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the hands of this suspected, persecuted, and hated body, what must have been the consequence? *
Would not the document have been carried to the governors, and perhaps even to Rome itself, and cited against them as treasonable? Would it not naturally have been inferred that they were a political society, associated purely for worldly purposes? And would not the false teachers have been among the first to give information of the existence of such a document? I must confess, I think it extremely probable that, in such a case, all this would have come to pass. And if so, it will be extremely difficult to say what apologies could have been offered in mitigation of judgment. For now, it would have been argued that, whatever sense the Christians themselves put upon such a work, it was evident enough to the world, that it was to all intents and purposes political; that its object was solely to raise the importance of one party at the expense of another, and, under the plea of religion, to obtain nothing but temporary results.t But this is not all. Upon the circulation of such a work among the Christians, who had become a numerous body, very large numbers disaffected to the existing government (and of this sort many are always to be found in every country), might have been tempted to join them; and who does not see what mischief, both to Christianity and to the state itself, might have hence accrued? If, however, such document was couched in the language, and under the symbols, peculiar to the ancient Scriptures, and understood by expe
* See an occurrence of this kind mentioned in Amos, vii. 10–13.
+ I cannot forbear noticing here a passage in Lactantius, to shew how very anxious the Romans were to find out occasions of complaint against the Christians, and how very likely it is that, had not this book in particular been couched in symbolical language, it would have been brought forward as matter of accusation against them. In the book de Vita Beata, lib. vii. cap. xxvi. after talking rather wildly about the millennium, Lactantius says:
“ Hæc est doctrina sanctorum prophetarum, quam Christiani sequimur: hæc nostra sapientia. ...quia nos defendere hanc publice atque adserere non solemus, Deo jubente, ut quieti ac silentes arcanum ejus in abdito atque intra nostram conscientiam teneamus, nec adversus istos vere profanos, qui non discendi, sed arguendi atque illudendi gratia, inclementer Deum ac religionem ejus impugnant, pertinaci contentione certemus. Abscondi enim tegique mysterium fidelissime oportet, maxime a nobis, qui nomen fidei gerimus. Verum illi hanc taciturnitatem nostram veluti malam conscientiam, criminantur," &c. And in another place, cap. xv.: “ Romanum nomen, quo nunc regitur orbis rienced believers only, we have a reason why such a work would never call forth the suspicions of the Romans, afford matter of accusation for the false teachers, or be seized upon by the disaffected for the purpose of furthering their own wicked designs. Under such circumstances, no disaffection to the Roman state would be spread by the Christians, either among themselves, or among others who might have wished to join them, as far as political enterprises went; because they looked for nothing more than a spiritual kingdom, although they very well knew, that the existing temporal ones should be destroyed ; still, as theirs was to be purely spiritual, no worldly advantage could accrue to them in the proposed change ; for a warfare would yet remain to be sustained, unless indeed the very character of Christianity itself, as it had been taught by its divine Founder and his disciples, was also to undergo a change. But of this they had heard nothing. In the mean time, however, they did, as their Lord had commanded them, persevere in calling first the Jew and secondly the Gentile to the faith of the new dispensation ; and so far, which was indeed all they could do, they endeavoured by every means to save some.
These considerations will, I think, afford a reason why the Apocalypse should be written at this period, and why it was couched in symbolical rather than plain language* generally. And perhaps the prophecies committed to writing in Babylon by Ezekiel and Daniel, employed symbolical language generally, rather than that of a plainer and more obvious description, for similar reasons; and if so, all becomes reasonable and obvious. But why such a book should appear, couched in terms of this kind, after all the world had become Christian, for the mere purpose of marking out certain political events, I must confess it is out of my power to see. Nor can I, in that sense, discover the least possible connection it can have with the prophecies to which it appeals, most, or all of which have been determined, in the New Testament, to refer to the apostolic, and immediately subsequent, times. But of this, more will be said when we come to particulars.
(horret animus dicere, sed dicam quia futurum est), tolletur de terra....et id futurum brevi, conciones prophetarum denunciant sub ambage aliorum nominum, ne facile quis intelligat.” And, at a much earlier period, Justin Martyr: Και υμείς ακούσαντες Βασιλείαν προσδοκώντας ημάς, ακρίτως ανθρώπινον λέγειν ημάς υπειλήφατε, ήμών τον μετά Θεού λεγόντων.-Apol. p. 18. And after him, Hippolytus the Martyr: Ει γάρ οι προ ημων μακάριοι προφήται γεγενημένοι, ειδότες αυτά ουκ ήθέλησαν μετά παρρησίας κηρύξαι, ίνα μη τάραχον ποιήσωσι ταϊς των ανθρώτων ψυχαίς, άλλα μυστικώς διηγήσαντο....πόσω μάλλον ημείς κινδυνεύσομεν τολμώντες τα υπ' εκείνων úroxpúows signuéva sis Pavegòv aéquv.-De Anticlıristo, par. xxix. Edit. Fabr.
* If Dionysius of Alexandria had duly considered this circumstance, and acquainted himself with the character of this kind of language, he would perhaps have not only seen, s indeed he did, that this book could not be understood by the simple declarations of its terms, but that it contained the words of instruction, consolation, and real inspiration. See Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. vii. cap. xxv.
THE OPENING OF THE REVELATION, WITH A GENERAL ADDRESS TO THE
SEVEN CHURCHLS OF ASIA.
