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In support of this view of the end and objects of the former dispensation, we have the infallible authority of the Redeemer himself, and of the inspired writers of the preceding books of the New Testament; and, by thus viewing the Apocalypse in connexion with prophecies of the old dispensation, we shall not only arrive at more just ideas of the spiritual character of ancient prophecy; but shall be enabled to apply it, with greater justice and truth, to the illustration of the language and the subject of that last and most interesting prophecy, which comprehends the fates and fortunes of the Christian Church to the great consummation of all things.
THE APPLICATION OF THE ARGUMENT CONTAINED IN THE
PRECEDING CHAPTER TO THE INTERPRETATION OF
THE PROPHECIES OF THE APOCALYPSE.
Having thus considered the leading objects and distinguishing characteristics of ancient prophecy, we will now consider them with reference to their application to the Interpretation of the Prophecies of the Apocalypse.
I. In the first place, with regard to the great object of ancient prophecy,—the coming of the promised Redeemer,-this, we have seen, was the great subject of prophecy, both before the Law and under the Law. It was the great object of faith to the holy men of old, who lived before the giving of the Law; it was the great object of prophecy under the Law; and was the principal end of all those rites and ceremonies of the Jewish Law, which though, with reference to the immediate purpose of their institution, they were ordained for temporary purposes, had a continual relation to that better and more perfect dispensation which was to follow it. If this object of prophecy, therefore, was so clearly developed before the coming of our Saviour, much more may we expect that it should be so afterwards,—under a dispensation, the great object of which was the perfecting of the objects of the former and more imperfect dispensation, and in a book, of which the main object is to carry on the
great scheme of prophecy to the close of the divine dispensations.
II. But there are other things which have been remarked in connection with ancient prophecy, of which
1. The first is—the agency of the Redeemer in the prophecies of the old dispensation. This, as we have seen, is a distinguishing feature in the dispensation of ancient prophecy. Much more then, may we expect to find it employed in the prophecies of that dispensation, in which the character and attributes of that Divine Being are so fully and clearly revealed; and in furtherance of his purposes of mercy towards that “ Church which he hath purchased with his own blood";" and of which he then became more especially “the Head”,” when “he was exalted to the right hand of God, angels and principalities and powers being made subject unto him.”
2. Another point to be considered, is the light which we may expect to derive in the interpretation of the prophecies of the Apocalypse, from considering the peculiar characteristics of ancient prophecy.
(1) And, in the first place, with regard to those prophecies which speak directly of the Redeemer and his kingdom,—we may expect to find these brought forward in the same manner, and with still greater clearness, in a subsequent dispensation of prophecy. But there is also another description of prophecies, in which, under the cover of highly figurative language, the future events of the Christian Church are foretold. Many of these prophecies in the Old Testament looked to a double fulfilment. In the Apocalypse
1 Acts xx. 28.
2 Col. i. 8.
3 1 Pet. iii. 22.
they can, for the most part, have but one fulfilment in view; and although this last prophecy may be expected to throw a clearer light over the object and purport of the ancient prophecies, yet we may be often guided to the true interpretation of the later, by a proper consideration of the former prophecies. For instance, there are many prophecies in the Old Testament, which have a view to a nearer, as well as a more remote fulfilment; and of which the nearer fulfilment is evidently declared, by the symbols which are employed, to have a spiritual character belonging to it. If, therefore, we meet with a prophecy in the New Testament distinguished by the same symbols, it evidently stamps a spiritual character on such a prophecy.
(2) Again, with regard to those prophecies of the Old Testament, which look forward to very distant events in the Christian Church, and which, for many ages after their delivery, were necessarily (as indeed they were intended to be) obscure ; -as, on the one hand, we may reasonably look forward to some more complete developement of the object and intent of these prophecies in a subsequent dispensation of prophecy, so will the character of the earlier predictions often throw a clear and an interesting light over the object and intention of the later prophecies. Thus, in the ancient prophecies, we find distinct predictions of great prosperity and an immense extension of the true religion in the world; and, again, of great reverses and lamentable corruptions, which will oppose and obstruct the free progress of its blessings to mankind. Now, as we may expect to derive a clearer light, in ascertaining the peculiar character of these changes, from
future prophecies; so also may we often arrive at a better comprehension of some of the prophecies of the Apocalypse, which are at present attended with great difficulties,—by comparing them with the corresponding prophecies of the Old Testament: by which they will be proved to have an evident reference to some great and important, though probably distant, events connected with the Church and kingdom of the Redeemer.
The consideration also of the manner in which the later prophecies enlighten the more obscure parts of the ancient, and complete the chain of events which appears either to be broken or interrupted in the former prophecies-at the same time that it throws a clear light over the whole subject of prophecy with regard to its great and leading object under both dispensations,—increases the interest and the force of the evidence which we derive from it; and it is a description of evidence, which may be expected to increase in clearness and strength, the more the events of the Christian Church are unfolded.
(3) Another remark which has been made with regard to many of the ancient prophecies, is—the impossibility of fixing the exact period either of their commencement or their termination; and this was illustrated by a reference to some of the prophecies of Daniel. Now prophecies of this kind occur in still greater number in the Apocalypse. We cannot be surprised, therefore, if they should be involved in a similar obscurity, with regard to the precise period of their commencement and their termination,—especially those which are yet unaccomplished, and which relate to great changes in