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First, we may here advert with thankfulness to the benefits we enjoy in the collations of ancient Manuscripts of the Apocalypse which were little known to the last century1; and in a large collection of critical helps which have given to the text of the Apocalypse a certainty and clearness which it had not for more than a thousand years'.
The present generation enjoys an inestimable benefit in possessing a correct text of the Apocalypse'. In order to a right interpretation of the Apocalypse, the best help is to be found in the Apocalypse itself. S. Augustine has well observed, that this Book is composed in such a manner as to exercise the diligence of the Interpreter; and that by comparison of one passage with another, the obscure parts may be illustrated and made clear. Indeed there is scarcely a phrase or sentence in the Apocalypse, however difficult it may seem to be at first, which may not be elucidated by means of some other phrase or sentence in the same book.
This aid is enhanced by the light derived from the language of Hebrew Prophecy, especially as read in the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament, the Version which was read by the Churches to which St. John wrote. The very words of Daniel and Zechariah, as presented by that Version, reappear in the Apocalypse'; and thus the prophecies of the Old and the New Testament stand side by side like the Two Candlesticks in the Apocalyptic Vision, and blend their rays together and illumine the eyes of those who study them by the aid of that united light.
Another great advantage which we enjoy, as compared with earlier ages of the Church, for the right understanding of the Apocalypse, is the exposition afforded by the best Interpreter of prophecy,-TIME.
Time, and Time alone, reconciles the seeming antecedent discrepancies which are characteristics of true Prophecy; its hand unties the prophetic knots, which human sagacity could never loose; it refutes the vain conjectures and rash speculations of Expositors who would make themselves into Prophets; it demolishes and removes what is false, and establishes and perpetuates what is true.
The holy Prophets themselves could not interpret their own prophecies. They were inspired to prophesy; but were not empowered to expound what they prophesied. "No Prophecy is of its own interpretation," says St. Peter'. "The Prophets searched diligently, what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify"." Prophecy was "a light shining in a dark place"." It glimmered faintly at first, like the dim morning twilight, but as it approaches its fulfilment, it becomes more clear, till at length the day dawns, and the future becomes present, and the prophecy is illumined by the event.
The Prophets did indeed preach plainly, that Almighty God will hercafter raise the Dead and judge the World, and reward the righteous with everlasting life. They proclaimed these things in clear language; for these were moral truths which all were concerned to know. But the future actions of Men, and Nations, and Churches, were described by the Prophets in a very different manner from this. They were couched in enigmas, which Time only could solve. They were wrapped in a mantle of obscurity which Time only could take off. And with good reason. For otherwise Divine Prescience might seem to fetter the Human Will; whereas the characteristic property of God's Foreknowledge is, that it foresees every thing, and forces nothing. It leaves
1 See below, on the Ancient MSS. and Editions of the Apocalypse, pp. 158, 159.
2 It is no disparagement to the labours of those learned aud pious men who framed our AUTHORIZED VERSION to say, that the English Translation of the Apocalypse is capable of considerable improvements. More has been effected by modern Criticism for the Text of the Apocalypse than of any other portion of the New Testament. See below, p. 158.
It is much to be regretted, therefore, that some English Expositions of the Apocalypse should have been based on the English Version of this Book, without careful reference to the Original. Some grave errors,-which need not be specified,have thus found their way into many vernacular popular Commentaries on this Book, and have been widely disseminated to the great detriment of the Study of Prophecy.
It may also be noticed here, that some important words in the Apocalypse have been received from the English Version, in a sense which, at the present day, affords no adequate notion of their meaning, e. g. beasts for (wa, living creatures (iv. 6-9, &c.); Avxvía, candlestick, a word which does not suggest the idea of the infusion of oil, and does not correctly represent the Auxvía of the Temple (Rev. i. 12, 13. 20; ii. 1; xi. 4); quáλn,
vial (v. 8; xv. 7; xvi. 1—4), and other words which will be specified hereafter in the following notes.
