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Revelation 6

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

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Verses 1-2

Lecture 11

(Revelation 6:1-2)


Revelation 6:1-2. (Revised Text.) And I saw when the Lamb opened one from among the seven seals, and I heard one from among the four living ones, saying, as the voice of thunder, Go! [or, Come! The words, "and see," are doubtful, and generally rejected by critics.] And I saw, and, behold, a white horse; and he that sat on him having a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.

A new turn of the vision which John began to describe in the fourth chapter, now comes before us. The scene and actors are unchanged, but the manifestations all move earthward. The sealed book has been lifted out of the hand of the Sitter on the throne. It is in the possession of Him found worthy to take it, and able to break its seals. The universal thrill of exultation over the fact has subsided. Everything in the heavenly presence has become quiet with reverent expectancy. And the Lifter of the document now proceeds to destroy its seals. May God help us to a right comprehension of the mysterious transaction! Two things are to be considered,-



I. There are many who assume, that what is here treated of under the imagery of the opening of the seven seals, is the continuous fortune of the Christian Church and the Roman world, from the time of John's banishment, or soon thereafter, to the consummation of all things. By this class of interpreters, the opening of the seals was the opening of a prophetic roll, containing an outline of the triumphs of the Gospel, in connection with the great world-powers, down to the coming of Christ, and the introduction of the Millennial reign. That there is truth of some sort underlying this view, we may readily admit; but that it is exactly of the kind which the advocates of this theory usually describe, we may just as readily question.

The amazing pomp, solemnity, and universal demonstration, with which the opening of these seven seals is approached in the two preceding chapters, forbids the assumption, that nothing more is meant than the disclosure to the Church of a dim epitome of its earthly history. God does not employ so much parade, nor do all the angels and principalities of eternity become so profoundly enthusiastic, over the letting forth of a few scarcely traceable predictions, touching the earthly successes of the Gospel, the reigns of a few Roman Emperors, and the mere mundane fortunes of Christian confessors.

The several particulars in the preliminary description, also, prove that something transcendently higher is intended, than has transpired since the vision was seen, or that ever will transpire within the limits of the present dispensation. The Elders already have their crowns, the giving of which belongs to the resurrection period. (2 Timothy 4:8.) The throne comes to its place just at the moment in which John beholds it (Revelation 4:2), betokening a new administration other than that which had previously been. Christ appears as the Lamb, which is not the character of a Revelator; but it is the character of the predicted "Ruler of the land" about to take possession of the inheritance. (Isaiah 16:1.)[49] The question of worthiness and ability, presented a condition wholly unheard of in all the multiplied instances of the giving of sacred predictions. The bringing forward of the prayers of the saints, and the joyous utterances of the prophets, show that more is embraced than a laying open of the course of this world's history; for prayer and prophecy have quite another burden. The much weeping of John is rendered ridiculous, if referred to a feeling of disappointment at not being able to find out a little more prophecy. The universal and adoring gladness of all the angels, and all holy beings, can find no adequate justification in the mere disclosure to men of the occurrences cited by the historical school as the fulfilment of the seals, trumpets, and vials. The entire absence of any reading of what was written, either on the inside or on the outside of the book, or of any reference to anything supposed to be recorded in it, should lead us to question that the breaking of its seals had reference to the rehearsal of its contents. And the character of the manifestations, along with concurrent explanations, as seal after seal was broken; besides the numerous cross lights from other parts of Scripture; all combine to prove, that something else is signified than the history of the present dispensation.

[49] See footnote 48 in the comments for Revelation 5:1-14.

There is also a link of consecution, given in the record itself, which must not be overlooked. We hold it to be out of the question, in all just exegesis, to give an adequate explanation of the vision of the stars and candlesticks, including the seven Epistles, without making it span the entire earthly church state. The objections that have been urged to the contrary, are futile in the extreme, and can be made to weigh as heavily against any scheme of Apocalyptic interpretation, as against this. And if the scope of the first vision stretches to the period of the consummation, it is settled that everything relating to this book and its seals, refers above all, not to things which run parallel with the earthly church state, but to "the things which must take place after these things" (Revelation 4:1); that is, to another administration.

But, as the coming administration of power is to be the consummation of the present dispensation, and as all its wonderful actings of sovereignty and judgment move in the same line of God's providence with men and nations now; as a matter of course, an imperfect fulfilment through all the ages of the present order is also embraced. The resurrection of Christ and the distribution of the gifts of the Holy Ghost, was the germ of everything that is to be when the final consummation is complete. The preaching of the Gospel, and its struggles with the world-powers in this dispensation, is the embryo of everything to come. It is the justification of believers, and their anointing to eternal regency and priesthood; and it is the judgment of the world and of Satan, with prelibations of the doom that awaits them. Only, the thing is not yet consummated, actualized, and manifested. Nor will it be, in the present order, until Christ's coming with power, to enforce, by a new administration, what is now realized in part, but is still mainly prospective. Accordingly, the breaking of the seal of the sepulchre, the outpouring of spiritual power upon the apostles, the visitations upon antagonizing potencies, and all the victories of the Gospel in the course of the earthly church state, are really precursory fulfilments of the opening of these seven seals, and are in some sense included in them.

There is, then, a solid basis on which, within certain limitations, the views of the Preterist, who traces the events under the opening of the seals in the course of history since John's time, and the views of the Futurist, who refers them to the period of the judgment hereafter, may be harmonized, and both accepted, without either one impairing the distinctness or truthfulness of the other. The only prerequisite to the entertainment of both is, that the two should be homogeneous, and that the one fulfilment should be regarded as inchoate, and only a sort of preliminary and imperfect rehearsal or earnest of the other. Solid objections may certainly be urged against the doctrine of a double sense of Scripture; at any rate, against a double sense of such sort that one is of a wholly different nature from the other. But it is not to be doubted or denied, that many sacred prophecies have embraced events of the past, which nevertheless still travail with blessing, and await a further and completer fulfilment. Many of the Old Testament predictions of the coming of the Christ, if not the most of them, embraced at the same time, and without distinction, what was partially fufilled in his first coming, but is to be much more largely fulfilled at his second coming. Who can question that Haggai 2:6-7, has received some partial illustration in the first advent? Yet the Holy Ghost, in Hebrews 12:26, teaches us still to await its complete fulfilment. The inspired Peter informs us that the promise given, in Joel 2:28, has, in part, at least, been accomplished. (Acts 2:47.) And yet, surely, the word is big with blessed things for the future. Enoch's prophecy (Jude 1:14-15) may reasonably be supposed to have had some reference to the flood then impending, whilst its language yet directs us forward to the future coming of the Lord.

Bacon has well observed, that there is a "latitude which is agreeable unto Divine prophecies, being of the nature of the Author, with whom a thousand years are but as one day, and therefore they are not fulfilled punctually at once, but have springing and germinant accomplishments throughout many ages, though the height or fulness of them may refer to some one age."[50] And it is altogether reasonable, and accordant with the nature of the subject, to agree, that something of this sort is to be found in the instance before us, giving us precursively and imperfectly the same things through the course of centuries, which are to be finally and perfectly consummated in the new administrations which the period of the great judgment is to bring forth.

[50] Advancement of Learning, Book 2.

Without questioning, therefore, that these foreshowings embrace the general spirit and tenor of the Church's history in this world, or that an imperfect and germinant fulfilment of the opening of these seals may be traced through the events of the past, I must yet refer their height and fulness altogether to the future, and assign them their complete fulfilment only in that momentous section of time, which intervenes between the termination of the present order, and the full establishment of the everlasting kingdom and reign of Christ and his saints over all the earth. With a very able and eloquent preacher of the early part of this century, I take the opening of these seals as significant of the Lion-Lamb's entry, by successive stages, upon the right and possession of the earth, and his actings of judicial power and sovereignty whereby he asserts and enforces his claim and title as the victorious kinsman of our fallen race, to the end that all its territory, kingdoms, peoples, and tongues may thenceforward be manifestly and in fact his forever. In other words, it sets before us the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, in his relation to the world, and his administrations toward the nations, after his elect of the Church have been caught up from their trials and their graves to their heavenly thrones. It is the judicial proceeding of the Almighty Goel, to rid "the purchased possession" of the dynasties of wickedness, to cast out the rulers of the darkness of this world, to restore the earth to its proper fertility and peace, and to bring in the empire of righteousness and salvation.

The portion of the Apocalypse covered by these seven seals, includes everything between the fifth and twentieth chapters; the seventh seal taking in the seven trumpets, and the seventh trumpet, the seven last plagues, with the battle of the great day of God Almighty.

The period of time more directly covered by these seven seals, is that which lies between the assumption of the resurrected and translated saints of the first class, and the full instalment of the millennial order, when Satan is bound, the first resurrection completed, and the blessed and holy who have part in it reign with Christ as his kings and priests.

I have several times explained, that the first thing to be looked for in the great and marvellous transactions embraced in the consummation of all things, is the mysterious coming of the Lord Jesus to take those that wait and watch for him, with such of the dead as have fallen asleep in the same attitude. Good people are apt to be thinking of dying, and of being ready for death. But no true Christian has any right to count on dying. There is something that is more certain than death. There are some who will never die. Those who are alive and waiting for Christ when he comes, shall never taste of death. They shall be "taken" as Enoch was taken, as Elijah was taken, as Romanists allege that the Virgin Mary was taken, and as some say the Apostle John was taken. The words of Paul upon this point are too plain to be misunderstood. He says, "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout,... and we which are alive and remain shall be caught up... in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.) I have no idea that a very large portion of mankind, or even of the professing Church, will be thus taken. The first translation, if I may so speak, will embrace only the select few, who "watch and pray always" that they "may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." (Luke 21:36.) "In that night there shall be two in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left." (Luke 17:34; Luke 17:36.) The idea is that the great body of the Church even, will be "left." And this assumption of the saints to immortality, which may occur any of these passing days or nights, and certainly is to be devoutly awaited as very near, is the first signal act by which the great period of the consummation is to be introduced.

But it will not, of itself, materially change the ordinary course of earthly things. The world will still stand, with all its wicked populations, and its apostate churches. Indeed, then only will commence the time when evil shall rush unhindered to its highest bloom of daring and blasphemy. That which hindered, being taken away, "then shall that wicked be revealed,... whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10.)

What immediately follows the translation of the elect saints, has two aspects: one as it relates to things in heaven, the other as it relates to things on earth. What relates to heaven, we have had described to us in the sublime vision of the Throne, the Living ones, and the Elders. What relates to earth, is set forth under the opening of these seven seals.

The exact number of years covered by what is described under these seals, is not specifically given; unless, indeed, this should be the mystic seventieth week of Daniel, as generally supposed by the Fathers, and affirmed by many well-deserving modern interpreters. To the latter portion of this period, there is a specific duration assigned. A term of "forty and two months"-"a thousand two hundred and threescore days"-"a time, times, and half a time,"-that is, a period of three years and a half,-is several times mentioned; first, in reference to the treading down of the city by the Gentiles; second, in reference to the prophesying of the witnesses; third, in reference to the flight of the woman into the wilderness; and fourth, in reference to the beast's persecuting power. All these appear to be synchronous, and to fall very much, if not entirely, within the same period of time. And as the dominion of the beast ends with the battle of the great day, with which the action of the seals, trumpets, and vials sums up, we have only to date back from that consummation, to find at least three and a half years before the end, through which the opening of these seals is to run.

But it is quite manifest that this is not the entire period embraced. It is only under the seventh seal, and the sixth and seventh trumpets, that these three and a half years come in; showing that there must be a period preceding them, of not less than equal length for the foregoing six seals. And when we take into account how Daniel's seventieth week is divided, and that it is only the latter half of it that takes in those consummated impieties which mark the beast's reign, it is rendered almost certain, that three and a half years more are to be added before the last three and a half; thus making full seven years in all, as the space covered by these seals, and their included trumpets and vials.

Some have taken these numbers mystically, and so have made out a much longer period. But, I am persuaded, that no such elongation of these dates ever has had, or ever will have, an exact, or anything like a complete fulfilment. They are literal, not symbolic. And when we consider how intensely the number seven pervades this entire book, and connect its notes of time with those given in the book of Daniel, there appears to be sufficient reason to conclude, that just seven literal years are spanned by the transactions set forth under the opening of these seals; no less, and hardly any more.

An important feature of doctrine is thus brought out, well worthy of notice as we pass. It is this, that the day of judgment, like the day of the Lord, is not a day limited to twenty-four hours, as people often erroneously imagine. All the acts described under these seven seals, are acts of judgment. Every scene is a judgment scene. The throne is a judgment throne. The agencies are all messengers of judicial power. Their operations are all connected with judicial awards. The finished work presents Satan and his world-powers vanquished, the saints in resurrection glory on their thrones, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ forever. There is another and final judgment scene, at the end of the thousand years; but all the elements of that, and more, are found in what is described under these seals, trumpets, and vials. Indeed, that is only the finishing up of what is here so vigorously begun. The one gives us the morning, and the other the evening, of the great day of judgment viewed as a whole. The judgment is not one simple act, but a series of varied administrations, which do not reach all alike, nor all at the same time. It begins at the house of God, before it at all touches the world, except in a mere symptomatic way. And when it comes upon the present world-powers, it takes in many diverse and successive acts, running through the course of years, and finally concludes a thousand years afterward, by the consignment of Satan and all his seed to "the lake of fire," which is "the second death." (Revelation 20:14-15.)

We accordingly have in the events set out under the opening of these seals, the characteristics and leading facts of a grand transition period. A time of judgment is always a time of transition. It is the closing up of one order of things, and the opening of another. And this is eminently the nature of the transactions here described. They show us how the present world-powers, with their Satanic intermixtures, are to terminate, and the exact particulars by and through which another and better order is to be reached; one which is finally, by still another putting forth of judicial energy, to be resolved and settled into what shall be disturbed no more.

II. With these remarks touching the scope of these seals, we proceed to the particulars described.

The number of the seals is seven, indicative of the completeness of the administrations to which they refer. They are arranged in two distinct groups of four and three. It is the reverse of the order presented in the groupings of the seven Churches. There we had first three, and then four-perfection first and worldly deterioration afterwards. Here we have first four, and then three, intimating advance from worse to better, from earthiness to heavenliness.

The first four seals are mainly distinguished by the part which the four Living ones have in the proceedings, and the appearance of a horseman in connection with each. In all of them, the action goes out from heaven, and proceeds from the enthroned powers on high. The effect, however, is uniformly on earth, or on what relates to the earth. Some of the scenes are exceedingly disastrous and revolutionary. It would sometimes seem as if everything were falling into utter destruction. But, amid all the extraordinary and fearful shaking, upheaval, and commotion, in earth and sky, our planet still continues revolving in its place, and reappears from every scene, however terrible, neither depopulated of its generations, nor stripped of its proper investiture or elements. There is suffering, change, and an accumulation of awful and destructive prodigies; but there is no missing of our mundane orb, and no interruption to the succession of its seasons, or the continuity of the orders of being with which God has peopled it.

