By Wayland Hoyt. Philadelphia
What a changed, and I cannot help thinking vastly more luminous volume, our New Testament would become if, at least sometimes, the various books which go to form it were bound together by the method of an, at least, approximate chronological order.
In this general array the books of the New Testament would then appear. I do not say that everybody would adopt the order I am about to give. I know very well that there might be decided difference of view as to the chronological place of this book or that. Further on I shall at tempt to adduce the reasons why multitudes of the best scholars think this or that book, with the disputed date, should be in this place in a chronological cataloguing, and not in that. But just now, let me rehearse the order, and attempt to substantiate it, where that may be needful, afterwards.
Were our New Testament bound together then, according to a chronological arrangement of the sacred writings, this, I think, is, in the main, the order in which the books which go to make up the New Testament would stand.
And now just here, as well as in any other place, may come in the three synoptic gospels. One thing is certain, if you are going to pursue a chronological order they may not come in first. They are certainly later in date than the Epistles to the Thessalonians. Perhaps the most definite chronological thing you can say about them is that they must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place in the year 70, A. D. Of Luke, in addition, you may say it must have been written before the Acts, since in the Acts a former treatise is referred to. The truth doubtless is that the dates of the synoptic gospel and the dates of some of the Epistles are contemporary — though we are more shadowy in our knowledge about the dates of the synoptical gospels than we are of the dates of the Epistles which have been already mentioned.
Let us, then, in our chronological order, place here the three synoptic gospels, assigning to them the usually received dates of their composition. Our seventh book in a chronologically bound New Testament would then be —
Putting thus the synoptic gospels together, we come next to the Book of the Acts.
It must be remembered, of course, that the dates of the New Testament books interlace and overlap. Several of these sacred writings sprang doubtless out of the same year. Where thus a distinct chronological order is impossible, an order as to sort and subject must be followed. Here, then, succeeding the Pauline Epistle would be a not inappropriate place to bring in what are called the Catholic Epistles.
Three noteworthy, and as it seems to me, very significant facts at once appear in the light of such a chronological arrangement.
And now will you allow me to solicit your attention to certain — I cannot help thinking very important and, to me at least, irradiating suggestions springing from the dates of the Books of the New Testament.
And first — In the light of the dates of the New Testament Books will you consider the surprising activity of the Spirit of Inspiration during, but limited to, the last half of the first century of the Christian era.
Just as soon as the facts on which the Christian revelation is based — facts like Incarnation, Holy Example, Atoning Sacrifice, Resurrection, Gift of the Spirit, Organization of the Church — just as soon as facts like these had gotten them selves thoroughly announced, could be seen to stand out as facts, could be at least in some measure apprehended as to their reality and significance — just so soon does the Inspiring Holy Spirit begin the work of their transcription by the hands of the writers of the books of the New Testament. From the year 52 to the year 97 A. D., how the dates crowd! How affluent and various the result! Short epistles touching upon some one side or phase of truth chiefly, like the consolation in the certainty of the Second Advent of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians; or the warning concerning the man of sin in the Second Epistle to- the Thessalonians; longer and more elaborate epistles, like those to the Corinthians and the Romans, where the light of Christ falls on tangled questions of casuistry, or where a magnificent march of argument with Christian truth as rallying banners, sweeps against and over the proud foolishness of the Jew and the fancied wisdom of the Greeks; synoptic gospels presenting photographs from different angles of the matchless life; exhibitions of the blooming of Christianity out of the harder, ruder, and yet necessary calyx of the elder dispensation, and showings how, because Christianity is the bloom, it must be therefore better and ultimate as in the Epistle to the Hebrews; mighty bursts and peans of consolation, vivid and awful disclosures of a Divine Hand at the helm of things, that a little feeble church, caught in the cyclones of persecution may not lose heart and hope, may become certain that it cannot be blown away, as in the Apocalypse; far, still, profound insights into the wonderful meanings of the life and death and truth of Christ, into the singularity of Christianity as an altogether spiritual religion, visions into depths so deep and at the same time so clear, that a little child may easily see into them, while no farthest reaching intellect can fathom them, as in the unique Gospel and transcendently spiritual Epistles, of the Apostle John — how wealthy and how wide, how discriminating and how minute, the issue of the inspiring activity of the Holy Spirit in the last half of the first century of the existence of Christianity.
