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Revelation 8

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and RevelationSeiss' Lectures

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Verses 1-5

Lecture 17.

(Revelation 8:1-5)


Revelation 8:1-5. (Revised Text.) - And when he opened the seventh seal, there followed a silence in the heaven, as it were half an hour.

And I saw the seven angels who stand in the presence of God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him many incenses, that he might offer [them] for [or with] the prayers of all the saints on the altar of gold before the throne. And the smoke of the incenses went up for [or with] the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the angel, in the presence of God. And the angel took the censer and filled it out of the fire of the altar, and cast into the earth; and there followed thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake.

There has been a somewhat protracted silence in the continuity of these lectures. In breaking that silence this evening, we come upon another silence-a silence in heaven. The rapt apostle is still in heaven. What he describes is viewed altogether from a heavenly point of observation. The subject is still the ongoing of the judgment. The roll, which was taken up amid thrills of celestial adoration, is still in the hands of the Lamb. He has broken six of its seals, and the action resulting we have considered. The breaking of the only remaining one, and the most momentous of them all, now comes before us. It will occupy us for some time before it is finally disposed of. Even the seven trumpets and the seven vials come under it. The immediate sequences of the breaking of it, we have in the text, in which we observe




To God, then, let us look for grace to understand these things according to the intent of the record, giving praise to His holy Name forever and ever.

I. When the first seal was broken, a voice like thunder was heard, saying, Go! It was the same at the opening of the three succeeding ones. At the breaking of the fifth, there was a great cry from beneath the altar. And when the sixth was broken, a fearful tremor ran through the whole frame of nature, filling the earth with consternation. But, at the opening of the seventh, not a voice is heard; not a motion is seen; an awful pause ensues, and all heaven is silent. A little while ago everything was ringing with triumphant exultation over the multitude which no man could number, but now silence takes the place of songs, and everything is mute and motionless.

This silence, nevertheless, has made a good deal of noise in the world, especially among commentators. It would be difficult to find another point upon which there have been so many different and discordant voices. Indeed, Hengstenberg gives it as the general rule, that when expositors come to this silence they break out into all sorts of contradictory conjecture. Though the marks of historic continuity are as distinct as it is possible to make them, some take this silence as a full stop to the chain of apocalyptic predictions, and so treat what follows as a mere rehearsal, in another form, of what had preceded. Others regard it as a blank, leaving everything belonging to the seventh seal unrevealed, so that its action can only be known when we come to the immortal life. Some pronounce it a mere poetic invention to heighten the dramatic effect, but having no particular significance. Others treat it as a prophetic symbol of scenes and experiences in the earthly history of man; some, as the suspension of divine wrath in the destruction of Jerusalem; some, as the freedom granted to the Church under the reign of Constantine; some, as the interval of repose enjoyed by Christians between the persecutions by Dioclesian and Galerius in A.D. 311, and the beginning of the civil wars toward the end of the same year; some, as the disappearance of human strivings against God and his Christ; others, as a lull in earthly revolt and persecution, equivalent to a jubilee for the truth among men; others, as the millennium of peace and righteousness to be induced by the triumphs of evangelic effort and the progress of liberty; and yet others, as the everlasting rest of the saints. And yet there is not a word in the record about the Church, nor about the earth. The whole thing is distinctly located "in heaven," and its duration is specifically limited to "about half an hour."

Others find in this silence a mystic connection with Jewish rites, and the silent prayers commonly joined with the incense oblation. This is the more insisted on, as there is a subsequent reference to an incense offering. Even if such a connection could be made out, it is difficult to see what is thereby to be gained for an interpretation. But it cannot be made out. The facts prove that there is no such connection. The Jewish silent prayers occurred while the offering was in the act of being made; but here the silence occurs before the offering, and before ever the angel that makes it appears or takes his station at the altar. Nay, there is a distinct and separate vision intervening between this silence and the offering by the angel. It is also plain that this silence is connected with the breaking of the seal, and is the direct result of that act, whilst the incense offering connects with the series of actions by which the stillness is interrupted. It is impossible, therefore, for this silence to be a part of the ceremony of the offering by the angel, or that it should mean any of the things to which reference has been made, Nor can we but wonder that such wild and far-fetched conjectures should ever have found place in men's minds. The language is all simple and plain, and means exactly what is written. There is silence. It is in heaven. It lasts for about half an hour. It is a silence of intense interest and awful expectancy with reference to the results of the breaking of the seventh seal. And this is the whole of it.

We read in Acts of "a great silence," induced by Paul, as he waved his hand to his boisterous accusers, from the stairs of the castle at Jerusalem, and began to speak to them in their sacred tongue. It was the silence of surprise, wonder, and interest to catch what was being said. It is written in the Psalms: "Praise waiteth--is silent--for thee, O God, in Zion." It was the silence of adoring expectancy waiting for the manifestations of the Divine presence. When Numa was made King of Rome, and the august ceremony had reached the moment that he was to look for the birds by which the gods were expected to foreshow his fate, the priest's hand was laid devoutly on his head, and "an incredible silence reigned among the people." It was the silence of anxious expectation. It was the result of an intense interest and awe, with reference to what the gods had decreed, and were about to reveal, concerning the destiny of their new king. And so here. The Lion-Lamb of God has been engaged breaking the seals of the mysterious roll, which He only was worthy to touch or look upon. Six of those seals had been broken, enacting events of the most stupendous moment. But one more remained-the last in the series-and involving the final consummation of the great mystery of God. And as that seal is broken, an interest and awful expectancy rises in the hearts of the celestial orders, which renders them as silent as the grave. All heaven becomes mute and breathless. Saints and angels hush their songs to look and wait for the results. And even the Almighty pauses before the action proceeds.

It is not figure--not symbol--not extravagant rhetoric--not mere poetic delineation of something else. It is history--the literal narration of literal fact;-for fact it was to John in the vision. It is the natural expression of the deep sympathy of all-glorified existence with the momentousness of the occasion-a voiceless utterance more powerful than words, of the yearning awe of heaven at the arrival of the climacteric of the ages, and the forthcoming events which characterize it. Hence a motionless stillness, more awful, and fuller of thrilling import, than that overwhelming wave of adoration which went over the universe of holy beings when the Lamb first took the book.

"As it were half an hour," this solemn stillness lasted. A half-hour is not long in itself; but time is longer or shorter according to what is transpiring, or what the circumstances are. Moments of agonizing suspense stretch out into hours and days, in comparison with moments of ordinary life. Two minutes of delay, when a man is drowning, is an awful period to have to wait. A stoppage of ten minutes between the words I am speaking, would be an intolerable interval. When on the margin of the realization of great expectations, or interrupted in the midst of what has been absorbing the intensest interest of the soul, every instant of delay expands into hours, and even ages. And when we consider the circumstances of this case--the world in which this pause occurs-the sort of occupations which it interrupts--the kind and number of beings it affects--the nature of the feelings, interests, and expectations which it holds in suspense-and the awfulness of the stillness itself-there is everything to make this half-hour a thing so tremendous that we may be sure there never was the like before, and never will be again thereafter. Nor is the length of it the least remarkable of its features.

II. After this awful pause, the action of the throne is resumed. A company of angels make their appearance on the heavenly arena. They are seven in number. They are of particular rank and distinction, for not all angels are of the same dignity and office. Paul enumerates "dominions, principalities, and powers" among the celestial orders. Daniel speaks of some chief princes. Paul and Jude refer to archangels. Angelic beings are not, therefore, of one and the same grade. The sons of God, in general, come before him only at appointed times (Job 1:6), but the Saviour speaks of some angels who "do always behold the face of the Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 18:10.) And the sublime agents which John beheld after the opening of the seventh seal, are described as "the seven angels who stand in the presence of God."

The Jews were familiar with seven angels of this particular class. Gabriel is one of them, as he himself said to Zacharias: "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God." (Luke 1:19.) Michael is another, as he is ranked with Gabriel in the book of Daniel, and there pronounced one of the princes, even "the great prince" of the prophet's people. In the Apocryphal book of Tobit, Raphael is named as still another, where he announces himself, and says, "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." Whether we take this book as inspired, as the Romanists do, or as not inspired, as the Protestants generally regard it, there is no matter touching this point. The passage referred to (Tob 12:15) shows what the ancient people of God held for truth, and the representation harmonizes with the text and with the accepted books of Holy Scripture. The ancients believed that there are seven presence angels, and the Apocalypse ratifies that belief.[60]

[60] The book of Enoch (chap. 20) has the following: "These are the names of the angels who watch. Uriel, one of the holy angels, who presides over clamour and terror; Raphael, one of the holy angels, who presides over the spirits of men; Raguel, one of the holy angels, who inflicts punishment on the world and the luminaries; Michael, one of the holy angels, who, presiding over human virtue, commands the nations; Sarakiel, one of the holy angels, who presides over the spirits of the children of men that transgress; Gabriel, one of the holy angels, who presides over Ikesat, over paradise, and over the cherubim."

These presence-angels are the highest and mightiest of created beings.

It is their privilege to "stand in the presence of God." They stand; this is the posture of service; but standing in the presence of God, is to be above all other servants. The seven Persian princes who "saw the king's face," were the highest officers of the realm, and next to the monarch in rank and power. (Esther 1:14.) And what these princes were to the Persian kings, these presence-angels are to God.

We thus get a glance into the economy of heaven. A democratic chaos for the state, and a Laodicean herd for the Church, constitute the world's ideal of perfection in these days. But the heavenly state is very different. It is not a monotonous and lawless commonalty, but a complete organism, in which each has his prescribed sphere and office, in orders towering above orders, and princedoms over princedoms, till we reach the seven archangels standing in the immediate presence of God, and holding place next to the eternal throne itself.

And these sublimest ministers of God appear here as the prime executors of the oncoming administrations. The Saviour Himself said: "In the end of this world, the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire." (Matthew 13:40-42.) And here John beholds those angels--the glorious septemvirate of celestial archregents-the mightiest and the highest creatures in the universe-resenting themselves for the momentous work.

"And to them were given seven trumpets."--Trumpets are expressive instruments. The voice of the trumpet is the most significant voice known to the Holy Scriptures. God Himself gave His ancient people very special directions with regard to the use of the trumpet. It is itself described as a cry--a loud and mighty cry--which related only to important occasions. The time for the blowing of trumpets was always a time of moment--a time of solemnity--a time for men to bestir themselves greatly in one way or another.

Trumpets connect with war. The command was: "If ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets." Jeremiah cries: "O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war!" (Numbers 10:9; Jeremiah 4:19.)

Trumpets were for the convocation of the people, and the moving of the camps of Israel. This is minutely prescribed in Numbers 8:1-26.

Trumpets proclaimed the great festivals. "Ye shall blow with the trumpets over burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifice of your peace-offerings." "Ye shall have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation." "Thou shalt cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout the land." And so "when the burnt-offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets." (Numbers 10:10; Leviticus 23:24; Leviticus 25:9; 2 Chronicles 29:27.)

Trumpets also related to the announcements of royalty. Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet were directed to anoint Solomon king over Israel, and blow with the trumpet, and say, God save King Solomon. It is also written: "They hasted greatly ... and blew with trumpets, saying, Jehu is king." (1 Kings 1:34; 1 Kings 1:39; 2 Kings 9:13.)

Trumpets are also associated with the manifestation of the terrible majesty and power of God. When the Almighty appeared on Mount Sinai, there was "the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled." And Amos says: "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?" (Exodus 19:16; Amos 3:6.)

Trumpets connect with the overthrow of the ungodly. It was at the blowing of the trumpets that the walls of Jericho fell down, and the city was given into the hands of Joshua. (Joshua 6:13-16.)

Trumpets also proclaimed the laying of the foundations of God's temple. (Esdras 3:10.)