As soon as the first seal was broken, "one from among the four Living ones" spoke. Some have said that it was the lion; but it is not said which it was. Neither does it matter, as all four are equally concerned, and successively speak precisely the same thing.

It is, perhaps, worthy of note, that where the Living ones and Elders speak separately, there is this distinction between them: that when the subject concerns heaven, and matters of instruction, the Elders speak; and when it concerns earth, and the going forth of power, the Living ones speak.

The speaking in this case was as with "the voice of thunder." It is the tone of terror, majesty, and judgment, in keeping with the character of the throne, and the nature of the proceeding, which is that of judicial administration.

The cry itself is very brief--Ερχου! It may be equally rendered Go, or Come! Our translators give it about as often one way as the other. It does not alter the sense here whichever way we take it. It is not an address to John, as many have regarded it, and as the questionable addition to the text-"and see"-would seem to require. John was already on the spot, beholding all that was transpiring, and did not need to be called any nearer, or to remove any further off. And if his nearer approach or further departure had been needed in the case of the first horseman, it could not have been needed for the succeeding ones. But we find the same command repeated in each successive instance. Neither can we explain why it should be such a voice of thundering power, if it was simply a call to the seer. Critics agree that the words, "and see," should be omitted.

Nor is it a call addressed to Christ, as others have supposed. That the Saviour should come, or go forward with his grand redemptive administrations, may well be conceived to be the earnest desire of the Living ones in heaven, as it should be of the saints on earth, and as it is of the whole suffering creation. But the same cry is uttered in the case of the three succeeding horsemen, in neither of which is Christ the rider. The cry is also one of official command, rather than of supplication. The voice of thunder is not the voice of prayer. And, at the time of this cry, Christ is already present. The prayer for his coming is then not properly in place. The expression is really nothing more nor less than a bid of power, calling the several horsemen into action.

It is the teaching of Christ and his apostles, that "the saints shall judge the world"--"shall judge angels." (1 Corinthians 6:2-3.) They are to share in the administrations of power against the ungodly world, and against the hosts of the wicked one, both human and angelic. And here is where the fulfilment of that teaching, in part at least, comes in. These Living ones are glorified saints. They are connected with the throne of judgment. They express the mind, and enact the will of that throne. Much of its power toward the earth goes out through them. They are enactors of the judicial energy of Him who sits upon the throne. And it is in this capacity that they speak the word "Go!" And as they speak, so it is. As soon as it is uttered by them in heaven, it is already potent on earth. John hears the command above, and at once he sees it doing execution below.

What, then, does he see? Mere power is an abstract quality, and not a subject of sight. It must put on shape in order to be seen. Mere effects would not so well, so clearly, and in so summary a manner, display its character and movements. The significance of the command accordingly embodies itself in living forms. John beholds horses, with riders on them. They are not literal horsemen, but symbolic pictures, in which are shown the characteristics and doings of the invisible Goers, put into action through the Living ones. They are the powers of the Lion-Lamb, as the Almighty Lord and Judge of all, administered by glorified saints, exalted to participation in his sublime prerogatives. Judgment upon the world has commenced, and here are the symbols of its manifestation.

"And I saw, and, behold, a white horse; and he that sat on him having a bow; and a crown was given to hint; and he went forth conquering, and to conquer." It has been a common error, to regard this as a symbol of the success of a preached Gospel. The progress of the truth is indeed included, after the manner that I have explained; but history furnishes nothing which can be set down as the fulfilment of this prophetic picture. The Gospel, as now preached, is not, and in the present order of things never will be, triumphant. This is demonstrated in the seven Epistles, and is the common teaching of the Scriptures on the subject. A leading feature in its entire history is, that it is mostly rejected. It is universally preached "as a witness to all nations," but nations, as such, with all their patronage, have never received it, and have ever been the slayers of its witnesses. The description, again, is not one of progress merely, but of a primary sending forth. The Gospel, as now preached, was sent forth more than half a century before this vision. And the vision itself is prefaced with the statement, that it refers to what was to take place after the seven Churches, and hence after the time of the apostle. Neither is a victorious conqueror on a war-steed a fitting image of "the foolishness of preaching," or the work of beseeching men to be reconciled to God. A sower going forth to sow, or a peaceful ambassador, is the scriptural picture of the preacher. And it is quite out of the spirit and scope of the Apocalypse, to find here the patient and forbearing ministrations of grace, as we now have them. We must, therefore, look for some other meaning. Nor does it lie remote. We need not consult the Roman medals or Gibbon's pages, to find it. Scripture itself is always the best interpreter of Scripture, if we only let it tell its own story.

Who has not felt a check of awe upon his heart, when contemplating that magnificent description in the book of Job? "Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grass-hopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength. He goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting." (Job 39:19-25.) Put upon that animal now the rider of the text, crowned with sovereign power, and rushing forth to conquest unceasing; and say whether this is the sort of picture which represents a Gospel preacher, or the slow working of the message of grace among human hearts, the great mass of which, in every age, reject and despise it.

Zechariah says, "I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were red horses, speckled, and white. Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will show thee what these be. And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth." (Zechariah 1:8-11.) Were these the ministers of grace and evangelic overture? Were they not rather the powers of God's providence and government of the world? Hear further: "And I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came four chariots out from between two mountains; and the mountains were mountains of brass. In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses; and in the third chariot white horses; and in the fourth chariot grizzled and bay horses. Then I answered and said unto the angel that talked with me, What are these, my lord? And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the four Spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth." (Zechariah 6:8.) And when Elisha prayed that his servant's eyes might be opened to behold the mighty powers of God, by which he protects his people, and inflicts judgment upon their enemies, what did he see? Let the sacred word itself tell us: "And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha," and the hosts of Syria were smitten, and hurled back whence they came. (2 Kings 6:15-18.)

Is it difficult then to divine, what horses signify in connection with the Divine government and administrations? Is not the whole idea that of swift and irresistible power? What then are we to see in these horsemen, but earthly images of the swift, invisible, resistless power of God, going forth upon the proud, guilty, and unbelieving world? So far as the preaching of the Gospel is a potent war-power, and an agent of judicial visitation upon the wicked, so far it is included in this symbol of the white horse and his crowned and conquering rider, but no further. Roman Emperors are here quite out of the question.

There is something special, which I have not seen satisfactorily explained, touching the nature of the work accomplished by this first horseman. It is not war and bloodshed between man and man; for that is the work of the rider of the red horse. It is not famine and scarcity; for that is the work of the rider on the black horse. Neither is it pestilence and mortality; for that is the work of the rider on the pale or livid horse. What then is the character of the demonstration by which this crowned rider of the white horse pushes forward the conquest for the heavenly dominion? That it involves a demonstration of judgment, is an idea which we dare by no means let go. This is rooted in the whole spirit of the scene, and required by the tenor of the transactions along with which this horseman appears. What then was the specific form of judgment unto victory which is here adumbrated? It is a most interesting and important inquiry, and one which dare not be passed over without some adequate explanation.

Several peculiarities in the description may help us toward the true meaning. Of the four horsemen, only this one has "a crown." His conquests, therefore, are specifically conquests of the crown--achievements augmentative of heavenly dominion. The colour of the horse is "white"-the colour of righteousness, triumph, peace. The picture must then somehow link itself with something righteous and good, though associated with a judicial proceeding. The rider of this horse has "a bow." This is an instrument of war; but as no literal slaughter connects with this horseman, it cannot refer to the destruction of life, but to a moral effect. Similar imagery is used to denote conquest resulting in salvation. Habakkuk says, "Thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation. Thy bow was made quite naked, even thy word." (Revelation 3:8-9.) The disclosure and demonstration of the truth by judicial visitations of power, and its triumphant subjugation of those who would not yield to it until thus judicially "made quite naked," would be a legitimate and fitting conception to be associated with this part of the picture. The language employed concerning the career of this horseman, is also suggestive. He goes forth "conquering, and to conquer." There is an idea of continuity in the expression. It describes an ongoing of the work. It is not a past, or mere present success, but a continuous one, resulting, along with what else comes upon the scene, in complete and sovereign dominion. Is there, then, anything in the declarations of Holy Scripture, or justly inferable from them, touching the period of the judgment, which conforms at all to these intimations? There is; and it is strange that futurist interpreters have not been more impressed with it. "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isaiah 26:9.) "God shall shoot at them [that encourage themselves in an evil speech] with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded. And men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing." (Psalms 64:7-9.) "Thy people shall be willing," themselves presenting themselves as living sacrifices, "in the day of thy power." (Psalms 110:3.) These are all Messianic prophecies. They can be clearly identified as referring to the period of judgment. And they each affirm a mighty moral subjugation to the Lord, as the result of judicial administrations. Daniel also affirms of "the time of the end," that "many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand." (Daniel 12:8-10.) And after the unwatchful and evil servant shall have been surprised by the presence of his lord whom he thought still far away, and after he has been judicially cut off from partaking of the high privileges and rewards of the "faithful and wise servant," then the kingdom of heaven shall assume the character of ten virgins going forth with uniform zeal and activity to meet the Bridegroom. (Matthew 24:42-51; Matthew 25:1.) To locate the state of things represented in this parable, except where the Saviour himself puts it, namely, after the manifest and decisive judgment of the Church has commenced, is to miss more than half its significance. And that it shows a state of conviction, zeal, and general earnestness and anxiety touching the movements of the returning Christ, altogether different and more uniform than was ever witnessed before, no attentive observer can fail to note. It therefore proves to us, that the opening scenes of the judgment include revolutions in the religious views and feelings of men, subduing them into submission to the word and sovereignty of God in unexampled generality and power. To the same effect is the prophecy of Joel, where he connects the great outpouring of the Spirit of God, with the incoming of "the great and terrible day of the Lord." (Joel 2:28-32.) Paul also refers to the period of the future forthcoming of the Deliverer, as a period of the turning away of unrighteousness, and of favourable change in the convictions and moral condition of multitudes, so marked and vast as to be like "life from the dead." (Romans 11:15-26.) [51]

[51] "Prophecies foretell that even during an era of great judgments--in one of the very crises of the world's tribulations--the evangelization and salvation of mankind, so far from being arrested, shall proceed and triumph. 'For when thy judgments are in the earth,' saith the prophet Isaiah, 'then the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness;'--thy heaviest inflictions will subserve thy purposes of mercy in the salvation of mankind."--The Great Commission, by J. Harris, D.D., p. 131.

And whence indeed are we to derive that "multitude which no man could number," described in Revelation 7:9-17, if not in part at least from among the living population of the earth after the crowned elders and the living ones have been taken? They are specifically described as persons who "come out of the great tribulation." And as they are said to have "washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,"--remedied the deficiency which kept them out of the first translation,--it is legitimate and reasonable to refer this wonderful cleansing to a new impulse which the incoming of that tribulation imparted to the minds and hearts of people who had been so unsanctified in their surroundings before. Bickersteth has properly said, "The return of our Lord Jesus Christ will be accompanied by unprecedented effusions of the Divine Spirit, and this with such enlarged knowledge, that judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness in the fruitful field." The wicked will persevere in their perverseness, but understanding shall come to multitudes who would not be instructed till enlightened by the Spirit of judgment, which for ever cuts them off from the first dignities of the kingdom.

We are therefore authorized to expect, that when the great transactions of the coming judgment begin, and the Lord lays bare the literal truthfulness of his word by the marvellous demonstrations then to be made, there will be a conquering of the hearts of men to the sovereignty of Heaven, such as has never been.

Nay, if there be any truth in the doctrine of successive translations of the saints,-a doctrine so necessary to a consistent and satisfactory construction of a great variety of passages,--it is plainly to be foreseen, that great and mighty changes for the better must ensue, wherever there is any moral susceptibility left. The simultaneous disappearance from the churches of so many watching and praying ones, the demonstration thus given of the reality of all these things, and the certain excision of all the rest from the first honours of the kingdom, must needs have an effect upon those that are "left," which none but the hopelessly hardened can fail to feel in their deepest souls. Their eyes will open then, as they never were opened before. Quite naked to them then, will have become God's bow, even his Word. Gone then, will be all their spiritualizing and rationalizing with which they so long and sadly deluded themselves. At one stroke the whole Bible will have become to them a new book, and prophecy an unmistakable reality. And to all shall be added the certainty, not only that they have forever missed the high honours which once were within their reach, but that a few brief years of terror and tribulation, furnish their last hope and chance of being saved at all. How then can it be otherwise, but that there will be a breaking down of hearts in penitence, and a stirring up of souls to religious activity, and an earnestness of seeking unto the Lord ere his eternal judgments go over them, such as has never been in all the period of time!

And this is the sort of conquest and triumph which is set forth by the white horse, and his crowned rider, going forth conquering, and to conquer. It is the bloodless conquest of men to God, by the potencies of a present judgment. It is the first great effective symptom that the earth and its inhabitants are about to become our God's and his Christ's. It is a conquest of Judgment. It is the result of the laying bare of God's word and power by a judicial wound, cutting off from the exalted blessedness to which the Gospel now calls. It is the fruit of a proceeding, not in the line of humble entreaty, but in the line of penal infliction, driving home with resistless demonstration the awakening truth, that the first honours are clean gone, and that stern necessity has come for speedy and thorough work ere the last chariot of salvation shall have gone by forever. It is the knock of Christ at the door of the Church of the lukewarm Laodiceans-the sharp knock of terrifying judgment-in which he makes his last proposal to them, even of so much as to share of his supper.

Let us then learn the truth, and profit by it while we may, that this easy halfway Christianity will not avail. God requires something decisive, earnest, and hearty;--a religion which truly renounces the devil and all his works, the vanities of the world, and the sinful desires of the flesh;--a devotion which puts upon us a difference from the world, and marks us in heart and life as citizens of a heavenly country, only sojourning here;-a sanctification of our earthly investments, as well as an inward looking to Christ to save us. After such a religion let us seek, and such a faith let us endeavour to exemplify; denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, and living soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

Verses 3-8

Lecture 12

(Revelation 6:3-8)


Revelation 6:3-8. (Revised Text.) And when he opened the second seal, I heard the second living one saying, Go! And there went forth another, a red horse; and to him that sat on him-to him was given to take away peace out of the earth, and that [men] shall slay one another: and there was given to him a great sword.

