HOWEVER diversified may be the opinions and the wishes of Christians, relative to ecclesiastical and political concerns, there is one principle, in the belief of which all are united—THE LORD GOD OMNIPOTENT REIGNETH. This truth supports their hopes; because it gives assurance that His will shall be done, and that the result of the present shaking of the nations, shall be the establishment of righteousness and peace.
The prophecies of the Apocalypse are on this account peculiarly interesting to men of understanding: for they not only illustrate the doctrine of the divine Sovereignty, and afford in their accomplishment additional evidence of the inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures; but also give a correct outline of the prospective history of both the Christian church, and of the nations whose policy immediately affects the cause of true religion.
All men are, from the constitution of human nature, inclined to look forward as far as possible into futurity; and the man of wisdom will avail himself of his foresight in all his plans and pursuits. Human prescience is indeed very limited; and, in the common concerns of life, depends upon the acuteness of our penetration, and the accuracy of our judgment. In the more important and interesting concerns of religion, divine revelation comes in aid of our natural faculties. He, whose prescience is eternally perfect, reveals in prophecy "the things which shall be hereafter." Of the Governor of the universe it is impossible to form any correct idea, which does not exclude imperfection. He is not wiser to-day that yesterday. "His understanding is infinite." Having himself a perfect comprehension of all the circumstances which enter into the constitution of the lot of man, whether considered in an individual or collective capacity, it is in his power to give the history of future, with as much facility as that of past events. To doubt this, is to deny his perfection. To treat his predictions with neglect, is inconsistent with becoming reverence for his wisdom and benevolence.
From these remarks, it will appear obvious, that the PROSPECTIVE HISTORY, which the wisdom of heaven has provided for the Christian world, is no less desirable, as an object of benevolent curiosity, than it is useful as a motive of action; to the intelligent Christian and the virtuous statesman. Men, accordingly, who hold the first grade in the scale both of learning and native talent, have employed a portion of their time in the exposition of Scripture predictions. It would be difficult to select from the list of their names, those who have the best right to be first mentioned in this connexion; but every scholar, how ever ignorant of the catalogue of Scripture expositors, has heard of the man who so ably explained the law of nations, in relation to both war and peace and of him who demonstrated the laws which govern the material world—GROTIUS and Sir ISAAC NEWTON. Both these men have furnished commentaries upon prophecy.
The author of the Lectures now presented to the public, has had occasion to make frequent mention of the most distinguished writers on the same subject. Their names often sanction the interpretation which he gives; and when he dissents from their opinions, respect for their merit required that he should assign his reasons.
To English literature we are certainly indebted for the best explanations of the Revelation; and the more recent works, published in Great Britain, afforded many facilities for the present undertaking. The writers of that nation have not, however, succeeded in keeping themselves free from the bias of political opinion. The terrible contest which at present agitates the whole family of nations, scarcely tolerates a neutral, even in the literary or theological world. The admirers of the French Revolution have magnified its importance, in its ultimate tendency to meliorate the condition of society; and the advocates of the British policy have sought in prophecy for arguments to strengthen opposition to the Gallic conqueror. It is with the expounder of prophecy as with the writer of history—difficult to hold a pen uninfluenced by prejudice or partiality. Although the facts remain undisputed and unaltered, various affections will impart a variety of colouring to the representation. The human mind too, is prone to attach undue importance to objects which, somehow, become very interesting, and, of this description are cotemporary events and characters. The predictions therefore, which are now fulfilling, and about to be fulfilled, have been most subjected to misinterpretation: and both the events and characters of the present age, have been complimented with applications of certain prophecies, which respect quite other persons and periods. In relation to chronological considerations also, a very natural mistake has been frequently committed. More regard has been paid to the splendour of events, and the contiguity in respect of time, than to the connexion of moral causes with their proper effects. Nor has the principal design of the prophetic history always been kept sufficiently in view by the several expositors. The Apocalypse is intended less for personal than for social improvement in religion. It particularly illustrates the history of those GREAT MORAL PRINCIPLES WHICH AFFECT THE PUBLIC INTERESTS OF TRUE RELIGION; and neither the revolutions of nations, nor extraordinary men, are otherwise esteemed worthy of notice, than as connected with the prevalence or depression of such principles.
To this idea the author has given a prominent place in these Lectures. He generally follows in his interpretation the path of Bishop Newton, as improved by Mr. Faber; but on several interesting subjects he dissents from both these eminent expositors. Connecting the prophecies of Daniel with the book of Revelation, he has given an outline of the history of the moral world, in the order, and within the period, contemplated in these inspired writings. He has endeavoured faithfully to apply the fact to the prediction, and to make true religion the meridian line to which the several parts of the crowded map are referred.
New-York, Feb. 1814.