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And I saw. A new departure in the series of visions is marked (see on Revelation 4:1). We have here the commencement of the Revelation proper, to which the first five chapters have formed an introduction (cf. Tabular analysis). The vision of the seals, which, although related first, exhibits events concurrent with those symbolized by the trumpets and vials, is contained chiefly in Revelation 6:1-17. Revelation 7:1-17 is occupied with an account of an episodal character, similar to that which occurs in Revelation 10:1-11:14 after the sixth trumpet; and the vision is completed by the opening of the seventh seal, described in Revelation 8:1. The opening of the first seal pictures the triumph of Christ and his Church, for the comfort and hopeful assurance of those to whom St. John was writing, and for the edification of struggling Christians of all time. To this theme, touched upon here proleptically, the apostle returns at the conclusion of the trumpets; the first six of which bear a general likeness to the last six of the seals. When the Lamb opened one of the seals; one of the seven seals (Revised Version). The insertion of "seven" (ἑπτά) is supported by A, B, C, א, and others; Vulgate, De Dieu's Syriac, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius, Victorinus, AEthiopic. (On the right of the Lamb to open the seals, see on Revelation 5:1-14.) And I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts; the voice of thunder … four living creatures (Revised Version). (For the four living beings, see on Revelation 4:6.) Here each living being invites attention to the revelation of the future of that creation of which they are all representative. The thunder is the usual accompaniment of a special revelation of the Divine will, and indicative of the majesty of him whose will is declared (see Revelation 10:3 and Revelation 14:2; also Exodus 19:16; Acts 2:2). Nothing in the text warrants us in particularizing the four living creatures in these four invitations uttered by them, though many writers have endeavoured to do so. Thus, adopting the order in Revelation 4:7, they have supposed that the first voice was uttered by the lion, since the revelation of the first seal is distinguished by the prophecy of victory. The sacrificial nature of the second living being—the steer—is thought to be connected with the slaughter predicted under the second seal by the vision of war and persecution. The man is considered typical of the heresy which it is believed the third seal predicts, and especially of the false opinions concerning the Incarnation; while the eagle is regarded as a symbol of resurrection and the harbinger of the final victory of the just over the death and Hades of the fourth seal. Saying, Come and see. The Revised Version omits "and see." The Textus Receptus, without any apparent authority, reads Ἔρχου καὶ βλέπε, "Come and see." Ἔρχου, "Come," simply, is read in A, C, P, fourteen cursives, several versions, two manuscripts of Andreas, etc.; while Ἔρχου καὶ ἴδε, "Come and behold," is found in א, B, thirty-four cursives, various versions (including the Coptic), two manuscripts of Andreas, etc.; and the Syriac omits Ἔρχου, "Come." The authorities are thus very evenly balanced; but the addition of καὶ ἴδε, even if not warranted, seems to indicate that the sentence was generally considered to be addressed to St. John; and was intended as an invitation to him to witness the appearances which accompanied the breaking of the seals. Alford contends that the cry, "Come," is addressed, on behalf of creation, to the Lord Jesus, and is a petition to him to speedily bring these things to pass, that his own advent may follow. In support of this, Alford remarks that there is no example of the use by St. John of Ερχου in the sense of "Come and see," "Come hither," without ὧδε, or some qualifying particle; but, on the contrary, it is exactly the expression used of our Lord's advent in Revelation 22:17, Revelation 22:20, "The Spirit and the bride say, Come," etc. Though there is much reason in this contention, yet, on the whole, the weight of evidence, as stated above, makes it probable that the sentence is addressed to St. John.
And I saw. The usual introduction to a new vision, or a special feature of a vision (see on Revelation 4:1). And behold a white horse. The whole vision appears to be founded on that of Zechariah 1:8-12. White is always typical in the Revelation of heavenly things (of. Revelation 1:14, "His hairs were white;" Revelation 2:17, "a white stone;" Revelation 3:4, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:18; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 6:11, and Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13, "white garments;" Revelation 14:14, "white cloud;" Revelation 19:11, Revelation 19:14, "white horses;" Revelation 20:11, "white throne"), and indeed in the whole of the New Testament (cf. Matthew 17:2; Matthew 28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1:10), the only exceptions being Matthew 5:36 and John 4:35. The horse, throughout the Old Testament, is emblematic of war. Among the Romans a white horse was the symbol of victory. And he that sat on him. On a consideration of the whole of the visions attending the opening of the seals, it seems best to interpret this vision as a symbolic representation of the abstract idea of the Church as a victorious body. In a similar way the following appearances are typical of war, famine, and death. Some interpret the rider to mean Christ himself a sense not materially different from that given above, since by the victory of Christ the Church collectively and Christians individually are enabled to triumph; and in his body, the Church, Christ triumphs. This appearance is repeated, with additions, at Revelation 19:11. The revelation thus begins and closes with an assurance of victory. God's end is attained in a mysterious way. Many trials and afflictions are to trouble the earth, but through all God is working to bring his Church triumphantly through the struggle. And what is true of the Church as a whole is true of each individual soul. Those to whom St. John wrote could not understand, as many now do not understand, for what purpose God permitted them to suffer. For such St. John's message is intended to be a support; not, indeed, by removing present troubles, but by declaring the final victory of those who endure to the end. Thus, then, as a preparation for the woes to be revealed, and as an encouragement after disclosing the prospect of prolonged trial, the vision of the Church triumphant is vouchsafed, both at the beginning and the end of the Revelation. Bisping and others understand the vision ass personification of war; Bengel and Reuss consider that it means conquest, or a particular conqueror, just as in Jeremiah 21:7 and Jeremiah 32:36 the King of Babylon is connected with war, famine, and pestilence. Elliott, with others, interpret the rider as meaning the Roman empire, just as the ram (Daniel 8:3) signified the Persian, and the goat (Daniel 8:5) the Grecian empires. Todd sees in this appearance a particular aspect of Christ's second coming. Victorinus, following Matthew 24:1-51 in his exposition of the seals, sees in the first seal the Word of the Lord, which is like an arrow (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Andreas sees in the first seal a vision of the Church's triumph over Satan in apostolic times; and similarly, in the second, the martyrdom of Christians in the age immediately following. Bode believes the seals to foreshadow the future history of the Church. Wordsworth, after St. Augustine, expounds the first seal as the advent of Christ and the Gospel, and the following ones as depicting subsequent troubles of the Church, which are specified. Had a bow. The bow and arrows are used as signs of power by Old Testament writers. In Zechariah 9:13 we have, "When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim;" in Hebrews 3:8, Hebrews 3:9, "Thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation; thy bow was made quite naked;" in Psalms 45:5, "Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies." The general idea of the vision is perhaps taken from Zechariah 1:7-12 and Zechariah 1:6. And a crown was given unto him, In Zechariah 6:11, quoted above, we have a parallel passage, "Make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest; and speak unto him, saying, Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the Man whose name is The Branch." The crown is στέφανος, as in Revelation 2:10—the crown of life, the crown of victory. And he went forth conquering, and to conquer; came forth conquering, and that he may conquer. This is the key to the whole vision. Only of Christ and his kingdom can it be said that it is to conquer. All earthly empires are more or less temporary in character; only of Christ's kingdom shall there be no end. A strife there must be between the powers of earth and the powers of heaven; the gospel did not inaugurate a reign of earthly peace, but the end is not doubtful; Christ and his Church came forth conquering, and that they may conquer finally, whatever earthly trials may intervene.
And when he had opened the second seal; he opened (Revised Version). The tense is aorist. The circumstances described accompanied the act of opening, as in the case of the other seals. I heard the second beast say, Come and see; I heard the second living being say, Come. (On the four living beings as representing creation, see on Revelation 4:6.) For the omission of "and see," and the discussion of the question to whom the words are addressed, see above, on Revelation 6:1. As there stated, some believe the second living being here specified to be the ox, which, on account of its sacrificial character invites the prophet to behold the result of the war which is personified by this vision. Wordsworth, interpreting the living beings to mean the Gospels, here sees a reference to St. Luke's Gospel, which depicts the sufferings of Christ, and considers that the ox here summons St. John to witness the persecution of the martyrs.
And there went out another horse that was red. There is a very general agreement that the red horse signifies war—slaughter by the sword which was given to "him that sat thereon." Slight variations of the application occur. Wordsworth, following the more ancient expositors, thinks that only that aspect of war is intended which consists in the persecution of the saints; while Alford and others would not restrict the meaning, but consider that war in general is meant, relying upon the following words, "that they should kill one another," and quoting our Lord's prophecy, "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). Both views may be correct. Though there had never been persecution, war would be one of the great afflictions from which Christians in various ages suffer, and in which they need consolation; but we may well believe that St. John, in writing to Christians who were themselves being grievously persecuted, should refer especially to the slaughter of the saints, as one of the trials inflicted upon them with God's knowledge and permission. The Revelation, intended as a support to those to whom St. John wrote, and applying directly and specially to their situation, has vet a wider application, and foreshadows the fate of each individual Christian and the Church in general throughout all ages. And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth; and to him that sat upon him it was given him to take peace out of the earth. The pronoun is redundant; it has no special signification (see Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:12, Revelation 3:21). "The peace" (τὴν εἰρήνην); that is, peace in general, not the peace left by the first appearance. "Power" (cf. Revelation 4:11; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 7:12). A few authorities omit ἐκ, "out." "The earth" has been erroneously restricted to the Roman empire or to Judaea. The whole world is meant. Here is a repetition of our Lord's prophecy, "I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The sword directed against the saints of God is, by God's providence, converted into an instrument for the refining and conversion of his kingdom. As in the death of Christ, Satan was foiled with his own weapon, and by death came life, so what is intended by the enemies of God to be the extermination of Christianity is the means of increasing and strengthening his Church. And that they should kill one another; that is, that among the inhabitants of the earth some should kill others. As explained above, this includes both the slaughter of the saints and war in general. The verb σφάττω, "to sacrifice," is peculiar to St. John, being found only in the Revelation and in 1 John 3:12. The use of this verb seems to imply that the vision more immediately contemplates the death of the martyrs. And there was given unto him a great sword. Here, again, μάχαιρα, though used also in a wider sense, signifies strictly the sacrificial knife, the natural instrument of the slaughter mentioned. It is the LXX. word used in Genesis 22:6, Genesis 22:10, in the account of the sacrifice of Isaac, where it is also closely connected with σφάττω, "to sacrifice," the verb used in this passage.
