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BY REV. W. A. HELFFRICH, D.D.*
If the commentator knows not the heaven-wide difference between the interpretation of the Allegory and the allegorical Interpretation, this is an intellectual calamity. But if he knows how an allegorical writing is to be interpreted, and at the same time tortures such allegorical writing until it speaks in the sense of the letter, in the interest of current opinions (whether critical, doctrinal, or in the form of the so-called Christian consciousness), this is an ethical scandal.—LANGE.
ALTHOUGH the number of books written upon the Revelation of St. John the Divine is large, it can be said of scarcely any one of them that it was written in vain. The ground had first to be viewed and prepared before the adequate structure could be erected. Many an effort served in its day a good purpose, in this respect, which now is either antiquated or entirely unknown. Owing to arbitrary hermeneutical methods the Book has been abused to a remarkable degree; and yet each exposition, written from the standpoint of faith, has contributed something toward the accomplishment of the design cherished by all. For amid the great variety of error which appeared in the interpretation of the picture language of the Apocalypse
*As has been generally known, the author wrote a popular commentary on the Apocalypse some years ago, in the German language, which is ready for the press. A translation of the introductory observations is found in the above article. A sample of the work is thus given to the public; the wish of many friends of the author to see a part of the work in English dress is gratified, and the translator's promise, that of saying something further in reference to the Revelation of St. John, is in part fulfilled. It is his intention to complete his review of Mr. Smith's work. But he finds in Dr. Helffrich's preface so much that should be said, and so clearly set forth, that he is glad to make use of the Doctor's work and the Doctor's authority for the accomplishment of the end which he had in view from the beginning, that, namely, of clearing up some questions regarding the significance of the book, and the method of interpretation it calls for. He is surprised to find the author coinciding with him in most important particulars; and takes pleasure in allowing him to speak for himself before an English-reading public. The foot-notes are added, with Dr. Helffrich's permission, by the undersigned. W. M. R.
they had their eye directed to Christ and his Kingdom. The utterance of so much that was not only strange and foolish occasioned investigation and necessitated refutation. Thus the laws and principles of a sound exegesis were ascertained, guessing done away with, and more satisfactory results secured.
The Revelation of St. John occupies a unique position in the canon of the Sacred Scriptures. As bearing chiefly upon events thereafter to come to pass, it may be co-ordinated with the prophetical books of the Old Testament; but its importance reaches far beyond that of theirs. It is the conclusion and completion of all the prophecies in the Kingdom of God on earth. The prophecies of the Old Covenant rested on the preChristian structure of that Kingdom, as also upon the coming of Christ; they further contain minute descriptions of human history's "last times." But the Apocalypse has in its rear the first coming of our Lord, His work of redemption and the founding of the Christian Church; accordingly, with greater comprehensiveness and accuracy it prophesies in reference to the Church's course here on earth and its consummation in the Kingdom of glory. Christ with His Kingdom as Champion and Victor, His last coming for the glorification of His redeemed people is the subject of this prophetical book. By this theme is signalized its paramount significance above all else in this most important class of inspired literature.*
*On Chap. I, v. 1-" This is the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave Him"—the author has the following: "That is, this book contains the revelation of Jesus Christ, as Christ Himself communicated it to the Apostle John, that the contents of it might be written down, and of which writing this book was to be the result. The Revelation accordingly is not the work of St. John, but that of the triune God, imparted to the apostle by Christ, the divine Logos. The Apocalypse, as a composition, may be regarded as the book which, as it ends, fitly completes and closes the sacred canon of the Christian revelation. It must be regarded as the ripe fruitage of the history of the faith, doctrine and prophecy of the Kingdom of God. As such, as in the past, so in the future, it furnishes a firm support upon which the Church of Christ securely reposes, confidently knowing, that amid all the storms of the world-conflict with the power of darkness, with the advent of Her Lord the victory is surely hers."
