[Classical Theme Music] And I saw another mighty angel
come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face
was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: (2) And he had in his hand a little
book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, (3)
And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders
uttered their voices. (4) And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about
to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which
the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. II. It has been well remarked that “the Reformation
passed from the mind of Luther into the mind of Western Europe,” and that its “different
phases succeeded each other in the soul of Luther, its instrumental originator, before
its accomplishment in the world.” Hence the importance of tracing its development in the
history of the Reformer himself, the master spirit, under God, of that great revolution.
Of these phases, the two which gave rise to all the rest were, the discovery of Christ
in the fullness of his grace and truth, and the discovery of the predicted Antichrist
in the Papal apostasy. 1. Luther, the son of a poor miner of Mansfield,
was born A.D. 1483. In his early boyhood, when at school both at Magdeburg and at Eisnach,
be had often to beg his daily food with the pitiful cry, “Bread for the love of God;”
and was indebted to a burgher’s wife for the means of pursuing his studies and for his
preservation. Grown to manhood, he passed four years at the University of Erfurt, where
his intellectual powers and learning excited general admiration. But just as the honors
and emoluments of the world seemed about to be opened to his attainment, he suddenly,
to the dismay of his friends, renounced the world and its brilliant prospects, and betook
himself to the solitude of an Augustine monastery. Thoughts deeper and mightier than affected
others around him were then pressing on his soul and induced this strange step.
Luther had found a Bible hid in the shelves of the University library. Till then he had
known no more of the Scriptures than what were given in the Breviary or by the preachers.
He was at once riveted by what he read. It increased, even to intenseness, the desire
of his heart to know God. At the same time he found therein descriptions of man’s sinfulness
and of God’s holiness which awed and alarmed him. Providential circumstance thereafter
confirmed and deepened the work on his conscience. An illness which had nearly proved fatal brought
death to his view. He saw a beloved friend cut off with scarce a moment’s warning. He
was overtaken in a journey by a terrific lightning storm; and he associated it with the judgment
of an angry God, whom he felt unprepared to meet. How shall I stand justified before God?
What will it profit me if I gain the whole world and lose my own soul? These were now
the absorbing thoughts of his mind. Thenceforth the world was to him as nothing. But while
he longed to know God, neither his own understanding nor the philosophy and learning of the University
yielded him the light he needed. He longed to propitiate him, but his conscience told
him how inadequate for the purpose were his best performances. It had long been a notion
that the convent was the place where, by penances and prayers, the favor of God was most surely
to be attained. He gathered his friends around him, ate his farewell meal with them, then
sought the monastery. Its gate opened and closed on him. He was an Augustine monk.
But was his object gained? Did he find the holiness or the peace with God that he longed
for? Far from it. In vain he practiced all the strictest rules of the monkish life; in
vain he multiplied prayers, and penances, and self-mortification. He found that in changing
his dress he had not changed his heart. The consciousness of sin remained, its indwelling
power, its guilt, its danger. “O my sin! my sin!” he was often heard to exclaim. Pale
and emaciated, behold him at one time fallen down in his cell, apparently dead, from the
exhaustion of the mental anguish, yet more than of sleeplessness and fasting.
There was a copy of the Bible chained in the monastery. With eagerness he renewed his intense
study of it, but still found no consolation. Even the Gospel seemed but to increase his
terrors, inasmuch as he found the wrath of God therein revealed against the ungodly.
It was at this time he met with Staupitz, Vicar-general of the Augustines, who at once
distinguished from the rest the young monk of Mansfield, with his eyes sunk in their
sockets, his countenance stamped with melancholy, his body emaciated by study, watching, and
fasting, so that they might have counted his bones. Staupitz could almost divine the cause
of such suffering, having himself in secret gone through somewhat of the same conflicts,
until in the Gospel, rightly understood, he had found a Savior. He sought and gained the
confidence of Luther. He entered with him on the subjects of his anxiety. The Bible
lay open before them; Staupitz unfolded to him from it the love and mercy of God to man
as exhibited in Christ crucified. He spoke of his death as the expiation for penitent
sinners; his righteousness and perfect justice of life as their plea and trust – that perfect
and inherent righteousness being accepted by God vicariously, and so called “God’s righteousness,”
in place of the imperfect and defiled performance of penitent sinners; just as his death was
also vicarious and expiatory of the guilt of their sins.
When Luther still objected his sinfulness, it was answered by Staupitz, Would you have
merely the semblance of a sinner and the semblance of a Savior? And when he objected again that
it was to penitent sinners only that Christ’s salvation belonged, and that how to obtain
this he had, with all his self-mortification, sought in vain, Staupitz replied, “It is from
the love of God alone that true repentance has its origin. Seek it not in those macerations
and mortifications of the body! Seek it in contemplating God’s love in Christ Jesus!
Love him who has thus first loved you!” Luther heard the words, and received them,
not as the voice of a vicar-general, but as the Divine Spirit speaking by him. It opened
the Gospel to him and showed him the two things he sought – the principle of justification
before God and the principle of godly penitence and sanctification within. The light of the
glory of God in Christ began now to shine upon him. With the eye of faith he beheld
the Sun of righteousness shining on a lost world; and the dark clouds of mental conflict
which he passed through served but to reflect, as it were, the rainbow of covenant mercy.
