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and a furious civil war raging at this time in Alexandria nearly twelve years, which reduced a great part of the city to ruin.
“After the captivity of Valerian, and the insolence of his son had relaxed the authority of the law, the Alexandrians abandoned themselves to the ungoverned rage of their passions, and their unhappy country was the theatre of a civil war, which continued (with a few short suspicious truces) above twelve years. All intercourse was cut off between the several quarters of the afflicted city; every street was polluted with blood; every building of strength converted into a citadel; nor did the tumult subside till a considerable part of Alexandria was irretrievably ruined. The spacious and magnificent district of Bruchion, with its palaces and museum, the residence of the kings and philosophers, is described, above a century afterwards, as already reduced to its present state of dreary solitude.”
But, although the analogy of Alexandria cannot be extended to the whole empire (it being a city peculiarly circumstanced), yet a “ Diminution of the human species” is clearly an Apocalyptic and historical character of this disastrous period; and if one city, in which war raged for twelve years, lost one half of its population, it is highly probable a fourth of the inhabitants of the empire perished by the combined effects of the sword, the pestilence, famine, and the beasts of the earth.
THE FIFTH SEAL.
The scene of the Vision—the Souls under the Altar---the Heathen Persecutions.
“ And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that had been 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 us, 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 a little season, until their fellow-servants also, and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”
The persecution of the Christians by heathen Rome is generally admitted to be the subject of this vision: but before we proceed to the historical illustration, its imagery must be explained.
The place where St. John saw the Apocalypse was the temple in heaven; which was the model of the tabernacle made by Moses; for God commanded him to construct it exactly after the heavenly pattern: 26 See (saith He) that thou make all
) things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount." In the Mosaic tabernacle there was the golden altar of burnt incense within the house, before the veil; and, in the court, before the door of the tabernacle, the altar of burnt sacrifice; the apostle, therefore, sees before him (the earthly tabernacle being made exactly after the pattern of the heavenly) a court with its altar of burnt sacrifice, and a temple with the golden altar of burnt incense, corresponding with the court and altars of the Mosaic tabernacle. „The blood (which is the life) of the victims was poured out at the foot of the altar of burnt offering. And it is in allusion to this rite,that the souls of the martyrg are seen at the base of the altar; for the martyrs being regarded as so many sacrifices, their souls are seen in the same relative place in the court of the heavenly temple, as the blood of the sacrifices in the court of the earthly.
1 Rev. iv., 2. 8, compare Isaiah, vi. 1. 2 Exod. xxv., 40; Heb. viii., 5; ix., 9. 12. 23, 24.
“ And they cried with a loud voice, saying, how long, O God, Holy and True, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood.”
The cry for vengeance is generally thought to be an allusion to the remarkable passage of Genesis, where God says to Cain, “the voice of thy brother's blood cries unto me from the ground.” It is undoubtedly a clear intimation that the blood of the saints which had been so iniquitously poured out, would not be unavenged.2
" And white robes (the symbol of their justification) were given to 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.” Here is a prediction that the people of God would be persecuted long after the events of this seal, and put to death for their testimony to Jesus.
We shall now proceed to the historical illustration of the prophecy.
For nearly two centuries and a-half, Christianity was cruelly persecuted by the Roman government, and, consequently, the early Christians were exposed to the most dreadful sufferings. The night before His crucifixion, the Lord said to His disciples: " These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea, the
i In a highly symbolical prophecy conveyed almost entirely in the imagery of the Mosaic service and Jewish prophets, sacrificial allusions, as might be expected, are frequent, yet perhaps not more so than in many other parts of Scripture. They abound, for example, in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Contemplating his own martyrdom (which he suffered in the reign of Nero), he thus writes to the Philippians : “I am ready to be offered (poured out as a libation) upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.”—Phil. ii. 17. In this passage the faith of the apostle's Gentile converts is regarded as the sacrifice which is offered to the Lord, and his own blood, the drinkoffering, poured out on the sacrifice. (Exod. xxxix. 40.) And shortly before his death, he again writes in the same sacrificial strain: “I am now ready to be offered (poured out), and the time of my departure is at hand."--2 Tim. iv. 6. 2 Luke, xviii., 3, &c.
