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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Revelation 17

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-18

EXPOSITION

Revelation 17:1

And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me; and spake with me, saying. Omit "unto me." This and the following chapters (to Revelation 19:21) consist of visions which are really included under the seventh vial, but which, on account of their length and elaboration, may be considered apart from the other judgments of that vial. In the preceding chapters we have had placed before us a conspectus of three classes of ungodly people, and the three principles of evil in their abstract form, as represented by the world (the first beast), the flesh (the second beast), and the devil (the dragon). The personal final overthrow of the devil is described in Revelation 20:10; Revelation 17:1-18. and 18, are devoted to the description of the judgments of the two former—the world, in its character of the openly hostile persecutor of the Church of God; and the other portion of the ungodly who, while still professing Christianity, find excuses for conforming to the worship of the image of the beast. The first beast is, therefore, identical with Babylon, and represents, as we have seen, the openly hostile and persecuting world power of all ages, of which, in St. John's time, Rome was the foremost embodiment. The second beast is identical with the harlot, and represents faithless Christians, the apostate portion of the Church. The very raison d'etre of the Apocalypse is to deal with these two forms of evil; to declare the overthrow of the one, and to warn and, if possible, reclaim those under the influence of the other. In the latter case, the warning consists in setting forth the judgment in store for faithless Christians; and as this is the course pursued with the former also, the two merge into one, and indeed are declared to be one. The apostle in substance declares that, though there is a prima facie difference between the two forms of ungodliness, there is in reality no distinction to be made, but both are involved in one common final judgment. He thus twice solemnly asserts that the harlot is Babylon (verses 5 and 18). The comments upon the following chapters will be based upon this hypothesis, the reasons for which will be brought out more clearly as we proceed. The opening words of this chapter leave no doubt that the visions which follow are connected with the vial judgments. The "one of the seven angels" may be the seventh angel, to whom it pertained to unfold the circumstances connected with the last judgment. Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment. Hither, δεῦρο, without the verb, as in Revelation 21:9 and John 11:43. Though this particular narration necessarily takes place after the account of the vials, yet we are not to understand that the events here related are subsequent to these related in the concluding verses of the previous chapter. Note the remarkable similarity between these words and these of Revelation 21:9, and the contrast between the bride, the wife of the Lamb, and the harlot who is connected with the beast. Wordsworth carries the comparison even to the form of words, thus—

The harlot and the beast.

ἡ πόρνη καὶ τὸ θηρίον,

ἡ νύμφη καὶ τὸ ἀρνίον

The bride and the Lamb.

Of the great whore; harlot (Revised Version). There seems no doubt that this figure describes the degenerate portion of the Church of God.

Revelation 17:2

With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. "Of the earth" is used here (as it frequently is) for the worldly as distinguished from the righteous; and the two classes mentioned indicate the universality of this faithlessness—it is not confined to any one grade of society. As we have seen (see on Revelation 17:1 and Revelation 14:8), the figure of fornication is repeatedly used to describe faithlessness towards God. The verse, therefore, declares that this faithless portion of the Church has chosen rather to render to the world that love which is due to God, and to be connected rather with the powers of this world than to have its treasure in heaven. The expression, "wine of her fornication," is a repetition of that in Revelation 14:8, and is derived from Jeremiah 2:7 (cf. also Revelation 16:19 and Revelation 18:3).

Revelation 17:3

So he carried me away in the spirit; and he carried, etc. (cf. Revelation 1:10 and Revelation 21:10). In the latter reference the analogy is sufficiently close to lead us to believe that it is intended. Into the wilderness; a wilderness, according to the Revised Version, which is the rendering of Wordsworth and others; but Alford strongly supports the Authorized Version rendering, notwithstanding the absence of the Greek article (see Alford, in loc.). Some commentators have thought that the "wilderness'' signifies the desolation which is the lot of the harlot (see Revelation 17:16; Revelation 18:2, Revelation 18:19; also Jeremiah 51:26). But we can hardly avoid the conclusion that the "wilderness" here is that spoken of in Revelation 12:6, Revelation 12:14, which is symbolical of this world, particularly when we remember that the "wilderness" in both cases is the abode of a woman, who moreover is representative of the Church; though in Revelation 12:1-17. she represents the Church of God as a whole, persecuted by Satan, and in this place the woman is representative of the faithless part of the Church (see also below on "beast"). Vitringa, referring to Isaiah 21:1, and Revelation 17:1,Revelation 17:15, and Ezekiel 20:35, arrives at a similar conclusion; it is a "wilderness of the people." And I saw a woman. There is no article, but this vision, occurring immediately after the words of Ezekiel 20:1, "I will show thee … the great harlot," identifies this woman with the harlot of Ezekiel 20:1. This woman represents the faithless portion of the Church (see on Ezekiel 20:1); that part which, following after worldly things, has thereby rendered to the beast the love and honour due to God alone. This woman is not identical with the woman of Revelation 12:1-17. The latter represents the faithful, the former the faithless, part of the Church. Sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. Here again, as in "wilderness" (vide supra), we have θηρίον, "beast," without the article; but the identity of this "beast" with that of Revelation 13:1 is established by

(1) the same outward characteristics of names of blasphemy, seven heads and ten horns;

That the woman sits upon the beast denotes, not that she exercises control and guidance over it (as Alford), for comp. Revelation 13:16, but rather that the woman relies upon the beast for support and safety; thus presenting an accurate description of those who prefer to trust to the power and influence of the world rather than to God. Scarlet (whether the colour of the beast itself or of its trappings is immaterial) may signify either

Revelation 17:4

And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour. These words, taken in connection with those that follow, seem to signify the worldly magnificence which may be the portion of the faithless Christian. Some writers see an allusion to the purple robe of Christ. (On the meaning of "scarlet," see on Revelation 17:3.) And decked with gold and precious stones and pearls; gilded with, etc. Similar descriptions are given in Ezekiel 16:13 and Ezekiel 28:13. Compare the description in Revelation 21:11. This account is sufficiently characteristic of the world's attractions to need no comment. Having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication; full of abominations, even the unclean things of, etc. (Revised Version), the Authorized Version reading being placed in the margin. Another reference to Jeremiah 51:7 (cf. also Revelation 14:10). Abominations are all things that are displeasing to God. (On "fornication," see on Revelation 14:8 and Revelation 17:1, Revelation 17:2; it signifies unfaithfulness towards God.)