With these facts before us, we are already in a degree prepared to anticipate what these seven trumpets are to bring forth. Their number is the complete number, and we may expect from them everything to which trumpets stand related in the Scriptures. Are they related to war? Then war is coming; yea, "the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Are they for the calling of convocations and signals for motion? Then we may look for great gatherings and mighty changes. Do they herald great solemnities and blessed feasts and sacrifices? Then, may we anticipate the sublimest festivals, and victories, and jubilee, and burning up of the victims of sin, that the world has ever yet seen. Do they declare investiture with dominion and the commencement of a new reign? Then may we look for the setting up of a new administration, and the opening of the reign of the true David, the greater than Solomon. Do they declare the presence of God in His awful majesty? Then may we expect a revelation of Divine power and Godhead which shall fill heaven and earth with trembling. Do they bring the fall of the cities of the wicked and the destruction of their inhabitants? Then we may look for the end of great Babylon and the sweeping of the dominion of Antichrist and all his confederates from the earth. Do they tell of the founding and building of the permanent temple of the Lord? Then may we look for the incoming of that true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man, and of that firmly-founded city whose maker and builder is God. And all this accords entirely with what John subsequently describes as resultant from the sounding of these seven trumpets.

We thus also come upon an important fact, which is, for the most part, very strangely perverted. Writers on the Apocalypse generally treat it as if it depended for its imagery and materials upon the ancient Jewish regulations. They thus put the copy for the original, and deal with the original as if it were the copy. All the ancient regulations were nothing but copies and types. They were commanded to be made after some heavenly model, of which they were to be the remembrancers and prophecies. They were not the true--the real-but only earthly imitations of it. The true ideal is what John beholds in this book. These seven presence-angels, with their seven trumpets, are the true heavenly realities, with reference to which all the ancient laws relating to trumpets were ordained. What we here have, is not the work of John elaborating a dramatic poem out of the elements of the ancient ritual, but an Apocalypse of the great realities themselves, with reference to which those old appointments were constructed, as earthly pictures and mimic predictions. We go back to the ancient laws, and we there see reflected in earthly forms what John beholds in heavenly reality; and we reverse the whole order and involve ourselves in inextricable confusion, when we take the images in his visions as mere earthly and Jewish drapery, and not rather as the very things from which those Jewish ceremonies took their existence and peculiarities. The Apocalypse is not a poem in Jewish dress, but the Jewish ceremonies were an earthly poem of the Apocalypse. Let this be understood, and much of the darkness hanging over the meaning of this book will at once disappear.

III. But, before these presence-angels sound their trumpets, "another angel" appears, and another scene intervenes, to which our attention must be given.

Many understand by this angel, the Lord Jesus himself--the Jehovah--Angel of the Old Testament, and the same referred to in the preceding chapter as the Sealer of the 144,000. In both instances the officer is called "another angel," which, whilst it associates him with angels as to ministry, seems to imply some Being very different from angels as to nature. This angel has a censer of gold, an implement belonging to the Holy of holies, and used only by the high priest; which would seem to indicate our great High Priest that has passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God. This angel casts fire into the earth; and Jesus says of Himself: "I came to cast fire into the earth; and what could I wish if it were already kindled?... Suppose ye that I came to give peace in the earth? I tell you nay, but rather division." (Luke 12:49-52.) This is in some sense realized in the course of the history and doings of the Church; but we know that it is to be much more literally and terribly fulfilled in the day of judgment; and here would seem to be its exact accomplishment. This angel offers the prayers of all the saints, and renders them savoury before God. Such an office is nowhere in the Scriptures assigned to angels proper, but is everywhere assigned to the Lord Jesus Christ.

There would seem to be strong reason, therefore, for supposing that this Angel is really the Jehovah-Angel, and none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, in His capacity of our great High Priest. Primasius says: "The Angel here is our Lord, by whom all our prayers have access to God (Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12), and therefore the Apostle says, through Him we offer sacrifices of praise to God continually (Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5); and St. John says, He is our Advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1)." Wordsworth affirms that "this interpretation is sanctioned by other ancient interpreters, such as Augustine and Bede, and by Vitringa, Böhmer, and others, of later date;" and that "Christ, in His human character and priestly office, may be called another Angel," as the high priest on the day of atonement is called an angel with reference to his ministrations, and as he believes Christ is called in Revelation 10:1; Revelation 14:17; Revelation 18:1; Revelation 20:1. Cocceius was of the same opinion.

Neither does it overthrow this view, that the incenses offered up by this angel are represented as "given to Him." If the incenses here are to be taken as explained in Revelation 5:8, that is, as the prayers themselves, of course they are given to Him, for he offers no prayers of saints which have not been put into His hands. And if it is the virtue of His Mediatorship that is to be understood by the incenses, there is still an important sense in which that is given to Him. It is given to Him in the sense of award, both by saints themselves, who credit and trust in Him as able to do for them, and by Sovereign Majesty, who adjudges Him entitled to exercise such offices and powers. Even all the glories of His Apocalypse are represented (Revelation 1:1) as given to Him, though they are equally His own right, and the result of His personal obedience unto death, with His merits as our Advocate and Intercessor. It was no evidence that a champion in the ancient games had not lawfully and in his own person entitled himself to the honours of the victory, when the rightful judges and all Greece gave him those honours. It was rather a demonstration that he had justly merited and won them. And so, in the sense of judicial award, and general credit, confidence and acknowledgment, the intercessorial prerogatives and mediatorial earnings of Christ may be spoken of as given to Him. He glorified not himself to be made an high priest; and the more excellent ministry of his mediatorship of the better covenant is everywhere spoken of as having been "obtained" by Him. (Hebrews 5:5; Hebrews 8:6.) All has really been given to Him--given to Him as the just due of His own perfect fulfilment of all righteousness-given to Him by eternal Deity and all saints. And such a giving to this Angel-Priest no more necessarily excludes him from being rightfully taken as the Christ, than the giving of the Spirit, or the giving of the kingdom, or the giving of the possession of the nations to the Saviour, proves that He is not the only begotten Son of God.

The object of the giving of these incenses was, "that He might offer [them] for the prayers of all the saints." Not for those prayers in the sense of in their stead, but in the sense of furthering them, benefiting them, and prospering them; for the prayers themselves are included in the offering. Strictly rendered, he was to offer them to the prayers; but ταῖς προσευχαῖς is a dativus commodi, and rather gives the sense of in behalf of--with--as a helper of their success. The idea is complex. There is an offering of incenses; those incenses come to the prayers to enrich and forward them; and the incenses imparted to the prayers are offered as the prayers. They are given to the prayers, and with the prayers, and for the prayers.

But why this offering just here, as the trumpets are about to be sounded?

Many have taken it as denoting a state of much prayerfulness in the earthly Church about this time. But there is not a word said about an earthly church. Indeed, the Church proper is no longer on earth at the time to which these trumpets belong. There are still true worshippers of God on earth--the two olive trees--and those who refuse to adore the Beast; but their prayers cannot be taken for "the prayers of all the saints." The words are very comprehensive, and take in all the holy prayers ever offered.

We had an allusion to these precious treasures in Revelation 5:1-14, where the account is given of the Living ones and Elders falling down before the Lamb, and holding up golden bowls full of incenses. Those incenses, like these of the text, were the prayers of the saints. There the saints themselves hold them up before the Lamb, as an adoring act of confidence that He was now about to enter upon their complete fulfilment, and as yet backstanding and waiting for an answer. Here Christ offers them, as the Great High Priest. He bears them in the golden censer, and perfumes them with the precious fragrance of His own meritorious favour and righteousness, and sanctifies them with the sacred fire, and presents them upon the golden altar before the throne of infinite Godhead. Not one of them is forgotten or lost. Those that came up when time was young, and those offered but yesterday, are all present and in hand. Jesus Himself is not ashamed of them, and handles them with holy care. He bears them in a heavenly vessel of gold, and presents them on the highest altar in the universe. He offers them as approved and indorsed by Himself, and for such acceptance that their fulfilment may no longer be delayed. He presents them now, because the fulness of the tune has come for them to be brought into remembrance, seeing that all things are in final readiness to execute what is to satisfy them forever.

I have heretofore referred to the great burden of all holy prayer.[61] As put by Christ Himself into the lips and hearts of His people, it is: Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven! This is verily the sum and substance of all saintly supplication, the very crown and goal of all holy prayer. And for what purpose are those trumpets in the hands of the seven angels? To what intent is this calling forward of such mighty ones to pour out blasts over the earth? What is to be achieved by the sublime activities in which they stand ready to move? What, but the revelation of the power and the glory of that very Kingdom, for the coming of which the saints have never ceased to pray? What, but the enforcement of the reign of God where iniquity and usurpation now hold jubilee? What, but the dethronement of sin, and death, and hell, and the setting up in their place of a heavenly order, in which God's will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven?

[61] See comments on Revelation 5:1-14.

Need any one ask, then, why this sublime offering of the prayers of all the saints is made just here, as the presence--angels are about to put their awful trumpets to their lips? When prayers are to be answered, then is the time for them to be brought into remembrance. That which results from the sounding of those trumpets, is to fulfil what has been the great burden of the Church's prayers in all ages. Those prayers, therefore, have a most profound connection with the sounding of these mighty trumpets. And hence it is that they here come into view, and appear upon the golden altar of God.

Nor are they offered in vain. The ascension of their sweet vapour into the presence of God is equivalent to an announcement that they are heard. The coming up before God of the prayers and alms of Cornelius, was the good pleasure of God toward what thus ascended; and the like ascent of the sweet vapour of these perfumed prayers is the token of a like approval and a like speedy answer. It is the effectual going up of the voices of them that cry day and night unto God. It is the signal that the time has come to avenge His own elect. And at once the mighty action begins.

"And the Angel took the censer, and filled it out of the fire of the altar, and cast into the earth." The Saviour himself thus initiates the oncoming climax of the day of wrath. The people under the sixth seal thought the last and worst had come, but it was only the herald of still greater things which now begin.

Nor is it to be overlooked, that all this occurs in answer to the prayers of the saints. There are those who think meanly of prayer, and are always asking: "What profit should we have if we pray unto the Almighty?" (Job 21:15.) The true answer is, "much every way."

There is an eye that never sleeps

Beneath the wing of night;

There is an ear that never shuts

When sink the beams of light.

There is an arm that never tires

When human strength gives way;

There is a love that never fails

When earthly loves decay.

That eye is fixed on seraph throngs;

That arm upholds the sky;

That ear is filled with angel songs;

That love is throned on high.

But there's a power which man can wield,

When mortal aid is vain,

That eye, that ear, that love to reach,

That listening ear to gain.

That power is Prayer, which soars on high,

Through Jesus, to the throne;

And moves the hand which moves the world,

To bring salvation down!

Here, prayer moves the Son of God--moves eternal Majesty upon His everlasting seat--sets the highest angels in motion--brings on the awful scenes of the day of judgment--influences the administrations in the heavens and induces wonders upon the earth.

And as these climaxes of judgment come in answer to "the prayers of all the saints," the implication also is, that where there is no prayer there is no piety, no holiness, no salvation, and that people who do not wait, and long, and pray for the coming again of the Lord Jesus and this consummation are not saints, but belong to the population against whom these fiery revelations occur.

Fire is the great consumer. It always bespeaks wrath, torture, and destruction to the wicked. It tells of burning fury and the most dismal effects-even "vengeance upon them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is the common figure of divine terribleness toward the guilty-one of the great agents in the administrations of the great day-the chief torment of the lost. And when the sublime Priest-Angel of heaven turns His fire-filled censer on the earth, we have come to the day that shall burn as an oven, in the which all the proud and ungodly shall be as stubble to the devouring flames. (Malachi 4:1.)

