Six Sermons on the Study of the Holy Scriptures
“This did not occur to me when I wrote my Exposition on this book. I then followed Dr. Hammond, erroneously placing these powers beyond the limit assigned to them by Daniel and St. John.”
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
Review of Lee on the Apocalypse.
“OUR notice was attracted to this volume by the exposition of the Apocalypse it contains, and which professes to shew ” that the whole of that remarkable prophecy has long ago been fulfilled.”
Had such an assertion been made by a common person we might have disregarded it, as proceeding from ignorance, or love of paradox, and not have been at the pains to examine this exposition ; but Professor Lee is entitled to claim a hearing : the least point of respect which should be paid to the first Oriental scholar of Cambridge, is entertaining and discussing the arguments he may adduce. But we would go beyond mere respect to his station, and endeavour to impress our readers with a favourable opinion of Professor Lee, as a theologian and as a man, by extracting a passage from his Preface containing some admirable remarks, in order that they may come to the examination of his comment upon the Apocalypse with prepossessions in his favour; that they may not merely do him justice, but desire rather to extenuate his errors, and attribute them to some unaccountable prepossession, of which he himself is not conscious, to be lamented and deprecated rather than visited with the severity of censure. The Professor has been recommending in his preface an extended course of theological reading to the students, and in suggesting its beneficial results observes: ” In the first place, then, a deep and accurate acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures, their evidences, authority, and sanctions, cannot but have a most salutary effect on the mind of the student, and tend to keep him in an habitual state of assurance, that without the favour of their Divine Author.
For the feelings which dictated the above we entertain the highest respect and esteem, and deeply regret that this esteem should be qualified by any of the other contents of the book. And as our attention was first called to this publication by the obnoxious doctrines it promulgates on the Apocalypse, and esteem and regard has arisen in the room of a spirit of criticism, on many occasions; so do we hope, that by a reflex of the same kindly feelings some of our remarks may return with effect upon the author, and induce him to change his views and abandon his system of interpretation. Acknowledging so fully as he does, in the above extract, the necessity of the Divine guidance for individuals, right reasoning would lead him to expect the same guidance for the church: acknowledging, as he does throughout his work, prophetic guidance to the Jewish people, under their imperfect dispensation, he should a fortiori expect it for the Christian church, which is wholly spiritual, which has no visible theocracy, and which, if without prophetic guidance, has no invariable, universal, certain standard of direction at all. nothing is strong, holy, or valuable ; that in himself there dwelleth no good thing, and that his sufficiency must be of God. With these feelings and convictions, the efforts of the student cannot but be cordial, continued, and rightly directed : his light will not only be clear, constant, and steady, but it will be placed upon a hill, and thence diffuse its necessary and cheering beams to all within the sphere of its action. In such a case, success will never be counted upon by the doctrines of human probabilities, but by a firm faith in the co-operation of the Divine assistance, which will at once secure the labourer from hopelessness, and bring an effectual blessing upon all his endeavours. In questions relating to the church of God, human politics alone can effect nothing desirable. Here, if there be any truth in Revelation, or any such thing as a Divine Providence in the world, the favour of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will can alone afford success and prosperity: other expedients may promise much, but they will effect little ; and where the Divine aid is not sedulously and habitually sought and relied upon, nothing either stable or permanent can reasonably be expected, or actually be enjoyed” (xiv.).
The common tendency of all interpreters, the error to which they are most liable, is the exaggeration of their own age. They wish to persuade themselves that the greatest of the events predicted will come under their own observation, will happen to themselves; and as the concluding events of all the Prophecies are the most glorious events, the prevailing error has been to anticipate these final events, to bring the coming of the Lord too near: which all the early fathers did, thinking every time of prosperity the dawn of the Millennium, every persecutor the nascient Antichrist.