And when he opened the third seal, I heard the third living one saying, Go! And I saw and behold a black horse, and he that sat on him having a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard as if a voice in the midst of the four living ones, saying, A measure [chœnix] of wheat for a penny [denarius], and three measures [chœnixes] of barley for a penny [denarius]; and the oil and the wine injure thou not.

And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard [the] voice of the fourth living one saying, Go! And I saw, and behold a pale-green horse, and he that sat on him [was] named Death, and Hades was following with him, and there was given to them power over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with famine, and with, pestilence, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

It must be borne in mind, in dealing with these seal-openings, that we are dealing with the scenes of the judgment. They relate to "the day of the Lord." Anticipatory fulfilments have occurred, but the proper breaking of these seals, and whatever is connected with their opening, belongs to the future, and to that momentous period, now at hand, which is to close up the entire order of things now existing. The whole scene presents the action of the judgment-throne in heaven, toward those then living upon the earth.

There is an important distinction, noted in the Scriptures, and in all the creeds, between the judgment of "the quick" and the judgment of "the dead." The common idea is, that all men, those that have died, and those who are found living at the time, shall be judged alike, and in one and the same great congregation. It is conceived that the dead will all be simultaneously resurrected, and all the living simultaneously changed, and that only then the judgment will sit for the adjudication of the eternal destiny of each. Painters and poets have outdone themselves in their efforts to portray the overwhelming majesty and terror of so grand and universal an assize. But it is not according to the plain letter of the Scriptures, or of the creed of the Church. If the day of judgment is ever to come, it must find people living upon the earth, who are described as "the quick." They must, therefore, either be judged in the flesh, while still living in their natural life, or they must meet with some miraculous transformation equivalent to the resurrection, by which they lose the distinctive character of "quick." Such a change before the judgment, has also been accepted and affirmed concerning all who shall be living when the day of judgment comes. Thus, Bellarmin teaches, that the breaking in of that day will instantaneously end the natural life of all the living; that they will all be suddenly struck dead, and by the same stroke transformed into precisely the same state in which the resurrected shall be; and that then all distinction between "quick and dead" will have entirely and forever disappeared. And, if we take the doctrine of the simultaneous judgment of all men, we are necessitated to accept some such explanation. But then what becomes of the judgment of "the quick," as distinguished from the judgment of "the dead?" There is, in that case, no such judgment. All natural life in the flesh being ended and overpast before any judicial awards are made, the judgment becomes only a judgment of the dead, or rather of immortals; for there are no subjects of it except those who have ceased from the natural life, and passed into the post-resurrection state. The distinction made by the Scriptures and the creeds, between the judgment of "the quick" and the judgment of "the dead," is thus turned into a distinction without a difference-a mere matter of words, signifying nothing in particular. But the phraseology of Jesus and his inspired apostles, so uniformly employed wherever the subject is touched, is not thus to be slurred over, and stripped of its proper and natural signification. If words have any meaning, "quick" does not mean "dead," and "dead" does not mean "quick;" and the judgment of the one cannot, therefore, be the judgment of the other. Two distinct classes are unmistakably intended, not only as to that state in which the day of judgment finds them, but also as to that state in which the day of judgment deals with them. If the natural life of "the quick" ends before they are judged, then theirs is not a judgment of the quick any more than of the dead, and one part of the sacred description utterly falls away. We must, therefore, allow a judgment which respects men still living their natural life in the flesh, the awards of which they receive, and have visited upon them in their distinctive character as "quick."

And even as respects the judgment of "the dead," there lurks in the popular idea a mischievous and confusing error. People take the resurrection as a mere preliminary of the judgment, and view the judgment itself as something distinct from the resurrection, and coming after it. The language of the last trump they conceive to be: "Awake, ye dead, and come to judgment." They consider that the dead are to be awakened for the purpose of being judged. It is also true, that not all the awards of the judgment are made or go into effect till after the resurrection; but the resurrection is itself a part of the judgment. The resurrection of the wicked is certainly something different from the resurrection of the saints. It is different both in character and in time. The one is a resurrection "in glory," and the other is a resurrection of "shame and everlasting contempt." The one is "adoption, the redemption of the body," and the other is "the resurrection of condemnation." The one is a "change of our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body," and the other is a mere reversal of the state of death, with all the corrupt fruits of the sowing to the flesh still clinging to him who is the subject of it. (Galatians 6:7-8.) The one is the peculiar privilege of the elect, of those who are Christ's, who rise at Christ's coming, and live and reign with him the thousand years; the other is subsequent--εἰτα--afterwards,--and embraces "the rest of the dead" who live not again until the thousand years are finished. (1 Corinthians 15:23-24; Revelation 20:4-5.) These distinctions are very plainly drawn, and embrace the very highest things of our faith. Nothing that comes after the realization of them can add anything not already substantially included. The estate and destiny on both sides is thus effectually and irreversibly settled in advance. We accordingly would have the anomaly of the chief work and result of the judgment accomplished and concluded, before the judgment itself sits! The truth is, that the resurrection, and the changes which pass "in the twinkling of an eye" upon the living, are themselves the fruits and embodiments of antecedent judgment. They are the consequences of adjudications then already made. Strictly speaking, men are neither raised nor translated, in order to come to judgment. Resurrections and translations are products of judgment previously passed, upon the dead as dead, and upon the quick as quick. "The dead in Christ shall rise first," because they are already adjudged to be in Christ; and the living saints are caught up together with them to the clouds, because they are already adjudged to be saints, and worthy to attain that world. And the rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years are finished, and the rest of "the quick" are "left," by virtue of judicial decisions already had, and of which these things are the results. Whatever, in the line of increased blessedness or enhanced damnation, may come after, is only the further carrying into effect of what was already predecided, before there could be either resurrection or translation. And what so irreversibly fixes the estates of the persons concerned, must necessarily, in the very nature of things, be their judgment. The judgment is not a sham formality, or a solemn farce; it is something real; and the substance of it is the award to every man according to his works. And when we see these awards in potent effect in the very life which the dead live again, it is absurd to be thinking of the judgment as only a grand assize to which resurrection and cessation of natural life are only preliminary. And if the true judgment thus precedes, or is already embodied in, the resurrection and translation, it must necessarily take hold of the dead as dead, and the living as living. The language which the Scriptures and the creeds so carefully preserve, is thus found to possess a literal accuracy and depth too generally overlooked. We profess to believe that Christ "shall come to judge the quick and the dead." He does not come first to raise "the dead," and then to judge them, but he judges them as dead, that they may rise in their appointed lot, and share the resurrection of the just. He does not first come to change "the quick" in order to judge them; but to judge and discriminate between them while yet living, in order that those accounted worthy may be "changed," and caught up together with the resurrected ones, and that those adjudged unworthy of so high a portion may be cut off from it, and made to suffer still other inflictions in this world. And it is to these judicial dealings with people "left," and living in the flesh, that the action under these horses refers.

I have shown that horses, in prophetic vision, are images of God's swift, invisible, resistless power for the defence of his people, especially in its going forth upon the proud, guilty, and unbelieving world. It was so in the case of those seen by Elisha's servant, and in the case of those mentioned by Zechariah.

In these four different horses and horsemen, we are to see four different forms of the coming forth of the judicial power of God upon the inhabitants of the earth, looking to the breaking up of the dominion of wickedness, the punishment and casting out of transgression, and the consummation of that long-pending revolution whose accomplishment is at once the fulfilment of all prophecy and all prayer.

We are not to suppose, however, that the action of one ceases entirely, before the other comes into play. They are consecutive in their incoming, in the main stress of them, and in some of their more marked circumstances, but they are all, in a measure, contemporaneous. The action of the first horseman certainly is continuous; for he goes forth in conquest unto conquest, which terminates only in the complete victory in which the opening of the seals ends. His career, therefore, runs on through that of his three successors, and through all the remaining seals. No such intense continuity is expressed with reference to the action of the other horsemen; and the nature of their work is such as not likely to extend itself so far. But there is an inner and natural relationship between the things adumbrated, which renders it quite evident that their several careers overlap each other, and that the doings of the one run side by side with the doings of the other.

We have seen that the white horse, and his crowned rider, and bloodless conquests, indicate mighty moral victories for the heavenly Kingdom, wrought by the spirit of judgment. When God's judgments are in the earth, then will the inhabitants thereof learn righteousness. People shall be made willing in the day of His power.

But John beheld a second horse, called into action in like manner as the first,-"a red horse; and to him that sat on him, was given to take away peace out of the earth, and that [men] shall slay one another: and there was given to him a great sword."

The colour of this horse is red-fiery-the hue of blood. This itself is indicative of vengeance and slaughter. The great dragon is "red," and he is "a murderer from the beginning." The mighty Hero of Salvation, travailing in the greatness of his strength, and crushing his enemies beneath his feet, is "red" in his apparel, emblematic of bis work of violent destruction. Nor can we be mistaken in regarding this horse and his rider as significant of bloody times. His work is specifically described to be the taking of peace out of the earth. A great and terrible weapon is also put into his hand; not the ordinary sword of war (ρομψαία), but (μαχαιρα μεγαλη) a great sword of one having the power of life and death. And the result of his presence is war, much taking of life by public executions, and mutual killing among men.

The picture is particularly terrific. It presents not only disturbance of the relation of nations, the rising of nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; but internecine collisions, civil wars, the murderous hate of one portion of citizens exercised against another portion, and bloody commotions all over the face of society, having no issue but wretchedness and depopulation. It is the rampage of human passion raging to all forms of bloodshed, and the authorities of state in vain drawing the sword to put it down.

A small specimen of this state of things was enacted in the days of Asa, when Israel had been "a long season without the true God, and without a teaching priest, and without law;" in which times "there was no peace to him that went out, nor to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries. And nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city; for God did vex them with all adversity." (2 Chronicles 15:3; 2 Chronicles 15:5.) Another small specimen of the same was realized in those times of which Josephus writes, when "the disorders in all Syria were terrible, and every city was divided into two armies, encamped one against another, and the preservation of the one party was the destruction of the other: so the daytime was spent in the shedding of blood, and the night in fear." And again, when, as he writes, There were besides disorders and civil wars in every city: and all those that were quiet from the Romans turned their hands one against another. There was also a bitter contest between those that were fond of war, and those that were desirous of peace. At first, this quarrelsome temper caught hold of private families, who could not agree among themselves: after which, those people that were the dearest to one another, broke through all restraints with regard to each other, and every one associated with those of his own opinion, and begun already to stand in opposition to one another, so that seditions arose everywhere, while those that were for innovations, and were desirous of war, by their youth and boldness, were too hard for the aged and the prudent; and in the first place, all the people of every place betook themselves to rapine: after which they got together in bodies, in order to rob the people of the country, insomuch that for barbarity and iniquity, those of the same nation did no way differ from the Romans; nay, it seemed a much lighter thing to be ruined by the Romans than by themselves."

Fancy a world which has no peace in it--no concord but that of lawless and selfish passion--no regard for life when it stands in the way of covetousness or ambition--no amity between its nationalities, or internal harmony and toleration between citizens of the same city or state--but every man's sword is against his fellow, and every one's hand rises up against the hand of his neighbour, and international slaughter, civil butchery, and private revenge and murder are the order of the day,--and you have what the earth will be under the judgment power of this red horse and his rider. Of old, already, Jehovah threatened to bring a sword to avenge the quarrel of the covenant; and to "call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth." (Jeremiah 25:29.) And in this horseman, with his great sword taking peace from the earth, and desolating the world with violence and bloodshed, we have the final fulfilment of that threat. Nor need any one be at a loss to see how everything is already tending to just such a condition of society and the world.

But the breaking of the third seal starts another horse--"a black horse"--at whose appearance the seer is moved to exclamation: "And I saw, and, behold, a black horse, and he that sat on him having a pair of balances in his hand."

More feeling is expressed at the appearance of this power, because a more general and unmanageable plague is the subject of contemplation. Long ago did Jeremiah say: "They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger; for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field." (Lamentations 4:9.) Black is the colour of dearth and famine. When Jeremiah contemplated Judah and his gates "black unto the ground," it was a picture "concerning the dearth." (Jeremiah 14:1-2.) The same prophet says: "Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine." (Lamentations 5:10.) It is the hue of mourning; and the rest of the description identifies it as mourning by reason of scarcity.

The rider of this black horse carries a pair of balances in his hand. There is close and careful weighing: and the things weighed are the common articles of food. John also "heard as if a voice in the midst of the four Living ones, saying: A chœnix of wheat for a denarius, and three chœnixes of barley for a denarius." When things are plentiful, exact weight or measure is not regarded. The Spirit, as given to Christ, was given without measure. So, also, in Joseph's gathering of corn, and in David's gathering of copper for the temple. And when corn is abundant, it is sold by gross measure, and no attention is paid to a few hundred grains, one way or the other. But when it becomes high in price and scarce, then it is strictly weighed, and every ounce is taken into account. And, in numerous places in Scripture, the weighing out of the bread to be eaten, is given as one of the marks of great scarcity and want. (Leviticus 26:20; Ezekiel 4:10; Ezekiel 4:16.)

But the picture is further shown to be one of scarcity, by the prices of provisions which John heard declared. People do not generally suppose that God has much to do with price-lists. They go up and down, and millions higgle over them every day, but no one thinks of anything Divine connected with them. But whether men realize it or not, price-lists are made in heaven. John hears the rates of corn and bread announced by the same heavenly powers by which these mystic horses are called into action. Whatever the weather, the crops, the quantities of money in the country, the extent of speculation in the market, or other subordinate causes may have to do with it, the prime and all-controlling cause is the decree of the throne. It is God, from whom we have our daily bread, and it is by His will that it is plentiful and cheap, or scarce and costly.

The prices here given, are judgment prices, indicative of extreme scarcity and distress. A chœnix is about a pint and a half of our measure, and is the ordinary allowance of wheat to a man for one day's scanty subsistence. A denarius was the ordinary wages for a full day's labour. And when a chœnix of wheat costs a denarius, it is as much as a man can do to earn the bread he himself consumes, leaving nothing for his family or for his other wants.

But even at these ruinous rates, there is not wheat enough. People have to betake themselves to barley-the food of horses and beasts of burden. Yet the barley is as difficult of procurement as the wheat. In ordinary times, a denarius would buy twenty-four chœnixes of barley; but here a denarius will buy but three-the scanty allowance for a day's subsistence for a slave. The arrival of things at such a pass, accordingly argues a severity of hard times, distress, and want, almost beyond the power of imagination to depict. Yet, it is but the natural result of the state of things under the red horse. The two are closely connected as cause and effect. Take away peace from the earth, and inaugurate universal wars, civil strifes, and bloody feuds, and terrible scarcity of the means of subsistence must follow.

