Nathan Strong (1748-1816) graduated from Yale in 1769, was ordained in 1774, and became pastor of First Church in Hartford. He served as chaplain in the Revolutionary Army, ran the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine” from 1800 to 1815, and was one of the founders of the Connecticut Missionary Society.
PREACHED ON THE
NOV. 29, 1798
BY NATHAN STRONG,
PASTOR OF THE NORTH PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT.
PUBLISHED ACCORDING TO THE ACT OF CONGRESS, AND BY DESIRE OF THE HEARERS.
Revelations xviii. 4.
And I heard another voice from heaven saying, come out of here, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
Although the holy scriptures were not primarily written for a book of political instruction to mankind, they contain much which ought to be seriously studied by the rulers of a free and Christian people. The church and civil state are so connected in events which take place that the information God hath been pleased to give the former, may often be improved by the latter to great advantage. The whole divine government of men is with reverence to his church – to the interests of his kingdom, and the accomplishment of the purposes of his grace. The cabinet of earthly princes is subservient to the king of Zion; and the armies and the heroes of hostile nations, although they mean not to be thus considered and known not by whom they are girded, he calls his armies and his servants to execute the purposes of his counsel, and avenge him on his enemies who know not his name, or have departed from the faith which he gave them to keep.
There have been sundry periods, some of which were pointed out in the sure word of prophecy, when the world has been convulsed with mighty revolutions, to answer some great designs in God’s moral and evangelical government. It was thus when his people Israel were removed to Canaan. It was thus antecedent to Christ’s birth and the propagation of Christianity. It was thus in the dissolution of the heathen Roman empire, by which so much Christian blood had been wantonly shed. It was early foretold, that it should be thus at the dissolution of anti-Christian Rome, with the civil and religious tyrannies depending on it. We have every reason to suppose the last of these periods to be far advanced, and that we now see and hear the commencement of those terrible judgments on mankind, by which this work of God will be concluded.
If there be any serious believers in God, his government and the Christian religion, situated where the weight of theses judgments must fall, they can do no more than endeavor to preserve the purity of their own personal faith and practice, and pray God that he would preserve them from the miseries of a tumultuous state and from his heavy judgments. His wisdom and grace are able to bring such individuals, however situated, into his secret chambers, and keep them safely until the day of wrath be overpast.
If there be any people so situated that they may possibly escape the weight of calamity (as it is hoped the people of this nation are), it becomes them to stand at a distance from the scene of plagues and not come into a state of intimacy, lest they be necessitated to drink the dregs of a very bitter cup. To such a people the exhortation of the text, which is inserted in the prophetic account of the destruction of Babylon, contains most important instruction political and religious. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues.
In the proclamation which calls us to the duties of this day, there is the following very worthy passage, “At the same time, to review with humble admiration the course of events, as they are now passing on the great theatre of the world; and to contemplate the occurrences and revolutions in the divine and moral government, which are rapidly taking place at the present period, in such manner as to fill our minds with a heartfelt and thankful conviction of the superintending providence of the Most High, and of his general and influential government in all events; whereby we may be led to a grateful acknowledgement of his distinguishing goodness to our highly favored land and country, in the blessings which we peculiarly enjoy.”
This is truly a period of wonderful events in the moral government of God; and they take place in such a manner and at such a period, as cannot fail, if we indeed Christian believers, to fill our minds with heartfelt and thankful conviction of superintending providence. God is now making himself known by the judgments which he executeth in the earth. He is now by the works of his providence, giving the ultimate, and that which will be the all-convincing evidence of the truth of the scriptures. There is but a little period to come compared with the past, in which infidelity will dare speak its sentiments. All considerate and good people see this already, and though there be some infidels against growing light, infinite wisdom permits them to rise up for two purposes; first, to fulfill more bloody judgments on apostate Christiendom than men of good hearts would wish to be the instruments of executing, although they know them to be just; and secondly, that by their avowed principles, practice, and the end to which providence will bring them, they may be a warning to future ages against infidelity. God teaches men by experience. Within the conclusion of a century, from this time, it will not be disputed what was meant by prophetic Babylon. Her great wickedness will be illustrated to universal knowledge by her great plagues. It will also appear, that infidelity was the instrument prepared by God for her punishment; that this infidelity naturally sprung out of her own corruption, or rather was the last stage of anti-Christian apostasy; and that having consumed itself and the parent which gave it birth, the judgments of God are finished. A new era will take place. Through the instruction of past experience, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, righteousness and peace will fill the earth. All the prophecies describe this succession of events. The past and present fulfillment of them, must remove them from wise minds, all doubt concerning the future.
