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THE

GENERAL HISTORY

OF THE

CHRISTIAN CHURCH:

DIVIDED INTO SEVEN AGES,

AND DEDUCED CHIEFLY FROM THE

APOCALYPSE.

f£ip Before we enter upon this prophetic History, it will be necessary to explain the first chapter of the Apocalypse, as it contains the Preface to the whole book,—and, on that account, is essential to the present work.

CHAPTER I.

Explication of the first Chapter of the Apocalypse.

Verse 1. "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to make known to his servants the things which must shortly come to pass: and signified, sending by his angel to his servant John.

V. 2. "Who hath given testimony to the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, what things soever he hath seen."

We are here informed that the book of the Apocalypse is a Revelation, which Jesus Christ, as Man-God, received from God: the purpose of which is to disclose to his servants, the Christians, a series of events very interesting to them, and which must shortly come to pass. This revelation Jesus Christ communicates by the channel of his angel, whom he sends to deliver it to his servant John. The character here given to this servant John shows him to be the Apostle St. John; for he is here said to have given testimony to the word of God, by his preaching and suffering for the cause of God, and to have also given testimony of Jesus Christ, by bearing witness to what things soever he had seen of his divine Master. And this account of him coincides with what St. John says of himself at the beginning of his first epistle; "That which we have heard," says he, "which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life—we declare unto you."

We have said that it was Christ who signified or notified this his Revelation, sending it by his angel; which is confirmed by what he himself speaks in the conclusion of the Apocalypse: "I Jesus have sent my angel, to testify to you these things in the churches." Apoc. xxii. 16. But it might be equally said, that God himself communicated this prophecy by his angel; for we likewise read: " The Lord God of the spirits of the prophets sent his angel to show his servants the tilings which must be done shortly," Apoc. xxii. 6. which words are quite similar to those above of verse first. However, it is not material whether to God or to Jesus Christ the communication of the prophecy be ascribed, when we consider the divinity of Christ.

Another observation we must here make, is concerning the angel of God or Christ, who is sent to communicate the Apocalypse to St. John. He is generally supposed to be a real angel: but upon close examination we think he will appear to be St. John the Baptist. This personage is peculiarly vested with the character of angel* or messenger of God and Christ, and is denominated such in the ancient prophecies, and by Christ himself:—" Behold I send my angel," said the Lord by his prophet Mal.ichy, "and he shall prepare the way before my face," Mai. iii. 1. which Christ applies to his precursor, St. John Baptist. "This is he," says Christ, "of whom it is written: Behold I send my angel before thy face, who sh;ill prepare the way before thee." Mat. xi. 10. The same is also confirmed by the Baptist's own declaration: "I am," says he "the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord," John i. 23. which plainly speaks his function of angel or messenger of Christ. A farther proof is de rived from the words of the angel himself, who thus speaks to St. John the Apostle: "I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren who have the testimony of Jesus." Apoc. xix. 10. And again, " I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren the pro phets, and of them that keep the words of the prophecy of this

* The word angel signifies messenger.

book." Apoc. xxii. 9. This language, it is clear, cannot be that of a real angel, but corresponds very justly with the character of the Baptist, who had been a fellow-servant of the Apostle and his brethren in giving testimony to Jesus, &c. A function suitable to the character of St. John the Baptist; who, as he announced Christ and showed him present to the people; so here he announceth and showeth to St. John the Apostle the History of Christ or of his Church. However, as the Apostle gives to St. John the Baptist the name of angel, perhaps his form and appearance were such on this occasion.

V. 3. "Blessed is he that readeth and heareth* the words of this prophecy: and keepeth those things which are written in it: for the time is at hand." We are here assured that great is the advantage of attending to what is delivered in the Apocalypse; for they are pronounced blessed, who read or hear read the words of this prophecy; and who keep the things which are written in it, that is, who take due notice of the things which are written in it, in order to compare them with what is already fulfilled by real events, to beware of what is foretold to come, and, to draw proper instructions from both. These prophecies are the more interesting, as the time is at hand for the accomplishment of some of them, and the rest will follow in their order. This was true at the period when St. John wrote, and will be equally true at whatever period of time the Apocalypse be consulted, as some part of its prophetic history will always be near the time of its accomplishment. It might likewise be said, that the whole would happen soon, with allusion to the shortness of all time when compared with the eternal existence of God, according to that of St. Peter: "One day with the Lord is a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day," 2 Pet. iii. 8. and that of the Psalmist: "A thousand years in thy sight, are but as yesterday, which is past and gone." Psalm lxxxix. 4.

