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These general heads of prophecy are so closely linked together, that the latter is always introduced as if it were only a part, or subdivision of a general head, by which it is preceded. Thus, the seventh seal not only introduces the seven trumpets, but the history of the seven trumpets is given as the history of the opening of that seal. And, in like manner, the history of the vials is given as the history of the last of the trumpets. Strict logical accuracy might therefore require, that we speak of the series of events, in the three prophecies, only under one general head, which is that of the seals. But to be continually reminding you of these divisions and subdivisions of the last seal, would rather perplex and bewilder, than assist your meditations. As the trumpets follow the seals in the order of time, and the vials follow the trumpets in the same order, the usual general distribution into the three heads will be most subservient to the purposes of public discussion.
The greater part of these prophecies are accompanied with Notes and Illustrations, which serve to open up their meaning, and to furnish us with more enlarged and correct views of their subjects. These are generally introduced between the chronological chasms, which lie between the close of one remarkable period and the commencement of another. Thus, the period between the revolution of the sixth seal, and the falling of the star of the third trumpet, is filled with the account of a war with a dragon which had got into heaven, but was at length cast down to the earth. The Popish interest, which, in the general series, is symbolized both by the falling of a star and an eclipse, is exhibited, in the subordinate parts of the prophecy, under a great variety of emblems.--The friends of that interest are represented, in chap. xi., under the idea of Gentiles or Heathens, who had profaned the courts of the temple, and laid the holy city in ruins. The same interest is symbolized by a beast with two horns, which rose up out of the earth, having the general appearance of a lamb, but which was actuated by the spirit and temper of a dragon.
This beast is described as acting in concert with another which rose up out of the sea, whose appearance was both formidable and monstrous, as he had no fewer than seven heads, and ten horns.
Both these animals are described in chap. xiii.; and the account of the ravages, both of the Gentiles and of the monstrous beasts, is given between the history of the trumpets and the vials. The same interest is symbolized by a whorish and intoxicated female, who was mounted upon the beast of the sea, and who turned the horns of that destructive monster in whatever direction she pleased, chap xvii. There is no society that has been more hateful to God, more destructive to the souls and bodies of men, or more directly opposed to the grace and love of the gospel, than the Popish church : and therefore, in this concluding part of the canon of Scripture, none is presented to our notice under a greater variety of emblems, or more fully described.
Besides the general account of the judgment of the vials in chap. xvi., we have numerous representations of the same events in other parts of the Revelation. A summary view of these dispensations, under the emblem of a judgment for the dead, is given in chap. xi. 8. Two general emblems, one taken from a harvest, and another from a vintage, are employed in chap. xiv. 14—20. The events of this last are also presented under the form of a great battle, described in the close of chap. xix. And to mark the state of complete desolation to which the Popish church would be brought, a whole chapter, viz. the xviii., is employed to describe its fall and ruin.
Though we are furnished with a detailed account of the rise and progress of the Mahometan delusion, we meet with very little in this book, which describes the judgments of God upon it. The short prophecy of the sixth vial is almost the only thing that seems to bear upon this subject. Nor does there appear to have been great occasion for John's giving any copious account of the judgments to be inflicted in the East, as Ezekiel, in the same hieroglyphical style with him, has so fully described them in the xxxviii. & xxxix. chapters of his prophecy. There they appear to be represented under the emblem of a decisive battle with Gog, in which that adversary will be completely destroyed, and all opposition to the seed of Abraham settling again in the possession of their ancient territories, will be brought to an end. As the period of the destruction of Gog coincides with the closing scenes of the battle of Armageddon, it is extremely probable, that when blood is flowing in Europe to the reins of the horse-bridles, the mountains of Palestine may be covered likewise with the bodies of the slain. The Antichristian and Mahometan interests rose about the same time, and may perish together.
Though Antichrist rose, and even reached the zenith of his power, under the trumpets, yet the mournful condition of the true church is rather implied than described in that prophecy; but, in other parts of the book, her condition is represented under different affecting emblems. She is described in allusion to a city lying in ruins; and to a society, once large and flourishing, but afterwards reduced to two members, who were forced to flee into a wilderness, where they had no other clothing than sackcloth, and no other provision than what was miraculously furnished them.
