By SYLVESTER BLISS,
AUTHOR OF "ANALYSIS OF SACRED CHRONOLOGY," ETC.
PUBLISHED BY J. V. HIMES,
No. 8 CHARDON STREET.
PREFACE. ELEMENTS OF PROPHETIC INTERPRETATION. EXPOSITION OF THE APOCALYPSE. Footnotes
The Apocalypse should be regarded as a peculiarly interesting portion of scripture: a blessing being promised those who read, hear, and keep the things which are written therein. It has been subjected to so many contradictory interpretations, that any attempt to comprehend its meaning is often regarded with distrust; and the impression has become very prevalent, that it is a "sealed book,"—that its meaning is so hidden in unintelligible symbols, that very little can be known respecting it; and that to attempt to unfold its meaning, is to tread presumptuously on forbidden ground.
The attention of the Christian community has been called more of late to its study, by the publication of several elaborate Expositions. One in two large volumes, 8vo., by Prof. Stuart, was published at Andover, Mass., in 1845. A large 8vo. volume, by David N. Lord, was issued from the press of the Harpers, in New York, in 1847; and a smaller work, by Rev. Thomas Wickes, appeared in that city in 1851. These are the more important works on the subject which have been published in this country. In England, the "Horae Apocalypticae," by the Rev. E. B. Elliott, A.M., late Vicar of Tuxford, and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, has passed through several editions,—the fourth of which, in four large vols. 8vo., was published in London, in 1851. These works, with the writings of Habershon, Cunningham, Croly, Bickersteth, Birks, Brooks, Keith, and other distinguished English writers, have caused the study of the Apocalypse to be regarded with more favor of late than heretofore.
The Expositions of MR. LORD have thrown much light on the nature and laws of symbols, by unfolding the principles in accordance with which they are used. The evolving of these has removed from many passages the obscurity which had before caused them to be regarded as enigmatical. There are, doubtless, many portions of the Apocalypse, the meaning of which is as yet only dimly perceived, and which will be more clearly unfolded by the transpiring of future events; and it would be arrogant to claim that its interpretation had been freed from all perplexities. But it is believed that it may be as profitably and as satisfactorily studied as other portions of Scripture; and that the reader may feel an assurance of approximating to a knowledge of the true meaning of its symbolic teachings.
The Bible is its own interpreter; and when practicable, scripture should be explained by scripture. The meaning imputed to any passage must never contradict, but must harmonize with that of parallel texts. In illustrating the several references in the Apocalypse to the same events and epochs, a repetition of scripture is somewhat unavoidable.
These pages have resulted from notes prepared in a familiar course of Bible-class instruction, where the study of brevity was necessary. Without designing to speak dogmatically, the didactic was found the more direct and simple mode of expression. In presenting this exposition, merely as the opinion of the writer, it is with the hope that it will give, in a small compass, a common-sense view of the intricacies of this book, and be acceptable to those interested in the study of prophecy.
ELEMENTS OF PROPHETIC INTERPRETATION.
1. THE GRAMMAR of any science is a development of the principles by which it is governed. As the science of interpretation must be founded on some fixed and uniform laws, the unfolding of these is the first step in the study of prophecy.
2. BIBLICAL EXEGESIS and SACRED HERMENEUTICS, are terms applied to the science of interpretation, or of learning the meaning of Biblical words and phrases.
3. THE USUS LOQUENDI, is the usual mode of speaking. When applied to the Scriptures, it denotes the general scriptural use of words.
4. To learn the meaning of scriptural terms, their general use must be ascertained, by comparing their contexts in the several places of their occurrence.
5. PROPHECY is the prediction of a future event. The term sometimes denotes a book of prophecies (Rev. 22:18); and sometimes a history.—2 Chron. 9:29.
6. CONSECUTIVE Prophecy gives the succession of future events in the order in which they will transpire. Examples.—See Dan. 2d, 7th, 8th, 11th, and Rev. 6th and 7th, 9th to the 11th; 12th and 15th, &c.
7. DISCURSIVE Prophecy presents future events, irrespective of the order of their occurrence. Examples.—ISAIAH and the minor prophets.
8. CONDITIONAL Prophecy is when the fulfilment is dependent on the compliance of those to whom the promise is made, with the conditions on which it is given. Examples.—"If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, and do them: then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit." Lev. 26:3, 4. "But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant: I also will do this unto you, I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain; for your enemies shall eat it." Ib. 14-16.
"And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day: that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God." Deut. 28:1, 2. "But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day: that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee," &c. Ib. 15.
Predictions of mere national prosperity, or adversity, are usually conditional. When the condition is not expressed, it is implied. Example.—The Lord said unto Jonah, "Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.... And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.... And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil that he had said that he would do unto them: and he did it not."
For all cases of this kind, the Lord has given the following general RULE: "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it: if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them." Jer. 18:7-10.
9. UNCONDITIONAL Prophecy includes all predictions which are absolute in their nature. Examples.—"But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord." Num. 14:21.
"For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.... For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.... Thy people also shall be all righteous: they shall inherit the land for ever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified." Isa. 60:2, 3, 12, 21.
"But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it." Micah 4:1.
10. A VISION is a revelation from GOD, supernaturally presented. Future events are made to pass before the mind of the seer, as if actually transpiring. Examples.—See the prophecies of ISAIAH, AMOS, OBADIAH, &c.
11. A SYMBOLIC VISION is where the future events, instead of being presented to the mind of the prophet, are represented by analogous objects. Examples.—The prophecies of EZEKIEL, DANIEL, ZECHARIAH, and JOHN, are of this kind.
12. A LITERAL Prophecy is where the prediction is given in words used according to their primary and natural import. Examples.—Num. 14:21-35; Jer. 25:1-33.
13. Prophecy is figurative when it abounds in tropes, as in much of ISAIAH and the minor prophets; and it is symbolic, when symbols instead of the objects themselves are presented—as in DANIEL and JOHN.
14. POETRY is writing thus constituted by the metrical or rhythmical structure of its sentences; and is not necessarily any more figurative or obscure than prose writing. It is, also, a term sometimes applied to the language of excited imagination and feeling.
The Poetry of the Bible consists in Hebrew parallelisms, where the idea of the preceding line is repeated, or contrasted, in the succeeding one. Examples.—The Psalms, ISAIAH, and other prophets.
15. HIGHLY FIGURATIVE, or SYMBOLIC Prophecies—the laws and use of Tropes and Symbols being understood are not necessarily more equivocal, enigmatical or obscure, than those which are literal.
16. LITERAL FULFILMENT of prophecy is prophecy fulfilled in accordance with the grammatical interpretation of its language.
17. LITERAL INTERPRETATION, when technically applied to the interpretation of prophecy, is not opposed to tropes or figures of speech, but to spiritual interpretation. It interprets the language of the Scriptures, as similar language would be interpreted in all other writings.
18. SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION (mystical) seeks, in the language of Scripture, a meaning that is not expressed by any of the ordinary rules of language. It sets at defiance all the laws of language, and makes fancy the interpreter of prophecy. "It subjects clear predictions to an exegetical alembic that effectually subtilizes and evaporates their meaning."—Bush.
19. ULTRA LITERAL INTERPRETATION is a disregard of the peculiarities of symbols and of the several kinds of tropes—understanding them as if they were literally expressed.
20. SYMBOLS and TROPES are literally explained, when interpreted in accordance with the grammatical laws which respectively govern their use.
