« PreviousContinue »
Christianity was little more than being baptized, or consenting to wear the Christian badge. From this time conversions were mostly produced by authority, or by the hope of worldly advantage, or by exhortations addressed to kings that they should convert their subjects. From this time the glory of the church seems to have been placed more in splendid edifices and pompous cere. monies, than in conformity to its head. In short, from this time she became a courtier, and laying aside her own simple garb, appeared in a dress more befitting the mother of harlots than the bride of Christ. "What she gained in outward splendour and prosperity, (says Mr. FABER,) she lost in purity of manners and doctrine. The holy simplicity of primitive Christianity was no more; and the heresy of Arius introduced a succession of crimes disgraceful alike to humanity and religion.'
Doubtless there were hypocrites, and merely nominal Christians in all ages of the church; but they were never before so designated as they now are. "The servants of God" are from this time distinguished from "the men who had not the seal of God in their foreheads." This distinction might not take place immediately after the accession of Constantine, but from that time the seeds of it were sown. The alliance between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities described in the xiiith and xviith chapters by a woman riding on a beast, originated here. Here therefore we must look for the grand origin of that apostasy which the apostle Paul foretold, and which succeeding ages witnessed. If the account given of the state of things by MOSHEIM be just, it requires a great stretch of charity to believe that what was called the catholic church even in the fourth century was the church of Christ. Christ certainly had a people at that time, but they seem to have consisted of individuals rather than of that visible community which called itself the church. They were "the servants of God whom he sealed in their foreheads."
These ideas will be confirmed by attending to the manner in which the sealing of the servants of God is introduced. Four angels are seen "standing on the four corners of the earth."
* See MOSHEIM's Account of the Fourth Century.
Angels are the executioners of the Divine Providence. Their number answering to the four quarters of the earth may express its extending over the whole world. Their "holding the winds" would denote that they were commissioned of God to afflict the earth with evils, or to withhold them, according to his will. The short period in which they held back the winds seems to refer to that season of tranquility which the church enjoyed on the government's becoming Christian, and before the temptations But as of its new situation had bad time to operate. Ver. 1, 2. the principal part of the commission of the four angels was to "hurt the earth and the sea," they stand ready, only waiting till the greater angel has sealed the servants of God, ere they exe
The "winds" which were to be let loose upon the earth and the sea, were spiritual, rather than temporal judgments, and would principally grow out of the new order of things: namely, errors, superstitions, corruptions, divisions, and a conformity to the manners and habits of the world. These were the winds which in the end swept away the great body of nominal Christians into the gulfs of Popery and Mahometanism. Ver. 3.
And as many of the symbols in the prophecy are taken from the Jewish temple, so the servants of God are symbolized by a certain number for an uncertain, taken from the twelve tribes of Israel. The Christian church being now the true "Israel of God," were to the apostate Christians what Israel was to an apostate world; namely, God's witnesses. Ver. 4-8.
9 After this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; 10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. 11 And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders, and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, 12 Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever
and ever. Amen. 13 And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? 14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said unto me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 14 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. 16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne, shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
After the sealing of God's servants is accomplished, the saints and martyrs of Jesus, who during the preceding persecutions had overcome, and been received into glory, joining with the whole heavenly chorus, engage in a triumphant song of praise to God and to the Lamb. The reason of their being here introduced seems to be that the sealed servants of God, who were yet on earth, and had to pass through a series of trials, might by a view of their happy end be strengthened to follow their example. As great numbers would be against them in this world, they are directed to view the numbers of friends which they have in heaven; who not only look back to their own deliverance, and ascribe it to God, but seem to look down to their brethren upon earth, and to say, "Hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering!"
The view of such a holy and happy assembly is supposed to excite in the apostle emotions of admiration and joy. On this one of the elders asks him what he conceives them to be; and whence they could come. would seem as if they must be pure celestial beings, whose whole existence had been filled up with righteousness and blessedness. He does not presume however to say what he thought they were, whether men or angels, nor to offer any opinion as to whence they came; but modestly refers it to his instructor to inform him. The answer is, in effect, that they are men, men who were lately upon earth, exposed to great tribulations, but who had come out of them. And as to their "white robes," they had been once impure, but were washed and made
white, not in their own blood, though that in innumerable instances had been shed, but "in the blood of the Lamb." It was as believing in his death that they were justified and sanctified; and having fived by faith on him, they were without fault" before the throne of God."
Still more to stimulate the servants of God in this world to persevere, he adds, " And he that sitteth upon the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes !"
THE SUBDIVISION OF THE SEVENTH SEAL INTO SEVEN TRUMPETS.
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. 2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God, put of the angel's hand. 5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. 6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets, prepared themselves to sound.
We are now come to the opening of the last of the seven seals, and which is longer, and includes far more than the preceding six. They have reached but little beyond three hundred years; whereas this will reach from thence to the end of all things.
"Silence in heaven about the space of half an hour" seems to denote a solemn pause preparatory to other events. It is like sayThis scene is
ing. And now prepare thee for another scene!"