Revelation 17:5

And upon her forehead was a name written. Omit "was." ὄνομα, "name," is dependent upon ἔχουσα, "having," in Revelation 17:4. This practice was customary with harlots (Juv., 'Sat.,' 6:123; Seneca, 'Controv.,' Revelation 1:2). In Revelation 14:1 and Revelation 7:3 the faithful members of God's Church have his Name in their foreheads; here the faithless ones, represented by the harlot, exhibit a spurious imitation. As God's Name marked the former as his, so the name Babylon, etc., marks the latter as belonging to the world (see on Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 18:2). The name consists of the words following, to the end of the verse. MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. The word "MYSTERY" may be

Revelation 17:6

And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus; of the witnesses (cf. Revelation 11:7). Another point of contrast between this woman and the woman of Revelation 12:1-17.; the former persecutes, the latter is persecuted. It may be asked—How can these words be applied to professing Christians, as they must be, if such be the interpretation of the "harlot"? The answer may be found in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 2:33, Jeremiah 2:34 and Jeremiah 3:1-11 we find the origin of this passage. Judah is a harlot (Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1, Jeremiah 3:8) with a sign upon her forehead (Jeremiah 3:3), who causes transgression in others (Jeremiah 2:33; and compare above, "Mother of harlots "), and in whose "skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents" (Jeremiah 2:34). She is clothed in crimson (Jeremiah 4:30) and golden ornaments (cf. Revelation 17:4); her lovers will despise her (Jeremiah 4:30) and seek her life (cf. Revelation 17:16). Just as it was declared that in Judah was found the blood of the innocent poor, so here we are told that the faithless part of the Church is guilty of the blood of the saints. The reason is found in the inscription. The harlot is absolutely identified with Babylon. No distinction in guilt can be allowed between the openly hostile world and the faithless Christian. "He that is not with me," God declares, "is against me" (Matthew 12:20). The description "drunken with," etc., is similar to that of Babylon in Revelation 18:2; and also in Jeremiah 51:7. And when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration; with a great wonder (Revised Version). Probably because the seer can scarcely realize that some who are professing Christians must be held guilty of such enormities; that the harlot, representing a portion of the Church, faithless even though it be, should be classed with the world, as represented by Babylon and the beast. Perhaps the wonder is caused by the fact that such a thing should ever be permitted to be; this leading to the following explanation, which shows how the unfaithfulness is avenged.

Revelation 17:7

And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? did thou wonder?—the same word as in Revelation 17:6. Though the seer cannot fully comprehend the terrible significance of the sign he sees, viz. that a portion of the Church is one with the hostile world (see on Revelation 17:6), yet there are sufficient marks wherewith to identify it. The woman, the wilderness, the reliance upon the world power, the inscription, the similar description of Judah in Jeremiah 2:1-37 and Jeremiah 3:1-25. (see on Jeremiah 3:6), might have made the interpretation plain. I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns; the ten horns. Observe, too, that the "mystery of the woman and of the beast" is all one. (On the "beast," "the seven heads," and "the ten horns." see on previous verses, especially Revelation 13:1.) In Jeremiah 3:1 the harlot is said to sit on the waters; here the beast carries her. The two statements are really identical; both the beast and the waters represent the worldly power found among "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues" (Jeremiah 3:14).

Revelation 17:8

The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition; and is about to come up out of the abyss (Revised Version). "And to go" ( ὑπάγειν) is read in א, B. P, Vulgate, and almost all cursives; while ὑπάγει, "he goeth," is found in A, 12, Arethas, Irenaeus. The latter part of this passage is related again in Revelation 19:20. The beast, as we have seen is the world power—Satan in his character of "prince of this world." Three stages are marked out in the existence of this world power: first, it was; second, it is not now; thirdly, it reappears, to be cast into perdition. The first period describes the condition of things before the sacrifice of Christ. Then it was that Satan ruled supreme in the world; that the power of the world—the beast—was. But Christ overcame the world (John 16:33); henceforth to all true believers there is "peace," although they may "have tribulation" in the world (John 16:33); for the faithful Christian the power of the world—the beast—is not. Yet, though for the true servant of God there is a sense in which it may be said that this power has no existence, it nevertheless exists in the abyss, that is, in its natural abiding place in the world, among the worldly minded, and thus may cause "tribulation" to the faithful. A further downfall is, therefore, prepared for it—that which will take place at the last day, when it "will ascend from the abyss to go into perdition." This nonexistence, contemporaneously with existence and subsequent reappearance, is exactly what is described in the wound healed (Revelation 13:3; see also the remainder of this verse). The period, therefore, embraced in these words is that of the whole existence of this world. It coincides with the period referred to in Revelation 12:14 and Revelation 12:17, and in Revelation 20:3. Throughout the Apocalypse the word ἄβυσσος, translated "bottomless pit" (Authorized Version) and "abyss" (Revised Version), is used to describe the dwelling place of Satan (see Revelation 9:1, Revelation 9:2, Revelation 9:11; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 20:1, Revelation 20:3) while working in the world. "Perdition" is described in Revelation 19:20 as the "lake of fire burning with brimstone." And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is; whose name hath not been written upon the book beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall be present. The last words show exactly what is meant in the first part of the verse (which see). The first words are a repetition of words in Revelation 13:8 (which see).

Revelation 17:9

And here is the mind which hath wisdom. Omit "and." Read, Here is the mind (or, meaning), etc. These words (as in Revelation 13:18) draw attention to the explanation which follows—or else that which precedes (cf. Revelation 13:18). They also make it appear that the explanation which the angel offers of the "mystery" is not one to be understood without some difficulty. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. The diversity of opinions on the interpretation of this passage is mainly owing to the fact that writers are not consistent in their application of symbols and numbers; in one place interpreting figuratively, in another literally. We have repeatedly seen that the language of the Apocalypse and its numbers are symbolical. The seals are not literal seals, the Lamb is not a literal Lamb, the beast is not a literal beast, etc. So here, the mountains are not literal mountains. A mountain is a symbol of power (see on Revelation 8:8); seven is the number significant of universality (see on Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1, etc.). The plain meaning of the passage, therefore, is that the woman relies upon a visibly universal power. This is precisely the idea contained in Revelation 17:3, which describes the faithless part of the Church (the harlot) trusting to the power of the world (the beast). Of course, the most prominent form of this world power in St. John's time was heathen Rome, hence some writers believe that "the seven-hilled city," Rome, is referred to here—either pagan or papal Rome. And, indeed, this may be a partial fulfilment of the vision; but it is not the whole signification. To understand seven mountains literally in this place renders it necessary to interpret forty-two weeks, etc., literally in another.

Revelation 17:10

And there are seven kings; and they are. Here we have the same idea (cf. Revelation 17:9), with a somewhat different aspect. The phrase in Revelation 17:9, "seven mountains," regarded the world power as one universal indivisible whole, without respect to particular times or modes in which it might be exhibited. In this phrase, "seven kings," we have the same world power viewed in its successive exhibitions by different nations; though here again we must be on our guard not to interpret the number seven literally of seven nations. The kings represent Worldly states or kingdoms; seven, again, betokens universality. We are thus told that this world power on which the woman relies is exhibited in the manifestation of power by successive nations, e.g. Egyptian, Assyrian, Roman, etc., as many as have ever existed or shall exist; for this is the meaning of seven. Five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; the five; the one; the other. Omit "and." Here, again, not literally five. The seer divides the whole series of antitheistic world powers into three groups, and he would say, some, probably the majority, of these are passed away; the second group embraces the world power as it is exhibited now, whether Roman, Jewish, or any other; in the third group are included those yet to come. Thus those writers who enumerate Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Syria, etc., in the first group, are partially correct, and only wrong in so far as they attempt to limit and define the kingdoms; and similarly also those who in the third group place the Roman empire after the barbarian invasions, or imperial Germany, etc. And when he cometh, he must continue a short space; a little while (Revised Version). This "short space" describes the remainder of the time of the world's existence. Such is its meaning in Revelation 6:11 and Revelation 12:12, and again in Revelation 20:3. In a similar manner, also, "shortly come to pass," etc. (Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:3; Revelation 2:5, Revelation 2:16, etc.; cf also John 16:17, John 16:28).