21. PROPHETIC SYMBOLS are objects, real or imaginary, representative of agents or objects possessing analogous characteristics. All agents or objects seen in symbolic visions are symbols. The inspired explanations of symbols are always literal, except when they are affirmed to be the same as some other symbol which represents the same object, as in Rev. 17:9.
22. LAWS OF SYMBOLS.
I. "The Symbol and that which it represents resemble each other in the station they fill, the relation they sustain, and the agencies they exert in their respective spheres."—Lord.
II. The Symbol and that which it represents are of the same, or they are of different species, kinds, or rank, according to the nature and use of the symbol.
III. "When the Symbol is of such nature, or is used in such a relation that it can properly symbolise something different from itself, the representative and that which it represents, while the counterpart of each other, are of different species, kinds, or rank."—Lord.
Example.—Dan. 7:3, beasts; v. 17, governments.
IV. "Symbols that are of such a nature, station or relation, that there is nothing of an analogous kind that they can represent, symbolize agents, objects, acts, or events of their own kind."—Ib. Example.—Dan. 7:9.
V. "When the Symbol and that which it symbolizes differ from each other, the correspondence between the representative and that which it represents, still extends to their chief parts; and the elements or parts of the symbols denote corresponding parts in that which is symbolized."—Ib.
VI. "The Names of Symbols are their literal and proper names, not metaphorical titles."—Ib.
VII. "A single agent, in many instances, symbolizes a body and succession of agents."—Ib.
VIII. Symbols of the same kind, and used in the same relations, always represent one class of objects; and when the office of a symbol has been once shown, the same symbol, similarly used, always fills a like office. They are never used arbitrarily.
IX. While like symbols represent like objects, the same agents are often indicated by different symbols.
Thus, a church may be symbolized by a city and a woman; and government, by a beast and a mountain, &c.
23. INSPIRED EXPLANATIONS OF SYMBOLIC REPRESENTATIONS:—
Ancient of Days—The Most High.—Dan. 7:9, 22. Candlesticks—Churches.—Rev. 1:20. Carpenters—Destroyers of governments.—Zech. 1:21. Days—Years.—Num. 14:34. Ezek. 4:4-6. Horns, of a wild beast—Kings or kingdoms succeeding to a divided empire.—Dan. 8:22 and 7:24. Heads, of a wild beast—Kings or forms of government.—Rev. 17:9, 10. Image, of different metals—A succession of governments.—Dan. 2:37-42. Incense, or odors—Prayers.—Rev. 5:8 and 8:4. Lamb, the—Christ.—Rev. 5:6, 9, 10. Lamb's wife—Risen saints.—Rev. 19:7, 8. Lake of fire and brimstone—The place of the second death.—Rev. 20:15. Likeness of a man—The Lord.—Ezek. 1:26, 28, and 8:2, 4. Linen, fine and clean—Righteousness of saints—Rev. 19:8. Mountains—Kings, or forms of government.—Rev. 17:9, 10. New Jerusalem—The redeemed Church, or the Bride, the Lamb's wife.—Rev. 21:9, 10. Revivification of dry bones—Resurrection of the dead.—Ezek. 37:11, 12. Stars—Angels, i.e., messengers of the churches.—Rev. 1:20. Souls of martyrs living again—The first resurrection.—Rev. 20:4, 5. Stone, becoming a mountain—Kingdom of God.—Dan. 2:45. Waters—Peoples.—Rev. 17:15. Wild Beasts—Governments.—Dan. 7:17. Woman—A city.—Rev. 17:18. Explained to be a church.—21:9, 10.
24. TROPES are figures of various kinds, used to illustrate the subjects to which they are applied.—They embrace the Simile, Metaphor, Prosopopoeia, Apostrophe, Synecdoche, Allegory, &c.
25. LAWS OF FIGURES—(a.) "The terms in which they are expressed are used in their ordinary and literal sense."—Lord.
(b.) "The agents or objects to which figures are applied are always expressly mentioned. Figures, in that respect, differ wholly from symbols, which never formally indicate, unless an interpretation is given, who the agents, or what the objects are which they represent."—Ib.
(c.) "The figurative terms are always predicates, or are employed in affirming something of some other agent or object; and are therefore either nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs."—Ib.
(d.) "As their terms are used literally, the figure lies, when they are employed in an unusual manner, simply in their being applied to objects to which they do not properly belong."—Ib.
(e.) "They are used accordingly in all such cases for the purpose of illustration, and their explication is accomplished, not by assigning to them some new and extraordinary meaning, but simply by conjoining with them the terms of a comparison which expresses the relation in which they are employed."—Ib.
(f.) "It is in metaphors and personification only that acts and qualities are ascribed to agents and objects that are incompatible with their nature; or do not properly belong to them."—Ib. Theo. & Lit. Jour., vol. 1, p. 354.
26. A SIMILE, or comparison, is an affirmation that one agent, object, or act, is like, or as, another,—there being a real or imaginary resemblance. Sometimes only the mere fact of a resemblance is affirmed. At others, the nature of the resemblance is indicated.
Examples.—"As for man, his days are as grass." Psa. 103:15. "Whose garment was white as snow." Dan. 7:9.
27. ANTITHESIS is a contrast, or placing in opposite lights things dissimilar.
Example.—"The wicked are overthrown and are not; but the house of the righteous shall stand." Prov. 12:7.
28. A METAPHOR is a simile comprised in a word, without the sign of comparison. It is an affirmation of an object, incompatible with its nature—i.e., it affirms that an object is, what literally it is only like; or attributes to it acts, to which its acts only bear a resemblance.
Examples.—"He is the Rock." Deut. 32:4. "Her gates shall lament and mourn." Isa. 3:25.
A metaphor may be a simple affirmation of what an object is, or it may embrace "the agent, the act, the object, and the effect of an action."—Lord.
(a.) When an object is affirmed to be what it only resembles, that of which the affirmation is made is always literally expressed.
(b.) "When a nature is ascribed to an object that does not belong to it, the acts or results affirmed to it are proper to that imputed nature, not to its own."—Lord.
(c.) "The meaning of a metaphorical passage is precisely what it would be if a comparison only were affirmed."—Ib.
29. AN ELLIPTICAL METAPHOR is where the figure is incomplete. An object, instead of being affirmed to be what it only resembles, is introduced by the name proper only to that resemblance. The literal name of the object and the affirmation to complete the figure are to be supplied.
To find the meaning of an elliptical metaphor, trace the word through the Bible, and find to what object such metaphorical term is applied. Example.—"And in that day there shall be a Root of JESSE, which shall stand for an ensign of the people." Isa. 11:10. Explanation.—"I [JESUS] am the Root and the offspring of DAVID." Rev. 22:16.
30. PROSOPOEIA, or PERSONIFICATION, is an address to an inanimate object, as if it were a person, and had intelligence.—Lord. Example.—"Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth." Deut. 32:1.
31. AN APOSTROPHE is a digression from the order of any discourse, and a direct address to the persons of whom it treats, or to those who are to form a judgment respecting the subject of which it treats.—Lord. Example.—"Hear the word of the LORD, ye rulers of Sodom: give ear unto the law of our GOD, ye people of Gomorrah." Isa. 1:10.
32. AN ALLEGORY is a narrative in which the subject of the discourse is described by an analogous subject, resembling it in its characteristics and circumstances—the subject of which it is descriptive being indicated in its connection. Examples.—See Ezek. 31:3-9; Ps. 80:8-16; Jud. 9:8-15.
Past historical events, instead of supposititious ones, are sometimes used for illustration. When thus used they serve as allegories, without affecting their original historical significance. Example.—Gal. 4: 22-31. See also Rom. 9:7, 8; 1 Cor. 9:9, 10, and 10:11.
