The Four Horsemen - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 13 -
1 And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
2 And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
3 And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
4 And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
5 And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
6 And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
7 And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death. and with the beasts of the earth.
The Seals In General
Now the Lamb is in possession of the book with its seven seals and commences to open it, breaking the seals one after another.
In the opening of the seven seals we have approached the discussion of the things that were designated in the first chapter of the Book Of Revelation as "the things that must come to pass hereafter." We are perhaps aware of the fact that the phenomenon of the seven seals and the record of their being opened by the Lamb constitutes at the same time all that is contained in the rest of the Book of Revelation, except for the fact that we meet with several interludes which have been inserted for various reasons. We are perhaps also acquainted with the further fact that the seven seals do not retain throughout their character as seals, but that the seventh seal is revealed as seven trumpets, the seventh of which later again dissolves and becomes manifest as the seven Vials of the wrath of God.
At first we intended to treat these seals separately, one by one. But a study of the first four seals soon led us to the conclusion that such a method would be both impossible and impracticable. For, in the first place, it soon becomes evident, as one investigates the contents of the first four seals, that they really belong together, are very closely allied, and therefore ought to be discussed in their relation to one another and in their combined effect upon the history of this dispensation. And, in the second place, a method which would discuss these seals one by one would be in danger of calling attention to all kinds of doctrines and truths which are undoubtedly implied in the text but of which the discussion would be irrelevant to the main purpose of the Book of Revelation, that is, to reveal the coming Christ in glory. Therefore, we now enter upon a discussion of the first four seals, which contain the vision of the four horsemen.
Before we begin the discussion of the significance of each of these four horsemen, it will not be superfluous to give a word of general introduction both in regard to the general character of the seven seals and the proper mode of their interpretation.
As to, the first question, there seems to be a rather general impression that all of the seven seals can be classified in the category of judgment- acts of Christ over a sinful and antagonistic world in the special and narrow sense of the word. Now it is very well possible to consider all that Christ performs in the world in this dispensation as being acts of judgment in a general sense of the word, either for good or for evil, namely, in as far as He is the King of glory Who works for the establishment and final perfection of His kingdom, and as such appears always as the great opponent of Satan and his dominion. But if we take the word "judgment" in its specific and narrower sense, namely, as a calamity sent by Jesus Christ for the purpose of chastising the world, or by way of recompense for wrong committed, it will soon become evident that the most general idea of all the seals cannot be expressed by that one term. To begin with, it is rather difficult to discover the idea of judgment in the sense designated in the first horse and its rider, going forth conquering and to conquer, and symbolizing, - as a superficial consideration of the text will assure us, - the victorious progress of the cause of the kingdom of God in this dispensation. The same conclusion must be reached in regard to the fifth seal. As it is opened, the souls under the altar appeal to the Judge of heaven and earth for vengeance because their blood has been shed by the enemies of the kingdom of God on earth. Also in this case it is difficult to detect any act of judgment whatsoever. The martyred saints are simply told to be patient yet a little while; and white robes are given them as a symbol of their anticipatory glory and righteousness.
And therefore we must arrive at a more general, comprehensive conception of the nature of these seven seals, and consider them rather as symbolizing the history of this present dispensation from its main aspects, the chief currents of events as they all flow toward the one great goal of all history, the perfection of the glorious kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. The history of this dispensation has only one possible purpose and consummation: the coming of the glorious kingdom of God. All the events of history, all the factors and agencies which combine to make history must be conducive to that one great purpose. And any event in the world's history possesses its own peculiar significance for the coming of the kingdom in glory. Taking into consideration, therefore, that the one important theme of the Book of Revelation is the coming King and the completion of the kingdom, and that the book of the seven seals must be taken as symbolic of the living and powerful decree of the Almighty, the ultimate purpose of which is the glory of God's name through the coming of God's kingdom, we are safe in drawing the conclusion that these seven seals are intended to reveal to us the main aspects and larger currents of the history of this dispensation as they cooperate to bring the kingdom of Christ to its perfect consummation.
In regard to the second question raised, pertaining to the proper mode of interpretation, we would remark that we cannot agree with those interpreters who explain these seals in the temporal, historical sense, as if we must consider them as revealing the successive events of history in their exact chronological order, each seal extending over a rather definitely designated period of history, till finally the climax of this dispensation is reached in the kingdom of God. Concerning this mode of interpretation we would make the practical observation, in the first place, that it not infrequently has been conducive to the wildest speculations with respect to the exact date of the coming of Christ for final judgment. Naturally, if the different seals are indicative of seven successive periods of the history of the church and of the world, and if, moreover, it is possible to identify these periods in actual history with any approach to definiteness, we must surely be able to ascertain rather reliably exactly how far we have advanced in our day on the road to the second advent and make at least some calculation as to the length of the way still before us. This, however, is an impossibility if we may believe that the Word of Jesus in relation to the exact day and hour of His coming is true today as well as at the time when it was spoken. Besides, such an interpretation is based on an altogether too mechanical view of history and is not at all in harmony with reality. It is, for instance, not true that the first four seals, --call them, if you please, the victorious progress of the kingdom, war, famine, and pestilence, --find their corresponding realization in definitely marked periods of history. On the contrary, history much rather presents such an aspect as to make a surmise from the outset that these four riders are simultaneously upon earth, although with this exception, that now the one, now the other, appears emphatically on the foreground. And therefore, this mode of interpretation cannot be accepted as the proper one.
On the other hand, we must also dissent from those who would refer the realization of the prophecy contained in all the seven seals entirely to the future, preferably to a period immediately preceding the coming of our Lord. Among these we may especially note that class of interpreters which would place all the seals in the period of the great tribulation. The church has already been taken up into heaven; the rapture has taken place, when these seals shall be realized. Against this view may rightly be urged that in that case the book loses its value and purpose. For it undoubtedly means to be a source of instruction and consolation for the church of Christ in general, which she scarcely needs if all these things shall be realized after she has been taken up into glory. Against this may be urged, in the second place, that heretofore the book has not spoken of a rapture of the church whatsoever. The slender ground which is supposed to be found in Chapter 4, verse 1, where the seer is called "up hither," is altogether too feeble to support this theory. And, finally, against this may also be urged the fact that history plainly reveals that the things symbolized in the seals to a certain extent actually do come to pass and are realized day by day.
Hence, we must rather combine the two theories mentioned into one, and maintain that although the realization of the seals undoubtedly must be looked upon as to a certain extent still future, and although there is a certain succession noticeable in the fulfillment of their prophecy in actual history, so that new elements enter in occasionally which have not been witnessed in the past, and, besides, there is an increase in clearness and vividness of their realization, nevertheless to a large extent the seals,especially the first six,-are being realized simultaneously, so that, as we have remarked, the four horsemen are making their drive through the earth all at the same time, and that throughout the period spanned by this dispensation many of these things have come to pass in days gone by, are being realized in the present day, repeat themselves in the history of the world from time to time with increasing vehemence and clearness, till all the different streams and currents of history shall converge in the final goal, the completed kingdom of our God.
The First Four Seals
Turning our attention now to the first four seals, we may remark, in the first place, that they belong together and form a group of seals distinct from the rest. First of all, they are plainly distinguished by their allegorical figures, the horses and their riders, which occur in connection with all the first four seals, and with them only. In the second place, they are distinct by the fact that in the issuing forth of each one of them one of the four living creatures which surround the throne of the Almighty sounds the command, or invitation, "Come!" This is evidently the correct rendering. The KJV has it that in each case one of the living creatures bids, "Come and see." And the impression might be that every time it is John who is addressed, rather than the horse and its rider. However, this is not the case. John is already in the spirit in heaven, and does not need the invitation to come and see. And if such an invitation should have been necessary at the rushing forth of the first horse, it certainly would have been superfluous to repeat it with the other three horses. Besides, it may be supposed that John is wide awake, stirred to the depths of his soul, profoundly interested in the vision he receives, and therefore does not need the invitation, "Conic and see." Not to him, but to the horseman that is about to rush forward on his impetuous drive through the earth, comes the simple command, "Come!" And if now we remember that in these four living creatures we have the symbols of the fulness of all earthly creation, we understand immediately that the suggestion is given in this four-fold command that all the world is deeply interested in the work of these four horses with their riders. However this may be, certain it is that also in this repeated bid we have an indication that the first four seals evidently belong together, and form a distinct group.