Revelation 17:11

And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition; and the beast (neuter, θηρίον) that was and is not, he himself is also an eighth (masculine), and is of ( ἐκ, out of) the seven, etc. We may note

Revelation 17:12

And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet. The horns, as we have seen, are symbolical of power (see on Revelation 13:1), and ten signifies completeness and sufficiency (Revelation 13:1). By the ten horns, therefore, is expressed widespread, complete power. But this power, says the seer, has not come into existence as yet. He thus points to a coming power, hostile to God, such as is described in that part of the account of the seven kings which states "the other is not yet come" (Revelation 17:10). If; seems probable, therefore, that in describing the forces opposed to God—those past, those present, and those yet to come—St. John foresees that the hostile world power will not be always pre-eminently wielded by one nation, as in his own time; but will be divided into many parts, here represented by the number ten, though not necessarily exactly ten in number. This, indeed, exactly describes what has really been the case since St. John's time, and what, humanly speaking, seems likely to continue to the end of the world. These ten horns seem thus to be identical with the seventh king of verse 10. Compare the account given of the horns in Daniel 7:1-28. But receive power as kings one hour with the beast; authority (Revised Version). One hour denotes "a short time," in which way the Bible constantly describes the period of the world's existence, and especially that period which intervenes between the time of the writer and the judgment day (cf. Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 7:29; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 22:20, etc.). This sentence thus declares that, though in the future divided into many parts, and thus not being visibly as potential as former single united kingdoms, nevertheless this hostile world power will be still formidable, having ranged itself on the side of the beast, acting for and with him, and receiving power from him.

Revelation 17:13

These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast; they give (present tense) their power and authority, etc. That is, though apparently split up into many sections, they form practically one, acting by and for the beast on whose side they range themselves (see on verse 32).

Revelation 17:14

These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; shall war against. This connects the description with Revelation 16:1-21 :34 and with Revelation 19:11-21. This war between the Lamb and the powers of evil is that which extends throughout the history of the world (vide infra); it occupies the "one hour" of Revelation 19:12, which is equivalent to the period of the world's existence. But the seer in this verse looks forward also to the termination of the conflict, the result of which, here briefly indicated, is soon to be narrated more fully. For he is Lord of lords, and King of kings. This is the reason given to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 10:17) for obedience to God (cf. also Daniel 2:47; 1 Timothy 6:15; and Revelation 19:16). Though the beast may exercise m this world dominion and power as "prince of this world," yet the Lamb is King still greater, to whom the beast must finally succumb. He is thus King above the kings of Revelation 17:2, Revelation 17:10. And they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. The Revised Version is more correct, And they that are with him, called and chosen and faithful [shall also overcome]. Another evidence of the lifelong nature of this war. Not only Christ wars and overcomes, but those associated with him are permitted to share in the battle and the victory. Christ's saints are called here to battle; in Revelation 19:9 they are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb (cf. also the exhortation to faithfulness in Revelation 2:10). The three epithets describe the progressive life of those who share Christ's victory They are called—as all men are—to serve him; having heard the call, they dedicate their lives to his service, and become his chosen servants; finally, having remained faithful to him, they share in his victory.

Revelation 17:15

And he saith unto me. As in Revelation 17:7, these words form the preface to a particular description. Having explained the mystery of the beast, to whom the woman looks for support, the angel now proceeds to unfold the mystery of the harlot herself. The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth; viz. those mentioned in Revelation 17:1. In Revelation 17:7 we are told that the beast carries the woman. Both statements are correct. The beast is the world power, which is found among the "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues." Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. The fourfold description of the human race (cf. Revelation 5:9, etc.), which, as a whole, serves the beast (cf. Revelation 13:3, Revelation 13:8, Revelation 13:12, Revelation 13:16), and out of which are selected the redeemed (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 9:9).

Revelation 17:16

And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast; and the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast. There is no authority for the ἐπι τὸ θηρίον of Erasmus except the Vulgate, in bestia, and, of course, the description given of the beast (Revelation 13:1, etc,). The two are spoken of separately, on account of the separate juris diction wielded according to verses 32, 13. These shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire; and shall burn her utterly with fire (Revised Version). These words describe the fate in store for the faithless portion of the Church. That world, to which she trusts, shall turn and rend her—a fitting sequel to her want of faith in the power of Christ. This is exactly the description given of the harlot in Ezekiel 16:37 (cf. also Ezekiel 23:22). "Eat her flesh" and "burn with fire" both describe similar results; possibly the one is thought of in connection with the symbol of "harlot," the other with the symbol of "city," with which the harlot is identical (see on Ezekiel 16:5; but see Genesis 38:24; Le Genesis 21:9; cf. also the judgment upon the wicked rich in James 5:3, "shall eat your flesh as it were fire").

Revelation 17:17

For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled; God did put to do his mind, and to come to one mind (Revised Version). "His mind" is thought by Bengel, De Wette, and Dusterdieck to signify the beast's mind. Others understand God's mind. In either ease the general sense is plain. While the world power is apparently performing the will of the beast, God is working above all; only by his permission can anything be done (of. the "it was given" of Revelation 13:1-18.). The "words of God" are his denunciations against those who trust to the world (cf. Ezekiel 16:37, quoted on Ezekiel 16:16).

Revelation 17:18

And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. A repetition of the assertion made in Revelation 17:5, viz. that the harlot and Babylon are identical (see on Revelation 17:5). Many writers have been led by this verse to believe that Rome, either pagan or papal, is thus pointed out as the antitype of the harlot. That this is one fulfilment of the vision need hardly be doubted. Rome was in St. John's time the foremost embodiment of the hostile forces of the world. But this is not the whole fulfilment, which is in all time (see above, especially on verse 1 of this chapter).

HOMILETICS

Revelation 17:1-18

"Babylon the great."

Our aim in this homily will be to show to what form of evil the name "Babylon the great" specially seems to point. The complexity and difficulty which have gathered round this chapter seem to the writer to arise rather from the enormous incubus of human interpretation which has pressed it down. In this passage we are shown rather a twisted rope than a tangled web. If we untwist the threads and lay them side by side, we shall not have much difficulty, specially if we exercise all that reverent and painstaking care which is due to the examination of every part of the Word of God. The main figure in the symbolism of the chapter is an infamous woman. Those who are familiar with Old Testament prophecy will know how often the terms "fornication," "adultery," etc., are used. As in Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 3:1, Jeremiah 3:6, Jeremiah 3:8, and in many other places, such terms are used of an apostate Church. In Isaiah 23:15-17 the like terms are used of Tyre; in Nahum 3:4, of Nineveh. So that, so far as the use of such terms in Scripture is concerned, they may mean apostasy from God under the form either of secular rule or of religious corruption. Nor can we have any difficulty in seeing the propriety of such figures. As fornication and adultery are forms of false affection, and are the prostitution of the most sacred part of our nature to alien purposes, so the alienation of the heart from God, and the departure of a Church from fidelity to him, is a violation of the most sacred ties, and is the leaguing of the heart in a false alliance, which is odious to our God. Where is THIS harlot seen? There is a triple combination of expressions here.

