Alexander Campbell.

The Millennial Harbinger abridged (Volume 1) online

. (page 26 of 70)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

times, fit for their reception. Everybody has "ears to hear," and to
hear, is at once to comprehend. It is supposed that the Scriptures,
Independent of the nature of the subjects which they present, and
even of the attention that is paid to them, have the power to reach


and control the understanding and the affections, and all influences
of every sort which may be thought by others requisite or even con-
ducive to these ends, are accordingly contemned. There are, it is
true, a great many different degrees and phases of this doctrine; from
the time at which it first modestly displays its horns, in the haze of
the western horizon, to that at which, like another satellite, high in
the zenith, it reveals its full-orbed face unveiled. But we prefer to
state it, and to consider it, as it is really and essentially, free from
those reticences and ambiguities by which it is so often rendered mis-
shapen or obscure. It is a necessary consequence of this view that to
a proper understanding of the sacred writings, ignorance is just as
conducive as knowledge, and that neither learning, nor talent, nor
disposition, nor attention; in short, that no gifts, either natural or
acquired, contribute any thing whatever to their interpretation. And
the practical effect of it is, that the untaught and unstable, glad to
receive and cherish a doctrine which places them upon a fancied
equality with those of superior attainments ana abilities, adopt the
most crude and imperfect notions of religion, and adhere to them so
much the more tenaciously, as they are, in their opinion, the evident
doctrines of the word of God, of which they are themselves competent
and authorized expositors. Such individuals are readily recognized by
the vanity and confidence with which they propound their half-formed
tenets, and the dogmatic intolerance, and procacity with which they
at once begin to controvert the views of others.

The other theory is, that the written word is a dead letter, having
no power or tendency whatever in itself to act upon the human mind.
Nothing can secure this result but a direct and independent operation
of the Holy Spirit, which, it is supposed, can and often does, without
the word, enlighten, convince, and convert the soul. Here, equally
as in the other view, the state of mind is a matter of indifference, and
all human aids which might be thought favorable to the object, such
as learning, or natural ability, or purity of purpose, or earnestness
of desire, or application, are absolutely unavailing. The wise know
not God by their wisdom, nor do the prudent attain salvation by their
vigilance, nor do the earnest secure to themselves a knowledge of the
truth by strenuous perseverance. It is an instantaneous effect, pro-
duced by special supernatural power, whose exercise depends wholly
upon the sovereign will and pleasure of the Deity. The natural ten-
dency and the actual effect of this doctrine is that the written word
is neglected and its teachings disregarded, and that the supporters of
the theory are characterized more by the unsettled state of their feel-
ings, than by the clearness of their views of Christianity; that they
are more superstitious than religious; and far better oneirocritics than
interpreters of Holy Writ.


It is in opposition to botli of tlio above theories that we have
endeavored to show the perspicuity of the Scriptures is relative, and
that a variety of influences .nay and do contribute to a proper com-
prehension of their meaning. We have already, we trust, in some
degree, exhibited the importance of a proper state of mind — a suitable
preparation of heart for the recepti<3n of the truth — and have briefly
stated some objections to the popular doctrine which requires that
this preparation of heart, or that spiritual discernment necessary to
the just perception of Scripture truth, shall be invariably referred to
"a special internal and efficient operation of the Holy Spirit."

We have not thought it necessary, at present, directly to contro-
vert this theory. It has been deemed sufficient, in relation to the
general subject of Scripture interpretation, to object to it as an un-
authorized mixture of opinion with faith, an unnecessai-y introduc-
tion of the question of the mode in which prayer for wisdom is
answered, and an undue restriction of divine agency to one precise
and unvaried channel. It ought to be sufficient for the Christian
to inculcate belief in the statements, and trust in the promises of
Scripture, without insisting upon the addition of any theoretic view
of the manner in which they are to be fulfilled.

We regard it, however, important to consider a little more fully
the opposite notion, that the Scriptures possess in themselves an
absolute intelligibility; and to exhibit the nature of those influences
which are indispensable to a proper understanding of the things which
they are designed to reveal. It is essential here that words be rated
at their true value. This, indeed, is the very question in dispute.
One party underrates; the other, overrates their power. The former
supposes that ^he word alone does nothing; the latter imagines that
it accomplishes everything. Between such conflicting extremes, calm
and impartial investigation may discover the happy medium of reason
and truth.

