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James Dodson

Rev. 6....And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four living creatures, saying, Come and see, &c. &c.

IN this chapter, we have a complete specimen of the symbolical style of prophecy. This kind of writing contains in a small compass much information: but like the hieroglyphics of antiquity, or historical painting, it requires skill and accuracy in the application of each part to its corresponding event. Whensoever diversity of exposition is admissible, with respect to the same or similar symbols, it must, like every other species of figurative language, be determined by the connexion. Due attention to this is necessary in order to prevent confusion in the interpretation.

In the schedule which I have already laid before you, of the contents of the sealed book,[HERE] I mentioned the general division of the events between the apostolical age and the millennium, into three distinguished periods—the period of the seals—the period of the trumpets—and the period of the vials. We are in this lecture to examine


It is that part of “the book sealed with seven seals,” which is disclosed at the opening of the six seals, first in order. At the breaking of each seal, a portion of the roll or volume is unfolded, and the writing becomes legible.

Before I proceed to examine the contents of each seal, it will not be amiss to attend to those considerations, by which, in connexion with the prophecy itself, we are enabled to ascertain the period of history to which the seals refer. From these it will appear, that there is no undeterminateness in the Apocalyptical predictions, and that in our interpretation of them, respect is had to certain fixed principles, without giving any scope to fancy or implicitly submitting to human opinions, however respectable.

There is indeed ample evidence that this period embraces the events which came to pass in the Roman empire, under its Pagan rulers, from the days of the apostles, until the revolution which invested Constantine, called the Great, with the imperial purple. Of this evidence, every person may judge for himself.

1. The “sealed book” of the Revelation has immediate respect to the Roman empire.

The power of that government was now universally established over the nations in which the christian church existed. The christians were deeply interested in its policy. They felt severely under its persecuting edicts. They were moreover directed by the prophecy of Daniel to consider it as the last empire that should appear under the influence of Satan to oppose the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. The vision of Nebuchadnezzar interpreted by the prophet, chap. 2. was, at least thus far, well understood. The “head of gold” had passed away with the Chaldean monarchy. Verse 38. Thou art this head of gold. The breast and arms of silver had been destroyed with the Persian empire which succeeded that of Babylon. Verse 39. And AFTER THEE shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee. The kingdom established under Alexander of Macedon, had also fallen never to rise. Verse. 39. The kingdom of brass bearing rule over all the earth. The “fourth empire” is the one which existed at the time of John the Divine. Verse 40. The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, and as iron shall it be broken in pieces. It was expected according to this prophecy that the Roman government should undergo such convulsions as should divide it into ten distinct powers, still however united in opposition to the authority of Jesus Christ, and the church of God. Verse 41. And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potter’s clay, and part of iron; the kingdom shall be divided. It was understood too, that when Rome should undergo such change, the interests of religion, after having suffered great depression, should become paramount, and the kingdom of Christ be established. Verse 44. In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed. A still more specific account of these same four great empires is given in Daniel, chap. 7. under the character of beasts of prey. Verse 17. These great beasts which are four, are four kings. The fourth of these had ten horns, indicating the tenfold division already mentioned. Verse 24. And the ten horns out of this kingdom, (the fourth kingdom, verse 23.) are the kings that shall arise. This power under a new form, “the little horn,” prevailed for a time, and times, and the dividing of time, until true religion triumphed—Verse 22. Until the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.

These predictions presented the power of Rome, in such a light, as could not fail to make men of liberal information look upon its history with great anxiety. From prophecy, they had a right to expect consistency and order; and, of course, that the Roman empire should not be overlooked in the system of predictions relative to the public social concerns of the christian religion. And as the sealed book of Daniel 12:4. was opened in the presence of John by our Lord Jesus Christ, it is reasonable to infer that it had some respect to imperial Rome—the kingdom of iron—the fourth great wild beast.

2. As the Roman empire cannot be overlooked in this prophecy, it is equally evident that the view which is given of it must commence from the apostolical age.

From history it now appears that three great and distinct successive characters have been assumed in this empire, since the christian era. It long existed under the system of heathen superstition—It continued for some time under its imperial form, professing the christian religion—It has now for ages, in its divided state, existed in the maintenance of the Papal system. These three terms correspond with the three periods preceding the millennium—the Seals, the Trumpets, and the Vials. The seals are the first in order, and of course belong to the first great period.