Her being seated on the beast, or resting on the civil world power, is one form of expressing her alliance with state authority. The seven heads of the beast are so many forms of worldly dominion—five of which had passed away, viz. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. The sixth existed at the time of the apostle. This was Rome. The seventh was another which, when Rome was no more Rome, would rise up, and would be manifest in ten forms. The number ten may be a definite expression for an indefinite number, or it may be that the world powers may yet be resolvable into ten before Babylon's fall. And the beast himself—being an eighth—is also doomed to perdition. That the woman is also spoken of as seated on seven hills, and (in Nahum 3:18) as "that great city," again indicates a very precise reference to Rome. That she was seated on many waters indicates her sway being as wide as that of the great world power with which she was in base alliance. Seated on this earthly power, and yet controlling it, as a rider is seated on a horse and yet controls the beast. This is the harlot, Babylon the great, which made all nations to drink of the wine of her fornication. Nor must we fail to notice the several descriptive features of the harlot. She is:

(10) Presumptuous in her self security (Revelation 18:7).

(11) Hated by the very powers whom she has ruled (Nahum 3:16).

Hence we are bidden, by the very terms of the symbolism, to look out for some form of evil, which manifests a glaring alienation and apostasy from God—while yet putting on a form like that of the faithful Church; which at once relies on worldly power, and yet assumes its direction; which invests itself in gorgeous array, assumes pompous titles, even such as are names of blasphemy against our Lord and against his Christ; which should exert a most baneful influence on the inhabitants of the earth, and fill the air with the miasma of her pollutions and her crimes; which should be at ease in her self security, as it no power could disturb her; which should shed the blood of the saints without measure; and which should be in itself the very filth and scum of wickedness. The apostle is astonished with a great astonishment at the symbols of such an incarnation of evil. And a voice is heard crying aloud, "Come out of her, my people … that ye receive not of her plagues." Can we now point to any form or forms of evil that answer to this symbolism? We have no hesitation in saying—Yes. In so doing, let us observe that there really is not room for any great diversity in applying such symbolism as we have here, for surely there are few forms of evil so gigantic as to suit the words, "She hath made all nations drink," etc. It is, however, clear that whatever form of evil there may be, known or unknown to us, which presents all the features named here, or even the greater part of them, there is a great Babylon which is doomed to a fall that will be utter and irretrievable. Therefore observe—

I. One form of Babylon the great is seen in that terrible, awful, universal departure from God which has corrupted all nations, perverted politics, poisoned commerce, and marred social life; by which, as manifested in the iniquitous pursuit of gain, many have grown rich; which has manifested itself in "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life;" which has assumed a domineering air, commanding men to bow down to it, under pain of social ostracism or petty persecution. This spirit of exaltation, against God has often puffed men up in false security. It hath been the curse of mankind; for when men are unfaithful to God, they are untrue to themselves. The cup of iniquity becomes fuller and fuller. Often the land mourneth because there is no truth nor justice, nor knowledge of God, therein. Yea, in legion forms this worldwide poison of sin, which works out in blasphemy towards God and ruin towards man, is a great Babylon, which will be smitten, and reel, and fall. And in so far as any so called Church puts itself between man and God, and usurps his rights, it is akin to Babylon the great. £

II. At the same time, we cannot fail to see that there is one special form of evil which more than anything else in the world is pointed out in the symbolism of this chapter, and that is THE APOSTASY OF THE CHURCH OF ROME. Not that we can agree with those who think papal Rome the sole enemy of God here referred to. For we shall find in the lamentation over Babylon's fall much that leads us to think not only of a huge ecclesiastical Babylon, but also of a huge commercial one. But that papal Rome is one form of this mystic Babylon we can entertain no doubt whatever. The student of history can follow out at leisure thirteen or fourteen lines of inquiry, on which we can but give a few illustrative remarks.

1. The woman was seated on the beast as if supported by it (Nahum 3:3). Rome has relied on the worldly power to put her decrees into execution by brute force; both in using temporal powers, and in herself claiming temporal power as well as spiritual.

2. She yet rides the beast as if to govern it (Nahum 3:3). We know but too well how Rome has aimed at, and does still aim at, controlling the power on which she relies; claiming even to regulate allegiance to earthly princes.

3. She is seated on many waters (Nahum 3:1). In every quarter of the world her emissaries are sent. And in many a land where the pure gospel of Christ has been preached, she sends her emissaries to undo the holy work by sowing tares among the wheat.

4. She rules over the kings of the earth (Nahum 3:18). Kings are but the "sons of the Church," to do the bidding of their "holy" (?) mother; otherwise she may absolve subjects from allegiance to their sovereign.

5. She holds out a golden cup full of abominations (Nahum 3:4). Papal Rome makes large offers of indulgences and absolutions, and positively lures men into sin.

6. The merchants grow rich by her (Revelation 18:3). Many are enriched by the ungodly traffic to which she consents in making the house of prayer a den of thieves; for her indulgences and absolutions will cover any kind and degree of sin, whether in the getting of wealth or otherwise.

7. She is presumptuous in her self security (Revelation 18:7). Papal Rome acknowledges no other Church, and looks for the time when all will be absorbed in her, while she is to be "a lady forever."

8. She is adorned with pompous array—in gold (Nahum 3:4), purple, scarlet, and precious stones. Anyone who has watched the working of papal Rome at Rome will need no words to convince him of her gorgeous display and dazzling sheen.

9. She is drunk with the blood of the holy (Nahum 3:6). What tales does history unfold! A hundred and fifty thousand persons perished under the Inquisition in thirty years; and from the beginning of the Order of Jesuits, in 1540, it is supposed that nine hundred thousand persons perished through papal cruelty. While, although it is impossible to estimate the exact number, yet it is supposed that during the papal persecutions of the Waldenses, Albigenses, Bohemian Brethren, Wickliffites, and other Protestants, those who perished are counted by the million. The same spirit exists still. In Ireland the priests keep the people in terror, and if Rome does not persecute us, it is because she dare not.

10. She is the mother of abominations (Nahum 3:5). Students of history and tourists in papal districts know that this is literally true. Indulgences for an indefinite number of years may be purchased with money. No viler looking set of faces could ever be beheld than the present writer has seen surrounding the confessional boxes in St. Peter's at Rome.

11. The beast she rides is full of names of blasphemy (Nahum 3:3). The proclamation of infallibility is the one fulfilment of this that surpasses all others.

12. The inhabitants of the earth are led by her into sin (Revelation 18:3). The papal Church notoriously leads people into the sin of idolatry. The worship of Rome is largely the adoration of a great goddess. £ Papists pronounce accursed those who do not "honour, worship, and adore the adorable images."

13. The several kings or kingdoms into which the civil power of the beast is to be divided shall "hate the whore, and make her desolate," etc. (Nahum 3:16). How true! If there is an object of imperial hatred, it is papal Rome, which is hated most of all. She is regarded as the disturber of states everywhere.

14. Yet within this great Babylon there will be to the last some saints of God, who will be called on to come out of her (Revelation 18:4). Even so. Fearfully apostate and adulterous as is papal Rome, there are in her pale many holy ones who are profoundly ignorant of the abominations, done by her in religion's name. The Lord will know his own in the day when he maketh up his jewels. But this great Babylon of harlotry, pomp, pride, and all abominations, is doomed to fall terribly, suddenly, completely, and forever! £ Earnestly do we press on the student carefully to follow up each of these fourteen lines on which history will be found to confirm the prophecy here couched in symbolic form. The identification is such that not one point seems lacking. How this great mystery of iniquity is to fall we have yet to consider.

Revelation 17:16, Revelation 17:17; Revelation 18:4-8

Means and methods of the fall of Babylon the great.

