Page images

have been of general utility to many souls. How often have they roused the lukewarm, confirmed the pious, and strengthened the weak! Even Martyrs have called them to remembrance, as matter of great comfort in their dying agonies, under the axe, the cross, and the stake.

This degree of obscurity, which attends the major part of the Revelation, proceeds in some measure, from the nature and circumstances of prophecy; and partly from the highly figurative language, in which the prophecies are conveyed. In some parts of this book, it may also proceed from the spiritual sense of the letter, referring to objects in the invisible world, above the sphere of our comprehension.

The language is hieroglyphic and emblematical. By using this expression, I do not mean to conduct my readers to the secret language of the Egyptian priests, who governed both church and state, and kept their records, in delineated characters, drawn from the figures of animals, or other objects in nature to express their ideas, which none except themselves understood. They retained this mode of writing from a high reverence for Hermes Trismegistus, who, they say, was the inventor of it; and whose disciples they acknowledged themselves to be. In the same manner as the Roman Catholics retain the Latin language; the Nestorians and Monophisites; the Syriac; the modern Egyptians; the Coptic; the Abyssinians; the Ethiopic, as the languages of worship and religion ; because they had become sacred among them, by being in use for many centuries.

No, the symbolic is not exclusively the style of the Egyptians. It never claimed Egypt for its fountain head; since the Egyptian hieroglyphics in general, bear litle resemblance to those of other nations, and therefore ought not to be explained solely from that source. It is the style of all Asia ; the most ancient literature, and we may say, the language of nature. Every thing in antiquity was symbo

lic and allegorical; and this style delights the imagination, pleases and improves the mind of even the weakest capacities, more than any other. A lion, is the hieroglyphic of strength and fortitude; a steer of agriculture; a horse, of liberty and speed; a sceptre, of royalty ; an eye, of the Deity; a serpent, in a circle with variegated spots, of the universe. So the symbol of two hands united, signifies peace, darts, denote war; and the lines which joined these figures, express short words and phrases.

Besides this simple mode of hieroglyphics, the Asiatics also had a mixed sort of emblematical representation of enlarged and extensive import; by which they implied whole countries, kingdoms, empires, and the character of nations, religions and governments. They would draw a compound figure, from the outlines of different animals or other objects in nature, to express historical facts, or convey information of doctrines and morals. Thus the principal characters of church and state, are called by the names of the heavenly luminaries; empires, kingdoms and republics, are signified by mountains, hills and islands; all mankind, by the ocean; and commotions of nations, by the waves of a tempestuous sea, or by the eclipses and extinctions of celestial bodies. Of all the prophets, St. John makes the most frequent use of this language in his Revelation.

But besides this emblematical style in a general view, the natural signification of many words in this prophecy alludes to customs, tenets, and manners of times and places of remote antiquity; which are now either obliterated by time, or rarely understood, except by men versed in that kind of literature. By far the greater part of the figures, and images of the Revelation, are borrowed from the sacred writings of the prophets; particularly of those, who have written during the captivity of the Jews, and since their return to the holy land. At tie waters of Babylon, the Israelites had access to the religious and philosophical tenets of Chaldean wisdom; where Daniel held the first sta


tion, as chief of the Magi, the wise men of the East. The nation returned to their own land, strongly tinctured with the Chaldean tenets, customs and character; and those born in the land of captivity, had entirely lost the language of their ancestors, and alınost the spirit of Moses; viewed every thing with Chaldean eyes, and touched the holy vessels with Chaldean hands. This change of the nation also had a great influence on the style, and manner of expression of the latter prophets. The style of Daniel is wholly Chaldean, and part of his book in that dialect. The visions of Ezekiel, which he saw at the river Chebar, are descriptive of the situation of those countries. And the views and figures of Zechariah, accord with the Chaldean customs and character.