In regard to the symbolism implied in these seals, in general we have our attention called, in the first place, to the figure of the horses and their riders.
Even in our day the horse is an animal employed in battle. But especially in Scripture does the horse occur pre-eminently as an animal of war. Already from Psalm 33:17 this becomes evident, where we read: "An horse is a vain thing for safety, neither shall he deliver any by his great strength." Here the horse is evidently referred to in connection with the battle. And then it is also plain that he is pictured in Scripture, even by implication in the text quoted, as symbolic of undaunted courage and vehement, irrepressible onslaught in battle. Beautiful is, from this point of view, the description we have of the horse in Job 39:19-25: "Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength; lie goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting." This is surely a most beautiful and masterful picture of the horse from a literary point of view. But for our purpose it is sufficient to observe that the Word of God knows the horse as the animal for battle par excellence,the picture of strength and undaunted courage, of irrepressible onslaught and vehement eagerness for the battle. Hence, when we see these horses go forth into the earth, we may be assured that there is to be war and battle, and that the power of these seals cannot be checked or successfully opposed.
However, they do not symbolize wild and undirected forces. On the contrary, these horses all have a rider who directs the horse according to his will. This shows in general that the powers and forces symbolized by these horses can do nothing more than they are supposed to do. They are forces directed and limited by intelligent will to a definite goal. Already the fact that they proceed from the book with its seven seals and that they therefore are liberated to do their work at the bidding of the Lamb inspires us with confidence that they cannot run at random, that they are not blind powers or independent forces. But especially the fact that each of these horses has a rider, directing them intelligently, is symbolic of the fact that they cannot run wild, that the forces symbolized by the horses are well controlled and directed to their proper destination. We must not ask the irrelevant question as to whom the rider represents on every horse, for the simple reason that he does not symbolize any particular person definitely. Horse and rider belong together. They constitute one whole. They represent one idea. And that idea is an irrepressibly strong and vehement force, ready for battle, completely controlled by intelligent will. Or, if you please, it reveals to us that history in this dispensation is completely under the control of the Lamb that standeth as though it hath been slain, to Whom all power is given in heaven and on earth, and that events on this earth are definitely and intelligently directed by His Spirit, sent forth into all the earth.
The Four Horses Individually Considered
Our next observation in regard to the symbolism of these four seals concerns the color of each horse, and in harmony with their respective colors the other details of description.
The color of the first horse is white, which is symbolic of victory. Repeatedly this color appears as such in Scripture. Those who are faithful and overcome shall ultimately appear in white robes. In Chapter 19:11 ff., where we have a final description of the battle of Armageddon, the Lord Jesus appears as the victor, seated upon a white horse, in all the glory of His power and victory. Thus it was also customary in the Roman army that the victors should return riding on white horses. Hence, it may be deemed rather evident that the white horse is symbol of a victorious power. In harmony with this color of the horse are the other features pictured in the text. First of all, we are told that the rider has a bow, which is symbolic of righteous and victorious warfare. In Psalm 45:5 we read of the king who is typical of Christ: "Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee." In the second place, the rider receives a crown: not the royal diadem in this case, but the garland, the wreath of victory. And finally, this idea of victory is definitely expressed in the last clause, that the rider goes forth "conquering and to conquer," which by its peculiar repetition assures us of the certainty of the victory this rider will win. Therefore, we have in the first seal the picture of an armed warrior, going forth to battle, whose victory is assured him beforehand.
The color of the second horse is red, or, as the original indicates, a color glowing like fire. It is the color of wrath and anger, of heated passion and violent emotion, such as causes a man's blood to rush to his countenance, of lust and gain, of envy and revenge, of blood and war. The man that cometh from Bozrah, with sprinkled garments, who has trodden the winepress of Jehovah's anger alone, is red in his apparel. And when the Lord is described in all the holy zeal of His heated anger, He is pictured in Scripture as a consuming fire. This horse bears the color of a glowing fire, of heated passion and revenge and bloodshed and war, of which it is also symbolic. Again, the other details mentioned of this second horse and its rider serve to corroborate and enforce this idea. For, in the first place, we read that he receives a great sword, symbolic of war and death and destruction. And, in the second place, the definite information is given us that this horse receives the power to take peace from the earth. In general, therefore, the second horse and his rider are the picture of heated passion and wrath going forth to do its work in the earth.
The third horse is black. Occurring in the Word of God, this color is the symbol of scarcity and famine. In referring to a drought in the land of Judah in his own time, the prophet Jeremiah writes: "Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up," (Jeremiah 14:2). And in his Lamentations (5: 10) we hear the same prophet complain: "Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine." Black, then, is the color of scarcity and want, of drought and famine. The rest of the description of this horse is again in harmony with this idea of the black color, although at the same time we should not fail to notice that by it the idea of famine is somewhat modified and mitigated. The rider is pictured as one who holds a balance and who does some careful weighing. And as he weighs, the voice is heard.. "A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny." A measure of wheat (about one and one-half pints of our measure) constitutes the equivalent of one man's subsistence for one day.
And the same is true of three measures of barley. If in connection with this we also bear in mind that a penny, or shilling, constituted just about a day's wages of the common laborer, we come to the conclusion that this third rider represents scarcity and dearth, rather than downright famine. The relation between the wages of the common people and the cost of the necessities of life is such that the latter devour the former every day. But this is not all. The voice continues, and says, "The oil and the wine hurt riot." Oil and wine are symbols of plenty and luxury, of merriment and feasting. These may not be hurt, but must continue to exist. And hence, the complete portraiture of this third horse and its rider presents a remarkable contrast: a contrast between poverty and riches, between a bare subsistence and luxurious living.
The fourth and last horse is of a pale green, such as is the color of death. Here we cannot be left in doubt as to the meaning of this fourth horseman. The horse represents the color of a corpse, of death itself. And in harmony with the color of the animal is the name of its rider, which is Death, while Hades, the abode of the dead, follows him, ready to receive the victims killed by this terrible horseman. The definite commission which this fourth horseman receives is to kill. and destroy one fourth part of the earth's inhabitants with the sword, with pestilence, with the wild beasts of the earth, and with death in general. If four is generally the number representing the completeness of the world, one-fourth represents such a fraction as is in harmony with the present existence in the world throughout this present dispensation. The symbolism of the last horse and its rider makes us think of death in all its various forms.
After the general significance of the symbolism presented by these four horses and their riders has been ascertained, it cannot be difficult to grasp the meaning of each one of them and to discover what they represent in the history of this dispensation.
The victorious warrior on the white horse evidently stands for the triumphant progress of the cause of Christ's kingdom in this dispensation. As we have said before, we must not attempt to personify and interpret the details of the picture. We must not maintain that the rider is in this case Christ.. for then we would have to apply the same method to each of the four riders, which is impossible. Horse and rider represent just one idea; and together they picture the victory of the cross in the world of sin. The world lies in darkness, is the dominion of the prince of darkness, stands inimical over against the kingdom of Christ which is to come. And therefore, if that world is to be transformed into a kingdom of God, it is not sufficient that the evil-doers be destroyed, but spiritual victories must be won. The power of the new kingdom must go forth into this inimical world and make subjects for the kingdom of heaven. For this purpose Christ sends forth His Spirit and Word to regenerate and call and bring to a conscious faith, to cause men to fall down before the great King and worship Him instead of the Evil One. And it is this combined effort of the Spirit and Word and all that is connected with their work which is portrayed under the symbolism of the white horse and its rider.
