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CHAPTER I. 1-3.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him to show to his servants what must shortly come to pass, and sending he signified by his angel to his servant John, who attested the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, whatever he saw.
Blessed is he who reads and they who hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things written in it, for the time is near.
The title of the prophecy was obviously prefixed after the visions were written, as it was after the symbols had been shown and interpreted by the angel ; while the visions themselves, manifestly from chapter x. 4, were written successively as they were beheld. The delivery of the Apocalypse to Christ, was doubtless the delivery of the sealed book its symbol, of which there is a representation in the fifth chapter. The apostle's attesting the word of God, is his record as a prophet of the revelation as it was made to him in the visions, and interpreted by the angel. That to which he gave his testimony, he says both here and in the last chapter, was that which he saw. It is apparent also from his benediction of those who read and hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written in it. To regard, with Dr. Hammond and Vitringa, not the revelation, but the gospel which he had preached and written, as the subject of his testimony, is to refer the benediction likewise to the readers of his gospel instead of the Apocalypse, which is in contradiction to his language, and misrepresents his gospel as a prophecy, instead of a history. That blessing implies that the prophecy is easily intelligible to the attentive reader and hearer, and that they who understand and treasure up the great things which it teaches, will find them sources of enjoyment here, and everlasting happiness hereafter.
The office of the angel was simply to guide and interpret, not as some seem to imagine, to display the visionary spectacle to the apostle. That is to exalt him to the station of the incarnate Word, whose prerogative alone it is to reveal to creatures the purposes of God. The testimony of Christ which the apostle witnessed, is his annunciation of himself in the first vision and messages to the churches of Asia ; the word of God, his purpose as made known by the symbols, the voices from heaven, and the interpreting angel.
As the revelation embraces a vast succession of events extending through many ages, that they were soon to come to pass, implies, not that they were soon to reach their completion, but only that the series was speedily to commence.
That representation is agreeable to usage. It is customary to speak of successions of events and periods of time as nigh, how vast soever or interminable even they may be, when the commencement is at hand; as of a war, an age, a century, the millennium, eternity, though the term covers every other part as absolutely as the first of the period or series.
CHAPTER I. 4-8.
THE APOSTLE'S SALUTATION OF THE CHURCHES.
John to the seven churches which are in Asia; grace to you and peace from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits which are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, the Firstborn from the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has washed us from our sins in his blood, and made us kings and priests unto God even his Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth shall wail because of him. Yea, amen. I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
The seven spirits are the Holy Spirit, denominated seven because symbolized by seven lamps. Paul's salutations of the churches are eminently beautiful, and rise in some instances to grandeur. But this transcends them in vastness and majesty of thought, presenting in a few words the loftiest conceptions of which we are capable of the Deity; and the most impressive of the office and work of the Redeemer. His coming with the clouds, is that doubtless which is symbolized by his descent on the white horse, in the nineteenth chapter; and they who pierce him are they who, like the Jews, are to reject him as Messiah, choose some other method than his of salvation, and endeavor to debar him from his throne. That all the tribes of the earth are to wail because of him, implies that they are to survive his advent, and expect from him an avenging judgment. The asseveration, Yea, amen, and proclamation of his attributes, denotes the certainty of his coming, and that it is to carry to all his creatures a resistless demonstration that he is the Self-existent, the Eternal, and Almighty.
CHAPTER 1. 9-20.
THE FIRST VISION.-CHRIST'S ANNUNCIATION.
I John your brother and fellow-partaker in the affliction, and kingdom, and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle called Patmo , on account of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice as of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest write in a book, and send to the seven churches in Ephesus, and in Smyrna, and in Pergamos, and in Thyatira, and in Sardis, and in Philadelphia, and in Laodicea. And I turned to see the voice which spake with me, and having turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks, and in the midst of the seven candlesticks, one like a son of man, clothed with a robe to the feet, and girded at the breasts with a golden girdle. And his head and hairs were white as white wool, as snow; and his eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet like glowing brass, as purified in a furnace, and his voice as a voice of many waters; and holding in his right hand seven stars; and from his mouth a sharp two-edged sword proceeded, and his countenance (was) as the sun shining in its strength.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he put his right hand on me, saying, Fear not: I am the First and the Last and the Living. I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever, and have the keys of death and of the grave. Write therefore what thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which are to be after these ; the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks.
