CONTAINING A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF THE APOCALYPTICAL INTERPRETATIONS ADVANCED
Robert Fleming, younger.
After I had finished the foregoing discourse [i.e., “Apocalyptical Key” (1701)] and that all the sheets were almost printed, I was earnestly urged by a friend to say something to secure the foundation I go upon: especially because the learning of Grotius and Dr. Hammond had influenced many to follow another way of interpreting the Revelation, as the reputation of Mr. Baxter had swayed others to think well of the same. And when I urged that Dr. More, in his Mystery of Iniquity, and Dr. Cressener, in his Demonstration of the First Principles of the Protestant Interpretations of the Apocalypse, had done this sufficiently already; he replied, that these books were both voluminous and dark, and not easy to be purchased by every one; and that, therefore, some short account of this matter at this time seemed to be necessary. I urged many things against this, as, hat this advice came too late and that, should I contract never so much, it would swell this part of my book too much to keep a due proportion with the other discourses; and, indeed, make the whole too bulky. But after all, importunity; and the respect I bore my friend, prevailed with me to say something to all those things that he thought I ought to premise. Therefore, not to spend any longer time in giving the reasons why I did not speak to these things before in their proper place, or why I do so now, I shall give my thoughts of this book, and the first principles of the right interpretation of it, in some propositions, which do gradually lay the foundation of what I advanced before.
Proposition I.—The Revelation was written by the Apostle John, and is a sacred and canonical book of the New Testament.
I hope there is not Christian that will dispute the truth of this proposition with me: for, besides, that the style of John may be easily traced in this book, notwithstanding the difference of the subject from that which he wrote of in his gospel and epistles; he does frequently make mention of himself, and that with such peculiar circumstances as agree with none but the apostle: as we see, chap. 1:1,2,4,9. See also chap. 21:2, and 22:8.
I know, indeed, that some of the ancients doubted of this, as Caius, a Latin father, mentioned by Eusebius, Hist. Lib. 3, cap. 28, and Dionysius of Alexandria, who made a great noise against it for a while, as we see in Eusebius also, Hist. Lib. 7 cap. 4. But yet, even this man declares that he owns it to be a sacred book, though not written by the Apostle John; wherein he speaks what we must look upon to be altogether absurd; for if St. John be not the author, it must be an imposture, seeing his name is inserted in it as being the penman. So that, if it be not St. John’s, it is no sacred book. Or, if it be a sacred book, the author is none but the beloved apostle. But the weakness and inconsistency of Dionysius’s reasoning against this book, are sufficiently though briefly exposed by Monsieur du Pin, both in his Preliminary Dissertation to his Bibliotheque des Auteurs Ecclesiastiques, and in his History of the Canon of the Books of Scripture.
And if this were any argument against the Divinity of this book, that some persons have doubted of it, or denied it to be canonical, there is hardly one book in the New Testament that would stand the test; seeing we find in the ancient Church history that there have been not only particular men, but even sects of them, that have excepted, some against one book, and some against others. And we know that the epistles of James and Jude, and the second and third epistles of John, and that admirable epistle to the Hebrews, have been controverted, as well as the Apocalypse: of the authority of which, neither papist nor Protestant, Grecian nor Armenian Christian, doubts at this day.
And as all Christian do now acquiesce in the Revelation as a canonical book; so, excepting those I mentioned, and the heretics called Alogians, all the eminent Fathers of the Church received it of old. So did Justin Martyr, Dialog, cum Tryph. Iraeneus, lib. 4, cap. 37 and 50, and lib. 5, cap. 30, and apud Euseb. Lib. 5, cap. 8. Tertullian, adv. Marc. Lib. 3, cap. 5. Clemens Alexandrinus, apud Euseb. Lib. 3. 23. Origen in Matt. and in Joh. And apud Euseb. Lib. 6, cap. 25, and Eusebius himself, Hist. Lib. 4, cap. 28. Nay, all the other Fathers agree in this also, viz., Melito, Hippolitus, Victorinus, &c.
