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There will always be difficulty in the language of a prophecy which foretels an event not yet come to pass therefore I would not venture to decide hastily in a matter of some obscurity. But it seems highly probable, from the language of our Saviour in the text, that the last age of the world shall be troubled, in an unusual manner, with popular tumults and commotions; arising partly as the natural and necessary fruits of wild and novel opinions, and partly from the just judgment of God upon those who have forsaken him.
Before we consider critically the words of the text, we may judge what will happen before the destruction of the world, from what did actually happen on certain other occasions, which have been marked as prophetical of that event. Before the coming of the Son of Man, it shall be as it was in the days before the flood -the earth was filled with violence: the word signifies injustice, rapine, and robbery. A state of violence is contrary to a state of secu rity; for violence taketh away what government was ordained to secure. The heathen poet, describing the corrupt state of men before the flood, takes care not to omit this remarkable circumstance; telling us in his lan
guage, that the fury of discord then prevailed far and wide over the world*.
The city of Sodom was in a state of anarchy when it was destroyed. All the people, old and young, assembled themselves without restraint from every quarter, to commit acts of wickedness and violence. They mocked at all authority in others, and were judges and executioners in their own right.-This one fellow (said they) came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee than with them †.
Before Jerusalem was destroyed, the fact is undoubted in history, that they were plagued with tumults and intestine commotions. The benefit of Government was lost amongst them ; and troops of thieves and rioters, with self-commissioned leaders, plundered the city in a miserable manner, at their own discretion: till all were involved in one common catastrophe, when the place was stormed by the Romans.
From these cases the application is short and certain-As it was before the flood, as it was in Sodom, as it was in Jerusalem, so shall it be before the end of the world.
* Qua terra patet, fera regnat Erynnis-OVID. Met. i.
+ Gen. xix. 9:
If we go now to the text, we find, from the context, that our Lord is there describing those signs which shall precede, not the destruction of Jerusalem, but his own glorious advent to judge the world. The words of the passage cannot with any propriety be confined to the people of a city or a nation: being evidently spoken of the nations of the Gentiles, and of the whole habitable world *.
Yet this application brings us into a difficulty for if the nations of the world are intended, the distress here mentioned seems too partial in its kind to reach them. None but people on the sea coast can be terrified with the raging of the sea: on which consideration, some commentators have supposed that the distress here spoken of was meant of Galilee and of the sea of Tiberias. But this is out of all reason, when compared with the context: we are therefore compelled to take a method of interpreting, which will bring the language up to the occasion. The words of a prophecy seem to speak of one thing, when another thing is intended; and that must be the case here. We know there is a sort of sea to be found in every inland country; the figurative sea of popular tumult and rebellious violence; much
more terrible and destructive to the peace of mankind, than all the storms which agitate the
The poet and the prophet describe things rather by their properties and effects, than by their vulgar names. Therefore the scripture compares the multitudes of the world to the waters of the sea; and the tumultuous rage of the people to the terrors of a storm. In the prophet Isaiah, the abundance of the sea is put for the forces of the Gentile world, which should be turned to the church of Christ. In the same style, the harlot in the Revelation of St. John is said to sit on many waters †; as signifying the imperial power of heathenism which ruled over the Gentile world. And in a vision of Daniel, the four beasts, representing the four monarchies, rise out of a seat, on which the four winds of heaven are all blowing at once; to signify, that they all arose from among the Heathens. Sometimes the text carries its own comment with it-Deliver me out of great waters, saith the Psalmist, from the hands of strange children §.
The waves of the sea, which lift up their heads, and assemble themselves farther than the
Dan. vii. 2, 3.
eye can distinguish them, exhibit a grand image of an innumerable multitude of people; whom they resemble farther by the noise they make whence the voice of a great multitude is compared to the voice of many waters. But, above all, the waves of the sea are most like to a multitude when tumult and disorder prevail amongst them. As the waters are then driven together, each wave that follows endeavouring to mount over that which is before, and all dashing against the shore, from whence they are beaten back into the sea by their own violence; such are the people, when they are assembled together without order or government. The turbulent passions of men are never to be restrained from breaking out into noise and confusion, but by that power which over-rules the waters of the sea. God is therefore celebrated for the one under a figure of the other thou stillest the raging of the the sea, and the noise of his waves and the madness of the people *. When wild passions prevail amongst men, and there is no authority to keep them in awe, then society becomes what the sea is, when the winds are let loose upon it. There is then no more reason or judgment in the one than in the other: all is drowned with noise, and
* Psalm lxv. 7.