Sidor som bilder


A further Account of the first Age of the Christian


THE first seal, trumpet, and vial, have exhibited

a general description of the first preaching of the Christian religion, the persecutions that attended it, and the divine vengeance on the authors of these persecutions. But as the history of the Church is highly interesting during this first age, or first three centuries, in which it took its birth and obtained its establishment, Christ is pleased to disclose to us, in chap. xii. of the Apocalypse, more circumstances belonging to this period, and unfolds the origin of all obstructions put to the propagation of the Christian religion, the agents employed for that purpose, with the progress of their machinations and efforts for the support of idolatry, and for suppressing the worship of God and Christ.

APOC. Chap. XII. v. 1. And a great sign appeared in heaven: A Woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars :

V. 2. And being with child, she cried, travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.

Here is a great sign, or a noble figurative representation of the Christian Church. She appears in heaven, as drawing her origin from heaven, by her author, the Son of God; and she is represented under the form of a woman, clothed with the sun, moon, and stars, the most splendid raiment the whole compass of nature can furnish. She is clothed with the sun, as shining with the brightness of her sanctity, and with the glory of her spouse, Jesus Christ, who is the sun of justice, Mal. iv. 2. She holds the moon under her feet, as victorious over all sublunary beings, over all earthly powers, and worldly charms. She bears on her head

a crown of twelve stars, denoting the twelve Apostles, who, after Christ, her sun, make her principal ornament. She appears in labour, and suffering the excruciating pangs of child-bed in her first bringing forth children to Christ: Such are the struggles, and such are the difficulties, that obstruct the birth of Christianity, or the first propagation of the Christian faith. On one side, human laws, human passions, the general depravity of mankind, the pleasures of life: on the other side, the Jews, the pagans, all conspire to fight against her. But particularly :

V. 3. And there was seen another sign in heaven: and behold, a great red Dragon, having seven heads and ten horns and on his heads seven diadems.

V. 4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth: and the Dragon stood before the Woman who was ready to be delivered ; that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son.

Here the Woman, or the Christian Church, sees her chief enemy, the great red or cruel Dragon, which is the arch-devil, Satan, as St. John explains it below, verse 9th; and it appears in heaven, or the upper regions, because Satan draws his origin from above, having been formerly a bright angel. This great Dragon has seven heads, and upon each a diadem or crown, the types of seven emperors of pagan Rome, whom Satan actuates and employs as his chief agents, to oppose the rise of the Christian religion, and to maintain his own idolatrous worship. That such is the meaning of the heads, we learn from the explication given by the angel, chap. xvii. ver. 9th, of the Apocalypse: The seven heads, says the angel, are seven mountainsAnd they are seven Kings: Ancient Rome being here clearly indicated, as it was built on seven mountains. The seven kings or emperors here pointed at, seem to be, Nero, Domitian, Severus, Decius, Valerian, Dioclesian, and Antichrist, as being the principal and distinguished persecutors of the Christian Church. The Dragon has also ten horns, denoting ten provinces, into which the whole Roman empire is here divided. The horns, therefore, being animated by the Dragon, as well as the

heads, the governors of the Roman provinces, and the people, will be also instigated by the devil to persecute the Church of Christ.

It was said that the Dragon with his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, that is, the apostate Angels whom he had seduced, and he cast them to the earth, to be there employed in seducing mankind. But the greatest part of them, we may suppose, were precipitated down into the infernal dungeons, according to that of St. Jude: The angels who kept not their principality, but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains unto the judgment of the great day, Ep. v. 6. The Dragon himself stood before the woman who was ready to be delivered: that, when she should be delivered, he might devour her son. Satan seeing his empire of idolatry in danger of being dissolved by the publication of the Christian religion, resolves to crush this in its origin, by stirring up the whole Roman power against it, and thus to devour the woman's offspring in its birth.

