Page images

dispensation of the means of grace. In this way she was to be furnished with all that might be necessary for her subsistence, and likewise with that measure of comfort which might be consistent with her wilderness condition.

Having presented us with a general view of the warfare between the church and the dragon, the prophet next enters upon a more detailed account of the measures which Satan employed in the prosecution of this war, as in verse 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.—A flood of water is the symbol of a multitude of people. The waters upon which the whore sitteth are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues,' chap. xvii. 15. If you understand the figure as denoting a multitude of people, this text will corroborate what was formerly stated respecting the designs of Satan, to overwhelm the church by the inundations of the barbarians of the North. These floods, like a second deluge, overflowed the whole of the Roman territory in the West, and rose superior to the highest mountains of political strength within these limits, and unless the church had been shut up in some ark of safety, she had undoubtedly perished.-But this is not the only sense in which the figure is used in Scripture; it is taken to denote errors and delusions, such evils as are poisonous and destructive to the souls of men. Thus we are told, that when the enemy cometh in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him, Isa. lix. 19. In this sense the figure must be understood here, because this flood is represented as proceeding out of the mouth of the serpent. Errors of the most dangerous character were industriously propagated during the whole period of the dragon-state of the empire. This mighty flood increased with its progress, till it seemed to threaten nothing short of universal destruction to the souls of men. A select few were removed out of the course of this torrent; they were lodged in a wilderness, where the sands with which they were surrounded seemed to swallow it up as it ap

proached them. Hence their singular means of preservation, as described in

Verse 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.-After the ground has been long parched by a severe drought it becomes full of chinks and holes, which so quickly absorb the first showers that they no sooner fall than they disappear; or if a torrent descends from the mountains, every hole and crevice receives part of its waters till it is so diminished with its progress that it is reduced to nothing. It is hardly possible for a flood to reach any spot in the middle of an extensive desert. It no sooner approaches the ocean of sand which surrounds it than it is lost like a river in the sea. But though the allusion must be obvious to any reader of the prophecy, it is difficult to point out the true application of the figure, and to conceive in what sense the earth could be said to drink up this mystical flood, and prove to be the means of safety to the woman.

In order to determine the proper application of this figure, it will be necessary, first, to consider what we are to understand by the term earth. It is generally employed in this book to denote the Roman earth or Roman empire, and in this sense interpreters have understood it here. But as the dragon is the symbol of the Roman empire, the earth cannot in the same prophecy be meant of the same empire; for in this case he that cast the flood out of his mouth, and he that drank it up, would be the same power; at one and the same time the dragon would be both the adversary and the friend of the woman. The supposition is much more natural, that by the earth we must understand some adversary of the dragon, because when he swallowed up the flood he frustrated the designs of the dragon against the church. I do not see to whom this symbolical name can with such propriety be applied as to the barbarians of the North, because they were the last enemies of the Roman state, and because they possessed themselves of those territories over which the jurisdiction of the Romans was exercised;

hence the name is here transferred from the one to the other. -Soon after their settlement in the southern parts of Europe, they assumed the name of Christians. But the Christianity which they embraced was of the most corrupted sort; it included all the errors and delusions which their predecessors had incorporated with it. Many of them too, changed the name only, while they retained the substance and all the forms of the religion of their Pagan ancestors. Thus, by retaining the errors of their former systems, and conjoining them with the most erroneous and dangerous opinions which had been held by the inhabitants of the Roman provinces, this mystical earth might be said to have drunk up the flood.

Was the swallowing of this flood an act of generosity on the part of the barbarians? Did they intend thereby to frustrate the designs of the dragon, and to lend all the assistance they could to the woman against such a powerful adversary?— They certainly could have no such intention. They knew nothing of her character, nor of the measures of the dragon against her; and nothing could be farther from their views than either to frustrate the designs of the one, or to afford the smallest assistance to the other. The help, therefore, which they afforded, could not be directly and immediately given, any more than one man's swallowing a cup of poison could be the means of health and cure to another. Their assistance was the consequence of measures which the actors did not foresee, and the attainment of which constituted no part of their plans. Indirectly, and by consequence, the earth in swallowing this flood helped the woman in the following respects.

First, It was the means of retarding the dragon's pursuit of the woman. It was easy to foresee, that when the barbarians were settled in countries where Christianity was professed, they would soon embrace one profession of it or another. And lest they might receive it as laid down in the holy Scriptures, where it was pure and uncorrupted, Satan lost no time in gaining them over to that spurious system which had received the sanction of an establishment in all those districts of the Roman

territory where they fixed their residence. And while the friends of error and patrons of superstition were assiduous in gaining all the new settlers to their cause, they had hardly any leisure either to seduce or to molest the friends of genuine Christianity. They found it much easier to make proselytes of whole tribes of the Heathen to a mere nominal profession of Christianity, than to shake the stability of any one genuine friend of truth by all the measures of seduction or violence which they could employ against him.

Secondly, It was the means of accelerating the flight of the woman. When Paul saw that the city of Athens was wholly given to idolatry, his spirit was stirred within him, Acts xvii. 16: Rivers of waters ran down the eyes of David, because the wicked kept not the law of God, Psal. cxix. 136. And when the friends of truth saw their fellow-mortals stumbling and falling on every hand of them, it must have awakened their concern to be more and more established in the truth, and to keep themselves from the influence and seduction of error. It was certainly a loud warning that they should be upon their guard, and hasten their escape out of the way of harm.

Thirdly, The incursions of the barbarians, it is extremely probable, retarded in some measure the progress of corruption. One great source of the corruptions which were introduced among the professors of Christianity in the dragon-state of the empire, was the unhappy connexion which then subsisted between the church and the state. But when the state had to struggle for its own existence, it found other ways of employing its wealth and resources than to lavish them upon the ministers of the church, or to waste them on the increasing demands of superstition. If these incursions either proved a barrier against superstition, or in any measure retarded its. progress, the earth might be said to have helped the woman.

Though we are unacquainted with them, there might be numerous ways much more direct and immediate than those mentioned, in which she was helped by this mystical earth. In later periods of ecclesiastical history, we find many instances


in which the earth, or civil society, was of the most essential advantage to those who were contending for truth and duty. The quarrel between Henry VIII. of England and the Pope, respecting his divorce, was not only the occasion of his open rupture with the church of Rome, but induced that jealous and cruel tyrant to treat his Protestant subjects with far more lenity than he had done before. And though the king of France continued to be an avowed friend of the see of Rome to the end of his life, and therefore could be no friend to the Reformation from Popery; yet, as his political interests appeared to be connected with the support of the friends of the Reformation in Germany, he lent them his assistance, which proved eventually to be the means of crushing the power of their adversaries. Were we equally well acquainted with the period to which this prophecy refers, we might probably find many things of a similar nature in the history of its political transactions. Though the great actors might have no intention of serving the interests of the church, though each of them might be bent on the prosecution of his own schemes of aggrandizement or revenge, the consequence of their measures was to help the woman.

Frustrated in every attempt to exterminate the whole body of the faithful by one stroke, Satan resumed his former method of warfare against them, by attacking and cutting them off individually, as stated in verse 17. And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed. His late efforts were directed against the church as a body, symbolized by the woman; but he soon found that this method of warfare was not likely to be successful. The camp of the saints was too well fortified to be taken by a general assault; their armies were still too numerous, and too closely united and well instructed in the art of war, to be overthrown in a general engagement. If he should ever prove victorious over the whole, it now appeared to him that the most likely way of success was, by making his attacks upon one party after another. By cutting them off individually, or

« PreviousContinue »