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This was the first persecution that reached Britain, then a Roman colony, in which Alban suffered, and great numbers after him. "Our stories record, (says Fox the martyrologist,) that all Christianity almost in the whole Island was destroyed, the churches subverted, all books of scripture burned, and many of the faithful, both men and women, slain."
12 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; 13 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. 14 And the heavens departed a a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. 15 And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond-man, and every free-man, hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; 16 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: 17 For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
An "earthquake" is the appropriate symbol of a revolution; and an earthquake accompanied with an eclipse of the sun and moon, and what was more than an eclipse the "falling of the stars to the earth," as though nature herself were dissolved, denotes, I conceive, the overthrow of the Pagan empire by the arms of Constantine. The ruling powers of the world are that to the common people which the sun and moon and stars are to the earth: hence great changes in nations are expressed by God's "shaking the heavens and the earth ;" and sometimes by the very imagery here used. "All the host of the heavens shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their hosts shall fall down as the leaf falleth off from the vine, and as the falling fig from the fig-tree. For my sword shall be bathed in heaven behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment." Isa. xxxiv. 4, 5. The revolution that took place in the time of Constantine was not of a civil, so much as of a religious character. The government was still imperial, and the difference between one emperor and another,
would be of little or no account. But it was an eclipse of those powers which had so long endeavoured to crush the cause of Christ. It is language applicable to the last judgment : and was to them actually a day of judgment in miniature. The bloody enemies of Christ must now have felt, whether they would or not, that they had incurred the wrath of the Lamb. Now the number of the martyrs under the Pagan persecutions is completed, and the prayers of the souls under the altar are answered.
THE SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD.
And after these things, I saw four angels standing on the four forners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the winds should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree, 2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 3 Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4 And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand, of all the tribes of the children of Israel. 5 of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand. 6 Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nephthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. 7 Of the tribe ef Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand, 8 Of the tribe Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand.
This chapter is a continuation of the sixth seal; and bears a relation to the great revolution which had taken place by the accession of a Christian Emperor. Considering what the church had had to encounter under a succession of Heathens, this event
[DISCOURSE VIII. would appear to be most auspicious. Christians would now look forward to times of peace, happiness, and prosperity. And true it is, that during the life of this Emperor, there was not only a season of peace, but considerable accessions to the Christian profession. On this account, it seems, Mr. LowMAN and others have been led to interpret this sealing of the servants of God in their foreheads, of the numerous conversions made in those times to the Christian faith. But sealing denotes, not conversion, but the preservation of those who are converted. Those who were sealed did not by this become the servants of God, but are supposed to be such already. Instead of signifying the enlargement of the church, the object is to prevent it from being utterly swept away. It portends danger no less than the striking of the door-posts of the Israelites when the destroying angel should pass through the land; or than the marking of those who "sighed and cried" when Jerusalem was to be destroyed by the Chaldeans, It was for the preservation of a seed for God amidst a flood of corruption. Hence when these evils had actually deluged the church, we find the sealed servants of God standing in triumph upon Mount Sion.* God seeth not as man seeth: that which man is apt to think a great acquisition, God often knows to be a great temptation.
It is remarkable, that instead of a congratulation of the church on its recent victory, by the striking up of the heavenly choir, (as is usual in the prophecy when new and glorious events occur,) the choir on this occasion is mute. It is described, indeed, as a day of judgment to the persecuting Heathens, and in itself doubtless afforded matter of thankfulness to Christians; but had they known what would arise out of it, the joy of that day would have been turned into mourning.
From this time men were ripe for such speculations as those of Arius, who argued, that if Christ was begotten of the Father, there must have been a time when he was not; and for all the intrigues, wars, and persecutions, which on both sides by turns were practised. From this time our Lord's doctrine of the new birth seems in a manner to have been laid aside, and conversion to
* Chap. xiv. 1.