Page images
PDF
EPUB

most degree self-contradictory, and without any determinable meaning, and involve the interpretation of the whole book in total uncertainty. We are required, therefore, by the most imperative necessity, to regard the seventh trumpet as still future, and probably at a considerable distance, and may, without any inconsistency with this or any other passage, assume that the first six vials precede it, and are already poured and pouring. The events of the French revolution and the wars that followed in its train, were indeed tremendous, and present a conspicuous counterpart to the symbols of the first five vials. Yet they were not destructive either of the wild beast or false prophet. So far from it, the usurpation by the governments, of dominion over the obligations and consciences of their subjects, the idolatry of the church, and the profligacy of the people, remain essentially as they were, while a restless and aspiring spirit is generated in the lower classes, which seems preparative io a universal revolution, whose horrors shall far transcend any that precede it, and—consummated by the interposition of the Son of God to complete the destruction of his foes-entitle it exclusively to the designation of the third woe.

[blocks in formation]

And a great sign was seen in heaven ; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. And being with child, she cries, in the pangs of birth and in labor, to deliver.

And another sign was seen in heaven ; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads seven diadems. And its tail drew the third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear, that when she should bring forth, it might devour her child. And she brought forth a male child, who is to rule all nations with an iron sceptre. And her child was caught up to God and to his throne.

And the woman fled into the desert, where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her a thousand two hun. dred and sixty days.

The woman is the representative of the true people of God, obviously, from the persecution she endures from the dragon, and her flight into the desert, and subsistence there through the period during which the witnesses prophesy. Her sunbeam robe, her station above the moon, and her crown of stars, bespeak her greatness, conspicuousness, and majesty; as the effulgent countenance, the cloudy robe, and iris splendors of the angel of the Ref. orination, indicate the conspicuity, grandeur, and power of those whom he represents. Her cry and labor to bear, denote the importunate desire and endeavor of those whom she symbolizes, to present to the empire one who should as their son, rise to supreme power, and rule the nations with an iron sceptre, repressing the pagans from persecution, and giving the church toleration

and peace.

The great red dragon symbolizes the rulers of the Roman empire; the seven heads denoting the seven species of the chiefs of its ancient government; the ten horns the chiefs of the kingdoms into which its western half was divided on its conquest by the Goths. It is the symbol of the Roman, not any earlier or later empire, obviously, both from its correspondence with that which was employed in the visions of Daniel, chapter vii. 20—24, to represent the rulers of the fourth great kingdom, which was indisputably the Roman, the conqueror and successor of the Macedonian; and from the fact that that is the only empire that accords in any degree with the symbol. It is the representative of the rulers of the Roman empire, not of the empire itself or its population, manifestly from the exhibition on the one hand, chap. xiii. 3, 4, of the whole earth, the symbol of that population in subjection to its rulers, as admiring and worshipping the wild beast, the dragon's successor; and of the dragon, on the other, as surrendering to that wild beast on the triumph of the Goths, its throne and dominion over the western half of its territory. A throne, great power and authority, are peculiarities of rulers, not of subjects. Its sweeping its tail through the sky, dragging one third of the stars, and casting them to the earth, represents its violent dejection of one third

of the Christian teachers from their stations by imprisonment, condemnation to the mines, disqualification for their office by depriving them of their eyes, or martyrdom. Its station before the woman, and purpose as soon as she should bring forth, to devour her offspring, indicate their apprehension that the people of God were about to favor the elevation to the throne of a Christian prince, and design, should they patronize a candidate for the supreme rule, with the expectation that he would restrain their pagan persecutors, and give them toleration, to destroy the object of their favor. Her bearing a male child who was about to rule the nations with an iron sceptre, denotes that they assumed that relation towards one who was a candidate for the imperial throne, and destined at length to ascend it, and become the first of a succession of princes who should repress their pagan persecutors with an iron sway. That her son was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, denotes both that he was rescued in an extraordinary manner from the attempts of the pagan emperors to destroy him, and exalted to supreme power in the empire ; and that he became in that station a usurper of the rights of God, and an object of idolatrous homage to his subjects. That the woman fled into the desert, signifies that the people of God, wholly disappointed in their expectation of a more favorable rule from monarchs professing to be Christian, and exposed to greater evils than they had suffered from their pagan persecutors, were compelled, in order to safety, to retire from the nationalized church into seclusion. That she was to be nourished there twelve hundred and sixty days, denotes that they were to continue in seclusion, upheld by the special care of God, through a period of twelve hundred and sixty years. As the woman is the representative of a multitude, and succession of believers, so the man-child is the representative of a dynasty or succession of princes.

That the actors and agencies represented in this vision are not subsequent to the seventh trumpet, is obvious from the symbols. That trumpet is the signal of the overthrow of the Roman empire in its last form, the final deliverance of the people of God from their persecuting enemies, and from death itself, and establishment in an everlasting kingdom under Christ as their king. But this symbol exhibits the government of that empire in its power, and at a period many ages anterior to the deliverance of the people of God, as the flight of the woman into the desert, where she is to subsist through twelve hundred and sixty years, denotes; and anterior also to the fall of the western empire and conversion into ten kingdoms, as the diadems on the dragon's heads, the badge of the imperial rule, indicate.