In the sunshine of this forgiving love he found sweet sensations. “O happy sin, which
has found such a Savior!” The subject of repentance was now a delight to him. He sought out in
the Bible, given him by Staupitz, all that related to it; and these passages, he said,
seemed as if they danced round his emancipated soul. He was no longer inactive; the love
of Christ constrained him. From the view of Jesus he drew strength as well as righteousness,
Inward and outward variations and some severe illnesses confirmed his faith. On one occasion
indeed, being sent on a mission to Rome, he had yielded to the influence of early associations,
and for a while returned to superstitious observances. He made the round of the churches,
celebrating masses in them, as that which might yield a blessing. He even climbed on
his knees the Pilate staircase, near the Lateran, brought, it was said, from Jerusalem, to which
penance was attached an indulgence and remission of sin. But while in the act a voice as from
heaven seemed to him to sound in his ears, “The justified by faith, shall live; they,
and they only.” He started up, and from that time the superstitions or his old education
had never power to obscure his view of the Son of righteousness.
Thus was Luther inwardly prepared to enter upon the work designed for him, as God’s chosen
minister, of showing to others what he had himself experienced. And the way was soon
opened. He was nominated by Staupitz to a professorship in the university at Wittenberg,
recently founded by the Elector of Saxony. There in A.D. 1512, being appointed doctor
of divinity ad Biblia, and having to vow on his appointment to defend the Bible doctrines,
he received his vocation as a Reformer. Forthwith, in his lectures to the students and in his
sermons to the people, he began to preach the Gospel that had been opened to him, and
to set forth the glory of Jesus, mighty to save. His letters and conversations were imbued
with the same subject. “Learn,” he would say, “to sing the new song, Thou, Jesus, art my
righteousness: I am thy sin; thou hast taken on thyself what was mine; thou hast given,
me what was thine!” Against the doctrine of man’s ability and strength to attain to righteousness
he published theses, and offered to sustain them. Thus, as has been well said, he attacked
rationalism before he attacked superstition, and proclaimed the righteousness of God before
he retrenched the additions of man. Multitudes crowded to hear a doctrine so new,
and maintained with eloquence so convincing. “It seemed,” said Melancthon, “as if a new
day had risen after a long and dark night.” Hitherto all had gone on without disturbance,
the revelation of Jesus being confined to the few at Wittenberg; but now the conflict
between Christ and Antichrist was about to commence. Tetzel came with his sale of indulgences
near to Wittenberg, and the spirit of the Reformer was kindled. He published his celebrated
ninety-five theses against indulgences, affixing them, as was customary, on the door of the
principal church, and offering to maintain them against all opposed. The truths put forward
most prominently were – the Pope’s insufficiency to forgive sin or to confer salvation; Christ’s
all sufficiency, and the true penitent’s participation by God’s free gift not merely in the blessing
of forgiveness, but in all the riches of Christ, irrespective of Papal absolution or indulgence.
To these he added other declarations also, as to the Gospel of the grace of God, and
not the merits of saints, being the true treasure of the Church, and against the avarice of
the priestly traffickers in indulgences; and, moreover, an exhortation to real Christians
to follow Christ as their chief, even through crosses and tribulation, to the heavenly kingdom.
The evening of their publication, the 31st of October, All Hallow Eve – has been remembered
ever since as the epoch of the Reformation. With a rapidity, power, and effect unparalleled,
unexpected, unintended – even as the voice of one mightier than Luther, and so felt by
him – the report echoed throughout Christendom. It was felt by friends and foes to be a mortal
shock to that whole fabric of error and imposition which had been built up during ten centuries
of apostasy, and a mortal blow too, though unperceived by him who struck it, to the Papal
supremacy. The minds of men were prepared to recognize Christ’s headship and rights
in the Church; and it was soon seen that the overthrow of Papal dominion, and the erection
of the Gospel standard (already by the contemporary teaching of Zwingle and other Reformers accomplished
in some of the Swiss cantons) would be accomplished in England and some of the Continental kingdoms.
Thus was the Angel’s placing one foot on land and the other on the sea, and uttering his
voice as when a lion roareth, fulfilled. From that time the light increased to the full
exhibition of Christian truth, and more especially by the thousands in our own favored land,
to the full discovery of Christ the Savior. 2. We have now to consider that which formed
the second great movement of the Reformation – the discovery by the Church of Antichrist
in the Papal usurper; and this we find prefigured also in the vision before us. “And when he
had cried, the seven thunders uttered their own voices. And when the seven thunders had
uttered their own voices I was about to write. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto
me, Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.”
What mean these seven thunders? The difficulty in the way of most commentators is the command
that they should be sealed, as if it were the intention that no mortal should know their
import. But had this been so, why were they named at all? It is clear that some intimation
was by the revelation to be conveyed to the Church, of which John, who heard the sounds,
was the representative. Certain points are here very observable:
First, these thunders are said to utter voices and to speak, evidently in a manner intelligible
to the Apostle. This peculiarity distinguishes them from those which are elsewhere mentioned
as proceeding from before the throne, and appearing to be the echoes of judgments passing
on earth. Secondly, they uttered (lit.) their own voices
– not the voice of God, nor of the Angel of the covenant, whose word had just preceded
them, but in dissonance with, and opposed to the voice of Christ. Does not this suggest
the voice of Antichrist? Thirdly, the prohibition “Write them not.”
Three times was the Apostle desired to write the words spoken on other occasions. But in
every such instance the reason is annexed. The words to be written are “true and faithful;”
they are “the sayings of the Spirit” – “the true sayings of God.”113 The inference, therefore,
to be drawn in this place from “Write not,” is that the voices of these thunders are not
true; they utter their own voices; they are not from heaven, but rather self-called thunders.
Doubtless John was but too familiar with the imperial decrees or fulmina (thunders), for
he was then suffering banishment in Patmos by reason of one of them, he might naturally
conclude, from the same quarter these would proceed. May they not be Roman thunders pretending
to inspiration, terrific in their threatening and effects? Again, why seven thunders? Like
the two topped lightning of the Grecian poets, because issuing from the two summits of Parnassus,
do not these also point to the locality whence they proceed? And are not the seven famed
hills of Rome directly alluded to in the seventeenth chapter of this Revelation? The very expression,
“A septenary of voices,” has been used by Roman poets when speaking of a voice from
that city. Clearly, then, we are to regard these seven thunders as fulminated from the
mock heaven of the Papal Antichrist’s supremacy – “The seven thrones of the Supreme Pontificate.”