33. A PARABLE is a similitude taken from natural things, to instruct us in the knowledge of spiritual. Examples.—Matt. 13th, and 21:28-41.
The Parable differs from the Allegory in that the acts ascribed are appropriate to the agents to which they are attributed. In the Allegory, acts may be ascribed to real objects which are not natural to those objects. Example.—See Judges 9:7-15.
The Parable is sometimes used to denote a prophecy, (Num. 23:7); sometimes a discourse, (Job 27:1); sometimes a lamentation, (Micah 2:4); sometimes a proverb, or wise saying, (Prov. 26:7); and sometimes to indicate that a thing is apocryphal. Ezek. 20:49. The terms parable and allegory, are often wrongfully applied.
34. A RIDDLE is an enigma—something to be guessed. Example.—See Judges 14:24-18. It is sometimes used to denote an allegory. Ezek. 17:1-10.
35. TYPES are emblems—greater events in the future being prefigured by typical observances, "which are a shadow of good things to come." Col. 2:17.
36. THE HYPOCATASTASIS, or substitution, is a figure introduced by Mr. LORD, in which the objects, or agents, of one class are, without any formal notice, employed in the place of the persons or things of which the passages in which they occur treat; and they are exhibited either as exerting, or as subjected to an agency proper to their nature, in order to represent by analogy, the agency which those persons are to exert, or of which those things are to be the subjects. Example.—"O, my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths."—Isa. 3:12,—expressive of the manner in which they were misled by their rulers and kept from the truth.
37. A METONYMY is a reversion, or the use of a noun to express that with which it is intimately connected, instead of using the term which would literally express the idea. Thus the cause is used for the effect, the effect for the cause, the thing containing for that which is contained in it, &c. Example.—"Ye have eaten up the vineyard." Isa. 3:14—meaning the fruit of the vineyard.
38. A SYNECDOCHE is the use of a word expressive of a part, to signify the whole; or that expressive of the whole, to denote only a part—as the genus for the species, or the species for the genus, &c. Example.—"Man dieth and wasteth away; yea man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?" Job 14:10.
39. A HYPERBOLE is an exaggeration in which more is expressed than is intended to be understood. Example.—"I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." John 21:25—meaning that a great number might be written.
40. IRONY is the utterance of pointed remarks, contrary to the actual thoughts of the speaker or writer—not to deceive, but to add force to the remark. Examples.—"No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you." Job 12:2.
"And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god: either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked." 1 Kings 18:27.
41. THE INTERROGATION—while its legitimate use is to ask a question—is also used to affirm or deny with great emphasis. Affirmative interrogations usually have no or not in connection with the verb. Example.—"Is not God in the height of the heavens?" Job 22:12. Examples of a negative.—"Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once?" Isa. 66:8. "Can the rush grow up without mire?" Job 8:11.
42. EXCLAMATIONS are digressions from the order of a discourse or writing, to give expression to the emotions of the speaker, or writer. Example.—"O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest!" Psa. 55:6.
43. FABLES are fictions—additions to the word of GOD. All false theories and doctrines supposed to be based on the Bible, all interpretations of Scripture which do violence to the laws of language and falsify their meaning, and all opinions which are the result of mere traditions and doctrines of men, are to be classed as fables. Mark 7:8-13; 1 Pet. 1:18; 1 Tim. 1:4; 4:7; Tit. 1:14.
44. SYNCHRONOUS SCRIPTURES are the several passages which have reference to any one and the same event.
Each portion of Scripture respecting any subject, must be considered in connection with all the Scriptures that refer to the same subject.—Compare, for example, Dan. 2:34, 35, 44; 7:18, 27; Matt. 6:10; 13:37-43; 35:34; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 11:15-18.
EXPOSITION OF THE APOCALYPSE.
The Title of the Book.
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and sending, he signified them through his angel to his servant John: who testified the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, and whatever he saw."—Rev. 1:1, 2.—Prof. Whiting's Translation.
"The very title of John's predictions, Apocalypse, implies the unveiling or 'revelation' of the mystic and hidden sense of the prophetic oracles, previously uttered by his inspired predecessors."—PROF. BUSH.
"The Αποκαλυψις, from which we have our word Apocalypse, signifies, literally, a revelation, or discovery, of what was concealed, or hidden."—DR. CLARKE.
The work of the apostles was "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which, from the beginning of the world, hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ," (Eph. 3:9); "even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints," Col. 1:26. The entire record of the New Testament, is a revelation that God "hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son;" in distinction from the records of the Old Testament, which He, "at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets," Heb. 1:1. But the closing book of the new series is called, in distinction from the others, "THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST."
It contains the "many things" he had to say to his disciples, in addition to those recorded by the evangelists; but which they could not then bear, John 16:12. It is the revelation "which God gave unto him;" for "there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known ... what shall be in the latter days," Dan. 2:28. God communicated by his servants the prophets what should "come to pass hereafter," by visions which were "certain," and by "the interpretation thereof" which was "sure," Dan. 2:46. But Daniel was commanded to "shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end," when many should "run to and fro," and knowledge should "be increased." And it was added, "Go thy way, Daniel; for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end: Many shall be purified and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." Dan. 12:4, 9, 10.
It will thus be seen, that provision had been made for the future unveiling of what was left obscure in the predictions of the Old Testament writers; and for the unsealing of what was then closed up and sealed. This revelation must come from God; for the Saviour has testified, that "of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." Matt. 24:36. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever." Deut. 29:29.
As God had provided for a more full "revelation" respecting the events of the future, it was necessary that it should be communicated through "the appointed Heir of all things," by whom he was to speak in the last days, Heb. 1:2. The BAPTIST said of Christ, that "what he hath seen and heard, this he testifieth," John 3:22. And the Saviour said of him by whom he was sent, "I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him," Ib. 8:2, 6. And again, he saith, "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment; what I should say, and what I should speak," Ib. 12:49. "The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof," Rev. 5:5.
The design of God in giving this additional revelation, was that he might "show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass;" for "surely the Lord God doeth nothing, but he revealeth his secrets unto his servants the prophets," Amos 3:7. And he saith, "I have told you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass ye might believe," John 14:29. When the old world was to be destroyed by water, "Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, prepared an ark to the saving of his house," Heb. 11:7. And when the Lord had purposed the destruction of Sodom, he said, "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" and angels were sent to Lot, that he might say to his children, "Up get ye out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city," Gen. 18:17, and 19:14. So of the times and seasons of the second advent: while "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night," he has said to his chosen ones, "Ye brethren are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief," 1 Thess. 5:1-4. He has condescended to give his people "a more sure word of prophecy: whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts," 2 Pet. 1:19. Therefore it was said to John, "I will show thee things which must be hereafter," Rev. 4:1; which things were shortly to begin to come to pass,—they being a series of successive events, commencing near the time in which John wrote, and extending to the end of the world and the establishment of the everlasting kingdom.
These were shown to John by symbolic representations, in a series of visions, the import of which was signified to him by an angelic interpreter. Said the Saviour, "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify unto you these things in the churches," 22:16. And these things were not to be sealed up, like the words of Daniel; for John was commanded to "seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand," 22:10. He recorded the words which God thus gave him,—"the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." He has given us, in graphic language, such descriptions of the visions shown, that we can easily imagine the symbols which he saw; and we have the inspired explanations of those which were "signified" to him. Therefore we may read, and receive the blessings promised to those who keep this testimony of Jesus.