But for my own part, were all these authorities wanting, there is that in this book itself, that would enforce me to own it as Divine; for, besides the augustness of its style, the wisdom of its contexture, and the purity of its design and counsels, there is something that I want a name for, that commands my belief and veneration, and insinuates itself into my affection and conscience, as if Christ himself breathed something Divine in every line. But the clear view of the fulfilling of the several parts of its prophecy, is an argument that even several other books of the New Testament want.
Proposition II.—The book of the Revelation of John was written after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The notion of Grotius, upon which his interpretation of the Apocalypse is founded, is this: That the seven kings or heads of the beast mentioned, Rev. 17:10, are not to be understood of seven several forms of government, but of seven particular emperors, viz., Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus, and that Domitian is the eighth, who was of the seventh; because, as he pretends, he governed during his father’s absence.
The foundation which he lays for the probation of this is, that John was banished into Patmos, in the reign of Claudius: but that though he saw his visions then, he did not write them till Vespasian’s time. For he must make this last supposition, as well as the first, else his notion would be condemned immediately, seeing, it is said, that five of these kings were fallen, Rev. 17:19; that is, says he and Hammond, when he wrote, not when he saw these visions. But how false this is, any body may see with half an eye; seeing these words are not John’s, but the angel’s to him. And therefore, the defenders of this opinion must find out five emperors that were fallen
Before Claudius, if they will restrict these heads of the beast to particular men; for if the angel spake these words to John in the days of Claudius, they must relate to them that went before, or to none.
This is enough to destroy this notion of theirs, and I know not how it is possible for any of their admirers to save their credit this way. But seeing the principal thing they found upon is this, that John saw the apocalyptical visions in the days of Claudius, and that so all, or at least most of the Revelation, relates to things that fell out before the destruction of Jerusalem; I shall say something farther to disprove this assertion, and to confirm the verity of our proposition.
Now there are only two things adduced by Grotius and Hammond to prove that John was in Patmos in Claudius’s reign: the first is, that Claudius raised a persecution against both Jews and Christians; and, that being the first persecutor, it is probable that John was banished at that time. The second is, that Epiphanius does expressly assert that it was by Claudius that John was banished to Patmos.
As to the first of these, it is nothing but a supposition without any proof; for we have no account, either in the Acts of the Apostles, or in any other writer, that Claudius did ever persecute either Jews or Christians. And Lactantius de Mort. Pers. does expressly assert that no emperor did persecute the Christians before Nero. It is true, Suetonius says, Claudius Judaeos impulsore Chresto tumultuantes, Roma expulit. [Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome who made disturbance on account of Christ.] And Luke tells us, that Claudius banished the Jews from Rome, which occasioned Aquila and Priscilla, and other Christian Jews, to retire from Rome: but neither of them say that he persecuted the Christians, or even the Jews. Now, as from the expression of Suetonius, impulsore Chresto or Christo, the meaning must be this, that the Jews that did not believe, going about to stir up the government at Rome, as they did every where else, (as is plain from the book of the Acts,) against the Christians, and appearing against them in a tumultuous manner, upon the occasion of Christ; complaints might, probably, be brought to the emperor, who, no doubt upon this account, banished all of that nation from Rome: so that Suetonius, having a confused notion of Christ, might easily be induced to express himself this way. And now that this was al that Claudius did against the Christians, is plain to me from one argument that has escaped Dr. More, but is to me unanswerable, taken from the eighteenth chapter of the Acts; where, after the sacred historian had taken notice of Claudius’s banishing the Jews out of Rome, and that of Aquila and Priscilla’s being lately come upon that account from Italy to Corinth, he tells us of Paul’s lodging with them, because he was of the same occupation. But being pressed inspirit to preach Christ, upon the coming of Silas and Timothy from Macedonia, he goes into their synagogue, and reasons with the Jews and proselytes there upon this head; and having converted some, particularly Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and Justus, in whose house he afterwards disputed; Crispus, no doubt, being thrown out of his office, and Sosthenes put in his stead, and Paul continuing to preach in Justus’s house, which joined to the synagogue, the Jews are incensed to such a degree as to rise tumultuously against Paul. Sosthenes, therefore, the new chief ruler of the synagogue, and the rest of the unbelieving Jews, make an insurrection, and seize upon Paul, and carry him to the judgment-seat before the proconsul Gallio, that excellent Roman, the elder brother of Seneca. He tells the Jews that if Paul or any other man were guilty of what was lewd, wicked, or unjust, that in that ease he was obliged to punish such persons according as the Roman law and justice did require. But seeing they accused Paul of nothing of that kind, but only of doctrinal matters, relating to their own law and religion, he had nothing to do with them; and therefore he drove them all away, and set Paul at liberty, which made the Gentiles fall upon Sosthenes, the chief author of this tumult, and beat him before the judgment-seat; which Gallio permitted to be done and connived at, either as judging that he did deserve to be so treated, or as supposing it might prevent the Jews from acting so factiously and tumultuously again.
