« VorigeDoorgaan »
be sufficient to observe here, that he extended the bounds of the Roman empire to the utmost limits they ever reached.1 After this epocha, the power of the empire remained stationary for some years, and then began to decline. The cause of that decline was the next grand revolution in the affairs of the world. And this, we shall find, was symbolized by the second seal.
The Second Seal, Verse 4.
"There went forth another horse that was red, and it was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword."
THE symbols here are, also, sufficiently distinct. The "red horse," the commission given to its rider; the great sword -the sword of the executioner, are all sufficiently plain.
In perusing the narrative of our historian, in search of an event that will explain this symbol, we find that Trajan, the leading character of the former period, for periods and eras of history, and not the reigns of individual princes, will be found to be designated by the seals and trumpets, died A.D. 117, and was succeeded by Hadrian. He governed the empire in peace till his
"Romani Imperii, quod, post longè lateque diffudit."-EUTROAugustum, defensum magis fuerat quam nobiliter ampliatum, fines
death, in 137, when he was succeeded by Antoninus Pius. But neither in this prince, nor in the second Antony, who succeeded him in 161 and reigned till 180, do we find any resemblance to the symbol in the prophetic vision before us, nor any great change or revolution in the world, which one might have expected to become the theme of prophecy. Gibbon has distinctly marked off these reigns as belonging to one era, when he observes: -" During a happy period, the public administration was conducted by the virtues and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonies."
But next follows, as we read the history in its regular course, an epocha indeed, and an epocha of that importance, that Mr. Gibbon dates from it the decline and fall of this mighty empire. This was the accession of the tyrant Commodus, the son of Marcus Antoninus, at the death of that prince, A. D. 180. Gibbon thinks that "Commodus was not, as he has been represented, a tiger, born with an insatiable thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions;" but he owns, "His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the ruling passion of his soul." After stating the extent of his cruelties, he adds:-" When Commodus had once tasted human blood, he became incapable of pity or remorse."
For particular transactions, I refer to the narrative of Mr. Gibbon. The reader will there find fully explained what is intended by the "red horse" and "great sword." These emblems would, indeed, have symbolized any other bloody tyrant in any other age of the world; but, following the train of history from the time when St. John saw the vision, Commodus could not well have been
passed over; and the prophecy is applied, with great exactness, to his reign.
Besides, the effects attributed to his bloody administration are another note whereby we learn to apply the prophecy to Commodus. It is not the reign of every cruel tyrant that could produce the consequences here described, "to take peace from the earth," and "that they might slay one another with the sword.”. With many tyrants the evil has perished with themselves, or the virtues of a successor have healed the wounds of his bleeding country. This was remarkably the case when the adoptive father of Trajan received the empire after the death of the almost equally cruel Domitian. But mark the consequences of the excesses of Commodus on the welfare of that world, the government of which he had received in so peaceful a state. His maleadministration was capable, from the circumstances in which it occurred, of producing a new era in the history of mankind, and plunged the Roman empire into endless scenes of civil wars and tumults. Mr. Gibbon particularly pronounces " the licentious fury
“ of the Pretorian guards," which now first discovered itself, to be the first symptom and cause of the decline of the empire. Of the event of the reign of Commodus, he remarks, in another place, “A revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth.”
The Third Seal.
The third seal is as clearly explained from history as the former :
5. “ I looked, and lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, 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."
Now, mark on the page of history the personal character and the character of the administration of the successful general, who put an end to the civil wars which followed the death of Commodus. This general was Severus," a native of Africa.” Perhaps, the whole compass of history could not supply a character, the peculiar features of which are so exactly delineated by the symbols before us, as that of the emperor Severus, whose administration, in some measure, restored tranquillity to the world, and yet, in its consequences, marks another era in the fall of Rome.
He was a soldier like Trajan, and a tyrant like Commodus; but both his valour and his tyranny were of a different sort : so that the “ black horse" and “ the balance for his sceptre" are as emblematical of his reign as “the white horse," " the bow, and the crown,” were of the administration of Trajan, and the “red horse” and “ great sword” of that of Commodus. His “ severity,” under the pretension of “ rigid
” justice,” remarked by Mr. Gibbon, sufficiently explains the beam of the balance he held in his hand. “ He never did an act of humanity, or forgave a fault.” 1
After mentioning the execution of forty senators, with all their wives, children, and dependants, the historian observes, “ Such rigid justice, for so he termed it, was, in the opinion of Severus, the only conduct capable of
I “ Parcus admodum fuit natura sævus."
ensuring peace to the people or stability to the prince; and he condescended slightly to remark, that, to be mild, it was necessary he should first be cruel.” “However cruel Severus may appear in his punishments and in his revenge, many have endeavoured to exculpate him, and observed there was need of severity in an empire whose morals were so corrupted, and where no less than three thousand persons were accused of adultery during the space of seventeen years." Gibbon again remarks :“ The contemporaries of Severus, in the enjoyment of the peace and glory of his reign, forgave the cruelties by which it had been introduced. Posterity, who felt the fatal effects of his maxims and example, justly considered him as the principal author of the decline of the Roman empire.”
Severus expired at York, A. D. 211, in the eighteenth year of his reign. A short period of eleven years of unsettled times intervenes, when Alexander Severus restores both the name and the times of the first Severus, under whom the empire enjoys an auspicious calm of thirteen years, which reign (from what follows) is included in this same period of prophecy.
The voice which St. John hears proclaiming a measure of wheat for a penny, &c., is also illustrated by the history of these times. The language of the prophecy clearly implies a scarcity of these necessaries of life, and some public regulations of government in consequence. In the authors quoted by Bishop Newton, and especially in the history of Gibbon, we shall find that this was truly an age of fiscal regulations: many laws were made for regulating the price of the chief articles of subsistence, and for providing them for the consumption of the people