypse in the early ages of the church ? we must answers that no common or indeed very definite idea of it seems to have been entertained. Irenæus (A. D. 185,) offers a conjecture that the name of the beast, containing the number 666, (Rev. xiii. 18) is Satcīvos meaning Rome heathen, as it then existed. This, however, he proposes with some hesitation, since, as he observes, there may be many names that contain the same number; and he advises to wait the fulfilment of the prophecy, (Adv. Hær. Lib. v. 30.). The latter part of the book he evidently thought a prediction of a personal reign of Christ on earth for a thousand years, and of the general judgment. Though the early fathers have left us but very scanty notices of the book, it appears that most of those who regarded it as a prophecy, supposed it to relate chiefly to the persecutions and civil wars of the first Roman emperors, to the Millenium, and to the end of the world, which they thought near at hand. Several, however, considered it not a prophecy, but a moral allegory. Augustine (A. D. 420) explains the beast to signify the avowed enemies of Christianity; and his image, its hypocritical professors. The devil was bound when the gospel was first preached ; and the first resurrection (Rev. xx. 4—6) was not that of the body, but the enjoyment into which the righteous enter immediately at death. The last of the book, however, he considers a representation of the end of the world and the scenes which are to follow. (Civ. Dei Lib. xx. 8-17.) Some of the ancients make the seven heads of the beast to be the seven principal sins. (Le Nouy. Test. par M. de Beausobre et Lenfant. Pref. sur l'Apocalypse, Tom.
p. 031.) 7 See Wetstein's Gr. Test. Tract. De Interpretatione Libri Apocalypseos, Tom. ii. pp. 891-893; Beausobre et Lenfant, pp. 642, 643 ; comp. Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. Cent. xiii. Pt. ii. ch. ii. § 31-36. I am aware that it is usual to refer the origin of this interpretation to Joachim, Abbot of Flora, in Calabria, in the end of the twelfth century, and to represent that the Franciscan friars derived it from him. But Wetstein, (1. c.) who examined his Exposition of the Apocalypse, found that on the contrary, he maintained the utmost deference to the Church of Rome and to the pope in particular, and that he stigmatised the heretics or reformers of those days as