« PreviousContinue »
thy to suffer for the name of the Lord' Jesus.
They make no very prominent figure in history, nor were they able to shake the deep-rooted authority of the man of sin. Hence they are represented only as prophesying in sackcloth, and as patiently exulting in their sufferings on mount Zion in the presence of the Lamb. We must next turn our eyes to those more efficacious and decisive measures, which forced the papal tyrant to tremble upon his usurped throne for bis now disputed authority.*
“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come : and worship him that made heaven and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."
The appearance of the angel, or Christian minister, ť here mentioned, is sudden and unexpected. While the 144,000 are humbly singing the song of the Lamb in despised obscurity, this servant of God boldly shews himself in the very midst of the symbolical heaven, a conspicuous object to the whole world, armed only with the everlasting Gospel ; which he openly preaches to them that dwell on the earth, or the Roman empire, loudly calling unto all nations to fear God and worship him only.
This striking and peculiar type will be found precisely to answer in every particular to the dawn of the Reformation. When the 144,000 had long rejoiced in their sufferings, and had long separated themselves from the communion of the man of sin in order that they might “ follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth ;" when a reformation of the glaring corruptions of Popery was little likely to originate in the symbolical heaven either ecclesiastical or secular : then it was that Luther first stepped forward. “ While the Roman pontiff,” says the historian Mosheim,“ slumbered in security at the head of the Church, and saw nothing throughout the vast ex
See Bp. Newton's Dissert, on Rev. xiv. In the exposition of the first part of this chapter, I have followed his Lordship; in that of the succeeding verses I am obliged to dissent from him.
+ See Rev. i. 20.
tent of his dominion but tranquillity and submission ; and while the worthy and pious professors of genuine Christianity almost despaired of seeing that Reformation, on which their most ardent desires and expectations were bent : an obscure and inconsiderable person arose on a sudden, in the year 1517, and laid the foundation of the long expected change, by opposing with undaunted resolution his single force to the torrent of papal ambition and despotism."*
The angel is represented as bearing the everlasting Gospel-Accordingly the Gospel was the only instrument which his antitype Luther used in opposing the fury and machinations of his enemies, and in spreading the light of the Reformation. After the appearance of a special edict of Leo the tenth, in which he commanded his spiritual subjects to acknowledge his power of delivering from all the punishments due to sin and transgressions of every kind, and when the iniquitous traffic of indulgences was at its height; then did Luther raise his warning voice, and call upon the whole earth to turn away from those vanities unto one God and one mediator between God and man, to worship him only who made heaven and earth. Not content however with barely maintaining this evangelical tenet, he speedily turned the powerful two-edged sword of the Gospel against his antagonists, by publishing a German translation of the Bible ; "the different parts of which,” says Mosheim, “ being successively and gradually spread among the people, produced a sudden and almost incredible effect, and extirpated, root and branch, the erroneous principles and superstitious doctrines of the Church of Rome from the minds of a prodigious number of persons." Thus accurately did the type of an angel bearing the Gospel answer to the proceedings of the great reformer Luther: and it is worthy of notice, that the Reformation itself, which he was one main cause of introducing, and which was in reality a republication of the long-concealed Gospel, has been actually so termed in a history of its progress quoted by Mosheim.f The
* Eccles. Hist. Cent. 16. Sect. 1. Chap. 2.
† Historia Evangelü renovati.
rapidity, with which it afterwards spread among the kio. dreds, tongues, and nations, is sufficiently well known ; and its progress is further pointed out in the type of the two angels, who appeared to the prophet as closely following the first.
The angel is seen to fly in the midst of heaven-In the language of symbols, heaven signifies either the Church or the State, according as it is taken in a spiritual or in a secular sense. Now it is worthy of notice, that in both these senses the type accurately corresponds with the history of Luther. He was an Augustine monk ; and, at the commencement of the Reformation, had not, like the Waldenses and Hussites, separated himself from the Church of Rome. On the contrary, he raised his voice in the very midst of the ecclesiastical heuven ; and, at the first, was by no means inclined, either to quit the communion, or directly to oppose the authority, of the Pope. Many prior attempts had been made to bring about a reformation from without the western Church : but the only one, which proved in any degree successful, was made from within it.* So again, if the heaven, in which the angel was seen to fly, be understood in a secular sense, the type will in this case also be found equally applicable to the Saxon reformer. “Contrary to the general fate of the preachers of new tenets, it was Luther's lot to proclaim his doctrine in the midst of the figurative heavens, before the emperor and the princes of the empire assembled in open diet. Patronized from the first by princes, the Reformation was introduced into the countries where it took place by the authority of the sovereigns themselves ; not by a party first gained among the subjects, too powerful for the sovereign to resist.”+
“And there followed another angel saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."
