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Sixth Edition, 1915
By Dr. John Thomas (first edition written 1861)



Chapter 6

Section 4 Subsection 3

Death and Hades kill with Famine and Pestilence



It was revealed to John that among the agencies co-operating in the development of deadliness in the enemy with which the Bowman of the first seal would have successfully to contend, there would be famine and pestilence -- so we render with Mr. Elliott the word, thanatos, on the authority of the Septuagint, in 2 Sam. xxiv. 13,15 -- "Or shall it be three days !Hebrew!, dever, pestilence?" where the LXX, translation is thanatos.

What the Spirit revealed to John, history informs us came to pass with a destructiveness by no means exaggerated in the imagery of the fourth seal. Death and Hades killed the people with famine and pestilence with terrible fatality. Gibbon tells us that there was a long and general famine of a very serious kind, and that it was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression, which extirpated the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. Then, in the order of the seal, which places famine before pestilence, he proceeds to inform us that the famine generated pestilence. Famine, says he, is almost always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes must, however, have contributed to the furious plague, which, from the year 250 to A.D. 265, raged without interruption in every province, every city, and almost every family of the Roman empire. The fourth of the earth was not exempt. During some time five thousand persons died daily in Rome, and many towns that had escaped the sword and wild beasts of Death and Hades, were entirely depopulated. Above half the people of Alexandria had perished in their calamities; and if the analogy might be extended to other provinces, it might be concluded that war, pestilence and famine had consumed in a few years the half of the human species.

In conclusion of our exposition of this seal, though not the full end of the seal-period itself, which continued yet a few years developing results of Death and Hades’ mission similar to those already before the reader, we may record in this place the testimonies of Sismondi, Schlegel, and Niebuhr concerning the deadly paleness of the Roman body politic consequent upon the judgment of this seal. Sismondi says, as quoted by Mr. Elliott: "Diocletian put an end to this long period of anarchy. But such a succession of invasions and civil wars, and so much suffering, disorder, and crime, had brought the empire into a state of mortal languor from which it never recovered." The apocalypse which enables one to "see" below the surface of events, teaches me that "the Lamb," not Diocletian, put an end to the long period of anarchy caused by Death and Hades by opening the fifth seal. Diocletian was only the instrument by which He effected it. The mortal languor was represented in the pale color of the horse ridden by Death. Speaking of the state of things after Diocletian’s accession, A.D. 285, Niebuhr says: "After the cessation of the plague (‘which began to decrease in the time of Probus,’ between A.D. 276 and A.D. 282) the empire was suffering from general distress; and its condition was very much like that which followed after the cessation of the Black Death in the middle ages." And Schlegel says: "The division of the empire among several sovereigns appeared then (in the reign of Diocletian) as afterwards, an inevitable and necessary evil. In other words, the several parts and members of the vast body of the Roman empire, which approached nearer and nearer to dissolution, began to fall to pieces."

The rest of the events of this seal-period fall under the reigns of Claudius, Aurelian, Tacitus, Probus, Carus and his sons, and the first eighteen years of Diocletian, embracing a period of thirty-five years in which the blood of the people was poured out like water. Thus, the whole period of the fourth seal would be sixty-eight years, the result of which was the establishment of a new system of government, which was afterwards completed by the family of Constantine.




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