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season of delay is introduced only as an incidental circumstance; the season of fulfilment is the grand and important matter of testimony which is meant to be confirmed by oath. There is a manifest reference in this text to the passage in Daniel, where the prophet is represented as saying, and I heard the man clothed in linen, who was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever, that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished,' Dan. xii. 7. By comparing these parallel texts, you will see that the one establishes the interpretation we have given of the other, and shews, that the fulfilment or termination of the mystery is the principal matter
of the testimony of the angel. And no one can be ignorant, that since the Antichristian state began to fall, the true church has occupied a more conspicuous place than she had done during the course of many ages before. She is no longer shut up in a wilderness, or clothed as in the deepest suit of mourning. The plan of Providence is changed, and events are hastening forward to those scenes of prosperity which yet lie before her.
The chapter is concluded with an account of the manner in which the little book was disposed of, as in ver. 8., And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go, and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea, and upon the earth. John was lately addressed by a voice from heaven. He felt, by the energy with which it was attended, that it was the voice of God; and he knew that instant compliance with its requirements was his reasonable service. He was now addressed by the same Speaker, and directed as in the text before us.-Here we have strong presumptive evidence, that though, like a supplementary work, the little book might be closely connected with some other volume, it could not be the same, but one distinct from the book with seven seals. The presumption is furnished by the particularity of the description. It is again
called a little book,-this little book is said to be open,-and we are also told, that it was in the hand of the angel. If it had been the remainder of the sealed book, this particularity of description would have been unnecessary, because John would not have been in danger of falling into a mistake respecting it; but if it was a separate work, and held in the hand of the angel along with the remainder of the book with seven seals, this minuteness of description was necessary, in order that John might distinguish the one from the other.
This new order from the throne was followed by a prompt and cheerful compliance on the part of the prophet; ver. 9., And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. Though the angel's appearance was singularly glorious, John was not appalled, nor in any degree intimidated, in approaching him. He knew that he had a divine warrant for what he was attempting; and might therefore confide in his employer, that the infirmities of humanity would be sustained before such an effulgence of glory. With the greatest fortitude and resolution, he seems to have drawn near to this glorious person, and to have requested that he might receive the little book from his hand.
The request was no sooner presented, than it was answered according to his wish. And he said unto me, Take it; and at the same time he gave him the necessary instructions with respect to the use he was to make of it: Eat it up, said he, and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. We have formerly seen, that a book, in the style of prophecy, is the symbol of a revelation from God; and, therefore, the symbolical action of eating a book must be intended to represent the state and exercise of the mind about that revelation, especially in the way of reviewing, pondering, and digesting its contents. Ezekiel was instructed by a similar emblem, chap. iii. 1., and the effects upon the ancient prophet were perfectly similar to those which the angel foretels would be produced in John. It was sweet in his mouth as honey, but in his belly it produced effects which
were extremely painful. This little book was to give both pleasure and pain. When the prophet had examined its contents, and found, that, during a period of twelve hundred and sixty years, the church was to be in a condition that bordered upon annihilation, he could not fail to be deeply afflicted. But when he also found, that, during this long period, her existence would nevertheless be preserved, and that, when these years of sorrow had passed away, she would appear in greater prosperity than had ever been her attainment, he could not fail to be comforted. It was a composition of sweets and bitters, both of which appeared to be extreme; the one was sweet as honey or the honey-comb, and the other was bitter as wormwood or gall.
The history of this book is concluded with an account of John's immediate compliance with the direction of the angel; ver. 10., And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up: : and it was in my mouth sweet as honey; and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. He experienced all those opposite effects of which the angel had assured him; the sweetest cordial could not have been more agreeable to his taste than some things in this book were to his mind; while others produced the opposite feeling of the greatest bitterness and pain.
But as this book was not committed to John for his own private information, but for public and standing usefulness, as a part of the revelation of God to the church, he had no sooner done as we are told, than he was addressed by the angel, as in the last verse of the chapter. He said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.-The contents of the little book were not to be sealed like the thunders; they were to be published in the most extensive manner possible, that they might be known and read of all men. The publication of the book appears to be what is intended by John's prophesying before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings. He was still in a state of banishment in Patmos, and had not an op
portunity of ministering in person beyond the limits of that island; he was also in a very advanced stage of life; and, therefore, though the restraints imposed upon him by his persecutors had been taken off, he was not in a condition to visit the different courts and kingdoms of the earth. But what he could not do in person he was able to perform by writing. Under the influences of the Spirit of inspiration, he was to commit to writing whatever was contained in this little volume, that faithful duplicates of it might be circulated all the world over. In this sense John still continues to prophesy before many people and nations; and though long since removed from the militant state of the church, by his inspired writings he will continue to the end of the world to be one of the best instructors of the human family.
This phrase, prophesy again, has been generally understood as intimating nothing more than that John was to be farther employed as the amanuensis of the Spirit, in committing the mind of God to writing. But this cannot be the whole of what is intended, as this was already known to the prophet. So long as any part of the contents of the sealed book was not disclosed, he knew that his work as a penman of Scripture was not finished.-The word translated again, seems to be used by the apostle in the same sense as in the 20th chapter of his gospel, and 10th verse, where it is said, 'Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.'. It does not mean that they had been twice at the sepulchre, and were returning a second time to their homes. In the preceding part of the chapter we read of only one visit which they paid to it; and, therefore, when it is said they went away again unto their home, the meaning is, that they retraced their steps, and went back to their home. In like manner it was to be with John in discharging this part of his ministry; he was to go back, not as his brethren literally did in the way of retracing their steps, but in the way of setting out twice from the same point, and travelling in the same direction. There was to be a repetition of the matter, as well as a continuation of the act of prophesying. By the use he had been directed to make of the little book, he was to give 2 c
a more full and expanded view of those mournful times of the trumpets, of which he had already given some partial account.
We have taken only a very cursory view of the interesting matter of this chapter; because, however worthy of our serious and devout consideration, abstractedly viewed, yet, as it is brought in here merely as introductory, and has more of a doctrinal than a prophetical character, we have said the less upon it, our object being chiefly to illustrate the prophetical parts of the book. For the same reason, though the chapter presents us with a wide field for practical reflections, only a few of the most obvious shall be mentioned at present.
OBSERV. 1st, An oath is warrantable. Quakers refuse to swear upon any occasion, founding their scruples concerning the lawfulness of oaths upon our Saviour's prohibition in Matt. v. 34. Swear not at all.' But if that prohibition were to be understood absolutely, he himself would never have been represented, as in this book of the Revelation, lifting up his hand to heaven and swearing. His object in the sermon on the mount is to condemn the wanton and vicious mode of swearing in common discourse, and particularly to correct a dangerous practical error, at that time very common among the Jews, who imagined that only solemn vows, or oaths sworn in a very solemn manner, were obligatory. If all oaths had been prohibited, society would have been deprived of what is frequently the only means of terminating the differences which spring up among the members, and the saints of one of the firmest grounds of their hope, Heb. vi. 16, 17, 18.
2d, A religious as well as a civil testimony may be confirmed by oath. Here this angel swears about matters in which the honour of God and the interests of the church were deeply concerned; and it was so common with the Jews, when religion prospered among them, to accompany their public vows with an oath, that the exercise of vowing is frequently described from this incidental circumstance; and accordingly, when that people vowed, they are said to have sworn unto the Lord. Few persons besides Quakers dispute the propriety of confirming matters of civil testimony by oath; but public