with notes and reflections
By Isaac Williams
"the fall of Jerusalem was the coming of Christ in His kingdom"
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"But the presence of the Lamb has rendered that easy
which before was difficult." The six Seals appear to be fulfilled in the
forty years in which the Spirit pleaded with Jerusalem before its
destruction; this may be the writing "without," as understood by all: but
every Seal seems also to have an ulterior fulfilment, which is the hidden
sense "written within".
Since the vision of the last chapter represented the
mystery of the power and worship given to the Son of
Man on His being raised to the right hand of God, there now follows in order
the emblematic history of His victory on earth from that period.
Consequently the six first Seals contain an account of our Lord's coming in
judgment on Jerusalem, marking and defining, in their successive stages, the
images by which it had already been spoken of in the Law, the Prophets, and
the Gospels; as in Leviticus (xxvi. 25), in Ezekiel (xiv. 12—23), and in our
Lord's discourse on the Mount of Olives6. As
that His discourse does at the same time, and by the same figures, refer to
His final coming to Judgment and the last days; these Seals may, of course,
likewise have a further reference to the same; and, indeed, from the
successive stages and order in which God's Providences seem to move, it is
not improbable. Or it may be that these latter fulfilments are carried out
in the seven Vials; for there appears a marked correspondence between the
Seals, the Trumpets, and the Vials—the visitations differing in each
successively rather in intensity than in character. "If judgment first begin
at us," says St. Peter, "what shall the end be of them that obey not the
Gospel'?" begin perhaps at us in Jerusalem, and thence fulfilled in the
world. Such ulterior accomplishments it is not for us to speculate upon or
understand, but the former fulfilment we may see in these exquisitely
beautiful figures of Divine imagery; and if we may at all rightly augur of
the future, it will probably be by beholding them in this mirror of the
past, which is so designedly given us for that purpose. We take, therefore,
with Victorinus the discourse on the Mount of Olives for the key to
these Seals; and naturally so and of necessity, for our Lord then spake of
His successive comings in His Kingdom ; the Apocalypsis therefore of Christ,
the opening of the Seals, must be in some sense the same as that discourse.
These Seals are of awful judgments, of
"lamentation, and mourning, and woe," yet this is only on their earthly
aspect; we are to bear in mind, throughout the whole, the previous chapter
of the thanksgivings and blessedness of the Redeemed coincident with it. The
reference which these judgments have to the plagues in Egypt seems to be,
that as then God was about to bring His own out of Egypt, so now out of the
earthly Jerusalem, become as Egypt to them; and, in like manner, afterwards
His own out of the mystic Babylon under the Vials. It may be owing to this
circumstance that the Prophet Zechariah and the vision of horses seems taken
for the basis of this prophecy, for that was the bringing of Israel out of
Babylon, the establishment again of Jerusalem—the horse is the going forth
of "judgment unto victory8." Owing to these
circumstances the four first of these seven Seals have a distinct character
of their own, being composed of the four horses and connected with the four
Living Creatures, which severally announce and minister to them; in like
manner as the four Seals are but the expansion of that discourse of our
Lord's delivered to the four Apostles9, the
setting forth, as it were, in picture or living emblem what was then spoken
of. The four Evangelists say, " Come and see;" the Gospels will
interpret the meaning, Come and behold what therein you read of. These four
are connected with the Throne of God, as it is
supported by the four Living Creatures, "the quadriform Gospel," "the
chariot of the Lord10," the kingdom of
Heaven, the "altar four-square," or the Atonement spread forth through the
world; and first in type through "the cities of Judah" was it to be preached
by the Apostles before Christ came to destroy Jerusalem. The number four
expresses the idea of solidity, and from thence the material universe; the
first number which speaks of what is external to God—the world; and thence
the four elements; the four seasons; the four quarters of the globe, but
watered by the four rivers of Paradise going forth from one head: Christ in
the four Gospels: "the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from
standing before the Lord of all the earth "." The four, therefore, is of the
kingdom established on a solid basis. "Lift up now thine eyes," was said to
Abraham, "northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward "." Thus was
the throne on the four extended. "And then shall the end come13."