And, lastly, the use of the definite article, the seven thunders, denotes their notoriety
and preeminence. The Papal anathemas were emphatically the thunders, and the Pope the
thunderer, invested with those terrors of the prevailing superstition throughout the
long Middle Ages. Where was the prince or the kingdom that had not trembled before them?
Thus, is the meaning evident. No sooner had the voice of Christ been heard declaring the
great truths of the Gospel, and speaking by the lion like mouth of the great reformer,
than the Vatican uttered its bulls condemning the bold movement; which, said John, “I was
about to write.” And here, in tracing the historical fulfillment,
we must bear in mind that the Evangelist witnessed these Apocalyptic visions in a symbolic character;
not as an individual man. What was seen and heard by him appeared to be that which would
be seen and heard by the faithful who should be in existence at the very time of the evolving
of each successive scene of the advancing drama. Hence the inference follows that each
particular seen or done by the Evangelist in vision must be taken to symbolize something
correspondent in the views and actions of those Reformers, reawakened at the crisis
before us, by the apostolic spirit out poured again upon the Church.
Luther was now the leader of the Reformation. We will give his own account of what he felt
at this time. “When I began the affair of the indulgences, I was a monk and a most mad
Papist. I would have been ready to murder any one who should have said a word against
the duty of obedience to the Pope… The popes, cardinals, bishops, monks, and priests were
the objects of my confidence… If I had then braved the Pope, as I now do, I should have
expected the earth to swallow me up alive like Korah and Abiram.” It was in this state
of mind, A.D. 1518, that he thus wrote to the Pope: “Most blessed father! prostrate
at the feet of thy Blessedness, I offer myself to thee with all I am and all I have. Kill
me or make me live, call or recall, approve or reprove, as shall please thee. I will acknowledge
thy voice as the voice of Christ presiding and speaking in thee.”114 Thus when the seven
thunders uttered their own voices, “I was about to write,” i.e., recognize, publish,
submit to them, even as if they had been what they pretended to be, an oracle from heaven.
But at this critical point, a real message from heaven was conveyed to his mind and preserved
him. Summoned to appear before the Papal Legate, when the Pope’s judgment was pronounced in
favor of indulgences and of the efficacy of the sacraments irrespective of faith in the
recipient, he saw its opposition to the word and spirit of the Gospel, and resisted it.
It was the Spirit’s whisper, “Write not!” Yet more; when, in preparing for a public
disputation, he had been under the necessity of examining into the origin and character
of the Papal supremacy, the true character of the whole system began to open to his view.
Thus he wrote to a friend about the close of 1518, “My pen is ready to give birth to
something greater. I know not whence these thoughts come to me. I will send you what
I write, that you may see if I have well conjectured in believing that the Antichrist, of whom
St. Paul speaks, now reigns in the court of Rome.” The thought was fearful, and some time
after he wrote again, “To separate myself from the Apostolic See of Rome has not entered
my mind.” But still the conscience returned. The Elector of Saxony who befriended him was
startled with hearing, “I have been turning over the Decretals of the Popes, and would
whisper it into thine ears that I begin to entertain doubt (so foully is Christ dishonored
in them) whether the Pope be not the very Antichrist of Scripture.” Further study of
Scripture, and further teaching of the Holy Spirit helped forward the suspicion; and when
in A.D. 1520, the Papal thunders of excommunication were issued against him, accordantly with
that monitory voice which had bade St. John “seal them up” (the very phrase of the times
for rejecting Papal bulls), Luther electrified Europe. Having summoned a vast concourse of
all ranks, he kindled a fire outside the walls of Wittenberg; and by the hands or the hangman,
the bull, with the Papal Decretals and canons accompanying, was committed to the flames.
In his public answer to the bull he poured contempt on the Papal thunders, calling them
the infernal voices of Antichrist. Once convinced, no earthly power could induce
Luther to a recantation. When summoned before the Emperor, the Legate, the Germanic princes
and nobles at the Diet of Worms, he strengthened the cause by a bold confession. A goodly company
had now joined him; –Melancthon, Carlstadt, Bugenhagen, Justus Jonas, and many others,
fathers of the Reformation. In the German towns and universities, by priests, monks,
students, and people, the new doctrines were enthusiastically received. The work was fast
progressing in Switzerland. The effect was confessed by the astonished Legate, when in
traveling through Germany to Worms, instead of the wonted honors and reverence of his
high office, he found himself disregarded and shunned as an agent of Antichrist. A mighty
revolution had begun, and who could foresee its issue? And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea
and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, (6) And sware by him that liveth for ever
and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things
that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time
no longer: (7) But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin
to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets. Another Gracious Announcement, revealed at
the same juncture, proceeding from the same Divine Messenger of the Covenant, and bearing
the attestation of his own solemn oath! And to what end? Is it not that they “might have
a strong consolation” who have fled to Jesus, the hope anew set before them? At a time when
truth was struggling to emerge from long continued darkness – when the conflicting principles
and forces of Christ and Antichrist were gathering for the battle, and fresh trials and tribulations
were preparing for the faithful witnesses for Jesus – how consolatory to be assured
by God’s own Word that the desired consummation was drawing nigh, and that yet a little while,
and the great mystery of God in providence and in prophecy shall be accomplished! How
solemn and quickening was the thought, for time, it was said, would be extended no further
to the Anti-christian tyranny whose thunders had just before echoed on the scene; but that
in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, at what time soever he might be destined to
sound, all would be consummated according to the glad tidings declared to the prophets.
