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tory do they appear to have been accomplished? The answer was at hand-the history of the Church of God. For, in this sacred history we find the divine prophecies principally, and almost exclusively fulfilled for, whenever sacred prophecy is seen to deviate from this its peculiar object, it is in such instances only, wherein the fortunes of God's people have become necessarily involved with those of heathen nations. When the people of God were to become subservient to the four monarchies, the character, and succession, and fates of those monarchies were predicted: but the main object continually kept in view, was their deliverance from these successive yokes, by the superseding dominion of the Messiah. 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 to be noticed only at those times when they impede or promote it. Therefore the prophecies of the Apocalypse appeared to be applicable principally, if not solely, to the fates and fortunes of the Christian Church; to the progress or retardment of that kingdom of the Messiah, which, when these predictions were delivered, had already begun to obtain its
1 See Bishop Hurd on Prophecy, serm. 2d and 3d. And the extension of divine prophecy to the nations, may be observed to take place in exact proportion to their increasing connexion with the Jews. First, Moab, Edom, Amalek, the Philistines, &c. are noticed; then Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre, Egypt, &c.; afterwards the four great monarchies; and lastly, the Gog and Magog, the distant and barbarous nations.
And I conceived my
establishment in the world. self obliged to adopt, as a controlling principle of interpretation, that unless the language and symbols of the Apocalypse should in particular passages direct, or evidently require another mode of application, the predictions were to be applied to events occurring in the progressive kingdom of Christ.1
In the wide field of universal history, innumerable events may be selected by the industry of investigators, seeming to bear resemblance to the figurative pictures of holy writ. Instances of wars, famines, conquests, and revolutions, may be separated from that infinite mass of information, appearing to assimilate to images presented in prophecy. Some restriction is therefore necessary to guide investigation, and to serve as chart and compass through such extensive and difficult seas; and what can be deemed more proper than this principle, which derives its authority from the analogy of sacred Scripture ?
A third controlling principle seemed also requisite, arising from a consideration of the nature and
1 There are discoverable in scriptural prophecy, and generally acknowledged by divines, two advents or comings of our Lord; 1st. his personal appearance in the flesh; 2dly. his progress to complete dominion, by the subjection of all his enemies. The first of these had already taken place when the apocalyptic prophecies were delivered. The latter, therefore, is the object to which we are principally to look, when we attempt to assort these predictions. Accordingly, the subject of this prophetical book will appear to be generally, the fates and fortunes of the Christian Church, from the ascension of our Lord, and the preaching of his Apostles, to the great consummation of all things.
kind of that kingdom, which had thus appeared to be the grand object of the prophecies. It is a kingdom not temporal, but spiritual; "not a kingdom of this world," (John xviii. 36.) not established by the means and apparatus of worldly power and pomp,' not bearing the external ensigns of royalty; but governing the inward man, by possession of the ruling principles; "The kingdom of God," says our Lord," is within you." (Luke xvii. 21.)
Such a kingdom may be in a great degree independent of the fates and revolutions of empires ; affected only by those changes in the political world which are calculated to produce the increase or decline of religious knowledge, and of pure profession and practice. Wars therefore, and conquests, and revolutions of vast extent, and of great political import, may be supposed to take place, even in the Christian world, without becoming the proper object of Christian prophecy. The inhabitants of the Christian world may be subdued by a ferocious conqueror; the sufferings of the vanquished may be such as result from ferocious conquest; the faithful servants of Christ may undergo their common share in this calamity, may suffer grievously in their property and in their persons: yet, in such times of general distress, if their religion be not denied them; if they enjoy those consolations, which, under such afflictions, their religion is designed to bestow; if, corrected by the awful visitation, not only they, but Christians of looser practice, and the inhabitants of
1 Ου μετα παρατηρήσεως. Luke xvii. 20.
the earth in general, shall be seen to turn to their God, and allow to his purifying religion its divine influence on their hearts and lives:-shall we expect that such a revolution should be predicted as a calamity, as a woe? Our conception of the nature of Christ's kingdom, (the object of such prophecy,) will determine us to answer in the negative. But if such a conqueror, after having subdued the bodies of men, should proceed to extend his usurped dominion over their souls; should require them to renounce their allegiance to the heavenly King; to deny their God and Redeemer;-then will succeed a conflict of another nature, and a resistance deserving the notice and interference of divine prophecy. Then will be employed those arms, which properly belong to this spiritual warfare, (Eph. vi. 16;) then will the kingdom of God be truly advanced or diminished. I describe this imaginary conquest, succeeded by such spiritual conflict, only as what may happen; not adverting to any similar instances which have occurred. I mention them to show with what previous notions I formed the rules of interpretation, for which I deem myself accountable.
In adopting the rule now under consideration, I have been obedient to the direction of holy Scripture; which has required a spiritual interpretation of its mysteries, (1 Cor. ii. 12—15:) they are not to be taken according to the bare letter, (2 Cor. iii. 6,) nor in a carnal or worldly acceptation, (John vi. 26-63.) The warfare of the Christian kingdom, (the subject of these prophecies,) is not to be carried on by worldly arms and battles; (John xviii,
36;) they who entertain such notions of this religion, "know not what manner of spirit it is of," (Luke ix. 55.) As the Captain of our salvation conquered by suffering, and refused the sword of Peter, and the legions of angels, ready for his defence, (Heb. ii. 10; Matt. xxvii. 52-55,) so neither by external force must his followers expect to prevail. The kingdom of God is not advanced by crusades ; nor is the sword of man employed successfully to seat the Messiah on his throne. To obtain his destined dominion, Christ must reign in the hearts and consciences of his far-extended subjects. His reign is advanced when Christian principles, when faith, and righteousness, and charity, abound. It is retarded when ignorance, impurity, idolatrous superstition, infidelity, and wickedness, prevail.
From these considerations, this third rule of interpretation may be thus expressed:
3. That as the kingdom of Christ, the object of the apocalyptic prophecies, is spiritual, so they are to be understood in a spiritual sense. Spiritual things are to be compared with spiritual, as says St. Paul. (1 Cor. ii. 13.)
A fourth general rule of interpretation has been also adopted in the prosecution of this work. Not to attempt the particular explanation of those pro
1 As the prophecies of the Old Testament, interpreted carnally by the Jews to designate a worldly conqueror, have been seen to lead that infatuated people into egregious error; so, in these days of superior light, when by experience, as well as divine direction, a spiritual interpretation is so clearly recommended and enforced, it seems extraordinary that any sober and well-informed Christian can look to any other.