"I heard, as it were the
noise of thunder"—for it is an inspired Evangelist that speaks, or the
voice of God; when God spake unto Christ in St. John's Gospel, "the people
said that it thundered: others said, an Angel spake." Our Lord Himself named
the Apostle of love "a son of thunder." It is, moreover, the Lion that
speaks in thunder, the appropriate emblem of this Seal; for "the Lion of the
tribe of Judah" introduces that which is of conquest and dominion. Each of
the four mystic Creatures speaks in order, and their individual symbols may
throughout singly to apply. Here the expression
itself is from the Gospel narrative; "Come and see," as
Philip said to Nathanael—" Come and see" if this be not the Christ
going forth "conquering and to conquer." This manifestation
of Christ diners from the two preceding, and from the emblems of
Himself in the parables. It is not the Sower; nor the King inviting
to a feast; nor a Master calling to account His servants; nor a
Shepherd; not a treasure hid in a field; nor a pearl; but a
horseman, indicating dominion; the King and the Conqueror, the crown
and the bow. "Who is this that cometh," the solitary Eider,
"travelling in the greatness of His strength1?"
It is He who again appears with His army on white horses, with many
crowns, and with His vesture dipped in blood (ch. xix. 13, 14). He
says now, "I have trodden the winepress alone: and of the people
there was none with Me." But hereafter this winepress is trodden by
an army of horse (ch. xiv. 20). And the "little one hath become a
Again; this going forth is from the Old
Testament, which supplies all the accompaniments of the picture; as
he that calls attention to it is the Lion of Judah. A Conqueror
setting forth; "Thou art fairer than the children of men . . . Gird
Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O most Mighty. . . . and in Thy Majesty
ride prosperously, because of truth and meekness and righteousness.
Thine arrows are sharp. Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever2."
He goes forth "conquering and to conquer;" "conquering" in
His first Apostles and Martyrs, and this the pledge of future
conquest—of what He is afterwards to do unto the
end. If we ask, why is "white" the colour? Bede will answer,
"It is the Church made by grace whiter than snow." If we ask, from
whence is the bow? Aretas replies from the Prophet, "Thou
didst ride upon Thine horses, and Thy chariots of salvation: Thy bow
was made quite naked. At the light of Thine arrows they went3."
Or Tichonius from another, He "hath made them as His goodly horse in
the battle." ..." Out of Him came forth the battle bow4."
Or again, if we ask, what is the "crown" which is "given
Him?" or of what composed is the bow with which He fights? they
are His own elect; the same Prophet will supply the answer; "When I
have bent Judah for Me, filled the bow with Ephraim, and raised up
thy sons, O Zion:" "His arrow shall go forth as the lightning:" "The
Lord their God shall save them. They shall be as the stones of a
crown 5." In these all is of God — of God made Man. Of the "arrows"
which so often occur, as in the Psalms and in Job (ch. vi. 4), St.
Augustin beautifully says, that they are "the words of God, which
occasion the wounds of love. For love cannot be without pain6."
He is the Lamb in the last vision; He is on the throne in Heaven;
"Sit Thou on My right hand till I make Thy foes Thy footstool:" yet
here He goeth forth on earth in His Apostles and Preachers; and He
crowns them, and He.in them is crowned. He is Himself their "crown
and rejoicing" in those He wins. He in them by Saul was persecuted.
Thus Victorinus, Aretas, (Ecumenius, and others
unite in the obvious interpretation, that it is Christ going forth
as Conqueror in the Apostolic preaching; and victorious against the
prince of error. "We are more than conquerors through Him that loved
us." "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth
that Jesus is the Son of God'r" Tea, as His "goings forth have been
from everlasting," even Berengaudus may be explained as seeing the
type of this, when he speaks of it as His going forth after the
blood of the righteous Abel, in the beginning of the world. Here He
is setting out to take His Kingdom; and thus under the seventh
Trumpet the twenty-four Elders give thanks, "because He hath taken
His great power and hath reigned" (ch. xi. 17)." (p. 92)
"It should be unnecessary to
mention that the Seals are not of the Romans, nor of the Jews, but
of the Christian Church, and the bringing of the same out of the
earthly Jerusalem. It is Christ's coming, indeed, on that city in
judgment, as the first enemy of His Kingdom to be subdued in His
goings forth on the White Horse, but as carrying on the cause of His
Church. In this point of view alone are either Rome or Jerusalem in
which once "lodged righteousness, but now murderers," any subject
for this Divine Book, only, in fact, as Egypt or Pharaoh were of
old. The destruction of Sodom, and judgments of Egypt, are kept as
memorials in Scripture, because they were in themselves typical and
prophetical; and it is as such that these last visitations on
Jerusalem are so prominent, as inwreathed with figures of things
hereafter, which will not be known until accomplished, and when
accomplished will have ceased to be of interest, being rolled up as
a scroll with all things seen and temporal. Throughout these Seals,
which are of judgments, ever must be kept in mind, as parted only by
a slight veil, the scene invisible of the previous chapter, the
eternal Blessedness of those gathered in from these troubles of the
world. The Throne is still with us throughout, supported by the four
Evangelists of mercy." (p. 94)
"And now, under the Fifth Seal,
on Jerusalem itself is concentrating the desolation: "For the day of
vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed is come V
Here we must especially notice that these "souls under the altar"
are the saints of the Old Testament, and those ancient martyrs
whose blood our Lord had so emphatically said should be avenged on
Jerusalem: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets!"
