Revelation 6

From the two preceding chapters the lessons are apparent, and I do not doubt should be learned: firstly, God sits on the throne, whence proceed lightnings, voices, and thunders; secondly, all things are given into the hands of the Lamb, who unfolds all; thirdly, the perfect security and the blessed employment of the heavenly saints, then removed from the scene of trial; and this long before the day of the Lord, when their blessing will be manifested fully to the world. The moment the soul and the body, or both (the soul now, the soul and body united at the coming of Christ), leave this world, there is for the saints, I believe, immediate enjoyment of the Lord. Is that a scriptural thought which, in a hymn we sometimes sing, about “soaring to worlds unknown”? Does scripture intimate anything at all like a soul journeying on a voyage of discovery? On the contrary does it not meet with peaceful and immediate entrance into the presence of the Lord? When heaven is allowed to burst for a moment upon men on the earth (as, for instance, at the birth and the transfiguration, and in the cases of Stephen, Paul, etc.) it appears that there is no such great distance between them. Of course it is not a question of mere physical space. But there is a divine power which at once brings a person out of the present state of existence into the enjoyed presence of the Lord. So when He Himself was speaking to the poor dying thief, it was “today shalt thou be with me in paradise,” — that very day. There is nothing to my mind like the poetical sentiment of soaring to worlds unknown.

But while the soul goes at once into the presence of the Lord in the case of death, and “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” the saints will be caught up at the coming of Christ; yet we must remember that their manifestation will be a different and later event. Other passages prove or imply an interval. But we should not be able so plainly to gather from other scriptures how considerable it will be between their gathering to the Lord and their manifestation to the world, but for the prophetic part of the Revelation, which makes it quite clear. God has important purposes to fulfil during this interval. He has to put the earth into a condition to receive the Lord Jesus, who as the great Heir of all things must be put in possession of the inheritance. But, further, He purposes to bring the joint-heirs from heaven along with Jesus. Accordingly the interval is filled up with the preparations for all this. To accomplish it, there must be judgments upon the world’s wickedness; but, parallel with these judgments, we have some signal acts of divine mercy. When the great and terrible day of Jehovah comes, there will be forbearance no longer with such as are found evil; “the door is shut.” But during the intervening time there will be testimony and the reception of it among both Jews and Gentiles; but so much the more surely judgment for those who, having heard the gospel now, will have rejected it. I see small ground to conclude that there will be hope of mercy for such. There will be an interval of some years, in which God will work in judgment and in mercy — judgments increasing in severity on these favoured lands where the gospel has been preached; but I doubt any such thing as the grace that now is. The sad reverse will appear. God will give up to blind hardness those who have now refused His mercy. He will, as it were, retire from these countries to save outside them; and from those who have been talking so self-complacently about the light with which they are favoured, God will then, if I read prophecy aright, turn to such as are now far away from the gospel.

Is it not a solemn thought that, where the light of Christendom is now most found, there will be the greatest darkness of apostacy? As to this scripture it is plain enough. (2 Thess. 2) He lets us know that the favoured scene of God’s mercy, where He is now at work and His word is most circulated, is destined to fall back into the most frightful and fatal idolatry — into the union of infidelity along with it — into anti-christianism. (Dan. 11:36 et seqq.; Rev. 13.) Such a change may be set down as the gloomy dream of a feverish mind. But this is because men prefer to believe their own thoughts and fancies, and do not take the trouble of searching into God’s word to see what is there. Alas! do not too many in Christendom even make the prophetic word a butt for their ridicule? Will it be believed that men pride themselves on their ignorance of a great part of scripture? Would it be conceived, if it were not the fact, that the wise and prudent hold as an axiom that prophecy was not given to show us what is coming, but only, when the events are past, to prove that God had foreknown them? Surely the Christian wants no proof of this; and prophecy is given that the believer should know how God opens to us His secrets about what He is going to do on the earth. We have the word and the Spirit to make us understand it. But if Christians have not faith in the prophetic word, it cannot profit them; for, like the rest of scripture, that word must be mixed with faith in them that hear it.

One important thing, then, we have seen to be assumed — the removal of the heavenly saints from the earth. In Rev. 4, 5 and throughout the body of the book they are no longer found there. They are glorified in heaven, and yet it is not until Rev. 19 that they are manifested, when they come out of heaven. Between these two points we have evidently a long series of events. We have seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials, with various episodes of great interest and importance. These three different series of judgments are not executed by the Lord in person. It is manifest that they must occur after the Lord has come to receive His church, but before He executes His grand personal judgment in Rev. 19. For it is beyond dispute that, before the saints are taken to the Lord and so can come with Him, He must have come for them. How then did those symbolised by the four and twenty glorified elders get to heaven?

It may be said, they might have been taken into this position individually through death, or that their souls might be glorified there. But there is no such thought in scripture as the souls of the saints being seated on thrones, and having crowns on their heads. Neither do the souls of the saints form the complete headship of heavenly priests, as taught us by the four and twenty elders; for we know from 1 Thess. 4 that part of the heavenly company will be found alive on earth up to the presence of the Lord which raises the dead and changes the living believers. There can be no such completeness, then, as is meant by the symbol till the Lord will have translated both to meet Him above. The allusion is to the twenty-four orders of the priesthood set up by king David. Now Christ is at that time about to take the place of king, and, just as before the kingdom of Solomon was established, David divided the priesthood into twenty-four courses, so we find that before the true Solomon, the Lord Jesus, comes out in all His glory, we have the antitypical courses as a whole. The heavenly priesthood is seen complete.

