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James Dodson

Rev. 1:3...Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

THIS introductory benediction is repeated with little variation toward the close of the Apocalypse, Chap. 22:7. “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” It bespeaks your attention, Christians, to the course of expository lectures upon which I now enter. The subject of these lectures, is the principal prophecies of the book of Revelation.

Something, I am aware, is necessary in order to overcome the prejudices which very generally prevail, even among the disciples of our Lord, against the careful study of a portion of sacred scripture which is considered as too obscure to be well understood, and too remote from the immediate comforts and duties of a life of godliness to be made the subject of pulpit discussion. No words which I can use, appear to me so well calculated to obviate such unjust and pernicious prejudices, as those which have been read as the text of this discourse, and which I repeat in order to explain. Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.

The Prophecy is the characteristic name, which, by divine inspiration, is given to the book which closes the canon of scripture, and which is entitled “The Revelation of John the Divine.” It contains, it is true, like other parts of the sacred volume, precepts, promises, doctrines, suitable reflections on the past, and a description of many things actually existing at the time: yet so great a proportion of it is devoted to a prediction of the future, as to justify the application of this title to the whole work.

The time is at hand. The writer and the first readers of the Apocalypse lived at the commencement of the time of which the book gives the prospective history. The whole period contemplated is indeed a very long one. Since this prophecy was written, many generations of men have passed away to the invisible world; and still it may be said with truth to you who read and hear, “the time is at hand.” The most important era referred to in these predictions is still future, and rapidly approaching. It is indeed with respect to some always at hand.

The grand period, ONE, as to its character, includes MANY distinct periods, distant too from one another, which, whether taken severally or collectively, constitute the time in which the Son of God manifestly obtains the victory over all opposing power. This is emphatically “the day of the Lord.” Although this great day is, as it respects the successive generations of men, removed to a vast distance, it is usual with the inspired writers[1] to announce it as near, because to every individual this is in fact the case. The day of his death is to every man the day of Christ’s coming.

He that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein, are those who study and understand the book of Revelation, and who regulate their hearts, their lives, the principles which they embrace, and the connexions which they form, agreeably to that view which it gives of true religion in respect to the great social concerns, both civil and ecclesiastical, of the several nations of the earth. “Keep those things which are written therein,” signifies more than to preserve the text uncorrupted. Τηρουντες, the word here employed, implies obedience to the commandment—the exemplification of the great principles unfolded in this prophecy, in our christian practice.[2]

Blessed is he that readeth—they that hear—and keep, &c.

This is our encouragement to study and practically apply the book of the Revelation. Those who understand its principles and reduce them to practice, shall enjoy peculiar blessings from the Lord. “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless; and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” Our Lord assures us that he will confer his blessings on all who attend to the doctrines of the gospel, and yield to his holy precepts evangelical obedience. Luke 11:18. Yea, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it. John 13:17. if ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them, Besides, however, the felicity which the Christian enjoys through the medium of his knowledge of the great doctrines of the gospel, and of his practical holiness, there is a special beatitude in the understanding of the peculiar predictions of the Apocalypse. This book affords its proper aliment to that noble disinterestedness which belongs to the Christian as a member of the church of God: for in this book, the state of the Church is displayed in relation to her members and her Head, her friends and her enemies, her troubles and her triumphs. Such views are always highly interesting. “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! for from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo the people shall dwell alone, and shall not, be reckoned among the nations. Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee.”

This exposition of my text, will, I trust, supersede the necessity of apology for endeavouring to turn the attention of the congregation during one part of the public exercises of the Sabbath, to the words of the prophecy of this book; and it justifies me in laying before you in this introductory discourse. The true nature and design of this prophecy—The character of its style, and the proper mode of interpretation—Together with the several uses to which it is subservient.

