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II. The second clause of the vision describes the character of two very remarkable agents, denominated the two witnesses of Christ.
And I will give power unto my two witnesses : and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days clothed with sackcloth. These are the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks, standing before the God of the earth, And, if any man wishes to injure them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies : and, if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and they have power over the waters
and obvious purport of the vision. The act of measuring, at the commencement of the 1260 days draws a broad line of distinction, between the temple and the altar and the spiritual worshippers on the one hand, and the outer court and the Gentiles on the other hand. Plainly, therefore, henceforth, the two typified classes of individuals stand separated from and opposed to each other : and, as such, I see not, how we can consistently view them, save as contemporaries.
The forcible arrangement of Mr. Mede (for I am constrained to deem it a force upon the text) evidently sprang from the necessary requirement of his general hypothesis, that the sealed book throughout treats of the affairs of the state, and that the open book throughout synchronically treats of the affairs of the Church. Having adopted this system, which rests (I think) upon no sufficient evidence, he found himself compelled to make the vision of the two witnesses commence from the apostolic age: and the only possible mode of effecting this was to adopt the arrangement, which I have ventured to designate as forcible. VOL. III.
to turn them to blood, and power to smite the earth with every plague as often as they will’.
Such is the character of the two witnesses : our present business is to explain and apply the several particulars, which are here predicted.
1. St. John has recently told us, that the Gentiles of the Apostasy are to tread the holy city under foot during the space of 42 prophetic months : he now tells us, that the two witnesses of God are to minister in sackcloth during the space of 1260 prophetic days. But 42 months and 1260 days express one and the same period. Therefore the treading down of the holy city by the Gentiles, and the sackcloth-ministration of the two witnesses, are synchronical.
Now the 1260 prophetic days, here alluded to, commenced, as we have seen, in the year 604, when the times and the laws and the saints were given into the hand of the Papal little horn, when the Apostasy was completed by the revelation of the man of sin, and immediately before the kingdom of fierce countenance or the Mohammedan little horn stood up in the East : whence, according to such an arrangement, they will terminate in the year 1864.
But, if this be the proper chronological arrangement of the 1260 prophetic days, then the period, comprehended between the years 604 and 1864, must be the period during which the two witnesses exercise their sackcloth-ministration. Here, there
" Rev. xi. 3-6.
fore, we must look out for the agents intended by the two witnesses.
2. Such an inquiry, however, cannot be satisfactorily prosecuted, unless we can ascertain the precise idea which we ought to annex to the agents themselves. What does the prophet mean, abstractedly, by the two witnesses ?
St. John does not leave us to answer this question by mere random conjecture : he himself supplies us with the true interpretation of his own phraseology. The two witnesses, he tells us, are the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks, which stand before the God of the earth.
We may observe, that the imagery here employed is still borrowed from the temple of Jerusalem, not only with strict poetical decorum and concinnity, but for the purpose also of specifically teaching us where we are to look for the two witnesses.
David informs us, that olive-trees were cultivated within the house of God, probably after the same manner as plants are introduced into a greenhouse : and we may collect from Zechariah, that the number of these trees was limited to two. There was also in the temple a golden candlestick, which Zechariah, like St. John, associates with the two olive-trees : and it is observable, that the
prophet under the Law, no less than the prophet under the Gospel, employs the furniture in question as the mystic vehicle of some recondite infor
· Psalm lii. 8. Zechar. iv. 3, 11, 12
mation'. Thus plainly is the present imagery borrowed from the furniture of the temple.
If, then, the two witnesses be respectively the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks; when we have ascertained the import of those two symbols, we shall of course know in the abstract what idea we ought to attach to the two witnesses : and, since the two literal olive-trees and the literal golden candlestick were placed in the literal temple; the two witnesses, represented by them, must obviously be sought within the precincts of the mystical temple.
Now an olive-tree and a candlestick are equally symbols of a Church : for we learn the proper interpretation of the former from Jeremiah and St. Paul, while the apocalyptic prophet himself gives us the true exposition of the latter. Since, therefore, an olive-tree and a candlestick are severally the hieroglyphic of a Church, and since the two witnesses are declared to be two olive-trees and two candlesticks; it will plainly follow, that the two witnesses can only be two Churches : and again, since the two olive-trees and the two candlesticks, alluded to in the imagery of the present vision, are
' Zechar. iv. 2, 11, 13, 14.
• Jerem. xi. 16. Rom. xi, 7–26. Rev. i. 12, 13, 20. Dr. Stonard, in his Commentary on Zechar. xiv, rightly pronounces an olive-tree and a candlestick to be each the symbol of a Church.
Of the propriety of this exposition of the symbols, there can, I think, be no doubt. St. John has borrowed his hieroglyphical machinery from the vision of Zechariah ; and, in each prophecy alike, as congruity required, the olive-tree and the candlestick bear the same abstract signification.
It forms no part of my present plan to discuss the prediction of Zechariah : and very probably Dr. Stonard may be right in his applicatory exposition of it. I may, therefore, content myself with remarking, that, while, in the concrete, two entirely different duads of Churches may possibly form the respective subjects of the two symbolically cognate visions of Zechariah and St. John; yet, in the abstract, Churches, and Churches only, are the matters respectively treated of by the two prophets, For, though, on the well established principles of hieroglyphical imagery, a prophet is not at liberty to assign any other sense to an olive-tree and a candlestick, than that of a Church; yet he may freely employ those symbols to represent any Church, which may be the special and definite subject of his prediction. The abstract import of the symbols is fixed and precise : the concrete application of them is open and unlimited. .
I have insisted the more largely upon this point, because some very fanciful misapprehensions have been entertained respecting the nature and character of the two apocalyptic wito nesses.
Thus, to deem them the two individual prophets Enoch and Elijah reappearing upon earth during the reign of a personal Antichrist of the tribe of Dan, which is the prevalent interpretation among the commentators of the Roman Church; or to identify them with the Old Testament and the New Testament, which has been the humour of some unskilful protestant expositors : to adopt either of these crude speculations is to make strange wild work with the symbolical language of prophecy.
In the abstract, the two apocalyptic witnesses can only be two Churches : what two particular Churches they may be in the concrete, is another question. On the latter point, commentators are at liberty to differ: on the former point, they enjoy no such liberty.