And when he had opened the third seal; when he opened, as in the case of the other seals (see on Revelation 6:3). I heard the third beast say; the third living being saying. (On the living beings, see Revelation 4:6.) Wordsworth takes the third living being to be that with the human face, and considers it to be typical of the whole vision of the third seal, by symbolizing the source of the next trial of the Church; namely, the rise of heresy, which he thinks is depicted by this appearance. But probably the four living beings represent all creation, and thus invite St. John to witness the troubles in store for mankind in general. (For a full consideration of this point, see on Revelation 4:6.) Come and see. The majority of authorities emit "and see" (see the corresponding passage in verses 1 and 3, where also is discussed the question as to whom the sentence is addressed). And I beheld, and lo a black horse. The black is typical of woe and mourning—the result of the scarcity foretold in the following words. This vision is typical of famine; it is the second of the three trials foretold—war, famine, death (cf. Ezekiel 14:1-23., where the "four sore plagues" are wild beasts, the sword, famine, and pestilence). St. John seems to foretell the recurrence of three of these troubles to try mankind in general, and Christians in particular. Those who interpret the vision to mean scarcity of faith, or in other words the prevalence of heresy, do so on the supposition that the events denoted at the opening of the seals follow each other in historical order. They therefore assign these events to the period subsequent to A.D. 300, when persecution had ceased, and the rise of heresies took place. Others, accepting the historical view, yet consider the vision to foretell famine; and Grotius and Wetstein point to the famine in the reign of Claudius as the fulfilment. But it is not probable that the meaning of the book is so limited in extent; but rather that its prophecies point to events which have happened, and are recurring, and will continue to recur until the end of the world. We therefore understand that this vision denotes famine in the ordinary sense, as one of the trials awaiting the members of the Church of God at various times during the existence of the Church on earth. This affliction may happen concurrently with, or antecedent to, or subsequent to, any of those trials denoted by the other visions, and even the victorious career of the Church as foretold under the first seal; for by suffering the Church conquers and is made perfect. And he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. Ζυγός is rightly rendered "a balance," as in Ezekiel 45:10; not (as it primarily meant) a "yoke." The idea intended to be conveyed is that of scarcity so great that food is weighed carefully as something very rare and precious, though there is not yet a complete absence of food.
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say; I heard as it were a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying (Revised Version). The speaker is not perceived by St. John; the words proceed from somewhere near the throne (but the exact situation is left doubtful), which is surrounded by the four living creatures (see on Revelation 4:6 for the consideration both of the position and of the nature of the four living creatures). Alford points out the appropriateness of the voice proceeding from the midst of the representatives of creation, when the intent of the words is to mitigate the woes denounced against creation. Those who consider the living creatures to be symbolical of the Gospels, and who interpret this vision as a prophecy of heresy (see on verse 5), also see an appropriateness in the fact of the voice issuing from amidst the living creatures, since by the power and influence of the Gospels heresy is dispelled. Wordsworth recalls the custom of placing the Gospels in the midst of the Synod in the ancient Councils of the Church. A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; a choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three choenixes of barley for a denarius. The choenix appears to have been the food allotted to one man for a day; while the denarius was the pay of a soldier or of a common labourer for one day (Matthew 20:2, "He agreed with the labourers for a penny a day," and Tacitus, 'Ann.,' 1.17, 26, "Ut denarius diurnum stipendium foret." Cf. Tobit 5:14, where drachma is equivalent to denarius). The choenix was the eighth part of the modius, and a denarius would usually purchase a modius of wheat. The price given, therefore, denotes great scarcity, though not an entire absence of food, since a man's wages would barely suffice to obtain him food. Barley, which was the coarser food, was obtainable at one third of the price, which would allow a man to feed a family, though with difficulty. A season of great scarcity is therefore predicted, though in his wrath God remembers mercy (cf. the judgments threatened in Leviticus 26:23-26, viz. the sword, pestilence, and famine; also the expression, "They shall deliver you your bread again by weight"). And see thou hurt net the oil and the wine. The corollary to the preceding sentence, with the same signification. It expresses a limit set to the power of the rider on the black horse. These were typical articles of food. Wordsworth interprets, "The prohibition to the rider, 'Hurt not thou the oil and the wine,' is a restraint on the evil design of the rider, who would injure the spiritual oil and wine, that is, the means of grace, which had been typified under those symbols in ancient prophecy (Psalms 23:4, Psalms 23:5), and also by the words and acts of Christ, the good Samaritan, pouring in oil and wine into the wounds of the traveller, representing human nature, lying in the road." 'Αδικήσῃς ἀδικεῖν in the Revelation invariably signifies "to injure," and, except in one case, takes the direct accusative after it (see Revelation 2:11; Revelation 7:2, Revelation 7:3; Revelation 9:4, Revelation 9:10, Revelation 9:19; Revelation 11:5). Nevertheless, Heinrich and Elliott render, "Do not commit injustice in the matter of the oil and wine." Rinek renders, "waste not." The vision is a general prophecy of the future for all time (see on verse 5); but many writers have striven to identify the fulfilment of the vision with some one particular famine. Grotius and Wetstein refer it to the scarcity in the days of Claudius; Renan, to that in the time of Nero; Bishop Newton, to the end of the second century. Those who interpret the vision as a forewarning of the spread of heresy, especially single out that of Arius.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say; when he opened, as in verses l, 3, and 5. The events narrated accompany the action of opening the seal. Of the fourth living being (see on Revelation 4:6). The individual is not specified (see on Revelation 6:1); but Wordsworth specifies the living being like a flying eagle, by which he understands the Gospel of St. John (but see on Revelation 4:6). Saying. Though λέγουσαν, the feminine accusative, to agree with φωνήν, "voice," is adopted in the Textus Receptus, and supported by the sole authority of 1, yet א, A, B, C, P, and others read λέγοντος, the masculine genitive, agreeing with ζώου, "living being." Come and see. The Revised Version omits "and see" (see on verse 1). "Come" is probably addressed to St. John (see on verse 1).
And I looked; I saw. The usual expression drawing attention to a new sight or fresh phase of the vision (see on Revelation 4:1; Revelation 4:2, etc.). And behold a pale horse. Pale (χλωρός, "greenish-white, livid"); the colour of one stricken with disease or death, or moved with emotions of terror. The same word is used of the green grass in Revelation 8:7 and in Mark 6:39, and of the vegetation in Revelation 9:4; but, applied to man, it is generally connected with terror, disease, or death. The Greek poets use it as an epithet of fear, and Thucydides thus describes the colour of persons affected by the plague. And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. The preposition differs from that used in the preceding verses: it is here ἐπάνω,"above," not ἐπί, "upon." And he who was sitting above him, his name [was] Death. Here we have it plainly stated that the vision is a personification of Death—death in general, death in any and every way, as indicated in the latter part of the verse. This supports the view taken of the first three visions of the seals (see on Revelation 9:2). Hades follows with Death, not as a separate infliction, but as the necessary complement of Death in the completion of the vision, swallowing up and guarding, as it were, those seized by the latter. Death is personified in a similar way in Psalms 49:14, "Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them;" and Hades in Isaiah 14:9, "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming." The two are also conjoined in Revelation 1:18, "The keys of hell and of death;" and in Revelation 20:13, Revelation 20:14, "Death and hell delivered up the dead." Hades cannot signify the place of torment, as Hengstenberg thinks, since these trials are to be inflicted on Christians, not on the wicked merely. Nor is it consonant with the context to suppose (as Ebrard) that Hades signifies "the dwellers in Hades." And power was given unto them. The reading "them" is supported by A, C, [P], א, n 17, 49 (1.40 e sil) Andreas; while B and the Vulgate read αὺτῷ, "him." The context shows that both are intended. Over the fourth part of the earth. There is a general consensus of opinion that this expression betokens a part of mankind. Why the fourth part is selected is difficult to say. Alford suggests that a reference is intended to the four first seals, each one of which embraces in its action a portion of mankind. But the first seal can hardly be interpreted in this way. Probably the intention is to denote that a part of mankind must be afflicted in this particular way, though no definite proportion is signified. In other words, the second, third, and fourth seals depict troubles which Christians and all mankind will have to undergo; some being afflicted more especially in one way, others in another. The troubles mentioned are not an exhaustive catalogue, but are typical of all sorrows; the selection being probably prompted by the Old Testament passages quoted below, viz. Leviticus 26:23-26; 2 Samuel 24:13; and Ezekiel 14:21. "The fourth part" is an expression found only in this passage. Zullig agrees with Alford in the explanation given above; Hengstenberg, and somewhat similarly Volkmar, think it denotes the partial character of this judgment. Elliott, with very little reason, follows the Vulgate reading, "over the four parts of the earth;" Isaac Williams also thinks the judgment is universal, since that is the idea that the number four signifies, which, however, is a different thing from a fourth part. To kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. The passage is another example of the influence of the prophecy of Ezekiel upon the composition of the Apocalypse. In Ezekiel 14:21 the "four sore judgments" are "the sword, and the famine, and the noisome beast, and the pestilence? This indicates the signification of θανάτῳ in this place; viz. death by pestilence, not, as in the preceding passage, death in any form (comp. Leviticus 26:23-26, where the judgments threatened are the sword, pestilence, and famine. Cf. also the alternative punishments of David (2 Samuel 24:13); also 4 Esdr. 15:5, "the sword, and hunger, and death, and destruction"). The wild beasts of the earth (θηρίων) is very probably a reference to the death of many Christians in the pagan amphitheatres; though the meaning is not necessarily restricted to this form of death. Those to whom the Apocalypse was first addressed would irresistibly be reminded of our Lord's words in Matthew 24:7, Matthew 24:13, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places … But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." It is as though St. John echoed the words of our Lord, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44); and would say, "I am commissioned to relate these visions of the present and future trials of all in the world, which, however, have been already foretold you by our blessed Lord himself." While, therefore, this passage may be understood literally, since doubtless the Church has suffered all these afflictions at different times, in different members of her body, yet we must understand these four typical judgments to be representative of trouble in all its forms; the fourfold character pointing to its universal nature (see on Revelation 5:9). This has led many writers to see in these inflictions trials of a spiritual nature—a view which may well be included in the proper application, but must not be pressed to the exclusion of any other more literal interpretation. We may thus sum up the results of our investigation of these eight verses. They relate the circumstances attending the opening of the first four seals, and doubtless typify various phases of the trials which are permitted by God to afflict Christians on earth in common with all mankind. Each of the four visions is preceded by the invitation of one of the four living beings, which are representative of creation; and a second feature common to these four visions is the appearance of a rider as the personification of the idea set forth.
