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by public authority; and it is remarkable, that the eloquent historian fixes upon this era as a proper place for a digression on the finances of the Roman empire.1
The Fourth Seal.
The opening of the fourth seal discloses a new set of emblems; and we shall find the era that succeeded to the reigns of the Severuses, as exactly answering to these emblems, as those we have already examined :
Chap. vi. 7. “ And I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed after him, and power was given unto them," — or, “unto him,"
over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death,” – or, “ pestilence,"— " and with the beasts of the earth.”
A season of particular mortality, from the causes mentioned, must strike every one, as the meaning of these symbols. To the reader of history it may, perhaps, occur, that the events of many periods will agree with the picture of the destruction of the human species here given. But yet it may be justly questioned, whether any
. period in the history of mankind so particularly agrees with this terrific picture of the march of death as the times that immediately succeeded the reign of Alexander
1 Joseph Mede and Bishop Newton have applied this seal to the same historical events.
Severus. He was murdered A. D. 235, and succeeded by the “ monster Maximin,” whose character and administration, as may be read in the page of Gibbon, led the way to these calamitous times foreboded in the vision. He was murdered A. D. 238. “ In the space of a few months six princes are cut off with the sword,” – “The Persians invade the east," -“The Barbarians” “ boldly attack the provinces of a declining monarchy,” –“Gordian murdered 244 - Philip meets the same fate 248." “ From this time to the death of Gallienus - 268 – there. elapsed twenty years of shame and misfortune : during that calamitous period, every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted, by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution."
Very remarkable are Mr. Gibbon's general observations on this period of history :-" Our habits of thinking so fondly connect the order of the universe with the fate of man, that this gloomy period of history has been decorated with inundations, earthquakes, uncommon meteors, preternatural darkness, and a crowd of prodigies, fictions, or exaggerations. But a long and general famine was a calamity of a more serious kind. It was the inevitable consequence of rapine and oppression which extirpated the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. Famine is always followed by epidemical diseases, the effect of scanty and unwholesome food. Other causes, however, must have contributed to the furious plague which, from the year 250 to the year 265, raged, without interruption, in every province, every city, and almost every family of the Roman empire. During some time, five thousand persons died daily in
Rome, and many towns that had escaped the hands of barbarism were entirely depopulated.
We have the knowledge of a very curious circumstance, of some use, perhaps, in the melancholy calculation of human calamities; an exact register was kept at Alexandria of all the citizens entitled to receive the contribution of corn. It was found that the ancient number of those comprised between the ages of forty and seventy, had been equal to , the whole number of claimants from fourteen to eighty years of age, who remained alive after the reign of Gallienus. Applying this authentic fact to the most correct tables of mortality, it evidently proves that above half the people of Alexandria had perished; and could we venture to extend the analogy to other provinces, we might suspect that war, pestilence, and famine, had consumed, in a few years, the moiety of the human species." An account of the multiplying of wild beasts at this calamitous season, may also be seen in the authors quoted by Bishop Newton.
The end of this disastrous season, as we learn from Gibbon, may be thus described :-“Gallienus died in the year 268. After this event, within a period of about thirty years, a series of great princes, Claudius, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian and his colleagues, triumphed over the foreign and domestic enemies of the state, and reestablished, with military discipline, the strength of the frontiers, and deserved the glorious titles of restorers of the Roman world.” 1
· Here again we have the suffrage of Mede and Bishop Newton.
The Fifth Seal. Chap. vi. 9. “And when he had opened the fifth seal, I 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 !”
The symbols of this seal, like the rest, we shall naturally suppose, are prophetical, and the purport of the prophecy clearly appears in the history of the times. Under Diocletian, as every reader will know, the most violent of all the persecutions that the church had yet endured broke out, and threatened, in the views of men, the utter extirpation of the Christian name. The ten years' persecution under Diocletian, therefore, history tells us, fulfilled the prophecy of this seal. This was the grand era of martyrs. But the language of the prophecy is important as it opens to us a scene in the invisible world, applicable to all that suffer for Christ's sake, and confess his name before men. The souls of the martyrs are seen beneath the altar: this declares their state to be that of those who are sanctified by the death of Christ, and obtain remission of sins through his blood.
We have no occasion to impute to these holy souls the sentiment of revenge, because of their cry for justice;
for the symbolical representation may be equally well deciphered as representing God's view of their state and injuries ; — “ The voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the ground.” The “ white robe” denotes the gift of that perfect purity in which they are to be presented before God; but they are bid to rest for a little while, till the number of their fellow sufferers is completed. This period of rest, I conceive, refers to their continuing in the departed state till the resurrection of the just. This will be but a little while in comparison of that "eternal weight of glory” that follows. And we have already learned, that it is at the resurrection, when Christ appears the second time, that the judgment of wicked persecutors is to take place, and the general judgment of this fourth empire. So that we perceive, what is said to these holy souls of the martyred saints, implies an answer to their prayer, – A little while you must rest, then you shall awake and see the vengeance of your blood, and of the blood of all your brethren, upon them that dwell on the earth.
The Sixth Seal.
The observations in the close of the former section must be borne in viei, in order to our understanding the meaning of the next seal, which is a prophecy of a somewhat different nature from the foregoing seals. Those seals were simple predictions of events to take place in the subsequent history of mankind, and were to receive, in those events, their ultimate and complete