I. What is the nature and design of this prophecy?

It is of importance in entering upon the study of “the Revelation,” to form precise ideas of the general nature and design of the whole system of sacred prophecy, and of the special design of this remarkable part of the system. The word prophecy is used, both in scripture and in common discourse, with some latitude of signification; but it is not difficult, to discover its proper meaning. Προφητεια is applied in the New Testament to any declaration delivered by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost,[3] to the power or gift of declaring divine truth,[4] and even to the actual exercise of such gift or faculty.[5] But it principally signifies the prediction by inspiration of future events. This is the proper meaning. The other significations must be referred to figurative usage. It is observable too, that in all these applications there is included the idea of divine agency; and the common use of the word also implies the prediction of what is future.

But we are not to confound with prophecy, that which is no more than a conjecture of future probabilities; nor even that which is a certain prediction of the effect from a correct knowledge of the causes in action. “Human sagacity,” said a man of a very sound and discriminating mind,[6] “can foresee events that happen according to the uniform course of nature, or events of which there are probable causes existing at the time when they are foretold, yet innumerable things are beyond its reach; nor is there any true history in the world, but whoever reads it, and knows the truth of it, is fully persuaded that it was impossible to have written it after the events happened, without sufficient information, or before the events happened, without inspiration, which is the only way of sufficient information of things to come.” The true idea of prophecy is the prediction by divine inspiration of future events not foreseen by human sagacity. The power of predicting is alone from God, and depends on that foreknowledge which was from the beginning employed about whatsoever comes to pass; and the exercise of this power on the part, of the prophets is uniformly under the divine direction, without being in any case, or in any degree subject to the mere will of man. The objects, consequently, about which it is employed, the time and circumstances with which the prediction is connected, and the degree of perspicuity, and minuteness of detail with which the event is laid before us, depend entirely upon him whose understanding is infinite. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

It is certainly a legitimate inference from this fact, that the design of the system of prophecy is great and important. It is worthy of its Author. But for a knowledge of that design, we must submit to be taught by a divine instructor. It may be said of this, as of the other parts of the system of the grace of God toward men, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.” In vain should we attempt to discover otherwise the objects, most fit in the history of the universe, about which Jehovah should employ the powers of his prescience. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” The wisdom of the world is foolishness. That, however, which is declared in the scriptures to be the object of the system of prophecy is one, which in the estimation of the most intelligent men, must appear both important and magnificent. An object for which the pillars of the earth are upheld, which angels contemplate with an interest unconceivable by mortals, and which heaven hath destined to become the perfection of beauty; that holy empire which is composed of redeemed men, predestinated to shine in perpetual glory, with the Son of God at their head as their King and Lawgiver. Jesus Christ, and his Church in him, is the grand object of scripture prophecy. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy. “A Spirit of prophecy” said Bishop Hurd at the Lincoln’s Inn lecture, “pervading all time—characterising one person of the highest dignity—and proclaiming the accomplishment of one purpose the most beneficent, the most divine that imagination itself can project.”

The prophetic system is but the prospective history of the mediatorial kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it embraces nothing else but for the sake of its connexion with this object. The Apocalypse is in a distinguished manner the testimony of our Saviour, and the history of his kingdom. It is The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass.

The Head of the church foresaw the danger to which his people would be exposed in that dark and painful period which intervenes between the apostolical age and the millennium. He foresaw the opposition of the nations to his own kingdom. He foresaw his people scattered over these nations; influenced and polluted by their customs and their maxims; severed into factions; often turned against one another to subserve the policy of their enemies; generally oppressed and persecuted by the powers of the world; and he placed this book in their hands to be their light and their comfort. It is the peculiar object of this book to describe the true state of the moral world, to point out the abuse of the institutions of heaven which has obtained in society, and to prescribe the duty of faithful men in relation to the corrupt social establishments which from time to time should exist, in opposition to that moral order which the gospel of the kingdom of God promises ultimately to introduce in Church and State over all the nations of the earth. In all the prophecies of the Apocalypse, respect is accordingly had not to the gratification of an idle curiosity; but to our instruction and comfort. The great outline of the events predicted may be previously discovered with certainty; and the nearer the time, of the accomplishment of the prophecy, approaches, the minute circumstances may be the more accurately traced. The exact correspondence of the fact with the prediction is not however to be seen until the event comes to pass. “God gave these and the prophecies of the Old Testament,” said Sir Isaac Newton, “not to gratify men’s curiosity by enabling them to foreknow things; but that after they were fulfilled, they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the interpreters, be then manifested thereby to the world.”

