صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

and that the mendicant friars of his order were destined, like the apostles of our Lord, to introduce a new dispensation which would regenerate the Church and the world. The Court of Rome, as was naturally to have been expected, opposed these extreme opinions; and hence, notwithstanding many efforts to appease the storm, the spiritual Franciscans soon attacked the papal chair itself. They denied the right of the sovereign Pontiff himself to interpret or to dispense with the letter of their rule they maintained that they themselves were the true Church of Christ; that the Bishops and Priests of the Roman Communion were no longer true Bishops or true Priests; and that the Church of Rome was the synagogue of Satan, the beast or harlot of the Apocalypse. They asserted that the Gospel preached by Christ and His apostles was an imperfect and temporary dispensation, like that of Moses; that St Francis was the inspired founder of a new and more glorious Gospel, which was to be preached in all the world by the mendicant friars of his order, and which was destined to endure for ever.'-(Lectures on Daniel, pp. 31-34.)


Dr Todd ascribes the political use which was made of the Apocalypse, according to the figurative mode of interpretation, to the contests between the rival claimants for the chair of St Peter; and, at a later period, to the celebrated conflict between the Papal and the Imperial power. In the fatal conflict between Gregory IX. and the Emperor Frederick, in the 13th century, the Pope himself denounced the Emperor as the forerunner of Antichrist; the beast rising up out of the sea, full of names of blasphemy; whose feet were the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion; and who opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell therein. The Emperor retorted by declaring the Pope to be the great Dragon which deceiveth the whole world; the Antichrist whose coming was foretold; the angel of the bottomless pit.'-(Lectures on the Apocalypse, p. 25.)

Thus the interpretation of prophecy on the figurative principle led to the most personal applications, and supplied a weapon which could be wielded by the most daring and impious heretics as effectively as by those who opposed them. 'The great objection, however, to this system is, that the Revelation, so considered, is no longer a prophecy ; its design is, not the prediction of the future, but the encouragement and support of the Church under the assaults of heresy, and tyranny, and persecution.'-P. 21.

[ocr errors]

3. The necessity of some attempt to put forth a safer exposition of prophecy, and thus to deprive the fanatical sects of the popular and effective weapons of controversy with which they had assailed the Christian hierarchy, and sapped the very foundations of truth, was at length perceived, and men of learning who remained in communion with the church, and were zealously inclined to defend the great articles of the faith, began about the middle of the 14th century to write commentaries on the principle that the apocalypse was a brief and continuous prophetic history of the church, and of the empire in its relations to the church, from the days of the apostles to the second Advent of Christ. The great line of demarcation between these commentators and those who preceded them was this-they considered the successive visions of the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, as a continuous prophetic record of events; whereas those who preceded them, had interpreted the several visions as repetitions of the same great events the latter merely throwing additional light on the former. For example, they supposed the history of the church to be divided into six periods of which the first extended from the birth of Christ to the times of Julian the Apostate, and was represented by the vision of the seals; because the church was then, as it were, shut up and sealed, under the persecution of the heathen emperors. The second, extending to the reign of Pope Gregory the Great, was contained in the vision of the trumpets; because the church was then, for the most part, under the power of heretics. The third, from the Emperor Phocas to Charlemagne, was foretold in the vision of the dragon and the beasts; which was considered by these commentators as predicting the persecutions of Cosroes, Mahomet, and the Saracens. The fourth period, from Charlemagne to Henry IV., was prophetically described in the vision of the angel having the seven plagues. The fifth period was supposed to be foretold in the vision of Babylon and the beast. And the sixth and last period, from the destruction of Antichrist to the consummation of all things, was assigned to the remainder of the prophecy.'-Pp. 31-33.

This will explain what is meant by the historical principal of interpretation; but although the sixfold division has been generally adopted by every commentator who has observed this principle, it is not to be supposed that there has been anything like agreement in regard to details. Each took the liberty of arranging the periods so as to suit his own favourite theory. In short, they agreed in nothing beyond the general principle of interpreting the whole prophecy as

meant to foretell, in continuous order, the events which would mark the history of the church, and as being divided into six distinct periods or heads.


Among our commentators, who have adopted this view, may mentioned Archbishop Ussher and Bishop Newton, both learned men, whose names have given a species of sanction to the historical principle; and they have been followed by a host of more recent interpreters, among whom the most popular are Faber and Keith.