Every great Babylon must fall; whether by such a term it be intended to denote a huge commercial or a huge ecclesiastical Babylon. A corrupt world and an unfaithful Church must both come to ruin. The name "Church" will give no security against destruction if the salt have lost its savour. If any Church allies itself with an ungodly world power, leaning on it for support, and gathering its prestige from thence, it is, so far, committing spiritual fornication. "The wine of her fornication" intoxicates men. Precisely so. It is the glamour, the glitter, the pomp, and prestige that attend a Church in her connection with the state, that lead men away into a deceptive admiration, and even intoxicate them with thoughts of her magnificence and power. In the Church of Rome, however, all the evils of spiritual whoredom are at their topmost height. In no other Church in the world is there so much pomp and yet so much carnality. And the Holy Ghost has in these chapters not only given us a sketch beforehand of what she would be, but (though with less of detail) has indicated the means and methods by which she would be destroyed, and has also pointed out the guarantees of the fulfilment of this.

I. A CONSTANT OVERRULING POWER, GOVERNING BY MEANS OF THE LAWS OF MENTAL SUGGESTION, IS AT WORK WITH THAT END IN VIEW. The impulses in human spirits are so directed as to serve God's purposes and not man's (Revelation 18:16, Revelation 18:17). "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, and he turneth it whithersoever he will;" "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord;" "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps." God says to Cyrus, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." So of another we read, "Howbeit he meaneth not so; it is in his heart to destroy nations not a few." "God bath put it into their hearts to fulfil his will, till the words of God shall be fulfilled." The right or the wrong of the willing is man's own. The issues thereof are overruled by God for his ends. Scripture abounds in illustrations of this. Joseph is cast into the pit. Man meant one thing; God accomplished another. God meant it for good, to save much people alive. Paul is thrown into prison; his bonds turn out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel. Luther is imprisoned, and his castle becomes a Bethel. Bunyan is thrown into prison, and it becomes a second Patmos. Every diligent student of God's providence must have observed the like again and again. Even so, that which is made use of by man to prop up a system may be employed by God to overthrow it. Thus it is to be with Babylon the great. In spite of all that man can say and do, however imposing the names and pretensions of this harlot, however widely spread and deeply rooted may be the ramifications of the evil, however much the worldly interests of men may be bound up therein, there is a sure process of undermining going on at every hour—that undermining being none the less speedy at the moment men are taking the pains to prop it up. It was so with slavery in America. It is so with popery at Rome. The plans of men for upholding both the one and the other have issued, and will issue, in results the very opposite of those which man intended. The world is not in man's hands, after all, but in God's. He puts it in men's hearts to fulfil his will.

II. THE VERY POWERS ON WHICH BABYLON RELIED WILL TURN ROUND AGAINST HER TO HATE AND HARM HER. (Revelation 18:16, "The ten horns … shall hate the harlot," etc.) How truly is this being fulfilled! Not one of the European powers that has not in some period or other been relied upon by Rome. And now there is not one of the main kingdoms of the world that is not "hating" her. They are working in their own defence against papal intrigue. £ Historical incidents of the last twenty years are a startling fulfilment of the Apocalyptic word. Thus "the Word of prophecy is made more sure" (2 Peter 1:19, Revised Version).

III. THERE WILL BE JUDGMENTS AND PLAGUES THAT WILL CONSUMMATE HER RUIN, (Revelation 18:8, Revelation 18:10; Revelation 16:18-21.) Regularity and continuity combine with catastrophe to advance the world. There is a long period of orderly, even, and regular sequents. Then there comes an upheaving, and effects in one hour that for which ages have been preparing the way. In the blasting of rocks we see the slow boring and undermining; then the laying of the train of powder. So far all is done deliberately. Then a match is applied; a spark is fired; there is a moment of suspense; then a small curling wreath of smoke, followed in an instant by a mighty blast, and lo! the rock is rent, and reels and falls. So there are wondrous works going on unobserved in the bowels of the earth—that storehouse of molten flame. For years the crust is undisturbed; then comes one mighty heaving, and lo! in one awful moment cities and palaces, temples and towers, are overthrown. So shall it be at last with Babylon the great. The issue alone can explain the detail. But some six or seven words are sufficiently significant—"A great earthquake" (Revelation 16:18); "a great hail" (Revelation 16:21); "death, and mourning, and famine," "plagues" (Revelation 18:4-8); "burned with fire" (Revelation 18:8); and at the last her judgment shall come "in one hour" (Revelation 18:10).

IV. THE ATTENDANTS OF HER RUIN WILL BE RETRIBUTION AND DESOLATION, Retribution; for she is to be rewarded as she rewarded others. She trifled with and even trampled on the temporal powers in time past, and now of her temporal power she herself is shorn. Desolation: the description of this is taken from the corresponding passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning Babylon of old (Isaiah 13:19-22; Jeremiah 51:37). Those words have come to be literally fulfilled. £ Like words are on record concerning papal Rome. They too will be fulfilled. The time will come when no priests shall minister at her altars. The walls of her mighty temples will be shattered, and the shrieks of many an unclean bird shall reverberate from column to column of her dilapidated pile.

"Thus terribly shall Babel fall,

Thus—and no more be found at all!"

Note:

1. The amazing extent of the dominion of papal Rome may well fill us with wonder. It is terrible indeed to see this harlot committing fornication with the kings of the earth, seated upon many waters, intoxicating the nations with her greatness, and carrying her corruptions and abominations to the ends of the earth. But all is forewritten, that we might not be alarmed, however we may be distressed. Therefore:

2. We ought not to be dismayed, as if some calamity had unawares befallen the world. It has not come otherwise than was foretold to the apostle in Patmos. The fourteen outlines of the ground plan described in the preceding homily show an exact correspondence between the Word of God and the events of history.

3. Nor should we fear for the final issue. The word which forecast Babylon's rise has foretold its fall.

4. Meanwhile, be it ours not to be caught by appearances. To this day the harlot is bedecked and bedizened in gold and silver and precious stones. Her pomp and pride and the prestige of her ancient date charm many into a blind compliance with her amours. Many wish to drink of the golden cup which is in her hand. But ah! even apostasy may be covered with pearls, and the beast may be clad in scarlet. What is beneath?

5. Even when, however, the fall of Babylon the great shall come, that will not be the end; one more conflict will await the Church. The ten horns that have turned round on the harlot will make war with the Lamb. There will remain the war between the beast and the King of kings and Lord of lords.

6. Therefore, finally, be it ours to be among those who are with Christ, and to whom the three epithets may be fitly applied—"called," "chosen," and "faithful." All tawdry show and carnal blaze are doomed. Only what is true and real will live on unharmed for ever. Laus Deo!

HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY

Revelation 17:14

The war with the Lamb.

