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B. W. Johnson
Vision of the Ages (1881)



The Silence in Heaven.--The Prayers of the Saints.--The Western Roman Empire, the Theatre of
the Four Angels.--The Rush of the Goths upon Rome.--The Land Scourged, Red with
Blood and Blackened with Fire.--The term Third Part Discussed.--The Second Angel
and the Scourge of the Sea.--The Vandals.--The Romans Swept from the Seas.--The
City Pillaged.--Wormwood.--Attila, the Hun; Buried Under the Danube.--The Fourth
Angel.--Rome Overwhelmed.--The Sun, Moon and Stars of a Third Part of the Earth
Smitten.--The Dark Ages.

      We now pass down the records of the world's history to the beginning of a new period. In the seventh chapter the prophet has portrayed the four winds as held back from the work of destruction until the servants of God are sealed. That work has now been accomplished. They can be held back no longer, but will now burst upon the world in fury. Their movement and the consequences that follow when they are let forth, are presented in the opening of


      I quote from the beginning of the eighth chapter: [130]

      And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. 8:1-6.

      The Lamb opened the seventh and last seal of the mysterious book. This is not followed by immediate action as in the other seals, but there fell upon heaven and earth an awful silence. A hush is in the heavens for half an hour. It is the calm, before the storm; the hush before the rush of battle; the quiet that precedes and presages the awful play of the stormy elements. Then seven angels appear with seven trumpets in their hands. As there have been seven seals, so now under the last seal there are seven trumpets. The last of these seven trumpets, the seventh trumpet under the seventh seal, will be the trumpet of the great archangel who shall summon the tribes of earth, the sleeping as well as the living nations, to the bar of eternal judgment. The seventh seal will not be completed until the [131] last trumpet contained under that seal is blown. I wish every reader to note particularly that the full period embraced under the seven seals, does not close until the seventh trumpet effects its mission. The trumpet is a warlike instrument used to sound the charge of armies. It is a symbol, therefore, of the rush of hosts of war. We have found that four angels held the four winds; it will be found that four angels with four trumpets stand arrayed first, separated from the remaining three angels, and that these four correspond to four invasions that crushed Rome, the mistress of the world, into final ruin.

      Before the awful blast is blown an angel is seen with a golden censer filled with incense to which are added the prayers of all the saints, and "the smoke of the incense from the prayers of the saints ascended up before God out of the angel's hand," a cheering assurance to the Church that, during the terrible scenes through which she should pass, God would hear the prayers of his people and deliver them from every evil. Voices and thunderings, and earthquakes might move the earth, but they would be safe. Then the seven angels prepared to sound. The awful hush before the storm is over. The prayers of the saints are heard.

      Before I proceed to explain the meaning of each trumpet, it will be well to give some [132] general idea. It has been found that the symbolism thus far has mostly referred to the history of that great empire which held the Church in its bosom, and was equivalent to the ancient civilized world. A period about the close of the fourth century has been reached, and the forces that shall bring the empire to dissolution are now ready to burst upon it in fury. These are symbolized by the trumpet angels. There are four winds that were held back, represented by four angels, and when these blow their trumpets there move, in succession the four great invasions that bring the old Roman Empire, the Western Empire, with Rome as its capital, to ruin. The date, of the first of these invasions, or rather the sack of the Imperial City, was A. D. 409. The second began earlier, but reached its culmination in A. D. 422, when Rome was a second time pillaged. In the third invasion eight hundred thousand fierce warriors scourged and scathed and blackened all Gaul and Italy until about A. D. 440, and in 476 the last vestige of the imperial power passed away forever.

      In the East, however, there remained another Roman Empire, with Constantinople for its capital. There remain three trumpet angels, called the woe angels. Of these, two symbolize [133] the Saracen and the Turkish invasions, which resulted in its overthrow.


      The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. 8:7.

      The angel sounds and the trumpet blast of battle is blown. Then the apostle sees hail and fire mingled with blood cast upon the earth, and they destroy one-third part of the trees and the green grass of the earth. It is not hard to discover the meaning. The trumpet must refer to the rush of armies. Hail is a destroying agency sent of old by God upon Egypt in the days of its sin. This would imply that God was sending elements of destruction of some kind. Fire and blood point directly to war.

      Look upon a scene of war. See the running blood of the slain, the burning towns and cities, the trees leveled with the earth, the blackened, scathed, and desolated lands. Look upon the desolation in the lands torn and rent by contending hosts, and then see how appropriately these figures describe the ravages of war.