Now, after this short, but exact account of this history, it will be easy to see how precarious and groundless, nay false, Grotius’s opinion is, of a persecution being raised against Jews and Christians in the days of Claudius; for, if there had been any such thing, or any edict for it, how came Gallio to tolerate a public synagogue of the Jews, and suffer Paul to preach openly? Or, if the Christians were only ordered to be persecuted, why did not the Jews use this as the reason of their accusing Paul, who to be sure wanted not a god will to have done so, and were not ignorant that this would have been the main argument to prevail with the proconsul? And had there been any such edict, can we imagine that Gallio was ignorant of it? For so he must have been, seeing he tells the Jews that he had no orders to punish any man for his religion or sentiments that way, but only those that were guilty of wickedness or lewdness in life. If any say that his temper was to care for none of these things; I answer, this expression may, indeed, denote his temper, but I suppose it speaks forth not only that, but his principle and sentiment, as judging it unrighteous to persecute or punish any man for mere opinion. But, whatever this had been, had there been any edict for persecuting the Christians or Jews, he durst not have neglected his orders, especially when the edict must have been so recent, and when he had what might have passed for a just reason of his punishing both the party accusing, and the party accused, viz., their disturbing (as he might have represented it) of the public peace. But, indeed, it is too plain to need any farther proof, that Claudius’s banishing of the Jews out of Rome was accompanied with no persecution, either against them or against the Christians. And this Dr. Hammond confirms, by what he says in his annotations on the thirty-first verse of the twenty-sixth chapter of the Acts, forgetting that this way he destroys his own foundation of interpreting the Revelation: where, upon these words of Luke, that Agrippa, Festus, and Bernice, and the rest of the company, after they had heard Paul’s defence, did conclude that he had done nothing that deserved either death or imprisonment; the Doctor observes, that the reason why they did conclude so, was, because there had been as yet no edict emitted against the Christians by any of the emperors: and this was the reason also, says he, why Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, said publicly that it was not for him to judge of things that the Roman laws had determined nothing about: for, continues the Doctor, though Claudius had commanded the Jews to leave Italy, by which the Christian Jews were forced to go away also, not as they were Christians, but because they were Jews; yet there was no law made against Christians, as such, at this time. It is true, he says, that John was not only banished, as Aquila and Priscilla were, but confined in the isle of Patmos. But he should have given the reason why John was the only person persecuted: however, I shall examine this assertion, and the reason that the Doctor gives for it in other places of his annotations.
We come, therefore, now, in the second place, to consider the testimony of Epiphanius, upon whose credit alone Grotius and Hammond believe that John was in Patmos in Claudius’s time. And here, by the way. I cannot forbear to observe the strange mistake of Dr. Lightfoot, who agrees in the main with these learned men, in interpreting the Revelation, in relation to the Jews, before, the destruction of Jerusalem; and therefore, makes John to see these visions long before that; but has this peculiar to himself, that he imagines John was not banished there, but went thither voluntarily to preach the gospel to the inhabitants: whereas, John himself doth expressly tell us that he was there as a sufferer and witness for Christ, chap. 1, verse 9, “I John, who also am your brother and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” So that as this refutes Dr. Lightfoot, and confirms what Grotius and Hammond agree in, that John was not in Patmos as a traveler, but as a prisoner and sufferer; so it is enough to refute even them also: for the words do plainly insinuate that John was not the only persecuted man at this time, but that there was then a persecution raised against all Christians in general; and therefore, we may be assured that he was not in that island in the days of Claudius, in whose time we have proved there was no persecution.