In what period, then, during the continuance of the imperial rule, shall we find all these conditions united; a persecution during which great numbers of the teachers of the church were dejected from their stations; a vehement desire of the people of God that some one should be raised up whom they might patronize, and aid in ascending the throne, in expectation that he would their per

ages?

reign as a friend and professor of Christianity, repress secutors, and give them freedom and security; an alarm of the chiefs of the empire at that wish, and determination to crush the candidate for supreme power, who should become the object of such an expectation; the rise of an heir to the throne towards whom the people of God assumed that relation, and whom the chiefs of the empire endeavored to destroy; his sudden and ex traordinary extrication from their power, and elevation to a station beyond their reach ; his usurpation of the divine rights, and becoming an object of idolatrous homage ; his disappointment of the hope of the people of God of a rule favorable to their purity and peace; and their retreat in consequence into seclusion, and continuance in obscurity through a long succession of

All these conditions meet most conspicuously in the period of Constantine and his successors.

I. The imperial rule still subsisted, and continued a hundred and seventy years after his accession to the throne. He was proclaimed Augustus by the western army on the death of his father, July 25th, 306, the subversion of the western empire by the conquest of Augustulus, took place in 476.9

II. The diadem was introduced by Diocletian, as the imperial badge, continued to be worn till the fall of the western throne, and was adopted by the Gothic kings who succeeded to the western empire.

III. The period of Constantine's accession was a period of persecution, during which great numbers of the Christian teachers were struck from their stations, as the stars were swept by the dragon from the sky, and consigned to prisons, to the mines, and to martyrdom, or disqualified by mutilation for the exercise of their office. It was commenced by Diocletian on the 23d of February, 303, and before the close of the year was by a new edict directed chiefly against those who presided in the churches. The prisons being soon filled with bishops, presbyters, deacons, and readers, another edict followed enjoining that such of them as could be induced to sacrifice to the gods should be set at liberty, but that such as refused, should be put to the severest torture. By a fourth edict in 305, all without distinction throughout the empire were required to offer sacrifice to idols, the magistrates were enjoined to contrive severer torments to constrain the reluctant, and the incorrigible were consigned without reserve to the wild beasts, the sword, or the flames. The number who suffered under these edicts in Mauritania, Upper and Lower Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor; Thrace, and Italy, is represented as immense.?

· Lactantii de Mort. Persecut. c. xxiv. xxv. Pagi Crit. in Baron. an. 306, no. 6– 10. Gibbon's Hist. Decl. and Fall, chap. xiv.

* Pagi Crit. in Baron. an. 476, no. 2, 3. Gibbon's Hist., chap. xxxvi. • Gibbon's Hist. chap. xiii. “Quæ autem per totum orbem singuli gesserint, enarrare impossibile est. Quis

IV. The people of God were led by the toleration granted by Constantius Chlorus to the Christians in his dominions, and the persuasion that his family were favorable to Christianity, to the desire and hope that his son Constantine might be elevated to the imperial rank, in the expectation that under his sway the pagan party would be prohibited from persecuting, and restrained from the extreme indecencies of their worship.

Constantius Chlorus who held the rank of Cæsar, and had command of Britain, Spain, and Gaul, at the promulgation of the first edict, and became Augustus on the abdication of Diocletian, yielded to the wishes of the persecuting emperors only so far as to demolish the houses of worship. No Christians were put to death, or imprisoned in France, or, so far as is known, in Britain. “The emperor Constantius Chlorus was distinguished through his whole life for mildness and clemency towards those under his rule, and friendliness to Christianity. He took no share in the war waged against the church, but protected the pious who lived under his jurisdiction from molestation, neither destroying their edifices for worship, nor intermeddling with them in any respect. And he alone, after a peaceful and glorious reign, left his empire at death to a legitimate, a modest, and a religious son. On his demise, Constantine, who had long before been assigned to that office by the Almighty, was immediately saluted Augustus by the army, and became a zealous emulator of his father's veneration for the Christian religion." The exemption of the churches of Gaul, Britain, and probably in a degree those of enim voluminum numerus capiet tam infinita, tam varia genera crudelitatis ? Accepta enim potestate, pro suis moribus quisque savivit.-Lactantii Inst. lib. v. de Just. c. 11. Moshemii de Rebus ante Const. pp. 929–934.

· Eusebii de Mart. Palæst. c. iii. Lactant. de Mort. Persecut. c. xv. xvi.
: Eusebii Hist. Eccl. lib. viii. c. 6. De Martyr. Palæst. p. 260, c. ii. p.

262. Moshemii de Rebus ante Const. pp. 928–947.

3 Eusebii Hist. Eccl. lib. viii. c. 13, 18. Lactantius represents Constantius Chlorus as yielding so far to the wishes of Diocletian and Galerius, as to order the demolition of the houses of worship. Nam Constantius ne dissentire à majorum præceptis videretur, conventicula, id est, parietes, qui restitui poterant, dirui passus est, verum autem Dei templum quod est in hominibus, incoluine servavit. De Mort. Persecut. c. XV.

« PreviousContinue »