Truly it must have cheered the heart of St. John in this prolonged vision of good overborne
by evil, and of the flock of Christ harassed and persecuted by the world of ungodliness,
to have been enabled to mark, as it were, on the chronometer of heaven the advance of
the hour of deliverance, and to have the assurance of the Lord himself that the longed for day
was approaching. But here as in other places, the Apostle must be considered in his representative
character; and the inference follows, that there ought to have been at this period, both
with Luther and amongst the other fathers of the Reformation, a strong and prevailing
expectation of the approaching end. We have seen in former visions how impressions were
widely and deeply experienced in the Church that corresponded with the solemn chronological
notices on the Apocalyptic scene. According to the intimation under the fifth seal given
to the souls under the altar, the Church at the epoch corresponding did expect, we saw,
that a new and distinct period of martyrdom would intervene before the end. Again, agreeably
with the cry of “Woe to the earth by reason of the three trumpets yet to sound,” occurring
just before the blast of the fifth angel, there was at the corresponding date a very
general portending of the worlds end, and of fearful trials accompanying it. In like
manner, correspondent with the intimation here made to St. John, we learn that a strong
persuasion existed just at the time of the Reformation, not only that the era was remarkable,
but that a new dispensation was near at hand. The burst of intellect and of literature consequent
on the invention of printing, the discovery and so called Christianization of a new world,
excited expectations among all, and Papists said the glory of the Pope’s kingdom was about
to be extended over the entire world. Very different truly, and grounded chiefly
on very different considerations, was the expectation of the true Church, though in
it also high expectations were raised. Once that Antichrist had been exposed, and that
in strength and power, they looked for his downfall; and now that the Bible was drawn
forth from its concealment, they expected that Papal superstition should fall by means
of the “breath of the Lord,” as well as by the “brightness of his coming,” according
to the Scriptural predictions referred to in the angel’s oath.115 Specially then did
Luther and the German Reformers look forward with hope to the fulfillment of these promises;
while the Reformers of England and Switzerland seized on this very passage of the Revelation,
and, calculating that the chronological place then reached in the prophetic history of the
Church was that of the sixth trumpet, waited in expectation of the sounding of the seventh,
and the consummation consequent upon it. In answer to the Pope’s bull of condemnation
Luther writes, “Sure that our Lord Jesus reigneth, I fear not thousands of popes. Oh, that God
may at length visit us, and cause to shine forth the glory of Christ’s coming, wherewith
to destroy that man of sin!” Writing to Staupitz the next year he says, “The abominations of
the Pope, with his whole kingdom, must be destroyed; and the Lord does this without
hand, by his word alone.” Again, “The kingdom of Antichrist, according to the prophet Daniel,
must be broken without hand; that is, the Scriptures will be understood by and by, and
every one will preach and speak against Papal tyranny from the Word of God, until (and here
he quotes St. Paul) this ‘man of sin’ is deserted by all his adherents, and dies of himself.”
Again, to the Duke of Savoy, upon hearing that, he favored the Reformation; – “Let
those who sincerely preach the Gospel be protected; this is the way in which Christ will destroy
Antichrist by ‘the breath of his mouth;’ and thus, as it is in Daniel, ‘he shall be broken
without hand,’ whose coming is with lying wonders.” Nor did the adoption and misuse
of the same idea by fanatics alter his views. It only seemed to him quite in accordance
with the usual device of Satan to attempt to overthrow truth by counterfeit. As he advanced
in life, he percieved that some things yet remained to be accomplished before the end,
– some wasting away of the Papal power through the Gospel word, some temporary apostasy possibly
of the Protestant body, and consequent brief revival of Papal ascendancy; perhaps, also
some confederation of Pope and Turk against Christ’s faithful protesting ones. To the
last (though baffled in attempting to fix a date in accordance with Scripture), the
idea did not forsake him, and this thought cheered him in his dying hour, that soon the
coming of Christ should appear. Melancthon’s views were very similar. Like Luther he explained
the apostate king of Daniel xi, in respect of his “abomination making desolate,” his
pride, tyranny, and fated end (as well as the little horn of Daniel viii.), to mean
the popes and Popedom. He also used the chronological argument, long noted before his time by Christians,
of the seven days of the creation being a type of the duration of the world. “Six thousand
years shall this world stand, and after that be destroyed, 2000 years without the law,
2000 years under the law of Moses, and 2000 years under the Messiah; and if any of these
years be not fulfilled, they will be shortened on account of our sins, as intimated by Christ.”
He felt persuaded that the protest against Antichrist, and the consequent Reformation,
was that very consumption of the enemy predicted by Daniel and St. Paul to occur just before
his end and final destruction at Christ’s coming.
The Swiss Reformers contemporary with Luther and Melancthon wrote in the same strain. A.D.
1552, Leo Judah, in a commentary on the Revelation, applied the charges of murder, idolatry, sorceries,
fornications, etc., in the ninth chapter to the then Church of Rome, and the tenth chapter
generally to the Reformation. He writes of the passage before us, “Christ taketh an oath,
and sweareth by God his heavenly Father, even with great fervency, that the time of his
coming to judge the quick and the dead is now nigh at hand, and that when the victory
that was prophesied to be fulfilled of Antichrist (which victory the seventh angel must blow
forth according to his office) were once past, then should altogether be fulfilled what all
prophets did ever prophesy of the kingdom of Messiah the Savior, which is the highest
mystery.” Bullinger, in A.D. 1555, speaks in similar terms and with a like application;
– “Christ swears that there is but one trumpet remaining; therefore let us lift up our heads,
because our redemption draweth nigh.” In Britain, that isle of the sea, on which
the Angel planted his right foot, we find Bishop Latimer expressing the same hope; – “St.
