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spectacle offers itself to St. John, which seems to represent, under an emblematical figure, what is written in that part of the book that is laid open on breaking the seal. And the seven figurative representations, that thus follow on the opening of the seven seals, mark seven particular events, which open the seven ages, into which is divided the whole period of the church's existence. This observation premised.
At the opening of the first seal, there appears to St. John a person upon a white horse. This person is our Saviour, as appears from chapter xix. of the Apocalypse, ver. 11 and 13, where St. John says, “I saw heaven open, and there appeared a white horse; and he that sat upon him, was called the Faithful and True. And his name is, the Word of God.” The crown that is here given him, and the white colour of his steed, show him victorious and triumphant. Christ had been victo. rious; first, over Satan, by overthrowing the dominion that murderous enemy had usurped over mankind; secondly, in purchasing, by extreme suffering, and at the price of his blood, a perpetual peace between God and man; thirdly, in conquering death, by raising himself to life from the grave by his own power. Fraught with these victories, he had ascended triumphant in glory into heaven, amidst the acclamations of the heavenly choirs, singing, “ Princes, lift up your gates ; eternal gates, be ye lifted up, and the King of glory shall enter in.” Psalm xxiii. 7. Being therefore exalted to all the honours of a glorious King and conqueror, he here appears in the equipment belonging to that character, and with bow in hand sets out to prosecute his conquests, in subduing the world to the dominion of faith by the preaching of his apostles, and his other succeeding ministers.
Thus then opens and commences the first age of the Christian Church, which may take its date from the day of Pente. cost, or Whitsunday, when the apostles began to preach. And the conquest, or conversion, which followed, of so many nations to the faith, shows evidently in Christ the exercise of that power, which was attributed to him, Apoc. v. 12. See p. 29. Let us also observe, that on opening the seal, one, or the first of the four living creatures, which, as we have shown, represents the prophet Isaias, says to St. John, Come and see; which is spoken, as with the voice of thunder, to mark the importance of the vision: and the invitation to a view of our triumphant Saviour comes properly from Isaias, who had so minutely prophesied of all that related to him.
To understand how the conquest of the world was made to
the Gospel, we must take notice that, as soon as the apostles had received the Holy Ghost, ten days after the ascension of Christ, they immediately proceeded to execute the commission given them by their divine Master, when he told them, “Go, and teach all nations," Mat. xxviii. 16, “but to begin by Jerusalem and Judæa,” Luke xxiv. 47. and Acts i. 8. They spent therefore some time in labouring at the conversion of the Jews, of whom no small number embraced the Christian religion, though much the greater part remained obstinate in their infidelity. This work being done, the apostles separated and dispersed themselves into different nations, to announce to them the new tidings of salvation. St. Peter retired to Antioch, where he founded a church, and having governed it for seven years, and preached over a great part of lesser Asia, he went to Rome, and there fixed his see. St. Andrew preached to the Scythians, and afterwards in Greece and Epirus, St. Philip in higher Asia. St. Thomas preached to the Parthians, then eastwards as far as the Indies. St. Bartholomew went into Armenia, and some part of India. St. Matthew employed his labours in Parthia and other eastern countries of Asia. St. Simon in Mesopotamia and Persia. St. Jude or Thaddee in Mesopotamia and Arabia. St. Matthias in the countries bordering on the Caspian sea. St. John fixed his see at Ephesus in Asia Minor, in which country he founded several churches, which he governed till his death. The two St. James's, one of whom was the first bishop of Jerusalem, chiefly confined their preaching to Judæa. St. Paul announced the gospel to many nations, but he was principally employed in Asia and Greece, and finished his mission in Rome.
By these zealous messengers of Christ, the gospel was spread throughout the world, according to that of the royal Prophet : “ Their sound hath gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world.” Psalm xxviii. 5. The success of their preaching was the more wonderful, as all human considerations conspired against it. This new doctrine was entirely opposite to the received maxims of the world; it declared war against the passions of mankind, it taught selfdenial and mortification, it preached a contempt of what is generally admired, it condemned all other religions, and absolutely required a most virtuous conduct in all its professors. Moreover, its ministers, the apostles, were not possessed of those natural endowments, which might make impression upon their hearers, and conciliate their minds to a new doctrine. They were illiterate men, chosen from the lowest conditions of life, destitute of all human succour, without the advantages of education, and without human eloquence. Notwithstanding the want of these helps, they were inspired with such a spirit of zeal, and with such supernatural force of elocution as not to be resisted. But, above all, the power of performing miracles was their peculiar badge which stamped upon their words the seal of divine attestation. These were the means by which truth began to shine forth in a garb which it had never worn before. It now laid open to view the errors mankind had hitherto been enslaved to, it withdrew the veil of ignorance that had overshadowed human reason, it dispelled the darkness of paganism and superstition, and by its native lustre it discovered the imperfection of all the systems of doctrine proposed before by the so much boasted philosophers of antiquity. Such became the case with a Socrates, a Plato, an Epictetus, a Cicero, &c. Those sages, as they were styled, not aware of the weakness of human reason unassisted by revela. tion, gave precepts of morality and maxims for the conduct of life, which were in admiration for many ages; but when that light appeared, which came down from heaven with the Son of God, it then became manifest how defective those dictates were. In the same manner as the stars in the firmament strike us with their lustre, and shine with advantage, in the night, but when the great luminary of the day, the sun, comes forth, the brightness of the stars immediately fades, and soon vanishes, so likewise, when the Son of God thought fit to grace this world with his presence, it became necessary that all former legislators and philosophers, however eminent, should be eclipsed by his superior excellence, and that every human institution of doctrine should give place to the new precepts of his all-comprehending wisdom.
