Page images
PDF
EPUB

it is never to be renounced, either in whole or in part. Such as are ashamed of him or of his words before men, of them will he be ashamed before his Father and the holy angels. To the honour of these martyrs, we are told, that they were slain for the testimony which they held.

4th, The faithful followers of Christ have to suffer for him, as well as to believe on his name. This was remarkably the case during the primitive times of Christianity, and has been, in some measure, the lot of his people in all ages. He that is born after the flesh, continues to persecute him that is born after the Spirit.*

5th, Persecutors can only kill the body. They have no power over the soul ; for here the souls of the martyrs are represented as in the enjoyment of life, and in perfect rest and safety. Their enemies had separated them from their bodies ; they had prosecuted their unrighteous quarrel with them to the

Ecclesiastical writers generally speak of ten persecutions under the Heathen emperors of Rome. If this number be meant to comprehend the whole, it is too small; for, after Nero had set the example, there is hardly a period during the first three centuries, in which the Christians did not suffer by public authority for the sake of their religion, either in one province or another. The bloody work was no sooner interrupted in one quarter, than it commenced in another. Taking all the different persecutions, General and Provincial together, they far exceed the number of ten. But if we exclude those that were merely Provincial, the General persecutions will hardly amount to this number. For even when persecution was hottest and most extensive, there were generally some rulers that were inclined to befriend the suffering saints. The persecution of Dioclesian was perhaps the most general, as it certainly was the most bloody and severe ; yet even in the time of this persecution, there were some places where the Christians met with little molestation. Those provinces which were under the immediate rule of Constantius felt little of the severities which were practised in other regions. Though not a Christian himself, he was inclined to spare the lives of his Christian subjects. When he was urged by Galerius to put the imperial edicts in force against them, he made a pretence of complying with the wish of his colleague, and began by ordering all the officers of his household that were Christians, either to renounce their religion, or to quit their situations. Such as gave up their lucrative offices for the sake of their religios, he instantly recalled, and replaced in all their former honours and emoluments ; but such as had acted otherwise, he dismissed with peculiar marks of infamy and displeasure. He addressed the apostates in the following cutting reflection, That they who were not true to their God, never could be faithful to their prince.--The persecutions which were either the most general or the most severe may amount to the number of ten. The dates of these persecutions are nearly as under : 1st, Under Nero, commenced anno 64 6th, Under Severus, commenced an. 197 2d,..........Domitian,

93 7th, ........ Maximin,....... 235 3d, .......... Trajan,......

104
8th,........Decius,......

.250 4th, Adrian,

.125
Valerian,......

.257 5th,......... Verus,.

...151 | 10th,.... .... Dioclesian,.

9th,

....303

grave; but their resentment could reach no farther. Here they dwelt beneath the altar; and as the altar was a type and figure of Christ, we must conceive of them as dwelling under the shadow of him that is the Almighty, and in the full possession of all the invaluable blessings which are the fruits of his atonement and mediation.

6th, The doctrine of the soul's existence in a separate state can be easily established from the Scriptures. We are not left in uncertainty, or to mere conjecture, upon this interesting topic. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel. Though there were nothing more upon this subject than what is contained in the prophecy before us, it would be completely sufficient to determine the question, Whether, upon the death of the body, the soul also dies with it, or lives and acts in a separate state? The bodies of many of the martyrs were consumed by flames; the bodies of others were devoured by birds and beasts of prey; while some were deposited in the grave to moulder into dust, and mingle with their kindred clay. But their souls were neither consumed nor lost; they were safely lodged beneath the altar.

7th, The spirits of just men departed have the knowledge of what is transacted in the earth. This is necessarily implied in the prayer of these souls beneath the altar ; they knew that their blood was not yet avenged, and therefore they speak of the language of expostulation about the delay !

8th, Though judgment may be long deferred, when grace is not given to repentance it will at length be executed to the full; and the longer it has been deferred, the stroke of judgment will be the more heavy when it falls. When the brethren and fellow-servants of the martyrs were slain as they were, judgment would then overtake their persecutors to the uttermost.

