« PreviousContinue »
collect, from the comparison of the evangelists, that the events pointed out by him, under the symbols of the darkening of the sun, the moon, and the stars, whatever import these symbols may be supposed to have, are to happen when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled; that is to say, are contemporary with the demolition of the antichristian go. vernments of the European world, as foretold by Daniel. But the meaning of these symbols has been satisfactorily ascertained; and hence it appears, that Daniel and Christ have presignified the same great catastrophe. And certainly it is no subject of surprise, that the downfal of all those monarchies and aristocracies, which oppress the world, should have been predicted, since it was foreseen by the Divine Mind ; not only that some of them would vehemently resist the first propagation of the religion of Jesus ; but that all of them, during a long series of ages, and during the whole of their continuance in power, even though they professed to be converts to it, would in fact be altogether strangers to its spirit, and openly violating all its laws would be alike injurious to the practice and to the spread of Christianity.
But I hasten to conclude. If then it be evident, as well from a consultation of the prophetic scriptures themselves, as from the opinions of the most approved writers, that the sun, the moon, and the stars are, in the diction of prophecy, the known, established symbols either of a monarch and his nobles, or of monarchy and aristocracy in general; if what bp. Hurd affirms be in any degree well founded, that there is, in truth, no more difficulty in fixing the import of the prophetic style, than that of any other language or technical phraseology whatever36;' surely I shall not be charged, even by the advocate of tyranny, with having annexed this
36 Vol. II. p. 98. See similar assertions in More (On the Apoc. p. 304) and Lancaster (p. 19). • Each symbol,' says the latest of all the commentators on the Apocalypse, ‘has as determinate and distinct a meaning, as each word in other languages hath.' Johnston of Holywood, vol. I. p. 41.
sense to the words of our Saviour on grounds, which are altogether light and doubtful and destitute of authority.
If the reason be asked, whence this passage has not been oftener viewed in the same light, and whence it has happened, that not one of the many English commentators on the Evangelists has thus interpreted it; I reply, without assigning any motives of policy as having communicated to the minds of any among them a secret bias, that those of them who have most successfully illustrated the Evangelists, and have been followed by the tribe of inferior expositórs, have rarely paid any marked attention to the symbols of the prophets, and therefore it is not to be wondered, that, when they have incidentally met with them, they have not turned out of their usual track, and have in consequence misinterpreted them, as if they were expressions not prophetic but literal. That this is a true solution of the difficulty, the reader will see solid grounds for believ. ing, when he recollects, that the alleged interpretation of our Lord's words has received the unanimous suffrage of Daubuz, of Lancaster, and of Vitringa38 ; who are perhaps the three men, who of all others best understood the symbolic language of prophecy, and had most diligently compared together the predictions of different prophets.
37 If Grotius and Gilbert Wakefield be excepted, I know not a single commentator on the Evangelists, who appears to have been at all acquainted with the important works of Achmet and Artemidorus.
38 I add not the name of Mede, on account of the doubts he entertained, and because he delivered no positive opinion on the subject. Mede's ideas on the xxivth ch. of Matthew I shall have farther occasion to state in the xxviith, and xxviiith chapters of the work,
APPENDIX TO CHAPTER XXII.
THE whole of the present work was written, and a considerable part of it printed, previously to my meeting with the quotation that follows. The principal motives for my now introducing it are, because many of the thoughts which it contains are similar to those that predominate in the preceding pages; and because it proceeds from the pen of a courtier and a dignitary of the church, whose mind . will not be suspected to have yielded admission to any ideas of the probability of a Revolution in the circumstances of mankind, from a restless temper or a fondness for innovation, from the influence of prejudices favorable to freedom, or from a dissatisfaction at the existing state of affairs. It is from a charge39 delivered by bishop Por. teus.
• The present times,' says the prelate, and the present scene of things, in almost every part of the civilized world, are the most interesting and the most awful that were ever before presented to the inhabitants of the earth ; and such as must necessarily excite the most serious reflections in every thinking mind. Perhaps all those singular events to which we have been witnesses, unparalleled as they undoubtedly are in the page of history, may be only the beginning of things, may be only the first leading steps to a train of events still more extraordinary; to the accomplishment possibly of some new and unexpected, and at present unfathomable, designs hitherto reserved and hid in the counsels of the Almighty. Some we know there are who *think that certain prophecies, both in the New Testament
39 A Charge, delivered to the Clergy of the Diocese of London, at the Visitation of that Diocese in the year 1794, by Beilby, Lord Bishop of London.
and the Old, are now fulfilling; that the signs of the times are portentous and alarming; and that the sudden extinction of a great monarchy, and of all the splendid ranks and orders of men that supported it, is only the completion in part of that prediction in the gospel, that the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, before the second appearance of the Messiah, to judge the earth ; all which expressions are well known to be only figurative emblems of the great powers and rulers of the world, whose destruction, it is said, is to precede that great event. As to myself I pretend not to decide on these arduous points; I pretend not either to prophecy or to interpret prophecy: nor shall I take upon myself to pronounce, whether we are now approaching (as some think) to the Millennium, or to the Day of Judgment, or to any other great and tremendous and universal change predicted in the sacred writings. But this I am sure of, that the present unexampled state of the Christian world is a loud and powerful call upon all men, but upon us above all men, to take peculiar heed to our ways, and to prepare ourselves, for every thing that may befall us, be it ever se novel, ever so calamitous40.'
ON THE SIX FIRST SEALS, AND PARTICULARLY THE THIRD
AND THE SIXTH.
THERE are two passages in the two sublimest of the scriptural prophets, one in John, and one in Isaiah, which are justly observed by Pyle', Brenius, and Vitringa’, to be parallel places with the memorable prediction of our Sa-* viour, which was illustrated in the preceding chapter. They are too important to be omitted. As the prophecy of Jesus has, however, been so largely investigated, the symbolic language in which they are written will not very long detain our attention.
40 P. 28. 1 P. 48.
2 In Mat. xxiv. 29. . 3 In Apoc. p. 281; and in Jesai, vol. II. p. 23.
Of these passages, the first which I shall transcribe and explain, is the prediction of THE SIXTH SEAL: and, in order that a just conception of it may be formed, it will be necessary to introduce some account of the five preceding seals. The extract that follows is from bp. Newton. •Future events are supposed by St. John, as well as by Daniel and other prophets, in a beautiful figure, to be registered in a book, for the greater certainty of them. This book (ver. 1)4 is in the right hand of God, to denote that as he alone directs the affairs of futurity, so he alone is able to reveal them.-It was also sealed, to signify that the decrees of God are inscrutable, and sealed with seven seals; referring to so many signal periods of prophecy. In short we should conceive of this book, that it was such an one as the ancients used, a volume or roll of a book, or more properly a volume consisting of seven volumes, so that the opening of one seal · laid open the contents only of one volumes.' .
Since this sealed book is described as not being opened till after great preparationo; since Christ is represented in the prophetic vision as selected to perform this important task; and innumerable multitudes of angels, and the representatives of the whole Christian church, are introduced as raising acclamations of joy on the disclosure of its contents?; it may reasonably be expected to foretell events, which should be highly interesting to the Christian world, and WHICH, DURING THE REVOLUTION OF FUTURE AGES, SHOULD HAVE A SIGNAL INFLUENCE, EITHER FAVORABLE OR UNFAVORABLE, UPON THE PROGRESS AND UPON THE PURITY OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH. But such is the inter
5 Vol. III. p. 35.