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ties, who were the first founders of the Christian thurch, and by whom the gospel was preached in great part of the Roman empire. By these twelve stars most commentators have understood the twelve apostles; but Dr. Mitcheli differs from them, and imagines that princes or eminent men were intended, but certainly without any foundation, for stars are here designed evidently to represent religious ministers; and the number twelve defines the meaning in this place.
The woman “ being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” This is a striking figure, as Bishop Newton well observes, of the great persecution which the church of Christ should suffer under the heathen Roman emperors, * but more especially of that long and most dreadful one under Dioclesian. The woman is représented as " being with child;" to shew that the time would come when God's patient forbearance with the Heathen would be terminated, and that a deliverer should arise in the Christian world who would execute the Divine vengeance upon Paganism. She is also represented as overtaken with the pangs of labour, to denote that the time is close at hand when she should be freed from all her persecutors, as well as to shew that her deliverance should immediately follow a time of great affliction.
* The ten principal persecutions of the Christians by the Hea. then emperors commenced in the following years: A. D. 64, 95, 107, 118, 202, 237, 250, 257, 273, and 303. This last was the severest, and continued about ten years.
“ There appeared another wonder in heaven, and, behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” That the Dragon is the symbol of the Heathen Roman empire is the opinion of most commentators; but none have given a sufficient reason why it should be here called a Dragon. The general sentiment upon this passage is contained in the following words: “The principal intention of the prophecy in calling the Roman power a dragon, was to set forth its religion and enmity to Christ. It was under the influence of the dragon or serpent, the devil, the destroyer of mankind, and was instigated by him to worship idols and false gods; war and cruelty were its employment, and it became the great adversary of the Woman, or Christian church, by persecuting and slaying her children.” * But all this reasoning is; totally inconclusive; for in this sense every wicked power might be called a dragon. It has been already observed that the Dragon is the symbol not of the Roman empire, but of the HEATHEN Roman empire; it therefore must be a representation of the religion of this empire. But what is a dragon? An entirely fabulous beast of antiquity. +
** Sce Dr. Mitchell's New Exposition of the Revelation, Part 11. pp. 9, 10. . + The following strictures upon this imaginary animal are given in Dr. Rees' Cyclopædia upon the word Draco : “ There is nothing in the wide expanse of creation's range apparent to our
Consequently a most proper emblem of the Heathen worship, which consisted in paying adoration to great numbers of imaginary beings, termed gods, goddesses, &c. &c. The very foundation of
knowledge that can incline us to believe that the conception of the dragon 'originated from any natural object: it is assuredly the spontaneous offspring of a glowing imagination created in immediate subserviency to the mythology of remote antiquity, and in which it constitutes a pre-eminent character. The existence of the dragon was firmly.credited among the ancients of almost every nation, both in the eastern and western nations of the earth, as may be clearly deduced from numberless authorities: it occurs in the sacred allegories of the Jews, and in the legends of the Chinese, from the earliest times of which any record is preserved; and even to this period is an object of worship in China; the like may also be said of Japan, and indeed of most Oriental countries. The classic poets of Greece and Rome afford abundant representations of this formidable monster: the dark retreats of their gods, and their sacred groves, were defended by dragons; and the Romans, Persians, and various other nations, fought under its banners and protection, The chariot of Ceres was drawn by dragons, and a dragon kept the garden of the Hesperidés. In the Scandinavian mysteries the dragon was the minister of vengeance under their vindictive gods; and the
Britons, like the Gauls, entertained a similar idea of its vengeful · powers, while enslaved in the trammels of Druidic superstition.
The dragon of the anciențs was represented as possessing attributes sometimes even approaching divinity: his form was that of a serpent with wings and feet: his size was affirmed to be stupendous, and the powers he possessed destructive and irresistible: his agility in flight was compared sometimes with that of an eagle, or sometimes with the velocity of lightning; and it was furthermore declared, that the brilliancy of his eyes was alone sufficient to dissipate the darkness of midnight.”.
their religious system is mostly built upon fable; and it is very difficult to tracę many of their superstitions to any, authentic original; and eyen those which appear to derive their origin from the Sacred Writings * are so disguised in fable as literally to bear no more resemblance to the truth than the dragon of the ancients does to any animal with which we are acquainted. It is very remarkable that the Heathen Roman empire is not said to be like a dragon, as the Beast in the 13th chapter of the Revelation is said to be like a leopard; or as the three first beasts mentioned in the seventh chapter of the prophet Daniel are likened to a lion, a bear, and a leopard respectively. The reason is obvious from the consideration, that if this empire had been likened to a dragon, it would argue that there is or was such a beast as a dragon; for it would bę highly absurd to say it was like an animal which we know has never existed. But the Heathen Roman empire is called a dragon, that is to say, its religion is a system of fable ; † and a great dragon to shew that its empire was very extensive; and a GREAT RED dragon, to shew that it acquired its mighty dominion by immense slaughter, and it is called so · likewise on account of its great persecution of the
* See Bryant's Ancient Mythology, wherein is an attempt to divest many of the Heathen traditions of fable, In Vol. I. pp. 428_434. Edit. London, 1775, is given a detailed account of the Apáxwn of the ancients.
+ Ammianus Marcellinus says, that the Romans had figures of dragons painted in red on their flags,
Christians during the three first centuries. The next thing we read of the Dragon is, that it has seven heads,” a circumstancé which has been almost totally misunderstood by every commentator. The reason that it has been misunderstood, is in uniformly considering the seven heads of the Dragon to be exactly the same with those of the Beast ; * a supposition totally irreconcileable with the rest of the description of the Dragon yet to be examined: First, the heads of the Dragon and the Beast cannot be the same, because the Beast is the Latin empire, and the Dragon the Heathen Ronian empire. . Secondly, the angel informs St. John that the sixthi head of the Beast was subsisting in his time, by which is meant the sixth form of government, as shall presently appear ; but the form of government of the Heathen Roman empire existing in St. John's' time was the same which it had
* The general notion of commentators that the heads of the Dragon and Beast are the same is thus expressed by Sir Isaac Newton, who was of the same opinion : « The Dragon signifies the same empire with Daniel's he-goat in the reign of his last horn, that is, the whole Román empire, until it became divided into the Greek and Latin empires; and all the time of that diyi. sion it-signifies the Greek empire alone; and the Beast is Da. niel's fourth beast, that is, the empire of the Latins. Before the division of the Roman empire into the Greek and Latin empires, the Beast is included in the body of the Dragon; and from the time of that division the Beast is the Latin'empire only. Hence the Dragon and Beast have the same heads and horns; . . but the heads are crowned upon the Dragon, and the horns upon the Beast.” See his Observations on Daniel and the Apocalypse, p. 315. London, 1733.