That victorious warrior, going forth conquering and to conquer, shoots his sharp arrows into the hearts of the enemies, and thus brings them into subjection to the Lord of lords and King of kings. Up to the present day this rider has pursued in the main a very definite course. He did not ride at random and roam in every direction, all over the earth; but clearly he had his course prescribed and definitely mapped out. Starting from Jerusalem, he drove to Antioch and through the various cities of Asia Minor. From thence he crossed over into Europe, first scoring his victories in Macedonia and Greece, then boldly striking for the very heart of the mighty Roman Empire, in order from there on to sweep over the mountains and plains of Europe, and finally cross over into the western hemisphere when the time was ripe. Surely, today he also rides in other parts of the world, and the inhabitants of Asia and Africa must bow before his power. But there is a distinct difference between his work in Europe and America and that among the nations of the Far East and the south. In the former countries his victories were so pronounced that outwardly entire peoples have been christianized, while in the latter the result of his drive is noticeable only in the conversion of individuals. And thus the ultimate result of the drive of the first warrior is that the tremendous contrast is called into existence between the so-called Christian world and the world of heathendom, Israel and Gog and Magog.
The second horse and its rider together are the symbol of war. It is because of the drive of this horse on the earth that the slumbering passions of men and nations are aroused and called into action, so that nation rises against nation all through history. We must not fail to notice that also in the case of this second horse and its rider it is Christ Who opens the seal, and He sends forth the horse and its rider. Also in this case the horse does not run at random, but is directed by its rider. It assures us that in the deepest sense of the word also the wars of the world are sent forth and controlled by Jesus Christ, the Lamb that holds the book with its seven seals, through the Spirit Who goes forth into all the earth. Well controlled the red horse goes forth. Is it necessary to call your attention to its presence and impetuous drive all through the ages of history? Nation rises against nation in every period of history. It is Rome against Greece, the powerful hordes from the dark north against the declining Roman Empire, the various nations of Europe warring among one another or against the New World. Does it need special proof to show that wars have increased rather than decreased in power and vehemence, as well as in number, as time went on and civilization developed, and that exactly because of the presence and drive of this red horse the ideal of universal peace in a sinful world is a mere dream? Riding upon the glowing passions of lust and greed, of power and conquest, of hatred and revenge and jealousy, this second horse and its rider go forth to slay individuals and conquer nations. Fiercer and redder than ever, it is driving over the world today. But remembering that also this horse is sent forth and controlled by the Lamb, we may rest assured that it must perform its own part for the bringing of the kingdom of God to its completion.
The third horseman has the sphere of social life assigned to him and maintains the tremendous contrast between scarcity and plenty. Of this contrast, always existing, the third rider is especially the symbol. I do not pretend to say that the special famines are for that reason excluded, especially not as they often follow in the wake of war. In our own day the black horse stalks about threateningly, especially in war-ridden countries, where a measure of wheat can be sold for a penny no more. But although this is true, we would be mistaken if we would discern this third rider only in special periods of war and famine. He is always among us, and continually he does his work. The symbolism of the picture does not indicate what may be called downright famine, but much rather a striking contrast. On the one hand, it points to a living by the day; on the other hand, to luxury and abundance. This horse it is that causes all our social problems, because through its work the contrast is maintained between rich and poor, between plenty and scarcity, between wealth and miserable poverty. Always the masses live by the day. Always their wages are sufficient to provide a bare subsistence. Always the oil and the wine remain untouched, and the few live in wealth and splendor and royal ease, in distinction from the masses. Very emphatically this condition appears in Europe and in other countries; but also in our own country it is developing with alarming rapidity. A very small percentage of our population possesses and controls more than seventy-five per cent of all the wealth of the country, while the masses may divide the remaining twenty-five per cent of the nation's gold among themselves. Always the black horse and its rider maintain this contrast in the social world, a contrast that in turn is the cause of many events in history. It is the cause of feasting and riotous living, on the one hand; of the dissatisfaction, misery, protest, rebellion, revolution, and bloodshed, on the other. But in all these things the children of the kingdom see the black horse and its rider, sent forth by the Lamb that holds the book, performing its own part for the bringing of the kingdom of glory.
Finally, the fourth horse and its terrible rider present the picture of death in all its various forms and manifestations. A horrible picture indeed this horse calls before our imagination. A horse of a pale green, ghastly color, ridden by Death in person, swinging with powerful fist his awful sword, followed by Hades, ready to swallow up the victims that may fall in the path of this merciless monster. It is death in all its forms as he enters your home to slay your dear ones by death, as he steals through the streets of our cities in order violently to kill by dagger and pistol, as he stalks over the battlefield to reap his greatest harvest. Not merely, therefore, as you see his work on special occasions, but as he may be watched day by day in all parts of the world, he is presented to us in our text. For it is especially mentioned that this horse also kills by death. Surely, also by the sword, by pestilence, by the wild beasts of the earth, and by all kinds of accidents this rider performs his awful work. By homicide and suicide, in wars and revolutions, in pestilence and epidemic, by storm and flood and fire, by the beasts of the field, but also by the infinitesimally small wild beasts we are wont to call germs, this rider mows away millions and millions in a short period. But for the rest, he simply kills by death in all its regular appearance. For in all he kills just one-fourth of the inhabitants of the earth: just as many as is in harmony with the history of the world and as will maintain the equilibrium among the peoples of the earth, according to the divine plan. In short, the sum-total of all death-cases in the world, according to regular statistics, is the effect of the drive of this pale horse and its rider.
We come, then, to the conclusion that these horses and their riders symbolically proclaim that all the different phases of human life in particular and of the nations of the earth in the broadest sense are under the absolute control of Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain. He it is Who controls the progress of His kingdom as symbolized in the white horse. He it is Who holds the reins of history when nations rise against nations. He it is Who fixes price lists and wages, and maintains the social contrast between poverty and riches. He it is, finally, Who sends death into all the world in order to mow down His victims, the proper persons at the proper time. To Him is given all power in heaven and on earth, and He executes the will of Him Who sitteth upon the throne.
The Reason For The Horses
Even so, however, we cannot be satisfied and we may not stop at this stage of our investigation. We do not merely want to know that these horses are making their drive over the earth; nor are we satisfied to know what each of them separately signifies. But we must, first of all, learn to understand the reason for their presence, and place ourselves before the question: why is it necessary that all these four horses perform their peculiar tasks, exert their peculiar influence upon the various phases of human life? Why is it that the white horse is not sent forth alone? Why is it that he makes his drive over the earth accompanied by the red and the black and the pale horses? All the more this question is urged upon us in view of the fact that it is from the book of the seven seals, symbolic of the living decree of God Almighty, that these horses issue forth to do their work, that they are liberated for their drive by our Lord Jesus Christ, and that they are under the evident control of the Spirit. Proceeding from the faith that there is wisdom in all the decrees of the Almighty and that the Lord does nothing without a sound reason, we take courage to investigate whether we may perhaps discover the wisdom of the Lord our God and His glorious design in all these things. Besides, there is also a practical reason for this question. Especially in the times in which we are privileged to live,-times so pregnant with meaning, -there are all sorts of theories in the air that mean to explain the tremendous events in history, especially in the history of today. Interpretations are offered, also of the conflicts in the world of our present time, which are far from Scriptural and often thoroughly humanistic. And it requires not merely a strong faith implicitly, but also a clear vision of the truth as revealed to us in the Word of God, in order to stand immovably and to resist the strong currents of humanistic philosophy that tend to sweep us off our feet. Hence, we must clearly see and understand why there is not only a victorious progress of the kingdom of Christ in the world, but why there is also war and social trouble and revolution and bloodshed and death. Why are all these calamities necessary? These are questions which naturally arise in times like ours, and which demand an answer.
