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The First Seal.
COMMENTATORs differ more about the explanation of the first seal than almost any other; but, as by almost common consent (till very recently at least), the other " seals” and “trumpets,” symbolize some great political events in the history of Rome and of mankind; and as an event is immediately found on the page of history to explain the symbol, I cannot for a moment hesitate to say, that the first seal symbolizes a political event as well as the rest.
Placing ourselves in the year ninety-six, or, which is the same thing, opening “ Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall,” we find ourselves at the eve of a very important epocha; the exaltation of Trajan, which exactly corresponds with the first symbol :
Chap. vi. 2. “ I saw," says the apostle, “and behold a white horse, and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer:"
No set of symbols can be more easily deciphered. The white horse, from its use in ancient times, denoted royal majesty; at least military greatness. To “have a bow," and to “receive a crown,” what else can it denote but the raising of a warrior to the imperial
“ He goes
dignity? And that warrior exerts his supreme power over the state, to extend his conquests. forth conquering, and to conquer." This is exactly the character of the great event of the times, which in its consequences had a very considerable and lasting effect upon the state of that world in which the church of Christ, for an appointed time, must sojourn. the eighteenth day of September Domitian was mur, dered, and succeeded by Nerva, a man of a peaceful and feeble character, whose short reign, of only one year, four months, and nine days, was only important in the history of Rome, and of mankind, for one event. His own character, and the turbulence of the times, induced Nerva to select for his colleague and successor to the empire, a 'person of a military character.” This he did about three months previous to his death, and his choice fell on Trajan, whose character and actions clearly fulfilled the prophecy.
“ The principal conquests,” observes Mr. Gibbon, “ of the Romans, were achieved under the republic." “ Augustus relinquished the ambition of conquest.” “ His moderate system was adopted by his successors.” « Such were the maxims of imperial polity from the death of Augustus to the accession of Trajan. That virtuous and active prince had received the education of a soldier, and possessed the talents of a general.' The peaceful system of his predecessors was interrupted by scenes of war and conquest; and the legions, after a long interval, beheld a military emperor at their head.”.
The account of the extensive conquests of this prince, the reader may learn from the page of Gibbon. It will
1 " Imperator simul et commilito," is the expression of Tacitus.
be sufficient to observe here, that he extended the bounds of the Roman empire to the utmost limits they ever reached. After this epocha, the power of the empire remained stationary for some years, and then began to decline. The cause of that decline was the next grand revolution in the affairs of the world. And this, we shall find, was symbolized by the second seal.
The Second Seal, Verse 4.
“ There went forth another horse that was red, and it was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another : and there was given unto him a great sword.”
The symbols here are, also, sufficiently distinct. The
red horse," the commission given to its rider ; the great sword - the sword of the executioner, are all sufficiently plain.
In perusing the narrative of our historian, in search of an event that will explain this symbol, we find that Trajan, the leading character of the former period, for periods and eras of history, and not the reigns of individual princes, will be found to be designated by the seals and trumpets, died A.D. 117, and was succeeded by Hadrian. He governed the empire in peace till his
1 « Romani Imperii, quod, post Augustum, defensum magis fuerat quam nobiliter ampliatum, fives
longè fateque diffudit.”—EUTROplus.
death, in 137, when he was succeeded by Antoninus Pius. But neither in this prince, nor in the second Antony, who succeeded him in 161 and reigned till 180, do we find any resemblance to the symbol in the prophetic vision before us, nor any great change or revolution in the world, which one might have expected to become the theme of prophecy. Gibbon has distinctly marked off these reigns as belonging to one era, when he observes :-“ During a happy period, the public administration was conducted by the virtues and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonies."
But next follows, as we read the history in its regular course, an epocha indeed, and an epocha of that importance, that Mr. Gibbon dates from it the decline and fall of this mighty empire. This was the accession of the tyrant Commodus, the son of Marcus Antoninus, at the death of that prince, A. D. 180. Gibbon thinks that “ Commodus was not, as he has been represented, a tiger, born with an insatiable thirst of human blood, and capable, from his infancy, of the most inhuman actions ;" but he owns, “ His cruelty, which at first obeyed the dictates of others, degenerated into habit, and at length became the ruling passion of his soul.” After stating the extent of his cruelties, he adds :-“When Commodus had once taşted human blood, he became incapable of pity or remorse.”
For particular transactions, I refer to the narrative of Mr. Gibbon. The reader will there find fully explained what is intended by the “red horse” and “ great sword.” These emblemis would, indeed, have symbolized any other bloody tyrant in any other age of the world; but, following the train of history from the time when St. John saw the vision, Commodus could not well have been
passed over; and the prophecy is applied, with great exactness, to his reign.
Besides, the effects attributed to his bloody administration are another note whereby we learn to apply the prophecy to Commodus. It is not the reign of every cruel tyrant that could produce the consequences here described, " to take peace from the earth,” and “that they might slay one another with the sword.” With many tyrants the evil has perished with themselves, or the virtues of a successor have healed the wounds of his bleeding country. This was remarkably the case when the adoptive father of Trajan received the empire after the death of the almost equally cruel Domitian. But mark the consequences of the excesses of Commodus on the welfare of that world, the government of which he had received in so peaceful a state. His maleadministration was capable, from the circumstances in which it occurred, of producing a new era in the history of mankind, and plunged the Roman empire into endless scenes of civil wars and tumults. Mr. Gibbon particularly pronounces “ the licentious fury of the Pretorian guards,” which now first discovered itself, to be the first symptom and cause of the decline of the empire. Of the event of the reign of Commodus, he remarks, in another place, “A revolution which will ever be remembered, and is still felt by the nations of the earth.”
The Third Seul.
The third seal is as clearly explained from history as the former: