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This then (and for the reason assigned) is ONE distinguishing character of the Apocalyptic style. But the difficulty of interpretation, arising from it, cannot be considerable; or, if it be, may be overcome by an obvious method, by a careful study of the Jewish history and law.
2. The other mark of distinction, which I observed in the style of this book, is the continuity of the symbolic manner. Parables are frequent, indeed, in the old prophets, but interspersed with many passages of history, and have very often their explanation annexed. This great parable of St. John is, throughout, carried on in its own proper form, without any. such interruption, and, except in one instances, without any express interpretation of the parabolic terms,
Now, the prophecy, no doubt, must be considerably obscured by this circumstance. But then let it be considered, that we have proportionable means of understanding it. For, if the symbols be continued, they are still but the same h, as had been before in use with the
8 Chap. xvi.
h The learned Bishop Andrews says expressly—“You shall scarce find a phrase in the Revelations of St. John,
elder prophets ; whose writings, therefore, are the proper and the certain key of the Revelations.
From these distinctive characters, then, of the Apocalyptic style', nothing more can be inferred, than the necessity of studying the Law, and the Prophets, in order to understand the language of this last and most mysterious revelation. And what is more natural, nay what can be thought more divine, than that, in a system, composed of two dependent dispensations, the study of the former should be made necessary to the comprehension of the latter ; and that the very uniformity of style. and colouring, in the two sets of prophecies,
that is not taken out of Daniel, or some other prophet."". Vix reperias apud Johannem phrasin aliquam, nisi vel ex Daniele, vel ex alio aliquo prophetâ desumptam. Resp. ad Bellarm. Apol. p. 234.
i An eminent writer gives an exact idea of it, in these words — “ The style [of the Revelations) is very propheti“cal, as to the things spoken: And very hebraizing, as
to the speaking of them. Exceeding much of the old “ prophets language and matter adduced to intimate new “ stories: And exceeding much of the Jews language and “ allusion to their customs and opinions, thereby to speak “ the things more familiarly to be understood.” Dr. LightFOOT, Harm. of the N. T. p. 154, London, 1655.
should admonish us of the intimate connexion, SEXNON which each has with the other, to the end that we might the better conceive the meaning, and fathom the depth, of the divine councils in both?
But, without speculating further on the final purposes of this Judaical and Symbolical character, so strongly impressed on the Apocalypse, it must evidently appear that the difficulties of interpretation, occasioned by it, are not invincible; nay, that, to an attentive and rightly prepared interpreter, they will be scarce any difficulties at all k.
k I have heard it affirmed, on good grounds, that the · late Dr. Samuel Clarke, being asked in conversation by a friend, whether, as he had taken much pains to interpret the other books of Scripture, he had never attempted any thing on the Revelations, replied, He had not; but that, notwithstanding, he thought he understood every word of it: Not meaning, we may be sure, that he knew how to apply every part of that prophecy, but that he understood the phraseology, in which it was written; whieh a man, so conversant as he was in the style of scripture, might very well do.- Calvin, indeed, has been commended for 'making the opposite declaration : And, it may be, with good reason : For (not to derogate in any respect from the character of this great man) the language of the Scriptures, and especially of the prophetical scriptures, was in no degree so well understood in his time, as it was in that of Dr. S. Clarke.
I proceed, then,
II. To the SECOND, and more considerable cause of the obscurities, found in this prophecy, the METHOD, in which it is composed.
The other prophecies have, doubtless, their difficulties, arising from the abrupt manner, in which, agreeably to the Oriental genius, they are delivered : But then, being short and unconnected with each other, the apparent disorder of those prophecies, has rarely any sensible effect in preventing the right application of them. The case is different with the prophecies, contained in this book. For, having been all delivered at once, and respecting a series of events, which were to come to pass successively in the history of the Christian Church, it is reasonable to expect that some certain and determinable method should be observed in the delivery of them ; and the true secret of that method, whatever it be, must be investigated, before we can, with success, apply any single prophecy to its proper subject.
The first, and most obvious expectation of a reader is, that the events predicted in this prophecy should follow each other in the order of the prophecy itself, or that the series of the
visions should mark out and determine the Sermos succession of the subjects, to which they relate. But there is reason to think, on the face of the prophecy, that this method is not observed.
A second conclusion would, then, be hastily taken up, that there is no regular method at all in these visions, but that each is to be applied singly, and without any reference to the rest, to such events as it might be found, in some tolerable degree, to suit: And then it is plain, that fancy would have too much scope afforded her in the interpretation of these visions, to produce any firm and settled conviction, that they were rightly and properly applied. Yet, as this idea of the Apocalypse would favour the laziness, the precipitancy, the presumption, and, very often, the malig nity of the human mind, it is no wonder that it should be readily and eagerly embraced. And, in fact, it was to this pre-conceived notion of a general disorder in the texture of these prophecies, that the little progress, which, for many ages, had been made in the exposition of them, is chiefly to be ascribed.
But then, lastly, if neither the order of the prophecy be that of the events, nor a total dis