Then immediately you come to a chasm abrupt, sheer, abysmal. Says a great church historian: "The hand of God has drawn a bold line of demarkation between the century of miracles and the succeeding ages, to show by the abrupt transition, and the startling contrast, the difference between the work of God and the work of man, and to impress us the more deeply with the supernatural origin of Christianity, and the incomparable value of the New Testament. There is no other transition in history so radical and sudden, and yet so silent and sweet."1
Epistle of Clement of Rome, Epistle to Diognetus, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle of Barnabas — the change from the pages of the New Testament to the pages of any one of the earliest post-apostolic Christian writings is as the change from the landscape to the canvass, is as the change from a high originating exuberant, spontaneous, unwasting, un wearied energy to a derived and feeble one. And yet these earliest post-apostolic writings are by no means to be despised. They are immensely valuable as sources of history, even as means of spiritual culture. Only they are not the New Testament, and though they were produced by Christians living so close to the times of the New Testament, these writings do not even approach the New Testament. Take for example, the Epistola ad Diognetutn, belonging to the very early part of the second century (See Schaff, p. 9). It is a vindication of the superiority of Christianity over Pagan ism. It contains a most beautiful description of the condition and manners of the Christians of that time, so near the times of the New Testament. " The Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, by language nor by civil institutions. For they neither dwell in cities by themselves, nor use a peculiar tongue nor lead a singular mode of life. They dwell in the Grecian or barbarian cities as the case may be, they follow the usage of the country in dress, food, and the other affairs of life, yet they present a wonderful and confessedly paradoxical conduct. They dwell in their own native land, but as strangers. They take part in all things as citizens, and they suffer all things as foreigners. Every foreign country is a fatherland to them, and every native land is foreign. They marry like all others, they have children, but they do not cast away their offspring. They have the table in common but not wives. They are in the flesh but do not live after the flesh. They live upon the earth but are citizens of heaven. They obey the existing laws and excel the laws by their lives. They love all and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and yet they are condemned. They are killed and made alive. They are poor and make many rich. They lack all things and in all things abound. They are reproached and glory in their reproaches. They are calumniated and are justified. They are cursed and they bless. They receive scorn and they give honor. They do good and are punished as evil doers. When punished they rejoice- as being made alive. By the Jews they are attacked as aliens, and by the Greeks persecuted, and the cause of their enmity their enemies cannot tell. In short, what the soul is to the body, the Christians are in the world. The soul is diffused through all the members of the body, and the Christians are spread through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells- in the body but it is not of the body; so the Christians dwell in the world but are not of the world. The soul invisible, keeps watch in the visible body; so also the Christians are seen to live in the world, but their piety — that is the source of it — is invisible. The flesh hates and wars against the soul; suffering no wrong from it, but because it resists fleshy pleas ures; and the world hates the Christians with no reason but that they resist its pleasures. The soul loves the flesh and the members by which it is hated; so the Christians love their haters. The soul is enclosed in the body but holds the body together. So the Christians are detained in the world as in a prison, but they contain the world. Immortal, the soul dwells in the mortal body; so the Christians dwell in the corruptible, but look for incorruption in heaven. The soul is the better for restriction in food and drink, and the Christians increase though daily punished. This lot God has assigned to the Christians in the world and it cannot be taken from them."
Now that is all very well and interesting, but it is not the New Testament. It is not like the New Testament. It is. how immeasurably below the New Testament. You are conscious of this vast inferiority immediately.
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God.'' "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy the vocation wherewith ye are called with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." "For we know that if our earthly- house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." That is New Testament. How concise! How pregnant! How stimulating! How adapted for all the ages! Though concerned about the same thing, at what mysterious but real antipodes of various power this Scripture from that early Christian writing.
When the last date of the last New Testament writing has struck, and when you pass from these writings of the New Testament, like the Epistles of John for example, and open the Christian writings nearest subsequent, immediately you are met by a sudden and immense chasm between the two. And so we come to this great fact — the dates of the books of the New Testament, while they are evidence of the activity of the Spirit of Inspiration, are also evidence of the limitation of this Inspiring Agency to those dates. The inspiring Holy Spirit is not thus active in dates subsequent; He is active in dates subsequent, but He is not thus active.
