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earth. That angel is the symbol of the ministry at the time of the Reformation; and while they are supposed to be carrying the gospel in all directions, it would have violated the consistency of the figures to have introduced the same ministry here, under the emblem of living creatures standing before the throne.-2d, It might be intended to intimate what would actually be the case in many parts of the church at the period of the Reformation, viz. that they would have no ministers at all. The doctrines of the Reformation spread with an amazing rapidity. Many became converts to what were called the new opinions, before they heard any thing respecting them from the ministers of religion. The invention of printing put it into the power of the Reformers to send Bibles and other books where they had not always the means or the opportunity of going in person. By these silent instructors, many were brought to the knowledge of the truth long before they enjoyed a fixed dispensation of the pure ordinances of religion. Few of the ministers had at first any settled charge. The demand for public teachers soon became greater than all the seminaries of the church could supply. Hence those ordained to public office had to travel from place to place, that every part of the church might receive the benefit of their ministrations; and as they had often to travel to places that were a considerable distance from each other, it was not till after a long interval that they could be expected to return. The harvest truly was great, and the labourers so few in proportion to the extent of the field, it appeared as if there had been none.-3d, This apparent omission displays to greater advantage the ardour of spirit with which these private members of the church engaged in the services of religion. Though they had not always ministers to preside in their assemblies, and to take the external direction of their worship, they did not neglect the assembling of themselves together. As opportunities were afforded, they met in small parties, or in larger assemblies, to be employed in those exercises which are competent for all Christians, whether they sustain a public or only a private character in the church.
They did not intrude themselves into the work of the ministry, or do what was competent only for those in public office to perform: the work described here, is praise; and this is suitable for every Christian, whatever be the place he occupies in the church; and was peculiarly seasonable, when the God of their mercies was doing such great things for them.
Here, as in chap. iv. 10., the elders are represented as falling prostrate before the throne and worshipping God. In the most devout, humble, and reverential frame of spirit, they pour out their hearts in grateful acknowledgments to him. -It is not simply said, that they worshipped: we are told, that they worshipped God. The idea of religious worship necessarily suggests the idea of some being that is acknowledged as God; but as this prophecy refers to the time of the Reformation from Popery, there is a peculiar force and beauty here in the introduction of the term. It is not superfluous: but, as distinguished from that false and idolatrous worship which had been lately given to saints, and angels, and other objects that had none of the perfections of divinity, we are told, that the object of their worship was God. They refused to take the doctrines and commandments of men for the rule of their worship, and were equally concerned not to give that glory to another which is due to God alone. Angels and the spirits of just men made perfect, images, relics, crucifixes, and the whole rabble of false gods, were discarded. Like men covered with shame at the consideration of the gross insults which had been offered to the true object of worship, they fall upon their faces before him, and worship and serve him only.
The posture in which they worshipped, shews the holy shame and confusion with which they were covered; they fell prostrate before the throne, as if they had been inclined to hide their faces in the dust. And the language in which their homage is expressed, shews the spirit of true gratitude by which they were actuated; this is recorded in the two following verses. In ver. 17, they express themselves thus:-We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art
to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. The matter of the ascription in the first part of the verse, is nearly the same with that of the living creatures recorded in chap. iv. 8., which was formerly considered; it is therefore necessary only, that we attend to the special ground of thanksgiving stated in the close of the verse; 'because thou hast taken unto thee thy great power, and hast reigned.' Power or strength is an attribute essential to God. According to this ascription of praise, he is the Lord God Almighty. There cannot therefore be any thing too hard for him to perform; and as power necessarily belongs to God, he can never divest himself of this excellency. But, for many ages, it appeared as if there had been a suspension of his power with respect to the interests of the church. She was oppressed and afflicted above measure. Her enemies seemed to be left at perfect liberty to do what they had a mind against her. They profaned the court, they made the holy city a heap of rubbish, they compelled the inhabitants to seek a refuge in the thickets of the wilderness, or in the dens and caves of the mountains, or they put them to death, and cast out their dead bodies to be meat for the fowls of heaven. But now the God of the church had awoke as from sleep, or like a giant refreshed with wine, and put her enemies to a perpetual reproach. He had wrought a deliverance, in which the glory of his character as a Lord or ruler, and in which the energy of his power as the Almighty, were signally conspicuous. For this great deliverance the four and twenty elders gave thanks; and the more they reflected upon it, the more they were inclined to praise him with the whole heart, and not feignedly.