was her designation; "that upon you may come all the righteous blood
shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the hlood
of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and
the altar'." They had now slain our
Lord's own Apostles and martyrs under the former Seals, according to
His awful declaration, "Wherefore, I send unto you prophets and wise
men, and some of them ye shall kill . . . ." Thus they had "filled
up," as He had said, "the measure of their fathers -." to which it
was added, "Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon
this generation." Here we have, as throughout, our Lord's own
expressions as the key for the interpretation. It is thus exactly
harmonized, and explained in keeping with itself and with all the
Seals. They have " killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets,"
they have "filled up their sins," and "the wrath is come upon them
to the uttermost." (p. 99)
But their brethren to be
slain must be those whom our Lord had spoken of as yet to be
killed by the Jews, to "fill up the measure of their iniquity," when
it all should be visited. There is no reason why it should not refer
to both: our Lord comes to avenge them in the destruction of
Jerusalem: but yet the "little while," when they shall see Him
again, also will be the Day of Judgment: yet to the first, as the
strongly-marked and definite fulfilment, and as the pledge of the
latter, all things direct our attention -. the mirror held out to us
wherein we may see as in a glass darkly the great mysteries of the
latter times. Our bearing this in mind will serve to adjust many
difficulties and confusions. Thus Aretas suggests it may be " the
cry of prophets and wise men before the Incarnation of Christ,
impatient of His long-suffering and delay. For before the saving
Passion of the Cross, the vengeance of God on unholy men was not so
evident." "These things we may adapt to the men who loved God under
the Law." But he adds, "it may be more suitable to understand it of
the martyrs after Christ." Berengaudus says, "The 'little season' is
till the Day of Judgment." (p. 99)
"Nor less closely is the
destruction of Jerusalem and the New Zion of
the redeemed spoken of under these figures in the Prophets; as in
Isaiah, "the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the
Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zions."
And the memorable occurrence of all these images in the Prophet Joel
has its application to this great event9. Again; those figurative
expressions of the Prophets, of their calling on the "mountains
and rocks" to "fall" on them and "cover" them, our
Lord has Himself taken and stamped with His own authority as having
a fulfilment in the destruction of Jerusalem, when He said;
"Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves'."
And in comparing it with the Prophet we find "the wrath of the
Lamb" thus spoken of; that they shall " go into the clefts of
the rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty,
when He ariseth to shake terribly the earth V Adam hid himself among
the trees: these will call on mountains to hide them, so far greater
their terror and shame. What may be the meaning of these things it
is impossible to decide, but that they have a primary subordinate
sense as figures is obvious. As this is the Sixth Seal, so on the
sixth day and at the sixth hour the sun was darkened at our Lord's
death. It may be that He now withdraws His countenance from Israel,
"the Sun" of Righteousness is turned to "sackcloth,"
and has no light for them; that Church, as the "moon," is
turned into "blood" at that terrible siege; for their "hands
are full of blood3:" and her
"stars" or great ones "fall," not by gradual decay—not,
as it will be at the end of the world, when the figs are "ripe4,"
but by untimely violence cast down to the ground. The fig-tree being
often put for the synagogue, on which our Lord sought fruit in vain,
and cursed from the root. The "Heaven" is "rolled
together" as a book folded up and done with. "It is the Old
Testament," says Berengaudus. And St. Austin takes the Heavens for
the type of God's Word 5 . In some sense certainly the Heaven or
book of that dispensation. "Every mountain and island were moved
from their places" as in that great change and dissolution of
which the Prophet speaks; "the earth is utterly broken, the earth is
moved exceedingly6." It is much to be
noticed how in the corresponding ulterior fulfilment these same
figures increase in power; when "the great Babylon" falls, "every
island fled away, and the mountains were not found. The
sublimity and vastness of the expressions by which the destruction
of Jerusalem is described raise our thoughts to those greater
visitations in which they will be finally fulfilled, when in a
fuller sense "the great day of His wrath is come." "The great,
the rich, the mighty, the kings, and captains," may be those
"ten kings" so mysteriously described with the Beast, for ten is of
multitudes. And the "falling" of the "stars" may have
a reference to that time when Antichrist shall cast down the stars
of Heaven to the ground, and stamp them under his feets.
