THE NEW JERUSALEM.
Interpreters are much divided in opinion as to the import of this symbol. Some think it represents the church on earth during the period of the millennium; while others, no less learned and pious, consider it as an emblematical representation of the heavenly state. Of those who acquiesce in the former view, some consider the arguments “quite conclusive.” It may be conceded that much may be advanced, and with great plausibility, in support of this position
Perhaps the most specious arguments to this purpose are such as the following:—“That the New Jerusalem is distinguished from the Old, because of the superior light and grace of the present dispensation of the Covenant. Moreover, the glowing descriptions of the church militant given by the prophets, especially Isaiah, are thought to be as boldly rhetorical as those of John; yet those lofty flights are confessedly descriptive of the church on earth. Besides, who can conceive how “the kings of the earth bring their glory and honour into” the heavenly state? or how are “the leaves of the tree of life for the healing of the nations,” when there are no nations to be healed? etc.
To these arguments the following answers may be given.
The church is one under all changes of dispensation, and by what names soever she is called: but it does not appear that we are warranted by Scripture usage to view the New Jerusalem as a designation of the church in her militant state. She is indeed sometimes called in the New Testament by Old Testament names: as when Paul calls her by the name Zion, (Heb. xii. 22.) But he does not say, new Zion. Again, when our Lord promises, (as in Rev. iii. 12,) to reward “him that overcometh,” it must be supposed from the connexion, that, as in all similar cases of spiritual conflict, this reward is to be conferred in a future state,—heaven. But part of the reward he describes in these words:—“I will write upon him the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem.” Surely it may be supposed without presumption, that in this place New Jerusalem means heaven. Nor is the assumption true,—that the descriptive language of the Old Testament prophets is always to be understood of the church on earth. For instance, can the following language (Is. xxxiii. 24,) be predicated of the saints while in the body.—“The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick?” “The glory and honour of the nations” are the” saints of God, the excellent;” who while here, are “the light of the world, the salt of the earth;” and doubtless nations as well as families and individuals “have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed them for their sakes:” (Gen. xxx. 27; xxxix. 5;)—and that he has also “reproved kings” and destroyed nations for their sakes, (Ps. cv. 14; Is. xliii. 3, 4.) And when all the saints who are to rule the nations, (Rev. xx. 4, 6,) for a thousand years, shall have been brought home to glory, then emphatically will the glory and honour of the nations be brought into the New Jerusalem.
As to the “leaves of the tree for the healing of the nations,” it may be remarked, that their sanative virtue will have been experienced by national societies on earth: and there is not, there never was, nor will there ever be, any other healing medicine for them, (Ezek. xlvli. 12) In addition to what has been said, it is worthy of notice that the tree of life, in allusion to the delights of the garden of Eden, which was an emblem of heaven, is mentioned in the Apocalypse, near the beginning and near the end of the book, (chs. ii. 7; xxii. 2.) Now, we are told expressly that this tree is “in the midst of Paradise.” But we learn both from our Lord and the apostle Paul that Paradise signifies heaven:—“To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise,” said Christ to the penitent thief. “I was caught up into Paradise;” that is, “the third heaven,” said Paul. Did Christ and Paul mean the visible, or the invisible church militant by the name Paradise? But the tree of life flourishes there, and all the redeemed eat of its fruit. They are where the tree is, the tree is in Paradise, and Paradise is heaven itself: therefore we are warranted to conclude with certainty that New Jerusalem is a symbol of the church triumphant; and, consequently, that those parts of chapters twenty—one and twenty—two, which are of symbolic structure, are descriptive of the heavenly state.
This word does not occur in the Apocalypse, nor in any other book of the New Testament except the first and second epistles, by the apostle John. There it is found in the singular and plural form. (1 John ii. 18, 22; iv. 3; ii. 7.) The apostles in their ministry had spoken frequently and familiarly to the disciples of this personage, as an enemy of God and man. “Ye have heard that Antichrist shall come,” “Remember ye not,” asks Paul, “that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?” (2 Thess, ii. 5.) Paul blames his countrymen, the Hebrews, that they had need that one should teach them again which be the first principles of the oracles of God, (Heb. v. 12.) And it is just so now, in the case of most professing Christians, learned and illiterate; they yet need to be taught again what is meant by Antichrist.
All who are acquainted with the sentiments of the reformers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are aware that their conceptions of this enemy were vague and confused. Persecuted as heretics and apostates from the only true church, the church of Rome, the reformers very naturally concluded that the Pope, or the church of which he is the visible head, was the Antichrist. And this opinion is very generally held at the present day.
