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INTRODUCTION TO THE WESTERN OR PAPAL APOSTASY.
THE eastern church, as connected with the Roman empire, being slain, the remainder of the prophecy may be expected to concern the western, or, “the rest of the men, who were not killed by these plagues." This it does; so much of it, however, as brings us to the taking of the beasts and of the false prophet, and so to the commencement of the Millennium. The corruptions of the western church have been intimated before; as by the sealing of the servants of God in their foreheads, Chap. vii.; by the judgments inflicted on the western empire under the first four trumpets, Chap. viii.; and by the cloud of smoke from the bottomless pit: but now the prophecy treats directly and exclusive of them. Nor is it surprising that the apostasy of this church should occupy so large a part of the prophecy,* insomuch as both for its duration and mischievous effects, there is nothing equal to it under the gospel dispensation. The period allotted for its duration is no less than 1260 years; during which the holy city is trodden under foot, the witnesses prophesy in sackcloth, the true church fleeth into the wilderness, and the saints of the Most High are persecuted to death by a ferocious and cruel beast. This apostate church was, no doubt, the man of sin foretold by Paul; and notwithstanding what has been advanced against it by a late re
From the beginning of Chap. x, to the end of Chap. xix.
spectable writer, I have no doubt of its being the antichrist which the Christians in John's time had heard should come."
Before we enter upon this subject it will be proper to give the outlines of the ten chapters in which it is contained. Chap. x I consider as mere introductory. Chap. xi. gives a general representation of this corrupt and persecuting power, with the state of the church of Christ under it, during the 1260 years. Chap. xii. gives a second, and Chap. xiii. and xiv. a third general representation of it during the same period. Chap. xv. and xvi. give a more particular account of that part of the subject which commences at the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and contains a subdivision of that trumpet into seven vials, the pouring out of which brings us down to the Millennium. The xviith, xviiith, and xixth Chapters contain what in modern publications we should call notes of illustration, giving particular accounts of things which before had only been generally intimated.
We are not to expect the events relating to the western church to follow the conclusion of those of the eastern, in order of time. In tracing the issue of the one, we were led almost down to the times of the Reformation; but in taking up the other we must expect to go many centuries back again. It is in prophecy as it is in history, when describing cotemporary events: the writer having gone through one series, returns and takes up the other. It is thus in
This appears to be evidently made out by Mr. Scott, in his notes on 2 Thes. ii. 3—12. and 1 John ii. 18. As to its being a character of antichrist that he "denieth the Father and the Son," (ver. 22.) it is of the antichrists already come that this is spoken, who had professed Christianity, and whose apostasy consisted not in a disavowal of the name of Christ, but of certain Christian doctrines, which included a virtual denial of Jesus being the Christ, as that also was a virtua! denial of the Father. Had these "forerunners of antichrist," as Mr. Scott very properly calls them, been avowed infidels, they could not have been seducers to the churches of Christ (ver. 26.); a name given to false teachers. Such were those deceivers in 2 John 7. who, by denying the real humanity of Christ, denied his being come in the flesh. But if a virtual denial of the Father and the Son rendered those who were already come antichrists, there is no reason why it should not do the same of him that should come. It is not probable that John would have allowed "the man of sin" to acknowledge either the Father or the Son, while he usurped the place of both.
the history of Judah and Israel in the Second Book of Kings; with this difference, that in carrying on those histories together, the writer went through only a single reign of one of them ere he returned to the other; whereas in this the overthrow of the eastern church is completed before the account of the western is begun. The former brought us down to the fifteenth century ; the latter, when tracing the origin of things, may glance at events as early as the fourth.
1 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. 2 And he had in his hand a little book open, and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, 3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. 4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write; and I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. 5. And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea, and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, 6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven and the things that therein are, and the earth and the things that therein are, and the sea and the things which ure therein, that there should be time no longer : 7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. 8 And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go, and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea, and upon the earth. 9 And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up: and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. 10 And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. 11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
mighty angel" appears by his description to be the Son of God himself, and this may indicate the importance of the vision. His being "clothed with a cloud" may express the concealment of his designs, and the hiding of his power. He could have crushed this great conspiracy at the outset, but he did not. The" rainbow on his head" is the sign of peace, or of covenant mercy, and may here denote that whatever evils might be permitted in order to try the church, yet there should not be such a deluge as to destroy it. His countenance being compared to "the sun," and his feet to "pillars of fire," may intimate, that neither is his glory tarnished, nor his majesty diminished, by all the corruptions which are introduced under his name. Finally, His "coming down from heaven" seems to denote a change of scene. The Lamb's company stand upon Mount Sion; but the harlot sitteth upon the waters, and the beast riseth out of the sea. Thus as the subject respects the same apostate community, the scene is the earth, and the angel descends from heaven to disclose it.
The "little book" which the angel held open in his hand relates doubtless to the western apostasy. It has been thought to be a kind of Appendix, or Codicil to the sealed book, and a part of what follows to be chapters of it. But this seems too much : for if so, it would not properly belong to the sealed book, whereas all that pertains to the apostasy, and to the state of the church to the end of the world, belongs to the trumpets, which trumpets are a subdivision of the seventh seal. It is not therefore, any thing added to the sealed book but a marked division of it, a book as it were within a book. The Angel's setting" his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth," would express his absolute dominion over both. His "crying with a loud voice as when a lion roareth," was awfully preparatory to the seven thunders which immediately uttered their voices. On hearing them, John was about to write, but is told by a voice from heaven to "seal up the things which the thunders uttered, and write them not." The thunders then were not mere sounds but certain "things," which though they were not at present to be disclosed, yet in due time should be fulfilled. Their fulfilment too, was an object of such importance, and lay so near the angel's heart, that
with the utmost indignation he sware by Him that liveth for ever and ever, that there should be no delay; but that in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he should begin to sound, they should be accomplished.*
From these considerations it appears plain that the seven thunders relate to the same things" as those which are afterwards disclosed under the seven vials. They both express the wrath of God against the papal antichrist; the one describes it only in general, and that in the form of threatenings, the other descends to particulars, and describes it as actually executing. The thunders being introduced before the prophetic account of the apostasy, may denote the displeasure of God against it from its very beginning, and tend to support the faith and patience of the church under it.
The forbidding the apostle to write, and commanding him to eat the book seems like saying,- The apostasy is not yet ripe. The wrath of God against it will be deferred for the present. Under the sounding of the seventh angel he will pour fourth the vials of
*Whether or Xpovos oun EsTai ST be rendered, as in our version, that there should be time no longer; or more literally, as by Mr. DAUBUZ and others, that the time shall not be yet; or, as Dr. GILL says the words will bear to be rendered, that there should be delay no longer; the meaning cannot be that time itself should then be at an end. Nor does it seem to be an object of sufficient importance for an oath, that the time for the seven thunders to be executed should not be yet. It is not their not being yet, but their being at the appointed time: not the protraction, but the accomplishment notwithstanding the protraction, to which the angel swears. There is a manifest reference in the passage to Dan. xii. 7. "And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swear by him that liveth for ever, that it shall be for a time, times, and a half, and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished." It was of the papal antichrist, of whom Antiochus Epiphanes was a type, that the man clothed in linen spake, and of him speaks the angel to John. As the former predicts his fall, so does the latter; and as Antiochus had been permitted to scatter the power of the holy people for a time, times, and half a time, so should. antichrist be permitted to scatter the church of Christ for the same prophetic period, reckoning a year for a day; that is, for the space of 1260 years. See Prideaux's Connexion, Part II. Book III. at the close.