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Such a view of the Apocalypse will, of course, seem absurd to those in whose hands it is like a dissected wooden map, every piece of which is cut out with such curvatures and indentations, that it will fit one place only. If the wise and good men who have prayed and toiled over this book, had approached in any measure to an agreement as to the references in all the prophetic parts of it, we might, in modesty, consent to be “shut up unto the faith” of their interpretation. But, as we say that providence interprets prophecy, so there seems to be a providence in the diversity, and, in truth, variance, of views among good men, in attempting to explain some of the mysteries of this book; for the effect is, to make the book extend its influence much further than if any one had solved its enigmas, and men had dismissed it from their minds, like a Sphynx's riddle when its solution is once made public.
These remarks apply with equal force to the discussion which prevails at the present time respecting the book, and in which other questions about its interpretation seem to be absorbed, viz. : What parts of the book have been fulfilled, and which of them refer to things yet future ? Learned men disagree as much on this point, as men ever did with regard to the question, Who was Antipas, the faithful martyr ? Or, what are the seven lamps, and the seven spirits of God? Serious and important questions, relating to the millennium, are involved in this discussion ; but, inasmuch as the secret purposes of God are not our rule of duty, judicious Christians generally will labor for the extension of the gospel, at home and abroad; and leave the question, when and in what manner, the kingdom of Christ will be brought to a completion.
Is it not a great mistake, to believe and teach, that every thing in the Bible must in every way be explained; and that every thing was intended to be deciphered, at some time, in every feature, with unequivocal interpretation ? Ezekiel's vision of the wheel, in the view of some, must be translated; they have no rest in their spirits, till they determine the explicit meaning of that sublime and fiery apparition. It never seems to be admitted by them, that some images in the Scriptures were merely for the sake of impression; and that they fulfilled their design, when they struck the mind of the seer with awe; and insured a suitable representation of the vision to others, by rousing and affecting his
mind. Some parts of the Revelation may have had no other purpose than this. Indeed, if, as we generally believe, parts of the book relate to things beyond time, there may have been the purpose in the mysterious appearances which passed before the mind of John, merely to excite the faith and hope of believers in all coming years, by giving them glimpses of future triumphs and of endless blessedness; while there was no design that any man should be able, till the fulfilment of all things in the book, to affix a certain interpretation to those appearances, beyond their general object to impress the mind. In accordance with this indistinctness in things confessedly beyond time, some events belonging to this world may have partaken of the same brilliant indistinctness to the eye of John, lying as they do along the same line of vision.
In our abhorrence of papal mysticism, and in our disgust at the allegorical interpretations of Origen and his imitators, we are in danger of passing to the opposite extreme, of compelling every thing in the Bible to take and bear a descriptive label. When doctrinal truth is evidently the design of the passage, all the implements and agents of the most severe analysis may properly be employed upon it; but when the passage is evidently symbolical, there are some cases in which the attempt to give one definite and exclusive meaning to it is like translating the gorgeous shapes and colors of the clouds at sunset. We will illustrate our meaning; for we would not be understood as attempting to throw an air of mystery over the whole Apocalypse. We only insist, that there are some things in it whose power and interest do not depend on being minutely explained or understood. Who, for example, would be so venturesome as to tell us precisely the appearance of that celestial presence which, John says, was to look upon “ like a jasper and a sardine stone ?” Mineralogy does well to be silent before such a passage. Theology should cover her face, like the cherubim, instead of exacting a precise and definite meaning from some of the apocalyptic descriptions. The description of the personal appearance of the Son of Man, in the first chapter, is another illustration. We venture to say, no one ever had a definite conception of it from that description, any further than that the appearance was awfully sublime.
Yet, there are multitudes of images and symbols which cannot possibly convey more than one impression. “A Lamb as it had been slain," the throne resting on the four living creatures, each
the head of his species, indicating the power and majesty of the throne, celestial armies led by the Faithful and True, the many crowns upon his head, and other symbols which might be named, suggest to every reader the same thing. But when we come to the opening of the seals, and the emptying of the vials, and to the little book sweet and bitter, and to the woman clothed with the sun, and her man-child, and to the millstone sunk by the angel in the flood, we are at a loss in explaining them, except in a most general way. We find do concurrence of views among commentators, with respect to specific numbers, dates, and persons referred to in some of the symbols. Every intelligent reader, however, will have his own explanation of them, according to the theory which he may have adopted in the interpretation of the book, but he cannot be sure that his neighbor will agree with him in it. To the vast majority of our church members, much of the Apocalypse is in many of its parts mysterious ; still they derive from the book, as a whole, as much spiritual profit as from any book of the Bible. Indeed, the mysteries of the book give a preternatural interest and power to the whole. The natural love of that which is superhuman, gratified as it is by the sublime and awful figures, which appear at one time in bold relief, and again in distant and shaded forms, draws children and men, and, no less than others, the aged Christian, towards the book with a strong attraction. As young children read the Pilgrim's Progress with intense interest, while as yet they do not understand many of the allusions in it, so the Christian is impressed with this book of Revelation. There is enough of the marvellous to excite curiosity and wonder, and more than enough to gratify the devotional feelings.
