Page images


cise import of the symbols of the prophets. But, although I have in this manner attempted to guard against mistake, I am far from flattering myself with the hope, that I have always succeeded in the attempt. On the contrary, as the predictions, which are treated on, are so many in number, and so difficult of explication, I con. clude, that I must sometimes have fallen into error. A positive tone I have, therefore, endeavored to avoid.

If indeed, prophecy be regarded as a growing evidence ; if it be admitted to be a species of proof attendant on revelation, which is perpetually receiving accessions of strength and clearness (and this is the light it which it must necessarily be viewed); the reflecting mind, antecedently to its examination of any particular passages of the prophets, will be led to expect, that their predictions, especially if unfulfilled, will, during a long period, have a mixture of light and shade, and that they will sometimes be darkened by obscurities's, the removal of which will baffle the skill of criticism and the vigilance of inquiry. Were it otherwise, the period must at length arrive, when the voice of prophecy, like the evidence of the 'senses, would be irresistibly convincing, and would force the most careless and the most sceptical observer to an acknowledgment of the truth of revelation. But it might be shewn, that, if prophecy were thus constituted, it would be incompatible with that state of preparation and disciplinel, which is essential to the growth and the stability of virtue, and which infinite wisdom discerns to be best adapted to the nature of man, and the infancy of our species.

With respect, however, to the most Important of the Conclusions, contained in the following work, it will, I hope, be found, that they are deduced from the prophetic scriptures upon the surest grounds.

Almost all the chapters consist of illustrations of particular prophecies. But the third, the fourth, and the nineteenth chapters, contain general remarks; and are designed to support the evidences, or to illustrate the nature, of prophecy. Every where, indeed, it has been my endeavor, in explaining, and in vindicating, the interpretations that are advanced by myself on the commenta

15 • Prophecies,' says Dr. Th. Burnet, ‘rise sometimes with an even, gradual light, as the day riseth upon the horizon : and sometimes break out suddenly like a fire, and we are not aware of their approach, until we see them accomplished.' Sacred Theory of the Earth, vol. II. p. 58.

16 On this subject see Chapters IV. XIX. and XXX. of the following work,

tors, to select such observations, as are calculated not merely to confirm the particular point under consideration, but such as are capable of general application in the study of prophecy. With a view also of facilitating the interpretation of the prophets in general, besides a general index, and one which refers to the texts which are illustrated, an alphabetic list of the prophetic symbols, explained in the body of the work, has been annexed at the end of it. In order likewise to render it more generally interesting, it has been my aim, as much as the nature of the subject would admit, to guard against a dull uniformity: and, in the illustration of prophecy, I have been encouraged to introduce a greater number of minute facts, than I otherwise should have ventured to have done, from the hope that many of them would appear curious or novel to the majority of my readers.

As the third and fourth chapters are of a general nature, containing extracts and remarks introductory to the study of the Apocalypse, the reader, shoựld he feel himself uninterested by Mr. Fleming's interpretation of the Fourth Vial, may pass over the two first chapters, and commence the work with the perusal of the third.

Although a large portion of the materials of the present work have not been dug afresh out of the quarry of the mind, but have been applied to use ready-wrought; it may with truth be observed, that the literary structure which is erected, whatever be its faults, as a whole, is entirely different from any which has before been raised. Whether it be altogether temporary, and whether it have any harmony in its different parts, or solidity in its foundations, those will determine, who shall submit to the task of examining the symmetry of the former, and inspecting the strength of the latter.

On the fidelity with which the extracts have been transcribed from the commentators the reader may place the fullest confidence. Almost invariably have they been copied from the original works. I am aware,


may be said, that the meaning of the authors whom 1 quote would have been more full and apparent, had the passages from them always extended to a considerable length ; but I am also equally aware, that, in the prosecution of this plan, besides the insupportable drudgery of transcribing, the work would have swelled into a bulky folio, abounding with passages uninteresting and unconnected ; and that it would, in consequence, have deservedly.remained unread and unpurchased. I, therefore, do not undertake to explain the systems of any of the writers that are quoted by me.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

On the same weighty grounds, I have also found it necessary to abstain from noticing interpretations which I do not approve. But, though this is my general rule, and though each deviation from it has augmented the size of the ork, I have, in some instances, thought a departure from it admissible. The writer, whose contrariety of sentiment I have most frequently mentioned, is Bishop Newton; having thought it particularly proper to single him out, because his Dissertations on the Prophecies have passed through a number of editions, and are to be every where met with; and therefore it is in the reader's power to examine, what are the arguments, which the learned prelate has advanced on the other side of the question. Had the subject, on which the bishop of Bristol has written, been of a temporary nature, or had the result of his inquiries been held in small estimation'? by the public, I should not so often have noticed his opinions in order to combat them; and, to prove that I am far from intending, agreeably to a method adopted by many antagonists, to depreciate his work, and to treat it with neglect, I have introduced from his Dissertations, which are certainly written with ability, and discover a wide range of reading and investigation, numerous extracts, which coincide with my own views, and appear to have a fair claim on the reader's attention. But the utility of examining the solidity of the conclusions contained in any literary performance, and of detecting what is mistated and erroneous, rises in proportion to the reputation to which it has attained, and the frequency with which it has been perused.

