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The three Woes.
5. The bottomless deep opened,
The prophecy of the times
7. The grand conflict of the
5. Upon the throne of the beast, dark-
Frogs, spirits of demons, working wonders to gather the kings of the whole world to the battle of the great day.
7. Into the air; "It is done!" an unparalleled earthquake divides the great city into three parts; cities of the nations fall; Babylon remembered; island and mountains are no more; great hail; men continue to blaspheme.
This apparent similarity of the two septenaries will be greatly diminished, when we recollect, that their relative objects are in direct opposition. The trumpets proclaim war and invasion against the pure Church of Christ, while her enemies are the objects of the vials. Neither do they relate, as I have already observed, to the same period of time.
The four first vials occupy each of them, so very short a compass; the symbols are so few, and of so general a character, that it will be in vain for us to expect from them much certain and important intelligence.
In the first, poured upon the earth, "a noisome and grievous sore" falls upon the men who are marked as subjects, or slaves, of the beast, and worshippers of his image. Now such persons will be found during all the long dominion of the beast, in great numbers, and in all the countries where his twofold apostasy has prevailed. All this is very indefinite, and seems to give an unbounded licence of interpretation; in which the commentators have not failed to indulge.
At the discharge of the second vial upon the
sea, there comes "blood as of a dead man, and every living soul dies in the sea." This also is capable of a multiplicity of explanations, and has received them in abundance.
The third vial, on the rivers and fountains of water, produces, still more generally, "blood," blood, as the sacred comment in the three following verses supplies, "blood to drink," as a just retribution for the blood of saints poured out by their persecutors. This retaliation, of blood for blood, is very explicit, and may throw light on the preceding vial, but it is still vague and indefinite in point of time, and therefore liable to many constructions, not one of which perhaps may be the true one.
The fourth vial is poured out on the sun, and the effect is, that the men are scorched with great heat, which produceth in them blasphemy against the name of God, but no repentance. And here again the symbol of the burning heat admits of various explanations to be drawn from scripture; and many instances may be pointed out in the history, of nations suffering great afflictions under the divine judgments, and still continuing blasphemous and unrepentant.
From the latitude permitted in the interpretation of the four first vials, it has necessarily followed that the attempts to discover the fulfilment of the predictions have been numerous and discordant. Vitringa has given us an account of those prevalent in Germany and upon the Continent, and, after rejecting them all, has set up others of his own imagination nearly as objectionable. Among our own able commentators of the two last centuries, the same va
riety and disagreement prevail. In our own age events have occurred, which have given rise to a new system of interpretation. Numerous attempts have been made to show that the vials are fulfilled in the newly acquired history of the French Revolution and its consequences; but the judicious peruser of these will perhaps think, that the success has not answered to the ardour of discovery. There is, in fact, the same variety and discordance of interpretation, as prevailed among the elder commentators. They accumulate upon the symbols of the four first vials-so simple and so general-more weight of particular interpretation than they can bear. This I esteem to have been a fault common to nearly all the commentators upon this part of the Apocalypse.2 These symbols ought not to be forced beyond their acknowledged and obvious character of simplicity, and should be considered as requiring an explanation of a general character only. For instance, since in chapter xiv. v. 7, the Almighty God is represented to be the proper object of fear and worship, as having "created the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters; and as these (with the exception only of the sun instead of the heaven-an important part of the whole-) are the objects of the four vials, may we not conclude that every part of the bestial dominion is to suffer under these inflictions, instead of confining our views to exclusive portions of history, arbitrarily assumed?
This general assurance from sacred prophecy, of the commencing, and continued, and universal punishment of the followers of antichrist, must have been a source of cordial comfort to the faithful and
1 Mede, Durham, Daubuz, Lowman, Newton, Pyle.
suffering Christians; and may perhaps have been principally designed for that purpose. If the first vials are to receive a more definite and particular fulfilment, the progress of time will discover.
THE FIFTH VIAL.
We now come to the three last vials; and as these stand opposed to the three last trumpets, they may be expected in like manner to open into a larger field of historical events, and to admit of a more particular explanation: but, at the same time it must be considered, that the farther we advance in the prophetical narration, the more is our path enveloped in the darkening mists of futurity.
The fifth vial is poured upon the seat or throne of the beast; and the effect produced is that his kingdom becomes darkened, (EKоTwμevn,) and the darkness, as in the similar plague of Egypt, was "darkness to be felt," (Exod. x. 21.); for it brings grievous sufferings upon the subjects, or slaves of the beast, who writhe in torment, blaspheme God, and continue unrepentant, as in the preceding vial.
This is a mighty blow (Anyn) upon a monarch, striking upon his seat of power and splendour, at the same time, that it extends misery and torment throughout his dominions. But is this darkness to be taken in a literal sense, like that of Egypt, of which it is said, that "they saw not one another?" or, according to that spiritual sense generally attached to these prophecies? The spiritual sense is certainly to be preferred. At the same time it will be well for us to observe, that these predictions under the vials, retaliate upon the antichristians temporal injuries inflicted by them upon the servants of
Christ. Now, what is darkness, but the absence or deprivation of light? And of what nature is the light to which the Christian Scriptures metaphorically and continually refer? Is it not the glorious light of the gospel, opposed to heathen and antichristian darkness? The superiority of Christian nations, more particularly those of the reformed religion, to those who "walk in darkness and the shadow of death," is exemplified in all history, and in proportion to the purity of that religion. We may therefore conclude, that in a general sense, this prediction has been fulfilled, and is still fulfilling, by the infliction of many evils upon the followers of the beast, from which the faithful servants of Christ have been and are exempted. But, before we proceed further to enquire after any special fulfilment, it may be necessary to determine more particularly the object on which the vial immediately falls. It is,
THE THRONE OF THE BEAST.
The throne, together with the great power and authority attached to it, was given to the first beast by the great dragon, that old (ancient) serpent, called the Devil and Satan, (εδωκεν αυτῷ την δυναμιν αυτου, και τον θρόνον αυτού, και εξουσιαν μεγαλην.—Ch. xiii. 2 ; xii. 9.) It is therefore the seat of diabolical artifice and antichristian iniquity, and wheresoever these are arrayed against the kingdom of Christ, there is to be seen a portion of the kingdom of the beast, (ʼn Baot λɛa avrov, v. 10.); and commensurate with his power
1 This is so perfectly displayed in the prophecies of the Old, and the writings of the New Testament, most peculiarly so in those of St. John, that it may seem needless to quote from them in support of this assertion.
2 Is. ix. 2; Matt. iv. 15, 16.