But to return: Epiphanius says, indeed, that John saw his visions in Patmos in the reign of Claudius. Heres. 51, sect. 12 and 33. But can this single authority weigh down all antiquity, that says the contrary? Shall we believe him, rather than Irenaeus, who lived two hundred years before him, an was the scholar of Polycarp, the scholar of John himself? Now, what can be plainer than the words of Irenaeus, lib. 5, cap. 30, as they are preserved in the original by Eusebius, Lib. 5, cap. 8, Hist. Eccl. Εἰ γὰρ ἔδει ἀναφανδὸν ἐν τῷ νῦν καιρῷ κηρύττεσθαι τοὔνομα αὐτοῦ, δἰ ἐκείνου ἂν ἐρρέθη τοῦ καὶ τὴν ἀποκάλυψιν ἑορακότος: οὐδὲ γὰρ πρὸ πολλοῦ χρόνου ἑωράθη, ἀλλὰ σχεδὸν ἐπὶ τῆς ἡμετέρας γενεᾶς, πρὸς τῷ τέλει τῆς Δομετιανοῦ ἀρχῆς. That is, if his name (viz., that of Antichrist, or the beast,) had been openly to be divulged at his time, it would, no doubt, have been told by him that saw the apocalyptical visions: for it is not a long time since he saw these, but even in some sense, in our own time, viz., towards the end of the reign of Domitian. And that Irenaeus had just reason to say that John’s seeing the Revelation was almost in his own time, or within the memory of the men of that generation, if not his own also, is plain from chronology: for, he being the scholar of Polycarp, who was martyred in the year of Christ 167, and being himself put to death in the year 202, if we suppose that he wrote this but ten or twelve years before his death, yet he might justly say that there was but about an age’s difference from his time and that wherein John saw the Revelation: for if John was in Patmos towards the end of Domitian’s reign, it could not be sooner, in any propriety of speech, than the year 90, seeing he began his government A.D. 81, and died 96. And who can doubt but Irenaeus does deliver here what his master Polycarp had told him; for, as none knew the history of John better than that worthy person, so none had better opportunity to know what related to this matter than Irenaeus, by reason of his long and intimate acquaintance with him. This seemed a foundation sure enough of old to Eusebius; and if some men had not some private ends to promote, by opposing it, might be a sufficient foundation to all men still. Let us, therefore, hear what this learned historian says: “In those days,” says Eusebius, (viz., in the days of Cerdo, Ignatius, and Simeon, of whom he had been speaking,) “the Apostle John, the beloved disciple, was yet alive, inspecting the Churches of Asia, having returned, after Domitian’s death, from the island, whither he had been banished. Now, that John was then alive, it enough to adduce the testimony of two persons of great authority, who are worthy of all belief, and were ever eminent for defending the truth; I mean, Iraeneus and Clemens Alexandrinus; the first of whom, in his second book against heresies, speaks thus: ‘All the presbyters, says Irenaeus, who lived familiarly with the Apostle John, in Asia, do assure us that they had this related to them from John himself; for he lived with them even unto the times of Trajan.’ In his third book, also, Irenaeus gives us the same account, in these words; “‘The Church of Ephesus also, which was founded by the Apostle Paul, and was afterwards under the care of the Apostle John, until Trajan’s time, is an eminent witness of what was delivered to us by the Apostle.’ And besides him, Clemens likewise, says Eusebius, does not only take notice at the same time, but gives a particular story relating to him in that book of his, which bears this title, ‘What rich man can be saved?’” And then Eusebius recites the story at length, which were too long to insert here.
