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This chapter is introductory to the narrative of the subsequent chapter. Exclusive of the action of the chorus, which looks even beyond the next chapter, the purport of what we have gone over is to inform us whence the seven angels came, viz., from the temple; how they obtain their seven vials from the first living creature; with what these seven vials are filled-the wrath of God; and from what elements the contents of these vials have originated, or from what elements this wrath is a necessary result-viz., from the glory of God and from his power.
With this prefatory information we shall be enabled to appreciate, and in some degree to understand, the narrative about to be given us of the pouring out of these seven vials. It is to be regretted that there is any division of the chapters here, for there is no pause supposed, or to be supposed, between the conclusion of this and the commencement of the next chapter.
THE POURING OUT OF THE SEVEN VIALS OF
V. 1. And I heard a great voice out of
the temple, saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.
Καὶ ἤκουσα μεγάλης φωνῆς ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ λεγούσης τοῖς ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλοις· ὑπάγετε καὶ ἐκχέατε τὰς ἑπτὰ φιάλας τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς τὴν γῆν.
§ 356. AND I heard a great voice,' &c.-The seven angels, having the seven vials of wrath, were seen coming out of the temple; the wrath itself appears to have been prepared in the temple, and now the command to pour out this wrath comes as by a great voice from the temple. The temple cannot be entered, as we are informed at the close of the last chapter, till these seven plagues are fulfilled, or till the pouring out of these vials is accomplished. This command we may presume therefore to be given for the ultimate purpose that the temple may be entered; that every obstacle (error) being removed, the access to God, by faith in Christ, may be fully laid open.
V. 2. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth [land]; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore
upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and (upon) them which worshipped
There is virtually a loud call from the temple arrangement for this effusion of wrath, in order that the worshipper may be enabled to avail himself of the privileges of the temple. The object of wrath, of course, is not the worshipper, but it is that accumulation of errors in matters of faith which renders the purification of the temple service indispensable.
Saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out,' &c.-It could hardly be supposed that the temple of God called in a literal sense for the destruction of the earth, but we may easily conceive of the case in which a system of divine worship, represented by the temple, calls for the destruction of an erroneous opposite system, inconsistent with such worship; and this we suppose to be what is represented in the vision.
Καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ὁ πρῶτος, καὶ ἐξέχεε τὴν φιάλην αὑτοῦ εἰς τὴν γῆν· καὶ ἐγένετο ἕλκος κακὸν καὶ πονηρὸν ἐπὶ τοὺς ἀνθρώπους τοὺς ἔχοντας τὸ χάραγμα τοῦ θηρίου καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας τῇ εἰκόνι αὐτοῦ.
And the first poured out,' &c.-The term earth (77) is used in two senses, in judging of which we must be regulated by the context. Go pour your vials upon the earth, is equivalent to an instruction to pour upon the whole sphere of earth, land and water; while the action of the first angel, in pouring out his vial upon the earth, is evidently restricted to pouring it upon the land, in contradistinction to the sea, or other watery elements, upon which the two next vials are effused.
This first vial is poured upon the land, the element whence the twohorned beast was seen to rise, (Rev.'xiii. 11;) the system, as we have supposed of self-dependence, originating a certain misinterpretation of revealed truth—a system which, in a spiritual sense, yields only thorns and thistles, as the result of man's works; or will be proved so to do when the truth is manifested.
And there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men,' &c.— These men are inhabiters of the earth-those subject to the woes denounced Rev. viii. 13; the pouring out of these vials being a part of the third wo. From what was said of the power of the beast and of the false prophet in the thirteenth chapter, all the inhabiters of the earth, except the one hundred and forty-four thousand, may be supposed to have received the mark of the beast, and to have worshipped his image; and, consequently, to have become infected with this pestilential ulcer. Ulcers or sores in the natural body are indications of the bad state of the system; what is commonly called a bad habit, (xazia, cachexy.) This bad habit may exist before the ulcer makes its appearance: some exciting cause brings out the sore, and thus serves as a test, showing the real condition of the patient; the eruption on the surface of the body being an effect of the inward disease. Sores too having their varieties, the character of the irruption corresponds with that of the disease. The test accordingly, whatever it may be, becomes the means of indicating the latent ailment.
$357. The pouring out of these vials may be viewed as the application of so many tests. The effusion of this first vial upon the earth or land is not the cause of the ulcer, for the cause is in the bad habit-the constitution of the men; but it is the means of betraying and manifesting their real condition-showing their real character; the condition of man by nature (his earthly position) corresponding with the description of the prophet, Is. i. 5, 6: "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment." So David, under a conviction of his "iniquities," exclaims, "My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness," Ps. xxxviii. 5.
