1. And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars;
2. And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.
Vs. 1, 2.—The Apocalypse, besides the three parts into which it is divided by its divine Author, (noticed in Ch. i. 19,) is also susceptible of division into two parts. With the eleventh chapter terminates the abridged prospective history of the church and of the world, emblematically represented under the seals and trumpets. The seventh seal, when opened, disclosed all the contents of the sealed book, and also introduced the seven trumpets. But we have followed the series of the trumpets in order, to the end of the world,—interrupted only by the isolated history of the “little book; which, treating of events which were matter of history under the first two woe—trumpets, could not be sealed. Now at the twelfth chapter, without regard to the seventh, or any other of the trumpets in particular, we are furnished with a second and enlarged edition, as it were, of the most important parts of the first edition. We have observed before, that this is the manner of the prophets on a large scale, especially in predicting “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” So it is with John and Paul. What the latter only hints at, when writing to Timothy, (1 Tim. iv. 1-3,) he enlarges upon in addressing the Thessalonians. (2 Thess. ii. 3-12.) The theme is the same as treated by these two apostles; and this coincidence will in due time be more manifest. Next to Christ personal, the prophets have been interested in the destiny of Christ mystical
Three different views of this twelfth chapter have been taken by the more sober and learned expositors. One considers it as referring to the Roman empire in its heathen state, prior to the time of Constantine. Another understands the first part of this chapter,—(vs. 1-6,)—as relating to Rome pagan, and the rest of the chapter to antichristian Rome. A third conceives that the whole of it applies to apostate imperial Rome only. The last is doubtless the correct view
As the “sealed book” and the “little open book,” must be supposed to contain all the prophetical part of the Apocalypse; and as the whole of the little book is comprised in the eleventh chapter, (vs. 1-13,) this twelfth chapter must belong to the sealed book. Being a continuance of the history under the seventh seal, although it may agree in time with some of the trumpets, it cannot go back to a period prior to the seventh seal. But under the sixth seal, paganism was abolished in the Roman empire; therefore this chapter refers to the antichristian empire. Moreover, as the little book was introductory to the seventh trumpet, designating the object of the third woe, so this chapter and the next two, are wholly occupied in describing the object of the vials, (Ch. 16.)
We ought to bear in mind continually, that the seals, trumpets and vials, are introduced as symbols, to delineate One character, the impenitent enemy of God and of his saints. But this enemy “beguiles through his subtlety,” changing his aspects and instruments, the more successfully to assail the city of the Lord. It is therefore the design of the Holy Spirit in these three chapters to present the foe in his most prominent features, that the two witnesses may be able to identify the enemy, be apprized of their danger, and intelligently choose their commander,—“the Captain of salvation
“There appeared a great wonder in heaven.” The word “wonder” in this verse, and also in verse third, simply means a sign or symbol; and the whole structure of the book requires that it be so translated.—“Woman” is here the true church of God. Here most expositors fail to explain the symbol “heaven.” Others say “heaven” symbolizes the church. Then we have two churches, a church within a church! This is unquestionably the only correct view of the matter. During most, if not the whole period of the 1260 years, the witnesses are so blended with, or overshadowed by the church catholic or general, that few are able, and fewer still disposed, to distinguish the one from the other. All through the Bible the church is spoken of as a female. She is the “daughter of Zion,—the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Any body politic is spoken of in tile sacred writings in the same style. “The daughter of Babylon, of Tyre, or even of Egypt,”—These are familiar figures
This woman is “clothed with the sun. She has “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. xiii. 14.) He is “the Lord her righteousness.” (Jer. xxiii. 6.) The “moon under her feet,” may represent the “beggarly elements” of the Mosaic ritual, sublunary things, or the ordinances which derive all their light from the “Sun of righteousness.” The “twelve stars” are the doctrine of the apostles, or rather the apostles, legitimate successors; their legitimacy tested by their doctrine and order in opposition to the imaginary historical line of papistical and prelatic succession. A faithful gospel ministry are ever her stars and her crown, (Ch. i. 20.) The true apostolic church, thus scripturally constituted, (Ch. xi. 1,) becomes the joyful mother of a holy seed. (Ps. cxiii. 9; Gal. iv. 26, 27.)
