Page images

interprets the voices, lightnings, and earthquake, of the political convulsions and revolutions by which paganism was overthrown and Christianity adopted as the religion of the state, but regards them as consummated during the reign of Constantine.




And the seven angels who held the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might sound. And the first sounded. And there were hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast to the earth, and the third part of the earth was burned, and the third part of the trees was burned, and all green grass was burned.

The angels' preparation of themselves that they might sound, was probably a removal from before the throne to a distant station, and possibly over that part of the earth which was to be the scene of their respective symbols. The sanctuary to which the apostle had ascended through the opened heavens was doubtless immediately over Patmos, and at a vast elevation, whence, as that island is in the Ægean opposite to Miletus, the apocalyptic earth was visible.

The angels are not to be considered as the representatives of the agents on earth, who are instrumental in giving birth to the movements which their several symbols denote. There is no conceivable analogy between the blast of a trumpet, and the excitement of a whirlwind, the projection of a volcanic mountain into the sea, or any of the other events which their symbols foreshadow. Their office, therefore, is simply like that of the interpreting angels and the seals of the book, to assist in conducting the revelation, distinguish the periods of the several events, and exhibit them in their relation to God.

As neither hail, lightnings, nor rain descend to the earth except from clouds, the symbol obviously was a violent storm, in which the lightnings instead of limited flashes, were diffused through the whole atmosphere. They were equally dispersed with the bloody rain, and spread devastation wherever the tempest fell.

The third part of the earth denotes a third of the Roman empire, in distinction from the other two-thirds, not a third of what

[ocr errors]

ever was destructible by fire on that part of the earth where the whirlwind passed; such as flocks, herds, dwellings, cities, utensils, and other works of art; as is seen from its use in respect to the trees, the third of which on the other hand denotes, not the trees of a third part of the Roman territory, but a third of the trees on that part over which the tempest swept. This is apparent from the destruction of all grass wherever the storm fell, without exception of places or parts. If it had extended over the whole apocalyptic scene, the discrimination of the trees clearly could not be supposed to have been by territories; and as their survivance could not have been owing to an exemption from the tempest, it must have resulted from their harder nature, or more favorable station. That is equally evident also in respect to that portion of the territory over which the whirlwind spread. As wherever it swept, it destroyed all green grass, it must be supposed to have exerted a proportional power on the trees. It is the ratio therefore of the destruction of the trees to the destruction of the grass, which the term is in this instance employed to express, not the proportion of the region over which the devastation extended, to the empire at large. As the fire was cast to the earth as well as the hail and rain, and must therefore have covered the whole surface wherever the storm raged, it was natural that a growth so frail as green grass, should be wholly destroyed by a heat so extreme as to burn one-third of the trees.

What now, in order to accord with the symbol, must be the characteristics of that which it denotes? It must be a mighty and destructive agent, or combination of agents. It must de scend on the apocalyptic earth from without. It must on fulfilling its office in a degree disappear, or mingle itself with the surrounding elements, as hail, rain, and fire, when cast to the earth, soon enter into new combinations, or assume new forms of existence. It must belong to some other department than the physical world, and exert its agency on some different and analogous class of objects. There is no counterpart to the physical world, but the intelligent, and but two forms of the intelligent, the civil and the religious. But it cannot be the latter to which the agents whom the symbol designates belong. No combination of men employed in the mere propagation of religion, or acting as mere religionists, intruded into the Roman empire either after or before the reign of Constantine, who destroyed one-third of those entertaining a different religious belief throughout one-third, or any considerable part of its territory. The only class that has made


destructive incursions into the empire were warriors, and when their intrusions carried with them the propagation of a new religion, it was only subordinately and consequentially. We are led then from the want of any corresponding agents in the religious world, to the civil and military for the counterpart of the symbol, and find a most exact and conspicuous coincidence with all its characters in the Gothic hordes, who intruded into the eastern empire and along the Danube and Rhine at the close of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century. They entered the empire from without. They were forced into it by the Hunns and other more northern hordes, who violently drove them from their dwellings, as the vapor and electricity of a storm are driven over a territory, not by powers inherent in themselves, but by the wind. Their incursions were marked by a terrible slaughter of the inhabitants and destruction by exposure, famine, and sickness, consequent on the ruin of their dwellings and crops ; and under these calamities the young, the feeble, and the aged, which to the stronger are as grass compared to trees, sunk in greater proportion than the active and sturdy. And finally, on fulfilling their office of destruction, they in a large degree disappeared as organized bodies, either by slaughter and pestilence, intermixture with the surviving population, or a retreat from the empire. The invaders of Italy especially erected no independent government, and made no absolute conquest, but like a tornado, which strewing a fertile region with the wreck of its groves and its crops, rapidly wafts off

, and gives place to tranquillity, they soon disappeared, and left

few other traces than the ruins of devastated cities and villas and the silence of depopulation.