Paul saith the Lord will not come till the swerving from the faith cometh, which, thing
is already done and past. Antichrist is known throughout the world. Wherefore the day is
not far off.” He also takes the chronological view of the world’s endurance to be 6000 years,
and says, “So there is now left but 448 years…” Another example is furnished by Bale, afterwards
Bishop of Ossory. In a commentary on the Apocalypse he applies the passage before us to his own
time, A.D. 1545, as being then in the sixth age of the Church, and the seventh trumpet
only as being yet to come. Then, on Rev. xx. 3, after recounting a list of Christian confessors,
including Luther, Melancthon, etc., by whom Antichrist’s tyranny had been disclosed, he
says, “I doubt not but within few days the breath of Christ’s mouth, which is his living
Gospel, shall utterly destroy him.” We need not adduce more to establish the fact
that, from the time of Luther’s and Zwingle’s discovery of the Antichrist of prophecy being
none other than the Roman Popes, the conviction was strongly impressed on their minds, as
by divine communication, that the time of Antichrist’s destruction, though not yet come,
was not far remote, and therewith an expectation of the coming of Christ’s kingdom and the
ending of the mystery of God. Nor did this prophetic chronological discovery
die away through the whole of this and the subsequent century. Indeed from it, as from
a point of light, Protestant interpreters have made their way to the solution of other
parts of the Apocalyptic prophecy, even to the present day.
Not the Reformers only, but numbers of the Lord’s faithful and tried servants ever since
that time have found in the Angel’s information, thus conveyed, a source of comfort and encouragement
most influential and practical, suited above all things to animate them for the great work
before them, – the doing and suffering, in all their subsequent conflicts, as the
Lord’s witnesses, with Antichrist, the world, and Satan. Must we not see and admire the
goodness and wisdom of God in this revelation? And the voice which I heard from heaven spake
unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel
which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. (9) And I went unto the angel, and said unto
him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall
make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. (10) And I took
the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as
honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. (11) And he said unto me, Thou
must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.
Rev. 11:1-2 And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying,
Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. (2)
But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given
unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. In this passage we have prefigured the two
great steps of advance in the Reformation: – first, the recommissioning by Christ of
faithful spiritually prepared ministers to preach his Gospel in various countries and
languages; next, the authorized constitution of evangelical and reformed Churches, to the
exclusion of the apostate Church of Rome. I. The first is contained in the charge to
the saint John, in his representative character, “to take and eat the little book” which the
Angel delivered to him, and so to go forth as the Lord’s ambassador and preacher to all
people. The word “prophesy,” too frequently understood only in its restricted meaning
of predicting future events, has far more signification: both in Hebrew and in Greek
the term implies to tell forth, announce, speak as an ambassador. Thus it includes the
making known God’s mind and will, the explanation of his mysteries, the pleading his cause,
and in this, the exhorting, instructing, reproving, warning, and reason with a rebellious people.
In the New Testament the same meaning is attached to it; and it is specially applied by St.
Paul to the expounding the written Scriptures and exhorting from them.116 This general signification
of preaching the Gospel is that which is here intended is made clear from the symbolic act
connected with it, – the taking up and digesting the little book as the subject matter of that
preaching: just as in the parallel instruction given by the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel;117
as also in the case of Jeremiah.118 The “little book” in the present instance was the doctrine
committed by Jesus to his disciples, – the New Testament, which they were to “preach
to every creature;” and which injunction, both as to reading and expounding amongst
heathen and Christian congregations, continued to be observed for three centuries as the
constant part of Christian Sabbath worship, until in progress of time, the professed Church
could no longer “endure sound doctrine,” and, as they departed from the faith, discontinued
the practice. At the end of some four hundred years, Christianity,
as we know, became nominally the religion of Christendom. Two centuries later the Goths,
who had invaded as heathen or Arians, settled down into orthodox Christianity. Thus the
world was in outward profession identified with the Church. And what then followed? By
degrees the Scripture lessons were abridged; legends of saints were introduced in the place
of the Bible; the Psalms, the chief Scripture lessons remaining, were chanted by the priests,
instead of being read to the people; and, as language changed, owing to the inter-mixture
of the Goths with the Romans, the services, being in Latin, were no longer understood.
Preaching also became rare. For though to certain of the deacons and presbyters in the
cities permission to that effect was given, yet was it considered that the obligation
appertained only to the bishop; consequently the bulk of rural population was left in ignorance.
Homilies from the early Fathers, translated by the bishop or other more learned person,
were for a while enjoined to be used instead of sermons; but even these were after a while
neglected. Besides which, a restriction was imposed on the free preaching of the Gospel,
no presbyter being allowed to preach unless expressly authorized by the bishop; and further,
even bishops being required by the canons to avoid broaching any opinion diverse from
what was received as orthodox or from “the divine tradition of the Fathers.” In the ministration
of sacraments and ordinances the essential duties of the priesthood were considered to
terminate. The invention of transubstantiation but increased the evil, and confirmed the
clergy more than ever in their neglect of the work of evangelist. What need to preach
the Gospel of salvation when at any time the priest could offer up Christ anew as a real
and sufficient atonement for sin? And so darker and darker these Middle Ages
grew on. Here and there we read of some attempts to revive preaching – as in England by King
Alfred, and by Archbishops Egbert, Elfric, and Peckham. About one hundred years after
the latter came Wickliffe. Regarding this neglect as the “foulest treason” to Christ,
he not only himself set the example of preaching, but he translated the Bible into English,
and sent forth poor priests for missionary work. As Wickliffe in England, so Huss in
Bohemia. But both Hussite and Wickliffite preachers were soon excommunicated as heretics,
and nearly suppressed by the terrors of the sword. And so this most important part of
the Christian minister’s duty – the addressing the hearts and consciences of the people from
the Word of life, the setting forth God’s grace and love through a dying, risen, and
interceding Savior, – was again neglected, and all but unknown, until the close of the
fifteenth century, and until Luther began the Reformation. At this very period the word
went forth, as from the Angel to St. John, “Thou must prophesy again,” etc.