Listen to these words from F. W. Robertson: "The difference between Moses and Anaxagoras, the Epistles and the Excursion, I believe is in degree. The Light or the Word which dwells in all men, dwells in loftier degree in some than in others, and also is of a nobler kind of inspiration. I think it comes to this: God is the Father of Light, and the King in His Beauty, and the Lord of Love. All our several degrees of knowledge obtained in those departments are from Him. One department is higher than another. In each department, too, the degree of knowledge may vary from a glimmering glimpse to infallibility. So, then, all is properly inspiration, but immensely differing in value and in degree. If it be replied that this degrades inspiration by classing it with things so common, the answer is plain — a sponge and a man are but animals; but the degrees between them are incalcuable. I think this view of the matter is important, because in the other way some twenty or thirty men in the world's history have had a special communication miraculous and from God. In this all have it, and by devout and earnest cultivation of the mind and heart, may have it increased inimitably. This is really practical." Now this quotation from the wonderful and stimulating preacher, whose work in many directions has been of incalculable importance, represents a very common and a very dangerously loose way of thought and speech. It is a way of thought and speech which shades down the Scripture from its position of unique and solitary grandeur. One of the best correctives to it — I am speaking more especially of New Testament — is a comparison between the New Testament literature which sprang into being between the years 52 A. D. and 97 A. D., and every other literature which came to being before, at that time, or since. Republic of Plato, Epistle of Diognetus, many sounding harp of Shak- spere, high argument of Milton, deep and still Excursion of Wordsworth — what are these to the New Testament? Granting — and I am sure I should be the last to deny — that all true and noble thinking does hold some real relation, is in some real way, the issue of the illuminating touch of the illuminating Holy Spirit — the striking, momentous, divine diverseness of these New Testament books, springing from the last half of the first century of the Christian era, compels, it seems to me, the recognition of the fact that, at that time the action of the Holy Spirit was in Inspiration, an action different both in kind and in degree. Much as you have taught me, Mr. Robertson, deeply as on many sides I gladly confess myself your debtor, I am sure you would lead me wrong were you to lead me to think in any other way than that "twenty or thirty men in the worlds history have had a special communication miraculous and from God." Not now speaking of the Old Testament, though I believe its inspiration as fully as the New — the precise thing I am compelled to hold, is that to the times of the composition of the books of the New Testament, to that last half of the first century of the Christian era, and, to no time whatever since, is to be limited that peculiar activity and function of the Holy Spirit which we technically designate Inspiration. That is a function solitary, unique, limited, different in, kind as well as in degree from all other functions of the Holy Spirit — because for this, among multitudes of other reasons, since that time there has never been, though you grant the largest action of the Holy Spirit on the world and in the church even, an approach to the New Testament. Let me then recognize always diversities of operations by the same spirit. In all my thought and speech about the Holy Spirit, let me recognize and insist on the distinction between His Inspiration and His Illumination. Inspiration is a function separate, peculiar, diverse, both in kind and in degree, limited as far as the New Testament is concerned, to those men who wrote the New Testament. Illumination is that action to-day by the Holy Spirit on the hearts of men by which the hearts of men are brought into vivid apprehension of the truths already revealed by Inspiration. This, then, is the first suggestion springing from the dates of the books of the New Testament — the surprisingly active and yet limited inspiring energy of the Holy Spirit.
But a second suggestion springing from the dates of the New Testament books is — the closeness of indisputable and undisputed written documents to the great supernatural facts on which the Revelation of the New Testament is based.
Consider that it is universally admitted that the apostle Paul wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians. Not the most daring questioner, not the wildest and most self-confident skepticism has ever been daring, or wild, or presumptuous enough to attack this buttressed fact. It is as certain that the apostle Paul was the author of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, as that Cicero was the author of his orations, or that Julius Caesar was the author of his commentaries on the Gallic war, or that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost, or even that Lord Macaulay wrote his history of England. Consider also, that not only is the authorship of this First Epistle to the Corinthians certain, but the time when it was written is as certain, the time when within a few months, or at best a year or two. It is universally acknowledged by intelligent skeptics, as well as Christians, that the apostle Paul wrote this First Epistle to the Corinthians in the year 57 A. D., or in very close neighborhood with that year. The chronology of our era dating from the birth of Christ is, of course, as we all know, admittedly two or three years out of the way. The probable date of our Lord's crucifixion being not in the year 33-34 as our present way of reckoning would have it, but in the year 30; that year is the probable year of our Lord's death. But, consider further, that, granting cheerfully these two or three years of wrong reckoning, still, if we subtract 30, the year of our Lord's death from 57, the year of the writing of the First Epistle to the Corinthians — this admitted document, whose date, authenticity, and genuineness nobody disputes — we come upon the startling fact that there is only a little width of twenty- seven years between them; that is to say, the young man of twenty at the time of the alleged death and resurrection of our Lord would be a man only in the prime of forty-seven when Paul dictated this Epistle; the man of forty at the time of our Lord's alleged death and resurrection would be a man -who would by no means call himself old, of sixty-seven when the apostle dictated this Epistle. This alleged resurrection of our Lord, of which in an admitted document an admitted author is writing, is thus seen to be an event not distant from the time when the admitted document by the admitted author was produced. It was not of some hoary fossilized event which had been handed down with variously accumulating tradition from the long-gone centuries, that the author of the First Epistle to the Corinthians was making record. It was of events which had entered into the lives of yet living persons, he was writing. It was almost as though you or I should write to-day of the firing of the first gun on Fort Sumter, the ball of which went crashing twenty-four years ago, and which awful, crashing ball, any one of us of middle age can easily remember.