(1) The visions open with a personification of Christianity, and an assurance of the ultimate victory which it will gain over the powers of the world.
(2) Then appears a vision of war, as one of the typical troubles of mankind, which will ultimately be overcome by the triumph of Christianity.
(3) Next follows famine with all its attendant evils, though it is not permitted to extend to the extremity of the extirpation of mankind.
(4) Fourthly comes death in every form—a trial of which every one feels the weight at some time. These four do not picture consecutive events; they may be successive or concurrent; the first is certainly being fulfilled side by side with the others. We may, therefore, be able to point to a particular period or event as a fulfilment of any one of these, but we cannot assign definite times to each as the complete and ultimate fulfilment, since the trials which are signified must extend to the end of time. And, in conclusion, while the first application was doubtless intended for the support of the Christians of St. John's age in their temporal difficulties, we must consider the visions equally intended to console Christians of every age, and even to portray the spiritual conflict, destitution, and apostasy which must and will continually arise while the Church remains in part in the world.
And when he had opened the fifth seal; and when he opened, as in Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, Revelation 6:7, which see. The second group of visions connected with the opening of the seals now commences. The first group deals with events more immediately attached to this life. By the visions of the first four seals St. John has shown that it is with God's knowledge and consent that afflictions and persecutions are allowed to try the faith of his servants on earth; while yet the ultimate triumph of those who endure is certain. In the last three appearances he goes a step further—he gives his readers a glimpse of events more immediately connected with the life in the world to come. He shows them
(1) the faithful, resting from their labours, though longing, in sympathy with those left on earth, for the completion of Christ's triumph;
(2) the circumstances attendant upon our Lord's final coming, which he describes in language which is almost a repetition of Christ's words on the same subject;
(3) the inexplicable life with God in heaven, which is denoted by the silence following the opening of the last seal. I saw under the altar. This representation is doubtless suggested by the arrangements of the temple. Victims were sacrificed on the brazen altar which stood at the door of the tabernacle (Exodus 39:39 and Exodus 40:29), and the blood was poured out at the foot of this altar (Le John 4:7). The martyrs are therefore regarded as having offered themselves as sacrifices upon the altar of God by yielding up their lives for him. St. Paul uses a similar figure concerning himself. In 2 Timothy 4:6 he says, "For I am now ready to be offered ['to pour out as a libation,' σπένδω], and the time of any departure is at hand;" and in Philippians 2:17, "If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith." Bleek and De Wette understand the golden altar of incense (Exodus 30:1), and consider that the figure is representative of the hearing of the martyrs' prayers. Bossuet says the altar is Christ. The souls of them that wore slain; them that had been slain. An "aesthetical difficulty" (see on Revelation 4:6). How could St. John see the souls? Of course, he did not see them with his bodily vision, nor indeed did he thus see any part of the revelation. He "sees" them while "in the Spirit," i.e. he is somehow made conscious of the existence of the souls. Slain; σφάττω, "sacrificed;" the same word used of the Lamb in Revelation 5:6. The word is in harmony with the use of the word" altar," with which it is naturally connected. It fixes the signification of the altar, which therefore cannot bear the meaning ascribed by Block and De Wette, as mentioned above. St. John sees the souls only of the martyrs, since their bodies will not be reunited with their souls until the judgment day. Meanwhile, the souls rest (see verse 11) in peace, yet in expectation of the final accomplishment of their perfect bliss, which the words used in verse 10 show them to desire. Wordsworth quotes (as illustrating this passage) Tertullian, "The souls of martyrs repose in peace under the altar, and cherish a spirit of patience until others are admitted to fill up their communion of glow;" and Irenaeus, "The souls of the departed go to the place assigned them by God, and there abide until the resurrection, when they will be reunited to their bodies; and then the saints, both in soul and body, will come into the presence of God." For the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held. B, Syriac, add, "and of the Lamb." On account of the word, etc. Exactly the same expression which St. John uses in Revelation 1:9 in describing the cause of his own exile at Patmos. The language is peculiarly St. John's
the testimony or truth which Christ has imparted to Christians; or
(2) the active showing forth of the Christian faith by word or deed. The latter is evidently the meaning here, since for this active manifestation of Christianity they whose souls St. John now sees in glory had been slain, which would not have occurred had they merely received the Word of God without showing it outwardly (of. Revelation 1:2).
And they cried with a loud voice, saying; i.e. the souls cried. Ebrard, Dusterdieck, Hengstenberg, make "the slain" nominative, in contradistinction to the "souls," which is both unnecessary and unnatural. Zullig compares Genesis 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." How long? (comp. Zechariah 1:12, Zechariah 1:13, "How long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem? And the Lord answered with good words and comfortable words"). No doubt the souls waiting in Paradise are answered by "comfortable words," yet, not having lost their interest in earthly struggles, nor their longing for the triumphant vindication of God's glory, they cry, "How long?," not as needing the time to be shortened for their own sakes, for they rest, though not yet entered into the fulness of God's glory. O Lord, holy and true; O Master, the holy and true (Revised Version). "Master" (δεσπότης) is the correlative of "servant" (δοῦλος). This is the only instance of its occurrence in the Apocalypse. (On "true," see previous passages.) Deal thou not judge and avenge our blood. The cry is not a petition for personal revenge, but a request for the termination of those ills which for a time afflict man, and the termination of which must, by virtue of God's eternal justice, be accompanied by visible retribution on the wicked. (Cf. Bede, "Those souls which offered themselves a living sacrifice to God pray eternally for his coming to judgment, not from any vindictive feeling against their enemies, but in a spirit of zeal and love for God's glory and justice, mid for the coming of that day when sin, which is rebellion against him, will be destroyed, and their own bodies will be raised. And so in that prayer wherein Christ teaches us to forgive our enemies, we are also taught to say, 'Thy kingdom come.'") The passage has given rise to varying interpretations, which are thought to be more consonant with the spirit of the gospel. Thus I. Williams would understand the souls to represent only the Old Testament saints, especially as it is not explicitly said that they died for the witness of Jesus, as in Revelation 20:4. On them that dwell on the earth. That is, on the worldly, those who have taken the side of the world in its conflict with Christianity.
And white robes were given unto every one of them; and there was given to each one a white robe. Στολὴ λευκή, "a white robe," is supported by A, C, [P], N, B, etc. The white robe of righteousness, the wedding garment of Matthew 22:11, Matthew 22:12, is the sign of the blessedness of the saints. White is the colour of heavenly victory in the Apocalypse (see on Matthew 22:2). The vision has recalled the past sufferings of the martyrs and their present expectation of the final consummation of their hopes, which is to be not yet. The other side is now to be shown; though they have not yet reached their final bliss, they have received the white robe, they are free from possibility of defilement, the victory is won, and they have rest. Comfort and encouragement are thus afforded to those still struggling in the world, who have not as yet attained to the white robe of perfect righteousness. And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season. Revelation 14:1-20. seems to determine the exact signification ἀναπάυσωνται, viz. "rest in peace," "rest from their labours," rather than specifically "cease kern uttering this cry" (Revelation 14:10), as explained by De Wette and others. For a little time (χρόνος); that is, till the second coming of Christ, for the time which is to intervene before that event is frequently spoken of as a little time (see on Revelation 1:1; Revelation 20:3; Revelation 12:12; comp. Haggai 2:6, Haggai 2:7, "Yet once a little time, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come"). The time of the world is little in comparison with eternity. This little time is depicted and set forth under the six seals; it comes to an end at Revelation 7:17, and merges into eternity in Revelation 8:1. Some expositors (of the historical school) understand a χρόνος to be a definite, arbitrary number; e.g. Bengel considers it to be 1111 1/9 years. Until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled. R, B, P, read πληρώσωσιν, "shall have fulfilled'' [i.e. their course]; A, C, read πληρωθῶσιν, "should be completed." "Their fellow servants also and their brethren" may not denote two separate bodies, notwithstanding that καί occurs twice, but, as Alford remarks, it may point out the same persons viewed in two aspects—first, the Christians needed to proceed with and finish Christ's work as his servants; second, the same ones needed to complete the number of his family. But it seems more likely that reference is intended to two classes of Christians—first, their fellow servants, that is, all Christians, who may, however, not suffer martyrdom; and, second, their brethren, the martyrs, who, like them, should yet be killed.
