« PreviousContinue »
cities and their people bore no such relation to the Roman empire or to Palestine, as the heavenly luminaries sustain to the earth, and cannot have been the object therefore which the latter were employed to represent.
Dr. Hammond interprets the sun of the Jewish temple, the moon of Jerusalem, the stars of its population, and their obscuration, of the siege of the city. But that is wholly without analogy. The temple was not to the empire what the sun is to the earth. The material city was not to the empire what the moon is to the earth, nor was it to the temple what the moon is to the sun. The people of the city were not to the population of the empire what the stars are to our globe; nor were they to the city and temple what the stars are to the moon and sun.
No construction can be more at war with the laws of symbolization.
Mr. Brightman expounds it of the persecution of the African church by the Vandals, interpreting the sun of the Scriptures, the moon of their doctrine, the stars of the ministers of the church, and their obscuration of the destruction of the Scriptures and slaughter of the bishops. But that is equally without analogy. The Scriptures and bishops sustained no such relations to the empire as those of the sun, moon, and stars to the earth. They were not coeval with that empire. They did not rule it with a supreme power. They did not extend their light equally to its whole population. Though during that persecution many copies of the Scriptures were destroyed, yet no part of them was absolutely lost.
A like total want of correspondence with the symbol marks the exposition given by Dean Woodhouse, who interprets it of the ignorance and misconception of the gospel, which followed in the train of the false doctrines and superstitions of the third and fourth centuries. The heavenly luminaries are not proper symbols of knowledge itself, but of agents imparting knowledge. Nor did the knowledge of the gospel sustain any such relation to the population of the empire, as the light of the sun, moon, and stars sustains to the earth. It was not coeval with that population. It was never equally enjoyed by them all; and its loss, moreover, by the churches, took place through their own negligence or choice, not through the irresistible power of a foreign and hostile people.
Vitringa applies it both to the empire and the church, interpreting the obscuration of the sun of the decay of the imperial government from Valens to the fall of Augustulus, and the darkening of the moon and stars of the false doctrines and corrupt manners which from the time of Constantine became the characteristics of the patriarchs and bishops. But that is to dissever the symbol and expound its parts independently of each othera method which he regularly pursues, and which renders his eminent genius and learning the instruments of almost perpetual error. The power that smote the sun, the moon, and the stars was the same, but the causes which reduced the imperial government to imbecility were wholly different from those which infected the patriarchs and bishops with a corruption of doctrine and morals. Those patriarchs and bishops were not to the empire what the moon and stars are to the earth. They neither began their career with it, distributed their light equally to all its inhabitants, nor exerted a principal influence in determining their condition.
Mr. Lowman regards the fall of Rome from her rank as the capital, and transference of the government to Ravenna, as the fulfilment of the prophecy. Bishop Newton also exhibits it as a principal event in its accomplishment. But that is to confound ihe seat of the imperial government with the government itself
; a station in the heavens occupied by the sun, with the sun itself, that sheds effulgence from that station.
Mr. Daubuz, Dr. Cressner, Mr. Whiston, Mr. Cuninghame, Mr. Keith, Mr. Elliott, interpret it of the fall of the western imperial government.
CHAPTER VIII. 13.
THE ANGEL FLYING IN MID-HEAVEN.
And I looked, and I heard one angel flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe to those dwelling on the earth, from the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound.
This angel is, like the others that fly through heaven, a symbol, and denotes a class of men who, after the fall of the western empire, expressed apprehensions of a similar catastrophe to the eastern from Scythian or other distant tribes, and proclaimed to the churches that antichrist was soon to rise and be overthrown, and the dawn commence of the millennial rest.
The eastern empire is represented by the writers of the period as filled with alarms through the whole of the sixth century, by the Gepidæ, the Sclavonians, the Turks, and the Persians, who hovered on its skirts, made frequent inroads into it, and threatened it with a speedy overthrow. Thrace and Greece were frequently overrun by the barbarians from the Danube during the reigns of Justinian, Justin II., and Mauricius, and the capital exposed to imminent danger; while the provinces of the east were twice wrenched from the empire by the Persians, and recovered only by reconquest.
With the apprehension of the subversion of the Greek empire which thus agitated the general mind, was conjoined an expectation by the church of a speedy rise and overthrow of antichrist and advent of the Judge of the world. It was a prevalent opinion in that and the preceding ages, that the millennium of rest was to commence with the seventh millennium of the world, and that that period was to arrive in the sixth or seventh century of the christian era. Thus Cyprian : “You ought to regard the day of trial as beginning to impend, and the sunset of the age, the time of antichrist, as already near, and to stand ready for the conflict." Similar views are represented by Augustine as held by many in his age.