In order, then, to arrive at a satisfactory answer to this question, we must proceed from the truth which is to faith self-evident, and therefore needs no further proof or elucidation, namely, that all the events of history occur in order to bring in the kingdom of God. There is but one reality, and that is the kingdom of heaven. There is but one possible terminal for all history, and that is the completed kingdom of Christ. This needs no proof. And therefore I say that in our discussion of the question raised we must start from the firm faith that all things in this dispensation must be conducive to the bringing of that glorious kingdom, either directly or indirectly, in a positive or in a negative manner. If you ask me, "Why that white horse?" I answer: to bring the kingdom. If the question is asked,---Whymust there be war?" I say without hesitation: for the sake of the kingdom of God. If you inquire, "Why is this tremendous social contrast between luxury and poverty necessary in the world?" I say again: this is necessary to lead to that one goal, the completed kingdom of glory. If you should ask, "Why does that terrible rider on the last horse massacre one-fourth of men?" I would offer the same general solution: it is all for the completion of the kingdom of God. That this is the general purpose of all these four horses is also evident from the fact that the purpose of the entire Book of Revelation is to picture the Christ coming to His glorious kingdom.
This, therefore, being established, we have really but one question to answer, namely: how do the forces symbolized by the four horsemen work together for the good of the kingdom of God and its completion? To find the correct answer to this question we must first of all recall a few facts concerning this kingdom of God and clear away some rubbish which nowadays is thrown on the market of spiritual realities.
First of all, then, it will be necessary clearly to grasp the truth that originally God created the world His kingdom. I take the world now in an all-comprehensive sense of the word, including all creation, the spiritual world not excepted. It includes the world of simple matter with all its elements and powers, hidden or already revealed: the wood and the stone, the silver and the gold, all inanimate creation. It embraces the seas and the oceans, the rivers and the lakes, the running streams and quiet waters, with all that they contain and with all their laws and ordinances and powers. Thus it was originally; and thus we still conceive of the world as created by the Almighty, even though it is at present under the curse. When the sea roars, you ought to listen by faith to a sound in the kingdom of God. And when the brook murmurs over its cobbled bed, you may again listen to a sound in that same kingdom. To that kingdom belongs the atmosphere that envelops our globe, the air with all its wonderful powers. When the storm rages, you may know that a part of the kingdom of God is disturbed. When by steam-power you are moved from one place to another at the speed of many miles per hour, or when by pushing a small button you suddenly create light in your living-room, or when you are carried aloft thousands of feet in the air upon the wings of an airplane, you remember by faith that you are employing but powers in that kingdom which God originally created. To that kingdom belong the beasts of the forest and the cattle of your meadows, the creeping things and flying birds, woods and fields, trees and flowers. All things, in a word, belong to that kingdom of God. To that same kingdom, finally, belong God's rational creatures, man and angel, and these with all their talents and powers, with their entire being. Man's body and his soul, his intellect and will, all that he possesses has originally been given him as a subject of the kingdom of God. In one word, as we speak of the kingdom of God in this connection, we refer to all creation in its widest conceivable sense, with earth and sky, animate and inanimate creation, matter, plant, animal, and man, as well as the angels in heaven, with all the hidden and revealed powers which the Almighty Creator has stored from the beginning in this mighty product of His omnipotent will.
Secondly, we must understand what is implied in the assertion that God Almighty created that entire world a kingdom. Of course, the main idea in this connection is that there is a king, who issues his laws and ordinances and demands obedience. Hence, in regard to the kingdom of the world it should be remembered above all that God is King supreme, that He is King in the absolute sense of the word. It is this which makes of the world a kingdom of God. All the world must obey His will and His ordinances. The stars run their courses as He has ordained. The earth follows its path according to His will. The trees grow in harmony with His law. The flowers blossom according to the ordinances of the Almighty King. Steam and electricity are bound by His law. All is subject to His will. All things must obey Him. And in it all the name of the King supreme is glorified. For if you ask, "What may be the common purpose of all that exists?" the answer is, of course, that all the world reveals and must reveal the glory of its Creator. But there is a difference. Just as in any kingdom, so also in the kingdom of the world as God created it there is order and gradation. In a kingdom there are not simply the king and the common people who must obey. But between them there are various officials who represent the will of the king in all the kingdom. Thus it is also in the kingdom of God. There is order and gradation. It would be interesting to study this order in detail; but this would lead us too far from our main purpose. Suffice it simply to remind you of the fact as such that there actually is order and gradation also in the world as a kingdom of God. There is the order of lifeless matter, the order of plant life, the animal world, and, finally, the order of God's rational creatures, men and angels. And of all these man is created as the highest creature, destined to rule over all things in the name of God.
For it is true that, according to Psalm 8, man was made a little lower than the angels; but if we would see man in the reality of his power and glory, you must consider him as he is in Christ Jesus his Lord. Being related to both the material and the spiritual world, he is naturally destined to rule all things, to have dominion, to bring to light the hidden powers of creation, and thus lead all that kingdom on to the full realization of its highest purpose, the glory of God. Man is king. But even as king he remains servant. He is not, he may not be, he never can be king in the absolute sense of the word. But always he is king under God. With relation to the world, man is ruler: for God gave him dominion over every creature. But with respect to God, man is servant: for to obey from free and willing love was his great calling. Hence, when we speak of the world as a kingdom of God, we refer to all creation as it finds its climax in man, who rules over all things according to the will of the Almighty and consecrates himself and all things to the glory of his Maker.
In the third place, we must remember that sin and the devil could never essentially change this God-ordained order of creation. What we mean is that Satan could never change the works of God in such a way that creation was a kingdom no more. No more than Satan could change man into another being, no more could he so change the order of the world that it was no more a kingdom. The world remained a kingdom, whatever the devil might do. Neither,-and this must be remembered as well,-could the devil create another kingdom, next to the kingdom of God. Satan also is a mere creature; and however powerful a creature he may be, the fact remains that he is nothing but a creature, and that a creature can never create. All the creature,-the devil too,-can do is to accept creation as God made it.
But what he naturally might do and what he was allowed to do and what he actually did do was to subject that entire kingdom of the world to himself. It is evident, then, that it was Adam's obedience that connected all the world as a kingdom with its God. As long as Adam would be servant of God in the world, creation was God's kingdom. But the moment Adam rebelled, the world stood in rebellion against the Sovereign of heaven and earth. If Adam instead of kneeling in the dust as the king-servant before his highest Sovereign, would subject himself to the will of Satan, the kingdom of God would be changed into a kingdom of the prince of darkness. And this is exactly what took place. Not a new kingdom was created. Neither was the essential order which made the world a kingdom changed at all. But the kingdom of the world was subjected to the will of the devil and became a kingdom of Satan. Adam fell. In his capacity of king of the world he rebelled against his rightful Sovereign, refused obedience to Him, in order to surrender himself and his kingdom to the arch-enemy of God. Man did not cease to be king; even though through sin he became a creature under the curse, nevertheless God preserved man and the human race for the sake of His own covenant and kingdom. And therefore, even in his sinful state man still reveals that originally he stood in royal power. Even though he lost much of his original power and glory, in relation to the world he still rules, Even though he is extremely limited, he still attempts to subdue the earth. Even in his sinful condition he reigns over air and water and brings the powers of creation into subjection. Hence, he did not through sin suddenly lose all of his royal power and position. If that had been the case, the devil would never have been able to realize a kingdom of darkness in the world, as he now does. But what happened was this, that man, the king of creation, delivered himself and his kingdom into the power of Satan; and instead of remaining obedient to the God of his life, he served the devil, became an ally of Satan against God. Not another world was created, but the world as kingdom was delivered to Satan, had become a kingdom of darkness. In this sense the devil was right when he pretended before Jesus that all the kingdoms of the world were his.
