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AN EXPOSITION OF THE APOCALYPSE
The Seven Epistles Typical of the Complete and Manifold Development of the Apostasy.
Thus, having brought to a conclusion the particulars of the primary vision of the Apocalypse, and of the epistles therein dictated by the Lord Jesus, the Spirit to the seven ecclesias of the Proconsular Asia, which we have found, as Mr. Elliott remarks in his apology for not undertaking the exposition of them, "of matter sufficient in itself to constitute a volume" -- I shall proceed to consider briefly, the import of the seven moral sketches of these seven ecclesias.
The question has been extensively mooted by those who have attempted to expound the Apocalypse, whether these moral sketches had a prophetic application, besides and beyond their primary and literal application to that particular circle of Asiatic Ecclesias then existing; and signified further under seven several phases that would be presented by the general assembly of professing christians to the all-seeing eye of the Spirit n its progress through coming ages, down to the consummation? Such is the view taken by not a few -- by Vitringa in the last century; and among others, by Fidus in the Morning Watch, and a Mr. Girdlestone, in the present. "To myself," says Mr. Elliott, "the view seems quite untenable," for he cannot see any indication of such a prospective meaning in the descriptions.
Which then of these two theories is correct? -- the one affirming that the seven epistles cover the whole of the times of the Gentiles; and the other, that their moral sketches refer exclusively to the particular ecclesias whose names they bear? My conviction is that they do not exclusively refer to either; but that they are descriptive of
1. The things existing in the seven particular ecclesias at the time of the revelation to John;
2. The things existing in the christian societies generally throughout the Roman Habitable, at the same time.
3. The state of the pre-Constantinian christendom in the periods related to those of the Seven Seals.
1. "WRITE," said the Spirit to John, "the things which thou hast seen, the things which are, and the things which shall be after these." When these words were uttered, he had seen the vision of the Son of Man in the Holy Place, or in the midst of the seven golden lightstands, with the Seven Stars in his right hand. This was related to things then existing in connection with the One Body; yet nevertheless, also referring to what shall be in the crisis of Christ's apocalypse in glory. Thus, John had seen in vision before writing the epistles, "his eyes as a flame of fire" (i. 14); and among the things pertaining to the end, he sees the Son of Man surrounded by a multitude with "eyes as a flame of fire" (xix. 12); in the first chapter he had seen him with a sharp sword proceeding out of his mouth; and in the nineteenth, he sees him with the same, and making use of it. There are other correspondences which we have elsewhere pointed out. Now this primary vision is separated into portions, and with these the seven epistles are introduced; thereby giving the reader a hint that while they treat of the things existing, they relate also to the things that shall be after them.
The perusal of the several letters will show that they not only describe their moral state at the time of writing, but refer to a state of things to which they were tending. Thus, the Ephesian ecclesia was not in its original state; but in a fallen state, having left her first love. Yet in this then present state she was far from being Laodicean. She still labored, and was patient, and could not bear them that were evil; and had tried impostors and proved them to be liars; and had not fainted; and hated the deeds of the Nikolaitans. Yet the Spirit foresaw that they were tending to a lower state of degradation in which he would have to come and remove the lightstand out of its place; which would be to take from them the spiritual gifts; or, as he said to the Laodicean Star, "vomit thee out of my mouth." This would be for the Ephesian to become identical with the Laodicean ecclesia; which we shall not err in affirming was the case at the era of Constantine.
2. WHILE the seven epistles are descriptive of the state of christianity in each of the seven ecclesias; these seven were representative of the state of christianity throughout the Roman Habitable. In the days of John's exile, the ecclesias throughout this dominion constituted the "christendom" of the age. It was not sovereign in the state, as the modern "christendom" is; but oppressed, contending with the pagan authorities; and struggling for existence in the world. Still, though the apostolic christendom was so diverse from the modern christendom, the apostolic element being ascendant, all the seeds were sown in it, and had sprouted above the soil, which are now matured in the Italian Mother, and the Harlots and Abominations of Protestantism which she has borne.
