As the 13th chapter contains the most full and graphic description of the great apostacy, so in this chapter we have the other party described which protested against that apostacy. It is a concise: history of the two witnesses in holy and happy fellowship with Christ, when he had rejected the heathenized church, because of her unholy league with the beast of the bottomless pit, (ch, xi. 2, 7.) The contrast between the "sealed" ones here, and those who bore the "mark of the beast," is very noticeable. This fact suggests that the parties are cotemporary. Besides, it is evident that this company of 144,000 are the legitimate successors of those—sealed in ch vii. 48; or rather, from the perpetual identity of the covenant society as a moral person, we may view this company as the same with the sealed ones of the seventh chapter, the two witnesses of the eleventh chapter, and as in the wilderness in the 12th chapter. Political bias caused a learned expositor to interpret the third angel of this chapter as a symbol of the prelatic church of England! and a similar bias, or modern charity, induced another to distinguish between the "two witnesses" and the 144,000. To the unbiased and enlightened mind it is obvious that instead of the 144,000 symbolizing the "pious people,—in the different branches of the Christian church" all true Christians; they are in fact distinguished from true Christians, as 144,000 from "a great multitude .... who had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," (ch. vii. 9, 14) As the Antichrist, after his first development in the world, appeared in diverse forms of organization, thereby more effectually to deceive them that dwell on the earth, yet still preserved his moral identity, so the faithful servants of Christ are presented in corresponding attitudes and aspects, to oppose and counteract his diabolical policy and tyranny; yet always preserving their proper identity during the whole period of 1260 years.
The process of "sealing the servants of God in their foreheads," (ch. vii. 4—8,) took place under the sixth seal before the opening of the seventh, (ch. viii. 1,) which introduced the trumpets,—the harbingers of the visible organization of Antichrist. For this purpose the "four winds," all winds, emblematical of popular commotions, were by four angels restrained from blowing upon the earth etc., during the peaceful reign of Constantine and his successors. Under the patronage of those nominally Christian emperors, as history informs us, multitudes flocked into the Church; "the number of immoral and unworthy Christians began so to increase, that the examples of real piety and virtue became extremely rare.... The virtuous few were oppressed and overwhelmed with the superior numbers of the wicked and licentious."[Mosheim] Thus the way was prepared for the visible appearing of the "man of sin," the papacy. So soon as the confederate hosts of the dragon are completely organized, the two witnesses take their position with the Lamb.
1. And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on Mount Zion, and with him a hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads.
V. 1.—While "all the world wonders after the beast," (xiii. 3,) and the gross senses of the multitude are preoccupied with that object; here is another presented more worthy of our contemplation. Often has the Lord Jesus appeared in vision to John while viewing the grand panorama passing before him in Patmos. Here he appears as the "captain of the Lord's host" at the head of his army; not indeed in active military enterprise, but rather as leader in acts of solemn worship during a temporary recess from sanguinary warfare. He and his associates are on the "Mount Zion." "In Zion is his seat." ... "The Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shah trust in it. (Is. xiv. 32.) This select company maintain fellowship with Christ, being "really and inseparably united to him as their Head," by the bond of the Spirit, on his part, and faith on theirs. Christ's "Father's name in their foreheads" indicates: that they are the property and voluntary servants of God in Christ. Of this covenant relation baptism is the visible sign; but while '1 the Sign, none Simon Magus may bear but those who are "sealed unto the day of redemption," are honored to "stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion." To him their number is as accurately known, as one hundred and forty—four thousand is to us; and "truly their fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." The votaries of the beast may either glory in bearing his mark in their foreheads, or conceal the mark in their right hand; but the followers of the Lamb will "confess him and his word before men," at the hazard of all that is dear to men,—even life itself. (Mark viii. 38.)
2. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the Voice of harpers harping with their harps:
3. And they sung as it were a new song before the throne; and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth.
Vs. 2, 3.—"Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King, Let the high praises of God be in their mouth."—(Ps. cxlix. 2, 6.) Unterrified by the roaring of the beasts of prey, these followers of the Lamb lift their voices in unison; and whether' on mountains or in valleys, in dens or in caves of the earth, their songs of praise ascend to the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. The symphony is heightened by the "voice of harpers, harping with their harps;" And if any person be so ignorant as to ground an argument on these words, for the use of instruments in the worship of God, consistency will require him to take his position on the literal Mount Zion with a literal lamb!