“Let the philosophers,” says Lactantius, “who would compute the age of the world, know that the sixth millennium of years has not yet reached its close, and that on the completion of that number the consummation is to take place.”—“That the close of the six thousand years is now approaching, may be discerned from the predictions of the prophets, for they foretold signs from which the consummation may be expected daily. How soon the period is to be completed, they who have treated of the subject have shown, by computing from the Scriptures the ages that have elapsed since the creation of the world, who although they vary somewhat, yet unite in the expectation that not more than two hundred years remain. Even things themselves would indicate that the fall and ruin of the world are at hand, were it not known that they are not to take place while the city of Rome remains safe. But when that capital of the world shall fall, who will doubt that the end of human affairs and the world itself has arrived."
* Gibbon's Hist. Decl. and Fall, chap. xlvi.
Ibid. chap. xlii. xlv. xlvi. Cypriani Epist. 58.
August. de Civit. Dei, lib. xx. c. 6, 7. Epist. 199, c. 17. * Lactantii de Vita Beata, c. 14, 25.
The destruction of Rome, the overthrow of all antichristian powers, and the general judgment, were accordingly proclaimed by the great teachers of the church as at hand. Of that nature are the following passages from Gregory the Great, who filled the pontifical throne from 590 to 604.
“Our Redeemer desiring to find us ready and restrain us from the love of the world, predicted the evils that are to attend its old age, and the calamities that are immediately to precede its termination, that if we are not inclined to regard him with awe in tranquillity, we may at least, when his judgment is nigh, feel a fear of being overwhelmed by his strokes. For the Lord had said immediately before the passage to which you have now listened, nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be great earthquakes and pestilences and famines ; signs also in the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress of nations, a roaring of the sea, and waves in tumult; some of which events we know have already taken place, and others we fear as nigh: for we see that our times are marked more than all former periods by the rise of nation against nation, and the prevalence among them of calamities. That earthquakes have overwhelmed numerous cities, you learn as often as you hear from other quarters of the world. We have pestilences without cessation. Signs indeed in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, we have not yet beheld; but that they are not distant, we may infer from the change that has taken place in the air. Indeed, before Italy was given up to be smitten by the Gothic sword, we saw fiery armies battling in the sky, and the blood itself gleaming which was afterwards shed of the human race. And though no new commotion of the sea has hitherto arisen, yet as most of the signs foretold are already fulfilled, there is no doubt but that the few that remain are to follow. These things we mention that you may be excited to vigilance."
“Behold, we now see the events which were predicted. The world is oppressed with new and daily increasing evils. How few remain of the population that was once innumerable, you see; and yet scourges still daily urge, sudden catastrophes overwhelm, new and unexpected slaughters afflict. For as in youth the body is fresh, the breast is strong and sound, the neck brawny, the arms plump, but in old age the form stoops, the withered neck declines, the breast labors with frequent sighs, strength fails, and the speech is interrupted; for though languor is not felt, health itself to the old is often but sickness ; so the world in
earlier years flourished as it were in youth, was robust for the multiplication of the human race, fresh in the health of its animals, and abundant in its productions, but now it is depressed by its old age, and driven on as it were to the verge of death by increasing troubles. Place not your affections therefore on what you see cannot long endure. Bear in mind the apostolic direction, love not the world. Day before yesterday you know by a sudden whirlwind aged groves were uprooted, houses thrown down, and churches swept from their foundations. How many who are in health and safety at evening, and employ their thoughts on what they shall do on the morrow, die ere morning and are caught in the snare of ruin !"!
"Such debility from fevers has spread among the clergy and people of the city, that scarce a freedman or slave remains capable of any service. Of the ravages of the pestilence in the neighboring cities we daily hear. How Africa is devastated by disease and death, as you are nearer, I presume, you are aware. But they who come from the east announce more grievous desolations. As then from all these things you know the general smiting of the world approaches, you ought not to be too much overwhelmed by your personal troubles, but, as becomes the wise and noble, recall every heart to the care of souls, and fear the more as a strict judgment is near.
“Moreover, we wish you to know that the end of the present world is nigh, and the kingdom of the saints about to come, which is never to end. And as the end of the world approaches, many things impend which had not occurred before, such as changes of the air, terrific appearances in the sky, unseasonable tempests, wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes,—and these signals of the end of the world precede it, that we may be found solicitous for our souls, looking for the hour of death, and prepared for the coming Judge.'
“The pestilence and sword ravage the world, nations rise against nations, the whole earth is shaking, the yawning ground is dissolved with its inhabitants; for all the events foretold are accomplished, the king of pride is present, and, what ought not to be, an army of priests is prepared for him.”4 “ Antichrist the enemy of the Almighty is nigh."
Gregorii Homil. i. tom. i. p. 1436, 1439.
tom. ii. p. 1166. Many similar passages occur. Dialog. lib. iv. c. 41, p. 445; Epist. 29, lib. iii
. Ind. xi. an E 25, lib Gregorii Epist. 18, lib. v. Ind. xiii. p. 744. Epist. 29, lib. vii. Indict. xv. p. 875. Gregorii Epist. 31, lib. vii. Indict. xv. p. 879.