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The latter and wiser supposition is warranted by SCRIPTURE. "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of GOD! How unsearchable his judgments, and untraceable His ways! For who hath known the mind of THE LORD? or who hath been His counsellor ?" Romans xi. 33-35.
"As a MAJESTIC RIVER expands itself more and more, the farther it removes from its source; so PROPHECY, issuing from the first promise in PARADISE, as its fountain head, acquired additional strength and fulness as it rolled down through successive ages; was enlarged in its course by a number of tributary streams; and will go on increasing in extent and grandeur, until it finally lose itself in the OCEAN OF ETERNITY.”
The Apocalypse, as it is the last, so is it the noblest and grandest of the prophetic records. It winds up, completes, illustrates, and enlarges the PROVIDENTIAL scheme of REDEMPTION from the beginning to the end of time; from the grand charter of mercy, (Gen. iii. 15, Rev. xii. 1-5,) to the final destruction of the old serpent, deceiving the whole world, (Rev. xii. 9, xx. 10.)
The obscurity of the Apocalypse, so long complained of*, and
* Scaliger was pleased to say, "Calvin was wise because he did not write upon the Apocalypse." And Whitby declined to comment thereon, confessing, that "he had neither sufficient reading, nor judgment to discern the intendment of the prophecies contained in that book."
The prophetic parts of the Revelation, says John Wesley, "I did not study at all for many years, as utterly despairing of understanding them, after the fruitless attempts of so many wise and good men: and, perhaps, I should have lived and died in this sentiment, had I not seen the works of the great Bengelius. But these revived my hopes of understanding even the prophecies of this book; at least, many of them, in some good degree; for, perhaps, some will not be open but in eternity. Let us, however, bless GOD for the measure of light we may enjoy, and improve it to His glory.”"Yet, I," says he, "by no means pretend to understand or explain all that is contained in this mysterious book. I only offer what help I can to the serious enquirer; and shall be rejoiced if any be moved thereby, more carefully to read, and more deeply to consider the words of this prophecy. Blessed is he that does this with a single eye. His labour shall not be in vain, [in THE LORD,"] Notes on the NEW TEST. Vol. III. p. 189, 190.
To this modest and humble conclusion of the founder of Methodism, (however we may differ from him in other respects,) we most cordially subscribe, as explanatory of the spirit in which the present Apocalyptic key is written, and designed to be understood.
Bengelius, Wesley's preceptor, in this most valuable part, perhaps, of his Notes on the
not without reason, originated partly from the mysterious nature of the subject, (Rev. x. 7,) and partly from its enigmatical and symbolical structure, (Rev. xiii. 18, xvii. 9.)
"In the Gospel of St. John," says the learned Bossuet, we read the Life of CHRIST on earth; a man conversing with men, humble, poor, meek, suffering: we behold a sacrifice ready to be offered, and a man appointed unto sorrows and death. But in the Revelation of St. John, we have THE Gospel of CHRIST, now raised from the dead. He speaks and acts, as having conquered the grave, and triumphed over death and Hades, as entered into the place of His glory; Angels and principalities and powers being made subject unto Him, and exercising the supreme dominion He has received from THE FATHER, over all beings in heaven and earth, as OUR SAVIOUR, for the protection of His Church, and for the sure happiness of His faithful servants in the end." The enraptured writer, therefore, unfolding a scheme of such grandeur and vast dimensions, "things invisible to mortal sight," must often be necessarily obscure and profound.