3 It is true that none of the varieties of readings affect any question of Christian doctrine. But as has been well observed by Bengel, "though no Various Reading is of so great importance, that the fundamentals of Christianity depend upon it; yet no Various Reading is of so little importance, that the right-handedness of Apostles (dexteritas Apostolica ') is not to be preferred to the left-handedness of transcribers ('sinisteritas librariorum ').” For a summary of the Critical History of the Text of the Apocalypse, the reader may refer to Lücke's Einleitung, pp. 464-491, and what will be said below on this subject. See pp. 158, 159. 4 S. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, xx. 17.
5 This may be seen at a glance in Mr. Grinfield's "Parallela Apocalyptica," from the LXX. Scholia Hellenistica, Lond. 1848, pp. 887-944.
6 Rev. xi. 4. We are compelled to use the word Candlestick; the reader will bear in mind what it meant. See note 2 in this page. 7 See Dan. xii. 8; viii. 26, 27, and note above, on 2 Pet. i. 20. $ 2 Pet. i. 20. 91 Pet. i. 11. 10 2 Pet. i. 19.
the liberty of the Human Will untouched. Whatever is foretold by God will be done by man; but nothing will be done by man, because it is foretold by God.
Prophecy has a probationary office; it tries the faith, and excites the vigilance, and exercises the patience, of the faithful who give heed to it. But it does not apply any constraint, it allows itself to be neglected; and, as a penalty for the carelessness or blindness of those persons who neglect or misinterpret it, it often permits them to become witnesses of its truth by fulfilling it1.
But, if the Interpretation of a Prophecy had been declared at the same time as the Prophecy itself was delivered, then Prophecy would not have had this disciplinarian character, and doctrinal and moral use.
The fulfilment of Prophecy in a manner at variance with previous human expectation constitutes the essence of the proof, that Prophecy is not the work of man, but of God; and it makes Prophecy to be what it is, an invaluable auxiliary to the cause of the Gospel of Christ.
Hence it is clear, that those persons are in error, who look to the Early Fathers of the Church for interpretations of prophecies which were not fulfilled in their age.
Every thing which has happened since their time, is beyond their province, and appertains to those who live now. Indeed, as far as the Interpretation of Prophecy is concerned, the earlier Christian writers, who lived in the childhood of its growth toward fulfilment, were the moderns; and we, who live now, are the ancients. We live in the old age of the world; and may profit by the wisdom which length of days gives. And it is our duty to use the benefits of our vantage-ground,
by applying History to interpret Prophecy.
The Ancient Christian Expositors had a correct view of the general design and method of the Apocalypse. But even the inspired ancient Prophets were not Interpreters of Prophecy; and uninspired ancient Expositors were not Prophets. The early Christian Expositors could and did interpret those prophecies which had been fulfilled in their days, and their expositions of those prophecies are of great value.
The fact, that none of the Fathers, who lived before the sixth century, were of opinion that the prophecies of the Apocalypse concerning the struggle of Babylon the Great against Christ, and the overthrow of its power, had been fulfilled in that period, presents a very strong presumptive objection to the theory of those interpreters, who suppose that those prophecies were exhausted in primitive times, particularly by the destruction of Jerusalem, and of heathen Rome.
But the early Fathers could not expound unfulfilled Prophecy. And we, who live in later times, should be ungrateful and undutiful to Almighty God, and should be acting very unwisely, if we were to close our eyes to the noonday light which the History of a thousand years has, by the dispensations of His Providence, poured upon the pages of the Apocalypse; and if we were to go back to the vague guesses of those who lived in the dim twilight of fifteen hundred years ago. We should do the Ancient Christian Expositors much wrong, if we did not suppose, that they themselves, if they lived now, would be the first to set us the example of profiting by the light of History, which Almighty God has vouchsafed us for the interpretation of Prophecy.
