Page images

pretation of the seven seals, which is adopted by bishop Newton and many other commentators, as altogether to disappoint these expectations. The first seal, or period, says the bishop of Bristol, denoted the conquests of Vespasian and Titus ; and the second those slaughters which occurred in the time of Trajan and his immediate successors; the third was predictive of the measures adopted by the two emperors of the name of Severus ; and the fourth of that mortality and those various devastations, which distinguished the reigns of Maximin and the princes who succeeded. According to this explication, these prophecies, each of which Christ is represented as opening to view, had no nearer relation to the Christian than to the Pagan subjects of the Roman empire. But to entertain a supposition like this, to represent that four volumes of the divine communications were of such a complexion as to be incapable of being applied to the benefit of the church, is, says Vitringa, to support an hypothesis that is at variance with reason. Reason, indeed, teaches us to expect, says this distinguished commentator, that, when the sealed book is divided into seven volumes or periods some proportion between the length of these periods should be preserved'. But bp. Newton and those who coincide with him to represent, that all the six first" seals were fulfilled between the reign of Vespasian and the death of the emperor Theodosius, a period of only 325 years, whilst the seventh seal alone was run on from that time, through a long succession of centuries, to the end of the world. Some sort of proportion also might be expected to be found with respect to the length of the visions themselves". But according to bp. Newton, the account of the seventh seal, and of what is contained under it, fills four entire chapters of the Apocalypse: whilst the description of the other seals for the most part occupies only two or three verses.

8 P. 232.

9 P. 231. 10 Lest I should lead the reader into mistake, I remind him, that Vi. tringa wrote earlier than bp. Newton, and therefore had not him in view, but other commentators of similar sentiments.

11 The first seal, according to bp. Newton, occupies the scanty term of

about 28 years.

12 See Vitringa, p. 226.

The fact is, says Vitringa, and it is the opinion of Daubuz, of the celebrated Coccejus, and of many others'), that the seven trumpets, described in chapters viii, ix, and xi, are by no means to be included under the seventh seal, but constitute a new series of distinct visions. Independently of these objections, Vitringa has decisively proved, that the advocates of the hypothesis under consideration have in applying the emblems of the prophet to particular events, been singu. larly unsuccessful. Thus for instance, when it is said in the delineation of the second seal, that there went out ano. ther horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon, to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another : and there was given unto him a great sword: these emblems are pronounced to be prophetic of the events which happened in the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian, a period which was in fact distinguished by a more than common portion of tranquillity and general prosperity. But, says Vitringa, if these symbols are to be applied to the wars which the Romans carried on with other nations, 'would not the aspect of that period, when the Roman empire was on all sides harrassed by the Goths and Scythians, the Persians and Germans, about the times of Decius and Gallus, and was almost oppressed by these nations, be far more suitably expressed by the symbolic figure of a red horse', than the happy times of Trajan and Hadrian's?' Improbable as this interpretation is on the


13 See Vitringa, p. 319.

14 VI. 4. That a red horse and a sword are the symbols of slaughter, the commentators unite in observing.

15 P. 233. “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would,' says Mr. Gibbon, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman empire was governed by absolute power, VOL. II.



very face of it, it may boast the patronage of a crowd of expositors, and these too respectable. Does not this serve to shew, what I believe is the fact with respect to the generality of commentators, that they are averse to the toil of examining for themselves, and are often ready to adopt the opinions of their predecessors with unbecoming servility?

By Vitringa the seven seals are far otherwise explained. They are, he says, the seven Greater Events or important changes, which were to befall the church even to the consummation of all things ; and this explication of them has been embraced and vindicated by a number of very early commentators', as well as by many learned

men, who, subsequent to the æra of the Protestant Reformation, have cultivated the study of the prophetic scriptures.