Then, some will say, you favor the maxim, that ignorance is the mother of devotion. If the previous remarks do not sufficiently answer this objection, it may be added, that the ignorance which is the natural consequence of our inferior condition compared with the celestial world, does necessarily lead a pious mind to devotion. We do not worship that which is on a level with us, or beneath us. Our incapacity to comprehend, or to understand, many divine things, is the fruitful mother of devotion, and will be 80 forever. That day of our calamity will never come, when there will be nothing more in God to excite wonder, or when he will cease to be past finding out. We should all be glad to know the meaning of every seal, and vial, and woe, in the Apocalypse ; not a few learned men have felt sure that they could explain them; many of us have examined their theories, but we find ourselves often perplexed to know which theory is true. Our conclusion is, that there are some things in the Apocalypse, which it was not the design of the Spirit that men should at present interpret with certainty; and at the same time, we believe that this obscurity is only partial, and is not unfavorable to the spiritual objects of the book.
The view now advanced, that parts of the Apocalypse were not intended to be at once and explicitly understood, is by no means novel. It is sanctioned by great names. Scaliger said, that Calvin was wise, because he did not write upon the Revelation. Dr. Whitby says: “I have neither sufficient reading, nor judgment, to discern the intendment of the prophecies contained in that book.” These men were never suspected of want of due reverence for the Scriptures, or of incompetency. Those distinguished scholars and devotedly pious men, who have written with such learning and ability on the Apocalypse, bave made the world their debtors, in two things ; first, for explaining the language, and the meaning of the symbols in the book; and secondly, for making us feel sure, that unity of belief, as to the meaning of some parts of the Apocalypse, is at present impossible, and thus relieving us from fruitless attempts to understand them.
It may be said, that if this view of the Apocalypse be correct, and if we cannot understand the whole of it, so far it is improperly called Apocalypse, or Revelation. Michaelis dwells upon this objection. But it has been very properly observed, that “the author might call that a revelation which was communicated to him in an extraordinary manner, though he had received it, and was to represent it, in a figurative and emblematic style.” Daniel had a revelation, when he said, “I heard, but I understood not." It would lead us too far into the discussion of the nature of prophecy, to consider this objection more fully ; we will only refer to an instance of obscurity in the Saviour's words, at the time when, in the presence of the High Priest, he was asserting himself to be the Son of the Highest, which will illustrate, in part, the kind and degree of obscurity which we feel belongs to the Apocalypse. “Jesus said unto him: Thou hast said, (viz., that
, which I am, the Christ, the Son of God.) Nevertheless, I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." Here the announcement is made, of the Saviour's second coming; the impression upon the High Priest was great, so that he performed that most unusual act, of rending his clothes, as a sign of horror at the alleged blasphemy. But the High Priest, probably, had no definite impression, and it was not intended that he should have any definite impression, with regard to the Saviour's second coming. So in the Apocalypse, our minds are deeply affected with certain truths and expectations, while no man has ever been able to satisfy us, nor can we satisfy ourselves, with regard to the men, the places, the events, the times, referred to in some of the passages. We do not believe that an accurate, or a certain knowledge of details, was the great intention of the prophecy; the object being, as we think, to fill the mind with expectation, hope, fear, caution, joy; and afterward, when the things should come to pass, with a confirmed confidence in the faithfulness of God. This is the view generally taken of the object of all prophecy.
We now turn to that view of the Revelation which the pious and humble believer should take of this important and interesting portion of the inspired Word of God. As to its inspiration, even Dr. Priestley says, that he thinks it impossible for any intelligent and candid reader not to be impressed with the peculiar dignity and sublimity of its composition, superior to that of any writing whatever; nor does he think that any one can resist the conviction, that, considering the age in which it appeared, it could only have been written by a.person divinely inspired.
One of the most interesting things connected with this part of the inspired Word of God, and one which is suited to give it, and we believe does give it, a peculiar interest to the children of God, is, that it is the last book of the Bible.
It is true that it was written last, and therefore it holds the proper place as the closing portion of the inspired volume. But while no argument can be constructed to prove a supernatural design that this book, rather than the Epistles of the same author, should close the sacred canon, they who believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture, will recognize at least a providential purpose and arrangement in placing such a book at the end of the sacred Word. The Apostle is commanded, at the opening of the book, to write the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter.” He receives and records the Saviour's messages to seven Christian Churches. These Churches, in the variety of