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After an interval of many years, I found mya self at liberty from other engagements to pursue my original design ; and after some preparatory studies, began to read the Apocalypse unassisted by any of the commentators*. And without placing any presumptuous confidence on my sagacity, or my literary acquirements, of the mediocrity of which I was fully conscious, I felt myself not altogether discouraged, by the seeming difficulty of the attempt. For, if the Apocalypse be of divine revelation, it appeared to me, that an uniformity must be expected to subsist between this and other parts of sacred Scripture ; and that the clue, for tracing and developing its figurative language and meaning, would be safely and effectually derived from that source. If the same divine spirit, which dictated the preceding prophecies, were also the inspirer of the Apocalyptic Visions, a mutual relation must subsist between them; and the light derived from the one must contribute most beneficially to the elucidation of the other.
This then was the first principle, upon which I resolved to ground my method of investigalion ;-to compare the language, the symbols, the predictions of the Apocalypse, with those of former
* After the annotations now published were finished in their first form, then the works of the cominentators, accessible to the annotator, were perused; some of them diligently studied; and free use made of their stores for the purposes of addition or correction.
revelations ; and to admit only such interpretation, as should appear to have the sanction of this divine authority.
A second controlling principle seemed necessary. For, as the language, symbols, and predictions, thus interpreted by the assistance of Scripture, were to be applied afterwards to historical facts, a preliminary question seemed to occur ;-to what kind of history are they to be applied ? To profane history, or sacred ? to the extensive and boundless mass of the Gentile history, or, exclusively, to that of God's chosen people? To assist me in answering this ques . tion, I had recourse to the preceding prophecies of the Old and New Testament. How have we been authorised to explain these? In what kind of history do they appear to have been accomplished ? The answer was at hand ;-the history of the church of God. For, in this sacred history we find the divine prophecies principally, and almost exclusively, fulfilled. For whenever sacred prophecy is seen to deviate from this its peculiar object, it is in such instances only, wherein the fortunes of God's people have become necessarily involved with those of heathen nations. When the people of God were to become subservient to the four monarchies, the character, and succession, and fates of those monarchies were predicted: but the main object, continually kept in view, was their deliverance from these successive yokes, by the
superseding dominion of the Messiah. This supreme and universal dominion, gradually and finally to prevail, appears to be the grand object of all sacred prophecy: and revolutions of worldly power among the Gentiles, seem to be noticed only at those times, when they impede or promote il*. Therefore the prophecies of the Apocalypse appeared to be applicable principally, if not solely, to the fates and fortunes of the Christian church ; to the progress or retardment of that kingdom of the Messiah, which, when these predictions were delivered, had already begun to obtain its establishment in the world. And I conceived myself obliged to adopt as a controlling principle of interpretation, that unless the language and symbols of the Apocalypse should in particular passages direct, or evidently require, another mode of application, the predictions were to be applied to events occurring in the progressive kingdom of Christt.
* See Bp. Hurd on Prophecy, Serm. 2d and 3d. And the extension of divine prophecy to the nations, may be observed to take place in exact proportion to their encreasing connection with the Jews. First, Moab, Edom, Amalek, the Philistines, &c. are noticed ; then Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, Ægypt, &c.; afterwards the four great monarchies; and lastly the Gog and Magog, the distant and barbarous nations.
† There are discoverable in scriptural prophecy, and generally li. acknowledged by divines, two advents or comings of our Lord ;
1st, his personal appearance in the flesh; 2dly, his progress to ***
complete dominion, by the subjection of all his enemies. The first of these had already taken place when the Apocalyptic pro
In the wide field of universal history, innumerable events may be selected by the industry of investigators, seeming to bear resemblance to the figurative pictures of holy writ. Instances of wars, famines, conquests, and revolutions, may be separated from that infinite mass of information, appearing to assimilate to images presented in prophecy. Some restriction is therefore necessary to guide investigation, and to serve as chart and compass, through such extensive and difficult seas; and what can be deemed more proper than this principle, which derives its authority from the analogy of sacred Scripture ?
A third controlling principle seemed also requisite, arising from a consideration of the nature and kind of that kingdom, which bad thus appeared to be the grand object of the propbecies. It is a kingdom, not temporal, but spiritual ; “not a kingdom of this world*,” not established by the means and apparatus of worldly power and pompt, not bearing the external ensigns of royalty ; but governing the inward man, by possession of the ruling princi,
phecies were delivered. The latter therefore is the object to which we are principally to look, when we attempt to assort these predictions. Accordingly, the subject of this prophetical book will appear to be generally, the fates and fortunes of the Chris, tian church, from the Ascension of our Lord, and the preaching of his Apostles, to the great consummation of all things.
* John xviii. 36.
ples ; “ 'The kingdom of God,” says our Lord,
is within you*.”
Such a kingdom may be in a great degree independent of the fates and revolutions of empires; affected only by those changes in the political world which are calculated to produce the encrease or decline of religious knowledge, and of pure profession and practice.
Wars therefore, and conquests, and revolutions of vast extent, and of great political import, may be supposed to take place, even in the Christian world, without becoming the proper object of Christian prophecy. The inhabitants of the Chris. tian world may be subdued by a ferocious conqueror; the sufferings of the vanquished may be such as result from ferocious conquest; the faithful servants of Christ may undergo their common share in this calamity, may suffer grievously in their property and in their persons : yet, in such times of general distress, if their religion be not denied them; if they enjoy those consolations, which, under such afflictions, their religion is designed to bestow; if, corrected by the awful visitation, not only they, but Christians of looser practice, and the inhabitants of the earth in general, shall be seen to turn to their God, and allow to his purifying religion its divine influence on their hearts and lives : shall we expect that such a revolution should
* Luke xyii. 21.