This chapter and the next are mainly occupied with the description of the combatants—the city, the court, and the provinces of Rome—who waged war against the Church of Christ, and therefore are said to "make war with the Lamb;" and with (Revelation 18:1-24.) the fall of the city, which was the centre and head of the whole war against Christ. We hold to the belief that St. John was telling, not of something in the far future, which could be but of little avail to the persecuted Church of his day, but of events which were near at hand, imminent, and should "shortly come to pass." Therefore, concerning the interpretation which makes Daniel explain St. John, and understands the seven kings as the seven world empires from Egypt to Rome, and the ten horns as the future dismemberment of the Roman empire—how, we ask, could the knowledge of this then far future event help the suffering saints, to cheer and strengthen whom was the one chief purpose of this book? To say nothing of the incongruity of speaking of Rome in St. John's day as a power that "was, and is not" (verse 11); or that in his day it had received a "deadly wound" (Revelation 13:3); or that the dismembered Roman empire, of which we and most of modern Europe have for nigh a thousand years formed parts, should continue only "a short space." We should feel pressed with the difficulties of this interpretation were there none other which avoided them. But as there is such other, we feel compelled to adopt it. We do not say that this one has no difficulties, but they are small in comparison with those belonging to the one we have refused. And now let us consider—

I. "THESE" WHO MAKE WAR WITH THE LAMB. Who are they? We believe St. John to refer:

1. To the court of Rome, especially to the monster Nero, the emperor.

(a) As "the beast." Sometimes this name stands for the God and Christ opposing world power in general, the secular antichrist of the several ages; and sometimes for the embodiment of that power in one person, as in Nero. How he deserved the name by reason of his ferocity, cruelty, and bestiality, let Tacitus tell, and many others who knew (cf. Renan's 'L'Antichrist').

(b) As soon to be no more. So soon, so certain, was his removal, that he is spoken of in verse 8 as "the beast that was, and is not, and yet is;" and again

As one day to reappear (verse 8, "He shall ascend out," etc.). The belief that Nero should return was notorious (cf. Stuart and Farrar, in loc.).

(a) By the city over which he rules (verse 9). Seven-hilled Rome, "the city of the seven hills," was as frequent and well understood a name for Rome as would be "the city on the banks of the Thames" for London.

(b) By his place in the succession of kings. He stands sixth in the list of the Roman emperors. "Five" had passed away of the twelve Caesars. He was the sixth—the "one is" (verse 10).

(c) His successor's short reign. Galba reigned but three months: "He must continue a short space."

(d) By the universal belief that he would return (cf. supra).

2. To the city of Rome. She is branded with the name of "Babylon … mother of harlots" (verse 5), and is described as an utterly abandoned woman, revelling in wealth and splendour, exercising her deadly seductive influences over all the empire, flaunting forth her shame with unblushing effrontery, and cruel with a ferocity that the beast she sat upon, and who sustained her, could hardly rival or satisfy. "Drunk with the blood of the saints." Such was the seven-hilled Rome when St. John knew it. Even a monster like Nero would hardly have dared to rage as he did had he not been encouraged by the brutal populace that swarmed in Rome.

3. To the consuls and proconsuls. The ten provincial governors who aided and abetted "the beast" in his war against Christ. There were ten of these: Italy, Achaia, Asia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, Germany (Farrar). And in all these the will of Nero was law. His persecution was by no means confined to Rome—this entire book shows that, though it began there. It was, as verse 13 says, they gave "their power … unto the beast."

II. THE METHODS OF THEIR WARFARE.

1. Then, when St. John wrote, it was by cruel, horrible, widespread, and bloody persecution. So that Rome is represented as "drunk with blood," and the description is confirmed by historic fact. But:

2. Now, in our day, the secular, antichristian spirit manifests itself in quite another form. The beast spirit "yet is," though clothed in other garb. The world is the world yet, and still makes "war with the Lamb." It aims now not so much to hurt the body as the soul. The former it may not touch, but the latter it can and does. It kills holy habits, wounds conscience, defiles the thoughts, stuns religious sensibilities, mocks at religious earnestness, exiles her language, her literature, and her laws. All this the world spirit does by its customs, maxims, and its administration of its rewards and punishments. It has corrupted public opinion, poisoned the atmosphere which daily the believer has to breathe; its influence is often, generally, unseen, intangible, indescribable, but nevertheless as real and deadly to the souls of men as were the bloody laws of Rome to the bodies of the believers in the Church of the first century. But consider—

III. THE LAMB AGAINST WHOM "THESE" WAR. A Lamb, and yet "Lord of lords, and King of kings." The ideas seem incongruous. How, then, is "the Lamb" this?

1. By rightful authority. Though Son of man, he is also Son of God (cf. Psalms 2:1-12.).

2. By virtue of his sacrifice. It is this great fact that he keeps prominently through his chosen name—"the Lamb." In heaven he is thus seen as "a Lamb who had been slain" (Revelation 4:1-11.; cf. Philippians 3:1-21., "Therefore hath God also highly exalted him, and," etc.):

3. By the might of meekness. See how at his nativity the shepherds were told they should see the "Saviour, Christ the Lord." And what was it that they did see? A babe, "wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger." But in that utter humiliation and self abnegation of the Son of God lay the might that should make him, as it has made him, "King of kings, and Lord of lords." Meekness is might, sacrifice is sovereignty, losing life is gaining it; the cross creates the crown. It is no arbitrary arrangement; it lies in the constitution of our nature, to which his meekness and love appeal with such resistless force. "O Galilaean, thou has; conquered!" said the Emperor Julian. And Constantine confessed the same, and Rome bowed to Christ.

4. By the consent of conscience. Blessed be God, there is a better self in the worst of men, and the appeal to that better self in men, though drowned by many a vile clamour for a long time, will yet be heard and obeyed. And Christ by his gospel made such appeal.

5. By the grace he imparted to his people. "Their patient continuance in well doing put to silence" all their foes. Rome looked on at these Christians and wondered, and, after a while, gave way and worshipped with them. For not alone in and by himself does the Lamb overcome, but:

6. In his people. "They that are with him." The Revised Version rightly renders St. John's words, "They also shall overcome that are with him, called, chosen, faithful." St. John does not teach that the Lamb was indebted to them for this victory, as a general is indebted to his army. That, though the Authorized Version seems to lend countenance to such idea, is very far from the truth. But what is meant is that, like their Lord, "they that are with him" overcome. "The noble army of martyrs praise thee." In them he repeats and reproduces his victory. It is, therefore, of great interest and importance to know who they are that are "with him." For the conditions of victory are the same today as they were of old. The enemy has not changed in reality, though he has in form. And would we overcome, we must be as they of old who overcame. Well, then, see how they are described. They are:

HOMILIES BY R. GREEN

Verse 1-Rev 18:24

Babylon.

We read her name, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF THE HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." Now, the whole idea of the sinful opposition to God is gathered together in a unit. It is a city; it is a woman. We must forsake all guides, and declare our conviction that Babylon means neither Christian nor heathen Rome, nor any other city, kingdom, or state in particular; but the one kingdom of evil manifesting itself in many kingdoms and systems, both political and ecclesiastical, and equally independent of either, The essential idea is the Babylon of evil as it stands in antithesis to the holy Jerusalem—the pure, the bride, the Lamb's wife. Two chief divisions will comprehend the teaching concerning "Babylon:"

I. THE DESCRIPTION OF BABYLON.

1. Its corrupt character. As before the prophets were "false" and the spirits were "unclean," and stood opposed to God; so now harlotry, fornication, drunkenness, blasphemy, abominations, luxury, persecuting violence, sorcery, submission to the beast, warring against the Lamb, are the terms employed to describe or indicate the excessive foulness and corruption of the faithless city. This is "the woman," having in her hand "a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication." This the "Babylon the great," which is become "a habitation of devils, a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird."

2. Virulent antagonism to the good, even to the loftiest ideals of goodness. "War against the Lamb;" blasphemed the God of heaven;" "gather together unto the war of the great day of God;" "poured out the blood of saints and prophets;"—in such terms is the antipathy to all righteousness declared.

