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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter XVIII
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





The theme of this chapter is one—a very minute delineation of the sins, the luxury, the traffic, and the fall of Great Babylon. Conceived of as the mart of the nations, the great center of trade and commerce,—the merchants and seafaring men of the earth bewail her fall as ruinous to their prosperity.—The drapery of this chapter comes from the prophecies concerning Babylon as they appear in Jer. 50 and 51, and Isa. 13 and 14; and of Tyre as in Ezek. 26 to 28 inclusive. The associations connected with the name "Babylon" would suggest the numerous and minute points of those prophecies which predict her fall; while the remarkably close analogies between Tyre as the great commercial city of ancient times and this mystic Babylon whose harlotry [idolatry] was strongly associated with traffic and commerce, naturally brought in those graphic and minute predictions of Ezekiel.—It can not escape the reader's notice that this painting of the life and the fall of Great Babylon makes prominent her luxury and her commerce. The question will arise—How shall we understand this? Is it a sin to trade? Was this her damning sin, that she bought and sold and did business with the whole civilized world?—The answer must be—that while there may be a vast amount of selfishness, cupidity and fraud in trade, and although ancient Rome may have had her share of these sins; and although luxury conduces fearfully to sensuality, pride and moral hardihood in sin, yet there are cogent reasons for taking these descriptive points of Babylon as symbols of her idolatry and of her corrupting influence in this respect over the leading minds and the great nations of her time. Let it be noted that old Rome was never specially prominent for commerce; she never was, like Tyre, the mart of the nations; probably was even less prominent in this respect than her namesake—the old Chaldean Babylon. Note also that in a few passages this symbol (commerce) is dropped, and her sins are put in the well known Hebrew figures—fornication, i. e., spiritual harlotry, real idolatry, thus;—"All nations have drunk of the hot wine of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her" (v. 3). "And the kings of the earth have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her," etc. (v. 9). Yet farther consider that foreign commerce was alien from the spirit of the Mosaic institutions because it would beget too intimate associations with heathen people and thus expose them to idolatry; that the word "Canaanite" meant "merchant" as well as a man of Canaan (Hos. 12: 7), and hence the very name would be odious to the true Israelite and naturally associated with the vices and the religions of the worst idolaters; that these ideas were so prevalent in the Hebrew mind that Isaiah (23: 15-18), speaking of Tyre, uses the words "harlot," "harlot-hire," "fornication" and "merchandize," as essentially synonymous. If to all this we add the natural influence of such a model before the mind as those chapters of Ezekiel (26-28) which treat of the fall of Tyre and give so large a place to her trade and to her commercial relations with all the people of the East, we shall readily see that the luxury and trade of this great Babylon must have primary reference to her idolatry and to her pernicious influence in this respect upon the nations of the earth.

In this chapter a mighty angel comes from heaven and announces the fall of "Great Babylon" (vs. 1, 2); assigns briefly the reasons for it (v. 3); another voice from heaven calls the people of God to come out from her (v. 4); and testifies to God's retributions upon her (vs. 5, 6); puts in contrast her sins and her fall (vs. 7, 8); gives the wail of her guilty associates in crime (vs. 9-11); and presents under the symbols and terms of trade, a detailed view of her sins (vs. 12-14); returns again to the wails of her companions in idolatry (vs. 15-19). Let the earth rejoice in her fall, for it is God's avenging hand upon their murderers (v 20). Babylon falls like a great millstone into the sea (v. 21), and ringing notes of joy are heard in her no more (v. 22, 23), but the blood of martyrs is found there—the procuring cause of her fearful and fatal fall (v. 24).

1. And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.

2. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

This was one of the mighty angels. His descent illumined the earth with the blaze of his glory.—There can be no doubt that this great Babylon is the same whose fall was first spoken of in similar terms in chap. 14: 8 and again in 16: 19.—The original Greek gives us, not "the habitation of devils," as if it were the abode of them all and the only one, but "a habitation"—one of the places where they congregate and dwell. So also, not "the hold of every foul spirit," but "a hold," i. e., a strong hold, a sort of prison, a place of close abode. Babylon became desecrated, accursed—much as is said of her prototype (Isa. 13: 19-22), and also of Idumea (Isa. 34: 11-15).

3. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

The word rendered "abundance" is the common one for power, dynamic force [dunamis], but here used for the prodigiously strong seductive influences of her luxury and of her proud voluptuousness. These terms probably refer primarily to her influence to ward idolatry and its associate vices. The hot wine which she administered to her paramours fired and maddened their passions toward that lewdness which primarily means the giving of the heart and the life to idol-worship. But inasmuch as idolatry and lewdness were always associated in fact and not in symbol only, the true view should perhaps include them both in such descriptions as we have in this chapter.

4. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

Even as God through Jeremiah warned his people to escape from old Babylon in the day of her impending fall (Jer. 50: 8, and 51: 6, 45)—"Flee out of the midst of Babylon and deliver every man his soul; be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord's vengeance," etc., so here, nothing could be more natural or more appropriate than this summons, "Come out of her, my people;" first, lest ye share in her sins; next, lest ye have also her plagues. Remaining in Babylon would involve a double danger; first, of moral corruption; second, of physical destruction. For both reasons let all who hear and fear the warning voice of God escape from Babylon.—Some commentators give the word "sins" ["partakers of her sins"] the sense of punishment for sin, and thus make these two clauses essentially one; flee lest ye partake of the punishment of her sins and of her plagues. But this is an unusual sense of the word for "sins," and therefore should not be assumed without urgent reason; besides that the Greek word rendered "partakers of" involves the idea of most intimate fellowship, meaning precisely, lest ye make her sins common to yourself and to her.

5. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

The oldest manuscripts (the Sinaitic and Alexandrine) with the concurrence of recent editors, reject the Greek verb which means to follow [akolouqew] and accept one which means to cleave together [kollaw]. The figure implied in the verb is that of cleaving together till the mass mounted heaven-high, Babel-like. The sentiment is that her sins have come up into remembrance before God for righteous punishment.

6. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled, fill to her double.

The tone of this verse is simply just and righteous retribution. The earlier authorities for the text omit "you" in the clause, "rewarded you," reading it, Render to her even as she has rendered, i. e., to others generally.—I regard this command as addressed not to God's people on earth, but rather to those angelic agents who were to be the executioners of God's judgments. There is no occasion to press the words here used to the literal and extreme sense of giving to Babylon double what she deserved, or even double what she had rendered of affliction and oppression to the saints. This ancient Hebrew phrase means full, complete retribution—nothing more. Essentially the same language appears in Isa. 40: 20, and 61: 7. The idea of rendering substantial retribution to this Babylon may have been suggested by the repeated threatenings of like retribution upon the first Babylon, whose case was then vividly before the mind of John. This may be seen in Jer. 50: 15, 29. "As she hath done, do unto her." "Recompense her according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her." Also Jer. 51: 24, 49. "I will render unto Babylon and to all the inhabitants of Chaldea all their evil that they have done in Zion in your sight, saith the Lord." "As Babylon hath caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon shall fall the slain of all the earth."

7. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.

Her pride had been her curse. According to the measure of her self-glorifying and her luxurious display, so shall she be requited with torment and mourning.—What she is supposed to "say in her heart" is imitated from her great prototype, the first Babylon, and from her sister Nineveh, as may be seen in Isaiah 47: 7, 8: "Thou saidst, I will be a lady forever." "That sayest in thine heart, I am and none else beside me. I shall never sit as a widow;" etc. Also Zeph. 2: 15: "This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am and there is none beside me."

8. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.

In the last clause the improved reading has the word "judgeth" in the past, not the present tense; meaning who has previously judged her, in the sense that he has passed sentence upon her and now he executes it.—The being utterly burned with fire refers tacitly to the legal punishment [in some cases] for adultery. See notes on 17: 16. The suddenness of this threatened doom on great Babylon as well as various other features in this description seem to follow the prophetic foreshowing of the fall of the first Babylon. In her case the facts of history were that the first blow fell suddenly in one fearful night; but the utter and final ruin of the city filled out centuries.—The facts of history in the ease of Rome will come up for special consideration when all the points of this prophecy shall be fully before us.

9. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,

10. Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

For the sense in which "the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her" see notes on 17: 2.—The conception of the kings of the earth "standing afar off for the fear of her torment" and looking as if from some mountain peak upon the smoke of her burning to bewail the fall of that "great," that "mighty city," is mournfully impressive. It can not well he doubted that the prototype of this conception is Abraham, early in the morning, "looking toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the plain, and lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace" (Gen. 19: 28). Not unlike this is the last scene in the prophet Isaiah (66: 24): "All flesh shah come up to worship before me; and they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." The fires and the smoke of Gehenna (valley of Hinnom) lie forever in view from the overlooking walls of the city of God's worshipers. But here in this wailing scene, the mourners are her sympathizing friends, and they are smitten not only with sympathetic grief but with unutterable consternation lest the doom of Babylon should foreshadow their own, and they should wake some dreadful morning to find the fires of divine retribution kindling upon their palaces and engulfing their souls in ruin!

11. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:

12. The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

13. And cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

That the merchants of the earth bear so prominent a part here may be due somewhat to the attractive influence of that remarkably analogous scene sketched most graphically by Ezekiel—the fall of Tyre (chap. 26-28). He places before us Tyre, "situate at the entry of the sea, a merchant of the people for many isles," and says: "Tarshish was thy merchant; Javan, Tubal and Meshech were thy merchants; Syria, Damascus, Judah also;"—indeed all the nations of the then civilized world: and then in the filling out of this scene, these merchants and mariners all "shall cry bitterly and shall cast up dust upon their heads; they shall weep for thee with bitterness of heart and bitter wailing, and in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee." "What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea!" So the traffickers with old Rome whose heart and hand had been with hers in voluptuousness, idolatry and oppression are now chief mourners over her fall. This sketching imitates Ezekiel in the remarkable minuteness of the description and in that rare felicity of moral painting which makes every distinct feature serve to intensify the one grand impression of the whole scene.—In the last clause of v. 13, the original gives us, not any word meaning precisely slave, but the usual word for bodies [Somata]. Naming the bodies and the souls of men in apparent antithesis with each other may perhaps mean: They trafficked in every sort of thing; they even made merchandise of men, both body and soul! What more could they find to buy and to sell? What on earth is too sacred for their covetous fingers? What is there that they will not desecrate into merchandise and barter it for paltry gold? I judge there can be no doubt that the sale of men for slaves is the special thing intended, and not only intended but stringently rebuked—held up to the abhorrence of mankind and as an abomination to the righteous God!

14. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

15. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,

16. And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!

"Dainty and goodly" in the sense of luxurious and splendid or shining.—Instead of the second verb, "departed" ["are departed from thee"], the better manuscripts give us the stronger word—have perished from thee.—Here the merchants, like the kings in vs. 9, 10, stand afar off for the fear of her torment and lift up their wailing cry over her sudden and fearful fall!

17. For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,

18. And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!

19. And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

The first clause of v. 17 ought to have been the close of v. 16. Then the mariners are brought to view, precisely as we find in Ezekiel 27.—Instead of "all the company in ships," the oldest manuscripts give us—"Every one who saileth by the place," i. e., all who shall ever pass that way and come in sight of her smoking ruins.—The Greek words rendered "trade by sea" mean strictly "work the sea," with probably reference to plying and plowing the sea with their oars. Navigation was working the sea then in a somewhat stronger sense than now.—These mariners make a third class (after kings and merchants) who wail as they see the smoke of her burning, and join the grand chorus of bitter lamentation.

20. Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.

The improved text gives us instead of "holy apostles," "ye saints and apostles and prophets."—This joy to which all heaven is summoned should never be thought of as a purely selfish, much less as a malicious, exultation over a fallen enemy, but as a joy in the triumph of righteousness; a joy in the fall of oppressors and persecutors whose power was simple and utter antagonism against human salvation, against the highest good of men on earth and of saints and angels in heaven. As in the case of bloody Jerusalem, so in this case of not less bloody Rome, the martyrs had lain at the foot of the altar, crying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not avenge our blood on those who withstand thy cause, forbid the spread of thy gospel, and murder thy faithful saints?—And here comes the answer to the spirit of their cry: "Rejoice, for God has avenged you on great Babylon."—Analagous to this was the song over the first great Babylon: "Then the heaven and the earth and all that is therein shall sing for Babylon." (Jer. 51: 48).

21. And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.

This is probably an imitation of Jer. 51: 63, 64, where the prophet is commanded to bind a stone to the book of his prophecy and cast it into the midst of Euphrates and say, "Thus shall Babylon sink and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her." Here the action is grand, magnificent—in the spirit of this entire book. A mighty angel (not a feeble prophet) takes up a stone like a great millstone, and casts it into the sea. So great Babylon, old Rome as a persecuting power, must go down, to rise no more.

22. And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;

23. And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

The fall of a great city is shown here impressively in its resultssilence and desolation. The joyous sounds of busy, happy life are heard in her no more; the light of the candle shines there no more; the happy voices of bridegroom and bride shall ring out through her festive halls no more. Sorrow and gloom are there; darkness and desolation bear sway, and there is none to resist.—The moral reason comes in appropriately—"for by thy sorceries were all the nations deceived." She had seduced the world away from their great Creator to the worship of idols and devils. Therefore she must drink the cup of retribution

24. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.

God had made inquisition there for bloodand found it! There lay upon her the blood of prophets and of saints; the holy and the good of earth had perished there, and their blood had cried to God for retributionhad cried, and not in vain!

At this point it is proper to give special attention to an objection raised against the application of chap. 18, and its connected and parallel passages, to Pagan Rome, viz., The prophecy requires that this mystic Babylon should fall suddenly, and also, should fall utterly and forever: but this can not apply to Rome because Rome did not fall suddenly, nor can it apply to any fall of Rome that has yet transpired because Rome is yet standing.

To this I reply:—1. There is need of caution against the fallacy of assuming that the name Rome represents throughout all historic ages the same thing.—If the mystic Babylon of this prophecy means Rome (as I have supposed), it of course means only the Rome of the age of Nero—not the Rome of every possible agenot necessarily the Rome of eighteen hundred years after Nero.—The reader will especially observe that the "great city" of this prophecy, the harlot woman, Babylon, is (a) the queen city of the world, "reigning over the kings of the earth;" (b) is supremely idolatrous, the mother city of Paganism and of its abominations; (c) is a great persecuting power, making herself drunk with the blood of Christian martyrs.—It is only as such that she appears before us in this prophecy. When in these aspects she falls and dies, then she is dead to all the intents and purposes of this prophecy. There may still be a place called Rome, but the harlot city of this book, this mystic Babylon, has sunk from the page of history, and the prophecy is fulfilled.—2. The history of the Rome which stood before the prophet's eye in the age of Nero should be attentively studied.—Nothing could have been further from the thought of Edward Gibbon, when he sat down one hundred years ago to write "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,"—than to make out an historic fulfillment of this prophecy as applied to Pagan Rome. Yet the simple demands of historic truth gave him the appropriate terms—"Decline and Fall." The empire went down. The city was repeatedly captured and sacked, its ancient glory rapidly waned, and sunk at length to its political grave.Note also that the Rome of this prophecy perished in the most disastrous way possible—by ulceration of the heart—corruption and death at her vitals. That virile energy which had made her arms every-where victorious and her name a terror to the civilized world, was gradually emasculated; her legions, once invincible, became weak as other men, and even lent their sword, not to sustain the empire, but to crush it. Her citizens, lost to virtue, could no longer bear good rulers. That she should have the vilest and worst men that ever lived for her emperors became her inevitable doom—the torment of her life, the misery of her people, the ruin of the empire, the wreck of her glory. To give in detail the facts of which the essence is condensed into these paragraphs would be to rewrite the history of the Decline and Fall of Pagan Rome.