3. The design of prophecy furnishes, for the attentive, a key to each great part of the system.

This design we have already explained at large. I now only call to your recollection, that to furnish believers with ample means of hope and of faithfulness in the midst of their troubles, enters into that design. The system of prophecy describes in its course the perils and the pains of the saints; but it closes with a view of their triumphs. Each great period of prophecy will, upon attentive examination, be found to answer this design. It conducts us on a part of our journey, and after the toils of the day, brings us to a place of refreshment and rest. In exhibiting the state of the church, and of the Roman empire, during the conflicts of christianity with idolatry, it might be expected that the period would close with the overthrow of Paganism by the judgments of Zion’s mighty King.

4. Inspection of the prophecy itself furnishes conclusive evidence, that the period of the seals is the time between the reign of Domitian and that of Constantine.

Prediction certainly respects futurity, and on no principle of sound criticism are we justified in applying the Apocalyptical seals to past events. The promise made to the apostle is, chap. 4:1. I will show thee things which must be hereafter. This consideration precludes our adopting the opinions of those who explain the seals, or any one of them, as signifying what had already come to pass. The sixth seal, as appears from the text, and will be explained in the sequel of this discourse, describes a very remarkable revolution. The terms employed cannot be applied to any event prior to the era of Constantine; and that time perfectly suits the description.

I am aware that several respectable writers have of late denied that any advantage was obtained by the church in that revolution. If this were indeed the ease, it could not have been represented as a time of triumph to the saints. But on this subject there is great need of discrimination. If we follow the path of scripture prediction, we will not be found at variance with history.

Whatever may have been the moral character or religious standing of Constantine himself, and we are not disposed to rate them highly, the events of his reign were undoubtedly judgments from God upon that great Pagan power that long annoyed the saints. If he also, either injudiciously or perversely intermeddled unduly with ecclesiastical concerns; still, the actual church, real christians, found in his authority and plans, a shelter from their Heathen persecutors. Nor were persons of this description so much affected, by the pernicious system of state religion which he introduced, as were the more ambitious and worldly-minded ecclesiastics, who took an interest in the pompous hierarchy to which he yielded his countenance. While the higher orders of prelatical pride, those creatures of human contrivance, among whom true religion rarely flourishes, were deeply engaged in the political management which respected the more worldly part of the professors of Christianity; the meek followers of the Lamb of God, had cause to rejoice in the restraint which was laid upon their avowed enemies. In this point of view, the revolution was a signal blessing. Nevertheless, the “fourth kingdom” still retained its BEASTLY character—The Roman empire remained “the kingdom of iron.” The government of the empire, and the order of the more conspicuous parts of the church, were by no means accordant with the principles of christianity.

As the “sealed book” commences with the time which succeeded John’s banishment to Patmos, and the sixth seal terminates in the revolution which overturned Pagan Rome, the opening of the six seals must of course disclose the leading events of that PERIOD, including from 97 to 323, TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIX YEARS.

Although we have already proved the propriety of applying the predictions of the six seals to the Roman empire, as it existed before the age of Constantine, it still remains to inquire, whether these predictions respect its civil or ecclesiastical history. Jurieu, and bishop Newton, explain all the seals as descriptive of the administration of the imperial government; Lord Napier, and Mr. Woodhouse, esteem it improper to apply this prophecy to any other than ecclesiastical events. Mede, Lowman, and Johnston, apply the seals to both civil and ecclesiastical events; and they appear to me to be nearest the truth. Political changes are, in themselves, beneath the notice of prophecy; and the changes of ecclesiastical systems are often mere political commotions. There is little difference between the transactions of statesmen and those of churchmen, as to their morality, or as it respects the virtue of the public agents. Both may be under the influence of pious principles, and both have often been actuated by selfishness and malevolence. Too generally has it been the case throughout the Roman empire, and the several kingdoms of the earth, that there was no true religion in the hands of either the rulers of the church, or those of the commonwealth. The difference, as to actual moral worth, between Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, or even between Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and his royal master Charles I. is no cause of controversy. But although there is in fact, no religion in the transactions of such civilians and ecclesiastics, true religion is frequently very deeply affected by the events which they are the instruments of bringing to pass. On this account, the divine prescience has been employed about both, and both have a place in the system of sacred prediction. The object of the Apocalypse is to illustrate THOSE GREAT MORAL PRINCIPLES WHICH AFFECT THE PUBLIC INTERESTS OF TRUE RELIGION, and in doing this, it employs the events of civil history, as well as those which are considered ecclesiastical. The six seals are of course intended to disclose those events within the specified time, which, whether appertaining to civil or ecclesiastical history, are of most importance to be understood by the friends of real religion in the world. We shall proceed to


Of each of the six seals in order as they were opened by our Saviour. He alone reveals and dispenses what has been determined upon in the certain secret purposes of God.