Now, if John lived to the days of Trajan, he must have been a prodigiously old man, according to Epiphanius, who says he was ninety years of age in Claudius’s time. For, giving him all the allowance that can be desired, viz., that John was so old in the last year of Claudius, and that he died in the first year of Trajan, he must have been one hundred and thirty-four years old at least when he died: seeing Claudius died A.D. 54, and Trajan did not begin to reign until the year 98, though others say, with more probability, not until A.D. 100. Now, besides that it is not easy to believe that so thoughtful and laborious a man should live so long, the improbability of what Epiphanius says, appears farther from this; that, if in the year 54 from Christ’s birth John was ninety years of age, he must have been thirty-six years elder than Christ. And if so, it seems very odd that Christ should say to him from the cross, “Man, behold thy mother,” and to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son.” For, as this seems to say, that he was at least as young as Christ, this account makes him an old man of near seventy years of age at that time. Which, as it must suppose Mary to be a very aged person of between eighty and ninety at least, so it contradicts the constant and unanimous tradition of the Church, which supposes him to be very young at that time. Whence Baronius says, that he was but twenty-five years old. And Nicephorus relates out of an epistle of Evodius, bishop Antioch, that the Virgin herself was not then fifty; seeing Christ, as he asserts, was born when she was but fifteen years old.
Whence it appears, how little we ought to trust Epiphanius, in opposition to all antiquity besides. Which made Drusus say, scimmus omnes Epiphanium in multis graviter hallucinatum. And upon the same account Petavius scriples not to correct him, for where he has it imperante Claudio, he writes this short note in the margin, mendose pro Domitiano.
But the truth is, though I am not willing to detract from this author’s credit, yet I suspect it was not so much an error of judgment as of will, or that which some call a pia fraus, that made him desert the tradition of the Church in this matter. For his telling us this story is upon the occasion of an objection of the Montanists against the Apocalypse, taken from this supposition, that there was a Church in Thyatira when John wrote the Revelation; which it seems he thought would serve anther turn, if he inverted it, by telling them that John said so only by way of prophecy. Whence he proceeds to prove the verity and Divinity of the book; and therefore, thought his argument would be the more cogent, the farther he run up the date of the Revelation and John’s being in Patmos. But as this was a poor as well as unlawful shift, so I shall leave him and his authority both to those who have more time and leisure to consider them farther.
For to me there is proof enough from the Revelation itself, to assure us that it was written in Domitian’s time. For it is plain not only from chap. 1: verse 9, which I touched upon before, but from the strain of all the seven epistles which John writes to the Churches of Asia, that at the time of his being in Patmos, or rather before, there had been a severe persecution upon them. Therefore he tells the Church of Ephesus that she had labored and endured, and had not fainted under the troubles that had come upon her, chap. 2: verse 2. And so the Christians of Smyrna are told of their tribulation, and exhorted not to fear imprisonment, or any other thing that they should suffer, verses 9,10. This being added, that they must expect tribulation for ten days: which, by the way, is no inconsiderable hint; seeing the persecution of Domitian, from the first beginning of it, lasted about ten years, which in the dialect of St. John are called days. I might comment on many other things, but this is plain, that the Church was under persecution every where at that time, if it were only from these an the like expressions, Be thou faithful unto the death; and to him that overcometh will I do so and so. And beside all these things, mention is made of an eminent martyr of the Church of Pergamus, chap. 2: verse 13, whose name was Antipas. For the Apostle John, or rather Christ, is so express in relating this, that we may deny any thing in the Bible if we deny this matter of fact. I am not concerned here with the allegories some fanciful men make upon this name, when they tell us that it signifies as much as Antipater or Antipapa: nor have I any thing to do with the stores that later authors tell us of him, as of his being bishop of Pergamus, and of his being burnt in a brazen bull, with other circumstantial matters relating to his person or death. Let Aretha, therefore, Metaphrastes, Cedrenus, Pererius, Surius, Baronius, Cornelius a Lapide, and a thousand more be supposed to mistake in their relating this story: yet no man shall ever make me disbelieve what St. John says of this matter. And I must have farther proof than ever I expect to receive, before I can believe that all these authors are mistaken as to the foundation of their relation; when they unanimously tell us that this martyr suffered in the reign of Domitian.
