Chapter II. Intervention of the Covenant Angel Fulfilled in the Reformation

And I saw another[1] mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and the rainbow[2] was upon his head: and his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: and he had in his hand a little book opened.[3] And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left upon the land: and cried with a loud voice as a lion roars.[4] (Rev. 10:1-4)

Oh what a glorious vision to rejoice the heart of the Evangelist! What a contrast to all that had been figured to his view since first the Seven Trumpet Angels prepared themselves to sound! Indeed we may say, with what a superiority of glory in it, to that of any figuration of the future fortunes of the Church, from the commencement of the Revelation until now: and, as it proved, with nothing comparable to it afterwards, until the vision that fore showed the glories of the consummation.

I said, what a vision to rejoice the heart of the Evangelist! And first, was there not comfort for him in the very character and person of the angel intervening? For whom might he suppose this angel? The vision represented him as a mighty angel, that had a rainbow, or rather the rainbow,— the rainbow of the covenant,[5]— circling his head: whose form moreover appeared mantled with a cloud: yet not so mantled as to hide from the Evangelist, as he descended, the sight of his face as the sun, and of his feet as pillars of fire. From all which it was evident that it was the Lord Jesus, the mighty one of Israel,— mighty whether to save or to destroy,— the Angel of the covenant:[6]— Him whose presence, mantled with a cloud as his proper covering (I say proper, because of no created angel was the glory such as to need its shrouding),[7] was under the older dispensation seen to visit this our earth, first by Israel in the wilderness, then by one and another of the prophets afterwards: and whose countenance as the sun, and his feet like fine brass, as if they burned in the furnace, St. John had himself beheld at the opening of the Apocalyptic visions, when, overcome by the greatness of the glory, he fell at his feet as dead.[8] Had other evidence been wanting, it was given after wards in his speaking of the two witnesses for Christian truth as his witnesses.[9] So that the fact was indubious. And was it not joyous for him to see the Lord he loved, intervening openly on the dark theater, just depicted of this world: and showing that He had neither forgotten nor forsaken his church?

Further, the nature and object of the intervention indicated must have been most cheering to him. For what the object evidently, but the vindication of his own honor, and revelation of his own grace and gospel? To this tended each epithet and characteristic noted of the Angel and his descent in the vision:— indications never to be overlooked. For in the Apocalyptic notices of the intervention of the Lord Jehovah, just as in those of other Scriptures,[10] we find that those among his attributes are for the most part chosen for specification or exhibition, which best suit the nature of the action on which He is about to enter, and which are in it to be most displayed and glorified. For example, in the vision of the 7th chapter, long since analyzed, the action represented being that of his manifestation of himself as electing, quickening, enlightening, and sealing his own true disciples, from amidst the multitude of vain professors, each epithet and descriptive trait there noted of the Covenant Angel was shown to have a bearing on the work he was then engaged in.[11] Nor, as I infer from the sacred imagery, was there then wanting in the revelation, to the Evangelist’s own perception, the accompaniment of light upon the scene, like as of the early day spring on our earth from the Eastern sky. But there was not however in that vision the figuring before St. John, so as here, of the covenant rainbow arch of light investing him, or the solar rays of glory beaming from his countenance; nor again of any such descending in power, as here, and planting of his feet on land and sea, and speaking in voice audible over the earth: but only his voice of charge to the angelic ministries employed in the world’s providential government, with reference to his election of grace: in accompaniment of his own act of sealing them, each one, on the forehead. In so far as regarded the perception of the inhabitants of this world, the sealing revelation seems to have been figured as, one comparatively noiseless and unimpressive.— What then of an intervention prefigured as this was, with all these circumstances of glory and power accompanying? It was surely to be inferred from them that it would be one sudden, striking, and most extraordinary, in vindication of his covenant of mercy to the church: somewhat perhaps as when, in similar guise of the pillar of fire and of the cloud, he descended to deliver Israel from out of Egypt:— that it would be one in which He would specially display before men his illuminating beams as the Sun of righteousness: and in which his word, and perhaps by act (not without some exercise of his mighty power accompanying it), he would assert his rights to this world as his inheritance: and, with voice audible through the whole Roman world, even as of the Lion of the tribe of Judah, would rebuke and strike terror into the enemies of his church. By the book that he held opened in his hand the instrumental means seemed figured whereby all this was to be accomplished: viz. The opening of the volume of his own book, the Bible. And as, in the deliverance of Israel from out of Egypt, the pillar of fire did not only give light to Israel, but sent out its lightning-fires, as the Psalmist intimates, to trouble the host of the Egyptians,[12] so the notice here of his feet appearing like pillars of fire, from beneath the cloud that mantled Him, might perhaps signify that He would make the destroying fire of his power to be felt among men, to the confusion of his enemies, and the triumph of his own cause and people. Or rather, perhaps, the intended reference of this particular emblem might be to that description given by Himself of the effects of his first promulgation of the gospel, “ I am come to send fire on the earth  ‘[13] and the intimation be that now, as then, through man’s enmity to the truth, the effect of its re-publication would be divisions, contentions, and wars of opinion, fierce even as a kindled conflagration.