      Have we corresponding facts of history? About A. D. 400, the "four winds" could be held no longer. The Goths gathered out of the mysterious lands of the unexplored North, and, like [134] a mighty torrent throw themselves, a mighty, dauntless, savage host, upon Rome. Barbarous as the Indians of the desert, they left behind their march, scarred, scorched, blackened, bloody and desolated lands. Countries blooming like gardens were turned into treeless deserts. In A. D. 409, under Alaric, their king, they descended on Italy. It had not seen the face of a foreign enemy for eight hundred years. At last the hosts gathered around the Imperial City. After a long siege, in the dead hour of night, the gates were opened by the hands of traitors and the barbarians rushed in. For three days the sack went on before they were glutted with blood and spoil.

      Rome was taken, but this did not end the Roman power. Eight days after the fall of the great city, Alaric was dead, and the Goths, bereft of their king, left without a leader, hurried from the country and buried themselves from sight in the regions of the North. Rome was dreadfully weakened, but still survived.

      The iron hail of war, the fire of burning towns and cities mingled with the blood of the slain defenders, the scorched and blackened lands denuded of their fruit trees, and the grass trodden under foot by the march of armies, all correspond surprisingly with the language of the Scripture. It is strange, also, how the [135] infidel Gibbon has chosen the very language of inspiration to describe some of the events of this period. I will quote a few phrases found in his thirty-first chapter and descriptive of the great invasion of Alaric and the Goths. "The tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet" stirred the hosts to invasion. "At the first sound of the trumpet the Goths left their farms" to rush on in invasion. "The Gothic conflagration" consumed the empire. "Blood and conflagration and the burning of trees and herbage marked their path."


      There is one expression that I have not yet noticed, which occurs several times in the book of Revelation, and about which there has been considerable discussion. Under the first of the trumpet angels "one third part of the trees was burned up, and all green grass." As we have already found that the "earth" meant by John, is the Roman Empire this would imply that one-third of that empire was particularly scourged. When the second angel sounds (verses 8 and 9) the third part of the sea became blood, a third part of the creatures in the sea died, and a third part of the ships were destroyed. When the third angel (verses 10 and 11) sounded, a burning star fell upon a third [136] part of the rivers, and a third part of the waters became wormwood. When the fourth angel sounded (verse 12) a third part of the sun, and or the moon and stars was smitten. If the reader will observe the reading closely he will see that these four "third parts" described may all refer to the same third of the Roman world. The first third refers to the scourging of one third of the land; the second, to one third of the sea; the third, to one third of the rivers, and the fourth, to one third of the heavens above. All combined, land, sea, rivers, and sky, would imply the scourging of one third part of the world. Let it be noted particularly that these need not be in different quarters of the earth, but all together, and that the first four of the trumpet angels may unitedly scourge the land, sea, rivers and heavens of one third of the earth which was present to the mind of the prophet, or one third of the Roman Empire.

      In the ninth chapter we have a description of the work of devastation wrought by the fifth and sixth trumpet angels, called also the woe angels. It is stated of the sixth angel that, by the agencies loosed when his trumpet is blown, one third part of men were killed. This angel, therefore, scourges a second third of the world inhabited by civilized men. As the first [137] four have together scourged one third, these, united with the sixth angel, scourge two thirds of the earth. There remains one third, and there also remains the fifth angel, whose work is described in chap. 9:1-11. It is not expressly stated that he scourges the remaining third, but is apparently implied, and the implication is confirmed by the facts.

      I now inquire if the earth of John, or the Roman Empire, was divided into three distinct parts at the period when these prophecies were fulfilled. I quote from Gibbon, Chap. LIII:

      From the age of Charlemagne to that of the Crusades, the world (for I overlook the remote monarchy of China) was occupied and disputed by the three great empires, or nations of the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks.

      The common appellation of Franks was applied by the Greeks and Arabians to the nations of the West, who stretched beyond their knowledge to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

      The three great nations of the world, the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks, encountered each other on the plains of Italy. Chap. LVI.

      After the restoration of the Western Empire by Charlemagne and the Othos, the names of Franks and Latins acquired an equal signification and extent--Ibid.

      We may still farther quote Harris (Philological Inquiries. Part III. Chap. I.), who, in discussing the literature of the Middle Ages, speaks of the division of the world into three parts, from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries. It will [138] be seen that he makes the same divisions that are noted by Gibbon:

      A cursory disquisition illustrated by a few select instances, will constitute the subject of the present essay; and these instances we shall bring from three classes of men, who each had a large share in the transactions of those times; from the Byzantine Greeks, the Saracens or Arabians, and from the inhabitants of Western Europe, at that time called Latins.   *     *     *   Three classes of men during that interval are conspicuous, the Saracens or Arabians, the Latins or Franks, inhabitants of Western Europe, and the Byzantine Greeks.