V. 4. "John to the seven churches which are in Asia, Grace be unto you and peace from Him that is, and that was, and that is to come; and from the seven spirits which are before his throne."

St. John addresses the seven churches of lesser Asia, which he governed, and which will be specified below, ver. 11. We shall see him there receive an order to send them this prophecy. He salutes these churches, wishing them grace, or benediction and peace from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come; that is, from Almighty God, who exists from

*In the Greek text, "and those that hear," &c. all eternity, continues to exist, will remain for all eternity, and will come at the last day to reward his faithful servants, and to punish the wicked. The Apostle offers the same good wishes from the seven spirits which are before the throne of God, always ready to depart and execute his commands with respect to mankind. These are "ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation." Heb. i. 14.

V. 5. "And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth: who hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.

V. 6. "And hath made us a kingdom* and priests to God his Father: to him be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen."

St. John continues his salutation to the seven churches, wishing them grace and peace from Jesus Christ, whom he entitles the faithful witness, as having given testimony to his eternal Father upon earth, and executed faithfully the commission he had received from him. He is also the first-begotten of the dead, having raised himself from death to life by his own power, which no man ever did or can do, nor can any man rise again but by virtue of the resurrection of Christ, according to that of St. Paul: "By a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead. And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive." 1 Cor. xv, 21, 22. Jesus Christ is likewise styled the prince of the kings of the earth not only as God, but likewise as God-Man having acquired, by the merits of his Incarnation, a sovereign power on earth. On that account, "all power is given to me," says Christ, "in heaven and in earth." Mat. xxviii. 18. And again, "The Father hath given to the Son power to do judgment." Why so? "Because he is the Son of man," John v. 27. Here we see ascertained the universal dominion of Christ. Then follow the gracious effects of his bounty towards mankind; for, "he hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood;" and he " hath made us kings and priests to God and his Father," that is, he hath made us his co-heirs, and has admitted us to a participation of his own sovereign power over the world, and likewise of his priesthood, by virtue of which we become also "a holy priesthood," as St. Peter says, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. ii. 5. This communication of power granted

• In the Greek text, " made us kings."

by Christ to his servants, by which they become kings and priests, will chiefly take place in the other world; and it is not only founded on the present text, but is clear from our Saviour's own words: "I dispose to you," says he, "as my Father has disposed to me, a kingdom: that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and may sit upon thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Luke xxiL 29, 30. And again, "To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with me on my throne." Apoc. iii. 21. To Christ therefore, our bountiful Saviour and gracious benefactor, be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen.

V. 7. "Behold, he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him. And all the tribes of the earth shall bewail themselves because of him. Even so. Amen."

The same Jesus Christ, who is prince of the kings of the earth, who has washed us from our sins in his blood, who has chosen us and made us kings and priests to God, is equally entitled to be our judge, and will effectually come in his sovereign power at the last day to Judge the world; at which tinu, every eye shall see him; and his countenance will be terrib^i to those who pierced him and crucified him. And even all the tribes of the earth, or the people of all nations upon the face of the earth, will mourn and bewail his death, being amazed and confounded at the unparalleled impiety of those men who crucified him. In the two preceding verses were described the functions which Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, performed upon earth, in fulfilling the charge he had received from his Father in redeeming the world, &c. These functions we see here completed by his coming at the last day to judge mankind, and to decree their rewards and punishments.

V. 8. " I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to come, tb.3 Almighty."

Here the Almighty himself speaks: I am Alpha and Omega; Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet, the meaning of which in this place is explained by the subsequent words, the beginning and the end. 1 am, says Almighty God, the beginning and end of every thing, I am the first cause and last end of all beings. I am the source, from which every thing flows, and to which every thing must return. I created the world by my power, I govern it by my wisdom, and shall put an end to it at my pleasure. I

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