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LECTURES ON THE APOCALYPSE,
REVELATION, CHAP. I.
ST. JOHN long survived the rest of the apostles; and when they all had been united to the church triumphant, and had most of them passed to glory from the rack, from the flames, or from other instruments of torture, he was still spared to the church on earth, for its instruction and consolation. Sixtytwo years had now elapsed since the blood of atonement had been shed, and the sacrifice for man's redemption offered. The disciples of the Redeemer had multiplied in every part of the Roman empire: churches for the worship of the true God had risen on the ruins of heathen temples; and the schools of vain philosophy had been deserted for the sublime instructions of the gospel. The venerable John, who had attained his 90th year, still felt all those fervours of affection for Jesus, which he so often manifested when the Redeemer was on earth; old age could not chill the warmth of his attachment, and he was surrounded by the disciples of Him, on whose bosom he had leaned, by whose cross he had
stood; loving them and beloved by them. Such was his situation and conduct, when, in the ninetyļ fifth year of our Lord, the cruel Domitian gave new fury to the rage of persecution, and endeavoured to drown religion in the blood of its friends. On this occasion, so eminent a disciple could not be overlooked, and St. John was banished by the emperor from the churches which he had planted, and the occupations which were dear to his heart, to the barren and desolate island of Patmos, which is in the Ægean sea, and has since been called Patino, or Palmosa. It was a mode of punishment not unusual, and it was expected that the poor exile on this uninhabited and dreary spot, would soon die, in all the tortures of famine, and the horrors of utter dereliction. But the services of the apostle to the church were not terminated, and he was preserved by Him who controls at his pleasure all the laws of nature. And, oh! how richly was he compensated by the Lord for the cruelty and unkindness of men! What rapturous intercourse did he, while in his banishment at Patmos, enjoy with his Saviour! He was there blessed with those celestial visions recorded in this book; he looked down the long current of years, and contemplated the various combats of the church, till it should stand completely victorious over all its foes, and shining in all the lustre of the millennial glory! He stood on the portals of heaven, and beheld the throne of the Eternal, and heard the praises of his Redeemer chaunted in the climes of immortality, by adoring myriads of happy, holy, exalted intelligences! He saw that Jesus, whom he had once beheld lifted up upon the cross amidst the scorn, the reproaches, the execration of the multitude, surrounded by a glory which dark
ened the lustre of the highest archangel, and of which the splendours that shone on the mount of transfiguration were but a feeble emblem! Ah! surely, though the ignorant world might pity him, the two years spent by the beloved disciple in this hallowed spot, must have been esteemed by him among the most precious seasons of his life.
His first vision is contained in this chapter. Before considering it, we must briefly explain the introduction to the whole book. It is declared to be "the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him.” It is in the execution of the prophetic office of the Redeemer, that he displays the future states of the church; but as Mediator, he always refers to the Father, who, in the economy of redemption, is always represented as the great Source of salvation, as well as Defender of the rights of the godhead. As God, the Saviour is omniscient, and needs not a revelation; as Mediator, he communicates instruction. to us, according to the Father's will.
Let me remark, by the way, that it is from the original Greek term Arxas, which signifies Revelation, that this book is so often termed the Apocalypse.
The Revelation was communicated to John by one of the angels, who acknowledge Jesus as their
Lord, who hasten to perform his will, who delight in showing kindness to those believers with whom they shall hereafter form one glorious society.
Thus was given to the aged apostle the knowledge of those things, some of which would immediately take place, and the rest be successively accomplished. Nor was the communication made in vain; for John faithfully wrote all that he saw and heard, and declared that it was the certain "word of God." the
infallible "testimony of Jesus Christ," and pronounced a solemn blessing upon all who diligently study this book, who understand the important truths contained in it, and who have a temper and disposition correspondent to those august plans of Providence that are developed in it.
After this general introduction, which is contained in the first three verses, St. John peculiarly addresses the book to the seven principal churches of Asia Minor, which had either been planted, or taught and increased by him. Of the names and characters of these churches, we shall have occasion to treat when we consider the epistles sent to each of them. Like the ancient prophets, this prophet of the New Testament prefixes his name. According to the ordinary custom of the apostles in their epistles, this venerable apostle wishes the churches "grace and peace." He prays that these blessings may flow from him who is, and who was, and who is to come;" that is, from the self-existent, ever-living Jehovah. These terms are elsewhere applied to the Son; they cannot, therefore, express the distinctive personal character of the Father, although they doubtless here refer to him, and point out the peculiar office he sustains in the scheme of providence and redemption; for, as I have just remarked, "in the divine economy, with respect to all dispensations relating to the church, God the Father is represented as maintaining the prerogatives of deity, and the Son and Spirit, as acting either from him or towards him."*
The apostle adds, "and from the seven spirits which are before his throne." Though different senses have
* Guyse in loc.
been annexed to these words, yet the most common is probably the most correct interpretation: that the one Holy Spirit of God is here meant, who, according to the highly figurative and emblematic language of this book, is termed "the seven spirits,' from the great diversity and perfection of his gifts and graces, and operations, and in reference to the seven churches.*
And especially does John implore this grace and peace "from Jesus Christ." Having mentioned the name of his beloved Redeemer, he pauses to dwell for some time on his character, and our obligations to him he is that prophet, on whose instructions we may confidently rely; "the faithful witness," whose testimony is always sure, whose declarations are infallible he is that priest, who, having offered up his life as a sacrifice for our sins, rose in proof of the acceptance of this sacrifice, and became “the first-begotten of the dead;" not only the first who rose to natural life, never again to submit to death, but also the first who rose by his own power, and as the first fruits assuring the resurrection of all his children: he is that King who is possessed of unlimited authority; "Prince of the kings of the earth;" able to restrain, to subdue, to destroy them, and to render unavailing all their designs against him.
Who will not venerate and honour such a Redeemer? Who that has felt the effect of his atoning blood, and has experienced the fruits of his living power, will not join with John, when, turning from the contemplation of his greatness to the remembrance of his goodness and condescension, he cries, “Unto
* See Mede's Discourse on Zech. iv. 10. and notes.