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time, during a lamentable period of forty years, above a million of men are said to have suffered by capital punishmevt for what was deemed heresy, or in what was called Christian warfare*.
Tantum relligio potuit suadere malorum!
Such is the interpretation of the four first seals, which a diligent attention to the figurative language of Scripture, and a comparison of it with ecclesiastical history, has occasioned me to produce. It is different from the exposition, at this time generally received ; in which, the reigns of certain Roman Emperors, distinguished by conquest, civil war, famine, and slaughter, are exhibited, as fulfilling these predictions. But the grounds upon which the interpreters have proceeded, are not such as have inclined me, on a candid review, to retract my interpretation, and adopt theirs.
I have already stated † my reasons for believing, that (agreeably to the opinion of many eminent divines) all Sacred Prophecy has for its object, the fates and fortunes of the Church of God and of Christ; that it is seldom found to deviate from this object; and that when the fates of nations or of individuals are foretold, it is even then with some reference to the future History of the Church and of its Messiah. If this notion be just, (as, I trust, will be generally allowed,) it must at the same time be granted, that, in the interpretation of the Apocalyptic Visions,
* Mosheim, Eccl. Hist. cent. xiii. Hist. des Papes, iii. 16. Fleury, Eccl. Hist. xvi. 174. 240. xviii. 485. Jortin's Remarks on Eccl. Hist. v. 72. 138, &c. 245. 254. 330. 353. 363. 356. 373, 386. 493. + See the Introduction, pages 11, 12, 13, 14.
no part should be diverted from this its main and proper object, so as to be applied to the fortunes of civil and heathen empires or rulers, unless the symbols, under which the prediction is represented, evidently demand such application, by a comparison of their former and undoubtedly fit application to such purposes by preceding Prophets. I allow, for instance, that the remainder of the Roman empire, divided into ten kingdoms, is evidently symbolized and delieneated in chapters xiii. xvii. &c. of the Apocalypse. The symbols there used, compared with similar passages of the prophet Daniel, point out and demand such an application. But, when no such cogent reasons occur from a Divine interpretation of the figurative language, (as in that of Daniel by the angel, Dan. vii. 16.) it appears to me, that we have no right to apply the prophecies to civil and heathen history. In the figurative language of the four seals, I can discover no such grounds of interpretation; nor can I perceive that any such have been produced. We have no Divine direction, as in chap. xvii. 18, to point to the great city Rome : and certainly there is no appearance in the horses or their riders, which designates them as Roman. Nor do I remark that the writers who have adopted this mode of applying these predictions, have used arguments to justify such interpretation, A
passage indeed of this kind, I have observed in Joseph Mede, and have before quoted; in which he concludes, that because the prophet Daniel had both presignified the coming of Christ, and also arranged the fortunes of the Jewish Church, according to the succession of the heathen empires; so the Apocalyptic prophecies inust be supposed to measure the Christian history by the intervention of the Roman empire then remaining *. This will be granted in all cases, when the symbols employed shall appear necessarily to point out such interpretation; but not otherwise t.
The application of the prophecies of the seals to the fortunes of the Roman empire, and to the character of its princes, appears to me forced and unjustified. It would be curious to observe whence it took its rise, and how by degrees it obtained so general a reception in modern times; or at least in our country. There is reason to believe, that the most ancient commentators, Papias, Irenæus, Methodius, Hippolytus, &c. (mentioned by Andreas Cæsariensis t, as exhibiting the lights which he followed in his commentary,) entertained no such idea. For Andreas has interpreted the three first seals to exhibit the history of the Christian Church. The prophecy of the fourth seal, he indeed supposes, with the moderiz commentators, to foretel the slaughter, pestilence, &c. which raged in the Roman empire under Marimin. But such a comment on the fourth seal, could not be derived from these ancient expositors; because they did not live to see those times, and explain the prediction by the event. It is therefore not their exposition, but probably that of Andreas himself, who wrote about the year 500. And certainly it must be thought inconsistent, and disorderly, after interpreting the three first seals as relating to the fortunes of the Christian Church, to understand the fourth as respecting the Roman empire. But this application of the fourth seal by Andreas, seems to have afforded
See Mede's Works, p. 441. + This subject is treated more at large at the conclusion of tbe prophecy of the four first Trumpets, ch. viii, * Præf. in Apocalypsin.
the first hint of this mode of application, which modern expositors have gradually followed. Viega, a Jesuit, who wrote in the sixteenth century, seems to have been one of the first who applied all the four seals to the Roman history. Mede, who by his just reputation as an ingenious interpreter, has given the greatest encouragement to this mode of application, though he interpreted the second, third, and fourth seals, as relating to the Roman empire, yet understood the first to treat clearly and exclusively of the Christian Church. Indeed the first seal cannot, consistently with the symbols compared in Scripture, be otherwise applied. And if the first seal has so evident a designation, why, in the interpretation of the rest, are we to change our object, without special and compulsive reason? The writers who have followed Mede, have been aware that consistency required of them, to apply all these predictions to the same kind of history : but, to obtain this consistency, what method have they pursued? They have not relinquished Mede’s interpretation of the second, third, and fourth seals, thereby to bring them in unison with that of the first: but, labouring to make the symbols of the first seal agree with his interpretations of the three following, they have most unscripturally and unfitly represented the rider of the white horse, (whose purity can belong only to the most perfect Christian,) to signify those bloody and heathen soldiers, Vespasian and Titus * ! If Vespasian can be thought worthy of this almost divine honour, it is but another step to suppose him gifted with divine miracles, as related by Tacitus, Suetonius, and Dion
Jurieu seems to have been the author of this intepretation adopted by Bishop Newton,
Cassius, and as vaunted by David Hume* But, if the conquests of these Roman Emperors had been foretold in this vision, surely they would have been sufficiently expressed by the single word, conquer“ing,” without that additional commission, “and for “ to conquer ;" which must imply a distant period, far beyond the twenty-eight years of their empire. On the whole, I can perceive scarcely any colour of argument, arising from the words and symbols of the seals, to justify the interpretation of any part as concerning the fates and fortunes of the Roman Empire, or of any political establishment whatever. It must therefore belong to the fates and fortunes of God's Church; which appear to me, in this place, to be represented under four distinct successive characters; such as history has recorded them. Each horse is separate and distinct; he is “ another horse,” though still representing the Church: for, the Church was so changed under the progress of these different characters, as no longer to appear the same.
The white horse, representing the Church in its purity (and the true Church is always pure), is in progress through the whole of the vision. He goes out conquering; is then eclipsed, as it were, for a time, by the other horses, — by the corruptions of Christianity; but at length appears again, in chap. xix. “conquering, “and for to conquer.” Together with this distinctness of character, there is also an unity to be observed. They are all horses; and all pass, by a regular gradation, from one colour to another; from the mild and peaceful rule displayed in the character of the first horse, to the dreadful tyranny of Death and Hell which characterizes the last. This unity and completion of parts is also
* Essays, 4to. 350.