Last Updated on : Friday, July 26, 2013
|Thirteen Lectures On The Apocalypse|
Revelation Chapters 6 (vs. 7-17); 7, and 8 (vs. 1-6)
The confusion and bloodshed of history -- The beauty of the Apocalypse in constructing a distinct programme out of chaotic materials -- A literal element in the symbolism -- a help to its elucidation --The horse of the seals -- its colour under each -- The fourth seal -- the pale horse--its rider, Death -- fulfilment in the awful experiences of the Roman world, and particularly Italy, under Maximin and his successors -- Half the human species destroyed with the sword, famine and pestilence -- The fifth seal -- ten persecutions under Diocletian and Galerius, who attempted to extinguish Christianity -- peculiarities of the symbolism as appearing to favour popular views of the death state -- The sixth seal.
IN contemplating the various scenes and transactions of European history that stand related to the symbolism of the Apocalypse, we cannot help feeling as if that history was a monotonous stream of confusion and bloodshed, undistinguishable one part from another. It seems one mass of depressing detail, a constant repetition, age after age, of intrigue and violence and bloodshed -- one long, horrible dream of evil without beginning, middle or end. To a great extent, this impression is a correct one. The same passions and ambitions are seen in operation century after century -- the same violent means resorted to of attaining their gratification -- the same train of calamities resulting to large sections of mankind from their indulgence. Names and times and places may differ: but in essence, the historical incidents are but the same thing over and over again, like the whirlings and fightings of kites and crows.
It is this fact that enables us to appreciate one beauty of the Apocalypse that is not seen at first sight, viz., its construction out of this vast mass of chaotic material of a distinct programme in which each generation or so is distinguished by symbols and events peculiar to itself. It would not have seemed possible that such a uniform scene of the social and political turmoil should be mapped out into distinct sections, and represented by separate and appropriate sets of symbols. The Apocalypse accomplished this feat to perfection. The Spirit of God selects from the struggling mass -- so to speak -- one or two leading features in each age, and portrays them in a bold and distinctive symbolism, which becomes increasingly graphic with increasing acquaintance, and excites at last the highest admiration. At first the Apocalyptic symbolism is depressing, but as the mind learns to penetrate the obscurity of the symbols, and to apprehend the literal things signified, a totally different effect is produced. Satisfaction springs from intelligence, and comfort from things discerned by enlightenment.
Most of the scenes have something literal about them, though essentially symbolical in their construction. At first sight this might seem a difficulty in the way of their understanding. Practically, however, it is the reverse. It is a kind of mixture that really helps to make the symbols intelligible, after the example of Punch's cartoons, where the countenance of the head of the Government -- Beaconsfield for example (a literal element) -- is often to be found in combination with pure symbol, -- the British lion, to wit. The facial resemblance in that case is a clue to the significance of the other part of the picture. So when we read of nations and tongues in juxtaposition with a lion-mouthed seven-headed monster, or a bewitching woman, it is an intimation that the thing signified by the monster is to be found in connection with national affairs. We shall find frequent illustrations of this as we proceed.
We have already looked at the symbolism of the first three seals. In these are to be found illustrations of the feature just mentioned. The machaira or dagger in the hand of the rider in the second seal, for example, is a literal object used as a sign. That is, the dagger was to be freely used in assassination, at this time, and here becomes a symbol of that which it was literally employed to accomplish. So in the third seal: wheat, wine and oil are literal ingredients of the hieroglyph. That is, the hieroglyph,
of which they form a verbal part, signified the fiscal extravagances in which these articles would be literally involved, with the result of distress to the people. Their literal use in this way does not confuse the symbol, but rather helps its significance.
We have considered the horse. This is a pure symbol as we have seen. That it signifies the Roman State is proved independently of the employment of that animal in Roman heraldry: it is proved by the fact that what is done by the rider of the horse affects the population of the earth -- the civilized habitable -- which was ruled by Rome and Rome alone. For example: to the rider of the horse in the second seal, "power was given to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another". The earth under Roman jurisdiction is here presented to view. No other power than the Roman is admissible. The colour of the horse we have considered: the first -- white -- a work of righteousness going on during circumstances of public prosperity; the second --red-- bloodshed and assassination the order of the day; the third -- black -- distress and want throughout the empire, in consequence of the rapacious exactions of a succession of profligate emperors.