One mitigation attends this fearful judgment. The command to the invisible messenger is, "The oil and the wine injure thou not." These would naturally be less affected by the diversion of the population from their proper business to their bloody work, than those crops which depend more upon human efforts. Olive trees and vines, when once established, will grow and produce year after year without much attention; but not wheat and barley. Yet these also depend upon God, and grow and produce only by his command. And it is by his special order that their fruitfulness is preserved in the midst of this reigning scarcity of other things. And it is a matter of grace, that the minister of vengeance is so far restrained.

But the very reservation also reflects the intensity of the famine as respects the ordinary means of subsistence. It carries with it the intimation that, but for the preservation of the oil and wine, it would be impossible for men to find sufficient food on which to keep themselves alive. Nay, though a thing of mercy as regards men's lives, it also bears with it a moral aggravation of the affliction. It is everywhere set forth as one of the characteristics of the last times, that people shall be given to luxurious habits, and inordinate appetency for superfluities of diet. "Eating and drinking," and every extreme of carnal indulgence, is then to mark their modes of life. The staple food of mankind is despised, and every expensive luxury is impatiently pursued. Hence, God shuts them in to their luxuries, partly in mitigation of judgment, but at the same time also in aggravation of it. Just as Israel, lusting after flesh, and no longer satisfied with the bread Jehovah provided, was compelled to live on flesh until it became almost impossible for the people to swallow it (Numbers 11:19-20); so God in judgment takes away what men despise, and forces them to live on luxuries made loathsome because there is nothing else, that they may learn the folly of their wisdom, and taste the fearfulness of their guilty hallucination.

But while all this is being experienced, a fourth seal is broken, and out comes another horse, and horseman, still more terrible. This is the last, and the climax of this particular series of terrific images. The first horse is pure white, mighty, but bloodless in his career; the second is fiery red, blood-coloured, and revengeful; the third is black, mournful, gloom-shaded; and when we would think everything dreadful in colour exhausted, another breaks upon the view, more terrible than any that have gone before. A pale, death-green, and cadaverous horse appears. Χλωρος, translated pale, denotes a leprous colour. (Leviticus 13:49; Leviticus 14:37.) It properly means green, and is several times so translated in the Apocalypse and elsewhere. (Revelation 8:7; Revelation 9:4; Mark 6:39.) There are instances of its use in the classics to denote the wan and deathly expression of the face when overwhelmed with fright or faintness. When applied as here, it can only mean a greenish ghastliness, something like the colour of a corpse or putrefying flesh. It describes this last horse as unspeakably more horrible than either of the others.

But his rider and attendants intensify the awfulness of the picture. That rider is Death, and Hades follows with him. There is also given to them power over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, and by means of the wild beasts of the earth. The preceding pictures continue, and repeat themselves in this, but with increased intensity and still other additions. The rider of the red horse is War, destroying peace and exciting all manner of strife and bloodshed. The rider of the black horse is Famine, taking away the staff of bread and oppressing the world with terrible scarcity. And the rider of this ghastly-coloured horse carries on the work of his predecessors to still more horrible excesses, and matures their fruits in death-plague and depredations of the animal tribes. The several forms of affliction advance from the lesser to the greater, and one naturally grows out of the other. General war and bloody strife becomes the occasion of famine; and famine brings pestilence; and their combined depopulation of the earth encourages the increase and ferocious instincts of wild beasts, and the multiplication of noxious creatures. God does not work miracles where none are needed; and evils are all so closely related, that it is only necessary to start one, to bring down the whole train. A state of general war and bloody civil strife is terrible enough, but when to it is added scarcity, black hunger, desolating pestilence, and the ravages of depredacious animals-when, as in this instance. Death takes the reins, and the living world is overrun by the legions of the dead-then comes "the great and terrible day of the Lord."

Death is not a being, but the fruit of a power, which operates through many different agencies. It is here personified and represented under the picture of some mighty Caesar, mounted, and riding forth in fearful triumph.

Hades is not a being; it is the grave--the dark region of the dead--the realm which remorselessly swallows up all the living. It is here personified under the image of some great voracious monster, stalking after the rider on the ghastly horse, indicating that whither this horseman comes, Hades comes, and the world of the dead takes the place of the world of the living.

The means by which these awful desolations are wrought, are God's "four sore judgments,-the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence to cut off man and beast." (Ezekiel 14:21.) These are the most dreadful plagues with which God usually chastises men. They are not reserved exclusively for the last periods of time. We can trace them under Roman emperors, but also before there were Roman emperors, and since Roman emperors have ceased to be. But the height and fulness of them falls within the period to which these seals relate.

The true sample, as it was in some sort the beginning of the tribulation set forth under these horses, was given in what befell the Jews in the last period of their state. War was there in all its fearfulness. Commotion and strife distracted and distressed the whole land. Wholesale butchery was the order of the day. Whole cities were turned into mere graves, full of dead. Millions of men, women, children, fell by the sword, famine, exposure, fright, and other forms of death. Shut in at last to their holy city by the tight cordon of Rome's legions, the soul sickens over the recitals of the sufferings, oppressions, cruelties, and living death which settled down upon the doomed people. Perishing by houses and families every day, the dead became too numerous for the living to bury; and the wretchedness was so great that men, and even mothers, forgot their sympathies. Affection died; all regard for the rights of one another died; and the glorious city of David and Solomon was turned into a tomb under the prancings of the ghastly horse, whose rider is Death, whose attendant is Hell, and who is yet to dash through the world and trample it in like manner under his dreadful hoofs.

We are not to infer, however, that there is to be an utter extirpation and extinction of the race of mankind under these visitations. Only "the fourth part of the earth "is put under this fourth horseman's sway. There are also other seals to be broken, and other judgment scenes to be enacted, of which men in the flesh, nations and earthly confederations are largely the subjects. We have thus far only the first acts in the terrible drama. We have been contemplating merely the beginning of sorrows, which multiply and grow in fearfulness till the last seal is broken, the last trumpet sounded, and the last bowl of wrath emptied. Other and worse impieties are to come, and still more awful displays of Almighty vengeance upon the enactors of them. The greatest masterpiece of hell yet awaits full development, and the greatest thunders of God's judgment remain for its wreck, and the final ruin of its unsanctified abettors.

I know not, my friends, what degree of credit or thought you may give to these things; but, as Paul told the assembly on Mars' Hill, so I tell you, that "God hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world [the living world of mankind] in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." (Acts 17:31.) You may shrink back and exclaim as Balaam did:

"Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! "Like Balaam you may also turn away from it to pursue the wages of unrighteousness. But, I beseech you to beware, lest you procure for yourselves a Balaam's end. The picture may be dark, and awful beyond what you are willing to contemplate; but it must be filled out in the real world some day, as certainly as God's word is true.

Neither has it been so graphically sketched without a purpose. The Almighty intends that we should look at it, that we should be premonished by the contemplation of it, and that it should have effect upon our hearts and lives. He would have us see and know to what this vain, proud, and guilty world is coming, that we may separate ourselves from it, and secure a better portion. And with all the universal agony in which its presumptuous dominion shall expire, there is this to be added by way of comfort, that there is no necessity that any of us should ever feel it. A way of escape exists. As there was an ark for Noah when the world was drowned, and a Pella for the saints when Jerusalem sunk under God's resentment for the murder of His Son, so there is a place of safety provided for us, where we may view these horsemen, as unharmed by their fearful doings, as was the apostolic seer himself. It was of this the Psalmist sung, when he said: "In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me." (Psalms 27:5)

Nor is the grave this hiding-place. Should these scenes begin tonight, the refuge is as available and as availing as if they should tarry yet a thousand years. God's pavilion is above the clouds, not under the ground. Not hades, but heaven, is the true centre of the aspirations of the saints. And as Isaiah beheld these desolating judgments about to sweep the earth, he heard a voice of sweetness going before them, saying: "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." (Isaiah 26:20.) That voice comes from heaven. It is none other than the loving Saviour's voice. It is a voice addressed to his true people. It is a voice which calls them to where he is. Hence the same prophet adds: "They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles." (Isaiah 40:31.)

Hence the apostle still more plainly declares: "We which are alive and remain shall be caught up... in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:17.) Hence also that admiring song of David: "Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues." (Psalms 31:19-20.) And the direction of the apostle is, that we "comfort one another with these words." (1 Thessalonians 4:18.)

The only question is, as to how we stand in relation to the Lamb who breaks these seals. Do we accept and rely on him as our hope and salvation? Are we trusting to his meritorious sacrifice as the satisfaction for our guilt, and to his victorious exaltation to the right hand of the Father, as compassing everything needful to make us forever safe? Have we truly taken him as our Lord, confessed ourselves to his Gospel, and given our hearts and our all to his service? Are we making it the great business of our lives to "watch and pray always," and to keep ourselves in fellowship with him, patiently waiting upon him as our all-sufficient portion? Oh, blessed, blessed, is that servant who, when his Lord cometh, shall be found so doing! He is safe. His judgment is passed. No dregs of wrath remain for him to drink. Christ will not leave him to suffer with hypocrites and unbelievers. And while these storms of woe are desolating the earth, he shall be rejoicing in a heavenly crown. Yea, and I would be recreant to my commission as a minister of Christ, if I did not declare the Master's readiness this hour to receive and seal every one of you against all dangers of the great day of wrath. Indeed, these pictures of coming woe have been given to awaken us from our false security, to quicken us in the search for the refuge set before us, and to bring us to unreserved consecration to the Lord our Redeemer. Only fall in with his offers, and "salvation will God appoint for walls and for bulwarks." (Isaiah 26:1.) Cleave unto him, and to his unfailing promises, and "ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty one of Israel." (Isaiah 30:29.) Rest in Jesus, and do his commandments, and the place which he has gone to prepare is yours; and before his wrath breaks forth upon the guilty world, he will come again, and receive you to himself, that where he is, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3.)

You have read in the Scriptures of the superior favours of "the wise," in relation to the day of judgment. The wise virgins went in with the Bridegroom when the door was shut against their foolish companions. Solomon wrote: "The wise shall inherit glory." But an essential part of that blessed wisdom is, to "observe these things"--to understand this, to consider what the end shall be. "A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself." To close our eyes and ears against these foreshowings of God, or to delay earnest and energetic effort in view of their speedy fulfilment, is not wisdom. There must be the wakeful, observant, far-seeing eagle eye, if there is to be a timely and triumphant eagle flight. And if we would "escape all these things that shall come to pass," and find a place of safety in the presence of the Son of man, we must learn to realize that the day of these fearful visitations is approaching, and that we have no time to lose, and no opportunities to be neglected. "The voice of free grace cries escape to the mountain;" but it is a voice which we have occasion to heed with solemn care and prompt obedience. "For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which, at the first, began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs, and wonders, and divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" (Hebrews 2:2-4.)

Verses 9-11

Lecture 13

(Revelation 6:9-11)


Revelation 6:9-11. (Revised Text.) And when he opened the fifth seal I saw beneath the altar the souls of those that had been slain on account of the word of God, and on account of the testimony which they held fast: and they cried with a great voice, saying: Until when, thou Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood from them that dwell on the earth? And there was given to each of them a white robe, and it was said to them that they should rest yet a little time, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, shall have been completed, who are about to be slain as also they themselves [had been].

It is hardly worth while to occupy attention with the diverse and contradictory interpretations that have been given of this. seal. Though all are more or less intermingled with some truth, the principles upon which the Apocalypse is to be construed, and which have been followed in this exposition, lead us, with directness and certainty, to conclusions which brush away, as only so much rubbish, the most that has been written on the subject.

Professor Stuart takes this fifth seal as a mere artistic prelude to certain very simple results. He refers to Nelson's address to his squadrons, on the eve of the engagement which yielded England her greatest naval victory, as an illustration, in real life, of what he supposes John to be attempting in poetic fancy, as a preparation for the victorious conclusion; only that the hosts here are imaginary, and their inspiration, by the cry of the slaughtered saints, merely a lively poetic conception.

But if the array is mere poetry, we would naturally suppose that the vengeance and the victory are ideal also; and so the whole Apocalypse is turned into artistic fiction; which is about all it is in the hands of this writer. With him it is a book everywhere full of wondrously grand beginnings, exordiums, and proemial marshallings of poetic images; but when he reduces the results to literal and solid prose, what crowds John's twenty-two eventful chapters, might be more clearly stated in twenty-two well-written lines. The least to be said of such exposition is, the less of it the better.

According to an older commentator, "the scope of this seal is not prophetically to point out new events, and to relate to a particular time." But this is exactly the opposite of the truth. If the text means anything, "new events" are just what it is intended prophetically to point out, and "a particular time" is precisely that to which it does relate. As certainly as the Apocalypse is the book of the consummation of God's providence with this present world, and as certainly as the action under these seven seals is the action of judgment upon faithless Christians, usurpers, and rebels, just so certainly does this fifth seal refer to a particular stage and phase in these judicial transactions, and to a class of events which only then come to their full development. As the throne is a judgment throne, and the whole administration proceeding from it is an administration of judgment, every seal that is broken must lay open a phase of judgment, in one direction or another. All the seals, thus far, have been judgment seals; and the two that follow are judgment seals; capable of being identified, as such, from the nature of the events attending them. The symmetry of the whole would therefore be interrupted, and an unaccountable break made in the distinctly connected series, if this fifth in the list were to be taken in any other acceptation. The four horsemen are judgment powers. The earthquake, and the terrific commotions in earth and sky, under the sixth seal, are directly linked with the presence of judgment. The seventh seal, with its seven trumpets and seven last plagues, is nothing but judgment from beginning to end. And whatever peculiarities may attend the breaking of the particular seal now before us, it can be nothing other than judgment also.

The manifestations under the breaking of this seal differ, in some respects, from the four preceding. There is here no expression from the Living ones. There are no horsemen or horses. And the burden of the description is exhibited in the results rather than in the processes. Still, everything turns out as belonging to the same general category of trial and suffering. Under the first seal we have the picture of moral conquest, by means of the arrow of truth, sped by the power of sorrowful judgment. Under the second, we have war, disorder, strife, and bloodshed. Under the third, we have famine and distressing scarcity. Under the fourth, we have the combined fruit of all these,-pestilence, death-plague, and the living world largely overrun with the regions of the dead. And, under this fifth seal, we have added, bloody persecution of those who hold and testify to the truth. The entire population of the earth, at that period, being alike rejected from the company of those accounted worthy to escape these evil times, is alike made to feel the stripes of judgment. The good as well as the bad suffer the hour of trial. And though there shall be multitudes then brought to the knowledge of the truth, they will all be such as had failed to improve their more favourable opportunities in the preceding days of Divine long-suffering and forbearance; and hence, by way of judgment for their previous folly, their piety, at this late hour, becomes a thing of sore cost. Having been unbelieving, worldly-minded, and hypocritical, when they might have walked with God without serious risk, they now find the way of salvation judicially become a way of torture and of death. Evil and depravity will hold the sovereignty and power in this world unto the last. And it would be strange if the bad passions, which then are to reach their most aggravated intensity, should not also develop particular violence in the direction from which the Church, in every age, has suffered more or less.