"Happy is he, who readeth, and those, who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things, written in it: for the season is near." Rev. 1:3.
Those who teach that the Apocalypse is a "sealed book," most clearly contradict the testimony of Christ respecting it. To discourage the study of it, is to treat with neglect, and to despise what God has spoken in these last days by his Son, Heb. 1:2; of whom it is said: "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh; for if they escaped not who refused him who spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven," Heb. 12:25. Those who thus neglect it, cannot regard the blessing promised to those who read, hear, and keep its sayings.
The Apocalypse is not to be undervalued as unprofitable; for "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works," 2 Tim. 3:16, 17. "For whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope," Rom. 15:4. "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me," John 5:39. "Thus saith the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me," Isa. 45:11. "Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book," Rev. 22:7.
John's Salutation to the Churches.
"John to the seven congregations in Asia: grace be to you and peace, from Him who is, and who was, and who is to be; and from the seven Spirits, that are before his throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful Witness, and the First-born of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests to God even his father: to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye will see him, and those, who pierced him: and all the tribes of the earth will wail because of him. Yea, so be it! I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is, and who was, and who is to be, the Almighty."—Rev. 1:4-8.
The seven churches to which John sends salutation, were those of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, 1:11. The Asia, in which they were situated, was a province in Asia Minor, distinct from Pontus, Gallatia, and Bithynia; which also were in Asia Minor, 1 Pet. 1:1, and Acts 2:9. Of the province of Asia, Ephesus was the capital, and was the principal place of John's residence. The seven cities which contained those churches, were situated in a kind of amphitheatre, surrounded by mountains. Smyrna was 46 miles north of Ephesus, and Pergamos 64 miles; Thyatira was 48 miles to the east, and Sardis 33 miles; Philadelphia 27 miles to the south, and Laodicea 42 miles. These churches had all been under the general supervision of John's ministry; and for this reason, doubtless, they are especially designated, instead of those with which he had not been so intimately connected.
John writes to the seven churches, in obedience to the command,—"What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia," 1:11. He seems to have written what he saw, at the time of its exhibition, and not at the close of the entire presentation; for when he was about to write the discordant utterances of "the seven thunders," he was told to "write them not," 10:4.
John observes the oriental custom of placing his name at the commencement, instead of the close of his communication. Few persons now deny that this was John the Evangelist. Irenaeus, who was born only about 30 years after the death of John, speaks of the writer of the Apocalypse, as "the disciple of Christ,—that same John that leaned on his breast at the last supper."
Most beautiful reference is here made to the attributes of DEITY: "Him who is, and who was, and who is to be," can be no other than the great Preexistent, who said to Moses, "I AM THAT I AM," Ex. 13:14.
The seven Spirits, would seem to be irrelevantly placed between the Father and the Son,—the place always occupied by the Holy Spirit, when spoken of in connection with them,—if they were merely seven angels. Grace would also seem to be irreverently invoked from such,—its presence being implied where it is invoked,—unless they are expressive of the Holy Spirit, in which grace is inherent, and from whom it may be communicated; as it may not be from angels. Seven is a full and perfect number, and it may be here used because in another place "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne" are symbolic of "the seven Spirits of God," (4:5); which, if angels, would be expressly named, as in other inspired explanations,—as they are in that of the stars, 1:20. A burning flame is often used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Thus, when God would make a covenant with Abraham, and the victims between which the covenanting parties were to pass, were divided, the presence of God was symbolized by "a burning lamp that passed between those pieces," Gen. 15:17. And the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, was manifested by "cloven tongues, like as of fire," which "sat upon each of them," Acts 2:3. In Zechariah 3:9, we read of the symbol of a stone laid before Joshua, that on it were engraved "seven eyes," which "are the eyes of the Lord which run to and fro, through the whole earth," (Zech. 4:10);—an expressive figure of God's Omniscience. The same is symbolized in Rev. 5:6, by the "seven eyes" of the LAMB.
Jesus Christ is the faithful Witness. He "was faithful to him that appointed him," (Heb. 3:2); and he was given as a Witness to the people, a Leader and Commander to the people, Isa. 55:4. He is the "first-begotten of the dead," having "risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept," 1 Cor. 15:20: he is "declared to be the Son of God, with power according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead," Rom. 1:4. He is "the Prince of the kings of the earth," the "King of kings and Lord of lords," 19:16; "all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him," Psa. 72:11. He hath shown how he "loved us," by giving himself for us, (Gal. 2:20); and hath cleansed his people from all sin, not "by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us," Heb. 9:12. He has redeemed us to God "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation," Rev. 5:9. He is the one who is to come in the clouds of heaven, in resplendent majesty, to reward his saints, and to destroy those who destroy the earth, 11:18. The announcement that he "cometh with clouds" is as if John had said that what he was commanded to write, was a revelation of the events which were to precede and usher in that coming.
"I John, your brother, and partner in the affliction, and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the island called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, like that of a trumpet, saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven congregations, to Ephesus, and to Smyrna, and to Pergamos, and to Thyatira, and to Sardis, and to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."—Rev. 1:9-11.
This gives a clue to the date of the Apocalypse. It was written when John was in the Isle of Patmos: "It is the general testimony of ancient authors, that St. John was banished into Patmos in the time of Domitian, in the latter part of his reign, and restored by his successor, Nerva. But the book could not be published till after John's release, and return to Ephesus, in Asia. Domitian died in 96, and his persecution did not commence till near the close of his reign."—DR. CLARKE.
"DOMITIAN, having exercised his cruelty against many, and unjustly slain no small number of noble and illustrious men at Rome, ... at length established himself as the successor of NERO, in his hatred and hostility to GOD. He was the second that raised a persecution against us. In this persecution, it is handed down by tradition, that the apostle and evangelist, JOHN, ... was condemned to dwell on the island of Patmos. IRENAEUS, indeed, in his fifth book against the heresies, where he speaks of the calculation formed on the epithet of Antichrist, in the above-mentioned Revelation of JOHN, speaks in the following manner respecting him: 'If, however, it were necessary to proclaim his name (i.e. Antichrist's), openly at the present time, it would have been declared by him who saw the Revelation, for it was not long since it was seen, but almost in our own times, at the close of DOMITIAN's reign.' "—EUSEBIUS.
Prof. Stuart, who dissents from the opinion, admits that "a majority of the older critics have been inclined to adopt the opinion of Irenaeus, viz.: that it was written during the reign of Domitian, i.e., during the last part of the first century, or in A. D. 95 or 96."—Com. Apoc., V. I., p. 263.
John's adherence to the word and testimony of Christ, had caused his banishment—as others "were slain—for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held," (6:9); and whose living again and reigning with Christ, was subsequently shown John in a vision, 20:4.
John was in the spirit; i.e., he was in a state of prophetic ecstasy, in which he was, as it were, caught away from a realization of the actual and the present, and shown "the things which must be hereafter." It was on the "Lord's day," the first day of the week, which was so called because on that day the Lord arose from the dead. It was a day which has been observed by all Christians in especial remembrance of that event. John does not appear to have anticipated any such announcement, until he was suddenly startled from his meditation by a voice in trumpet tones, announcing itself by the titles of Christ, and commanding him to write to the churches what he saw. Hearing the voice, he turned to see who had spoken to him, and beheld a
Vision of Christ.