THE FOURTH SEAL.
We now look at the fourth (chap. 6:7) -- "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat upon him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth". The colour of the horse agrees with the work assigned to the rider. It is a colour characteristic of approaching death. It is not pale in the sense of whiteness; that was the colour of the first horse, having to do with righteousness and prosperity: in this, the paleness is a green paleness. The word translated pale conveys the idea of green as the tint of the paleness. And well does such a colour agree with the events of the next phase of the history of the Roman world. This phase covered a period of nearly seventy years. During that time, there were thirty-nine emperors or men claiming to be emperors, and not one of them died a natural death. With the exception of one who died of pestilence, and two or three who fell in battle, they all died of assassination. Death was an appropriate name for the Roman ridership during this period--seeing
that as sure as a man attained to it he was doomed to death, sooner or later, and in most cases it was death in a very short time -- but Hades followed with death. Hades, as we know, is the grave. Here we have the grave personified, following Death, to receive the victims. This is an intimation that multitudes would be affected by the events so fatal to the lives of emperors. And it was so. The history of this period is a history of constant bloodshed on a large scale: It began with the promotion to the emperorship, of one Maximin -- a Thracian peasant of immense stature and great strength, who came into notice and obtained popularity in the army through these qualities. Through this popularity he succeeded in procuring the assassination of Alexander Severus (the "hurt-not-the-oil-and-the-wine" emperor of the third seal), and was himself proclaimed emperor. He was a man not only of mean origin, but of savage appearance and gross ignorance, and the noble families of Rome were outraged in their feelings at the appointment of such a man as emperor. Maximin was aware of this, and dreading the result of their contempt, he sought their destruction. He singled out Magnus, an eminent arid accomplished senator, and put him to death, with about four thousand of the more respectable classes who were suspected of sympathy with him. He filled the empire with spies and informers. We read that "on the slightest accusation, the first of the Roman nobles, governors of provinces and commanders of armies, were chained on the public carriages and hurried away into his presence (on the banks of the Rhine or Danube, according as he was in one camp or the other). Confiscation, exile, or simple death, were esteemed uncommon instances of his lenity. Some of the unfortunate sufferers he ordered to be sewed up in the hides of slaughtered animals, others to be beaten to death with clubs, and others again to be exposed to wild beasts". Having devastated the ranks of respectability, he turned his hand upon the common property of the public. He appropriated the local taxes and revenues of towns to provide funds for his own use and the use of the army. "The temples were stripped of their most valuable offerings of gold and silver, and the statues of gods, heroes and emperors were melted down and coined into money." These measures excited public tumults, and led to organized revolt against his authority throughout the empire. This led to civil war and bloodshed everywhere. In Rome, the senate threw off their allegiance and appointed another emperor. But a party in Rome (comprising the principal soldiery -- the Praetorian guard) were favourable to Maximin, and between them and
the rest of the citizens there was fighting which lasted many days, and filled Rome with desolation and death. The soldiers, besieged in their own camp by the citizens, sallied forth and set fire to many parts of the city, and filled the streets with the blood of the inhabitants. Maximin himself, after marching the army into Italy on his way towards Rome, was killed by his troops, and the civil strife ceased for a while.
It will be observed that the seal speaks of "the fourth of the earth". This becomes intelligible in view of the fact that the empire at this time was divided into four parts, called prefectures, over each of which a prince, styled a prefect, exercised authority in subjection to the emperors. The four parts were: -- 1, the East (including Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, etc.); 2, Illyricum (answering to modern Turkey in Europe); 3, Italy, and 4, Gaul (comprising France, Spain, Britain, etc.). THE fourth of these, that is, the principal fourth, the leading fourth, was the prefecture of Italy -- the headquarters of the Roman Empire. The events of the fourth seal were in a special manner to affect this section of the empire. The events already recited show how signally this was the case. Rome and Italy were the scenes of its leading events.