The following account of the seals, which is principally extracted from the invaluable commentary of Vitringa, contains only a statement of their accomplishment; for to enter into an examination of their respective symbols, would be to depart from the purpose of the present work. The first seal foretells the brilliant success and rapid propagation of the Gospel, and its long exemption from any extensive persecution. Commencing from the publication of the prophecy, it reaches from the reign of Nerva to that of Decius, a period of 150 years. The second denotes the efforts which the Pagans afterwards made to extirpate that faith, and those cruel and wide-extending persecutions, raised against the professors of it, by the orders of Decius and Valerian, of Dioclesian, Galerius, and Maximin.

under the guidance of virtue and wisdom. The armies were restrained by the firm but gentle hand of four successive emperors, whose charac. ter and authority commanded involuntary respect. The forms of the civil administration were carefully preserved by Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Antonines, who delighted in the image of liberty, and were pleased with considering themselves as the accountable ministers of the laws.' Decl. and Fall of the Rom. Emp. vol. I. 8vo. 1792, p. 126.

16 Among others, it was adopted by the abbot Joachim in the 12th century, by Pierre d' Olive in the 13th, and by Ubertinus de Casalis in the 14th. These apocalyptical writers Vitringa entitles viri eruditi et pii; and certainly, little as their names are now known, each of them did, in his own time, excite in the world a degree of attention, which it is the for. tune of few theologians of the present age to obtain. See Vitringa, p. 30, 239; and Mosheim's account of the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries.

With respect to the third seal, I differ from all former writers; and it is therefore necessary, that I should give an account of its symbols, as well as of its supposed completion. That it has been generally misunderstood, cannot be denied, for, in their explication of it, the best commentators differ extremely. Mede and Goodwin, Grotius and Hammond, Lightfoot, Waple, and Fleming, Vitringa, Bengelius, and the anonymous French author of the New System of the Apocalypse, Lowman, Johnston, and Daubuz, ALL differ materially from each other, in their interpretations of the third seal; and of these commentators, the twelve first are at variance with each other with respect to the time. By every person, then, who acknowleges the authority of the Apocalypse, it cannot but be thought a point of some consequence, to ascertain the signification of a prophecy, the import and application of which have hitherto been a subject of such general dispute. It is thus expressed : And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine".

Since the end of the second seal or period, and the beginning of the fourth, are fixed by Vitringa's, those, who

17 VI. 5, 6. In v. 5, it ought to have been rendered, I heard the third living creature say; and in v. 6, I heard a voice in the midst of the four living. creatures. It is thus in the versions of Wakefield and Doddridge.

18 Vitringa regards the third seal as a prediction of the numerous theo. logical contests, which occurred in the period referred to; of the consequent scarcity of spiritual food, that is to say, of true doctrines; and of the care, which the governors of the church took accurately to weigh in the theological balance the different opinions which were advanced, and to prescribe a correct standard of faith.

adopt this opinion respecting the scals in general, of course know the period of the third seal, previously to their examination into the import of its particular symbols. The third seal then reaches from about the year 324, when Constantine obtained the sole possession of the Roman empire, and the religion of Jesus ceased to be attacked by pagan persecutors, to about the year 629, when the power

of the Saracens arose, and they first waged war against Christianity and the emperor of the East. In order, therefore, to ascertain the completion of the third seal, or the important events predicted to happen in the intervening period, it is necessary to state the established signification of the principal symbols; and to enquire, by a minute reference to history, whether that statement aptly corresponds to the general character and the leading events of the period, of which the prophet is supposed to have given a concise description.

The horse,' says Dr. Lancaster in his Symbolical Dictionary, ! is the symbol of war and conquest;' and black,' he observes, signifies afflictions, disasters, and anguish"9" The period, of which the prophet speaks, must then have been remarkable for the greatness of the conquests made in it; and it must have been more than usually calamitous. But there is another prophetic emblem, which will more specifically ascertain the character of the period. A balance, joined with symbols, denoting the sale of corn and fruits by weight,' is, observes Dr. Lancaster, the symbol of scarcity: bread by weight being a curse in Lev. xxvi. 26, and in Ezek. iv. 16, where it is said, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem, and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care, and they shall drink water by measure, and astonish, mentwhich curse is expressed by famine in the same prophet, ch, v. 16, and ch. xiv. 1320, Grotius and others

19 • In all languages black signifies any thing that is sad, dismal, cruel, and unfortunate.' Daubuz in loc.

20 · Very many agree in this,' says Vitringa, 'that this seal is emblematic of famine and a scarcity of provisions. That the third seal is pro

« PreviousContinue »