The ancient prophets, have interspersed in their writings, many predictions which are now fulfilling. The present period was foretold by all the prophetic seers, by David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the lesser prophets. It would not be difficult to select from these a multitude of predictions relating to the present day, and it is only a want of time, on the present occasion, which prevents my doing it.
Daniel among the ancients may be called the father of prophecy both from the vast extent of his predictions, which reach down to the end of time, and from the exactness with which he marked all these great events in empire, by which the state of the church has been materially affected. His visions are an epitome of the history of the world. They are repeated in so many forms, and accompanied with such explanations, that a candid mind cannot deny them to be the wonderful truth of him who governs the universe, and holds the nations and all their counsels in his hand.
In the language of prophecy, tyrannical governments, both civil and ecclesiastical, are represented by fierce and destroying beasts, which desolate men and the places where they come. Civil history informs us of four successive dominions, which have arisen in the world from the time of Daniel – each aiming at universal empire, and destroying the one which preceded it. The ancient Babylonian which existed when Daniel prophesied, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Roman. These were represented in vision to him as related in chapter vii, by four fierce and destroying beasts. By a comparison between the character of these dominions, as they have been verified in fact, and the symbolical representation of them we find a remarkable similarity. The last of these dominions the Roman, is represented as being of long continuance, of might strength, fierce, terrible to mankind, full of oppression, persecution, and tyranny over both the souls and the bodies of men. It is the dying pangs of this fourth beast which now convulse the world.
But while mankind are tormented by this struggle, following the word of prophecy we meet a most comfortable truth, which is this, that there shall never be another universal tyrannical dominion. It may be attempted, and we have reason to suppose that it is now attempted, by the infidels of France, and their emissaries in other countries, but God will blast their designs. Of this the prophecy of Daniel assures us, in many passages of the book. In the 7th chapter, he tells us he beheld until this fourth beast was slain and his body destroyed and given to the burning flame. To which he directly adds, “I saw in the night-visions, and behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Again towards the end of the chapter, speaking of the destruction of this beast he saith, “But the judgment shall fit, and they shall take away his dominion to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the MOST HIGH; whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and all dominion shall serve and obey him.” Observe the prediction: The kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the MOST HIGH. – Not to infidels. – Not to men who deny the being, the providence, the religion, and the Sabbath of the Lord, by which alone, as means, a sense of moral obligation can be kept alive in the human mind. – Not to those disorganizers of society who deny all moral obligation and the duties resulting from it. The Lord may use such instruments to do his strange work of judgment in the earth, but his prophetic word hath assured us they shall never attain universal dominion. They may, for a very short season, be used as a rod in the hand of divine justice, they may be the means of correcting many people and of correcting us, if our departure from the faith and practice of the gospel should require it for the honor of the truth; but after this is done they shall suddenly come to their end and no man shall help them. This is the course of events which must happen from the nature of society, and the effect of crimes on the social state. It is also made certain by the prophetic promise of God.