      It is thus apparent that during the long period of a thousand years, a period embraced in the fulfillment of the visions of John, the civilized world was divided into three distinct parts, and that these were clearly marked in history. According to this view the first four of the trumpet angels combine to scourge one part, the sixth angel scourges a second part, and the fifth scourges the remaining third. As we trace, the fulfillment of prophecy this will be found to be in harmony with the facts. The first four angels desolate Western Europe, the Latin portion of the earth, and the Mediterranean sea, and together put an end to the western Roman Empire. The fifth angel lets loose the Saracen invasion which scourges and conquers the Saracen third of the world. With the blast of the sixth angel the Euphratean horsemen are loosed to pour their myriads, [139] on the Greek third of the world, to overthrow it and to establish the Turkish Empire upon its ruins.

      I have been thus particular in explaining the term third part, because it occurs a number of times in Revelation, and may be explained once for all.


      And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. 8:8, 9.

      When the second angel sounds, the apostle sees a great burning mountain cast into the sea, and one-third part of the sea becomes blood. There follows a destruction of one third of the ships, and all the inhabitants of the sea.

      The trumpet, the blood, and the destruction all point us again to war. The theatre will now be the sea; before, it was fixed on the land. The third part has already been explained, and implies that the scene of these ravages will be in the western Roman Empire, the Latin "third part of the world." The devastation will be mainly upon and around the Roman Seas, the Western half of the Mediterranean. The "burning mountain cast into the sea" will scourge and ruin the seas and sea coasts of the [140] Latin "third part" of the world. The terms employed indicate that the destruction will be very great.

      We are to ever bear in mind that this is a vision. The apostle sees a mighty mass of fire like a burning mountain cast into the sea, and then he beholds the sea turning the color of blood. In that bloody sea death reigns, and it appears to him that one third of the ships and of the inhabitants of the sea are destroyed. A part of the symbolism is plain, but what does the burning mountain signify?

      We have before said that a mountain signifies a great kingdom or power. It may mean a mighty, conspicuous king or kingdom. The Savior's kingdom is so alluded to in Daniel's vision: "The stone that smote the image became a great mountain." This burning mountain would then indicate a raging volcanic power that should smite from the sea. Is there such a power that had a part in the overthrow of Rome?

      About A. D. 422, another mighty horde poured down from the North, whose savage desolation and destructive course have added their name, as a new word, to our language. The principal tribe was called the Vandals, from whence our word vandalism. They rushed over Gaul, swept through Spain, leaped over the narrow straits [141] of Gibraltar, and wrested northern Africa from the Roman dominion. Then, in order that they might assail Rome on the seas and carry their armies to the islands and to Italy, they built fleets and struggled for the mastery of the Mediterranean. For six hundred years no ship hostile to Rome had disputed the mastery of the sea, but now it becomes the theatre of war. Fleets meet in the shock of battle; the sea is reddened with the blood of the slain; the Roman ensign goes down, dyed in blood; the islands of the sea fall into the hands of the fierce barbarian, and at last, near thirty years after the contest began, their fleets land their armies in Italy, and they rush upon Rome. The city is besieged, falls, and for fourteen days a pitiless barbarian soldiery spare neither age nor sex. The spoil gathered for eight hundred years, from a hundred conquered nation, is carried away and loaded upon the Vandal fleets, and the blasted, scourged, and pillaged Capital is abandoned as unworthy to be held as a permanent possession.

      The second of the "four winds" held back by the great angel has rushed forth, a second "trumpet" has blown; Rome has been terribly smitten from the sea, but she is not yet destroyed. In a few months Genseric, the Vandal king, was dead, and Rome was again for a [142] little season, free from its invaders. The reader will not fail to note that this great disaster to Rome comes from the sea, that the, seas of the "third part" of the world are conquered, and that their dominion passes out of the hands of the Romans after being held six hundred years.


      And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter. 8:10, 11.

      The third angel sounds the charge of battle. Now the apostle beholds a mighty meteor, a burning star, a shooting star, that falls upon the rivers and fountains of waters. Where it falls they become bitter as wormwood, and are full of death. This evidently presages a time of great calamity and death in some way connected with the rivers of the Roman Empire. A star, as I have before said, would refer to some mighty chieftain. This is a blazing meteor that flashes with brilliancy and then expires. Who can be meant? None other but Attila, who styled himself the scourge of God. The next of the series of the four invasions that precipitated the downfall of Rome was that led by Attila the Hun.

      Before A. D. 440, the Roman had never heard of [143] the Hungarian nation. About that time there suddenly appeared, as a meteor would flash in the sky, a warrior upon the banks of the Danube, with eight hundred thousand fighting men under his banners. They had come from the depths of Central Asia, marched north of the Euxine Sea through Russia, and now knocked at the river boundary of the Roman Empire. Overcoming opposition to their passage of the Danube, they rushed westward, crossed the Rhine, and on the river Marne were met in conflict by the hosts of Rome. The historians tell us that the blood of slaughtered heroes made the river run with blood, and that from one hundred and fifty thousand to three hundred thousand bodies of the dead attested the fury of the conflict.

