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earth, the sanctification universally of the nations, and conversion of the world into a paradise of righteousness and peace.
The answer thus clearly shows that it was in reference to these great events that they uttered their wonder at his delay.
As the action of the martyr spirits was in heaven, not on earth, and was simply expressive of their own feelings on entering the divine presence, not representative of the future actions of others, it contains no note either of the commencement or close of the period to which it belongs. The whole representation, however, indicates that it is late in the reign of antichrist. Their cry implies that a longer period of persecution than they had anticipated, had already passed, and the answer that the time still to elapse before the advent of Christ, was to be short in comparison. Its period is doubtless, therefore, during the ravages of the fourth horseman, and the action of the wild beasts of the earth in the relations exhibited in that symbol, of subsidiaries to the apostate archpriests of the church, and towards its close. Near the termination of the twelve hundred and sixty years, the relations of the great sorceress to the civil governments were to be essentially reversed. She was to fall from her supremacy, to be hated, torn, and devoured by those whom she had seduced, and to sink into the condition of an equal and a tool. Though she is to subsist to the last, yet it is the ten-horned wild beast that is to slaughter the witnesses, and make the last war on the saints; and the unclean spirits that are to gather the kings together at the battle of the great day of God Almighty, are to go out of the mouth of the wild beast and the dragon, as well as the false prophet. It is to spring in a large degree from political motives, and the apostate rulers of the church are to act in it but the part of subordinates. The period of the martyrs was probably, therefore, towards the close of the Reformation, and ended with that struggle.
The revelation made under this seal, is eminently adapted to yield support to the people of God under the trials of persecution. While it forewarns them indirectly that those trials were to continue through a long tract of ages, it teaches that the martyrs immediately ascend to the presence of Christ, receive justification, and enter on a happy and glorious life. It shows that they rise to the loftiest interest in the ways and purposes of the Redeemer, and look forward with the most fervid desire to his advent and their resurrection and participation in the grandeurs of his victorious reign on the earth. It assures them that however incomprehensible and dark his providences appear here, they are filled on their admis
sion to his presence with the loftiest sense of his dominion, rectitude, and truth, and find the most ample reason for acquiescence in his will. It forewarns them that the period immediately before the final destruction of the wild beast and false prophet, is to be marked by a bloody persecution, and that the completion of the number of the martyrs is to be the signal of the Redeemer's advent.
The different views which commentators have given of the passage, present nothing to impair this exposition. Grotius represents the martyrs as those who were first slain in Judea—Stephen, James, and others. But that is to represent their martyrdom as anterior to the earliest date assigned to the visions.
The death of Stephen is referred to the year 34, of James to 44. The date assigned by Grotius to the banishment of the apostle to Patmos, is the reign of Claudius, who, according to Pagi, died in A. D. 54; not only, however, without the least probability, as history furnishes no hint of a persecution under that emperor, but against the reference of the Revelation by the earliest writers to the close of the reign of Domitian, whose death took place in A. D. 95 or 96.4 The death of Stephen, therefore, preceded the accession of Claudius several years. The death of James took place in the third year of his reign, and must have preceded the vision likewise, unless it were of an earlier date than any
have hitherto been willing to assign. It is inconsistent with the intimation by the martyrs that a long period of persecution had already passed, and shown to be wholly erroneous by the vast tract of ages, during which the frequent slaughter of the witnesses of God continued. At the period when Grotius wrote his comment, it had raged for centuries with scarce an intermission, and continued on a vast scale a hundred years later. Dr. Hammond, Eichhorn, Rosenmuller, and Mr. Stuart likewise exhibit the martyrs as those slain by the Jews.
Mr. Mede, Dr. Cressner, Dr. More, Mr. Jurieu, Mr. Daubuz, Mr. Lowman, Mr. Whiston, Bishop Newton, Mr. Faber, Mr. Elliott, regard the martyrs as those chiefly who were slain in the persecution by Diocletian. But that is scarcely less inconsistent with the assurance, that but a short time should intervene before the number of the martyrs should be completed. Thirteen centuries followed of persecution, almost without intermission ; a period in no sense short, but wholly incapable of that * Baronii annales, anno 34, no. 300 no. 301.
- Ibid. anno 44, no. 2. Pagi Crit. in annales Baron. anno 54, no. 2. • Eusebii Eccl. Hist. lib. iii. c. 23, lib. v. c. 8.
designation in comparison of the season of persecution that preceded it.