And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal; and I saw when he opened. The events described accompany the opening as in the case of the preceding visions (see on Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, etc.). The sixth seal describes the end of the world—the transition of the saints from earth to heaven, with the accompanying circumstances. It is important to remember that the whole is a vision, and we must therefore guard against expecting a literal interpretation of the language used. Following the manner of the prophets, and the description given by our Lord himself of the judgment day, St. John portrays the wonder and awe and consternation which will then be prevalent under the figure of falling stars. etc. How much, if any, may, in the destruction of the world, literally come to pass, it is impossible to say; but we must be content to receive the general impression which is undoubtedly intended to be conveyed to us, without pressing the individual particulars too far. The symbolism, as usual, bears evidence of its Old Testament origin; and the influence of our Lord's description in Matthew 24:1-51. is noticeable. The special revelation of God's presence or of his judgments is usually depicted under the figure of terrestrial commotion (see on Revelation 6:1; also Isaiah 2:19; Isaiah 13:12; Isaiah 34:4 : Ezekiel 32:7, Ezekiel 32:8; Hosea 10:8; Joel 2:30; Haggai 2:6). The last three seals seem connected more especially with life in the next world. The fifth seal displays to us the souls of the faithful in peace, but desiring the perfect consummation of their bliss; the sixth announces the certainty of future judgment, when all will be set right, when the righteous will be preserved and the wicked justly recompensed; the seventh typifies the indescribable joy and peace of heaven. It seems reasonable, therefore, to consider the passage Revelation 6:12-7:17 as all contained under the sixth seal; since, although set forth at rather greater length than the other seals, it all follows in natural sequence—the destruction of the earth, the fear of the wicked, the preservation and joy of the righteous; and then follows heaven, portrayed under the opening of the seventh seal. Some have tried to separate Revelation 7:1-17. as "an episode," or rather two episodes, commencing at, and marked off by, the μετά τοῦτο of Revelation 7:1 and μετὰ ταῦτα of Revelation 7:9, "after these things." But this expression, though undoubtedly marking, the beginning of a fresh phase of the subject, does not necessarily imply the opening of an entirely new and unconnected discourse. This view of the sixth seal is in harmony with what appears to be the general plan of the visions of the seals. It is important to bear in mind, in our interpretation of the Apocalypse, these two principles—first, the book was addressed to certain Christians for a definite purpose, and its object would be set forth so as to be comprehended by them; second, the truths thus contained must be such as to be applicable to the position of mankind in general in all ages. We have, therefore, to inquire to whom and for what purpose the book was primarily written, and then how the lessons contained can benefit mankind in general. It thus appears that the message was originally intended as an encouragement and a support to those Christians who were being persecuted, and were suffering in various ways, and whose patience might be inadequate to preserve them through trials so severe or so long. The visions of the seals would speak plainly to such as these. The first four would tell them that, though they must not doubt of Christ's final victory, it is yet with God's knowledge and permission that this life is afflicted with troubles of different kinds; it is not because God is weak, forgetful, or unjust Then, lest any should be tempted to ask, "Is it worth while? If Christianity involves all this suffering, would it not be better to be as the world is, and escape?" a picture of the future is given. The fifth seal shows that, immediately upon the completion of this life, the souls of the righteous are at peace; and the sixth seal shows that a day of reckoning will certainly come for the world; while the seventh seal is an assurance of heaven. It is worth while, therefore, to endure and to persevere, both on account of God's reward to the just, and his retribution upon the unjust. Thus would the signification of the visions be easily comprehended by those for whom they were originally intended; and the same lessons are equally valuable for the Church at all time. Grotius considers that this vision refers to the destruction of Jerusalem; Elliott, Faber, and Mede refer its accomplishment to the beginning of the fourth century; Wordsworth sees the "last age" of the Church represented; Stern thinks it indicates the general state of the Church; Wetstein, the commotions in Judaea previous to the destruction of Jerusalem; while Cunninghame and Frere see a reference to the French Revolution of 1789. But these interpretations do not fulfil the conditions mentioned above, since the Christians to whom this book is addressed were ignorant of those events yet in the future. And, lo, there was a great earthquake. Omit "lo." The earthquake is the usual manifestation of God's presence or special dealing with men (vide supra). This is the answer to the question of the saints in the fifth seal—the period of probation is finite. And the sun became black as sackcloth of hair. Thus Isaiah 50:3, "I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering" (cf. Matthew 24:29). And the moon became as blood; the whole moon (cf. Joel 2:31, quoted in Acts 2:20).
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth (cf. Matthew 24:29, "The stars shall fall from heaven"). The figure of "stars" is sometimes used to typify "rulers," as in Numbers 24:17, "There shall come a star out of Jacob;" Isaiah 14:13, "I [Lucifer] will exalt my throne above the stars of God." Some have thus been led to find a particular application of this sentence. Stern considers that the falling away of Christian rulers is signified; while many refer it to the overthrew of pagan rulers. Even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind; her unripe figs. Probably the unripe figs of the spring, many of which would be shaken down by a strong wind, or possibly the winter figs, which commonly fall off while unripe. The figure is doubtless suggested by Isaiah 34:4, taken in conjunction with the parable of Matthew 24:32.
And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up. The scroll—the parchment book or roll, which is spread out to read, and, when read, roiled up and put away. The passage is apparently founded upon Isaiah 34:4. "The host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll," etc. And every mountain and island were moved out of their places (cf. Isaiah 40:4, "Every mountain and hill shall be made low;" also Jeremiah 3:23, "Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains"). The enumeration of seven objects in Isaiah 34:12-14 seems to denote the all extending nature of God's judgment.
And the kings of the earth. The first of the seven classes mentioned. The enumeration is again all extensive, embracing all classes, and men of every degree of social distinction. Bishop Newton is probably not correct in seeing an allusion to particular kings. And the great men; princes (Revised Version). Μεγιστᾶνες are the grandees, the courtiers, as distinguished from those who are governors and hold military command, and who are subsequently mentioned as the "chief captains.'' And the rich men, and the chief captains. The Revised Version reverses the order, and places "chief captains" first. The chief captains (χιλίαρχοι) are those holding military rank. And the mighty men. Probably those possessing great bodily strength. And every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains. "Every" is omitted before "free man" by A, B, C, Vulgate, Syriac, Andreas, and Arethas. The dens; in Revised Version caves (cf. Isaiah 2:19, "And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth"). Again, as in Revelation 6:12-14, the enumeration is sevenfold; thus denoting the universality and completeness of the extent of the judgment (see Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1, etc.).
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face (cf. Hosea 10:8, "They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; and to the hills, Fall on us;" also Luke 23:30, "Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us ") of him that sitteth on the throne. The Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2). And from the wrath of the Lamb. The result of the wroth of the Lamb is depicted in Revelation 21:8. God's wrath with the wicked is the assurance of his mercy and love for the righteous. Thus in Revelation 11:18, we have, "The nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants," etc. Similarly, in Revelation 14:10-13, the wrath of God upon the wicked is associated with the peace of the faithful.
For the great day of his wrath is come. Of their wrath, which is read in the Revised Version, is found in א, C, 38, Vulgate, Syriae; but αὐτοῦ, "his," is supported by A, B, F, Coptic, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius. The article is repeated, making the term almost a proper name—the day, the great [day]. Alford remarks that this of itself should be sufficient to keep commentators right in confining their interpretation of this seal to the last judgment (cf. Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1, Joel 2:2; Acts 2:20; Jude 1:6). And who shall be able to stand? Who is able (Revised Version). Thus Malachi 3:2, "Who shall stand when he appeareth?" And Nahum 1:6. Thus, then, the question in Nahum 1:10, "How long?" is answered; not by limiting the length of time, but by a renewed assurance of an awful termination of the course of the world, at the appearance of the Judge. The dread attending that end is vividly portrayed, and the fear of the wicked, with their conscience-stricken inquiry, "Who is able to stand?" an answer to which is required for the edification of the faithful. And, therefore, the seer immediately describes the preservation of the righteous from amidst the destruction of the wicked, and their raptured praises, a joyous contrast with the despairing fate of those whose doom has just been narrated.
Six seals opened.
The ground thought of this book is "The Lord is coming." Concerning this Professor Godet remarks, "L'histoire du monde dans son essence se resume dans ces trois roots: Il vient; il est venu; il revient. C'est sur cette idee que repose le plan du drame apocalyptique." £ Even the prophecies of the Old Testament, which dealt so largely with the first coming, shot far ahead and reached even to the second, e.g. Joel. Our Lord himself is very clear on this topic (Matthew 24:1-51. and 25.). So also are Paul, Peter, and John. Nor should we think of our Lord's second coming as if it were merely a far distant something with which we are as yet unconcerned. We are told that star touches star by means of an ethereal invisible medium which joins them. Even so the first and second comings of our Lord touch each other by means of the events now going on, whose train began from the one and will reach to the other. Not a moment is lost in the interval. During these apparently slow lingering centuries, in which day follows day with unbroken regularity, one day so much like another that comparatively few leave any distinct impression on the mind, not a moment is there but some work is being done to prepare for our Lord's return. He is now on his way, and at the appointed time "he that shall come will come, and will not tarry." The plan of this book gives us
(1) the point of departure,
(2) the final consummation,
(3) a symbolic setting of the events which will fill up the space between the two termini;
in which we have "l'epopee de la lutte supreme entre Dieu et Satan, pour la possession de l'humanite comme prix du combat." In this chapter we have set before us in marvellous vividness six features by which the way is to be marked which leads to the consummation. These we will take in order, not omitting to press home their teachings for the conscience and the heart.
I. ALREADY OUR LORD HATH GONE FORTH CONQUERING AND TO CONQUER. (Verses 1, 2.) One of the four living ones says, "Come.'' It is a call to the apostle, not a representation of the Church's cry to her Lord. £ The apostle responds. He sees under the first seal emblems which point plainly and distinctly to the Lord Jesus. The white horse (cf. Revelation 19:11-13). The bow (cf. Psalms 45:3-5). The crown (Revelation 14:14); symbol of conquest and might. The errand on which he goes forth, "conquering and to conquer;" conquering as he goes, as a matter of fact; speeding on, that he may conquer still. Certainly the mission of our Lord is the only one which can be thus described. He is to know nothing but success. His progress may seem to be retarded, as we judge of things, but it never is so according to the Divine conception. We may not be in a position to trace continuous advance. But we know who it is that has gone forth; we believe in his might, his wisdom, his love. He has never yet lost an hour, and never will.
II. MANIFOLD FORCES, INCIDENTS, AND AGENCIES ARE ALSO AT WORK UPON THE EARTH. The first seal certainly indicates triumph; the second, war (verses 3, 4); the third, famine (verses 5, 6); the fourth, death, whether by sword, famine, pestilence, or wild beasts (verses 7, 8); the fifth, martyrdom (verses 9-11); the sixth, convulsions, terrible and appalling, of various kinds. Now, what do these symbols—triumph, war, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, convulsion—mean? Some say, The changing phases of the Church itself; the progress of the Christian power going forth in triumph; then degeneracy, corruption, and controversy creeping in; then darkness, ignorance, and a famine of the Word; then the pestilential mystery of iniquity; then martyrdom; then great upheavings and mighty tribulation, preparing the way of the Lord. Others regard them as indicating a state of things which had occurred before John's exile—the triumph and peace of the Augustan era; war under Caligula; famine under Claudius; pestilence following on famine; martyrdom under Nero; the convulsive breaking up of the Jewish state and polity. Certain it is that before John's exile these six or seven features followed each other, and exactly in this order. Whence some may conclude that that must have been the intent of the symbols. But, singularly enough, if we begin with John's exile, it is the fact that in the Roman empire, hastening to its fall, these varied phases—triumph, war, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, convulsion—also succeeded each other in this very order, so much so that if any one had desired to write from the history of the changing fortunes of that empire an illustrative commentary on this chapter, he could scarcely have used more fitting phraseology than Gibbon has done in is history of its decline and fall. Yet we are sure that he, at any rate, had no intention of being a Scripture expositor. We learn from him that there was an era of great prosperity in the Roman empire from the year 96. This was followed by a long series of strife and civil war, as if to show on what a frail foundation the virtue of the Antonines had reared the felicity of the empire. That period of strife was succeeded by famine, and that again by pestilence; then followed the dreadful era of the Diocletian martyrdom, and the break up of the Roman empire, the subjection of paganism, and the establishment of Christianity in its place. Be it remembered, then, that not once only can the student put his finger on the map of history, and say, these six—triumph, war, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, convulsion—succeeded each other, and in this order, but once and again. And let us not forget that our Saviour named these—just these—in nearly the same order, and said that they would occur "in divers places" £ War, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, convulsion, are to occur repeatedly. Hence we are driven to the conclusion that these symbolic representations of the six seals do indicate the varied features which should mark the progress of the age, ere the Church is brought in, in the fulness of her redemption. All the forces symbolized here have been at work for ages on different parts of the earth; each of them recurs again and again, and will do so through the whole stretch of this dispensation. Here our God seems to say to us, "You see these terrible forces—war, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, convulsion. I see them too. There is nothing but what is in the seven-sealed book. Fear not. All the seals will be opened by the Lamb that was slain. All these terrors are but preparatory agencies clearing the way for the 'day of the Lord'!"
