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The Roman world is become Christian: their emperor is now, to use the language of the angel in Daniel's vision, “the Prince of the host:" and his people, nominally, both by external profession and by the acknowledgment of Providence, “ the holy people.” *
What shall happen to this nominally Christian world is about to be shown in a new set of symbols, distinguished by the blowing of seven trumpets, which, as we have seen, comprise together the seventh seal: its last trumpet being to be spread out into seven new periods, marked by pouring out of vials, as itself has been spread out into seven trumpets. We are, therefore, arrived at the end of one great division of the series of prophetic events. This is chosen, by the Spirit of prophecy, as a proper place to introduce an episode, or interlude, respresenting the sealing and the deliverance of the chosen people of God: the accomplishing of the number of his elect, for which the coming of his kingdom waits, To introduce this episode, or interlude, the historic narrative of the prophecy is suspended : the seventh seal is not immediately opened. This intermediate vision which the apostle sees may justly be compared to that described in the ninth chapter of Ezekiel; and, from the known circumstances of Ezekiel's vision, we may illustrate this vouchsafed to St. John.
Ezekiel's vision foreboded the preparation of judgments which were ready to be inflicted upon an apostate church and people ; but the executors of these judgments are restrained, till a priest from the altar, with a writer's inkhorn by his side, “ shall set a mark on the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations” that be done in the city doomed to destruction.
* Chap. vii. 15, and 24.
Exactly similar, only amplified in more magnificent scenery, are the circumstances of the vision before us :
1. “And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow upon the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of God in their foreheads."
It is, therefore, I collect, the intent of this vision, to point out the polluted, apostate church, now become identified with the fourth empire, as the object of future judgment: and surely to this Christian empire we may apply the language of Ezekiel's prophecy respecting faithless Jerusalem! “ The iniquity of the house of Israel and of Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness; for they say, 'the Lord hath forsaken the earth,' and, the Lord seeth not ;' and as for me also, mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity, but I will recompense their way upon their head.”
This interposed vision I conceive to be indefinite as to time; that is to say, it takes in view the whole continuance of the apostate church and empire, till those judgments fall upon her which shall destroy her. By the suspending of the four winds is symbolized the suspending of the final destruction of the apostate ChrisLian empire, till the time of Christ's appearing, till the whole number of his elect be accomplished; then, will
his kingdom come indeed, of which the exaltation of Constantine and his Christian followers to the dominion of the world, was a faint, inglorious type:
4. “ I heard,” says St. John, “ the number of them which were sealed; and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of Israel."
This is explained and specified, “out of each of the twelve tribes, twelve thousand."
“After this, I beheld, and, lo, a great number, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands."
This scene is capable of a twofold explanation. We may either consider the numbers heard and the people seen as different, or we may consider them as the same. If different, the remnant of the Jews must be represented by the one, and the remnant of the Gentiles by the other. But I am persuaded that they are the same people. It is the number of the sealed altogether, of all the mystic Israel, of “the Israel of God," of the children of the Jerusalem which is above: their whole number was a hundred and forty-four thousand. The number itself, probably, is mystical, and means only a very large, but still a definite, fixed number. St. John heard their numbers read; but when his eye saw the same happy company before the throne, they seemed to his view, as of course they would, innumerable.
They had white robes, like the souls of the slain beneath the altar, in a former vision; and they are, in fact, the completion of the same happy people, “ the holy
church throughout all the world,” collected in every age --for the time of these interluded visions, I repeat, is indefinite. They have palms in their hands; this denotes, that the season of their consummation is symbolized the season until which the martyred souls beneath the altar were told that they must rest- is now in the view of the prophetic Spirit. That the hundred and forty and four thousand symbolizes all the redeemed from among men - the number of the elect completed, or soon to be completed — is corroborated by chap. xiv. 1, &c.
10. “ And they cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."
This ascription of salvation, in the usual style of prophecy, implies, that salvation, final deliverance, and victory, are already, in anticipation, theirs :
11. “ And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen; blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen."
The angels, observe, surrounding the throne, and them that stand before it, sing this song of praise and congratulation. But why, it may be asked, do not the cherubim and elders join in this song? I should say, because this glorious company is but another emblem for the same thing as the cherubim with the elders -- they both symbolize the church triumphant: the latter are included, at least, in the same mystic hundred and forty and four thousand that have the seal of God upon their forehead; and who these are, is beautifully described to us in the closing part of the vision :
13. “ And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these that are arrayed in white robes ? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, or any heat. For the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them into living fountains of water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Notwithstanding the nominal changes in the world below, tribulation was still the lot of the faithful followers of Christ. The many did but cleave to them with flatteries, and in the midst of a world that called itself Christian, they still were found the objects of hatred and persecution. What had been foretold to Daniel soon began to manifest itself in the professed church : “ And some of them of understanding,” — or, “who cause to understand, Christian teachers,” — “shall fall to try them,”- or," by them,"-"and to purge, and to make white, even to the time of the end." The first very extensive corruption in the church, that deceived them that had not received the love of the truth that they might be saved, was the Arian heresy. This struck at the fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith, and, by immediate and inevitable consequence, overthrew the doctrine of the atonement: by which doctrine we are taught to regard " the church of God” as that " which He hath purchased with his own blood,"*- the incarnate Eloah himself becoming a Lamb
• Acts, xx. 28.