« VorigeDoorgaan »
And though he did not see meet to cut him off by a violent death, he made his life such a burden, that it was hardly supportable: My punishment,' said that murderer,' is greater than I can bear,' Gen. iv. 13. He was made a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and, as if the blood of his departed brother had been continually before him, he seems to have lived in perpetual terror. At the universal deluge, the race of Cain became extinct; and with them the representatives of all the persecuting families of the old world. But the judging more immediately intended here could not commence more early than the sounding of the seventh trumpet, as the text is a prophetical description of the events which were to follow upon it. The blast of that trumpet was the summons to this judgment. The work commenced at the Reformation from Popery, and has been seldom interrupted since it began. Much of this work has been executed in our own times. The sword has been bathed in blood, and the greatest torrents have flowed in those countries where, in former ages, the blood of the saints had been shed in the greatest profusion; and there the principal sufferers have been the representatives of those families and orders of men that had been most active in the work of persecution.
Nor is there any prospect that this work of judging for the dead will soon come to a termination. All that is presented in chap. xvi., under the emblem of seven vials filled with the wrath of God, seems to be intended in this prophecy, under the general emblem of a judgment for the dead; and, therefore, till those vials are emptied-till the last dregs are heaved out, this judgment cannot be brought to a conclusion.
Secondly, the wrath of God was to be expressed against his enemies in the way of graciously rewarding his living saints. That thou shouldst give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, both small and great. In this part of the prediction, those called servants and prophets may be meant of persons in public office; and those called saints, and them that fear the name of God, both
small and great, may be meant of private members of the church. This variety of language and expression points out the extent of the reward. None that really belonged to God would be overlooked; neither the office-bearers that endeavoured to be faithful, however small the success of their ministra tions, nor the private members of the church, whatever might be the obscurity of their condition, would be neglected in this great distribution of favour.-As the elders are introduced, thanking and praising God for something he would bestow upon living saints, at the time in which he was judging for those that were dead; this reward cannot be meant of any thing which was to be enjoyed in heaven, but must be intended of something which was to be bestowed upon the different classes of the members of the church on earth. It may be understood of the visible demonstration of the favour of God towards the true church, in the period of the seventh angel. And since this angel began to sound, her external circumstances have presented a striking contrast with her former condition. She is no longer hid in the recesses of the wilderness, but occupies a station as conspicuous as if she had been set on the top of a mountain, chap. xiv. 1. This reward includes all those privileges and immunities which Protestant churches have enjoyed, and by which their condition has been rendered preferable to the sackcloth state of the witnesses. Though they have not been altogether exempted from persecution, yet some of them have enjoyed long seasons of tranquillity; if they were persecuted in Protestant countries, it was by their own dissensions and animosities; and even most of the Popish princes got their eyes opened to see the impolicy of putting their subjects to death, on account of their religious opinions. Hence, though the penal statutes against Protestants were not repealed in France till the time of the Revolution, yet such was the mild and tolerant spirit of the rule of Louis XVI., that Mr Neckar, his prime minister, was a Protestant. And several years before that Revolution, the emperor of Germany had proclaimed liberty to the subjects of his hereditary states
to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences. And when the house of Austria, which had shed so much of the blood of Protestants, was beginning to manifest such a tolerant spirit, their subjects were placed in very different circumstances indeed, compared with what the condition of their fathers had been, when the smallest contrariety of sentiment with the established faith of the church of Rome, would have brought certain destruction upon them. The spirit of toleration is now so widely diffused, and the rights of conscience so much respected, we are apt to flatter ourselves that these rights will never again be invaded, and that persecution for conscience sake must be ended. We ought not, however, to forget that the spirit of Popery is not changed; that a person can never cease to be a persecutor from religious principle, so long as he continues to be a Catholic; and God only knows what scenes may yet be opened when men of an intolerant spirit get into power. But after all they can do, they will never be able to reduce the true church to the same condition in which she was placed before the period of the Reformation. Messiah will continue to reign; and therefore the great body of his servants, and prophets, and saints, will continue to be in comparatively better circumstances than their fathers were.*
Thirdly, the wrath of God was to be expressed in the most direct and immediate way against the enemies of his people. This is predicted in the close of the verse, and shouldst destroy them that destroyed the earth. The jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome extended over all those regions in the West, which had belonged to the ancient Roman empire, here called the earth; and by that tyrannical rule which he had exercised, even the fairest provinces of that earth were destroyed. The bodies of men were oppressed, their substance, either by fraud or violence, was taken from them, their minds were kept in con
Since this Lecture was delivered (February 27th, 1814,) remarkable occurrences have taken place. The order of the Jesuits has been restored by a bull of the Pope; the Inquisition re-established by a decree of the king of Spain; and persecution has raged for several months in the south of France.