In spite of the numerous attacks which have been made upon the Revelation, it has ever retained its hold upon the confidence and regard of God's people. In no age of the Church has its authority been shaken. Whilst it always proved itself to be in general the richest fountain of spiritual life, so, too, that of precious consolation and encouragement in times when the Church's fidelity to the faith she professed involved the baptism of blood. If this was the case in days that are passed, much more will it be so in those that are to come, inasmuch as its mysteries are becoming more fully disclosed and its predictions confirmed by events as they occur in the on-going history of the world. No good reason can be assigned why the Apocalypse has not been expounded, made accessible and brought nearer to the laity or unlearned portion of the Church's membership. It does not suffice that the clergy come to an understanding of this portion of God's Word by means of erudite treatises and elaborate commentaries. The people must also have it. It was originally addressed to the Churches, as we are told in its introductory chapter.* If
"Bengel employs language in his Erbauliche Reden über die offenbarung Johannes,' which is applicable among others to his own historical method of interpretation. At the opening of Chap. VI. he says: 'We have now considered five chapters, and we have found little reference to the history of the Church, although the purpose of the book is to show what is to come to pass. But now these prophecies begin. If now we regard the wants of those to whom we are addressing ourselves, we shall have little to say.' Bengel felt accordingly that the Apocalypse, according to his exposition of it, would be unenjoyable for the great majority of Christians; and in spite of all his unfolding it remained unintelligible. This should have prompted him to subject his method to a severe scrutiny. For it is scarcely supposable that a Book should be intended for the limited circle of the learned, whose contents and scope bear so directly upon the membership of the Church. The Revelation does not look to the interests and needs of scholarship. For what robs it of its intelligibility for unlearned Christians robs it for the learned of its edifying power. Even the intellectual wealth and the rare unction of a Bengel (Hengstenberg quotes him, by the way, on almost every page, and ten times more than any other authority) has not been able to prevent many portions of his 'Erklärte Offenbarung' from being no more edifying than an altfränkischer compendium of universal history." Hengstenberg on the Apoc. I. p. 326.
Church-members but understood the Apocalypse, and thus could distinguish the signs of the times, what an immense gain for the Church's spiritual life and the cause of Christ in general would be the result! How many might be saved from the satanic spirit of secularization (e. g. in the form of materialism, pessimism, and unbelief in general), which, in our day, more than ever before, is struggling for the ascendency, and threatens to move forward with ever-incr easing gigantic strides!
The Revelation is not only, as to its contents, a reproclamation of the whole Gospel, inasmuch as resting upon Christ as the chief corner-stone, it affords the Church a complete and harmonious series of the most joyous and glorious messages, but, more than this, it is the key-stone of the Bible, and foretells in advance the history of Christ's work on earth, and informs us how this movement begins and has its end in His Kingdom of glory. The Revelation pre-supposes all that the Gospels set forth. In all its predictions and sublime representations, it starts and moves forward on this ground. As a historical narrative, it holds in the closest connection with the spirit-world by means of its exalted visions and picture language; but as regards the events which it represents as taking place hereafter, many of its statements still remain veiled in obscurity. Still it sheds light-bright light-upon the history of the world. On a large scale it presents a complete picture of that which is to come to pass; which as such is adequately distinct, but it allows minute particulars to remain unexplained until the proper time. If the Revelation, together with the remaining prophetical books of the Bible, were verbal and literal predictions, there would be involved such a violent in-working upon the formation of history as to prejudice the freedom of human development. The crown of revelation is bound up with human liberty as a factor in history. Accordingly, prophecy in the Bible throughout is more or less obscure, whilst in the apocalypse, especially, the language of the seven thunders remains unsealed. Still, Revelation is light. images are found in the symbolism of the Bible.
Keys to the
the history of the Christian Church is here indicated in general in terms that are adequately accurate and clear.
The book is a revelation and God is the revealer of it. First of all it was given to St. John. The Apostle wrote as directed by Christ. The contents, with all its imagery, predictions, threats, were shown and announced to him. This is a fact which in these modern days should be carefully considered, so that false views and conceptions may be avoided. An article recently appeared in one of our leading magazines from the pen of a writer laying claim to great learning, in which he subjected the form, style and imagery of the book to a critical investigation. According to this author, who institutes an extended comparison between the Apocalypse and the books of the Old Testament, the Apostle must have drawn not only upon the Prophets but upon heathen mythologies for his images, visions, allegories and expressions. Such a theory, so far from explaining the facts, does the utmost violence to them. It goes upon the supposition that St. John did nothing more than compile the Revelation. If in the latter we find representations similar to those in the prophets, or even identically the same words, it must not by any means be necessarily inferred that they were borrowed thence. This is a proof rather that it is the same covenant God of revelation who speaks as well by the Apostles as by the Prophets. The writers of the Old Testament and St. John the Divine drew from the same source. Were there a real discrepancy between them, there would be just reason for doubting the truth of Revelation. God, who is infinite in His perfections, is an unchangeable being. Accordingly, His words, truths and ways remain ever the same. Upon the divine unchangeability, as its basis, must rest every safe method of the interpretation of revelation. For just as He is the same in His being or nature, so must He be the same in His ways notwithstanding the variety and manifoldness of His works. His revelation-pictures and representations are all taken from the life of nature and spirit; and back of them all lie truths which could find expression in no other form. Sun,