SEAL I.....Verses 1, 2. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four living creatures, saying, Come, and see. And I saw, and, behold a white horse; and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer.

The apostle, attentively beholding the Saviour, and desirous of learning the character of the age, observed that when he opened the first seal, a part of the written roll was unfolded, In order to persuade us to mark with becoming attention each dispensation of divine providence, and to point out the duty of the ministers of Christ in every age, in explaining the signs of the times, one of “the living creatures” in a voice of thunder said, Come and see. It was the first of the living creatures that gave this invitation. Like a lion he communicated his commands in a voice of authority, bold, strong, and solemn. “Come, behold the works of the Lord,”[1] is a precept which faithful pastors are accustomed to deliver.

In obedience to the mandate, John looked, and saw on the opened leaf, the representation of a monarch riding forth to conquest.

Behold, a white horse.] This animal, noted for his comeliness, speed, strength, and fitness for the service of man, is the symbol of the instruments God employs in the dispensations of his providence to accomplish his purpose. White is the emblem of purity. It is pleasant to the sight; and it symbolizes a dispensation of purity and mercy.

He that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given to him: and he went forth conquering and to conquer.] Bishop Newton, who seems to have been entirely destitute of an evangelical taste, and consequently sees as much purity and splendour in a heathen warrior as in the dispensation of the grace of God, applies this remarkable passage to the emperors Vespasian and Titus.[2] They were both numbered with the victims of the king of terrors, however; before the sealed book was opened. The prophecy, therefore, could have no reference to them any more than to Augustus or Romulus. In order to avoid this objection, others have applied the prediction to the reign of Trajan. While we admit that this celebrated emperor possessed admirable talents for government, and was very successful in war, the character of his administration by no means comported with the symbol of the first seal. To christians he was a scourge. Under him persecution prevailed. He often conquered, it is true; but not on a “white horse,” and it is far from being true, that he is hereafter to conquer. He, too, has ceased to reign.

The symbol, in short, can apply only to the triumphs of the “WORD OF GOD.” I have not met with any plausible objection to this interpretation, save what arises from the date of the prediction. But although the gospel dispensation commenced several years before this vision, it was still progressive. The prophecy does not respect its commencement; but its progress, and its future triumphs. This was the most desirable object which could possibly be presented to John the Divine, or to the church of God. And it is evidently a matter of fact, whether in this place predicted or not, that christianity was then progressive, and afterwards to proceed with greater power. The symbol cannot consistently be explained in a different sense. The sacred language forbids any other signification. Psalm 45:3-5. “Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty; with thy glory and thy majesty. And in majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness. Thine arrows are sharp in the hearts of the King’s enemies; the people fall under thee.” Compare these words with the text, and they will certainly appear to apply to the same character.

The first seal, therefore, exhibits to the pious mind the Mediator riding, prosperously upon the dispensation of the gospel of his grace,—the white horse, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness. He held in his Almighty hand the weapons of spiritual warfare, a bow, with arrows sharp in the heart of his enemies. A crown was given to him, of glory and majesty; conquering and to conquer, the people fall under him. He is by divine appointment the governor of the universe. He rules in his saints; he rules over his enemies. A succession of conquests shall prepare the way for his final triumphs. Psalm 132:18. “His enemies will I clothe with shame; but upon himself shall his crown flourish.”

If these considerations could leave any doubt upon the mind, as to the interpretation now given, it would be completely removed by a portion of this book, which employs this very symbol in a connexion which admits not of an application to any Vespasian, or Trajan, or indeed any mere man, or company of men. Rev. 19:11. “Behold, a white horse; and he that sat on him was called faithful and true—And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and his name is called THE WORD OF GOD—And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations—And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” This last vision, under the seventh vial, completes the conquests which were in progress in the first vision, at the opening of the first seal. Such is the commencement and termination of this prophecy.

SEAL II. Verses 3, 4. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. And there went out another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.