That the power of words to communicate ideas depends upon the
capacity to understand them, is a matter so obvious that it requires
no argument. And this capacity is, by no means, always given by
a knowledge of the individual words employed to communicate the
thought. There are many who, while they are willing to agree that
we must understand the words in order to comprehend the thought,
will by no means admit that we can fail to grasp the thought after
having this acquaintance with the words employed to convey it. With
them, each word has a certain determinate value, and it is only neces-
sary to add together these separate values to have the true result
Words, however, are somewhat like numbers, whose value in combi-
nation is very different from that which they possess individually and
alone. They are not, indeed, always affected by relative position to


the same extent, or in the same manner as numbers, but every one,
at all conversant with language, must be aware how much depends
upon the arrangement of words, and how readily the meaning of a
sentence can be changed, and even reversed, by a slight alteration
in the order of its words, without making any alteration in these
words themselves. Hence it requires the largest acquaintance with
language; the most highly cultivated powers of thought, and the
greatest delicacy of perception, to determine, with accuracy, the proper
signification of the phrases and various combinations into which lan-
guage may be wrought. The determination of these points involves
often the exercise of the very highest powers of the human mind,
and the utmost labor of research, and it is therefore the error of
ignorance to suppose that a mere knowledge of the words will neces-
sarily communicate the ideas intended to be conveyed. A knowledge
of the words is, indeed, necessary; but often much more than this
is necessary; and it is this which the friends of the theory above
mentioned seem to have wholly overlooked.

Again, there are many who seem to imagine that human language
is a perfect medium of the communication of thought. But this is
very far from being the case, even when the language is thoroughly
understood. Different languages differ, indeed, in this respect, as they
vary in copiousness and in delicacy of structure. Thus the translator
of the noted passage (Matt. xvi. 18), "I say unto thee that thou art
Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church," may well complain
of the imperfection of our English tongue, as compared with the
Greek, because he finds it impossible to express, in the former, the
distinction between "Peter" and "rock," so admirably exhibited in the
latter by the differences of termination of the words Petros and petra.
Not only is the allusive force and beauty of the passage wholly lost,
in our language, by the want of resemblance between "Peter" and
"rock,'' but an ambiguity is introduced which does not exist in the
original, and which, depending merely upon two or three letters,
is, nevertheless, foundation enough for St. Peter's and the Popedom.
Thus, also, there are many delicate shades of thought which may be
expressed in the French language, but not in the English. But there
is no numan language which can perfectly reveal all the thoughts and
workings of the mind.

Written language is, in this respect, especially defective, as com-
pared with that which is spoken. The changes of the voice, the
emphasis and intonations of the speaker, will render his meaning
clear, when his words alone will not express it. We feel this defici-
ency of written language often is. tlte scriptures, and more especially
in that most important portion of them in which our Lord's discourses
are recorded. These were spoken, and when thus delivered by our


Lord in person, were as different from those handed down to us in
writing, as the living form is different from the skeleton. Hence
much of the force and meaning of his language is wholly lost to the
reader, who is either too superficial to penetrate the parchment veil,
or too dependent upon naked arbitrary signs, to pass beyond their
mere literal import. Of this we might adduce many examples were it
necessary, but wo will here for illustration only refer to a very simple
incident in the interview between Jesus and Mary after the resurrec-
tion, recorded by John (chap. xx. 15, 16): "Jesus saith unto her,
Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?" She, supposing
him to be the gardener, saith unto him, "Sir, if thou hast borne him
hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away."
Jesus saith unto her, "Mary." She turned herself and saith unto him,
"Rabboni." Here, the mere utterance of a single word, "Mary," and
that word, too, a mere proper name, and wholly insignificant as re-
gards the subject then before the minds of the speakers, at once pene-
trates the heart and understanding of the person addressed, and pours
a flood of light and conviction upon her mind. But by the simple
written words the reason of this sudden and wonderful effect is not
at all expressed; nor is it possible to perceive it even when the pass-
age is read aloud in the usual monotonous and inexpressive style of
common readers. He saith unto her, "Mary." Oh! how much was
due to that gentle intonation; to that expressive accent; to that pecu-
liar and affectionate utterance with which that single word was spoken.
How that soft inflection of the voice could make that word speak a
meaning which was not in it; and reveal a fact of whose communica-
tion to others it could form no parti That word of itself states noth-
ing; explains nothing; reveals nothing; but the tone in which it is
pronounced, states all; explains all; reveals all. What a crowd of
convictions rush upon the soul of the Magdalenel What a flood of
amotions fill her heart! It is the Lord! He is risen from the dead!
He is alive again who delivered me; who died for me! My Lord!
my teacher! my all! All this, and more than this, she feels, and all
this, and more than this, she utters; not, indeed, in the written word
"Hablx)ni,"* the single word, that with all the propriety of language,
of truth and nature and feeling, is the sole reply; but in the deep
affection, the reverence and joy with which that word was uttered.