The correspondence of these great agents and agencies with the symbols, is seen from the following passages from cotemporary writers, and the historians of the period. Jerome says:

“ It fills one with horror to trace the devastations of the time. For twenty years and more Roman blood has been daily shed between Constantinople and the Julian Alps. The Goths, Sarmatians, Quadi, Alans, Hunns, Vandals, and Marcomanni, have plundered and devastated Scythia, Thrace, Macedonia, Dardania, Dacia, Thessalonia, Achaia, Epirus, Dalmatia, and the Pannonias. How many matrons, how many consecrated virgins and persons of worth and rank, have been mocked by those brutes! The bishops have been made prisoners, the presbyters and clergy of other orders slain, the churches demolished, horses stabled at the altars of Christ, and the bones of the martyrs disinterred. Wailing and groans



[ocr errors]

have been everywhere, and death in all its forms. The Roman world is falling.”l

“The barbarians meeting with little resistance, indulged in the utmost cruelty. The cities which they captured, they so totally destroyed that no traces of them now remain, especially in Thrace and Greece, except here and there a tower or a gate. All the men who opposed them they slew, young and old, and indeed spared not women nor even children ; whence there is still but a sparse population in Italy. The plunder which they seized in every part of Europe was immense, and especially at Rome, where they left nothing either public or private.

“ The banks of the Rhine were crowned like those of the Tyber with houses and well-cultivated farms, and if a poet descended the river he might express his doubts on which side was situated the territory of the Romans.

This scene of peace and plenty was suddenly changed into a desert, and the prospect of the smoking ruins could alone distinguish the solitude of nature from the desolation of man. The flourishing city of Mentz was surprised and destroyed, and many thousand Christians were inhumanly massacred in the church. Worms perished after a long and obstinate siege; Strasburg, Spires, Rheims, Tournay, Arras, Amiens, experienced the cruel oppression of the German yoke; and the consuming flames of war spread from the banks of the Rhine over the greatest part of the seventeen provinces of Gaul. That rich and extensive country as far as the ocean, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, was delivered to the Barbarians, who drove before them in a promiscuous crowd the bishop, the senator, and the virgin, laden with the spoils of their houses and altars.''3

Commentators vary as usual in their views of the import of this symbol. Grotius interprets the hail of an obduration of the heart, and the blood of sanguinary passions, or resentment, which is to make agents symbols of qualities or passions instead of actors, and is thence against analogy. He, with Dr. Hammond, Eichhorn, and Rosenmuller, refers the symbol, as well as those that follow, to the Jewish war. But there are no resemblances. No great revolution like that denoted by the voices, thunders, lightnings, and earthquake following the casting of the fire to the earth, preceded that war. The army assailing the Jews did not enter Judea from without the empire. The Roman army did not disappear by intermixture with the people of Judea, retreat, or

, ? Hieron. Epist. iii. tom. i. p. 17.

Procopii Hist. Vandal. lib. i. p. 6 * Gibbon's Hist. Decl. and Fall, chap. xxx. vol. iii. p. 183.

[ocr errors]

annihilation after the termination of the contest. It was the Jews who were disbanded by the conflict, not their conquerors ; and finally, that war had passed before the period of the vision.

The construction by Dean Woodhouse, who interprets it of the persecution of the church by the Jews, is embarrassed by simiIar objections. That persecution had chiefly passed before the period of the revelation. It was not preceded by any important change of the Roman government, such as is denoted by the earthquake. The persecutors did not come from without the empire. It was the Roman magistrates, not the Jews, who put the Christians to death. The Jews had no political power. They were subjects, not rulers. The Jews did not disappear from the scene on the close of that persecution.

Mr. Brightman regards the hail as symbolizing the tumults occasioned by the Arian bishops, who were dissatisfied with the decrees of the council of Nicæa, the blood as representing the persecution of the church by the successors of Constantine, the trees and grass the members of the church, and their destruction their apostasy to false doctrines. But that is in like manner without any of the requisite correspondences. What analogy is there between the descent of a destructive hail-storm, and the dissension of bishops and churches respecting the decisions of a council ; between the devastation of a vast tract of country by a burning tornado, borne from a distant region, and the slaughter of a few thousand Christians by those under whose rule they lived; or between the destruction of fields and groves by such an invading whirlwind, and the voluntary apostasy of churches and individuals to erroneous doctrine ?

Vitringa regards the hail, lightning, and blood as symbols of famine, pestilence, and war, and interprets them of those with which the Roman empire was wasted from Decius to Gallienus. But that is to construe the symbol by its parts, not as a whole ; an error common to the great body of interpreters, and more fruitful of misconception, perhaps, than any other. Their inquiry has been, not what power, uniting in itself all the characiers of that burning whirlwind, invaded the Roman empire and spread it with slaughter; but what are hail, fire, and blood used to denote in other passages of Scripture, or what are they severally adapted to denote; and have interpreted them accordingly independently of each other, as though separately employed as metaphors, in place of being united in a symbol. Hence, as fire is often used to metaphorize wrath, Grotius interprets the lightnings of exasperation; and hail, as it is hard, of an obduration


« PreviousContinue »