III. THE PRESSURE ACCUMULATES AS THE END DRAWS NEARER. While we cannot pretend to draw a sharp line between one seal and another, it is manifest from the entire chapter that, as the end approaches, the pressure increases. The sixth seal is surely indicative of convulsions so great as to produce a consternation which will shake society to its foundations. One of these later phases will be the upheaving of nations, disorganization of visible Churches, and widespread unsettlement of faiths. "Every mountain and island were moved out of their places." Yet this is but the sixth seal, not the seventh; a preparation for the end, not the end itself, although many may think it so. It is "the great tribulation"—a tribulation so great that many will cry out in agony, "The great day of his wrath is come!" Yet it will not be that, but only a preliminary to it. £ These words, "The great day of his wrath is come!" are not the sacred writer's own, but the cry of the terrified ones. God will yet shake, not earth only, but also heaven (cf. Luke 18:8; Haggai 2:6, Haggai 2:7; Hebrews 12:26; Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:31). Let us beware of man's frequent and false alarms. Christ's word in Matthew 24:4-6 should be a perpetual guard against them.
IV. THE ADVANCE OF THE DAY OF THE LORD WILL SEEM TO THE WORLD AS THE APPROACH OF A DAY OF WRATH. (Matthew 24:16, Matthew 24:17.) "The great day of their wrath is come." Their wrath—even that of him that sitteth on the throne, and of the Lamb. Wrath? Why? Should not any signs of the appearing of the Son of God to "judge in righteousness" be hailed with gladness? When our Lord himself actually described such terrors as being the "birth pangs" (ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων, Matthew 24:8) of a new creation, should not his approach be welcomed with song? Why this conception of wrath? Why connect "wrath" with the Lamb of God? It is only on account of the sin in which men have lived; only because, by fighting against the Lord and his anointed, they have treasured up for themselves "wrath against the day of wrath." When their armour in which they trusted is stripped off, and when the playthings with which they toyed are snatched away, and the delusions with which they were spell bound shall be dispersed like the mists of morn, they will cower in terror before the God whom they defied. This "great tribulation" will be a wondrous leveller. They who sported with sin will be no longer in sportive mood. Let us note here the unnaturalness of sin. It is depicted as bringing about five perversions.
1. The unfoldings of God's plan in the varied workings of his providence, which should be viewed with holy awe and peaceful serenity, do, to a guilty man, bring terror and dread, oft amounting to despair. Let a man be at peace with God, and he can look on to see how Jesus rules the world, with joy and hope; but unbelief and sin prevent all this, and make every new opening full of ominous foreboding.
2. In their anguish and despair they call to the mountains and hills to help them! They dare not address the God whom at their ease they despised! But "Nature," the god of the atheist, will be found to be a god that cannot save.
3. They think to find refuge in being hidden from God. As if that were possible! As if, were it possible, it could bring them ease! Oh, how frightful are the perversions effected by sin! The face of him who is the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely, is to the bad a distressing sight, arousing abhorrence and deepening their woe.
4. The sinner who up to the last rejects the Son of God, sees at last in him only wrath. That Being who is only perfect Love, will seem to the wicked to be full of anger indignation, and avenging power.
5. The fifth and last perversion which we notice is that, instead of welcoming the perfect adjustments of a righteous Judge as that which should bring the long-wished-for rest to a weary world, they, knowing they are in the wrong, view them with an affrighted horror for which there is no solace, and with an immeasurable distress for which nature has no balm. He who neglects grace in the "day of salvation" must receive equity when the day of grace is over. And when equity has to deal with wrong, what course is open but entire and everlasting condemnation? The bulwark of righteousness is the doom of sin.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The opening of the seals.
The Book of Revelation may be said to consist—with the exception of Revelation 2:1-29 and Revelation 3:1-22—of a vast picture gallery. And this not so much because of the number of the pictures, as their sublimity and extent. Revelation 1:1-20. is the portraiture of "the Son of man." Then there is a vast canvas, stretching from Revelation 4:1-11 to 11, and representing the judgment and fall of Jerusalem. Then from Revelation 12:1-17 to 19 another similar one, representing the judgment and fall of Rome. Then yet another, much smaller, representing the final conflict and overthrow of the enemies of Christ; and then, the last and most precious of all, in Revelation 21:1-27. and 22., the glowing picture of the new Jerusalem, the saints' eternal home. Now, in looking at a great picture we need to study it carefully, closely, continuously, and portion by portion. We have tried to do so in regard to the first of these, and also in regard to two most important sections of the second one. In this vast second scene we have viewed the high court of heaven, and the inauguration of Christ's mediatorial reign, which was the subject of Revelation 5:1-14. And now we come to another most interesting but unquestionably difficult part of the same great subject—the opening of the seals. Indeed, the interpretation of this book, from the beginning of this chapter onwards, is one concerning which the only certain thing is that absolute certainty concerning any given interpretation is unattainable. It matters little, however, for the profitable reading of the book, that there is and must be this uncertainty as to the actual meaning of the many mysterious symbols with which it abounds; for whether we regard them as telling of the history of the Church in its relation to the world continuously to the end of time; or whether, as surely is the more reasonable way, we take them as telling of those tremendous events which, when St. John wrote, had begun, and were shortly to come to pass, the time being at hand, and by which the Church of Christ was so much affected,—whichever way we read these symbols, their main lessons for us and for the Church in all ages is one and the same; and these, by patient, prayerful study, we may hope to learn. As to this Revelation 6:1-17., the sheet anchor for its interpretation is our Lord's discourse in Matthew 24:1-51. and its parallel in Mark. No doubt that discourse, as this book, looks on to the times of the end; but as surely it contemplated, as does this book also, events which many of them—not all—were nigh at hand. God's judgment on Judaism and the Jews is its near subject, as the same is of the vision of which this chapter forms a part. And now let us look at—
I. THE SIX SEALS TOGETHER, or rather, at what is disclosed by the opening of them all. And, without doubt, terror is their one badge and mark. The four horses with their riders all tell of terrible things. The souls under the altar, whom we see at the opening of the fifth, cry for vengeance on their murderers, and all horrors seem accumulated in one at the opening of the sixth. The reading of the chapter makes one's heart tremble; our flesh shudders with fear at the visions of distress which, one after the other, are unfolded. There is a seventh and a very different vision at the seventh seal; but the opening of that will not be for a long while, and therefore we first consider these six which are near in time and in character also. And whether we read the pages of Josephus, or whether we regard Gibbon as furnishing the more accurate explanation of these symbols,—in either there will be found more than enough to warrant all that St. John has here portrayed. The dreadful days of the fall of Jerusalem were drawing on, and none who know the history of the horrors that preceded and accompanied that event can question that they were more than enough to fill up all that these vivid and terrible symbols import. Our Lord says of those days that "except they should be shortened, there should no flesh he saved." And yet—and here is the marvel—it is "the Lamb," he who is the Ideal of all grace and love, he it is who presides over, directs, and governs all these events, dreadful as they are. And then the highest, the holiest, and most beloved of his ministers, they who cluster closest round the throne of God and the Lamb, appeal to him and pray him to "Come." At the opening of each of the first four seals one of the four living ones thus appeals to Christ. It is evident, therefore, that they are in full sympathy with him in this matter, and would not have him do otherwise. And it is the same with the whole of that high court of heaven. There must be, then, in all these and in all such things—and this is their lesson for us—a force for the furtherance of God's blessed will amongst men such as less stern methods could not have. True, in one aspect it is all the result of man's wild wickedness and folly.
"Man, proud man,
Dressed in a little brief authority,…
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep."
('Measure for Measure.')
And to many minds, when you have recited the different events that led on, one by one, to the final catastrophe, you have sufficiently explained the whole; there is no need to bring God, as St. John does, into the matter. But we are distinctly taught that all these things are the working of his will, the carrying out of his high plans and purposes. They are not by chance, nor by the will of man, but of God. And accepting this as true, we are led to the inquiry—Wherefore uses he such means? Various answers may be suggested: so only can the proud, unruly wills of sinful men be humbled; so only can the Church be roused and stimulated to do her proper work; so only can her faith be disciplined, tried, and developed; so only can men be made to know, "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth;" and so only can gigantic obstacles to men's good and the extension of Christ's kingdom be got out of the way. All history shows this. But whilst this and far more may be said, it yet remains for us to remember, and that with gratitude, that dark, drear, dreadful, desolating as such events are, and diabolical as are many of the men who are the chief actors in them they yet, all of them; are under the absolute control of him whose love and wisdom and power enable him to know unerringly when to let such events run riot in their rage, and when to restrain them or remove them altogether. And what is best he is sure to do; and always he will make them "work together for good."
II. THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SEAL. (Verse 2.) The vision of the white horse and its rider bearing a bow, with its sharp arrows ready for conflict, and wearing a crown, the emblem of victory. In Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8; Habakkuk 3:8, Habakkuk 3:9; Isaiah 41:2; Psalms 45:4, Psalms 45:5; we have similar representations of the horseman told of here, and his identity seems settled by Revelation 19:11-16, where he is distinctly called "the Word of God." When the first seal was broken, then there passed across the stage, as it were, this vision. But of whom else can we think as corresponding to the rider of the white horse, than of him of whom we read in Psalms 45:1-17., "In thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows shall be sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee"? Of the Lord Jesus Christ going forth conquering and to conquer, in spite of, in the midst of, and by means of, all the dread events which are afterwards declared—of him we believe the vision tells. Not of any ordinary human warfare; still less of the prosperous condition of the Roman empire under the Antonines; but of Christ our Lord. And most cheering is it to be taught that, let come what will, however calamitous and distressful the events of life, nothing can stay his course. They cannot bar his way, but will be made by him to further that way. This first vision is, therefore, full of good cheer. And let it not be forgotten that the vision has an individual application as well as a world wide one. It tells every believing soul, "Christ will overrule all that happens; thy trials and crosses, thy disappointments and disasters, shall not hinder his purposes of good for thee. He goeth forth 'conquering and to conquer,' and who can turn him aside?"