It is most evident, indeed, that language, when oral, is much su-
perior to that which is written, as a means of communicating ideas.
The inferiority of the latter, however, arises not merely from its in-
ability to represent by signs the various inflections of the voice which
give such force and point to spoken language, but from the absence
also of those gestures wbich are so usual and so important an accom-

* In the Galilean dialect, " My Ma.^ter. "


paniment of the latter. The want of these, to a reader, renders many
pass-ages obscure, which were clear as a sunbeam to those who heard
and saw the speaker. We may take a single example of this from
the very next chapter of John: "So when they had dined, Jesus saith
to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than
these?" (xxi. 15). The question here is: To what did our Lord refer
by the word ''these''? Grammatically, it may apply to the other dis-
ciples present, or to the boats and fishing implements. Papists will
adopt the first view, because, in the use they make of it, it serves to
bolster up the supremacy of Peter and the Pope. Protestants will re-
ceive the latter, because it implies a deserved reproof to Peter for hav-
ing for a time forsaken his spiritual duties, to return to his old em-
ployment of fisherman. Both of these views are constructive, neither
being expressed in the words; but they who heard the question, were
at no loss to determine the precise meaning, as they could see the
gesture by which our Lord pointed out the precise objects to which
he referred.

It may thus be readily perceived how great are the disadvantages
under which we labor in the interpretation of the records of the past,
and how far written language really is from possessing any absolute
or necessary power of communicating thought.


In reply to several queries on this subject, often alluded to In our
writings, I am constrained by a recent request from King William,
Virginia, to advert to the subject again.

"All manner of sins and blasphemies committed on earth, save one,
are pardonable." That one Is defined by our Saviour to be a speaking
against the Holy Spirit — a blaspheming his character. It is neither
thought nor action alone; but maliciously sj)eahing against that Divine
Agent. It is a sin of the tongue, prompted by a wicked heart. The
reason why this renunciation and blasphemy of the Spirit never can
be forgiven, is, as it appears to me, because he that commits it can
never repent of it. This is also evident from the fact that all the
goodness of God is so sinned against that there is no attitude in which
it can be placed before the mind that can lead it to repentance. The
Spirit, of course offended, leaves off all farther strivings with its
calumniator; and then the Spirit being the last divine agent, no one
succeeding it, it is impossible to renew such a one to repentance. It
is, however, questionable whether now such a sin is at all possible: the
Spirit not now appearing in such miraculous demonstration as for-
merly, and therefore not calling forth such an opposition or blas-
phemy. If I could write a volume on the subject, I would do little


more than amplify and place in diverse attitudes what is imported
and implied in this paragraph. But a new word may be added on


This sin, as defined in my mind, is simple apostacy from, and an
open renunciation of, Jesus Christ. It is treating him as in the case
of the blasphemy above described the Spirit is treated by his calum-
niator. Jesus is denied, renounced, crucified in effect by one that
openly abjures allegiance to him. This is the person for whom
"remaineth only a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery
indignation." He is an adversary, open and avowed, of that same
Jesus Christ whom he once acknowledged as the true Messiah. Paul
to the Hebrews, in the 6th and 10th chapters, refers to that same sin to
which John alludes in the 5th chapter of his General Epistle. But it
must be distinguished from the sin of backsliding. Backsliders and
apostates are very different characters, though the former may ulti-
mately terminate in the latter. Backsliders are comparatively many,
while apostates are few. Backsliders may, and do repent, and are
forgiven; while apostates sin unto death, never repent, and are con-
sequently never forgiven.

Many tender consciences have been oppressed with a fear of having
sinned so much against light and conviction, as to have committed
this, with them, unpardonable sin. I do not think that any persons
other than those described, have ever committed blasphemy against
the Holy Spirit, or sinned the sin unto death. And certainly those
who desire to be saved from sin, and would rejoice in the favor of
God, labor under some morbid influence, physical or educational, when
they imagine that they have been guilty of the one or the other of these
unpardonable offenses. I say offenses: for although but one and the
same in effect, and probably from the same remote cause, are never-
theless formally and apparently separate and distinct. To all who
return to the Lord there is a promise of redemption; and whosoever
sincerely desires to return, certainly is neither an apostate from Christ
nor a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit. a. c, 1842, p. 181.

In 1845, page 388, we read:


This very sublime and mysterious portion of the apostolic writing.^
seems to be as necessary to the completion of the Christian revelation
as the contents of it are captivating and interesting to every sincere
Christian. Had the sacred writings of the Now Institution closed with
the epistle of Jude. or with that of John to sister Electa, every one,
well read in the Jewish records, must have regarded the Christian
Scriptures as incomplete, if not imperfect. The Jewish Scriptures,


like the Pentateuch, begin with history and end with prophecy. This
is, indeed, the plan of all the different departments of revelation. The
merely perceptive, didactic, and exhortatory portions of the Bible,
occupy but a small space compared with its history and prophecy.
Both volumes of the sacred writings commence and end alike. The
historian opens and the prophet closes the divine communications to
Jews and Christians. There are, then, some good reasons why the
book called the Apocalypse should be placed at the close of the last
message which Heaven has vouchsafed to man. We thank kind
Heaven that we have both the beginning and the end of the Christian
Institution in this volume.