In the fourth place, we must understand the most significant truth that this entire kingdom, all the world in the most comprehensive sense of the word, is given unto Christ, to be saved by Him, to be put into complete subjection under God once more, and to bring it to its highest possible glory in the kingdom of heaven. Unless we accept this cosmological view of salvation, we shall never be able to understand Scripture, least of all, perhaps, the Book of Revelation.
We are, alas, accustomed to run in the narrow track of our individual salvation, preferably in the rut of the salvation of our soul. We must be regenerated. We must come to faith in Christ Jesus, We must be sanctified and delivered from sin. We must go to heaven. This is, in brief, the entire story of our salvation as it lodges in the minds of many of us. Even the redemption of our body often recedes into the background. If only our immortal soul is saved! And no doubt all this is very significant. I do not underestimate the salvation of man. Surely, we must be regenerated; we must come to conscious faith in Christ; we must be justified and sanctified. And we must surely emphasize that here we have no continuing city, but that we seek the city that hath foundations. All this is perfectly true. Nevertheless, it is only part of the truth, not the whole of it. Neither is it the truth conceived in its proper light. It is not the truth as Scripture presents it, not the truth as we must necessarily conceive of it in order to understand the Book of Revelation.
Instead, we must again emphasize the Biblical truth that all the world, the entire kingdom which God originally created and which fell into the power of sin and the devil and lies at present under the curse, will again be restored and even raised to a far higher glory than it originally possessed. We must understand that after all sin and the devil can never do more than serve the realization of the plan of Almighty God to lead His kingdom to glory and to realize His everlasting covenant in Christ Jesus. This is plain from the fact that the very world is a revelation of the name of God and is created to reveal the glory of that name. If there were nothing more, the conclusion would be fully warranted that the Lord of heaven and earth will lead that world to final glory: for He cannot give His glory to another. But this is also the general teaching of Scripture. God loves the world, John 3:16. Because He loves the world, He sent His Son, that in Him all things might be united. And in the meantime it is all creation that groaneth and travaileth together in pain. And all creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God, Romans 8:19-22.
If we understand this situation, we shall be able to grasp why there must necessarily be continual war in this world between God and the devil, between Christ and Antichrist, until the kingdom of God shall have been completed and shall have appeared in perfect glory. There are not two worlds; there is only one. If God and the devil could each have a kingdom, there would be no war. But this is impossible; and this, of course, is certainly not the case. There is but one world-kingdom. But in this historical dispensation there are two powers that fight for dominion over that one kingdom of the world. Or rather, there is one power that fights for that dominion while God, Who never fights, simply rules over all, even over the powers of darkness. On the one hand, there is the dominion of Satan, who apparently gained the victory in paradise; on the other hand, there is the dominion of Christ, the representative of the Father, to Whom God gave all things, and Who is called to restore the kingdom to God and to bring that kingdom to everlasting glory. Hence, in the world there is a continual war of the devil against Christ and His church for the dominion and possession of all things. This is the war of the ages.
This war of all the ages may be traced from the earliest periods of history.
The beginning of it we have in the declaration of war on the part of God in Genesis 3: 15: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." This putting of enmity is nothing less than the beginning of the awful warfare of the devil and the powers of darkness against Christ and His church and the kingdom of heaven. Man has become the friend of the devil, his ally. And God here declares that He will break that alliance. He did so by putting enmity into the heart of man against his very ally, or, if you please, by immediately regenerating Adam and Eve. I think there can be no doubt about the fact that our first parents were both regenerated, and that they were regenerated right on the spot in paradise. Since they were the natural root of the entire human race, the operation of grace should commence right there, and the enmity against Satan be instilled in their hearts.
But as soon as they bring forth children, the conflict appears. For God follows the line of election and reprobation in all the history of the world. Before the flood this conflict is evidently of an individual character. We read nothing of kingdom against kingdom, but of the sons of God and daughters of men, of Cain and Abel, of Lamech and Enoch, till through the amalgamation of the sons of God and the daughters of men the seed of the serpent threatens to exterminate the seed of the woman, and God saves His kingdom through the flood.
Soon after the flood we notice a new stage of development. We read of mighty Nimrod and of the attempt to realize a world-kingdom of darkness with the tower of Babel as its center. And when the Lord frustrates the attempt and separates the human family into nations, the same tendency to realize the ideal of a world-kingdom becomes apparent in individual kingdoms that strive to subdue every other kingdom under them. In the meantime God separates Abraham and his seed, and in them establishes His own kingdom, even presently in national form. Israel becomes the typical kingdom of God in the old dispensation. Hence, after the flood the struggle begins to assume the character of a battle, not between individuals but between different kingdoms. On the one hand are the heathen nations with their gods; on the other hand stands Israel with Jehovah as its King. Thus the struggle continues, first up to the captivity, when it seems as if the kingdom of God suffers disastrous defeat; then, after Israel reappears from captivity, the struggle still continues up to the first coming of Christ.
In the new dispensation the battle again reaches a higher stage of development and assumes a different form. Principally the devil and his powers are already defeated, and Christ through His cross and resurrection has the final victory. Nevertheless, also in the new dispensation the devil still attempts to maintain his own kingdom of darkness. The kingdom of God in the new dispensation breaks the bounds of Israel's national existence and becomes international, but at the same time it becomes also purely spiritual. Christ has received the kingdom and now gathers His subjects from all parts of the world and out of every nation and tongue and tribe. It is no more a battle between the nations. We must therefore never compare our dispensation with the dispensation of Israel in the Old Testament as if they were principally the same. The battles Israel fought must not for a moment be thought of as similar to the battles of the world in our day. No war can ever be Messianic in the new dispensation. No war today can be called a war for the kingdorn of God. The kingdom of God fights a spiritual battle, and cannon and sword cannot destroy her enemies But although the battle is now chiefly spiritual, it is nonetheless very real. Essentially the battle between the children of light and the subjects of the kingdom of darkness is still the same as in the old dispensation. The form has changed; the essential character nevertheless remains the same. On the one hand, there is still the power of darkness, aiming at nothing less than the establishment of his own kingdom and the subjection of the whole world under the devil in all the different spheres of life. And, on the other hand, there is the power of grace through Christ, fighting the battle of the kingdom and claiming that all things are God's and His Christ's. Side by side these two powers exist in the same world, developing under the same outward influences, principally radically different from each other, agreeing in no respect, fighting inch for inch in every sphere of the life of the world. They never meet; they never agree. They are always in conflict; and compromise is impossible. Thus is reality in our own dispensation.
Lastly, we must also understand that these two powers in the world make use of all the outward means and powers and of all the institutions God gives to the world in this entire dispensation. They live in the same world. They enjoy the same rain and sunshine. They receive outwardly the same benefits. They develop along the same lines in the purely formal sense of the word. It is here that our view often becomes obscure. Yet also at this point we must be clear. In this historical dispensation, in which the principles of sin and grace both operate in the world, God created various institutions in order to maintain the possibility of orderly life and development of the human race as far as possible in spite of the fact of sin, and thus to make room, to form a basis in the world, for the establishment and realization of His own kingdom and covenant. All these institutions are employed as well by the power of darkness and of Antichrist for the realization of his own kingdom as they are by the power of the kingdom of light. There is the institution of the state. Government was instituted by God and equipped with the sword to maintain order in society and to punish the evil-doer, in order that the kingdom of God might have a place and develop. Without this outward check upon the development of sin the principle of evil would develop prematurely, and life on earth would soon prove impossible. But ever since the attempt at Babel the same institution of the state is also employed by the power of Antichrist to realize his kingdom. And especially in recent times the tendency of history is again in the same direction as was indicated in the attempt to establish the world- power of Babylon. There is even the institution of the church, established in the world for the upbuilding and edification of the saints and for the establishment and extension of the kingdom and covenant of God. But especially in our time the attempt is made again to employ that institution of the church for the advancement of the kingdom of darkness.
