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The Fifth Seal.
Chap. vi. 9. “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. 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? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rést yet for a little season, until their fellow servants also, and their brethren that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled !"
The symbols of this seal, like the rest, we shall naturally suppose, are prophetical, and the purport of the prophecy clearly appears in the history of the times. Under Diocletian, as every reader will know, the most violent of all the persecutions that the church had yet endured broke out, and threatened, in the views of men, the utter extirpation of the Christian name. The ten years' persecution under Diocletian, therefore, history tells us, fulfilled the prophecy of this seal. This was the grand era of martyrs. But the language of the prophecy is important as it opens to us a scene in the invisible world, applicable to all that suffer for Christ's sake, and confess his name before men. The souls of the martyrs are seen beneath the altar: this declares their state to be that of those who are sanctified by the death of Christ, and obtain remission of sins through his blood.
We have no occasion to impute to these holy souls the sentiment of revenge, because of their cry for justice;
for the symbolical representation may be equally well deciphered as representing God's view of their state and injuries ; — “ The voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the ground.” The “ white robe” denotes the gift of that perfect purity in which they are to be presented before God; but they are bid to rest for a little while, till the number of their fellow sufferers is completed. This period of rest, I conceive, refers to their continuing in the departed state till the resurrection of the just. This will be but a little while in comparison of that “eternal weight of glory” that follows. And we have already learned, that it is at the resurrection, when Christ appears the second time, that the judgment of wicked persecutors is to take place, and the general judgment of this fourth empire. So that we perceive, what is said to these holy souls of the martyred saints, implies an answer to their prayer, - A little while you must rest, then you shall awake and see the vengeance of your blood, and of the blood of all your brethren, upon them that dwell on the earth.
· SECTION IX.
The Sixth Seal. The observations in the close of the former section must be borne in vieiv, in order to our understanding the meaning of the next seal, which is a prophecy of a somewhat different nature from the foregoing seals. Those seals were simple predictions of events to take place in the subsequent history of mankind, and were to receive, in those events, their ultimate and complete
accomplishment. But the sixth seal is a typical prophecy, predicting, indeed, like the foregoing seals, events to follow in the immediate train of historical narrative, but not receiving its ultimate accomplishment in them. These events, thus immediately' predicted, are types of greater things to come, but of things somewhat analogous : in the same manner as, in the Old Testament, the fall of the Assyrian monarch, and especially the fall of Babylon, had been rendered by prophecy types of a greater event in distant futurity. .
«. In the seal we are going to consider -- from the order of events that precede and follow - I can have no doubt, the revolution of the Roman world, under Constantine, which immediately follows this era of martyrs, is typically represented; but its full and ultimate accomplishment cannot possibly arrive till that season of the martyrs' rest, spoken of above, is over, and they come with their great Redeemer to execute vengeance on the fourth empire:
12. “ 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, and the stars of heaven fell upon the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind; and the heaven departed like a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places : 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, 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; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand ?"
By an earthquake, which throws into confusion, and often alters the positions of the prominent objects on the surface of the earth, is ever designated, in prophetic language, great revolutions and changes in the affairs of men. The face of the material heavens also, as well as the surface of the earth, has afforded the prophetic Spirit a set of images whereby to mark these changes in the state of human society. What the sun, and moon, and the principal stars, in their respective combinations, are on the etherial plain, and what mountains and islands are on the extended surface of the terraqueous globe; such are emperors and kings, with their delegates, and all subordinate rulers, in the history of human affairs, in the narrative of the destinies of mankind.
The symbols of this sixth seal will, therefore, naturally lead us - setting out at the era of persecution foretold in the last seal - to look for some great change in the state of the world, especially among its rulers and leading characters. And a revolution, we accordingly find, did happen a little while after the persecution of Diocletian, that totally changed the polity of the Roman empire. It was the next public event of importance to the era of martyrs, and, by a most extraordinary providence, grew out of it. This revolution was nothing less than the ascendancy of the persecuted religion of Jesus Christ, and its public establishment on the overthrow of all the powers of paganism, which, before, had governed the Roman world.
A moral and political change with respect to the church militant here on earth, so great and so entire, had scarcely ever been witnessed in the history of nations ; and, we have reason to suppose, never will again, till that greater revolution comes that finally destroys this
fourth empire, and introduces, in reality, the reign of the saints upon earth. Of that greater revolution at the time of the end, this revolution under Constantine, as we have observed, is constituted a type ; and, therefore, this prophecy is couched in a language that, from the comparison of other prophecies, * can only belong to the judgment of the great day of Christ's appearing and kingdom: when the dominion of this fourth empire is taken away, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame.
The revolution under Constantine had, however, in its leading features, something analogous to that far greater event, which will answer the martyrs' prayer in the former vision; and, therefore, the language of prophecy has consecrated it to be a type of " the great day of the wrath of the Lamb." The idolatrous empire of Rome, as it stood opposed to the kingdom of Christ, was, in a manner, destroyed before the followers of the cross. -To revive again, indeed, as subsequent prophecies will show: but at the era now before us, we not only see the enormous fabric of her religion, so great a support to the strength and dignity of Rome's dominion, cast down to the ground; but her dominion is, itself, actually for a season taken away from her. The same prince who made the religion of Christ the established religion of the state, removed the seat of empire from Rome, and the imperial city that had so long reigned over the kings of the earth is reduced to the rank of a provincial city ; while Constantinople, a Christian city, receives her forfeited honours.
* Isaiah, xiii. 9, &c.; xxiv. 19, &c. ; xxx. 26; xxxiv. 4; 1. 2, 3; Joel, ii. 30, &c.; iii. 15; Dan. ii. 34, 35; vii.; Haggai, ii. 6,7—22, 23.