"And I turned to see the voice, that spoke with me. And having turned, I saw seven golden lamp-stands; and in the midst of the seven lamp-stands one like a Son of man, clothed with a garment reaching the feet, and girded around the breasts with a golden girdle. His head, even his hair, was white like white wool, like snow; and his eyes were like a flame of fire; and his feet like fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice like the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and from his mouth went forth a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as if dead. And he laid his right hand on me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and am he, who liveth, and I became dead; and behold, I am alive for ever and ever, and have the keys of death and the pit. Therefore, write the things, which thou hast seen, and the things, which are, and the things, which will take place hereafter; the secret of the seven stars, which thou hast seen in my right hand, and the seven golden lamp-stands. The seven stars, are the messengers of the seven congregations: and the seven lamp-stands are the seven congregations."—Rev. 1:12-20.
The voice, by a metonymy, is used for the person speaking. He turned to see the glorious personage by whom the trumpet-tones were uttered. Being turned, he saw the commencement of those great panoramic presentations, by which the events of the future were revealed to him, and the significance of which were explained by an angelic interpreter.
The "seven golden candlesticks," symbolize "the seven churches" (1:20), to which John was commanded to write. By this, and other symbols which are divinely interpreted, are unfolded the principles on which symbols are used. A candle or lamp stand, supports the light placed on it, as churches are the recipients and dispensers of the light of the Holy Scriptures. They are therefore appropriate symbols of churches.
"In the midst of the candlesticks" is one in the form of humanity, surrounded by the insignia of Deity. It is the same appearance that Ezekiel saw, when he had a vision "of the likeness of the glory of the Lord," (Ezek. 1:26-28); and before which Daniel fell trembling, Dan. 10:5-9. The sublime spectacle was too overwhelming for John's endurance, and, like Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, his strength turned to corruption. But the glorified Saviour was the same sympathetic being on whose breast John leaned, at the last supper, and he lays his endearing hand on John, and, by soothing words, restores his confidence. He explains the mystery contained in the symbols shown, and enjoins on him to write the things he had seen—symbolic of the things which then were, and of those which were then in the future. As no created resemblance is a fit representative of Deity, Christ is shown to John by the symbol of his own likeness.
The "seven stars" in the right hand of the Saviour, are the angels,—the messengers, or pastors of the seven churches, 1:20. As the Saviour holds the stars in his hand, so does he sustain all his gospel ministers, enabling them to impart light to those who sit under their ministrations. And as he walked in the midst of the golden candlesticks, so the Lord is ever in the midst of those who fear him, and call upon his name.
Epistles to the Seven Churches.
Epistle to the Church in Ephesus.
"To the messenger of the congregation of Ephesus write: These things saith He who holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands: I know thy works, and thy toil, and thy patience, and that thou canst not endure the evil; and thou hast tried those, who say they are apostles, and are not; and hast found them liars; and hast patience, and hast endured on account of my name, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless, I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou hast fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I will come to thee quickly, and will remove thy lamp-stand out of its place, except thou repentest. But thou hast this, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the congregations: To him, who overcometh, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."—Rev. 2:1-7.
The seven churches are not, themselves, seen in vision; they were symbolized by seven golden candlesticks. Consequently, these are seven literal churches that are addressed, and not allegorical, as some teach. The symbolic portions of the Apocalypse, are the descriptions of what John saw, and the attendant utterances. What was addressed to the ear by way of explanation and instruction, does not come under the laws of symbolization.
As churches, in all ages, are often in the several conditions ascribed to the seven churches, the warnings, admonitions, and consolations addressed to them, may serve for instruction to all Christians, as implied in the declaration: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches," 2:29.
"By αγγελος, angel [or messenger], we are to understand the messenger, or person sent by God to preside over the church; and to him the epistle is directed, not as pointing out his state, but the state of the church under his care. The Angel of the Church, here answers exactly to that officer of the synagogue among the Jews, called the messenger of the church, whose business it was to read, pray, and teach in the synagogue."—DR. CLARKE. Timothy is supposed to have had the care of the Ephesian church till A. D. 97, when he was martyred.
Ephesus was a large, idolatrous city, "a worshipper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which," as they claimed, "fell down from Jupiter," Acts 19:35. The gospel was first preached there by Paul, and with such success, that "Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men; and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver: So mightily grew the word of God, and prevailed," Ib. 19, 20. They continued a fine and prosperous church, but had fallen away from their first love. Therefore He who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and holdeth in his hand the messengers of the churches, admonished them that, unless they repented he would remove their candlestick, i.e., their church, of which the candlestick was a symbol, out of its place. They did not repent; and, says Gibbon, "In the year 1312, began the captivity, or ruin of the seven churches by the Ottoman power. In the loss of Ephesus, the Christians deplored the loss of the first Angel, the extinction of the first candlestick of the Revelations. The desolation is complete, and the temple of Diana, or the church of Mary, will equally elude the search of the curious traveller."
The Nicolaitanes, whose deeds God hated, were a sect of heretics, who assumed the name from Nicholas of Antioch, one of the first seven deacons of the church in Jerusalem. It is believed that he was rather the innocent occasion, than the author of the infamous practices of those who assumed his name,—who allowed a community of wives, and ate meats offered in sacrifice to idols. It was a short-lived sect.
For hating their deeds, the church of Ephesus was commended, and also for not giving countenance to false teachers, who claimed to be apostles, and were proved to be liars. Thus are Christians to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world," 1 John 4:1. "Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ," 2 Cor. 11:13. "There were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies," 2 Pet. 2:1.
The promise to him that overcometh, that he shall "eat of the tree of life," points to the resurrection and to the new creation. As in Eden was made to grow "the tree of life" (Gen. 2:9), so in Eden restored, "they that do his commandments ... may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city," Rev. 22:2.
Epistle to the Church in Smyrna.
"And to the messenger of the congregation in Smyrna, write: These things saith the First and the Last, who became dead and is alive: I know thy works, and affliction, and poverty (but thou art rich); and I know the reviling of those, who say they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Fear none of the things, which thou wilt suffer. Behold, the devil will cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye will have affliction ten days. Be thou faithful to death, and I will give thee the crown of life. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Congregations: he who overcometh, will not be hurt by the second death."—Rev. 2:8-11.
The angel of the church in Smyrna is supposed to have been Polycarp, who, rather than to apostatize, was burnt alive in that city about A. D. 166. That church had passed through the trial of poverty, and was found "rich toward God," Luke 12:21. It had suffered from the blasphemy of unbelieving Jews, who had a synagogue there and were particularly active at the martyrdom of Polycarp. But "He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God," Rom. 2:28, 29. And the crucified and risen Saviour has said, that they are "of the synagogue of Satan which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie," Rev. 3:9.
Not a word of reproof is addressed to this faithful flock; but they were to be still further tried, and a terrible persecution was foretold, which should continue ten prophetic days. Ten years was the duration of the last and bloodiest persecution under Diocletian, from A. D. 302 to 312, during which all the Asiatic churches were grievously afflicted.
This church passed triumphantly through all those trials; and Smyrna is now the most flourishing city of the Asiatic churches. It contains a population of 100,000, and is the seat of an archbishop. From 15,000 to 20,000 of its inhabitants are still professedly Christian.
The "crown of life," promised to those who are faithful unto death, is to be given at Christ's second coming, "who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and kingdom," 2 Tim. 4:1: "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing," Ib. 8. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him," Jam. 1:12.
Those who shall not be hurt of the "second death," are those who shall attain unto the resurrection of the just, at the commencement of the millennium. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years," Rev. 20:6. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death," 21:8.
Epistle to the Church in Pergamos.