There is the institution of society in general,-the home, the school, business and industry,-in a word, the entire many-sided development of social life in our day. No doubt all of these institutions must be subservient to the kingdom of Christ and to the realization of God's eternal covenant. But one by one they are also employed by the power of darkness for the establishment and development of the kingdom of Antichrist. And if you understand this clearly, you will be able to observe that the battle rages along the whole line. The two powers fight for nothing less ultimately than the possession of the whole world. And in this fight they both make use of all the institutions which God has established for this dispensation. Nevertheless, once more: God never fights! God in Christ already has the victory. God simply makes use of the powers of the kingdom of darkness for the realization of His own everlasting decree and for the establishment of His own kingdom.
The Combined Effect Of The Four Horses On History
We are now prepared to discuss the answer to the question: what is the combined effect of these four horses on the history of the world?
In this connection, however, and before we point out this effect specifically, we must remember this one truth, that the same causes do not produce necessarily the same effect. Fact is, of course, that the forces represented by these four horses are sent into the world in general, and that they also exert their influence upon that entire world. On the face of it, we might perhaps expect that this would not be the case. We might imagine such an arrangement of things that, since there are two powers in the world that aim at the complete dominion over the whole world, the Lord would separate His people and kingdom already in the present time from the kingdom and people of the devil in such a way that only the latter were affected by the evil forces of history, such as war, famine, death, etc., while only the benevolent influences of His power would be felt by His people. Or, to speak in terms of this particular passage of Revelation, we might conceive of such a dispensation that the white horse would come into the world and have contact only with the people of God, with those whom He would call out of the world, while the last three horses would affect the evil world only. However, this is evidently not the meaning and is not the situation.
On the contrary, all these forces are sent into the world in general; and they affect men without distinction. The white horse, for instance, we explained to stand for the positive progress of the cause of God's kingdom in the world through the influence of the Word and the Spirit. Does this imply now that as this white horse makes its drive through the world it affects the people of God, the elect, alone, and leaves no impression whatever upon the subjects of the kingdom of darkness? Does it mean that this white horse represents a certain secret power in the world, to be noticed and felt exclusively by the people of God? We know better. The influence of this white horse is by no means limited to the elect children of God. You will realize the truth of this statement immediately if only you remember that there is such a thing as an outward Christianity, and that in the external sense of the word we can speak of a Christian world in distinction from the world of heathendom. This is not to say that every individual in this so-called Christian world is actually a child of God and a child of the kingdom of heaven; for that is certainly not the case. But there is a general influence of the Word and of the Spirit, so that in some way even those who do not belong to God's elect are influenced. Christianity has become the religion of the nations, at least in Europe and in our own country. The Word is preached publicly, not in secret. And there is even a general influence of the Spirit that is not unto repentance. Hence, with regard to the white horse, at least, it must be remarked that its influence is not limited to the citizens of the kingdom, but is much rather general.
Still more evident this is in regard to the last three horses. It is very plain that the people of God are not exempt when the evil forces of war, social upheavals, revolution, scarcity and famine, and death are sent into the world. When the red horse makes its drive through the nations, the seed of the woman fight side by side with the seed of the serpent. Also the people of God belong to a certain nation. Also they are subject to authority. Also they must go when the call to arms comes. They, as well as the children of evil, see their sons go to battle. They, as well as the children of darkness, must see their homes destroyed and their fields devastated, and must in general suffer the evil effects of war. The same is true of the black horse. When it appears, the people of God are not exempt from its influence. They live in the same society as the children of evil. And in general it may even be stated that they belong to the poorer class of people. The pale horse, too, knows of no distinction, but enters into the homes of the righteous and wicked alike. Death mows away young and old, rich and poor, from the midst of the godly and the ungodly. And in respect to Hades, it might indeed be said by the wise man that they all go to one place. Hence, once more: there is no distinction. These four horses have their influence upon all men without discrimination.
On the face of it, this fact might lead us to the conclusion that in this way the kingdom of Christ will never reach its completion. We are inclined to reason that the same causes have the same effect, and that what must be a blessing to the one must also be a blessing to the other, while what is destructive and injurious to the one must be equally harmful to the other. If this were actually the case, nothing could possibly be accomplished by these four riders, except that either both powers in the world are strengthened, or that both are ultimately destroyed.
This, however, will not be the outcome. We may state this from the very start as an established fact. Not both kingdoms, that of Christ and that of Satan, will be perpetuated; but the former will have the complete victory in the end, and the latter will be uprooted.
But in order to understand how this is possible, we must learn to see that the same causes do not have the same effect, and that what is beneficial to the one is harmful to the other in the world.
As the first rider, the one on the white horse, passes through the world and comes into contact with men in general, he has an entirely different effect upon the children of God than upon the subjects of the devil. To the former he is, of course, a benevolent power, through which they are called to new life and translated from darkness into light. But to the latter he becomes a curse, through which they develop in evil and ripen for the day of judgment. The same twofold influence proceeds from the last three horses and their riders. They are injurious to the children of evil, but work together for good to those that love God, who are the called according to His purpose. The powers or forces represented by the horses are the same in each case, but the objects upon which they exert their influence are different from each other. The receptivity of the objects is not the same every time. Beautifully this is explained, at least with regard to the causes themselves beneficent, in Hebrews 6:4-8. There we read: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned."
This is indeed a powerful passage of Holy Writ.
Many are of the opinion that they may refer to this passage as a clear proof that Scripture teaches the possibility of a falling away from grace. But rather than accept this view of the text, we must maintain, first of all, that Scripture throughout militates against the falling away from grace and upholds the perseverance of the saints. That there is a falling away from grace is untenable on the basis of the truth of election and reprobation. God knows those that are His from all eternity, and no one shall ever pluck them out of His hands. They are securely sealed by the Spirit of grace, and every one of the one hundred forty-four thousand shall surely be saved. Salvation is of the Lord; and that He should first regenerate a person, in order then to allow him to fall away from grace, is inconceivable. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified," (Romans 8:29, 30). No one shall pluck God's people out of His hands. There is, then, no falling away from grace. And this certainly is not what the author of Hebrews 6:4-8 intends to teach.
Yet we are told that it is possible that a man may once be enlightened, that he may taste the good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come, yea, that in a sense he becomes partaker of the Holy Spirit of grace. It is possible, therefore, that men come into very close contact with the Word of God and with the blessings of God's kingdom and covenant. Or, to speak in terms of our passage from Revelation, men may sometimes come into very intimate contact with that first rider on the white horse, so that they see the beauty of the kingdom of God and to a certain extent enjoy the outward blessings of that kingdom. Yet they may fall away so deeply that they become hopelessly lost and that they become the bitterest enenemies of the kingdom of God, so that they crucify again the Son of God and put Him to an open shame. Or, if you please, the very same power that makes subjects of the kingdom of Christ also accentuates the enmity in the hearts of its opponents, also makes most bitter enemies of God and of His cause in the world.
And the author explains this fact by the illustration of a field. A field is blessed by abundant rain,-a blessing which is, of course, essential to the development of the good seed and the raising of the crops. But under the influence of that same benevolent rain, which in itself is a blessing, the thorn and the thistle also develop. If no rain descended upon the field, the thorn and the thistle could never grow. But the more abundant the outward blessings of rain and sunshine, the more luxuriantly also the thorn and the thistle will grow. Hence, under the same influence of identically the same blessings, the good seed sprouts and the grain ripens in the car, but also the thorn and the thistle prosper. The same fact is true of the spiritual blessings of the kingdom of God.
We must remember, therefore, that this white horse and its rider have a two-fold effect. as they make their drive through the world of men.
