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Babylon the Great.
throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell; and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath 5.”
The vision before us, which follows in the seventeenth chapter, contains the description of that strange form, as it would seem, of idolatry and corruption which had been represented thus under the mystic name of Babylon. “And there came,” says St. John, “one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying, Come hither; I will shew thee the judgment of the great harlot, that sitteth upon the many waters; with
; whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication?.” It cannot be necessary to remind those who are familiar with the language of Sacred Prophecy, that the term “fornication” and the character of an harlot, are used continually in the Old Testament to signify idolatrous corruption of worship, and forbidden intercourse with heathen kings and nations; and that judgments resembling those which are here described, are by the prophets denounced upon those empress cities of the ancient world from which the abominations of idol worship, and the pollutions which attended them, spread over the earth. Thus the prophet Nahum threatens woe upon Nineveh, the proud capital of the Assyrian empire, “ because Chap. xvi. 17–19.
7 Chap. xvii. 1, 2. επί των υδάτων των πολλών.
Comparison of language [LECT. of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts 8.” And still more closely parallel with the language in the vision before us, is that of the prophetic denunciations upon ancient Babylon, the prototype of her who is here described. “O thou that dwellest ' upon many waters',” is the appellation under which she is addressed in the prophecies of Jeremiah; in which it is said concerning her, “ Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that hath made all the earth drunken; the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad ?.” And “the many waters” on which, in the vision before us, the harlot is represented as sitting, we are to understand, as the angel expressly declares in the interpretation of the vision, to be “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
Pursuing the method, for none better can be adopted,—of applying to the illustration of Scripture-language similar expressions in other visions, we shall be reminded here of what was said in the vision of the thirteenth chapter, of the wild beast which ascended out of the sea, “having seven heads, and ten horns,” that “power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations 4.” And, as was then observed, the power delineated in that vision was thus identified the more closely with the wild beast spoken of in the former vision of the two witnesses, as ascending out of the abyss to make war
8 Nahum iii. 4.
9 Or “ sittest," as here v. 1. καθημένης.
1 Jer. li. 13.
2 Jer. li. 7.
365 against them and overcome them, while “ they of the people, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations 5” were to be partakers in the temporary triumph over those witnesses.
But the identity with the persecuting power described in those visions is still more clearly marked in the unfolding of the scene before us. “ So he carried me away,” says St. John, speaking of the Angel who had invited him to behold the visitation of judgment, “he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns 6.” The scene of the vision was laid in the wilderness; and this seems designed to recal to our recollection the vision of the twelfth chapter, where the wilderness? was the chosen place of refuge for the woman there described, the Church of God. It would appear, as has been well observed, to have been with the view of calling that description to mind, that the wilderness is made the scene of the present vision 8. We saw there how, in the very hiding place which had been given her from the face of the serpent, her relentless enemy still laboured to overwhelm her; and when “the earth helped ” her and protected her from the effects of his rage, “the devil was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christo.” It was further revealed, accordingly, how there rose up, from the waters of the great deep, a power, resistless and cruel, to whom the dragon Chap. xi. 9.
8 Woodhouse, Annot. p. 351.
. Chap. xii, 16, 17. ? Chap. xii. 14.
6 Ver. 3.
The mystic Babylon, [LECT. gave
“his power, and his seat, and great authority;" and another, its fellow-worker and minister, but disguising its true character under the garb of the very religion which it supplanted; having " horns like a lamb,” while it “spake as a dragon,” and bade
, them which dwell on the earth to make an image to the first beast, which whoso would not worship must be killed'. Such blending of craft and subtilty with violence and cruelty, such disguise of the worldly under the garb of the spiritual,—the transforming of Satan and his agents and ministers into angels of light,-might prepare us to find, as the masterpiece of his devices, that the very place where the object of his relentless persecution had found a refuge, should be made in after time the scene of his successful machinations; and a rival and counterfeit to the true Church of God be exhibited, wielding and controuling the earthly power which now, instead of ministering to her, was in very deed supporting her false rival and enemy. The woman here described is the very contrast of the former; not, like her, adorned with heavenly glory, the luminaries of heaven investing her with unearthly brightness ?, but borrowing all her ornament from things of earth and worldly pride. “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations and uncleanness of her fornication: and upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of harlots and abominations of the earth 3."
The word “ Mystery,” prefixed to the name of her
· Comp. chap. xii. 1.
3 Vy. 4, 5.
367 who is here thus depicted, would convey at once the idea that she was mystically, not literally, Babylon the Great;--and Babylon, indeed, the city of the Chaldees' dominion, had now long lain desolate. And the only other place in the New Testament, it is well worthy of remark, in which the name of Babylon occurs, is in the concluding salutation of St. Peter's first epistle`, where the early writers generally understood it as designating that which was the great city of earthly dominion at the time when St. Peter thus wrote,--the city of imperial Rome“. In later times, moreover, Romanists themselves have not been unwilling to adopt the same interpretation, as supplying an irrefragable argument in proof of St. Peter's residence in that city 6. But, indeed, we have no need to go beyond the chapter before us for a decisive mark of the identity of the woman here described with the city of Rome. For the concluding verse of the chapter stamps the interpretation so authoritatively as to place it, as it would seem, beyond the possibility of doubt :-“the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth ?." But it is
1 Pet. v. 13.
tolam ex Roma scriptam esse, 5 S. Hieron. in Esai. xlvii. quæ dicitur Babylon à Petro, 1. “Non ipsam Babylonem testis est Papias Apostolorum quidam sed Romanam urbem discipulus. ... Testis est etiam interpretantur, quæ in Apoca. Hieronymus in libro de viris lypsi et in Epistolâ Petri spiri- illust. in Marco, cujus hæc tualiter applicatur." Cf. Euseb. sunt verba : Petrus in epistola H. E. lib. ii. cap. 15.
prima sub nomine Babylonis . E.g. Bellarmine (de Rom. figuraliter Romam significans : Pontif. lib. ii. c. 2). “ Ac, ut a ‘Salutat,'inquit,&c. ... Eodem primo incipiamus, s. Petrum modo exponunt Ecumenius, Romæ aliquando fuisse osten- Beda, et quotquot in hanc episdimus primum ex testimonio tolam commentaria ediderunt." ipsius Petri, qui sic ait ad finem
7 Ver. 18. Cf. sup. pp. 68, prioris Epistolæ :
Epistolæ : “Salutat 69. vos,' &c. . . . Hanc enim epis