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THE FOUR FIRST SEALS;
PROGRESS OF THE CHURCH'S FRIGHTFUL APOSTACY.
Without further ceremony the process of opening the respective Seals is now commenced; and the mighty course of God's providence, in the aspect and complexion which his church was to assume during the whole period of its militant state, until its safe and triumphant translation to glory, is, in rich, varied, and most significant emblems, thereby unfolded to our view.
THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SEAL ;
“And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals; and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four living creatures saying, Come and see.
“And I saw, and lo! a white horse; and he that sat upon him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.” (vi. 1, 2.)
The import of these symbols appears to be, that they represent—
1. An era eminently attracting the notice of
the world; for the Apostle was called to “come and see,” in a voice of thunder ; implying that the event to which it referred should be one of the most superlatively surprising kind : much more so than any of the succeeding ones; for it is to be observed, that it is only this of all the seven seals that was thus uttered with this loud voice. We are to understand, therefore, that it applies to some most remarkable change—sudden, decisive, complete, and unexpected.
2. This voice of thunder is said, moreover, to proceed from one of the four living creatures, which, according to the explanation previously given, signifies, that it proceeds from a portion of the general assembly of the church, whose names are written in heaven ; implying thereby that it has reference to concerns in which the church of Christ is essentially interested.
3. These great and surprising concerns are compared to a horseman or warrior coming forth riding on a horse of a white colour, emblematical of purity; armed with a bow, expressive of the strongest and most complete armour, according as it is said of Joseph, “his bow abode in strength;” and adorned with a crown or coronet, the reward of victory, of which indeed the whole scene is highly significant. And to this effect it is added, that “he went forth conquering, and to conquer,” or re-conquering; by which it seems to convey the idea that the conquest shall in a marked manner be revived.
From these explanations the whole appears to shadow forth some great conquest of the church in the person and by the exploits of a great warrior, or the ruling power of the world over its enemies.
We must now therefore come to history; and in doing so, we do indeed find that the first great and most surprising change after the Apostle's time that happened in the church’s affairs, a change that altered the complexion of the world, was indeed one that corresponds in all respects with this striking imagery. That change was, the triumph over Paganism by the Emperor Constantine ! The particulars of this great event are too well known to make it necessary to enter into them in this place. It may be briefly observed, that it was one that pre-eminently stood forward as of surpassing interest to the church, and was productive of the greatest and most important change it ever experienced. It found Christianity, however sullied it might have been in externals, pure at the vitals, and still shining with a brightness in all the essentials of godliness, of which not a brief description can give an adequate idea— hence the colour of whiteness is applied to the symbo of the horse.
It was an event which, in energy and vigour, in the manifest and unexpected strokes of an evident Divine interposition, was as striking as any of those which on former occasions had produced changes of empire; and the instrument which God used for its accomplishment, was well armed and qualified for the conflict. In the numerous battles which Constantine fought as the champion for Christianity professedly against Paganism (for it was in the Sign of the Cross that he conquered :) he had indeed “a bow” which abode in strength—and he had “a crown,” the reward of victory, given to him. Thus the event answered to the prediction ; and I know of no other in the wide extent of church history that will answer to it. No change in the general aspect of its affairs had previously taken place — nothing whatever that had the characters of a prophetical era. The whole of the Roman emperors up to this period, had been high-priests and worshippers of the fabulous gods of the heathen world. In this number it may be noticed, after Trajan (by whom the Apostle was banished to Patmos) were Antoninus, Decius, and other names which are notorious as being persecutors of the Christians. Under the reigns of such men as these, the church had existed with little variation in her general aspect or external circumstances, struggling almost for her very existence. And this was more particularly the case immediately before this great deliverance was granted, or the systematically conducted assaults against its very being by Dioclesian, when the battle between the powers of heaven and hell appears to have been the hottest; and so hot, that to human appearance the issue almost appeared dubious. It was at this moment of extremity that Constantine was raised up, and it was by him that this prediction was accomplished in the complete conquests which God gave him over all his Pagan competitors. The external glory which from hence
forward surrounded the church is well likened to a bow and a crown : for from this time those who professed the Christian name, instead of being persecuted and trampled upon, were protected by the laws : instead of their lives, liberty, and property being perpetually exposed to violence, and hanging in jeopardy and suspense, they were placed on an equal footing with the Pagans, and enjoyed honour, peace, and security. Magnificent churches began every where to be erected, riches to flow in upon them, and such universal signs of prosperity to be enjoyed, that the change was as complete as it was lasting. In this application of the prophecy, I am not called upon to detract from this honour and glory by the consideration of its lamentable deteriorating effects— these will be immediately considered. It is brought forward in this place, as shewing the exact character of the first great change of aspect which the church was to experience—its agreement to the letter with historical facts—and its consequent close fulfilment of the prophecy. But it is not only said to go on conquering, but to conquer. Two periods are here designated. The former we have above considered; the latter seems to allude to the desperate, tremendous, deeply-concerted, and well-conducted attempt of the Emperor Julian, the nephew of Constantine, to replace idolatry, and restore the expiring cause of Paganism. He did all that zeal and ability could do, during the two short years which Providence permitted him to rule over