The evangelist John, who wrote the words of our text, is the next prophet of eminence, whom I shall notice at this time. He was one of the apostles, and the disciple whom Jesus loved. When of a great age he was banished by the emperor Domitian to the isle of Patmos, and there received and published his Apocalypse or book of Revelations. His prophecies were written more than six hundred years after the book of Daniel. At this time the three first of Daniel’s beasts, the ancient Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, and the Grecian empire formed by Alexander, had arisen in succession had destroyed each other, done their work of tormenting mankind, and their dominion was taken away, therefore the prophet John takes no notice of them. The fourth beast, the Roman Empire was then in its full strength. To this prophecy was directed, describing its character, its malice against the truth and the pure church of Christ – its diverse changes and forms of government – its decline and apparent death for a short season – and then its revival, in a more blasphemous form than is first existed – together with its miserable destruction by the avenging power of God, which is now taking place. We are, my brethren, come to what the scripture emphatically calls the last days. The last tyrannical form of government is falling to pieces, for which event there hath long been a growing preparation in the state of the nations. The pangs of misery will be great on men, and greatest on those nations and places, which most contributed to the rise and continuance of this civil and religious tyranny. Let us remember not to come near it, for its dying breath is contagious. It is the body of Daniel’s fourth beast that is dying, and infidelity with its natural consequences, war and disorganization, are the plague by which it is consuming. All wise people will withdraw their embraces, both from the dying body, and the disease by which it perisheth.
To understand the Apocalypse of St. John, there must be a very considerable acquaintance with history, both civil and ecclesiastical, from his day down to the present. But few men have it, and of this few, only a part are such Christians as have the interests of Christ’s kingdom on their hearts. This must be a sealed book to the greatest part of Christians, from their not having that acquaintance with civil and ecclesiastical history, which is necessary to see the fulfillment.
There is also another reason from which we must expect it to be a book hard to understand even to all. The infinite wisdom of God, designed for the comfort of his people and the consolidation of those who hold the faith of Jesus, to reveal the general state of things, his governing providence over his church, the rise of error, the conflict between the two kingdoms, and the miserable end of the delusion and of a departure from the humility and simplicity of the faith in Jesus; but not to describe the particular instruments and events by which all these things should be done. For this reason figurative and metaphorical language is introduced and we must wait until the fulfillment to see the exact intention of the Holy Spirit in all the figures which are used.
To the inconsiderate and unlearned in the past history of divine providence, it is not strange, that the book of Revelations appears like a confusion of metaphors, and a description of things done by agents out of the course of nature; but in solemn language, where the agency of God and creatures, and scenes of the visible and invisible world are awfully mingled. To those who are qualified and give themselves to understand it appears far different. Although expressed in metaphors, and containing a number of visions which represent the same truths, and the same events in the history of men and of divine providence it is a systematic book. It begins with a most solemn vision of the great king in Zion, and address to the churches then in being, signified by the seven churches in Asia. This is contained in the three first chapters. From the beginning of the fourth to the end of the eighteenth chapter, we have a description of the Roman dominion from the time of John to its utter extinction and punishment. It was then heathen Rome; after this is what has been called Christian Rome; which has since degenerated into antichristian Rome or the Babylon of this celebrated Christian prophet. It has been of long continuance, has assumed various forms of government, but in all of them been tyrannical, has been brought apparently to the dust, and the revived again – has been in every form, either by heathen violence or antichristian idolatry, dangerous to the pure religion of Jesus Christ – has first enslaved the world by civil power, and then by a mixture of civil and religious, tyranny and is now dying by the agency of its own infidel children. The unprincipled offspring are now eating the flesh and drinking the blood, the riches, the strength, and all the delicacies of the impure mother.
Before I proceed any further, to guard myself from an imputation of bitterness against the Roman church, I must observe that I see no reason to conclude there may not have been many sincere and good people in her communion, especially in that class of persons, who had little means of information. A great number of the late Roman clergy in France have met death in its most barbarous forms, with a constancy and a patience evincing a tender conscience and a love of God. It’s the Talleyrands in character and their associates, whom I conceive to be most properly designated by the mother of harlots, in the present period of the great apostacy from God.
Farther, it is yet impossible for us accurately to determine, how near the churches which call themselves protestant and reformed, come to the true standard of evangelical faith, practice and discipline. This reformation hath taken place in various degrees in the several parts where it hath extended, and in the best there may be much hay and stubble still to consume. Though no denomination of the protestant and reformed churches, will be willing to allow this of themselves, it may belong in some respects to all of them. Neither is it seen how any church, which rests in a bare profession without the power and vital life of godliness can free itself from the charge, and many such may doubtless be found in reformed Christendom. When God hath arisen to prepare the world for the establishment of a more pure faith and practice, it becomes all to examine themselves and repent, lest they be found in the number which must be exterminated.
