« PreviousContinue »
the Grecian empire, established by the conquests of Alex.ander the Great. Having destroyed the Persian power, he took Babylon, B. C. 330. The Grecian dominion continued for some time in the hands of his successors, but was finally absorbed in the spreading empire of the all-conquering Romans. 1 No remnant of independent authority was left at the commencement of the Christian era. This, then, was the third kingdom, which answered to the “ belly and thighs of brass ;” and the Roman can alone be the fourth kingdom, answering to the iron legs.
40. “ And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron; forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces, and subdueth all things; and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise."
The history of the Roman empire, with which my readers are of course well acquainted, will fully illustrate, and show the accomplishment of this part of the prophet's interpretation.
But we are called to notice a particular event in the latter history of this empire, of great importance to our subject, because it delineates the exact situation of the world, when the final catastrophe shall take place:
41. “ And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided : but there shall be in it of the strength of iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay: and as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay; so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken," or, “ brittle: and whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle them
1 “ It lasted 163 years, to the years to the conquest of the last, conquest of the first kingdom, Egypt, by the Romans, B. C. 30." Macedon, B. C. 168; and 300 -DR. ILALES.
selves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay.”
The history of the declining days of the Roman power, already applied by so many able expositors of prophecy to this subject, can alone explain this. The empire was to be divided, but still to subsist. It was to be fairly divided, but still its parts were to remain unsevered. Some connexion there was to be, the image is yet entire, and stands on its feet; but its incongruous materials are ill cemented together, and all attempts to unite them more perfectly would fail.
The division of the Roman empire in the eastern and western empires, has been thought by some to fulfil the first part of this prophetical representation ; but, on a careful review of what has been advanced for this interpretation, certainly improperly. All the regions that composed the eastern empire were conquests, and no part of the original Roman empire, as it came in contact with the remains of the prophetic kingdoms which preceded it. These regions had for the most part belonged to the Grecian or Macedonian empire. In the language of a subsequent prophecy, they formed “the body” of this kingdom when“ its dominion was taken away." Now, “the body of the fourth empire” was evidently the western nations alone; the conquest, indeed, of one city had for the most part united these together; but they had no name previously among the civilized kingdoms of the earth. Rome may be justly said to have enclosed and civilized them, from a state of uncultivated barbarism. When thus consolidated, these nations formed that powerful empire, which, treading in the steps of the former conquerors of the world, in real power exceeded them all, and broke all their remnants in pieces. It is then beyond all doubt in the western, or Roman empire proper, that we are to look for the division here predicted: and the division of this empire by the northern invaders, all my readers will know, is one of the most remarkable events in history. These northern barbarians (Gog and Magog)* from whom all the royal and noble families, and not a small portion of the population of modern Europe, have sprung, may be properly said to have divided the Roman empire among them. They did not destroy it, nor dissolve it; but portioned it out among thein. Separate and independent sovereignties arose in the midst of it, but the great body of the empire was still held together by a common civilization, similar customs and manners; and, at length, by a common religion, and similar institutions of government. These peculiarities have always kept the great mass of Roman civilization distinct from the other nations of the earth.
The reader of history will often have occasion also to remark how well the symbol of “the iron that cannot mix with clay,” which renders the fabric “partly weak, and partly strong,” represents the present condition of this empire. Though held together in a certain sense, every effort to establish an universal monarchy in Europe has failed; the iron would not mix with clay: and though the long continued practice of intermarrying between the reigning houses of Europe seemed likely in the natural course of things, sooner or later, to unite so many into one, as to give it an irresistible superiority over the rest, yet this has never been accomplished; they have mingled themselves with the seed of men, but they could not cleave one to another.”
Partly strong, and partly weak,” will also well apply, whether we have respect to the exercise of civil and political power by the constituted authorities over their subjects, or to the impression that the combined efforts of the European princes have made without, on other nations of the world. In both these senses the history of Europe, since the decline of the empire, will afford instances of such inconsistent feebleness and power united, as, perhaps, the history of no other empire affords, after the unity of its government has been destroyed.
** And in the days of these kings," or literally from the original Chaldee, “ in their days of these kings, shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom.”
It is of the utmost importance to ascertain to whom the words, “ these kings,” refer; because, in their days, the kingdom of God, which can be no other than that of the Messiah, of which we have already heard so much, is to be set up. No kings, indeed, have been mentioned before; but the prophecy had just declared, that in its last state the fourth kingdom would be divided. If divided, there would then be kings, or independent sovereignties. It were, therefore, fair to conclude, that the kings, or governments, of this divided empire, is intended by “ these kings," and subsequent prophecies have rendered this deduction certain. It is, therefore, in the days of these kings of the divided Roman empire, that we are to look for the setting up of God's kingdom, and not before. The “ kingdom," therefore, does not mean the peaceful progress of the victorious Gospel, which calls together the elect of God, and makes them ready as a people prepared for the Lord; but it means the actual reign of Messiah, of which we have read so much in the former prophets. The “stone cut out of the mountain without hands," or, “ which is not in hands," does not, therefore, symbolize the blessed Jesus in the lowly and mournful achievements of the first advent; but it symbolizes his sudden and glorious appearing in the latter days, when he comes, not to suffer the penalty of death, but to destroy the enemies of his people, and the destroyers of the earth.
“ The stone smote the image upon his feet, which were of iron and clay,” and brake them to pieces. The Gospel church comes not into conflict with the existing authorities of the kingdoms of men. Its Master has ordered the most entire submission in his people to
the powers that be;" even to the sovereign authority of this very fourth empire, which existed when he was upon earth; and which was then the inveterate persecutor of him and of his followers, and was long to be known in that character.
Again, we are to remark, that the symbolical stone comes not into conflict with the ruling powers of the earth, till the fourth empire is seen to exist in its divided state the stone “smote the image on its feet, that were of iron and clay.” But, at the first promulgation of the Gospel, and for centuries afterwards, the empire was entire, and existed in all its iron hardness, and irresist
Here is, therefore, plainly portrayed the great conflict of the latter days, so often foretold in the former prophets; and the violent and complete destruction of the whole fabric of human power and sovereignty, as represented in the symbol before us, well agrees with their predictions of the same events.
“ Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the