This fire is taken from the altar. It is one of the fearful characteristics of God's gracious operations, that they breed and heighten the damnation of the disobedient and the unbelieving. It is not Adam's guilt, for there is full remedy in Christ against that. It is not the condemnation in which the Gospel finds them, for it comes with a full and everlasting reprieve. But here is the mischief, that when the great and costly salvation of God is carried to them they despise it, and make light of it, and go their way as if it were nonsense or nothing. It is not that their sins are too great for them to be saved, but because they tread under foot the Son of God, and count His sanctifying blood an unholy thing, and render despite to the Spirit of grace. Out of the very altar of sacrifice, therefore, comes their damnation. It is the saving word refused, which is a savour of death unto death in them that perish. The same fire which wafts the devotions of the obedient into the presence of God, kindles the hell of the unbelieving and the neglectful. Perdition is simply abused or perverted grace. It is the same censer, filled with the same ingredients, only turned downward in the case of those who believe not.

And when the glorious Angel of intercession emptied the fiery contents of his censer toward the earth, "there followed thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and an earthquake." These are the signs and instruments of God's judgments upon His foes. No age has ever been entirely without them, as no age has ever been without earnests and foretokens of the great day. But they mistake, who think to find the description fulfilled in events of the past, or in anything but the scenes which are to terminate the history of this present world. Indeed, it is the very climacteric of the day of judgment which is here betokened.

John perceives the awful effects before they have passed into actual fact on earth. We read and know things only from their outward symptoms, in or after their accomplishment. In heaven they read and know things from their inward principles, even before they have been wrought into historic fact. It is under the action of the trumpets that these thunderings, lightnings, voices, and convulsions are worked into the experiences of the earth and its inhabitants; and it is only according to the interior view of them, from the heavenly standpoint, that the events to be achieved are thus summarily described. As the trumpets are sounded, and we come to consider the scenes they develop, we will see these thunderings, and lightnings, and voices, and convulsions, as they manifest themselves on the earthly theatre.

Meanwhile, I suggest just one thought more. It is in reference to the interest which holy beings take in these subjects of sacred prophecy. There is a very sublime picture, presented by the Apostle Peter in his first epistle, where he represents the ancient prophets as "inquiring and searching diligently" to understand "what, or what manner of tune the Spirit of Christ, which was in them, did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow;" and the angels of heaven bending from their lofty thrones, desiring to look into these things. It is a masterly touch, to set forth the greatness, majesty, and glory of the Gospel, which makes us feel as we read, that here is a theme at once the wonder of the universe, and challenging the profoundest attention and study of man. It is an overwhelming vindication of any amount of absorbing captivation by the topics referred to. All agree to this, But what shall we say, then, for the themes with which the text stands connected? Here is a subject which has engaged the devotions of "all the saints," and been the grand goal of all their holy desires since time began. Here are transactions which fill heaven with awe, and turn the songs of eternity into silence! Here are administrations which call the seven archangels into action, and for looking after the results of which, the universe is spellbound and mute with solemn expectation! Here are things, the mere prayers for which the Son of God holds in the golden censer, and offers on the golden altar, and sends up with awful solemnity into the presence of eternal Majesty! Is not this, then, a subject to command and justify the holiest and profoundest interest, study, and attention of rational beings! And yet there are people-men claiming to be Christians-leaders of religious thought-ministers ordained to teach the way of God truly--who have not hesitated to sneer at it as the theme of fools, the hobby of enthusiasts, or the plaything of religious idiots! You may agree with them if you like. But, while I find these things treated with all soberness in the Scriptures, and blessing spoken from heaven upon those who give them devout and studious attention, and the Holy Ghost interpreting them as involving the highest hopes and prayers of "all the saints," and the whole celestial world becoming mute and motionless in the intensity of its interest as they unfold into fact, and prophets of God, and angels of glory, and Archangels of the Almighty's presence, and the blessed Christ at the heavenly altar, and the universe of holy beings, occupied with heart and soul with reference to them, I must persist in a different judgment, and ask to be excused for believing that we have here, not only a legitimate and fitting theme for our devoutest study, but one as high and momentous as ever was presented to the contemplation of man, which grasps deep into everything dear to us for time or eternity, and which he who wilfully ignores, has reason to fear for his safety against the terrific plagues written in this book, and for the security of his part in the holy city. May God, in mercy, save us from such dangerous unseemliness. Amen.

Verses 6-12

Lecture 18.

(Revelation 8:6-12)


Revelation 8:6-12. (Revised Text.) - And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might sound.

And the first sounded; and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was cast into the earth; and the third of the earth was burned, and the third of the trees was burned, and all green grass was burned.

And the second angel sounded; and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third of the sea became blood; and the third of the creatures in the sea, the things which had lives [Gr. souls], died; and the third of the ships was destroyed.

And the third angel sounded; and there fell out of the heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon a third of the rivers, and upon the springs of the waters; and the name of the star is called wormwood; and the third of the waters was turned into wormwood; and many of men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.

And the fourth angel sounded; and the third of the sun was smitted, and the third of the moon, and the third of the stars, so that the third of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third of it, and the night likewise.

We have reached a point in the history of the Apocalypse, at which everything stands in solemn readiness for those final blasts of judgment which bring the grand consummation. The last seal is broken. Heaven is in suspense to see the result. The prayers of all the saints have come up with acceptance before God, who has promised to avenge them. The coals and ashes of holy indignation have dropped from the golden censer to lodge upon the doomed world. In short, the time has come for the action of the great day to be hurried to its completion. May the Lord Almighty give us grace to contemplate the awful scenes foreshown, as becomes both the subject and ourselves!


"And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might sound."

Most of our apocalyptic interpreters tell us that "the angels preparing themselves to sound, signifies the difference in posture observable between one carelessly holding a trumpet by his side, and the bending of the arm, the erecting of the figure, the inflating of the lungs, and swelling of the lips and cheeks, as the trumpet is pressed firmly against the mouth." To me this appears a sorry way of dealing with grave records of such momentous things. It is plainly said that these angels sounded their trumpets. From this we know, in advance, that they lifted the instruments to their lips and blew into them. All such accidents of posture and gesture are already necessarily implied, Besides, many of these interpreters extend these trumpets over long series of years; and if each angel put himself on a strain for a blast before either sounded, the last had his cheeks and lungs inflated very long before his turn came to sound! We had better exercise a little consideration, and not make these solemn things ludicrous by the way we handle them. The rapt apostle had greater things to engage him than to be dwelling on such puerilities. There was occasion also for a more significant preparation.

Not all seven of these angels were to sound at once. Mighty events of varied character were also to be induced by their several soundings. It was necessary, therefore, that there should be some prearrangement, both as to the order of time for each to sound, and the particular class of results each one's sounding should control. Their soundings were not haphazard things; neither were these sublime archangels mere machines, moving like puppets, only as they were moved by a superior will. No attentive reader can fail to observe a complete and forestudied system and order in these trumpets and their successive effects. No two of them are alike, and yet there is a gradual rising, one over the other, to the end. One touches the ground, the trees, and the green grass. Another touches the sea, the ships, and the creatures in the sea. A third touches the rivers and the springs of water. A fourth touches the sun, moon, and stars. A fifth breaks open the door of separation between earth and hell. A sixth unlooses the dreadful army of horses and horsemen, the seven thunders, and the mighty struggle and murder of the two witnesses. And the last brings on "the battle of the great day of God Almighty." There is a particular distinction between the first four and the last three; and again between the last of the three and the two which immediately precede it.

To refer all this to mere accident, or to the artistic skill of the narrator of the events, is unreasonable. Such system and order do not come of nothing, and a faithful recorder must enter events as they occur. Great intelligence and prearrangement are manifest in the transactions themselves, apart from any art of the writer who describes them. Either, then, this was the work of the seven angels or that of the supreme Mind. And as we cannot conceive of such sublime beings as these seven archangels, going forward with the control of such mighty operations, without also exercising their own personal intelligence as to the manner of their proceeding; when it is said that they "prepared themselves that they might sound," we are not to think of the mere mechanical accidents pertaining to the act of sounding a trumpet, but of a deliberative adjustment among themselves of the place and subject which each one was to take in the work.

We thus have a very significant hint respecting angelic ministrations, to wit: that the affairs of men and nations are much more under the influence of the thinking and deliberation of angels, and wear much more of the impress of angelic management, than we are accustomed to suppose. Even men, in the narrow spheres and powers assigned to mortals, have constant occasion to think, deliberate, consult, and judge. It is, therefore, reasonable to believe that angels, and particularly the seven archangels, in their high places and with their sublime intelligence, do also have need to confer, deliberate, and arrange for their proceedings, especially in cases so extraordinary as this. It was nothing less than the closing up of the affairs of a world that was here committed to them; and they were all seven to be equally concerned in the tremendous administrations. The word ετοιμἀζω, which is used to describe their ready-making, is also often employed to denote predeterminations of what is to be done, and the settling of appointments and designs before they are carried into effect. And it is but natural and just, and harmonizes best with the character of both the agents and the business assigned to them, to interpret their making of themselves ready as referring to their mutual adjustment of the method by which they would conduct the awful transactions.


"And the first sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood and it was cast into the earth; and the third of the earth was burned, and the third of the trees was burned, and all green grass was burned."

Here is the first touch of what fell from the censer of the Priest-Angel. I take the language as it stands. This book does not give things veiled, but unveiled. It is the Apocalypse, the uncovering. The results here described are heralded by the sound of a trumpet; what is published by a trumpet is no longer a secret. The phenomena are of a very stupendous sort; but the actors are Archangels, the occasion is the day of judgment, and the business is the closing up of the history of a doomed world. In such a case we may well look for wonders. God has also declared His purpose to renew the miracles of Egypt, and to do "marvellous things" like unto what He did in the days of Israel's deliverance. (See Micah 7:15; Jeremiah 23:7-8.) The plagues of Egypt were literal realities. They were miracles of judgment, such as have never been since on earth. And if it is the design of God to repeat them on a larger scale, or to do again what at all corresponds to that which He then did, the world has yet to witness just such scenes as are literally described under these trumpets. And "as it was in the day that Israel came up out of Egypt," so it is in what John beheld under the sounding of this first trumpet. Then "the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire, mingled with the hail, very grievous, such as there was none like it in all the land of Egypt, since it became a nation. And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt, all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field." (Exodus 9:23-28.) Here we have a corresponding visitation, only the fire is more destructive, and there is the further element of blood mingled with the fire and hail.

The whole picture is that of a tremendous tempest of hailstones, lightnings, and bloody products of the infuriated elements. Blood-red rains and blood-red snows are not unknown to the world. We occasionally hear of them. On the 17th of August, 1819, Captain Ross saw the mountains at Baffin's Bay covered for eight miles with blood-red snow, many feet in depth. Saussare found it on Mount St. Bernard, in 1778. Ramond found it on the Pyrenees, and Summerfield in Norway, and others have told of it in other places. So blood-rain has more than once fallen. It is recorded by Cicero, that word was brought to the Roman Senate, on one occasion, that it had rained blood; also that the river Atratus had flowed with a bloody stream. (Cicero De Div 2:27.) Slight falls of this kind have occurred in the Cape Verd Islands, at Lyons, at Genoa, and in the southwest of our own country, to the great alarm of the people of the vicinity. But whether the like of what John describes ever happened before or not, God has said, concerning the great day: "I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath, blood and fire." (Joel 2:30.) And the manner in which He will do it is here unveiled. A storm of hail, and fire, and bloody interminglings, shall fall upon and envelop the world.

The effects are correspondingly dreadful. At an earlier stage, under the sixth seal, the four angels at the four corners of the earth holding the four winds, were charged not to injure the earth, nor the trees, till the servants of God were sealed. That sealing being accomplished, the prohibition ceases, the spirit of storms is let loose, and the earth and the trees are hurt. Bloody hail and fire pour upon the world with such fury that the third of the earth is burned. Our English version says nothing of the burning of the earth. It speaks only of trees and grass. The best manuscripts specify the earth also. Modern critics agree that the omission is unwarranted. "The third of the earth was burned"-set on fire and charred by the fierce lightnings of heaven, and a corresponding destruction was, of course, wrought among buildings, flocks, herds, and human life.