To this principle of interpretation, popular though it be, there are some serious and fatal objections. First, scarcely two of the expositors agree in anything beyond the general outline already mentioned. Secondly, many of the interpretations have been proved, by time, to be false events have been particularised, and the time at which they were to take place has been specified, but the time has passed and the event has never occurred. In the third place, the more obvious meaning of the prophecy has been disregarded, in order to make the prediction harmonise with the peculiar theory of the expositor. To give an example. We read in the Apocalypse, And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island was moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the mighty men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and every bond-man, and every free-man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, fall on us and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of His wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand.' 'Can any unbiassed mind,' asks Dr Todd, 'peruse these words without perceiving that here the great day of judgment is predicted, and that the language contains a plain allusion to the very words of our Blessed Lord Himself, in a passage where it is universally allowed that the day of wrath and judgment is described ?'-(Preface, p. xvii.) And yet modern commentators, in order to support their own theories, give quite a different meaning to this awful prophecy. One interprets it as referring to the overthrow of paganism in the age of Constantine: others suppose that it signifies the French Revolution in the end of the last century; and Doddridge, whose commentary is so popular, finding this prophecy irreconcileable with his own theory, boldly assumes that the obvious meaning of the words of Scripture must give place to his interpretation. Consequently,' says he Consequently this passage cannot refer to the final judgment, but to some great and

[ocr errors]

spreading calamity in which the hand of Christ should appear.'(Family Expos., note n on Rev. vi. 17, quoted by Dr Todd in a note, p. 72.)


From this one example it must be seen how unsatisfactory and unsafe the popular mode of interpretation really is. Many other cases, equally striking, might be adduced to shew that the historical principle has led to confusion, contradiction, irreverence, and fanatiism. The circumstance which appears to have chiefly contributed to its popularity, is the way in which it has been made to tell against the Pope and Church of Rome. At the era of the Reformation,' as Dr Todd observes, the advantage to be obtained in controversy, by the application of certain prophecies of the Apocalypse to the Church or Court of Rome and its corruptions, was clearly seen and seized upon without scruple. Luther, at a very early period of his labours, pronounced the Pope to be the Antichrist of prophecy, and in this he was speedily imitated by all his followers. The historical interpretation of the Apocalypse therefore, became highly popular with the Continental Reformers, and the opinion that the Papal power and other abuses of the Church might be identified with the predicted Antichrist, was zealously propagated as an easy method of bringing to a single point the great questions that were at issue with the Roman See.'-Pp. 35, 36.

In England such extreme views were soon discovered to be inconsistent with the position and principles of the Church, and were therefore abandoned except by those who adopted the party views of the Continental Controversialists. Still, however, as no other principle appears to have been much studied, the historical has prevailed among English as well as among Continental Commentators. Those who saw its hollowness and false tendencies, were satisfied with looking upon the prophecy as a sealed book whose key had not been found; hence the interpretation has generally been left in the hands of men more remarkable for fervid imagination than for sound judgment, or for the pride of intellect than for the depth of theological knowledge, or for violent hostility to Rome than for calm and patient search after trnth.

Perceiving the fallacy of this principle of interpretation, as well as of the figurative, Dr Todd goes back to that which was adopted by those who lived in the first ages of the Gospel, and who may be supposed to have been acquainted with the sense in which the inspired authors themselves understood the prophecies. He gives up the

figurative principle, because it does away with the very idea of the Book being a prophecy-making the whole a representation of moral truths rather than of real events, and so, having no reference to particular times or circumstances, but to whatever the fancy of the interpreter may think fit to apply them :-and he abandons the historical or modern principle, because its fallacy is evinced by the acknowledged facts, that it has led to nearly as many theories as there are interpreters, that exposition after exposition, how plausible soever for a time, has passed away into obscurity, and produced no impression on either the faith or the practice of the Church,—that in most cases, the interpretations, according to it, have been proved, by time, to be without foundation-in many instances, a theory having been changed or retracted by its very author, and its very existence forgotten, if not in the lifetime of its originator, at least in the generation that followed. In regard to what he terms 'the PopeAntichrist argument,' Dr Todd says it is no doubt an effective weapon with the ignorant or the weak-minded, who look not beyond the surface, and are led away by words rather than by things. And yet even with them, the Author is persuaded that such arguments have more frequently inflamed unholy passions and nurtured unchristian bigotry, than produced rational conviction grounded on a love of truth; whilst, with the learned and sober minded, the serious student of Holy Scripture and of History, they have done more to damage the cause of Protestantism than twenty Bellarmines.'—(Preface, p. xxii.') In answer to all who think that they who deny the application of the apocalyptic prophecies to the Church of Rome, must necessarily underrate her corruptions, and therefore may fairly be suspected of a tendency to adopt them, Dr Todd says, 'It may suffice to say that although he has for many years been fully satisfied that neither the Pope nor the Church of Rome are the Antichrist foretold in prophecy, yet he has never, at any time, felt disposed on that account to underrate the evil of Romish corruptions; on the contrary, he has always had the deepest and most serious conviction of the danger of the Roman claims and doctrines, and of the widespread evil which they have inflicted and continue to inflict on society. But he cannot see in the political claims of the Court of Rome, or in the religious errors gross and fatal as they are— -of the Church of Rome, the characters assigned in prophecy to the Antichrist of the latter times. The Antichrist of the Scriptures is an avowed and unblushing infidel; a blasphemer of Christianity and of all true

« السابقةمتابعة »