It will not be amiss however to suggest that the agencies assigned in this prophecy to the ten kings (17: 12-17) is remarkably true to history, on the supposition that those kings were the foreign powers which for a season gave their strength to the beast (v. 13), but ultimately turned to "hate" the harlot city and make her desolate (v. 16). No broad fact of Roman history is more patent than thisthat the outlying kingdoms and provinces which for a time lent their strength to augment her splendor as well as to enlarge her empire, in process of time turned their arms upon her and became the main agents in her desolation. Gauls, Germans, Parthians, dealt telling blows toward her weakness and shame in the earlier stages of her decline; Goths, the western and the eastern, Huns, Vandals, poured in upon her in her later stages to hurl her down to her irretrievable fall. The transfer of her best strength to the center of the Great Eastern Empire conspired also to the ruin of Imperial Rome. The ten horns of the beast on which the woman sat became ultimately the instruments under God's hand and will to her destruction. Thus marvelously did it come to pass that history wrote over again this prophecy of the ten horns of this beast as related to the final retributions of God upon this harlot city.

One of the methods of estimating both the corruptions of the imperial power and the miseries of the imperial city is to group the personal history of its successive monarchs. How many in any given period were miscreants, notorious only for their vices; how many reigned only to curse their people; how many died by violence because the world could bear their presence no longer; how many reigned less than five years, multiplying those civil revolutions that crimson the best families with blood. To reach the general results of such a table, we may embrace a period of two hundred and thirty years subsequent to the death of Nero. Then omitting the four reigns of Trajan, Adrian, and the two Antonines, we shall find proximately thirty-six emperors with an average reign of four years, of whom twenty-three died by assassination, or the alternative of suicide, out of whom it would be hard to find one who did not richly deserve the death he died.

The greater part of these emperors were simply monsters in crime. Of Caracalla, perhaps somewhat worse than an average specimen, history records that he murdered his brother Geta, partner with himself in the empire, in the very arms of their common mother, and then consecrated in the temple of Serapis that sword bathed in a brother's blood; that under the vague appellation of "the friends of Geta," above twenty thousand persons of both sexes suffered death by a proscription which "endeavored to reach every one who had maintained the smallest correspondence with Geta, who lamented his death, or who even mentioned his name." After one year thus spent at Rome, he filled out the remaining five of his reign and life traversing the several provinces of the empire, "making each one by turns the scene of his rapine and cruelty." "In the midst of peace and upon the slightest provocation he issued his command at Alexandria in Egypt for a general massacre. From a secure post in the temple of Serapis he viewed and directed the slaughter of many thousand citizens as well as strangers, without distinguishing either the number or the crime of the sufferers, since, as he coolly informed the senate, "all the Alexandrians, both those who had perished and those who had escaped, were alike guilty."' (Gibbon 1: 160.) No wonder that Gibbon brands him as "the common enemy of mankind." Yet "the soldiers obliged the senate to prostitute their own dignity and that of religion by granting him [at death] a place among the gods."—Yet this man was the product of his age. His horrible crimes and the no less horrible character which begat them had their causes in the moral and social rottenness of the body politic. Rome was slowly dying of her own intrinsic corruption. There is no death more horrible. It may be a lingering one, protracted through one or more centuries; but who can over-estimate the horrors of a nation's death prolonged and drawn out through centuries? The Omnipotent Arm might have sunk Rome in one short hour by an earthquake; the doom of Herculaneum and Pompeii might have swept her name and memorial from the page of history for eighteen hundred years; and some would deem this a far more exact fulfillment of the prophecies in this eighteenth chapter than her actual history has given us. But whoever shall carefully estimate the comparative miseries of these two methods of divine retribution will at least conclude there is room for grave question. It seems beyond dispute that in those distinctly marked respects in which this mystic Babylon appears before us in these chapters, Pagan Rome did in fact go down and perish. She ceased to be the queen city of the world, "reigning over the kings of the earth;" her influence toward idolatry was broken, and after Constantine her persecuting power as pagan and idolatrous was at an end.