"The third" is mentioned, not with rigid strictness, as absolutely just that proportion, but, as we would say in general terms, one-third of the earth was burned. And so also "the third of the trees." The Egyptian plague "smote and brake every tree of the field; "this destroys many more in the aggregate, because the visitation is so much more widespread, but it does not consume all. It carries fearful havoc among the forests, orchards, and timber-lands of the earth, but still the major part of the trees escape. Not so, however, with the grass and the more tender portions of vegetation. The Egyptian plague destroyed "every herb of the field," and it is the same in this case. "All green grass was burned." A scene of distressing and far-reaching desolation is thus foreshown, in which a large portion of the earth's surface is charred with fire, many towns, cities, forests, and plantations reduced to ashes, every field and meadow stripped of its growing crops, and bloody and putrid blackness spread over all the smitten world.

But most interpreters object to the taking of this as a literal description. If their objection is valid, they must be able to show a different meaning, and one on which we may reasonably rest with greater certainty. If earth does not mean earth, then what does it mean? And if earth means earth, then the trees must mean trees, and the grass grass. If not, why not? And if trees and grass do not mean trees and grass, the burden is upon those who so affirm to furnish the evidence of some other meaning. But, alas, for such attempts! Wordsworth says the trees mean princes and great men, and grass the glory and power of men. Lord says the trees mean stronger men, and the grass the young, the feeble, and the aged. Hengstenberg and Williams say the trees mean great men, and the grass people generally. Wetstein says the trees mean apostles and great doctors, and the grass common Christians. Durham says the earth means the visible Church, the trees what seems most strong in it, and the grass its lesser excellencies. The truth is, if earth, trees, and grass do not mean earth, trees, and grass, no man can tell what they mean. Letting go the literal signification of the record, we launch out upon an endless sea of sheer conjecture, turn the whole Apocalypse into an incomprehensible riddle, and force the conclusion that God was mistaken when He named it the lifting off of the veil; nay, that, if it is a revelation, it has not yet become manifest what that revelation is, and never will, by the light which we now possess.

A large number of writers on this book agree, indeed, that the downfall of the Roman power in the West is at least the most prominent subject of the trumpets: and, as far as that downfall is included in the great day of judgment, and, as far as one judgment is a type of another, they are correct, but no further. Referring these foreshowings to the decline and fall of the Roman empire, there are not two expositors who concur as to the distribution of events under the several trumpets. Each has a different theory, and each finds the same particular predictions fulfilled in things the most diverse in character and the most widely separated in time. And if we must go to symbol and figure for the meaning, I find one theory about as respectable and well sustained as the other. It is mainly fancy and guesswork from first to last, as full of self-contradiction as destitute of solid foundation. Thus, Elliott, who has written with so much learning and pains on the subject, finds the fulfilment of this first trumpet in the wars of Alaric the Goth and Rhadagaisus the Vandal, against the Western Roman Empire. But this gives us two storms instead of the one which John beheld, and the blood of men on earth instead of the bloody substance which the record describes as falling from the sky, and fixes on events which suit as well for either of the first four trumpets instead of something as distinctive and peculiar as this trumpet is from all the rest. And so the thing works in every other instance. The law of departure from the direct sense of the record, is the law of uncertainty, of irreconcilable contradictions, of the substitution of human vagaries for the clear revelations of God, and there is no remedy for the chaos of opinions that obtains under it. As well might we look for the laws of symbolization to interpret the plagues of Egypt of the discovery and settlement of America, as to find such laws for the interpretation of the seals, trumpets, and vials of this book of anything but the great day of God Almighty. But, carrying them forward where they belong, and where God himself has so explicitly put them,--to that day beyond all other days of literal realities and astounding marvels,-there is no more hindrance to the literal acceptance of what is written here, than to such an acceptance of what is written concerning the life and deeds of Jesus, or concerning the acts of His apostles, whilst it gives us solid ground to stand on, and involves us in no bewildering uncertainties and discomfiting self-contradictions.

I must, therefore, take these descriptions in the only really ascertainable sense of them, and insist that a mighty storm of hail and fire mingled with blood means a storm of hail and fire mingled with blood; that earth, trees, and all green grass means earth, trees, and all green grass; and that the burning, and scorching, and destruction means burning, scorching, and destruction. And, after wading through piles of volumes intended to prove and demonstrate the contrary, I come back to this, as fully persuaded, as I am convinced that the Bible is of God, that there can be no interpretation of the Apocalypse, as an intelligible revelation, on any other principle. There are, indeed, symbols and figures in it, as in all other portions of the Scriptures. But when they occur here, as in every other place, the distinct intimations to that effect are given; and, in all other instances, we are to interpret precisely the same as in any other piece of serious writing intended for the instruction and enlightenment of men.


"And the second angel sounded; and, as it were, a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third of the sea became blood; and the third of the creatures in the sea, the things which had lives, died; and the third of the ships was destroyed."

Here is one of the hints I speak of as indicating that a thing is not to be literally taken. The image of a burning mountain is before the writer. But it is not literally a mountain; it is only something having the general appearance of a mountain; and he plainly tells us so. He saw-we-as it were a mountain. Of course, then, we are to take it, not as a real mountain, but as something resembling a mountain. A certain writer insists that the plague under this trumpet is not to be taken literally, because a mountain falling into the sea could never turn it into blood. But John does not say it was a mountain. He says that it was something that looked like a burning mountain. Exactly what it was, he could not better tell us, except that its effect upon the waters of the sea was, that it turned them into blood. An ordinary mountain would not do this; but that falling, fiery mass, which had the appearance of a burning mountain, did it.

Some conceive of this fiery mass as a volcano, but neither is this the exact image. John says nothing of a mountain vomiting fire, but of a mountain burning with fire, which might be a volcanic mountain, or it might not. When God descended on Sinai, "the mountain burned with fire unto the heart of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness" (Deuteronomy 4:11); but there is no evidence that it was a volcanic eruption. The idea of John's language is rather that of a great mountainous mass of matter falling from the sky, clothed in seething, thundering, and flashing flames, and dashing into the ocean. The whole image is meteoric, rather than volcanic.

The plunging of this awful fiery mass into the sea, affects it wonderfully. It turns the waves to blood. And if any are disposed to doubt the possibility of such a thing, let them turn to the account of the exode of Israel from Egypt, where it is written that Moses "lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants, and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood." (Exodus 7:20.) In the Psalms also (Psalms 105:29), it is written: "He turned their waters into blood;" and again (Psalms 78:44): "He turned their rivers into blood, and their floods, that they could not drink." It was fresh water in that case, and it is sea or salt water in this; but if God could work such changes by the staff of Moses, what is to hinder him from producing like changes, even on all the waters of the ocean, by means of this fiery mass, as it were a burning mountain? And if the one was literal, as all admit, why not the other, although upon a mightier scale, corresponding to the momentousness of the great day?

Suppose, however, that we follow the common course of expositors, and say that this whole matter is figurative or symbolical; then what? Some understand the mountain to mean heresy; the sea, the Church with its baptismal waters; its change to blood, the effect of deadly error; the death of the fishes of the sea, the perdition of souls; the destruction of the ships, the overthrow of churches. Others say the fiery mountain is Satan; the sea, the nations; its change into blood and the dying of the fishes, the persecution and slaughter of Christians; the wreck of the ships, the extinction of congregations. Others tell us that this fiery mountain was Genseric with his Vandals, forced from their native seat by the Huns, and plunging through France and Spain into Africa, conquering the Carthaginians, settling themselves upon the conquered territory, and thence harassing the neighbouring islands and shores of the Mediterranean. Still others affirm that the sea is the sea of Galilee, figuratively considered; the fiery mountain, Vespasian; the fishes, the Jews; the ships, the cities of Palestine. And again others interpret the picture of the overthrow of Jerusalem and the temple, and the dissolution of the Jewish polity; the dying of the fishes, the relapses of men from Christianity to Gentilism; the loss of the ships, the subversion of synagogues and churches. Nor is the list yet exhausted. To some, the sea is pure doctrine; the mountain, aspiring prelates; the fire, their ambition; the discoloration of the waters, the introduction of false doctrine; the fishes, the lower orders of ecclesiastics and monks; the ships, the bearers of the Gospel. To others, the mountain is Rome; its burning, the conflagration of that city by Alaric; the destruction of the ships, the plunder of its wealth. Still others see in the record, a symbol of the ravages by Attila. And I only wonder that no one has discovered that it denotes the settlement of the Mormons in Salt Lake Territory! The simple truth is, that if it does not mean what it says, as men ordinarily use language, no man can tell what it does mean; and the opinion of one is just as good, and just as bad, as that of another.

I, therefore, take it as it is written, because there is no other way of taking it which yields any certain or reliable sense. What do we want with Vespasian, Alaric, Rhadagaisus, Attila, Genseric, Romans, Goths, Vandals, Arians, prelates, or the devil, when the inspired writer tells us it was a fiery meteoric mass,-an aerial mountain,--great and towering, precipitated from the atmosphere into the sea, as one of the great wonders of the day of judgment? Men do but rave and trifle and undertake to make a Bible which God has not made, when they spend their time, and learning, and ingenuity trying to persuade themselves and the world that it was something else than John says it was.

This burning mass is plunged into "the sea." It would seem as if some particular sea was meant. If so, most likely the Mediterranean Sea, around which the greatest recorded events of the world and of the Church have been enacted, and which is the central sea of all history, both sacred and profane. Its very name marks it as the middle of the earth. The result is, that the third of it becomes blood-poisonously bloody-so that a third of the living things in the sea perish.

It would seem, also, as if tempestuous commotion of the elements is to attend this awful precipitation. Both the vastness and the fiery condition of the mass ejected into the sea, naturally suggests such effects. Hence, "the third of the ships was destroyed," burned, sunk, or dashed ashore.

And all this finds place also in some of the plain, old unsymbolic predictions concerning the day of the Lord. Fishes constitute one of God's precious gifts to man. They were among the principal food of Jesus, and were the subjects of some of His most marvellous miracles. And, in punishment of the sins of men, it is but reasonable to expect the fishes of the sea to be smitten, as well as the trees and the fruits of the earth. Hence, in foretelling the Divine judgments, Hosea said: "The fishes of the sea also shall be taken away." (Hosea 4:1-3.) So the Lord, also, said by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:3), "I will consume the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea." Isaiah further declares: "The day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is high and lofty... and upon all the ships of Tarshish." (Isaiah 2:16.) And here, under the second trumpet, the blessed John beholds exactly how these predictions are to be fulfilled.


"And the third angel sounded, and there fell out of the heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the springs of the waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third of the waters was turned into wormwood; and many of men died from the waters, because they were made bitter."

Here is another marvellous meteoric phenomenon; perhaps a comet striking the earth. But nobody seems to be quite willing to take it for what John says it was. Interpreters tell us, that a star denotes an eminent teacher or angel of the Church. They refer us for proof of this, to the first chapter of this book. But there is one important link lacking in this argument, as applied to the case before us. There Christ himself says, that "the seven stars" beheld by the seer, denote "the angels of the seven churches;" but here He says no such thing; nor is there any proof that the Church is at all in question. This star falls out of heaven, but there is no evidence whatever that the Church is heaven. Besides, so great a star of the Church, in such lonely distinction, could only be Christ himself, who never falls out of the Church, whose name is not Wormwood, and who does not poison the fountains and rivers of the earth by His teachings. When the Scriptures tell us that a thing is a symbol, we are to take it as such; but when they give no intimation that a thing is other than literal, there is no warrant for making a symbol or figure of it.