It might be asked, Why is it only the heads that are seen, and not the body of the priesthood? It appears probable, but I only offer it as a suggestion, that those that are taken up when the Lord comes will form the heads of the priesthood, and that those who suffer after and join them may be the subordinate body. Twenty-four is necessarily the complete sum of the courses, or of their chiefs. Now, the souls in heaven can never be even that completed; because till Christ comes, there will always be a part of the church remaining on the earth, as we have just seen. I conceive, therefore, that by the full priestly number twenty-four surrounding the throne, God intends to show that they are not that portion which consists of the souls in paradise;37 for it requires the addition of us who are alive and remain, in order to make up the church of the firstborn, or the then complete sum of the risen and changed saints. The heavenly saints up to that time must then be necessarily removed to their seats on high.

How and when did this take place? There is no real difficulty about their translation, because they never can be removed as a complete body, and changed, till the Lord Jesus comes Himself; as He said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” And this evidently is not sending angels for them. We find angels sent to gather in elect Jews, or Israel, from the four quarters of heaven (Matt. 24); but to gather in His church He comes Himself. And this falls in with what we said elsewhere. The saints in Thessalonica were told to wait for God’s Son from heaven (1 Thess. 1); and as to those who were gone, they were not to sorrow as those who had no hope. For the lord Himself — not merely by angelic or providential intervention, but the Lord Himself — would descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. There might be angels, but there is not a word said about them here. When the Lord is revealed executing vengeance angels will accompany Him; but here, at the descent of the Lord Himself, “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” forming one portion of the heavenly saints; then “we which are alive and remain” shall be caught up together with them. There and then, as it seems to me, we have the twenty-four elders, evidently the whole of the priestly heads. The saints whose bodies are in their graves are raised first, then the surviving saints are changed, by the presence of the Lord. There is but the barest interval of a moment between those two momentous effects of the voice of the Son of God. And so shall we, caught up together, ever be with the Lord.

This most solemn and blessed event must occur therefore between Revelation 3 and 4. It is not described, because the object of the Revelation is not to show the Lord’s coming in the way of grace, though there are of course allusions to it. There is an entire passing over of His presence to meet His heavenly saints in the prophetic visions of the Revelation, but a full description of His coming with them in Rev. 19. This last is what is styled elsewhere the appearing or day of the Lord, when He punishes with everlasting destruction from His presence, and from the glory of His power. During this interval the heavenly saints are with the Lord above; all the members of the church are there, and in their bodies of glory. The first mention of them is in Revelation 4, where we find not angels, but redeemed men — persons whose very vesture of white, whose thrones, and crowns of gold, are all connected with redemption — persons who are evidently exercising their priesthood before God in Rev. 5. These are the elders. How did they get there? The Lord must have come, and have gathered them to Himself in the air, and so have accomplished His promise to them: — “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” “I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am ye may be also. So now when this future scene arrives, having prepared the place, He will have come for them, and taken them to the Father’s house.

It is remarkable, however, as showing the character of this book, that, although we do see them in the presence of God, it is not called the house of the Father. On the contrary, it is a throne that is seen; and so too, when He who sits thereon is named, it is not as the Father, but as the Lord God Almighty. When we speak of God as “the Father,” it is to express the nearest place of affection into which God has brought us; and when we hear of God as “the Lord God Almighty,” it is connected with the putting forth of Divine power and government. “God,” as such, is the most general and abstract name, and implies no relationship with another being. But to be called “the Father” necessarily implies the closest relationship of love, whether spoken in the highest and intrinsic and eternal sense of Jesus as the Son of the Father, or subordinately of those whom He has taken into the adoption of sons, loved with the same love. (John 17 and 1 John 3.)

In Genesis 1 creation is the subject, and God (or Elohim) is spoken of as the One who originates. In the next chapter of Genesis He is called the “Lord (or Jehovah) God,” because He is there entering into special connection with His creatures, and Adam is put in the place of responsibility to Him as Jehovah-Elohim, that is the God of creation in moral relationship. How perfect is every word of God! Infidels, instead of seeing the perfectness of His word, have only reasoned from their own ignorance and impotence, and have endeavoured to prove that these chapters must have been written by two different persons, because of the different titles given to God. But instead of being the varying style of different men, it is the wisdom of God that discovers itself in these distinctions. When the relationship of authority occurs, and man is put under the test of obedience, Jehovah-Elohim is the title used; but when in the New Testament He enters into relationship with sons, it is “the Father.” He did not bring out the latter name as a formal name until THE SON came, who opened, so to speak, the sluice, that all God’s grace might flow out, and specially in His resurrection by virtue of His death. But between the two extremes of the trial of the creature in Eden and the accomplishment of redemption, God brought out first the name of Almighty, and next that of Jehovah. Abraham was called to leave his own country and kindred, called to be a pilgrim, having none but God to look to, and so Jehovah most suitably reveals Himself to him as El-Shaddai, God Almighty. (Gen. 17: l.) Subsequently He makes Himself known to Israel by His name Jehovah, as a ground of national relationship.

Here the Lord constantly brings out these names, but not that of Father, or at least not to us, but to Jesus. Just as the scene is not the Father’s house, but the throne, so the title taken by God is not that of Father. The centre of this heavenly scene is the throne of God, and the saints are not alluded to as enjoying mansions with the Son in the Father’s house, but are seen enthroned. God will be no longer gathering the church on earth; Jesus will have come for it, and gone above. When the church was the object of God’s care on the earth, they even here below called Him Father; but when He is going to execute judgment on the earth, they, already raptured and in heaven, understand it and address Him accordingly.

