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Nothing can be plainer than the literal meaning of the Greek word katakanoetai, and of our translation of it, burned up (see note V. p. 59). Hence, as the literal meaning of the words is possible according to the nature of things, Millennarian writers are bound to adopt it by their own rule. If however they did so, they would at once prove that their own view of the first resurrection cannot be true; because, if the earth and all the works therein be burnt up at the coming of the day of the Lord, no ungodly persons or dumb animals could survive. They therefore discard their own rule of interpretation; and instead of understanding the word karakanoetal in its literal meaning, as signifying burning up, according to its real sense and invariable use
in every other passage in the New Testament, they interpret it in the sense of refining, which it neither can bear, nor has in a single passage. And they give it this figurative sense in order to support their hypothesis, that neither the ungodly, nor the dumb animals, nor indeed any thing else (as far as I can collect their view) upon the surface of the earth will be destroyed, as they must be by a burning-up fire.
So again, in ver. 13, a new earth is foretold. This, according to its obvious literal meaning, foretells the creation of a new earth in the place of the present earth, which will be burned up; and this literal meaning strikingly harmonizes with and confirms the literal meaning of the prophecy concerning the burning up of the present earth. But, whatever sense other writers might attach to these words, Millennarians are bound to take the literal meaning of the word new by their own rule; because it is possible according to the nature of things. As, however, this would prove that their interpretation of the first resurrection cannot be right, they discard their rule, and interpret the word, “new earth, in the figurative sense of an altered, or improved, or refined earth. So the literal meaning of Heb. i. 10-12 would plainly indicate, that the present earth will hereafter perish, and will be entirely put aside like an old and worn-out garment; and that a new earth will be, like a new garment, substituted in its place (see note V. p. 61). This also would prove that the Millennarian view cannot be true ; and, therefore, writers who adopt it, instead of taking the literal meaning of the words perish and changed, interpret them in the figurative sense of altering and improving the earth ; although no such process is carried on with respect to an old and wornout garment; which is not altered and improved, but put entirely away, and a new one is substituted.
From these, therefore, and similar instances of the system of interpretation which Millennarian writers actually adopt, it appears to me that the literal rule which they profess to lay down as a general one, is only adopted by themselves when it will support their view of the first resurrection ; so that if the literal meaning of any passage would prove that their view cannot be right, they discard their own rule, and affix any other meaning which will get over the difficulty. I conceive that such is their actual system of interpretation, however uncon. scious they may themselves be of it; and that such must be the result of assuming that their own interpretation of the first resurrection is right, and making that the standard to which other passages must be referred. Hence also they are led into a course of interpretation, the reverse of that which appears to me to be according to the mind of the Spirit; for they take the literal meaning of passages in the figurative parts of the Old Testament, and reject the literal meaning of others which occur in the unfigurative books of the New Testament.
Let meventureto observe, that I doubt whether any one general rule of interpretation can be laid down ; and to state the considerations which guide me in endeavouring to decide between a literal interpretation or otherwise ; leaving it to the reader to judge for himself, as to their propriety. The first consideration is, the general character of the book or portion of Scripture in which the passage occurs, whether it is figurative or unfigurative. The second is, the character of the context, and particularly of that which forms the introduction of the passage ; as it appears to me frequently intended as a key to the whole. The third consideration is, whether a literal or figurative interpretation would most harmonize with other passages of Scripture which treat unequivocally and plainly upon the same subject. In some such way I conceive I ought to exercise my judgment respecting each passage, where the meaning admits of doubt,
Let me, therefore, apply these considerations to the subject of the first resurrection, Rev. xx. 4,5. This is evidently a passage upon the interpretation of which the judgment must be exercised ; because it might admit of being understood either in a material or figurative sense, according to the analogy of the Scriptures. On the one hand, the word avaoTaois, standing up, or arising, and its root arisnui, to stand up, or arise, are continually used in Scripture, in reference to the rising of the material body out of the grave.
On the other hand, the same words also occur in various other senses, as in Matt. xxii. 24 ; Mark. iii. 26; Luke ii. 34 ; Acts iii. 22, and v. 36, 37,and vi.9, and vii. 18,37, and xx.30; Heb. vii. 11, 15. In many other passages also the idea of a resurrection from a state of spiritual death occurs, Rom. vi. 4–6; Eph.ii. 1,5,6, and v. 14 (Gr. and Eng.); Col. ii. 12, 13, and iii. 1. We might expect that the Scriptures would set forth a resurrection of the soul as well as of the body; because the death which immediately followed the breaking of the command of God by the first Adam, was that, not of the body, but of the soul. Man must have died immediately upon eating of the forbidden fruit (Gen. ii. 17); and, therefore, the death which he incurred, must have been that of the soul; for the death of the body, though involved as a necessary con. sequence in the former, did not take place for many hundred years. Hence the soul of every child of Adam is by nature as really devoid of spiritual life, and dead in sin, as his body will become devoid of animal life, and dead in a material sense : and the children of God are made partakers of a spiritual resurrection, that of the soul, in this life, as really as they will be of material resurrection, that of the body, in the life to come.
