Page images

is rendered strength. It properly signifies legal power or authority, and is intended to intimate, that this separation made way for the manifestation of the royal power and authority of Christ in his own church. When secular monarchs began to mould and fashion the ecclesiastical body according to their pleasure; when they appointed to ministers their respective stations; when they convened and dissolved the meetings of ecclesiastical rulers at their pleasure, and took the whole external management of the church into their own hands,-it appeared as if He whom the Father had anointed king over the holy hill of Zion, had been dethroned, and the reins of government were now held by other hands. But appearances were very different among those that betook themselves to the wilderness. In the matters of religion they refused to acknowledge either kings or bishops, or any other sovereign than Christ. If those in the present day, who are sighing over the corruptions of the times, would be successful in the work of reformation, they must commence this arduous undertaking, in the way of renouncing the jurisdiction of every foreign yoke; they must assert the headship of Christ over his own church; and in all matters which concern religion, they must know no man save Jesus only. When once this important step is taken they will not fail to succeed, unless they begin to yield that blind deference to ecclesiastical leaders, which they refused to others. This last evil is no new thing in the church. Even in the days of the apostles there were some who said, they were of Paul, some of Apollos, and some of Cephas; and in later times the progress of reformation has been often checked, by the blind and implicit deference which was paid to those who were honoured to put the first hand to the work. Whenever ministers or reformers begin to stand so high in the estimation of their followers, that, as one expressed himself, the poor people cannot see Christ over their shoulders,' they will soon have to smart for their folly, by seeing the most hopeful circumstances assume a different appearance, and contests of vital importance to the cause, degenerate into questions of

words and names.—But in the period of this prophecy, those that retired into the wilderness followed no man any farther than he followed Christ; and acknowledged no other authority in the matters of religion than the authority of Christ, the only King and Lord of the church.

The immediate and special occasion of this song being sung, is introduced as the concluding stanza. For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. The visible agent in this war, called the dragon, is the Roman empire under a satanical influence; and the downcasting here mentioned, must be understood of some remarkable change either in the political or religious state of the society. If it be understood of the first, there is nothing to which it can with such propriety be applied as to the dissolution of the imperial government. According to this view of the prophecy, the casting down from heaven to the earth will symbolize the same thing with the burning mountain of the second trumpet, which was torn from its foundation and cast into the sea. But this application cannot be admitted; because, though the dragon was cast down, he was not destroyed; he continued to exist; and for some time after he was cast down, he excited the greatest tumults among the inhabitants both of the earth and of the sea. Besides, the empire as a body politic, never had any place in the heavens of the church, and, therefore, it never could be cast out of these heavens. The expression, therefore, must be understood as intended to intimate, either some change in the religious charac ter of the empire, or in its condition with respect to the church. Both these views may be included. Its condition with respect to the church was completely changed when she seemed to retire into a wilderness; as if she had gone to some region over which the jurisdiction of the state did not extend, and where, whoever might be the head of the state, none of the inhabitants would acknowledge him as the head of the church. In consequence of this separation, matters were now placed upon the same footing as in the age of the apostles, when the church

[ocr errors]

assumed no sort of headship over the state, and the state did not claim nor exercise any sort of dominion or headship over the church. The two societies came thus to be distinct and separate associations, not in name only, but in deed and in truth; and being thus separate, whatever power the dragon might continue to exercise in that numerous body, which, as being allied to the state, was still called the church, his whole power in that society which was best entitled to bear this name was at an end. He accordingly made no professions of regard to this society; on the contrary, as opportunities were afforded, he made open war upon it.

The following verse contains an account of the means through which this victory was obtained. The first-mentioned is the blood of the Lamb: And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb. It was not in consequence of any meritorious services performed by the members of the church, either individually or collectively considered, that this deliverance was obtained. The only meritorious cause of all the success of the church in her warfare is the blood of the Lamb. The full price of her redemption was paid by Christ in his own precious blood; it is therefore a righteous thing with God to bestow deliverance and every other blessing upon this ground. By his obedience unto the death, Messiah triumphed gloriously over all opposition, and opened the way to victory for all his followers; and through faith in what he has done, they overcame the dragon.

The second means of victory was the word of their testimony. The blood of the Lamb was the meritorious cause, and their public profession and holy practice were the external means of victory. Of these outward means, the first-mentioned, called the word of their testimony, must be understood of their public, open, and explicit declaration of the truth, in opposition to the errors and corruptions of the times in which they lived. In this way the knowledge of the truth was preserved, both before they retired into the wilderness, and after they had taken up their residence in it. The wilderness be

came the valley of vision, while the rest of the world was covered with the dark shades of the eclipse of the fourth trumpet.

The other external means was the manner of life which they led; they loved not their lives unto the death. They were patient in tribulation; they submitted without a murmur to the rudest treatment from the hands of their enemies; they gave full proof of their thorough conviction of the truth of the articles of their testimony, by their practical conformity to them, and especially by sealing their testimony for the truth with their blood. When it is said, that they loved not their lives unto the death, it is not meant that they were insensible of the value of the blessing of natural life, or that the law of self-preservation did not operate in them as well as in other men. They knew how to appreciate the blessing of life; but they were not disposed to rate it more highly than it deserved. They knew that the honour of God, the interests of the soul, and the testimony of a good conscience, were things of greater value, and when the one was put in competition with the other, they were not at any loss how to decide between them. Thus, through faith in the blood of the Lamb, and by means of an explicit and joint profession of the truth, accompanied with a holy blameless conversation, and a patient endurance of the greatest wrongs for Christ's sake and the gospel's, they overcame all opposi


The victory here celebrated is the result of a great and decisive battle, which placed the true church in a great measure beyond the reach of the dragon; and as this event was deeply interesting to all her members, they are therefore called upon to take the comfort of it and to rejoice; ver. 12, Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. As the heavens are meant of the church, the dwellers in them must be intended of her members. And as the whole society reaped the advantages of this victory, nothing could appear to be more suitable than that, both in their social and individual capacity, they


should engage with the utmost ardour and gratitude of spirit in the celebration of this song.

But while the fall of the dragon was the triumph of the church, this event was followed with consequences which were peculiarly fatal to the members of the state. Hence the woe pronounced in the remaining clauses of this verse: 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.-We have formerly mentioned, that in the geographical descriptions of this book, when the earth and the sea are mentioned in contradistinction to each other, the one is meant of the Eastern, and the other of the Western parts of the Roman empire; and as they are spoken of in this manner in the text before us, we are therefore led to conceive of some very extensive calamity with which both regions were to be visited. Satan was to come down among them, having great wrath.'-I do not know to what event the fulfilment of this prophecy can with such propriety be applied as to the formidable invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries. From the time of Theodosius, about the close of the 4th, till the subversion of the empire in the latter half of the 5th cen tury, there was nothing but blood and carnage within the limits of the Roman state. An abstract of the calamities of these mournful times was given you in the Lectures upon the first and second trumpets, which it is unnecessary to repeat. Here, however, we may remark the truly diabolical character of that spirit by which the dragon was actuated. The church was no sooner removed into a wilderness, where he found it extremely difficult to follow her, or to find out her retreat, than he employed himself in setting the members of civil states at variance, and in producing the most mournful effects among them. The members of the church are called the inhabitants of heaven; never are they called the inhabitants of the earth or of the sea. The prophecy therefore must be intended to describe the state of civil society at the period of the emigration of the church into the wilderness.


2 M

« PreviousContinue »