The Lord’s coming, then, to receive the church must have been before the facts which answer to the vision of the twenty-four enthroned elders. Some people may be slow to believe that the prophecy would pass over such an important event in silence. But it is forgotten that, whenever and wherever you put it, there is silence as to the act of the saints’ rapture in the book of Revelation. The only question is, Where according to our best light from scripture is it to be understood here? It must, in my judgment, be supposed before the heavenly saints can be seen as a complete body above, which is in Revelation 4. The Lord will then have come and received the glorified saints, and given them their place in the presence of God, before any of the judgments come on the world. Terrible things in righteousness are going to be enacted, but the saints will be above them all. The seals, and vials, and trumpets, have no terrors for them; they call out from the glorified not trembling, but worship only. Nay, these risen ones will be occupied, it seems, about their brethren who are still in the midst of trial; for there shall be saints called after the present work of God in forming the church is done with, brethren who will suffer on the earth after we are gone. Of these the central part of the Revelation treats (Rev. 6, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, etc.). Again there will be godly souls alive when the King comes to sit on the throne of His glory, and all the nations are gathered before Him, whom He will call “my brethren.” As is plain in the latter part of Matt. 25, the living Gentiles, or nations then on the earth, will be treated according to the way in which they may have behaved to the messengers of the King. The sheep will have proved themselves to have faith in the King, because they have received His servants; the conduct of the goats will have shown their incredulity. For when all the preliminary warnings given to those on the earth are over; when all the judgments that proceed from the throne in rapid succession have been proved to be in vain, and the rebellious hearts of men are only rising higher against God, the Lord says as it were, “I will send them no more chastenings, will wait no longer for a repentance which is refused, but will come myself and sweep them away to destruction.” Accordingly this day of judgment on the quick we have in Revelation 19. And the interval, from Revelation 4 and 5 to Revelation 19, is filled by new dealings of God in providential judgments, by intermingled mercy to Jews and Gentiles, and by glances at the heavenly saints in the presence of God.

No doubt the souls of dying saints go to God during the interval, but whatever may be the blessedness reserved for such (Rev. 14:13), the saints who are already changed remain there through the whole period. The heavenly saints, including those that are true Christians now, those that have been such before, and the Old Testament saints, may be caught up at any time to be with the Lord. I know no scriptural ground which entitles a believer to say, He will not come tomorrow. Who can affirm with divine authority that there is something yet remaining to be done before, that there must be a delay? No doubt there may be more or less time to intervene, but scripture never puts the delay between us and Christ’s coming, but before His day. As a servant with his hand upon the door, and on the stretch as it were for his master’s arrival, so as to be able when he comes to open unto him immediately-such is the true attitude of the child of God now. So says our Lord Himself. He would have, if so we may speak, everything settled up. He looks for practical readiness at all times. Not as though we could do anything by way of preparation. Thanks be to God, He has made us meet through the grace of Christ. But there may be things in our ways and walk, in our spirit and hopes and objects, which will not stand the light of His presence. Whatever we do, we should seek to enter on nothing that renders the thought of the lord’s coming unwelcome.

We must then, if wise, beware of speculations or plans which suppose us to have a long time before us. The Lord desires us to be as travellers passing through a foreign land, and withal going out in desire to meet Him who is speedily coming for us. The Lord may be a little longer than we think; but He is coming, and this too at an hour when men think not. His coming will immediately act on all the heavenly saints, raising the dead, changing the living, and removing both to Himself above. Then follow the scenes of Rev. 4 and 5, which let us see the interest of the glorified saints in the righteous who suffer on the earth, after the others are gone to heaven. They cannot apply fully, either while only a part of the church is above and in the separate state; or when the millennial reign is arrived. They suppose an interval between these two things, when the Lord will have come and changed them into His risen likeness, and before they accompany Him from heaven in order to judge and reign.38

Next we come to the earthly course of “the things that must be after these.” The seals are not judgments executed by the Lord, but of a providential nature. Some, because of the white horse, have thought that the first seal applied to Christ. On the face of it, what more strange than to conceive Him so represented, seeing that He it is who, as the Lamb, opens the seals successively, and, when clearly alluded to under the contents of the sixth seal, still preserves the name of the Lamb! And yet stranger that He should enter on a course of conquest at the very time, if you take it historically, when all Asia had turned away from Paul; when Timothy had the sad and sure foreboding of evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse; when John himself had written, or was about to write, “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” Nevertheless most of the ancients and not a few moderns begin their comments with this false start.

Some, again, refer it to the second advent; but this quite upsets the order of the seals fixed by the Holy Ghost, and indeed the structure of all the book. It is true that in Rev. 19 where the Lord comes judicially and in person, He is represented as riding upon a white horse. But there is all the difference possible between that vision of the white horse and the opening of Rev. 6. This horse does not issue from heaven, as that in Rev. 19 does. Next, there is not a word in Rev. 6 about the rider, which necessarily means Christ; whereas in Rev. 19 He is called Faithful and True, and said to judge and make war in righteousness. Of whom could this be said save of One? His eyes were as a flame of fire. His written name none knew but Himself. The Word of God — King of kings, Lord of lords — can be the titles of none but Jesus. Not to speak of the blood-dipped vesture, the sword proceeding out of the mouth, the iron rod wherewith to rule, and the treading the wine-press of divine wrath, are descriptions in Rev. 19 to which nothing answers in the rider of Rev. 6. No armies followed here, clothed in fine linen, etc. And though the rider is said to have a crown given to him, the word is quite different from that employed in Rev. 19, which signifies a kingly diadem, the crown of royalty. The earlier Romans were fond of a sort of chaplet, which did not to their mind, like the imperial diadem, convey the idea of absolute authority and that is the crown mentioned in Revelation 6.

Furthermore, there are two frequent figures or symbols used in scripture to express power; the one is the throne, and the other is the horse. Thus we have already seen the supreme throne above, and now we have the horse with the rider on earth. The same thing is seen in Rev. 19 and Rev. 20. The symbol of horses in the one chapter, and of thrones in the other. The difference between the bearing is this: When power is meant by putting down of rival or opposing authority on earth, “the horse” is taken, as from its use in war, it is intended to subdue; but when the victory is won, and it is a question not of subjugation, but of governing and judging, “the throne” is used, as being the fit emblem of rule over those who have been thus subdued or are subject. When Christ is going to put down His enemies, He is seen in the vision of chap. 19 on the horse, used to represent the exertion of His power to subdue; when the subsequent sway is meant, thrones appear in chap. 20. It would be quite weak, of course, for persons to confound this symbolic use with a material horse or throne. The idea of the former is power to subdue, and of the latter is dominion after the victory has been gained. The throne may also be used, as it is afterwards, for the solemn and eternal judgment of the dead — a throne of stainless holiness. Still even here, it is Christ’s judgment before the kingdom is given up to God. (1 Cor. 15; 2 Tim. 4)

Of course we cannot apply the four horses and their riders to the great empires, three of which had long disappeared. Equally untenable at least is the notion that four successive religions are intended, especially when one hears it gravely laid down that Infidelity closes the list, which primitive Christianity opens, followed by Mahomedanism and Popery. It is hard to say whether such thoughts are most opposed to time or place, to congruity or context. Again, it is agreed that it is harsh in the extreme, and in almost every point of view, to understand the first seal of Christ or the church in early gospel triumphs, and then the three subsequent ones of the Roman empire or emperors.