But still the inquiry should be fairly met:—Can we accept these historic facts as a fulfillment of this prophecy? Are we authorized to give these visions so free a construction that their representations shall be essentially met in the broad facts of this history of the decline and fall of Pagan Rome?

1. In the first place, whatever this "great city" may be, we can not object that this prophecy should present it under the symbol of some great city doomed to destruction in the prophecies of the Old Testament. This is the uniform usage of this book of Revelation. Its symbols, its sketchings, its colorings are taken from the Old Testament prophets. It is of no avail for us to demand a different usage from this in the case of this great city.

2. The fact that this city takes the mystic name "Babylon" carries us at once and inevitably to the old Babylon as the type of this great city. Whichsoever of the great cities of Nero's time (the date of this writing) this one may be, she is a second "Babylon," and the prophecies that doomed the Chaldean Babylon to full are before the mind and furnish in part the figures and conceptions to set forth the fall of this great city.—A careful comparison of chap. 18 with Ezekiel's predictions of the fall of Tyre (chap. 26-28) will satisfy candid minds that those prophecies also were definitely in view and were in many points imitated in these descriptions. Consequently this mystic Babylon is compared by John with the old Chaldean Babylon and with the Tyre of Ezekiel. The language and figures here are drawn from the prophetic delineations there.

3. Now let it be borne in mind that the main points of the objection before us are that according to this prophecy, its mystic Babylon ought to fall both suddenly and utterly; and therefore Pagan Rome which fell neither suddenly nor utterly can not be the city here prophetically doomed. Bearing directly upon this objection two points challenge our candid consideration.—(a.) That neither Babylon nor Tyre fell both suddenly and utterly, as the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel might seem to demand. True, the first blow on Babylon was sudden; but she survived it; she rallied again and stood a magnificent city at least till the age of Alexander—fully two hundred years. Thenceforward she went down slowly with a decline that stretched through other centuries before the prophecy was fully accomplished. So Tyre fell before the arms of Nebuchadnezzar not long after the date of Ezekiel's prophecy. But Tyre rallied again and rose to probably greater splendor than ever before. Nearly two centuries more of prosperous life intervened before the next stunning blow fell on her from the arms of the great Alexander. Even after this she revived and other long ages intervened before the era of utter desolation came upon her. Yet no sensible interpreter hesitates a moment in applying the prophecies here referred to respectively to Babylon and to Tyre. The prophecies themselves are perfectly definite and explicit in such application. We are therefore compelled to grant that such language as that which describes Babylon as going down into the mighty deep like a millstone (Jer. 51: 63, 64) does not mean necessarily that the city must go down as with an earthquake engulfing it bodily—walls, towers, palaces and people, in one vast burial beneath the ground. It is possible to press such language beyond its true intent. Something must be conceded to the bold genius of poetic conception. Essentially the same may be said of Tyre, the prophecy being "When I shall make thee a desolate city." . . . "When I shall bring up the deep over thee and great waters shall cover thee." . . . "I will make thee a terror, and thou shalt be no more," etc.; and yet the fulfillment, as said above, shows that her decline and fall were by successive stages at quite remote intervals, not altogether unlike the decline and fall of ancient Pagan Rome.