[That is, when the lectures were given, in 1880.]
In addition to the sword, the death-rider of the horse in this fourth seal was to "kill with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth". This shows that famine and pestilence were to result from the acts of the government. And it was so. It could not fail to be so in such a disturbed state of things. With a constant change of emperors, and constant fighting among the people, together with the effect of rapacious exactions of public officials, who were compelled at the peril of their lives to find supplies for the government, industry and agriculture fell into neglect, and supplies began to fail. History testifies that there was a long and general famine of a very serious kind, and that pestilence came as the result of scanty and unwholesome food. From A.D. 250 to 265, a plague raged without interruption in every province and city, and almost in every family in the Roman Empire. For some time five thousand persons died daily in Rome, and many towns were entirely depopulated. It has been computed that at this time, within a few years, war, pestilence, and famine consumed nearly one-half of the human species. The imagery of the fourth seal seems exactly adapted to express this fearful time of public calamity -- a death-pale horse, ridden by Death and followed by the Grave.
THE FIFTH SEAL.
The fifth seal changes the scene. "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 brood 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 rest for yet a little season, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled" (6:9). Plainly on the face of it, this symbolism carries with it a picture of persecution, and this exactly coincides with the phase of public affairs in the Roman empire. Diocletian, who, in a great measure, terminated the public calamities of the fourth seal by the vigour of his administration, proved a great persecutor of the Christians, who were increasingly numerous as a party throughout the empire, though increasingly degenerate from an apostolic point of view. His animosity towards them originated in the idea that the calamities of the fourth seal period were due to them. This idea was fanned by his associate in the government Galerius, who was a zealous devotee of the gods of Pagan Rome, and stirred up Diocletian to attempt the destruction of the Christian name. After many importunities, Diocletian assented, and an imperial edict was issued, enacting the punishment of death to all who should hold secret assemblies for religious worship -- (that is, who should obey the commandments of Christ to meet for the breaking of bread). It was also ordered that all who had possession of the Scriptures should give them up to be burnt, and that anyone refusing to make a profession of Paganism should be incapable of holding any office, and should be put beyond the protection of the law. Twice, within fifteen days after the issue of the edict, the imperial palace was found to be on fire, and as this was attributed to the action of the Christians, it greatly increased the severity of the measures adopted against them. A great number of the most respectable of society were thrown into prison. Every mode of torture was put in practice against those thus imprisoned, and many bloody executions took place. While multitudes of professors saved themselves by renouncing Christianity, and giving up the Scriptures to be destroyed, many remained faithful, and were put to death. These terrible visitations upon believers extended throughout the Roman Empire, and added thousands to the number of victims under the altar. The sufferings of the saints, both in body and
mind, were of great severity during this terrible season, and are fitly expressed in the prayer put into the mouths of the dead souls under the altar: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?"
You are aware that the sects around us make large use of this prayer to prove that the dead are alive and conscious. They forget that the scene of which it is a part is a hieroglyph or symbolical representation. Even taken literally they might see, if they would but reflect, it cannot favour their views. They imagine souls to be in heaven: but here they were under an altar. They imagine souls to be invisible and immaterial, but here John saw them, and white robes were given to every one of them. It is a piece of symbolism in perfect harmony with the truth that man is mortal, and that slaughtered saints are dead. The harmony is seen when we ask "What is the altar?" It is a symbol of Christ, as we learn from Paul's teaching in Hebrews generally, and notably in chapter 13:10. What is meant by the souls being under the altar? We discover this in Paul's other statement, that "our life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:2). Christ has the power to bring all his people to life again, and will exercise that power (John 6:39-40; 17:2). A dead saint, especially one put to death for his faith, is in a peculiar sense "under the altar", in Christ's safe keeping for resurrection and vindication at the appointed time.