It is true that at Luther’s ordination as deacon, an old and primitive custom had been
followed. The book of the Gospels being placed in his hand by the bishop, he was charged
thus: “Take authority to read the Gospel in the Church of God;” and words were added respecting
his not only “assisting the priests in ministrations at the altar,” but also of “declaring the
Gospel and other Scriptures of the New Testament, and of preaching the Word of God.” Although
afterwards, when ordained a priest, the paten and the chalice were given to him, and he
was empowered to sacrifice (i.e., in private masses and the sacramental rite) for the living
and the dead – a higher function generally thought to supersede the previous charge – yet
did he deeply feel his Scriptural obligation to preach. What to him that the common practice
was for the deacon to read a few words in an unknown tongue; had his priestly office
annulled his deacons vow? He felt not as others felt. Taught by the Spirit of God, he looked
through the appointment by man to Him in whose name he was ordained; and from his earliest
call, and with but partial enlightenment from above, he recognized the duty, and gave himself
to do the work of an Evangelist, as one appointed even by the Lord Jesus himself. The Vicar-general’s
order encouraged and confirmed him in his plan; and so the Church of Wittenberg, as
before observed, heard the strange sound of revived Gospel preaching.
Luther not only preached, but he circulated evangelic writings and taught by personal
communications. As the Vicar-general’s substitute he held a visitation of the Augustinian convents
in electoral Saxony, and in this way was unconsciously preparing other monks and clergy to become
preachers in the Church soon to be established. No sooner did he discover the Anti-christian
tendency of the restrictions relative to preaching, which we have noticed, than he set them aside.
In his final letter to the Pope he declares, “There must be no fettering of Scripture by
rules of interpretation. The Word of God must be left free.” And both he and his brother
Reformers acted on the feeling. When Luther had proclaimed the Papal oracle
to be the voice of Antichrist, and persisted at Worms before the Emperor in rejecting it,
the severest condemnatory decrees were issued against him and his fellow laborers. By these
they were excommunicated from the Church and degraded from their ministry in it; and on
pain of confiscation of their goods, imprisonment, and even death, they were interdicted from
preaching the Gospel. Luther was outlawed; and his friend, the Elector of Saxony, to
save his life hid him in a lonesome castle in the forest of Wartburg.
In this remote solitude, he called his Patmos, he had time to reflect, and to devise what
could be done for the cause and Church of Christ. Would he now bow to the storm and
abandon the work? Let us but follow out the Apocalyptic figure. “The voice said, Go, take
the little book out of the Angel’s hand.” Luther’s chief occupation in his year of exile
was the translation of the New Testament into German. He felt this was needful to spread
the light of truth among ministers and people, and for the overthrow of Papal superstition.
It was a work in which he delighted, and he expressed annoyance whenever controversial
writing obliged a temporary interruption. He might be said to taste its sweetness, however
bitter to him personally might be the immediate consequence of preaching it. It was now with
him as with John the Revelator, when having “ate the little book,” he found it “in his
mouth sweet as honey.”119 “Thou must prophesy again.” Full well did
Luther feel that the Gospel was still instrumentally the power of God unto salvation; that to its
long neglect was owing the establishment of the great apostasy; that by the renewed preaching
of it (“prophesy again”) that apostate power was to be broken; and that on them who had
been spiritually enlightened with divine truth devolved the obligation of accomplishing a
Reformation. Could the Pope annul his ministerial orders or alter the obligation consequent
upon them? Could Antichrist cancel what Christ had communicated? Tracing upwards, Luther
felt it was from Christ his commission had come, and that its revocation by the Pope
was impossible. Nor could his deference to “the powers that be” move him on this point,
so that the Emperor’s interdict was ineffectual. Confined in his Patmos, regardless of royal
and papal orders against preaching, he wrote urging Melancthon and his fellow servants
forward, and to continue to exercise their powers in evangelic preaching. It was the
repetition of the angel’s command, “Thou must prophesy again.”
No sooner was the translation of the New Testament finished, than he himself felt he could no
longer remain silent. A crisis had arrived which seemed to call for his assistance. Persecution
had begun against his fellow laborers in Germany; besides which, a sect called Anabaptists had
arisen, styling themselves Christians, but in truth bringing discredit on the name they
professed. Melancthon urged his return, with a view to heading the little body of Reformers
in the fulfillment of their ministerial, it might be said their apostolic, commission.
At the risk of his proscribed life, as if impelled by a voice from above, he returned
to Wittenberg. In excuse he wrote to his patron, the Elector, “The Divine will is plain, and
leaves me no choice: the Gospel is oppressed and begins to labor.” Again, “It is not from
men I have received my commission, but from the Lord Jesus Christ. Henceforth I wish to
reckon myself his servant and to take the title of Evangelist.”
In pursuing the history, we find how successful was the aid which Luther gave on his return,
and how God opened the door for the spread of the Gospel, whether by means of the translated
Word or by his preaching. It was in A.D. 1522 that Luther arrived in Wittenberg; and within
the two or three years the message of salvation was heard by princes and people, not in Germany
only, but in Sweden, Denmark, Pomerania, Livonia; in France, Belgium, Spain, and Italy also,
though with less general acceptance, and, last mentioned but not least, in England.