After having made these observations, to secure myself against the imputation of a rigorous and uncharitable spirit, I must be allowed freely to say, that the Roman Empire in all its forms, the ancient and modern, the civil and ecclesiastical, hath been a tyrannical and persecuting power. It is unquestionably the same power pointed out in the gospel prophecies, by the man of sin – by the beast – the mother of harlots – the false prophet – the beast that ascended out of the bottomless pit and endeavored to destroy the witnesses of God – the modern Babylon which should fall by the signal judgments of God – that great city that ruleth over the kings of the earth. Most of these names were used by the prophet John in his successive visions, the latter explaining the former.
The events, which are principal matter of St. John’s prophecy, are thrown into three great divisions of time, designated by the opening of seven seals, the sounding of seven trumpets, and the pouring out of seven vials of God’s wrath. The opening of the seventh seal contains the whole succeeding period of the trumpets and vials. The sounding of the seventh trumpet contains the whole period of the vials down to the complete destruction of that tyrannical power, which is the burden of his description. All these prophetic figures describe judgments on the enemies of God’s truth, most of which have already taken place, but my present time prohibits a particular description of the events by which they have been fulfilled.
The six first seals are descriptive of heavy judgments on the heathen Roman Empire, from the time of John, down to Constantine, who declared himself a Christian, and placed Christians in all places of public office. The Christian church now enjoyed a short pause of peace from the power of its enemies, represented in the prophecy by praises in heaven and earth, and the sealing of the servants of God.
But the Roman Empire in its imperial form was not long to survive. Although Constantine and a number of succeeding emperors declared themselves to be Christians, Rome was to receive that deadly wound which was healed again in the rise of a mixed tyranny, partly civil and partly ecclesiastical. This wound was given by the events prefigured by the founding of the six first trumpets. The northern pagans and savages of Europe broke in upon the empire and reduced it to the deepest humiliation, which continued from 500 to 700 of the Christian era, in which period Rome had many changes, all of them humiliating. It was this period which is mentioned in the 13th chapter of John n his Revelation, when one of the heads of the beasts, meaning the imperial form of government received a deadly wound; which wound unto death he tells us was healed again so that all the nations wondered after the beast. The healing of this deadly wound consisted in the rise of the papal hierarchy, and the political estates of Europe, which have continued without essential change to the present day. This is eminently the beast with seven heads and ten horns described by John. He tells us that the seven heads are seven kings or forms of government which Rome should have, and every thorough historian can enumerate them. That the ten horns are ten kingdoms or political states, into which the ancient empire should be divided, and we know that in every period for more than a thousand years past, it hath been nearly or exactly this number. The co-estates of the old Roman Empire, although under different sovereigns, and often at mutual enmity, have formed a body distinct from the rest of mankind, and have stretched the iron hand of their influence to the ends of the earth. They have spoken of their rights as extending to the bodies and souls of all me; and of the balance of power between themselves, as though it were an eternal rule of right for all the creatures of God. This body of the old Roman Empire hath perpetually embroiled the world, either by its arts or its power. It hath visited every coast – hath made a claim on every clime – hath concentrated the luxuries of the earth in its bosom, and there hath scarce been a contention between nations, in other quarters of the globe, to which it hath not been the author or a partisan. Its tyranny hath been over its own subjects and the people of distant regions. To a civil despotism, which naturally grew out of the barbarous foundation of feudal rights, it hath added a religious tyranny beyond all the sins that have before defiled the earth or oppressed men. It hath blasphemously changed and used the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, to scourge oppressed nations – to dethrone lawful princes – and to indulge and pardon the worst of subjects in the greatest crimes. The civil and the religious tyrant, have walked hand in hand to deceive, to impoverish, to