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had rendered the pure doctrines of the Gospel of difficult attainment, then greater evils naturally ensued. Ignorance easily became blind submission, and priestcraft advanced into civil tyranny.--So under the fourth seal, the mystery of iniquity was completed. It was then that the harsh and usurped dominion 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 in the account of those who had seized the government
of the Christian Church. Bloody tribunals were Si erected, and deadly laws enacted, against deviations
afrom the standard of doctrine enjoined by the corrupt rulers; soldiers were levied to inforce obedience to their tyrannical laws; and entire nations of reputed - heretics were subdued, or extirpated by the sword. Thus, under the name of the Christian Church, under the auspices and guidance of her professed ministers, Death and Hell were seen to commit devastation, to destroy the lives of men, and almost to eradicate pure Religion from the world.
The chronological period of these respective seals may be generally, but cannot be exactly, ascertained ; because, as was observed before, the change was gradual: and in such cases, though we can see clearly, as in the colours of the rainbow, that the change from one to the other has taken place; yet it is not so easy to ascertain at what point of contact it began. 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 *. The third seal, under which superstition imposed a yoke of cere
* See note, ch, vi. 4.
monies and observances, “such as pure Religion had “ rejected,” seems to have had its commencement in those times when the Church associated itself with heathen philosophy, and imbibed with it heathen superstition. These abuses crept in by degrees; and the colour seems not entirely to have changed till the enil of the fourth and beginning of the fifth centuries *. The corruption and ravages of the fourth seal came on likewise by gradation, growing as it were, out of the two preceding; and did not arrive at their utinost horror, till about the twelfth century. The banishment of Christians, on account of religious opinions, began, under the influence of the second seal, with the reign of Constantine, and increased under that of Theodosius. Under Honorius, in the fifth century,
X Х edicts were obtained from the civil power, for persecution unto death t; but they appear not to have been then carried into execution. Yet the bias of the church had begun at this time to incline strongly
fruit to such violent measures. Augustine, in his epistle to Vincentius I, says, that he has found reason to change his opinion concerning the application of force in the conversion of heretics, perceiving it now to be useful. Fisirin; But still there seems to have been no capital punish. i4 ment for that which the church should deem heresy, Tüí before the twelfth century; when a court of Inqui- inai sition was erected against the Albigenses and Wal- !,dinis denses. In the thirteenth century it was enacted, by ! the fourth council lateran, that heretics should be delivered to the civil power to be burned. At which
• Mosheim, Cent. v. pp. 376. 382. 390. 892. 396.
+ See this proved by Sir Isaac Newton, on Daniel and the Apocalypse, p. 410. 415. 1 Tom. ii. p. 174.
time, during a lamentable period of forty years, above a million of men are said to have suffered by capital punishment for what was deemed heresy, or in what was called Christian warfare*.
Tantum relligio potuit suadere malorum!
Such is the interpretation of the four first seals, which a diligent attention to the figurative language of Scripture, and a comparison of it with ecclesiastical history, has occasioned me to produce. It is different from the exposition, at this time generally received ; in which, the reigns of certain Roman Emperors, distinguished by conquest, civil war, famine, and slaughter, are exhibited, as fulfilling these predictions. But the grounds upon which the interpreters have proceeded, are not such as have inclined me, on a candid review, to retract my interpretation, and adopt theirs.
I have already 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 is seldom found to deviate 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 History of the Church and of its Messiah. If this notion be just, (as, I trust, will be generally allowed,) it must at the same time be granted, that, in the interpretation of the Apocalyptic Visions,
* Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. cent. xiii. Hist. des Papes, iii. 16. Fleury, Eccl. Hist. xvi. 174. 240. xviii. 485. Jortin's Remarks on Eccl. Hist. v. 72. 138, &c. 245. 254. 330. 353. 363. 356. 373. 386. 493. + See the Introduction, pages 11, 12, 13, 14.
no part should be diverted from this its main and proper object, so as to be applied to the fortunes of civil and heathen empires or rulers, unless the symbols, under which the prediction is represented, evidently demand such application, by a comparison of their former and undoubtedly fit application to such purposes by preceding Prophets. I allow, for instance, that the remainder of the Roman empire, divided into ten kingdoms, is evidently symbolized and delieneated in chapters xiii. xvii. &c. of the Apocalypse. The symbols there used, compared with similar passages of the prophet Daniel, point out and demand such an application. But, when no such cogent reasons occur from a Divine interpretation of the figurative language, (as in that of Daniel by the angel, Dan. vii. 16.) it appears to me, that we have no right to apply the prophecies to civil and heathen history. In the figurative language of the four seals, I can discover no such grounds of interpretation; nor can I perceive that any such have been produced. We have no Divine direction, as in chap. xvii. 18, to point to the great city Rome : and certainly there is no appearance in the horses or their riders, which designates them as Roman. Nor do I remark that the writers who have adopted this mode of applying these predictions, have used arguments to justify such interpretation. A passage indeed of this kind, I have observed in Joseph Mede, and have before quoted; in which he concludes, that because the prophet Daniel had both presignified the coming of Christ, and also arranged the fortunes of the Jewish Church, according to the succession of the heathen-empires; so the Apocalyptic prophecies must be supposed to measure the Christian history by the intervention of the Roman
empire then remaining *. This will be granted in all cases, when the symbols employed shall appear necessarily to point out such interpretation; but not otherwise t.
The application of the prophecies of the seals to the fortunes of the Roman empire, and to the character of its princes, appears to me forced and unjustified. It would be curious to observe whence it took its rise, and how by degrees it obtained so general a reception in modern times; or at least in our country. There is reason to believe, that the most ancient commentators, Papias, Irenæus, Methodius, Hippolytus, &c. (mentioned by Andreas Cæsariensis , as exhibiting the lights which he followed in his commentary,) entertained no such idea. For Andreas has interpreted the three first seals to exhibit the history of the Christian Church. The prophecy of the fourth seal, he indeed supposes, with the moderu commentators, to foretel the slaughter, pestilence, &c. which raged in the Roman empire under Marimin. But such a comment on the fourth seal, could not be derived from these ancient expositors; because they did not live to see those times, and explain the prediction by the event. It is therefore not their exposition, but probably that of Andreas himself, who wrote about the year 500. And certainly it must be thought inconsistent, and disorderly, after interpreting the three first seals as relating to the fortunes of the Christian Church, to understand the fourth as respecting the Roman empire. But this application of the fourth seal by Andreas, seems to have afforded
See Mede's Works, p. 441. + This subject is treated more at large at the conclusion of the prophecy of the four first Trumpets, ch. viii. I Præf. in Apocalypsin.