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lopment of the great day of Almighty God : and the history of the world, as far as it goes, will be our surest guide to the interpretation of these prophecies.
Here, then, let us recall to our recollection the historical prophecies of Daniel. The grand outline of prophetic history, there afforded us, will serve to circumscribe our researches, and to confine our inquiries in the proper line of events.
It was revealed to this prophet, in different visions and by different symbols, that four great empires, in their rise and fall, should govern the destinies of the world, as those destinies affected, more or less, the church of God upon earth. Four empires were to bear rule over the civilized world. The fourth was to be of a peculiar description, and to continue, in some form or other, till the time of the end, - so that this fourth empire should only give place to the erection of the kingdom of God upon earth. This made the symbols of the fourth kingdom an object of particular inquiry to the prophet; and, accordingly, it will be seen, by adverting to that part of the present work, that many particulars respecting this “last earthly empire, and concerning the history of the world in the latter days, were partially opened to the prophet Daniel, and is written for our information, upon whom the ends of the world are come,
This fourth kingdom, as we have seen, has proved to be the Roman empire. This empire was in full dominion, and had nearly reached its utmost extent, when John saw the vision of the Apocalypse. The kingdom represented, in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, by the “ legs of iron,” and in Daniel's corresponding vision, by the “ fourth beast, dreadful, and terrible, and strong exceedingly,” with its great "iron teeth," was now explained by the
event. The Roman empire had, indeed, according to the prophecy, devoured the whole earth, “ breaking in pieces and stamping the residue with its feet.”
So much of this vision had been explained by the events of history. What follows — the division of this empire, represented by the “toes, part of iron and part of clay,” in the image of Nebuchadnezzar, and by “the ten horns," or rather, eleven horns of the fourth beast, in the prophet's vision, had not yet taken place: the Roman empire was yet entire and unbroken. Its strength was unimpaired in the age of St. John: all was “iron” in its composition. And though it had, for some years, been nearly stationary as to its conquests, yet, as we have observed before, they had not been pushed to their utmost extent when John saw this vision, the date of which, according to the most ancient writers, and the best part of the moderns, is the year of our Lord ninetysix.
The situation of the world, at this period, may be easily understood by the perusal of Mr. Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The real narrative of his history begins not quite so soon as A. D. 96; but his prefatory 'remarks carry him back to take up the train of events at this very year, in order to the opening of the great subject of his work, “ the decline and fall” of the Empire.
Prophecy corrects, indeed, his notion respecting “ the fall” of the empire. The empire is not fallen ; it is only “ divided,”-it" is not, and yet is.” The modern states of Europe that have sprung out of Roman civilization, are, in the view of the Spirit of prophecy, a continuation of the same empire, divided, indeed, but yet not completely severed, having still some bonds of union, which, though sometimes weak, and never perfect or lasting, still keep the members of the ,, empire together, and draw a line of distinction between it and the other nations of the earth.
Correcting this view of the historian, his history — perhaps in itself the most important history that was ever written, if its inpurities, as well as its infidel principles, did not forbid its being generally recommended, connecting, as it does, the ancient history of mankind with the present times, is of especial importance, as far as it
goes, in explaining the prophecy of the Revelation. Mr. Gibbon, in the distribution of the great events of history, in his marking out the grand epochas and their connected eras, will be found, with wonderful exactness, to tread in the steps of prophecy; so much so, indeed, that the composition of such a history, at such a time, and by such a man, appears as providential. The reader, for the explanation of the “ seals” and “trumpets” of the Revelation, will need no other expositor than the infidel historian. With the completion of the sixth trumpet, his narrative in reality ends; and our course afterwards becomes more intricate and perplexed; not so much on account of the loss of our guide, but because we are approaching nearer the unfinished periods of our own times, when we cannot so well weigh the importance of events and revolutions by their lasting consequences on the fate of the church or of mankind : when we cannot so well explain how facts and characters, which appear from their nearness and close connexion with ourselves, to be so great and so important, will appear, when they are seen on the page of general history; when their true consequence is known in their bearings on subsequent events, and on the future changes to take place in the state of nations.
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. “On 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
Imperator simul et commilito," is the expression of TACITUS.