Mr. Faber, however, dissents from this popular notion, and with much confidence and plausibility broaches a new theory of his own. His style is always forcible, and so perspicuous that he cannot be misunderstood. In his “Dissertation on the Prophecies,” he lays down the following canon or rule for expositors:—“Before a commentator can reasonably expect his own system to be adopted by others, he must show likewise that the expositions of his predecessors are erroneous in those points wherein he differs from them.” To enforce this rule he adds,—“It will be found to be the only way, in which there is even a probability of attaining to the truth.” I can neither admit the justness of his rule, nor the conclusiveness of his reason; for by its adoption, “of making many books there would be no end; and the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” To deduce the truth from any portion of God’s word, it is by no means necessary that the expositor shall undertake the Herculean task of refuting all the heresies and vagaries which “men of corrupt minds” have pretended or attempted to wring out of it. But as Mr. Faber is not to be reckoned in this category, I shall pay him so much deserved respect as to apply to himself his own rule in some following particulars:—
By a formal syllogism Mr. Faber proposes to overthrow the generally received interpretation of the term Antichrist, that it means, the Papacy, or, the Church of Rome. Thus he reasons:—“He is Antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son: but the Church of Rome never defiled either the Father or the Son: therefore the church of Rome cannot be the Antichrist intended by St. John.” Now, in this argument, which seems to be so clear and conclusive, there is a latent sophism, an assumption contrary to the Scriptures. The false assumption is, that the word denieth is univocal; that is, that it has in the Bible, and oh this doctrinal point in particular, only one sense; whereas this is not the case. The Church of Rome does indeed “profess to know” the Father and the Son, but “in works denies” both, (1 Tim. v, 8; Tit. i. 16.) Therefore Mr. Faber’s conclusion is not sustained by his premises, and the Church of Rome might be the Antichrist for anything that his syllogism says to the contrary.
Mr. Faber imagined that “Republican France,—infidel and atheistical France,—was the Antichrist, and he labored with much ingenuity to sustain his position by applying to revolutionary France the latter part of the eleventh chapter of Daniel, together with the prophecies of Paul, Peter and Jude. I presume that most divines and intelligent Christians are long since convinced, by the developments of Providence, that he was mistaken. The commotions of the French Revolution and the military achievements of the first Napoleon, however important to peninsular Europe, were on much too limited a scale to correspond with the magnitude and duration of the great Antichrist’s achievements. They were, however, owing to their proximity to Britain and their threatening aspect, of sufficient importance to excite the alarm and rouse the political antipathies of the Vicar of Stockton—upon—Tees! Mr. Faber’s Antichrist is an “infidel king, wilful king, an atheistical king, a professed atheist,” of short duration, and his influence of limited geographical extent. He is not in most of these features the Antichrist of prophecy, whose baleful influence is co—extensive with Christendom, and whose duration is to be 1260 years. Mr. Faber’s erudition is to be respected, his imagination admired, but his political feelings to be lamented. Indeed, his very ecclesiastical title of office,—“Vicar,” is itself partly indicative and symbolical of the prophetic Antichrist.
I do not believe that infidel France, whether republican or monarchical, nor the Papacy, nor the Church of Rome, is the Antichrist of the apostle John, yet I do believe that all these are essential elements in his composition. The following are the principal component parts of that complex moral person, as defined by the Holy Spirit, by which any disciple of Christ without much learning may identify John’s Antichrist. His elemental parts are three, and only three, and all presented in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation. The “beast of the sea, (vs, 1, 2,) the “beast of the earth,” (v. 11,) and the “image of, or to, the first beast,” (v. 14,) that is, the Roman empire, the Roman church and the Pope: all these in combination, professing Christianity; these, with their adjuncts as subordinate agencies constitute the Apocalyptic Antichrist. Besides this personage, well defined by the inspired prophets, Daniel, Paul, John and others, there is no other Antichrist. An “infidel king, a professed atheist,” as distinct from this one and symbolized in prophetic revelation, I find not. I conclude that such a personage is wholly chimerical, framed as a creature of a lively imagination.
THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST.
Mr. Faber is unsuccessful in his interpretation of the image of the beast.” His reasoning is ingenious, specious and intelligible as usual. He labours to prove that the worshipping of images by the Papists is the meaning of the symbol. Material images, however, whether of papal origin or otherwise, are harmless vanities: “for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good,” (Jer. x. 5.) The case is quite otherwise with this image. It has “life, speaks, and has power to kill,” (Rev. xiii. 15 ) These properties of John’s “image” are so opposite to those of the Papal images, that they effectually confute Mr. Faber’s fanciful, not to say whimsical theory. It has been already shown that the image” symbolizes the Papacy, the facsimile of the Roman emperor.
THE BEAST’S “deadly wound.”
The Erastian heresy, the usual concomitant of prelacy, will readily account for Mr. Faber’s explanation of the “deadly wound,” which the first beast received in his sixth head. Constantine, he thinks, inflicted that wound by abolishing paganism. He writes as though the beast had been actually killed, and had lain literally dead for a period of nearly three centuries! (viz., from 318 till 606.) Yet the apostle assures us that the “deadly wound was healed.” The beast did not die. Daniel gives no hint of the death of his fourth beast, which is the same as John’s beast of the sea, until his final destruction at the close of the 1260 years. It was in fact under the reigns of Constantine and his successors, that ambitious pastors were nurtured into antichristian prelates, and passed by a natural transition into Popery. The empire never ceased to be a beast during the whole period of its continuance, The sixth head was wounded, but the beast still survived. The sixth or imperial form of government was changed, but that change brought no advantage to the Christian church either in her doctrine or order. As a distinct horn of this beast the British nation with her hierarchy is easily traceable to mystic Babylon in point of maternity. Since, as well as before the time of Henry the Eighth, spiritual fornication has ever been the crime of the “British Establishment.” This historical fact requires no proof.