These considerations therefore shew, I conceive, that our first object must be to ascertain in what sense the Holy Ghost uses the term resurrection in Rev. xx. 4, 5.
With a view to this, therefore, I consider, first, The character of the book in which this passage occurs. And here I need not, I believe, adduce any proof that it is peculiarly figurative ; as every writer whom I have consulted, whatever view he adopts upon this question, agrees that the Revelations abound in symbols or figures. I might, indeed, go through the preceding nineteen chapters, and shew that each of them contains numerous figurative representations. Many of these are, in their literal meaning, of a more material character than the passage under consideration; yet Millennarian writers do not hesitate to interpret them in a figura: tive sense, though they insist upon a material interpretation of the first resurrection. Such are chap. vi. 12– 17; and the prophecy concerning the two witnesses, chap. xi. 3—12, in which the expressions dead bodies, graves, standing on their feet, &c. occur, yet these writers understand them not in their literal meaning, but figuratively. I merely notice this to shew, not only that a figurative interpretation would be more in agreement with the general character of the book itself, but also with the system which Millennarian writers themselves adopt with respect to the greater part of it, to which they give a figurative meaning, in defiance of their own rule of literal interpretation.
Secondly. I would consider the introductory context, which also appears to me not literal, but figurative; John saw in vision, an angel come down from heaven, having a key, and a great chain in his hand—lay hold on a great dragon-bind him—cast him into the bottomless pit-shut him up-set a seal upon him, vers. 1-3. I have not seen any writer who interprets these material objects, as seen by John in vision, in a literal sense ; that is, as foretelling similar events of a material kind, such as, that a real embodied angel will come down with a real key, seal, &c. All, I believe, agree that this introduction of the prophecy, is to be understood in a figurative sense. This second consideration, therefore, namely, the figurative character of the introduction appears to me to furnish, in agreement with the general character of the preceding parts of the book, a key to determine the kind of interpretation which ought to be given to the prophecy itself; and to indicate that we ought not to understand it in a material but figurative sense.
Thirdly. However, and especially when I come to compare what is laid down respecting the first resurrection, and the events which follow it, with what is laid down in numerous plain passages of Scripture, which unequivocally treat of the resurrection of the saints at the second coming of Christ, I find, as I have endeavoured 'to shew in the first two chapters, that all and each of them, in their plain meaning and obvious inference, harmonize in proving that the first resurrection cannot be that of the saints at the second coming of Christ. From all these considerations, I cannot myself but come to the conclusion, that to interpret the first resurrection in a material sense, as referring to the resurrection of the bodies of the saints, cannot be according to the mind of the Spirit.
II. Zechariah xiv. is alleged in support of the Millennarian interpretation of the first resurrection. With regard to the prophecy or prophecies contained in this chapter, the very first point appears to me to ascertain to what period it relates. I find it said (vers. 3, 4), Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle ; and his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, &c. And again, in ver. 5, and the Lord my God shall come and all the saints with thee. Supposing that the going forth of the Lord in ver. 3, and his coming in ver. 5, are the same events, (though this does not appear by any means clear to me), the first question is, Whether this coming of the Lord refers to the second coming of Christ in person; or whether it is to be understood in some figurative sense, similar to those to which I referred in Note L, page 29. Let me then compare what is laid down in this chapter concerning the coming of the Lord, with what other Scriptures declare concerning the second coming of Christ, as I have endeavoured to shew in the second chapter. First, This going forth of the Lord is to take place upon the present earth (vers. 4, 5, 10, 11); whereas I know that this present earth is be burned up at the second coming of Christ, with all the works that are therein : see page 60. Secondly, Ungodly persons remain after this going forth of the Lord, in open enmity and rebellion against him and his people, and subsequently fight against Jerusalem (vers. 12–15, 18, 19); whereas I know that all the ungodly will be punished with everlasting destruction from his presence, and will go into everlasting punishment, at the time of his second coming. (See pages 54, 55).
These considerations, therefore, at once convince me, that those events cannot take place after the second coming of Christ; and as they do take place after the