« FöregåendeFortsätt »
or by any powers of resistance to set his shafts at defiance. This horse is fleeter than the wind; and the arm of this warrior so powerful, that no human being can resist its force.
To complete the picture, the rider of this horse is represent-. ed as followed by a very characteristic and terrible page, or footman; and hell followed him. Here the invisible state is symbolized by a page, who was ready to execute the orders of his master; or rather by a monster which followed close at the heels of death, in order to swallow up and devour every one whom the shafts of death might kill. Bolder imagery can hardly be conceived, nor could any description have been better fitted to impress the mind with the idea of the distressing scenes of the period of this seal.
The word translated Hell is usually taken to denote the invisible state, without being restricted in its application either to the condition of the damned, or to that of the blessed. In this general application we must understand the word here; for it would be unjust, as well as uncharitable, to suppose, that all those multitudes, who, under this seal, fell by the sword, or were destroyed by famine, pestilence, or beasts of prey, perished eternally. In this extensive carnage, doubtless many of the saints were sufferers, none of whom could eternally perish. The term, therefore, must be understood of the state of the dead, whatever might be the condition of any of them before God the judge of all. It is intended to intimate that, in this period, the mortality would be so great, that the mouth of the grave would appear to be continually open. The pale horse and his rider would convert every country through which they travelled into an extensive burying-ground, or appear to leave only devastation and mourning behind them, at every step of their progress.
A very extensive commission was given to these destroyers of the human race ; Power was given them over the fourth part of the earth. The term earth, we have formerly seen, is the symbolical name of the Roman empire ; but, as no particular district or province more than another is alluded to by the ex
pression, we are led to conceive that wherever this empire extended, the calamities after-mentioned would greatly predominate. It cannot be meant, that, in the strict numerical sense of the expression, a fourth part of the inhabitants would perish; the language must be understood in a sense that is more lax and indefinite. It nevertheless plainly intimates, that the proportion of deaths would be very great; and, on reviewing the history of this mournful period, it will be found, that there is enough to justify the expression, supposing it to be taken even in the most literal sense of the terms: the period of this seal was a time of very great mortality.
Their commission was equally mournful as it was extensive; they had power over this fourth part to kill by the sword, by famine, by the plague, and by the beasts of the earth. The calamities here specified are what the prophet Ezekiel has called God's four sore judgments, chap. xiv. 21. Any one of them is a very serious calamity; and, therefore, the case of those who are exposed to the whole must be peculiarly affecting. In this mournful period, they would be attacked at all quarters ; and if they should be so fortunate as to escape one species of evil, it would only be to fall into another which would be equally hostile to human life.
The first mentioned is the sword; and it needs only to be named in order to remind us of a state of war. When the earth was to be deprived of peace, a great sword was given to the rider of the red horse, ver. 4. And as the Romans were distinguished by the expert use of the sword more than by any other weapon, no figure could have been better fitted to represent the convulsed state of society among them during the period of this seal.
The second evil is hunger, which leads us to conceive of a state of famine. The effects of scarcity were to be severely felt under the former seal; but it was to be only a state of scarcity, and not of absolute want. A measure of wheat might then be purchased for the denarius, and three measures of barley for the same sum; but in the history of the opening of this
seal we have no mention of a balance, nor of the price of any of the articles of human subsistence. In many parts of the empire they would be reduced to a state of absolute want, and would therefore perish by hunger.
The third evil is still more alarming; the name which it bears is fitted to impress the mind with the most gloomy apprehensions respecting the consequences of its assaults; it bears the very same designation with the rider of the horse, whose name we were told was Death. It is manifest, however, that it is not to be understood of death in general; for the prophecy contains a specification of the different ways in which the fourth part of the inhabitants of the earth were to fall by the stroke of death; and, therefore, the term must here be intended of some particular calamity whose attacks would be so virulent, that few of its unhappy subjects would be able to resist their force. The description appears to be borrowed from the xivth chapter of Ezekiel, to which we have referred. And as the word is here introduced in the room of the Hebrew term, which the translators of Ezekiel have rendered by the word pestilence, it is natural to suppose that the pestilence or plague is the particular evil here meant. It may likewise be observed, that this word is the ordinary term which is employed in the Septuagint for the pestilence or plague. And as this malady is so fatal to the lives of its subjects, we still speak of it under the notion of mortality or death. The connexion also countenances this interpretation; it is mentioned after the sword and hunger; and nothing is more common in the history of judgments, than to find, that where both war and famine prevail, the most fearful ravages are committed by the plague: this last evil is generally a consequence of the two first.