—(b.) But there is still another fact equally demanding consideration. We can not insist that a copy like this before us in John should be (as to its meaning and therefore its fulfillment) a precise imitation of its original as he found it in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. For it is unquestionably a fact that a considerable degree of latitude is admitted where a prophet borrows language and imagery from a previously written prophecy or from history. Thus for example the Messiah is prophetically set forth as a second David. Ps. 2 and 45, and 110, are in this strain. The second psalm would seem on the face of it to make him a bloody, all-crushing warrior, "breaking the nations with a rod of iron, dashing them in pieces as a potter's vessel" (v. 9). But when we intelligently apply this to Jesus Christ, we make large allowances for the influence of the model reign, that of the warlike David, in shaping the thought and expression of the prophecy as related to the Messiah. We say—Jesus is indeed a conqueror; but of hearts, not of walled cities; by the power of truth and of love, and not of an iron rod; melting human souls to tenderness, and not crushing them precisely as a potter's vessel.—So Ps. 45 reads, "Gird thy sword upon thy thigh;" "thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies whereby the people fall under thee;" yet we notice that the New Testament writers have quite modified the warlike tone and air of these prophetic symbols, for with them it is "the word of God" that is "sharper than any two-edged sword and that pierces" even to the severing of soul and body. It must be admitted then that the prophetic model before the mind has commanding influence in shaping the style and expression of writers of prophecy. It would be no easy task to draw a given line and say—So far, within precisely these limitations, the copy must keep to its original. Hence we can not quite say that John's description of the fall of the mystic Babylon must be kept with precise historic accuracy to the sense of the prophecies of old Babylon as interpreted by history. Some latitude is admissible (who can say precisely how much?) within which the second Babylon—this of John—may vary, in the mode of its decline and fall, from the type of the first.—And here let no one exclaim against all prophecy as too indefinite to be reliable or in anywise useful. Let him rather say—It behooves us to study carefully its laws and its usage, and to look rather for general than for entirely specific correspondence between prophecy and its fulfilling history. A general correspondence between this prophecy of the fall of this second Babylon and the fall of the first Babylon as verified in history, we do undeniably find. The Rome of the time of John was in fact blighted and scathed, tortured and smitten; her imperial power broken; her idolatrous influence crushed out; her persecuting terrors quenched in God's own way, by judgments which might well make every ear tingle and every heart quail. A city called Rome is indeed standing now, nearly on the site of that Rome of old; but is it the same city—imperial now as then? mistress of the nations now as then? deifying her emperors and compelling Christians to bow before her idolatrous military standards now as then? persecuting with fire and sword, with exile and torture, now as then? Not at all! This Rome and that have nothing in common but the name. The old Rome of the age of John, the Rome that sat on the seven-headed and ten-horned beast, has been politically defunct fifteen centuries. The Babylon of Jeremiah and the Tyre of Ezekiel are not more certainly dead and gone than the second Babylon and the second Tyre of the Apocalypse—assuming these symbols to allude precisely to the Rome of the age of Nero in her prominent and special characteristics—world-wide supremacy; social and political power consecrated to idolatry and to bloody persecution. Whatever map be true of what is now called Rome, that old Rome has long since drunk from the hand of the Great God of Providence the cup of his indignation. The nations that were in her sympathy long ago sang their requiem, or rather poured out their wail of grief over her irretrievable fall! No such Rome has been known in the world's history for long ages.—My conclusion therefore is that the objections in question are rather plausible than real; that they rest on assumptions not borne out by the laws and usages of scripture prophecy; and largely on the fallacy of confounding the Rome of John's age with the city called Rome to-day. Overruling such objections as irrelevant and not sustained, I accept the application of these prophecies of the mystic Babylon to Pagan Rome.

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Preface | Introduction | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII
"Day" = year?