THE WORLD EMPIRES
D. M. PANTON.
When Israel’s royalty had perished in Babylon, and the Jew had forfeited the kingdom, Jehovah brought before a Gentile emperor, the first to whom He had committed supreme world-power, the vision of a colossal man. "Its brightness" - the glory of the world - "was excellent, and the aspect thereof" - the raw strength of humanity - "was terrible" (Dan. 2: 31): an exquisitely graded vision, disclosing the successive seats of political strength, and its deteriorating quality, in an image of awful glory and terrifying power. For the very materials of the Colossus are the record of its decay. The head - absolutism; the breast - tempered imperialism; the thighs - military monarchy; the legs - imperial rule, ultimately (in the feet) blended with democracy: gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay - empire deteriorating in metal, that is, in concentration and intensity, and lessening in spacific gravity, that is, in stability and momentum. The vision disclosed that there would be four great empires of man; * that there would be four only; that the last phase would be democratic; and that the fifth empire would be Divine. The accurate and startling fulfilment of all but the Apocalypse brings us to-day to the very threshold of the End.
"Thou, O king Nebuchadnezzar, art the head of gold." "All the peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive" (Dan. 5: 19). God gave the Emperor of Babylon such power that none on earth could thwart the progress of his arms. But the experiment was quickly disastrous. Self-deification, or Caesar-worship, the acme of human sin, made its immediate appearance (Dan. 3: 1): the first Divine discipline on an emperor, changing an autocracy into madness, failed to warn his successor: "in that night was Belshazzar the Chaldean king slain, and Darius the Mede received the kingdom" (Dan. 5: 30). A composite empire followed, the Persian, of inferior autocracy. "After thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee." Two arms - the Mede and the Persian - but one breast: of silver, not gold; for the monarchy, no longer absolute, was curbed by powerful nobles. The empire was now ruled by ‘the laws of the Medes and Persians,’ and not by one autocrat. Every opportunity of sinless rule dwindled as God became less able to instruct the monarchies of the world with supreme power.
The Greek Empire, "the third kingdom of brass," follows, "which shall rule over all the earth." Brass, for hardness, far excells silver and gold: so, by conquest alone, Alexander made an empire so universal that he wept for other worlds to conquer.
The fourth Empire, the Roman, arose as iron. Roman codes have been the basis of the world’s law: its iron administration - hard, destructive, invincible - ran its roads to the ends of the earth. The figure parts, in the Image, into two legs, and ultimately subdivides into ten toes. From 800 A.D. to the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. - for six and a half centuries - two emperors, in Rome and Constantinople, reigned at once; still symbolised in the two-headed eagle, looking east and west, of the arms of Russia and Austria. Thus the legs of iron continued, ultimately in a parallel of imperial rule, for fourteen centuries.
The final Empire descends as a Stone. The colossal majesty of human greatness, the entire fabric of human power, disappears as chaff: and the Stone then waxes great, and fills the whole earth. It is a universal kingdom, for it replaces all other kingdoms; a kingdom on earth, for it is "under the whole heaven" (Dan. 7: 27). "And it filled the whole earth"; a literal Kingdom, for "all the peoples, nations, and languages shall serve Him" (Dan. 7: 14): it is the Fifth Monarchy of the world. "Behold there came" - not with swaddling-bands of the cradle, but - "with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man" (Dan. 7: 13).