Hence, this fifth seal is the picture of Persecution and Martyrdom. As soon as it was opened, John saw souls of people "slain on account of the word of God, and on account of the testimony which they held fast." It sets before us the solemn fact, that people who will not give their hearts to God now, when once these judgment times set in, if they ever get to heaven at all, will be compelled to go there through fire and blood.

There are no voices of command from heaven under this seal, and no messengers despatched from the throne; for the reason, that bloody persecutions of God's servants come from beneath-not from above. It is the devil who is the murderer from the beginning, and by him, and his seed, has all martyr-blood been made to flow that ever has flowed or ever will. It is the Dragon that makes war with the saints. Celestial powers are concerned in it no further than to permit the malignant butchery. It is not flashed forth from the sky, like the calamities with which the wicked and rebellious are overwhelmed; but it is left to develop itself from Satan's reign and domination in the hearts of his children, unmoved by any direct agency from heaven. The Living ones do not say, Go! for they are neither directly nor indirectly concerned in bringing suffering upon God's servants for their fidelity to the truth. No horses dash out upon the scene, because no Divine powers are employed in martyring the saints. The entire earthly part of the proceeding enacts itself by the powers already in sway among depraved mortals, and John beholds only the results. The seal opens, and the invisible world has a vast accession of souls of martyrs, slain on account of the word of God, and on account of the testimony which they held fast. They are not the martyrs of the past ages, for those, by this time, already have their crowns, and are seated on their heavenly thrones, and are with Christ in glorified form, as we saw in Revelation 4:1-11 and Revelation 5:1-14. These are, therefore, martyrs of this particular period-martyrs who suffer the great tribulation which all preceding saints and martyrs escape-martyrs of the judgment times, who lose their lives for their faithful testimony during the sharp and troublous era in which God's judgments are in the earth.

In treating of them more particularly, we may notice:






It is an old maxim: Non est mors, sed causa mortis qua facit martyr em. "It is not death, but the cause in which death is incurred, which constitutes a martyr." Millions upon millions perish under the preceding seals, but they are not therefore martyrs. The cause for which the persons mentioned here were slain, constitute them true martyrs. They "had been slain on account of the word of God, and on account of the testimony which they held fast." However sceptical, rationalistic, or unbelieving they may have been previous to the setting in of the judgment, the occurrences under the first four seals had quite cured them of their erroneous thinking and indifference. What they once held only in the coldness of mere speculative faith, or received only with much subtle refining, and rasping down to a materialistic philosophy, or disbelieved altogether, they had now learned, to their sorrow, to have been the literal and infallible word of God. The Bible they now read with new eyes, and received and obeyed with a new heart. Its literal teachings they now were brought to understand, appreciate, live, and proclaim as the unmistakable Revelation of the Lord God Almighty. There will still be plenty of unbelief, scepticism, and utter rejection of the Scriptures; and the dominant spirit of the times will be the spirit of rebellion against the Lord, and of contempt for his word. But that spirit will now have been quite cast out of the persons brought to view in this vision. Having learned to deny themselves, to crucify their self-seeking, to cease from their confidence in their own fancies, and to accept, live, and testify to the true will and word of God, they will have come to be genuine servants of the Most High. And this is one of the procuring causes of the world's hatred of them, and wish to have them put out of the way.

But there is something more special entering into the cause of their martyrdom. In addition to their close adherence to the Divine word, and as one of the most marked fruits of it, there was a particular "testimony which they held fast;" and on account of which, more directly, the world could not abide them. Many have regarded their whole testimony as nothing different from the common testimony of good and faithful men in every age. John says that he "was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ;" and the testimony of these martyrs is considered to be the same for which John was banished. But the phraseology is not the same, and seems to indicate something personal to these martyrs themselves. It was not the testimony of Jesus in general; but "τὴν μαρτυρίαν--that testimony, which they held fast"--some particular testimony specially in question in their times, and specially obnoxious to the then reigning spirit. And when we consider the character of the period in which they were called to testify; what it was that had operated to bring them into this attitude of zeal for the Divine word; what would naturally be uppermost in a mind enlightened as to the times on which they had fallen, and what would be most offensive to an unbeliever in those times, we can be at no loss to have suggested to us what the particular character of that testimony was. It was necessarily a testimony touching the judgment already begun; a testimony which interpreted all the plagues, disorders, and horrors around them, as the veritable inflictions of the Almighty, now risen up to pay off all the long-accumulating arrearages of his wrath upon transgressors; a testimony that the true elect had already been received up into glory, and that, in a few short years more, the whole mystery of God should be finished, and all his enemies cast down to irretrievable perdition; a testimony that swift and utter destruction now impended over all the governments, fabrics, powers, and hopes of this world; that the fires were then already burning which should never more be extinguished or repressed till everything of this world, and all its devotees, should be consumed from root to leaf; that Christ, the angry Judge, was then present in the clouds, ready to be revealed in all the terrors of his consuming power; that the day of grace was in its last darkening twilight of departure, after which nothing should remain but everlasting discomfiture and death; a testimony that the world was then already trembling in the agonies of its dissolution, and that the last hope of salvation was flickering in its socket, ready to expire.

In a modified degree, this is ever the testimony of the true people and ministers of God; but, at such a time, and in such surroundings as these martyrs testified, there would needs be an intensity, a certainty, and a pressing urgency in their convictions and utterances, such as had never before appeared. People who had been cool, complacent, and philosophic in their religion before, will then have been awakened to a state of warmth, and earnestness, and excitement, and zeal, a thousandfold more irrepressible and energetic than what they had previously regarded as sheer fanaticism, and piety run mad. Oh, there will be fervour then, and outspoken testifying for God then, and warnings with tears and entreaties then, and striking expositions of the prophecies then, and appeals and outpourings from the men of God more thrilling than the cries of Jonah in the streets of Nineveh! It will be more than the hardened hearts of scorning unbelievers can bear. And because of being besieged and pressed by the resistless arguments and fervency which then shall be brought to bear upon them, they will seize the witnesses of the truth, and punish them, and resort to all sorts of murderous violence, to silence them, and put them out of the world. Thus, then, because their days of indifference toward the Divine predictions have passed away, and because they now are faithful in standing to the truth as to what God has said, and as to what times they have fallen upon, and because they will no more keep silence touching the awful perdition about to break forth upon the guilty world, they are massacred and slain.


They are "souls"-disembodied souls-souls in that state which ensues as the result of corporeal death.

Their slaying, then, is not the end of them. It is not the total interruption of their being in all respects. It makes them invisible to men in the flesh, in the natural state; but it does not hinder their living on as souls, or their being visible to heavenly eyes, or to the eyes of John in his supernatural and prophetic exaltation. The holy Apocalyptist tells us that he "saw" them, although they "had been slain;" and heard them speaking with loud voices, though their material tongues had been burnt to ashes, and their corporeal organs of speech had been stiffened in death.

It is altogether a wrong interpretation of the Scriptures which represents the dead in a state of non-existence, unconsciousness, or oblivion. I am not among those who think that "they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished," either forever, or for a limited time. There is such a thing as an intermediate state between death and the resurrection; but it is not a state of utter dilapidation and cessation of being. It is an abnormal and unsatisfactory state, far below what is to be gained by the resurrection; but it is not a state of vacancy and nothingness. However strongly the ruinous character and evil of death may be stated in some Old Testament passages, there are others in the Scriptures which, by all just and fair exegesis, prove and demonstrate that mental and psychical life continues under it, and continues in wakeful consciousness. And if any one has doubts upon this point, let him candidly consult and determine the positive meaning of the following texts:

Matthew 10:28 : "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." The argument from this text is plain, unanswerable, and conclusive. If the soul dies, or goes into oblivion, when the body dies, then he that kills the body would, with the same stroke, kill the soul too. But our Saviour tells us that those who kill the body cannot kill the soul. And if it be said that this is meant only of the utter destruction of the soul, God having promised a resurrection to life again, then our Saviour might as well have denied that it is in the power of man to kill the body, because God certainly will raise it again at the last day. But our blessed Lord grants that the body may be killed by man, in the same sense wherein he denies that the soul can be; and therefore he is not speaking with reference to the resurrection at all. There is, then, a life which the death of the body cannot touch.[52]

[52] The attempts of Whately, McCausland, and Courteney to answer this argument, are really mere evasions; and there is nothing in all the literature on the subject that at all meets it.

Luke 20:38 : "He [the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] is not the God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him." So far as the righteous are concerned, we are here assured that, although they "sleep in Jesus," as regards the body, and are "absent from the body," as regards the soul, they still;" all live unto God." This the Saviour quotes from the Old Testament, where "Moses calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; for He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto Him." The argument assumed is, that a negation of existence dissolves all covenant relations. God cannot be called the God of beings who no longer exist, or the continuity of whose existence has been interrupted by a blank. Whatever else He may be, it is no property of His to be a God of nonentities. "He is not a God of the dead, but of the living." But Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead, and had been dead for centuries; and yet He proclaims Himself "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." The conclusion is thus deduced by the Saviour, that though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead, as to their bodies, they were still, in some sense, living unto God.

Very pertinent, also, was this argument to the question of the resurrection, in support of which it was produced. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, being still alive unto God, though corporeally dead, God's covenant with them still held-held because both parties were still in being; and because it still held, the promises which it included had yet to be fulfilled, which could only be in the resurrected state. In this text we accordingly have existence and life predicated of the righteous dead, and that existence and life put forward as the basis of the continued validity of the covenant, which covenant necessitates a resurrection, that its promises may not fail. And though this passage specifically refers to but one class of the dead, yet, by disproving the non-existence, and establishing the continued life of departed believers, it overthrows the doctrine of the oblivion of the dead in the abstract, and fastens very strong unlikelihood upon its truth in any case.

Luke 16:19-31 : the case of the rich man and Lazarus. In this startling parable, if parable such an unveiling of the invisible world may be called (it is not called a parable in the Scriptures), we have not only principles on which to argue the non-oblivion of the dead, but literal instances and illustrations of the continued life and consciousness of departed souls of both classes-good and bad. That the scene of this narrative is laid in the state immediately succeeding death, and anterior to the resurrection, is indisputable. Hades is to be destroyed at the final resurrection; and it is not in Hades that the wicked are to have their ultimate portion. That is the Abyss, the lake of fire, the second death. (See Revelation 20:14.) But this rich man was in Hades--"in Hades (εν τω ἄδῃ) he lifted up his eyes, and seeth Abraham and Lazarus." And at the very time he is suffering in Hades, he still has relatives living in the flesh, whom he wishes to have warned, that they may not encounter similar sufferings. "He said, I pray thee, therefore, father, that thou wouldst send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment." Either, then, there will be probation after the general judgment, and godless men living in the flesh upon the earth after the wicked are adjudged to their final punishment, or this picture must relate to the state intermediate between death and the resurrection. The first alternative is as unscriptural as it is absurd. The latter, then, must be the fact, and the whole scene necessarily fixes itself to the period immediately succeeding the death of the body. All the terms and relations of the narrative require this location of it. The received belief of the orthodox Jews was such that they could not otherwise understand it. And there is no show of right to accept the picture in any other relation.

Taking it, then, as we are in reason bound to take it, we have it settled, by Christ himself, that wicked souls have a life and consciousness which death does not interrupt, and that there is still a form of being for both good and bad between death and the resurrection.[53]

[53] Whately and Courteney think that the torturing "flames" spoken of, argue the presence of the body, and so the craved water and the parched tongue. But it is assuming too much to affirm of the soul in Hades, that it is altogether disrobed of sensitive and vehicular clothing-that it is a mere thought-principle, a substance without parts, extension, or circumspection--a mere nobody. Such is not our doctrine, nor that of the Scriptures. Man is a trinity. The apostle assigns to his composition a body, a soul, and a spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:23.) There is such a thing as the "dividing asunder of soul and spirit" (Hebrews 4:12), but there is nothing to show that death can do this, or that anything of the sort occurs at death. And why may not the soul serve to give the mental principle a locality and a sensibility to outward impressions in the state after death, somewhat as the body serves the soul in this life? Besides, as the world in which the scene is depicted is spiritual, which the whole narrative assumes, what right have we to condition its flames by the laws which apply only in the natural world? The torments which the rich man suffered were, of course, of a sort answering to the character of the world in which he felt them, and of a nature to take effect on the sort of existence in which the scene is laid. Leaving the earth, the flames are no longer to be considered flames of earthly fire, or the thirst as earthly thirst, or the water desired as earthly water, or the pain as earthly pain. All is of a class with the new state and character of things. It is not figurative, as some have been willing to claim, but neither is it corporeal, as these men would assume. And if it were, we have no proof that material fire can affect a resurrected body any more than a disembodied soul. It is precisely of the nature of Hades, and of the nature of man's form of being in Hades, that all this is affirmed. So the narrative alleges, and in no other way is it allowable to argue with reference to these flames or sufferings. At any rate, Hades is specifically indicated as the place and state, and the lifetime of his "five brethren" in the flesh is noted as the time, in which these conscious pains and anxieties were experienced by this godless deceased worldling. Hence, if Christ is to be accepted as authority, wicked souls are alive and conscious between death and the resurrection.

Luke 23:43 : "Verily I say unto you, To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise." Language more clear and precise, as to the life and conscious happiness of a saved soul immediately after death, cannot be framed. All that Psychopannychists have been able to do with it on their theory, is, to say that the case of the penitent thief is so "peculiar," that we cannot infer from it what will be the lot of other men. But it concerned the dying Christ as well as the dying thief; and He certainly died as deep a death as any of His saints. And as both died that day, so they both went that day, and before the resurrection of either, into Paradise. Be that Paradise what it may, Christ and the thief were not yet in it while they lived on their crosses, and yet were in it before the day ended, and while their bodies yet hung upon those stakes. It was not a state of non-existence or oblivion, for it was the subject of consoling hope and promise, and the declaration embraced the idea of conscious presence and fellowship with each other, on reaching the blessed place. Being is affirmed--ἔση, thou shalt be. Communion is affirmed--μετ’ εμου, with me. Conscious happiness is affirmed--έν τω παραδείσα in Paradise. Time is specified, not the time of the resurrection, or after a long and indefinite period of nothingness, but σημερον, this day--the very day they hung side by side on Calvary, and before the setting of the sun then sinking beyond the sea.[54]

[54] Some have proposed to change the punctuation of the passage, so as to make the σημερον refer to the time of the utterance of the promise, and not to the time of its fulfilment. But whence the reason for so solemnly asserting that he said it that day, when it was evident that he was speaking it that day, and not on some other day? Well has Dean Alford observed:

"This attempt, considering that it not only violates common sense, but destroys the force of the Lord's promise, is surely something worse than silly." And every interpretation of these words which cuts out of them the recognition of the conscious life and blessedness of righteous souls between death and the resurrection, so far as we have seen, does but put an equivoke in those holy lips, otherwise as guileless as the heavens.

