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It is well known that a great variety of opinions have been expressed by distinguished theological writers on the Apocalyptic visions which compose the prophetic part of this truly wonderful book. This will not appear surprising when we consider the nature of symbolical language, and the difficulty of ascertaining its verification in the events of the past and the future. It has seemed to me a safe course to make the sacred scriptures interpret themselves as far as practicable; and, as John has written on many of the same topics, and employed many of the same figures and emblems as did the ancient prophets, his language may, to a large extent, be interpreted by theirs.
Though I have been assisted by the valuable commentaries on the Apocalypse in common use, I have not taken them for my guides ; but have endeavored to examine these recorded visions for myself. In doing this, I have felt constrained to differ from them in some respects, which may be deemed important. And I have only to ask of those
who may dissent from the views I have expressed, that they will give the whole matter a thorough examination.
That the effect of these exegetical notes may be to cause people of all classes to study more critically the figurative language of the Bible, and to confirm all readers in a sincere belief of what God has revealed, is the fervent wish of the author.
Ar the commencement of a critical and thorough examination of this most difficult of all the books in the sacred volume, it is important to fix in our minds certain principles of interpretation to guide us in our investigations. To these we should adhere safeguards against the suggestions of imagination and the vagaries of ingenious speculation. We should adhere to them, though they should carry us wide from the track of those who have given interpretations of these prophetic teachings.
One of these principles is, that in order to ascertain the meaning of the revelator in a particular instance, the symbols, or emblems, must be explained. These are objects cognizable by the senses, designed to convey ideas of events civil or religious. Though there may be coincidences between the symbols and the things signified by them; yet, in their nature they are entirely different. Thus, a beast is the emblem of an empire,—thunderings, lightnings, and earthquakes, represent civil commotions, and revolutions,—and the woman sitting on a scarlet colored beast is “ that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” To proceed to give an interpretation without first ascertaining the meaning of the symbol, is not explaining, but guessing.
Another principle is, that when the symbol or figure is adopted from the writings of the ancient prophets, or is the same as used by them, it should be interpreted ås having a similar signification, so that, as far as practicable, one portion of divine revelation may explain another.
One other principle I give in the words of Woodhouse:“ Unless the language and symbols of Revelation should in particular passages direct, or evidently require another mode of inter
pretation, the predictions are to be applied to events occurring in the kingdom of Christ. For," he remarks, “whenever sacred prophecy is seen to deviate from its peculiar object, it is in such instances only, wherein the fortunes of God's people have become necessarily involved with those of the heathen nations; and thus we find in the boundless mass of history to what kind of history prophecy is to be applied. When the people of God were to become subject to the four monarchies, the character, and succession, and fates of those monarchies were predicted; but the main object continually kept in view in the sacred history was their deliverance from those successive yokes by the superseding dominion of the Megsiah. This supreme and universal dominion, gradually, and finally to prevail, appears to be the grand object of all sacred prophecy; and revolutions of worldly power among the Gentiles, seem noticed only at those times when they impede or promote it."
This book was doubtless written to be understood, for John was commanded not to seal up the sayings it contains, but to leave them open for the instruction and consolation of believers in every age. It is no presumption therefore, to assert that it can be understood, and he is pronounced“ blessed or happy who keepeth the sayings of this prophecy.” To keep them implies an understanding of them, and a belief of them. Indeed, a revelation which cannot be understood is no revelation at all.
A fact to be kept in view is, that these are visions,—representations made to the mind, not things actually beheld by the organs of sight. They were seen only in the sense in which we see things in a dream. They had no more real existence than the sheet filled with all manner of beasts, which Peter in a sleep saw let down from heaven. Many of the emblems never had a real existence anywhere; such as the monsters with unnatural members,—the locusts having shapes like horses, with crowns like gold on their heads, and faces similar to those of men,--and the woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet. Much of the imagery is the same as was used by the ancient prophets, and much of it has its prototypes in the Levitical economy.
Another fact is, that the prophetic part of this book is wholly symbolic. All its disclosures are made under emblematic representations, not unlike the hieroglyphics of Egypt. The first business,