Preachers were raised up on every side, and translations of the Scriptures were multiplied.
The prediction was in course of fulfillment. “Thou must prophesy again before many peoples,
and nations, and languages, and kings.” And here occurred an important point for decision;
on which the continuance of this renewed evangelic preaching
materially depended. Cut off from the ecclesiastical hierarchy, from whose hands were the ministers
of the Reformation to receive ordination? Was the work so happily begun to cease for
want of pastors? Surely not. Luther felt that where Scripture had not shut up the apostolic
ministry of the early Church by an express prohibition of other non-episcopal ordinations,
the very necessity of the circumstances justified a departure from the usual practice. He renounced
the title of priest and doctor given him by Papal authorities, and styled himself simply
preacher, A.D. 1523. A year or two after, the function of ordination was formally taken
into their own power by the Reformed Churches. You’re listening to Cross The Border. We are
going through the Revelation using E B Elliot’s Horae Apocalypticae as a guide. Okay, Now
we are going through lecture 18 and we’re on page 127, and we’re discussing Luther. He, Luther renounced the title of priest and
doctor given him by Papal authorities, and styled himself simply preacher, A.D. 1523.
A year or two after, the function of ordination was formally taken into their own power by
the Reformed Churches. In the German Churches it was vested in superintendent
presbyters; in the Swiss Churches simply in the presbytery. On the other hand, in England,
through God’s providence several of the bishops having united themselves with the Reformed
Church, the regular medium of ordination was continued; all, however, in Christian fellowship
with their reformed sister Churches on the Continent. Of course the want of direct episcopal
ordination in some cases, and the previous excommunication of the ordaining bishops in
others, raised a cry amongst critics as if the Reformed Church had no regular ordination
for its clergy.120 Regarding, however, this interpretation of the passage before us to
be the right one, we have in the fact of St. John’s being made the representative of the
faithful ministers of the Reformation a direct intimation of their being all in the line
of apostolic succession; and in the angel’s words, “Thou must prophesy again,” of their
being commissioned by Him who commissioned the Apostles – the Covenant Angel, The Lord
Jesus. One remarkable change in the ritual of ordination
was now introduced by the Reformers. Instead of the words, “Receive thou authority to sacrifice
for the living and the dead,” as was the Romish form, a solemn charge was given to “preach
the Gospel.” Preaching had been so long neglected that they must begin again the preaching of
Christ. There was a change of symbol, too, as well
as of words, the presentation of a chalice and paten being abolished, and instead thereof
in many Churches being substituted the delivery of the New Testament, or perhaps of the whole
Bible, now through the art of printing made “a little book.” Our English ritual especially
– in the authority presented to deacons and priests “to read” or “to preach the Word,”
and the injunction to bishops to “take heed to the doctrine” and to “think on the things
contained in this book” – may be said to perpetuate the Apocalyptic commission. Surely the fact
is remarkable. Nor would it be uninteresting for such as are ordained to remember this
pre-enactment of their ordination in the visions of Patmos. They might not only thus derive
strength and comfort in the consciousness of a direct divine commission, but, moreover,
be wholesomely impressed with the duty of making the Gospel the grand subject both of
their personal study and of their public preaching, and of maintaining a constant and faithful
testimony against all superstition, sin, and error, – specially against those of the apostate
Church of Rome. II. The latter part of the Covenant Angel’s
charge is contained in that which appears with our Bibles as the first verse of chap.
xi., but which is evidently only a continuation of the same scene as that with which the tenth
chapter closes; the same Angel continuing to speak to St. John, and giving him a further
direction. The temple, which we have already shown to represent the Christian Church, is
again introduced with a new feature super added, its outer court, or court of the Gentiles.
The altar-court is still used as the symbol of that part of the Church visible which faithfully
adhered to the true worship indicated by the altar; while the outer court (which under
the former dispensation was given to such heathen as professed Judaism, but too often
apostatized) is now applied to represent those who, while they professed Christianity, had
virtually adopted an idolatrous worship. It would almost seem impossible for the Apostle
not to view, in these outer court worshipers, that line of apostasy described in earlier
visions, which in one scene, under the name of Christ’s Israel, had been satisfied with
another life giving, another sealing than that of the Angel of life; which in another
is described as forsaking the great altar of sacrifice, and, again, as rejecting Christ’s
reconciliation and adopting other mediators; and yet once more – when the third part of
men had been slain, as continuing in demon worship and heathenish idolatry, – that line
against whose head the cry of the Angel had gone forth in majestic wrath, and from whose
seven hilled metropolis had issued forth, in defiance of it, the seven Anti-christian
thunders. This premised, the meaning of the clause will
readily approve itself. St. John, representing at this epoch the Reformed Church, was desired
to “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given
unto the Gentiles.” These four several points would seem to be
signified, first, that Luther and his brother laborers were directed, as from heaven, to
a reconstitution of the Reformed Church, for the measuring implies the edification and
constitution, as well as definition, of what is measured. Secondly, that they should define
as the proper members of the Church such only as in public profession recognized the doctrine
of justification through the alone efficacy of the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, and
through Christ’s alone mediatorship. Thirdly, that the Romish Church must thence be excluded
or excommunicated as apostate and heathen. Fourthly, that for this purpose a certain
ecclesiastical authority would be officially given to them, it being said, “There was given
me a reed like unto a rod.” The more frequent use of this word rod in the New Testament
is as the ensign of official authority. On two occasions when the Jewish temple worship
had become corrupt and needed reform, under the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah, it was
the royal mandate that empowered the priesthood to carry out the purification. The original
call was, of course, from God; but it was the regal authority which immediately enforced
the act. Agreeably with these precedents, in a reed like unto a rod, which was given
to St. John, was shadowed forth the support which Luther and his fellow reformers would
meet with from the royal and other ruling powers of those times.