That this divine communication should be much read and much
pondered seems to be so evident from the benediction pronounced in
the beginning of it, as to need no argument to enforce it: — "Blessed
is he that readeth. and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and
keep those things which are written therein." If the blessing had
been confined to those only who understand and comprehend it all,
then, indeed, it would have been enjoyed by no one from the days of
John to the present hour. But the reading and practicing of the things
enjoined in this book, so far as they are understood, has always been
accompanied with the blessing promised. That it is more or less intel-
ligible to all sincere and attentive students of it, is, moreover, to be
presumed both from its exordium and its conclusion, from the injunc-
tion to read it, and the consolation promised to those that keep its

Notwithstanding a thousand abortive efforts to comprehend it all,
and a thousand failures to satisfactorily explain certain passages in
this book, there has been derived from it very much light as to th.?
future destiny of Christianity and the world. We may also add that
much successful and important effort to bless the world by the Bible,
has been both prompted and guided by the indications of the divine
I'urposes and plans, gleaned from the assiduous and devout examina-
tion of it. So that, notwithstanding all the discouragements thrown
in our way by weak and positive dogmatists, and visionary speculators
upon the contents of this book, we are still strongly inclined to the
opinion that the Revelation concerning the kingdom of Jesus Christ,
presented to us in the visions of John, has paramount claims upon the
church to devote to it much calm, prayerful, and unbiased study and

I am not proposing to add to the general stock of knowledge already
possessed on this book by the Christian Church, by any new light that
I am now presuming to throw upon the sublime and awful subjects on
v/hich it treats. I only purpose to assist the students of Christian
prophecy by a few suggestions on the plan and method of the Apoca-


lypse, and by discriminating, as lar as we have certain knowledge, the
fulfilled from the yet unfulfilled portions of the book. Though in this
effort we may not be able to advance one step beyond the van of the
most enlightened interpreters, though we could not even greatly assist
the present school of apocalyptic students in advancing to the highest
class of interpreters; still it might be a service full of reward and
honor, could we only induce a great many Christians to enter the
school of the prophets, and to learn to understand what the Spirit inti-
mates to us of the awful and glorious destinies of the human race. In
the hope of inspiring some of our contemporaries with the desire to
understand, and of aiding others who are seeking to comprehend these
gracious developments of human destiny, I shall first undertake to
examine the plan and method of the Apocalypse.

The TITLE of the book, in the first place, demands a moment's atten-
tion. Romanists and others call it, "The Revelation of Saint John the
Divine." But this, like many other names imposed on parts of thi
holy oracles, as well as on the things contained in them, is as wanting
in good sense and good taste as in divine authority. In the short
preface prefixed to the Book by the writer of it, it is styled, "A Rev-
elation of Jesus Christ, uhich God gave unto him to show unto hii
servants things xchich must shortly come to pass." It is, then, a
revelation of things future from its date; some of which were imme-
diately to come to pass, while others were as remote as the end of the
world. Were we to condense this divine title, found in the text itself,
we should call it, "A Ri;v?:latiox of future e\t:xts. addressed to



Next to the title comes the preface. John presents all the communi-
cations made to him in one letter addressed to the seven Asiatic
churches. Hence the Apocalypse is one great epistle; and, indeed, it
might well be called The Fourth Epistle of John, as any one of
the three is called First, Second, or Third. It is one great letter; the
first period of which is "John to the seven congregations which are in
Asia: Grace to you, and peace from him who is, and who was, and
who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne — even
from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first born from the dead,
and the Prince of the kings of the earth." And this last period is, "The
grace of our T.,ord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

In this grand letter, written by John, are found seven special
epistles dictated by Jesus Christ, and addressed to each one of these
Asiatic communities. Thus John addresses one letter to all the seven,
while in that letter are found seven short epistles severally addressed
to each of the communities by Jesus Christ himself.


The method adopted by John is as simple and rational as couH
be imagined. In the first chapter h'fe directly addresses the seven
churches, giving an account of himself, his location in Patmos, and the
cause of it, with the scenes that there transpired on a certain Lord's
day. He especially informs them that he was commanded by the Lord
to icrite what he saw and what he heard of the things which were
then existing, and of the things which were afterwards coming to pass.
In the next two chapters we have a copy of the letters addressed to
Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and

The fourth and fifth chapters state the preparation for the develop-
ments of the things then future. Here we have a vision. John was
in the spirit when these celestial scenes passed before him. He saw
a door opened in heaven, and had an invitation to ascend into the
presence of the Lord. Immediately, he adds, I was in the spirit, and,
I presume, like Paul, "was caught away into the third heaven," in
obedience to the command, "Come up hither, and I will show thee