II. What is the character of the prophetic style, and what the rule of interpretation?

Every one who is acquainted with the writings of the prophets, has undoubtedly remarked that the expressions which they use are highly figurative. Some recent expositors have on this account pronounced the prophetic style one sui generis—a symbolical style radically distinct from every other species of composition. Dr. Johnston considers it as of this description, and distinguishes the Hieroglyphic from the simple symbol.[7] I nevertheless am entirely unable to see either the necessity or the use, of considering the style in which the prophets wrote as essentially differing from that of every other part of the Bible, or of subjecting it to quite different rules of interpretation. The Oriental manner of expression in general, and that of the sacred scriptures in particular, abounds in splendid imagery: and the descriptive part of divine revelation is fully as figurative as the predictive. Nor can I at all admit that predictions are never delivered in plain alphabetical language. The truth is, the writings of the prophets, even in those parts in which the style is truly symbolical, are subject to the same rules of interpretation which obtain in all other writings. In every composition we find figurative language; and in several authors of our own age we find an abundant use of the metaphor. Both the metaphor and line hieroglyphic are analogous to historical painting; and there is not a better lest of the correctness of a metaphor than the one proposed by Dr. Blair, who in matters of criticism is excellent authority, namely, that we should try to form a picture of the several parts, and see how they correspond. It is not however to be denied that this figurative style requires, in order to be understood, a particular acquaintance with the several sources from which the principal part of its imagery is drawn. The earlier prophets selected their symbols from the well-known customs and arts of the Hebrews and the neighbouring countries, Egypt and Chaldea. The writers of the New Testament join to these the customs of Greece and Rome. The principal sources from which the Apocalypse draws its imagery are the following, viz. The natural world; the history contained in the scriptures of the Old Testament; and the ecclesiastical polity of the Jews, including both the Temple service and the Synagogue.

It is obvious from these considerations, that in order to understand the phraseology of the book of Revelation, it is necessary not only to have contemplated with discernment the economy of the natural world, but moreover to be well versed in scripture history in connexion with profane, and to be familiarly acquainted with the ordinances of religious worship, as they were established in Judea.

Such attainments will qualify a man for understanding the language of the prophecy of this book; but much more is necessary to understand the prophecy itself, and be able to apply the prediction to its proper event. That event must be itself understood. A knowledge of true religion as differing from mere forms of godliness, from priestcraft, and superstition, and a due measure of acquaintance with history, civil and ecclesiastical, are indispensably necessary to him who would point out the accomplishment of the Apocalyptical predictions. We have therefore no reason to wonder that this book is not well understood in the Christian Church. No man is likely to make proficiency in any branch of knowledge without entering into the spirit of it; and it is impossible to enter into the spirit of the instruction communicated in this book, without such religious discrimination as will distinguish Christianity from the corrupt establishments of mere politicians.

Before I give you the rules of interpretation, I think it necessary to meet an objection made to the .style of the prophecies upon the score of obscurity. It inevitably follows from the nature of the prophecy itself, and the character of the style in which it is delivered, as already described, that it is not easily understood. While this fact is both admitted and accounted for, it affords a striking evidence of that Wisdom which inspired the mind, and superintended the pen of the sacred writers: but we cannot admit that any sentence in this book is absolutely unintelligible, or that the phraseology is undeterminate. To a novice in the sciences, the expressions of the Mathematician, the Botanist, and the Chymist [Chemist], however precise, will appear obscure; and may be supposed to be a language sui generis. But a proficient, in these several studies will not complain of the obscurity of the style which philosophy finds it necessary to employ in the instruction of her pupils. It is not in obtaining a knowledge of the words, so much as in understanding the subject, that the difficulty lies, in respect either to theology or any other science. The same observation will apply to the system of prophecy.

