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St. John perceives "a red horse, and to him that sat on him power was given to take peace from the earth, and that they," that is, principally the enemies of the gospel, "should slay one another."
Nothing can be more plain than this hieroglyphic. It points to wars, and massacre, and blood, among those foes of the Redeemer, against whom he had come out to war. Read then the history of the Roman empire, from about A. D. 100 to A. D. 138, and you will every where see Providence commenting upon prophecy. The Jews and Romans, the great enemies of the gospel, who for some time had lived together in peace, now appeared to be occupied only in slaughtering one another. The massacre of 460,000 Romans in Cyrene, Egypt, and Cyprus, by the Jews, in the latter years of Trajan, with the dreadful vengeance inflicted on them by the Romans; the rebellion of the whole Jewish nation under the false Messiah, the impostor Barchochab, their slaughter of the Romans; and on the other hand, the tremendous victories over the Jews, by Adrian and his commanders; which, however, were so dearly bought that, in his letters to the senate, he abstained from the ordinary salutations; although 580,000 Jews had been slain by the sword, besides the countless number which perished by famine and wretchedness, and 1000 of their strongest towns destroyed; their utter expulsion out of Judea by Adrian, and the heavy tax which they paid him for the sad pri vilege of coming annually, for one single day, to look. at the ruins of Jerusalem, and weep over them:These are some of the events which show how fully this prediction was accomplished.
But other woes were to succeed: the
IIId Seal was opened, and the third living crea
ture cried, "Come and see." It was he who had the face of a man; and we are taught by his address, how necessary reason, sympathy, and prudence are, under severe general judgments.
St. John beheld "a black horse, and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And a voice in the midst of the four living creatures said, 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."
The colour of the horse indicates the affliction that will attend his progress; the balances denote the scrupulous care with which it would be necessary to weigh out provisions; the declaration from the midst of the four living creatures shows, that the famine will be severe. The xong chanix, the measure here spoken of, was the allowance for the daily provision of the labourer; the denarius, or Roman penny, (about 14 cents,) was the day-wages of a labourer: all then that could be procured by constant labour would be merely personal subsistence. The latter clause," See thou hurt not the oil and the wine," Και το ελαιον και τον οινον μη αδίκησης, may perhaps better be translated," See thou do no injustice as to the oil and the wine." Bread, oil, and wine, the absolute necessaries and the comforts of life, were sparingly and carefully to be weighed out.
And does not history immediately explain this seal? The last extended to A. D. 138. This reaches from that period to A. D. 193. During this time, Antoninus Pius and Antoninus Philosophus were upon the throne. All the historians of the time speak of the uniform famine under them both. The former preserved the people from insurrection only by distributing provisions from his own stores; and Aure
lius Victor, speaking of the latter, says, that in his reign there was nothing with which mortals can be afflicted, but what raged, and, among these calamities, he includes famine.
The calamities that threatened the world were not yet terminated; for, on the opening of the
IVth Seal, St. John saw "a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell," rather, the invisible world, a crowd of ghosts, "followed with him. And power was given to them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death," that is, with pestilence, "and with the beasts of the earth."
To this the attention of John was also called by the fourth living creature, like an eagle; to show how elevated in our affections, and quick-sighted with regard to duty, we should be in seasons of uncommon calamity.
There is no possibility of mistaking the general meaning of this prophecy; it denotes a period of peculiar mortality from the four great judgments, with which God visits the guilty. Nor is there any difficulty in tracing the accomplishment of it. The last seal terminated in A. D. 193. Read the history of the Roman empire to A. D. 270, when this seal concludes, and you will see the verification of this awful picture; you will behold death reigning in every mode; you will contemplate only desolation and wo.
The armies at their pleasure raised, deposed, murdered emperors. In the course of ten years, thirty different emperors were set up by the armies in different provinces, and they were continually warring with each other: massacres were perpetual: the northern barbarians broke in upon the em
pire the emperor Valerian was taken prisoner by the Persians: in the reigns of Gallus and Volusian, such a pestilence prevailed as had never been heard of; beginning at Ethiopia, for fifteen years it entirely depopulated many provinces of the empire; wild beasts were of consequence multiplied, and their depredations were dreadful.
But all this did not produce repentance, nor allay the fury of the heathens against Christians. This we are taught by the
Vth Seal, which, when opened, presented a scene different from the others. The apostle "saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them: and it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
Though the persecutions of Christians have not been previously mentioned, yet they are here referred to; and a season of peculiar oppression that awaits them, the terrible persecution under Dioclesian, is foretold. Yet Christians are supported under this prospect, by beholding the splendid rewards of the martyr, and the short season during which their sufferings were to endure. No living creature calls to the apostle to "come and see," because in these persecutions, one of the first objects was to close the churches of Christians, and to kill and imprison all the ministers of the gospel; but though these are no longer exhibited, we hear in their place
the voice of the holy martyrs. They appear under the altar, on which they have been offered as sacrifices to God; their blood speaks, as did that of Abel; not from a desire of vengeance, but from a regard to the glory of God, and the good of the church, they pray that the power of the persecutor may be abolished, and that the enemies of the Redeemer may be punished. White robes were given them, the symbol of their justification before God, and of their righteousness; and it was declared to them that others should suffer.
Who is so ignorant of the early history of the church, as not to know that, from the conclusion of the last seal to A. D. 303, when this seal terminates, these persecutions prevailed? Who has not heard of the cruelties of Dioclesian? And did not the blood of the martyrs speak at once to God, imploring from him retribution, and to men, giving them instruction? How easily could we heap up the names of martyrs in this period, including those of every age, and condition, and sex; joyfully submitting to torments, the mere account of which makes our blood run cold, and affords us a striking proof of the cruelty of which man is capable. But I have not time to enter into these details. I hasten to the illustration of the
VIth Seal, which embraces the period from the year 303 to 323, when Christianity was publicly established in the Roman empire. The account of this is given from the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter.
The figures, indeed, are derived from the transactions of the judgment-day; but an attention to prophetic chronology, as well as a regard to the symbolical language used in the scriptures, will convince us that there is no reference here to the end of the