But it is important here to notice, that there is positive ground from the Apocalypse itself to deny the assumption that the horse means the Roman empire. I do not refer to passages like Revelation 9:17, where literal cavalry seem to be meant; but Revelation 19 furnishes an example of its symbolic use. Does the Lord on the white horse mean His direction of the Roman empire? Or the white horses of the linen-clad hosts, do they imply imperial powers? Surely we must look for an interpretation more in keeping with its usage elsewhere. It means, in my judgment, a militant aggressive agency towards the earth, though it may be from heaven. Hence, as in Zech. 1, it may apply to the Lord, or to the various imperial powers which succeeded Babylon. And so the chariots with the horses of various colours in Zech. 6. But as distinguished from the horns (Rev. 1:19), the former symbol rather refers to the providential instruments behind the scene, and connected especially with these empires, than to the rulers themselves or their realms. Plainly therefore there is no ground from the book itself or from Zechariah, to which the allusion is obvious, to interpret the horse simply of the Roman empire.

Nor is there better ground in profane history to maintain that the horse is the special sign of that people and power. And no wonder. For the Roman infantry was more characteristic of their military power than their cavalry. No doubt the horse abounds on their medals, but not more comparatively than among other warlike nations, particularly in the east, who so set forth their victories. It had formerly been one of the Roman standards of war, but for two centuries before Domitian all the varieties had given way to the eagle.

Abstractly, then, the horse cannot be regarded as the necessary national badge of Rome, or emblem of the Roman empire. Whether it be referred to here must depend on contextual considerations. And here it appears to me that the fourth seal rises up conclusively against such a view, the four seals being providential judgments homogeneous in character but differing in form. The Roman earth may be the sphere, but this has nothing to do with the symbolic force of the horse in the passage.

Without further discussion let me state my own view. We have a regular series of providential judgments. The first is the white horse, the symbol of triumphant and prosperous power. “He that sat on him had a bow” (verse 2). The bow is the symbol of distant warfare.39 His course is evidently that of unchecked victory. The moment he appears, he conquers. The battle is won without a struggle, and apparently without the carnage of the second judgment, where the sword, the symbol of close hand-to-hand fighting, is used. But this first conqueror is some mighty one who sweeps over the earth, and gains victory after victory by the prestige of his name and reputation. There is no intimation of slaughter here.

But the second judgment is of a more appalling character. There went out a horse that was red, and the one who sits upon him is not the proudly prosperous victor to whom people tamely submit, but one who, if he wins, waves his standard over heaps of slain. Accordingly, he has a blood-red horse — the symbol of power connected with frightful carnage. The result of the first seal (i.e. of the victorious career of the white-horse rider) may have been peace and comparatively bloodless changes; but all is sanguinary under the second seal (ver. 4). The fiery-red horse, the peace taken from the earth, the mutual slaughter, the great sword, are tokens too plain to be misunderstood.

The third horse is black, the hue of mourning. It is a colour chosen to show that there must next follow peculiar sorrows, caused not now by bloodshed, but by scarcity, and perhaps, we may add, to man’s feeling, a most capricious famine.40 Here we have the voice proclaiming (ver. 6), “A choenix of wheat for a denarius, and three choenixes of barley for a denarius; and see that thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” The penny in our country would give the idea of something insignificant in value, but in those times and lands, a choenix of wheat for a denarius was very costly; for not long before men could procure seven or eight choenixes for the money. A denarius was given for the daily wage, and was barely enough for a man’s daily food; for the choenix of wheat appears to have been a minimum, being the allowance given to a slave. But while there should be this scarcity of the very staff of life, there was a command not to touch the luxuries of life, the oil and the wine. What the richer Classes require was not to be touched, but only what people want of the prime necessaries of life. God is laying His hand upon the world.

Yet such events as these might happen in ordinary times. There might be some great conqueror any time, and this might be followed by bloody struggles; and this again by famine, etc. And in the fourth seal we have God’s four sore plagues let loose together, the sword, famine, death, and pestilence, and the wild beasts of the earth, but here limited to a fourth part. They are but preparatory chastisements as yet. “And behold a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hades followed with him” (verse 8). In Ezekiel 14 you will find that these four same things are mentioned together in connection with Israel. In these first judgments God does not proceed to any very extraordinary measures. A conqueror is no rare thing in the earth, a bloody and perhaps civil war not uncommon. These might be followed by a famine, and that naturally enough might breed pestilence, etc. Thus man would account for these things, and the wise are caught in their own craftiness. But we know before, through God’s word, that there is a time of conquest coming — then of bloody warfare — next of dearth — and lastly of the outpouring of God’s sore plagues. The heavenly saints must be set in rest and peace in the presence of God — the church must be safely sheltered before these judgments begin.

