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I almost start back from the undertaking of expounding it: but when I consider its preciousness, and the blessing pronounced upon those who peruse it, I am encouraged.
Its transcendent value consists in this, that it sets out Christ—that it sets out our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ-it takes the veil from off the invisible to man, and draws us up into heaven ; and shews us how the Son of Man hath been rewarded by the Father, and what work and what offices under the Father, and for the Father, the Lamb slain is able to discharge. And not only doth it shew us the history of Christ's amazing person, all-glorious in heaven, but also what offices he is discharging for the Father throughout all creation, especially in the church, and in the apostacy, and in the world, until his coming again : and not only so, but likewise his coming from the presence and in the power of the Father, attended with all his church and all his saints and all his angels: and finally, when he doth come, what condition he finds the earth in, and how he establishes it for ever. In one word, it is to disclose to us what Christ is, what he is doing, what he hath done, all that he is to do ; from the time he ascended up on high, until the time that he comes to plant his glorious throne in visible majesty, and exer. cise his kingly power over the thrones, not of this world alone, but of all the redeemed universe. And as in a great sphere, which a man cannot glance over at once, this side must be turned to him, and another side and another, before he can take the whole into his limited vision ; so the many-sided and most various office of Christ is revealed to us in this book, by several successive acts and effects of the manifesting angel. And this is the reason why it is divided into several divisions.- Now I must shew
what are the sides of Christ's glorious person, so to speak, and what are the offices of his vast function, that are set out to us in succession. They are chiefly, the seven epistles to the churches ; the seven seals; the seven trumpets'; the overcoming of the Beast, or Antichrist, in his three several forms; and the establishment of his church and kingdom on the earth for ever.
1. The first vision, or manifestation of Christ, which is contained in the first three chapters, revealeth him as the Head of all the churches, and the universal Bishop over
the ministers of the churches [the number seven being, as we shall shew more fully hereafter, intended to denote completeness in subdivision, unity in distinctness]. This vision opens to us Christ as the only Bishop, who alone has the seven stars, or all the ministers, in his right hand; all on a level, all equally dear to him, no one over another, not upheld but by Christ's right hand. The only Bishop over Christ's church who hath superintendence over the ministry, is here shewn to us ; the only Overseer of the overseers of the church. And not only has he the seven stars in his hand, but he stands and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; that is, all the churches ; seven particular individual churches being chosen in order to give place and circumstance to the prophecy : for all prophecy must rest on a basis of fact; otherwise it is a mystery, and not a reality,-a promise, but not a prediction. It is an invariable principle that every revelation must exhibit itself by means of facts: and there must be both time and events to substantiate every prophecy; without which it may be truth spiritual, but cannot be truth realized; it may be truth universal, but cannot be truth individual and particular. It is not truth fit for man's soul, acting through a body, until it is brought into the condition of space and time. Space, therefore, and time being essential to every prophecy, these seven churches of Asia are taken, in order to shew Christ's universal care over the church in all times. If, for example, you wished to shew forth the excellent wisdom and vigilance of some governor or king, you might choose seven cities out of his realm, in very different circumstances and conditions; one commercial, another agricultural, another manufacturing, another a seat of learning, &c. &c. and by shewing his wise proclamations unto, and discriminating care over, each one, you would display the manifoldness and completeness of his care much better than could be done by a single instance, or an ab. stract discourse : so, in order to shew out the superintending watchfulness of Christ over his church, seven are chosen diversely conditioned, unto whose several cases his ability and his willingness to minister, doth shew forth the same more completely to the whole church and to all the members thereof, and likewise his episcopal charge to all the ministers, and the Spirit's encouragement to all the people. The end of the vision therefore is, to exhibit Christ as the Bishop of your souls ; the Pastor of the soul of every believer; Christ as the Head of the church; Christ the only Bishop over the ministry; Christ the universal Bishop; for the testimony of which, this very church, the Church of Scotland, has suffered more than perhaps all the churches of Christendom put together. In the various church-yards and solitudes throughout Scotland, where the martyrs sleep, there is not one stone upon which it is not engraven, that he who rests beneath died for Christ's headship and royal office in his house. Our church hath also borne witness against the Pretaey of the Church of England, which putteth one minister of Christ over another; and we maintain, that the ministers are of equal order and dignity, lying side by side in the right hand of our common Bishop. We have borne testimony likewise against the supremacy of the man of sin, ever standing for the parity of all the ministers of the Gospel. In which, her faithful and true testimony, the Church of Scotland is borne out more completely by this vision, than by all other books which have been written. For Christ, in addressing the members of the churches, proceedeth upon the principle that they are equally honoured of him, and equally dear to him; and with equal respect doth he give them instruction with regard to their ministerial charges.