181

LECTURE XLV.

SIXTH SEAL.

Rev. vi. 12–17. And I beheld when he had opened the sixth

seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake ; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as

blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree

casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty

zoind: And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together;

and every mountain and island were moved out of their places ; And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich

men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond man, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens,

and in the rocks of the mountains ; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the

wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able

to stand ?

It is extremely probable that those who first attempted an explanation of this prophecy, referred it entirely to the scenes of the last judgment. This is known to have been the opinion of Cyprian, an eminent father, who flourished about the middle of the third century. And as the prophecy had not then met with its completion, we do not wonder that he should have taken this view of it; for we find some of the best writers in our own times contending, that such boldness of figure and expression cannot be applicable to any other events than the dissolution of the material system, and the general judgment of the world. It is readily admitted, that this sublime description is borrowed from the scenes of the day of final retribution; but it is refused that this can furnish any proof that the events of that day are the subjects of this prophecy; as nothing is more common in Scripture, than to describe the fall of states and the retributions of wicked associations, by figures selected from the closing scene of things. By similar emblems our Lord has described the desolations of Jerusalem, Matt. chap. xxiv. ; Isaiah, the overthrow of the Babylonian empire, chap. xü.; and Ezekiel, the ruin of Egypt, chap. xxx.

In a former Lecture we endeavoured to shew, that the events of the prophecy of the trumpets are posterior to those of the seals.* And as the prophecy of the fifth seal brings down the prospective history of the church to the persecution of Dioclesian, about the beginning of the fourth century, we must look for the events of the prophecy of the sixth seal between the close of that persecution and the year 376, when the first trumpet began to sound. And on reviewing the history of that period, the only thing on which the mind can fix as the most probable fulfilment of the prophecy is the revolution under Constantine the Great, in the year 323. In the details of that revolution and its important consequences, we find such facts and circumstances recorded as will sufficiently illustrate the fulfilment of what is predicted here, and justify its application to that remarkable period. To present the interesting subjects of this prophecy with as much perspicuity as possible, I shall deviate a little from the mode of illustration we have hitherto followed. Instead of reserving the historical statements to the close of the Lecture, we shall introduce them as we go along; that, by placing the facts and the predictions in the closest vicinity, the meaning of this highly-figurative language may be more readily apprehended, and the propriety of its application to the revolution of Constantine rendered the more obvious.

The principal figure in this prophecy is a great earthquake ;

See Lecture XL.

I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake. The word signifies any violent shaking or concussion in the system of things. It must be understood in all the latitude of its meaning here; for this concussion affected the heavens as well as the earth. The sun became black as sackcloth of hair, the moon became as blood, and the stars fell from heaven. The shock was so violent, that the whole system appeared as if it were to be reduced to its original chaotic state, and either to be melted down into its first principles, or to be thrown into such confusion that it could be no longer habitable. In the language of symbols, an earthquake, or any violent concussion in nature, is uniformly taken to denote a revolution, either in political or in religious society. Two other earthquakes are described in this book as the symbol of changes by which the state of religion was to be deeply affected, chap. viii. 5. and xvi. 18. And this earthquake may be intended as the symbol of some change which was deeply to affect either the church or her adversaries. To see what this change is, it will be necessary to consider the different particulars in the description, as stated in the order of the verses.

The first object mentioned is the sun ; And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. The allusions are borrowed from the appearance of the heavens about the time of an earthquake. On these occasions the sun is seldom visible; the moon is shrouded, or assumes a bloody appearance; fiery meteors glide through the atmosphere, and drop like stars from their spheres; the whole region of the heavens has the most scowling and ominous appearance. Even the brute creation are amazed and terrified, and hasten to their dens and places of retreat.–Our blessed Saviour is frequently compared to the sun; and he is certainly of all that advantage to the church which the natural sun is to the system of things. He is the light and life, the soul and ornament, of the whole society; he unites all genuine believers into one body mystical; and how'ever remote they may be from one another, either in respect

« PreviousContinue »