Absolute unintelligibility is not to be affirmed of any part of the Bible. This would be inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of our heavenly instructor, because it would render such part entirely unprofitable. The scriptures are no further a revelation, than they are intelligible. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue, speaketh not unto men; for no man understandeth him. So likewise except ye utter words easy to be understood, ye shall speak unto the air. If I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.[8] A Revelation, nevertheless, designed for men of every capacity, of every nation, and of every age, must, from the nature of the case, prove to many, in any given age, in some instances, obscure. The apostle Peter says of the epistles of his beloved brother Paul himself, notwithstanding his constant use of great plainness of speech, that they contain some things hard to be understood.[9] This also is the case with the prophetic part of scripture, independently of all peculiarity of phraseology. No simplicity of diction could render a prophecy completely intelligible in all its circumstances, even after its accomplishment. to a person otherwise entirely ignorant of the fact to which it referred; and much less are the prophecies which remain to be fulfilled, at the distance of ages, to be comprehended by those who previously have no idea of the subject of which they treat. Precisely for the same reason, a detached paragraph in the celebrated histories of Hume and Robertson, would appear unintelligible to a reader ignorant of the connexion; and utterly unacquainted with the era and the facts under contemplation.

There is also another consideration which will tend to illustrate this subject. The same prophecy has in some instances, reference to more than one event These events may be perfectly distinct, as to time and some other circumstances, although one, as to the special intent of the prediction.[10] This frequently happens in those instances in which the prophets for the comfort of believers under both Testaments speak of the coming of Christ, of his kingdom, and of the consequent deliverance. Under the old dispensation too, which made provision for many typical persons and events, the same prediction frequently respected first the type, but secondly, and chiefly, the antitype.[11]

We have admitted, you perceive, that there is some difficulty in ascertaining the precise event predicted by the prophets, and have also accounted for this difficulty, as well from the nature of the subject, as the character of the style in which the prophecy is written. It is not to be forgotten, in connexion with these remarks, that the degree of obscurity in which the prophecies are involved perfectly accords with the wisdom of God in his works of creation and providence. An elegant drapery thrown around the works of nature hide their secrets from the view of the negligent or superficial observer; and shall we suppose that the vast scheme of Providence should be comprehended by the sons of men? or that the whole system of prophecy should be understood by those who are to act, frequently in ignorance of the design, a prominent part in its accomplishment! The Lord governs the sons of men, effectually indeed, for the fulfilment of his purposes, but yet without destroying the nature of their moral agency. He governs them as men, acting freely, and being accountable for their conduct. It was never intended, therefore, that the prophecies should be fully understood by those who are destitute both of candour and of piety; men who would strive to prevent the event foretold; but who, as the case stands, may he the agents in bringing it to pass. “Is it ever to be supposed that if the individual Jews who crucified Jesus had clearly seen, from the ancient prophecies, that he was the Messiah, and that his kingdom was not of this world, and yet that with wicked hands they were to crucify and slay him, that they would have done so?”[12] Such is certainly the fact, as affirmed by the spirit of prophecy, Dan. 12:10. “The wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the WISE shall understand.”

Every expositor has deemed it necessary to intermingle with the explanation of prophecy some rules of interpretation, or to specify, in a more formal manner in his introduction those principles, upon which he designed to proceed. Mede, Dabuze, Warburton, Hurd, Johnston, and Woodhouse, may be consulted upon this subject, with great pleasure and profit, by those who have leisure and inclination for such studies. I deem it sufficient for all useful purposes to lay before you, in the most simple form, those undisputed principles upon which the language of prophecy is to be applied and understood. We shall have occasion in the course of these lectures to enter into more minute detail in proving the necessity of their application to certain specified cases, in which I am constrained to differ from some of the respectable expositors who have gone before me. At present I state only the following

Rules of Interpretation.

1. Ascertain, from the connexion, the subject which the prophecy has under consideration; and whatever may be the person or thing referred to, let it be contemplated not in a detached character, but as connected with the entire system of which it is a part.

2. Consider from what source the symbol or symbols used in the prophecy are derived.

3. Consider the place which the symbol employed in the prophecy literally occupies, and the uses which it answers in the system from which it has been selected.