The next scene, under the fifth seal, is a remarkable one. The living creatures drop their cry of “Come,”41 which was connected only with external judgments in providence. But now we have a series of events somewhat different. The fifth seal discloses that God has a people on earth still. Who are these that are suffering now? The prophet sees their souls under the altar, where they are as holocausts offered up. Though dead, they yet speak. They were slain because of the word of God, and because of their testimony. Man after that has no more that he can do. They call for retribution; for after the Lord has taken home His heavenly saints, He will begin to call earthly ones. They will not of course be born again by a different Spirit, but they will be called to a different path, and will not know God in the same full and near way wherein He reveals Himself to us now, and as we ought to know Him. These saints will have “the Spirit of prophecy.” Such was the mode the Holy Ghost wrought in the Old Testament saints. The effect of the Spirit of prophecy was that they were waiting for Christ to come for the accomplishment of promise and prophecy; and so these saints will wait for Christ to appear in glory. All their hopes hang on Him, who is to be their deliverer from circumstances of such excessive sorrow.

Not thus do we expect Christ for ourselves. We have rest in Him now. Though surely looking for Christ to come, we have present communion with Him in peace, and the title, whether slain or not, always to rejoice in Him. It does not become Christians when persecuted to say, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood?” Stephen “cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Such also is the only right and suitable prayer for the saints of the heavenly calling.

But here the sufferers are on different ground. They take up the position, and express the sentiments described in the Psalms, which call for divine vengeance. Hence such as think that the Psalms are intended to convey our place and proper feelings as Christians find great difficulty in understanding the language of imprecation that is used in them. It is an error so to apply them; for “what the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law” is the apostle’s comment after quoting from the Psalms. (Rom. 3) But when the church is removed, God — from His place on the throne — will pour out the judgments described in this prophecy; and then it is that these Psalms fully apply. God deals in mercy now: then it will be earthly judgment. When these visions are really accomplishing, God will show not as now the exceeding riches of His grace, but the exceeding terrors of His righteous wrath: and so when that day comes, and men are yet heedless, the saints living or dying say, “How long, O Lord,” etc.

“And a white robe was given unto each one of them” (verse 11). That is, vindication has been accorded them, though they do not take their place on thrones till Revelation 20. Disembodied spirits are never said to sit there. We do not read of spirits glorified, but of bodies, when they enter on their destined blessedness above. They will reign with Christ. Thus, after the church is gone, there will be persons who witness for God here below, but taking up totally different language — the claim of retribution and not long-suffering grace. It was a holy duty once to exterminate the Canaanites; it would be far from a Christian’s place now. How unbecoming for us, if God would show mercy! But when He introduces His kingdom by judgments, that conduct will be right and suitable which would not now be in season. When God sees that the due moment is arrived for the earth to be chastised and judged, it will be a holy thing to take part in it. But if the Christian were to occupy himself in judging bad people on the earth now, he would be doing what the Lord is not doing — nay, the very reverse of what engages Him He is now at work in marvels of grace, and thus all who understand Him will be acting in the same spirit.

The tremendous convulsion (verse 12) of the sixth seal comes apparently in answer to the prayer of the saints who are concerned. The language at the close of the chapter shows that the powers and instruments high or low of the persecuting world received an earnest of their doom, as truly as the slain ones in the seal before have their recognition in part before they inherit the kingdom. Their blood, we may say, cried to the Lord of Sabaoth. They lived unto God, and shall surely rise again; but they must wait. Another class of martyrs must yet be made up. “It was said to them that they should rest yet a little space, until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, that should be killed even as they, should be completed.” No account of the killing of these saints appears here: we must seek for this in other and subsequent parts of the book. The earlier sufferers meanwhile enjoy the result of righteousness, and are owned of God; but they are to await the filling up of a new and distinct band of martyred brethren, who are to suffer up to the close. Then retribution will come. Iniquity must reach its height and do its worst ere the hour of full divine judgment. Another and final outburst of persecution must precede. But mark here also that no such hope is held out to a single individual as the Lord’s translating them without passing through death.

We have stated that the heavenly saints (that is, the dead in Christ, and we who remain to the coming of the Lord) have already been taken from the earth, as Revelation 4 had shown, the fifth chapter adding another thing, that while they are above, there are righteous persons on earth in whose prayers the risen saints are interested. That is to say, those above are found in the place of intercession; and there is nothing sweeter than that place — nothing in which we are practically brought nearer to Christ, save in our immediate relationship to Himself. The church is destined to have that privilege in glory, as we have it now in grace for all men (1 Tim. 2) — the privilege of intercession for others still in trial on the earth. The church will take the deepest concern in their sorrows, blessings, and hopes.

But who are these sufferers on earth? In Rev. 6:9, as we have seen, there was a dreadful slaughter of the saints. They cried with a loud voice, and we are permitted with and through St. John to hear their cry. They appeal to God as the Sovereign and arbiter of every soul. “How long, O Lord, the holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Evidently this is not a Christian cry: I do not say it will not be a believing one, but suited to their circumstances and to the then dealings of God. People are so narrow that they think a person can never be a believer without being a Christian. It is quite true that now a believer is, of course, a Christian. Even the babes know the Father. “Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father; he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.” But in divine things we ought always to gather our thoughts and our language from scripture, not from our own imagination. Now, though Abraham and all the Old Testament saints were born of the Spirit, yet they were not Christians in a proper New Testament sense. For a Christian is not only one who has faith in Christ, but one to whose faith Christ dead and risen has been presented by God, and who has, consequently, the Holy Ghost uniting him to Christ in heaven. But this was not and could not be till Christ had come and finished the work of redemption. They had the new birth no doubt, for to be born again does not necessarily imply that the work of atonement had been previously accomplished; but still there is a difference of position into which the accomplished work, and the consequent presence of the Spirit during Christ’s absence in heaven, has brought us.

