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The dragon, having driven the true church into the wilderness, is supposed to have carried things in his own way among the rest. At a certain period however during her 1260 years residence in the wilderness, Michael her Prince espouses hèr cause, and makes war upon the dragon.
There is no doubt a reference in this part of the prophecy to what was predicted in Dan. x. 13–21. xii. 1. Michael is there described not only as standing up for the people of God under Persian oppression, but as fighting the battles of the church in later ages, even during the "time, times, and half a time," or during the dominion of antichrist.
The account given of Michael agrees not with the character of a created angel, but with that of Messiah the Prince, who defends his church against the dragon," that old serpent the Devil." Each has his angels, who perhaps are the visible agents in the war. But before we determine the application of this part of the vision it will be proper to notice a few of its general characters.
First, The scene is laid in "heaven." Yet in this heaven there is supposed till now to have been a place found for the dragon. It could not therefore be in the church above, where there has been no place for him since he "left his first estate." But in the church below there has. The latter therefore must have been the scene of the present contest.
Secondly, The war is made by Michael on the dragon, and not by the dragon on Michael. This intimates that it must have been at a time when the dragon possessed such a plenitude of power in what was called the Christian church, that his object was not to extend so much as to retain it.
Thirdly, Whatever of worldly power and policy might accompany the war, the war itself was spiritual. It was a war between truth and error, righteousness and unrighteousness: for the victors “overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony."
Fourthly, It is supposed that in this great struggle many of Michael's adherents would lose their lives, but that nevertheless they would overcome. The cause of truth and righteousness would prevail, and those who suffered for Christ's sake would
bear such a testimony for truth, and obtain such a victory over the world, as to be more than conquerors.
Such are the characters of the war to what event during the 1260 years of antichristian usurpation does it apply? I can conceive of none but the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Satan as ruling by means of Rome was then attacked, and cast out of those nations where the Reformation prevailed; which nations being the seat of Christ's visible kingdom are accounted as "heaven," while those which still cleave to the apostasy are "the earth."
A song of the heavenly host is introduced on this occasion: for the loud voice" (ver. 10.) does not appear to be that of an individual, but of a multitude, who join as with one voice in a shout of joy and praise. It fits the lips of the holy army of martyrs before the throne, who feeling for their brethren upon earth, rejoice in their having obtained a portion of relief. As Satan accused Job, and obtained permission of God to persecute him, so by the agency of the Bishop of Rome, he had from century to century accused and persecuted the saints of the Most High. But now were come "salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren (say they) is cast down, that accused them to our God day and night." The Reformation was at once a pledge of antichrist's consumption, and of the increase of the Redeemer's kingdom.
The weapons by which the victory was obtained are celebrated by the heavenly host, and are worthy of our special attention. Some of the followers of Christ among the Albigenses, the Bohemians, and the Reformers, thought it necessary to take arms, and fight for their religion: but it has proved, I believe, in almost every instance, that where a body of Christians have taken the sword to defend themselves against persecution, they as a body have perished by the sword. Whatever of this spirit there might De amongst the Reformers, it was not by this, but by "the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony," that they
The "heavens" from which the dragon is cast out are called upon to rejoice, while a woe is pronounced upon the inhabiters of "the earth and of the sea," or those continental and maritime
nations where he still dwelleth, and to which his influence is in one sense confined. The power of Satan, in this way being reduced to narrower limits, would be the more mischievous within those limits. He would consider the Reformation as only a first step towards the overthrow of a system, by which under the Christian name he had deceived mankind with equal facility as by the delusions of heathenism. Knowing therefore that his time was short, he would be the more assiduous in improving it. The denunciation wears a terrible aspect towards those nations which, notwithstanding all the light of the Reformation, still cleave to the apostasy. It may be equal to saying, "Woe unto you, Austria, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy; for the Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time!" From this language it might be expected that in those countries which rejected the Reformation, popery would operate so as either, by producing its proper effect, to lead its votaries into downright infidelity, or by riveting the delusion, to render them more and more the dupes of imposture. And thus it has actually operated: the nations which still cleave to it are nearly divided into two classes, the deceivers and the deceived; the former of which appear to be the destined instruments of heaven in destroying the latter, and so of executing the vials of God's displeasure upon them.
13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. 14 And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might Ay into the wilderness, into her place: where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. 15 And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood, after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. 16 And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth. 17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
The wrath of the dragon for having been cast out of heaven is directed against not only the spiritual welfare of his own subjects,
but the lives of those Christians who were situated within his territories. The friends of Christ in Popish countries have since the Reformation been persecuted with increased violence. In the ordinary measures of legal process, persecution has indeed diminished ; it has in a manner been shamed out of countenance by the prevalence of tolerant principles. but the more it has been restrained in this way, the more violent have been its ebullitions in a way of occasional outrage. Of this the massacre of Paris in 1572, the cruelties in the valleys of Piedmont in 1655, and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, are horrible examples.
From the times of the Reformation, the church of Christ had in a manner come out of the wilderness. Having obtained a degree of legal protection in several nations, its members were not obliged as heretofore to retire into woods and mountains and caves, nor to have recourse to midnight assemblies for the purpose of hearing the gospel but after these renewed persecutions the woman is obliged to fly a second time into the wilderness, as to her wonted place of refuge. Such has been the state of the Protestants in all popish countries; such has been their state in France from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, to the Revolution in 1789, though of late they were treated with less severity than formerly, being allowed to meet in the day-time, only under military inspection. Nor was it in popish countries only that the wrath of the dragon vented itself. A portion of the poison, of a persecuting spirit was found among Protestants, even in our own country, from the Reformation to the Revolution of 1688. If one place was more distinguished than another as affording a shelter for the woman at the time of this her second flight, I suspect it was North America, where the church of Christ has been nourished, and may continue to be nourished during the remainder of the 1260 years. And as to those parts of the church which still exist in a state of insecurity, the serpent has not been suffered to make a full end of them; they are nourished by the word of God, and shall doubtless survive the reign of antichristian corruption and persecution.
The flood of waters cast after the woman by the dragon, and the war made on the remnant of her seed, referring, as it appears,
to the latter end of the 1260 years, may be something yet to come. It is not impossible that persecution may yet be revived. The antichristian cause can hardly be supposed to expire without some deadly struggles. Indeed it is in the very act of "making war on him that sitteth upon the horse, and his army," that the "beast and the false prophet will be taken ;" and which seems to be the same war which is here made with the "remnant of the woman's seed."
Should a flood of persecution yet be in reserve for the church of Christ, it may be the last effort of an expiring foe; and from that the earth will preserve her by swallowing it up; it may be in some such way as the invasion of Philistines preserved David, or as political struggles have often been favourable to Christians, by furnishing those who wished to persecute them with other employment. The dragon, provoked by his want of success against the woman, may vent his malice on the remnant of her seed that are within his reach; but his time is short. His agents "the beast and the false prophet," will soon be taken; and the Angel, with a great chain in his hand, shall next lay hold of him, and cast him into the bottomless pit.