Each epistle sets forth elements of the pre-Constantinian christendom contemporary with John's exile. As Paul testified thirty years before, "the Mystery of Iniquity" was "already" at work, and showed itself in the "false apostles" at Ephesus; the spurious Jews of the Synagogue of the Satan, at Smyrna; the Balaamites and Nikolaitans at Pergamos; the children of Jezebel and the Satan, at Thyatira; the twice dead, at Sardis; the but little strength, at Philadelphia; and the wretched and pitiable, and poor, and blind, and naked, at Laodicea. These were tares, which in two hundred and eighty years from the day of Pentecost, A.V.E. 33, choked the good seed, so that a separation had to ensue.
But while the Mystery of Iniquity was thus developing "after the working of the Satan" with all power, and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved" -- there existed a class, who not only knew the truth, but loved it. This was "the salt" of the first three centuries, which gave savor to the pre-Constantinian christendom. It was the redeeming and antagonizing element of the period; and was found concurrent with the tares already mentioned, in the Ephesian haters of the deeds of the Nikolaitans; in the Smyrnean rich in faith; in the Pergamian Antipas; and in the Thyatiran remnant; in the Sardian few; and in the Philadelphian faithful. Among the Laodiceans no salt is characterized. A few grains may have been found; but not sufficient to preserve it from that corruption which finally caused its ejectment.
The Apostolic Christendom, then, to which John wrote, was divisible into these two sections, which were more or less commingled in the ecclesias generally -- real and nominal christians. The real christians were "Israelites indeed, in whom was no guile;" "Jews inwardly;" and "Abraham's Seed, because they were Christ's;" but the nominal christians of the ecclesias generally, "blasphemers," "liars", false Jews, members of the synagogue of the Satan, and so forth. It would from the very nature of things be utterly impossible for these two classes to remain together forever. If the real christians had the rule, the nominals would become impatient of their restraint and withdraw, or band together to subvert or corrupt the rule they disliked; and if they got the upper hand, the real christians would soon be persecuted and expelled in disgrace; a consummation which obtained in the era of Constantine.
Now according to the epistles, these nominal christians of all shades and colours of error and absurdity, were viewed by the Spirit as in a state of embryo organization. That is, the christendom of that day, even of A.D. 98, was pregnant with the Mother of Harlots, the Satan, and their corrupt progeny. The Mother of Harlots, now enthroned in Rome, in the days of John, was seated in Thyatira as Jezebel. The Thyatiran Jezebel was a harlot as well as the mother of them; for the Spirit says, "I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not." She committed fornication with the Satan of Pergamos; as the modern Jezebel is said to have done with the kings of the earth, who are regal elements of "the Devil and the Satan" (Apoc. xviii. 3; xx. 2). Jezebel was the name given to a class of teachers and seducers, who claimed to be God's Lot, or inheritance, in an especial sense. Hence our term "clergy," from kleros, lot or inheritance. The Romish idea to this day is that "the church" is composed of the clergy; and that the people or laity, are to "hear the church;" that is, the clergy. Jezebel, then, because of its being the name of the Queen-Mother Patron of Idolatry in Israel, is apocalyptically bestowed upon the clergy.
Jezebel was begotten in the christian Body by "the Satan" composed of the Pergamian teachers, who held the doctrine of Balaam, and the Nikolaitans, whose tenets and speculations are called "the depths of the Satan as they speak." They had a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge; so that the Spirit repudiated their labors, and designated their establishment "the Synagogue of the Satan."
3. CONSTITUTED as human nature is, it was impossible that these elements of the iniquity could remain stationary. They were bound to progress. "The Devil," who cast some of the Smyrneans into prison, was an outward pressure that restrained the too rapid development of the Apostasy. This Devil, or Pagan Roman Power, hindered the heading up of the apostasy in the Lawless One "until the time came for him to be taken out of the way." The development was therefore progressive. It required two hundred and fourteen years from the communication of the apocalypse to mature the Ephesian Declension into the Laodicean Lukewarmness; at which it finally and permanently arrived through the intermediate Smymean, Pergamian, Thyatiran, Sardian, and Philadelphian, periods.