Our English term there fell seems to imply that the sore came from above, or from some external source. The expression in the original, howis there was, or there was generated;-the same Greek term, prezo, being rendered in the next two verses by the word became,—that is, so soon as the vial was poured upon the earth, the sore made its appearance. As soon as the self-righteous disciple is so far brought to the knowledge of the truth as to be convinced of sin, and of the sinfulness of sin, and of the foolishness of his own pretensions, he perceives himself to be but a leper in the sight of his God. He is no more unclean now than he was before, but the sore of his leprosy now shows itself. Analogous with this we suppose to be the operation of the pouring out of the first vial upon the earth-an exhibition of the wrath of God against every element inconsistent with his glory, and with the manifestation of his saving power, being brought home as a test to the earthly and self-righteous system, exhibits the elements of that system in the light of lepers, covered with their ulcerous and putrefying sores.
The angel pouring forth the vial comes from the temple. It is from that view of the economy of redemption in which Christ is contemplated as the temple, that the proof is produced, showing the impurity of a system, the principles of which are, in effect, so many motives of selfishness, wholly inconsistent with the true worship of God—a selfishness like the leprosy of old, spreading itself over the whole surface, contaminating every action, work or doctrine with which it comes in contact: a little leaven of this selfishness leavening the whole lump-characterizing the whole conduct of the individual. The mark of the beast itself, we may say, becomes in the nature of the case, when its true tendency is exhibited, a noisome and grievous sore.
A period is spoken of, 2 Tim. iii. 2, as the last days, "when men shall be lovers of their own selves," (qüavrot.) Literally speaking we do not know a period when men have not been lovers of their own selves; nor do we know a time when men have not professed to love themselves, or have not been known to love themselves, in the ordinary sense of the expression. The peculiarity in the apostle's contemplation appears to be this: that a time is coming when men shall be manifested, in matters of religion, (doctrines,) to be lovers of their own selves, as distinguished from being lovers of God.— Their motives of conduct, (not merely the motives of those who are without, but also of those that are within,) will be manifested to be selfish. Disciples will be manifested to be influenced by the desire of serving themselves, rather than of serving God-professing, perhaps, to be actuated by love to God, as they profess indeed to keep the first and great commandment; but in reality having no motive of conduct other than that of regard to their own interests, and a desire to promote their own glory. The fact has been always the same, but the exhibition of this fact may be reserved for the period denominated the last days," the perilous times;" more properly
perhaps difficult, trying times, zagoi zaheroi, when the true character of actions and motives will be tested.*
The self-righteous disciple, depending upon the merit of his works, upon his zeal in the performance of his duties, leans especially upon what he terms his worship of God-his acts, particularly, of religious service; but it is as one, who "leans against a wall and a serpent bit him," (Amos v. 19.) The trying time comes-the test is administered—the first and great commandment is brought to bear upon the motive of his conduct. He is actuated wholly by the love of self; he has not the love of God in him; the mercenary nature of his service is exhibited—the unclean ulcer appears; and like the servant of the prophet, he goes out, even in his own estimation, "a leper white as snow." The temple service requires a worship dictated by the pure motive of the love of God, and zeal for His glory alone. As it is with the individual, so we suppose it to be with the principle of doctrine: the one serving as an illustration of the other.
V. 3. And the second angel poured out Καὶ ὁ δεύτερος ἄγγελος ἐξέχεε τὴν φιάhis vial upon the sea; and it became asλὴν αὑτοῦ εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν· καὶ ἐγένετο the blood of a dead (man;) and every αἷμα ὡς νεκροῦ, καὶ πᾶσα ψυχὴ ζωῆς ἀπές θανεν ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ.
living soul died in the sea.
$358. And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea.'-The earth, as a whole, is something upon which all of the seven vials are to be poured out. But in this sense the earth has its parts, each of which is subject to the action of a separate vial.—One of these parts (the land) we have just noticed. The sea is another part. So in the earthly system, as a whole, there are certain parts-the land represents not only the basis of works, the supposed means of eternal life, but also a supposed position of safety—an element the opposite of the sea: the sea being a figure of that legal view of the action of divine justice peculiar to the earthly system. It is admitted to be a fearful element, but its action is supposed to be restrained within certain limits as if the wrath of divine justice could not overcome the boundary of man's fancied security upon the position of his own works; or as if the merit of man's works opposed a sufficient obstacle to the incursion of retributive justice.
The earthly system has its legal element of wrath, but of such a character as that human means are supposed to be sufficient to cope with it. It offers a view of the retributive action of divine justice, no more to be compared to the reality than an inland lake is to the universal deluge. The
* Xalɛños Difficilis, qui magno cum labore fit.-(Suiceri Lex.)