3 John, xvi. 1, 2.
time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." It is known, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, that nearly as soon as the Christian religion was preached, the prophecy began to be fulfilled; for both those who preached and those who embraced it, were every where spoken against and persecuted. These persecutions were, however, in the beginning instigated by the Jews, or proceeded only from tumultuary acts of popular violence; and Christians, as such, were not molested by the imperial government till the reign of Nero. But, Rome having been burnt, A.D. 64, and the emperor being justly suspected of setting it on fire, the tyrant, to divert the public odium from himself, charged the Christians with the atrocious deed.
The Christians at Rome were already, as Tacitus informs us, a vast multitude (ingens multitudo); and many of them being taken, some were put to death with the most exquisite tortures, others covered with the skins of wild beasts were torn to pieces by dogs; others were crucified, or wrapped in pitched garments, to be set on fire, and when the day closed, were used for torches to illuminate the darkness. Nero lent his gardens for the entertainment, and gave a horse race on the occasion, and was present, mingling sometimes with the crowd in the dress of a charioteer, and sometimes sitting on his chariot."1
Nero killed himself, A.D. 68, and the empire being immediately involved in the flames of the great civil war, the Romans
, were too busy to harass the Christians, who do not appear to have been persecuted again by the imperial government till the end of Domitian's reign, when some edicts were published against them. But this odious tyrant being cut off by domestic treason, A.D. 96, and his acts repealed by his successor, Nerva, they had rest during the next ten or eleven years.
We have already had occasion to observe that Pliny, about the year
106 or 107, found paganism nearly ruined in his province of Bithynia. The damage that it had received was attributed with greater justice doubtless, to the disciples of the Lord than to the burning of Rome, and many were brought
* Tacit. An. xv. 44. Tacitus cooly observes they were punished in this horrid manner, not because they were convicted of the fire, but of hating the human race."
before Pliny accused of the crime of Christianity. The prisoners were examined, then threatened, and if they did not renounce their religion, sentenced to death and executed. Others were again brought before him charged with the same crime; they were ordered to sacrifice, by wine and frankincense, to Trajan's image, which was placed among the images of the gods, and to curse Christ. Such as refused were tortured, put to death, or sent to Rome to be judged by the emperor. This, as Pliny, in an official despatch, informs his master, was the way he dealt with the Christians who had been brought before his tribunal; but as they were so numerous in the province, that the temples were forsaken, the sacred solemnities, neglected, scarcely a purchaser to be found for a victim, and as many of every age and rank, and of each sex, were likely to be accused, he was greatly perplexed, and he therefore applied to the emperor for instructions by which his future proceedings might be regulated.
Trajan, in his answer, approves of Pliny's conduct, and orders, that all who were openly accused of Christianity, convicted in a court of law, and would not repent, should be put to death; but that no secret informations should be received against any."
The observance of this edict, iniquitous as it was, would have mitigated considerably the sufferings of the Christians, because they would have been thereby taken out of the hands of the priests and
people, and no accusation could have been brought or received against them except in a court of law, with their accusers face to face; but it was soon neglected or evaded. For in a short time afterward, in the reign of Trajan's successor,
“ The populace,” says Mosheim,“ set in motion by their priests, demanded of their magistrates, with one voice during the public games, the destruction of the Christians; and the magistrates, fearing that a sedition might be the consequence of despising or opposing these popular clamours, were too much disposed to indulge them in their request. During these commotions, Serenus Granianus, proconsul of Asia, represented to the emperor how barbarous and unjust it was to sacrifice to
1 See Note D at the end of the vol.