The song was new. It was not peculiar to the Mosaic economy; that, like it, was to "wax old and vanish away."—(Heb. viii. 13.) No, it was indited by the Holy Spirit, "to whom all hearts are known, and all events foreknown." It was a song exactly framed to answer the twofold end of all inspired songs—to display the glories of the Godhead, and delineate the workings of grace and corruption With infallible precision, neither of which can be even successfully imitated by the best of uninspired men; much less by the licentious debauchees—the slaves of Antichrist. Moreover, the order of worship, as here exemplified, merits special attention, The 144,000 perform this solemn service "before the four beasts, and the elders." The office—bearers, appointed by the Lamb—the Lord Christ—direct the whole solemnity. Among this joyful and holy company, there is no hint that any part of public worship is left to "a vote of the congregation." This "new song" was unintelligible by the votaries of the beast; nor could they learn it while in that servile vassalage. They only who were "redeemed from the earth," as well as "from among men," were capable of learning it. As this song related to the royal prerogatives of Jesus Christ, and those who "dwelt on the earth" had transferred their allegiance to Antichrist, they became thereby incapacitated for learning that song. Alas! how many complain of the cloudiness, the Jewish peculiarities, the unforgiving, revengeful spirit of the inspired Psalms! In their apprehension, they are "contrary to the spirit of the gospel" that is,—the Holy Spirit is contrary to Himself! O, the blasphemy! Can such learn the "new song?" No, indeed, unless they repent and "pray God if perhaps the thought of their heart maybe forgiven them."
4. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb withersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and to the Lamb.
5. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
Vs, 4, 5.—These 144,000 worshippers are farther distinguished by their chastity. Betrothed to the Lord Christ from eternity, they were married to him in time. (Hosea ii. 19, 20; Rom. vii. 4; Cor. xi. 2.) Indeed the marriage covenant is: employed throughout the Bible, to shadow forth the union between Christ and believers. (See Is. liv. 5; Jer. xxxi. 32; Hos. ii. 2; Rev. xxi. 2.) This analogy pervades the 45th Psalm and the Song of Solomon. Idolatry is therefore adultery; and superstition, will—worship and human inventions, as means of grace or of communion with God, are fornication. (Ezek. xxiii. 27.) Accordingly, the "kings of the earth" are charged with this crime, (ch. xviii. 3.) Hence, it is plain that this company with the Lamb are such as do not receive or "teach for doctrines the commandments of men," nor submit to a "voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, (Col. ii. 18,) "for they are virgins." (Ps. x1v. 14.) They are distinguished for "sound doctrine and the power of godliness." "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition," they "reject." (Titus iii. 10.) They cannot be indifferent to truth and error; and they may be known by their love for practical, but especially doctrinal, preaching. They frequent the ministry of those who "give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine." (1 Tim. iv. 13.)
"These follow the Lamb." (John x. 4, 27.) Next after self—denial, taking up the cross, becomes the test of discipleship. (Matt. xvi. 24, 25.) Suffering is the most trying and most difficult part of a Christian's obedience. But mere suffering for one's religion is no evidence that his religion is scriptural. Nor is punishment endured for religion persecution; but suffering "for righteousness sake, or for Christ's sake," is persecution. And this is what is implied in "following the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. Not suffering, but the cause for which he suffers, makes a Christian martyr. All these 144,000 are martyrs in principle and intention.
Besides, "these were redeemed (bought) from among men." Purchase supposes contract,—a price fixed and paid. This ransom is both from debt and crime, from bondage, sin and penalty. The Lamb is their surety. With his blood he "redeemed them to God," (ch. v. 9; I Pet. i. 19.) An atonement which does not reconcile, a redemption which does not save, must be an atonement and a redemption without a compact. Hence the covenant of grace and Christ's engagement as surety in that covenant, determine the extent of the atonement; for without compact no sinner could be saved! But such is the liberal doctrine of the boasted Roman Catholic Church, and such the sandy foundation of that "general and doubtsome faith" which the witnesses renounce. However numerous these followers of the Lamb may seem to be, they are no more than "the first fruits." But the first fruits are part of the coming harvest, and an assured pledge of a larger ingathering. Their numbers were to be greatly augmented by the Reformation, and still further in the millennial era.
"Godly sincerity" is the last quality of these upright ones. They are "Israelites without guile." Integrity, probity, candor, distinguish them from the "flocks of the companions" by whom they are surrounded. "As they think in their heart, so do they express the truth." (Ps. xv. 2; xii. 2; John i. 47.) They know nothing of the "pious frauds" any more than the "indulgences" and "supererogations" by which the "man of sin" sustains his interest. Their being "without fault before the throne of God," is the highest commendation possible; yet it does not imply sinless perfection. It speaks their justification by the righteousness of Christ, and their Christian sincerity, such as God testifies of Job, (ch. i. 8.) Who would not prefer the society and employments of those who are with the Lamb on Mount Zion, to dwelling in the tents of wickedness? Let our delights be with these excellent ones of the earth.
6. And I saw another angel fly In the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,
7. Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of water.
Vs. 6, 7.—The apostles, Paul and John agree, as already noticed, in delineating a great defection from the purity and power of Christianity in "the last days." Paul calls this event "the Apostacy," (2 Thess. ii. 8.) while John designates it "the Antichrist." (1 John ii. 22.) Both these inspired writers use the Greek article, as may be supposed, to emphasize that wicked confederacy of Church and State,—a confederacy of greater extent and longer continuance than any other conspiracy "against the Lord and his Anointed." Against these the saints of God, with Messiah at their head, contend for the allotted period of 1260 years, as we have seen in the three preceding chapters. On their part the warfare is mostly defensive, and their weapons ordinarily spiritual. (2 Cor. vi. 6, 7.)
