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THE WARS OF THE CHURCH WITH THE DRAGON.
Rev. xii. 4—9. And the dragon stood before the woman which
was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as
it was born. And she brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations
with a rod of iron : and her child was caught up unto God,
and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a
place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thou
sand two hundred and threescore days. And there was war in heaven : Michael and his angels fought
against the dragon ; and the dragon fought and his angels ; And prevailed not ; neither was their place
found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the
Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
We have lately considered the general appearance of the dragon, and shall now direct your attention to what is farther stated respecting him.--Among the features of his character the cruelty of his disposition was remarkably prominent. In proof of this we are told, as in the close of ver. 4., that he stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.—It is difficult to specify the particular acts of government which this part of the representation may be intended to describe ; but any person ac quainted with history knows, that it was the tendency of the political measures of the age, to corrupt the ministers, to debase the institutions, and to persecute and root out all the friends of genuine Christianity. The greater part of Constantine's successors were of the Arian persuasion, who, together with the dangerous opinions, had strongly imbibed the persecuting spirit of the party. They loaded their friends with courtly and magnificent favours; but persecuted, without mercy, all the ministers and professors of the true faith. Dragons never watched their prey with more greediness of disposition to devour, than the Arian emperors did those classes of their subjects who adhered to the true and proper Deity of the Son of God.
Prior to the time of Constantine, the leaven of corrupt doctrine was widely diffused, and superstition was exerting a very powerful influence over the minds of men. But the apostacy of that age was rather personal and individual, than a social and public defection from the truth. The old standards were retained, as declarative of the mind of the public body on the head of doctrine ; and though the blind zeal of some, and the false taste of others, had introduced a multitude of senseless rites into the worship of the church, there was nothing like uniformity of practice in their observance. Nor was there any public ecclesiastical deed which sanctioned either the errors or the superstitious practices of the times. But when general councils condemned many of the most important and precious articles of revelation, and ordered them to be expunged from the public creed; when they gave the sanction of their authority to the most absurd, superstitious, and even heathenish rites of worship; and when civil rulers enforced their decisions by all the force and terror of secular weapons,—apostacy then assumed a different appearance. It was no longer a personal evil, or a fault which could be charged upon individuals only; it was social as well as personal ; it was the crime of that large society which had hitherto been called the church. The friends of truth fled into the wilderness, to the place which God had prepared for them, from the face of the dragon. Those whom they left behind might still ca themselves the church ; but when apostacy had assumed this new shape, the import of the name could be found only with the refugees in the wilderness. During this mournful period, the woman is represented as having brought forth a man-child, ver. 5. Those interpreters who apply the dragon-state of the empire to the times of Heathen persecution, generally suppose, that Constantine the Great is intended by this figure, because he put an end to the trials of the church from Heathen rulers. But the account of this child is too similar to that which is given of spiritual and ecclesiastical characters in chap. ii. 26, 27., to be applicable to Constantine, or any other civil ruler.-Others understand the figure of Messiah, because, like Him, he was to have the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession, and to rule all nations with a rod of iron,' Psa. ii. 8, 9. But Messiah is represented in the prophecy as the husband of the woman, and the father of her offspring ; it is therefore unnatural to suppose, that in the same prophecy he would be represented as her son. It is nevertheless manifest, that the rule which this child was to exercise was to be so very powerful and extensive that none but Messiah could be invested with it; and, therefore, if the figure cannot be understood of Christ personally considered, it must be understood of Christ in his members, or mystical body. And in corroboration of this opinion it may be mentioned, that though, in the purchase of redemption, Messiah trode the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with him, all the members of his mystical body are admitted to share with him in the honours of his administration. This manchild is the hieroglyphic of the friends of truth and holiness, who resided in the wilderness during the Papal state of the Roman empire, and who appeared in their successors with the Lamb upon the mount Zion, at the close of the 1260 days, and entered upon that extensive rule which the saints will enjoy, when the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High,' Dan. vii. 27.
When this man-child is spoken of as if he were only an individual, it is manifestly in allusion to the ordinary number at a birth. The church is represented under the figure of a woman, and to have described her as bearing millions of sons in one day, would have been an unnatural representation. If the analogy had been more strictly attended to, there would have been fewer inquiries respecting the individual whom this child was supposed to symbolize.-I may also remark, that this is not the only text in which, though an individual only be mentioned, it is evident that a vast multitude are intended. An ancient prophet has employed the same figure, and placed it in such a connexion, as not to leave us in any doubt with respect to its meaning. Before she travailed, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child. Who hath heard such a thing ? who hath seen such things ? shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once ? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children,' Isa. lxvi. 7, 8.
The circumstances attending the birth of this child were to be peculiarly unfavourable ; he was nevertheless to be preserved from that destruction which seemed to be awaiting him, and afterwards to be clothed with such powerful and extensive authority that he would rule all nations with a rod of iron.— The language is intended to describe the energy and success of his administration, and not to intimate that it would be bloody, tyrannical, or severe. As he is the son of the church, his rule must be spiritual and ecclesiastical, not civil and temporal. It is the same kind of rule which was promised to the overcomer, chap. ii. 26, 27., and likewise to Messiah, Psa. ii. 8, 9. What was originally promised for the encouragement of the Head, is here introduced in the form of a promise for the encouragement of the members of his body.
But though this child would be born to bear rule, he was not to enter immediately upon the exercise of those extensive powers with which he was to be clothed in his birth. For some time he was to be caught up to God and his throne. The language is not to be understood of any literal translation, as when Elijah was carried up into the third heavens; for if every person during the dragon or Papal state of the empire had been translated to heaven, either miraculously or by an ordinary death, as soon as he was united to the person of the Son of God, the church, the true mother of this spiritual progeny, would have been written childless, as it is by means of a seed being continued that a church-state is preserved on the earth. The figure is intended to describe the special care of Providence, about the genuine offspring of the church during the times of the dragon and those of his successor, the beast of the sea. Though persecuted they would be kept in as great safety as though they had been translated from earth to heaven, and set down before the throne of God.
It has been supposed that there is an allusion to the preservation of Joash during the usurpation of Athaliah, described in the 11th chap. of 2 Kings. When the rest of the seed-royal were destroyed, Jehosheba took Joash the son of Ahaziah, and stole him from among the king's sons which were slain, and hid him together with his nurse in the house of the Lord six years. The usurper did not imagine that any of the sons of the late king were left alive, much less that one of their number was in such vicinity to the palace as to be lodged in the temple; till Jehoiada the priest presented him to the people, and by stating the circumstances of his preservation, convinced them that he was the true heir to the throne. The house in which he was lodged was the temple, the place of God's special residence on earth, and where he had erected a throne for himself. There Joash was in safety, when all his brethren were slain by the murderous Athaliah. In like manner it was to be with this true son of the church. Multitudes might be cut off, but a remnant would be spared, whom neither the dragon nor the beast of the sea would be permitted to injure.
But as the dragon was filled with a deadly resentment against the son, he could not be well affected towards the mother. In what conceivable manner was she preserved ? To this inquiry we have a satisfactory answer in ver. 6. The woman fled into the wilderness, &c.—There is a manifest allusion in