CHAP. I. Verse ). The Revelation of Jesus Christ, &c.* By the Revelation of Jesus Christ, I understand an account, erhibition, &c., of that revelation which the Church then expected; and as mentioned in 1 Cor. i. 7; Gal. i. 12; 2 Thess. i. 7; 1 Pet. i. 13, &c. : and this seems to be confirmed by the following context : " to shew unto his servants things which must SHORTLY come to pass.' That the period limited by our Lord for the commencement of this catastrophe must
* I cannot help here noticing the manner in which Mr. Ewald, in common with the Rationalists (as they are termed) of his country, speaks of the authority of this book in the outset of his commentary. « 'Αποκάλυψις.... revelatio, &c. ...in N. T. non nisi de rebus divinis obvium, sensu objectivo doctrinam quamcunque vel persuasionem denotat, quam quis non hominum institutioni debet (Gal. i. 12, ii. 2), sed sensui in sui ipsius animi penetralibus nuto ; quo se insigniter motos et elatos videntes veteres prophetæ et doctores, grato animo a Deo sibi suggesta esse ejusmodi consilia persuasum sibi habebant,” &c. A little lower down : “ Fingit enim Johannes, rerum futurarum, soli Deo notarum, imagines a Christo, cui a Deo patefactæ sunt, per se interpretem Christianis monstrari.”
In the next page :
“ Pertinet enim ad poësium hujus generis paræneticarum fictionem, quo firmiorem miseris spem faciant," &c. And in the next : “ Johannes igitur hic simpliciter se asseclam strenuum, non ductorem doctrinæ Christianæ noininat,” because, forsooth, he
have been drawing nigh, has already been shewn. See also similar expressions in ver. 3 following; chap. iv. 1; xxii. 6, 10, 12, 20; whence it must appear, as far, at least, as words can make it do so, that every mark which could be necessary to define the time for the fulfilment of this prophecy has been given ;--but more on this subject in the sequel.
2. Who bare record of the Word, &c. Who wrote of the Word (or 2.6y05) expressly, John, i. l; of the testimony, i.e. as given of Jesus, 1 John, v. 9–11, which no other Apostle except John did; and of all things that he saw, i. e. of the things stated in this book. By this I think is meant, that he who wrote of the Word, John, i. 1 ; of the testimony, 1 John, v. 9, &c.; also wrote what we find here stated as seen in visions,- in other words, that John is its writer.*
3. Blessed is he that readeth, &c.... for the time is at hand, (comp. Rom. xiii. 11; James, v. 8; 1 Pet. iv. 7), i. e. happy shall those believers be, who, during the tribulations now coming on, shall hear and attend to the declarations of this sook. Christ hath sent it in order to console his servants, and to assure them, that he will soon appear to their salvation. So far we have the title, intent, and author, of this book, in general. And, let it here be carefully observed, we have, in this short preface, nothing whatever symbolical; the language is that of plain narrative only; and, as such, ought literally to be interpreted. The time was no doubt, as all the writers of the New Testament and all the primitive fathers very justly held, now at hand; and the fact is, the declarations of this book were soon realised. I would here lay down what I deem to be a very important rule of scriptural interpretation; namely, 1. Always to take language not symbolical in its plain and natural acceptation; and, on the contrary, 2. To be careful not to press symbolical language into particulars, as if it were plain and purely verbal. If then John here saw the things which were shortly to come to pass on earth, but delivered to him, and from him to the Church, in symbols, these symbols must, according to our rule, be interpreted as such. When, for example, John sees certain things done in heaven (chap. iv. 1, &c.), we are not immediately to conclude, as is often done, that this is intended to teach us what is going on there, but rather to instruct us, by these symbols, in something relating to our present state, and useful for us to know. On the other hand, when we have plain narration, such as that with which this book begins, we must be careful not to seek for any other sense more recondite, than the words in their literal acceptation will give.
is said to have borne testimony to the truth! So we have, in a very few words, most logically and most rationally got rid of the authority of this book and of its writer! A little farther on, p. 89, when the word spirit is introduced, we are gravely told that the later Jews got all their notions of this kind from the philosophy of the Chaldeans and Persians. It did not occur, perhaps, to this very rational divine, to tell us also how this word happens to be found in the first chapter of Genesis. See also Gen. xxvi. 35, margin ; xli. 8; xlv. 27; Num. xi. 17, 26, 29; xiv. 24; xxvii. 18, &c. This must suffice for the work of Mr. Ewald, Commentarius in Apocalypsin, &c. Lipsiæ, 1828, p. 89, &c.
* Had Dionysius of Alexandria been aware of this, he would not have complained that this book had nothing in common with the other writings of St. John. See Euseb. Hist. Eccles. lib. vii. cap. xxv., and Arethas on the passage.
The contents of the first three chapters of this book seem to be of a local character.
4-7. Contain John's address to the seven churches * of proconsular Asia, as commissioned by Christ, who is here styled the faithful and true witness, the first-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. He is called Prince of the kings of the earth, because the middle wall of partition having now been broken down, the kingdoms of this world had become his property, (see Ps. ii. 8, 9, &c.; Matt. xxviii. 18; 1 Eph. i. 20-23, &c.) It is, therefore, contrary to the declarations of Scripture to affirm, as many do, that the kingdoms of this world have not become the kingdoms of Christ. They are his, nevertheless; and they are no less so, because men may be in a state of ignorance or of rebellion against him. In these cases his professed disciples are perhaps to blame.—Then, ver. 5, follows an ascription of praise : “ unto him that loved us,” &c. To him who has given us such exceedingly great privileges and promises, who hath so loved us that he laid down bis life for us, and who hath made us
* The old commentators generally understand here the whole Christian Church (see chap. ii. 23); just, says Primasius the bishop of Utica and disciple of Augustine, as Peter alone received the keys, but which all the churches had a right to use. See his valuable commentary on this book in Bib. Patrum, tom. I. p. 1356-7, ed. 1624.