« VorigeDoorgaan »
and dominion. Accordingly, when the meaning of a symbolical term has been once ascertained, it is then easy to determine its acceptation wherever it occurs, because its meaning is uniform and invariable. Hence, as most of the symbols of John had been employed by Daniel and Ezekiel, the writings of these prophets throw much light upon each other; and the better we are acquainted with the language of any one of them, the better shall we be qualified to decipher the meaning of the language of the other two.
3d, The scope and design of the prophecies contained in the Revelation of John, is to foretell the various conditions of the Christian church. Many interpreters seem to have thought, that they would find every great event, and all the principal actors on the theatre of human affairs, described in the prophecies of Scripture. And, as men are always affected most by the events of their own times, they think it impossible that the Spirit of prophecy can have overlooked the extraordinary occurrences of the age to which they belong. Hence, as the French Revolution has been the most remarkable event in the late history of modern Europe, and as the present ruler of that country has acted a principal part in the scenes which have followed upon that revolution, and is certainly the most extraordinary character of the age,—they think, that both of them must be described in the prophecies of the Revelations. This mistaken principle has led many able interpreters of Scripture to the most absurd application of particular predictions. A few years will be sufficient to correct the mistake, and shew the absurdity of the application. But, to guard against the same error, let it always be kept in mind, that it forms no part of the plan of the Spirit of inspiration, to describe either statesmen or heroes, kings or commanders, or even the shocks and revolutions of political states and associations. The Bible is the history of religious, not of civil
At the time when this Lecture was delivered, Napoleon Buonaparte was Emperor of France.
society; it introduces the affairs of secular monarchies only occasionally, and as the interests of the church are affected by them. The Old Testament writers present us with nothing but mere extracts from the histories of civil states. The New Testament writers have adopted the same plan: they foretell no political changes, but as they are interwoven with the changes in the condition of the church. But as the church is always affected by the revolutions of the state; and as the seat of the Christian church has hitherto been chiefly within the limits of the Roman empire; and as the mighty changes of that empire have deeply affected her condition; though we have not any connected view, yet, in the subsequent prophecies, we have many references to the state of the civil affairs, both of ancient and of modern Europe; and it will be impossible to explain some of these predictions, without consulting the civil as well as the ecclesiastical history of the times to which they refer.
4th, The period of time through which the prophecies of the Revelation extend, is remarkably long. It has its commencement with the Christian æra, or at least with the time of our Lord's ascension to heaven, and runs forward to the completion of the mystery of Providence with the end of time. -In the writings of Moses, we have a compendious history of the first ages of the church; succeeding writers have carried forward the series of events to the times of Christ; and John, in this book of the Revelation, has given a prospective history of the same society, from the period of the administration of Christ in his glorified estate, to the end of the world. The important matters, which form the subjects of John's predictions, have not been wholly passed over by all the other penmen of Scripture. Daniel, under the emblem of a little horn, has described the rise and fall of the Man of sin, chap. vii. Ezekiel, under the emblem of Gog and Magog, has described the ruin of the Mahometan interest, chap. xxxviii. xxxix. Isaiah, and other prophets, have many beautiful de
scriptions of the prosperity of the church in the latter days. But these writers give us the history only of detached facts, or of particular periods, included in the general series; and therefore present us only with limited and partial views of the subjects which comprise the matter of John's predictions. He is the only inspired writer that has given a full and connected statement of the affairs of the Christian church.
There is no book so interesting, or which presents us with such a view of society and manners, as the holy Scriptures. Through this glass, we may look back upon the infancy of the world, and forward to its dissolution, and contemplate the variegated scenes which lie between them. By the errors and mistakes, the calamities and judgments, of former times, we may be warned, and instructed, and put upon our guard. By the faith, and patience, and other virtues for which good and pious men were celebrated, we may be excited to copy after their example. Through the medium of the Scriptures, we may see the true sources of their consolation, and may drink and be refreshed at the same springs. And, through means of the same glass, we may discern the great lines of the future managements of the God of the church, and see the wonderful changes which are to be effected in her condition, and what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness.
