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We now come to the last in order of the books of the sacred volume, the Revelation of St. John, which, from its nature and subjects, must require our very particular attention.
Sir Isaac Newton has remarkably expressed himself, speaking of a particular era predicted in the Revelation :
а “The event will prove the Apocalypse; and this prophecy, thus proved and understood, will open the old prophets, and altogether will make known the true religion, and re-establish it. For he that will understand the old prophets must begin with this; but the time is not yet come for understanding them perfectly, because the main revolution in them is not yet come to pass. In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as he has declared to his servants, the prophets; and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever. * There is already so much of the prophecy fulfilled, that as many as will take pains in this study may see sufficient instances of God's providence; but then the signal revolutions predicted by all the holy prophets will, at once, turn men's eyes upon considering the predictions, and plainly inter
Till then, we must content ourselves with interpreting what has already been fulfilled.”
Sir Isaac Newton further remarks: “ Among the interpreters of the last age, there is scarce one of note who has not made some discovery worth knowing; and thence I seem to gather that God is about opening these mysteries,” &c.
Such were the encouraging observations of one of the wisest of uninspired men, above a century ago : and, certainly, much successful labour has, since that time, been employed upon the Scripture prophecies : wonderful events, too, have happened in the history of mankind events which, though their sudden and dazzling brightness confused, at first, the observations of expositors, cannot but afford important lights for discovering the true meaning of prophecy, when calmly viewed in a more settled state.
The Revelation, Chapter i. 5—8. In St. John's preface to the Apocalypse, the second advent of Christ is plainly recognised as the grand expectation of the church, and as the final object of all prophecy. Speaking of Jesus Christ, he denominates him the faithful Witness, the first-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.” “ Unto him," he
says, “ that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen."
The language of preceding prophecies affords an easy solution to all this. Jesus is “ the faithful witness," because he is the revealer of the mind of God, and is the great organ of revelation to his church. How he is the
first-begotten of the dead,” has been explained on 1 Cor. xv.; to which we may add St. Paul's declaration, Rom. viii. 39; “ Those whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.” This conformity is not manifested nor completed, till the morning of the resurrection. Believers, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, still " wait for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of their body.” It is not till then that they “ bear the image of the heavenly:" but at that happy epocha they see him as he is, and are like him.” This is “ the manifestation of the Sons of God,” for which “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth.” We perceive, then, why the Redeemer is called “ the first-be
gotten” – the elder Brother “ of the dead.”
“ The Prince of the kings of the earth.” This might possibly apply to Christ, as the Lord of Providence; but we have learned the fact, that he comes at the resurrection of the just, to take in his own person the kingdom under the whole heavens.
The business of his first and second advent is next contrasted, after the manners of the ancient prophecies. At the first he comes to purchase his universal church; at the last he comes to give them the promised kingdom, and to recover a lost world.
“ Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” —" and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father." He appeared once to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself and to them that
A man is said to be wise in his own conceits when, in the absence of real knowledge and information, he persuades himself that he does understand, and, pleased with his fancied discoveries, vaunts his own false conceits in the room of true wisdom. To prevent this, St. Paul would unfold a mystery.
A mystery signifies some hidden truth, some secret in the plan or proceeding of God which revelation can alone explain. The mystery was this: this partial blindness or hardness (for the apostle admits not that it was universal) was only to last“ till the fulness of the Gentiles was come in,” “ and so,” or, “and then all Israel shall be saved." By the word “ fulness” is intended, I conceive, that remnant which was then begun to be gathered, and still is being gathered, by the preaching of the Gospel. They are a body of people taken to "fill up,” as it were, the gap or scissure made in Israel by the cutting off of so many of the natural branches : when the number decreed shall be completed, then will the end come of the present dispensation of Christ's kingdom, which will be succeeded by a more glorious dispensation, to commence with the general restoration of Israel.
Some, by “ the fulness of the Gentiles," understand their coming in, in a mass, in contradistinction to this gathering of a thinly scattered people, which has hitherto been all the real effect of the preaching of the Gospel in the Gentile world. That such an event will take place is clear from prophecy; but then the conversion of all nations is an event predicted as subsequent to the restoration of Israel ; but the “fulness of the Gentiles" here spoken of, will have come in previously to that event. Besides, the use of the word we render “fulness," in the New Testament, for the mass or generality, in opposition
to a part of, or a small portion of a people, does not seem so frequent as that of “ something put in to fill up."
The “ fulness of Israel,” in the twelfth verse of this chapter, may, indeed, be urged to the contrary; and what is there called the fulness is certainly the bulk and general body of Israel, at the time of their restoration all the survivors at least; but why they are called by this term is still a question. I am afraid there is reason to conclude from prophecy, that there will be found a dreadful chasm to fill up in the church of Christ, at the eve of these great events. We were told, in a former prophecy, that “ the end shall not come, unless there come a falling away first.” The world has long witnessed this great apostasy among nominally Christian nations, but it has not yet witnessed its end; and I much question whether we have any warrant in Scripture to expect, as to the world at large, before the day when the Son of Man is revealed, the decrease of them that have a form of godliness and deny its power
The words of our divine Master are awfully portentous: - “ When the Son of Man COMETH, WILL HE FIND FAITH UPON THE EARTH?”
The fulness of the nations may certainly be said to have come in, when the Gospel has gathered out of them all it can gather, and the nations themselves are given up to destruction; and this seems to be the fate impending over all apostate churches and nations at the second advent, when, as the apostle says in the following verse, “ There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." And it is written also, in the prophecy from whence these words are quoted, that at that period,
Darkness covers the earth,