OBSERV. 1st, The Reformation from Popery was the work of God. This worshipping company ascribe all the praise of it to the Lord God Almighty, which necessarily supposes him to have been the agent. We cannot account for the propagation of the gospel in the early periods of Christianity, without admitting that the hand of God was in it; and it is only in the same way that we can account for that success with which the
efforts of the friends of truth were crowned, in something like a second propagation of the gospel at the period of the Reformation. The time of the Reformation was not like the early periods of Christianity, an age of miracles; but the demonstration of divine power was not the less remarkable, that ordinary means produced such stupendous effects, that they appeared to be next to miraculous. The world had been prepared by a singular concurrence of circumstances for the birth of Messiah, and the propagation of his interests in the times of the apostles; and the better we are acquainted with the history of the Reformation, the more will we be filled with admiration at the plans of Providence in that age. In this work there is no doubt much of the hand of man to be seen; but their poor efforts would soon have been crushed, the cause in which they were embarked would have sunk to rise no more, if the God whom they served had not stood by them, and given them victory over all opposition. Jehovah then took to himself his great power and reigned, by touching the springs and directing the motion of the wheels of Providence, to that successful issue, whereby the cause of truth was maintained, and its friends were in some measure protected against insult and wrong.
2d, The Reformation from Popery affords ample matter of praise and thanksgiving. If you reflect upon the mournful state of Europe previous to this great revolution of religious sentiment, you cannot fail to notice many grounds of thanksgiving which were afforded to these elders. Prior to that age, the Feudal system prevailed in all the countries of Europe, and was the most oppressive that can well be conceived. With the exception of princes, nobles, and priests, human beings were hardly considered as having any other rights than what were possessed in common with the beasts of the field. The light of the Reformation discovered to men the rights which belonged to them, as creatures of a higher order than brutes; and inspired them with courage to assert and defend them against the encroachments of arbitrary and despotic power. The
principles of civil liberty, and those of religious reformation, were imbibed together; hence, in most countries where the principles of the Reformation were introduced, the struggle for civil liberty also commenced. They found they could have no security for the enjoyment of religious privileges, unless that horrible yoke of political slavery under which they groaned, were burst asunder. Since that period, a milder system of political government has been introduced into most countries of Europe; the power of the nobles has been broken, and even where the king continued to be under few restraints from law, he was nevertheless compelled, by the enlightened state of his subjects, to rule with gentleness, compared with what he formerly did. But the arbitrary and oppressive rule of princes and nobles was far exceeded by that spiritual despotism which the Romish priesthood exercised over the minds of men. By the false and mysterious glare of their worship, by their cruel penances, by their heavy exactions, and by the horrible, perfidious, and cruel methods, whereby they enforced obedience to their requirements, they were both the terror and the disgrace of society. To be delivered from such thraldom, was next to an escape from the iron furnace of Egypt, or the fire and flames of Sodom. For such a deliverance we can never be too grateful. At this moment we are reaping its benefits, as members both of civil and religious society. We may therefore adopt the language, and ought to breathe the spirit of these worshippers, when they exclaimed, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.'
3d, The Protestant interest is well secured. He shall reign for ever and ever.' These words do not contain only an abstract truth, in which the perpetuity of Messiah's reign is asserted; they have an immediate connexion with what is stated in the 15th verse, viz.. That the kingdoms of the world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ;' and are intended to intimate, that in these kingdoms, where such a revolution had taken place, he would continue to bear rule.