A number of articles in this issue of The Lampstand make reference to the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed thousands and devastated many towns and villages. We have also been reminded of the great earthquake yet to come and in this article by Brother Roberts in 1880 he links the natural and spiritual as he graphically describes the coming destruction of Rome as portrayed in Revelation 18.

To the last, Rome retains the complacent hallucination in which the undisturbed imposture of centuries has confirmed her. “She saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death and mourning and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (verse 7 and 8). This shows that Rome retains confidence in her destiny up to the moment the thunders of divine vengeance crash forth upon her affrighted ear. It is to something like this that Paul refers when he says of the day of the Lord’s coming, “When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh”. It also shows that in the final perdition of Rome, there is to be something local to the city itself, very sudden, and out of the usual run of calamity. The intimation that her plagues are to come “in one day”: the declaration that “she shall be utterly burned with fire”, and the cause alluded to as accounting for her disastrous end—“strong is the Lord who judgeth her”, all point in this direction. The sequel supplies particulars that could not be understood apart from the view of which Dr. Thomas was strongly convinced and which this whole chapter furnished so much reason for entertaining: viz, that the city of Rome itself, and all its environs, will be engulfed in the fiery abyss that underlies the site on which it is built and of which Vesuvius (quiescent for many centuries, but now active) may be considered the chimney. The kings of the earth, her paramours, are represented (verse 9) as seeing the smoke of her burning afar off and lamenting for her catastrophe and the suddenness of it. This shows the kings survive the destruction of the Babylon of this chapter, and that they survive as sympathizers with a calamity which they have not caused. The destruction is therefore something more than a political or ecclesiastical destruction. Literally, of course, they could not see a conflagration in Italy: but in a condensed presentation of the scene, it is not inappropriate to represent them as spectators. They would see in the sense of hearing of it, and being witnesses of it by report. All the world saw the capture of Napoleon III at Sedan, though not with their actual eyes. There may appear to be a little mixing up of literal Rome with the ecclesiastical Rome that “sits on many waters; but the confusion will only be experienced where there is a supposed obligation to be uniform and precise in the interpretation. There is a literal Rome and a spiritual Rome, and while these are separate, yet they are to be identified one with the other, and in a sense, you cannot have one without the other. The spiritual Rome is the architectural Rome in her ecclesiastical relations with the peoples of the earth. There could be no “Church of Rome” without a Rome to give that standard of affinity. The literal Rome is the kernel of the affair. It is so even in the symbolism, for the “seven heads” of the monster symbolizing the Roman body politic, lay hold of the fact that Rome is built on seven hills. Now, it would seem appropriate to commence the breaking‑up of the Roman system by the destruction of Rome herself: nothing would arousethe world’s attention so much to the Roman question in its divine relations as the disappearance in the volcanic subterranean, amid earthquake, and tempest and fire, of the city of the Pope, with its presumptuous temple of “St Peter’s”, its Vatican Palace, its hundreds of costly churches, and shrines, and all the multiplied paraphernalia of priestly superstition and iniquity. Nothing short of such a catastrophe would answer to the features of this chapter. The apostles are adjured to rejoice over her (verse 20) because of God’s avenging of them on her. This could not apply to the Roman Catholic Church, which did not exist when the apostles were slain. But it would apply exactly to architectural Rome, which was the city of the Caesars who murdered them—a city doubtless which is the root of the Roman Church, but which church could, however, survive without it. A mighty angel takes up a great stone (verse 21) and casting it into the sea, says, “Thus with violenceshall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be foundno more at all.” This figure would not be met by any merely ecclesiastical overthrow. The enumeration of the wealth appertaining to the city (verses 12,13), could not be understood as applicable to an institution merely: because “the merchants of these things” appear (verse 15) as “standing afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, Alas, alas that great city that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!” There is no such collection of precious articles and art treasures in the whole world as there is in Rome. The interior walls of St Peter’s are enriched with precious stones, the offerings of devotees. The city is full of shrines at which similar offerings have been made. It has been a superstition with the rich everywhere that costly gifts to the church would purchase the favour of heaven, and in those sent actually to Rome itself there was special virtue. The result is that there is a concentration at Rome in the churches of a vast material wealth of the character described in the category occurring in verse 12 of this chapter. Rome has always been the great market for such things: the jeweller, the sculptor, the painter, the worker in precious stones, and in stained glass and costly embroidery, have found their best employment in Rome—speaking broadly of her history, covering the centuries. The best musicians are also found there. “The Pope’s choir” at the present moment is the finest in Europe. “The voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters” is to be heard no more at all in her when this catastrophe has overtaken her (verse 22). This agrees only with the idea that topographical Rome is meant. The Papal institution survives the destruction foreshown in this chapter, for the Pope is found at the head of the armies that oppose Christ in the subsequent war (19:19,20). Therefore it cannot be the overthrow of the institution that merchants lament, but the overthrow of the city which is the heart and headquarters of the institution.

It is Rome, which, by the hand of Pilate, killed the Lord Jesus; which by Nero, beheaded “our beloved brother Paul”, and threw his body to the beasts; which, by a similar edict, dishonoured and crucified erring but forgiven, impulsive but lovable, Peter; which slaughtered the friends of Christ by the thousand in the days of Paganism; which, by Titus, levelled Jerusalem with the ground, drowned the flames of the temple in the blood of Israel, and scattered a miserable remnant to the winds; Rome, the implacable enemy and destroyer of the Jews, in all the centuries, Pagan and Papal; Rome, the Papal foe of the Scriptures, and the murderer of the saints; Rome, the inventor of torments and foul iniquities of the monastery and dungeon; Rome, who flaunts among her architectural ornaments the sculptured forms of the dishonoured furniture of Yahweh’s sanctuary; Rome of the Caesars and Rome of the Popes and Cardinals; Rome of the long dark and dreadful history of the world; Rome, the mistress of kings and the debaucher of the nations; Rome, the corrupter of the world to an extent the corrupted populations do not realise in their corruption; seven-hilled Rome on the Tiber, which blasphemes heaven by arrogating to herself the title of the Eternal City, and exhibiting her chief magistrate to all the world as the Holy Father; Great Babylon, the Mother of Harlots and the abominations of the earth—this is the Rome that is destined most terribly to fall before the first blast of Yahweh’s fury, long pent up, “deferred for his name’s sake”, but shortly to descend in roaring tempest that will sweep away all refuge of lies, and level the pride of man with the dust, that the Lord alone may be exalted, and the nations blessed in Abraham and his seed.

No wonder that such a glorious consummation should be greeted, as John heard it greeted, by an outburst of praise, like the roar of thunder, and the sound of many waters, from the mouths of a countless multitude who said, “ Alleluia ! salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hands.”