Cheered with the prospect afforded to him of the progress of the gospel, and of its future triumphs, the writer of the Apocalypse is prepared to bear with becoming patience a sight of the troubles which the second seal announces. As the first “living creature,”—the lion, invited him to behold the triumphs of the cross, the second—like the calf or ox, calls his attention to the contents of that part of the roll which is now unfolded. Labour and patience, similar to those of an ox, are the becoming characteristics of the christian ministry in a period of sufferings.

And there went out another horse.] A Horse is the symbol of a DISPENSATION OF PROVIDENCE. By its means, providential causes proceed to their end. Zech. 1:8-10. Behind him were there red horses, speckled and white. Then said I, O my Lord, what are these?—These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth.

The heathen consecrated horses to the sun, because the sun was the object of their worships; and this deity was represented as drawn by horses. The Jews fell into a similar kind of idolatry before the reign of Josiah. 2 Kings 23:11. And he took away the horses which the kings of Judah had given to the sun, at the entering in of the house of the Lord—And burnt the chariots of the sun with fire.[3]

Another horse that was red.] This is the colour of blood, and indicates the character of the dispensation. It was a bloody, or rather a fiery one. πυρρος comes from Πυρ, fire. “The angel,” says Woodhouse, “who leads the host to war among the nations, Zech. 1:8. is mounted on a horse of the same colour. This is also the colour of the dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil, who comes wrathfully to war against the saints,” Rev. 12:3, 9, 17.

And power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth.] EARTH, in common language, has a variety of significations not difficult to distinguish. The connexion always settles the proper meaning, it signifies the whole terraqueous globe; the dry land, as distinguished from the sea; and clay, or soil, as distinguished from sand and rocks. In science, earth denotes certain brittle inodorous substances, such as lime, alumine, &c. distinguished from metals, and acids, &c. By a very common figure of speech it designates the inhabitants of the world, or of some distinct part of the world; and the scriptures very frequently connect with the word, the idea of sensuality and corrupt affections.

In this text, and in all such connexion in this prophecy, earth signifies the Roman empire. This is evidently its meaning in various parts of the New Testament; and the reason is, that it was well known that this empire was in general estimation, as well as in scriptural account, a universal empire.[4] Judea itself has been called the earth, Psalm 48:2. considered as the place of the saints—the religious world; and each of the four great empires, the Chaldean, the Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman, have in their turn, been thus designated, as constituting in succession, in an eminent degree, the political world,[5] Daniel particularly, whose sealed prophecy is explained by the opening of the Apocalyptical seals, denominates the Roman empire, “the fourth kingdom upon the earth;”[6] and it is meet that earth should, on that account, be employed in the Apocalypse, as the symbol of that empire.

To take peace from the earth, is to involve the empire in war, that they should kill one another. And for this purpose, the symbol of military commission was conferred on him that sat upon the fiery steed; there was given unto him a great sword.

“He that sits on the horse” is the one who conducts the dispensation to its proper end, and by no means the human instrument that may have been providentially employed in bringing about the event. It was not, therefore, Trajan and Adrian, the Roman emperors, as bishop Newton imagines, that conducted the destinies of the world, although they were instruments of divine vengeance. It is to the angel of the covenant, the high commission of executing judgment, was given. “I had a vision by night, Christ the angel of the covenant, represented himself to me as a man riding on a red horse—and behind him were several angels ready to attend his commands.” (Bishop Hall on Zech. 1:8.) “The man, or angel, denotes the Logos, or Son of God, appearing as the captain of God’s hosts, or armies.—They answer this man or angel as if he were their superior or commander.” (Lowth.) “A man, one in human form, even the Son of God, who afterwards became man for our salvation; and he sat like a warrior on a red horse, as about to execute vengeance on the enemies of his people.” (Scott.)

This prophecy was accomplished in the terrible wars which were waged within the bounds of the empire during the reign of Trajan and Adrian. The christians suffered, at different periods, great persecution; and the Jews and the Heathen, the common enemies of the christian faith, inflicted upon one another the judgments of the Almighty. It was emphatically a bloody dispensation. The Heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted—Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.

SEAL III. Verses 5, 6. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, Come, and see. And I beheld, and lo, a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures say, a measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.

The third living creature, who now invites us to a contemplation of the symbol exposed to view on that part of the roll which was unfolded by breaking the third seal, is said, Rev. 4:7. to have the face of a man. Correct reasoning, and humane feeling, are indicated by this symbol. They are at all times ornamental to the character of the christian ministry, but especially in a time of sensible afflictions. To sympathize with the poor, and reason with the pious, in order to convince them of the justness and the kindness of the divine dispensations, is the duty of a pastor to his distressed flock.