By this second angel I conceive Calvin and the members of the different reformedt continental churches to
* I mean not to say, that no prior attempis had been made from within it, but that none had been made successfully.
+ Whitaker's Comment. p. 432. I use the word reformed as it is familiarly used in contradistinction to Lutheran.
be peculiarly intended. The preaching of Luther, hostile as it eventually proved to papal tyranny, was not originally so direct and undisguised an attack upon it as that of the second angel. Strongly under the influence of habits formed by a monastic education, he long hesitated entirely to throw off the yoke. When the open declaration of his opinions had raised him many enemies, though he firmly refused to recant without conviction, yet he addressed himself by letters, written in the most submissive and respectful terms, to the Roman Pontif and to several of the bishops, shewing them the uprightness of his intentions as well as the justice of his cause, and declaring his readiness to change his sentiments as soon as he should see them fairly proved to be erroneous.” His own account of the state of his mind during this period will best shew with what extreme difficulty it extricated itself from the trammels of blind obedience to the see of Rome. “I found myself,” says he, “ involved in the controversy of indulgences alone, and as it were by surprise. And, when it became impossible for me to retreat, I made many concessions to the Pope ; not however in many important points ; but certainly, at that time, I adored him in earnest. In fact how despised and wretched a monk was I then ! Whereas, in regard to the Pope, how great was his majesty! The potentates of the earth dreaded his nod. How distressed my heart was in that year, (1517) and the following ; how submissive my mind was to the hierarchy, not feignedly but really ! Nay, how I was almost driven to despair through the agitations of care and fear and doubt, those secure spirits little know, who at this day insult the majesty of the Pope with much pride and arrogance ! But I, who then alone sustained ihe danger, was not so certain, not so confident. I was ignorant of many things, which now by the grace of God I understand. I disputed, and I was open to conviction. Not finding satisfaction in the books of theologians and canonists, I wished to consult the living members of the Church itself. There were indeed some godly souls, who entirely approved my propositions ; but I did not consider their authority as of weight with me in spiritual concerns. The
popes, cardinals, bishops, and monks, were the objects of my confidence. At length, after I became enabled to answer every objection that could be brought against me from the Scriptures, one difficulty still remained, and only one ; namely, that the Church ought to be obeyed.* By the grace of Christ, I at last overcame this difficulty also.”+ Such was the conflict which took place in the mind of Luther. But Calvin and the succeeding reformers treated the Church of Rome with an indignant roughness from the very beginning. Adopting the language of the Waldenses, who had avowedly separated themselves from her communion in obedience to the prophetic exhortation, they scrupled not to apply to her the name of Babylon, and to denounce against her in the words of the Apocalypse the future dreadful judgments of God. “ By the same figure of speech, that the first angel cried, that the hour of his judgment is come, this second angel proclaims, that Babylon is fallen. The sentence is as certain, as if it were already executed :"S whence, after the manner of the ancient prophets, the present tense is used instead of the future. By the light of Scripture, the daring usurpations, the rank idolatry, and the blasphemous pretensions of the Papacy were detected and exposed. 'That undefinable dread of its heavenly au. thority, which at first so strongly influenced the mind of Luther, was unknown and unfelt by subsequent preachers; and, in the height of their zeal even exceeding their warrant, while they justly branded Rome with the name of Babylon, they prematurely stigmatized the Pope with that of Antichrist.
" And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any map worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation ; and he
* " I saw another angel fly in tbe midst of beaven."
+ Cited by Milner. Eccles. Hist. Vol. iv. p. 331. † " Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ve receive not of her plagues.” Rev. xviii. 4.
Bp. Newton's Dissert, on Rev. xiv. “ Babylon is fallen, is fallen.” Isaiah xxi. 9. See Bp. Newton's Dissert. on Rev. xiv.