Many readers of the Bible treat it as though it were like a |puzzle-picture,| where we have to |find a face,| or |a man,| or some other object. No matter what part of the Bible may be read, the one object seems to be to |find the Church.| For, the |Word of truth| not being rightly divided, or indeed divided at all, the whole Bible is supposed to be about every one, in every part, and in every age; and the Church is supposed to be its on pervading subject.
This arises from our own natural selfishness. |We| belong to the Church, and therefore all |we| read |we| take to ourselves, not hesitating to rob others of what belongs to them. Here is a case in point. Open your Bibles at Isa. xxix. and xxx., and at the headings of the pages, at the same opening we read, |Judgment upon Jerusalem,| and |God's mercies to His Church|! This is a |dividing| of the word (by man) indeed! but whether it is |rightly dividing| is another matter. The book is declared to be |The vision of Isaiah...which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.| And yet in spite of this, the blessings spoken of Judah and Jerusalem are taken away and given to the Church, while the curses and judgments are kindly left for |Judah and Jerusalem!|
On this system of interpretation the Bible is useless for the purposes of Divine revelation. It is made a derision to its enemies, a ground for the attacks of infidels, while it becomes a stumbling-block to its friends. And yet it is on this same principle that the Apocalypse is usually treated. Everywhere the Church is thrust in : John (in ch. iv.1) represents the Church; the living creatures, or Cherubim (ch. iv.) are the Church; the four and twenty elders (ch. iv., v.) are the Church; the 144,000 (ch. vii.) are the Church; the great multitude (ch. vii.) is the Church; the |woman clothed with the sun| (ch. xii.) is the Church; the man-child (ch. xii.) is the Church; the bride (ch. xix.) is the Church; the |New Jerusalem| (ch. xxi.) is the Church; the |seven churches| are the Church; and so they go on, until the humble reader of the book is bewildered and disheartened. No wonder the book is neglected. The wonder would be if it were not.
Now, it is with the object of lifting those who desire to understand this prophecy out of the quagmire of tradition that we propose to write these papers.
We believe we shall best accomplish our object by departing from the usual custom of expositors, and leaving the interpretation of words and sentences and verses until after we have learned the scope of the book, and ascertained the great principle on which all interpretation must be based.
Let us say at once that we believe, and must believe (1), that God means what He says; and (2), that He has a meaning for every word that He says. All His works and all His words are perfect, in their choice, order and place: so perfect, that, if one word or expression is used, there is a reason why no other would have done.
On these lines we shall proceed to put forth and explain our theses or propositions: begging our readers not to start at the bare statement of them, but prayerfully to test the reasons which we shall give; and to remember that, while some are sufficient of themselves to establish our position, yet, we depend on the cumulative evidence of the whole of them taken together.
Our great fundamental proposition - which we may as well state at once - is, that
The Church is not the subject of the Apocalypse.
However startling this may sound and may seem to some of our readers, we implore you not to dismiss it, but to test the reasons we shall give by the Word of God itself, and to weigh them in |the balances of the sanctuary.| Try to forget all that you have |received by tradition,| and ask from whom you learned this or that. Be prepared and ready to unlearn anything that you may have received from men, and learn afresh from the Word of God itself.
The first chapter furnishes us with fifteen proofs of our fundamental proposition.
Our first point, in proof of our great proposition, is -