Page images

without obstruction, which they allege as denoted by that agency, had no such limitation. The large influx of new professors which it occasioned, was not solely of true worshippers. Prompted by fashion, ambition of place, and not improbably by fear, as well as by an ingenuous faith, the crowds that suddenly turned from idolatry to the temples of Christ, were in a large degree worldly and hypocritical, whose accession therefore was an adulteration instead of an improvement of the church. Nor was the agency of Constantine limited to the grant of toleration and encouragement of the servants of God to make an open profession of their faith. He attempted likewise to produce, through the canons of councils and his own edicts, a uniformity of belief, but without success. So far from producing unity, the church was agitated during his reign by diversities of opinion, and rent with contentions to a degree that had before been wholly unknown. Nor were the grounds legitimate on which he attempted to enforce that uniformity. He claimed the right to dictate to whom his subjects should pay their religious regards, and what homage they should offer; and was guilty therein of that usurpation of the rights of God which is the peculiar crime of the civil powers symbolized by the seven-headed dragon and the ten-horned wild beast. He is accordingly represented, as well as his successors, by the seventh head of that dragon. No error can be more consummate therefore than to imagine that he who thus usurped the prerogatives of the Almighty, and demanded a supreme homage of himself, was symbolized by the angel whose office it is to prompt the servants of God to renounce that homage of creatures, separate themselves from all idolaters and apostates, and own and honor God as the only legitimate object of worship, and the only rightful religious lawgiver. The symbolization of him with his successors as the seventh head of the dragon, was proper also obviously, as he continued not only to tolerate idolatry, but to sanction it in the homage of his own image ; and, finally, he attempted to enforce submission to his claims of authority, by the persuasions of persecution, deprivation of office, banishment, confiscation, imprisonment, and death. No recitals of history are more incontrovertible than that his beneficial agency towards the church was limited to the grant of toleration. His public and lavish patronage, his assertion of authority over its faith and worship, his modifications of its government, and attempts to make it subservient to himself, were fruitful of mis

· Eusebii do Vita Constant. lib. iv. c. 54



chief, and contributed largely to that corruption of doctrine, of worship, and of manners, which soon became its characteristic.

Mr. Lowman refers the vision likewise to the reign of Constantine, and interprets the sealing of large accessions to the church by baptism. But that exposition proceeds on the assumption that the events denoted by the first six seals were anterior to the reign of Constantine, which has been shown to be erroneous. It is wholly irreconcileable also with the relations and character of the sealed. They are already of the visible church denoted by the tribes of Israel, not to be introduced into it by baptism. They are already the servants of God, not to be constituted such. The office of the sealing angel is to work a change in their relations as members of the visible church, by which they shall be conspicuously shown to be the true servants of God, in contradistinction from the apostate members who marshal themselves under the banners of the wild beast and nationalized hierarchies.

Mr. Faber regards the symbol as denoting a separation, in the age of Constantine, of the faithful followers of Christ from the great body of the visible church, by their retreat into the valleys of the Alps. But that is to misconceive the symbol. The office of the seal is to render those on whom it is impressed conspicuous as the children of God, in contradistinction from worshippers of the wild beast; not to withdraw them into seclusion.

Mr. Elliott, interpreting the vision also of the same period, regards the angel bearing the seal as the Son of God, the seal as denoting the Holy Spirit, the illumination by his influences and quickening of the true servants of God in the visible church as the sealing, and their holiness the mark on their foreheads. But this in like manner proceeds on a false interpretation of the period and import of the seals. It contradicts the law of symbolization in exhibiting the angel as a representative of the Son of God, and the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is an instrument, not an agent. And finally, it implies that the being sealed is no peculiarity of the servants of God at the period to which the vision refers, but the common characteristic of all his servants of all


and contradicts, therefore, the whole representation of the vision. Are there

any of the servants of God who are not enlightened by the Spirit, quickened and made to bring forth the fruits of righteous

Is there the slightest indication in history, that the true people of God became more conspicuously such by discrimination from mere nominal Christians, and higher degrees of knowledge and piety, during the reign of Constantine and his succes

[ocr errors]

ness ?

sors, than at former periods? No assumption can be more at war with the universal representation of the writers of that and the following ages. How is the assumption that the agency of the seal-bearing angel is no peculiarity of the period, to be reconciled with his ascent from the east as though entering on his mission, the representation that he was about to commence and speedily to complete it, and the restraint of the tempest angels from entering on their office, till he could fulfil his ? All the constructions which refer the vision to those early ages, are thus alike inconsistent with the symbol and the characteristics of those periods.