"In the end," says Aretas, "with exceeding vastness, and not in any
one part of the world as on Jerusalem, but in a surpassing manner to
the whole world, will occur the exceeding great tribulation on the
coming of Antichrist; in which on those pre-eminent in worldly
authority, whom he hath set forth as kings, or of
ecclesiastical order, whom he hath figuratively named mountains and
islands, that fearful tribulation will be brought." The number six,
as Bede remarks on the sixth Epistle, is of Antichrist. This seems
to be the object of those vast and overwhelming figures by which
things are described, casting their huge shadows long before and
covering all lesser fulfilments in the untold consummation yet to
be, to which they point and tend. For this reason it appears to be
that all these signs of the sun, moon, and stars, and the like, are
not confined to Jerusalem, but are descriptive of the fall of other
cities and nations; as of Babylon9,
of Idumea', and of Egypt2. These,
fixed by our Lord on Jerusalem, combine together to point out the
way to their one great final meaning. The language of God must be
that of mystery—cannot be that of exaggeration or hyperbole."
The six Angels of destruction
are seen, the word is gone forth to destroy the city; "the glory of
the God of Israel was gone up, from the cherub whereon he was, to
the threshold of the house." "And the Lord said unto the man; Go
through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and
set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and cry for all
the abominations:" as in another Prophet, "A book of remembrance was
written before Him;" "And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of
hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels'." And St. Peter, in his
great sermon of Pentecost, has strongly marked it as the fulfilment
of the Prophet Joel, that when "the sun shall be turned into
darkness and the moon into blood," i.e. at the destruction of
Jerusalem, as we have seen in the sixth Seal, "whosoever shall call
on the Lord shall be saved10." "God
hath not cast away His people which He foreknew." "There is a
remnant according to the election of grace'." Our Lord's own words,
then, bear out the same with greater fulness and exactness,
combining also in the fulfilment the final one of which itself is
the type. In all the accounts it is the critical moment of
destruction at which this pause is made, and this in the Apocalypse
lies between the two descriptions, that of Ezekiel and the Gospel.
"And He shall send His Angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and
they shall gather together His elect from the four winds'."
And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and (here
were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand
out of every tribe of the sons of Israel." The Greek
commentators speak of this sealing being fulfilled in those many
Jews who, sealed by faith in Christ, were not destroyed in
Jerusalem, but escaped. And we have the testimony appealed to by St.
James of the "many thousands of the Jews who believed2."
"Or," adds Aretas, "more probably is it spoken of those Jews in the
end, of which St. Paul says, 'so shall all Israel be saved3.'"
But this sealing cannot be interpreted of merely the escape of those
Christians, it is stamped throughout with a higher signification
also; and the exact specification of number would prevent our
limiting it or applying it too much to any such fulfilment. "
The Reverend Isaac Williams (1802–1865) was a prominent member of
Oxford Movement, a student and disciple of
Keble and, like the other members of the movement, associated with
Oxford University. A prolific writer, Williams wrote poetry and prose
including the well known Tract: "On Reserve in Communicating Religious
In 1841, Williams had been suggested as John Keble's successor as the
professor of poetry at Oxford. Due to furor raised by Newman's
Tract XC, and Williams' association with the Oxford Men, the election
became a referendum on Tractarianism. The controversy created became so
heated that Williams withdrew his name and
James Garbett was given the position.
Sermon Preached at the Consecration of the Church of Llangorwen, in the
Diocese of St. David's, December 16, MDCCCXLI.
Aberystwith: J. Cox, 1841.
Autobiography of Isaac Williams, B.D.
Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Oxford, Author of Several of
the Tracts for the Times
Edited by Sir George Prevost, Late Archdeacon of Gloucester.
London: Longmans, 1892.
Williams and the Oxford Movement.
The Church Quarterly Review, Volume XXXIV, July 1892.
London: Printed and Published by Spottiswoode & Co., 1892.
Williams. London: The Catholic Literature Association, 1933.
80--On Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge.
Number 87--On Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge.
Brief Analysis of the Tracts on Reserve in Communicating Religious
By Henry Arthur Woodgate
Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1842.
From A Course of
Sermons on Solemn Subjects chiefly bearing on Repentance and
Amendment of Life, Preached in St. Saviour's Church, Leeds, During the
Week after its Consecration on the Feast of S. Simon and S. Jude, 1845.
(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
The Altar; or
Meditations in Verse on the Great Christian Sacrifice
London: Joseph Masters, 1849.