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“ to take peace from the earth,” or, as the more correct readings have it, “ to take the peace of the earth,” to take away that peace under which the white horse had been given to bless the earth; and to place in its stead hatred, variance, wrath, strife, to such a degree as to cause battles and slaughter, not of nation against nation, which have always been waged, but of “ brethren and companions” among themselves, for such is the force of ινα αλληλους σφαξωσι.
Our Lord established his religion in peacefulness, and commissioned it to conquer, or prosper in the world by peace; and yet he foretold, very remarkably, that peace should not altogether ensue. “ Think not,” says he, “ that I am come to send peace on the earth ; I came not to send peace, but a sword;” (Matt. x. 34;) which St. Luke, in the parallel passage represents by the word division. 'In which sense our Lord also declares that he is "
come to send fire on the earth,” (Luke xii. 49.) Not that it was his wish or intention, as the commentators observe, that such dire and antichristian consequences should ensue; but such effects he foreknew would arise from the passions and prejudices of sinful men. Such a scene was to follow the first pure age of Christianity, when a fiery zeal, without knowledge, without charity, should instigate professed Christians to take away peace; and from divisions among themselves to proceed to mutual persecution, war, and slaughter. Such a scene, it is well known, did follow the pure age of primitive Christianity; and the pictured prophecy of this second seal being found to agree so entirely with the prediction of Christ above-mentioned, in the use of the same figurative expressions, (such as, fire, sword, taking away peace,) seems to point to the same period of time; a time when the heavenly religion, which under the first seal had proceeded in the white array of innocence and peace, became so degenerate as to lose its heavenly colour, and to assume the wrathful, persecuting hue of the fierycoloured dragon. Neglectful of charity, the bond of peace, the Christian leaders divided among themselves, and appealed to the sword, and involved themselves in the guilt and disgrace of mutual slaughter!
But whence are we to date this lamentable change? May we fix its commencement from the close of the second century; when the rulers of the Western Church, and the wise and moderate Irenæus, were seen to interpose in tumults of this tendency, and to exhort the furious bishop of Rome to cultivate Christian peace ? (τα της ειρηνης φρονείν, Euseb. Hist. Eccl. v. 24.) The fiery, intolerant character which marks this seal, was indeed too visible in these transactions; but the hue, from white to fire colour, changed gradually. The persecuting hand of the common enemy, of the heathen still in power, restrained this factious spirit for a time; and although, previous to the Dioclesian persecution in 302, there were shameful divisions among the Christians, which Eusebius mentions with a becoming mixture of indignation and tenderness, (Eccl. Hist. viii. 1,) yet the change cannot be deemed complete, so as to produce the full character of this second seal, till a later period.
But when the Roman empire became Christian ; when a Christian emperor bore the sword; (with which in the imagery of this seal the Christian power seems invested ;) when, relieved from the terrors of pagan persecution, the Christians became possessed of civil influence, their animosities increased. Worldly prosperity is corruptive; and instead of those halcyon days of peace and happi ness, which the Church promised to itself from the acquisition of power, a period succeeded from which history is seen to date its degeneracy and corruption. (See the Notes to the concluding verses of chap. vii.) This degeneracy was at this time manifested in the mutual enmities and feuds of Christians; which were so notorious in the fourth century, that a contemporary author reports of them, (with some hyperbole perhaps, for he was a pagan,) that “ the hatred of Christians to each other exceeded the fury of wild beasts against men.” (Amm. Marcell. lib. xxii. c. 5.) This was a great change from the times of Tertullian, in the second century, when the pagans made a very different report of Christian community. “ See,” said they,“ how these Christians love each other!” (Tertull. Apol. c. 39.) It is a change powerfully expressed by fire colour succeeding to white. The contests for power and promotion among Christian bishops and rulers were not concluded without mutual slaughter; and in the controversies occasioned by the schisms of the Donatists and of the Arians, many thousands of Christians perished by the weapons of each other.
'1 The most ancient commentators on the Apocalypse, as reported by Andreas Cæsariensis, Arethas, &c., supposed the second seal to be a continuation of the History of the Church, as begun under the first seal, and to prefigure the times of apostolical men and martyrs who succeeded to the apostles in the government of it. This bears some resemblance to the exposition of it given above; but so far as the successors of the apostles walked in their steps, they clearly belong to the first seal.