Wise reasons may also be assigned for an intentional ambiguity in the composition, originating in kindness. It was by no means fit or prudent to disclose the several woes and plagues to be inflicted on the grand persecuting powers of the Church, Popery and Islamism, and their offspring and image, Infidelity, so plainly and explicitly, as that he who runs may read. This would naturally have provoked the indignation of the ruling powers every where against the Christians and against the SACRED ORACLES themselves. They punished the former as superstitious, and enemies to the established worship; but they would have punished them as rebels, and decried their scriptures as treasonable libels against the state, forged by fanatical imNEW TESTAMENT, (which are commendable for their conciseness, and acutely pointed to the hearts and consciences of his readers,) was a most voluminous writer on the Revelations, in his Gnomon Novi Testamenti and Eklarte Offenbarung (which is a full and regular comment on the Revelations,) and his Apparatus, and Crisis in Apocalypsin. But he is rather fanciful and over-mystical; and his abridger, of course, is sometimes tinctured with these imperfections. Still, to John Wesley we are indebted (more than to any writer, perhaps, from the days of Joseph Mede, the great restorer) for the popular revival of the scriptural doctrine of the Millennium; though carried rather to excess by some of his enthusiastic followers, who wanted his information. But "the whole scheme, of this prophecy is so far from being an encouragement to enthusiasm, that it is a wise preservative against it: for the general doctrine of the whole book is this; that the patience of the Saints is their way to victory," LoWMAN, Pref. p. xlii.
postors, had they understood their contents, which it was given to the wise only to know and understand, (Mark iv. 11, Matt. xxiv. 15, Dan. ix. 25, xii. 10.) And, indeed, what unmerited obloquy was thrown on the Apocalypse even by Christian powers, at the time of the Reformation, from the extravagances of the Anabaptists, which it was falsely supposed to countenance? On the contrary, when there was no such danger, the letters to the seven Churches are remarkably plain and intelligible.
Nor is the Apocalypse a whit more obscure, in the sequel, than the symbolical visions of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah. It is much more methodical in its arrangement. And its lucid order cannot fail to be admired when the true key shall be found out, in the distinction between primary and secondary prophecies, which has not been sufficiently minded hitherto.
The Apocalypse will then be found a most luminous commentary and supplement, not only of their prophecies, but also of our LORD's; who, for the encouragement of his faithful servants to study the Apocalypse, has graciously promised "a blessing to him that readeth and expoundeth, and to them that hear and obey the words of this prophecy," Rev. i. 3, in continuation of the blessing promised in Daniel, xii. 3; and repeated by our LORD, Matt. xiii. 43.
The leading design of this book, with which it begins and with which it ends, is to inculcate the approaching appearance of CHRIST in glory, at the regeneration, to reward his faithful servants at the first resurrection; to punish his foes, and to establish his Church triumphant throughout the earth, after its long militant, or suffering state.
"The revelation of JESUS CHRIST to his servant John, which GOD gave HIM to shew his servants approaching events, -For the season is nigh.-Lo, HE is coming with the clouds; and every eye shall behold Him, even they who pierced him: and all the tribes of the land shall mourn on account of Him, Yea, Amen, Rev. i. 1-7.-"Lo, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book, xxii. 7; Yea, I am coming quickly, Amen," xxii. 20.
This passage combines two famous prophecies; the sign of THE SON OF MAN, in Daniel, vii. 13; applied by our Lord,
Matt. xxiv. 30; and the compunction of the Jewish tribes, when they shall behold him again in glory, foretold, Zech. xii. 10; and applied, John xix. 37, and by OUR LORD, Matt. xxiii. 39. The following is the masterly argument of Mede thereon, p. 604.
"Now I cannot understand how these two prophetical passages should not have the same meaning, when OUR SAVIOUR and his Apostles allege them joined, which they have in their own authors apart; or being expressed together at once, should not be fulfilled together at once.
"By such a miraculous apparition of CHRIST from heaven, was St. Paul converted. And I hope it is no heresie to think, that the whole nation of the Jews (those Zealots against CHRIST) may be converted by as strange a means, as was that one Zealot of their nation*." The mourning only of " the tribes of the land," or the Jews, for their past rebellion, is expressed by the prophet, Zechariah; but the prophecy is here made universal; for "every eye shall see Him," as "the lightning shining from the east to the west," Matt. xxiv. 27. When He shall be viewed a second time, by those that expect Him unto salvation," Heb. ix. 28, at "the coming of seasons of refreshment from the face of THE LORD," Acts iii. 19.