enslave soul and body, and then to hail the whole as done for the glory of God. These prophecies of John had a vast object for their description. Not merely one city, or nation or century of time; but the great political body of Europe, with its dependencies in other quarters of the globe, which is the old Roman Empire arisen in a new form, consisting of apostles of Jesus at the head of armies, emperors, kings, princes and multifarious catalogue of civil and ecclesiastical courts, dignities, powers and oppressions. This vast body has been called the holy Roman church and the Holy Roman Empire with its allies. This enormous mass of civil and religious oppressions began to take its form and envelope it’s true character, from 500 to 600 of the Christian era. By the year 1350 its features were completely opened. The pouring of the seven vials of God’s wrath is a prophetic description of the events, through which this oppressive power shall be brought down again to utter ruin. They probably began to run between 800 and 900 of the Christian era, and from prophetic computation, we may determine that the great work of God will be done before the conclusion of the next century. The pouring out of the fifth vial on the seat of the beast, unquestionably means the reformation, with the foundation that was then laid by the spread of knowledge, for the spreading of civil and religious liberty, in many, which are not principal powers within the limits of the old Roman empire. It is worthy of remark, that the nations which then, in a degree emerged, although they have been shaken in the present commotion, have drank less deep of the cup; and are probably reserved by the wisdom of God, to set limits to this inundation of misery, through the outraging passions of men. This is true of Britain, the Swedes, The Danes, and the northern parts of Europe and Germany.
It is the sixth and seventh vials in combination that are now running. An ingenious and learned sermon, lately published by the Rev. President Dwight, hath justly explained the three impure spirits under the sixth vial, that went out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, to mean the principles of infidelity which within a century have risen in the old Christian world. The events and the effects so precisely mark the period of prophecy, that we cannot mistake it. The causes of the present war in Europe lie in the moral world. These impure spirits, have already gathered the king or nation, to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. The battle is fighting, the blood is running, and it will run. There may be a multitude of contradicting events, but the principal features of the scene will be the same until this Babylon is fallen. 1 It is the irresistible work of God and must go on, for the mouth of the Lord himself hath spoken it. And while the work is going on, some will see and give glory to the God of heaven; but those who are most deeply involved in these events will neither see nor fear.
The 18th chapter of the prophecy, which my hearers will read at their leisure, describes the wailing that is made over this wreck of nations. The kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth, and every ship-master, and all the company in ships and the sailors, and as many as trade by sea, are represented as standing afar off and saying, Alas, Alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city, for in one hour, that is very suddenly, is thy judgment come. How corresponding are the events of the present period! The counsels and the policy of nations, far and near are deeply affected by the great battle. The merchants of the earth and those that do business on the deep waters, all become interested in the scene, and by its consequences almost through the whole world, they are reduced to wailing and distress. Who besides God could have enabled his servants to foretell these events at so vast a period from their accomplishment!
In the midst of the description of this ruin, our text hath its place – 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. This exhortation is full of important instruction. It must be principally meant for surrounding and distant nations; and all the preceding parts of this discourse were designed to give it a deep impression on your minds. A few individuals, of those who fear God may be so circumstanced as will enable them to leave the scene of destruction, and seek a foreign asylum; but it can be only a few. Much the greatest part of such individuals must by faith and prayer commit themselves to the divine keeping, and God can preserve them in the midst of these political thundering earthquakes.
To nations situated as the American now is, the text gives most excellent advice, and points out the only possible way of preservation. Come out of her my people.