3. Occasion of all evil, seen in the corruption of life, the deceitfulness of iniquity, the loss of the blessings of righteousness, degradation in sin, to which the "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" are reduced "where the harlot sitteth;" and the judgments and consequent sufferings in which they are involved.

4. The widespread, universal character of the desolation caused. In every aspect this vision is "great and marvellous." It is "Babylon the great." The harlot "sitteth upon many waters," which waters are "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." "And the woman is the great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth;" "by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen." "What city is like the great city," with whose "sorcery were all the nations deceived"? "In her was found the blood of all that have been slain upon the earth." This is the universal kingdom of evil, whose "sins reached unto heaven." Again and again has it seemed as though these words of widespread import found their fulfilment; but no complete idea can be formed that shuts out any part of the one all pervasive kingdom of wickedness. This great kingdom shall come to an end. Such is the ever recurring promise of this book.

II. ITS DESTRUCTION IS COMPLETE. The "harlot" is made "desolate and naked;" hated by all over whom she sat as a queen; they shall "eat her flesh, and burn her utterly with fire." "Woe, woe!" is pronounced against the great city, Babylon; "for in one hour is thy judgment come." "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great." "In one day shall her plagues come, death, and mourning, and famine: and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God which judgeth her." "The Lamb shall overcome," and thus shall they also overcome that are with him. "And a strong angel took up a stone as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be cast down, and shall be found no more at all." Then shall the kings of the earth that committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth who were made rich by her, and every shipmaster and mariner, and all that were made rich by her, weep and mourn and lament; while to heaven a sweet song of joy and thankfulness shall rise from them who with the Lamb have overcome—who are "called, and chosen, and faithful."—R.G.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Revelation 17:1-6

"The great whore:" a corrupt Christianity.

"And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters," etc. What a strange woman loomed in John's vision here! He calls her "the great whore [harlot]." He saw her seated upon a "scarlet-coloured beast,... decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup full of abominations:… and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth. And she was drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (verses 3-6). A strange creation this, truly, but scarcely stranger or more grotesque than many of the objects that have entered and still do enter into human dreams. We must ask Protestant interpreters to say who this woman is, for they know all about her. They, forsooth, are certain that she is pagan or papal Rome. I cannot say who she is; nor does it matter. I shall make use of her to illustrate corrupt Christianity; and this includes Protestantism as well as popery. Conventional Christianity is as truly corrupt as papal, and, in some respects, it is even worse. £ The description here given of this harlot suggests and illustrates three great evils ever conspicuous in corrupt Christianity Here is—

I. POLITICAL SUBSERVIENCY. "Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore [harlot] that sitteth upon many waters [or, 'many nations']" (verse 1). This woman, clothed in "purple and scarlet," and gorgeously adorned, yielded herself up to the desires and lusts of worldly authorities; empty voluptuaries "drest in a little brief authority." "With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication'' (verse 2). The essence of genuine Christianity is spiritual supremacy and invincible sovereignty over the princelets, kinglets, and emperors of the world, in all the little, as well as great, temporalities of life. Essentially Christianity is the absolute queen of life. Although her kingdom is "not of this world," her demand is that the world should bow to her. In yielding to worldly influence she lost her pristine purity and primitive power; she got corrupted, and became more and more the servant of rulers and the instrument of states. This she has been from before the days of Constantine down to this hour. What is conventional Christianity, not only throughout England but throughout Christendom, today? Verily, she is rather a serf than a sovereign. Worldly rulers employ her to consecrate their coronations and to give the aspect of sanctity to their tawdry pageantries, their sensual indulgences, their unrighteous exactions, and their bloody wars. Truly, the purest virgin from heaven has become a harlot, the mere creature of worldly power. I am wearied of the cant of making this harlot the symbol of papal or pagan Rome; she is as truly a symbol of Protestant Christendom as of papal Rome. The Reformation, in which Wickliffe, Melancthon, and Luther so heartily engaged, is, for many reasons, more urgently required now in the realm of conventional Christianity. And the reiterated cry of Voltaire against popery in his day, "Crush the monster! crush the monster!" all thoughtful men should raise now in relation to conventional Christianity. Until conventional Christianity is banished from the land, and the Christianity of the sermon on the mount is restored, the moral condition of the human race will sink lower and lower into devildom and corruption.

II. WORLDLY PROCLIVITY. "And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand" (verse 4). Here is worldliness, worldly vanity, and worldly greed. Genuine Christianity is essentially unworldly. Its Founder was born in a stable and cradled in a manger; he had nowhere to lay his head. At night the green sod was his pillow, and the sable heavens his covering. His disciples he despatched on their mission without "purse or scrip," and none of his apostles preached the gospel as a means of livelihood. "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel," says Paul. "Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities." But what of conventional Christianity? It is an instrument for worldly gain and aggrandizement. Everywhere men trade in the gospel, and the trade is carried on with all the passionate avarice, foul fallacies, and flatulent puffings that characterize the market. Pulpits are regarded as means of livelihood, chapels and churches are become shops, ecclesiastics are the grandees of the world, robed in costly attire and rolling in chariots of opulence. Institutions abound and multiply, baptized with the name of Christian, where men of feeble talent but crawling craftiness creep into offices of salary and show. I protest that conventional Christianity is not the Christianity of Christ—a Divine entity that "seeketh not her own." The Christ exhibited in the creeds and institutions is as unlike the Christ of the Gospels, as the mechanical force of the manufacturing machine, throwing off commodities for trade, is unlike that vital energy in nature that clothes the landscape with verdure and fills the earth and the water with countless tribes of life.

III. RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE. "And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (verse 6). "The phraseology," says Moses Stuart, "is derived from the barbarous custom, still extant among many pagan nations, of drinking the blood of enemies slain in the way of revenge. Here, then, the fury of the persecutors is depicted in a most graphic manner." Genuine Christianity is essentially tolerant. "Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up; charity believeth all things," etc. But Christianity corrupted has always been cruelly intolerant, and this, whether it is called Protestant or papal! True, it does not shed blood as much as of yore, but if it does not take away life it may inflict life annoyances and disabilities in many respects more painful than bloodshedding. This harlot is a "mother;" her progeny is numerous and ever multiplying. "The mother of harlots." The religious sects which crowd Christendom are all her daughters, and each sect has the intolerant spirit of its mother, each according to its measure is a persecutor, and, as a rule, the smaller the more virulent the spirit. Curs snarl and bark more as a rule than mastiffs. Large and affluent congregations can afford to overlook denominational circumstances, that irritate the smaller and the poorer to wroth and rage.

CONCLUSION. Such is corrupt Christianity, which is, alas! the current Christianity.

It is very like the "harlot" on account of its political subserviency, worldly proclivity, and religious intolerance. What are we to do with this abomination? Flee from this Sodom; come out of this Babylon. "Crash the monster!"—D.T.

Revelation 17:7-13

A picture of moral error.

"And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns," etc. Whilst to the eye of the Infinite the greatest cities of the world, the mightiest empires, the most stupendous productions of human art are as nothing, and less than nothing, "vanity," those great moral principles which are the expressions of his own nature, the laws that control the destinies of moral mind, are of transcendent import. What are Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Paris, St. Petersburg, New York, London, etc., to him? Shifting clouds, melting into infinite space; little bubbles, rising from and breaking into the ever changing, ever rolling stream of time. But justice, truth, love,—what are these? As real, as changeless, as lasting, as God himself. Hence it is that in going through this Apocalypse I all but ignore the fanciful and conflicting interpretations presented by what are called Evangelical expositors, and concern myself with those two principles, good and evil, that touch the spring of all human activities. Looking at these verses as an illustration of moral error, three things are observable.