The Apocalypse may be compared to a telescope, which, when shut up, is all contained in an outer case The outer case is the primary vision of the Son of Man, etc., the Seven Epistles, the vision of the throne and Cherubim, to the end of the fifth chapter. These all relate to the Saints and their internal affairs; and that with especial reference to the consummation in the promised kingdom. To them the Spirit saith, "I will give to those of you who are faithful, and keep my word, and do not deny my name -- I will give to you to eat of the arboretum of the life which is in the midst of the Paradise of the Deity; I will give you the wreath of the Life; I will give you to eat of the hidden manna, and a white pebble inscribed with a new name, known only to him who receives it; I will give you power over the nations, and ye shall rule them with a rod of iron; I will give you the Morning Star; ye shall walk with me in white; I will not blot out your name from the Book of the Life; but will confess it before my Father, and before his angels; I will make you pillars in the temple of my Deity, and ye shall go no more out; I will write upon you the name of my Deity, and the name of the city of my Deity, the New Jerusalem, which descendeth out of the heaven from my Deity, and my new name; and I will give to you to sit with me in my throne, even as I conquer and sit with my Father in his throne."
Having brought the promises to this climax -- the possession of dominion over all nations with glory, honor, incorruptibility, and life in the Aions of the Aions -- the Spirit next brings up the throne in vision, and shows the believer the victorious Saints in their relation to the throne under the symbols of the twenty four elders and the four living ones, ready for action, or the execution of judgment, as the result of which they shall "possess the kingdom and dominion under the whole heaven," which Daniel says "is the end of the matter" (vii. 27,28). In view of this result they sing "a new song," which terminates with the assured conviction that they "SHALL REIGN ON THE EARTH." Nor do they deceive themselves in this; for the "lightnings, and thunderings, and voices" of the war of the great day of the Almighty Deity, which "proceed out of the throne" (iv. 5), being expended, their dominion is universally acknowledged; "and every creature which is in the heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for the Aions of the Aions," or thousand years.
Here, then, is a continuous discourse in relation to the Heirs of the Kingdom, or the Saints, the which is diffused over the seven epistles and two succeeding chapters, and brings us in its consummation to "the blessing of all nations in Abraham and his Seed." But why were the promises diffused over seven epistles, and not all summed up in one? Because the period from John to the opening of the heaven at the hour of judgment, when the Saints rise and meet the Lord, was a long interval subdivided into periods, to the divisions of which the whole writing of the apocalypse was made to conform. Those who read the book fresh from John's pen were perfectly familiar with the consummation it portrayed; for it was the gospel of the kingdom they had believed and obeyed, symbolically exhibited. But when they had read to the end of the fifth chapter, the question would arise, but when shall these things be? We see that there is to be a "ten days' tribulation," and "an hour of trial upon the whole habitable, to try them that dwell upon the earth;" this will take time; but how long to the taking him that letteth out of the way; and how long shall the Lawless One continue; all of which must ensue before the consummation is established? The epistles do not answer this inquiry. It was all shut up. This, however, might be seen, that in default of further revelation, the first five chapters must be regarded as covering the whole ground from A.D. 98 to the Millennium; and as their contents were resolved into sevens, so the period might be subdivided into sevens likewise.
But the arrangement of these sevens would be the difficulty. This, however, is very much mitigated by the structure of the Book of the Seals. Like the Book of the Seven Epistles, it consists of Seven; and the last of the seven seals contains within it, upon the telescopic principle, other sevens, which, when drawn out to the right focal distance, extend to the subjugation of the nations, and their ascription of blessing to their conquerors. Thus, then, though the first six seals were all opened, and fulfilled in the subversion of the constitution of Pagan Rome a period of two hundred and fourteen years, the seventh seal covers the whole period from the Era of Constantine to the termination of the war of the Great Day, a period as far as hitherto elapsed, of about 1550 years. Hence, the seventh seal contains the seven trumpets; and the seven vials also, inasmuch as the seventh trumpet contains them.
We conclude, then, after the analogy of this arrangement respecting the affairs without, through which the consummation is to be wrought out, that the state with respect to affairs within, or pertaining to the relation of the saints to things ecclesiastical or spiritual, is similarly subdivided. In other words, that the seven ecclesias, in their moral or spiritual condition, were each representative of the state of "christendom" at seven distinct epochs, approximating to the periods of the seven seals. According to this, the Ephesian state of the ecclesias would be introductory of the first seal; the Smymean, of the second; the Pergamian, of the third; the Thyatiran, of the fourth; the Sardian, of the fifth; the Philadelphian, of the sixth; and the Laodicean, of the seventh.
