« PreviousContinue »
of iniquity" was completed. It was then that the harsh usurpation, which we call the Papal tyranny, was extended over the lives and the consciences of Christians. To profess religion in its purity, became a crime. Bloody tribunals were erected, and severe and deathly laws enacted against those who deviated from the standard of doctrine established by the corrupt rulers. Armies were raised to enforce obedience to their orders; and entire nations. of Christians, under the imputed name of heretics, were subjugated, or extirpated by the sword. Thus, under the assumed authority of the Christian Church, under the auspices and direction of her professed ministers and rulers, Death and Hell were seen to devastate a great part of the Christian world, destroying the lives of men, both literally and spiritually, and eradicating the pure doctrines of the Gospel.
1 The chronological periods of these four seals re
1 The interpretation of the prophecy under this seal, most generally adopted in this country, is thus given in an abstracted form taken from Mede, Bishop Newton, &c., by the learned editors of the National Bible. (Rev. ch. vi. 6, 8.) The fourth seal or period is distinguished by a concurrence of evils, war, famine, pestilence, and wild beasts. These are the same four sore judgments with which Ezekiel threatened Jerusalem, (Ezek. xiv. 21.) These four were to destroy the fourth part of the earth.' The image of Death riding on a pale horse, and hell or the grave following with him, ready to swallow up the dead bodies, is highly poetical. This period commences with the emperor Maximin, and continues to the time of Dioclesian, about fifty years. The history of Maximin and his several successors is full of wars and murders, invasions of foreign armies, rebellions of subjects, and deaths of princes. Here was sufficient employment for the sword.' And such wars and devastations must necessarily produce a famine, and the famine' is another distinguishing calamity of this period. An usual consequence of famine is the pestilence,' which is the third distinguishing calamity of this period. This pestilence, as it is recorded by an historian of the time, arising from Ethiopia, while Gallus and Volusian were emperors, pervaded all the Roman provinces,
spectively may be generally, but cannot be exactly ascertained; because, as was observed before, the and for fifteen years incredibly exhausted them. Another historian says, speaking of the devastations of the Scythians, in the reign of Gallus above mentioned, that the pestilence, not less pernicious than the war, destroyed whatever was left of human kind, and made such havoc as had never been done in former times. When countries are depopulated by these causes, the wild beasts' multiply, and come into towns to destroy men, which is the fourth distinguishing calamity of this period. This would appear a probable consequence of the former calamities, if history had recorded nothing of it; but it happens that one special instance is recorded of five hundred wolves entering a city which was deserted by its inhabitants. The colour of the pale horse is very suitable to the mortality of this period."
This interpretation is not at variance with that of Andreas Cæsariensis and some of the ancient commentators, who have understood by this seal the plagues of war, famine, and pestilence, sent by divine vengeance on the persecutors of the Christians, in the times of Maximin, &c., for the history of which sufferings and devastation Eusebius is quoted. But when we look to the ancient commentators as of high authority, it is to Irenæus, Methodius, Hippolitus, &c., that we must principally refer, as living near to the times of St. John. Now none of these are quoted, or could probably have given this interpretation, as they did not live to interpret by the
Vitringa understands this seal, as he does the three preceding, to foretell the history of the Christian Church. And this seal in particular he supposes to be fulfilled in the dreadful ravages permitted by divine Providence to afflict, and in part annihilate, this Church, miserably divided and corrupted in the sixth, and subsequent centuries,-by the Mahometan Saracens and Turks.
These disastrous events may perhaps be comprehended in the history belonging to this seal, or at least they followed as the necessary effects of the ignorance and superstition under the third seal. But the four sore judgments are of greater extent and comprehension, and the papal tyranny, which began at the same time with the Mahometan, is not to be excluded from the account.
Upon the whole, the predictions contained under the four first seals, are expressed so shortly and so generally, that it may seem improper to apply them to any special and particular events. The colour and character of the times, succeeding each other in the Christian Church, are all that we can fairly collect from them; and the main question to be determined concerning them seems to be this: whether they are intended to foreshow the character of the
change was gradual; and in such cases, though we can see clearly, as in the colours of the rainbow, that the change from the one to the other has taken place, yet it is not so easy to ascertain the point of contact. Thus, generally speaking, we may affirm, that the uncharitable and vengeful character of the second seal is to be seen distinctly in the fourth century, though it had its dawnings much sooner. times in the Roman empire, as Mede and his followers contend; or, as Vitringa, and Durham, and the writer of these annotations have supposed, those in the Christian Church.