From those under the altar, then, we do not hear Christian accents, but that which reminds us of the state and feelings revealed of old. From the time that the Lord Jesus came into the world, and went up on high, as the rejected One now glorified — from that time the sufferings of Christ as the righteous witness for God, and in perfect grace to man, become, so to speak, reproduced in His people. The Holy Ghost puts them in sympathy with Christ. What was in a measure true before was now the appointed portion for the saints. None but Christ could possibly know suffering from God for bearing sin. But part of the suffering even of the cross was because Christ was put there through the wickedness of men: another and a far deeper part was, that He was put there by the grace of God for the vindication of His holiness, and the deliverance of the sinner. In the last He suffered for us; in the first we may and should suffer with Him. Hence, the apostle Paul did not hesitate to say, “That I may know him and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” A Christian might share the sufferings of Christ, in the sense of being cast out even unto death. The apostle himself had it often literally before him in this way. (See 2 Cor. 1; 2 Cor. 4.) He knew the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings; Stephen knew the same.

Such is not this cry. Here the sufferers were under the deep feeling of the wrong that was done to them, and they called only for the judgment of God. How different the state of things when persons. instead of shrinking from prison and from judgment, thanked God and went away full of joy, because they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus! Is this what we get here? No doubt, the world is as unrighteous as ever; but is there not something more blessed now than appeals to God to deal with the world as the world has dealt with us? This was the state of things when men had to do with the law; as the principle of righteous retribution will appear again in the millennial day, when they will have the law written on their hearts. As far as the moral import ( δικαίωμα) of the law is concerned, God makes that good in His people now. But there is another principle which is being displayed now in every form; for God’s grace is going out to the lost. Christ’s death is the greatest manifestation of that grace, and the Holy Ghost works after this pattern in the hearts of His people. But the cry under the fifth seal is that sin may be laid to the charge of their oppressors, and vengeance taken accordingly. This is righteousness, but not grace. Let us bear in mind, however, that God does not allow us to take up a righteous or a gracious cry just when we like. We are always wrong when, under suffering from the world, a gracious cry is not brought out by the blow. When we have to do with one another, we are entitled to look for godly and righteous ways from Christians: indeed, it is part of the character of a Christian to feel what is wrong, as well as to value what is right. (Rom. 12.) But there should always be power to rise above evil, and to bring out Christ to meet it, whether it be in the way of discipline for those within, or of intercession for those that are without. God is dealing in perfect grace, and so should we, with the world.

Here, in the seals and sequel of the Revelation, it is another state of things God is judging in a preparatory way for His people; it is another order of relationship, not that in which He has set us till the Lord receives us to Himself. Accordingly it is the Jewish expectation of deliverance through God’s destruction of the adversaries, not the Christian’s hope of removal out of the scene to heaven. Righteous vengeance is invoked on those that dwell on the earth. Not that vindictiveness is implied, but assuredly it is not practical grace. They look therefore for God to judge, instead of longing, as we should do, for Christ to come and take us to Himself. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.”

Remark, that the word used here for “Lord” is not the one that is generally employed; but the same term occurs in Luke 2:29, Acts 4:24, Jude 4. It means the Lord as “sovereign master.” It is also used in 2 Peter 2:1: “Even denying the Lord that bought them.” We have not here the nearness in which we know Him as “our Lord,” but the general authoritative relation in which the Lord is the Master of the whole world — of all men, whether bad or good. It is never said that those who know Christ by the Holy Ghost can deny the Lord who bought them.

However that may be, the appeal is answered by the throes of nature universally, presenting in symbols to the prophet’s eye what was coming. “And I beheld when he opened the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the whole moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth its untimely figs, when it is shaken by 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” (verses 12-14). The heavens are convulsed from one end to the other; the stars fall, etc., evidently, as it seems to me, in the vision only. “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the chieftains, and the rich, and the mighty, and every bondman and free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and they say 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 his42 wrath is come; and who is able to stand?” (verses 15-17.) Every class of men is in agitation through these impending judgments. It is not really the great day of the Lamb’s wrath, yet people think that it is. They fear that the last day is already come.

An idea has prevailed with many that this seal represents the epiphany of the Lord in judgment at the end of the age. This has disposed them to understand the description as a literal account of the heavenly and earthly changes which accompany that great event. But there is no solid foundation for such thoughts. In the first place, the seventh seal is not yet opened, so that the end it cannot be, even if one adopted the system which supposes the trumpets to be a rehearsal from another point of view. Again, not a word occurs alluding to the presence of the Lord. There is a great earthquake; but the appearing of Jesus is incomparably more serious than any possible commotion in the world. The difference is manifest, if we compare these verses with Rev. 19:11-21, and with 1 Thess. 5; 2 Thess. 1; Luke 17:24-37, etc. Not to speak of the sixth trumpet, under the seventh vial (which must surely be owned as at least not earlier than the sixth seal) there is an earthquake, of which the Holy Ghost speaks in still stronger terms. Yet we know that this is before the day of the Lord; for all admit that the vials are poured out before He comes as a thief. And à fortiori why not the sixth seal? Had these convulsions been given under the seventh seal, there might have seemed more tenable ground: as it is there is really none.

There is also this marked difference between our seal and the passages in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, with which some would connect it, that in the latter the Son of man is expressly said to be seen coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, in the former, as has been remarked, there is not a trace of it. It is represented under the seal, that all men in their terror say to the mountains and rocks, (is this literal, after they had been moved out of their places?) “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 his43 wrath is come; and who is able to stand?” But it is a revelation, not of that which God declares about the time or circumstances, but of men’s alarm and its effect on their consciences. To take what John saw in the vision as so many physical realities, to be then verified in the literal sun, moon, stars, and heaven, is, I think, an opinion adopted without due consideration. Would there, could there, be need for any to invoke the fall of the mountains and rocks, if the stars really fell unto the earth? Could men or the globe survive such a shock? Besides, it is plain that the description alludes at any rate to passages in the Old Testament, such as Isa. 13, 34; Ezek. 32:7, 8, and Joel 2. Now the last distinctly states that the signs therein predicted are before the great and terrible day of the Lord come, and the first had its accomplishment in the past fall of Babylon, though there be also types of a more solemn and universal catastrophe at the close.

