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It will be perceived in the following pages, that a design is attributed to the book of Revelation essentially different from that usually ascribed to it. The Apocalypse has been generally supposed to contain a prophetic account of certain political and ecclesiastical changes in the history of the visible church of Christ; instead of this, it is here taken to be an unveiling of the mysterious truths of Christian doctrine, with an exhibition of certain opposite errors—a revelation made by Jesus Christ of himself—an intellectual manifestation; corresponding with what is apprehended to be the Scripture purport of the second coming of the Son of man.
This view, it may be said, deprives the New Testament of the confirmation of its divine origin, drawn from the heretofore supposed fulfilment of certain predictions, in respect to various anti-Christian institutions : the loss, however, if any, appears to be more than compensated by the support of gospel truth gained by a proper understanding of this mysterious volume. As the loss of any confutation of error, derived from the source above alluded to, must be fully counterbalanced by the forcible illustrations of doctrinal principles, to be found in the spiritual construction of this portion of Scripture; a construction exhibiting truth under such a variety of phases, as to supersede in the mind the delusive imaginations from which all error in matters of religious doctrine takes its rise.
We suppose, at least, a spiritual interpretation of this book of Revelation calculated to oppose directly not only one, two, or three erroneous systems, but to
leave no place for falsehood : so operating upon the mind as not only to substantiate the divine origin of the Christian faith, but, at the same time, to give a just view of the spirit and character of the religion itself.
It has been well observed that the occult meaning of Scripture language, “in order to have any degree of confidence reposed in it, must harmonize with the texts of Scripture which are plain and direct."* Accordingly, no consideration is claimed for the suggestions here put forth further than they appear to be sustained by the contents of the sacred volume, taken as a whole, and comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Not only so, it will be perceived, from the number of references to, or quotations from, every part of the sacred writings, (about two thousand,) that our aim has been to allow the language of the inspired writers to make its own commentary upon the work under examination. We have taken all the books of the Old and New Testaments to be the immediate production of the same Author, whatever difference there may have been in the penmen or scribes. We assume the Divine Author to have been fully acquainted with the purport of his own figures of speech; to have preserved throughout these several compositions a consistency and exactness in the use of these figures, and never to have been forgetful in one portion of his work of the purpose to which the same figurative or symbolical expression had been elsewhere applied.
On these principles, a composition of divine inspiration must be presumed to be capable of supporting an exact analysis ; its figurative language being susceptible throughout of the same analogical interpretation. It is not pretended that such an exact analysis has been performed in the present work ; an effort only has been made towards it. Our views have been thrown out as suggestions, and so we wish them to be understood, although in aiming at brevity of expression they may in some places carry the air of assertions.
However commentators disagree in other respects, upon one point there can be no difference of opinion: all must admit the language of the book
* Stuart's Hints, p. 28.
of Revelation to be highly figurative, and a literal interpretation of it to be entirely inconsistent with common sense. Being figurative, the field of construction is freely open to all; subject only to the restriction, that the sense applied be such as can be uniformly sustained, and such as is consistent with the general tenor of holy writ. The rule of interpretation must be the same; there can be no intermixture or amalgamation of exegesis : one portion, or one chapter, is not to be rendered spiritually or doctrinally, and another literally or politically.
The character given by the apostle to his own relation is professedly that of a vision, or waking dream; and, as such, it must be contemplated from beginning to end. The language is not sometimes that of reality, and at others that of a vision ; except it be where the apostle is supposed to express some thought of his own at the time of writing, not forming part of the scene previously presented to his mind.
The style of a dream is peculiarly adapted to the purpose of the narration ; admitting as it does of sudden and apparently capricious transitions from one subject to another. It affords latitude, also, to a certain extravagance of imagination, not admissible in other compositions ; but, no doubt necessary here, for the requisite variety of figures bearing analogy with the truths or meanings to be illustrated. This unlicensed extravagance, as humanly speaking we might term it, if not susceptible of an appropriate and consistent spiritual interpretation, would place the entire composition upon a level with the wild vagaries of mental aberration ; whereas, if the whole be capable, as we maintain it to be, of sustaining the test of a rigorous analysis, the conviction can hardly be with held, that it is the emanation of an omniscient mind.