And to the messenger of the congregation in Pergamos write: These things saith He who hath the sharp two-edged sword: I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is; and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days in which Antipas was my faithful witness: who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there those, who hold fast the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast an enticement to sin before the children of Israel: to eat idol-sacrifices, and to commit fornication. So thou hast also those, who hold fast the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, in like manner. Repent; or else I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the congregations: To him, who overcometh, I will grant to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth, but he, who receiveth it.—Rev. 2:12-17.
"He which hath the sharp sword with two edges," is the one who walked in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands—out of whose "mouth went a sharp two-edged sword," 1:16. This identifies him as the one who was followed by the armies of heaven, when "the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse: which sword proceeded out of his mouth," 19:21. "The sword of the Spirit ... is the word of God," Eph. 6:17. "He shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked," Isa. 11:4. The One who indites this epistle is thus designated, probably, because, unless they repented of the things alleged against them, he would fight against them with the sword of his mouth.
The church of Pergamos had refrained from apostasy, although situated in a wicked and corrupt city,—even where Satan reigned almost supreme and received the obedience of its inhabitants. They had been faithful in those days when Antipas, a faithful Christian, and probably the former pastor of the church, was slain (Dr. Hales thinks) in Domitian's persecution, in A. D. 94. Yet, the Lord had some things against them.
The doctrine of Balaam is what that prophet counselled Balak to cast as a stumbling-block before Israel: For "the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor," Num. 25:1-3. And Moses said of the women of Midian, "Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor," Ib. 31:16. This was also, probably, the same as the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, p. 34.
The "hidden manna" seems to be a reference to that hidden in the ark, where it was laid up before the Lord (Ex. 16:33), in memory of what was sent for the sustenance of Israel in the wilderness, where "man did eat angel's food," Ps. 78:25. The law having a shadow of good things to come (Heb. 10:1), the manna hidden in the ark may be typical of the angelic sustenance to be revealed in the future world. The Saviour said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die," John 6:47, 48, 50.
The "white stone" has received divers interpretations. In ancient trials, the votes of the judges were given by white and black pebbles. The former signified acquittal, and the latter condemnation. Conquerors in public games sometimes received a white stone with their name inscribed on it, which entitled them, during the remainder of their life, to be maintained at the public expense. Persons were sometimes invited to feasts or banquets, by the presentation of a white stone, with their name on it in connection with that of their hosts. The possession of the white stone evidently entitles the possessor to all the privileges of the heavenly inheritance.
The "new name" is unknown to all but its possessor; who, on its possession, becomes a child of God, and will receive, saith God, "in my house and within my walls, a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off," Isa. 56:5. The Saviour has promised that "him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name," Rev. 3:12. And his new "name" "no man knew but he himself," Ib. 19:12.
Pergamos still contains a few thousand inhabitants.
Epistle to the Church in Thyatira.
"And to the messenger of the congregation in Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass: I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service, and thy patience, and thy works; and thy last works to be greater than the first. Notwithstanding, I have something against thee, because thou allowest thy woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat idol sacrifices. And I gave her time to repent, and she would not repent of her fornication. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and those, who commit adultery with her, into great affliction, unless they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the congregations will know that I am he, who searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, As many as have not this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as (they say;) I will not put on you another burden: but what ye have, hold fast till I come. And he, who overcometh, and keepeth my works to the end, to him, I will give power over the nations: (and he will rule them with a rod of iron; like the vessels of a potter they will be dashed in pieces:) even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning-star. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the congregations"—Rev. 2:18-29.
In commending the general piety of this church, they are censured for permitting a woman to teach false doctrines among them. The church is not only made responsible for what it teaches, but also for what it suffers others to teach. In this particular the church in Thyatira appears in contrast with the church in Ephesus. The doctrines which this wicked woman taught appear to be similar to those of the Nicolaitanes, p. 34. She is probably called Jezebel, from her being a woman of power and influence, like the wife of Ahab, who "did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord: whom Jezebel his wife stirred up," 1 Kings 21:25.
They who had not fallen into those depths of Satan, and should continue faithful to the end, were to have "power over the nations." "The saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him," Dan. 7:18, 27. "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel," Ps. 2:8, 9. "To execute vengeance upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people; To execute upon them the judgment written: this honor have all the saints. Praise ye the Lord," Ib. 149:7, 9.
To receive the morning star, is to receive Christ, who testifieth of himself. "I am ... the bright and morning star," Rev. 22:16. We are commanded to take heed to the "sure word of prophecy ... as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts," 2 Pet. 1:19. As "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (19:10), those who refuse to consider the revelation he has given of things which shortly after began to come to pass, and which must now be verging towards their consummation, may fail of becoming illuminated by the day-star in their hearts.
Says Gibbon: "The God of Mahomet, without a rival or a Son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos."
Epistle to the Church in Sardis.
"And to the messenger of the congregation in Sardis write: These things saith He, who hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things, which remain, which are about to die: for I have not found thy works complete before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee like a thief, and thou wilt not know what hour I will come on thee. But thou hast a few names in Sardis, that have not defiled their garments; and they will walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He, who overcometh, the same one will be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name from the book of life, but I will acknowledge his name before my Father, and before his angels. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the congregations."—Rev. 3:1-6.
The church in Sardis was Christian in name, but was destitute of spiritual life, with the exception of a few names who had not defiled their garments. Having become dead to the revivifying influences of the Holy Spirit, they are reminded that he who addresses them is the one who holds their messenger in his hand, and who hath the seven Spirits of God; i.e., that it was from the One who said of "the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost" (John 14:26), "when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me," Ib. 15:26.
They had doubtless become greatly conformed to the corrupt worldly influences by which they were surrounded, without having actually denied the faith, or embraced the hated doctrines of the Nicolaitanes. Therefore they were exhorted to hold fast all that they still retained, and, by repentance, to recover what they had lost; and they were admonished that if they neglected those precautions, they would be suddenly visited; without its being designated what would be the precise nature, time, or manner, of their visitation: which made the threatening the more terrible.
The "few names" which had not defiled their garments, were used by a metonymy to signify persons. When an apostle was to be chosen in the place of Judas, "the number of the names together were about one hundred and twenty," Acts 1:15. Purity of raiment is significant of purity of character: "Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments," 16:15. White is an emblem of purity. To the "bride," it "was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints," 19:8. Those who came out of great tribulation, had "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," (7:13); and therefore they were symbolized as standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms of victory in their hands, 7:9. To be clothed in white raiment, is therefore to be accepted of the Saviour.
To blot one's name out of the book of life, is to erase his title to heaven. The figure seems to be an allusion to the ancient custom of enrolling in a book the names of all free citizens. If their names were confessedly written there, they were entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizenship; but if blotted out, they had forfeited these. "They that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is," 17:8. Moses said, if God would not forgive Israel, "blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written," Ex. 32:32. Of his enemies, David said, "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous," Ps. 67:28. Those only enter the New Jerusalem, "which are written in the Lamb's book of life," 21:27.
The church in Sardis, has long been utterly extinct; and what remains of the city is a miserable Turkish village.
Epistle to the Church in Philadelphia.
"And to the messenger of the congregation in Philadelphia write: These things saith the Holy, the True One, he who hath the key of David, he who openeth, and no one shutteth; and shutteth, and no one openeth: I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no one can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast held fast my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews, and are not, but who lie; behold, I will make them come and bow down before thy feet, and know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, which will come on all the world, to try those, who dwell on the earth. I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown. I will make him, who overcometh, a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will go out no more: and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, (which cometh down out of heaven from my God:) and my new name. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the congregations."—Rev. 3:7-13.
