« Prev Revelation 10:2 Next »

REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 10 - Verse 2

Verse 2. And he had in his hand a little book open. This is the first thing that indicated the purpose of his appearing, or that would give any distinct indication of the design of his coming from heaven. The general aspect of the angel, indeed, as represented in the former verse, was that of benignity, and his purpose, as there indicated, was light and peace. But still, there was nothing which would denote the particular design for which he came, or which would designate the particular means which he would employ, here we have, however, an emblem which will furnish an indication of what was to occur as the result of his appearing. To be able to apply this, it will be necessary, as in all similar cases, to explain the natural significancy of the emblem.

(1.) The little book. The word used here—biblaridion—occurs nowhere else in the New Testament except in Re 10:8-10. The word biblionbook—occurs frequently: Mt 19:7; Mr 10:4— applied to a bill of divorcement; Lu 4:17,20; Joh 20:30; 21:25; Ga 3:10

2 Ti 4:13; Heb 9:19; 10:7.

In the Apocalypse this word is of common occurrence: Re 1:11; 5:1-5,7-9; 6:14, rendered scroll; Re 17:8; 20:12; 21:27; 22:7,9-10,18-19.

The word was evidently chosen here to denote something that was peculiar in the size or form of the book, or to distinguish it from that which would be designated by the ordinary word employed to denote a book. The word properly denotes a small roll or volume; a little scroll.—Rob. Lex, Pollux. Onomast. 7, 210. It is evident that something was intended by the diminutive size of the book, or that it was designed to make a distinction between this and that which is indicated by the use of the word book in the other parts of the Apocalypse. It was, at least, indicated by this that it was something different from what was seen in the hand of him that sat on the throne in Re 5:1. That was clearly a large volume; this was so small that it could be taken in the hand, and could be represented as eaten, Re 10:9-10. But, of what is a book an emblem? To this question there can be little difficulty in furnishing an answer. A book seen in a dream, according to Artemidorus, signifies the life, or the acts of him that sees it.—Wemyss. According to the Indian interpreters, a book is the symbol of power and dignity. The Jewish kings, when they were crowned, had the book of the law of God put into their hands, (2 Ki 11:12; 2 Ch 23:11) denoting that they were to observe the law, and that their administration was to be one of intelligence and uprightness. The gift of a Bible now to a monarch when he is crowned, or to the officer of a corporation or society, denotes the same thing. A book, as such, thus borne in the hand of an angel coming down to the world, would be an indication that something of importance was to be communicated to men, or that something was to be accomplished by the agency of a book. It was not, as in Re 6:2, a bow—emblem of conquest; Re 10:4, a sword—emblem of battle; or Re 10:5, a pair of scales— emblem of the exactness with which things were to be determined: but it was a book—a speechless, silent thing, yet mighty; not designed to carry desolation through the earth, but to diffuse light and truth. The natural interpretation then would be, that something was to be accomplished by the agency of a book, or that a book was to be the prominent characteristic of the times—as the bow, the sword, and the balances had been of the previous periods. As to the size of the book, perhaps all that can be inferred is, that this was to be brought about, not by extended tomes, but by a comparatively small volume—so that it could be taken in the hand; so that it could, without impropriety, be represented as eaten by an individual.

(2.) The fact that it was open: "a little book open"— anewgmenon. The word here used means, properly, to open or unclose in respect to that which was before fastened or sealed, as that which is covered by a door, Mt 2:11; tombs, which were closed by large stones, Mt 27:60, 66; a gate, Ac 5:23; 12:10; the abyss, Re 9:2—"since in the East pits or wells are closed with large stones, compare Ge 29:2."—Rob. Lex. The meaning of this word, as applied to a book, would be, that it was now opened so that its contents could be read. The word would not necessarily imply that it had been sealed or closed, though that would be the most natural impression from the use of the word. Compare for the use of the word rendered open, Re 3:8,20; 4:1; 5:2-5,9; 6:1,3,5,7,9,12; 8:1; 9:2; 10:8

Re 11:19; 20:12. This would find a fulfilment if some such facts as the following should occur:

(a) if there had been any custom or arrangement by which knowledge was kept from men, or access was forbidden to books or to some one book in particular; and

(b) if something should occur by which that which had before been kept hidden or concealed, or that to which access had been denied, should be made accessible. In other words, this is the proper symbol of a diffusion of knowledge, or of the influence of A BOOK on mankind.

