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events—and, from the position in which it stands, and the circumstances that surround it, to the most superior class or series of events, and those of a character to which this symbol has a reference. It contains, in fact, the ground work of Church history under the Christian dispensation; and stands exactly in the same relation to the fourth or Roman kingdom individually, as the vision of the great image of Danielo did to the four kingdoms collectively; that is, it contains the first great lesson of modern history, and that in which all the events of the last eighteen hundred years are involved. I consider, therefore, that, in like manner as the vision of the great image laid the platform, or the grand outline of Gentile idolatrous history in the four successive kingdoms of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome; so does the writing of this book give the great outline of the entire remaining history of the remaining part of the last or fourth kingdom, begining from the time in which these splendid visions were given to John, in the reign of the emperor Trajan, near the end of the first century. What we have to do, therefore, is to refer to the Astronomical Canon of Ptolemy, given at the end of “the Dissertation of the Prophecies of the Old Testament;” and its continuation, and we shall there see the names of all the successive emperors from that time to the present. It is the history of their reigns, therefore, with all the mighty events and changes that have revolved
* See p. 176, Dis.
with them, as what was to “ happen hereafter,” and what was promised to be revealed to the Apostle, that we may naturally suppose was intended to be represented by the contents of this book. By the seven seals with which it is said to be sealed, are to be understood the distinct and most important eras or portions of time in which, during this long period, these successive reigns were divided or distinctly marked, forming new orders of things. Their being all homogeneous, or similar in their nature, renders it necessary that the government should continue the same, and not signify, like the changes of the great image, changes of monarchy. And this idea clearly explains to my mind, that this master-symbol, of a book sealed with seven seals, signifies that the general historical record of the Roman empire, running through the entire number of its numerous successive emperors, was to experience seven most decided and complete changes, each of which should give new habits of thought, alter the complexion of affairs, and form new and distinct eras of time. And it will appear, as we proceed, that six out of the seven of such successive changes, have already passed; and that the reigns thus prominently standing forward, are most aptly and significantly designated as being brought out by events and instruments within the empire itself; by the opening of seals—that is, events having the stamp of legitimate authority—the seals of empire; and not, like the next series of events, by extrinsic causes, without the bounds of the empire.
They are generally supposed to signify secrecy; but this is considering them to have a literal, not a symbolical signification; and it is indispensably necessary to a right interpretation of the whole of this book, to keep this in mind, and not to sink the professed symbols. Besides which, this supposition takes away all the point of this otherwise striking symbol; for there is in reality as much secrecy in the sounding of the trumpets, and the pouring out of the vials, as there is in the opening of the seals. If this, indeed, be the meaning they have, it may be said of all the different classes of events, that one is sealed as much as the other, and the name would be as appropriate to the one as the other. The more dignified and just interpretation therefore appears to me, to consider the opening of the respective seals as the unfolding of new orders of things, having the confirmation of what we understand by the Great Seal of the empire. Considered as such, they are inexpressibly majestic and sublime in the events to which they refer, and in the most affecting and touching manner pourtray the varied hue and complexion which the state of society has so sadly exhibited during this long period. Thus considered, they have likewise an importance attached to them, corresponding to that which it might naturally be supposed must be the case, from the book being said to be seen in the right hand of the Most High, from no one being found worthy to open the seals thereof ut the Saviour himself, as well as from the overwhelming solemnity of the whole scene.
With regard to the peculiar form of this book, those of the ancients are said to have been generally skins of parchment, rolled up and sealed on the back side. In this case, therefore, of the book having seven seals, it is considered, and most probably correctly, that seven successive volumes were thus rolled over each other, and each of them sealed ; and that it is these “seals” which were seen by the Apostle to be successively opened—symbolizing the seven greatest revolving wheels of providence, that have carried in their tremendous whirl “ the fates and fortunes of the church of Christ,” in its connection with the last of the four great empires of Daniel, from that time to the whole remaining period of its existence on earth.
This last consideration—viz., that the seven-sealed book contained the great outlines of the history of the Christian Church, distinguishing, according to the learned Vitringer, the seven greater events or important changes which were to befall it, even to the end of the Christian dispensation—enables us more clearly to understand the why and wherefore of what follows; and more clearly to appreciate the beautiful, and to us most deeply interesting, adaptation of character and circumstances to the design of the whole vision.
“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof * And no man in heaven, nor in earth, nor under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no one was found worthy to open the book, neither to look
thereon. And one of the elders said unto me, Weep not : behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (v. 2–5.)
Here I would draw attention to the circumstance, that it is one of the elders, one of the risen saints, of the spirits of just men made perfect, that is thus made to afford this consolation. I would observe, likewise, before proceeding, that there can be no mistake as to who is intended by “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,” as it can only refer to CHR 1st, who was of the tribe of Judah; and likewise, as God, who was the root, although he was likewise, as man, the offspring of David. Therefore, in reading of Him in the next verse, in the character of a slain Lamb— that is, that it is in the character of our great atoning sacrifice, that he takes the book, and opens the seven seals thereof—we understand, that whilst, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, he is king—whilst, as the root of David, he is a divine person—yet it is in the character that most endears him to us, that he was worthy, and that he prevailed, not merely to disclose, but to foresee and govern, the course of this prophecy into events. For this it must be that is signified by no one but Christ being found worthy to take the book and to open the seals; that is, as doing something which could not be deputed either to angels or to men. In almost every other instance, as far as the mere revealing of God’s decrees is concerned, it has been committed to his servants the prophets; and even it may be observed, that such is really the case here, for, unquestionably, the whole contents of