« PreviousContinue »
adversary were employed for the corruption of Christianity, in the East as well as in the West, he is here represented as corrupting and deceiving the whole world. And from a subsequent part of the prophecy, particularly ver. 12., it will appear, that his measures were directed against the inhabitants both of the earth and of the sea, the Eastern and Western parts of the empire.
OBSERV. 1st, The true sons of the church are protected by a special providence. The man-child was no sooner born, than he was caught up to the throne of God. By the kind and special providence of God, he was as safe from the devouring jaws of this dragon, as though he had been translated, like another Elijah, to the highest heavens. It is not possible to account for the preservation of individual believers, whose residence is often in the place of dragons, and who seem to be covered with the shadow of death ; nor for the preservation of a church state in the world, where Satan is everywhere acknowledged as a god,—without admitting, that there is the special agency and interference of Jehovah about them.
2d, Civil societies may prove very dangerous enemies to the church, even under the name of Christian states. When once they embrace a profession of Christianity, they are then placed as it were in the region of the ecclesiastical heavens, where they can discharge their artillery with a more certain and destructive effect. Accordingly, while Christianity had to struggle with associations that were merely secular, or with such as were avowedly Pagan, it fought its way in spite of all opposition ; but when that formidable power with which it had to contend during the first three centuries assumed the name and appearance of a Christian state in the fourth, how suddenly was her fine gold changed !
3d, The blandishments and caresses of the state are the principal sources of corruption to the church. It was not so much the head as it was the tail of this dragon which spread desolation over the region of the heavens. With this monstrous instrument of destruction, he swept away a third part of the
stars, and cast them to the ground. While the church was attacked only with the weapons of persecution, she could resist unto blood, and maintain her integrity; but when she came to be loaded with the honours of courts, and to have the wealth of the world poured into her lap, the great body of her members lost their crown of twelve stars.
THE VICTORY OF THE CHURCH OVER THE DRAGON.
Rev. xii. 10–12. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven,
Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ : for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day
and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the
word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto
the death, Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe
to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.
· The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. A single false step may deprive the runner of the prize; and an incident apparently trivial, or a stratagem the most simple that can well be conceived, such as that adopted by Gideon against the Midianites, may turn the fate of a battle, and give victory when it was least expected. Parties could not appear to be more unequally matched than a woman and a dragon'; yet this formidable adversary was laid prostrate on the ground, and a shout of triumph was raised over his fall.
The woman, we have seen, is meant of the church before the catholic body was infected with error, or corrupted and debased by superstition and idolatry. The dragon is the symbol of the Roman empire after Christianity became the religion of the state, and before its dismemberment into a variety of independent principalities. In the degenerate age the dragon-state of the empire, there were a select few who
were found faithful for Christ. They retired from the scene of temptation into a wilderness, where they had nothing to hope from the smiles, and as little to dread from the frowns of the imperial court; and continued there, in a state of comparative purity, during the whole period of the reign of the Man of Sin.-Satan's object was to seduce all the members of the Roman state from the profession and practice of pure and undefiled religion. He had no objections against their wearing the name of Christians, provided they did not imbibe the spirit of Christianity, and reduce its principles to practice. He transformed himself into an angel of light, by making use of a power which was nominally Christian, to corrupt and destroy the whole system of doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the Christian church. In the prosecution of these measures of deep deceit and policy, he was everywhere successful, and truth had almost perished from the earth, when Michael sounded a retreat to his followers. And as their secession from that namerous but corrupted body which dwelt under the wing of the state, was the means of Satan's disappointment, and of the preservation of a Christian church, it is here celebrated in a song of praise as a great victory obtained over the dragon
In the beginning of verse 10., John assures us, that he heard a loud voice in heaven. From the matter of the
that this voice was the sound of praise; and as the occasion of the song was peculiarly interesting and exhilarating, it was sung in full chorus, and in the most lofty and harmonious strains; hence it is called a loud voice.-But it was not the voice of music only which John heard ; this beautiful air was sung with such a clear and distinct articulation, that he was able to take down a copy of the words, which he has inserted, that they may be sung by the church in all the succeeding periods of her existence.
The first part of the song contains a lively expression of gratitude to God for the deliverance which had been wrought from the power of the dragon. The inhabitants of the ecclesiastical heavens said, Now is come salvation.--Enemies might suppose that their flight into the wilderness was a sure proof of defeat, and that therefore they had no cause to sing of victory; but a retreating army is not always a vanquished one. Some generals act almost wholly upon the defensive; they seldom risk a battle but where they are sure of victory; they sound one retreat after another, till they exhaust the strength of their pursuers, and place them at such distances from their magazines and supplies, that they are compelled by famine and the risk of certain destruction, to give up the pursuit. And nothing is more common in the history of warfare, than to find one party feigning a retreat, to draw the other from the advantageous grounds on which they are posted, that they may return and attack them with the better hope of success. It was not, therefore, a conclusive evidence that the friends of truth were worsted in their contest with the dragon, when they retired into the wilderness. Their march thither was conducted in good order ; though the enemy hung upon their rear, and tried to make every step as painful as possible, he was not able to interrupt the line of their march, nor to cut off their supplies. They gained their object; and as the designs of Satan were completely frustrated, their retreat into the wilderness is justly celebrated as a great victory. But for the separation of the friends of truth from those that were either heretical in their opinions, or bewitched by the fascinating influence of a splendid ritual, it does not appear that a church state would have been preserved. Had the former remained in full fellowship with the latter, the whole mass would have been leavened. Their secession was the means of their preservation; they might therefore sing of salvation, as in this text.
How can this view of the subject be reconciled with a residence in a wilderness, or a sackcloth condition of the witnesses ? -Dwelling in a wilderness is, no doubt, fitted to suggest the idea of an afflicted as well as an obscure condition ; but to judge fairly of the situation of others, we must take a view of all the circumstances of the case. If a dragon were watching