Mr. Faber seems to me to give too little prominence in his exposition to Daniel and John’s beast of the sea, as an enemy to Christ. Indeed, he appears to overlook the leading idea involved in the name Antichrist, as a substitutionary, false, and therefore inimical or hostile christ. Instead of keeping before his mind the glorious person of the Mediator as the special object of Antichrist’s enmity, as prophecy requires, he places before him the church or the gospel instead of Christ. Hence he writes thus:—“We find in the predictions of St. John,—(why not St. Daniel?) two great enemies of the gospel, Popery and Mohammedism.” Then he adds,—“a third power is introduced,” (Preface, p. 7.) This “third power” he calls “a wilful infidel king,” and, as already noticed, interprets it of “atheistical France.” Now, it will be evident to the intelligent reader that among his “three powers” considered by him as “enemies to the gospel,” he has entirely lost sight of the seven—headed ten—horned beast, and his hostility to Christ! He has, in fact, manifestly substituted his imaginary “wilful king,—infidel France, for the Roman empire, the beast of Daniel and John, the agent that slays the witnesses, (Rev. xi. 7.) To almost every expositor, and in his lucid moments, even to Mr. Faber himself, it is apparent, that the Roman empire is the primary element in the complex personage that wars against the Lamb. Even kings are but horns of the beast, and Popery but a horn. (Dan. vii. 20; Rev. xvii. 12, 13.)
It is therefore a great mistake on the part of this learned author, to feign an Antichrist distinct from the three confederated enemies of Christ and his witnesses,—enemies so clearly pointed out in prophecy by appropriate and intelligible symbols—the beast with ten, and the beast with two horns, and the image of the first. These three, all professing the Christian religion, and practically denying it, without the shadow of a doubt, constitute the Antichrist of John, (1 John ii. 19—21.) This is the identical enemy described by Daniel, and according to the inspired predictions of both prophets, doomed to eternal destruction, (Dan. vii. 11; Rev. xix. 20.) Hence it is obvious that Mr. Faber’s “wilful king” is wholly a creature of his own fancy, constituting no feature of the prophetic Antichrist.
THE LITTLE BOOK.
This symbol is in the tenth chapter evidently distinguished from the one in the fifth chapter. It is considered by several interpreters as containing all that follows to the end of the book. According to this view, it would be larger than the sealed book, (ch. v. 1.) Such a view is altogether untenable, involving, as it does, almost a palpable contradiction. The little book is indeed comprehended in the sealed book, as a part of the whole; or it may be viewed as an appendix or codicil, or perhaps still more correctly as a parenthesis, interrupting the series of the trumpets, that the object of the seventh or last woe—trumpet may be thus described and rendered intelligible when sounded.
Mr. Faber is correct in saying, “the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth chapters, in point of chronology run parallel to each other; but he is mistaken when he Says the “little book comprehends these four chapters.” It comprehends only so much as intervenes between the close of the ninth chapter and the fifteenth verse of the eleventh chapter; or, in other words, between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpet. To be more correct and explicit,—the tenth chapter introduces the little book, and the eleventh chapter, from the first to the fourteenth verse inclusive, exhibits an abstract of its contents,—a condensed narrative or mere outline of the contest during the 1260 years.
THE DEATH OF THE WITNESSES.
Many divines have considered the death of the two witnesses, as consisting in a moral slaying, equivalent to apostacy. Mr. Faber views their life and death as altogether political. He censures Mr. Galloway for “want of strict adherence to unity of symbolical interpretation, but he inadvertently falls into the same error. Assuming, as he does, that the two witnesses are the Old and New Testament Churches, where is the “unity of symbolical interpretation” when he tells us that the witnesses were politically slain in the “disastrous battle of Mulburgh in the year 1547, by the total route of the protestants under the lead of the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse?” The political death of two churches in the battle of Mulburgh!—Such language exemplifies neither the accuracy of historic narrative, nor the “unity of symbolical interpretation:” nor does it accord with another rule of the writer, one of his three cardinal rules, namely,—That “no interpretation of a prophecy is valid, except the prophecy agree in every particular with the event to which it is supposed to relate.” Mistaking the character of the witnesses, as one of the primary symbols in the Apocalypse, he is unable to ascertain in history either their identity or work, their life or their death. Having imagined their political death in 1547, he supposes their resurrection to political life in 1550,—by the accession of Edward the Sixth to the throne of England!” and the defeat of the Duke of Mecklenburgh in the October of that year!!” Of course, these witnesses, according to Mr. Faber’s interpretation, resumed their function of prophesying so soon as they were restored to political life: but we look in vain for the prophesying of the mystic witnesses after their ascension to the symbolic heaven, (Rev. xi, 12.) As we have shown to the readers of these Notes, their lives and their testimony or prophesying, terminate together, (ch. xi. 7; xii. 11.)
THE MARK OF THE BEAST.
