The Vision of St. John

From the Christian Science Journal, September 1910, by

NEAR the close of the first century of the Christian era, or, about sixty years after the great Teacher had passed from the view of men, the beloved disciple of Jesus was exiled to the island of Patmos in the Ægean sea, by Domitian, the Roman Emperor; and it was during this exile that John was vouchsafed the wonderful vision of the Apocalypse. The loving disciple who had leaned on the breast of his great Master had come close to the real inspiration of Truth under his intimate tutelage. He had visited Rome and other cities, had suffered much persecution and hardship for the sake of Christianity, and was finally brought to confinement on a point of the earth’s surface so narrowly circumscribed that it could be said that materiality had indeed very largely faded from his consciousness. And yet the varied experiences of the Revelator and his temporary place of asylum all combined to render his consciousness fully prepared for the great work of receiving and transcribing the facts recorded in his book of Revelation.

Patmos was a rocky and barren island in the Ægean archipelago, lying between Greece and Asia Minor. It was only about fifteen miles in circumference, and because of its very desolate aspect was considered to lie well adapted to the purpose of a prison to which political and other offenders against Rome could be banished. John’s exile to this place seemed to be a very harsh expedient; but really it became for him a retreat of quietude and safety. That which sometimes seems to our blindfolded eyes to be injustice, may, by reversal of the material sense, be seen to be a means of progress which is related to issues of great importance and benefit to many people.

Thus the gentle disciple-prophet was in the right place to fulfil that duty which became his inheritance for the good of the human race. There was little in nature or in art to charm the senses and beguile the seer from the tasks connected with his transcendental vision, and his spiritual perception reached far above matter or material sense. The human senses of this prophet of reality were confined to such meager limitations that his enlightened consciousness of Truth could look into the ever-present heavens and perceive their spiritual glories.

After several years of close association with Jesus, and after many years of constant meditation, evangelical work, and demonstration of the truth in healing both sin and sickness as his Master had taught him, the once impetuous disciple had become sufficiently spiritualized to perceive the deathless realities of Life and Love. Of all the followers of Jesus, he was best fitted to understand and declare the ultimate of all human prophecy. But centuries must intervene before John’s vision could become clear to human consciousness, for his record of the experience on Patmos was destined to be one of the world’s storm-centers of intellectual debate and carnal opposition.

During the third century, when the authenticity and value of the book of Revelation were brought into question, Dionysius of Alexandria declared that the book was not written by the apostle, but by John the presbyter; yet the philosopher nevertheless believed it to be a work of’ divine inspiration. Said he: “For my part, I dare not reject the book, since many of the brethren have it in high esteem; but allowing it to be above my understanding. I “suppose it to contain throughout some latent and wonderful meaning; for though I do not understand it, I suspect there must be some profound sense in the words. … I esteem them too sublime to be comprehended.” This was a just estimate from an intellectual standpoint, and it illustrates the inability of the human mind, unillumined by Truth, to fathom the latent spiritual significance of John’s book. This respectful attitude has been characteristic of thousands, down through the seventeen centuries which followed, who have been the means of preserving the letter of John’s record against the hostile attacks of those who were ignorant of the divine message enfolded therein. But few indeed have caught more than a transitory glimpse, now and then, of the beauty and grandeur of its thought.

The controversies which waged in the earlier centuries of the Christian era in regard to the authorship and authority of the book of Revelation did not weaken or destroy its substantial idealism. It was founded on the rock, and its structure was builded after a pattern that resisted all the shocks of human opinion and opposition. Those who opposed the canonical authority of John’s Revelation were especially active in their efforts to expurgate this book from the Holy Scriptures during the period known as the Reformation. Luther himself objected to its use, and often opposed the idea that the Apocalypse was inspired. The book seemingly presented nothing to his thought which was spiritually valuable. He declared that there were “various and abundant reasons” why he should regard the book as “neither apostolical nor prophetic.” His main reason for objecting to the Revelation was because the apostles did not make use of visions, but confined their writings to “clear and plain language.” Luther thought it was only “becoming the apostolic office to speak plainly, and without figure or vision respecting Christ and his acts.” Luther also thought that John arrogated much to himself in obeying the injunction of the heavenly voice, by appending a threat against any man who might take from any of the statements of the book. Luther thought this made the Revelation more important than the Gospels,—an idea to which he could not be reconciled. “Besides,” he wrote, “even if it were a blessed thing to believe what it contains, no man knows what that is.”