All this is to my mind decisive that the sixth seal, according to its natural place in the prophecy, in no way means the great day of the Lord, but sets forth, first in figures and then in simple language, an overwhelming revolution which overthrows existing institutions and governmental order. The authorities, supreme, dependent, and subordinate, are broken up. The shock is universal. They think the last reckoning is come. Not the Lord, but their bad and affrighted consciences call it the day of His wrath. But when that day does come (as in Revelation 19), they are bold as lions. The very frequency of divine judgment acts upon the hard hearts of men; and so, though the trumpets have yet to blow, and the judgments become more and more intense, yet when the Lord comes in person, instead of calling on the mountains to cover them, they are found fighting against Himself. When their consciences were not so hardened, they were alarmed; but when the great day arrives, they are in open rebellion against Christ. What a thing is the heart of man! and what an infinite mercy which has brought us, not in the thought of His wrath — though the Lord grant that this may be used to awaken some souls — but by His grace to enjoy the peace He has made by the blood of His cross! He will have us also in the full fruition of our heavenly blessedness, when all these judgments are passing beneath us. To be above in the presence of Him who will then direct and at last execute all needful infliction — this is to be our portion. The Lord grant that we may walk in His grace now, not dragged down into the spirit of the world, nor standing for our own rights. Alas! if sinful men begin to talk about their rights, let them remember that in the sight of God the only thing they have a right to is to be lost for ever. If He dealt with us on that ground, when — how could we be saved? But He has forgiven us all our wrongs, and has given us the joy of standing for His rights. May we be true to Him and to His cross!

37 The reader of the Horae Apoc. will remember how embarrassed the author is on this very point (i. 91-96). He is compelled to own that the elders’ insignia point to the resurrection-state after Christ’s coming, page 92; yet in the next page, 93, he says, it seems that it is especially the departed in paradise that we must suppose figured here. For want of seeing the distinction between the παρουσία of the Lord and the ἐπιφάνεια τῆς παρουσίας αὐτοῦ (2 Thess. 2:1, 8), these and other perplexities constantly spring up.

38 It will be observed that this, if well-founded, decides the question of the true and proper application of the rest of the book. For what more weighty than to know whether it speaks throughout its central visions of the time during which the church is still on earth, or of the days which follow — the great crisis when the church is not here but risen, and God is dealing with the earth after another pattern? To say that it is given to us to know these visions proves nothing. All scripture is given to us and is good for us, but it in certainly not all about us; and we are most profited, not by the fancy that God is always thinking of us, but by really understanding its objects, scope, and end. Had Abraham imagined that he was to be involved in the impending catastrophe of Sodom because the Lord graciously revealed it to him before it came to pass, such a delusion would have done him harm. It was not to Lot who was there, but to Abraham who was not, that the fullest communication was made. And so it will be, I doubt not. A remnant is to be saved — saved as through fire. May our place be above it all — above the world in spirit now, and looking down upon its plans and progress with the abiding consciousness of a judgment that hastens — destined to be actually above when that judgment comes.

39 The ingenuity of Mr. E.’s attempt to make out in the bow an allusion to the Cretan origin of Nerva’s ancestry is undeniable. Yet even if one admitted a more precise reference to past history than I conceive to be intended, I am convinced that the meaning of the symbols is not to be sought in recondite points of antiquarian research, but rather on the surface, or at least in the broad and natural features of the scriptural portrait.