tinual terror, or lulled into the most dangerous security, and ruined for ever. Under the ghostly dominion of the Popes, the lamp of science was put out; the useful arts of life were forgotten; and society, in respect of civil privilege, was little better than barbarous. In respect of religion, they were moved away from the true foundation, when they were taught to look to saints and angels, in preference to the Saviour, as the mediums of intercourse with God; and to the merits of the saints, or their own services and pious bequests to the church, as the ground of hope. From being a fertile field, Europe was converted into a wilderness by the inroads of the tribes of the North. The subjection of these tribes to the authority of the Roman priesthood did not improve, but completed the desolations of the country, and the miseries of the inhabitants.-But here it is foretold, that God would destroy them. A period was to come in which his wrath would break in upon them to the uttermost; and with the same measure which they had meted unto others, it would be measured out to them in return.
The chapter is concluded with a different representation of the same facts. The condition of two different societies is described in the chapter, which is held up in different points of view to the mind. The condition of the true church is first represented under the emblem of a resurrection and an ascension; it is next described under the idea of a remarkable change in the kingdoms of the world; and, lastly, under the figure of the opening of the temple.-The condition of the false church is described in three different ways also. First, her members are represented as having been put into a state of great alarm by the resurrection of the witnesses; secondly, their judgments are represented under the emblem of a judgment for the dead, in which they that had put the witnesses to death, and destroyed the earth, would also be destroyed; and, finally, under the emblem of a preternatural storm of thunder and lightning, accompanied with a great earthquake.
In this last verse, the prosperous condition of the true church is represented under the emblem of the opening and cleansing
of the temple. The temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament. The allusion is manifestly borrowed from what took place in some of the periods of reformation under the law. In times of general apostacy and idolatry the temple of God was shut up, as was the case in the time of the wicked Ahaz, 2 Chro. xxviii. 24. but in the reformation which followed in the time of Hezekiah, the doors of that sacred building were opened, and the sanctuary cleansed, chap. xxix. 3.-During the period of 1260 days, the hieroglyphical temple was upon the matter shut. That mournful period of superstition and idolatry bore a striking resemblance to the times of Ahaz; but when the pillars of the Antichristian throne were shaken by the Reformation in the 16th century, the temple of God in heaven was opened. It was then permitted, that men should worship the God of Israel, in the manner which he himself had prescribed.—And as a necessary consequence of this building being opened, the ark of the testament was seen. This symbol of the Divine presence was placed in the holy of holies, the innermost part of the building; and therefore could not be seen by any but the highpriest on the day of atonement. But though many of the figures of this book are selected from the Old Testament economy, they do not describe the worship under the law, but under the gospel. When Christ died, the vail of the temple was rent from top to bottom; and, accordingly, when the door of the temple was opened, the holy of holies, as well as the sanctuary, must have been exposed to view. The representation here is not intended to remind us of the wide difference between the Old and the New Testament state of the church, but to shew the wide difference of her condition before and after the sounding of the seventh angel. The ark was a figure of Christ, whose glory had been obscured by a multiplicity of inferior mediators, and whose merits had been often depreciated by a greater degree of confidence being placed in works of supererogation, than in those of Christ. But when the period of reformation came, the merits of the saints were discarded, and