Thus much, might have been inferred by the Evangelist from the circumstance of the vision, concerning the nature, glory, and results of the intervention from heaven here prefigured. And can we to whom it has been allotted to live in this latter age, and have thus been enabled to trace in the succeeding mutations and events of the world, the fulfillment of so much of the Apocalyptic prophecy,— can we, after having been brought in our investigation of its series of prefigure visions, step by step through the Roman World history, down to the close of the 15th century, hesitate to recognise in that before us (it being the next that followed), the figuring of that grand event with which the 16th century opened,— the Reformation? Surely, if we look simply to the one most prominently marked characteristic of the figuration, as betoken of some extraordinary, sudden, light giving, world arousing intervention of the Lord Jesus, for his own cause and church, there is not an event, from St. John’s time even to the present, that can be shown to answer to it, but the Reformation. While, on the other hand, as it seems to me, not only does the Reformation answer to the figure in this respect, but there is not a particular in the vision of all we have just noted, in respect of which it did not answer, even to exactness. Sudden, unexpected, most extraordinary,— the human instrumentality employed so inadequate, and the results of such surpassing importance,— if ever an event had the character stamped upon it, above others, of some direct intervention of Divine providence, this was the one. Its most prominent characteristic as a religious revival, consisted in its being one in which the glory of the Lord Jesus as the Light of the soul, the Sun of Righteousness, Jehovah our Justification, was publicly set forth, and by multitudes in different nations owned and felt. It was one in which, through the voice of the Reformers, far sounding and loud, he rebuked his uprising enemies, even as the Lion of the tribe of Judah: and, both by it, and by the providential overthrow of the usurper’s power in a tenth of the apostate city[14] did also assert his rights to this earth as his inheritance:— all in connection with the opening of his own written word, that had been so long neglected and forgotten: the republication, if I may so say, of his gospel.[15] Finally, the auspicious result of this deliverance of his church and his religion was not accomplished without fiery contentions, in which the divine power was manifested, to discomfit the enemies of the truth. Just as it was said by Luther, when alluding long afterwards to the effect of his protestation against indulgences: “This was to set the world on fire, and disturb the whole order of the universe.”[16]

In truth all this seems to me so evident, even from the mere general view of the Reformation, to which in the present chapter I wish to confine myself, that I cannot but admire that any Protestant interpreter,— those I mean more especially who explain the Sixth Trumpet, as I do, of the Turkish woe,— should have otherwise expounded the vision. And it will not be useless, I think, or irrelevant to my great object of opening the Apocalypse, just to pause, ere we go forward in our subject, and mark how the contrary error originated, and was continued.