But what about the dead souls speaking, and making this prayer and receiving answer about those not yet slain? It is the dramatic and enigmatical illustration of their position and relation to the purpose of God. It is not the stultification of literal truth. It is not an uncommon thing to impute words to things incapable of speech by way of expressing their moral relations. Thus God said to Cain, "Thy brother's blood CRIETH unto me from the ground"; commenting upon which Paul remarks (Heb. 12:24) that the sprinkled blood of Jesus "speaketh better things than that of Abel". Thus also the corpses in the tombs are represented as rising to greet the king of Babylon at his burial, and saying, "Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like one of us?" (Isa. 14:10). Thus also trees are considered as speaking one to another (Judges 9:8-15). The souls under the altar, their speech, the answer to them and the clothing of them with white robes, is the symbolical presentment of a time of persecution that prevailed during the reign of Diocletian, and the promised investiture with immortality that awaits all who suffer death for Christ's sake.
Literal truth must govern all our interpretations of symbols and parables.
THE SIXTH SEAL.
The sixth seal shows us a different state of things altogether. It introduces us to something that we may look upon as in the nature of a retribution for the evil deeds performed under the fifth seal. "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 unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as 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 bondman, 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?" (6:12-17).
What is there in Roman history, succeeding to the reign of Diocletian, at all corresponding to this symbolic picture of a universe in tempestuous dissolution? Looking at the political universe which was the subject of the symbol, we have not to go far to see. Following close on the fearful persecutions of the fifth seal, we behold the Pagan world in a state of violent and revolutionary turmoil ending in the overthrow of Paganism, and of the entire system established on the basis of the national idolatry, the old order of things in Rome (a thousand years old) upset, and a new order of things established. The son of one of Diocletian's colleagues was the instrument of this momentous revolution. His name is of world-wide renown. Constantine, the son of Constantius, who ruled the west, was brought up with a bias in favour of the Christians, inherited from his father. His father very much disapproved of the persecutions ordered by Galerius and Diocletian, and successfully used his authority in shielding the Christians from the extreme measures dealt out to them in other parts of the empire. His son Constantine early took their part, and perceiving them a growing party in the State, proclaimed himself their protector. On the death of his father he was proclaimed His successor by the army of the West, to the dismay of the reigning emperors in Italy and the east, who were supporters of the Paganism of the State, and who viewed with
alarm the elevation of a man of known capacity who had proclaimed sympathy with the Christians. The difference of feeling between them soon led to war, and this was ended in the ruin of Paganism. Constantine exhibited a celerity and skill in his movements which baffled and overpowered his enemies. He marched to Italy and was over the Alps before almost the of his intentions had reached the Imperial Court in Rome. Every battle was for him a victory, and in a short time he found himself in Rome the unchallenged ruler of the principal part of the empire. This was a great change for the Christians, who were emancipated from all their disabilities and received into imperial favour. After a short peace with his colleagues of Illyricum and the East, the war was renewed. It was felt by all that the issue was between Paganism and Christianity. The two elements had long been fermenting one with the other throughout the State, and the hour had come to decide which was to have the ascendancy. The question was effectually decided by the extraordinary success uniformly attending the arms of Constantine. The armies of the Pagan emperors were completely defeated; and Constantine, the befriender of the persecuted Christians, became sole master of the empire. The constitution of the world was completely changed. The earth had been the subject of a great quake, lasting for years and resulting in all the effects portrayed in the symbolism; the sun of the political universe -- the Pagan emperorship (both high-priest and defender of Paganism) had become darkened or eclipsed; the moon, or ecclesiastical element of the Roman polity -- the Pagan clergy -- the priests of the gods -- shining by the borrowed light of the throne, even as the moon by the light of the sun -- disappeared in blood; the stars of the political firmament, the numerous magnates of various kinds and degrees exercising authority in the empire, by the goodwill of the emperor, fell out of their places with the overthrow of their master, to give place to Christian successors. The heaven or whole sphere of established imperial authority, was rolled up and put aside as a thing of the past the various mountain and island kingdoms and principalities subsisting under Rome, moved out of their places, and all orders and ranks of Roman society, having participated in the persecution of the Christians, recognized in the public calamities occurrent, the retribution inflicted by "the God of the Christians", and were panic stricken to the extent of desiring concealment, even in death, from the terrors that swept through the length and breadth of the Roman Empire. One of the Pagan em-
perors of the time, dying in torments, protested in his agony that he had not been guilty of persecution of the Christians. It is to be gathered from the writings of the age that all recognized the Constantinian revolution as a retribution from the God of the Christians, which it doubtless was.