From the 6th verse to the close of this chapter are presented, under customary and well, defined symbols, three successive stages of successful reformation, showing how the "two witnesses" manage their scriptural and effective testimony against antichristian error and disorder in organized society. Three mystic "angels" successively appear, divinely commissioned to execute their respective and appointed work. These angels have been correctly designated, by judicious expositors, "angels of revival and reform." To the intelligent Christian it will be obvious, that without reform there can be no revival. The popular idea of our time connected with the term revival, is without foundation in the Holy Scriptures. It does not mean the regeneration of a sinner, nor the first work of the Spirit in conviction. It presupposes the existence of the vital principle, and the bringing of that living principle into visible activity, (Rom. vii. 9;) and this is equally true, whether of an individual or moral person. (Ps. lxxxv. 6; Ezek. xxxvii.) Divine truth and external order are characteristics of a genuine revival: for nothing but "sound doctrine" can produce "the power of godliness." The popular commotions and social disorders which accompany modern revivals, render them highly suspicious, if they do not demonstrate them to be spurious. It is true, indeed, that passionate declamation, vociferous assertion of heresy, intensified by theatrical and violent gesticulation, may commove to a higher degree the active powers,—the passions of the sinner; but such appliances can generate only a temporary faith. Such converts, "having no root in themselves, wither away." (Mark iv. 6.) "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." So these angels of reform declare by their ministry.
The first of these angels is the recognized symbol of a gospel ministry, (ch. i. 20; ii. 1, 8, 12, etc.) "Heaven" is the visible church general. "Flying" indicates celerity of motion. This "angel" does not represent any individual, as Luther; but the collective body of those who carry the joyful message of "the everlasting gospel." This gospel is ever. lasting as distinguished from "another gospel, which is not another" (Gal. i. 6, 7, 8, 9,)—a spurious, counterfeit, and therefore ephemeral gospel, invented and propagated by the "man of sin," from the flood which issued from the mouth of the dragon, (ch. xii. 15 ) The gospel preached by this angel is everlasting in its origin and duration. (Tit. i. 2; John iv. 14; Gal. vi. 8.) This angel's commission is as extensive as that of the apostles,—"every nation;" his "loud voice" is expressive of his zeal, energy and authority; the subject matter Of his brief sermon indicates very plainly that the object of his teaching is to counteract the heresies of the Romish apostacy. "Fear God and give glory to him,"—not to the Virgin Mary, canonized saints and angels, images of wood and stone, (ch. ix. 20.) All are solemnly warned to "abstain from pollutions of idols," and their attention earnestly directed to their Creator,—to him "who made heaven, and earth, the seas and fountains of waters." This argument of the angel is very short,—that He only is to be worshipped who created the universe; but it is sufficient to "leave all men without excuse who do not glorify him as God," (Rom. i. 20, 21.) And how much more aggravated is the guilt of professing Christians! But the "angel" employs another powerful argument to enforce his teaching,—"The hour of his judgment is come." The final judgment of the last day is often set before us in the Bible, and it is so even in this book; but the last judgment cannot be intended here, for subsequent judgments are to be inflicted according to the messages of the following angels.
That Charlemagne should be mistaken for this flying angel betrays an almost incredible hallucination of the human mind! [Such is the interpretation of Bishop Newton!] No individual, as already noticed, much less a successful civil or military tyrant, can be intended by the Spirit as the herald of the "everlasting gospel!"
In fact, this "angel" is identical with the "two witnesses," whose special work is to oppose the great apostacy; and this they do in a pre—eminent manner by proclaiming the everlasting gospel. For 500 years those who are known in history by the name of Waldenses, kept the doctrines and order of the apostles, in a state of separation from the Church of Rome. In the latter part of the twelfth century their numbers and influence attracted the notice and brought upon them the wrath of the "man of sin." In the following ages multitudes of them were subjected to all the penalties of confiscation, banishment and death. Like the Seed of Abraham in Egypt, however, "the more they were afflicted, the more they multiplied and grew," They revived true religion in the kingdoms of southern Europe, and it is most probable that the good seed sown by them reached even to the island of Britain. John Huss and Jerome, who, by decree of the council of Constance, were committed to the flames for heresy; and Wishart, in England, whose end was similar, together with such as co—operated with them and succeeded them in the same holy warfare, are to be viewed as answering to the mystic angel. These faithful and dauntless men denounced divine judgments against all who worshipped graven images, however enjoined by civil and ecclesiastical authority. For their fidelity to Christ and the souls of men, they were subjected to the heaviest censures of the heathenized church, and the severest penalties of a tyrannical state,—the beast of the earth and the beast of the sea always in unholy alliance and acting in concert. The ministry of this angel is a testimony against papal corruptions, such as the worshipping images of the Creator and creatures, but especially the Pope,—the image of the Roman emperor. It is a mere fancy to suppose this angel symbolizes modern missions. The series of the prophecy forbids such an interpretation. Besides, the idolatry of Rome Christian, is not less real or gross than the idolatry of pagans, and calls for a more earnest testimony; and God has never left himself without witnesses against defection and apostacy. This angel prepares the way for his successor, who prosecutes the same work with increasing clearness and confidence.
8. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
V. 8.—"There followed another angel." Some expositors [Faber] interpret this angel of Luther, some of Calvin; but no individual is sufficiently prominent in history to justify the application to him of so striking a symbol in so concise a prophecy. Such restriction of a symbol to an individual results from prelatic habits of thought. In the mind of a prelate the idea of a gospel ministry includes that of a metropolitan. This angel is, in fact, as usual, simply the emblem of the ministry, not excluding the social body of which they are the official guides.
This second angel carries forward the reformation effected by his predecessor, reviving that cause when it began to languish under the violence of Antichrist. "While the Roman pontiff," says Mosheim, "slumbered in security at the head of the church, and saw nothing throughout the vast extent of his domain but tranquility and submission, and while the worthy and pious professors of genuine Christianity almost despaired of seeing that Reformation on which their most ardent desires and expectations were bent, an obscure and inconsiderable person arose on a sudden, in the year 1517, and laid the foundation of the long expected change; by opposing with undaunted resolution his single force to the torrent of papal ambition and despotism." That individual was the heroic Luther, whose praise is in all the churches till the present day. No individual is so famous in the history of that eventful period as Martin Luther, for recovering the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, to the exclusion of all creature merit. This fundamental principle in the economy of man's salvation he justly denominated articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesice— "the hinge of a standing or falling church." By the defence and propagation of this doctrine especially, the priestly office of Christ was vindicated against the dogmas of penance, indulgence and supererogation, inculcated by the "Man of Sin;" and by consequence, one of the bulwarks of mystical Babylon effectually demolished. At the famous Diet of Worms, which, like the Council of Constance, combined the imperial power of Rome, civil and ecclesiastic, that indomitable servant of Christ gave a visible demonstration that "the Spirit of the Father" animated and "spake in him," (Matt. x. 20.) Not less explicit was Luther on the fundamental doctrine of the divine decrees; which, with other Arminian dogmas of creature—merit, had been almost universally propagated and stamped with the pretended infallible authority of Rome. By the translation and circulation of the Holy Scriptures among the people, the idolatries, impositions and profligacy of the priesthood were extensively discovered. And after years of deference to ecclesiastical authority, conditional proposals of submission to the Pope upon conviction of error in his theses, or conscientious belief, Luther in time arrived at the conclusion that the church of Rome was irreclaimable, giving publicity to his deep convictions in a treatise De Captivitate Babylonica,—."The Captivity of Babylon." In the 18th chapter of this book, he discovered that Babylon is doomed to destruction. He considered the church of Rome as answering to the prophetic symbol, and of course not to be reformed. It was an obvious inference he ought to obey Christ rather than the Pope,—"Come out of her, my people." This call was indeed a sufficient warrant to separate from the Church of Rome; and, acting on it, protestant churches have ever since been organized: but the type or symbol, Babylon, was unwarrantably restricted in import, as representing only the Church of Rome. And it is to be deplored that most protestant expositors continue to limit the inspired symbol in the same way till the present time. The literal Babylon, a name common to the ancient city and empire by the river Euphrates, was in no sense a church; and it would be anomalous and incongruous to select either city or empire as an emblem of a church! There is, however, in the Apocalypse a combining or blending of symbols in order clearly and fully to represent a complex moral person. This has been already exemplified in ch. xiii. 2, where the prominent features of Daniel's first three beasts, (ch. vii. 4—6,) are combined in John's first beast of the sea. Just so in this instance. The idolatrous and tyrannical Roman empire, in alliance with an apostate church, constitutes mystical Babylon. History demonstrates the fact of their coalition. The great red dragon, the devil, operates through both during the allotted period of 1260 years against the witnesses of Christ. Sometimes, indeed, the nominal church is the more active and visible instrument, and at other times the state, in opposing Mediatory authority; and thus Babylon, or one of her streets, which is the equivalent of horn of the beast, becomes prominent.
This second angel confidently proclaims,—"Babylon is fallen, is fallen." So said Isaiah of literal Babylon long before the event; (ch. xxi. 9,) and so said Jeremiah, (ch. li. 8,) to whose predictions John obviously alludes. All these three prophets speak in present time of a future event, simply because of the settled and unalterable purpose of God, acting not formally as a sovereign, but as a judge. The multiplied and aggravated crimes of Babylon, literal or mystical Babylon, are the just grounds of her deserved and awful doom. From ancient times God has declared by his prophets the things that are not yet done. (Isa. xlvi. 10.) His counsel stands and he doeth all his pleasure.