      Turning southward, on the banks of the river Rhone, the hosts met again in fury. Then, descending from the Alps, the fierce warrior, on the banks of the river Po, contended for the mastery of Italy. Victorious, he marched southward to seize the imperial prize. Unable to contend longer, Rome sent a priestly deputation to ask him to depart. They told him that Alaric had pillaged Rome, and in three days after was dead, that Genseric had sacked it again, and in a few months had expiated his crime by death. They worked upon the [144] superstitions of the fierce warrior. Loaded with spoil, he turned his armies from a ruined country, and, leaving Italy behind, made Buda on the river Danube his capital, and founded the Hungarian nation. When he died, his followers turned the waters of the Danube from its course, buried him in its bed, and then let them return to flow over the grave of the hero. Beneath the waters of the river Danube still lie the bones of the star called Wormwood, that fell upon the rivers. Rome, weakened, ready to topple to ruin, was left standing to await the blast of the fourth trumpet. The first trumpet sounds the invasion of Alaric the Goth, who sacked Rome in 410. The second trumpet sounds the Vandal conquest of the sea, and the second sack of Rome by the pirate Vandals, who assailed it from their ships. The third trumpet sounds the fierce rush of Attila the Hun, the Wormwood of the rivers, the fierce warrior who first appeared to Roman view on the river Danube, then fought mighty conflicts on the Rhine and Marne, then in the river system of Italy, on the Po, ruined the Roman armies, and, at last, was buried under the turbulent current of the river Danube, where his moldering ashes will rest until the resurrection. How much like a "burning star," a meteor, was Attila, when we remember that in [145] three years from his first appearance on the borders of the Roman Empire he had run his brilliant course and was dead! How much like wormwood of the rivers when we remember that he made them bitterness and mourning and death to the Roman world!

      One of the four hurtful angels yet remains. Rome, scarred, bleeding, pillaged, great in her mighty past, trembling with weakness and fear, yet survived. The feet of iron seen by Nebuchadnezzar in the image of the vision interpreted by Daniel, had become weak as miry clay. The empire that had given its official sanction to the crucifixion of Christ, had carried the great apostle to the Gentiles a prisoner in chains to its capital city, had sent him to the dungeon and to the scaffold, and had striven in vain to "abolish the Christian name from the earth," still showed the breath of life in its decaying body, but required only the rush of the fourth wind to fall into helpless ruin.


      And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars, so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. 8:12.

      The fourth "wind" rushes forth as the fourth angel blows the charge of battle. The effect is [146] darkness. The smitten sun, moon, and stars refuse to give their usual light, and a third part of the day and night is filled with darkness.

      I have before stated that, in the interpretation of symbolism, the sun, moon, and stars are the symbols of kings, dignitaries, and great men of the earth. The blast of the fourth trumpet then, evidently shows that there shall again be the rush of war, that the shock of battle shall overthrow a multitude of these earthly luminaries and the result shall be darkness. As we have found that this is still limited to the Latin third part of the world, this would be fittingly fulfilled if a period of calamity and mourning was inaugurated by the overthrow of the kings and great men of the Roman Empire, the extinguishment of its government, followed by ages in which the human mind was shrouded in mental and spiritual darkness.

      This is just what we find to have occurred in the last series of events that led to the final overthrow of Rome. We are to seek the fulfillment in the next final invasion of Rome. It occurred A. D. 476. Odoacer, king of the Heruli, a Northern race, encouraged by the apparent weakness of the falling empire, besieged and took the almost helpless city. Augustulus, the feeble emperor, was hurled down, the Roman Senate that had met for twelve hundred and [147] twenty-eight years, was driven from the Senate chambers, the mighty fabric of empire fell to the dust, and the great men were humbled never to rise again. Sun, moon, and stars, emperor, princes, and great men, are smitten, lose their power, and cease to give light. Nay, more. There now began the period called by all historians the "Dark Ages." The fall of Rome introduced the period when, intellectually and spiritually, the day and night were darkened; when the minds of men were blinded, and when the Church, falling gradually into apostasy, gave forth for ages only a feeble light to human souls. In the period that follows, the barbarians who had ruined Rome fell gradually under the sway of an artful priesthood, the Bible was wrested from the hands of the people, and buried in the recesses of monasteries, superstition usurped the place of religion, and the gloom of the "Dark Ages" diffused itself over the Latin third part of the world.

      Thus, in the overthrow of the western Roman Empire, ends the work of the four hurtful angels, who were held back, for a season, from destruction.

      There remain three angels, the woe angels, who are grouped together by the angel that flits across the heavens and who foreshadows the [148] terrible calamities that shall fall upon the earth when they blow their trumpets. These will be considered in the next chapter. [149]

[VOTA 130-149]

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B. W. Johnson
Vision of the Ages (1881)