Notes on the Revelation

By W. J. Erdman D.D.



The writer of these brief Notes, W. J. Erdman, D. D., was one of the most devout and diligent and influential of modern Bible students. For more than twenty years he served as Secretary and Leader of the Niagara Bible Conference, and thus did much toward guiding the thoughts and molding the lives of 'countless Christian workers who represented many denominations and served in many lands.

As a pastor he was honoured and beloved because of his saintly personality, his devotion to duty, his sunny disposition, his humility, his unfailing humour and his broad culture. His ministry was sympathetic, self-sacrificing, patient, and energetic. His preaching was Scriptural and spiritual. Be cause of these 'many qualities he was called to be the first pastor of the church which the famous evangelist, D. L. Moody, established in Chicago, and he served efficiently there as in his other fields of labour.

He was more widely known, however, as a teacher than as a pastor, and during the main portion of his ministry he was not in charge of a congregation. Due largely to his wise and sane leadership the Niagara Conference maintained its original and definite purpose as a meeting for the study and the exposition of Scripture. To this gathering can be traced the establishment of scores of Bible Conferences now being conducted annually in this country and abroad. None has ever surpassed it in the charm of its fellowship and in the power of awakening love for the Word of God and consecration to Christian service.

The character and ability of its leader made him a welcome visitor at Northfield and Winona and similar gatherings of Christian leaders. His influence was extended not only by platform ad dresses, but by informal contacts with individuals, and with groups of ministers, and in conferences with young men. Whether answering questions be fore the large gatherings on “Round Top” at Northfield, or in conference with other students at Swamscott-by-the-Sea, or in the pavilion overlooking the lake at Niagara, Ontario, or before the Christian Association circles in the mountains of North Carolina, he was continually communicating to others his own eager desire to know the Scriptures and by this knowledge to come into ever closer relationship to Christ.

There were two lines of Bible study in which he found particular delight. One was the New Testament teaching relative to the work of the Holy Spirit, and the other was the truth concerning the personal return of Christ. Neither one was with him a matter of speculation, or mere intellectual concern. He ever studied and taught with a practical intent.

He found that the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer imparted a spirit of sonship, which brought one into close relation with God, as a child to a loving father. He found too that the great office of the Spirit was to glorify the Son. In his own experience Christ was a living, present, personal, sympathetic Saviour and Lord; and his expressed desire was to lead others not toward Christ, but to Christ. He regretted that so many professed Christians were living lives of bondage to law, imitating Christ, admiring Christ, but knowing too little of the peace and joy which result from complete surrender, and childlike trust.

With an equal interest he turned to the study of prophecy, particularly in the closing period of his life. While deeply interested in current events, he spent a large portion of his time in poring over the pages of the Apocalypse.

Even in his ninetieth year, with eye undimmed and mind alert, he was daily discovering some new beauty or some deeper significance in the cryptic sentences of Saint John. He was like that Beloved Disciple who is reputed to have lived until the closing years of the first Christian Century, and in the dark days of Roman persecution, to have caught his inspiring visions of the ultimate triumph of Christ.

So this apostle of love, like the seer on Patmos, fixed his gaze on the glorified Christ, and looked I longingly for his return, and tried to see how far the puzzles of The Revelation could be solved, and in what measure its pictures and symbols pointed; through the movements of history to the ultimate goal of prophecy, to the coming of Christ and the perfected Kingdom of God.

While classed with so called Pre-Millennialists, he did not feel that the Scriptures were very explicit in their millennial teaching. Pie found it less important to observe that Christ would return before, the Millennium, than to maintain that he must reappear before the glories of his Kingdom could be complete.

For this Second Coming of Christ he insisted that no dates could be set. As it had been the Blessed Hope of the Church in all ages, he taught that it might occur in any generation. Certain events, however, must first occur. Supreme among these was the evangelization of the world.

He was an ardent advocate of missions. He believed that the preaching of the Gospel among all nations was the divine, immediate, incomplete task of the Church, and that it was the appointed means of hastening the coming and the Kingdom of Christ.

He did not teach, however, that the whole world would be converted before the Lord returned. He regarded this present age as one of mingled good and evil. “The wheat and the tares” were to grow together “ until the harvest.” The triumphs of the Gospel were to become more glorious, but the op positions of the Adversary were to become more subtle and more severe. Evil would be embodied finally in a Man of Sin, the Beast of the Apocalypse. His persecutions of the people of God formed the great focal point of The Revelation, and his destruction by the returning Christ, and the appearing of the City of God, its triumphant climax and its close.

This great Book of Prophecy, with its seals and trumpets and vials, with its marching armies and distress of nations, with its Millennial peace and its gleaming walls of The New Jerusalem, were to the author of these Notes a mystical vision of the coming of Christ and the related events. In brief glimpses it covered the whole course of human history from the birth of Christ to the time of his predicted return. Its great message was to his Church. It was to assure his followers in all times of sorrow and peril that in his keeping they were safe, and that a time would come when their sufferings would cease, as the Seer predicted, “they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun strike upon them, nor any heat for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

There are other interpretations of the Book. Some find in the Beast and Babylon a picture of Nero, or of the Worship of the Emperors; and others a description of the rise and fall of Roman ism. However, whether the Beast points to imperial or papal Rome, or whether, as held by the author of the Notes, the Beast is a symbol of the final opposition to Christ, the following Outline and its accompanying brief comments, may lead to a better understanding of the literary structure of the Book, and may aid those who are seeking to more fully interpret its majestic imagery, and to gain courage from its inspiring optimism. Whatever its mysteries, despite the differing views as to the significance of its details, no thoughtful reader of the Apocalypse can fail to be thrilled by its confident predictions of ultimate and universal triumph, and by its picture of that time when the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.

Charles R. Erdman.

Princeton Seminary.