The church of Philadelphia had maintained her integrity, and is therefore addressed in the language of commendation, without the rebukes which were directed to her sister churches. Having remained true to Him who "was called Faithful and True" (19:11), the epistle to this church makes mention of the Saviour by those titles, which are significant of his own faithfulness and inherent holiness.
"The key of David," brings to view the prediction of that which was to be laid "upon his shoulder;" so that "he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open," Isa. 22:22. A key symbolizes that which will open or unlock, or will close fast: therefore said the Saviour, "I ... have the keys of hell and of death." By virtue of this power, an open door was set before the church of Philadelphia, which no man should be able to close.
The Jews in Philadelphia, who had claimed to be the only true church of God, but who were in reality of the synagogue of Satan, were to cease their opposition to the Christians, and to seek instruction and protection from them—recognizing the love of God to Gentiles as well as to Jews. History is silent respecting the fulfilment of this; but there is no reason to suppose that it was not literally fulfilled.
The "hour of temptation," which was to "come upon all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth," was to be one of peculiar trial. Some suppose it had reference to the persecution under Trajan, which was more severe and extensive than those under Nero, or Domitian: and others that it was the Mohammedan delusion. In such times there are peculiar temptations to apostatize, and the less faithful are in more danger of apostasy than others. But because the Philadelphian church had been faithful thus far, they were to be kept from that trying hour. When the scourge of Mohammedanism swept over all the other churches of Asia, this church maintained its integrity. Says Gibbon: "Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect, a column in a scene of ruins. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and their freedom above fourscore years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans." Philadelphia is still the seat of an archbishop, and contains from six hundred to seven hundred Greek houses, and several places of Christian worship. "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations," 2 Pet. 2:9.
They are encouraged to constancy by the prospect of the coming coronation day, when "the Lord; the righteous Judge shall give" a "crown of righteousness," "unto all them that love his appearing," 2 Tim. 4:8. He has said "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (2:10); and therefore "when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away," 1 Pet. 5:4.
A pillar in the temple of God, is expressive of a position which shall give support to the church, which is erected "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; In whom the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit," Eph. 2:20-22.
To receive the name of God, is to be recognized as belonging to God. As masters designated their servants by branding their name on them, or by some peculiar mark, so the children of God are referred to by the same figure. In a subsequent vision John saw with the Lamb on Mount Zion, "an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads," 14:1. Their connection with new Jerusalem is similarly designated.
Epistle to the Church in Laodicea.
"And to the messenger of the congregation in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Ruler of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wast cold or hot. So, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will cast thee out of my mouth: because thou sayest, I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried by fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and to anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chastise: be fervent therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one heareth my voice, and openeth the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he shall sup with me. To him, who overcometh I will grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and have sat down with my Father in his throne. He, who hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the congregations."—Rev. 3:14-22.
By his titles of truth and verity, the Saviour prepares the Laodiceans for the humiliating threatenings, which are uttered against them. By that of "the beginning of the creation of God," is indicated Christ's kingship as head and governor of all; and hence the authority on which his declarations are founded.
The Laodiceans seemed to have been very well satisfied with their own condition, without possessing any very marked characteristics. They were neither good, nor very wicked; but supposed that they abounded in all spiritual wealth, when they were destitute of all the Christian graces. They could not appreciate their own condition; and not realizing their need, were unlikely to heed the counsel given them, and therefore they have long since ceased to have a name and a place on the earth. Says Gibbon: "The circus and three stately temples of Laodicea, are now peopled with wolves and foxes."
The great majority of them seemed to have become unworthy even of the chastisement which God bestows on those he loves. "Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth; therefore despise not the chastening of the Almighty," Job 5:17. "My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord: neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth," Prov. 3:11, 12. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him," Jas. 1:12.
The Saviour shows his readiness to receive those who will open unto him. He is saying, "Open to me ... for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night," Cant. 5:2. "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching: verily I say unto you, That he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them," Luke 12:37. Said Jesus, "If any man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him," John 14:23.
To him that overcometh, as in another place he is promised a crown, so now there is the promise of a seat with the Saviour in his throne. Said the Saviour, "Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel," Matt. 19:28. "And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me," Luke 22:29. "If we suffer" i.e. with Christ, "we shall also reign with him," 2 Tim. 2:12.
Vision of the Deity.
"After this, I looked, and behold, a door opened in heaven: and the first voice, which I heard, was like a trumpet talking with me; saying, Ascend here, and I will show thee things, which must take place hereafter. And immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And, He, who sat, was in appearance like a jasper and a cornelian stone: and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance, like an emerald. And around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and crowns of gold on their heads. And from the throne came forth lightnings, and voices and thunders. And seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a transparent sea like crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and around the throne, were four living beings, full of eyes before and behind. And the first living being was like a lion, and the second living being like a calf, and the third living being had a face like a man, and the fourth living being was like a flying eagle. And each of the four living beings had six wings around him; and within they were full of eyes: and they rest not day or night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to be! And when the living beings give glory, and honor, and thanks to Him seated on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him seated on the throne, and worship Him, who liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Worthy art thou, O Lord, our God, to receive glory, and honor, and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they existed and were created."—Rev. 4:1-11.
This vision is preparatory to the revelations of "things which must be hereafter," which were given John in the series of visions following. Their divine origin, and, consequently, the deference with which they are to be received as a revelation from God, are demonstrated by this symbolization of the presence chamber of the Almighty.
The revelator had before heard a voice speaking to him, (1:10); and turning to look, he beheld the risen Saviour. He then writes the epistles which the Saviour dictated to the churches; and again he turns his eyes to the place where the voice spake to him.
The opening of a door in heaven, appears to be no part of the "things which must be hereafter;" and is, therefore, no symbol. It was doubtless an appearance of an aperture in the sky above, through which the revelator saw the vision. It indicates that he looked through and beyond the limits prescribed to human vision; and the summons to "come up hither," indicates that he was to have free access to the secrets there to be unfolded.
A "throne set in heaven," is a symbol of sovereignty there. Consequently the one who sits thereon is the Almighty—his greatness, glory and majesty, being indicated by the "lightnings, thunderings and voices," the "rainbow round about the throne," and the resemblance to brilliant gems. It is the same Being, seen in vision by Ezekiel (1:28), round about whom was "as the appearance of the bow in the day of rain;" and who was explained to be "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord."
The "elders" seated about the throne, and the "four living creatures," improperly rendered beasts, are representatives of the redeemed of our race; for they subsequently unite in the new song, saying to Christ, "Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue, and people and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth," 5:8-10. The difference between the two orders, is not fully apparent. They have "vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints." The four beasts are evidently of the same order as the "living creatures" in Ezek. 1:5; the cherubim of Ezek. 10:20, and the seraphim of Isa. 6:1. The entire hosts of the redeemed are thus represented as interested spectators in the visions which are to be unfolded.
The "seven lamps of fire," are explained to be "the seven Spirits of God," which, as before shown, is expressive of the Holy Spirit.
The "sea of glass," corresponds to the brazen sea, or laver, under the law, which stood at the door of the tabernacle, Ex. 38:8. It was an emblem of purity. Before entering the tabernacle the priest must there wash. Those admitted on the sea of glass, are those who are purified and made white in the blood of the Lamb, 15:2.
With this preliminary representation, the first series of events extending to the final consummation, is shown under the symbol of:
The Sealed Book.