Mr. Brightman refers the slaughter of the martyrs to the persecutions from Trajan to Gallienus, and regards the white robes and short rest, as denoting the quiet and prosperity of the church on earth from that period to the persecution by Diocletian. Mr Cuninghame also, while he refers their slaughter to the persecutions by the papal hierarchy, regards them in their acceptance and rest, as probably symbolizing the church on earth. But that is in contradiction to the law of symbolization itself, and to the agency ascribed to the martyr spirits. There is no analogy between the condition of disembodied souls, and believers on earth; between those who have ascended to heaven, obtained justification, and entered into rest, and those who are yet offending and repenting, struggling amidst the storms of trial, and exposed to persecution and death, that can make the one a proper representative of the other. The actions of the martyr spirits are equally incapable of ascription to the church here. What act of beliey. ers on earth, can their representation that their blood has been shed, denote; or their reception of a robe, and entrance on a rest? Nothing of an analogous nature takes place in their condition here. Their life is a warfare to its close. Besides, to exhibit them in this part of the representation as sustaining the relation of a symbol to the church on earth, is to exhibit the Redeemer also in his address to them and gift of a robe, as symbolizing the authors or instruments of that condition or agency of the church which they are supposed to denote, which is wholly unauthorized and against analogy.
Vitringa's exposition, who regarded their justification in heaven as symbolizing their justification by the church on earth, is ob noxious to the same objection. No instance appears in the Apocalypse, in which there is the slightest indication that the Redeemer acts as a symbol of any other being. There is no analogy between his deity, his deity and his manhood united, or his station, and that of any order of creatures. It is inconsistent with his dignity and office that he should serve as a symbol of other agents, and especially of such as are imperfect like believers on earth. He accordingly, whenever introduced, appears in his own person, and acts only as his own representative. Most interpreters seem to regard it as the principal design of the symbol to foreshow a persecution of the saints. But though it makes that important revelation, it is not to contemplate it in its proper relations to regard that as its chief aim, as it is taught indirectly only. The agents of the scene represented as introduced into the presence of Christ by a persecution, are employed in teaching other truths adapted to console and sustain the church in its trials
CHAPTER VI. 12-17.
THE SIXTH SEAL.
And I looked when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake. And the sun became black as hair sackcloth, and the whole moon became as blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree shaken by a great wind casts her unripe figs. And heaven was removed like a scroll uprolled, and every mountain and island were moved from their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the commanders of thousands, and the rich, and the mighty, and every bondman and freeman, hid themselves in the caves, and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of his wrath has come, and who is able to stand ?
The symbolic agents of the preceding seals were living beings, and exhibited as actors exerting influences on others, or expressing their own thoughts and feelings. The chief of these are unconscious objects, and exhibited not as exertors, but as the subjects of influences. The law of symbolization requires us to regard them, not as representing themselves, but some analogous class of existences. It is inconsistent with the aim of the prophecy, to assume that they were introduced for the purpose of foreshowing that they are themselves to be the subjects of such events. The object of the revelation is to foreshow agencies which intelligent creatures are to exert, and the dispensations of God towards them, not mere phenomena of the material world ; and all the symbols accordingly that are exhibited either as the authors or the subjects of actions, are representatives in some relation of intelligent beings.
Where, then, in the great circle of society in the apocalyptic earth, are there individuals or bodies of men, that exhibit in their relations to the population at large, a conspicuous resemblance to the relations of the sun, moon, and stars to the earth? Civil rulers are obviously such, and they alone. Monarchs, princes, nobles, great officers of state, legislators, are in the political world, what those luminaries are in the physical. They are together the central and controlling power, the source of law and opinion. They send their influence through every department of society, and determine the conditions and forms of life. On the other hand, the population at large, with its subordinate organizations, is to those rulers what the earth with its natural diversities of surface, productions, and artificial structures, is to the sun, moon, and stars. What events then are there in such a political world analogous to a great earthquake, the conversion of the sun into black, and the moon into crimson, the fall of the stars, the disappearance of the heavens, and the removal from their places of mountains and islands ? Violent political agitations and revolutions obviously present such a correspondence to the first; the misuse by rulers of their power in the oppression of their subjects, to the second ; their fall from their stations, to the third ; and the annihilation of governments themselves, and obliteration of political distinctions, to the fourth. In a great earthquake the surface of the ground through a wide region is violently agitated; the hills, vales, rocks, forests, trees, are thrown into new attitudes; the works of art dashed down; pestiferous gases emitted from fissures and caverns, and the growth intercepted of the fruits and crops. So in violent political commotions and revolutions, the members of the community are thrown into new relations, new combinations generated, new and dangerous principles and passions evolved, and an air of disorder, insecurity, and violence impressed on the whole aspect of society. To convert the sun into black, and the moon into blood, were to reverse their nature and influences, render them objects of horror, and make them sources of mischief, instead of light, warmth, and life. In like manner, when civil rulers become lawless oppressors, they lose their proper character as vindicators of right, guardians of safety, and fosterers of happiness, and become terrific agents of destruction. There is a similar analogy between the fall of stars and the dejection of rulers from their station ; and between the withdrawal of the heavens, and the removal of mountains and islands from their places, and the annihilation of governments and obliteration of all political distinctions.