The fourth in this mournful catalogue is the beasts of the carth. We are subjected, in this country, to few inconveniences from beasts of prey; but in regions that are thinly peopled, and where woods and caverns afford them sufficient shelter, they are formidable adversaries to the traveller. Mere inseets have sometimes been employed as the instruments of
judgment; at other times God has roused the beasts of the forest from their dens, and sent them to avenge the insults which had been offered to his servants, 2 Kings ii. 24.
The order in which these different plagues are mentioned is noticeable ; they are stated in the same order in which they might be expected to be realized. The first mentioned is war; and famine, which is next, is often the native consequence of warfare. In warm climates, both evils have a tendency, equally natural, to introduce the pestilence. Unwholesome provisions generate disease, and when the hunger-bitten and the slain are left without a burial, the atmosphere becomes corrupted, and infectious and deadly maladies sweep away vast multitudes of the human race. In proportion, too, as these evils are accumulated, beasts of prey become numer
The principal reason why carnivorous animals do not increase in the same proportion as those of the domestic kind, is the difficulty with which they obtain the means of subsistence; accordingly, when they find that species of food in abundance with which they are most gratified, they always become more numerous and more ferocious. It has often been remarked of lions, bears, and other beasts of prey, that the ferocity of their tempers is increased by feeding upon human Aesh.
I shall now consider the application and history of this seal. That it refers to a time of very general and grievous calamities must be obvious to any reader. The colour of the horse, the name of the rider, the character of his retinue, the nature and extent of their commission, and other circumstances in the symbolical description, lead us naturally to think of dispensations which would prove extremely fatal to the lives of men. The scene of these dispensations being the earth, it is in the state of the empire, and not of the church, that we are to look for their history. And though bolder and more terrific emblems can hardly be conceived, yet, when we unfold the page of history, we see that the picture has not been overcharged, and that no emblems could have been too terrific to represent the bloody and calamitous scenes of the period of this prophecy.
The opening of this seal is supposed to commence with the death of Commodus, in the year 193 or 195, and to extend to the death of Claudius, in 270, or to the commencement of the reign of Dioclesian, in 284, including a period of ninety years. I could not propose to lay before you the whole history of this mournful period; neither is it necessary : such facts only shall be mentioned as may be necessary to shew how literally the prediction has been fulfilled.—The order in which the different evils are mentioned in the text will be the most natural for us to follow in the history of their accomplishment.
The first is war; and in the history of this period we do not find a single page which is not deeply stained with blood. From the accession of Severus till the time of Dioclesian, it was almost one uninterrupted scene of civil contention; and this species of warfare is always the most bloody and calamitous. Within the
Within the space of fifty years, no fewer than twenty different emperors filled the throne, not an individual of whom died a natural death; some of them fell in battle, but the greater part were murdered by their own subjects. One emperor was no sooner cut off than different competitors started up, each of them supported by a powerful faction, who were determined that he should reign, though it should be at the expense of millions of lives. At one time there were no fewer than thirty candidates for the throne, some of whom were at the head of powerful armies ; and before the prize was determined, many of the legions were almost annihilated. The demon of strife that had gone forth under the second seal to take peace from the earth, raged with far greater violence under the fourth, in those long-protracted civil wars which thinned the empire of its subjects, and brought it to the very brink of ruin.
In the midst of these contentions for civil power, the leaders were seldom unmindful of the work of persecution. Most of them tried to conciliate the favour of Heathen priests, and