Some persons, it has been observed, possibly may object against the brevity of some of the extracts. But it is apprehended, that an objection of a different kind is far more likely to be alleged. The quotations, it is feared, have been dispersed with too lavish a hand. In forming my own opinions, a considerable benefit has, however, resulted from the occasional consultation of a number of writers : by comparing their sentiments, and gathering their scattered lights, I have been enabled more nicely to weigh the evidence of their several interpretations, and to ascertain the import of particular passages with a degree of assurance, which I otherwise could not have obtained. And the numerous extracts of a similar tenor,

[ocr errors]

17 Bishop Newton's Dissertations have been published in the German and Danish languages.


however chargeable with tediousness, will, it is hoped, be productive of the same benefit to the reader ; that of imparting to him, a stronger assurance in the alleged interpretations.

Indeed, this was perhaps my most difficult task. I was fearful, on the one hand, of stating the interpretations of the commentators in so brief a manner, that they should not be of authority, and should be unadapted to carry conviction to the mind. On the other hand, I was equally apprehensive, lest my accumulation of quotations and of references should be so great, as to become intolerably tedious. Whether a middle course has been pursued with any degree of success, is for the reader to determine.

Let him not, therefore, form the erroneous supposition, that authorities have been omitted to be quoted, only when na authorities" were to be obtained. And it may be observed, that to different comments, I had recourse for different purposes; and, on no one point, have all those been examined to which I had access. The prosecution of a contrary method would, indeed, have been a task, at once toilsome, inconvenient, and superfluous.

With respect to the philological observations which it was necessary to introduce, and the remarks on Greek words, care has been taken that they should not be numerous ; and, to prevent the reader from being impeded by them in his progress, the greater part of them have been thrown into the notes.

As the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is an expensive work, and of great extent; as Mr. Gibbon is a writer of the highest rank, with respect to the ability which he displays, and the information which he communicates; as he will be exempt from all suspicion of partiality to the Christian religion, and of any design to throw a light on the subject of prophecy; I have thought myself justified in extracting from him a considerable number of passages, in order to illustrate the effects of Christianity and the predictions of scripture. With respect to those of my readers who have previously perused them, it is sufficient to

18 It is principally on account of Daubuz's vast accumulation of reference's and authorities, that his commentary on the Apocalypse has rarely been perused, though perhaps more valuable than any other, and certainly enriched with more copious stores of learning.

19 The interpretations of particular passages, after being collected, have not unfrequently been thrown aside ; for sometimes one commentator is most happy in the clearness of bis illustrations ;, sometimes another.

[ocr errors]

remark, that, besides being quoted for a purpose to which they were never before applied, they are unquestionably deserving of a second perusal.

Concluding that those writers, who possess an acknowleged share of reputation, are the best entitled to a favorable hearing, and are most likely to obtain it, to them I have generally appealed ; and from the more obscure annotators on the Apocalypse have sparingly quoted. Bishop Newton, speaking of those who have commented on it, says, “our obligations are owing to three particularly, Mr. MedE, VITRINGA, and DAUBUz20. To them, therefore, I have often recurred; and, as I know no commentator, who can be compared with the last of the three, and with Dr. LANCASTer who has copied from him, for the accuracy, the care, and the consistency, with which they have explained the prophetic symbols, I have quoted from these two clergymen with more than ordinary frequency.

The size of the present publication would have been greatly reduced, had it not been conceived, that there was an intimate dependency of its several parts, and had they not appeared to be so adjusted, as mutually to impart light and evidence. Among the most powerful of the motives, which have prompted me to admit so many citations and authorities, is my solicitude to shew, that a great part of my ideas on prophecy have long ago been entertained by such as have made that subject their study; and that they must, therefore, have been suggested by an inspection of the prophetic symbols themselves without any retrospect to those great events, which have recently arrested the attention, and now shake the governments, of the European world. Many passages also I have been induced the more easily to insert, because they proceed from such writers, as can never be charged with entertaining sentiments hostile to the power either of kings or of priests. Of the strong declarations, which occur in the present volumes, resulting from the study of prophecy, and levelled against civil tyrants or sacerdotal usurpation, not a few, indeed, will demonstrate the mighty power of truth, and the irresistible clearness of some parts of the scriptural prophecies; for it will be seen, that such declarations have not unfrequently escaped from the pens of those, whose projects, prejudices, and situations powerfully prompted them, on such subjects as these, to caution and to silence. Often

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

20 Dissert. on the Proph, rol. III. p. 8.

« PreviousContinue »