Nor is it difficult to see that the same general truth is applicable to the influence of the last three horses. Also these have a two-fold effect, according as they meet with different objects. What is evil to the world is by no means evil to the children of God. The same adversity causes the one to rise in rebellion and curse God, the other to humble himself and be patient. The same affliction hardens the one and brings the other to repentance and sanctifies him. The same tribulation that brings despair to the one causes the other to glorify his God.
As people of God, therefore, we may be comforted from the outset. All these horses come into contact with all men, without discrimination. But they all will be beneficent in their influence and effect upon the people of God, while they are harmful to the children of evil. And thus we can already in a general way discern how they must ultimately bring the kingdom of Jesus Christ while at the same time they will lead to the defeat of the power of Satan and Antichrist in the world. All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.
What then is the effect of the first horse and its rider in the world?
In general, we may answer that it causes separation. This is not difficult to. understand. If there never had been any operation of the power of grace in the hearts of men, if there never had been any influence of the Word and of the Spirit, it is evident that never a separation would have been accomplished between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. It has been alleged sometimes that sin is the factor that causes separation between man and man. And in a certain sense this is, of course, true. But we should never forget that without the power of grace operating in the world there would be no fundamental separation, would be no split in the ranks of humanity, after all. Grace is the wedge that in this sinful world makes separation and divides all men into two principally different and opposing camps. This, then, is the general effect of the work of this first rider upon the world of men.
On the one hand, a people of God is called into conscious existence in the midst of the world. The Spirit of God regenerates, so that the inmost being of man is placed in a new relationship to God and to the entire world. The Christian is a new man. Principally he has become a friend of God and belongs to His party in the midst of the world. The Word calls and brings that new man to consciousness of his new life, of his new relationship to God and to the world, so that he begins to live and to manifest himself as a subject of the kingdom of God and a member of His covenant. The people who are thus formed in the midst of the world acknowledge again the highest sovereignty of the God of heaven and earth, and that too, in every sphere of life. They begin by recognizing the righteousness and holiness of God. They are conscious of their sins and transgressions and confess them before the face of Him Who sitteth upon the throne. And they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the representative of the righteousness of God, but also as their Savior and Redeemer in His atoning power.
Hence, they stand in an entirely new relation to God and also to the world. Formerly they stood over against Him in rebellion, hating Him with all their heart and mind and soul and strength. Now they humbly bow before His throne, asking, "Lord, what wilt Thou have us do?" Formerly they imagined in the wickedness of their corrupt nature that all things existed for them, for man; and man, to them, was god. Now they realize that all things exist for the glory of God and that the Lord of heaven and earth is God alone. Formerly they emphasized that all things should exist and be arranged according to their own evil imagination, and they did not ask for the ordinances of the Most High. Now they insist that all things must be based on the principles of God's Word, and that Christ is King. The result is that they come to the world with a principally different life-view and with a new demand. All things must be made subservient to the glory of God and His kingdom, and in every sphere of life the precepts of their King must be maintained. For all of life they have their own demands. The state, according to them, is an institution of God, established for the maintenance of justice and righteousness in the world, for the punishment of evil-doers and for the protection of the good, in order that God's people may have room to develop in the midst of a sin-cursed world. The church is essentially the body of Christ, and, as instituted, it exists for the upbuilding of the saints, a witness of God in the world for the extension and establishment of His kingdom. It must needs remain separate from the state. The two differ in character. They differ in purpose. And they must never amalgamate. The church is universal; the state is national. The church is eternal; the state is temporal. The church stands for the eternal and absolute righteousness of God in the world; the state maintains, or rather is called to maintain, the righteousness of God in the present dispensation. The state fights with the sword; the church never does so. Surely, her members in this dispensation are citizens of a certain country, and they are subject to authority. Neither do they refuse as such to go out and meet the enemy in battle. But the church as such does not fight the battles of the world. She has a spiritual warfare to accomplish. The church as such sings no national songs; but she sings of the country beyond, of the city that hath foundations. The church as such has no national emblem, but unfurls the banner of the cross.
And thus the people of God have their own life-view with regard to every sphere of life and every institution of the world. The home is an institution existing primarily for the perpetuation of God's covenant in the world. The school is an institution for the purpose of instructing the covenant children according to the principles of Holy Writ for every sphere of life. Society, with business and industry, art and science, and all things that exist, must, according to them, be controlled by the principles of the Word of God and be made subservient to the idea of God's kingdom in the world. In a word, they have a new life-view. They are members of God's covenant, His friends in the world, subjects of His kingdom. And, in principle at least, they want to live the life of that kingdom also in the present world.
But this is not all. This, in fact, is only one side of the influence of the white horse and its rider in the midst of the world.
That white horse also has influence upon the ungodly and the reprobate. Upon the enemies of the kingdom it inevitably has this effect, that it enlightens them with regard to the idea of the kingdom, but at the same time it accentuates their hostility and embitters them all the more. They also learn to taste the powers of the age to come and to see the beauty of the kingdom of God. That this is true will be evident the moment you compare the Christian world in general with the world of heathendom. The Word of God has a general enlightening influence. There is what might be called even a civilizing influence of the Word and Spirit. Intellectually the children of evil understand the truth. But the principle of enmity against God remains unchanged. They do not come to repentance. They refuse to acknowledge the righteousness of God. They refuse to bow before Him as their Sovereign. They deny Christ, not indeed as a good man, but certainly as the representative of God's righteousness. They deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. They remain antichristian in their deepest principle. And thus they naturally come to this, that they also will establish a kingdom, in form like the kingdom of God, whose beauty they have learned to see. But it is a kingdom without Christ and without His atoning sacrifice. Instead of God, man is absolute sovereign in this kingdom. In that kingdom it is emphasized that the powers of this world must be brought to complete development and that man must have dominion over all things. Progress in business and industry and commerce, in art and science, is characteristic of this kingdom, -all without God and without His Christ. Still more: also in this kingdom they speak of righteousness and brotherly love, and only clean men and women can enter into it. They demand outward righteousness, and they insist upon brotherly love. They strive to realize the universal brotherhood of man. They struggle to arrive at the realization of a great international confederacy. And they want to establish universal peace. They want to abolish the effects of sin and bring universal bliss to the world. In a word, they aim at nothing less than the consummation of what they call the kingdom of God in the world.
For they are enlightened and have come into external contact with the white horse and its rider. But the principal trouble with them is that they deny that Jesus is the Christ. The old enmity, instilled in the hearts of men by the serpent in paradise, constitutes the principal motive of all their aspirations. They are not regenerated. They are children of evil. They do not stand in a new relation to God. And the result is that their so-called kingdom is after all no kingdom of God, but a kingdom of man, by man, and for man. The state must legislate men into this kingdom, and by force of law they are made to practice temperance and to manifest their love to the brother. The state, in combination with other states, will enforce universal peace. All the nations must unite. A great world-power must soon be established, controlled by a central committee, in order that war may be abolished and the kingdom of peace may presently be ushered in.
For the establishment of this kingdom the cooperation of the church is also invited. The church must preach a social gospel. The old message of sin and guilt, of total depravity, of righteousness and holiness, of the necessity of atonement through blood and of regeneration by the Spirit of Christ, has become antiquated, is no more adapted to the needs of the present time. Instead, a new gospel has come to the forefront, the gospel of love and peace for all men, without Christ. Not that man is spiritually impotent, but rather that he is divine; not that he is guilty and condemned, but rather that he is by nature good and a child of God, must be emphasized with a view to the new era we are about to enter upon. And the church must allow herself to become a powerful agency for the establishment of this universal kingdom of peace and righteousness.
