« PreviousContinue »
and others, with equal confidence, have maintained that they exclusively respect the Roman empire. The view here given is the most generally received, and appears to be most consistent with truth and fact. If we consider the four horses as symbolizing the success of the Gospel, and the judgments of God on its enemies, partially affecting the Church, there is sufficient unity of design. The symbolical representations all bear a relation to the Church in its success and tribulations, and to the Jews and Romans as its persecutors.
It may here be remarked, that there is a natural as well as a judicial connexion between the judgments of the Almighty; and that one calamity seldom comes alone. Jehovah's quiver is full of arrows, and he is never at a loss for ways and means to punish the wicked. May our minds be deeply affected with his threatenings against the wicked, as well as by his promises to the righteous! He is yet appearing among us in the displays of his mercy and grace. “ May we kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and we “ perish from the way, even when his wrath is only “ beginning to be kindled!"
Chap. vi. 9-11. AND when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held : 10. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? 11. And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it
was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
The fifth seal discloses, under the altar, the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and the testimony they held. These martyrs, though killed with the sword of their persecutors, were living in the presence of God; and they are represented as crying unto him for vengeance on their blood; as wearing white robes emblematical of their justification by Christ and sanctification by the Spirit; and as being commanded to rest for a season, till their brethren were completed, who were about to be slain as they had been. The view of an altar, and the sacrifices that had been made upon it, has a special reference to the Jewish worship, which frequently occurs throughout the whole book. This imagery fitly represents the numerous Christians who had suffered as martyrs under the heathen emperors, not only at the time to which the seal particularly refers, but also previously to it, from the earliest ages of the Church. The souls of the believers who had fallen in the arduous contest appeared as sacrifices that had been recently offered. They are represented as crying for retribution, but not from a principle of revenge. This unholy passion in the real Christian is subdued by the grace of God, even while in the body; much less then can it be supposed to exist in the spirits of just men made perfect. Their blood, undoubtedly, like the blood of righteous Abel, cried to God for vengeance; but the language of these glorified martyrs was the voice of their zeal for the honour of God, and of their desire for the prevalence of the Gospel. Their white robes denote the heavenly honours conferred upon them, and shew that, immediately after their martyrdom, they were admitted into a state of felicity, as accepted and holy. It has been frequently observed
by commentators, that this representation is evidently in favour of the immediate happiness of departed saints, and cannot be considered as consistent with that uncomfortable opinion, the insensible state of departed saints, till after the resurrection. It is generally supposed that the prediction of this seal has a peculiar reference to the terrible persecution of the Church under Dioclesian, which reached much farther, and was far more bloody, than those which had preceded it. The fury of it lasted ten years, and it was called by the Christians, the æra of the martyrs. If the reader wishes to see the horrible cruelties inflicted upon the Christians at this period, and the various hellishly devised methods of torture by which they were mutilated and murdered, let him consult Milner's History of the Church at the period to which we refer. Here he will find enough, and more than enough, to harrow up his soul with astonishment and horror. This was the first general persecution that reached Britain, when it is said that Christianity throughout the whole island was nearly destroyed, that churches were burned, and that multitudes of the faithful were put to death. The destruction of the Christians was so extensive and general, that the persecutors struck a medal of Dioclesian, which still remains, with this inscription: “ The name of Christians being extinguished."-But though the prediction of this seal seems to have a special reference to the Dioclesian persecution, the whole period of it is supposed to last from A. D. 270 to A. D. 323, when the persecutions of that age were brought to their termination by Constantine the Great; who, in the year last mentioned, obtained the imperial dignity, and surmounted all opposition by his victory over Licinius.
The history of the horrors and ravages of religious persecution, may sometimes call for the exercise of our faith; and we may be ready to cry out with the souls under the altar, “ How long, O “ Lord, holy and true, wilt thou not avenge the “ blood of thy saints upon the earth!” But let us wait with patience; let us not form a hasty and inconsiderate judgment. The dead, “who die in the “ Lord,” and those who have been persecuted to death for his sake and in his cause, are incomparably more happy than those who are the happiest amongst the living. The white robes and golden crowns with which they are adorned, are an abundant compensation, not only for every lighter suffering, but even for the slow fire, the rack, and every other instrument of torture by which they may have suffered. But after a short season “ the earth shall disclose “ the blood” of the saints, and the vengeance that is written will be executed on all their impenitent persecutors, by the holy and faithful Lord of all. “ Heaven and earth shall pass away, but his word “ shall not pass away.” “ Seeing then we look for “ such things, let us be diligent that we may be “ found of him in peace without spot and blameless.”
Chap. vi. 12–17. AND I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; 13. And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. 14. And the heaven departed as a scroll, when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains ; 16. And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: 17. For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand ?
The earthquake which followed the opening of the sixth seal, is a symbol of an extraordinary revolution in the civil and religious state of the world, attended with vast commotions of every kind. The blackness of the sun, the moon appearing as blood, the falling of the stars, denote the extinction with horror and bloodshed of the most exalted and conspicuous persons, such as emperors with their subordinate governors and ministers. The ruling powers of the world are, to the common people, what the sun, moon, and stars are to the earth. Hence, great changes in nations are expressed by God's “ shaking the heavens “ and the earth.” The word here translated earthquake signifies a concussion or shaking both of the heavens and the earth. The whole of the imagery, as represented in the three first verses of the prophecy of this seal, denotes the entire subversion of the pagan persecuting powers by the victories of Constantine, and by his accession to the imperial throne. “ The great lights of the heathen world," says Bishop Newton, “ the sun, moon, and stars ; the “ powers, civil and ecclesiastical, were all eclipsed “ and obscured: the heathen emperors and Cæsars “ were slain ; the heathen priests and augurs were “ extirpated; the heathen officers and magistrates “ were removed; the heathen temples were demo“ lished, and their revenues appropriated to better “ uses.”—The last verses of the prophecy are more literal, describing in language that denotes the utmost horror and consternation, the guilty fears and terrors of the enemies of the Lamb, on perceiving the ,