Now in the light of this closeness of an admitted written document, of admitted authorship, of admitted date, to alleged facts, the following passage from the 15th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, gathers about itself a surpassing and intense interest. It is the earliest statement, and you will remember an admittedly authentic and genuine statement of the Christian creed. It is the earliest, in any wise elaborate resume, of that which for substance of doctrine Paul taught. What was this main and essential substance of teaching? Let us see. "Moreover, brethren I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand, by which also ye are saved if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received; how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve; after that He was seen of above 500 brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that he was seen of James, then of all the apostles, and last of all He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time."
Examine this body of doctrine for a moment. Notice what it involves.
It involves the doctrine of the Atonement" for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures."
It involves the absolute reality of this atoning death. It was no sham death, it was grim death. It was not syncope. It was death. It was death certified to by burial — "and that he was buried."
This substance of teaching involves also the veritable Resurrection, of Him who died this atoning death and was thus buried. "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. And in addition, it is involved in this earliest compendium of Christian teaching, that this hinging, crucial, stupendous miracle of the Resurrection of the dead and buried Jesus — this miracle, which, if it be proven, carries with it the whole of Christianity, as a ship carries its cargo, which if it be disproven, annihilates Christianity as a ton of nitroglycerine would annihilate a mole-hill — it is further involved in this earliest compendium of the Christian teaching, recorded in an admitted document, by an admitted author, of an admitted date, that this critical and surpassing miracle was so well known to every body, and was so little distant from the time of the writing of the document, that multitudes of living witnesses of its reality could then be fearlessly summoned. I was reading lately a very interesting book of travel sin the Hebrides Islands, called "A Summer in Skye," by the poet Alexander Smith, him of the wonderful and exquisite hymn to the flowers. He meets there, and enjoys the hospitality of a very aged English officer who had seen long service in the Wellington wars. Speaking of this officer the poet says: " He stands before me a living figure, and history groups itself by way of back-ground. He sits at the same board with me, and yet be lifted Moore at Corunna, and saw the gallant dying eyes flash up with pleasure when the Highlanders charged past. He lay down to sleep in the light of Wellington's watch-fires in the gorges of the Pyrennes; around him warred the thunders of Waterloo. We are accustomed to lament the shortness of life; but how long it is notwithstanding. Often a single life, like a summer twilight, connects two historic days. Count back four lives and King Charles is kneeling on the scaffold at Whitehall." How vividly real did those historic events seem to me as I read this passage — those historic events of Corunna and Waterloo, which could be certified to by a living witness, when two or three years back, or there abouts, this passage was written.
Is it possible to prevent something of the same feeling of intense vividness and majestic reality, when we remember that when we open our New Testament to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, we hold in our hand a document, whose authorship, authenticity, and date, not the most destructive critic can dare dispute, which document is so close to the awful and compelling miracle of the Resurrection, that you do not have to count back four lives from the time of its writing, nor even one life, but which fearlessly appeals to then living witnesses, to that Death and Resurrection of our Lord, which is the beating heart and essential substance of our Christianity.
In one of the very best recent books I know — a little book I should advise every minister to read several times over — a book called " Reassuring Hints," by the Rev. Henry Footman, Vicar of Lincoln, England, a book, in which this argument from the date of the First Epistle to the Corinthians is managed in a most masterly manner, we are told that a noted skeptic said in England, not long since, "the difficulty is not to prove that Christ was believed to be an historical personage after the fourth century, but to bridge over the years after Christ 1 and 300. You cannot carry the history of Christ, and the history of the Gospel over that terrible chasm of three centuries." The assertion of the rash ignorance of skepticism surely! Here is a bridge which spans, how easily, that chasm of three centuries. Glance at the piers of that strong bridge.