In my introduction to a former work I have stated my reasons for believing that (agreeably to the opinion of many eminent divines) all sacred prophecy has for its object the fates and fortunes of the Church of God and of Christ; that it seldom deviates from this object; and that when the fates of nations or of individuals are foretold, it is even then with some reference to the future state of the Church and its Messiah. If this notion be just of divine prophecy in general, it must extend also to the apocalyptic prophecies. Nor shall we be warranted to apply them to the history of particular nations, unless the symbols, as in some cases, evidently and particularly demand such application. In the thirteenth and in the seventeenth chapters of this prophetic book, certain symbols will be seen to occur, which, compared with similar expressions of the prophet Daniel, point out and demand our application of them to Rome. But in the figurative language of the four seals, there is no such reference: neither the horses, nor their riders, have any thing to designate them as Roman. The first horse, by the confession of Mede himself, the great leader of this Roman interpretation, is not Roman. How can we expect those which follow him to be such? Or, why, when we have so great and interesting an object in view, as the fates and fortunes of the Church of Christ, (an object plainly placed before us by the first visions of the book,) why are we to suppose that its prophecies are to be fulfilled in the heathen history of the rebellious wars, famines, pestilences, and devastations which occurred in that vast, unwieldy body of the Roman empire, as they have done, and will do, in other ill-regulated states? Why are we to be content with a literal contemplation of so mean and unworthy a character, when, enlarging our attention to the figurative meaning, as we are exhorted to do in the opening of the prophecy, (ch. ii. 11, &c.) we see the general description of Christ's Church pass before our eyes, in emblems exactly concordant with its general history?
The third seal, under which superstition imposed a yoke of ceremonies and observances such as pure religion had rejected, seems to have had its beginnings in the times when the Church, associating itself with the heathen philosophy, imbibed with it heathen superstition. These abuses crept in by degrees, and the black colour seems not to have thoroughly prevailed till the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth centuries, (Mosheim, cent. v. pp. 376, 382, 390-396.) The corruption and ravages of the fourth seal came on likewise by gradation, and did not arrive at their utmost horror till the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the latter of these it was enacted by the fourth council lateran, that heretics should be delivered to the civil power to be burned. At which time, and during a lamentable period of forty years, more than a million of human beings are said to have suffered by capital punishment, (from two to three hundred thousand in the south of France alone,) for what was falsely pronounced to be heresy.
Tantum relligio potuit suadere malorum !
The opening of the Fifth Seal.
CHAP. vi. ver. 9-11.
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:
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 fellowservants also and their brethen, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.
Ver. 9. Under the altar.] We are not informed whether the altar here mentioned is the golden one of incense, which makes part of the scenery in ch. viii, and has its proper place before the throne; or the brazen altar of burnt sacrifice. The former of these belongs more appropriately to the scenery; but the latter is more fitting to the action represented, namely, the martyrs slain; or, as the word opayμevov, applied to the altar, signifies more particularly, sacrificed. This uncertainty occasions some difficulty, which may perhaps be removed, by supposing the action of this seal, as of the four preceding, to be represented graphically, or in picture. In this case, though the altar of incense may be still supposed to stand in its proper place, before the mercy-seat and the throne, yet at the same time the brazen altar may also appear delineated in picture upon the roll of the book when the fifth seal is opened by the Lamb; for on the unfolding of the fifth roll, this additional altar comes into sight, and the martyrs are seen at the foot of it, and voices are heard to accompany their expressive gestures, as they hold up their hands in prayer. In the figurative language of Scripture, the blood of the murdered is said to cry from the ground to the Lord for vengeance, (Gen. iv. 10.)
Ver. 10. How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood.] Such with pious sufferers has been the frequent subject of complaint: "How long shall the ungodly triumph?" (Ps. xciv. 3.) For wise reasons, discoverable in part now, but to be completely known hereafter, the Almighty suspends his vengeance on the triumphant