This change was one which affected the entire civilized world. Rome wielded universal empire over the civilized races of men, so that what affected Rome affected all the earth, and a change so radical, effected so violently, could not better be represented than by the symbolism of the sixth seal. It was a change that took considerable time to accomplish. It was not the work of one year. It occupied several years. When accomplished, it wrought a wonderful change in the position of the friends of Christ. From being proscribed and hated and hunted down and destroyed, they became the favourites of the authorities, upon whom were lavished the revenues and the favours formerly bestowed on the Pagan priesthood. Such a change naturally gave enlarged scope for their development and consolidation. This appears to have been one of the providential purposes served by the overthrow of the Pagan adversary, as we may gather from the symbolism immediately succeeding the sixth seal, viz.:
"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads".
Wind when used as a symbol signifies trouble in the form of war. This may be seen by reference to Jeremiah 4:11-13. "Angels holding the four winds" is an intimation that the events leading to war are subject to divine control. This control is in the hands of Christ (Matt. 28:18), to whom the angels are subject (1 Peter 3:22); and to the angels the present world hath been put in subjection (Heb. 2:5; Psalms 103:21; Daniel 10:20-21; 11:1-2). "The four winds" stand for all winds, or war from whatever quarter; consequently, in the picture before us we have human turbulence all over the earth in divine restraint, causing peace, that there might be a situation favourable for the performance of the work of sealing the servants of God. What is this? We have been caused to know this experimentally.
A seal is an implement for making an official mark of identification or authentication on prepared substance. Wherever the seal is impressed, it makes the same mark. If the substance with which it is brought in contact is not suitable, the seal does not make a mark, or makes a defective and therefore useless one. This is the literal, of which it is easy to see the spiritual counterpart in the operations of the gospel. Speaking of these, Paul says to the Ephesians concerning Christ, "in whom, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance" (Eph. 1:13). God gave the holy spirit to believers in confirmation of the gospel (Heb. 2:4; Mark 16:20). In this way, He attached His seal or sanction to the work. But there is a higher operation to the seal. The truth contained in the gospel given by the Holy Spirit in the apostles is the seal of God, which, when brought into contact with "honest and good hearts", makes a mark or impression thereon which is God's seal on the man, by which all the called or sealed are distinguished from other men, and because of which, God will claim them. The seal-mark is the state of mind caused by the knowledge of the gospel. This is the explanation of the seal being applied to the forehead in the symbol. The forehead is the symbol of the understanding; and to be sealed in the forehead is to have the truth impressed on the understanding by the preaching of the gospel. Such a work on a large scale requires a time of peace; for when war is in the air, men's minds are too pre-occupied to give the requisite attention. This is the reason of the peace that followed the Constantinian revolution -- a peace divinely provided and preserved -- that the sealing work might be effectually done.
It was to be done by an angel who, in the common version, is described as "ascending from the east". This ought, however, to read, "having ascended from the east". The work was to be done in the west, among the Roman populations, but the agency performing it was from the east, even from Jerusalem, in which the work was begun (Luke 24:47). Consequently, an angel, "having ascended from the east", was an appropriate symbol, the more so when we realize that in the east where the work began, the apostasy had prevailed to its near extinction.