The great structure of religion, which the apostles had begun, was carried on by their faithful and zealous successors through the subsequent ages. Thus he went forth conquering that he might conquer; and, thus he doth to this day, and will continue so to do.
Prelude to the sounding of the seven Trumpets. Apoc. chap. viii. 2, “And I saw,” says St. John, “ seven angels* standing in the presence of God: there were given to them seven trumpets.”
St. John now is directed to turn his eyes to the seven angels, who were seen standing before the throne of God in
* In the Greek text, "the seven angels.”
heaven, Apoc. i. 4. and iv. 5. and seven trumpets are given to them; one of these trumpets is sounded in each of the seven ages of the Church, probably by that angel who is appointed to superintend that age.—Then,
V.3. “And another angel came, and stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer of the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne of God.
V. 4. “And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God, from the hand of the angel.”
In imitation of the golden altar of incense that stood in the Jewish tabernacle before the Holy of Holies, there is here a golden altar of incense placed before the throne of God, to which an angel comes holding a golden censer. This is presently filled with much incense, which represents the prayers of all the saints, that is, of all the servants of God on earth: and thus the angel offers these prayers, which ascend up as the odour of so much fragrant incense before God, so pleasing are they to him. We saw, Apoc. v. 8. see p. 28. the saints in heaven presenting the prayers of the faithful to the Lamb; and here the same kind of function is performed by an angel: which shows how the angels are employed in good offices for mankind. Another instance of this sort is seen in the book of Tobias, where the angel tells that holy man, " When thou didst pray with tears,—I offered thy prayers to the Lord.” Tob. xii. 12.
V. 5. “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it on the earth, and there were thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and a great earthquake.”
The angel having performed the religious rite of offering the prayers of the saints to God, he then takes the censer, and fills it with fire from the altar of holocaust; such altar appearing to St. John in heaven similar to that which formerly belonged to the Jewish tabernacle. The censer so filled with fire, the angel casts down on the earth. This is a figurative intimation of God's design to try his servants on earth by the fire of tribulation, like gold in the furnace. The Almighty had just received their prayers with great complacency, and doubtless never ceases to keep a paternal eye over them, and to cover them with his protection: but he here lets them know, it is the disposition of his Providence to put them to the test, that those who are truly his servants, and firm in their faith and charity, may be distinguished from the hypocrites and pusillanimous. Accordingly, upon the falling of the censer on the earth, there happen thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and a great earthquake; which metaphorically express four various kinds of tribulations, which are to befall the Christians at the sounding of the four first trumpets, and which will then be seen; and there the abovementioned four metaphorica] terms will be explained. The three last trumpets, as we shall see hereafter, have three particular woes annexed to them.
V. 6. “And the seven angels, who had the seven trumpets, prepared themselves to sound the trumpet.”
The trumpet is generally sounded for war, or to give notice of any public danger or alarm. And such is the case here. The seven angels sound at different intervals of time their trumpets, to announce alarms to the Christians, such as persecutions, heresies, wars, &c. trials with which they must struggle, and which the Almighty sends them for their probation.
It may not be improper to observe, that the magnificent scene, which was exhibited in heaven in the prelude to the opening of the seals, receives here an addition by the appearance of two new objects, the altar of incense and the altar of holocausts. These are very aptly introduced, to point out some particular circumstances that have relation to the trumpets. The first altar, on which the Jews offered daily incense to God, presents to our mind the daily offering the Christians make to God of their fervent and holy prayers, which ascend to heaven like sweet perfumes: while at the same time, the altar of holocausts, on which the Jewish victims were burned, is here a just representation of martyrdom, by which the Christians are immolated as so many victims to God in the fire of persecution.
As before the opening of the seals we saw, p. 31, the close of the Old Law and the commencement of the New; so here, before the sounding of trumpets a confirmation of the same appears, by two Jewish altars, of incense and holocausts, being removed out of sight on the angels proceeding to sound the trumpets which relate to the Christian Church.
The sounding of the first Trumpet. Apoc. chap. viii. 7. “And the first angel sounded the trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and it was cast on the earth, and the third part of the earth*
*"The third part of the earth was burnt," is not in the common Greek text; but it is found in several very good manuscripts, and in the Syriac and Arabic versions.