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Tappan Presb. Assoc.
THE Prophecies of the Apocalypse, though illustrated by commentators of all ages, have not been so successfully explained, as to afford general satisfaction. From the interpretations most commonly received, many of the learned have withholden their assent; and doubts have been expressed, whether we are yet in possession of the fortunate clues to be derived from human sagacity or Divine inspiration; or of the necessary aids of learning; or of the events in history; which, at some future period, may be destined to ascertain the completion of these predictions.
Under such circumstances, opportunity is fairly afforded for attempts to explain this mystical book by new methods of inquiry. And, while the rash precipitancy of the enthusiastic and unqualified interpreter is to be discouraged, indulgence will justly be thought due to those, who with pious caution, with laborious investiga
tion, and literary research, endeavour to explore its sacred recesses. To illustrate it in all its parts, to prove the completion of all its predictions, to exhibit it as that perfect evidence of the divine origin of our religion, for which it is perhaps intended," in the latter days," can only be the work of time, and must employ the labours of succeeding generations*. Yet to interpret and explain, by scriptural induction, the symbols and language under which the events are presignified; to separate and assort the prophecies; to discriminate those whose fulfilment has already taken place, and to point out their agreement with certain records of history, is a work which at any time may be reverently attempted, and is encouraged and indeed authorised in this divine book †.
But an additional circumstance has lately arisen, which should more peculiarly engage the attention of the Christian scholar to this subject. The supposed obscurity of these prophecies, and the doubtful and discordant methods hitherto employed for the interpretation of them, together with some imagined difficulties in the evidences of the book containing them, have occasioned some persons of eminence in literature to question their divine origin.
Because many of these prophecies seem to extend to the latest period of the world, and can only be interpreted confidently and surely by the assistance of the events fulfilling them.
† Ch. i. 3. ii. 7, 11, 17, 29. iii. 6, 13, 22. xiii. 9, 17. xxii. 6, 7, 10.
The late distinguished Professor, J. D. Michaelis, in a work of great merit, and of general circulation*, has proposed this question, and assigned reasons for his doubts respecting it. It is now, therefore, incumbent upon the learned Christian to inquire and determine, whether the Book of Apocalypse has been justly placed in our canon of sacred Scripture; whether it be entitled to that honourable station, by the external and internal evidence which can be produced in its support.
The author of the following work, for the solution of his own difficulties, had engaged in this inquiry even before the publication of Michaelis's Introduction to the New Testament, by Mr. Marsh. Upon the appearance of that work, he addressed to the learned editor a series of letters, in which it was his endeavour to shew, by an appeal to antiquity (that which Sir Isaac Newton had asserted, and Dr. Lardner had proved to a considerable extent†), that no book of the New Testament is supported by stronger external evidence than this; and that the internal evidence in its behalf is much more considerable than has hitherto been supposed. These letters, having been received favourably by the learned, are now reprinted with corrections and additions,
* Introduction to the New Testament, by John David Michaelis, &c. chapter the last.
† Sir I. Newton on the Apocalypse, ch. i. p. 249. Lardner's Credibility of the Gospel History,
and, in another form (that of a Dissertation), are prefixed to the following work. Here this essay will be found to occupy its proper place; not only because some knowledge of the question is a proper introduction to the Apocalypse, but also because the subsequent Annotations on this sacred book will be found a proper sequel to the Dissertation; for in them will be continued those arguments in defence of the divine original of these Prophecies, which could only be begun in the former work. In them will be presented many inductions of internal evidence, which the nature of the former publication would not admit*. In them it will be attempted to shew, by an appeal to history, that many of these prophecies have received their completion; and, consequently, that the book which has recorded them is divine. Such are in part my motives for the present publication; in which, however, I should not have engaged, if a peculiar method of studying this Book of Revelation had not happened to present its prophecies to me in a new and original point of view, which I presume may be usefully communicated to the students of the Apocalypse.
In my earliest researches in sacred literature, after having perused, with such critical attention as I could then apply, other parts of the Old and New Testament, I proceeded to the Book of Revelation. Here difficulties occurred, which
*See p. 64, of the Dissertation.
I felt myself unable to surmount; and, upon inquiring for the best aids of notes and expositions, these were described to me as numerous, and very discordant; and none of them as affording general and entire satisfaction. Under such circumstances, I was not disposed to receive implicitly the deductions of any particular commentator, and it was impossible for me to form a judgment of my own, or to determine between the contradictory opinions of others, without entering into a wide and arduous field of criticism and of history. I soon perceived that the flight which then opened before me, was too daring for my unfledged wings; I therefore resolved to decline these studies for the present, with the expectation of resuming them at some future period, when more maturity of judgment, and some additional acquisitions in literature, might enable me to pursue them with better prospect of success. In the mean time, I resolved to avoid the perusal of every book or treatise professing to explain these prophecies; hoping to study them, when the proper season should arrive, free from prepossession in favour of any system, unfettered by a predilection for any particular mode of interpretation *.
* I recollect to have kept this resolution so entire, as not to have read any book treating on the Apocalyptic Prophecies, excepting the ingenious and elegant Sermons of Bishop Hurd on Prophecy. He was then my much-respected Diocesan; and upon the subjects on which he has written so ably, he may have given some bias to my thoughts.