V. 5. And she, the woman, brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with an iron rod: and her son

was taken up to God, and to his throne. The woman brings forth a man-child, that is, a masculine race of Christians, a progeny of holy champions, who, in con-junction with Christ their head, are to rule all nations with an iron rod, by a participation of his power, which he has promised them after the victory in their conflicts with the Dragon. He that shall overcome, says Christ, and keep my works unto the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, Apoc. ii. 26, 27. For such is the power he himself exercises over the impious part of mankind, as St. John tells us: He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron, Apoc. xix. 15, which had been attributed to him even long before: Thou shalt rule them, the nations, with a rod of iron, and shall break them in pieces like a potter's vessel, Psalm ii. 9. The Almighty Son of God breaks down empires, dissolves states, strikes princes, destroys people, that presume to contend with him. And her son was taken up to God, and to his throne: part of


the woman's offspring, or a considerable number of the Christians, when put to the trial in the persecutions, generously laid down their lives for Christ their Lord and Master, and thus triumphing over the Dragon, instead of falling a prey to him, are carried up to heaven, to God and to his throne, where they are associated with him in power and judgment, according to what we have just above seen, and according to this other promise: To him that shall overcome, says Christ, I will give to sit with me in my throne; as I also have overcome, and am set down with my Father in his throne, Apoc. iii. 21.

V. 6. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, that there they should feed her a thousand two hundred and sixty days.

During the cruel persecutions, which the Devil stirred up against the woman, or the Christian Church, by his instruments the heathen Roman emperors and magistrates, many of the Christians fled for shelter into the deserts, to inaccessible mountains, and other lurking places, as we learn from the holy fathers and historians of those times. Great multitudes in particular sought for refuge in the catacombs, at Rome, and in many other places. These subterraneous caverns, termed catacombs, are so prodigiously extensive, branching out into innumerable streets, which stretch to a great distance, especially at Rome, that they may be properly called a city under ground. The Christians lay concealed in these dark and dismal retreats, which, though originally made for other purposes, were a place prepar ed by God, were designed by him for a place of reception to his persecuted servants. In these various desolate abodes, the Christians, though in appearance destitute of all human succour, were nevertheless fed and supported by a special divine providence for the space of a thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three years and a half, which was the utmost duration of any of the Roman persecutions; some of which did not fill that period; none exceeded it.

V. 7. And there was a great battle in Heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his angels:

V. 8. And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.

V.9. And that great Dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world: and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

The Dragon, or Satan, had with unrelenting malice stimulated the whole Roman power against the Christians by successive dreadful persecutions, as we have seen; but still he saw all his efforts baffled. Notwithstanding the immense slaughter that had been made, he found he could not extirpate the woman's offspring, it was so powerfully protected and supported by the divine hand: and he furthermore saw with deep regret, and to his confusion, that the blood of the martyrs became the seed of new Christians, and increased their number. The infernal spirit determines therefore to try another expedient; in pursuance of which he presumes to address the Almighty, challenging him to withdraw his hand, and suspend the extraordinary heips by which he supported his people, and then it would soon appear that the Christians had no real zeal or fortitude, but would abandon their God and the interests of Religion. Such are his malicious insinuations, to get the Christians wholly into his power. The same kind of artifice the malicious Spirit had formerly practised against the holy man Job. Thus Satan accused him before God:, Doth Job fear God in vain? Hast thou not made a fence for him, and his house, and all his substance round about, and blessed the work of his hands, and his possession hath increased on the earth? Job i. 9, 10.

After thus enumerating God's blessings upon Job, the evil Spirit thus pursues: But stretch forth thy hand a little, and touch all that he hath, and see if he blesseth thee not to thy face, as above, ver. 11; that is, suspend thy favours, and withdraw all that thou hast given him, and see then if he does not fly in thy face. But to return to our own subject: The Almighty refusing to grant Satan his present request, and not being willing to suffer him any more to approach his throne with accusations against his people, ordered the archangel Mi

« FöregåendeFortsätt »