The work was to result in an Israelitish development. John "heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." The tribes are enumerated, and out of each tribe were twelve thousand. What is the
enigmatical significance of this? We have already seen it in the consideration of Christ's allusion to "those who say they are Jews and are not but do lie." "Salvation is of the Jews" (Jno. 4:22). The hope of the gospel is the hope of Israel (Acts 28:20). It is based on promises made to the fathers of the house of Israel (Rom. 15:8), "unto which promise," said Paul before Agrippa, "our twelve tribes instantly serving God day and night hope to come." The extension of this hope to the Gentiles was not an alteration of its character, but an alteration of those to whom it was extended. Every Gentile receiving and submitting to it became engrafted into "the good olive tree" of the stock of Abraham (Rom. 11:17). He ceased to be a Gentile and a stranger (Eph. 2:12), and became a fellow citizen in the commonwealth of Israel, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 10:19-20).
Consequently, the work of the gospel, where it is really done, must always have an Israelitish result. It turns Gentiles into Jews, making them partakers of the hope of Israel, and no longer "strangers from the covenants of promise" (Eph. 2:12). This is a very different thing from the popular work of "saving souls" so-called. It is a work of saving souls truly, but not immortal ones, and not by asking them to feel themselves great sinners and believe that Christ died for them, but by asking them to become enlightened in the covenants of promise confirmed by the Lord's death, and summoning them to surrender to the claims and commandments of the truth -- claims appropriating a man's entire individuality in the present evil world, and commandments affecting the shape of his every-day life and the state of his every-day affections. When the work is successfully done, the development of "children of Abraham" is the result. Now how better could this be enigmatically expressed than by representing the sealing as affecting the twelve tribes of Israel?
When the work was performed, John saw as the result of it, "a great multitude which no man could number of all nations, kindred and people and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands."
Here we require to pause a moment. Does this mean that the result of the work to be done in the Constantinian era was to be visible in the Constantinian era? Were the people sealed in their foreheads to be seen in a saved state as the immediate results of their sealing? Were the symbolic 144,000 to be manifested in their glorified completeness in the generation that saw
the overthrow of Paganism and the removal of all impediments to the execution of the work of the gospel? The placing of this scene immediately after the sealing, makes it seem as if it were so: but it cannot be so for a variety of reasons. A consideration of the context is sufficient of itself to enable us to see this. John, contemplating them, was informed in answer to a preliminary question "Who are these who are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" "These are they who came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in His temple, and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more nor thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
It is evident from this that the sealed multitude, as John saw them, were the whole multitude of the redeemed in that state which is only introduced by the Lord's coming. The 144,000, whether we understand the number literally or figuratively, is comprehensive of all the redeemed, as is evident from what we read of them in Rev. 14:1-5. Consequently, as seen in Rev. 7, they were seen in the state which they are finally to attain long after (even at the end), and not at the time of the sealing. Their constituent members are several times seen in the succeeding portions of the Apocalypse, in the very tribulation from which in the seventh chapter they are said to have "come out." Thus in chapter 8:7, they are "made war against and overcome;" and in chapter 17:6, the Roman harlot is "drunk with the blood of the saints." Most conclusively, of all, we know that the dead in Christ are the DEAD in Christ, and that not until "the Lord himself descend from heaven with a shout "shall" those who are asleep rise first, "to ascend, with the living to the state in which John saw them (I Thess. 4:13-17). Why then was the scene of the saints in glory introduced in connection with the process of the sealing to be accomplished in the Constantinian era? Doubtless, to show the real result contemplated in the sealing. The two things -- the work of the gospel and the end to which God purposes it shall lead must always be taken together. The one cannot be understood with out the other. No reasonable explanation can be given of the process through which those who are called in Christ are put in the present life apart from the life for which it is
intended as a preparation. Paul well observes "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." The spectacle of the sealed class in the victory over death to which their sealing leads, is a natural companion picture to the representation of the sealing work. The two things are divided in time, but connected in reason. Therefore, John saw them in connection, yet as separated scenes. Though John saw one after the other, it does not follow that the one comes immediately after the other in fact. He says, "After this, I beheld, and lo! a great multitude," etc. How long after is not indicated. Doubtless John would see the one scene next after the other; but as this was only to show that glory came after sealing and suffering, we must look to other sources for information as to the interval separating the one from the other. When Paul says, "If we suffer we shall also reign with him" (2 Tim. 2:12); and Jesus, "Blessed are ye that hunger now: ye shall be filled", and "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:10) -- in these and many other such cases, it seems as if the two things were immediately sequential. They are sequential in their relation, but not in the succession of time, as we know. The reigning and the comforting are when Christ comes.