And now for the historical fulfillment of this part of the vision. March 1522, upon
leaving the castle of Wartburg, to resume his ministerial labors, despite the interdicts
of Pope and Emperor, the established religion in Saxony was still the Roman Catholic. Nor
did Luther at that time wish for much more than the liberty of preaching the Gospel,
expecting that this in itself would be sufficient for the overthrow of error, and that consequently
the Papacy would fall to ruins. The measuring rod had not yet been officially given to the
Reformers to authorize their reconstitution of the Church.
But it soon became evident that some plan of ecclesiastical discipline must be observed
for the proper ordering of the Reformed services, the prevention of possible divisions, and
the general support of religion. Luther’s personal influence was, as yet the only visible
cement of union. He had appropriated to the maintenance of ministers, hospitals, and schools
the revenues of certain old canonries of Wittenberg lately become vacant. Still authority was
wanted. After another year, the Elector Frederick, convinced that the Reformation was accordant
with God’s will, determined to give the required sanction; but before it was done he died.
His brother and successor, the Elector John, assuming that supremacy in ecclesiastical
matters was the right of every lawful sovereign, as maintained by the Reformers alike in Germany,
Switzerland, and England, proceeded at once to exercise that right by forming new ecclesiastical
constitutions. New forms of worship were introduced, drawn up by Luther and Melancthon on Scriptural
principles. Romish images and superstitions were removed; the ecclesiastical revenues
of the electorate were appropriated to the support of the Reformed religion; and a fresh
supply of ministers received their ordination, altogether independent of the Roman hierarchy,
about A.D. 1525. Soon after a general visitation of the electorate by Luther and other Reforming
fathers was made on the Prince’s order, to see to the execution of the new system, and
to complete the establishment of a separate evangelical Church.
The example was followed by the ruling powers in the Reforming states of Germany, Denmark,
Sweden, and soon in England. And here let us notice that the principle acted upon in
them was precisely that which was laid down by the Angel in vision for the measurement
of the Apocalyptic temple, to make salvation through Christ’s meritorious death and mediatorship
(that which the Jewish altar symbolized), the prominent characteristic of Reformed worship;
and to exclude those who, forsaking that altar had made to themselves another method of salvation,
and given themselves to heathen superstitions and idolatries; in other words, the votaries
of the false Church of Rome. Charged by the Romanists as schismatical, the principle was
solemnly avowed and justified. At the first Diet of Augsburg, A.D. 1525, a Defense, or
Apology, written by Melancthon, was presented by the Elector, in which the following points
were insisted on: – First, that every minister of God’s Word is bound by Christ’s express
precept to preach the leading doctrine of the Gospel, justification by faith in Christ
crucified, and not by the merit of human performances; whereas men had by the Roman doctrine, been
drawn from the cross of Christ to trust in their own works and in superstitious vanities.
Secondly, that it became the princes (to whom authority rightly belonged) to consider whether
the new doctrines were or were not true, and if true, to protect and promote them. Thirdly,
that the Pope, cardinals, and clergy did not constitute the Church of Christ, albeit there
were some apparently amongst them who opposed the prevailing errors, and really belonged
to the true Church – the latter consisting of the faithful, and none else, who had the
Word of God, and by it were sanctified and cleansed; while, on the other hand, what St.
Paul had predicted of Antichrist’s coming and sitting in the temple of God had its fulfillment
in the Papacy. Which being so, and God having forbidden, under the heaviest penalty, every
species of idolatry and false worship, of which class were the sacrifice of the mass,
masses for the dead, invocations of saints, and such like, – things notoriously taught
in the Church of Rome, – the Reformers were not guilty of schism in having convicted Antichrist
of his errors, or in making alterations in their church worship and regulations, whereby
Romish superstitions were cast out.121 Such was the manifesto of the Reformers to the
first Diet of Augsburg. In the second Diet, A.D. 1530, the celebrated articles and confessions
of faith were presented to the same effect. These and other confessions which were elsewhere
adopted differed, as might be expected, in some nonessential matters; but they agreed
in all main points: the preaching of the Gospel being charged on their ministers; justification
by faith in Christ being held forth as the only true method of salvation; and a separation
from the Romish Church being indispensable. Bearing in mind that all this wonderful and
blessed consummation was being effected just at the period of that memorable scene, the
Papal triumph at Rome, described in a former lecture, let us observe how every point of
triumph displayed by the Usurper was met and counteracted by Him whose place he had so
usurped. The Bible, condemned to be shut up, was now
translated, printed, and circulated. The Gospel, forbidden to be preached, was now, freed from
all the glosses of the priests, proclaimed by hundreds. The Pope himself was openly declared
to be Antichrist, which name he had forbidden to be named; and the day of judgment was held
forth as a day fixed and coming, when his reign and power would terminate. As he too
had excommunicated the Reformers, the true followers of Christ, so was he, and his whole
religious system and retainers, now cast out of the real Church.
The wretched Leo lived not to see the separation accomplished, as we have described. But he
lived to hear his bull against Luther met with stern defiance by this champion of truth.
“As they curse and excommunicate me for the holy verity of God, so do I curse and excommunicate
them: let Christ judge between us, whose excommunication, his or mine, shall stand approved before him.”
He lived to see the failure of every means set in order to stop the progress of the Reformation.
It remained for his successors to see this great revolution ecclesiastically and politically
accomplished, a pledge of what yet awaits the Popedom, when “He that shall come will
come,” and by “the brightness of his coming” at once totally and for ever destroy the man
of sin and his whole kingdom. And that ends chapter 18 of The Last Prophecy. [Classical Theme Music]