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THAT the reader may be acquainted with the design and tendency of this publication, it is necessary to lay before him the circumstances under which it was undertaken.
In the first place, I must revert to my former work upon the same subject published in the year 1805.1 That book had its origin in a resolution formed by me, to study the Apocalyptic prophecies without the usual aid of commentators. The circumstances which produced it were as follows:-In my preparation for holy orders, having gone through the sacred writings of the Old and New Testament, I came to this last and most difficult book. Here I found a pause necessary, to supply me with able and safe aids, before I could venture to proceed. In this difficulty I consulted my theological friends,
"The Apocalypse of St. John translated; with Notes critical and explanatory; to which is prefixed, a Dissertation on the divine Origin of the Book, &c. By JOHN CHAPPEL WOODHOUSE, M.A. Archdeacon of Salop, &c. Hatchard, London. 1805."
and from them I collected, that the writers upon the Apocalypse were almost innumerable, very discordant, and that none of them had afforded general and entire satisfaction. I perceived, that with my present stock of knowledge and attainment, I might expect to be bewildered in the variety and discrepancy of explanation; and I resolved to defer my acquaintance with this sacred book, till I could approach it with better hopes of success.
In the mean time, I determined to prepare myself, by an extensive and accurate knowledge of the holy Scriptures, of the Christian writings in the early centuries, the Fathers of the Church, and the ecclesiastical historians; and at the same time, to avoid all publications which might prejudice me in favour of any particular interpretation.
For many years, however, my engagements in active duties prevented the accomplishment of my intentions. At length the time arrived, when I could employ my leisure for literature-the "horæ subseciva" of Cicero-upon this interesting subject. A few years out of twelve were then occupied in such preparative studies, and the remainder in endeavouring to understand, interpret, and arrange the prophecies, as they appear reported in my work.
Having completed my labours, I submitted them to an highly-valued friend, who, having carefully perused them, and suggested some improvements, recommended their immediate publication.
The work, however, did not prove generally attractive; the public mind being at that time preoccupied with the more amusing speculations of
other commentators, who found the fulfilment of the prophecies in question in the passing events of the day, or in bold and confident exposure of the future history of the world.
On the other hand, I had my reward, in the approbation of my learned friends, and of some distinguished prelates, to whom I presented copies of the work. Among the latter, I have the pleasure to enumerate the late Bishop Hurd; and, as his testimony supports the principles on which this, as well as my former work is conducted, I shall not hesitate to lay it before the public. It may be seen in a copy of the book, in the library of Hartlebury Castle, which the Bishop bequeathed to his successors in the see, and is thus written by his Lordship's own hand:
"This is the best book of its kind that I have seen; it owes its superiority chiefly to two things— 1. The author's understanding, for the most part, the apocalyptic symbols in a spiritual, not a literal 2. To the care he has taken to fix the precise import of those symbols, from the use made of them by the old prophetical, and other writers of the Old and New Testament. Still, many difficulties remain, and will remain, to the time of the end.
"March 15, 1806."
This testimony found its way into some of the literary journals, and could not fail to produce an