A third suggestion springing from the dates of the books of the New Testament is the vast evidence of the human element in inspiration.
It is not possible here to elaborate this suggestion. I can only mention it. But if any one will carefully read the Pauline Epistles in their chronological order, as nearly as that order can be discovered, if any one will thus chronologically compare, for example, the First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians with the Epistle to the Romans or the Epistle to- the Ephesians, he cannot help feeling, I am sure, that he is reading the writings of a man who is mightily growing. You be come immediately conscious of increasing vigorousness of grasp of Christian truth. The First Epistle to the Thessalonians is a clear sweet note; the Epistle to the Ephesians is a. diapason. Now what is more human than this law and fact of mental and spiritual growth? A very real and radical human element is thus perfectly evident in the Scriptures. Your theory of Inspiration cannot, therefore, if you would be true to the facts, be a merely dictating and mechanical one. The apostle was not a mere pen, simply grasped by the hand of the Holy Spirit. He was a thinking, struggling, farther-seeing, perpetually growing man. Now these human and growing faculties were employed by the Holy Spirit in Inspiration in strict conformity with their natural laws. There was no suspension of these faculties, nor any interruption of their normal action. Each sacred writer was chosen by the Holy Spirit for the special reason that his peculiar faculties at their peculiar stages of growth, were best suited, both to receive and to express the particular phase of truth then to be communicated. Paul's stage of growth at the time he wrote it would best enunciate the truth of the first Epistle to the Thessalonians. Paul's stage of growth at the time he wrote it could best ennunciate the truth of the sublime Epistle to the Ephesians. Of his peculiar faculties, at their peculiar stages of growth the Holy Spirit, so to speak, availed himself. He did not mechanically interfere with these faculties. He dynamically used these faculties.
I do not think we are in the least shut up to the miserable and pitiable formula, the Bible contains the word of God. I am sure rather that the accurate and conquering formula is The Bible is the word of God. But in maintaining that the Bible is the word of God, let us not deny, let us in the fullest sense allow, that there was involved in the production of the Bible a real and most manifest human element, of which element, both in its peculiar sort and peculiar stages of development, the Holy Spirit made not a destructively intrusive, but a guiding, stimulating, dynamic use for the infallibly accurate statement of religious truth, once, and for all men, and for all ages. That is a fine statement of Professor Murphy " The Bible is the word of God — with all the peculiarities of man and all the authority of God."
But a fourth suggestion springing from the dates of the books of the New Testament is one as to the interpretation of the Apocalypse. Here we come to a very hotly disputed date among Christian interpreters. The Apocalypse was written at Patmos by the Apostle John, about the year 95 or 96 A. D., say interpreters who are among the best of the post-millennial, say perhaps all of the pre-millennial inter preters.
The Apocalypse was written at Patmos by the Apostle John about the year 68 A.D., say interpreters like DeWette, Bunsen, Neander, Schaff, Moses Stuart, Bishop Lightfoot, Wescott, and multitudes of others.
The arguments substantiating the date 95 to 96 A.D. are — the apparently explicit statement of Irenseus who, the disciple of Polycarp who was the disciple of John himself, says, " The Apocalypse was seen not long ago, and nearly in our own time, near the end of the reign of Domitian; are further, the general trend of traditions; are further, that the persecution of 68 A. D. during the reign of the Em peror Nero is not known to have reached beyond the limits of the City of Rome itself, rendering it therefore probable that the Apostle John was untouched by it; are, further, that the condition of the seven churches of Asia to whom the Epistles in the opening chapter of the book are addressed, make it seem impossible that the date of writing should have been so early; for the churches to have reached such a stage of lukewarmness, defection, etc., would seem to have required a larger lapse of time from their first founding.
The arguments in favor of an earlier date, the year 68 are:
First. That Irenaeus may have meant Nero when he said Domitian after all — for the family name of Nero was Nero Claudius Domitianus; and confusion between names so sim ilar was by no means impossible.
Second. That tradition is not, therefore, to be taken into the account since it may rest upon a misunderstanding of Irenaeus.
Third. That other eminent writers, Tertullian, Jerome, Epiphanius, the earliest Apocalyptic commentators, at any rate imply the earlier date 68 A. D.