But, if this star denotes an apostate teacher, who is that teacher? Some say Simon Magus, Menander, Cerinthus; some, Manes; some, Novatus; some, Montanus; some, Arius; some, Pelagius; some, Origen; some, Mahomet; and one with about as much reason as the other. Some, however, tell us that it does not mean an apostate teacher at all, but a warlike leader. Then, what one? Grotius, Hammond, and Rosenmuller answer: Some actor in the Jewish war, as Eleazar, Josephus, or the like. Others answer, Genseric; others Attila; others, whole successions of bloody devastators;-and nobody knows who; for, with this mode of interpretation, the vision will fit one as well as the other.

If Attila, King of the Huns, is the star, as the leading modern expositors affirm, then there are some very important questions which yet remain to be solved. What was "the heaven" out of which he fell? What was his fall? How did he burn as a torch? Are the Danube and the Rhine, along which he operated, "the third of the rivers?" How did he embitter the fountains as distinct from the rivers, and make both fountains and rivers bitter like himself? How was his name called Wormwood? Were the deaths under him literal or spiritual deaths? If literal, did they die of the bitterness of the waters? And, if spiritual, did Attila produce any moral mortality among men? O, the sloughs and bogs into which people plunge themselves when they let go the plain and direct sense of what is written! Has not symbol and allegory been tried about long enough on these momentous plagues of the day of judgment?

Apart from his stilted system of symbolization, Lord finds the description of the apostle very plain, and reproduces it in a way which well exhibits its literal import. "The star, obviously, was not a solid globe, but a thin, transparent meteor [or comet], which, as it swept along near the surface and sunk to the ground, still left the objects it enveloped perceptible to the apostle, and was soon absorbed by the waters and the earth. He beheld the rivers and fountains still running, discerned a change wrought in them by the meteor, and saw that it was the new element infused into them that rendered them deadly to many who drank of them."

A name is assigned to this meteor, not as though it had previously been known or should become known by this name, but in a way descriptive of its qualities and effects. Properly designated, "the name of the star is called Wormwood;" or, according to some manuscripts, emphatically, "the wormwood." Wormwood, or absinthe, is a bitter, intoxicating, and poisonous herb. Used freely, it produces convulsions, paralysis, and death. And this star is appropriately named "the Absinthe," as the embodiment of the very quintessence of all wormwood. It is bitterness itself-the poisonous bitterness of absinthe.

And this bitterness is communicated to whatever it touches. It falls upon the third of the rivers, and upon the springs of waters. It sinks into the earth and impregnates the fountains and the wells. Lord suggests that it falls upon the Alps, from whose melting glaciers so many rivers and fountains take their rise. At any rate, it touches the sources of many waters, and turns them into bitterness. Such a thing is by no means impossible. On the 21st of March, 1823, in one of the Aleutian Islands there was a great volcanic explosion, and, as one of the results, the river water assumed the colour of beer, and was so extremely bitter as to be unfit for use. God is at no loss for means to effect His ends. And if one meteor could turn the waters of the sea to blood, another may as readily turn the waters of the rivers and wells to the deadly bitterness of absinthe. Nay, something of this sort is indicated in the ancient prophecies, where we read: "Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice, neither walked therein, but have walked after the imagination of their own heart, therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink." (Jeremiah 9:13-15.) Even if this was figuratively fulfilled upon the apostate Jews, we are still warranted in counting on a more literal fulfilment in that great day which is to repeat and bring to their fullest consummation all the judgments that have ever gone before it.

The result of this embittering of the waters is fearful distress on account of the absence of wholesome drink, and great mortality among men.


"And the fourth angel sounded, and the third of the sun was smitten, and the third of the moon, and the third of the stars, so that the third of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine the third of it, and the night likewise."

We have seen the judgments of God going forth on the land, with its trees and herbage-on the sea with its fishes and its ships-on the rivers and springs-and everywhere spreading disaster, suffering, and death. This trumpet carries us above, to portents and afflictions from the heavenly bodies. Jesus has told us, "there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars" (Luke 21:25); and here John beholds some of them. We have had some of them before, but they increase and intensify as the end draws near. We shall see more of them hereafter.

But what are we to understand by the sun, moon, and stars? Ask a child, and it will tell you; but ask our Apocalyptic interpreters, and their answers are as various as their names, and all they have to say is nothing but loose conjecture and uncertainty. Grotius says they are the cities of Galilee, and the people of the Jews, destroyed by Vespasian. Hammond says the sun is the Jewish temple; the moon, Jerusalem; the stars, its population; their obscuration, the taking of the city by Titus. Brightman says the sun is the Bible; the moon, its doctrine; the stars, the ministers of the Church; their obscuration, the persecution of the African Church by the Vandals. Vitringa says the obscuration of the sun is the decay of the imperial government from Valens to the fall of Augustulus; of the moon and stars, the false doctrines and corrupt manners of the patriarchs and bishops after the time of Constantine. Wordsworth sees in it "a prophecy of a great prevalence of errors, defections, apostasies, and confusions in Christendom, such as abounded in the seventh century." And Danbuz, Elliott, Lord, Cumming, Barnes, etc., consider it a picture of the subversion of the Western imperial government and its dependencies, and the setting up of the new rule of the Heruli under Odoacer. Will any one in his senses allow that all these can be true? or that that can be a just way of dealing with the word of God, which gives us such wide-ranging diversity, and about equal reason for either theory?

The application of this trumpet to Odoacer is the favourite modern way of disposing of it. Yet Barnes confessedly adopts it, only because the system on which he interprets the foregoing trumpets leaves him no other alternative, notwithstanding he cannot make the events and the prophecy correspond, except in the vaguest and most general manner. Lord embraces it because "there is no other event that in the slightest degree meets the conditions of the symbol." And so with the rest; though, even as a symbol, this trumpet no more fits the case of Odoacer and the Heruli, than it fits the case of Vespasian or Titus, Napoleon Bonaparte or George Washington. Look at it. John beheld the third of the sun, moon, and stars smitten, and their light one-third diminished, whilst they retained their places, and for two-thirds continued the same as before; but Odoacer made an utter end of the old imperial government of the West, and of all its dependencies, and set up an entirely new sun, moon, and stars in the political heavens. Here is a discrepancy which is eternally irreconcilable with the record, and which, without noting others, is fatal to the theory. And if the system of symbolic interpretation forces us to accept as the fulfilment of holy prediction what is so fundamentally at variance with it, then there remains but one rational alternative: either to surrender our warfare with rationalism and infidelity, or to renounce and denounce that symbolic system as inadequate and false, which it really is, even from foundation to summit. With all the great names by which it is adorned, I charge it, before God and men, with having obscured and sealed up from the view of the Church, some of the plainest and most important revelations from heaven, and hold it responsible for nearly all the uncertainty, doubt, and darkness which hang over this sublime and awful Apocalypse. And as surely as this Book is what God says it is, and as certainly as sun, moon, and stars mean sun, moon, and stars, just so surely this fourth trumpet no more refers to Odoacer, or any other men, events, or disasters of the past, than it does to the writers who have so applied it. It is a judgment scene of the great day that is foreshown, and it is a fearful and disastrous obscuration of the sources of light and heat to our world, so that sun, moon, and stars will shine with only the third of their force, disturbing the seasons, hindering the ripening of fruits and harvests, and filling the world with chilliness and sickening gloom. The same was prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 13:9), where it is said: "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. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light, the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible." (Compare Jeremiah 4:23; Jeremiah 4:28; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Joel 2:10; Joel 2:30-31; Joel 3:15; Amos 5:20; Zephaniah 1:14-16; Matthew 24:29.) Nor can we consider this unlikely or improbable, when we call to mind the plague of "thick darkness," for three days, which attended God's judgments upon Egypt.

Thus, then, we have the significance of the first four trumpets. The first angel sounds, and a fearful tempest of hail and fire, mingled with blood, follows. The third of the land is burned, and the third of the trees, and all green grass;--a judgment upon the world for its wickednesses.

The second angel sounds, and a great meteoric mass, like unto a mountain burning with fire, is plunged into the sea, turning the third of its waters to blood, killing the third of all living things in the sea, and utterly destroying the third of the shipping on the sea;--another sore judgment upon the guilty and God-defying children of men.

The third angel sounds, and a great starlike meteor falls out of the sky, blazing like a torch, and is absorbed by the earth and waters, embittering the third of the rivers, and the wells, and fountains, so that large portions of mankind die because of the poison it imparts to the waters;-another sore judgment upon the wicked dwellers upon the earth.

The fourth angel sounds, and calamity befalls the luminaries of the sky. The sun, moon, and stars are one--third obscured, making the days' gloominess and the darkness of the nights still darker, with all the attendant distresses of such a beclouded and chilly state of things;--a further judgment upon the generations of the unsanctified.

And yet these are only the preliminaries and preludes of still intenser woes to follow. Ah, yes; sin has a voice that is heard in heaven. Though sentence against an evil work be not executed speedily, it will be executed at last. Jezebel may flourish in her iniquities for many years, but, finally, the horses trample her body in the streets, and the dogs of Jezreel gnaw and crunch her royal bones. Long was the old world left to drive its crimes, jeer at Noah's odd notions, and fling defiance into the face of God; but presently the earth broke down beneath their feet, and their lifeless bodies dashed upon each other amid the waves of an ocean world! The trampled law will assert its rightful honour, and Christ will not endure the smiting, taunts, and wrongs of Pilate's hall forever. And when these trumpets once give out their clangour, the vibrations will run through the universe, and everything created for human blessedness shall turn into a source of disaster and trouble to them that know not God and obey not the Gospel of Christ.

Day of anger, day of wonder!
When the world is driven asunder,
Smote with fire, and blood, and thunder!

And will any one who hears these solemn things go away from the contemplation of them, not caring whether he is involved in these plagues or not? There is now a free salvation from all of them offered through faith in Christ Jesus. Hid and housed in Him and His redeeming grace, not one of these calamities shall ever touch us. Who, then, can reconcile himself to retire from the exhibitions of this hour, without having his heart and mind made up, God being his Helper, never more to neglect or give over his devout endeavours to find the only shelter from the miseries of that terrible day?

King of Majesty tremendous,
Who dost free salvation send us!
Well of Mercy! O befriend us.

Verse 13

; Revelation 9:1-12

Lecture 19.

(Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:1-12)


Revelation 8:13; Revelation 9:1-12. (Revised Text.)-And I beheld, and heard one eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the dwellers on the earth, by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are yet to sound.

And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star out of the heaven fallen into the earth; and to him was given the key of the well-pit of the abyss; and he opened the well-pit of the abyss; and there came out of the well-pit smoke, as smoke of a great furnace; and the sun was darkened, and the air, from the smoke of the well-pit. And out of the smoke came forth locusts into the earth; and to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they shall not injure the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, but only the men who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads. And it was given to them that they should not kill them, but that they shall be tormented five months; and their torment [is] as the torment of a scorpion when he hath struck a man. And in those days the men shall seek death, and they shall not find it; and they shall fervently desire to die, and death fleeth from them.

And the forms of the locusts [are] like unto horses prepared for war; and on their heads as it were crowns like unto gold, and their faces as it were faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as of lions. And they had breastplates, as breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings, as the sound of chariots of many horses running into battle. And they have tails like unto scorpions and stings; and in their tails their power to injure the men five months. They have over them a king, the angel of the abyss, his name in Hebrew, Abaddon, and in the Greek he hath name Apollyon.

The one woe is past; behold, there cometh yet two woes after these things.