The black horse.] Is the representative of famine. Lam. 5:10. “Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine.” The other symbols lead to the same idea.

He that sat on him had a pair of balances.] Ζυγος from Ζευτω to join, literally signifies that which joins together. It is generally rendered yoke. After all the learning, however, employed by Mr. Woodhouse, in his endeavours to fasten that meaning upon it in this text, we think the translators have acted correctly in rendering it a scale, or pair of balances. “In this sense it is applied not only by profane writers, but frequently by the authors of the Septuagint, for the Hebrew מאזנים a pair of scales.”[7] This sense better suits the context. It exhibits the necessaries of life as very scarce. Ezek. 4:16. “Behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem; and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment.”

A measure of wheat for a penny.] Both Grotius and Vitringa have remarked, that the measure of wheat, Χοινιξ, was a man’s daily allowance; and that a penny, Δηναριος, was the daily wages of a common labourer. The design of this expression, is therefore to show, that although there is not a universal want of bread; there is a great scarcity among the lower ranks of life. Honest industry cannot secure a competency. A labouring man may earn his own bread; but cannot provide for his wife and children.[8] Of the luxuries of life, the oil and the wine, there is no scarcity. The affluent do not feel the famine of the land. But as the great body of the christians, and probably too the most humble and faithful, are found among the industrious, the middle ranks of life, if not among the poor, such a dispensation will by them be painfully felt.

Such is, in fact, the picture which history gives of the times succeeding the reign of Adrian. From the year 138, when the Antonine family were raised to the Imperial throne, until the time of Severus, there was great, suffering for want of provisions throughout the Roman empire. Of this the christians were previously admonished.

SEAL IV. Verses 7, 8.—And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, Come, and see.—And I looked, and behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was death; and hell followed with him: and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the field.

An eagle-eyed, spiritually-minded ministry, invites us to this scene of wo. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. The sword and the famine are now followed by the pestilence—A pale horse. Pallidum mortem dicunt poetic. (Grotius.)

In this dispensation of holy providence, the king of terrors appears; and hell followed with him. Our Saviour, nevertheless, still conducts the destroying angel whithersoever he will. Before HIM went the pestilence, for HE has the keys of hell and death. At the command of the Mediator, the agents employed execute their task. Death triumphs, and Hades is satiated with her prey. The sword is continued; the famine still destroys the life of man; the beasts of prey, the persecutors, are not yet effectually restrained; but the most remarkable characteristic of the age is pestilence—the pale livid-green horse.[9] Mr. Mede observes from Zonaras and Lipsius, “that a pestilence arising from Ethiopia, went through all the provinces of Rome, and for fifteen years together, wasted them.” This judgment which destroyed about the fourth part of the population of the Roman empire, continued from 211 to 270, a period of sixty years. “Of the reign of Gallus and Volusian Eutropius gives this short character. They were memorable only for pestilence and grievous distempers. Sola pestilentia, et morbis, atque aegritudinibus, notus eorum principatus fuit.”[10]

SEAL V. Verses 9-11.—And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth ? And white robes were given to every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

By the preceding persecutions, a vast number of christians suffered martyrdom. The enemy killed their bodies; but had no means of killing their souls. A martyr, is a witness: and a christian martyr, is a witness who understands, who believes, and who maintains christianity at every risk. Those only, who were slain for the word of God, and the testimony which in conformity to that word. they held, are in the sense of this text, reputed martyrs. However firmly and constantly men may maintain other principles than those which are sanctioned by the word of God, such men have no concern in the present prophecy.

The souls of the martyrs were under the altar, living in the enjoyment of the benefits of the great sacrifice, and of the reconciliation with God which that sacrifice secured to believers.

They still trust in the Lord, and although they suffered for his sake, they are persuaded of his holiness and truth. They accordingly appeal to his justice as the Judge of the universe, and confidently carry their cause before him of whom it is written, “vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” Their appeal is admitted, and a reply is immediately given to them. Each of them is clothed in white,—justified, and publicly recognized as justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ—fine linen clean and white, which is the only righteousness of the saints.

Notwithstanding the comfort afforded to the pious mind at the opening of the first seal, the scenes of distress and horror which appeared tinder the three following seals, were such as to appall the stoutest heart. It is not easy to ascertain or to describe the number of actual persecutions under Pagan Rome. Some of these persecutions were provincial, and others were universal. The power of Rome, claimed the right of deciding upon the religion of its subjects, and from this principle, as impious as it is cruel, flowed both toleration and persecution. The principle was reduced to practice, as the tyrannical policy of the fourth beast dictated. The religions of the conquered provinces were tolerated as often as it suited this policy. The several kinds of idolatry having little hostility to each other, because all flowed from the same fountain of falsehood, were perfectly capable of intermixture; and thus the gods of the subjugated nations were recognized at Rome, and admitted to the Pantheon. It was far otherwise with the doctrine of salvation by a divine Mediator. Christianity could make no compromise with false religion. There is no communion between light and darkness. Its demands upon men are great. It requires the whole heart and life. These demand excited corresponding provocation; and in proportion as worldly policy directed, the church was either tolerated or persecuted. Primitive writers were in the habits of reckoning ten very extensive or universal persecutions. They are enumerated by Dr. Cave as follow, viz.


1, Commenced ..........................A.D. 64,.................under the emperor Nero

2,  .....................................................90,..........................................Domitian

3,  ....................................................107,...............................................Trajan

4,  ....................................................118,...............................................Adrian

5,  ....................................................163,.................................................Verus

6,  ...................................................202,.............................................Severus

7,  ...................................................235,........................................Maximimus

8,  ...................................................250,................................................Decius

9,  ...................................................257,..............................................Valerian

10,  .................................................303,..........................................Dioclesian


These were not ALL the persecutions which took place under Pagan power. The number of provincial and universal persecutions taken together far exceeded ten; but, the universal persecutions taken separately, did not amount to that number. Those mentioned by Dr. Cave, nevertheless, whether provincial or universal, were certainly so great as to merit particular notice.

The peculiar design, however, of the fifth seal is to illustrate doctrines of vast importance to the church.

It exhibits, in a safe state of conscious activity, the souls of christians, immediately on their separation from the body; and accordingly, sets aside the idea of the Materialists, that death affects the soul as well as the body. I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain—and they cried with a loud voice.

It demonstrates the principle, that beings perfect in holiness and in happiness, and consequently free from malevolence, may earnestly desire to behold just judgments executed upon the ungodly persecutors. Christians, accordingly, may consistently pray for the punishment of their enemies. How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth ?

It exhibits the principle of RETALIATION as a part of the system of God’s moral government. This principle we shall illustrate more fully in our exposition of the judgment of the third vial. It may be sufficient in this place to quote the judicious remarks of Dr. Johnston. “It seems to be an essential part in the constitution of God’s moral government of the world, that the vengeance of heaven shall follow those men, who, with malevolent hearts, imbrue their hands in the blood of their fellow-men. The voice of Abel’s blood cried to God from the ground, for vengeance on the guilty head of Cain. This is the express declaration of God. Gen. 9:5, 6. Surely, your blood of your lives will I require—at the hand of man, at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed for in the image of God made he man.

“When innocent blood is shed, not by individuals merely, but by communities of men; it seems to be peculiarly fit that vengeance should be taken on those communities in this world, in the course of divine providence, independent of that account, which every guilty individual must give for himself at the bar of God. As it is only in this world that communities exist in their collective capacity, it is in this world only that they can be punished in their public character.”

Retaliation is to be exercised upon them that dwell on the earth. The EARTH we have already shown, is the Roman empire. And that empire shall be overthrown.

The fifth seal shows the time when this event shall come to pass—When antichristian Rome shall have completed her persecutions. The martyrs are required to have patience until with that empire the cup of iniquity be full; and then shall the fourth beastly power be destroyed. Then “shall the saints possess the kingdom.” And it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, that Should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

SEAL VI. Verses 12-17.—And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind: and the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places: And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free-man, hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and 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; and who shall be able to stand?

It has been justly said by several able expositors that this magnificent description is borrowed from the great day of final retribution. Then shall the Lord say to the Redeemer, his vice-gerent,

Go then, thou mightiest, in thy Father’s might;
Ascend my chariot; guide the rapid wheels
That shake heaven’s basis; bring forth all my war,
Pursue the sons or darkness, drive them out
From all heaven’s bounds, into the utter deep;
There let them learn, as likes them, to despise
God, and Messiah, his anointed King?[11]

Seeing also, that the scenes referred to in these verses, belong to the day of judgment, there are not wanting men who consider the sixth seal as displaying that last and awful period. This opinion is as ancient as the days of Cyprian. It is, nevertheless, founded upon very inaccurate principles of interpretation.

