THE SEVEN LETTERS
OR, A DIVINE CHURCH HISTORY
The law of cycles in the works of God equally manifested in the Word of God - Illustrations: The Tabernacle, The Transfiguration, The ever widening royal dignities of Christ - The book of Revelation not merely an end, but a beginning; another Genesis: Correspondences - Two principles of interpretation, historical and futurist - Not really opposed: truth in both; yet a divine axiom as to all interpretations.
On all sides are we surrounded by infinity. In time, we may send our swift thoughts back and ever back, but still an eternal past stretches beyond the furthest possible flight of our feeble minds. So forward, eternity necessarily lies before us there. We can conceive of no limit or bound, for we at once say there must be another side to that boundary, and so it vanishes. Equally so in space:- above, below, on every side there is boundless infinity: an overwhelming thought to our spirit, and yet the only thought in harmony with its powers of reasoning. True reason thus necessarily recognizes in every sphere what is beyond her powers, and is humbled to her own place.
Further, looking at the works of God with the awe and reverence with which they were surely intended to fill the mind of man, we find in them a harmonious principle of cycles, as we may term it, and this too with no end that we can compass. Systems, complete in themselves, as our earth and its satellite, the moon, yet fill a. place in completing larger ones, as the solar system, and this similarly serves, and is only one unit among many in forming, other and still larger systems, and so on till the mind reels, refuses to be urged, and falls back instinctively whispering, "What is man?" but adding too, with the marvel of faith, "that Thou art thindful of him!"
If this is true in the works of God, shall there be no evidence of a similar principle in His Word? Shall there not be smaller spheres of Revelation which, whilst complete in themselves, yet serve, and have their place only as servants, in nobler spheres, of which, too, they form, at least in some cases, patterns?
As a partial illustration of what I mean take that beautiful dwelling of Jehovah in the midst of Israel in the wilderness, "The Tabernacle." Only one man was qualified to build it, for to Moses alone had its proportions been revealed, and even he is repeatedly warned to make it according to the pattern that had been shown him in the mount. In the mount was a pattern of what was to be God's dwelling on the earth, and this was in its turn to serve but as a sample and shadow of heavenly things, and "of that true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man." (Heb. viii). It was complete in itself, yet does it, in the most beautiful way, enable us to grasp truths that might otherwise be incomprehensible. And we may find, if I err not, many such patterns spread out for us in the earlier portion of God's Word, that shall enable us to interpret, and by which we may square our interpretation of, the other ones.
And, since this is an important principle, if true, I would give another example of it. Look at that beauteous scene on "the holy mount" (Matt. xvii). Do you think it is given us with no other purpose than simply as an interesting incident in our Lord's life? Nay, surely, it is a pattern of a kingdom yet to come in power; for so one of the actual spectators speaks of it when he says: "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty."
There in that night scene, was a picture complete in itself, yet a pattern of a coming kingdom, and we do well to reject every interpretation of prophecy as to this kingdom and glory, that does not square in every feature with this divinely-given pattern seen in the mount. That kingdom will have a place for a heavenly people (as Moses and Elias) and for an earthly people (as Peter, James, and John), for Saints who have been raised from among the dead (as Moses) and for "changed" saints who have never died (as Elias); for Jesus as the Sun, the Light, the Centre of the whole lovely scene, and for God, unseen indeed, but whose voice is to be heard directing all attention, all knees to bow, to His beloved One. Seven Persons giving a complete Picture.
See the principle true in the royal dignities of the Lord Jesus. He is Son of David, and, as such, Israel's throne is His. But coming to His own They received Him not. Then shall He have a still larger sphere of royalty; and as "Son of Man," all the kingdom put under the first man's hand, shall be given Him. By judgment He shall purge His kingdom, and shall be crowned with glory and honour, all of earth put under His feet (Ps. viii). But do the nations of the four quarters of the earth reject Him, and, as Gog and Magog, dispute His sway? (Rev. xx.) Then shall He have a wider, nobler sphere still. Heaven and earth shall flee away, and as Son of God shall He be King of the whole universe, everything in heaven and earth and under the earth bowing the knee to Him. Then, all being in the harmony of subjection, He delivers "up the Kingdom to God, even the Father." (x Cor. xv.) The smaller spheres are patterns of, and included in the larger. "So hath God greatly purposed."