40 It is almost incredible the amount of discussion, if not of careful research, which has been expended on this verse, and especially on the import of “a measure of wheat for a penny” (i.e. a choenix, or about 1.5 pint English, for a denarius, or about 8d. of our money). Is a time of scarcity or abundance indicated? Or does the verse proclaim an authoritative adjustment of a due average price? It appears to me that, (1) occurring as the third seal does in a series of providential judgments, such a question ought not to have been raised by the least enlightened reader; for, in such a connection, how incongruous the idea of plenty or a fair price! And (2) are not these thoughts particularly contradicted by the details of the seal in question, as e.g. by the black or mourning colour of the horse, and by the balances in the hand of the rider? (Compare with the last Lev. 26:26.) The facts of the case are on the whole plain and decisive. Thus from Cicero’s Orations, we learn that the Senate estimated wheat at four serterces the modius (= 8 times the choenix); and, what is more important, that the then market price in Sicily was two serterces, or at most three. “Hoc reprehendo, quod, cum in Sicilia HS II tritici modius esset . . . . . summum HS ternis . . . . . tum iste pro tritici modiis singulis ternos ab aratoribus denario exegit.” (In Verr. Act. ii. lib. iv. 81.) The inference is that the extortion was, say, half the Apocalyptic price. Again, it is allowed that the ordinary price under the Emperor Julian and his successors (i.e. long after St. John) was moderate. From the Misopogon it seems that the price of the modius was then about 12d. of our money, and therefore the choenix = 1.5d. or less than a fifth of the Apocalyptic rate. But it is argued from a passage in the Natural History of the older Pliny (lib. xviii. 10), that in his time, which was a little before the Apocalypse was written, the medium price of wheat was about the same as in the text. This would be the more extraordinary, not only as opposed to Roman experience both before and after, but also because that laborious compiler does not speak of the prices then current as extravagant. We know that in nothing are MSS. less to be relied on than in numerals. Besides it would seem that several elements more or less mistaken have concurred to perplex the case. “The comparison of ancient and modern prices of corn is a difficult subject, and the results hitherto obtained are unsatisfactory.” (English Cyclopaedia, Arts and Sciences, vol. iii. col. 251.) It is well known that Dr. Arbuthnot’s tables no longer carry their former authority, and that modern scholars reject some of his premises, and most of his conclusions. Now it was on his computations chiefly that the author of the Horae Apoc. depended. But (1) if I understand Pliny, he speaks in the passage cited, not of the price of broad, but of flour, which then cost forty asses the modius. But it would appear that the similago or flour spoken of was by no means coarse, though there might be finer; for out of a peck of wheat came but a half peck of this flour, with a large residue of pollen, coarse meal, and bran. (2) There is no evidence that I am aware of in St. John’s time to set aside the common Attic choenix, which was the eighth (not the fourth) part of a modius or peck. The verses of Fannius Rhemnius are not forgotten, nor the reading which Facciolati and others prefer, which reduces the quantum of the choenix one half, and thus harmonizes with other authors. And why were they cited if it be another scale, seeing that he lived a considerable time after not St. John only, but even the epoch to which the Protestant historical school would refer the accomplishment of the third seal? (3) The denarius, no doubt, in very early times equalled ten asses, whence the name was derived; but it is notorious that about the second Punic war, B.C. 214, it was by law made equivalent to sixteen asses, save in military pay, fines, etc., which were reckoned by the old standard. Who or what will the reader suppose is our authority for this? The very same work of Pliny (lib. xxxiii. 3). Nay, more, in the same chapter we are informed that, forty years later, the Papyrian law reduced the as one half. It is absolutely necessary to bear in mind these extensive changes in order to avoid the astounding results in which Dr. A. lands his followers. The true inference, it seems to me, is that the price in the Revelation shows decided and painful scarcity, as it exceeds that of the Cassian law eight times, and the actual Sicilian market price of Cicero’s day yet more (xii. 76). It seems about as fair to cite on the one side the starvation price related by Caesar (De Bell. Civ. i. 52), as the poetical licence of Martial on the other. There is hardly a siege or a lengthened campaign, even now, without raising the price to a degree that would be fabulous under other circumstances. The adulteration of the denarius under the second Severus to a third of its original value is deemed by Mr. E. to set right his great difficulty in the price of the wheat. But the question is as to its value in exchange. Wheat must be excessively dear, if a man could not do more than procure a quart for his day’s labour. Nor would there be any disposition to employ labourers, if the prices of provisions were such that a man’s daily wages were swallowed up in buying five or six lbs. of barley. The ratio of the barley to the wheat is, I admit, singular, as it was and is usually one-half, instead of a third. In, Rome, however, wheat was the food of men, barley of horses; and it was a military penalty to use barley. According to Seneca a slave’s monthly allowance then consisted of five modii (= 40 choenixes), and five denarii. Under the emperors Roman citizens (save senators) received corn gratuitously, and the tessera was inherited, bequeathed, or sold. For such to buy at the price prescribed must press heavily indeed. Jerome’s interpretation of Eusebius’ Chronicon puts the modius at six drachmae or denarii, during the famine in Greece in the eighth or ninth year of the Emperor Claudius. Syncellus doubles this, which Scaliger prefers. It is but fair to add that the Armenian text edited by P. J. B. Auchor (ii. 153, 193, Ven. 1818) confirms this emendation.

41 It may be well to mention in this note my opinion that the words “and see” (which, according to the common text and the authorised version, follow “Come” in the call of the four living creatures) appear to be an interpolation. In the case of the second (verse 3) there in no difference of judgment among critical editors of the least note; but, strange to say, Griesbach and Scholz retain the ordinary sense in the last two, and, in the first case of all, Knapp along with them. Buttmann, Hahn, Lachmann, Tischendorf, and Tregelles omit the words uniformly, and, as I think, with reason. The difference as to interpretation would be this: as the text. rec. stands, it in a call from each living creature to John; but if they merely cry “Come,” it would seem to be a direct address to the riders on the several horses, who accordingly come forth at their bidding. The connection of the living creatures with the action of the horsemen in providence is made clearer and stronger by this little change. Besides, it entirely precludes such remarks as those of Mr. A. Jenour in his Rationale Apocalypticum, vol. i. pp. 214-217. That ἔρχου refers to Revelation 22:17, 22, and means the groaning of creation or a prayer for Christ’s coming, is quite wrong. Why should any of these be “in a voice of thunder?” That the call of divine providence should be so heard is natural.

42 The Vulgate with good authority, in we have seen, has “their” wrath (ipsorum, not ipsius). But I take this opportunity of saying that, invaluable as the best Latin copies are as a support of ancient and excellent readings, it seems a perilous thing to throw aside all the MSS. and every other version, and all the early writers save those who merely echo the Vulgate, as Mr. Elliott does in following its “quattuor partes” (verse 8). There is really no ground but the exigencies of his system. To square with facts, according to his application, it should have been not the fourth, but the whole of the Roman empire. Hence Jerome’s manifest oversight is adopted, and it is argued that he must have had ancient witnesses now lost! But this is most unreasonable when we see that Jerome is often loose. To take this chapter alone, is it pretended that “vocem,” in verse 1, the omission of “et,” in verse 2, “singulae,” in verse 9, “insulae,” in verse 14, rest on original authority? Are they not evidently due to mere laxity of rendering? And why impute “quattuor partes” to a higher source? The wonder is that we have not some of the later Greek manuscripts influenced by the Latin in verse 8, as perhaps 26 was in verses 1 and 2. We know there are stupendous blunders occasionally in the best copies of the Vulgate, as in 1 Cor. 15:51; Heb. 11:21. Why give it a place in this verse, which is not claimed for it in any other verse of Old or New Testament? Besides, is it according to the analogy of this book, or of any other book, to speak of “four parts,” if the entire empire were intended? The attempted historical answer of quadripartition seems to me extremely meagre. This, of course, is matter of opinion. But it is serious when the author is so enamoured of his theory as to bid his readers “well in that if the prophecy here differ from the history, it differs from, and is inconsistent with, itself also: seeing that the whole horse is depicted with the pale death-like hue, not its fourth part only.” — H.A., i. 201. This is bolder than man ought to be with God’s word, unless there were infinitely graver grounds against the text. The inference from the horse I have, I think, shown to be unsound.

43 The Sinai MS., the palimpsest of Paris, and the excellent Vatican cursive, conventionally known as 38, with the Vulgate and Syriac, read αὐτῶν, “their.” which admirably fits in with the context.