Four trumpets have been considered. The three most distinguished ones yet remain. They have a special preface, consisting of a heavenly proclamation of woe, woe, woe to the dwellers on the earth. It is a pre-announcement of the general character of what is to come, and a merciful forewarning of the judgments which these remaining trumpets are to bring. It is from this that they have the name of woe-trumpets. Let us then look:



I. Our English version describes this proclamation as made by an angel. This is admitted to be an erroneous reading. It is not sustained by the best and oldest manuscripts. The Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus, and the Codex Vaticanus, the very best and most reliable authorities on the true reading of the New Testament, have ἀετος, eagle, instead of ἀγγελος, angel. The Syriac has eagle. Griesbach, Scholz, Lachman, Van Ess, Hengstenberg, Stuart, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Wordsworth, Ewald, Alford, and the best critics in general, accept eagle as the proper and original reading. Bengel, a century and a half ago, wrote "the Italian version, and other most ancient authorities, widely separated from each other in age and clime, and in very great numbers, clearly vindicate the reading of ἀετου, eagle, from all suspicion of gloss." As this agent is in heaven and speaks intelligent words, it is easily to be seen how interpreters and transcribers, on the ground of congruity, might be tempted to read angel instead of eagle; but, on the supposition that the original was angel, it is impossible to explain how the best, and the vast majority of ancient copies, came to have it eagle. I, therefore, take the true reading, and the only one critically defensible, to be eagle.

Are there, then, rapacious birds in heaven? No; nothing of the kind.

There are other eagles besides birds. The Saviour himself has spoken of them in more than one place. Speaking of the day of His future coming, He said to His disciples: "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where [whither], Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." (Luke 17:34-37)

Here, then, those ready and watching saints, who are to be mysteriously conveyed away from the earth upon the first manifestation of the day of the Lord, are called eagles. We find them spoken of also in the Saviour's great prophetic discourse in Matthew 24:26-28, where He admonishes His people not to trouble or disturb themselves to find Him in the day of His coming, and not to heed those who shall say, Behold, He is here, or there; "for," says He, "as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be; for wheresoever the carcass [slain body] is, there will the eagles be gathered together." Here, as Hilary observes, "He calls His saints eagles, soaring, as it were, to Him, the body, by a spiritual flight."

There are some who take these eagles to mean the Roman armies, which bore the eagle on their standards; and consider the carcass to be the corrupt Jewish population and state which the Romans destroyed. But the whole face and intent of the passage, and the common voice of antiquity, and of the great reformers, unite in referring the description to Christ and His people, at the time of the second Advent. We are naturally repelled from the idea that Christ should be represented as a dead body, or that His meek followers should be likened to birds of prey. But when more carefully considered, there appears eminent propriety in the figure.

Jesus is the Saviour, most of all by His death. It is by His fall that we rise, and by His death that we live. "He that was dead" is one of His particular titles, though He is alive for evermore. He gave His flesh for the life of the world. His own word is: "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day: for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." (John 6:53-55.)

He has also instituted a holy sacrament, concerning which He says: "Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you. Drink; this is my blood which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins." He is the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world." He is, therefore, the true slain body on which all saints feed, to whom they are gathered in spirit, faith, and loving sympathy now, and to whom they shall be gathered in person hereafter, to see Him as He is, and to be with Him forever. And as saints have their life from the slain Christ, they are rightfully likened to the eagles which live on fallen bodies. They are eagles of faith. They feed on the body and blood of their Saviour, broken and shed for them.[62]

[62] The congregated eagles are the assembly of saints and martyrs."--Chrysostom. "Christians are compared to eagles, because they partake in the royalty of Christ."--Origen. "Eagles are the saints whose youth is renewed like the eagles (Psalms 103:5), and who, according to the saying of Isaiah 40:31, mount up with wings as eagles, that they may ascend to Christ."--Jerome. "Christ's body crucified is that of which it is said: 'My flesh is meat indeed.'" (John 6:55.) "The eagles, which fly on the wings of the Spirit, flock to this body. To this body the eagles are gathered who believe Christ to have come in the flesh." (1 John 4:2.) "They fly to Him as to a dead body, because He died for us, so as all the saints fly to Christ wherever He is, and hereafter, as eagles, will be caught up to Him in the clouds"--Augustine. "As the eagles are gathered where the carcass is, so shall Christ's people be gathered where He is."--Luther.

As additional authorities on the same subject, we name Ambrose, Theophylact, Euthemius, Calvin, Brentius, Bullinger, Bucer, Gaulter, Beza, Pellican, Flacius, Musculus, Paræus, Piscater, Cocceius, Jansenius, Quesnel, Du Veil, Calovius, Suicer, Ravanell, Poole, Trapp, Cartwright, Pearce, Leigh, Andrewes, Wordsworth, etc.

But not all Christians are to the same extent, and so preeminently, the eagles. The eagle is a royal bird. It stands at the head of the feathered tribes, as the lion among beasts. There are also different orders and classes of saintship, as there are degrees of sanctity and spiritual attainment. When the Saviour first comes, according to His own word, He will take some and leave others--honour some servants, and cut off some other servants. And those who are "taken" while others are "left," are particularly and emphatically "the eagles." They are the heirs of royalty and dominion. They are to have crowns. They are to share in the official honours of eternity, as none but themselves ever will. And the qualities of these are eminently the qualities of eagles.

Eagles are great watchers. They have a quick, clear, penetrating, and far-reaching vision. In this respect they excel all birds. It is almost impossible to surprise or deceive them. Audubon once placed himself in ambush to watch an eagle's nest. The parent birds were absent when he took his position. When the female returned, "ere she alighted she glanced her quick and piercing eye around, and instantly perceived her haunt had been discovered, and, dropping her prey, with a loud shriek communicated the alarm to her mate." And the eagle saints are those who are not taken unawares when the day of the Lord comes. That day is to come as a thief, with stealth, unobserved by the common world; but it cannot surprise them. They are on the lookout for it. They have a clear and keen vision for all signs of its nearness, and they exercise that vision. They are ever on the watch, as commanded by the Lord. Whatever the duties in which they are engaged, both in their going out and in their coming in, they are never unmindful of what may at any time occur. They know their danger and they know their safety, and exercise a corresponding circumspection.

Eagles have elevated aspirations and instincts. They prefer the heights, both when they soar and when they rest. They make their homes among the most inaccessible crags, and excel all birds in their sublime ascensions. So eagle saints have their citizenship in heaven. They live in the world, but all their feelings, aims, affections, and desires are above it. Their greatest impulses are upward, ever upward. They love the higher atmosphere and the sublimer sunlight above the clouds and malarious mists and dangers of earthiness. They build their nests in the mountains of God, and prefer and long to be where they are never more annoyed with the vexations and dangers of this sordid world.

Eagles are stronger of wing than other birds. Their swiftness and power are astonishing. So the eagle saints are distinguished by their vigour of faith and hope. They are particularly strong in those truths and promises which lift heavenward, anticipate the dawn of a sublimer economy, and sit "in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Isaiah referred, in his day, to saints of these eminent qualities, and likens them to eagles, where he says: "They who wait for Jehovah, gain fresh strength, lift up their wings as eagles, run and are not weary, go forward and do not faint." (Isaiah 40:30-31; Delitzsch's Translation.) And in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 32:11-12), Jehovah is likened to a parent eagle, and His elect to young eagles, whom He feeds, and upbears, and teaches to fly and rise to himself.[63]

[63] "This image, used in Exodus 19:4, is fully verified in Him who is called the Great Eagle (Revelation 12:14), and who bears His Church on eagle's wings through the wilderness of this world, and who ascended up into heaven with His young ones on His wings, and to whom, as their Parent, and their Life, and their Food, all true eagles of the Gospel, as His children, are gathered now on earth and will be gathered forever hereafter in heaven."--Wordsworth in loc.

"The comparison of Himself to the hen was adapted to the time of His first advent in humility. This latter reference to the eagle has relation to the time of His second advent in glory when the eagles of the Gospel will be gathered together where the body is."--Wordsworth in loc., on 2 Thessalonians 2:1.

We thus identify a class of eagles, other than the rapacious birds denoted by this name;--eagles that have voices, intelligence, and place in heaven.

These eagles are also in heaven before the judgments occur to which these trumpets refer. The Saviour himself, in Matthew 24:1-51, puts their gathering together where the body is, in advance of the sending forth of His angels with the great trumpet-sounding. When the sun is darkened, and the moon is obscured, and the stars fall, and the powers of the heavens are shaken, and the sign of the Son of Man appears, and all the tribes of the earth mourn; these eagles are already where the Lord, on whom they live, is. John saw them there, among other images, under that of "a flying eagle," before the Lamb took the book or ever a seal was broken; where also he heard them sing unto the Lamb: "Thou art worthy; for Thou wert slain, and redeemedst us to God by Thy blood, out of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation, and Thou madest us unto our God, kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth." (Revelation 4:5-10; Revelation 5:8-10.) And from among these was He whom John here beheld and heard flying in mid-heaven, saying with a great voice, "Woe, woe, woe, to the dwellers on the earth, by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are yet to sound."

The manner in which this eagle is spoken of, implies that there are others of the same class. The seer says: "I beheld and heard one eagle" thus flying and saying. This "one eagle" presupposes more eagles; as "one scribe," in Matthew 8:19, presupposes more scribes; as "one voice from the horns of the golden altar" (Matthew 9:13) presupposes more voices; as "one mighty angel" (Matthew 19:21) presupposes more angels.

The Church of the first born is to have a part in the administrations of the judgment upon the guilty world. "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 4:2.) Hence, when the first seals were broken, the voice of power was heard from the living ones. "Go!" And so here, "one eagle" has a mission which he executes between the sounding of the fourth and fifth trumpets, as the prelude to what the last three trumpets are to produce. Verily, we know not, and cannot half conceive what ministries and agencies of heavenly sublimity await us, if only we are faithful. We shall fly, like eagles, in mid-heaven, and mingle our voices with the trumpets of judgment, and fill offices of honour and celestial dignity among the transactions of archangels, as they go forth to close up the history of a rebellious world!

The precise manner in which this proclamation of the eagle is to reach men, is not stated. That it is to be heard on earth, I am quite sure. We can discern no reason why heaven should be thus specifically notified that the succeeding trumpets are woe-trumpets; nor yet for the introduction of such a special agency to inform John that they were to be woe-trumpets. The results of the blowing of them would necessarily make this sufficiently manifest to him. The intention of the proclamation itself is evidently merciful. I take it as a heavenly signal, given in the midst of the ongoing of the scenes of the day of judgment, to apprise men of the terrible plagues next to be enacted, that those then living, who have not become utterly blind and deaf to sacred things, may take warning and seek refuge against the oncoming calamities. It is one of the principles of the Divine administrations, that mercy is remembered in the midst of wrath; and, as long as there is any possibility of bringing men to a right mind, the opportunity for it is given. These three woe trumpets are to conclude the history of this world and to end forever this present economy. Hence, on the very eve of the end, and when the last awful visitations are about to fall upon the ungodly, still a mighty voice of warning goes forth from mid-heaven, that such as will heed it may prepare themselves, and cry for mercy before mercy is clean gone forever. God gives up the world to perdition with great reluctance. He has always said that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; and we thus behold Him true to His word up to the last.

II. We come, then, to the first of these eagle-announced woes. The fifth trumpet brings it. It is quite different in character from the four preceding trumpets. All are blasts of judgment, and all belong to the great day of the Lord; but no two of them are alike except in this, that they all bring calamity and suffering to the wicked dwellers upon the earth.

Thus far the trumpets have blown only the objects of physical nature, and wrought their effects through disturbances in the material world. The first trumpet smote the land, the trees, and the grass. The second smote the waters of the sea, the fishes, and the ships. The third smote the fountains, wells, and rivers. And the fourth obscured and darkened the sources of light and heat to the world. From these several successive blasts great suffering and mortality result to the children of men. But the trumpet now before us goes beyond the physical world and calls into action quite other agencies. The doors of separation between the earth and the prison of evil spirits are opened, and mysterious and malignant tenants of the underworld are permitted to overrun the globe, and to inflict torture and woe upon its unsanctified inhabitants.