Now, another reason for this arrangement may be found in the fact that "all things are for the sake of the saints;" and that the seals, consequently, were arranged on their account. That is, that the moral, or spiritual, condition of the Christian section of the Roman people was the Spirit's reason for organizing the judicial visitations upon them represented in the seals. This view of the matter explains why there were any seals at all, and why the sixth seal was not the first; nor the first the sixth. In the Ephesian state of christendom there was strength, labor, patience, no faint-heartedness, hatred of Nikolaitanism, and intolerance of evil-doers; therefore the Typical Horse of the first seal was white, and the government that rode it, prosperous. But in the Philadelphian state of spirituality, there was only a little strength; and therefore the sixth seal was opened upon the community, which had become Christian in name, and was on the eve of insurrection against the constituted authorities of the state, who still clung to paganism and its vested interests; and therefore, in its terrible developments, they said to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of his wrath is come" (Apoc. vi. 12-17). This is the language not of pagans, or idolaters, that regarded Christianity as a fable, but of those wretched, and pitiable, and poor, and blind, and naked, composing the Laodicean professors, who were about to be vomited out of the mouth of the Spirit in this and the succeeding periods; for the judgments of the seals, though they began successively, did not each terminate before its successor began, but intermingled their events.
I do not undertake, nor is it necessary, to draw the exact lines of demarcation between the seven degrees of declension from the purity of faith and practice to the establishment of the strong Laodicean delusion, in which professors of Christianity said "they had need of nothing." Paul said "evil men and seducers would wax worse and worse." This was true of the seven states or pre-Constantinian christendom. They all of them waxed worse and worse under the influence of seducers, until there was no scope for repentance. In all these states the number of the faithful diminished, until, when the time came for the Spirit to spue the nothing-needing mass out of his mouth, only A REMNANT remained to keep the faith alive among mankind.
Increased declension always preceded the opening of a seal; so that, for example, the Ephesian state of morals did not commence with the opening of the first seal in A.D. 98; for, taking this as the date of the apocalypse, the Ephesian Angel was in a fallen state, compared with its first love. Hence, the Smyrnean spiritual declension would be maturing under the first seal; the Pergamian under the second; the Thyatiran under the third; the Sardian under the fourth; the Philadelphian under the fifth; and the Laodicean under the sixth; so that the judgment of the sixth seal would be the judicial energy by which the spuing from the Spirit's mouth would be effected; and the Laodicean Apostasy thus ejected would become the spiritual order of the seventh seal.
The same principle obtained in the superinduction of the trumpets. The increasing iniquity of the Laodiceans, in all parts of the Roman Habitable, made the world obnoxious to the judgments they symbolized. The west seems to have transcended the east in idolatry and abomination; and therefore their judgment by the barbarians, who sacked Rome, and desolated Italy and the adjacent countries, was earlier and complete; and when the east became ripe, the fifth and sixth trumpets tormented them, and suppressed the sovereignty of the Laodiceans. In the west, these had converted their barbarian conquerors to Laodiceanism. They formed a church and state alliance with them, and became "the Great Harlot with whom the Kings of the Earth committed fornication." All the western habitable worshipped this spiritual and civil power, except the Remnant and the Witnesses. These two classes were the subjects of great oppression and cruelty at the hands of the Laodiceans; who did their utmost to exterminate them. Because of this, the thunders (of the sixth trumpet) pealed against them; and when this storm, by which Laodicean Protestantism was established as an antagonism in the very camp of the Apostasy, had subsided, the seventh trumpet began to sound, and is still sounding; and will continue to sound, until the Seven vials, which are the blasts, as it were, of the trumpet and in which is contained all the wrath of the Deity that remains to be poured out upon mankind for a thousand years, shall be exhausted; the result of which will be the spuing forth of political and spiritual Laodiceanism in all its Romish and Protestant modifications, by Jesus and the saints, after the type of the ejectment of Paganism from place and power by the male offspring of Jezebel, A.D. 324; and the setting up of the throne seen of John in the vision of the fourth chapter. The following chronological scheme (on page **) will exhibit to the reader at one view my idea of the antitypical spiritual states of the pre-Constantinian christendom in their several relations to the seven periods of the Seals.