In the predictions of the Apocalypse, throughout, the great doctrines of the christian religion are taken for granted; and although frequently referred to and illustrated, it is not the object of this part of the sacred volume, so much to reveal doctrines, as predict events which were otherwise either scarcely or not at all foreknown. The doctrine of future retribution is always taken for granted in this prophecy, and is very often referred to, as affording an illustration of the several objects of the sacred prediction; but in no one instance in the Apocalypse is it the object of a prophecy to predict the day of judgment. That event is too certain, upon other principles, to stand in need of a particular prophecy to assure us that it shall come. Before we can have much interest in reading or hearing the revelation made to John the divine, we must be convinced that it is appointed unto all men once to die; and after death the judgment. Every christian minister endeavours to keep this doctrine continually before his congregation; but he cannot on that account be said to prophesy that there shall be a day of universal retribution. Equally improper would it be to say that the sixth seal is a prophecy of the day of judgment. The imagery, employed as the symbol, belongs indeed to that day; but it is here employed to predict quite another event. This is done upon the principle that the Judge of the universe, will also judge each community, as such, in its proper time; and that, all these partial judgments lead us to meditate upon, and prepare for that which is final and universal. In many places, besides the passage of scripture now under consideration, the description of the day of judgment is employed by the prophets to represent the fall and punishment of states and empires;—of Babylon, by Isa. 13. of Egypt, by Ezek. 30:2-4. and 32:7, 8. of Jerusalem, by Jeremiah, Joel, and by our Lord, Matt. 24. Assuredly, that judgment which it pleased God to inflict upon the Roman empire, in which Paganism and its persecuting supporters were overthrown, merits as magnificent a description as the fall of Egypt or Babylon.

To this event alone the prophecy, in chronological order, can with propriety be applied. In all its parts the prediction is accomplished in that great revolution which took place under Constantine, the first of the emperors who professed the christian religion.

“The great and various struggles and evils,” said Dr. Johnston, “by which this revolution in the empire was brought about, began in the three hundred and sixth year of the christian era. This was the very year in which the events predicted under the fourth seal ended. The fifth seal did not take up any period of time, as must be evident from its nature, as already explained. Hence, the events predicted under this sixth seal, in course of time, must follow upon those predicted under the fourth seal.”

The earthquake, or rather, as bishop Newton renders the word, the CONCUSSION, Μεγας Σεισμος, affected the political heavens and earth. The sun, the emblem of supreme Pagan imperial power, the moon and the stars, the other great departments of state, were eclipsed or hurried from their orbits. The heavens departed as a scroll which is folded up, the frame of government was itself altered, and rendered subordinate to the christian faith. The kings, the captains, the masters, and the slaves, who opposed the religion of the Son of God, were filled with consternation; and, in vain, sought a shelter from the wrath of the Lamb. Stripped of their honours, of their wealth, and of their power, the great were humbled in the dust, and left to perish without hope. Deprived of their protection, the idolatrous and impious servants, shared in the downfall and despair of their masters.

The principal instrument employed by a benevolent providence in executing this judgment, was admirably qualified for the undertaking. The time had not yet arrived for sanctifying the thrones of the nations, and establishing Mount Zion in her millennial glory; but the church required a respite from persecutions.

True religion is not indeed for some time to come to extend righteousness and peace over all lands; but such an external support must be given to christianity, as shall effectually destroy the power of heathenism, and rescue from ITS OPPRESSION THE SAINTS of the Most High?[12]

Constantine was raised up by the Sovereign of the universe to answer this purpose. He was the son of Constantius Chlorus, who, together with Galerius, attained to the imperial dignity upon that extraordinary event, the voluntary resignation, at the same time, of the two emperors Dioclesian and Maximian. Constantius became emperor of the West, and Galerius governed the eastern regions of the empire. Constantine was in the thirty-second year of his age when his father died, and left him his successor in the imperial dignity, with his dying advice to be friendly to the christians. Galerius, Emperor over the East, reluctantly recognized the elevation of Constantine; but, afterwards appointed, in opposition, Severus to the imperial dignity, and after his fall, Licinius. Maxentius, a rival claimant of the throne, had actually possessed himself of Rome the capital of the empire: and Maximin, another pretender, claiming under the title of Severus, disputed for the supremacy in the east.