John hears the fifth angel sound, and beholds a fallen star in the earth. This is not a meteor like that which he beheld on the sounding of the third angel. He does not see the falling, but recognizes the star as a fallen one-fallen, he does not say when or how. This star is an intelligent agent, for things are distinctly ascribed to "him" which could not be said except of a living being. A key is given him. He takes that key. He uses it for the unlocking of a door, and he lets forth from their prison some of the tenants of the abyss. All this argues active and intelligent agency, and furnishes the Divine intimation that we are not to consider this star to be of the same kind as the star under the third trumpet. It is not a material but a spiritual star, and a fallen one-one fallen out of the heaven. We know of such spiritual and celestial stars. When the capstone of the grand pyramid of creation was laid, the Almighty himself hath declared that "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." (Job 38:4-7.) These were angelic beings. We know, also, that there are "angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation." (Jude 1:6.) We read of "the angels that sinned," whom God did not spare. (2 Peter 2:4.) These are of various orders and degrees, "principalities and powers." (Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 2:15.) Among them is one of preeminent dignity, the leader and prince of all the rest-"the great dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan." (Revelation 12:9.) Hence, we read of "the Devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41.) Here, then, are fallen stars of a spiritual soft, and one of particular distinction and magnitude, answering to the description of the text. For the present they have possession of the aerial or heavenly spaces. (Ephesians 6:12.) Satan is particularly described as "the prince of the power of the air." (Ephesians 2:2.)[64] He is fallen morally, and fallen from the proper heaven of glory, and is eventually to be entirely ejected from the heavenly places now occupied by him and his angels, previous to the great binding which is to shut him up in the abyss. The Saviour refers prophetically to this, where He says: "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." (Luke 10:18.) This ejectment, in its final completeness, is described by John in the twelfth chapter, where he speaks of "war in the heaven," and the ejection of "Satan and his angels" by Michael and his hosts. After that, these impure spirits have no more place in heaven forever. But, even after this precipitation from the aerial regions, their work on earth is continued for a time with augmented fierceness and wrath. There may also be a preliminary precipitation of Satan into the earth, previous to the great battle between him and Michael, to which the fall spoken of in the text may refer. It may be the result of a Divine force, or it may be a voluntary casting of himself into the earth for augmented mischief. At any rate, Satan is a fallen spiritual star, and John beholds him fallen into the earth with particular malignity, and bent on letting loose against men all the evil powers which he can command. He also stands related to the inhabitants of the abyss as their chief lord, in a way which renders it congruous and fitting with all that we know of him, that we should see him in this "star out of the heaven fallen into the earth." Whatever the fall, whether moral or local, voluntary, or the result of force, it includes a will for mischief, and overflowing with malignity toward the children of men.

[64] Wordsworth has this note upon the place: "Satan and his angels, being cast down from heaven, but not being yet consigned to hell, have their empire in this lower air, and are therefore called the powers of the air and of darkness." The word οὐρανός is sometimes rendered heaven and sometimes air.

And because of the wickedness of the world, special powers are granted him. As people prefer the service of the devil, God allows them a full experience of his administrations. It has always been so. Because the nations before Christ, when they knew God, glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and changed the truth of God into a lie; He dropped the reins to them and gave them up to uncleanness, vile affections, and a reprobate mind, to be filled with all unrighteousness, and to receive in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:19-32.) Because men receive not the truth and dislike it, God gives them what they love, and sends them strong delusions, that they may believe lies, and reap the reward of their perverse choice in its own line. And because men reject the Lordship of Christ for the lordship of Satan, God in judgment enlarges the powers of the lord of their preference that they may have the full benefit of the malignant will of their own chosen.

John beholds and describes how this is done. To this fallen star, he says "was given the key of the well-pit of the abyss." It was "given" to him, as all that Job had was given to the same fallen one, to do with it as he might list. Though Satan has great power, he is under bonds and limitations, beyond which he cannot go without permission. He is now allowed to employ his demons, but not to bring forth all the evil agencies who would fain serve him in his work of malignity. But, in the great day of judgment, and in augmentation of the punishments of the ungodly, he will be allowed to call into his service multitudes of evil beings now restrained and imprisoned in the underworld. Nor will he fail to use this power any more than he failed to exert his full liberty against Job. With the key to the well-pit of the abyss, he opens it, breaks down in part the wall of severance between earth and hell, and evokes a plague, such as the world has never before experienced.

Jehovah once said to Job: "Have the gates of Sheol been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?" (Job 17:13.) There are worlds of being and of darkness upon which man has never looked. There is a tenanted abyss of which the demons know, and concerning which they besought the Saviour that He would not send them into it.[65] It is a dark and horrible prison, in which many, many strange and evil things are shut up. Satan knows of that world, and would fain bring forth its malignant inhabitants into the earth if he only dared. At last, however, he receives permission to bring them, and the fifth trumpet gives the result.

[65] See Luke 8:27-31, upon which Doddridge remarks of the "abyss," that it is "the prison in which many of these fallen spirits are detained, and to which some, who may, like these, have been permitted for a while to range at large, are sometimes by Divine justice and power remanded."

As soon as the mouth of the pit is opened, a thick blackness issues from it like the black smoke of a great furnace--a blackness which fills the air and obscures the sun; and out of the smoky blackness proceed living things, horrible in shape, malignant in disposition, and armed with power to afflict and torment men's bodies. John calls them locusts; but they are supernatural, infernal, not earthly locusts. They neither consume nor injure any of the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree. They do not appear to eat at all, though they have teeth like the teeth of lions. They are winged creatures, and their flight is noisy, sounding like chariots and horses rushing into battle. They seem to dwell mostly in the air and in the smoke and darkness. Neither is there any indication that they are capable of being caught or killed.

The forms of these creatures are particularly described. They are a sort of infernal cherubim--antipodes of the Living ones conjoined with the heavenly throne. The horse, the man, the lion, the scorpion, are combined in them. Their general appearance is like horses caparisoned for battle. Their heads are surmounted by the semblance of crowns seemingly of gold. They have faces resembling the faces of men. They are hairy, with hair like women's hair. Their backs and breasts are encased as if with iron plates, after the manner of a Roman soldier, and they have tails of the size and shape of a scorpion. Their dimensions are not given. Scorpions vary in size; some kinds are six inches in length. Figuring to ourselves then, an outline of body, the tail of which would correspond to the size and make of a large scorpion, we reach quite formidable proportions.

These horrible creatures have a certain degree of intelligence. Commands are addressed to them. They are able to distinguish between those who have the seal of the living God upon their foreheads and other people. They have a king whom they obey. Earthly locusts have no king (Proverbs 30:27); but these have a king over them. This king is not Satan himself. Satan is, indeed, chief of all the powers of darkness, but he has archons and princes under him, with their own particular commands. It is Satan who opens the door for the egress of these hosts from the pit; but their immediate king is one of Satan's angels-"the angel of the abyss."

This king has a descriptive name. It is given in Hebrew and in Greek, showing that this administration has to do with Jews and Gentiles. Christ is named Jesus because He is the Saviour. This king is named Abaddon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in Greek, because he is a destroyer--the opposite of saviour.

But the destructive power of these locusts is limited. As Satan was not allowed to touch Job's life, so these creatures are forbidden to kill men, and the sealed ones they are not permitted to touch at all. The extent of their power is to horrify and torment "the men who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads." They inflict their torment by means of stings, like the stings of scorpions. These stings are in their tails, which tails resemble scorpions. They have power "as the scorpions of the earth have power." They are not "of the earth," as scorpions are "of the earth." They are supernatural beings, but they have the capacity to injure and torture men which natural scorpions have.

The pain from the sting of a scorpion, though not generally fatal, is, perhaps, the intensest that any animal can inflict upon the human body. The insect itself is the most irascible and malignant that lives, and its poison is like itself. Of a boy stung in the foot by a scorpion, Laborde relates that, although of a race which bears everything with remarkable patience, he rolled on the ground, grinding his teeth, and foaming at the mouth. It was a long time before his complainings moderated, and even then he could make no use of his foot, which was greatly inflamed. And such is the nature of the torment which these locusts from the pit inflict. They are also difficult to be guarded against, if they can be warded off at all, because they fly where they please, dart through the air, and dwell in darkness.

The duration of this extraordinary plague is "five months." No single generation of earthly locusts ever lasts so long. Twice is the period mentioned, as if the Holy Ghost would call special attention to it as marking the great severity of the plague. To be subjected to such intense anguish, and to have it endure for "five months," fills out a length and breadth of woe which only they who feel can fully know. Death itself would be preferable to such an existence. Willingly, also, would the sufferers of this torment resign life in preference to the continuance of it in such torture, if there were no interference to prevent death. But there is such interference. Not only are the locusts forbidden to kill, but the people afflicted by them are hindered from dying. The statement is, that they shall "fervently desire to die," and "shall seek death; "but the woeful peculiarity of "those days" is, that they cannot find death, and are obliged to live, whatever efforts they may make to escape from life. Perhaps these locusts themselves keep men from killing themselves. This trumpet accordingly introduces the very torments of hell upon the theatre of this present world.

Many, indeed, consider it mere fancy-work, fiction, and symbol, referring to events in the past history of the race and intended to describe quite other things than are thus literally depicted. But the account is given as an account of realities. There is no difficulty involved in the language employed. The grammatical sense is plain and obvious. Neither is there any intimation whatever of any other sense. And if any other sense was intended, there lives not a man who can tell, with any degree of certainty, what that other sense is. Many and great minds have laboured to make out an allegorical and historical interpretation of these locusts from the pit, but thus far, as Alford has justly remarked, only "an endless Babel" has been the result. Alford gives it up. Stuart gives it up. Hengstenberg gives it up. Vaughan gives it up. Others have given it up. And every candid man must give it up, on any scheme that will consistently interpret the Apocalypse as a whole, or preserve to the sacred records the credit and value which this book claims for its contents. Observe the facts.

These locusts cannot mean the zealots who spread slaughter and devastation through Judea about the time of the fall of Jerusalem, as some have supposed, because those marauders killed people, whereas the locusts are forbidden to kill anyone. Those zealots had no king; these locusts have a king. They were natural men; these locusts come up out of the abyss. They had neither wings nor stings; these locusts have both.

Neither do these locusts symbolize those nations of the North which ravaged Italy during the one hundred and fifty years from the invasion under Alaric to the capture of Rome by Totila, as others have supposed. Those invaders were not led by a single chief; these locusts were. They killed men; these locusts kill no one. They did not distinguish in their doings between any sealed or unsealed ones; these locusts do thus distinguish. They did not refrain from harming the trees, grass, and products of the earth; these locusts do thus refrain.

Nor yet do these locusts represent the adherents and propagators of false doctrines, as many have taught. Heresy is killing; but these locusts are forbidden to kill. There never has been any system of error, whose abettors have run their course within "five months," by any method of computation yet devised; or so stung and tormented the ungodly as to make them seek death for relief; or so discriminated between God's sealed ones and the wicked, as to assail only the latter. Arius and his heresies have been named, also Popery and its falsities, also Mohammedanism and its abominations; but, instead of being confined to "five months," or one hundred and fifty years, these have wrought for more than a thousand years, still work, and have never ceased to hurt and kill people of all classes, both literally and spiritually.