When St. John wrote the Revelation, the walls of nations had been broken down by the Romans, and the different religious opinions and philosophical tenets of every country within their grasp, were perfectly afloat. From the river Cyrus, to the Nile; from the Caucasus to the Alps, all was an ocean of floating ideas, tenets, customs, dialects, and languages. Judea in particular stood in connexion with the sebomenois with the scattered Hellenistic Jews, from Egypt to the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and Mesopotamians, Acts ii. 9, 10, 11; who from time to time brought home, and blended with their own, the languages, rites, opinions and fictions of other nations. The Asiatics began since Alexander's time, to speak the Greek language ; but they only made it the vehicle of oriental ideas. The religious tenets of Zoroaster, the great reformer of Sabæism, among the Medes and Persians, which Cyrus brought with him to Babylon, when he established his empire there ; had swayed the sceptre for many centuries, in conjunction with the wisdom of Chaldæa, from the Araxas to the Mediterranean sea. This mixture of religious tenets, and rites of worship, assumed the Hellenistic form, under the Grecian kingdoms in Asia ; and the doctrines of the oriental

[ocr errors]

sages, furnished the ground works to the Jewish Cabbala, the. Platonic philosophy, and at last to the Gnostic sect. What a powerful and extensive influence all thes sources of knowledge had on the Greek language, during the time of all these political changes, must be obvious to every discerning mind. The words remained Greek, but the style ot this language in Asia ; the meaning and signification of words, became in a great measure Asiatic.

For this reason, the language of the New Testament, and more particular that of the Revelation, cannot be Athenian; and therefore the first and natural signification of its words should only be studied from pure Grecian authors; but nore especially their sense and meaning from Asiatic wriers, who have lived and written in the same countries with e apostles. Such a critical knowledge of this language,

spoken and understood in Asia, would make a successful positor of many passages of the New Testament, which save hitherto remained obscure, and doubtful. For it is a monument, which evidently bears the marks of that time, nd the evidence of the different manner of thought and use + words in Asia, from writers in Europe. How much more

ziatick for instance, are the epistles of Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians, than those which he has written to the Romans and Corinthians ? His epistle to the scattered Hebrews, is a living memorial of their manner of thought and method of teaching. The language of St. John in the first chapters of his Gospel, and more especially in the Revelalation, is altogether Asiatic. He lived in Ephesus, then a centre point of the remains of the Persian and Chaldæan philosophy, and the followers of John the Baptist; and from those sources, as well as from the writings of the prophets, the style of the Revelation, and the current significa. tion of his words must be studied.

But the obscurity of the Revelation also proceeds from the nature and circumstances of prophecy itself; for which many reasons might be assigned, to eyince the divine wis

B 2

dom, displayed in accomplishing his eternal councils on earth. A certain degree of obscurity is necessary to some prophecies, in order to prevent the enemies of the Lord, from a discovery of his plan of proceeding. In case of a disclosure before their accomplishment, the voluntary instruments of wrath might shrink back, and delay the designs of heaven; the great enemy of man might change his measures ; and the agents in Zion disorder their aid, and loose their reward by preciptancy and pride. It is even impossible that those prophecies, relative to events still future, should be clear. For some of the principal outlines, and many of the particular circumstances, which throw most Jight on the accomplishment, so as to identify the prediction, do not yet exist. We may form a general idea by them, of the designs of Heaven, and more would little contribute to our happiness. If we could not understand their general tenor, why would the Lord reprove the Jews of his days, for their ignorance and want of discernment. Daniel understood those of Jeremiah, concerning the end of the captivity of the Israelites at Babylon: and the Scribes, those of Micah, where the Messiah should be born, and told it to Herod. A full insight into the particular circumstances of their completion, is intended only for cotemporary believers; who will also stand in need of additional strength, for the severe contest of those days.

This obscurity no doubt, proceeds from consummate wisdom and a most benevolent intention towards man. It induces the children of God, to implore the Father of light for the illumination and wisdom from above; it excitescnriosity, industry, and attention to the Word of God; convinces proud reason of its ignorance in matters of a divine nature, that we may humble ourselves before him ; and prevents disgust and weariness in the study of these divine oracles. All these objects would not have been obtained, if the language of prophecy had been clear, and in words of a more obvious signification,

« PreviousContinue »