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The reader may ask, What are the signs of the present times ? What judgments may yet be expected to befall the nations ? and, What cheering prospects await the church?
If the outlines of the foregoing commentary be just, we are now under the period of the vials, or that space
of time which commences with the sounding of the seventh angel, and terminates in the Millennium. This is a period which appears to be marked in the prophecy ; particularly in Chap. x. 7. “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as he bath declared to his servants the prophets.” That is, In the times in which the seven vials shall be poured out, the great designs of heaven concerning the overthrow of the papal antichrist, and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, as foretold by the prophets, shall be accomplished.
This is the period in which, according to Daniel, “ The thrones are pitched down, and the Ancient of days doth sit-in which they shall take away the dominion of the little horn, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.” We see not yet the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ ; but we see that which is both preparatory and introductory to it.
Moreover, If the exposition of the vials by the trumpets, adopted from Dr. Gill, be just, we are as yet but under the second vial, which for several years has been pouring out upon the sea, or the maritime papal nations of Spain and Portugal ; and notwitbstanding what has taken place, it may be suspected that much of it is yet to come.
Much has been written on the commencement and consequent termination of the 1260 years assigned in prophecy for the continuance of the antichristian power. If the former could be ascertained, the latter would follow of course. Some think them to hare already terminated, and others that they are on the point of doing so. But of this I think we may be certain, that unless the vials are all poured out, to which few if any will pretend, the reign of the papal antichrist cannot have terminated, seeing they are the appointed means of its destruction. The finishing of the mystery of God, (Chap. x. 7.) is the same as the termination of thé 1260 years, as is evident from the corresponding passage in Dan. xii. 7. where the angel swears that it shall be for a time, times, and an half. The pouring out of the last vial is the termination of the 1260 years : accordingly, a great voice is then heard out of the temple of heaven, saying, IT IS DONE.* .
It may be questioned however, whether the precise time of the commencement and termination of this period, be not purposely concealed from us. It does not appear to be the design of prophecy so to fix the time of future events, as that we should know them beforehand, to a day, or a month, or a year. It desérves moreover, to be particularly noticed, that these prophecies in which an exact number of years is specified, are generally, if not always, covered with obscurity in respect of the time of their accomplishment, and in some cases have appeared to have had different accomplishments. Seventy years, for instance, were determined for the Babylonish captivity ; but as the captives were carried away and restored at different times, it was hard to say when it began, and consequently when it ended. From the first
* Chap. xvi. 17.
captivity in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, when Daniel and others were carried to Babylon, to the first restoration by the decree of Cyrus, was seventy years ; that is, from A. M. 4108 to 4178.* From the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the reign of Zedekiah to the decree of Darius to restore it, was seventy years ; that is, from A. M. 4126 to 4196.1 And from the captivity by Nebuzaradan which finished the desolation, to the dedication of the second temple, which completed the restoration, was seventy years; that is, from A. M. 4130 to 4200. See the Tables in Prideaux.
Again, Seventy weeks of years were determined for the coming of Messiah ; but things were so ordered that though the weeks were well understood to mean 490 years, yet the exact time of their commencement was not understood. A general expectation of him certainly did prevail about the time that he appeared, but that was all that was gathered from the prophecy, and might be all that was intended should be gathered. Those who entertained carnal views of his kingdom, were so blind as not to know it when it did appear. The Pharisees demanded of him, " When the kingdom of God should come ?" "The kingdom of God cometh, (answered he,) not with observation ; neither shall they say, Lo bere ! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is among you !"Ş As if he should say, The kingdom of God will not, like the kingdoms of this world, rise out of turbulence, intrigue, and bloodshed, nor be accompanied with ostentation and parade. Imperceptible and gradual in its operations, it comes, when you little expect it. You shall not be able to point to the place, and say, Lo, it is here, or lo, it is there! Nay, little as you may think of it, it is already in the midst of you !
In some such manner as this, we may look for the expiration of the years of antichrist, and the coming of the kingdom of Christ in these latter days. While curiosity is gaping after wonders, and demanding, wben shall these things be? behold it will be amongst us ! The antichristian cause rose gradually, and will probably fall gradually “ They shall take away his dominion to consume and to destroy it unto the end."* Its temporal power bas already been shaken and diminished ; but it is reserved for the battle of Armageddon, that “ great day of God Almighty,” under the sixth vial, to accomplish its overthrow. And when this is done, the seventh will purify the moral atmosphere of the world from its abominable principles, and so make way for the Millennium.
* 2 Chron. xxxvi. 54.22, 23.
Jer. lü. 30. Ezra vi. 16-22.
+ 2 Chron. XXXVI. 14-21. Ezra vi. 0 Luke xvii. 20, 21.
When two of Christ's disciples were inquiring after the honours of his kingdom, they were asked, “ Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ?”'t He would himselt have to suffer before he reigned, and they must expect to suffer with him. It is true his sufferings would be but for a short time, and so might theirs ; but they required to be the immediate object of their attention. Something similar to this may be expected in what is before us. Some commentators have supposed the slaughter of the witnesses in Chap. xi. to intimate as much as this. I have already given my reasons for understanding that part of the prophecy of past events : but there are other passages which seem to give us to expect that the adversary will not expire without a deadly struggle. Thus towards the close of the 1260 years, in which the church is described as being in the wilderness, the dragon is represented as casting out of his mouth a “flood” after her, and as making war with her seed. Previous to the harvest and the vintage, which, synchronizing with the sixth vial, describe the utter overtbrow of the antichristian powers, the patience of the saints is celebrated, and a blessing pronounced on the dead that die in the Lord. Previous to the battle of Armageddon, the kingdoms are gathered together to fight against God. The beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, are gathered together to make war with him that sat on the horse, and against his army, and perish in an attempt to crush them. I
the Dan. vii. 26.
+ Matt. xx. 22.
# Chap. xii. 15–17.
If these events signify war between the nations, as possibly they may, yet it will be a war directed against Christ and true religion, and in wbich the church of Christ may expect a sbarp persecution ; and this not merely from one, but all parties, who, like Herod and Pilate, will be made friends, and unite in such a work as this. We may think that from the repeated blows which popery has received on the continent, it will never be able to persecute to any considerable degree again; that from the antipathy between its adherents and the patrons of infidelity they can never again coalesce ; and that from the dishonour which public opinion attaches to intolerance, persecution can never more lift up its head : but we may be mistaken in all these particulars. If the temporal power of popery has diminished on the continent, its spiritual power has increased in Britain.* If papists and the avowed enemies of religion have fallen out, it has been chiefly on political subjects, a union in which would bring them together again. We have lived to see both whigs and tories unite in op. posing a free toleration of Christian Missionaries; and an English writer of note, who professes to be “the enthusiastic friend of freedom,” though he wishes the “ Catholics the utmost degree of religious liberty," yet proposes in respect of the evangelical party, of by well-concerted, and well-applied regulations to restrain them!”+ The spirit of the beast and the false prophet certainly can, and will upite with that of the dragon in the war with God Almighty.
It is a consolation that this persecution, or this war against religion, will be the last, and of short duration : this very effort of the enemy will prove his final overthrow : our immediate inquiry however, seems to be, Are we able, previous to our entrance on the Millennial reign of Christ, to drink of his cup, and to be baptized with his baptism?
* Recent events have also revived its temporal power. N. B. written in 1814.
+ Cbaracters of the late Charles James Fox. By Philopatris Varvicensis. Eclectic Review for December 1809 p. 1128.