The Millennial state of the church is very fully described. The commencement of that happy period is represented under the emblem of a marriage, chap. xix. 7; and of a resurrection from the dead, chap. xx. 3–5. The general condition of society in that age is described under the figure of a new planetary system, and a new earth ; the former having this singular feature of character, that the sun of the system never set; and the latter being no less singularly formed, as it had no sea ---chap. xxi. 1—25. It is likewise represented under the emblem of a new Jerusalem, ver. 2; a continued feast of tabernacles, ver. 8; and in allusion to the paradisiacal state of things, ver. 4 & chap. xxii. 1-5.
In these prophecies, the word of God is often given us in the form of line upon line, and precept upon precept. The same grand and interesting matters are held up in almost every possible point of view before the mind, and brought as near to the level of our capacities as the sublimity of their subjects and the poverty of human language will admit. But though the prophet, in order to give more enlarged views of his subjects, frequently brings back the reader, and places him upon scenes which had been represented by other emblems, you are not to imagine that he writes loosely, or without any kind of order or method. There is no writer of Scripture, who, according to our ideas of method, adheres more rigidly to it than John. Through the whole prophecy, he observes the strictest chronological order; and when at any time he seems to make a digression, it is more in appearance than in reality; for the diversified views which he gives of the same subjects are thrown into the form of episodes, notes, or illustrations, which the attentive reader may easily distinguish from the body of the work.
Such are the outlines of this remarkable prophecy. To fill them up by a clear, luminous exposition, is a task which many have undertaken, but which few have been able to perform ; and, therefore, the greater diffidence and humility, as well as diligence, ought to characterize those who renew the attempt. No one, however, need be discouraged, as if this book were to remain under a seal till the day of the general judgment, or till the glory of the latter days should make it legible. False ideas of this kind have prevented some of the ablest interpreters of Scripture from attempting an exposition of the Revelation of John, and induced others to commend their wisdom and prudence, in declining a service which appeared to them to be impracticable. * But, as the different parts of Scripture are a reve
The learned Scaliger was wont to say of Calvin, Calvinus sapuit, quia non scripsit in Apocalypsin.' But if Calvin had not given better proofs of his wisdom than this, he had never acquired any fame in the church, nor would his great talents have been of any benefit to others. His admirable commentary on the other parts of Scripture, and especially his Institutions of the Christian Religion, lation of the mind of God to the church, it is inconsistent with every
idea that we are bound to entertain of the Divine character, to suppose, that he has presented her with something under the name of a revelation, which is no more a discovery of his mind, than if it had not been given. The very idea of its being a revelation, must necessarily imply, that it is a disclosure of the mind of God; that an understanding of it, in the use of means, may be obtained ; and that we are not at liberty to overlook this, any more than the other parts of the Divine will. The Spirit of God, foreseeing that this prejudice would operate powerfully upon some minds, has given the most direct and positive encouragements to the study of its contents. Indeed, stronger encouragements are not presented from any part of Scripture, than what the book itself affords. • For blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein,' chap. i. 3. To these encouragements, an animating consideration, suggested from the approximation of the events of the prophecy, is added : For the time is at hand. And surely, after the lapse of nearly two thousand years, this argument can have lost nothing of its strength, but must press with peculiar force upon us, on whom the ends of the world have come. I
may likewise be permitted to add, that there is no denomination of Christians under more peculiar obligations to make themselves familiarly acquainted with this book, than those who have taken to themselves, the honourable designation of Witnesses for the present truth. Any one may perceive, that the party, who in this book are represented as despised and persecuted by the world, but acknowledged and
show what might have been expected from his pen, if he had turned his attention particularly to the book of Revelation. Independently of his other great attain. ments, he was eminently qualified, by his intimate acquaintance with the errors and abominations of the Popish system, to have opened up this part of the mystery of the will of God. The omission, therefore, is matter of regret, but no proof of what Scaliger has alleged.