I. ITS HISTORY IS MARVELLOUS. John, in his vision, seems to have wondered at this vision of the "mother of harlots," riding on the beast with "seven heads and ten horns." "The angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel [wonder]?" (verse 7). Evil is indeed a "marvel," a wonder. It is mysterious on several accounts.

1. On account of the darkness that enfolds its introduction. When thinking of the introduction of moral evil, there are tour questions which we ask with intense anxiety, but to which we seek a satisfactory solution in vain.

2. On account of the mask under which it works. Evil never appears in its own true character. Dishonesty wears the aspect of rectitude; falsehood speaks the language of truth; selfishness has the voice of benevolence; profanity robes itself in the garb of sanctity; the "prince of darkness" appears like an angel of light. The most monstrous deeds that have been perpetrated under these heavens have been done in the name of religion. The Alexanders and the Caesars of this world have fought their sanguinary battles, and reared their empires upon slaughtered nations in the name of religion. The popes of the world have erected their iron throne upon the soul of Christendom in the name of religion. The persecutors of the world have invented their Inquisitions, built their dungeons, and kindled their fires in the name of religion. Ah me! the Son of God himself was put to death in the name of religion. Wrong is necessarily hypocritical.

3. On account of the wonderful issues that will result from it. Results will spring from evil which the originators and agents never designed, nay, which they would dread. The introduction of sin became the occasion of a new and brighter manifestation of God. All the glorious developments of Divine justice and love and power which we have in Christ owe their existence to evil. Evil has done an immense injury to the universe, but I believe that in the long run of ages it will be found to have been overruled for a greater good.

II. ITS COURSE IS LAMENTABLE. "The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit [is about to come out of the abyss], and go into perdition" (verse 8). What meaneth this? The Roman emperors, especially Nero, is the answer of some. My answer is deeper, broader, more practical. It is moral error; that which originated all that was bad in Rome, in Babylon, ay, and in the world and ages throughout. Moral error is the beastifying force in human nature; it makes men beasts everywhere. Its beginning and end are lamentable; it rises from the "bottomless pit," from the fathomless abysses of impure lusts, ravenous greed, burning ambition, sensual yearnings, impious irreverences, and blasphemous assumptions, etc. Its end is lamentable. It leads to "perdition," to ruin. The course of moral error is like the course of the meteor, which, rising from the abysses of the sulphurous cloud, flashes across the concave heavens, and then falls into darkness and forgetfulness. "Lust, when it conceiveth, bringeth forth sin; sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." "The wages of sin is death"—the death of everything that gives value to life; the death of an approving conscience, pure friendships, bright hopes, etc. What a glorious contrast is the course of moral truth to this! "The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Light is the emblem of intelligence, purity, and blessedness. The march of the good is like the march of the sun.

1. Glorious. How glorious is the sun as it rises in the morning, tinging the distant hills with beauty, at noon flooding the earth with splendour, in evening fringing the clouds with rich purple, crimson, and gold!

2. Commanding. The sun is the ruler of the day; at his appearance the world wakens from its slumbers; the winds and waves obey him; as he moves, all nature moves.

3. Useful. The sun enlightens the system and maintains harmony throughout every part. It renews the earth, quickens the seeds into life, covers the landscape with beauty, ripens the harvest for man and beast.

4. Independent. Troops of black clouds may roll over the earth, but they touch not the sun; furious storms may shake the globe, but the sun is beyond their reach. It is always behind the darkest clouds, and looks calmly down upon the ocean in fury and the earth in a tempest.

5. Certain. The sun is never out of time; it is ever in its place at the right hour. In all this it is the emblem of the good.

III. ITS SUPPORTS ARE UNSTABLE. "And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the [is himself also an] eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition" (verse 11). This "mother of harlots" (the emblem of corrupt Christianity) is here represented as sitting "on the beast with seven heads and ten horns." The seven heads are "seven mountains" (verses 9, 10). What mountains? The seven hills on which Rome was built, is the answer of popular expositors. There are "seven kings." Who are these kings, five of whom are gone, one remaining and waiting for another—who are they? One expositor suggests that "the reference is rather to seven great monarchies, five of which, viz. Assyria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Macedon, had fallen before the time of St. John. The pagan empire of the Roman Caesars then existing would be the sixth, the papal power might be the seventh, and the last form of antichrist the eighth." I confess my utter inability to give any verbal interpretation agreeable to the dictates of common sense or the conditions of spiritual culture. The one idea which it suggests to me and serves to illustrate is that the supports of moral evil are unstable. Moral evil in our world has its supports. Many seem strong as "seven mountains," mighty as "seven kings," and more, but all are shifting and transitory. Many have been and are not, some have risen and have passed away, others in their course have come and will disappear. This has been the history of moral evil in our world. Many of the arguments that have sustained it from time to time have appeared as settled and imposing as mountains, as gorgeous and majestic as kings; but "mountains have fallen and come to nought," and even imperial bulwarks have disappeared as visions of the night. So it has been, so it is, and so it must be to the end. Moral error has no lasting foundation. Its superstructures are not houses on the rocks, but on shifting sands. Whether it appears in the form of thrones, governments, churches, colleges, markets, it stands nowhere but on volcanic hills. They may be clad in loveliest verdure and enriched with the choicest fruit, but fires lie beneath them which will rive them to pieces and engulf in ruin all that have stood and flourished above.—D.T.

Revelation 17:14-18

The great moral campaign.

"These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful," etc. To our mind these verses seem to adumbrate the greatest of all the campaigns this world has ever witnessed or ever will. In every department of sentient being there seems to be an arena of conflict, and physical wars in human life have been rife in every part of the world, from the first periods to the present hour. But the great moral campaign is the most universal, unremitting, and momentous. The words serve to bring to our notice two subjects in relation to this campaign—

I. THE CONTENDING FORCES. "These shall make war," etc. (Revelation 17:14). What are these? Truth and falsehood, selfishness and benevolence, right and wrong,—these are the battling powers. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Each of these contending forces has its own leader or general.

1. The one is represented as a "beast." The beast is the emblem of the mighty aggregate of wrong in all its elements and operations; wrong in theories and in institutions; wrong in sentiments, ideas, and habits; wrong as imposing as seven mountains, as majestic as kings and empires; wrong sitting as empress over all "nations, and peoples, and tongues." Wrong is the greatest thing in this world at present; it is the mighty Colossus with the "head of gold, breast and arms of silver, his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay."

2. The other is represented as a "Lamb." "These shall make war with [shall war against] the Lamb" (Revelation 17:14). The Lamb is the emblem of innocence, mildness, and purity. In Daniel's vision wrong was a colossal figure, and right a little stone. Here wrong is a terrible "beast," and right a tender "Lamb." Here are the two great generals in this mighty campaign.

II. THE MARVELLOUS CONQUEST. Observe:

1. The Conqueror. "The Lamb shall overcome them" (verse 14). The Lamb, not the beast, is the Conqueror. Power is not to be estimated by size or form. The little stone shivered the image; the Lamb strikes the beast into the dust. The Lamb, though not a bellicose existence, is:

2. The conquered. "These shall hate the whore," etc. (verses 16-18).

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 17:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/revelation-17.html. 1897.

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