1st. Avoid the principles which are bringing her to a deserved and an awful end. It is the demoralizing principles of infidelity, which have thrown Europe into a state on which the rest of mankind look with fear and horror. There may be many honest men in the revolutionizing nations, men who would love rational liberty under steady reign of just and equitable laws. Some of these men may be deceived to think they are working out the salvation of posterity; but the reins of public direction are evidently in the hands of another class, men who have no honesty belonging to the, no love of human nature and human rights, no moral principle who dare to do every wickedness which they have opportunity to execute either by force or deception the reason they do not regard the rights of justice and humanity is because they have no fear of God. The way has been a long time preparing for this reign of impiety, by the dissemination of an infidelity among those who have assumed to be the learned, which denies either the being or the just character of God, his providence, his written law, and his instituted worship. Let these sacred truths be exploded, and men will govern themselves by their own passions and appetites. When they have cast off God, by denying him and his sacred government and laws, we must expect that the next step will be to cast away the rights of humanity and social connection. The laws of nations, of common equity, of civil rights and prescriptive duties from one man to another, and of sacred consecration, will all of them be swept away by such people, and depravity will do its worst. Prophetic description often represents the present wrath of mankind by the metaphor of a consuming fire, and there could not be a more just one. These principles destroy all before them, and though they may first enflame the palace, they will in the end consume the thatched cottage. The only dark symptom attending the present state of our nation, is that some of its people have either embraced or appear approximating towards this infidelity. If there should ever be a period that this becomes our national character, or men of this cast are able to control our national counsels, America must drink the cup of Babylon. Then she will become a limb of the beast, whose body Goth hath said shall be given to the burning flame.
2dly. The divine advice prohibits all permanent political connection with that devoted part of the world. Such political engagements and alliances, as bind us to stand of fall with them, would be the most extravagant imprudence; yea more, they would be defying the judgments of Almighty God. None but a person bereft of reason would chain himself to a burning pile. The goodness of God brought our fathers into this region, distinct from the seat of plagues. He hath blessed and made us a great people, hath given us all that freedom civil and religious, which the nature of society admits, and there is not a single burden or loss upon us, except it be those which arise from our remote relations to the center of present ruin. The voice of providence loudly cries to us, Come out of her my people – bind not yourselves to rise or sink with her, lest ye be partakers of her sins, receive of her plagues.
3dly. The exhortation teaches us not to follow the example of her deceitful politics. It is righteousness which exalteth a nation, and national sin is the ruin as well as the reproach of any people. A Christian nation should be just to its promises, and open and sincere in its professions, and keep far away from an intimate union, with all people, who consider national engagements as promises made only for the convenience of the moment. Let America be open and sincere in her measures; let her require justice from others and always be willing to do it; let her stand undaunted by the menaces or marauders and pirates, and unpolluted by the intrigues of unprincipled men, and the God of heaven will bless her. Let none be deceived by a supposition that the commotions of the old world are soon to end, and that there is on this account, less reason for our being guarded. No speedy end to these troubles can happen. Their pillars are overturned and who can set them up again? Their schemes of policy are all unhinged, and who can brace them? Their interests are become opposite, and who can unite them? Their faith and their morals are gone, and who can restore them? We know that God hath the power to do it, but following the predictions of his word, we have not much reason to expect a gracious interposition of this nature; for we are told, that under these plagues, they blasphemed God, doubtless by denying his government and his word, and repented not to give him glory.
My hearers, what reason we have for national thanksgiving and praise! Let us rejoice and bless God, that we are far distant from the seat of those judgments, which he hath foretold and is now fulfilling. Let us rejoice and be glad that we have the word of God and ordinances of religion, and are not yet enslaved by a demoralizing infidelity. Let us adore his holy name for so excellent a form of civil government, for rulers who appear to be apprized of the danger on which we have been meditating, and that God hath given us the means of supporting our national and Christian independence.
The bounties of Gods common providence have been abundant, and it is hoped that the affluent will testify their gratitude to him by sending portions to the poor, for the poor, my brethren you are always to have among you. While we condole with those places where disease and death have prevailed, and mourn with their mourners, we have reason to bless the Lord who hath given us health, to a degree unknown before. Let all these mercies engage us to trust in the Lord and serve him forever. To his great and holy name let us ascribe everlasting praises.
The writer does not mean that every future event, in the course of those national commotions which have begun, will in the judgment of men, directly conspire to this end. God worketh by means beyond the search of human wisdom, and is often destroying when we think him to be building up. If France should again speedily obey a monarch, and Rome a consistory of pope and cardinals, this would not put a stop to the great work which is begun. There are natural and political reason inwrought with the present state of Europe and of society which show what the conclusion will be; and those retrograde events which may happen, can serve only to protract the misery of men, give every dreadful feature to the struggle and add to the completion of the final catastrophe, thus confirming the awful description of prophecy.