Fourth. That the immense likelihood is that if Nero would persecute in Rome he would persecute as well in Ephesus and in other places.
Fifth. That in the presence of awful persecutions like the Neronian, it would not require much time to develop in Christian churches noble steadfastness on the one hand, or lukewarmness and defection on the other.
Sixth. That the internal evidence of the Apocalypse is all on the side of the earlier date, 68 A.D., and is all against the later date 95 or 96 A.D. Internal evidence like this, (a) That it is vastly more natural to suppose that John could have more easily and appropriately written the calm, quiet Gospel in his old age than the fiery, whirling, in tensely symbolical Apocalypse (b) that the imagery of the Apocalypse seem to imply that such such awful events, as the destruction of Jerusalem, and the consummation of the old age to which its economy belonged are not passed, but are yet future. The book must have been written then be fore 70 A.D., the date of the destruction of Jerusalem. (c) The condition of the Christian church during the latter part of the reign of Nero furnished a sufficient reason both for the writing of the book itself, and for its singular symbolic and cryptographic form.
Now, I am perfectly willing to confess that, to me, the possibility of the fact that the Apocalypse was written in the year 68 A. D., instead of in the year 95 A. D., brings immense relief as to the interpretation, and scatters mists which, when I think of the Apocalypse as belonging to the latter date, pile themselves with even suffocating thickness on its pages.
First. I can see a reason, and an immense need, for the writing of such a book. I quote here from Canon Farrar: "" The true grandeur of the Apocalypse lies in its applicability to the terrible days in which it was written; and in the fact that it expressed the inextinguishable hopes and indomitable courage of Christianity when Christians first found themselves face to face with such perils as had never before been dreamt of. 'Without tears,' says Bengel, 'it was not written; without tears it cannot be understood.' The words in which it was written as they sprang fresh and burning- from the heart of the Seer, passed fresh and burning, in all the full force of their then intelligible symbols, into the hearts of those to whom they appealed. The Apocalypse was writ ten to tell Christians in what spirit they should face the human anti-Christs of Pagan Rome — the world-rulers of this darkness — the deadly combination of a Judaism and a Paganism, each at the nadir of their degradation, yet arrayed side by side in their sanguinary decadence, to overwhelm and murder them. It was a rallying cry to the armies of Christ, at the moment when they seemed to be trampled in irremediable defeat. It was meant to show them in what light they were to regard the Neronian persecution and the Jewish rebellion. It expressed the thoughts of men who had seen Peter crucified and Paul beheaded. To understand it rightly we must read it by the lurid light of the bale-fires of martyrdom, as they flared upon the palace gardens of Nero — the Beast from the Abyss. We must try to feel as the Christians felt when they saw their brethren torn by the wild beasts of the amphitheatre, or standing as living torches, each in his pitchy tunic, on one ghastly night at Rome. Such a book was needed in the awful days when men saw an anti- Christ, a wicked human God, sitting absolute and slavishly adored upon the throne of the civilized world. It was written in days of earthquake and inundations, and volcanic outbursts and prodigies. Emperor after emperor was perishing by poison, suicide, or slaughter. Alike, Rome and Jerusalem had been deluged with massacre. Men were gnawing their tongues with pain and terror. The sun of human life seemed to be setting amid seas of blood. The air was full of the vultures of retribution, as they gathered to the carcasses of decadent societies, with the rushing of their abominable wings. At such an hour, perhaps the dreariest and most disastrous which ever fell on an afflicted world, the Seer still prophesies of the coming dawn."
Now, to a church small, feeble, scattered, caught in environment so awful, struck at everywhere, scorched with martyr fires, how evident the reason for just such a revelation to it as is the Apocalypse; a revelation of the certain dawn, the new order, the better brightness, to fall upon the earth, to irradiate heaven. As Professor Stuart asks: "What reason can be given why John, living in the midst of the Neronian persecution, and writing a book whose main object was to comfort and encourage the persecuted, should have disregarded all the present wants and woes of the church, and looked forward only to distant future ages, and expended his strength upon endeavors to gratify curiosity by lifting up the veil which then hid them from the view of the church."
But, if the Apocalypse was written at the time of the Neronian persecution, and in view of it, and that the hearts of Christians might be strengthened amidst it, the reason of the book is most evident and benignant.
