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they should believe a lie, and that all might be condemned, who believed not the truth.
And these, having pleasure in unrighteousness, hated and despised the truth, and would not endure sound doctrine ; and, therefore, upon pretence of doing God a service, they persecuted with fire unto death, every one who, having the testimony of Jesus Christ, refused to partake of their unhallowed cup. Destroying their own souls, they destroyed the bodies of the saints also, filling the fourth part of the earth with desolation, with darkness, with slaughter, and with death.
Prophecy of the Seven Seals concluded. Rev. vi. 9,
to viii. 1.
The four preceding seals have shewn us the gospel of Jesus Christ, first going forth in purity, but degenerating into the most unhallowed superstition. A tyranny was at length established over the lives and consciences of men, and the cruelties with which it was accompanied, exceed all that the world has witnessed. To profess the pure truths of the gospel, was, in those times, to be exposed to certain death : and the bloody tribunals erected for the punishment of those, whom the world called heretics, because they were not of the world, pursued, without fear or remorse, their work of destruction, till at length whole nations of Christian people were given up to slaughter, and all knowledge of gospel truth was well nigh driven from the earth.
The seals of the Apocalypse, have a regular division into two parts—first four, and then three ; and as the four first describe the degeneracy of the outward Church, the three last treat of the deliverance of the true worshippers, even of those who worship in spirit and in truth, and who, as dear children, follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.
The circumstances of the fifth seal are these :
Rev. vi. 9, 10, 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 unto 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.”
The interpretation of this part of the prophecy, is a matter of considerable difficulty. The four first seals have been shewn to treat of the Church
upon earth, in the flesh: and it might seem to destroy the integrity of the type, if this seal were referred to the Church in any other state. It is, however, to be remembered, that the apostle was introduced into the heavenly mansions at the time when he saw the vision; and as the souls of those who suffered martyrdom for the truth, are spoken of in express terms, it may be doubted, whether commentators are to be justified in departing from the plain meaning of words, which in themselves are definite. Some, however, taking the passage figuratively, consider it as referring to the era of the Reformation, when the poor scattered sheep of the pasture, towards the latter days of the great persecution, cried mightily unto the Lord, praying for deliverance, and that their enemies might be judged as he hath said ; and they think the white robes given to them, and the command to rest for a season, allude to the rest from persecution, which the Church obtained in that day, in the countries which emerged from Popery; and also to the extension of Biblical knowledge, whereby the Lord's faithful people then attained unto a more full and perfect assurance of his truth, and of his promise unto them that love him. It seems doubtful, whether the words of the text can admit of this meaning; and it is perhaps not unreasonable to believe, that here, as in some other parts of Scripture, the Lord, in speaking of things upon earth, is pleased to afford also a glimpse of heavenly things. In Christian times, the only altar is Christ. The souls, therefore, under the altar, who were slain for the word of God, must signify those martyrs, who sealed their testimony with their blood; and who rest in Jesus, until the day when he shall be revealed in the clouds of heaven, coming with ten thousand of his saints, to establish his kingdom upon the earth. There is an objection, however, to this interpretation; for the saints under the altar are represented as
crying unto the Lord, and receiving white robes at bis hands; whereas the Scriptures generally represent the departed to remain in sleep.* If it be
* Without insisting upon the accuracy of the view, it may not be unprofitable to state generally the argument which is applied to it. From the word of truth we learn, that man consists of body, soul, and spirit: and Paul expressly speaks of a natural, and a spiritual body. Man's body is the outward flesh, or natural body; and the spiritual body, or soul, is that which shall arise from the dead, and which now dwelleth within the body of flesh. There is, moreover, a Spirit which quickeneth, giving immortality to the soul. Now the spirit which is in man cometh from above, or from beneath, for there are the children of God " born from above,” John iii. 4–8. and there are the children of the devil “ from beneath." John viii. 23, 41-47. With the children of these two great families, the whole earth is peopled.
It is written, that “the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Gen. ii. 7. And again, when “man goeth to his long home," "dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” Eccles. xii. 5 and 7. The spirit thus returning unto God, the saints sleep in Jesus. 1 Thess. iv. 13, 14.—Absent from the body, they are present with the Lord. 2 Cor. V. 8.–And when they depart, they are with Christ, which is far better. Philip. i. 23.-For “ they rest from their labours." Rev. xiv. 13.–And “ their life is hid with Christ in God." Colos. iii. 3, 4.
Our Lord said unto the thief, “ to day shalt thou be with me in paradise," Luke xxiii. 43. ;—but neither from that, nor from any other scripture, is it to be discovered, that the saints after death, and until the morning of resurrection, enjoy any other thing, than a sweet and happy rest, such as the weary labourer partakes of when the toils of the day are ended.
In addition to these authorities, it will be found further_" Man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” “ If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait till my change come.” Job xiv. 12. 14.--Return, O Lord, deliver my soul, O save