Down through the centuries since Luther’s time, this latter declaration has been accepted by many students of scholastic theology; and until recent years the spiritual import of the Apocalypse has been obscured because no writer came forward to interpret it in a way which would make the substance of John’s vision available for the solution of human problems. Many attempts have been made to bring out the real meaning of John’s final message to humanity, in commentaries which appeal mostly to the intellect, and therefore afford but very meager glimpses into the true meaning of his wonderful record. It is said that there are today over three hundred different works by various authors which aim to explain and clarify the language of the Apocalypse.

Christian Scientists, as a body, aver that until they had read and studied the meaning of John’s vision as presented in the chapter “The Apocalypse” in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mrs. Eddy, they had no understanding of it which could be considered as truly helpful. Until the light of truth presented in this inspired work dispelled the darkness of mere intellectual belief, the Revelation was indeed a sealed book to them; it was especially mysterious because of the figures of speech employed by the Revelator to record the conditions of thought which floated across his spiritual vision as he looked away from all that was typified by the waste of waters which surrounded him.

Today, however, the students of the Bible and of Science and Health, including many clergymen,—graduates of divinity schools of this and other countries,—unite in declaring that to them the Revelation is no longer a mysterious record of a transcendental vision beyond the understanding of man. Through Mrs. Eddy’s wonderful insight into the realm of true metaphysics, and her ability to reduce her understanding to terms which all may comprehend, students of Christian Science are daily gaining an understanding of the spiritual nature of John’s vision which satisfies both the head and the heart. The higher views secured through the study of our text-book and the demonstration of the Principle therein revealed, are rich in encouragement and fruition. In place of the dim uncertainties and distracting speculations of former experiences, Bible students now find that John’s vision is, in the light of Science, a constant incentive to strive after higher ideals of Christian living. Thus clarified, this wonderful vision is an encouragement to overcome the illegal demands of the old selfhood, by possessing that Mind which was the life-motive of Christ Jesus, and which was so liberally manifested through his favorite disciple.

In this glorious light it is seen that the divine purpose of the vision of the lone prisoner of Patmos is to promote the salvation of all mankind, that its true animus is to encourage and bless the sons and daughters of men. through spiritual understanding, as the first chapter of the book declares: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear [understand] the words of this prophecy.” The earnest students of Christian Science actually experience the fruition of the promise found in that wonderful twenty-second chapter, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.” They learn that this divinely conferred right comes through consecration, humility, obedience, self-correction, and demonstration in healing sin and sickness here and now. To “enter in through the gates into the city” is not a transition to be hoped for in a dim and distant hereafter, but a transformation of consciousness here below, and all who study the Revelation of John through the lens of Christian Science, find that the entire writings of the great disciple are a wonderful help in working out their individual problems, “here a little, and there a little,” as spiritual sense unfolds.

Progress in the study of the Scriptures offers nothing to the student of Christian Science which is more gratifying and helpful than this wonderful illumination of the real spiritual nature of the apocalyptic vision. The Bible student of today who finds himself narrowly circumscribed on a Patmos of human experience, surrounded by a restless sea of adverse material conditions, finds ample encouragement in John’s experience. Christian Science so clearly illumines the meaning of this vision that self-commiseration, pride of life and rebellion against what seems to be human authority fade away as the student looks into the heaven of reality always near at hand. He even becomes joyfully grateful for “the afflictions of the gospel.” through which he secures a foretaste of the goodness and glory of the divine Principle of John’s vision,—infinite Love, “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”

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