“With regard to the mark of the beast,” Mr. Faber “thinks, with Sir Isaac Newton, that it is the cross,” (p. 176.) This thought has indeed been almost universal in the minds of protestants. So deep—seated is this conviction in the popular belief, that one is deemed chargeable with temerity, if not something worse, who would call its grounds in question. Popular opinion, or belief in matters of this spiritual and mystical nature, is, however, of very little weight in the estimation of such as are accustomed to “try the spirits.” Although the mark was to be received at the instance and by the authority of the two horned beast of the earth, it was not enjoined as a mark of devotion to himself. It was manifestly commanded by him as a tessera of loyalty to the ten—horned beast of the sea, the obvious symbol of corrupt and tyrannical civil power. Instead therefore of the cross as a sign of devotion to Popery,—of membership in the church of Rome, as identifying with the beast’s mark, this mark is evidently and demonstrably the tessera of loyalty to the Roman empire, immoral civil power; and this, too, in any of the dependencies of that iron empire, (Dan. ii. 40; vii. 7.)
From the errors and vagaries of this learned and acute expositor, some of which have been pointed out, it is apparent that no amount of intellectual culture, no natural powers of discrimination, no logical or metaphysical acumen, will compensate for the want of early and accurate training in the knowledge of supernatural revelation. On the prophetical and priestly offices of our Redeemer, some of the English prelates have written with a force, perspicuity and zeal against the heresies of the Romish apostacy, not excelled by the writings of those who have dissented from the semi—papal hierarchy of the Anglican Church. But on the royal office of Immanuel, their prelatic training and associations seem to have blinded their minds. “No bishop, no king,” is a maxim which seems to lie at the foundation of all their political disquisitions and speculations, and which gives a tincture to all their expositions of prophecy. Nevertheless, even in this field of labor, the diligent student may consult with much advantage the learned works of such writers as the two Newtons, Kett, Galloway, Whitaker, Zouch, with their predecessors, Lowman, Mede and others.
After all, the best works to be obtained as helps to understand the prophetic parts of Scripture, will be found in the labors of those who, from age to age, have obeyed the gracious call of Christ,—who have “come out from mystic Babylon,” from the Romish communion,—from the mother and her harlot daughters, and who have associated more or less intimately with the witnesses. Among these may be consulted with profit the works of Durham, Mason and McLeod. But while searching after the mind of God revealed in this part of his word, let us never exercise implicit faith in the teachings of any fallible expositor. Let us always regard the injunction of our apostle:—“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” Of course, the only infallible standard by which we can try the spirits is the whole word of God,—“comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
THE FIRST RESURRECTION.
Bishop Newton, among those divines distinguished in ecclesiastical history as Millenarians, may be regarded as one of the most learned, judicious and cautious. The amount of the deductions which this class of writers draw from the scripture phrase “first resurrection,” and its context, confirmed as they suppose by many other parts of Scripture, appears to be the following:—All the righteous shall be raised from their graves to meet our Saviour coming from heaven at the beginning of the Millennium: he and these saints, clothed in real human bodies, are to dwell and reign together upon a renovated earth during that happy period. Indeed, writers on this interesting subject differ so much in details, that no well—defined theory or system can be discovered among them. The literal resurrection of the bodies of the saints, and the corporeal presence of Christ among them, seem to be the cardinal points of agreement with this class of expositors; and from this literal interpretation of the resurrection of the righteous and bodily appearance of the Saviour, they either took or received the name Millenarians. Other Christians, however, who differ from them in the interpretation of symbols, are no less believers in a millennium than they, a thousand years of righteousness and peace on the earth.
Bishop Newton understands “this ‘first resurrection’ of a particular resurrection preceding the general one at least a thousand years.” “It is to this first resurrection,” says he, that St. Paul alludes, (1 Thess. iv. 16,) when he affirms that the ‘dead in Christ shall rise first,’ and (1 Cor. xv. 28;) that every man shall be made alive in his own order, Christ the first fruits, afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.” It is surprising that a person of the Bishop’s learning should so readily mistake the sound for the sense of the words which he quotes. While the apostle is, for the “comfort” of the saints, treating of their resurrection, he is evidently speaking of the general resurrection at the end of time. In the morning of the resurrection Christ’s members will be raised after the manner and in virtue of his resurrection,—“the first fruits” securing the following harvest, in obvious allusion to the ceremonial law. In the other case, when Paul says, “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” does he mean,—before “the rest of the dead?” No, but before those of their redeemed brethren who shall then be “alive and remain;” for these “shall not prevent (anticipate) them which are asleep,” (in the grave.) That is, the bodies of the saints who have died shall be raised in glory, before those then alive shall undergo a change equivalent to that of the resurrection. Such is manifestly the meaning of the apostle’s plain language which has no reference whatever to the millennium, not even the remotest allusion. Nothing but a groundless preconception of the nature of the millennium will account for the sound of words taking the place of their sense in the reader’s mind, and no degree of mere scholarship can obviate this propensity of the human mind, in “the things of the Spirit of God.”