Neither does the description answer to Luther and the Lutherans, as Bellarmine and other Romish interpreters affirm. If Luther was the fallen star, who was the king over the Lutherans? The locusts were to continue "five months," but the Lutherans have wrought now for more than three hundred and fifty years, and still are the particular grief of Papists, who, on this showing, have not the seal of God! The locusts have stings to torment men; the Lutherans have never been tormentors nor persecutors. They have done great things to release mankind from the tortures and inflictions of the papacy, but no people have ever so suffered from the Lutherans or their doctrines, as to seek death in order to escape their torments, without ability to find it. All the Protestant nations, and even many Romanists themselves, refer to the Lutheran Reformation with joy and thanksgiving, as one of the happiest enfranchisements of modern times. It was heaven-wide from this locust plague.[66]

[66] See comments on Revelation 3:21.

Nor yet will this vision apply, except in a very dim and imperfect way, to the mighty Saracenic invasion, in which so many moderns locate its fulfilment. If Mahomet was this star, it is impossible to show wherein he experienced the fall ascribed to this star. If he was the star, he was also the king of the powers he set in motion; but the record plainly shows that the star and the king of the locusts are two distinct personages. If the cave of Hera was the mouth of the pit, the followers of Mahomet did not come out of that cave, as the locusts are said to come out of the abyss. If his flight from Mecca was his fall, then the pit was open and the smoke had begun to issue and breed locusts before the star's fall, which is again contrary to the record. If the smoke was Mahomet's false doctrines, then neither smoke nor locusts existed before the pit was opened, for the Arabians were not Mohammedans before Mahomet, but the vision represents the locusts as dwelling in the pit and in the smoke long ere the pit was opened or the smoke issued. It was after the smoke had already gone forth, and followers had been won, that Mahomet professed to have received the key from God; he had therefore opened the pit before he got the key with which to open it; neither was it ever pretended that this key of his was the key of hell. But this is not all.

The locusts were forbidden to touch any one upon whose forehead the seal of God was impressed; but the wrath and fury of the Mohammedan hordes were directed mainly and above all against Christians and Christendom. The locusts were to torment all who had not the seal of God upon them; but the Saracen invasion struck a very small part of the world outside of Christendom. The locusts were not allowed to take men's lives; it was the work of Mohammedanism to kill both body and soul--the bodies of those who refused to accept it, and the souls of those who embraced it. It was the command of Mahomet to all his devotees, and delivered in the name of his god: "When ye encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them.... As for the infidels, let them perish." (Koran 47.) So they slew 50,000 in one battle, and 150,000 in another, and spread death and slaughter whithersoever they went. Does this look like the absence of power to kill?[67] The locusts were to do no injury to trees, crops, and vegetation. The Mohammedans destroyed with fire and sword the countries they invaded.[68] The locusts were so to torment men that they would seek to destroy their own lives, and yet should not be able to do it; but neither of these things occurred under the Mohammedans. Men loved to live then as now, and fought to defend themselves, and paid tribute to be permitted to live, and could easily find death if they wished. The locusts were in shape like horses prepared for war; Mohammedans had this appearance no more than any other armed hosts. The locusts wore seeming golden crowns; but "turbans of linen" very poorly meet the description, whilst, if the creatures are symbolical, the crowns are symbolical also. What, then, is the prophetic import of a turban? The locusts had breastplates, which are said to be symbols of invulnerability; but the Mohammedans were not invulnerable; they never went into battle without losing some of their number, and they were more than once defeated with great slaughter. The locusts have wings, and tails, and stings in their tails, and poison in their stings like the poison of scorpions; but, in no respect was this true of the Mohammedans, any more than of any other conquering hordes. The locusts have power to operate only for the space of "five months"--on the year-day theory, one hundred and fifty years--but the warlike expeditions of the Saracens ranged through more than four hundred years, and their power is not yet taken away. The king of the locusts is named Abaddon and Apollyon, but neither of these was the name of the Moslem prophet, nor do they describe him any more than many others who have acted a like part in the world. Smoke may very well represent false doctrine, but what was the sun and air obscured by Mohammedanism, when those who see only Mohammedanism in this vision are obliged to consider the Christianity and churches which the Saracens overrun, as even worse than Islamism itself? Besides, if Arabia, whence the Saracens came, is the well-pit of the abyss, as some seem to affirm, then it is into Arabia that the Devil is to be cast, and shut up, and sealed in, for the thousand years, if not also the place into which all the finally lost are to be consigned!

[67] "I cannot forbear noticing the caprice of historical interpreters. On the command not to kill the men, etc, in Revelation 9:5, Elliott says, 'i.e., not to annihilate them as a political Christian body.' If. then, the same rule of interpretation is to hold, the 6th verse must mean that the 'political Christian body' will be so sorely beset by these Mohammedan locusts, that it will vehemently desire to be annihilated, and not find any way. For it surely cannot be allowed that the killing of men should be said of their annihilation as a political body in one verse, and their desiring to die in the next should be said of something totally different, and applicable to their individual misery. Is it in consequence of foreseeing this difficulty that Mr. Elliott has, as in the case of many important details in other places, omitted all consideration of this verse?"--Alford in loc.

[68] Against this, the historical interpreters quote the command given to the Saracen army on the invasion of Syria: "Destroy no palm-trees nor burn any fields of corn. Cut down no fruit-trees." But this was not the command of Mahomet or the Koran, but of Abubekr, and there is no instance of its repetition in all the Saracenic wars. The command itself shows what was the general habit of these fanatical hordes; besides, it excepted only palm and fruit trees, leaving other trees to be dealt with as inclination might prompt. It is simply absurd to speak of the Saracenic armies as having refrained from injuring trees and grass.

But apart from all this, God himself has named this book the book of "The Apocalypse--the coming--of Jesus Christ." John accordingly, also tells us that what he describes he saw in the day of the Lord-among the scenes and transactions of the great day of judgment as they were made to pass before him in vision. It is impossible, therefore, that this trumpet should refer to the past, unless the day of the Lord is passed and the judgment is over, and the Apocalypse of Jesus has already taken place.

We have seen that the seven Churches span the whole period, from the time of the apostle to the commencement of the day of Judgment. We have also had the declaration of the Saviour himself, that what else John saw and wrote in this book relates to a period of time after the Church period has passed. The seven trumpets come in under the breaking of the seventh seal, and the Church period is ended before any of the seals are broken. The Saracenic invasion occurred in the midst of the Church period. Hence, the locust-plague of the fifth trumpet cannot possibly be the Arabic irruption under Mahomet, unless an event can be both in the middle and at the end of the same period, at one and the same time. Judgments, indeed, prefigure each other, and every feature of the great consummation has its forerunners and prelibations. And so there may have been a dim and inchoate likeness of this trumpet in the Saracenic scourge. But the height and fulness of it, and its only proper fulfilment, remains to be accomplished in the great day to come-the Day of the Lord-the period of Christ's unveiling-when it will be literally realized in all its horrible details.

Nay, more, it is clearly in evidence from the record itself, that all the occurrences under the sixth seal, and all that comes after the sixth seal, up to the events under the fifth trumpet, do really transpire within the natural earthly lifetime of the same persons. When these locusts issue from the pit, they find living among men certain people "who have the seal of God upon their foreheads," and whom they are not allowed to touch, because of that seal. It will not answer to jump at the conclusion that these were God's children in general, because it is specifically told us in a preceding chapter who they are. There is a definite number of them-144,000-and every one of them of Jewish blood. Their sealing occurs under the sixth seal. And here, under the fifth trumpet, they are yet on earth, among men, and as liable to the torture of the locusts as any others, but for the seal of the living God impressed upon their foreheads. They are not successors to the 144,000 sealed ones, for the work of sealing was finished before a single trumpet was blown, and the idea of succession is specifically excluded, first, by the definiteness of their number, and second, by the declaration that "they are virgins."

We thus find the same men living under the fifth trumpet, who were already living under the sixth seal. The "five months" must accordingly mean five months, and not 150 years, and the locusts from the pit cannot be the Saracens, or anything else than what they are literally described to be. They are extraordinary and infernal agents, whom Satan is permitted to let loose upon the guilty world, as a part of the judgment of the great day. All the seals, trumpets, and vials of this book relate to that day. It is a day of miracle throughout--a day of wonders--a day of fierce and tormenting wrath. It is everywhere so described in the Scriptures. And we do greatly mistreat the records which God has given for our learning, if we allow the sceptical rationalizing of our own darkened hearts to persuade us that such supernatural things are impossible, and therefore must not be literally understood. On the same ground the whole doctrine of the judgment may be explained away and, every article of the distinctive Christian faith, until we have nothing left but a book of preeminent pretensions and equally preeminent obscurity, uncertainty, and emptiness.

It appears, then, that hell and hell-torments are not the mere fictions which some have pronounced them. Neither are they as remote from this present world as men often dream. There is a fiery abyss, with myriads of evil beings in it, malignant and horrible, and there is but a door between this world and that.[69] Heaven is just as near; but heaven is above, and hell is beneath. Mortal man and his world lie between two mighty, opposite, spiritual spheres, both touching directly upon him, each operative to conform him to itself, and he predestined, as he yields to one or the other, to be conjoined eventually to the society on high, or to companionship with devils and all evil beings beneath. To doubt this, is to mistake concerning the most momentous things of our existence, and to have all our senses closed to the most startling realities of our lives. As we are heavenly in our inclinations and efforts, and open and yielding to things Divine, heaven opens to us, and spirits of heaven become our helpers, comforters, protectors, and guides; and as we are devilish in our temper, unbelieving, defiant of God, and self-sufficient, the doors of separation between us and hell gradually yield, and the smoke of the pit gathers over us, and the spirits of perdition come forth to move among us and to do us mischief. And at the last, as the saints of God are taken up out of the world on the one side, the angels of hell with their malignity and torments are let in on the other.

[69] King, in his Morsels of Criticism, after commenting on Isaiah 24:22; Psalms 69:15; Ezekiel 26:20; Ezekiel 31:16; Isaiah 14:9; Numbers 16:33; Ephesians 2:10; Psalms 28:1; Psalms 38:4; Job 17:16; Luke 8:31; 1 Peter 3:18-20, etc., remarks: "Upon the whole, therefore, we may, consistently both with the words of Holy Scripture and with philosophical ideas, conclude, or at least suspect, if we do not venture to affirm, it that there is a place of habitation of, some kind or other, in the lowest depths, and in the heart of the earth, and that this place is indeed άδης, or hell." "The abyss cannot possibly mean the sea.... ὰβυσσος is by no means a word made use of in any of the Gospels for the sea."--Vol. II, pp. 373-404.

People are prone to persuade themselves that this world of sense and time is all that we need be concerned about, and hence have no fears of an unseen world of evil, and no decided or active desire for the blessings of an unseen world of good. They live only for earth, not dreaming that this brief life is only the vestibule to worlds of mightier and eternal moment. Their houses are built by the very margin of hell, and yet they rest and feast in them without a feeling of insecurity or of danger. The flames of perdition clamour after them beneath the pavements on which they walk, but they have no sense of fear or serious apprehension. God and angels are ever busy to win their attention to the ways of safety, but they turn a deaf ear and drift along as they list, crying, Peace! Peace! And so will the wicked and the unbelieving go on, until ignored and offended Omnipotence gives over the power to Satan to let loose upon them these horrid beings from the abyss, under whose torment they will wish they never had lived at all, and vainly attempt to make their escape from what they once considered their chief and only good.

Friends and Brethren: The judgments of God are coming--they are coming. The agents for them are ready and at hand. They are to alight with awful severity upon all the rebellious and ungodly. They will not be delayed either till this life is over. They are coming in this present world. Men shall feel them while yet they stand upon their feet, and go on with their unbelief and earthiness. Hell is to be let in upon the living earth, and no human hand can stay its torments. And as the generations of the rebellious and the unsanctified complete their five months of horror and writhing under the scorpion stings of these infernal tormentors, the first woe will be fulfilled, whilst yet two other and more horrible ones follow.

God Almighty, in His mercy, save us from the evils of those days! Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 8". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/revelation-8.html.
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