That the mystical Babylon emblematically represented the complex systems of civil and ecclesiastical corruption anal despotism organized in Christendom, was in some degree understood by the reformers in Europe; but the work of this second angel was carried on successively by men of piety and learning, who were eminently qualified for systematically arranging the doctrines of grace as deduced from the word of God. Their pious labors we still have in the forms of Bodies of Divinity and Confessions of Faith, in both which the unscriptural and antiscriptural dogmas and heresies of Rome are condemned and solidly confuted by the Scriptures. There is a wonderful "harmony of confessions" framed by those who separated from the fellowship of the Romish church; which harmony can be accounted for only by the fact that those who framed them drew their materials from the Bible. But it was by their public covenants especially, that the reformers lifted a testimony against the heresies, immoralities and tyrannies of the church of Rome. And among all the churches of the Reformation, that of Scotland is justly entitled to the pre—eminence. In no nation or state in Christendom did the witnesses of Christ,—the second angel, attain so nearly to a scriptural model of organized society in church and state as in that land, whose mountains and valleys were "flowered with martyrs" for a "Covenanted Work of Reformation." As Zuingle the Swiss—reformer excelled Luther, Calvin and others in Europe in the application of the divine moral law, as revealed in Scriptures, to civil society, so John Knox in Scotland was equally clear, that royal personages are amenable to the body politic, and both to the Mediator.
We are now under the ministry of this second "angel." The revival effected by the first angel had greatly declined before the second made his appearance; and all persons of intelligence and spiritual discernment in our day, lament the visible decline in practical godliness, arising from indifference to divine truth. Most professing Christians; including the descendants of the martyrs, are "willingly ignorant" of the attainments and sufferings of their illustrious predecessors. The work of reformation to be accomplished by the second angel, we suppose to have been completed about the middle of the Seventeenth century. Since that period his work appears from history to consist in testifying against defection from the reformation which had been reached. The "great city" is to fall "because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." She is "spiritually called Sodom and Egypt," neither of which was a church any more than Babylon. These were all heathen communities, never married to the Lord; therefore Babylon is not here charged as an adulteress, but with fornication. The nations are her paramours. Her wine is intoxicating. It deranges the intellect and stupefies the conscience.
Will any reasoning prevail with a drunken man? An active politician is proverbially unscrupulous, and proof against the law of God. There is, however, wrath in this cup. Those who refuse to "kiss the Son" must feel the weight of his iron rod. (Ps. ii. 9, 12; lxxv. 8.)
The "little book" introduced at the 10th chapter, is included in the first 13 verses of the 11th chapter, which comprehends a concise history of the 1260 years, as we have seen. At the 15th verse, the seventh and last trumpet is sounded which introduces the millennium and gives a brief outline of events till the end of the world. Then the three following chapters give in detail the events prior to the millennium, a commentary, as it were, on the "little book," but resuming a narrative of the sealed book's contents, which had been suspended at the end of the 9th chapter. There, as we have seen, the first and second woe—trumpets left the population of the Roman church and empire still in rebellion:—"They repented not." Hence it is apparent that the work of these symbolic angels consists in opposing the antichristian systems of organized society during the period of the fifth and sixth trumpets. This they do partly by declaring the truth as it is in Jesus, and partly by denouncing divine judgments on the impenitent. The first angel, by proclaiming the "everlasting gospel," called upon men to "fear God and give glory to him," and not to idols, threatening "coming judgment." The great majority of those addressed, however, disregarding alike his loving instructions and faithful warnings, must hear from the second angel that the judgment threatened by his predecessor, is now imminent:—" Babylon is fallen," etc. Notwithstanding the faithful and earnest contendings of the Waldenses, Bohemians and others on the continent of Europe, seconded by the Lollards in England, so far were the votaries of Antichrist from repenting of their idolatry and profligacy, that they became more and more exasperated against those witnesses who tormented them, and attempted to silence their testimony by committing their leaders to the flames. Hence the second angel's ministry consists more in denouncing judgment than in offering mercy to the penitent; and the history of the struggles in Europe and the British Isles between Christ's witnesses and the Roman Antichrist in the 16th and 17th centuries, demonstrates the awful fact that they, with great and wonderful unanimity, judged the church of Rome at least, utterly irreclaimable. Of this united judgment the Confessions of those reformers are at this day a standing evidence. But chief among the churches and nations of Christendom stands Scotland, as well before as after her appearance, by her famous Commissioners, in the Westminster Assembly of Divines. In her full and free Assembly, and by her national representatives, sustained by all their pious constituency, she uttered those memorable words,—"We abhor and detest... chiefly all kind of Papistry in general and particular heads, even as they are damned (condemned) and confuted by the word of God and Kirk of Scotland." Perhaps this is the only instance hitherto within the 1260 years, where a whole church and nation, under the awful sanction of a solemn oath, has pronounced a judicial sentence of condemnation upon the church of Rome. Thus with confidence did those noble witnesses pronounce the anticipated doom of the mystic Babylon. But alas! may we not adopt and apply now (1870,) the language of the weeping prophet?— "How is she become a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces!"
