« PreviousContinue »
Art. V.—1. Lectures on the Apocalypse. By Christopher Wordsworth, D.D. Eivingtons. 1849. [First Edition].
2. Hotcb Apocalypticee, or a Commentary on the Apocalypse. By the Rev. E. B. Elliott, M.A. late Fellow of Trinity Coll. Cambridge. 3 vols. London. 1844. [First Edition.]
3. Commentary on the Apocalypse. By Moses Stuart, Professor of Sacred Literature at Andover, Mass. 1845. 2 vols.
4. Die Offenbarung Johannis erklart. Von Br. Th. F. J. Zollig, Stadtpfarrer in Heidelberg. Stutgard. 1834. 2 vols.
5. Die Offenbarung Johannis. Von E. W. Hengstenherq, Professor der Theologie in Berlin. Berlin. 1849. 2, vols.
6. The Interpretation of the Apocalypse. By W. H. Scott, M.A. late Fellow of Brazenose. London. 1853.
7. The Apocalypse, tcith Notes and Reflections. By the Rev. Isaac Williams, B.D., late Fellow of Trinity. Oxford.
8. Six Discourses on the Prophecies relating to Antichrist. By J. H. Todd, D. D., Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. Rivingtons. 1846.
9. Spiritual Exposition of the Apocalypse. By the Rev. Aua. Clissold, M.A., formerly of Exeter College, Oxford. London. 1851. 4 vols.
10. Christ's Second Coming: will it be PremiUennial? By the Rev. David Brown, A.M., of James's Free Church, Glasgow. Edinburgh. 1848.
The writers whom we have above enumerated show that explanations of the Book of Revelations are as popular as ever with the people of England. Of one hundred commentaries on this difficult subject, which had appeared among the opponents of the Church of Rome before the time of Grotius, he tells us that eighty had been published in England (Epistle 895). What can witness more clearly to the same taste than that not only has a second edition appeared of Dr. Wordsworth's work, which might in part be owing to his previous reputation, but that even the ponderous volumes of Mr. Elliott have been republished? Nor is it so strange as it might appear at first sight, that such a work as the last should find purchasers. True, the shelves on which it is placed have to be cleared of the accumulated mass of Faber and Cunningham, of Frere and Gauntlet; but it must be remembered that those who watch for the fall of the Beast require a perpetual succession of new works, as those who speculate in stocks require a daily newspaper. The writers whom we have mentioned have become superannuated, because time, the great instructor, has proved their predictions to be erroneous, Eventus stultorum magister. Meanwhile there has arisen another generation to gaze on the prophetic horizon—
'Which like the circle bounding earth and skies,
What should such persons do, unless there were new books like Mr. Elliott's, to keep pace with the century? Already has time overtaken even this last writer,1 and he must reconstruct his calculation that the Turks will be expelled from Europe in 1849 (Elliott, p. 1150). To be 'corrected to the last moment' is as essential to the popular interpretations of prophecy, as it is to guide-books. Whiston, as Moses Stuart tells us,' showed,
* as he believed from the Book of Daniel, that a prophetic day 'must mean a year. In his Essay on the Revelation (1706), he •assigned the return and coming of Christ to the year 1715. 'When this time had passed, without any tokens of fulfilment, 'he renewed his calculations, and brought out 1766. But as 'he died in 1752, he had no opportunity to correct, for a third
* time, the dates which he had twice brought out with a kind of 'mathematical assurance. But the experiment has been renewed 'nearly every five or ten years since, in the English world and 'in the United States. This very year we, in this country, have 'passed the boundary assigned by a large number of enthusias'tic men for the coming of the Lord. But all this avails
-' nothing with individuals of an enthusiastic stamp. As soon 'as one period has disappointed their calculations, they com'mence de novo with a determination to find another. Generally 'the last period on which they fix is beyond their probable 'natural life. In this way they avoid the vexation of another 'disappointment.' (Stuart, vol. i. p. 469.)
We are not surprised, therefore, if the Commentary of Elliott has been circulated by thousands, or that of Cumming by tens of thousands. Their present popularity is proportioned to the shortness of their reign. Those who have calculated the Succession Tax have laid it down that property is held, on an average, for 35 years. But we cannot give Mr. Elliott's theory a longer time than he allows to continental Europe. He fixes
1 We have employed the first editions both of Mr. Elliott and Dr. Wordsworth. The predicted overthrow of the Turks may possibly have been corrected, in a later edition, after the manner of Whiston.
'the year 1865, or thereabouts, as the probable epoch of the consummation,' p. 1421. By this time, if we understand him rightly, 'the fate of Rome, comprehending not the mere city of 'Rome, but, at least, the Papal Ecclesiastical State in Italy,
• and Papal Metropolitan Biahoprick, together, perhaps, with that
* third, too, out of the political tripartitions of Christendom % . . 'is to be effected by the sudden and tremendous agency of an 'earthquake and volcanic fire,' (Elliott, pp. 1271 and 1445.) We are very conscious that, in twelve years, the hand which pens these remarks may be still in the grave, and the eyes which peruse them may be darkened. We speak, therefore, in no spirit of lightness, but merely give utterrance to an obvious truth, when we say that if that period passes away as the preceding ones have done, those whose taste is in such works, must be prepared to purchase a new Elliott, and the learned and elaborate volumes before us must be laid aside like their forerunners.