These thoughts are but introductory to the first three chapters of the book called Revelation, and beautifully harmonious with these principles is the very title - the only divinely given title in the whole of the New Testament. It is naturally and clearly the last book, the closing book of the inspired Scriptures. Here we come to the end. But is it like the close of a creature's life? Is it the quiet, decent end of something mortal and dead? Do we see the eyelids closed, as it were, and the cold hands of the dead Scriptures folded, telling us to put the book away - it is but limited after all - it is finished - a dead book? Nay, indeed, nay. It is the end; but it is only the beginning. It is another Genesis, only in, and of, a wider, nobler sphere. It is a door that is placed at the end of one creation; but the door opens, and fairer, nobler scenes still stretch on out to infinity before us. THERE IS NO END WITH GOD!
It is, indeed, a Genesis, and the first Genesis provides patterns for the last. We are accustomed to look upon the first creation, or perhaps we had better say that scene so beautifully ordered for the first man, as having no other purpose than that. But our last book shows us that all things in this were only formed with another, grander, wider aim. That Sun is in every sense but a shadow of a living and an infinitely brighter One. The moon and stars have other services than to give light by night to this little earth; they, too, are pictures or patterns. Trees, rivers, mountains, plains - Adam himself and his bride are all patterns, and to find the true meaning of all we must await the very last book of the "system:" Revelation. Well named is it, for now unseen realities that have only been shadowed, begin to be spread out before us - never again to pass away.
How many of the controversies that have ruled, alas, amongst the Lord's beloved people, have been due to a narrow way of limiting the thoughts of God, and seeking to confine or bind them by our Own apprehension of them. How often, two or more, apparently, opposing systems of interpretation may really both be correct; the breadth, and length, and height, and depth of the mind of God including and going beyond both of them. Not always, of course, is this the case, nor must it be permitted to furnish the least excuse for any of the positive errors that are abounding in our day, but apart from these, our book affords clear evidence of the truth of what is said.
For, as we come to it, we are met almost at once by at least two opposing doctors, each claiming the whole truth for himself; each warning us solemnly against having anything to do with the other. The one insists that the greater part of the prophecy has now been fulfilled in the history of the prophetic earth, or the sphere of the Roman Empire and bids us study some historian of earth to find the fulfilment of the book. The other, that the greater part of the prophecy remains yet unfulfilled altogether, and awaits a mighty change in the present condition of things before it can be fulfilled at all. The two schools are called Historical and Futurist. Well, this at first sight is not encouraging, and many have foolishly turned back at once from any further consideration of a book, on which there can be such wide differences. It may be our happiness, however, to be peacemakers in some degree at least between the two, and taking their opposing hands in ours say, "God's truth includes you both; there is room and need for you both. As in days long past your ancestor, Dr. Historical, might have insisted that John the Baptist was indeed the Elias "which was for to come," whilst yours, Dr. Futurist, would insist that this was impossible, and a truer, more effective, more real Elias must still be looked for to restore all things, and both would have been correct; so today, both of you have truth, but the truth of God goes beyond, and includes you both."
Yet, whilst admitting this, there is another axiom, or basal truth, that is of profound value to us in the study of prophecy, which one may feel sure will not be disputed by any mind, in the least spiritual. That system of interpretation that hangs us most dependently on the Lord must ever take the foremost place, whilst that which makes us dependent on fallible, contradictory human history, with its hundred tongues and consequent uncertainty, must pass into the background, as holding us in the sphere of the shadows or patterns rather than in that of the realities. Were it not so, surely God's principle would have changed altogether, and the poor "babes" would have little hope of knowing what must necessarily be confined to the learned: "the wise and prudent." No longer could at least one text of Scripture be of force "ye need not that any man should teach you," for absolutely dependent should we be on men for every word of teaching we could get from these pages. The "knowledge that puffeth up" would be at a premium; the "unction from the Holy one" at a discount! Nor by this is it intended to put aside the ministry of true learning or nullify our indebtedness to it. We should have no Scriptures in our mother-tongue at all but for this. The patient research, the reverent labour, the humble study are not to be despised, but honoured in their own place; but this must ever be a dependent one, and held subordinate to Him who is here to "lead into all truth." The grave danger, ever and always is of this dependence, not only being lost sight of, but practically repudiated by man's proud spirit, and then we have darkness and confusion everywhere. Again, it may be safely added, that that interpretation that maintains a people that have exclusively a heavenly calling, in an attitude alone consistent with this calling; not turned aside from our heavenly hope by looking for the prior intervention of events of earth; but with mind set on things above, in constant readiness and hope of His immediate return :-such an interpretation must commend itself, as being the primary one and most harmonious with the revealed purposes of God.
Go to Chapter Two
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