It was with Mr. Mede then, if I mistake not, that it originated. The earliest Protestant interpreters, as Leo Juda and Bullinger for example,[17] did explain this the descent of the sun illumined Covenant Angel to signify the Reformation. But Mede, fixing his eye chiefly, and almost exclusively, on that one symbol in the vision, the little Book opened in the hand of the Angel, and fancying a parallel which in fact existed not, between it and the Book that began to be opened by the Lamb at the commencement of the Apocalyptic revelation, concluded inconsiderately, that whatever character attached to the one must attach to the other also: and consequently that, as the Book in the Lamb’s hand was a prophetic roll, inscribed with the events of the future history of Christendom, such was also the Book in the hand of the Angel. To this idea all else was made to bend in his interpretation. An involved and self inconsistent structure of the Apocalypse was adopted in accordance with it.[18] The Lamb’s Book,[19] (though not a hint was given, when first it was seen, of its being anything less than the whole of the prophecy), was yet supposed to be only one half of it: in effect, to be the Book of the secular fortunes of Christendom: while the Angel’s Book,[20] was that of the fortunes of the Church. Further, as to all the magnificent circumstance of the vision before us, they were explained as the mere dramatic accompaniment, and introductory ceremonial, of this new division of the prophecy.— But was there in truth any real parallel between the two cases? How was it that Mr. Mede overlooked this marked distinction, that the opening of that which was really the prophetic Book was gradual, just as the visions developed it: whereas this little Book appeared already opened, when first displayed in the hand of the Angel?[21] “How, that he omitted observing that the one was exhibited as being opened in the inner sanctuary, a scene representative of the heaven of God’s presence, and its blessed inmates: the other as opened on the worlds theater? Agreeably with which distinction, the unrolling of the former was to be regarded as having its fulfillment on the day of St. John’s being in the Spirit in Patmos, and in the very fact of the then exhibition of these Apocalyptic prefigurations of things future before heaven and St. John: the latter (like everything else enacted outside of the inner sanctuary) as the figure of some event or fact that would happen on the Roman earth, in the manner, and in the order of things, prefigured. So it was, however, that Mede did overlook these important distinctions. And the series of errors resulting should remain impressed upon the inquirer, as one proof, among many, both of the necessity of attention to every minute peculiarity of description, in order to a right understanding of the Apocalypse: and also of the admirable, the divine construction of the prophetic drama: in which every minute feature as exhibited, and each scenic locality where exhibited, have alike so significant a meaning. In truth, like every other work of God, it approves itself to be perfect: and that nothing can be taken from it, as nothing can be added to it.

As to the continuation of the error (for so it was, that of the best known succeeding commentators Mr. Daubuz alone held to the truer explanation,[22]— Vitringa, the two Newtons, and after wards Faber, Frere, Cunningham, &c., all in succession interpreting the greek[23] more or less on the same principle with Mede, until at length, Dr. Keith and a few others[24] recurred to the older view), we can scarcely be wrong in ascribing it in considerable measure to the authority of Mede’s great name.— At the same time it seems to me that what was much more influential in perpetuating it, was the apparent and obviated difficulty of expounding the long sequel of the vision, consistently with any explanation which referred its opening clause, and the symbol of the little Book depicted in it, to the Reformation.— Nor, in my opinion, has the difficulty been yet removed. The later interpreters to whom I have alluded as correct in their general view, appear not to have succeeded better than the earlier on this head. Whether in respect of the seven thunders, or of other details following in the vision, the expositions that they offer consist ill, one and all, with that which we alike advocate of its opening clause:— indeed so ill as to reflect back doubt and obscurity even upon our clarification of the opening clause itself.

And hence on the whole the necessity, or at least great desirableness, of not only throwing light on the obscurities of what follows in the prophecy (the which I shall hope to do in the chapters following), but of adding confirmation to the historical exposition of its commencement, just given. Nor, thanks be to God’s providential care over the records known by Him to be illustrative of it,— is the additional proof that we might reasonably desire on so important a point wanting. The fact is, there exists what I may call documentary, and indeed almost ocular evidence of it, to my own mind singularly striking. It is such, I think, as will not only satisfy us as to the justness of our reference of the opening clause of the vision generally to the Reformation: but will connect it, by certain most remarkable chronological and historical coincidences, with the precise epoch of commencement of that wonderful event. Yet more, it will serve as a guide and index to prepare us for observing in all that follows of the vision,— even down to the Witnesses ascent, and fall of the tenth part of the Great City described in Rev. 11:12-13, the orderly prefiguration, point by point, of each chief subsequent step of progress in the Reformation. For, as that event is of all others that have happened since Apostolic times in Christendom, the grandest and most glorious, so it is of all others that which was prefigured most fully and circumstantially in the Apocalyptic prophecy.

[1]αλλον. This word is omitted in some copies.

[2]ή ιρις with the article. So all the critical Editions.

[3]ηνεψγμενον.

[4]No difference in the critical text.