The Apocalypse is the last work of Divine Prophecy. It is the only Prophetic Book of the New Testament; and it continues and consummates the prophecies of the Old Testament; and its range extends from the first Advent of Christ to His Second Advent, and to the Day of Judgment.
Nearly two thousand years have passed since the Apocalypse was written. It may therefore be anticipated, that diligent study of the History of the Christian Church will throw much light on the prophecies of the Apocalypse; and this anticipation is fully realized by a careful examination of this Divine Book, which, when read by the light of the History of Christendom, is fraught with instruction, encouragement, and warning.
The Apocalypse is a sacred text-book for the devout Christian in the study of Church-History. It is a holy manual of comfort in times of trial, and of guidance in times of difficulty. It is like those Living Creatures, which it describes as "full of eyes "." It is gifted with spiritual foresight, and adjusts itself with more than human flexibility, and with ever-living and ever-moving pliancy, to the circumstances of the Church, and supplies prophetic cautions against varying forms of error.
1 See St. Paul's statement, Acts xiii. 27, "They that dwell at Jerusalem, and their Rulers, because they knew Him not, nor yet the Voices of Prophets, which are read every Sabbath Day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of Him, they took Him down from the tree, and laid Him in a Sepulchre."
2 This is the scheme of that class of Interpreters who have been called Præterists, which includes the names of Bossuet, Ewald, Lücke, De Wette, and others. See Lücke's Einleitung, p. 1067, and Davidson's Introduction, p. 618.
3 Rev. iv. 6. 8.
It is like a holy Oracle, a divine Urim and Thummim, ever uttering a divine voice, and ever showing a Divine light, according to the needs of the Church.
These uses of the Apocalypse are not frustrated or impaired, because there are, and ever will be, many persons, who refuse to recognize the fulfilment of its prophecies in the annals of History.
The fact, that many persons do not acknowledge the fulfilment of prophecies, does not prove that those prophecies have not been fulfilled. We know assuredly, that the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, have been fulfilled in the actions, teaching, and sufferings of Jesus Christ. But the fulfilment of those prophecies is not universally acknowledged; although the evidence of that fulfilment has been open to the world for nearly two thousand years'. The Jews themselves, to whom those Prophecies were given, and who heard those Prophecies every week in their Synagogues, did not recognize their accomplishment in Jesus Christ. They themselves" fulfilled them by condemning Him"." Some even who are called Christians do not own that fulfilment. Even those prophecies which have been most clearly fulfilled do not exercise much practical influence over a great mass of Mankind. And to Heathen Nations, who make the greater part of Mankind, the fact of their fulfilment is unknown.
The Prophecies also, which relate to the destruction of the Old World by the Flood; and of Sodom and Gomorrha by fire; and of the City of Jerusalem by the Roman armies, have been fully accomplished. Those fulfilments are pledges and warnings of the universal Judgment to come. They therefore concern the eternal interests of all men. And yet they seem to have little effect. upon the practice of the world at large.
The fact is, and it is a wonderful fact, but too true, that many men pass their lives in a dream. They do not give due consideration to what it most concerns them to consider. They do "not discern the signs of the times." They do not reflect upon them. They are engrossed with the affairs of this world; absorbed with its cares, and allured by its pleasures. And so their life passes away. They live on and die; and do not apply themselves with an attentive mind, and a teachable spirit to examine the evidence of the case. And it is the nature of Prophecy that it requires such examination. Otherwise, it is like music to the deaf, or pictures to the blind. It is therefore an admirable instrument of moral discipline in God's hands. It proves men, whether they have those moral qualifications of forethought, seriousness, earnestness, patience, docility, meekness, obedience, self-denial, love of God, and perfect submission to His Will, which are requisite for admission into the Kingdom of God.
They who are endued with these gifts and graces, will not be perplexed and staggered by the fact, that many persons, even among those who are eminent in learning, and intellectual ability, but are wanting in the moral qualifications, and spiritual graces, which constitute the Christian character, do not acknowledge the fulfilment of prophecies, which may be proved to have been fulfilled.