Thus, from the Day of Pentecost A.D. 33, according to the Vulgar Era; or correctly 35 years, 4 months, and 20 days from the birth of Jesus; -- to his appearing in power to establish the kingdom -- a period, as far as already elapsed, of nearly 1828 years -- we have eight ethical or moral states or conditions of things related to christianity. I say eight -- seven apocalyptic states, and one by which they were preceded. This was the
Chronological Tableau of the Apostasy.
EPHESIAN STATE Existing before the opening, and extending into the period of the First seal. Christians fallen from their first love and works - Rev. ii. 4,5. Ignatius A.D. 107.
SMYRNEAN STATE The White Horse. From A.D. 96. Roman people in peace, and prosperous. Paganism declining. Nominal Christianity on the increase with blasphemy. The Ephesian ethics assuming the Smyrnean Phasis - Rev. ii. 9 Justin, 165; Polycarp, 167; Martyrs of Lyons and Irenaeus, 177.
PERGAMIAN STATE The Red Horse. From A.D. 185. Civil wars and bloodshed - Rev. vi. 4. The Smyrnean State becoming Pergamian. Holders of the doctrine of Balaam and the Nikolaitanes - Rev. ii. 14,15. Celsus objected, that Christians were now so split into sects, that only the name remained to them in common. Tertullian. Pantaenus, Clemens Alexandrinus; and first Divinity school at Alexandria in Egypt.
THYATIRAN STATE The Black Horse. From A.D. 217. Distress - Rev. vi. 5. The Pergamium with all its evils merging into the worse Thyatiran. Christianity intensely nominal. The prophetess Jezebel and "the Satan" - Rev. ii. 20,24. The emperors Alexander, A.D. 222; and Philip, 244, nominal Christians. Origen; Cyprian; Felicissimus.
SARDIAN STATE The Pale Horse. From A.D. 248. Sword, famine, pestilence, wild beasts - Rev. vi. 8. Decian persecution. End of the world thought to be at hand. Spiritual death resulting from long peace and Platonism - Rev. iii. 1,2. The Thyatiran, or Jezebel and Satan, ethics, working death, or becoming Sardian. Dionysius of Alexandria; Paul the first hermit, A.D. 250; Paul of Samosata, 264. Gregory Thaumaturgus. Anthony the Egyptian, founder of Monkery, A.D. 270.
PHILADELPHIAN STATE The community of "fellow-servants and brethren," which had become Sardian, or "ready to die," intensely persecuted by Diocletian, from A.D. 303. The Spirit comes upon them in this judgment like a thief - Rev. iii.3. Only "a little strength" remains in the Christian commonwealth. Superstition prevalent on every hand, and Christianity in a decayed state. A little benefitted by the severe trial. Fast becoming Laodicean. Eusebius the Ecclesiastical Historian and the following are Laodiceans. Arius, Athanasius, Constantine the Great, Ambrose, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Jerome, et id genus omne.
LAODICEAN STATE A great political earthquake, and departure of the heaven as a scroll, from A.D. 311. Dissolution of the Pagan Constitution of the Roman Government; or that which hindered the revelation of the Lawless One taken out of the way - Rev. vi. 12; 2 Thes. ii. 7,8. The "little strength" of the Philadelphian exhausted, Laodiceanism fully established. Persecution having ceased, and "THE CATHOLICS," as nominal Christians were now called, being in high favor with the authorities, they say, "We are rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing" - Rev. iii. 17. Spued out. Wicliff, Huss, Jerome of Prague, Luther, Melanthou, Zuinglius, Erasmus, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, Ridley, the Nonconformists, Whitfield, Wesley, E. Irving, Cummings, Scott, Cambell, Himes, Miller,
LAODICEAN STATE Opened A.D. 324. "Silence in the heaven about the space of half an hour" - Rev. viii. 1. The Laodicean "strong delusion," becomes "THE HOLY ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH," or religion of the Roman State "by law established." The LAODICEAN STATE continues to the approaching advent of Christ. Joe Smith, Marsh, Spurgeon, and such like. The Laodicean State from the sixth Seal to the Millennium, or concurrent with the Seventh Seal.