THE Apocalypse is one of the most sublime and wonderful dramatic exhibitions presented for human contemplation. Internal evidence concurs with authentic history, in demonstrating to the devout and intelligent reader, its divine origin. God, angels and men, are the principal actors. Men’s natural curiosity may find entertainment in this book; and from no higher principle, many have doubtless been prompted to attempt a discovery of its mysterious contents, What is true, however, of supernatural revelation in general, is equally true of this book—“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can lie know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
To the right understanding of the Apocalypse, so far as the prophetical parts of it are contemplated, the following prerequisites would seem to be indispensable:—
1. A competent knowledge of what may be termed the fundamental doctrines of the gospel: such as the unity of the Divine Nature; the distinction of persons in the Godhead; the atonement and intercession of Christ; the total depravity and renovation of human nature: the resurrection and final retribution, etc.
2. Acquaintance with symbolical language, as the only language common to all men since the confusion of tongues.
3. Familiarity with the typical dispensation, from which most of the symbols are taken.
4. Freedom from all political bias.
No expositor of the Apocalypse appears to have possessed all these qualifications, however few and simple, The most learned and judicious interpreters of this book have been divines of Britain and of the United States.
After so many laborers employed in this harvest, the reader may ask,—What remains to be gleaned? To this inquiry, it may be sufficient to remind the devout Christian, that as the Apocalypse is the end of the Bible, so “the harvest is the end of the world;” and during the intermediate time, “the Lord of the harvest is sending forth laborers.” Prophecy has engaged the attention and occupied the thoughts of the writer, more or less, for the last thirty years. He has consulted the views of most of the distinguished and approved interpreters of the book of Revelation; among whom the following are named, viz.: Mede, Sir Isaac and Bishop Newton, Durham, Fleming, Gill, Whitaker, Kerr, Galloway, Faber, Scott, Mason, McLeod; and many others: from all whose labors, he has derived much instruction; and from all of whom he has been obliged in important points to dissent.
The immediate occasion of this undertaking, was the urgent request of the people of his charge, that the substance of a course of lectures delivered in ordinary Sabbath ministrations, might be put into a more permanent form, for their future edification.
In the early centuries of the Christian era, so wild, enthusiastic and corrupt were the sentiments of some Millenarians, that this book ceased in great measure to be read or studied; and even its divine authority came to be questioned by many learned and pious men. As the “Dark Ages” of Popery resulted from neglect of the sacred Scriptures in general, so even among the first reformers the Apocalypse was viewed with suspicion as to its claim to inspiration. It is probable that many of the unlearned will hear with wonder, and doubt the assertion, that even the great reformer Luther rejected the Apocalypse, as being no part of the sacred canon! The same judgment he formed of the epistle by James! With characteristic boldness, he wrote as follows:—“The epistle of James hath nothing evangelical in it. I do not consider it the writing of an apostle at all. . . It ascribes justification to works, in direct contradiction to Paul and all the other sacred writers . . . . With respect to the Revelation of John, I state what I feel. For more than one reason, I cannot deem this book either apostolic or prophetical, . . and it is sufficient reason for me not to esteem it highly, that Christ is neither taught nor known in it.” Such was the estimation in which that distinguished reformer held two inspired books of the New Testament at the dawn of the Reformation. How great the increase of scriptural light since his day!
The grand design of this book, as declared by its divine Author, is, “to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass,” . . . “to testify these things in the churches:”—to make known beforehand to those styled his “witnesses,” the certainty of a great apostacy,—the rise, reign and overthrow of the Antichrist, that “when it came to pass, they might believe,” and exemplify before the world “the patience and the faith of the saints.” During that protracted period, the witnesses could neither know their duty nor sustain their allotted trials without these necessary instructions.
From the position of the witnessing church “in the wilderness” during the whole time of Antichrist’s reign, which is also the position of the apostle John when viewing in vision the “woman upon the beast;” (ch. 17:8,) that appears to be the only advantageous position from which to view the actors in this wonderful scene. And since few have voluntarily “gone forth to Christ without the camp, hearing his reproach,” or submitted to wear the mourning garments of “sackcloth,” it is not at all surprising that the Apocalypse—emphatically a Revelation—should continue to be, to many, a “sealed book.” But on the other hand, “blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.”
As this work is intended for the instruction and edification of the unlearned, rather than for the entertainment of the learned, words of foreign extract are used as seldom as possible. Practical remarks and reflections are rarely introduced; the principal aim being simply to ascertain and present to the reader the mind of the Holy Spirit. How far this object has been accomplished, is of course left to the judgment of the honest inquirer. The reader, however, in forming his judgment of the value of these Notes, may be reminded of that inspired rule in searching the Scriptures, “Comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” To assist him in the application of this divine rule, many chapters and verses are quoted from other parts of the Bible, but especially within the Apocalypse itself; that by concentrating the various rays upon particular texts or symbols, their intrinsic light may be rendered more luminous. Thus the interpretation given, if correct, may be confirmed and illustrated.
 Life of Martin Luther. Pp. 173,174, London. 1855. Luther afterwards became convinced of his error.