As declension among those who had protested against the corruptions of Antichrist, under the ministry of the first angel of reform, together with the continued impenitence of the multitude who still wondered after the beast, called for the appearance of the second angel of revival, so the moral condition of the world called for the work of his successor. In the mean time, living as we now are, within the period allotted in prophecy and in history to the ministry of the second angel of revival and reform, it is but too evident that there is a great and increasing decline among the best reformed churches. Many of the Protestant ministry, especially of the prelatic order, are posting back to Rome; and the growing ritualism, with its gaudy and splendid "attire of a harlot," which characterizes others, plainly indicates their tendency in the same direction. And even those other denominations, which are not yet prepared to adopt that "blasphemous hierarchy," are visibly departing from the soundness in doctrine and purity of gospel worship which constituted the chief glory of the Second Reformation. These are the baleful effects of the dragon's influence "on the earth," (ch. xii. 13, 15.) Besides, nearly all ecclesiastical bodies are yet in cordial alliance with the beast of the sea; and this alliance is the Antichrist, · The Pope is now nearly divested of his former civil supremacy, and in this respect become less the express image of the imperial beast of the sea, (ch. xiii. 14;) yet the leaven of the Romish religion pervades all the Christian community, so far as allegiance to the beast or his horns is either enjoined or tolerated. This usurpation of the royal prerogatives of Christ over the churches and nations in the eastern hemisphere by the kings of the earth, and a similar usurpation in the western hemisphere, whether by individual despots or by the body politic, is the great crime which fills the measure of the cup of wrath, to be poured out of the "seven vials." While such is the moral condition of society in all lands favored with a revelation of the will of God,—visited with judgments, continuing impenitent and guilt augmenting, what is to be expected but heavier judgments to follow?
9. And the third angel followed them, saying, with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
10. The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence, of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
11. And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
Vs. 9—11.—"And the third angel followed." The two preceding angels addressed communities, calling them to repentance and reformation. Indeed, the language of the second implies little or no hope of their recovery. This third angel, "following" up the scriptural testimony of those who went before, and assuming that church and state, the essential elements of the antichristian system, continue irreclaimable, addresses his message to individuals. This angel is the last that the Lord Jesus will employ to awaken sinners that are at ease in Zion." His ministry is yet future, and he will never be succeeded by an angel of mercy until mystical Babylon is overthrown. The special, arduous and perilous work of this angel is, to threaten eternal death against every individual who persists in the hitherto popular idolatry. "If any man worship the beast."—Up to the time of this angel's appearance the beast lives and devours his prey; consequently, his work comes within the period of the 1260 years. During this limited time, there will be found in the Apocalypse three objects of popular devotion,—the dragon, (ch. xiii. 4,) the beast, and his image, (v. 15.) In this place the dragon is omitted, as also in ch. xv. 2; xx. 4. We may ask, why the omission?—Simply because "the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God," (1 Cor. x. 20;) consequently, these worshippers being Gentiles, (ch. xi. 2,) there is no necessity that the dragon (the devil) should be particularized. From the first rise of the beast, he was in alliance with the dragon, (ch. xiii. 2, 3;) therefore both are doomed to perdition, (ch. xx. 10.) Most expositors consider this angel as emblematical of events already past; the reformation effected by Luther, his coadjutors and successors, or the church of England! [This is the opinion of Mr. Faber.] Their error consists in viewing the beast as the symbol of the church of Rome. And it is remarkable, that through the power of local and political bias, those commentators who themselves perceive that the beast of the sea in chapter xiii; 1, symbolizes the Roman empire, lose sight of their own exposition when they arrive at the place before us! And of this bias and inconsistency they seem to be wholly unconscious! No, there has never yet appeared in the symbolic heaven a minister or ecclesiastical organization, which has authoritatively denounced, everlasting punishment against all who "receive the mark of the beast." It is to be noticed here that the sins charged are cumulative, not distributive. Guilt is contracted as here charged, by "worshipping the beast and his image, and receiving his mark." If the beast signify immoral civil power, and his image signify the Papacy, as we have seen they do; then it follows that worshipping both, and receiving. the mark of the former, constitute the special guilt here charged by the angel: that is, eulogizing, praising, and actively co—operating with civil and ecclesiastical society, at war with the Bible, in organized hostility to the Lord and his Anointed. (Ps. ii. 9.) "Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?" (Ps. xciv. 20.) But during the 1260 years, the secular imperial beast consists of "kingdoms of this world" in alliance with the beast of the earth, (ch. xiii. 1, 11.) And as both are for their crimes consigned to utter destruction, so in the time of the "third angel," every individual is threatened with everlasting punishment, who identifies with them. "No temporal judgments on collective bodies can be the fulfilment of this awful denunciation, which evidently relates to individuals, and to each individual who is guilty; and if words can convey the idea of eternal punishment, it is here denounced." [Scott] The words in the original, translated "for ever and ever," (v. 11,) are the strongest in the Greek language to signify eternity, and are not susceptible of any other meaning.