[5]Bishop Middleton observes on the article: “The authorities which direct us to read ή ιρις  are very numerous; and the best modern editors have admitted the article into the text: ” adding, however, that he can see no reason for it. ” The names of the great objects of nature,” he says, “the sun, the moon, the air, &c., usually have the article: but these are permanent and monadie. The word ιρις seems to have no other claim to it than have σεισομος εκλειψις , &c., and the names of other transient phenomena.”—The difficulty is solved by regarding it as the iris of the covenant. It is thus both monadie, and also per-mentioned. See Apoc. iv. 3.*(Indeed Dr. M. himself refers to this in the way of comparison.)—This is the first of three notices by the Bishop on the presence, unaccountably to him, of the Greek article, which I shall have in this chapter and the next to refer to: as being both explained by the predictive meaning of the vision, and also itself reflecting important light on that meaning.

[6]So Hengstenbcrg ad loc. i. 376.

[7]There is, I believe, no single instance of a created angel appearing vested in a cloud. It was the ensign of Deity. So; “He maketh the clouds his chariot;”— ” His pavilion round about him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” Psalm civ. 3, xviii. 11: 2 Sam. xxii. 12, &c.

[8]Apoc. i. 15. Compare Dan. x. 6.

[9]Apoc. xi. 3.

[10]So in the example of the Lord’s descent to ransom Israel out of Egypt, Exod. iii., where he appeared in the bush burning with fire, but which was not consumed: so again in that of his appearing with the drawn sword, as the Captain of the Lord’s host, to Joshua, Josh. v. 13; and that of his appearance to Ezekiel in the chariot of the fiery cherubim, when about to destroy Jerusalem: &c.

[11]“An angel from the East, having the seal of the life-giving God.” See Vol. I. 274, 283.

[12]Psalm Ixxvii. 17, 18, compared with Exod. xiv. 24. Compare also Obadiah 18; ” And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Esau for stubble: ” &c

[13]Luke xii. 49. Compare too Jer. Xxiii. 29″ Is not my word like as a fire?

[14]See on Apoc. xi. 13.—In Lev. xxvii. 30 we read, “All the tithe of the land is the Lord’s.” It was the quit-rent, if I may so say, in acknowledgment of his title to the whole. And thus, perhaps, when a tenth was taken by him of the city, the very proportion may have been meant to indicate that it was an act asserting his right to all.

[15]So Dr. Haweis of the Reformation, in the Continuation of Miler’s Church History:—” After ages of gloomy superstition, and the reign of ignorance and primeval night, we have seen the Sun of righteousness rising with healing in his wings, to dispel the darkness: ” adding also: ” But, however blessed the issue, the effects of the contest between truth and error were greatly to be deplored: having produced wars which desolated the face of many countries.” Miler’s Church History, Cent. xvii. ch. i. p. 999. (Ed. in one Vol.).

[16]lb. 684. And so the Dominican Fontana, in his Monumenta Dominicana, p. 422 ” Ex his scintillis [viz. Lather’s controversy with Tctzel about Indulgences] eruperunt incendia multa, quibus magna pars orbis, septentrionis maxime, conflagravit.”

[17]See ch. v. infra, and Sect. 5 of my History of Apoc. Interpretation, Vol. iv. Appendix.

[18]See my notice and Scheme of Mode in Section 6, ibid.

[19]or βιβλιον.

[20]or βιβλιαριδιον

[21]It seems to be quite plain, that had the little Book constituted a new division of the prophecy, ranging through chapters xi, xii, xiii, &c., as Mede supposes, it would have appeared closed in the first instance, and unrolling only as the visions in those chapters proceeded.

[22]Of other less known interpreters, later than Mede, who applied this vision, (like Bullinger, &c., above him,) in a general way to the Reformation, I may specify the Rev. Arthur Bent, in his Ruine of Rome: a book published AD. 1644, four years after Mede’s death.

[23]βιβλιαριδιον

[24]In this Bicheuo, and I believe Addis, preceded Keith. Mr. Bickersteth and others followed.

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One thought on “Chapter II. Intervention of the Covenant Angel Fulfilled in the Reformation

  1. Pingback: Reading through Revelation – Chapter 10, the Mighty Angel and the Little Book, Part 1 | Pilgrim’s Progress revisited - Christiana on the narrow way

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