The school must serve the same purpose. It must not be separate. It must not be sectarian. It may not teach a definite religion. For that would not be in harmony with the idea of the universal brotherhood. But it must be general in its instruction and inculcate the general principles of love to humanity. Society must be transformed according to the same principles. Differences must be removed. Competition must cease. The socialistic state of things must be established, to cover up the sore spots of covetousness and greed. And in as far as family life would obstruct the development and the ultimate realization of this idea, it also must be transformed. Free love will perhaps never be advocated on a large scale; and the form of the family will remain unchanged. But if the murder of children or the destruction of seed is advantageous to the establishment of this kingdom, its practice must be encouraged. Thus is the tendency of the present age. You may verify it with your own observation. The great aim is to establish a kingdom that is in outward form like the kingdom of God as it is pictured in Holy Writ. But the principal motive is enmity against God and against His Christ.
In a word, under the influence of the same white horse that calls to life the covenant people of God in the world, also the kingdom of Antichrist reaches its development and consummation.
But if the case is thus, you will have no difficulty to understand that this white horse cannot run alone with its rider through the world of men. Just ask the question: what would be the result if this first horse were not followed by the red and the black and the pale? In other words, what would be the result if there wore no war, no social struggle, no death in all its forms? The answer is evidently: the result would be that the kingdom of Antichrist would reach the height of its development prematurely. The sinful world, striving to establish a world-kingdom, would soon succeed in organizing into an international federation of nations, and thus constitute the formidable world-power that is pictured in the thirteenth chapter of this Book of Revelation. Peace and happiness would reign supreme, and no more bloody wars would be fought. All things would be under the control of this world-power. It would employ by main force the powers of church and state, of home and school, of business and industry and commerce, and establish the antichristian order of things. Social contrast would cease to appear. AD would enjoy equally much, or at least approximately so, all the products of the earth; and all competition, strife, and revolution would have an end. But this tremendous world-power, with all things under its own control in the most complete sense of the word, would naturally leave no standing room for the true church of God on earth. It would persecute and, if possible, destroy the kingdom of God in the world.
But this may not be as yet. The time will come, indeed, when Christ will allow a partial realization of this antichristian world-power to maintain itself for a time. And that time will be most terrible for the children of the kingdom. They shall, according to Scripture, be able to buy and sell no more; that is, they shall be social outcasts. And so terrible will be those latter days, that even the elect would not persevere, were it not that those days were shortened. But as yet this order of things may not be realized. For these events the time is not yet ripe. The days may not yet be shortened.
The formation of this tremendous world-power, therefore, must be checked, must be prevented for the time being. And therefore, Christ, Who possesses all power in heaven and on earth and Who opens the book with its seven seals, sends war, sends the red horse into all the earth. It is not as if Christ were the sinful cause of war. No, thus we never conceive of the matter. But the principle of sin must manifest itself in some way. And Christ so controls the sinful passions of individuals and nations that war ensues. He does this through historical factors. If you peruse the pages of history, you may observe that never any great and powerful nation was allowed to exist for any length of time as sole lord of the universe. No sooner has one nation ascended to the zenith of its power and apparently become undisputed lord of all the world, but another nation develops and becomes its competitor for world power. There are always two or more nations which rival one another for the control of the world. It is Assyria and Babylonia, Babylonia and Persia, Persia and Greece, Greece and Rome, the latter and the dark hordes from the north of Europe, the Netherlands and Spain, France and England, or, as it is today, alliance against alliance. All through history things are so controlled that the situation is thus, the end cannot come. There are, indeed, those who have expressed the expectation that this war will not end. But this expectation is erroneous. The present conflict will surely end again. For nation must rise against nation; but the end is not yet. For as long as nation rises against nation, the world-power cannot realize itself, for the simple reason that it labors continually for its own destruction. A time will come when wars shall apparently cease and the great world-confederacy whose principle is enmity against Christ shall be realized. And that time of world-peace will be the most dangerous period of history for the church of God in the world. But that time is not yet; and therefore wars must come.
The same purpose is served by the black horse and its rider. Just as nation rises against nation, so also one element rises against the other in the midst of these nations, in society, because of the tremendous contrast between rich and poor. Whatever men may do, this contrast cannot be eliminated. As soon as the wages increase, the prices of all commodities are raised; and the relation remains as it always was. Rich and poor, labor and capital will remain. And it is this continual contrast between poverty and luxury which causes society to be a house divided against itself and is the source of strikes and social convulsions and panics, of insurrections and revolutions many a time. Just recall the bloody scenes of the French Revolution, and you will be able to understand how the drive of this black horse prevents the establishment of the kingdom of outward peace and righteousness. Also to this there will come an end for some time. We know not how. Not impossible does it seem at present that this social contrast will find its final solution in the socialistic state of things. For Socialism is advancing with tremendous strides in our own day. But true it is that also socially the kingdom of Antichrist will be allowed to realize itself for a time. As yet, however, this may not be. And therefore the presence of the black horse is required, and the sin of covetousness and greed is controlled by the Lord that always and again this social contrast appears with all that is implied in it.
Lastly, also the pale horse must serve the same purpose. Clearly you will realize this if you consider the significant addition that this horse and its horseman have power over one-fourth part of the earth. That is, death always mows away the proper persons at the proper place and at the proper time. Whenever a person has served God's purpose in the economy of this dispensation, he is mowed away and is no more. At the moment when Pharaoh and his powerful army become really perilous to the children of Israel in their exodus from Egypt, this pale horse appears on the scene and destroys the army of Pharaoh together with its king. When the enemy endangers the gates of Jerusalem, this horseman with his pale horse removes an entire force of 185,000 from the scene of action. He enters the palace of Alexander the Great and kills him by fever at the moment when he would be lord of all the world, that his kingdom may be divided. And when Antiochus Epiphanes would become too perilous to the little remnant of Israel, this awful horseman makes the cruel monarch a prey of Hades in a moment. Always this formidable rider selects the proper persons at the proper time and place. And whenever a person's purpose is served and he would perhaps become too powerful or dangerous to the people of the kingdom, the pale horse appears on the scene and snatches him away.
If, therefore, you ask: "Why these horses? Why war? Why social contrast? Why death in all its forms?" my answer is: to prevent the premature establishment of the imitation-kingdom of Antichrist, that kingdom which resembles in outward form the kingdom of Christ but which is based on the principle of enmity against God and His Anointed. All these three horses check the development of the world-kingdom in this dispensation. They all make the world-power too busy with itself to launch its final attack upon the children of the kingdom.
It is not difficult, then, to understand that these last three horses are not harmful, but must be beneficent in their effect upon the children of the kingdom. Wars and revolutions, famines and pestilences, and death cannot injure the kingdom of God for the simple reason that as yet it exists purely spiritually. War does not hurt the people of God qua talis. Surely, they also suffer according to the flesh. They also are grieved when their sons die on the battle-field. They too are troubled when their homes are destroyed and their fields are devastated. But all things work together for good to them that love God. In trouble and affliction, in tribulation and sorrow, in the midst of ruin and terror, they are spiritually never harmed: for by faith they cling to God. And as they experience the troubles and trials of this present time, the eyes of their faith are fastened more and more on the glory that awaits them in the future, their hope is quickened. Here it is war; soon it will be peace. Here it is misery; soon it will be glory. Here it is sin and imperfection, rebellion against the God Whom they love; and the power of Antichrist comes more and more to its full manifestation. But presently it will be righteousness and holiness, peace and splendor, when the kingdom of Christ shall have been completed and shall appear in finest glory in the new heaven and the new earth. And therefore the contemplation of this tremendous contrast between what is and what will be strengthens and quickens their hope, and with all creation they begin to groan with longing for the glory that shall be revealed in them. And as far as death is concerned, to their faith the pale horse is no terror, but merely an instrument to transfer them to the anticipatory state of glory in the house of many mansions.
Be not afraid, therefore, ye people of the kingdom! All these things must needs come to pass. In times of war and trouble, famine and pestilence, when the red horse drives through the earth and the black horse appears in your streets, or the pale horse enters into your homes, let your hearts rest in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who holds the book with the seven seals and controls all things in heaven and on earth unto the ultimate completion of His glorious kingdom!