As already intimated, the special mission and awful message of this angel is yet future; but the testimony of his predecessor will have made the tyranny, idolatry, immorality and profligacy of civil despots and mercenary ministers so palpable and glaring, that the vengeance of the Lord proclaimed by the last messenger will appear to be just. In this way the "two witnesses smite the earth with all plagues," (ch. xi. 6;) for they are identical with the "third angel," and have an active agency in the work of judgment to be executed upon the antichristian enemies, (ch. xv. 7.) And "who knows the powers. of that wrath which is poured out without mixture into the cup of Jehovah's indignation?" In temporal judgments there may be a mixture of mercy; but there is no such element in the cup of the impenitent votaries of mystic Babylon. "Holy angels" look on without sympathy for her agonies, while the Lamb inflicts the tremendous penalty of her complicated and long—continued crimes. "He shall be tormented—their torment:"—individuals found guilty of complicity with Babylon, will be bound up into bundles as fuel for that fire and brimstone, whose "smoke ascendeth up for ever and ever." "They have no rest day nor night who worship the beast,"—no mitigation of their sufferings. They are doomed to dwell "with everlasting burnings." (Is. xxxiii. 14.) Such are the denunciations which the "third angel" is commissioned to proclaim in the ears of men, either to bring them to repentance, or to justify the Lamb in punishing their impenitent disobedience. Now "every one who is acquainted with the writings of the reformers and their successors, knows that they generally declared, without hesitation, that popery is a damnable religion." [Scott] Popery, however, is the religion which has corrupted states and churches throughout the world; and therefore future reformers will not hesitate to join civil states with her in their testimony and prayers, saying,—"The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name; for they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his dwelling place." (Psa. ix. 17; lxxix. 6, 7.)
12. Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
13. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
Vs. 12, 13.—The faithful and pointed testimony of the "third angel" of reform against the organized enemies of God in church and state, instead of producing repentance, tends only to provoke them to greater rage against those who thus awaken their consciences and disturb their sinful repose. The fires of persecution are again kindled, and the witnesses are subjected to the anathemas of the church and the sword of the civil magistrate,—the cruelty of the two beasts. It is therefore added,—"Here is the patience of the saints." The events predicted here agree in time with ch. xiii. 10; and the subjects of persecution are the same moral person in their legitimate successors who appeared in ch, xii. 17. They "keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus," while the multitude "obey unrighteousness, receiving for doctrines the commandments of men."
To animate these sufferers who are in "jeopardy every hour" and who have the sentence of death as outlaws, pronounced against them by Antichrist, John "heard a voice from heaven," directing him to write,—"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, from henceforth."—To "die in the Lord,"— means, in the faith and hope of the gospel, relieved by the "witness of the Spirit" from the overwhelming fears of the pains of purgatory. Both negatively and positively, this angel testifies against the antichristian dogma of purgatory. He declares that the torments of the wicked continue "for ever and ever," while the righteous who die in the Lord, "cease from their labours."—No stronger testimony can be conceived against the more gross papal heresy, or the more modern and so called philosophical delusions of Universalists, Socinians and others, all of whom are the offspring of the "mother of harlots." But besides the voice from heaven, and the concurrent witness of the Spirit, against the papal dogma of purgatory, the "rest" here proclaimed for the comfort of martyred saints, may be also understood as a termination to their sharp conflicts with Antichrist. "Henceforth they rest from their labours,"—they shall never again be called to "resist unto blood, striving against sin," as heretofore, by the combined opposition of the "beast and false prophet," organized tyranny and idolatry. The ministry of, the "third angel," cotemporary with the "seventh trumpet,"—the third and last "woe," prepares society throughout Christendom for entering into the millennial rest.
14. And I looked, and, behold, a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of Man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.
15. And another came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud, Thrust in thy sickle, and reap; for the time is come for thee to reap: for the harvest of the earth is ripe.
16. And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.
Vs. 14—16.—The gathering in of the harvest is sometimes emblematical of mercy,—as when the believer is gathered to his fathers by death. His sanctification being completed, he is taken home "as a shock of corn ripe in his season." Reaping and threshing, however, are most frequently symbolical of divine judgments, (Jer. li. 33;) and the apostle refers here to the same event which the Lord foretold by the mouth of other prophets. (Joel iii. 13—17; Micah iv. 12, 13.) This harvest is emblematical of divine judgment on the nations of apostate Christendom. He who executes the judgment is one like the Son of man, the Lord Christ. Enthroned on a "white cloud" as his chariot, and having on his royal "head a golden crown," the symbol of sovereignty, at the solicitation, the loud cry of the symbolic angel,—a gospel ministry, he "thrusts in his "sharp sickle," the emblem of avenging justice, and with infinite ease, "the earth is reaped." This work of punishing guilty nations is not so proper to the ministry, the functions of whose office are of a spiritual nature; yet are they active in a way conpetent to them, calling upon the "Lord of the harvest" to reap. They judge of the signs of the times. Such is part of their appropriate work. Thus they say, "The time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe." The Lord Jesus appeared in royal majesty to John, as he had appeared to Ezekiel, (ch. i. 26;) and to Daniel, (ch. vii. 13..) The cloud on which he sat had a bright side towards his saints, but to his enemies a dark side, as at the Red Sea. (Ex. xiv. 19, 20.)
