« PreviousContinue »
ed and ungodly upon the earth; with design to make one great effort to destroy the church and kingdom of Christ, preparatory to the last judgment, and the consummation of all things.
This subject the prophet begins, by declaring his authority to treat of it: and this authority is given by a power no less than God himself, through Jesus Christ. In strict conformity to his instructions, received from time to time in his several visions, he begins his narration of future events, with those which were in a peculiar manner to attend the seven primitive churches; because their establishment, by the Apostles, was the foundation of the general church of Christ; the first great and most important event which succeeded his crucifixion and ascension.
He then proceeds to the general history of the church, consisting of the seven churches united and this he represents as contained in" a book sealed with seven seals,t" which, in his vision," he saw in the right hand of "GOD, sitting upon his throne:" a book which "no man in heaven, nor in the earth, neither "under the earth, was found worthy or able, "to loose the seals thereof, neither to read or "look thereon." That is, a book which neither the departed patriarchs nor prophets who were in heaven, nor the most just and perfect mortals then living on the earth, nor any of those who were not risen from the dead, were
* Chap. i. ii. iii.
+ Rev. v.
found worthy to look upon, and much less to open the seals, to read and understand it. Yet there was found one, who had been a man, worthy not only to look upon, but to loose the seals of the book, to read and to communicate the contents thereof to the prophet: and this "was the lion of the tribe of Judah, the root "of David, the Lamb of God:" the revealer of his word, and the Redeemer of mankind. To this Lamb of God the book is delivered, and by him the seals are opened, and the contents thereof made known to the prophet, in sundry visions, and in the same order of time in which they were afterwards to be fulfilled, in regular succession.
Having thus declared his authority, and the divine source whence he received his knowledge of futurity, the prophet divides his subject into three great parts, or successive periods. of events, under the allegory of seals, trumpets, and vials*. Each of these great topics he again.
* It being the will of the Divine Author of prophecy, that the events foretold should not be foreseen nor perfectly known until they should come to pass, they are figuratively represented, as contained in a book sealed with seven seals: a seal being an instrument commonly used to conceal, from the sight and knowledge of men, that which is contained within the thing sealed, and not intended to be known until the proper time. A trumpet is used in war to call the soldier to his duty, when he has strayed from it : and therefore the prophet makes use of it as a symbol of the visitations of God, intended to summon the church, in the course of her warfare with a licentious world, to a faithful discharge of her duty, when she should wantonly depart from the word of God. A vial is a vessel in which chymists preserve inflammable spirits, which destroy that upon which it is poured out; and therefore is a proper figure for the wrath of God, reserved to be poured out upon the wicked in the last day.
subdivides into lesser periods, under seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials; and in order to preserve the connection of events, and harmony of his narration, he makes use of the seventh and last seal to introduce the subjects of the trumpets; of the seventh and last trumpet, those of the vials; and of the seventh and last vial, that of the last trump, by which the whole race of Adam shall be summoned before the judgment seat of a righteous, offended, and long-forbearing God, to answer for the deeds" done in the body.'
The contents of the seven seals are revealed to him by Christ himself, because they relate to the blessed progress and exaltation of the church established, through his divine mission and auspices*. The contents of the trumpets are disclosed by angels, and not by Christ, because they announce the judgments of God upon the wicked; and this was altogether inconsistent with the office of " the Lamb "of God," the Prince of Peace†, and “ Me"diator between God and men." And the contents of the vials of the wrath of God upon the ungodly, by a voice from the throne of God himself.
Under the symbol of the seven seals, he foretels the wonderful progress of the revealed word of God, and its blessed influence over the minds, actions, and morals of mankind; or in other words, the miraculous success of
* Rev. vi. 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9. 12. viii. 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12. xvi. 1. † Isa. v. 9.
the church of Christ, in propagating his gospel, which he declares should go forth con"quering and to conquer*;" or converting and to convert the heathen world, from its miserable state of darkness, to the light of eternal truth, notwithstanding the dreadful opposition and persecution of the pagan powers. This great prophetic event became perfectly fulfilled in the fourth century, two hundred years after it had been foretold, when Constantine the Great, and the Emperors who succeeded him, and whose dominions extended over a great part of the earth, were converted to the Christian faith; when the pagan powers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, were extirpated; their magistrates, oracles, priests, and temples, suppressed; their immense revenues confiscated; their farther opposition and persecution of the church rendered impossible; and the word of God, as it were, being seated upon the late throne of pagan idolatry, extended over the greater part of the world. The natural, and I may say, the necessary consequences of which were, that pride, ambition, lust, and darkness, with all their train of evil, discontent, quarrel, and discord, which had arisen, and kept the world in one continued ferment of war and blood, from the time of the dispersion of the sons of Noah, to that epoch; and which had given rise to the four despotic and wicked empires, described by Daniel, under the appella
Chap. vi. 2.
tion of the four beasts (namely, the Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, and Roman), in a manner ceased under the influence and operation of the pure word of God: insomuch, that the historians of that day have emphatically distinguished it as the age of "blessed tranquil
ity," "beata tranquilitas." Thus the seals bring down a chain of events, consisting of the great contest between the unerring truths, and perfect light of the word of God, and the falsehood and ignorance of pagan idolatry, to the fourth century.
But as neither the converted world, nor even the primitive churches, had arrived at such a degree of moral rectitude, and perfect faith, as to entitle them to their final redemption and everlasting peace, they did not long enjoy this happy change. Elated with prosperity, they became, with inconceivable folly and monstrous ingratitude, forgetful of the Cause and Author of their wonderful delivery. They perverted and distorted the plain and intelligible word of God, into a mystical jargon, and abominable heresies; and thus wantonly strayed from, and lost sight of that light and truth, which had miraculously led them out of pagan darkness and captivity into the path of everlasting life.
Such was the degenerated state of Christians in the beginning of the fifth century, which surely deserved the divine reprehension and chastisement; and therefore it pleased God to suffer them to return to their former state of