We have made these remarks by way of correcting the not unnatural presumption that the works on this subject, which have been most widely diffused, are likely to be the best. On the contrary, they will often be found to be the most ephemeraL But before proceeding to the separate consideration of the volumes before us, we wish to arrange them into classes, and to point out the several principles on which they are constructed. For there are four principal schools into which the commentators on the Apocalypse may he divided. The first is the Patristic, the authority of which has been lately vindicated by Mr. Maitland, in his 'Apostles' School of Interpretation,' and of which we have an admirable example in the volume of the Rev. Isaac Williams. We consider this to be one of the best books on the Revelation which has been published for many years in England; and if it does not recommend itself to itching ears, by predicting the exact period of those events, the time whereof 'knoweth no man, not even the angels of God;' yet for the same reason it does not carry with it the seeds of its own refutation.
The principle of this Patristic school was to regard the Apocalypse as a series of pictures, which might be applied to any events to which they were found to be analogous. It was the natural mode of interpretation, while the Church was guided only by its general insight into God's will, superadded to the explanations of individual emblems which occur in some of the prophets. And it will be found to harmonize well enough with a second, which we may call the Futurist school, of which Dr. Maitland and Dr. Todd may be considered the leaders, by which almost all the events of this book are postponed to an indefinitely future period. Those who take this view of things, may naturally employ the statements of the Revelation emblematically, while supposing their true interpretation to be yet unattainable, and thus they accord with the position which was actually occupied by the Fathers.
The structure, however, of the Apocalypse so decidedly requires it to be treated as the prediction of some continuous and specific series of actions, that its employment merely as a storehouse of illustrative imagery can never satisfy the conscientious student of Scripture. And hence have arisen the other two systems of interpretation, which, without shutting out that use of the Revelation which was made by the Fathers, have yet superadded to it a further and continuous meaning. These are the Antipagan and Antipapal schemes of interpretation. Of these two the Antipapal has always been the popular one in England; and its popularity has been increased at the present day, by a certain pompous missive from the Flarainian Gate. Not that its present mode of proceeding is quite as preposterous as when the Puritan writer, Brightman, maintained that the angel with the sharp sickle, and his associate who had power over fire, (Rev. xiv. 18,) were Cranmer, and his unprincipled abettor, Cromwell; or that the angels who poured out the three first vials, were Queen Elizabeth, Chemnitz the Lutheran, and Lord Treasurer Cecil. The absurdity of identifying a prophecy of world-wide significance, with the transitory fortunes of the interpreter's single country, is so palpable, that we are at a loss to parallel it in the present day, except with Mr. Elliott's ridiculous interpretation of the third frog, which he considers to be Tractarianism, in consequence of the perpetual coaxation or reiteration of its sentiments. There was more fun, and really not less reason, in the suggestion of a worthy old clergyman in the last generation, who maintained that the three frogs were the Bible Society, the Church Missionary Society, and the Jews' Society, * because they went hopping oner the face of the earth.'
Had Mr. Elliott lived at the time of the Bangorist controversy, he would probably have added the limping gait and slimy touch of Hoadley, to the croaking of his innumerable pamphlets, as a reason for identifying him with one of the apocalyptic frogs. Such follies almost justify the strong expressions which Ziillig uses respecting a work of this character. 'We may say with honest self-congratulation, that in Germany * such a book could hardly have been produced by any one who 'had enjoyed a classical education; by any one at all indeed, 'except some worthy contemplative shoemaker, who had screwed 'himself up into a prophet, by studyingthe musty anti-papistical 'revelations which he had bought at Rag-fair.' (Zvllig, vol.i. p. 149.)
The four schools of prophetic interpretation, then, are the Patristic, the Futurist, the Antipagan, and the Antipapal. We shall say but little of the two first, as considering that the other two rather add to than contradict them, and that the real contest lies between the two last. And our conviction is, not only that the Antipagan view can be very plausibly made out, but that the Antipapal may be shown, to the satisfaction of any fair inquirer, to be utterly irrational and selfcontradictory.
We are unaware that this is to do what Lord John ought in consistency to have done in the year of Papal aggression,—to take the bull by the horns; and we are prepared for such equivocal compliments as Sheldon received from old Prideaux the Divinity Professor, when he ventured upon the astounding assertion, then heard for the first time since the Reformation, that the Pope was not Antichrist. 'Quid, mifili, negas Papam esse Antichristum?' Sheldon answered, ' Etiam nego' Dr. Prideaux replied, 'Profecto multum tibi debet Pontifex Romanus, et nttllus dubito quin pileo cardinalitio te donabit.' But truth is truth, whatever may be said of it; and if our readers will give us a little of their attention, we feel persuaded that we can show them that the predictions of S. John have as little to do with the Bishop of Rome, as the cardinal's cap with which Sheldon was threatened, with the mitre of Canterbury which he afterwards wore so worthily.
Our first objection against the Antipapal school of interpreters is, that they substitute human conjecture for Divine inspiration. We are unwilling to use hard words, but we are at a loss to express our feeling of the irreverence as well as the rashness of such a proceeding. 'The true meaning of the Bible is the Bible,' as Dr. Wordsworth rightly says; and therefore to assign a meaning to words, which in themselves they have no tendency to bear, is to make the word of God of none effect by our traditions. Whatever authority of this kind may be supposed to reside in the Church at large, when acting under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, it is clear that no such authority can be claimed by individuals. Yet this is the very principle upon which the Antipapal interpreters have avowedly proceeded. They cannot pretend that the Pope, or the Church over which he presides, is expressly mentioned by S. John; but they take upon them to determine the intentions of the Holy Ghost by mere conjecture. It is rightly remarked by Mr. Clissold, that this is a course which ought not to be taken by any persons who cannot lay claim to inspiration. Into Mr. Clissold's theory we cannot enter; though replete with information, and evidently the work of a sincere and diligent