Rather they will remember, that those prophecies would not be true, if all persons acknowledged their fulfilment. The Prophets of the Old Testament predicted, that many would not believe their reports. That report has not been believed by many persons celebrated for erudition, such as were some of the doctors of the Jews, who were well versed in the letter of those prophecies, and were principally concerned in them; to whom also they were originally delivered, and who heard them recited habitually in their ears, and read them in their native tongue. They did not understand those prophecies; they even fulfilled those prophecies by not believing them; for their unbelief was predicted by those prophecies; they fulfilled them by denying their fulfilment, and by doing those very things which the prophecies predicted they would do. And thus the Incredulity of those who did not believe those prophecies is an argument for the Credibility of those prophecies; and confirms the faith of the Church which receives them, and which believes in Him as the Messiah, of whom those prophecies speak.
In like manner, it has been prophesied in the Apocalypse, that many persons will neglect its warnings, and that they especially, whose sins it describes, will not be brought by them to repent". The Apocalypse has foretold the existence of a great City exercising a dominant sway over many nations'; it has predicted, that this City would be smitten with spiritual blindness, and will
1 Acts iv. 21.
2 See above, p. 156. note.
3 Matt. xvi. 3.
4 Matt. xvi. 3. Luke xii. 56.
6 Rev. ix. 20; xvi. 9—11.
not believe the report which is uttered by the Holy Spirit in this divine Book; but will fulfil these prophecies by its sins, and by its destruction; and that, even after its destruction, many of its adherents will still despise the warnings of the Apocalypse; and that Nations will rise in rebellion against Christ, and will recklessly rush on to their own ruin, and will fulfil the words of this prophecy which they have despised; and will prove the truth of the Apocalypse by their own utter discomfiture'.
Therefore in reading the Apocalypse we need not curiously inquire, whether all persons are agreed that its prophecies have been fulfilled, or are now in course of fulfilment. Such an agreement is not to be expected. The Apocalypse would not be true, if all recognized its fulfilment.
But the question to be carefully considered, and calmly examined, is this-whether there is sufficient evidence to satisfy well-instructed, reflecting, and judicious persons, that some of these prophecies of the Apocalypse have been fulfilled, and that others are now in course of fulfilment.
Such an examination, candidly, calmly, and patiently conducted, will probably lead the inquirer to the conviction that this is the case.
But on this proposition it would be premature to dwell here. Rather let us appeal to the Book itself. Let us examine its prophecies, and consider the evidence which will be adduced in the following notes in elucidation of them; and let us rest assured, that, as years pass on, the value of the APOCALYPSE will be more and more generally acknowledged, and that the truth of its divine. words will be more deeply felt by the wise and faithful in heart; "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book "."
On the Date of the Apocalypse.
S. Irenæus affirms that the "Revelation was seen not long before his own day, but almost in his own age, at the close of the reign of Domitian 3."
The Emperor Domitian died on the 18th day of September, A. D. 96.
The common era Anno Domini begins about four years too late, and therefore the date of the Apocalypse is about the one hundreth year after the birth of Christ.
The authority of S. Irenæus, who was probably an Asiatic by birth, and who had conversed with S. Polycarp, the scholar of St. John, seems almost sufficient of itself to determine this question of date. It is also confirmed by other evidences.
S. Irenæus states that the Revelation was seen at about the close of the reign of Domitian. We learn from Tertullian, contemporary with Irenæus, that Domitian persecuted the Christian Church. Nero, he says, was the first Emperor who used the sword against the Church, and the next who imitated him was Domitian. Eusebius relates that some of the Christians were banished
by that Emperor, and confined as prisoners in a small island off the coast of Etruria; and then he proceeds to relate that St. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos by Domitian. St. John describes himself as a companion of the Asiatic Churches in tribulation, and as having been brought to the Isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ".