The case of Paul (Philippians 1:2) is also in point. If ever son of Adam lived a noble life on earth, it was this great apostle. To him to live was an unspeakable blessing to the Church, and to himself a zeal, and joy, and divinest fellowship with the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ. To him to live was Christ. And yet he adds, "To me to die is gain,"-gain even upon such a life. "Then, surely," as William Arthur puts it, "it was not to enter into nothingness, and to continue in nothingness while the world stands. From the life of an apostle to a state of torpor, is progress, not from glory to glory, but from glory to death-not gain, but blank and benumbing loss. Though his life here had many burdens, Paul proclaimed its joys to all; yet he had a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. He does not mean that the resurrection life is better, for it would not be delayed a day by his staying to profit the churches here, nor hastened by his departing. The better state he had in view is manifestly one which is postponed while he remains in the body, but which will open so soon as he goes hence. Is it, then, better to be nothing than to be an apostle? to miss days and years, than to improve them? to be as inanimate as water spilled upon the ground, than to be communing with God and serving man? Had Paul expected that, in departing, he would become inanimate, surely he would have regarded each moment added to his holy labours, not as a delay of a far better life, but as so much golden time rescued from emptiness. Who can reconcile to his heart the notion of Christ's great ambassador desiring to depart and be a blank? And, at last, that great soul stands on life's extremest verge, crying, 'I have finished my course.' A moment, and it is gone! And what now is it in its new dwelling? A dark and vacant thing, mere emptiness?" Then nothingness is gain on apostolic usefulness, and communion with God! Then to fie in oblivious death, is better than to hope, and pray, and praise, and live Christ Himself! Who can believe it for a moment!

Consider also the experiences of dying believers, and the consciousness which they sometimes manifest in their last moments, of the presence of a world which they, then, for the first time, see, and among the bright dwellers in which they feel themselves going to take their places as earth "recedes and disappears." Shall we say that these visions of a new-dawning life, and bliss, and conscious fellowship, is all hallucination, the mere fantasies of an outgoing being, the delusions of the holy soul bidding farewell to the universe and God, until the archangel's trump shall sound? Shall we draw the black line through all these cherished testimonies of those saints of God who have gone from us, and account them all meaningless, eccentric sparks of scattering existence, as it sinks to dark oblivion? Believe it who wishes; I have not so learned Christ, or the portion of His saints.[55]

[55] Refer also to 1 Peter 3:19-20, which, grammatically and literally interpreted, proves not only the conscious activity of Christ's own soul, in the interval between his death and resurrection, but also the consciousness of those human spirits to whom he went and preached in the unseen world. Consider, too, the facts and doctrines concerning demons, and the desires of these beings to be incorporated with living bodily organisms, and the laws and scriptural prohibitions of necromancy and communion with the souls of the dead. Was this all superstition? And did God legislate against intercourse with nonentities.

Nor ought it to be necessary for any one to go beyond the text itself, to be assured of the fact, that the death of the body is not the death of the soul. These martyrs were "slain," and yet John sees and hears them in living and speaking sensibility between their death and their resurrection. It will not answer to say that the whole thing is only a vision. It was a vision of the reality-a miraculous view, in advance of the facts, indeed, but of the facts themselves, as they are actually to transpire. The slaying of these martyrs was, likewise, nothing but a vision; but no one thinks of assuming that no literal martyrdom is in contemplation. Why then suppose that the asserted continuation of their soul-life, after their corporeal death, is not to be understood as equally a matter of literal reality? When an author gives us a thing as a matter of fact, that has occurred in his own experience, we must either accept what he says as true, or impeach his credibility or his competency. And when John tells us that he saw and heard "the souls of those that had been slain," either he is not to be believed, or he saw what had no manner of existence, or the souls of dead saints do live, and act, and speak, in a state of separation from the body.

John saw the souls of these martyrs "beneath the altar." Many regard this as "simply symbolical;" but I am not clear that it is so to be taken. No earthly altar is meant, for none such existed at the time of the vision, or shall exist at the time of its fulfilment; at any rate, none acknowledged of God. Nor is it exactly a material altar, as we are conversant with material things. It is something heavenly, and partaking of the same heavenly and spiritual nature of the scene out of which all these proceedings issue, and from which they are contemplated. There is a heavenly Temple, and everything that related to the earthly one, was patterned after the celestial one. There is a "true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man," of which that which Moses built was the material picture and copy. (Hebrews 8:1-5; Hebrews 9:21-24.) And this altar pertains to that heavenly sanctuary whence the "pattern" of the earthly was taken. It was at the altar of burnt-offerings that all bloody sacrifices were made. Under it there was a deep excavation in the solid rock, into which the blood of the slain victims was poured. The law commanded the officiating priest to "pour all the blood of the bullock at the bottom of the altar of the burnt-offering, which is at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation." (Leviticus 4:7.) The ancient arrangement for the reception of this blood is still visible. I have myself stood in the opening, under the rock, on which the altar had its place, and stamped my foot upon the marble slab which closes the mouth of the vast receptacle, and satisfied myself, from the detonations, that the excavated space is very deep and large. And as the life of the animal was in its blood, this vast subterranean cavity was, naturally enough, regarded as the receptacle of the lives of the victims which there were slain. The Mahommedans, to this day, as I was told on the spot, regard it as the place where spirits are detained until the day of judgment. They call it The well of spirits. It is in the centre of the Mosque of Omar, whose interior had, for ages, been most rigidly guarded from the visits or eyes of any but Moslems, but, by firman from the government, can now be seen. And as the deep cavern under the earthly altar was the appointed receptacle of the lives of the animal sacrifices, so the souls of God's witnesses, who fall in His service, are received into a corresponding receptacle beneath the heavenly altar.

Some describe that altar as Christ, under whose protection and shade the souls of the martyrs axe preserved, free from all perils and evils, till their recall, in renewed bodies, by the resurrection. It denotes a near and holy relation to God; a place of sacred rest under the protection of Christ and His sacrifice, and a state of blessedness, to which, however, higher stages are to come. The idea of sacrifice also pervades the language of Scripture in general, respecting eminent devotion in the Divine service, especially when life is jeoparded or lost in consequence of it. Hence our bodies are to be offered a willing sacrifice unto the Lord. Hence Paul spoke of bis sufferings for Christ, and of his approaching martyrdom, as an offering in the sacrificial sense. All martyrs are contemplated as sacrifices to God. And as sacrifices to the heavenly altar, their souls pass into the sacred receptacle beneath that altar. It is precisely the place where we would most naturally expect them to be, and where they are most sacredly kept, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.[56]

[56] "The souls of Martyrs repose in peace under the Altar, and cherish a spirit of patience (patientiam pascunt) until others are admitted to fill up their company of glory."--Tertullian, Scorpiace, c. 12.

"The souls of the departed go to the place assigned them by God, and there abide until the Resurrection, when they will be reunited with their bodies; and then the saints, both in soul and body, will come into the presence of God."--Irenoeus, Grabe, v. 31.


It is not a mere metaphorical cry, like that of the blood of Abel from the ground; but a literal cry of visible and conscious existences-an articulate cry, the voice of which is heard, and the utterances of which are in literal words. "Until when, Thou Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood from them that dwell on the earth?" It appears, from this, that their murderers are then still living. Consequently these crying ones are a specific class of martyrs, who had then very recently been slain. It is another item to fix the vision to this particular time.

The cry is addressed to the throne. It is not a vindictive cry, although it looks to the avenging of their blood. If the whole scene did not relate to the judgment period, it would be difficult to avoid attaching the idea of intense vindictiveness to this utterance. Such a cry would be out of season, except in this place. But it is the time of judgment. The judgment throne is set. The judgment proceedings have commenced. The years have come in which God had long ago promised that the principles of His righteous government should be enforced, to the recompense of His people, the vindication of their wrongs, and the overthrow of evil. They had every assurance that such was the Divine intention, and that this was the period for its fulfilment. They could not, therefore, understand why there should be delay. The thing had begun, why was it not at once carried to its consummation? They had sacrificed their lives to this particular testimony, and everything had appeared to them in the very article of the long-predicted fulfilment; how was it, then, that it now tarried? Even the titles by which they address the Lord, show that this was the feeling and spirit of their inquiry. It was not so much impatience that their blood was not avenged, as their perplexity about the hesitation which seemed to retard the ongoing of what they knew had commenced. They do not address Christ as the Saviour, but as ὁ Δεσπότης--the centre of irresistible power already in force-the holy and true Despot, now on His judicial throne. Their hearts are set, as they were in life, on the glorious consummation begun before they were slain. They had died for their testimony that the time for that consummation had come. And as it still delayed, and could only be realized in the visitation of vengeance upon the wicked hosts who had murdered them, they cry to the great and holy Avenger, to know why it tarried, and how long the suspense was to last. It was an utterance from the world of disembodied saints, somewhat akin, in feeling and meaning, to that which John the Baptist sent from his prison to the Saviour. (Matthew 11:2-10.) It shows us that the intermediate state is still an imperfect state, and that the proper hope of saints is connected with the resurrection of the body. Bede has remarked upon this passage, that "those souls which offered themselves a living sacrifice to God, pray eternally for His coming to judgment; not from any vindictive feeling against their enemies, but in a spirit of zeal and love for God's glory and justice, and for the coming of that day, when sin, which is rebellion against Him, will be destroyed, and their own bodies raised."


Jehovah does not disdain to lend an ear to the cry of His faithful servants. He is concerned for their rest, comfort, and right information, even while they lie disembodied beneath His altar. The prayers of His people are always precious before Him, and their peace He will ever consult. He heard the appeal of His slain ones, and came to minister to their souls the requisite comfort. Living or dead, if we are faithful to God and His word, we shall not want any merciful grace and help appropriate to us. The Lord remembers us in our sufferings and trials on earth, and He will not fail to come to us under the altar, to comfort and establish us concerning His purposes and ways. He will not forget or disregard us when dead, any more than when living; and our necessities, apart from the body, are as graciously cared for as those in the flesh. Indeed, His promises overspan every possible contingency of our existence, in the body or out of the body, in time or in eternity. His word to us is, that He will never leave nor forsake us.

"There was given to each of them a white robe." Can lifeless shades and non-existences receive white robes? Can spilled blood, dead and absorbed in the earth, wear the livery of heaven? Yet these souls of slain ones received each the celestial stola, even while their resurrection delayed. And that stola was the symbol of their justification--the Divine assurance of the truth and acceptableness of their testimony-the cheering token from the throne that they were approved, and precious, and near to their Lord, and blessed with his favour, notwithstanding that what they hoped and testified was still deferred. White robes, in such connections, are always the emblems of Divine approval and blessed relationship with God. And the giving of them to these zealous and anxious souls under the altar, was the cheering proof of their preciousness in the Master's sight.

"And it was said to them"--... Mark; how could dead ashes hear and understand? Where was the use and meaning of speaking promises to unconscious dust, which knows not anything? Where is the sense or intelligibility of such a converse, if no living and wakeful beings are concerned? God does not speak his comforts and promises to nothings. And yet it was said to these souls of martyrs, in advance of their resurrection, "that they should rest yet a little time." This implies that they had been resting, and that their state was one of blessed repose and quiet, though imperfect. The dead in the Lord are not wandering, melancholy ghosts. They are experiencing the meaning of that sweetest word of our language--rest. And over their ashes, at least, we may confidently sing:

Happy the dead! they peacefully rest them,
From burdens that galled, from cares that oppressed them;
From the yoke of the world, and from tyranny,
The grave, the grave hath set them free,

The grave hath set them free.

But, after this rest, comes a brighter day, and a sublimer station. "Yet a little time," these slain ones are told, and then that day will come. The reason for the delay is also explained to them. Their number is not yet full, and the world is not yet quite ripe for its doom. Hence it was said to them, "that they should rest yet a little time, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, shall have been completed, who are about to be slain, as also they themselves [had been]." John is made to hear these words, because they are a prophecy for the Church on earth, as well as an explanation to the souls waiting in heaven. They tell of continued persecution and bloody sufferings for God's witnesses among men. Many good people are wont to think the days for killing men, on account of their religious principles, have long since passed, never to return. They flatter themselves that the world has become too enlightened, too humane, too civilized, too much pervaded with a reasonable and forbearing spirit, ever to repeat such scenes as were enacted by Pagan rule, or in the dark ages of Christendom. But they are entirely mistaken. We may think the world has changed, but it still has that ancient murderer for its god and prince, and its malignity towards the Lord's people, especially when they come to be sifted out from their present adulterous intimacy with the world, will again head up into an intensity to which there has been no parallel in the past. This fifth seal is a revelation of nothing but slaughter for the saints, as regards this world, and the times to which it relates. It shows us slaughtered saints in heaven, and tells of the slaughter of many more. And elsewhere, in this book, we are advised of coming times, when an idol shall be the object of the world's adoration, and as many as will not worship it shall be killed. (Revelation 13:15.)

This might seem to be but poor consolation to these resting souls; and yet, a real consolation it was. It assured them that they were not alone in the sufferings they had experienced; that theirs was but the common lot of all faithful ones in those trying times; that, though they were dead, the cause in which they died still had representatives, who would stand to it unto death, as they had done; and that, though the consummation was delayed yet for a little while, their sufferings were over, and there was a flood of sorrow still to deluge the earth from which they now were free.

But, above all, was the assurance, pervading and implied in each particular, that what they had hoped and testified, was presently to be accomplished. Those white robes were the earnest of a sublimer life. Their martyrdom for their steadfast maintenance of the truth, was duly remembered, and, in a little while, should be fully requited to them, and to the godless hosts who had inflicted it. Their blood was not long to remain unavenged from them that dwell on the earth. The years of waiting and of suffering were now on the margin of their close. Yet a little time, and the consummation should be complete. Yet a little while, and the wicked should not be: yea, they should diligently consider his place, and it should not be. The thrones were already set; the work was really in progress; the time of the end had verily come; and, after a short space more, they would be able to say: "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree; yet he passed away, and lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." (Psalms 37:35-36.)

