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The obscurity of this prophecy, which has been urged against its genuineness, necessarily results from the highly figurative and symbolical language in which it is delivered, and is, in fact, a strong internal proof of its authenticity and divine original. “For it is a part of this prophecy,” as Sir Isaac Newton justly remarks, “that it should not be understood before the last age of the world; and therefore it makes for the credit of the prophecy that it is not yet understood. The folly of interpreters has been to foretell times and things by this prophecy, as if God designed to make them prophets. By this rashness they have not only exposed themselves, but brought the prophecy also into contempt. The design of God was much otherwise. He gave this, and the prophecies of the Old Testament, not to gratify men’s curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that, after that they were fulfilled, they might be interpreted by the event; and his own providence, not the interpreter’s, be then manifested thereby to the world. For the event of things, predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by Providence. For, as the few and obscure prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were for setting up the Christian religion, which all nations have since corrupted, so the many and clear prophecies concerning the things to be done at Christ’s second coming, are not only for predicting, but also for effecting a recovery and re-establishment of the long-lost truth, and setting up a kingdom wherein dwells righteousness. The event will prove the Apocalypse; and this prophecy, thus proved and understood, will open the old prophets; and all together will make known the true religion, and establish it. 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 promise; but then, the signal revolutions predicted by all the holy prophets, will at once both turn men’s eyes upon considering the predictions, and plainly interpret them. Till then we must content ourselves with interpreting what hath already been fulfilled.” And, as Mr. Weston observes, “if we were in possession of a complete and particular history of Asia, not only of great events, without person or place, names or dates, but of the exactest biography, geography, topography, and chronology, we might, perhaps, still be able to explain and appropriate more circumstances recorded in the Revelation, under the emperors of the East and the West, and in Arabia, Persia, Tartary, and Asia, the seat of the most important revolutions with which the history of Christianity has ever been interwoven and closely connected.” History is the great interpreter of prophecy. “Prophecy is, as I may say,” observes Bp. Newton, “history anticipated and contracted; history is prophecy accomplished and dilated; and the prophecies of Scripture contain the fate of the most considerable nations, and the substance of the most memorable transactions in the world, from the earliest to the latest times. Daniel and St. John, with regard to those latter times, are more copious and particular than the other prophets. They exhibit a series and succession of the most important events from the first of the four great empires to the consummation of all things. Their prophecies may really be said to be a summary of the history of the world; and the history of the world is the best comment upon their prophecies....and the more you know of ancient and modern times, and the farther you search into the truth of history, the more you will be satisfied of the truth of prophecy.” The Revelation was designed to supply the place of that continued succession of prophets, which demonstrated the continued providence of God to the patriarchal and Jewish churches. “The majority of commentators on the Apocalypse,” says Mr. Townsend, “generally acted on these principles of interpretation. They discover in this Book certain predictions of events which were fulfilled soon after they were announced; they trace in the history of later years various coincidences, which so fully agree with the various parts of the Apocalypse, that they are justly entitled to consider them as the fulfilment of its prophecies; and, by thus tracing the one God of revelation through the clouds of the dark ages, through the storms of revolutions and wars, through the mighty convulsions which at various periods have agitated the world, their interpretations, even when they are most contradictory, when they venture to speculate concerning the future, are founded on so much undoubted truth that they have materially confirmed the wavering faith of thousands. Clouds and darkness must cover the brightness of the throne of God, till it shall please him to enable us to bear the brighter beams of his glory. In the mean time, we trace his footsteps in the sea of the Gentile world, his path in the mighty waters of the ambitions and clashing passions of man. We rejoice to anticipate the day when the bondage of Rome, which would perpetuate the intellectual and spiritual slavery of man, shall be overthrown, and day-spring of united knowledge and holiness bless the world.”
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30