(3.) The fact that it was in the hand of the angel. All that seems to be implied in this is, that it was now offered, or was ready to be put in possession of John—or of the church—or of mankind. It was open, and was held out, as it were, for perusal.

In regard to the application of this, it is plain that, if it be admitted that it was the design of the author of the vision to refer to the Reformation, no more appropriate emblem could have been chosen. If we were now to endeavour to devise an emblem of the Reformation that would be striking and expressive, we could not well select one which would better represent the great work than that which is here presented. This will appear plain from a few considerations:

(1.) The great agent in the Reformation, the moving cause of it, its suggestor and supporter, was a book—the Bible. Wycliffe had translated the New Testament into the English language, and though this was suppressed, yet it had done much to prepare the people for the Reformation; and all that Luther did can be traced to the discovery of the Bible, and to the use which was made of it. Luther had grown up into manhood; had passed from the schools to the university of Erfurt, and there, having during the usual four years' course of study displayed intellectual powers and an extent of learning that excited the admiration of the university, and that seemed to open to his attainment both the honour and emolument of the world, he appeared to have been prepared to play an important part on the great drama of human affairs. Suddenly, however, to the astonishment and dismay of his friends, he betook himself to the solitude and gloom of an Augustinian monastery. He had found a Bible—a copy of the Vulgate—hid in the shelves of the university library. Till then he had supposed that there existed no other Gospels or Epistles than what were given in the Breviary, or quoted by the Preachers. (For the proof of this, see Elliott, ii. 92.) To the study of that book he now gave himself with untiring diligence and steady prayer; and the effect was to show to him the way of salvation by faith, and ultimately to produce the Reformation. No one acquainted with the history of the Reformation can doubt that it is to be traced to the influence of the Bible; that the moving cause, the spring of all that occurred in the Reformation, was the impulse given to the mind of Luther and his fellow-labourers by the study of that one book. It is this well-known fact that gives so much truth to the celebrated declaration of Chillingworth, that "the Bible is the religion of Protestants." If a symbol of this had been designed before it occurred, or if one should be sought for now that would designate the actual nature and influence of the Reformation, nothing better could be selected than that of an angel descending from heaven, with benignant aspect, with a rainbow around his head, and with light beaming all around him, holding forth to mankind a book.

(2.) This book had before been hidden, or closed; that is, it could not till then be regarded as an open volume.

(a) It was in fact known by few even of the clergy, and it was not in the hands of the mass of the people at all. There is every reason to believe that the great body of the Romish clergy, in the time that preceded the Reformation, were even more ignorant of the Bible than Luther himself was. Many of them were unable to read; few had access to the Bible; and those who had, drew their doctrines rather from the Fathers of the church than from the word of God. Hallam (Middle Ages, ii. 241) says, "Of this prevailing ignorance [in the tenth century, and onward] it is easy to produce abundant testimony. In almost every council the ignorance of the clergy forms a subject for reproach. It is asserted by one held in 992, that scarcely a single person could be found in Rome itself who knew the first elements of letters. Not one priest of a thousand in Spain, about the age of Charlemagne, could address a letter of common salutation to another. In England, Alfred declares that he could not recollect a single priest south of the Thames, (the best part of England,) at the time of his accession, who understood the ordinary prayers, or who could translate the Latin into the mother tongue."

There were few books of any kind in circulation, and, even if there had been an ability to read, the cost of books was so great as to exclude the great mass of the people from all access to the sacred Scriptures. "Many of the clergy," says Dr. Robertson, (Hist. of Charles V., p. 14. Harper's Ed.,) "did not understand the Breviary which they were obliged daily to recite; some of them could scarcely read it." "Persons of the highest rank, and in the most eminent stations, could neither read nor write." One of the questions appointed by the canons to be put to persons who were candidates for orders was this, "Whether they could read the Gospels and Epistles, and explain the sense of them at least literally?" For the causes of this ignorance, see Robertsoh's Hist. of Charles V., p. 515. One of those causes was the cost of books. "Private persons seldom possessed any books whatever. Even monasteries of considerable note had only one Missal. The price of books became so high that persons of a moderate fortune could not afford to purchase them. The Countess of Anjou paid for a copy of the Homilies of Haimon, bishop of Alberstadt, two hundred sheep, five quarters of wheat, and the same quantity of rye and millet," etc. Such was the cost of books that few persons could afford to own a copy of the sacred Scriptures; and the consequence was, there were almost none in the hands of the people. The few copies that were in existence were mostly in the libraries of monasteries and universities, or in the hands of some of the higher clergy.

