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7thly “ The sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots, of many horses, running to battle.” This is a lively description of the charge made upon the Christian Church, by numerous swarms of heretics in the second century. For a time it seemed irresistible, and to bear down all before it.
8thly. They had tails like scorpions, and stings were in their tails.”
By the appointment of the Creator, the face, in its perfection, is peculiar to man, the tail to brutes. The brutal part is employed to overthrow pure religion, by the indulgence of brutal passions. The sting of death is sin, (1 Cor. xv. 56.) Sheltered under the Gnostic doctrines, the most loose and debasing morality prevailed in a great part of the world professedly Christian.
9thly “ Their power was to hurt men five months.” In the Greek, Tove AvOpwTouc, the men, the Christian men, who have been baptized into that profession, but are not marked with the seal of God, “ the holy Spirit, by which the Lord knoweth them that are his,” (2 Tim. ii. 19.) The continuance of these antichristian invaders in power and prosperity is five months, which, interpreted as prophetical numbers, (each day implying a year, and thirty of these in each month, make one hundred and fifty years.
10thly. They had a king over them, the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew is Abaddon, but in the Greek hath his name Apollyon. Their leader and king is not one of their own insect race, but an angel, an evil angel, the angel of the bottomless pit, or Gehenna, which he had opened to favour their irruption; whose Greek name will remind the biblical student of the Aιρεσεις απολειας foretold by St. Peter, (2 Pet. i. 1;) and also of the name given by our Lord to Judas Iscariot, after Satan had taken possession of him, ó úloc one anoduac. (John xvii, 12.)
After this view of the figurative language employed under this trumpet, we may observe, that as swarms of locusts are used in the Old Testament to signify and prefigure armies devastating the holy land, the heritage of God, in which the people of Israel enjoyed superior blessings and protection ; so, under the New Testament, such an invasion, led by an evil angel from the depths of hell, must be understood to have for its object the Christian Church, the heritage of Christ.
And these assailants do not injure the Church by force of arms, for then, how could the sealed escape Under such trying circumstances, when a conquering and ferocious army overruns a country with fire and sword, the sealed, the faithful and acknowledged servants of God, undergo their share of the common calamity, alleviated indeed in their case by his divine Providence, but not entirely removed. But from the contamination of a pestilential heresy they might, and would be secure; their principles and practice, and the seal of God, would save them. For an irruption of this description, we must therefore look in the annals of ecclesiastical history, to fulfil the prophecy under this trumpet.
We collect from other passages of prophetical scripture, that such heresies were preordained, to try and prove the Christians. “ There must be heresies among you,” says St. Paul, “ that they which are approved may be made manifest among you,” (1 Cor. xi. 19.) And in the apostolical times such heresies had begun to work; but, as Eusebius tells us, without much success; and he dates their mischievous prevalence in the Church of Christ from the times of Ignatius's martyrdom, or the latter days of the emperor Trajan, and beginning of those of Adrian, (Hist. Eccl. lib. iv. c. 7. ii. 32.) The same valuable author has preserved for us a fragment from the works of Hegesippus, who lived in the times of Adrian, and he says, that “ until those times, the Church had continued a pure and incorrupt virgin ; for that those who attempted to corrupt the wholesome canon of evangelical doctrine, had hitherto remained in obscurity. But when the sacred company of the apostles was departed, and the generation of those who were thought worthy to hear their divine preaching was gone, then the conspiracy of impious deceit had its beginning ; then to the preaching of the truth did they dare boldly to oppose their knowledge falsely so called.”
By this description he plainly refers to the Gnostics, the first great host of corrupters who overspread the Christian Church.
Clemens Alexandrinus also, speaking of the Gnostics, asserts that they were not a pestilential heresy before the times of Adrian, (Strom. lib. vii. 17; viii. 27.) From Irenæus, a nearer witness of those times, we collect the same information; and Epiphanius, quoting from Irenæus, says, that the Gnostic heresies burst out of the earth together at one time, like mushrooms, the lurking places of many scorpions, (contr. Hæreses, lib. i. 31.)
Saturninus, followed by Cerdo, and by Marcion, who afterwards corrupted the Churches of Italy, by Bardesanes, Tatian, Severus, and their innumerable disciples, spread the poison over the east; while Basilides in Africa, followed by Carpocrates, Valentine, &c., overran the rest of the Christian world.
Numerous churches and communities of these deceiving and deceived heretics continued to abound, and to bring scandal on the Christian name, during that century, and the larger half of the next. But in their progress they were powerfully opposed by the orthodox and pure Christians; by Justin Martyr, Irenæus, Tertullian, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Origen ; and in their wild dreams of philosophy by the Platonic philosophers under Plotinus ; at whose death, in the year 270, they were almost entirely sunk and gone. So that, taking all these accounts together, we find evidence that the duration of the Gnostics, as a prevailing heresy and pestilential swarm, (for it is in that view only that, consistently with the symbols, we are to consider them,) was about 150 years, the period foretold."
The Gnostics are represented to us by the fathers of the Church, who lived in their days, to have derived their religious principles from the Nicolaitanes; but as carrying their mischievous notions to the utmost excess. To the wildest dreams of a visionary, fantastic philosophy, derived from the oriental schools, and which they incorporated with the Christian doctrines, corrupting or rejecting any part of the sacred writings unfavourable to their tenets, many of them added, as may be expected, the most immoral practices. Particulars of these it is not necessary to adduce; they are to be collected from Irenæus and Tertullian, from Plotinus, the Platonic philosopher; from other writers, who lived after this rage had passed over, Theodoret, Clemens Alexan drinus, and Epiphanius. The English reader may obtain a general notion of them from Mosheim's History, (second century, chap. v.)
From the account now obtained, first, of the scriptural import of the figurative language.of this trumpet; and, secondly, of the character of the Gnostics, and their period, it may appear, that the prophetic representation was probably fulfilled by this first general and extensive apostasy. But it will be satisfactory to find the fulfilment in some very apposite and striking particulars.
1 If the reader should be disposed to consider the period of the Gnostics, which has occasioned some doubt and controversy, with more attention, he may be referred to a long note in my former publication, where he will find a clue to direct him in further inquiries on this subject. See page 239.
In the first verse, “the Star fallen from heaven," called afterwards “ the king or leader of the locusts, the angel of the bottomless pit, the destroyer,” has been clearly seen to be Satan, or some distinguished minister of that fallen angel. Now the ancient writers of the Church, and her prime historian Eusebius, ascribe the introduction of the great Gnostic heresy to the agency of the devil, (o miookaloç Aaiuwv,) who having, as he says, attempted in vain to overthrow the Church by persecution external, attacked it internally by his agents,-by professed Christians,-leading some of the faithful to the deep of destruction, as Bubov απολειας, in which expressions there is a remarkable coincidence with the origin of this woe, as stated in the prophecy, “ the pit of the bottomless deep,” and likewise with the name of its leader, Apollyon, (Hist. Eccl. lib. iv. c. 7.) He represents this attack also as a warlike invasion, calling its leader molELWtatos, which agrees with the description before us, and with the alarm sounded by the trumpet. Justin Martyr is also represented by the same historian as ascribing this invasion to diabolical operation, (lib. iii. c. 26.)
What can express so forcibly the dark, perplexed, uncomfortable philosophy of the oriental schools, which mingling with Christianity, so miserably debased it, as these fumes of black smoke arising from the infernal deep, and obscuring the sun? The historian, in describing the invasion of the Gnostic heresies, uses nearly the same figures of speech, comparing the Churches of Christ to the most resplendent luminaries before that attack, and thereby intimating how greatly their splendour was darkened by it.