And now I suppose I have said enough to prove that John was not in Patmos before the reign of Domitian. And if so, the foundation of Grotius and his followers falls to the ground. So that these corollaries must naturally follow from what has been said, and remain as certain truths.
1. Corol. The visions of the Apocalypse relate neither to the Romish nor Jewish state, before the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.
2. Corol. The Revelation relates to the Church and her adversaries, as to those things that were to fall out after the eversion of the Jewish state.
Now, before I proceed, I must desire the reader to observe the distribution which Christ himself makes of the subjects treated of in this book, chap. 1:19, when he commands John, saying, Γραψον α ειδες και α εισιν και α μελλει γινεσθαι μετα ταυτα; i.e., Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter; where it is plain three things are distinguished: 1. The things which John had seen, viz., the emblems, figures, or hieroglyphical representations that had been subjected to his eyes or imagination, from verse 12 to verse 19. Then, 2. The things which were existent and in being at the time when John was in Patmos, viz., the Churches planted by the apostles, particularly the seven Asiatic ones, to which John had a peculiar relation, and to which he was ordered to direct seven epistles. And then, 3. The things which were to fall out hereafter, viz., the prophetical part of the book, beginning with the fourth chapter, as is plain from the first verse thereof. Where, after John had written what related to both the former heads, he tells us that he heard a voice of a trumpet talking with him, and commanding him now to begin and write the things which he was to show to him, and represent to him emblematically, which were to be μετα ταυτα, after the expiration of the other things mentioned before, which were then said to exist, viz., the then present circumstances of the Asiatic Churches.
So that this is a sufficient answer to those that object, that this book cannot be supposed to contain a prophecy of the state of the Church for any long time, seeing it is said that the things prophesied of in the Revelation must shortly come to pass, chap. 1:1. For seeing we have a double explication of this expression, viz., chap. 1:19, and chap. 4:1, I ask, whether we are to stick so to the letter of the first short proposition as to reject the explication given of it in the following places? It was very proper, indeed, when some things in this book did concern the then present state of the Church, and some other thing that did relate to the future condition of it, to say, as in chap. 1:1, that the prophecy related to the things that were shortly to come to pass: because not only were those things to be soon fulfilled that concerned the Churches of Asia at that time, but the other things were then also to enter upon their begun accomplishment. But that we might not imagine that the whole of this book was to be accomplished shortly, we are told, chap. 1:19, and chap. 4:1, that what related to future time was to be accomplished and fall out afterwards. And that, accordingly, we might see the full extent of this prophecy, we are led down from scene to scene, till we are brought down to the end and consummation of all things a the last. And now, seeing we have provided that this book was written after the destruction of Jerusalem, we must desire our antagonists to find out something else, to which they can accommodate all the figures of the Revelation, before we quit our interpretation, merely because they dislike it, though they can offer us nothing in the room of the same. So that until they be able to enlighten our minds, with another scheme than that of Grotius, must be bold to lay down this further corollary, which is the same with out first postulation in the preceding discourse.
3. Corol. That the Revelation contains the series of all the remarkable events and changes of the state of the Christian Church, to the end of the world.
And the same distribution of this book into the three parts I have mentioned, lays a sufficient foundation for another proposition also.
Proposition III—The seven Epistles, directed to as many Churches in the Lesser Asia, do not immediately relate to the Christian Church in general, and therefore cannot be interpreted prophetically, in any proper sense, as if they did denote so many periods of time in relation to it.
I might demonstrate this, were it needful, but seeing it makes nothing for my design, which way soever men understand it, I shall say nothing to it now; especially because the learned Witsius, my professor and master formerly, has sufficiently demonstrated what I assert in this proposition, in his Diatribe de septem Epistolarum Apocalypticarum sensu Historico et Prophetico, published in his Miscellanea Sacra.