Striking and impressive is the fact here brought to view, that that which the saints of all ages have been "looking for," and which has been their "blessed hope" in every time of earthly trial and adversity, even "the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13-14), is also the chief comfort and stay of the pious dead in their heavenly rest. "Until when, Thou Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood from them that dwell on the earth?" is the cry which they utter "with a great voice" from beneath the altar. They rest, but their desire for the end still rises, and glows, and pleads. And the chief element of the consolation which they receive is, that that consummation cometh.

And if the holy martyrs, in their white robes under the heavenly altar, make so much of it, and find their chief comfort in the contemplation of its nearness, how unreasonable and unjust that we should be accounted enthusiasts and fanatics, for pointing to it as our hope and joy amid these earthly tribulations? Why should it be branded as lunacy, when we wish and pray, with departed saints, that sin's long war against the majesty of heaven were over-that the rending strife of spiritual evil, which has so long torn God's world, should come to an end-that the vast train of wrongs, with which Satan has been oppressing Heaven's sons and beautiful creations, should be done away? Would it really be for the peace, and piety, and consolation of the Church, that all such interest should cease, and that all such testimony should be silenced? Would it really be God's kingdom come, and His will done on earth as it is in heaven, if all prayer and prophecy of coming and nearing judgment were to be hushed from such a world as ours? Or, should we not rather be grateful that there are on earth, and will be, even in its darkest times, some to echo the spirit which thrills in the hearts of departed souls, testifying to an evil and adulterous generation, of a coming vengeance, in order to a completed redemption? Let men scowl, and mutter their ill-timed reproaches, if they will, and persecute, even unto death, those who hold it fast, there is in this theme what constitutes the true hope of the saints, whether suffering in the flesh or resting in heaven, and on account of which we may well ever

Thank God, there's still a vanguard

Fighting for the right!

Though the throng flock to rearward,

Lifting, ashen-white

Flags of truce to sin and error,
Clasping hands, mute with terror,
Thank God, there's still a vanguard

Fighting for the right!

Through the wilderness advancing,

Hewers of the way,

Forward! far their spears are glancing,

Flashing back the day.

"Back!" the leaders cry, who fear them;
"Back!" from all the army near them;
They, with steady step advancing,

Cleave their certain way.

Slay them!
From each drop that faileth

Springs a hero armed.

Where the martyr's fire appalleth,

Lo, they pass unharmed.

Crushed beneath thy wheel, oppression,
Bold, their spirit holds possession,
Loud the dross-purged voice out-calleth

By the death-throes warmed.

Thank God, there's still a vanguard

Fighting for the right!

Error's legions know their standard,

Floating in the light.

When the league of sin rejoices,
Quick outring the rallying voices:
Thank God, there's still a vanguard

Fighting for the right!"

Verses 12-17

Lecture 14

(Revelation 6:12-17)


Revelation 6:12-17. (Revised Text.) And I saw when he had opened the sixth seal, and there was a great shaking; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree sheddeth her untimely [or winter] figs when shaken by a great wind. And the heaven recoiled as a book [or scroll] rolling itself together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the captains of thousands, and the rich, and the mighty, and every slave, and every freedman, hid themselves in the caves and the rocks of the mountains. And they say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: because the great day of His [or, as some MSS., their] wrath is come, and who is able to stand!

We have here a sublime and startling description. Some think that it refers to the destruction of Jerusalem; others, to the persecutions under Diocletian; still more, to the victories of the Church under Constantine; and some, to the final judgment and the end of all things. But neither of these applications of this vision, as I am constrained to take it, is the true one.

The evidence is sufficiently conclusive that John wrote years after the fall of the Jewish state, whilst he is particular to tell us that all these visions refer to things to come subsequent to the time of his writing. It is also plain that the terrors described are not such as pertain to Christians, however fiercely persecuted. And the theory which applies it to the age of Constantine, besides other objections which it cannot satisfactorily solve, labours under the fatal embarrassment of having to adapt a picture of sheer disaster and calamity to events which were not only, for the most part, terrorless, but whose chief characteristics were peaceful and prosperous. Had John beheld the sun bursting forth, with new lustre, from an eclipse of darkness, and the moon coming out from under a bloody obscuration, to shine with silver light, and the stars taking their places serenely in the heavens, there might be some show of adapting the description to the events marking the Constantinian period. But he saw no such things. He saw the very reverse, with not a relieving ray from first to last. Nor were all kings, rulers, and great men, then driven from their thrones and palaces to seek shelter in the rocks and mountains. With all the changes, Pagans were still permitted to enjoy full religious liberty, and did not answer at all to the terrified and conscience-stricken masses of high and low, whom we here behold confessing the power and majesty of God and the Lamb, and seeking for death to conceal them from the fearfulness of avenging wrath. And whatever secondary and imperfect fulfilments this opening of the sixth seal may have had in the history of the past, it is impossible for any one to look at it attentively without feeling that the day of judgment itself must come in order to exhaust the description, and that it belongs properly and only to those great events which immediately precede and usher in the great consummation.

And yet it does not refer to the last acts of that terrible drama. It is only the sixth seal, while there is yet a seventh to follow it. With all its terrors, it is only one link in the chain of judicial wonders which the great day will bring. Much of the language employed, and the descriptions which follow, show that we still have to do with the present order of things, although in its last stages. The action of all the seals is the action of judgment, after the saints have been taken to their Lord in the sky; and we here have the sixth in the series, whilst the final catastrophe is still deferred. Neither Titus, nor Diocletian, nor Constantine, has anything whatever to do with it; but only those people who shall be living upon the earth in "the time of the end." The words before us present two classes of facts:




We will consider them in the order in which they are narrated, looking to God to enlighten and bless us in the attempt.

1. Great commotion in the fabric of nature. "I saw when he had opened the sixth seal, and there was a great shaking." The common version says earthquake, but the original word (σεισμὸς) is not so limited and specific. Though usually rendered earthquake, it denotes quakings in general, and is often used for any sudden and violent shaking in any part of the world. In the following verse it is applied to the shaking of the fig-tree. Matthew employs it to express tempestuous commotion of the air and sea (Matthew 8:24); and in the Greek translation of Joel (Joel 2:10), it is used to denote violent disturbances in the heavens. In the form of a verb, it signifies to shake, toss, jolt, agitate,--whether the things shaken be the earth, the air, the sea, the sky, or anything else. It here includes a general shaking of the earth, as is plainly manifest from the context; but there is the same reason for extending it beyond the earth to the atmosphere, sky, and heavenly regions. The whole system of the world is implicated in the vastness and violence of the commotion.

In very many places, great convulsions of nature are spoken of in connection with special manifestations of Deity, particularly when those manifestations are of a judicial character. When God gave the law, which was for the restraint and condemnation of sin, "Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly." (Exodus 19:18.) When Elijah made complaint unto the Lord that Israel had shed the blood of His prophets, and trembled for his own safety, "The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks; and after the wind an earthquake." (1 Kings 19:11.) When Jesus was murdered, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent." (Matthew 27:50-51.) And when Paul and Silas were beaten, imprisoned, and put into the stocks, and appealed unto the Lord in songs and prayers, "suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken, and all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed." (Acts 16:26.)

Especially are such convulsions prophesied of in connection with the judgment, and the approach and consummation of the end of this world. Jesus has plainly told us that "famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes," are more and more to characterize the coming of the end. (Matthew 24:7-9.) In the preceding visions we have had the famines, pestilences, and persecutions, and here we behold the commotions of nature. Haggai has prophesied: "Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land" (Haggai 2:6); and all this in specified connection with the coming of the Desire of nations. Paul, commenting upon this and like ancient predictions, speaks of a shaking of the earth and of the heaven, and connects this shaking with the coming administrations which are to determine and end the dispensation. (Hebrews 12:26-28.)

We know something of earthquakes-how they overturn and change the surfaces of countries, sink the hills, alter the courses of rivers, overwhelm vast populations, dry up lakes, set the mountains to vomiting fire, and agitate the mightiest seas. But, in the time to come, when God shall judge the nations for their iniquities, there shall be enlargements and intensifications of such convulsions. The commotions are to be "great," and they are to extend to the whole system of our world, and to involve the very heavens.

2. To the general convulsion is added the darkening of the sun. "And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair." I take all this literally. There is neither reason nor piety in undertaking to explain away the plain terms of Scripture, where there is no necessity for departure from their common meaning. When the Lord came down on Sinai the mountain was shrouded in darkening smokiness. When Jesus hung upon the cross, "There was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened." (Luke 23:44-45.) When the judgment of God was upon Egypt, "There was a thick darkness in all the land three days." (Exodus 10:22.) By Isaiah (33:9, 10) the word came forth: "Behold, the day of the Lord cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the earth desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. The sun shall be darkened in his going forth." The same was repeated by Joel (Joel 3:9-15). And the blessed Saviour himself has told us, that "immediately after the tribulation of those days," and soon before the appearance of the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, "shall the sun be darkened." (Matthew 24:29-30.)

In what manner this darkening is to be produced, is nowhere told us. It may be by some natural eclipse, or it may be by some extraordinary putting forth of the power of God for the purpose. We cannot explain the three days' darkness sent upon the Egyptians, nor the darkness which prevailed during the Saviour's crucifixion. It is easy enough for Omnipotence, either by natural or miraculous causes, to fulfil His own word. Extraordinary obscurations of the sun have more than once happened, and they can just as readily be made to happen again, if God so wills, and in a still more marvellous degree of intensity. On the 19th of May, 1780, a wonderfully dark day was experienced throughout the northeastern portion of this country. The witnesses of it have described it as supernatural and unaccountable. It was not an ordinary eclipse, for the moon was nearly at the full. It was not owing to a clouded condition of the atmosphere, for the stars were visible. Yet it was so dark from nine o'clock in the morning throughout the usual hours of sunshine, that work had to be suspended, houses had to be lit with candles, the beasts and fowls went to their rest as in the night-time. And though the sun was visible, it had the appearance of being shorn of all its power of illumination. Connect such an occurrence with the general convulsions which have just been described, extend it over the world, intensify it according to the description of the text, and you may form some conception of this feature of what the opening of the sixth seal shall bring, when the sun shall be dull and rayless as the hair cloth of a Bedouin's tent.

3. A further particular is the ensanguined appearance of the moon. "And the whole moon became as blood." A writer on the Apocalypse has said:

"The further I advance in the exposition of this book of prophecy, the more convinced I feel that the key to its interpretation is to be found in the great outline of things which shall be hereafter sketched put by our Lord Jesus Christ in His prophecy on the Mount of Olives."

Recurring to that "outline," we find this lunar phenomenon distinctly referred to. As the sun is to be darkened, so also "the moon shall not give her light." (Matthew 24:29.) The nature of the portentous obscuration is also described. With the privation of its usual effulgence, the moon is to be converted into an object of horror. In place of the genial silver disc, men shall behold, as it were, an orb of blood-dark, dim, sickly, and portentous. The same is spoken of in other prophecies. In Joel 2:30 we read, that before the consummation of "the great and terrible day of the Lord," not only "the sun shall be turned into darkness," but also "the moon into blood." Anticipations and foreshadows of this have, in like manner, occurred. Great convulsions in the earth and atmosphere often produce such appearances of the sun and moon. When the earth is shaken by the wrath of God, the heavenly luminaries sympathize with the general commotion; and along with this "great shaking," a shaking, not of the earth only, but of heaven also, we might well expect the sun to put on blackness, and the full moon to appear as if deluged in blood. Whatever the specific details of the manifestation may be, by whatever means produced, or however long continued, the general character of it will be sufficiently marked and terrific to correspond with the awfulness of the occasion to which it relates. Similar language may have applied to other scenes, but it will then be realized with a fulness and literalness which have never yet been, and on a scale altogether unprecedented.

4. Then comes the falling of stars.--"And the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig-tree sheddeth her untimely [or winter] figs, when shaken by a great wind." Some see in this an impossibility in the way of accepting this description as literal. But they are thinking only of the great and unknown bodies which shine in the vast fields of immensity. It remains to be proven, however, that the apostle had his eye upon stars of that character. Those heavenly orbs, of which astronomy tells, are not the only objects to which, in common language, the word stars literally applies. Even science speaks of "shooting stars," and "falling stars," which are not worlds at all, but meteors, visible only while they fall, and leaving no discoverable remains where they seem to alight. It used to be thought that they were generated in our atmosphere, but learned men now regard them as incandescent fragments of matter, detached perhaps from their proper places, and set on fire and consumed by contact with the atmosphere of the earth. Such a convulsion as the text describes, would naturally multiply the number of such loose particles, which, precipitated into our atmosphere, and ignited by contact with it, would not only fill it with moving incandescent points, such as we call shooting or falling stars, but also fulfil the image to which the apostle likens the falling. Conceiving of the physical universe as a great fig-tree, he beholds it terrifically shaken, but in no way blown down or destroyed. Only its unseasonable fruit, which winter has overtaken, and incongenial weather has rendered ready to drop, is made to fall.

There is also something peculiar in the apostle's designation of these falling stars, which does not appear in the common version, but which is worth notice. He calls them "the stars of the heaven." Not simply "the stars," as if there could be no mistake as to the objects intended-nor yet "the stars of the heavens "generally considered-but "the stars of the heaven;" some particular stars of some particular heaven. And when we call to mind that the word heaven is often used to denote the air, the atmosphere which surrounds the earth, the region in which the clouds move, it becomes more than probable that he is here referring to objects which pertain to this particular region alone. The stars proper are certainly still found in their places after the fulfilment of this vision. (See Revelation 8:12.) And remembering that the Scriptures speak in the common language of men, without reference to the distinctions of science, and that even science itself still popularly speaks of "falling stars," when it means simply meteoric phenomena, it appears but reasonable that we should understand the apostle to be speaking of something of the same sort. Professor Stuart agrees that the meaning of the words is sufficiently met by such an interpretation, and that the reference most likely is to some meteoric manifestation, the like of which has once in a while happened, and which we find spoken of, among the people and in the books, under the name of falling stars.

A most marvellous meteoric shower of this class was witnessed on the night of the 13th of November, 1833. It is perhaps remembered by many how present. During the three hours of its continuance, hundreds and thousands of people, of all classes, were thrown into the utmost consternation, and filled with the belief that the very scene described in this text, was actually transpiring. Fiery balls, as luminous and as numerous as the stars, came darting after each other from the sky, with vivid streaks of light trailing in the track of each. They were of various sizes and degrees of splendour, flashing as they fell, and so bright as to awaken people from their sleep. It seemed as if every star in the firmament had suddenly shot from its sphere, and was falling to the earth. And all who saw it will bear witness that it was a most terrific spectacle.