His exposition shews that many of the early commentaries have been consulted; but there is no indication of acquaintance with the modern writers, and we do think that such acquaintance would have prevented this fundamental mistake, the ignis fatuus of all the others. For every careful commentator, from Mede downwards, has demonstrated that two questions were asked by the disciples, two answers given by our Lord : that the blood of all the prophets, spoken of Matt, xxiii. 35, 36, as ” all these things shall come upon this generation,” are the same spoken of at xxiv. 34, ” Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things shall be fulfilled ” (literally, te, or happen); and that this part of the prediction was accomplished in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the ” these things” which they had been pointing out to our Lord (Matt. xxiv. 2). For the glory of God the Jews had been set apart, for his service the temple ordained; and judgments were denounced upon them if they should desert this their calling: that generation were about to fill up the measure of their iniquity, and upon them the full weight of the judgments denounced was about to fall, and their house to be left unto them desolate, until nascent Antichrist. This we can understand, and tolerate; and we can also account for the shifts of the Romanist, who must feel rather uncomfortable in taking up his abode in such quarters as Babylon, and will therefore strain every nerve to break the connection between Rome and the seven-hilled and doomed city that ruleth over the kings of the earth. But how Grotius could believe his own assertions ; how Hammond could suppose that Constantine brought in the Millennium ; or how Professor Lee can persuade himself that it began with the time of our Lord, and finished at the destruction of Jerusalem, and that all the predictions of the Apocalypse were then fulfilled, is to us perfectly astonishing. We had almost said, that it is unaccountable ; but we know something of the transmuting power of solitary studies: how they appropriate first, and then distort all things into a monstrous uniformity; which the mind, accustomed to contemplate alone, isolated, without another object of comparison, fancies at length to be symmetry and beauty. We can too, in part, account for the whole tissue of error, by tracing it to its commencement in a misunderstanding of our Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the end of the world; which two events Professor Lee having confused together, as if they were interchangeable expressions, he has identified with the destruction of Jerusalem�the coming of the Son of Man�the day of the Lord�the conversion of the world �and the day of glory to Zion and Jerusalem; and forced into the space of thirty years the events of three thousand, by a power of compression one hundred-fold. they should say, ” Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matt, xxiii. 38,39); “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled ” (Luke xxi. 24). That the times of the Gentiles, during which Jerusalem is trodden down of the Gentiles, in Luke’s Gospel, are subsequent to the destruction of Jerusalem, is a self- evident proposition : it must be destroyed in order to be trodden down; and the time of its destruction is mentioned immediately before, in ver. 20: ” When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh ….
For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled ;”�all things which concern the Jewish dispensation�manifestly not all things which concern the Christian church, as Professor Lee would have us believe; as he himself would deny it to mean all things which concern the day of judgment, the resurrection of the dead, or the kingdom of heaven. Out of this absurd but necessary conclusion from his own premises, the Professor endeavours to escape by dividing prophecy into general and particular, and declaring that ” general prophecy, indeed, stands in all its primitive extentand force; but of that which relates to particular events 1 cannot find so much as a jot or tittle unfulfilled. There is, however, one often cited as decisive to the contrary, viz. Isai. xi. 9: ‘ The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.’ See also Hab. ii. 14. I must remark here, that the chapter in which this is found manifestly refers to the times of our Lord and his Apostles, and that it has been so applied by Inspired authority: see Rom. xv. 10, &c.” (p. 368). What does the Professor mean ? Does he mean, that, when one verse of a chapter is applied to a particular time, the whole chapter belongs to that one point of time, let the order or sequence of the chapter be what it may? He cannot deliberately mean to announce so absurd a proposition. We readily grant that the first verses of Isai. xi. do refer to the times of the first advent; but verse 3 and onwards embrace the whole Christian dispensation, including the time of the restoration of the Jews and the second advent to judgment, when the Rod from the stem of Jesse shall become the ensign of the people, and His rest shall be glorious. And that the following verses refer to a gathering of all the people of Israel yet future, is certain as any demonstration in Euclid. For, it being granted on all hands that the beginning of the chapter has reference ” to the times of our Lord and his Apostles;” and, the Jews being then settled in their own land, they must first become dispersed into all lands by the destruction of Jerusalem, ere the latter part of this chapter can, with the least shadow of plausibility, be interpreted as fulfilled.
They must first be scattered before they can be gathered: the scattering took place at the destruction of Jerusalem, not before: it still subsists, they are still scattered ; but the time of their gathering is at hand: ” And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the SECOND TIME” (subsequent to the Apostles’ time, by the Professor’s own confession) ” to recover the remnant of his people …. And he shall set up an ensign (ver. 10) for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth …. And there shall be an highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria: like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt” (Isai. xi. 11�16). Prophecies of this second recovery of Israel abound in Scripture; but their force is evaded by the Grotian school, who refer them, by a very strained interpretation, to the return from Babylon. This is rendered impossible, in the present case, by the Professor himself; and the only second recovery which can be admitted is & particular event, here prophesied of and still unfulfilled,�is the final restoration of the Jews to their own land *.