The expositions given by Vitringa, Dean Woodhouse, and Mr. Cuninghame of the agents and subordinate parts of the symbol, are inaccurate also, as well as of its principal aim. Thus Vitringa regards the seal-bearing angel as representing the Holy Spirit; Mr. Cuninghame exhibits him as denoting the Son of God, and the seal as an emblem of the Holy Spirit, all which are against analogy. Dean Woodhouse regards the sealed as not improbably Israelitish Christians, and the sealing as implying, therefore, a previous conversion of the Jews, which is to treat the symbol and those whom it represents as of the same species, and is thence against analogy. If the tribes represent the Israelites, why do not the angels denote angels, the winds winds, the seal a seal, and the numbers literal numbers? Mr. Cuninghame regards it as the office of the four angels to restrain the winds, not to arouse and direct them, and accordingly, with many others, interprets the winds as the symbols of destruction itself, instead of the causes which produce it. Their interpretations are marked by other subordinate inaccuracies, but these are sufficient to show that a strict adherence to analogy requires the construction which I have given.




AFTER these, I looked, and behold a great multitude which no one could number, of every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white

robes and (having] palm branches in their hands. And they cry with a loud voice, saying, The salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. And all the angels stood in the circuit of the throne and of the elders and of the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces and worshipped God, saying, Amen. The blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanks, and the honor, and the dominion, and the might to our God forever and ever, Amen. And one of the elders spake, saying to me, These who are clothed in white robes, who are they, and whence have they come ? And I said to him, O my Lord, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they who come out of the great tribulation and washed their robes and purified them in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple. And he who sits on the throne shall dwell in a tent among them. They shall not hunger any more, nor thirst any more, neither can the sun strike them, nor any heat, because the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall guide them, and shall lead them unto the fountains of the waters of life, and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes.

The scene of this vision is the divine presence. The innumerable multitude stand before the throne of God and the Lamb, and are undoubtedly the redeemed raised from the dead, publicly accepted and exalted to the station of heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ in his kingdom. They are clothed in white robes, which denotes their justification. They have palm branches in their hands, which are the emblems of joy on account of victory. They ascribe their salvation to God and to the Lamb, which indicates that it is accomplished. They are come out of the great tribulation, which implies that that tribulation at least with respect to them has passed ; that their warfare with the antichristian pow. ers, their struggles against temptation, their trials and their sufferings have reached their close. Their justification also, like their sanctification, is completed. They have washed their robes and cleansed them in the blood of the Lamb, and are to need, therefore, no further forgiveness, as they are no more to be stained by offences. Accordingly their redemption being completed, they are exalted to stations in the presence of God, and the honors and joys of an eternal service in his temple. He that sits on the throne is to dwell in a tent among them. They are never more to know want in any form, suffering, sorrow, or any of the necessities that are incident to this life; but the Lamb is to guide them like a shepherd, and lead them to fountains of the waters of life. This description obviously embodies all that is embraced in the representations given in the Scriptures, of the relations, stations, and happiness of the redeemed after their resurrection. It is not indeed expressly said that they are raised from the dead, nor was such a declaration requisite to convey to us that assurance, as the representation that their salvation is completed, and that they are exalted to those stations in the presence of God which they are thence forever to fill, prohibits the supposition that their bodies still remain unransomed from the curse of sin. Their redemption will not be finished till they are raised from that ignominious penalty, and like the Saviour himself, declared to be the sons of God by a resurrection from the dead. It is that we are expressly told that is to constitute their adoption.-Rom. viii. 23. “And how consonant with it are the representations of this vision ! How intimate the relations to Christ to which they are exalted! How august the stations they fill! What an elevation of nature it implies, what a grandeur of intelligence, what a spotlessness and beauty of affection! How vast and majestic a change from the weaknesses, the sins, the conflicts, the miseries that marked their existence here, the agonies of death, and the darkness and ruin of the grave to which they were doomed because of their offences ! And in what harmony with this is the homage of the angelic hosts, who witness their acceptance, who behold the honors with which they are crowned, who are aware of the dignity of the offices they are to fill, who know the suitableness of their elevation to such a grandeur of nature and rank, that the beauty and greatness of their salvation may be worthy of the might and wisdom and love of the Redeemer, and justify the depth of humiliation to which he stooped to achieve it! They bend in prostrate homage and ascribe to him the blessing, and the glory, and the wisdom, and the thanks, and the honor, and the dominion, and the might, forever and ever; which implies that the redemption of the innumerable multitude is finished, and indicates their understanding of its nature, their sense of its infinite greatness and beauty, and their feeling that it is to give birth to wonder, adoration, and joy throughout eternal ages. No earlier epoch in the progress of their redemption, no lower conception of the scene, accords with these representations.

The homage of the angelic hosts bespeaks an acquaintance not only with the general characteristics of the work of redemption, but with the particulars also of the salvation of the innumerable multitude. The ascription to God of the glory of their salvation, is as appropriate in respect to them as individuals, as it is as a body. It implies therefore that a revision of their lives had

« PreviousContinue »