This book, indeed, furnishes the finest commentary throughout, on the doctrine of the two resurrections, which was briefly taught by OUR LORD, John v. 25-29, as explained in a foregoing article; especially the former, which required most illustration, from its comparative nearness and importance to the whole world.
This opens with a sublime and magnificent description of OUR LORD's last most distinct and most glorious appearance on earth, to the beloved John, during his afflicting exile in the Isle of Patmos, for the word of GOD, and for the testimony of JESUS CHRIST, Rev. i. 9.
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day. And I heard behind me, a voice, great as a trumpet's, saying, I AM ALPHA and OMEGA, THE FIRST and THE LAST. What thou beholdest,
See also Mede's remarks on the mystery of St. Paul's conversion, as the type of the calling of the Jews, p. 891 of his Works.
write in a book, and send to the seven Churches, to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamus, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea, ver. 10.
"And I turned to observe the voice that spake with me, and when I turned, I saw seven golden lamps, and amidst the seven lamps, one like THE SON OF MAN*, enrobed down to the feet, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head of hair↑
Opolov vie aveрwτоv. This phrase is rendered indefinitely by several commentators, like a son of Man," or in human form. Following them, Middleton, in his doctrine of the Greek Article, supposes, that here, "CHRIST is not directly and primarily meant," because the phrase is anarthrous, p. 660. And yet, there is room to question a decision of such respectable authority, even from his own principles compared and unfolded.
Middleton, immediately after, observes, "This passage, as the commentators have remarked, is taken from Dan. vii. 13," p. 660. And if so, surely, it should be rendered definitely, "THE SON OF MAN," Kar' εžoxnv. And he has elsewhere judiciously ac counted for its being anarthrous; "In the Hebrew [VN, Che Bar Anosh] before bar, the article [, he] could not be admitted, [because of the prefix, 》 Caph.] The Septuagint, therefore, adhering closely to the original, have rendered, wg vioç avSршжоν," р. 580. Hence, the Apostle, more distinctly rendered, oμotov vių aviρwñOV, but preserving the quotation.
It is remarkable, as Middleton also judiciously observes, that "CHRIST asserted his claim to the [established] title, the first time, [in the anarthrous phrase] viog av pwTov, John v. 27; in all other places he has assumed it: and the very assumption forbad him to use the phrase otherwise than as definitely] ὁ υἱος του ανθρωπου. He was to be designated as ò vioç, for otherwise he would not have been distinguished from any other individual of the human race: and if ὁ υἱος, then του ανθρωπου, for ὁ υἱος ανSpwoυ would offend against regimen,” P. 353.
Are we not hereby warranted to conclude, that CHRIST, in this passage, and also Rev. xiv. 14, is directly and primarily meant as Daniel's "SON OF MAN;" and thereby distinguished from any other individual of the human race?
How much are we indebted to this excellent critic for laying down the doctrine of the Greek Article, (that most difficult and delicate branch of sacred criticism unquestionably) with so much logical precision and science in the philosophy of language, that we are enabled thereby to detect the mistakes he has occasionally committed himself, through inadvertence, or by deferring more to authority than to his own principles. Holding him to be φιλαληθεστερος, as well as κριτικώτερος, I shall not afront him with an apology for the freedom of this note on a subject of such importance.
+ Η κεφαλη αυτου και αἱ τριχες. "His head and locks of hair." That is, "The hair of his head (not his whole head) were white, as white wool; like THE ANCIENT OF DAYS in Daniel's vision, vii. 9," as judiciously remarked by Wesley in his note. Long before Daniel, Homer had given a similar description; derived, probably, from Patriarchal Revelation, Acts vii. 2, (adulterated in its progress, by him especially)
Αμβροσιαι δ' αρα χαίται επερρώσαντο Ανακτος
"The ambrosial locks of the IMMORTAL SOVEREIGN's head
Iliad i. 529.