The use of the term spiritual in these remarks is intended to accord with that of the same term by the inspired writer himself: as, in speaking of the slaughtered witnesses, he says, (Rev. xi. 8,) " and their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually (rivevpatikās) is called Sodom and Egypt, where our Lord was crucified :" a passage, incomprehensible otherwise than by supposing this figuratively anti-Christian city to be in in some parts of Scripture alluded to as Sodom, in others as Egypt, and in others as Jerusalem in bondage to the Romans, where our Lord was crucified ;—there being in all these a certain analogy of character or history, coinciding with the meaning of the figure employed, while other parts of the Apocalypse represent the same city as also spiritually called “ Babylon,” “that great City,” or “ Mystery,”—the “ Mother of Abominations.”
In the use of other terms, we disclaim any sufficient acquaintance with the writings of other commentators to be influenced by their peculiar views or expressions, having purposely aimed at keeping ourselves aloof from such influence; on the other hand, we are far from claiming for our thoughts the authority of a peculiar inspiration or intelligence to which some have pretended. “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding,” and whatever we do, it is to be done as of the ability which the Lord giveth, that his name may be glorified ; but it appears to have been the will of the Most High, to have withheld the miraculous evidences of his peculiar influence upon the mind ever since the days of the apostles, leaving every work to be tried by the test of his revealed word.
“Show me,” said Gideon, (Judges vi. 17.) “a sign that thou talkest with me.” This was the natural dictate of a cautious mind, fearful of being led away by some delusive imagination. The Hebrew champion wished to be satisfied that it was indeed the Deity who communed with him in so extraordinary a manner.
There must be few writers upon reveation, who would not, like Gideon, gladly obtain a miraculous token of divine guidance ; but we have Moses and the prophets ; we have Christ and his apostles—the law and the testimony. If our constructions accord with the general tenor of what these have revealed to us, we have the token or sign, that God has talked with us, and not otherwise. Here is the standard of judgment, and by this criterion alone our treatment of the subject commented upon in the following pages is to be appreciated.
In the remarks made upon the passages relating to the beast, the harlot, and the false prophet, it will he perceived that the application made of
these figures is not of so exclusive a character as that generally adopted. Wherever the inspired standards of doctrinal belief (the sacred Scriptures) are least attended to, there we may reasonably look for the greatest obliquity in matters of faith as well as of practice ; but errors in doctrine are not confined to any single denomination of religionists, to any single sect or limited number of sects, or to any particular form of infidelity. The same error, under different garbs, may exist in some degree in a variety of creeds and systems. The “man of sin,” “the mystery of iniquity,” when fully revealed, may be found to have exercised an influence, greater or less, in the minds of all; however professedly adverse the creed or platform of doctrine of the disciple may be to such influence. Such, indeed, is the imperfection of human compositions, that the spirit of error itself may have no small share in dictating the very safeguards intended to operate against
The design of the Apocalypse is, accordingly, supposed to be that of detecting and revealing this mystery of error wherever it is to be found, as well as of developing its opposite truths.
The purport of this Revelation, contemplated in the light in which we view it, sustains, it will be perceived, in a manner not a little remarkable, the doctrine of salvation, through the vicarious sufferings and interposing merits or imputed righteousness of a Divine Redeemer, and through these means alone; as a result of the all-controlling power of sovereign grace. To prevent, however, any misapprehension of our views in this particular, we wish it to be distinctly understood, that we regard the moral law, as a rule of action, eternal and unchangeable in the nature of things; as much so as the distinction necessarily existing forever between good and evil. In the nature of things, such is the character of the Deity, that this moral law must be the rule of conduct throughout eternity ; the glory of God requiring the observance of this rule in all his rational creatures in every state of existence. Circumstances may change; where there is no death there can be no murder ; but envy, malice, fraud, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness or covetousness, must be as hateful to a Being of infinite perfection in eternity as in time. The love of God, with all the heart, and mind, and