Not only does the learned prelate misapprehend and misapply the texts above quoted to support his theory, but he makes a gratuitous concession, which is at once fatal to his scheme and inconsistent with himself. He says,—“Indeed, the death and resurrection of the witnesses before mentioned, (Rev. xi. 7, 11,) appears from the concurrent circumstances of the vision to be figurative.” The Bishop evidently viewed the witnesses of the eleventh chapter as a company altogether different from those of whom John speaks in the twentieth chapter, (vs. 4, 5.) This is another of his surprising mistakes; for that the identical party as a moral person appears in both parts of the symbolic and allegorical representation will readily appear to any unbiassed mind by an induction of the following particulars.
These witnesses are to continue “prophesying 1260 days (years,) (Rev. xi. 8.) Then they are killed, (v. 7.) But we learn that in death they are victorious, (ch xii. 11 ) They triumph “with the Lamb on Mount Zion,” (ch. xiv 1.) In a similar attitude of triumph they again appear “standing on the sea of glass, (ch. xv. 2.) They are with their victorious King, (ch. xvii. 14.) They are exhorted to retaliate upon mystic Babylon, (xviii, 6.) They are also engaged in the last campaign with the Captain of their salvation, (ch. xix. 14, 19, 20.) And at length they are advanced to thrones of civil power to “rule the nations, (ch. xx. 4,) in fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy and their Saviour’s promise, (Dan. vii. 27; Rev. ii. 26, 27.) The death and resurrection of the witnesses is compendiously stated in the former part of the eleventh chapter, (vs. 7—14;) but these events, epitomised again in the “little book,” are amplified in the subsequent chapters, where we are made acquainted more fully with their enemies, their conflicts, death resurrection, ascension and exaltation; and in all these respects is exhibited their conformity to the example of their Captain and Leader. If, therefore, according to the Bishop’s conception, “the death and resurrection” of the witnesses in the eleventh chapter be figurative, and if the witnesses of the twentieth be the same as those of the eleventh chapter, which identity I have proved, it follows incontrovertibly, that the “first resurrection is to be understood in a figurative sense. This interpretation may be abundantly confirmed in the following manner:—The witnesses prophesy 1260 years. But since no individual persons live so long, a succession must be supposed. They are, in fact, mystic characters, having their real counterpart in actual history on this earth. The scarlet colored beast and woman, (ch. xvii. 3,) are of equal duration with the witnesses, and of similar mystic character, and have their real counterpart in history. The witnesses are slain by the beast at the instigation of the woman; but their death is only temporary, (ch. xi. 7, 11;)their enemies “have no more that they can do:” while, on the other hand, the death of the beast is perdition,”—eternal death, (ch. xvii. 8,) and in this death the woman,—“the false prophet” participates, (ch. xix. 20.) All this symbolical language respects Christ’s enemies as corporate or organized bodies.
Here it is proper to notice an objection of Bishop Newton. He asks,—“With what propriety can it be said, that some of the dead who were beheaded “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years; but the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished;” unless the dying and living again be the same in both places?” Very true, the dying and living are doubtless “the same in both places.” The Bishop’s mistake consists in taking these expressions in a literal sense, “a proper death and resurrection.” He evidently assumes that “the rest of the dead,” here mentioned, are to be literally raised at the last day. This is undoubtedly true, for there shall be a resurrection . . . . of the unjust.” (Acts xxiv. 15,) but it is not the truth contained in the words in quest on. From the assumption of the literal raising of “the rest of the dead,” he infers the literal raising of those that were beheaded. The converse of this is obviously the correct way of reasoning. We have found that the witnesses are spoken of, (xi. 14,) as figuratively raised by the Bishop’s own acknowledgment, therefore it is most natural and logical to infer that “the rest of the dead” were to be raised in the same manner, namely, figuratively. As at the beginning of the millennium,—the martyrs, not some of them only, as the Bishop hints, will be raised in the persons of their legitimate successors in faith and practice; and their faith and practice will constitute the happy state of the world for a thousand years, so, when that period shall have expired, Satan, being “loosed out of his prison,” (ch. xx. 8,) will deceive the nations as before, and during the “little season” of liberty, will succeed in raising from the dead as it were, a multitude of the same character as those who killed the witnesses;—“Gog and Magog.” This may be called the second resurrection, and there will never be a third of that kind, for the Lord will destroy them for ever, (ch. xx. 9.) The character of the witnesses and their unparalleled conflicts with Antichrist sufficiently identify them in the Apocalypse throughout the 1260 years, as also during the thousand years of their reign; and the character of their enemies identifies them in the time of conflict for 1260 years; but during the succeed—log period of righteousness and peace for a thousand years, they will not be permitted to lift up the head. And so soon as they are organized under the conduct of Satan, and like Pharaoh, most confident of victory, (Exod. xv. 9,) then “sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape.”
THE IDENTITY OF THE TWO WITNESSES.
The late Rev. Alexander McLeod, D.D., who had the works of learned predecessors before him, has successfully corrected many of their misinterpretations in his valuable publication, entitled “Lectures upon the Principal Prophecies of the Revelation.” At the time when he wrote that work, he posssessed several advantages in aid of his own expositions.
He had access to the most valuable works which had been is—sued before that date, (1814.) He was then in the vigor of youthful manhood; and he was also comparatively free from the trammels which in attempts to expound the Apocalypse, have cramped the energies of many a well—disciplined mind, political partialities. At the time of these profound studies, he occupied a position “in the wilderness,” from which as a stand point, like John in Patmos, he could most advantageously survey the passing scenes of providence with the ardor of youthful emotion, and with unsullied affection for his divine Master. With all these advantages, however, the dispassionate and impartial reviewer may discover, in the rapid current of his thoughts, that the active powers of the expositor sometimes took precedence of the intellectual. Two special causes may be assigned for this, hereditary love of liberty, and the actual condition of society at the time. Born in Scotland, the cradle of civil and religious liberty from the days of John Knox, Dr. McLeod’s traditions and mental associations were necessarily imbued with the atmosphere of such surroundings. To such causes may be attributed occasional declamation, extravagant verbosity and unconscious inconsistencies, not well comporting with the solidity and self possession so desirable on the part of an expositor. Yet even in such outbursts of impassioned eloquence we may sometimes discover noble conceptions commanding our admiration, if not altogether such as to secure our approbation. It ought to be considered, moreover, that the “Lectures” came from their author in a turbulent, if not in a revolutionary condition of society. Peninsular Europe was convulsed by the successful military ca—rear of that brilliant general, Napoleon. England and the United States were also at war. The independence and even the existence of the young Republic were apparently in peril. The lecturer very naturally sympathized with the land of his adoption, in which resided his domestic treasures and many of the “excellent ones of the earth,” to whom he was bound by conjugal, paternal and covenant ties. In a condition of actual warfare, he could not but feel most keenly the constriction of these manifold and endearing bonds, especially when thought to be jeopardized.
With these preliminaries, and expressing my obligation to the Doctor’s labors, to whose system of interpretation as well as to most of his details, I cheerfully give my approbation in preference to all other expositors whose works it has been in my power to consult; it is proposed briefly to review some of his expositions and sentiments, from which I crave liberty to dissent. “It is not the interest of any man to be in error.”
In his interpretation of the seals and trumpets of the Apocalypse, Dr. McLeod has unquestionably corrected many misapprehensions of his learned predecessors, especially Bishop Newton and Mr. Faber: and it is perhaps to be regretted that he did not favor the public with his view of the vials also, a work which he seems to have had in contemplation when the “Lectures” were published. The three last named interpreters did certainly improve upon the expositions of all who went be them in this field of investigation; and in most cases of disagreement the Doctor excelled in accuracy the other two, as will readily appear on careful examination.
In attempting to ascertain the import of the mystic “witnesses,” as of the Antichrist, expositors widely differ. Bishop Newton says positively,—“The witnesses cannot be . . . any two churches.” Mr. Faber is equally peremptory, that they “must be two churches,” and he attempts to sustain his position by many citations of Scripture, and by much plausible argumentation. The Bishop is substantially correct in saying, “They are a succession of men, and a succession of churches. Mr. Faber is also correct in the main when he says,—“The two witnesses signify the spiritual members of the catholic church but his notion of two churches, the “Old and New Testament churches,” betrays his imperfect conception of the essential unity of the church of God. Both he and the Bishop overlook too often the important fact that civil magistracy is a divine ordinance, which, as corrupted, constitutes the first beast of the Apocalypse, and the most prominent feature of the great Antichrist.
Doctor McLeod’s definition or description of the witnesses is as follows:—“They are a small company of true Christian’s, defending the interests of true religion against all opposition; and frequently sealing with their blood the testimony which they hold,” (p. 814.) This description is more definite than either of the two preceding, and is therefore worthy of preference; yet the reader will still wish for something more precise and tangible. Since the prophets of the Old and New Testaments reveal the hostility of the Devil to Christ and/his people, and since both Daniel and John represent this hostility by appropriate and intelligible symbols, as carried out by corrupting the two great ordinances of church and state, would it not follow that the witnesses are those Christians who, for 1260 years, apply the word of God to these two ordinances, contending for a scriptural magistracy and a gospel ministry,— the “Two Sons of Oil;” and testifying against their Counterfeits? Such appears to be the import of those. mystical characters of whom we read, Zech. iv. 14; Rev. xi 4.