4. Apply the figure, according to correct analogy, to the corresponding part of that subject of which the prophecy treats.

It is upon these principles we explain all figurative language wheresoever we find it; and the only thing taken for granted in such interpretation is, that the writer understands the power of language, and is consistent with himself. The propriety of this admission will not be denied, so far as it respects the scripture style, by those who believe that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

III. It is proposed to review the principal uses which the study of this prophecy answers.

Besides the particular object to be attained by the exhibition, beforehand, of the great concerns of the Church of God, as furnishing a mass of information not otherwise within our reach, prophecy answers many important collateral uses. The blessings pronounced by the divine Spirit upon the head of him who attends to the book of Revelation, render it certain, that this part of the prophetic system is intended to be extensively beneficial. Experience will justify our utmost expectations. Actual knowledge of the contents of the Apocalypse, gives a happy excitement to all our religious principles of action—affords a standing miracle in support of the inspiration of the Bible—supplies ample proof of the decrees and providence of God—and furnishes unceasing warning to Christians to separate themselves from connexion with the terrible apostacy which it reveals to view.

1. The book of Revelation is remarkably calculated to excite our faith and patience; our hope and zeal in the service of God. The perfections of Jehovah; the dignity, and excellence, and affections of the Messiah, the Son of God and the Son of man; the labours, the trials, the triumphs, and the final safety of the saints, are repeatedly brought into view, and are held up in so clear a light, that we are made to feel an interest in the lot of the righteous. Our religion assumes more of the social, and less of the selfish character. We become identified with the whole family of God, not only in fact, but also in our own uninterrupted apprehension. We are animated with a corresponding magnanimity, “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.”

To the “man of understanding,” this book illustrates both the general principles of human action, and the course which he, who sits enthroned on high, pursues in the administration of providence. It derives a light from authentic history, and it reflects a light upon the facts and the reasonings which fall within the legitimate province of the historian. The mere knowledge of detached facts is of little value. An exposition of the character and the springs of human action, of their causes and consequences, and of the purposes of the Governor of the universe in relation to man: these are the great ends which history subserves, and these ends are in the best manner accomplished in the species of composition now under review.

Nor are its uses limited to those who completely understand the events foretold in the predictions. The character of the event; the principles of human conduct in the exercise of which it. is brought about; the design of heaven in its permission and control; the whole doctrine connected with it may be understood, and will prove interesting and instructive, independently of a knowledge of the names of agents, and the proper dates. The crime, the folly, the vanity of men of high and of low degree, are depicted. The patience, the ardour, the benevolence of the virtuous, are held forth to imitation. The divine wisdom, and power, and mercy, and justice, are exemplified; and an excitement is given to religious emotions of every description, by the expectation of great events, even in those cases in which we remain ignorant of the precise point in actual history to which the prophecy has respect. The doctrines, taught in connexion with the prediction, of themselves, afford increase of useful knowledge; give exercise and improvement to every virtuous principle; and thus conduce to the perfection of the man of God.

2. Prophecy is a standing miracle in support of the divine inspiration of the holy scriptures.

The book which is emphatically called the Bible, is confessedly the most important of all literary productions. The magnitude of its object, and the excellency of its execution, are unequalled by any other composition. The antiquity of its history; the sublimity of its doctrines; the purity of its morality; have ever recommended it to the attention of men of information. The simplicity and fidelity of its descriptions, render it interesting to literary curiosity; and the grandeur of its eloquence will ever make it the companion of the man of taste. Satire, sophistry, affected contempt, and vulgar abuse, have already, and for a long time, employed their most potent efforts to bring the sacred volume into disrepute; but their labour is very vanity. Its intrinsic excellence puts at defiance the wisdom of the world. The evidence of its authenticity is copious, and clear, and strong.