The commentators, who had already considered the first seal as descriptive of the rule of certain Roman emperors, could not fail to apply this seal to a continuation of the same history. And here they have been supported by the able concurrence of Joseph Mede, whose exposition of this seal is thus adopted and exhibited by Bishop Newton, the most popular writer among his followers. “ The second seal or period is noted for war and slaughter, and is proclaimed by the second living creature, who was like an ox, and had his station in the west. This second period commenceth with Trajan, who came from the west, being a Spaniard by birth, and
(See Mosheim's Eccl. Hist. cent. iv. and v.) The evil continued to increase until it produced a further was the first foreigner who was elevated to the imperial throne. In his reign, and that of his successor Adrian, there were horrid wars and slaughters, and especially between the rebellious Jews and the Romans.” The bishop then proceeds to show, from the histories of Dion, Eusebius, and Orosius, that in these rebellious conflicts many hundred thousands of men perished. And he remarks upon these bloody transactions, that “the Jews and the Romans, both the persecutors of Christians, were remarkably made the dreadful executioners of divine vengeance upon one another. The great sword and the red horse are expressive emblems of this slaughtering and bloody period; and the proclamation for slaughter is fitly made by a creature like an ox that is destined for slaughter. This period continued during the reigns of Trajan and his successors, by blood or adoption, about ninety-five years.
Upon this interpretation I shall only observe, that the slaughter here described is not of that kind which Mede himself justly observes to be required, in order to fulfil the emblem in the text. It is not what he calls an allnloopayıa, the fruit of civil contention, but the attempted vengeance of a conquering nation upon insurgents by them deemed rebels. Nor can these occurrences, blocdy and murderous as they are, be justly said to “ take peace from the earth,” where there was no peace before; for the wars of the Romans against such revolted nations, were continually waging in some, and generally in many, quarters of their empire; and our Lord had prophetically spoken of such wars as being in the usual and necessary course of events—“ for such things,” says he, needs be,” (Mark xiii. 7.)
The earth specified in the text, is the Christian Church on earth, in contradistinction to the Church in Heaven, (ch. xii. 13.) Though violently persecuted by the Jews and Gentiles, it had peace within itself-peace bequeathed to it by its divine Saviour, (John xiv. 27,) and which it enjoyed in spiritual perfection, so long as it conducted itself by his precepts and example. But when it forsook the white vesture of innocence and righteousness, exchanging it for the fiery hue of the dragon, then these lamentable deeds, this alln.oopayla ensued.
Durham, who is one of those who applied this seal to the Christian Church, has pointed out passages in the Apocalypse, where, as in chap. iii. 10, by eni eng yns the Christian Church, visible and militant on earth, is signified.
The grounds upon which a part of the prophecy of this second seal is supposed to be fulfilled, by the ox stationed in the west, and by Trajan having come from that quarter, have been examined, and shown to be futile, in the Notes to chap. iv. ver. 7.
change from bad to worse, which will appear under the next seal.
PART II. .
The opening of the third Seal.
CHAP. vi. ver. 5, 6. 5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo, a black horse; and he that saton him had a pair of balances in his hand.
6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
Ver. 5. Lo, a black horse.] On the opening of this seal another change ensues, and still for the worse—by a colour the very opposite to white, a colour denoting mourning and woe, darkness and ignorance.
He that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.] The word Zuyos, which is here rendered a pair of balances, or scales, I have ventured, in my translation and exposition, to express by the word yoke. Because such will be found to be its proper and obvious signification; and none other does it bear in any part of the New Testament. And in the Greek of the Old Testament it has usually this meaning; and whenever it is used in its borrowed and secondary sense, to signify a balance for weighing, or a pair of scales, there is then joined with it some other expression, to point out this particular application of it. Such as Ζυγος σταθμιων, Ζυγος δικαιος, αδικος, ανομος, Ροπη Ζυγου, and the like, without which kind of accompaniment, plainly expressed or understood, it would be taken to signify simply a yoke. Now this, in its primary sense, was a short staff with a link or short chain fixed to the middle