In tracing the witnesses through their eventful history for 1260 years as portrayed in the Apocalypse, and in fixing with precision their continuous identity, I am constrained reluctantly to dissent from the Doctor and agree with Faber. Adopting the language of “Frazer’s Key,” Dr. McLeod says, “These witnesses differ as much from their cotemporaries, the one hundred and forty—four thousand sealed ones, (Rev. vii· 4,) as Elijah differed from the seven thousand in Israel in his time.” The attempt is made to prove this assertion by the following plausible argument:—“God is never for a moment without a people upon earth.” This is true,—“And the visible church is an indestructible society.” Is this assertion true? It is partly true, and partly untrue: true of her existence and moral identity, but not of her visibility as an organized body.” For example, where was the visible church while Elijah “dwelt by the brook Cherith?” (1 Kings xvii 3, xix. 10;) or while the “woman was in the wilderness?” (Rev. xii. 6.) Is it consistent with propriety to contemplate the woman as literally visible, when she is symbolically “in the wilderness?” This seems to be impossible. I am therefore prepared to give my decided preferences to the sentiment of Mr. Faber contained in the following words of his “Dissertation:” “The one hundred and forty—four thousand here mentioned, (Rev. xiv. 1,) are the immediate successors of the one hundred and forty—four thousand sealed servants of God; (ch. vii. 4.) They are the same in short, as the two witnesses . . . . They constitute the persecuted church in the wilderness.”—I cannot but think the evidence of identity here irresistible; and in the pithy language of the Doctor on another point, I say,—“A man must shut his eyes not to see” the correctness of Mr. Faber’s interpretation of this identity. The Doctor’s censure of English expositors in one of his notes will too often justly apply to other divines in expounding prophecy:—“They have greatly diminished the value of their publications, by permitting themselves to indulge so much of the spirit of political partiality.” Doctor McLeod and Mr. Faber I consider among the best expositors of the prophecies on which they severally wrote; and therefore their valuable works have been principally contemplated in these animadversions. On material points they have shed much light where those who preceded them left the reader in darkness, or involved him in perplexing labyrinths. Faber preceded McLeod, and the latter availed himself of all the aid furnished by the former; yet till the “mystery of God shall be finished,” his people will be receiving, accessions of light from the “sure word of prophecy.”
SOUNDING OF THE SEVENTH TRUMPET.
At the time when those learned divines wrote, the political agitations in Europe and America, as already noticed, gave a peculiar tincture to their opinions and expositions of the Apocalyptic symbols. This state of feeling on the part of these distinguished men, and on opposite sides of the Atlantic, is very strikingly illustrated in their conflicting interpretations of the “third woe,”—the seventh trumpet. Amidst the conflict of arms and the booming of cannon, in both hemispheres, those writers thought the first blast of the seventh trumpet and third woe could be distinctly heard. They differed widely, however, in their interpretations of its import and effects. To Mr. Faber, Napoleon, who was the most conspicuous figure in the passing drama, appeared as a terrific Vandal at the head of his legions, threatening to uproot and lay waste the fair fabric of European civilization. To the Doctor, on the other hand, Napoleon seemed the possible minister of Providence, destined to prepare the way of the Lord, and to introduce a better, a scriptural civilization. As time has sufficiently demonstrated the fallacy of their respective expositions of the seventh trumpet, it is needless to quote or review their speculations.
The principal defect pervading the “Lectures,” and one which most readers will be disposed to view in an opposite light, appears to be, a charity too broad, a catholicity too expansive, to be easily reconciled with a consistent position among the mystic witnesses. Their author, however, deriving much information from the learned labours of English prelates on prophecy, could not “find in his heart” to exclude them from a place in the honourable roll of the witnesses. I am unable to recognize any of those who are in organic fellowship with the “eldest daughter of Popery,” as entitled to rank among those who are symbolized as “clothed in sackcloth.” The two positions and fellowships appear to be obviously incompatible and palpably irreconcilable. It is true that there have been and still are in the English establishment divines who are strictly evangelical; but the reigning Mediator views and treats individuals, as he views and treats the moral per son with which individuals freely choose to associate; and we ought to “have the mind of Christ.” (1 Cor. ii. 16.)
Assuming that the third woe trumpet was sounding in his ears, the Doctor, transported with the imaginary but delightful prospect, that the kingdoms of this world, were speedily to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, speaks of France as follows:—“She had given assistance to the sons of freedom on the plains and along the shores of Columbia, until the republican eagle snatched the oppressed provinces from the paw of the royal lion of England.”—We may admire the metaphors of the orator, while we deplore the political feeling of the divine. It is true, as the orator in calmer moments reflects,—“The political conduct of professing Christians is generally lamentable;” and alas! this “lament—able conduct” is usually tolerated and too often exemplified by their spiritual guides. It has been generally so since the days of Jeroboam who “made priests of the lowest of the people,” and thereby rendered the ministry the stipendiaries of the state. And as it was then, even so it is now, whether in the kingdoms, empires or republics of the earth. “Let us,” with the Doctor, “lament the political conduct of Christians in the present age of the world.”
Allusion has been already made to seeming inconsistencies in the Doctor’s sentiments. There is truth in the adage,—“tempora mutantur et nos mutamur cum illis,”—“times change, and we change with them.” And indeed changes are allowable in matters of a circumstantial nature which do not affect moral principle. Moral principle, however, is in its nature immutable. In the early period of the Doctor’s public life he had nobly proved “Negro Slavery Unjustifiable.” But this accursed system was from the first interwoven with the very framework of that “Republican America,” which in his “Lectures” he takes occasion thus to eulogize!” “We never formed a street of the mystical Babylon . . . . . Let this be the asylum of the oppressed . . She (Republican America) has not, either by sea or land, encouraged oppression (?) or despoiled of his goods him that was at peace with us?”—I confess my inability to credit these statements, or to reconcile them with “the great moral principles” which the author justly tells his readers it was the object of the Author of the Apocalypse to illustrate before the world.