The two judgments of the harvest and vintage, are obviously an allusion to a natural order in the climate of Judea. Not only did the barley and wheat—harvest precede the time of gathering grapes, but some space elapsed between these labors of the husbandman. The usual order is observed here.
17. And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.
18. And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying, Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.
19. And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great wine—press of the wrath of God.
20. And the wine press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the wine—press even unto the horse—bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
Vs. 17—20.—As the ministry of the "third angel," (v. 9,) was final, as to pronouncing the deserved doom of all the adherents of the antichristian system, so in the symbols of the harvest and vintage, we have the execution of that sentence exhibited. The nations of Christendom, having drunk the wine of the mother of harlots, and of her daughters too, and having exhausted the patience of the Lord Jesus, refusing to repent, while he warned them by his servants the three angels of reform,—"rising early and sending them," were at length "ripe" for his sharp sickle. Long had he expostulated with them, saying to them, while addressing his church,—"The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee (O Zion,) shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted." (Isa. lx. 12.)—The desolating judgments of the reigning Mediator, having brought those nations to "hate the whore," they become the willing and zealous agents of her destruction, as appears, (ch. xvii. 16.)
The "gathering of the clusters of the vine of the earth," is a concise emblematical representation of that tremendous work of punishing the apostate church, to be exhibited in greater detail in the following chapters.
The "angel coming out of the temple," represents the gospel ministry as usual. His "having a sharp sickle" may import his more immediate agency in this than in the preceding work of the harvest."
Christ himself judged the nations, had the "sharp sickle;" but in reckoning with impenitent ecclesiastical communities, he will honor his faithful servants. As in "measuring the temple," the Mediator held the instrument in his own hand under the Old Testament, (Zech. ii. 1,) but under the New Testament gave it into the hand of John, the representative of a gospel ministry, (ch. xi. 1,) so that transaction may illustrate the symbols here.
The other angel "coming from the altar, who had power over fire," is also symbolical of the ministry. The sickle in the hand of the former angel, is for gathering the grapes; while the connexion of the latter angel with the "altar," imports that a sacrifice is about to be offered, as customary, to appease divine justice.—The "vine of the earth" is plainly contrasted with the true vine. (Ps. lxxx. 1; Jer. ii. 21.) This is a vine of Sodom with clusters of Gomorrah, (ch. xi. 8; Deut. xxxii. 32, 33.) It is the symbol of an apostate church, the chief heresy of which is a practical rejection of the atonement of Christ; for it is certain that vindictive justice is an. attribute of God, and that he will demand satisfaction from those impenitent sinners who despise his mercy in the gospel offer, and "tread under foot the blood of the covenant wherewith Christ was sanctified." (Heb. x. 29.) A heavier doom awaits all such than to "die without mercy," which was the penalty for those who "despised Moses' law." No sacrifice is appointed for the man or the church that sins presumptuously. (Num. xv. 30, 31.) To all such, "our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. xii. 29.)—The one angel calls upon the other,—encourages his companion, to execute the judgment of God. "Thrust in thy sharp sickle."—Under the superintendence of the Mediator, his servants by their prayers and their sermons have an active part in this work of judgment. From the mouth of the witnesses proceeded fire to devour their enemies, (ch. xi. 5.) This is the last work of judgment in which they will be honoured. Joining their victorious predecessors who overcame the antichristian combinations "by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony," (chs. vi. 9, 10; xii. 11,) these undaunted servants of the Lord are honored by him as instrumental in the infliction of the final judgments symbolized by the seventh trumpet and the seventh vial,—the third and last woe.—The "wine—press" is the symbol of the "wrath of God," and its location "without the city," denotes that the churches of the apostacy are excommunicated,—" reprobate silver, because the Lord hath rejected them."
We are not told here by whom the grapes are trodden; but this is the work of the Lord Jesus himself, who in the days of his flesh on earth forewarned his impenitent foes that he would thus deal with them in his wrath. "Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." (Luke xix. 27; Isa. lxiii. 3; Rev. xix. 15.)—The blood in depth is to the "horse—bridles," and in extent "a thousand and six hundred furlongs,"—200 miles! Although this language is hyperbolical, it is intended to signify" a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that same time God's people shall be delivered, everyone that shall be found written in the book." (Dan. xii. 1; Rev. xiii. 8.) Thus it appears that church and state, having combined in the antichristian apostacy, are severally visited with the unmingled wine of the wrath of God. All the saints shall have obeyed the call, "Come out of her, my people;" and mystic Babylon shall then be utterly destroyed. Whether Palestine, the Pope's patrimony, or some other territory be understood by the "1600 furlongs," is matter of vague conjecture by all expositors, and is to be verified only by the fulfilment of the prediction.