The Creator of the world has endowed its human inhabitants with a capacity of knowing him, their Lawgiver and their Judge. In his works, he reveals his perfections to our whole race, and we are left without excuse if we do not serve him. In his condescension he gave more ample means of knowledge and correction. He sent his word for our instruction. Reasoning and argument upon what is before us, is a slow mean of acquiring any knowledge, compared with conversation with one of superior intelligence. A few lectures will communicate to a youth the result of the observations and the reasonings of a sage. He who made the eye and the ear, can communicate knowledge to man, which otherwise must remain for ever beyond the reach of our faculties. He did so. “God in sundry times and in divers manners spake unto our fathers.” He speaks also unto us in his word. It is sufficiently attested too, that it is his word—that “we do not follow a cunningly devised fable.”

He affected the minds of the prophets with an irresistible conviction that he himself spake unto them. It is in the power of Omnipotence to preclude the possibility of deception. What he said, was a revelation to them. It was accompanied with evidence of its supernatural origin. But how were others to be affected with such conviction? Shall our faith depend entirely on the testimony of men? It need not, it ought not, it must not. The prophets, the evangelists, were intelligent; they were honest; they were sincere: but yet I rest not my salvation on their veracity. Their word, their oath, the whole tenor of their character in testimony of the truth of their writings, is comparatively of little importance. It will not make the infidel a believer. A believer never rests his faith on such a foundation.

How shall we know the scriptures to be of divine inspiration? Miracles accompanied their delivery. The Lord God appeared and spake. He lent his power to the creature. Effects were publicly produced, otherwise impossible. This was proof to all the witnesses. They had ground of faith in the accompanying doctrine. But miracles are past. Their report is to me dependent on the testimony of my fellows. It is credible; but not infallible. It is not the formal reason of my faith. The bible is its own witness. It exhibits its divinity to my understanding and my heart, by its light, and by its power. The system of prophecy, and particularly the book of Revelation, is one continued miracle. It increases in clearness as the day progresses. It gathers strength from the revolutions of empires, and the flight of time. It shows Jehovah in the midst of his empire, planning, predicting, and accomplishing. Every age adds new events to the records, and each additional event is a new witness to the Christian religion. While we subscribe then, to the doctrine, that the “Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God,”[13] the scripture predictions, in connexion with their accomplishment, furnish an argument which it is impossible to understand and to dispute.

3. The Apocalyptical prophecy supplies additional proof to the doctrine of the Divine providence and decrees.

God’s decree and providence may be justly considered together. The doctrine of both is supported by the same argument, and opposed by the same persons with the same objections. It cannot be consistently affirmed that he works without a plan, or that his plan will remain unexecuted. Whatever he brings to pass, he therefore must have determined to bring to pass; and whatever he willed, that will he perform. So far as his providence extends, his decree extends, and no further. The scriptures assert that this extent is to all things. The universe is under his government, from the fall of a sparrow to the whole result of the final judgment. This doctrine is expressed in one sentence by the apostle Paul, who was not ashamed to own himself a Predestinarian. Eph. 1:11. “Being PREDESTINATED according to the PURPOSE of him who worketh ALL THINGS after the COUNSEL OF HIS OWN WILL.”

Upon this principle, the doctrine of prophecy proceeds; and were consistency to be expected from men, we must conclude that no man would ever believe in prophecy without being a Predestinarian.

From prophecy it is abundantly evident that God foretold some events as infallibly certain. They must have therefore been foreseen, as certain. In order to be foreseen as certain, the event must have infallibly fixed. It must have been rendered thus fixed by an adequate cause, coeternal with the divine foreknowledge. This cause must have been divine; for no creature then existed. The divine cause however of the certain futurition of events cannot be better named than by calling it the purpose of God,—the counsel of his will,—the divine decree.

I admit that this proves only that some events are decreed. This however is enough to justify against every objection the whole doctrine of God’s sovereignty. These objections, lie in all their force, against any event whatever being brought about according to the decree and by the providence of God.

All objections to the doctrine are resolved into these two, “It is inconsistent, with human liberty.”—“It is inconsistent with God’s righteousness.” But it is no more inconsistent in one case than in another. He who can secure, without destroying moral agency, or doing unrighteousness, the complete fulfillment of any one of his own predictions, can certainly accomplish upon the same principles all his purposes—can work all things after the counsel of his own will. The fulfillment of prophecy manifests that, in many instances, this is in fact the case; and of course proves that there is no valid objection against the doctrine.