It remains to ask if the Constantinian era was characterized by the sealing work shadowed forth in the hieroglyph? The answer is in harmony with what would seem natural under the circumstances. What more natural than that the testimony of Christ should become more extensive and effectual under the protection and encouragement of the authorities than when the authorities were arrayed against it for its suppression? We have not much reliable information of what went on: but so much as we know from writers of the Constantinian era, is in favour of the conclusion hinted at. The people answering to the sealed were not to be found in the eastern section of the Roman empire. Of that part of the world, Dr. Thomas says (in Eureka, vol. ii., p. 328): "I have searched through Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret, the Greek ecclesiastical historians of the period of the sealing, but have been unable to find any footsteps of angel-sealers contending for the faith delivered on Pentecost. All in the east seem to have been occupied on one side or the other of Homoousianism, evincing thereby the absence of any divine sealing operation in their foreheads. The countries whose vernacular was the Greek tongue seemed to have been abandoned of the Deity to the darkness of superstition, which was rapidly intensified by the controversialists of Nice. I turn therefore
from these to those parts of the empire where the Latin was the prevailing language of the people -- the Roman west in which John saw the sealing angel in operation."
It is in the African portion of the Roman west where the people in question are to be found. When I speak of Africa, you will of course understand that it is not the Africa of David Livingstone's travels that is meant, that is to say not that portion of Africa that has become so prominent in connection with his name. It is not the Africa of Zulus and missionaries and elephant hunts, but the Africa of Carthage and Rome -- the extreme northern part of Africa where it borders the Mediterranean Sea for hundreds of miles. If you look on the map, you will see the Mediterranean Sea is nearly a lake, with Europe on the north and Africa on the south. When you understand that the Roman Empire embraced all the countries bordering that lake and therefore a belt of northern Africa, you will understand what is meant when Africa is talked of in this connection. It was not a country of wild men and savage life, such as we associate with the name of Africa, but a Country of civilization, embracing towns and villages and farms.
In the African portion, then, of the Roman empire, appeared in the early part of the fourth century (the time required by the symbol) a people apparently answering to the work of the angel-sealer. We know little of them except from the testimony of their enemies; but this little is illustrative of their character. The Dr. says they were an intensely anti-Catholic people. They denied the christianity of Catholics and would have no fellowship with them. They rejected Catholic baptism as null and void. They repudiated Catholic dogmas and contended for "the simplicity which is in Christ". They were uncompromisingly hostile to all things not according to the testimony of Jesus Christ. They declared to the Catholics that they were not Christians, and could not be saved as long as they continued members of Constantine's church. Ecclesiastical historians write of them as schismatics and heretics, but what they say as to their principles points to their identity with the community founded by the apostles. They were a numerous people extending, almost as numerously as the Catholics, to many towns and villages, and even provinces in northern Africa. They were known as Donatists, and though much connected with them is unsatisfactory and obscure, it is evident that this large community of people contained, in their bosom at least, the faithful and apostolic element of the professing Christian body of
the age. They claimed their faith to be Apostolic as distinct from the Catholic, and declared that the true church had ceased to exist in all parts of the world where they were not. Their separation from the Catholic Church began upon a question of discipline. They maintained, at a time when it was proposed to elect a questionable character as a bishop, that the Church of Christ should consist of just and holy men, or at least of those who appeared to be such, and that men of manifested wickedness should be put away -- a principle distinctly apostolic in its character. It would be interesting to go into further particulars about them; but for the purpose of these lectures it is sufficient to take notice of the fact of the existence of such a people at the time of the world's history requiring it, under the symbolism of the chapter we are considering. We must pass on to the conclusion of the present lecture. We shall reach this in the consideration of the first five verses of chapter 8. These record the opening of
THE SEVENTH SEAL.