And neither have I time to prove other propositions that might appear more necessary: only seeing the key of interpreting the Apocalypse, which the angel gives John, chap. 17, is so very plain, I cannot but build another proposition upon it.
Proposition IV.—Babylon the great, or the apocalyptical beast, taken in a general sense, as it is represented with its seven heads and ten horns, is no other than an emblem of the Roman empire.
For besides that, Dr. Cressener and others have proved this: the text itself is demonstration enough to all those that will be at pains attentively and impartially to consider it. For seeing the angel does expressly say, that by this was meant the seven-hilled city, verse 9, and the city that then did reign over the kings of the earth, verse 18, I cannot imagine what he could have said more plainly upon this head.
But seeing he represents the empire under the peculiar consideration of its being governed by a woman, who is called the great whore, or adulteress; therefore, this lays a foundation for another proposition.
Proposition V.—The seven-headed beast, more especially considered, as it is represented as rid upon by the whore, doth represent Rome to us as it is represented under the ecclesiastical government of the papacy, or apostate Church of Rome.
This the angel does sufficiently insinuate, chap. 17:8, when he says, the beast which thou sawest, was, and yet is not at this time: i.e., the beast which thou sawest is indeed the same Roman empire which was before, and was represented to thee, chap. 13:1; but it is not yet, in another sense, viz., as now thou beholdest it under the rule of a whore, or the apostate Church of Rome. For this last ecclesiastical form of government is not yet come, but it is to come (when it ariseth) out of the bottomless pit, in order to go thither again into endless peridition.
And if this be once granted, then that will naturally follow which I am to represent as another proposition.
Proposition VI.—The seven kings, represented by the seven heads of the beast, are no other than the seven forms of supreme government, that did successively obtain among the Romans.
This the angel doth likewise sufficiently insinuate, verse 10, which can never be understood of particular emperors, at least not of those Grotius fixed upon, whose opinion this way we have already refuted. And, therefore, seeing five of the forms of the Roman government were fallen in John’s time, viz., kings, consuls, dictators, decemvirs, and military tribunes, (as Tacitus reckons them, Annal. Lib. 1, sect. 1,) and seeing the imperial authority was that which was in being then, we have no reason to quit so plain and exact interpretation, until more be said against it than ever has yet been produced to the world.
And, were it not that I am confined so much now, both as to time, and lest this postscript should swell to an enormous bulk, I should not fear to attempt the demonstration of these last propositions, and to proceed to others that would lay a further and more strong foundation still of that method of interpreting the Revelation which the generality of Protestants are agreed in. But I hope I have said enough for this place to secure the principles I go upon, by which the things which I proposed at first as postulata are, I think sufficiently proved. And, seeing my principal design in writing this postscript was to refute the hypothesis that Grotius and Hammond go upon, I leave it to the candid and impartial thoughts of the reader, whether I have not said enough to prove it to be altogether precarious.
And now, seeing every one must see how much I have been straitened, both as to time and paper, in this postscript, I hope the reader will put the more favorable construction on what defects he may observe in my performance, either as to matter, method, or the calculations of time which I have run upon; in which, if there be any thing obscure or confused, the study of brevity and dispatch has occasioned it. But since I have advanced nothing in relation to future time, but by way of conjecture, nor indeed, asserted any thing (in relation to that part of the prophecy which is fulfilled) dogmatically and positively, but only proposed my thoughts, after the manner of a rational probability; I suppose no man will think it worth his while to make a noise about little mistakes, that perhaps I may have been guilty of through haste or inadvertency. But if any person shall take occasion from what I have said to study the Apocalypse to better advantage than I have attained to do, and shall give the world a better built and more clearly connected scheme of the visions of this book; I assure him that none shall more rejoice in such a performance than I; and I shall be one of the first to return him thanks for refuting me. For truth is all I seek after, and that it may ever, and in all respects prevail, is, and shall be my constant prayer and study.