Why then deceive yourselves, ye professors of the Christian faith, who deny the divine decrees? why deceive yourselves by doubtful reasonings against this doctrine. You plan, you contrive, you employ your influence, so extensively, so far into futurity, as is in your power. Can you at the same time be reluctant in granting, to your God and Saviour, the right of settling throughout his empire what he shall do with the works of his hands? Will you not trust his equity without setting limits to his plans? Can you not maintain human liberty but at the expense of placing the Almighty under restraints, as if he could not govern man without destroying his rational nature? Examine, I beseech you, the scheme of prophecy. There you will be able to see the event certain; the decree unalterably fixed; the providence of God extending to every thing; man still a free agent, acting voluntarily, and in all cases, both accountable for his conduct, and also overruled for accomplishing the divine purpose. You will see all this, not as disputed theory, but as matter of fact. You will rejoice that the universe is under such government, and will say, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

4. The book of Revelation is useful, in furnishing a continual warning to Christians to separate themselves from all antichristian connexions.

It exhibits the grand apostacy of the Roman empire in all its horrors. It points out its unceasing hostility, to the mediatorial empire of our Saviour, during the remarkable period of twelve hundred and sixty years, so often specified in this book. It proclaims in language too plain to be misunderstood, the tyranny, the hypocrisy, and the persecuting spirit of the nations and the churches—of the beast, and of the false prophet. It warns the saints of their danger; points out their condition and their duty; and demands from them a faithful testimony against the prevailing corruptions. “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”

Such is the language, my brethren, of this prophecy to you. It calls upon you to have no communion with the unfruitful works of darkness. It exhorts you not to embark your affections, your hopes, or your peace of mind in the cause of any part of the antichristian policy. It invites you to repose, in confidence of the divine protection, under the shadow of his wings. It assures you that it is both happy and safe to know and to do the will of your heavenly Father, as expressed in the Apocalypse. “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein. For the time is at hand.”


[1] Isa. 13:6; Joel 2:1; Phil. 4:5; 1 Pet. 4:7.

[2] ΤΗΡΕΩ is used to describe the sum of Christian obedience in the great apostolical commission, Matt. 28:20. See also 19:17 and 23:3. And the apostle John frequently employs it in the same sense.

[3] 1 Pet. 1:20.

[4] Rom. 12:6.

[5] 1 Thess. 5:20.

[6] Maclaurin. [back]

[7] “There are two characters in this language. The one is uniformly called an Hieroglyphic, and the other a symbol, in the Commentary. An Hieroglyphic is a complete figure, made up of the assemblage of two or more parts into one picture. And a symbol is a single detached member.” Introd. p. 4. Commentary on the Revelation.

[8] 1 Cor. 14:1-19.

[9] 2 Pet. 3:16.

[10] This principle is explained at great length by Bishop Hurd Sermons on Prophecy.

[11] Real or affected ignorance of this principle, characterizes that work of the once celebrated Thomas Paine, which he calls An Examination of the passages in the New Testament, quoted from the Old, and called prophecies concerning Jesus Christ. This work was published by the author in New-York, a little before his death; and shows, that he who confessedly outlived personal respectability, and all decency or manners, also had lost that vigour of intellect, for which, however frequently prostituted, he was once remarkable. He selects a few of the least prominent passages quoted from the Old into the New Testament, and showing that these had some reference to persons who lived before the coming of Christ, he infers that they were misrepresented when applied to our Lord. This deceitful attempt, as dishonourable in its plan, as it is feeble in its execution, can injure none but such as are already viciously inclined, or exceedingly ignorant. There is however a work upon the same subject, constructed with a very different design, and leading to a different result, worthy of attentive perusal; An Essay on the Prophecies relating to Messiah, by Maclaurin. No man who possessors sufficient intellect to comprehend the reasoning employed by this very sensible author, can rise up from a perusal of the Essay, without acknowledging that he has proved from the Old Testament scriptures, that Jesus is the Christ.

[12] Johnston’s Comment on this text.

[13] Larger Catechism.