Such was the distracted condition of the Roman empire when Constantine ascended to its highest office. He had to fight his way against his rivals; and he was successful, With an army principally composed of professed christians, he overthrew Maxentius at the gates of Rome; and published an edict immediately in support of the christian religion. This took place in 312, but his rivals in power continued for eleven years thereafter to oppose christianity with all their might. Maximin had indeed perished in a stale of madness; but Licinius remained the sole hope of Pagan idolatry, to dispute with Constantine the empire of the world. He too fell in the year 323, and left his rival to pursue his own plans without opposition.

Christianity now became the religion of the empire. The lights of Paganism were cast to the ground. Constantine assumed the supreme power over the church; modelled it according to the forms which he introduced into the State; and in order to perpetuate his name, and the remembrance of the revolution which he effected, he translated the seat of government from the city of Seven Hills, where it had remained upwards of one thousand years, and established it in a new city, built with the utmost splendour, which he called Constantinople. This Revolution puts an end to the PERIOD OF THE SEALS: and I, brethren, will bring the Lecture unto a speedy


In this interpretation of the first great prophetic period, laid open by the removal of six of the seven seals from the book which was delivered to Messiah, I have endeavoured to keep constantly in your view the MORAL PRINCIPLES which the prophecy was intended to illustrate. Every Roman history will furnish you, who have leisure and inclination to pursue this subject, with ample evidence of the facts which I have asserted. Quotations might be multiplied. This is not a subject, however, about which Commentators generally are at variance. With few exceptions they support the exposition now given. You will find an ample collection of historical documents in illustration of the six seals, in Lowman and Johnston, and in Mede and Newton.

I should with pleasure have laid before you the several facts in the words of the celebrated historian of the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;” but it would have extended beyond due bounds this Lecture. Recollecting too, that there is no need of dwelling so minutely on those matters which are not disputed, I have been anxious to pass over this PERIOD of the prophecy with all possible speed.

I trust, brethren, that you will not separate until you have unanimously resolved to treasure up the moral furnished by the history which we have been reviewing. The dispensations of Providence extend to all things; and they all have respect to the church of Christ. God our Saviour reigns. He is gone forth conquering and to conquer. And when the mystery of providence is finished, the final judgment shall be held. Then the wicked shall suffer in proportion to their guilt, and you who love the Lord Jesus Christ shall be admitted to happiness without end. AMEN.


[1] Psalm 46:8.

[2] The bishop adopted this interpretation from Jurieu.

[3] The Rabbins inform us that these horses were every morning harnessed to the chariots, dedicated to the sun, and that the king or some of his officers, got up and rode to meet the sun at its rising, as far as from the eastern gate of the temple to the suburbs of Jerusalem. Others are of opinion, that they were horses which none were permitted to ride or to yoke, but were like those which Julius Caesar set at liberty after his passage of the Rubicon. The Persians had such horses, as well as the ancient Germans. Those belonging to the Persians were streaked or pied: Those of the Germans all white. Herodian calls them Διος Ἱπποι, CALMET.

[4] Luke 2:1.

[5] Dan. 4:1; Ezra 1:2; Dan. 8:5, 21.

[6] Dan. 7:23.

[7] Parkhurst.

[8] Χοινιξ σιτου δηναριου. The Choenix is allowed to be about a pint and a half; and the Roman Denarius about fourteen cents. As there are 32 quarts, or 128 half-pints in a bushel, the Choenix is not quite one-fortieth part of a bushel. Allow it, however, to be the fortieth part, and at fourteen cents, the price of the bushel will be $5.60. This price, when the wages of a day-labourer was so low as fourteen cents indicates great famine. Dabuz shows from ancient authorities that in time of plenty twenty Choenixes were sold for a Denarius. The scarcity must be great when the price of wheat is raised twenty to one; and other bread-corn is in proportion.

[9] Χλωρος.

[10] Lowman.

[11] Milton.

[12] Such was the effect of the success of Constantine. Like the revolution of 1688, effected nearer our own times, though upon a smaller scale—that which placed king William upon the British throne, and freed our brethren in that land from the desolating power of tyranny and superstition, wielded by the house of Stuart, the revolution of 325 deserves to be remembered with gratitude to God. William bore a resemblance to Constantine. He was crafty, heroic, and ambitious, he knew how to make religion serve a political turn. He afforded protection to real christians. He patronized what he saw proper to establish as the state religion. As to personal religion, from any thing that appears in history, he was very indifferent.