The seven stars are messengers of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks are the seven churches.
Being in the Spirit was being in the prophetic ecstasy in which visions were beheld and revelations received: being like a son of man, was being of a human form simply. That he was the incarnate Word whom the apostle beheld, was shown not by that form, but by his annunciation of himself, and the symbols which he bore.
The design of this vision was to apprize the prophet, from whom the commands and messages about to be uttered proceeded, and raise him to becoming thoughts of him, and the grounds on which he founds his government. And the means chosen for the purpose, the personal appearance and address of Christ, are marked by the highest adaptation. Our sensitive and rational nature is such, that the presence of such a majestic being dazzling us with the effulgence of his countenance, accompanied by insignia of dominion, and addressing us with authority, would instantly raise in us an irresistible conviction of his deity, and our responsibility to him. Equally suited to that end are the thoughts which the Redeemer addressed to the apostle, who had fallen as dead at the spectacle. Of all the conceptions of which we are capable, they take a more powerful hold than any others of our moral nature, filling the intellect with his greatness, independence, and dominion, and the heart with a sense of his rights.
In this use of means more adapted than any others to impress the apostle with his divinity and office as Redeemer, he displayed a knowledge of our nature and a beauty of wisdom and condescension, that are seen only in God. That a foundation exists in us for a recognition of the Deity, and an all-powerful sense of his rights over us, is indisputable. If we endeavor to conceive the impressions which would be made on us by such a vision, the more adequate our apprehensions become of the convictions and emotions io which it would give birth, the clearer will be our sight, and the profounder our feeling, that it would bear us irresistibly to the conclusion that we were in the presence of our Maker. It is a law of our nature which no logic can set aside, and to which no unbelief, ignorance, or stupidity can offer an obstruction. Not only the apostle in this instance, and at the transfiguration with Peter and James, but Paul, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Moses, Job, sunk overwhelmed at the presence of the Almighty. And such a sensibility to the proofs of his presence and rights, is obviously necessary to fit us to be subjects of his moral government. Were there not a foundation within us for such an instinctive and all-powerful feeling of his title to our homage, because of his nature, and relations as our Maker, his claims could lay no hold of our consciences. We should be incapable indeed of a sense of responsibility to him. Were not that feeling independent of our reasonings, spontaneous, and absolutely irrepressible, however much we might strive to stifle or escape it, it would at the best be but feeble and inefficient even in those who sought to cherish it, and would fade into extinction in those who endeavored to counteract or mislead it by false reasonings. But God has not built his government on so precarious a foundation as our wishes or opinions. He has so formed us, that he has a grasp on our moral nature which no struggles of ours can ever escape, no aversion diminish, nor sophistry relax. He has but to reveal himself to us and proclaim his deity, and blindness, unbelief, and insensibility vanish, and our whole nature responds to the rightfulness of his claims to our awe and love. The grounds of his government are thus laid in our constitution beyond the possibility of eradication by us, and are to endure throughout our immortal existence.
The truth thus taught in the first vision, presents a sublime exemplification of the blessings, which the things written in the book are suited to yield to those who understand and observe them. Had it been studied attentively, apprehended and obeyed, it would have prevented the vast cloud of false and pernicious speculations with which philosophers and theologians have filled the world, respecting the foundation of morals. In what a resistless light it exhibits the folly and impiety with which most of them are marked ;-the doctrine of expedience, of the greatest good, of human authority, of custom, and, which transcends all others in the audacity with which it sets aside the claims of the Almighty, the doctrine that he has no right as God and creator, but only as benefactor ; and that that right sinks as his bounties diminish, and expires when he punishes. A just understanding of the grounds on which he builds his government, would have withheld them too, from many of the erroneous constructions which they have put on the visions. It is from his prerogatives as the Self-existent and the creator, that the falsehood and impiety of the claims of the wild beast and false prophet to a supreme homage are seen. While the Redeemer's person and annunciation of himself re