He also refers in the Apocalypse to persecutions of Christians, especially of Antipas, who had been slain as a Martyr for Christ at Pergamos, one of the Seven Churches of Asia.
This reference confirms the testimony of Irenæus. As was before said, no Roman Emperor except Nero had persecuted the Church of Christ before the reign of Domitian. And there is no evidence that any Christian suffered death under Nero, except at Rome".
It is much more probable, that, as ancient writers affirm ", Antipas was martyred at Pergamos in the age of Domitian.
The testimony of Irenæus on the date of the Apocalypse is confirmed by writers in the age next to his. Clement of Alexandria says that, "After the death of the tyrant, John went from the
Island of Patmos to Ephesus';" and he also says "that John remained with the Presbyters of Asia to the times of Trajan."
This statement harmonizes with the assertion of Irenæus, that the Revelation was seen by St. John at the end of the reign of Domitian, who was succeeded by Nerva, the predecessor of Trajan.
Origen, the scholar of Clement, observes that, in accordance with the prophecy of Christ, both the Sons of Zebedee, James and John, drank His cup of suffering; for "Herod," he says, "killed James, the brother of John, with the sword";" and the King of the Romans, as tradition informs us, condemned John, when bearing witness as a Martyr, to the Isle of Patmos, on account of the word of Truth: and John himself informs us concerning his own martyrdom, not telling us who it was that condemned him, but using these words in his Apocalypse, “I, John, your brother and fellow-companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus, became a sojourner in the island that is called Patmos on account of the word of God"."
Victorinus, Bishop of Pettau in Pannonia, who wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse at the close of the third century, and suffered as a martyr in A. D. 303, affirms in that commentary, that when John saw the Apocalypse he was in the island of Patmos, being condemned by Domitian Cæsar to the mines there; and that when John, on account of his old age, supposed he would have a release by death, Domitian was slain, and his decrees were rescinded, and John was liberated from the mines'.
After him Eusebius relates as a fact commonly believed in his age, that St. John was condemned under Domitian to the island of Patmos on account of his testimony to the divine word, and that he there saw the Apocalypse in the 14th year of the reign of Domitian o, that is, in
A. D. 95.
After him S. Jerome, at the close of the fourth century, says, that "John wrote the Apocalypse in the island of Patmos, to which he was relegated in the 14th year of the Emperor Domitian, who was the second Roman Emperor that persecuted the Christians, Nero being the first "."
Thus then we find a consistent and uniform series of testimonies from S. Irenæus to S. Jerome —that is, from about A.D. 170 to A. D. 390-affirming that the Apocalypse was written by St. John in the Isle of Patmos about A. D. 95 of the common era.
The only evidence of any weight which may be adduced in opposition to these conclusions is that of Epiphanius, who died A. D. 403.
In his work on Heretics he says that "St. John in the Apocalypse, writing to the Seven Churches of Asia, predicts the rise of Heresies which did not then exist, and foretells that a woman would appear at Thyatira who would call herself a prophetess'; and he adds that these things came to pass long after the death of John, inasmuch as he prophesied in the times of Claudius Cæsar, when he was at Patmos."
If this passage is genuine, and the text is not corrupt, it may be said without presumption, that through human infirmity, from which the most learned men are not exempt, the memory and judgment of the Author failed him when he wrote it.
This appears from the following considerations:
In speaking to the Angel of the Church of Thyatira, St. John is not censuring him for errors and corruptions which would prevail after his time, and for which he would not be responsible; but he is reproving the Angel, or Chief Pastor, for abuses which actually existed there under his government, and which he ought to have corrected.
Besides, if St. John had written, as Epiphanius supposed, in the days of Claudius, he could not have described himself as suffering exile at Patmos "for the Word of God," for no such punishment was inflicted by the Roman Power on Christians in the days of Claudius, or till the time of Nero 10; nor could he have then referred to the days in which Antipas was slain at Pergamos, as a faithful martyr for the Truth". Nor would he then have censured the Angel of Ephesus for having lost