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SERMON writings. Whence, our next step, in this in
quiry, must be, To trace the causes of that peculiar obscurity ; and to suggest, as we go along, the MEANS, by which it hath been, or may be, removed.
The causes, are to be sought in the style, and the METHOD, of that book. I
say nothing of the subject ; for, though the things predicted may darken a prophecy, unfulfilled, the event will shew what they are; and it is not necessary, that we should anxiously inquire into the meaning of a prophecy, till it be accomplished.
I. First, then, the style of the Revelations (for I mean not to consider it, with regard to
I the Greek tongue, in which it is composed, or, to the Hebrew idiom, with which it is coloured) The style, I say, being symbolical, like that of the other prophecies, must, in general, be explained on the same principles, that is, must be equally intelligible, in both. Yet, if we attend nicely to the style of this prophecy, some difference will be found, in the choice of the symbols, and in the continuity of the symbolic form,
1. To explain my meaning, on the first article, I must observe, That, though the prophetic style abounds in hieroglyphic symbols, SERMON properly so called, yet the Israelites, when they adopted that style, did not confine themselves to the old Egyptian stock of symbols ; but, working on the same ground of analogy, superadded many others, which their own circumstances and observations suggested to them. Their divine ritual, their civil customs, their marvellous history, and even the face and aspect of their country, afforded infinite materials for the construction of fresh symbols: and these, when they came into common use, their prophets freely and largely employed. Thus, incense, from the religious use of it in the Mosaical service, denotes prayer, or mental adoration b- to tread a
. wine-press, from their custom of pressing grapes, signifies destruction, attended with great slaughtere — to give water in the wilderness, in allusion to the miraculous supply of that element, during the passage of the Israelites through the wilderness to the holy land, is the emblem of unexpected relief in distress d; -and, to mention no more, a forest, such as Lebanon, abounding in lofty cedars, represents a great city, with its flourishing ranks of inhabitantse ; just as, a mountain,
b Mal. i. 11.
c Lament. i. 15.
SERMON from the situation of the Jewish temple on X.
mount Moria, is made to stand for the Christian Church
Now, though the symbols of this class be occasionally dispersed through the old prophets, yet they are more frequent, and much thicker sown, in the Revelations : so that to a reader, not well versed in the Jewish
story and customs, this difference may add something to the obscurity of the book.
If you ask the reason of this difference, it is plainly this. The scene of the apocalyptic visions is laid, not only in Judæa, but in the temple at Jerusalem ; whence the imagery is, of course, taken. It was natural for the writer to draw his allusions from Jewish objects, and especially from the ceremonial of the temple-service. Besides, the declared scope of the prophecy being to predict the fortunes of the Christian church, what so proper as to do this under the cover of Jewish ideas; the law it
: self, as we have before seen, and as St. Paul expressly tells us, having been so contrived, as to present the shadow of that future dispensation ?
f Isaiah ü. 2.
This then (and for the reason assigned) is Sermon 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
& Chap. xvii.
h The learned Bishop Andrews says expressly—“You shall scarce find a phrase in the Revelations of St. John,
SERMON elder prophets ; whose writings, therefore, are
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.” Vir reperias apud Johannem phrasin aliquam, nisi vel ex Daniele, vel er 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." Di. LIGHTFOOT, Harm. of the N. T. p. 154, London, 1655.