5th, Before concluding these introductory remarks, it may be proper to give an outline of the principal matters contained in the prophetical parts of this book. The whole prophecy may be divided into Six different periods, which are symbolized by as many different emblems.-The First is the period of the Seals, described in chap. vi., which contains the history of the church, from the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, to the time of Constantine the Great, and includes a period of 300 years, or thereby.-The Second is the period of the Trumpets, described in chap. viii. & ix., and contains the history of the church, during the greater part of 1260 years.
The Third is the period of the Vials, described in chap. xvi., and contains the history of the same society, during the decline and fall of the Popish interest.-The Fourth is the period of the Millennial state of the church, described in chap. xxi. and in the beginning of chap xxii., symbolized by a new world, and a new Jerusalem state of the church.-The Fifth is the period of the last and great apostacy, described in chap. xx. 7-9, under the emblems of Gog and Magog. How long this apostacy will be continued, we are no where told; only we are assured, that when the enemies of godliness have taken their measures, to scale the walls, and lay the city of the church in ruins, and are just marching to the assault, they will be met by the fires of the last judgment.-The Sixth is the period of the last judgment, described (chap. xx. 11—15), in allusion to the forms of justiciary courts among men. beyond the scenes of the last judgment belongs to eternity. Then the church shall have an everlasting sabbath. In this, which may be considered as the Seventh and Last period, the incorrigibly wicked will be shut up in the prison of hell, and the righteous will be uninterruptedly and eternally blessed in the enjoyment of God in heaven.
Many subordinate parts are included under these general heads of prophecy. The seals are seven in number; and as they are distinguished from one another, both in respect of time and events, they form seven distinct predictions. The trumpets are also seven; and though they are not all distinguished in respect of time, there is, nevertheless, an obvious distinction among them in respect of matter; they are therefore separate predictions also. The first two are distinct, both in respect of time and events, from those that are afterwards mentioned. The first, under the emblem of a storm of hail mingled with fire and blood, describes the inroads of the Barbarians of the North, and the declining state of the Roman empire; the second, under the emblem of a great mountain burning with fire, torn by a preternatural earthquake from its
base, and cast into the sea, describes the final subversion of that mighty political association. The great lett or impediment, to the revelation of the Man of Sin, being removed, the two next trumpets describe the origin and progress of that society of which he is the head ;-the one, under the emblem of a great star falling from heaven, which increased in splendour in proportion to its declination towards the earth, for it burned as a lamp ;'-the other, under the emblem of an eclipse of all the heavenly bodies, the hieroglyphic of the dark ages, or of the benighted and miserable condition of Europe, till the period of the Reformation from Popery.-Contemporaneous with these scenes in the West, the rise and progress of the Mahometan delusion in the East are described under the two next trumpets. The Saracen locusts are the principal figure in the one; and the Euphratean or Turkish horsemen are the principal figure in the other.
The vials are also seven. They appear to be distinguished by the objects which they are meant to affect, rather than by the time in which they are poured out. An order of exhaustion however is noticeable among them: the first begins to be emptied before the second, the second before the third, and so on of the rest. They are, nevertheless, much more continuous than the seals; and none of them appears to have discharged all its contents, till the complicated evils of the last begin to be inflicted. The first five vials bring the vessel of the Popish church into very perilous circumstances. They drive her like a ship without a rudder, before the storm, till they strand her upon the beach. Wave succeeds wave,
breaking upon her with very little intermission, and threatening her destruction. But, like a vessel that has been admirably constructed, and built of the very best materials, she still keeps together, and preserves her former appearance, till the terrible surges from the last vial of wrath begin to be heaved out upon her. These extinguish the hopes of her owners; they dash her into a thousand pieces, and complete the wreck.