"And I saw in the right hand of Him seated on the throne, a book written within and without, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose its seals? and no one in heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book nor to look in it. And I was weeping much, because no one was found worthy to open, and to read the book, nor to look in it. And one of the elders saith to me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose its seven seals. And I saw in the midst of the throne, and of the four living beings, and in the midst of the elders, the Lamb standing, as having been slain, having seven horns, and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of Him seated on the throne. And when he took the book, the living beings, and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, all of them having harps, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book and to open its seals: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us kings and priests to our God, and we shall reign on the earth! And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and the living beings, and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb, that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and those on the sea, even all that are in them, I heard saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be to Him sitting on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever! And the four living beings said, Amen. And the elders fell down and worshipped."—Rev. 5:1-14.
The written book, must symbolize God's purposes, which were about to be unfolded on the loosening of the seals. Its being written within and without, indicates the fulness of its contents, the completeness of the record:—God's purposes being fully and unalterably formed. In like manner Ezekiel was shown "a roll of a book ... written within and without," symbolizing the "lamentations, mourning and woe" (Ezek. 2:9), which were soon to overtake Israel.
A sealed book is one whose contents are hidden: "The vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed," Isa. 29:11. God said to Daniel, "Shut up the words, and seal the book, till the time of the end," Dan. 12:4.
To open the seals, no one was found worthy. There was no being in heaven among the angels, no human being on the earth, and no disembodied spirit, or demon, under the earth, who was able to unfold the future. The tears of the revelator are, however, dried, and his drooping spirits cheered, by the announcement of one of the elders, that "the LION of the tribe of JUDAH, the ROOT of DAVID, hath prevailed to open the book," and to unfold its mysteries. He stood in the midst of the assembled intelligences,—his human nature and sacrificial office, being designated by his metaphorical title of the "Lamb:"—John seeing Jesus coming to him said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," John 1:29. His sovereignty is shown by the "seven horns," the symbols of power; and his relation to the Godhead, by the seven eyes, the seven Spirits of God;—expressive of the Holy Spirit. See p. 25.
The rejoicings on the announcement of Christ's ability to take the book, and to open the seals, indicate the greatness of the blessing which God gives the church, when he thus reveals a knowledge of the future. All creatures should join in these hosannas, and praise the Lord for his great condescension, in showing his servants the things which must shortly come to pass. To neglect this revelation, is not joining in the ascription of praise.
The golden vials, full of odors, symbolize the prayers of saints. Under the Mosaic dispensation, the frankincense and odors offered at the tabernacle were emblematic of prayer and praise to God. "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice," Psa. 141:2.
Christ takes the book from the hand of him who sits on the throne, and opens the seals. Thus he makes known unto his servants the revelation which God had given him, 1:1. As each successive seal is opened, successive portions of the writing in the book become accessible,—an epoch is marked, following which, and previous to that symbolized by the opening of the next seal, are to be fulfilled, the events symbolized under it.
The First Seal.
"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living beings, saying, with a voice like thunder, Come! And I saw, and behold, a white horse: and he, who sat on him, had a bow; and a crown was given him: and he went forth conquering and to conquer."—Rev. 6:1, 2.
The voice is evidently addressed to the personage on the white horse, or to the agencies thus symbolized. It is the signal for their appearance on the stage of action.
The symbol is that of a victorious warrior, armed with weapons of conquest,—success being indicated by the crown given him. As there is no analogous order, except in the religious world, Mr. Lord very properly regards it as a symbol of the body of religious teachers, those faithful soldiers of the cross, who, from the middle of the first to the middle of the third century, as "soldiers of Jesus Christ" (2 Tim. 2:3), went forth to war "against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places," Eph. 6:12. The apostle, when they received their commission, said to them, "Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breast-plate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," Ib. 13-17.
Thus equipped, they went forth, conquering and to conquer. They assailed the strong-holds of sin and Satan, and planted the standard of the cross in all portions of the then civilized world. And at the end of their warfare thousands of them could say with the apostle: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing," 2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
The period symbolized under this seal, was distinguished for purity of faith in the church, and devotion to the cause of Christ,—indicated by the whiteness of the horse that the warrior rides.
The Second Seal.
"And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living being say, Come! And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him, who sat on him, to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill each other: and a great sword was given to him."—Rev. 6:3, 4.
This symbol, like the former, is that of a mounted warrior, and must also symbolize a body of religious teachers. The color of the horse, indicates that the doctrine and character of the body symbolized will have lost the original purity of the church, and become more sanguinary; which is also indicated by the great sword given him.
The warfare under this seal is not against outside enemies; for they kill each other. This, then, indicates an era when the church shall be disquieted, and her peace interrupted by internal dissensions. Such was its history during the third, fourth, and fifth centuries. This period was distinguished for the contentions of the clergy; their usurpation of power not conferred by the apostles; their divisions and sub-divisions into parties; their opposing councils; their collisions and distractions; their love of power; their pride, discord, strife, and tyranny; their mutual anathemas and excommunications; the envy, jealousy, and detraction they indulged in, and the other hateful passions which they exercised. Thus they marred the peace of the church; and by causing many to apostatize, killed each other with spiritual death.
The Third Seal.
"And when he opened the third seal I heard the third living being say, Come! And I beheld, and lo, a black horse; and he, who sat on him, had a balance in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living beings say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and injure thou not the oil and the wine."—Rev. 6:5, 6.
This foreshadows a period of great scarcity and cruel exactions. Applying it to the only department of society which is analogous to civil life, and the famine symbolized, is like that predicted by Amos: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine into the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it," Amos 8:11, 12.
This, then, marks a period when the traditions and opinions of men are substituted for the word of God. With Origen was introduced a new mode of interpreting scripture, which afterwards became prevalent. The scriptures, instead of being received in their natural and obvious sense, were regarded as mystical and allegorical. Milner, in his Church History, says: "From the fanciful mode of allegory, introduced by him, and uncontrolled by scriptural rule and order, there arose a vitiated method of commenting on the sacred pages." And Mosheim says: "The few who explained the sacred writings with judgment and a true spirit of criticism, could not oppose, with any success, the torrent of allegory that was overflowing the church." Following this example, Luther says, "men make just what they please of the Scriptures, until some accommodate the word of God to the most extravagant absurdities."
Substituting the conceptions of their own fancy for the word of God, they withheld from the people the bread of life, and produced a famine for the word of the Lord. Crude notions took the place of Bible doctrines; and pernicious speculations were substituted for the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Baptism and the Lord's supper, lost their emblematic significance, and were regarded as saving ordinances. Heaven was sought to be merited by works, and sanctification was supposed to be gained by penance and mortification of the flesh. In short, all the corruptions of the apostasy were substituted for the primitive faith, and the Bible became a sealed book to the great mass of the people.
The Fourth Seal.
"And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being saying, Come! And I looked, and behold, a pale horse: and his name, who sat on him, was Death, and the pit followed with him. And power was given to them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, and with the wild beasts of the earth."—Rev. 6:7, 8.
The Christian church alone being analogous to the civil power, it is within its pale that the fulfilment of this symbol is to be looked for. During this period, violence is substituted for famine; and men are compelled to apostatize, which results in spiritual death. The Papacy having the power to enforce her decrees, Christians had to embrace her faith, or be handed over to the secular power for punishment. They produced death by compelling men to apostatize, by withholding from them the word of life, by infusing into their minds pestiferous doctrines, and by the fear of the civil power,—symbolized by the sword, famine, pestilence, and beasts of the earth.