I have thus noticed some of the most important particulars in which I dissent from the interpretations of the Doctor and others, that the reader may be guided by all accessible way—marks in searching after the mind of God in this mysterious but highly instructive part of his precious word. I can again cordially recommend to his attention the Lectures of Doctor McLeod, as the best exposition of those parts of the Apocalypse of which he treats, that has come under my notice. In the Notes will be found minor points of dissent from the Doctor’s views, and from multiplied aberrations of many others. I have studied great plainness of speech, abstaining from the introduction of many verbal criticisms on the original text, and from the use of terms and phrases not familiar to the unlearned reader. Let no sincere Christian be deterred by seeming difficulties from reading the Apocalypse, or be dissuaded from searching it, by the discrepancies of interpreters; for this is equally true of “the other Scriptures.” (2 Pet. iii. 16.)
THE TITLE OF THIS BOOK.
In our authorized version of the Bible, this last book is correctly translated “Revelation.” It is otherwise designated “The Apocalypse,” by simply Anglicising the Greek title,—Apokalupsis.
A distinguished modern divine, [Lutheran] Doctor [Joseph] Seiss, has furnished the public with a novel interpretation of the title. But it is remarkable that he does not propose an interpretation at all; he merely gives what he conceives to be a correct translation. It is this:—“The Book of the Unvailing of Jesus Christ!” In this singular translation two things are transparent,—affectation of scholarship, and the (proton pseudos) the cardinal error of Millenarianism. Learned men, however, are not/devoid of fancy. Of this fact those who are historically designated Millenarians have given many illustrations from the primitive ages down to our own time. The Doctor’s rendering of the name of this book discloses the predominant idea conceived in his imagination and cherished there, that Christ is to appear upon earth in glorified humanity at the beginning of the millennium, and that the Apocalypse is intended chiefly to apprize the church and the world of this momentous event.
“The unvailing of Jesus Christ,” indeed! Why, the Lord Jesus Christ was revealed,—“unvailed” to the faith of our first parents in the promise of the “woman’s seed” as every intelligent Christian knows, (Gen. iii. 15.) We are assured that “to him give all the prophets witness,” (Acts x. 43.) Abraham rejoiced to see Christ’s day, (John viii. 56.) His advent in the flesh was so well known that Old Testament believers spoke of him familiarly as of “Him that was to come,” (Matt. xi. 3.) Surely he was “unvailed” to his disciples all the time that he went in and out among them before his death. And after his resurrection he appeared unto them the third time,—“was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once,” (1 Cor. xv. 5, 6,) After his ascension Stephen “saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God,” (Acts vii. 56 ) How preposterous then, since the whole Bible “unvails” the Saviour, to insinuate that the specific object of the Apocalypse is to unvail Jesus Christ!
That Doctor Seiss and those who endorse his mistranslation, or, as it ought to be called, his false exposition of the title to this book, do totally misapprehend and misinterpret the mind of the Holy Spirit, is further evident from the obvious import of the plain words in the first verse:—this “Revelation of Jesus Christ, God gave unto him,”—Christ. Did God the Father “unvail” Christ to Christ himself? How gross the absurdity! We do not transgress the law of charity in pronouncing as impious, such manifest “wresting of the Scriptures.”
Moreover, the declared object of this book is to “show unto God’s servants things,—(not to show Christ,) which must shortly come to pass:” namely, events of providence which were then future,—the evolution of the purposes of God. It is indeed true that in the sublime scenery presented in vision to John, the Lord Jesus often appears as a very conspicuous object; but he is only one among a multiplicity of other objects, and generally as the principal agent in executing the divine decrees. In this attitude he appears immediately on the opening of the seals of that book, which all sober expositors consider as the symbol of God’s purposes, especially of those “unvailed” in this prophetic book. When in the sixth chapter, the “four animals” say in succession, “Come and see,” is Jesus Christ the only object to be seen?—the exclusive object unvailed? or even always the primary object? By no means.
Thus it is evident that at the very beginning of his career as an expositor of this sacred book, Doctor Seiss gives loose reins to his fancy; and then it is not difficult to foresee through what mazes of error the credulous reader will be conducted, who in his simplicity, follows such a reckless guide. The hallucinations of Millenarians of old and of late have greatly discouraged the disciples of Christ, and seriously hindered them in obeying his command,—“Search the Scriptures,” especially this precious book. Their unscriptural error, which some might call an antiscriptural heresy, of the pre—millennial corporeal appearance of our Saviour, with its carnal concomitants, has been a temptation to not a few to look upon this part of the Bible as wholly unintelligible, contrary to its very name,—REVELATION. The hereditary and inveterate misconception by Millenarians of the nature of the thousand years’ reign of the saints, bears a striking analogy to that of the Jews concerning the kingdom of their Messiah, and suggests a remark by that prince of divines among English Dissenters, Doctor Owen, in his “Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews.” He says truly,—“There are precious, useful, significant truths in the scripture, so disposed of, so laid up, as that if we accomplish not a diligent search, we shall never set eye on them. The common course of reading the Scriptures, nor the common help of expositors, who for the most part, go in the same track, and scarce venture one step beyond those that are gone before, them, will not suffice, if we intend a discovery of these hid treasures.” And again he says, “How hard it is to dispossess the minds of men of inveterate persuasions in religion!”