-Such is the substance and intention of the first vision, to claim for Christ the sole dignity of universal Bishop and Head of the church ; and, if possible, to prevent all priests and all kings from usurping that divine name and dignity; which accordingly did acquire such sacredness, that for seven centuries it was never adopted by any creature : and when the patriarch of Constantinople, in the pride and ambition of the devil, did dare so arrogate it to himself, he was held a blasphemer and Antichrist by all the wise and faithful in the church; and by no one more denounced than by Pope Gregory the Great, who lived himself to assume the divine dignity, and had power to transmit it to his successors in the See of Rome, who now, without a blush, take both the honour and the power of it, and are wondrously indulged in the claim of spiritual supremacy by
Protestants even, who deny their claim to temporal supremacy. Therefore I have opened my mouth against that man of sin, and will not shut it till I die. But the men with whom I am surrounded have no such burning hatred and consuming zeal against that pretender, and usurper, and executor of my Lord's high office. They do not hate the beast in these times ; because they know him not ; or bear with what he has assumed, and upon whom. His hand, like Amalek's, is upon the throne of God, he has assumed the dignity of universal bishop, and headship of the church of Christ, which belongeth only to the Son of Man. For which I will call him a usurper, and fight against him while I live, not with carnal but with spiritual weapons. But to return—This first vision, in respect to time, constitutes the time present, the now of the Apocalypse : not that it is confined to the events which came to pass during the Apostle's life-time, for we shall see in the sequel that it extends over the first three centuries, until the time of Constantine; but that it is confined to the period when the church was exhibited under trial and tribulation, fighting and overcoming: whereas, from the time of that emperor, it began to be exhibited as in power, and state, and authority ;-then, with the powers of the world set in array against it; afterwards, with the powers of the world set in array for it. Not but that the church is always in subjection and militancy; but that, till the time of Constantine, it did not embrace the kingly and magisterial powers of the earth in that service and
warfare against its enemies. There is an essential difference between Christ acting in his church by the means of his persecuted saints, and Christ acting in the same church by the means of fostering and nursing princes : in the one, he secretly un. dermined Paganism,-in the other, he forcibly overthrew it. In the one, he spread the truth as a Prophet and a Priest ; in the other, he began to act forcibly as a King: in the one, he presents himself as gathering souls through great tribulation unto God ; in the other, he presents himself as banishing and expelling from the thrones and dominions of the earth, those idolatrous and apostate kings who filled them, to the dishonour of God, and the service of Satan.
2. Accordingly, when we come to the second vision, which
introduceth things that are to be hereafter, and which is contained in the iv th, v th, vi th, and vii th chapters, we have a door opened in heaven, and a grand council of the spirits above assembled; the secret, spiritual counsel of the world is revealed: and what does that council consist of? The Father, King of heaven, shewn out under flesh of Christ glorified, with a book in his hand, and his throne encircled with a rainbow. And what are his subordinate and viceregal powers ? Twenty-four elders, and the four living creatures, whom we discern by their song to be no other than the church of the redeemed, represented first as kings, and then as priests. I say these elders and living creatures are the church in glory; for they say, “Thou hast washed us from our sins in thy blood, and hast redeemed us unto God, out of every kingdom, and nation, and people, and tongue.”
And who can so speak of themselves but redeemed men ? who, therefore we must conclude, are God's dignitaries, the enthroned ones of heaven, seated round according to the number of the twenty-four chief officers of Israel, who waited upon the kingdom of David and Solomon ; and the four holy priestly supporters of the throne, according to the number and figure of the ensigns which the four squadrons of Israel bore around the camp in its marches through the wilderness. There is the church advanced, in the right of redeemed men, to the height of the highest ascendency of the uppermost seats in heaven. I say that the language of the twenty-four elders and four living creatures in which they speak of themselves, doth bespeak them to be the supporters and the encirclers of the throne of God, dwelling in the throne, and reigning round about the throne, all seated in royal dignity in the heavens, though they be no other than redeemed men.—I have much discourse to shew forth to you the dignity of the church in glory, and the part they take in the affairs of the church on earth : but this is not the place for such details. Then the angels, in undistinguished multitudes, compass the thrones around; but without thrones, or crowns, or any song of redemption, or any assurance of reigning on the earth. Like dutiful subjects, they render unto the Lamb “power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing,” according to those several spheres of creation and providence