Second. — If the Apocalypse be of this early date the reason is perfectly evident also for its peculiar form. It is a cryptographic writing. It is a writing in which the meaning is hidden under various symbols. Indeed the book is one march and clash, and I had almost said, masquerade of symbols. It seems to be its wisdom to conceal a thing.
But if that book were written in view of the awful and flaming persecutions of Nero, and that Christian hearts might be strengthened amidst their sevenfold fires, the reason why the book should take the form it does is evident enough. The Emperor was omnipresent by his myrmidons. We all know that informers all through the empire were thicker and more persistent than mosquitoes in New Jersey swamps. To have mentioned the Emperor plainly would have been to invite persecution. Therefore the resort to symbols, which Christians and no one else could understand. Therefore the resort to mystic numbers, "and his number is six hundred three score and six, for it is the number of a man." The Apocalypse is the cipher language of the early persecuted church. In the condition of the church at that time there is plain reason that the writing be addressed to it in crypto graphic form.
Third. — This finding that the date of the Apocalypse is in the year 68 A. D., instead of the year 95 or 96, this certainty that the word it speaks is by no means the last word in the New Testament, but is rather a word uttered long before the last, for the girding of the church as it first goes forth to its triumph by the "irresistible might of weakness — " the finding, therefore, the main fulfillment of its symbolic prophecies in the destruction of Jerusalem, the awful out bursts of wickedness, as illustrated in Rome under the Emperors, the destruction of pagan Rome, and the new order which the new age of Christianity brought to the world — it seems to me, that taking one's stand back here at this early date one is relieved of how vast a tangle and distraction of attempted Apocalyptic interpretation.
No, I need not look for trumpets and vials and thunderings and Gog and Magog conflicts — so much to come. These mainly have come and have been. They came back there in that culmination of the ages when Jerusalem was destroyed, and when not all the might of pagan Rome could stand before the onset of the preached truth of the Crucified and the Risen Christ. To be sure, as in every prophecy of Scripture, there are in the Apocalypse vast latencies and potentialities; there are principles and meanings in it, which in their application run on and out to the remotest ages. The meaning of the Apocalypse is that God rules, that the right will triumph, that the wrong will be smitten. I am to receive the promised blessing of him who reads this book as I discover, and accept and declare and rule my life by these forever energetic and controlling principles of righteousness. But it is not so much needful, in this view, that I know precisely who the number of the man 666 may mean, or what is the precise significance of the drying up of the Euphrates. Nor is it needful that in view of the necessarily cryptographic form of the Apocalypse, a necessity born of the then condition of the church, I commit the folly of building a whole system of theology on a single verse of the 20th chapter about the thousand years. No, to me the fact is most wonderfully significant that the last word of the New Testament is not the Apocalypse, but is the Gospel and Epistle of John. These writings so thoroughly and persistently spiritual; these writings which so constantly turn your gaze rather to the inward spiritual state than to the eternal and shining and expected heavens; these writings in which the main thing insisted on is the constant and conscious contact of the soul with Jesus Christ: "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you." "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them because greater is He that is with you than he that is in the world;" these writings in which the presence and permanence, and perpetual and triumphant power of the Holy Spirit seem to be indicated, so that gazing into the profound and quiet depths of the wonderful last writings of John's Gospel and Epistles, we seem to see, not the clash and commotion of Gog and Magog conflicts — these have been — but rather the steady, constantly widening, constantly ac cumulating triumph of the Risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the agency of the truth, until slowly, perhaps, but really the millennial glory shall make glad the regenerated earth, and at last the consummation gather in the second and final and post-millennial advent of the victorious Jesus.
Says Canon Westcott: " In the Apocalypse the thought is of an outward coming for the open judgment of men; in the Gospel of St. John, of a judgment which is spiritual and self-executing. In the Apocalypse, the scene of the consummation is a renovated world; in the gospel the Father's house. In the former, the victory and the transformation are from without, by might, and the future is painted in historic imagery; in the latter the victory and the transformation are from within, by a spiritual influence, and the future is present and eternal. The Apocalypse gives a view of the action of God, in regard to men in a life full of sorrow and partial defeats, and cries for vengeance: the Gospel gives a view of the action of God with regard to Christ, who establishes in the heart of the believers a presence of completed joy. In a word the study of the Synoptists of the Apocalypse and of the Gospel 'of St. John in succession, enable's us to see under what human conditions the full majesty of Christ was perceived and declared, not all at once, but step by step, and by the help of the old prophetic teaching."
1) Schaff, History of the
Christian Church, Vol. ii, p. 7.