(b) But there was another reason that was still more efficacious, perhaps, in keeping the people at large from the knowledge of the Scriptures. It was found in the prevailing views in the Roman Catholic communion respecting the private use and interpretation of the sacred volume. Whatever theory may now be advocated in the Roman Catholic communion on this point, as a matter of fact, the influence of that denomination has been to withhold the Bible from a free circulation among the common people. No one can deny that, in the times just preceding the Reformation, the whole influence of the Papal denomination was opposed to a free circulation of the Bible, and that one of the great and characteristic features of the Reformation was the fact that the doctrine was promulgated that the Bible was to be freely distributed, and that the people everywhere were to have access to it, and were to form their own opinions of the doctrines which it reveals.

(3.) The Bible became, at the Reformation, in fact an "open" book. It was made accessible. It became the popular book of the world; the book that did more than all other things to change the aspect of affairs, and to give character to subsequent times. This occurred because

(a) the art of printing was discovered, just before the Reformation, as if, in the providence of God, it was designed then to give this precious volume to the world; and the Bible was, in fact, the first book printed, and has been since printed more frequently than any other book whatever, and will continue to be to the end of the world. It would be difficult to imagine now a more striking symbol of the art of printing, or to suggest a better device for it, than to represent an angel giving an open volume to mankind.

(b) The leading doctrine of the Reformers was, that the Bible is the source of all authority in matters of religion, and, consequently, is to be accessible to all the people. And

(c) the Bible was the authority appealed to by the Reformers. It became the subject of profound study; was diffused abroad; and gave form to all the doctrines that sprang out of the times of the Reformation. These remarks, which might be greatly expanded, will show with what propriety, on the supposition that the chapter here refers to the Reformation, the symbol of a book was selected. Obviously, no other symbol would have been so appropriate; nothing else would have given so just a view of the leading characteristics of that period of the world.

And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth. This is the third characteristic in the symbol. As a mere description this is eminently sublime. I was once (at Cape May, 1849) impressively reminded of this passage. My window was in such a position that it commanded a fine view at the same time of the ocean and the land. A storm arose such as I had never witnessed— the clouds from the different points of the compass seeming to come together over the place, and producing incessant lightning and thunder. As the storm cleared away, the most magnificent rainbow that I ever saw appeared, arching the heavens, one foot of it far off in the sea, and the other on the land—an emblem of peace to both—and most strikingly suggesting to me the angel in the Apocalypse. The natural meaning of such a symbol as that represented here would be, that something was to occur which would pertain to the whole world, as the earth is made up of land and water. It is hardly necessary to say, that, on the supposition that this refers to the Reformation, there is no difficulty in finding an ample fulfilment of the symbol. That great work was designed manifestly by Providence to affect all the world—the sea and the land—the dwellers in the islands and in the continents—those who "go down to the sea in ships, and do business in the great waters," and those who have a permanent dwelling on shore. It may be admitted indeed, that, in itself, this one thing—the angel standing on the sea and the land, if it occurred alone, could not suggest the Reformation; and, if there were nothing else, such an application might seem fanciful and unnatural; but taken in connexion with the other things in the symbol, and assuming that the whole vision was designed to symbolize the Reformation, it will not be regarded as unnatural that there should be some symbol which would intimate that the blessings of a reformed religion—a pure gospel—would be ultimately spread over land and ocean—over the continents and islands of the globe; in all the fixed habitations of men, and in their floating habitations on the deep. The symbol of a rainbow, bending over the sea and land, would have expressed this: the same thing would be expressed by an angel whose head was encircled by a rainbow, and whose face beamed with light, with one foot on the ocean and the other on the land.

« Prev Revelation 10:2 Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |