Good morning! We’re still here, so today we will start with Benjamin Wills Newton (1807-1899), an English evangelist. When John Nelson Darby left the Anglican Church, he didn’t start his own group, he actually joined Newton’s congregation at Plymouth Church, later to be known as the Plymouth Brethren.
We have a short quote from his THOUGHTS ON THE APOCALYPSE published in 1853:
“It seems wonderful, that any, who reverence the Scripture and know what true Christianity really is, should be able to persuade themselves, that the history of the world has been one of progress in righteousness and in the knowledge of God.”
I love this quote because I really agree with it. Indeed, how could someone who is a Bible-believing Christian look back at history and get any idea from it that the world is “progressing in righteousness?” It is plainly not, as the next writer clearly demonstrates.
The next writer is Charles John Vaughn (1816-1897), an English scholar and Anglican churchman. This gentleman was the headmaster of an English boys school in the mid-1800’s. He resigned precipitously and no one knew why until the 1970’s. At that point a diary turned up from one of the students of that time, stating that Vaughn was having a relationship with one of his young (non-school) friends…while at the same time Vaughn was having boys flogged for homosexual behavior. The student reported the relationship to his father, and his father basically blackmailed Vaughn into resigning. Vaughn was unable to take any further position of leadership in the Church until the man blackmailing him died; the boys maintained their silence. It can be hoped that Vaughn changed his behaviors, but, the young man in question was the person who took care of Vaughn’s papers after his eventual death.
This is the first time I’ve run into this type of issue as I’ve looked briefly at the authors I’m quoting. This is clearly un-Biblical, sinful behavior, despite today’s acceptance of it. I think it’s also clear that Vaughn knew it was wrong and that was why he was having boys flogged for similar behavior. I know that this behavior has been going on forever, yet we haven’t heard of it with the churchmen I’ve looked at until this date. I think that’s interesting, and suggests that perhaps earlier churchmen were more vigilant in their behavior…I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t a temptation earlier, just that perhaps they were more likely to resist, or at least, knowing that it was a sin, were more circumspect. And, I want to make this clear while we’re here: homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible; it is no worse or better than any other sin. We are all sinners, not one of us is free of sin, even Christians. As Christians, however, we strive to avoid sin as much as we can, and this is called repentance. By giving in to sin and not fighting it, we acknowledge that we are not repentant, and thus, not saved.
On to the quote. It is from Vaughn’s LECTURES ON THE REVELATION OF ST JOHN, published in 1870:
“Parts of the book are difficult of interpretation: perhaps the key which is to unlock them is not yet in the hands of man. But it will be. And meanwhile we ought to study the book itself, and become so imbued with its general spirit as not to be unaware of the fulfillment from mere ignorance of the prophecy. For doubtless it is more than conceivable that a very marked and certain fulfillment of a prophecy might be overlooked and unnoticed by those who had never turned their attention to the language in which the prophecy itself was expressed…And if there are some things dark in this prophecy, there are more things plain. Even in the darkest parts there is already a glimmering light. Already we can see a clear testimony running through it to the holiness of God, to the power of Christ, to the providence which is working in or overruling all things, to the divine purpose which all things and all men are willingly or unwillingly subserving, and to that final triumph of good over evil, of Christ over Antichrist, of God over Satan, which will be the last and most decisive justification of the ways of God to men. All this lies on the surface of the book. And I know not that a more profitable occupation could be found for men of the world—men of business, men of activity, men of intelligence and influence—than the repeated perusal of a part of God’s Word which says to them, even in its most obscure and mysterious disclosures, God Is at work, God has a purpose, God will at length manifest His reign, in this world which you treat too much for the present as if it were all your own. Take heed that you be not disregarding, that you be not even fighting against God, and destined therefore to be overthrown when He triumphs. I know not that there is one chapter of this Book which does not enforce upon us this great lesson.”
Again, I really like this quote because I agree with it. Knowing this man’s struggles adds a definite poignancy to it. Was he “fighting against God?”
We cannot judge him, only God can do that, but we can have compassion for him and hope that others will have compassion for our failings.
The next writer is Charles Wordsworth (1806-1892), a Scottish Bishop, scholar and teacher. And if his name is familiar, it’s because he was the nephew of the famous poet, William Wordsworth. He attended the same school referred to above, but about 30 years before the hullabaloo started.
Wordsworth is noted to have been a ‘prolific writer,’ and we are going to look at a number of quotes from his THE NEW TESTAMENT OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, VOL 2: THE REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE, published in the mid 19th century. Here’s the first really long quote from the Introduction, dealing with the authorship and timing of Revelation:
“Before…I produce my own sentiments, I shall beg leave to lay before the reader those of Dr. Lardner [1684-1768, a Presbyterian minister], who has treated the subject with much judgment. ‘ We are now come to the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation; about which there have been different sentiments among Christians; many receiving it as the writing of John the apostle and evangelist others ascribing it to John a presbyter, others to Cerinthus, and some rejecting it, without knowing to whom it should be ascribed. I shall therefore here rehearse the testimony of ancient Christians, as it arises in several ages.
“‘It is probable that Hermas [2nd century well-to-do freedman, author of THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS] read the book of the Revelation, and imitated it; he has many things resembling it…There is reason to think it was received by Papias. Justin Martyr, about the year 140, was acquainted with this book, and received it as written by the Apostle John; for, in his dialogue with Trypho, he expressly says : “A man from among us, by name John, one of the apostles of Christ, in the revelation made to him, has prophesied that the believers in our Christ shall live a thousand years in Jerusalem; and after that shall be the general, and, in a word, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all together.” To this passage we suppose Eusebius to refer in his ecclesiastical history, when giving an account of Justin’s works, he observes to this purpose. He also mentions the Revelation of John, expressly calling it the apostle’s. Among the works of Melito, bishop of Sardis, one of the seven Churches of Asia, about the year 177, Eusebius mentions one entitled, ‘ Of the Revelation of John.’ It is very probable that Melito ascribed this book, to the apostle of that name, and esteemed it of canonical authority. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul, about A. D. 178, who in his younger days was acquainted with Polycarp, often quotes this book as the Revelation of John, the apostle of the Lord. And in one place he says : ‘ It was seen not long ago, but almost in our age, at the end of the reign of Domitian.
“‘Theophilus was bishop of Antioch about 181. Eusebius, speaking of a work of his against the heresy of Hermogenes, says; “He therein made use of testimonies, or quoted passages, from John’s Apocalypse.’ The book of the Revelation is several times quoted by Clement of Alexandria, who flourished about 194; and once in this manner: ‘Such a one, though here on earth he is not honored with the first seat, shall sit upon the four and twenty thrones judging the people, as John says in the Revelation.” Tertullian, about the year 200, often quotes the Revelation, and supposes it to have been written by St. John, the same who wrote the First Epistle of John, universally received: “Again, the Apostle John describes, in the Apocalypse, a sharp two-edged sword coming out of the mouth of God.’ He also says: “We have Churches that are the disciples of John. For though Marcion rejects the Revelation, the succession of bishops, traced to the original, will assure us that John is the author:’ by John undoubtedly meaning the apostle.
“‘From Eusebius we learn that Apollonius, who wrote against the Montanists about 211, quoted the Revelation. [The Montanists were a Christian sect from the late 2nd century who believed what other Christians believed, but also believed in new prophetic revelations and in radical reliance on the Holy Spirit. They have been compared with the Pentecostals of today, but were declared heretics in the 2nd century.]By Caius, about 212, it was ascribed to Cerinthus: it was received by Hippolytus about 220, and by Origen about 230. It is often quoted by him. He seems not to have had any doubt about its genuineness. In his Commentary upon St. John’s gospel, he speaks of it in this manner: “Therefore John, the son of Zebedee, says in the Revelation.” Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, about 247, or somewhat later, wrote a book against the Millenarians, in which he allows the Revelation to be written by John, a holy and divinely inspired man. But he says, ‘He cannot easily grant him to be the apostle, the son of Zebedee, whose is the gospel according to John, and the catholic epistle.’ He rather thinks it may be the work of John an elder, who also lived at Ephesus in Asia, as well as the apostle. It also appears, from a conference which Dionysius had with some Millenarians, that the Revelation was, about 240 and before, received by Nepus, an Egyptian bishop, and by many others in that country; and that it was in great reputation. It was received by Cypria, bishop of Carthage, about 218, and by the Church of Rome in his time, and by many Latin authors…
“‘In the time of Eusebius, in the former part of the fourth century, it was by some not received at all; and therefore it is reckoned by him among contradicted books. Nevertheless, it was generally received. Eusebius himself seems to have hesitated about it, for he says : “It is likely the Revelation was seen by John the elder, if not by John the apostle.” It maybe reckoned probable that the critical argument of Dionysius of Alexandria was of great weight with him and others of that time. The Revelation was received by Athanasius, and by Epiphanius; but we also learn from him that it was not received by all in his time. It is not in the catalogue of Cyril of Jerusalem, and seems not to have been received by him. It is also wanting in the catalogue of the Council of Laodicea, about 303.
“‘The Revelation is not in Gregory Nazianzen’s catalogue; however, it seems to have been received by him. It is in the catalogue of Amphilochius: but he says it was not received by all. It is also omitted in Ebedjesus’ catalogue of the books of Scripture received by the Syrians; nor is it in the ancient Syriac version.
“‘It was received by Jerome; but he says it was rejected by the Greek Christians. It was received by Rufin, by the third Council of Carthage, and by Augustine, but it was not received by all in his time. It is never quoted by Chrysostom, and probably was not received by him. It is in the catalogue of Dionysius, called the Areopagite, about 490. It is in the Alexandrian MS. It was received by Sulpicius Severus about 401; and by J. Damascenus, and…by many other authors. Andrew, bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, at the end of the fifth century, and Arethas, bishop of the same place, in the sixth century, wrote commentaries upon it. But it was not received by Severian, bishop of Gabala; nor, as it seems, by Theodoret. Upon the whole, it appears that this book has been generally received in all ages, though some have doubted of it, and rejected it; particularly the Syrians, and some other Christians in the east…
“‘Concerning the time of writing this book, I need not now say much. It is the general testimony of ancient authors that St. John was banished into Patmos in the time of Domitian, in the latter part of his reign, and restored by his successor Nerva. But the book could not be published [again with the ‘published’ idea] till after John’s release and return to Ephesus in Asia. As Domitian died in 96, and his persecution did not commence till near the end of his reign, the Revelation seems to be fitly dated in the year 95 or 96. Mill places the Revelation in the year of Christ 96, and the last year of the Emperor Domitian. At first he supposed that the Revelation was written at Patmos; but afterwards he altered his mind, and thought it was not written till after his return to Ephesus. He builds his opinion upon the words of Revelation i. 9. “
I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:9; KJV) [I’m unclear how this reference would make someone think that John wrote this after leaving Patmos…is it just his use of the past tense? He may have written parts of it after his return to Ephesus, but that doesn’t mean he waited before writing any of it down.]
“…Basnage [1653-1725] places the Revelation in 96. Le Clerc [1657-1736], likewise, who readily admits the genuineness of this book, speaks of it in the same year. Mr. Lowman [1680-1752] supposes St. John to have had his visions in the Isle of Patmos, in 95; but Mr. Wetstein [1693-1754] favors the opinion of those who have argued that the Revelation was written before the Jewish war. He also says that, if the Revelation was written before that war, it is likely that the events of that time should be foretold in it; to which I answer, that though some interpreters have applied some things in this book to those times, I cannot say whether they have done it rightly or not, because I do not understand the Revelation. But, to me, it seems that though this book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem, [this is confusingly said, he means: that even IF this book was written before] there was no necessity that it should be foretold here; because our blessed Lord had, in his own preaching, frequently spoken very plainly and intelligibly concerning the calamities coming upon the Jewish people in general, and the city and temple of Jerusalem in particular; and his plain predictions and symbolical prefigurations of those events were recorded by no less than three historians and evangelists before the war in Judea broke out. [This is a really good point and the first time I’ve seen it.]
“‘Grotius [1583-1645], who places this book in the reign of Claudius, was of opinion that the visions of this book were seen at different times, and afterwards joined together in one book, in the same way as the visions and prophecies of some of the prophets of the Old Testament. [So much for Biblical inerrancy…] Concerning this opinion it is not proper for me to dispute; though there appears not any foundation for it in the book itself, as Vitringa [1659-1722] has observed. But that the Book of the Revelation in its present form, sent as an epistle to the seven Churches of Asia…was not composed and published before the reign of Domitian, appears to me very probable, from the general and almost universally concurring testimony of the ancients, and from some things in the book itself.
“(Lardner is now quoting from L’Enfant [1661-1728], Beausobre [1690-1753], and Vitringa) …’We must add to so constant a tradition other reasons which farther show that the Revelation was not written till after Claudius and Nero. It appears from the book itself that there had been already Churches for a considerable space of time in Asia; forasmuch as St. John, in the name of Christ, reproves faults that happen not but after a while. The Church of Ephesus had left her first love. That of Sardis had a name to live, but was dead. The Church of Laodicea was fallen into lukewarmness and indifference. But the Church of Ephesus, for instance, was not founded by St. Paul before the last years of Claudius. When in 61 or 62, St. Paul wrote to them from Rome, instead of reproving their want of love, he commends their love and faith…It appears from the Revelation that the Nicolaitans made a sect when this book was written, since they are expressly named; whereas they were only foretold and described in general terms by St. Peter, in his second epistle, written after the year 60, and in St. Jude, about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Vespasian. It is evident from many places of the Revelation that there had been an open persecution in the provinces…All that has been now observed concerning the persecution, of which mention is made in the first chapters of the Revelation, cannot relate to the time of Claudius, who did not persecute the Christians; nor to the time of Nero, whose persecution did not reach the provinces, and therefore it must relate to Domitian, according to ecclesiastical tradition.
“‘The visions therefore here recorded, and the publication of them in this book, must be assigned, as far as I can see, to the years of Christ 95, and 96, or 97.’
“The reasoning of Dr. Lardner, relative to the date of this book, is by no means satisfactory to many other critics, who consider it to have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem; and in this opinion they are supported by the most respectable testimonies among the ancients, though the contrary was the more general opinion. Epiphanius says, that John was banished to Patmos by Claudius Caesar; this would bring back the date to about A. D. 50. Andreas, (bishop of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, about A. D. 500,) in his comment on this book…says: ‘John received this Revelation under the reign of Vespasian.’ This date also might place it before the final overthrow of the Jewish state; though Vespasian reigned to A. D. 79. The inscription to this book, in the Syriac version, first published by De Dieu, in 1627, and, afterwards in the London Polyglot, is the following: ‘The Revelation which God made to John the evangelist, in the island of Patmos, to which he was banished by Nero Caesar.” This places it before the year of our Lord 69, and consequently before the destruction of Jerusalem. Of this opinion are many eminent writers,…
“Dionysius agrees that the style of the Revelation is totally different from that of John in his acknowledged writings; and it seems strange to me that this should be contested by any man of learning. Nothing more simple and unadorned than the narrative of St. John in his GOSPEL; nothing more plain and natural than his EPISTLES; but the REVELATION, on the contrary, is figurative, rhetorical, labored, and elevated to the highest degree. All that can be said here on this subject is, that if the Spirit of God chose to inspire the words and style, as well as the matter, of his communications, he may choose what variety he pleases; and speak at different times, and in diverse manners, to the same person. This, however, is not his usual way.”
I’m not sure if Wordsworth came to a conclusion, but he put forth a very cogent and scholarly review of the topics.
We move on to a last long quote from the Preface regarding the general interpretation of Revelation, with an awesome wrap-up:
“Among the interpreters of the Apocalypse, both in ancient and modern times, we find a vast diversity of opinions, but they may be all reduced to four principal hypotheses, or modes of interpretation:
“1. The Apocalypse contains a prophetical description of the destruction of Jerusalem, of the Jewish war, and the civil wars of the Romans.
“2. It contains predictions of the perceptions of the Christians under the heathen emperors of Rome, and of the happy days of the Church under the Christian emperors, from Constantine downwards.
“3. It contains prophecies concerning the tyrannical and oppressive conduct of the Roman pontiffs, the true antichrist; and foretells the final destruction of popery.
“4. It is a prophetic declaration of the schism and heresies of Martin Luther, those called Reformers, and their successors; and the final destruction of the Protestant religion. [And none of them see it as a true prophecy foretelling the distant future…]
“The first opinion has been defended by Professor Wetstein, and other learned men on the continent. The second is the opinion of the primitive fathers in general, both Greek and Latin. The third was first broached by the Abbe Joachim, who flourished in the thirteenth century, was espoused by most of the Franciscans, and has been and still is the general opinion of the Protestants. The fourth seems to have been invented by popish writers, merely by way of retaliation; and has been illustrated and defended at large by a Mr. Walmsley, (I believe,) titular dean of Wells, in a work called the History of the Church, under the feigned name of Signior Pastorini [It’s actually Warmsley from the 18th century.]…
“…I do not understand [Revelation]; and in the things which concern so sublime and awful a subject, I dare not, as my predecessors, indulge in conjectures. I have read elaborate works on the subject, and each seemed right till another was examined. I am satisfied that no certain mode of interpreting the prophecies of this book has yet been found out, and I will not add another monument to the littleness or folly of the human mind by endeavoring to strike out a new course. I repeat it, I do not understand the book; and I am satisfied that not one who has written on the subject knows any thing more of it than myself…
“…it is reasonable to suppose that several prophecies contained in this book have been already fulfilled, and that therefore it is the business of the commentator to point such out. It may be so; but as it is impossible for me to prove that my conjecture is right, I dare not enter into proceedings upon it, and must refer to Bishop Newton, and such writers as have made this their particular study. After having lived in one of the most eventful eras of the world; after having seen a number of able pens employed in the illustration of this and other prophecies; after having carefully attended to those facts which were supposed to be the incontestable proofs of the fulfillment of such and such visions, seals, trumpets, thunders, and vials of the Apocalypse; after seeing the issue of that most terrible struggle which the French nation, the French republic, the French consulate, and the French empire, have made to regain and preserve their liberties, which, like arguing in a circle, have terminated where they began, without one political or religious advantage to them or to mankind; and after viewing how the prophecies of this book were supposed to apply almost exclusively to these events, the writers and explainers of these prophecies keeping pace in their publications with the rapid succession of military operations, and confidently promising the most glorious issue, in the final destruction of superstition, despotism, arbitrary power, and tyranny of all kinds, nothing of which has been realized; I say, viewing all these things, I feel myself at perfect liberty to state that, to my apprehension, all these prophecies have been misapplied and misapprehended; and that the key to them is not yet entrusted to the sons of men.
“I had once thought of giving a catalogue of the writers and commentators on this book, and had begun a collection of this kind; but the question of Cui bono? What good end is this likely to serve? not meeting with a satisfactory answer in my own mind, caused me to throw this collection aside.”
I find Wordsworth to be a thoughtful and intelligent writer. Maybe not the boldest of them all, but there is something to be said for circumspection.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have served him well to have catalogued the writers in the first half of the 1800’s, but there is so much more now…so many more theories and ideas to consider! But, it would have been useful to me if he had gone ahead with it!
I think that’s enough for today. We have 3 more writers to review, but not a lot of material, so it will be pretty short. Until then, I’ll be praying that we are all using our time to the great benefit of the Kingdom!