III. THE OPENING OF THE SECOND, THIRD, AND FOURTH SEALS. These give the visions of the red, the black, and the pale horses. Cruel war, black famine, and all-devouring death, by pestilence probably, are meant by these visions. And more summarily and distinctly they are foretold by our Lord. "Wars and rumours of wars," "famines and pestilences,"—these with other woes he plainly predicts; and his meaning is, we are sure, the meaning of St. John. Famine and pestilence were the common accompaniments of war. But they are not to have unrestrained power. For as in the discourse of our Lord, so here in the vision of St. John, there are plain suggestions that in wrath God remembered mercy. The voice that proclaimed the nearly twelve times enhanced cost of wheat and barley, tells—as does also the blackness of the horse which suggests the black lips, the sign of extreme hunger—of dreadful famine. But that same voice tells also of distress mitigated, not suffered to become utter destitution. This is the meaning of the added charge, "See that thou hurt not the oil and the wine." It is a difficult saying, but coupling it with the express words of our Lord that "for the elects' sake" these dreadful days should "be shortened," we take them as telling that, whilst owing to the ravages of war there should be, as there could not but be, great scarcity in those things which, as corn and barley, depended upon constant cultivation; yet the olive and the vine should still yield their increase, they not requiring to be replanted year by year, and being in various ways likely to be less affected than the level corn lands which lay along the plains, and which therefore became the common camps and fighting grounds of hostile armies, to the utter destruction of all things grown thereon. Moreover, that to death and Hades were given power, not over all the earth, but over only one-fourth part, this seems also to point to the same blessed truth that the instruments of God's judgment are held in and not allowed to do their work a hairbreadth beyond their appointed limit. "He does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men," though, as these visions do plainly tell, he will ruthlessly both afflict and grieve when man's sin and folly make it needful that he should. As a loving mother will hold down her own dearly loved child to the surgeon's dreadful knife, if only so it can be saved from death, so will the Lord, the Lamb of God, pour out upon us of his awful judgments, if by our sin we force him thereto. As we read of these visions, this should be our prayer that never may we thus force him to deal in such manner with us. May his love constrain us, never our sin constrain him.
IV. THE OPENING OF THE FIFTH SEAL. Here no living creature cries: "Come," but the appeal comes from the martyred saints themselves. We have had no mention of an "altar" before, but now it is seen as part of the vision which untolded itself before St. John. "They shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you"—so had our Lord foretold, and here the actual fulfilment of that word is symbolized. Not to the martyrs under Diocletian, yet less to those under papal Rome, but to those who were, in St. John's own day, fast falling beneath the persecutor's sword, does this vision specially belong. Nevertheless, it is designed for the consolation and support of all Christ's persecuted people in every age and in every land. Hence Milton, with all possible appropriateness, sang concerning the martyrs of the Alpine mountains, whose sufferings righteously roused the rage of their fellow believers here in England—
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold;
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that roll'd
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their means
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learned thy way,
Early may fly the Babylonian woe."
But this vision tells not alone of martyrdoms, but of the righteousness of God in the avenging of their blood upon the earth. We see it is just and what ought to be. Yet more are we shown that "the Lord is mindful of his own." See the condition of these martyred ones. Not yet perfect or complete, but nevertheless, oh, how blessed! At rest, in victory, sanctity, joy—so their white robes tell, and expecting some even yet better thing in the triumph of Christ and his Church over all evil which in due time shall surely come to pass. What comfort there would be and is in all this, in regard to those who had suffered death! Those who mourned them would know now that blessed indeed are the dead which die in the Lord. And in regard to the mystery of a persecuted Church, would it not teach them that though
"Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt false systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own"?
And when they came to face such death themselves, oh, how would this vision help them, as in fact it did, to be faithful unto death, and to face it unflinchingly, unfalteringly, as Christ would have them do.
V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Verses 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24:1-51.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, Joel 2:31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 2:12, Isaiah 2:19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then.
"Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
Ere it pass for e'er away,
On our knees we'll fall and pray,
Have mercy, Lord!"
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:2
The conquering Lord.
The Revelation has its parts. A division is to be made here. There are many revelations in the one. And the truth to be taught is set forth again and again in differing figures and series of representations. We look not for chronological continuity and sequence. The book has one theme, one truth, dividing into its several streams; that truth is, in the present section, the triumph of the Church's Lord. With this assurance the Lord gives comfort to his struggling, suffering, persecuted Church. With the breaking of the first seal a vision is revealed: "and I saw." The symbol is simple and comprehensive. It reaches to the end from the beginning. It is a vision of the Redeemer as the conquering Lord. But it is the Lord prepared for battle. Conquest is preceded by conflict. He goes forth to make war. This aspect prevails throughout the book. "The Lord is a Man of war."
I. We think of THE FOES AGAINST WHOM THE ANTAGONISM OF THE LORD IS RAISED. Not here named, but implied. In one word sin. Sin lurking in the hearts of men; sin embodying itself in the lives of men. Hence sinners—all who ally themselves with evil, who are the agents of evil, "servants of sin," "children of the wicked one." Thought of as an army led forward by "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." In the conquest of this is the conquest of the persecuting foes of the first Churches, the form in which sin was then rampant.
II. We think of THE ONE CONQUEROR IN WHOM THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE ARMY IS REPRESENTED. He only is in view, for all victory is of him. He only slays and conquers. We see the Conqueror prepared to do battle, seated on the war horse, carrying the war weapon.
III. We think of THE NATURE OF THE CONFLICT. In the symbol this appears only in the person of the Conqueror, and in the colour of the horse—it is in righteousness. White is the consecrated colour; it is the symbol of purity.
IV. We think of THE INEVITABLE CONQUEST. The crown—the laurel crown is upon the Conqueror's brow. It is the symbol of anticipated victory: "He shall reign."
V. THE ASSURING WORD. "He came forth conquering, and to conquer." The whole revelation in this word. Again and again this is represented. Here the true comfort. He shall bring into subjection to himself whatever is not in harmony with his Name, and that in the individual heart and in the universal sphere.—R.G.
Scenes of suffering.
No sooner has the vision of the Conqueror passed before the eye of the seer, than a darkening series in slow procession bring him from the contemplation of the source of the Church's comfort and hope to the scene of the Church's conflict, the earth. Herein is depicted the afflictions through which the Church should pass. Well was it that an assurance had been given of final triumph. Always from conditions of sorrow the Church could look back upon the great and comforting promises of redemption and triumph. The second, third, fourth, and fifth seal represent the sad truth that, in the great history of redemption, great and grievous sorrows would befall the faithful. It is a re-echo of the Lord's own words. "They shall deliver you up to councils; they shall scourge you," etc. Often has the little flock had to look back upon these words when torn by grievous wolves. Truly the kingdom of heaven is at times entered only through "much tribulation."
I. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH ARISES FROM THE EXCITED ENMITY OF THE WORLD, THE SPIRIT OF WHICH IS CONDEMNED BY "THE WORD OF GOD AND THE TESTIMONY" HELD BY THE FAITHFUL.
II. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH AT TIMES REACHES THE UTMOST DEGREE OF SEVERITY. "They were slain." Not only the earliest sufferers, but many also "their fellow-servants and their brethren." The Church in its conflict with the worldly power uses its own weapons of truth and righteousness; but the weapons in the hands of the enemies of the truth are carnal. It is the long story of bitter, painful, cruel, ungodly persecution.
III. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH FROM THE EXCITED ENMITY OF THE WORLD MAKES ITS GREAT APPEAL TO THE LORD OF THE PATIENTLY ENDURING BELIEVERS. "How long, O Master?"
IV. BUT THE CHURCH'S SUFFERING HAS ITS LIMIT DEFINITELY MARKED. It is "yet for a little time." It is apt forever; but until their fellow servants and their brethren had finished their course.
V. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH IS FINALLY REWARDED IN THE SPIRITUAL ELEVATION AND PURIFYING OF THEM THAT ENDURE. "There was given to each one a white robe."
VI. THUS THE CHURCH IN ALL AGES IS ENCOURAGED PATIENTLY TO SUFFER IN FAITH AND HOPE THE CRUEL PERSECUTION OF A WICKED WORLDLY POWER.—R.G.
The final judgment of the enemies of the Church.
The time of the suffering comes to an end. Evil cannot forever triumph. The Lord reserves his rewards for his faithful ones. Nor can the enemies of truth and righteousness escape. Suffering as the Church was when St. John wrote these wonderful words, an assurance that their wrong should not go unjudged and unavenged was needful to uphold the sinking, fainting, feeble, suffering ones. "Vengeance belongeth unto me: I will recompense, saith the Lord." Now do the enemies prove "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The breaking of the sixth seal is the signal for a just judgment of the cruel persecuting ones—the wolves that ravened the flock of God. It is the response to the cry, "How long, O Master, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" The "little while" is concluded; the cup of iniquity full. Terrific and awe inspiring in the utmost degree is the picture of the great and terrible day of the Lord."
I. THE REPRESENTATION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT ON THE UNGODLY ANTAGONISTS OF THE CHURCH TAKES THE FORM OF AN UPHEAVAL OF THE VISIBLE UNIVERSE. It is the destruction of the worldly sphere. All those things that seem to be fixed and permanent are moved out of their place. The earth is rent and quakes; the sun is darkened; the moon is as blood; the stars fall like unripe figs; the heaven is removed as a scroll; the mountains and islands are moved from their places. So is taught the instability of all earthly things—the earthly, which is the sphere of the Church's enemies.
II. THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS INSPIRE THE UTMOST TERROR INTO THE HEARTS OF THE UNGODLY WORLDLY POWERS. They fear—they fly—they seek death.
III. THE DREAD OF THE UNGODLY IS EXCITED BY THE VISION OF HIM WHO IS DEAR TO THE FAITHFUL. The ground of offence is antagonism to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, to whom the Church gives glory. The judgment upon the adversaries is found in the revelation of the Divine government, and the power and authority of the despised Redeemer. As the obedient and faithful ones find their joy and rejoicing in the presence of God and the Lamb, so do the enemies of truth find therein their greatest punishment.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The seven seals; or, the development of good and evil in human history.
"And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see," etc. In this chapter we have the breaking open of six of the seals of that mystic roll containing the Divine plan of the government of the world, and as held in the bands of Christ who is the great Expounder. The opening of these seals suggests to our notice and presses on our attention the constant development of good and evil in human history. Notice—
I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF GOOD IN HUMAN HISTORY. By the good, I mean the true, the beautiful, and the right. Good and evil are here working among the moral tenants of this planet; perhaps it is not so in other planets. In heaven there is good, and good only; in hell, evil, and perhaps evil only; but on the earth the two are at work simultaneously, constantly, and everywhere. Taking the conquering hero as going forth on the "white horse" as an illustration of the right and the good on this earth, it is suggested:
1. That the good is embodied in a personal life. "Behold a white horse, and he that sat on him [thereon]." The right in this world is not a mere abstraction, it is embodied in human life. In Christ this was so in perfect kind and degree. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." He was the Right—incarnate, breathing, living, acting; and this, not only during his corporeal life here, but in all his disciples through all times. He is in them; he is the conquering Hero destroying the works of the devil.
2. That the good embodied in a personal life is aggressive in its action. "And he went [came] forth conquering, and to conquer." Right is an invading force; it is ever making aggressions on the wrong. This is according to its very essence. Wherever the sunbeams break, darkness departs; so with the right, it is always conquering. Wonderful are the conquests it has achieved in past ages, and its victories are still proceeding, and will proceed until it becomes the might of the world. This right is not something elsewhere, it is here; not something that has been, but something that is and shall be. The supreme King of righteousness is constantly proceeding on his triumphant march, and one day "every knee shall bow to him, and every tongue confess." In its aggressiveness it moves:
(1) Righteously. "A white horse." The horse is the instrument which the right employs to bear it on to victory. The good is not only pure in its nature and aims, but pure in its methods.
(2) Triumphantly. "He that sat on him [thereon] had a bow." The bow carries the arrow, and the arrow penetrates the foe. Truth wins its victories by the arrows of conviction.
(3) Royally. "There was given unto him a crown." Right is royal, the only royal thing in the universe, and the more perfectly it is embodied, the more brilliant the diadem. Hence Christ is crowned with glory and honour. He is "exalted above all principalities and powers," etc. Kind Heaven, quicken the speed of this "white horse;" and may the victories of its triumphant Rider multiply every hour; and soon may "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God," etc.!
II. THE DEVELOPMENT OF EVIL IN HUMAN HISTORY. I take the passage as giving illustrations of five great evils at work in human life.
1. War. "And there went out another horse that was red ['and another horse came forth, a red horse']: and power was given to him that sat thereon [and it was given to him] to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill [slay] one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." Mutual murder, man destroying his brother. This evil refers to no particular period or place; it has been going on from the days of Cain and Abel through all times even unto this hour. The spirit of murder burns throughout the race. The "red horse" is ever on the gallop. His ruthless tramp echoes through all souls and communities. "Whence come wars? Come they not from your lusts?" etc. Alas! that there should be found in a country calling itself Christian governments that should be feeding and fattening this "red horse" of rapine and bloodshed.
2. Indigence. "I beheld, and lo [I saw, and behold] a black horse: and he that sat on him [thereon] had a pair of balances [a balance] in his hand. And I heard [as it, were] a voice in the midst of the four beasts [living creatures] say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny." "Whilst making food scarce, do not make it so that a choenix (a day's provision of wheat, variously estimated at two or three pints) shall not be got for a penny. Famine generally follows the sword. Ordinarily from sixteen to twenty measures were given for a denarius" (Fausset). The state of want here described means no more than that the whole of a man's labour is exhausted in the purchase of the bread required for one day; and this certainly does not amount to that indigence which prevails amongst thousands of our countrymen who are starving for bread where wealth and luxury abound. This evil, then, like the others, is not confined to any age or clime, but is here and everywhere. Let every man trace this national indigence to its true source.
3. Mortality. "Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell [Hades] followed with him. And power was given [there was given authority] unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill [slay] with sword, and with hunger [famine], and with death, and with the beasts [wild beasts] of the earth." "The colour pallid or livid," says Bishop Carpenter, "is that deadly greenish hue which is the unmistakable token of the approach of death. The rider is Death, not a particular form of death, but Death himself. Attending him, and ready to gather up the slain, is Hades. The fourth seal is the darkest and the most terrible. Single forms of death (war and famine) were revealed in the earlier seals; now that the great king of terrors himself appears, and in his hand are gathered all forms of death—war, plague, famine, pestilence. For the second time the word 'death' is used it must be taken in a subordinate sense, as a particular form of death, such as plague or pestilence." This mortality is, then, another evil confined to no period or place. Death reigned from Adam to Moses, and from Moses to Christ, and from Christ to this hour. Men are dying everywhere—all are dying. With every breath I draw, some one falls.
4. Martyrdom. "I saw under [underneath] the altar the souls of them that were [had been] slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud [great] voice, saying, How long, O Lord [Master, the], holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?" Who is the martyr? The words suggest:
(1) He is one who dies for the truth. "Slain for the Word of God." He is not one who has merely been murdered, or one who has been murdered on account of his own convictions, but one who has been put to death for holding right convictions—belief in the Word of God. Such a belief which they attested by ample testimony.
(2) He is one who in heaven remembers the injustice of his persecutors. "How long, O Lord!" The Almighty is represented as saying to Cain, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me." As if the earth itself was craving for justice, and groaned for retribution of wrong. The cry of the martyr in heaven is not for vengeance, for all heaven is full of love; but the cry is rather for information when justice will be done: "How long?" As if they said, "We know that thou wilt judge and avenge our blood sooner or later: but how long?" The truly good in all ages have an unbounded confidence in the rectitude of the Divine procedure. "I know," said Job, "that my Vindicator liveth." Justice will come sooner or later.
(3) He is one who in the heavenly world is more than compensated for all the wrongs received on earth. "And white robes were given unto every one of them [and there was given them to each one a white robe]." They have white raiment in heaven—the emblem of purity. They have repose in heaven: "rest for a little while." They have social hopes in heaven: "Until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
5. Physical convulsion. "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood," etc. Observe:
(1) Our earth is constantly subject to great physical convulsions. Geology reveals some of the tremendous revolutions that have been going on from the earliest dawns of its history; and such changes are constantly occurring. Volcanoes, earthquakes, deluges, tornadoes, seas overflowing their boundaries and engulfing whole continents, etc. Perhaps no generation of men have lived who have not witnessed some of the phenomena here described: "the great earthquake, the sun becoming black as sackcloth, the moon as blood, mountains and islands removed," etc.
(2) Great physical convulsions are always terribly alarming to ungodly men. "The kings of the earth, and the great men [princes], and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men [the rich], and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens [caves] and in the rocks of the mountains. And said [they say] to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the race of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his [their] wrath is come; and who shall be [is] able to stand?" Fear is an instinct of wickedness; terror is the child of wrong. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth."
"Oh, it is monstrous! monstrous!
Methought the billows spoke, and told me of it;
The winds did sing it to me; and the thunder,
That deep and dreadful organ-pipe, pronounced
The name of Prosper: it did pass my trespass."
(3) The alarm of ungodly men is heightened by a dread of God. "For the great day of his [their] wrath is come; and who shall be [is] able to stand?" Dread of God is the soul of all fear. "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid." How unnatural is this dread of God—the dread of one who is at once the Essence and the Fountain of all good! "Hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." The "wrath of the Lamb"! This is a monstrous phenomenon. Who has ever seen a lamb in a rage, meekness aflame with indignation? A more terrific idea I cannot get. "The wrath of the Lamb."
CONCLUSION. In these "seals," then, we have human history. We need not puzzle ourselves about the meaning of the utterances in this chapter, or search for some mystic meaning. It is full of current events occurring in all times and lands, and we are here commanded to study them. At each event some living creature, some Divine messenger in the spiritual empire, says, "Come and see." "Come and see" the triumphant Hero of the good, going forth on the white horse conquering, and to conquer; mark the aspect, the movements, and the progress of good in the world in which you live; take heart and speed it on. "Come and see" the red horse, the spirit of murder and bloodshed, that is creating discords and fightings everywhere, rifling families and communities of all concord, filling the air with the cries of the dying, and the wails of the widow and the orphan. Come and study the demon of war; study it in order to destroy it. "Come and see" the black horse trampling in the dust the food which Heaven has provided, and which man requires, thus leaving millions to starve. Study this national poverty until you realize the true causes and apply the true cure. "Come and see" the pale horse hurrying through the world, visiting in his turn every individual, family, community, nation, trampling underfoot all men, regardless of character, age, position, nation. Study death, its moral causes, its final issues. "Come and see" "the souls of those who were slain for the Word of God." Study martyrdom, despise the persecutors, and honour their victims. "Come and see" the great physical convulsions of nature. Study the physical phenomena of the world, and cultivate that love for the God in all, who is over all, and that confidence in his love, wisdom, and power which will enable you to be calm and triumphant in the most terrible physical convulsions, enabling you to sing—
"God is our Refuge and Strength,
A very present Help in trouble;
Therefore will not we fear,
Though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried
Into the midst of the sea;
Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof."
Brothers, who shall tell the seals that will be broken open in our book of destiny during the year? Ere we commenced our existence, all pertaining to our life through all the ages we have to run was mapped out and registered, even in minutest detail, in the Divine roll of destiny. All the events of our lives are but the breaking of the seals of that book. With every fresh event, every new effort, some fresh seal is broken. What seals are yet to be broken? what Divine archetypes are yet to be embodied? what latent forces are yet to be developed? What these ears have yet to hear, these eyes have yet to see, this mind yet to conceive, this heart yet to experience! "Go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."—D.T.
Revelation 6:9, Revelation 6:10
"And when he had opened," etc. By common consent this is a sketch of departed martyrs, i.e. men "that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held." If they bad been slain for anything else they would not have been martyrs.
I. THEY LIVE IN SACRED SECURITY. "I saw under the altar the souls of them." The "souls," not the bodies; the bodies had been destroyed, their ashes were left Souls can exist apart from the body—a wonderful fact this. These souls were "under the altar." They were in a position of sacred security. No one could touch them there, safe forever from their persecutors.
II. THEY LIVE IN EARNEST CONSCIOUSNESS. They have an earnest consciousness of the past. "How long, O Lord, most holy and true." They remember the earth, remember the cruelties they received on the earth, and long, not maliciously, but benevolently, for justice being done to their persecutors. No doubt their desire was that God should strike such a moral conviction into their hearts on account of their wickedness that would lead them to repentance.
III. THEY LIVE IN HOLY GRANDEUR. "White robes were given to them." Or more probably, "a white robe," emblem of purity and conquest.
"Their blood is shed
In confirmation of the noblest claim—
Our claim to feed upon immortal truth,
To walk with God, to be divinely free
To soar and to anticipate the skies.
Yet few remember them. They lived unknown
Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven. Their ashes flew
No marble tells us whither. With their names
No bard embalms and sanctifies his song.
And history, so warm on meaner themes,
Is cold on this. She execrates, indeed,
The tyranny that doomed them to the fire,
But gives the glorious sufferers little praise."
Revelation 6:15, Revelation 6:16,
The wonders of the last day.
"And the kings of the earth," etc. The last day, the day of days, will be a day of wonders. The words indicate three of the wonders of that day.
I. MEN DREADING THE FACE OF CHRIST. "The face of him that sitteth on the throne." Here are men preferring annihilation to a sight of that face. What is the matter with that face? It was, indeed, the human face Divine, the serenest, the loveliest, the kindliest face ever seen on earth. It was a face whose expression towards men was, "Come unto me," etc. What change has come over it now? Why are men afraid of it now? Their guilty consciences have made that face terrific. The sight of that face will call up such memories of their ingratitude, their folly, their impiety, as will make existence intolerable.
II. THE LAMB WROUGHT INTO WRATH. "The wrath of the Lamb." How strange and unnatural is this! The wrath of love is the most terrible of wrath.
1. It implies the greatest moral enormity in the object of it. The wrath of malign natures is soon kindled, is capricious, often rages without reason. But when love is indignant, there must be fearful enormity in the object.
2. It exerts most agonizing influence upon the conscience of its object. The anger of malign natures seldom touches the conscience of its victim, but often awakens contempt and defiance. Not so when love is indignant; the indignation of love is crushing. What power on earth is so withering as the indignation of a parent who is essentially benevolent and loving?
3. It is unquenchable until tile reasons for its existence are removed. The wrath of malign natures often burns itself out, but the wrath of love is a determined opposition to evil.
III. HUMANITY CRYING FOR ANNIHILATION. "And the kings of the earth, and the great men … hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us," etc. Love of life is the strongest instinct in human nature, and hence the dread of death. Here is the chief and first of all dreads. What will men not give away to avoid death? But what a change now! They earnestly cry for that which they dreaded! They cry for annihilation.
1. The cry is earnest. "Mountains and rocks." The language breathes earnestness. Existence has become intolerable. It is a curse that can no longer be borne.
2. The cry is general. "The kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, and the chief captains, the mighty men, every bondman and every free," etc. The conquerors of the world, the iron masters of nations, men whose names struck terror through ages, now quail in agony and cry for extinction.
3. The cry is fruitless. They cry to the "mountains and rocks." What can they do for them? Can they hear them? Have they hearts to feel? No; insensitive, immovable, these remain amid the wildest shrieks. But were they to fall on them would they crush them? The material universe cannot crush a soul. It is an inextinguishable spark. God alone can quench a soul.—D.T.
"The wrath of the Lamb."
"Hide us from the wrath of the Lamb." Wrath is a terrible thing. But the most terrible of all wrath we have here—the wrath of the Lamb. "Hide us." Who says this? "The kings of the earth, the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man." These men had, no doubt, braved terrible things during their existence, but they could not brave this. It struck an overwhelming horror into their souls. What makes this wrath so terrible?
I. ITS UNEXAMPLED STRANGENESS. Who ever saw a lamb in a rage? The wrath of a lion, a tiger, or a bear,—this is common, this is natural. But the lamb is essentially meek, tender, yielding. Of all creatures this is the last creature that could be excited to wrath. As a rule, whatever is strange is more or less alarming. A strange comet, a strange heaving of the sea, or a strange vibration in the earth. The wrath of a tender, loving, meek-minded man is a far more terrible thing than the wrath of an irascible nature. The more difficulty you have in exciting wrath the more terrible it is when it appears. When the Lamb is in wrath it implies some terrible provocation, and that provocation is sin. The wrath of the Lamb is an ocean of oil in flames. Well may it strike terror. Another reason why this wrath is so terrible is—
II. ITS INFINITE PURITY. The lamb is the emblem of innocence. The wrath of the Lamb is not a passion, but a principle. It is not malign, but benevolent. It is not against existence, but against its sins and its crimes. Anger in man is necessarily an evil. Hence we are commanded to be "angry and sin not." Learn from this that we turn our greatest blessing into the greatest curse. Our optic and auricular organs may be so diseased as to give to the most beautiful objects and most melodious sounds in nature a power to convey into us the most poignant anguish, and so our moral nature may become so corrupt as to turn love into wrath, and blessedness into misery.—D.T.
The last judgment; or, the dawn of the retributive era.
"Who shall he able to stand?" There will assuredly come a day of judgment, or the dawn of the retributive era. The material universe symbolically prophesies some such moral crisis in the history of man. The flowing river, the growing plants, the breathing tribes, the planetary systems, all tend to a crisis. The unremitting increase from age to age in the human family, viewed in connection with the limited capacity of this planet to sustain animal existence, irresistibly indicates some such a turning point in human history. The universal and concurrent references of the human conscience through all ages and lands give a high probability to the dawn of such a moral juncture. The sentence preceding our text calls it a great day. It will be great on account of the number and variety of the moral beings that will be assembled together; great on account of the results which will then be effected—redemptive providences ended, and the agencies of a righteous retribution brought into lull play; great on account of the Divine glories which will then be displayed. Our point is, "Who shall be able to stand on that day?" In order to illustrate this solemn question with that simplicity that may make it spiritually serviceable to us now, I shall suppose a case. What under a legal charge could enable you to look calmly forward to the coming day of trial, feeling that you could stand? We can only conceive of six things which would answer that purpose.
I. A CONSCIOUSNESS OF INNOCENCE, AND THE POWER OF SHOWING THAT THE CHARGE HAS NO FOUNDATION. The feeling of innocence in itself would brace you with energy, and enable you to look onward with imperturbed heart to the day of trial. But if you felt that in connection with this you have the power of demonstrating your innocence to the full conviction of the court, would you not feel even the stronger and calmer still? Now, have you this in relation to the day of judgment? Are you conscious of your innocence? Still less are you conscious of the power to demonstrate it? No; your conscience condemns you, and "God is greater than your conscience, and knoweth all things." This, then, will not serve you, will not enable you to stand in the judgment.
II. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE EVIDENCE WILL BE FOUND INSUFFICIENT TO CONVICT. You may know that you are in reality guilty, you may be certain of the impotency of the evidence; there may be no witnesses, or, if there are, they may be shown by the able counsel you have engaged to be unworthy of belief. You may be sure that his genius is sufficient so to colour and torture the evidence as to destroy its worth. All this might make you feel, in the supposed case, that you can stand in the trial. But have you this in relation to the day of judgment? No, no. There will be:
1. The omniscient Judge. He knows everything about you.
2. The people to whom and through whom you have sinned. All your sins against God have had to do with men. The falsehoods you have spoken have fallen on some ear, and your dishonesties, cruelties, seductions, will have to do with those who then by thousands confront you eye to eye. Were you to dare to deny the charge, a million voices would confound you with their contradiction.
3. The conscience within you bearing the strongest testimony against you. This, then, will not serve you—will not enable you to stand in the judgment.
III. A FEELING THAT THE CRIME WITH WHICH YOU ARE CHARGED IS VERY INSIGNIFICANT. "It is true," you may say, "I am guilty, and the evidence of my guilt is irresistible; but the deed is so very unimportant that the case, if entertained in court, will result in a mere nominal penalty." This would enable you to feel that you could stand the trial. But have you this for the day of judgment? No. Sin, believe me, is no trifling matter.
1. Think of it in relation to God. It is a violation of the most righteous laws; for he is your Proprietor, and you are his stewards. It is a violation of the most wonderful love. He is your loving Father.
2. Think of it in its bearing on yourself and on the universe. "One sinner destroyeth much good." What would you think of the man who, infected with a pestilential disease, ran malignantly from house to house in order to spread it? Sin is a pestilence. Think of the judgments it has brought upon the world; think of the crucifixion of Christ, and talk no more about the insignificancy of sin. This, then, will not enable you to stand in the judgment.
IV. A FELT CAPABILITY OF PROVING THAT THE CRIME WAS COMMITTED ACCIDENTALLY, NOT BY PURPOSE. If you were well assured that on the day of trial you could prove that you did not intend to commit the act, you might look forward without any agitation or misgivings. But have you this in relation to the day of judgment? No. You know that your sin has not been accidental, but intentional—not an exception in your history, but the law; not an occasional act, but the habit of your existence.
V. FAITH IN THE SYMPATHY OF THE WHOLE COURT IN YOUR FAVOUR. If you felt assured that on the day of trial the whole jury would be composed of none but warm and attached friends, and that the judge himself would have the kindest and strongest sympathies in your favour, you would have strong hope in being able to stand. You know how love blinds the soul to faults, and turns even opposing evidence to its own account. In such a case mercy is almost sure to triumph over judgment. But have you any hope of anything like this, that will serve you at the day of judgment? None. True, he who will be the Judge on that day is love, and is full of the tenderest mercy now. But whilst no change will have taken place in his nature, he will then, notwithstanding, appear and act as the inexorable Just One.
VI. AN ABILITY TO PROVE THAT YOU HAVE RENDERED SIGNAL SERVICE TO THE STATE. Suppose that you had, by some heroic campaign, hurled back from your country's shores the advancing tide of a terrible invasion; or by some scientific discovery given a new impulse to the industry of the population, and introduced a new and bright era into commerce;—in such a case you might have hope of being able to stand in trial. Though found guilty, your past services would be felt to be such a set off as would obtain for you an acquittal, or at any rate reduce your punishment to a mere nominal thing. But have you anything like this to serve you on the day of judgment? Have you any hope of being able to show that you have been of service to the universe? No, no. You will feel then that the universe would have been better off had you never existed. Had you never thought, never acted, never been, there would have existed less crime and less misery in the creation.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29