But the gathering of the Jewish people is a time of great tribulation ; it is the great tribulation so often mentioned in Scripture, which precedes the glorious coming of the Son of Man, when the dead shall be raised, and the living changed. It is the ” harvest,” and the ” judgment,” and the ” supper,” and the “reign,” and the ” account,” and the “reward,” and the” separation,” and the ” marriage” of all the parables; and of course the “day of vengeance” on the enemies of the Lord. Allusions to all these parables, and to all the prophecies which testify of the same things, not merely abound in the Apocalypse, but may be said to constitute its whole texture. Professor Lee, mistaking the things alluded to, mistakes, of course, the allusions, and in general
wholly passes them by. Some of his interpretations are quite ludicrous ; for instance (p. 301) “‘ I will give him a white stone ‘ �i. e. a sort of carte blanche, entitling him to ask for, and receive, whatever he may want!!! ” Babylon is put for heathen Rome (p. 315) under the first, second, and third trumpets: the fourth is referred to the same period (p. 316): the power under the fifth is determined to be the Roman (p. 319): but under the sixth, the four angels loosed from the river Euphrates are identified with the four winds of Dan. vii. 2, at the beginning of the four monarchies, and,” this is again,” he says, ” the Roman power beyond all doubt” (p. 320); and he calls their time of an hour and a day and a month and a year, so very definitely given, ” an indefinite time.” The harvest and vintage are (p. 331) represented as if the latter was only a repetition of the former: ” By this repetition, certainty or intensity seems to be implied.” Rev. xvii. and xviii. are wholly applied to heathen Rome (p. 333, 338). ” The period termed a thousand years, must commence some time during the ministry of our Lord; for now was Satan bound, or limited in power”….” one day, is with the Lord as a thousand years, &c. i. e. it may signify any considerable period of time.”….” Its conclusion shall come, however, as a thief in the night, just as our Lord had predicted (Matt. xxiv. 43, xxv. 1�7), and before this generation shall have passed away. This period, therefore, during which Satan is said to be bound, i. e. in which miraculous powers were exercised by the church, may very properly be termed a thousand years, in the highly figurative language of this book!!!” Really this nonsense is past all endurance. A thousand years is the time specified, but this time will not square with the Professor’s exposition; but as, says he, one day (a very short period) is as a thousand years, ” argal” a thousand years ” may signify any considerable period!” ” Its conclusion, however, shall come as a thief in the night, before this generation ” (a very inconsiderable period) ” shall have passed away,”…. “which period may very properly be termed a thousand years!!!”
Does Professor Lee really mean to say, that ” highly figurative ” is highly nonsensical ?
These are only a few of the numberless absurdities contained in this short exposition of the Book of the Revelation. None of the readers of the Morning Watch can require our assistance in refuting such errors. Our object’has been to shew that this exposition is entitled to no authority whatever; that however able as an Oriental scholar Professor Lee may be, in the interpretation of prophecy he is a mere child ; he has yet the first elements, the mere alphabet, to acquire. He says, at p. 353, “If this then be the view, both of the Prophets and St. John, the word of God affords us no intimation whatever that such a Millennium will ever arrive, in which the New Jerusalem, or Christian church, shall contain all God’s rational and accountable creatures; but rather that some will always remain enemies to Christ, and that still a missionary labour will remain for the exercise of the church, by which many will, from time to time, be added to the congregations of the blessed.” Here we have to complain, as usual, that the opponents of the doctrines we advocate do most certainly misunderstand us, in general, far more grievously than they misinterpret Scripture. We protest against any such Millennium as the above: the Christian church never shall contain all God’s rational and accountable creatures; a missionary labour will remain. But certain, notwithstanding, it is, that the highest form of creature manifestation�that in the glorified Christ, and his glorified people�has limitation in time to the day of grace, as in number to the elect: That the day of grace shall end; that the number of the elect shall be accomplished ; that the kingdom of God shall come; that the bride shall be made ready; that the top-stone of the temple shall be brought forth ; that the saints shall reign as kings and priests:� and if kings, they have subjects; if priests, they have offerings to present and blessings to bestow ; they have a missionary labour, though not in Professor Lee’s sense�not to add fresh members to the body of Christ, but to dispense blessings from him; not to introduce other inmates in to the heavenly Jerusalem, but that the nations of them that are saved may walk in the light thereof. Heaven is no republic; and when it shall become revealed in the Millennial kingdom of Christ, not only will there be gradations of dignity, from Christ the Head, and those members which receive a more abundant honour, down to those who are least in the kingdom of heaven; but gradations will obtain also among all the rational and accountable creatures under their rule.
We part with Professor Lee in the hope that he will re-examine his very crude opinions; which if he do in the spirit which dictated the preface with which we began our remarks, God will undoubtedly lead him by his Spirit into all truth, and we shall have the satisfaction of seeing him advocate doctrines which he now misunderstands and opposes: doctrines which increase in their importance every day, as every day brings us nearer to the time when they must be acted upon, the time to meet the Bridegroom ; when those who are unprovided with the requisites for entering, on the first summons, will hasten to obtain oil�will obtain it, too, but will find, alas ! that the door has been shut!” (The Morning Watch: Or, Quarterly Journal on Prophecy, and Theological Review, vol. iv.� no. I. 2, 1832)