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explanation to those who may think themselves entitled to apply them to particular events.
“ With so many calamities,” says Vitringa,
was the Roman empire afflicted at different periods, that it requires great judgment to ascertain which of them are to be assigned to each particular symbol. Fulfilment in abundance,” says he, “ makes difficulty of choice.”
I would willingly do justice to those schemes of exposition, which, finding the completion of these prophecies in Roman history differ so widely from
But to insert them all, in a work like this, would be impracticable. I shall therefore confine myself to that portion of them which is selected for general information, by the learned compilers of the notes to the National Bible.1
7. and there followed hail and fire.] At the sounding of the first trumpet, ver. 7, the barbarous nations, like a storm of “hail and fire mingled with blood,” invade the Roman territories, and destroy “ the third part of the trees,” that is, the trees of the third part of the earth, and “ the green grass, that is, both old and young, high and low, rich and poor together. On the death of Theodosius the Great, A. D. 395, the Huns, Goths, and other barbarians, like hail for multitude, and breathing fire and slaughter, broke in upon the best provinces of the empire both in the east and in the west, with greater success than they had ever done before. But by this trumpet I conceive were principally intended the irruptions and depredations of the Goths, under the conduct of the famous Alaric, who began his incursions in the same year 395, first ravaged Greece, then wasted Italy, besieged Rome, took and plundered the city, and set fire to it in several places.
1 The notes which follow in this page, and the three following, are extracted from the National Bible.
The historians of the time give such terrible descriptions of the destruction caused by these incursions, that they might well indeed be compared to “hail and fire mingled with blood.” Bp. Newton.
hail and fire.] A tempest of hail and thunder, that throws down all before it, is a fit metaphor to express the calamities of war, from civil disturbances or foreign invasion, which often, like a hurricane, lays all things waste, as far as it can reach. See Is. xxxviii, 2; xxix. 6 ; Ezek. xiii. 13. The storm is here represented as destroying not only “ the green grass,” which is more easily blasted, but also a great part of the trees, which are supposed more likely to withstand the violence of it. Low
and as it were a great mountain.] At the sounding of the second trumpet, " as it were a great mountain burning with fire;' that is, a great warlike nation or hero, “ cast into the sea, turneth the third part into blood, &c." that is, falling on the Roman empire, maketh a sea of blood with horrible destruction of the cities and inhabitants; for “waters," as the angel afterwards explains to St. John, chap. xvii. 15, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues ;” and “the third part” means, throughout, the Roman empire, which was about a third part of the then known world. The next ravagers after Alaric and his Goths were Attila and his Huns, who, for the space of fourteen years, shook the east and the west with the most cruel fears, and deformed the provinces of each empire with all kind of plundering, slaughter, and burning. Attila, having first overcome the Eastern emperour, turned his arms towards the west, fell upon Italy, and filled all places between the Alps and the Apennines with terrour and devastation. paring to march upon Rome, but was diverted from
He was pre
his purpose by a solemn embassy from the emperour, and the promise of an annual tribute. Such a man might properly be compared to " a great mountain burning with fire,” who really was, as he called himself, the scourge of God, and the terrour of men ; and boasted that he was sent into the world by God for this purpose, that, as the executioner of His just wrath, he might fill the earth with all kind of evils. Bp. Newton.
was cast into the sea.] Great disorders and commotions, especially when kingdoms are moved by hostile invasions, are expressed, in the prophetic style, by carrying, or casting, mountains into the midst of the sea, Ps. xlvi. 2. Lowman.
10 And the third angel sounded.] At the sounding of the third trumpet, a great prince appears like a står shooting from heaven to earth,' a similitude not unusual in poetical diction, His coming therefore is sudden and unexpected, and his stay but short. “ The name of the star is called Wormwood," and he infects the third part of the rivers and fountains with the bitterness of wormwood ; that is, he is a bitter enemy, and proves the author of grievous calamities to the Roman empire. It was within two years after Attila's retreat from Italy, that Genseric king of the Vandals embarked from Africa with 300,000 Vandals and Moors, and arrived upon the Roman coasts, the emperour Maximus and the people not expecting or thinking of such an enemy: he marched towards Rome, and the city fell an easy prey into his hands, the inhabitants flying into the woods and mountains; he abandoned it to plunder, carried off immense booty, and a vast number of captives, and left the state so weakened, that in a short time it was utterly subverted. Some criticks understand "rivers” and “ fountains” with relation to doctrines, and in this sense the application is
very proper to Genseric, wbo was a most bigoted Arian, and during his whole reign most cruelly persecuted the orthodox Christians. Bp. Newton.
12 And the fourth angel sounded.] “At the sounding of the fourth trumpet, “ the third part of the sun, moon, and stars," that is, the great lights of the Roman empire, are eclipsed and darkened, and remain in darkness for some time. Genseric left the western empire in a weak and desperate state, in which it struggled about twenty years. At last, in A. D. 476, Odoacer, king of the Heruli, put an end to the very name of the western empire, and caused himself to be proclaimed king of Italy. His kingdom indeed was of short duration, being soon overthrown by Theodoric, who established the kingdom of the Ostrogoths in Italy. Thus the Roman “sun” was extinguished in the western empire; but the other lesser luminaries, “ the moon” and the “stars,” still subsisted; for Rome was still allowed to have her senate and consuls, and other subordinate magistrates, as before. These lights probably shone more faintly under barbarian kings, than under Roman emperours, but they were not totally suppressed till Italy was made a province of the eastern empire; the whole form of government was then changed, the senate and all the former magistrates abolished, and Rome degraded to the level of other places : and from being the queen and empress of the world, was reduced to a poor dukedom, and made tributary to Ravenna, which she used to govern. Bp. Newton.
- and the third part of the sun was smitten.] Darkening, smiting, or setting of the sun, moon, and stars, says Sir Isaac Newton, are put for the setting of a kingdom, or the desolation thereof: and when darkness is opposed to light, Mr. Daubuz observes, as light is a symbol of joy and safety, so darkness is a symbol of misery and adversity. See Jer. xiii. 16; Is. xiii. 10; Ezek. xxxii. 7, 8. Thus, as the subject, order, and scene of action here, is the downfall of the Roman empire, and of the power and authority of Rome, the imperial city, there is fitly represented an entire extinguishing of all its authority and power. Lowman.
Vitringa supposes the irruption of the barbarous nations upon the Roman empire to be presignified under the two first trumpets : but in the interpretation of the third he understands a corruption of Christian doctrine, by some notable leader of heresy; agreeing in this notion with Grotius, Cocceius, Launæus, Bengelius, Durham, and many more. And the fourth trumpet he imagines to denote the shameful degeneracy and ignorance of the Christian clergy, which began to be notorious in the reigns of Theodosius, Arcadius, and Honorius.
Ver. 13. And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Wo, wo, wo, to the inhabiters of the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to sound.] Mecoupavnua, which is here translated “the midst of heaven,” will appear, hy comparing it with chap. xiv. 6, and xix. 17, to signify the space between heaven and earth; for, as hath been before observed, throughout the scene of this vision, the heaven with God's throne appears above, the earth and sea below, and between them is the intervening space which is here signified. In this space, the divine messenger, leaving heaven and hovering over the earth, proclaims