Conceive, then, of a repetition of that scene, intensified and extended according to the spirit of this vision, with stunning explosions added to the general commotion, and the alarming rush of hissing balls of fire, darting like rain-drops from the sky, and you have exactly what John foresaw in this part of his vision of the opening of the sixth seal.

5. "And the heaven recoiled as a scroll rolling itself together." We have here the same particular heaven. With the prodigies already named, the sky folds upon itself. The fastenings which held it outstretched, are loosed in the general convulsion, and it rolls up. Great, massive, rotary motion in the whole visible expanse, is signified, as if it were folding itself up to pass away forever. Some tell us that this never can literally happen, and that we are not therefore to expect it to be fulfilled in any physical fact. But why not? Does not Peter, in a plainly literal passage, tell us of just such commotions in the aerial heavens? Does he not say, in so many words, that they shall be loosed (λυθήσονται), and move with a noisy rushing, after the manner of a tempest?[57] And so significant and awful is to be the nature of the fact, that nearly all the prophets have taken notice of it, and foretell the same in language which we must monstrously pervert to understand in any other than a literal sense. We may not be able to describe it in the language of modern science, and philosophers may laugh at the unsophisticated descriptions of God's prophets; but, everything that relates to the coming of Christ, and the day of judgment, has upon it the same disability. And if the literal truthfulness of the record will not hold in one case, I cannot see by what reason we can insist upon it in another. God certainly is able to fulfil literally all that he has spoken, and here John tells us that he really saw what Peter and other prophets have said shall come to pass.

[57] ρ‘οιζηδον παρελευσονται. See 2 Peter 3:10-12.

6. And all this is further attended with fearful changes in the configuration of the earth. "And every mountain and island were moved out of their places." These are but the natural effects of the terrible convulsions that shake everything. On a smaller scale, the same has often happened. Within the space of a month past, the world has been astounded with accounts of an earthquake along the Pacific coast of South America, by which cities and villages by the score have been blotted from the earth, islands moved in their places, mountains shaken, vast districts of shore engulfed in the sea, thousands and thousands of lives lost, and hundreds of millions of treasure destroyed. Extend the same to every country and every sea; let all the dwellers on earth be made to feel such a shock, intensified so as to hurl the mountains from their seats, and wrench the islands from their foots, and convulse each ocean from centre to circumference; let the hills exchange places with the waters, and all the consequences of such vast and sudden transformations be spread over the face of the world, with their natural effects upon its cities, its traffic, and its thronging populations, and you may have some idea of the dreadfulness of what John beheld as ordained to come to pass under the opening of this seal.

Such, then, are the physical prodigies here foreshown.


Let us now look at the impression they make upon those who witness them.

"And the kings of the earth, and the great men [nobles, lords, princes], and the captains of thousands, and the rich, and the mighty, and every slave, and every freedman, hid themselves in the caves, and the rocks of the mountains; and they say to the mountains and to the rocks. Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: because the great day of His wrath is come, and who is able to stand!"

1. We have here a glimpse of the constitution and general condition of society at the time these prodigies befall the world. Some believe and teach, that free institutions are destined to become universal, and that monarchy is doomed to fall before the march of modern civilization. We here see that such hopes will not be realized. Kings are still on their thrones, and princes and orders of nobility remain, till the judgment comes. Some are looking for a blessed time of peace and prosperity in this world, when all wars shall cease, all armies be disbanded, all nations transmute their implements of destruction into instruments of husbandry, and the clash of arms be hushed forever. We here see that there will still be soldiers and military commanders pursuing their bloody profession up to the time of the end. Some will have it that universal emancipation has but a few more battles to fight, and that human slavery is as good as at an end. We here see that the day of judgment still finds slaves in the world, as well as men who have but recently been freed, and all the present distinctions of class and fortune unchanged. Suppose that the sixth seal were to be opened tonight; what would it find? Kings and emperors on their thrones; princes, nobles, dukes, and lords, securely priding themselves in the prerogatives of their caste and station; standing armies at rest and in action, and military commanders with swords upon their sides; rich people wallowing in wealth and luxury; men and women in high places and in low, working the wires that fashion events; slaves toiling at their tasks, and freedmen just out of their bondage; and evidences everywhere of a depraved and disordered state of things. This is what the judgment would find if it came tonight. And this, John tells us, is what it finds when it does come in reality. Let political reformers and theologians then say to the contrary what they please, human society as it is, and as it has been for these ages, with all its burdens, disorders, and inequalities, will continue the same, till Christ himself shall come to judge it for its sins.

2. There is one thing, however, which shall be very different under the opening of the sixth seal, from what it is now. The self-security and composure with which godless people live, will then be driven to the winds. Though all the judgments under preceding seals may have failed to appal or arouse them, they will not be able to maintain their equanimity under what this shall bring forth.

I have said, that we know something of the dreadfulness of earthquakes. And yet, We, who know them only by descriptions, cannot at all enter into the feeling of alarm and horror which they produce. A gentleman who has had some experience on the subject, says: "Although I am not a man to cry out or play the fool on such occasions, yet I do fairly own that these earthquakes are very awful, and must be felt to be understood. Before we hear the sound, or, at least, are fully conscious of hearing it, we are made sensible, I do not know how, that something uncommon is going to happen. Everything seems to change colour. Our world appears to be in disorder. All nature looks different to what it was wont to do. And we feel quite subdued and overwhelmed by some invisible power, beyond human control or comprehension. Then comes the terrible sound, distinctly heard; and immediately the solid earth is all in motion, waving to and fro like the surface of the sea. Depend upon it, a severe earthquake is enough to shake the firmest mind. No custom can teach any one to witness it without the deepest emotion of terror." But when this seal opens, not only the earth here and there, but everywhere, and the sea, and the air, and the heavens, shall shake, as for their final dissolution. And with the sun turned to blackness, and the moon to blood, and the mountains toppling from their bases, and the whole framework of nature jarring and creaking like a wrecking ship, there will come over the hearts of men a discomfiting consternation, such as they never felt or imagined.

We know something of the alarm and terror which the meteoric shower of 1833 struck into the hearts and minds of men. People now laugh at the strange demonstrations which were then enacted, and wonder how it was possible that intelligent and reflecting men could become so terrified, or act so contrary to all that had ever distinguished them before. But the truth is, that it is a good deal easier to play brave toward such things after they are over, than when they are upon us with all their solemn sublimity. And when to the falling of the stars is added the rocking of the earth, the loosening of the mountains, the darkening of sun and moon, and the tempestuous collapse of the firmament, men may think they can muster the nerve to stand it, but they will fail.

Nor does it matter who or what men may be, they will be alike overwhelmed with inexpressible dismay and horror. Kings, princes, nobles, men used to the shocks of battle, the rich, the great, the wise, the bond, the free, high and low, without exception, become the victims of their fears, and tremble, and howl, and pray, and rush to the fields, to the cellars, to the caves of the rocks, to the clefts in the mountains, to every place where shelter and concealment is dreamed of amid the general desperation. So John foresaw the scene, and so it will be. Self-possession, unshaken courage, dignified composure, philosophic thinking, hopefulness, assurance, and the last remains of the stern intrepidity and statue-like imperturbability which characterize some men now, will then have vanished from humanity. That day will destroy them utterly.

3. We notice, also, the correct interpretation which mankind will then put upon the terrific disturbances of nature around them. Storms, earthquakes, eclipses, and unusual phenomena in the heavens, are natural symbols of Divine wrath. The ancients regarded them as auguring and embodying the destroying power and wrath of Deity. They are always and everywhere precursors and prophecies of the forthcoming judgment of God. They are so presented in the Scriptures, and accordingly inwrought with all inspired diction. There is also an instinct to the same effect, which has ever lingered with the race, and which cannot be entirely suppressed. Modern science calls it superstition. Savants of earthly wisdom propose to explain all upon philosophic principles, and think to prove to us that neither God, nor His anger, nor His judgments, have aught to do with it. People also have become so enlightened nowadays, as to be above alarm at strange commotions in the elements, or signs in the sky. They have learned better. These things may all be naturally accounted for. Why, a little care might give us tables of them for a thousand years to come, with the days, and hours, and minutes noted. Indeed, men have become so knowing about Nature and her laws, that they do not see much necessity any more for a God at all, much less for any judgment or interference of His in the affairs of the universe. This is the spirit of much that men call science,-a spirit which is working itself into the popular mind, and, sad to say, largely affecting even the theological thinking and teaching of the day. But when the vision of the text comes to be realized, woe to the materialistic, pantheistic, and atheistic philosophies with which men suppose they have rid themselves of the superstitions of antiquity! One flash from the judgment throne will confound them utterly. When the sixth seal breaks, and the vibrations of it are upon the universe, turning sun and moon to darkness and blood, convulsing the firmament, shaking down the stars, and moving mountains and islands from their places, not the ignorant only, but the philosophic and the learned-kings and magnates of science and state, and all classes and kinds of men together, rush from their dwellings, strike for the caverns, cry out like terrified babes, confess to the presence of a Divine Power whose existence their superior learning had put down as a fable, and with one accord now preach and proclaim the advent of a day which they had pronounced impossible! Why this consternation-this change in their way of regarding and treating these advent doctrines-this preaching of the judgment-this trepidation and horror about the day of wrath now? This is not the way they used to deal with this subject. There is a mighty shaking indeed; but earthquakes are all from natural causes! Rather remarkable eclipses truly; but such things are easily explicable on natural principles! An extraordinary star-shower; but these are innocent periodic things which belong to the natural ongoing of the universe! Unusual storms and atmospheric commotions; but they are the results of natural causes! Why, then, this dismay at the sublime activities of nature, which a philosophic understanding should be able calmly to contemplate and really enjoy? Cowardly fools! shall we call them, to break down in the conclusions of their superior intelligence, amid such splendid opportunities for enjoyable scientific observation? Alas, alas, the old superstition is too strong for the modern wisdom! The horror-stricken world-kings, savants, heroes-with strained eyeballs and bloodless lips, fall prostrate and confess that these beautiful activities of nature and her laws, are, after all, somehow linked in with the wrath and judgment of God and the Lamb!

4. Nor is it so much the physical prodigies, as what they argue, that renders the dismay so unsupportable. If there were nothing but the convulsions of the body of nature, terrific as they are, there would be a chance for some to endure them without becoming so thoroughly unmanned. But the chief consternation arises, not simply from the outward facts, but from the unwelcome conclusions which they force upon the soul. The physical manifestations may be in the line of physical laws, and in no way contrary to them; but whether miraculous or not, they are so terrific and Divine, that they compel the most atheistic to see in them the hands, and arms, and utterances of a Being transcendently greater still, and to feel the demonstration in their souls that He has verily risen up in the fierceness of just indignation against long neglect and defiance of His authority. It is not that nature has ceased to be herself, or that the principles of her activities have been repealed, that overwhelms them, but the resistless proof that all her awful potencies, now in such terrific motion, are God's direct powers, aroused and inflamed with His dreadful anger, and charged as heralds and executioners of His almighty wrath. It is not the shaking, the obscured sun, the bloody moon, the falling stars, the recoiling heavens, the moving mountains, so much as the moral truths they flash into the spirit, to wit, that God is on the throne, that sin is a reality, that judgment is come, and that every guilty one must now face an angry Creator. It is not nature's bewildering commotions, for they would willingly have the falling mountains cover them, if that would shelter them from what is much more in their view, and far more dreadful to them. What they speak of is, God upon the throne, the fear of His face, the day of reckoning, and the wrath of the Lamb. These are more than all the horrors of a universe in convulsions. These are the daggers in their hearts-the thunderbolts that rend and rive their souls-the fires that kindle the flames of hell within them.

5. And how pitiable and absurd the expedients to which they are driven! Many an opportunity for prayer had they neglected. Always had they contemned such humiliating employment. It did not suit their ideas of dignity, or their theories. But now they pray, and have a grand concert of prayer, in which kings and mighty ones join with the meanest and lowest. They had often laughed and sneered at praying men; but now they all pray. Some prostrate in the dust, some on their knees in dens and caves, some clinging to the trees, and all shrieking out in unison their terror-moved entreaties. O, imbecile people! When prayer would have been availing, they scorned and detested it as mean and useless; and now, that it is futile, they go at it with a will.

Still more absurd is the direction in which they address their prayers. Once they considered it folly that man should call on the living God; but now they pray to dead rocks! Once they thought it philosophic to deny that He who made the ear could hear prayers, or that He with whom is the Spirit, and whose is the power, could answer them; but now they supplicate the deaf and helpless mountains!

And yet weaker and more insane is the import of their prayers and efforts. Beautifully has the Psalmist sung: "Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee." (Psalms 139:7-13.) Omniscience and omnipresence are among the natural attributes of God. The very things before these people's eyes should have been enough to teach them this. And yet, philosophers as they are, their proposal is to conceal themselves from the Almighty, and so elude His wrath! Often had shelter and peaceful security been offered them in the mercies of the loving Saviour, and as often had they despised and rejected them; but now the silly souls would take the miserable rocks for saviours! O, the foolishness of men who think it folly to serve God! "He that fleeth of them, shall not flee away, and he that escapeth of them, shall not be delivered. Though they dig into hell," saith the Lord, "thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down; and though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence." (Amos 9:1-3.)

These kings and mighty ones of the earth had highly estimated the terrors of death, and tried to restrain and terrify men with fears of them. As shown in the preceding seal, they had been persecutors of the saints, and shed their blood to silence their testimony. Yet, what they then thought so awful, they are now themselves willing and anxious to suffer; yea, and to go down into everlasting nothingness, as a happy alternative to what they find coming upon them. "They say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb! "O, miserable extremity to which guilt brings men at last! There are those whom these judgments shall not thus overwhelm. Hid in Jesus, and His sheltering grace, they are secure against all such dismay. But "the day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low." (Isaiah 2:12.)

Friends and brethren, what a mercy that that day is not yet upon us! There is a Rock to which we still may fly and pray, with hope of security in its wide-open clefts. It is the Rock of Ages. There are mountains to which we may yet betake ourselves, and be forever safe from all the dread convulsions which await the world. They are the mountains of salvation in Christ Jesus. I believe that I am addressing some who have betaken themselves to them. Brethren, "hold fast the profession of your faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised." (Hebrews 10:23.) But others are still lingering in the plains of Sodom, who need to take this warning to heart as they never yet have done. O ye travellers to the judgment, seek ye the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near! And may God in His mercy hide us all from the condemnation that awaits an unbelieving world!

Jesus, lover of my soul,

Let me to thy bosom fly;

While the billows near me roll,

While the tempest still is high;

Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,

Till the storm of life be past,

Safe into the haven guide,

Oh, receive my soul at last!

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 6". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/revelation-6.html.
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