The things exhibited as the result of the opening of this seal are more numerous and complex than the events of any of the other seals. It would have been clumsy and confusing to have exhibited them simply as the elements of the seventh seal. They are therefore divided and sub-divided under several heads, so to speak, but all these separate heads forming part of the seventh seal. There is also a striking appropriateness in the introduction of a new set of symbols: they were to mark a new system and relations between God and the people of the Roman Empire. Up to this time, Europe had been the avowed adversary of Christ under the leadership of Paganism. But now, those peoples, organized under the leadership of Constantine, were professedly subject to him. The name of Christ and the law of obedience to him were adopted as the basis of the State religion. This was a great change. It was natural therefore that the change should be recognized. The Seals merely exhibited the experience of Pagan Rome during her conflict with Christianity; with a profession of Christianity, there was a more direct political responsibility to Christ, so to speak. It was therefore seemly that the prophetic seals should now be succeeded by other symbols, intimating a more direct causation of the evils that were to be inflicted on the European body politic. This we find in the seven trumpets.
The seventh seal having been opened, "there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." Peace in the ruling realm is here foreshadowed as the result of Con-
stantine's triumph over Paganism. The half-hour is, of course, not a half-hour by the clock. It is a larger half-hour than even the day for a year principle of interpretation. The actual interval of peace was close on fifteen years. What sort of a day of twelve hours (for this was the duration of a day with the ancients) would be required to make nearly fifteen years "about half-an-hour"? Call fifteen years half-an-hour, and thirty years would be an hour, and this multiplied by twelve gives us 360 years for a day. Three hundred and sixty days was the length of the ordinary ancient year, and as a day was prophetically used to represent one such ordinary year, we here have one such year treated as a day by the clock, but each day of it taken to represent a year. It is duplicated so to speak. A day of the clock is taken for a year, and then this year as consisting of 360 days is again taken to stand for 360 years. This is condensing time in harmony with the fitness of John's situation as a listener and beholder of the symbolic things seen in Patmos. For John to have witnessed a fifteen years or even a fifteen days silence would have been unnatural; but by drawing in the time twice, fifteen years were condensed into half-an-hour.
At the end of the fifteen years, judgments were casting their coming shadows over the scene. The church triumphant under Constantine became as great a persecutor of the true and faithful disciples of Christ as ever the Pagan emperors had been; and God was about to bring a series of scourges on the persecuting church in retribution. They were scourges to come directly at the divine call. Therefore, seven angels are seen to receive seven trumpets, with which they were successively to summon these judgments on the scene. Before they begin to sound, another angel comes to the altar with a golden censer, with which he offers incense "with the prayers of all saints". The golden altar is Christ: the angel with the censer is the representative of the saints in the attitude of prayer. There was special need for prayer at this time. The true saints were being oppressed and afflicted greatly by the dominant church, which could not tolerate their dissent from its dicta, and their protest against its unchristian ways. Prayer to God was the only weapon of defence left them against their enemies. The answer to their prayers is here symbolized. Having offered the incense "with the prayers of all saints", the angel "took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it unto the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake". The history of the thirty years succeeding to the death of Constantine (A.D. 337) is the best illustration of the import of this symbolism. Faction and strife and bloodshed among his sons, and civil war consequent on the revolt of a military officer (Magnentius) aiming at, and for a time wearing, the imperial purple, ended in the elevation of Julian, a votary of Paganism, to the throne of the empire. This political earthquake was a terrible calamity to the Catholic church, at whose instigation the persecutions were conducted, for which these were retributive public disasters. The elevation of Julian led to an attempt to restore Paganism to the position it held before the victories of Constantine. This attempt, though not finally successful, was sufficiently formidable to subject the bishops and adherents of the Catholic Church to great tribulation. The particulars may be read with much interest in Eureka. The voices and the lightning and the thunder and the earthquake having expended themselves in the accomplishment of their mission, the seven angels prepared themselves to sound. Their soundings and the results ensuing, we must reserve for the next lecture.
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