3. And there appeared another wonder in heaven, and, behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads, and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.
4. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did east them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
5. And she brought forth a man—child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.
6. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
Vs. 3-6.—The next “sign in heaven,” exciting the apostle’s admiration, was “a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns,”—The dragon is fully described, v. 9, leaving no place, or even pretense for conjecture. He is known from the day that he “beguiled Eve” in the garden of Eden. “That old serpent” still intrudes among the saints, in the garden of the Lord: (Job i. 6; John vi. 70; xiii. 27.) As the devil possessed the serpent to deceive the mother of mankind, so, with the same malevolent design, he possessed himself of the whole political and ecclesiastical power of the Roman empire, thereby to deceive and destroy the “seed of the woman,” all true believers. His color is red, denoting his character as cruel and blood—thirsty. Sir Isaac Newton considers the dragon as symbolical of the Greek Christian empire of Constantinople. Scott thinks this symbol represents the pagan Roman empire; while others suppose the British government to answer the symbol, because of the scarlet costume of her officers and soldiers! Thus, inspired symbols may mean any thing suggested to the imaginations of men, not by the text or context, but by their respective and conflicting political prejudices. Surely, if the red color signify any thing besides cruelty, it may be discerned with equal clearness in the scarlet cloaks of Pope and Cardinals. As “heaven” is to be taken in an ecclesiastical sense, so are the “stars,” (Ch. i. 20,)—“the angels of the churches,”‘ ministers of the gospel.—As the Saracenic locusts and the Euphratean horses had stings and hurtful power in their tails, (Ch. ix. 10, 19;) so it is with this dragon. The destructive influence of Mahometan delusion and papal idolatry, operated as a fatal poison in the souls of men. The judgments of the past woes left many still in a state of impenitence, (Ch. ix. 20, 21.) “The leaders of this people caused them to err,” by inculcating submission to existing corrupt civil power. The “little horn” of Daniel, as first rendered visible in the person of the brutal Phocas, began to be addressed in language of most fulsome and degrading flattery, which seems to be copied till the present time. That we may see how mercenary and aspiring ecclesiastics paid court to civil despots from the commencement of the famous 1260 years, let the following instance serve for a sample. Addressing the monster Phocas, Pope Gregory, as the mouth of the clergy and laity, uses this language: “We rejoice that the benignity of your piety(!) has reached the pinnacle of imperial power. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice.”—Now let us hear the character of Phocas from the pen of an infidel—”Ignorant of letters, of laws, and even of arms, he indulged in the supreme rank a more ample privilege of lust and drunkenness.—The punishment of the victims of his tyranny was imbittered by the refinements of cruelty: their eyes were pierced, their tongues were torn from the root, their hands and feet were amputated: some expired under the lash, others in the flames, others again were transfixed with arrows: and a simple speedy death was mercy which they could rarely obtain.” Thus the dragon’s power was in his mouth, issuing bloody edicts to “slay the innocent;” while “his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth.” They prostituted their ministry to sustain the policy of the beast. “The ancient and honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” (Is. ix. 15.) Thus it is that pastors, fond of show and ambitious of worldly distinction, attach themselves to the train of earthly thrones and dignities, and so constitute and perpetuate the antichristian confederacy against the “woman” the true church.
During the first six hundred years of the Christian era, the woman had been “travailing” to bring forth a holy progeny. All this time the dragon’s “eyes are privily set against the poor.” (Ps, x. 8.) The allusion is here to the cruel edict of Pharaoh. (Exod. i. 16; Acts vii. 19.) The great city where the witnesses are slain is “spiritually called Egypt.” (Ch. xi. 8) By a like form of speech, Pharaoh is called “the great dragon,” (Ezek. xxix. 8; Is. li. 9.) It should be noted, that the Roman empire, the beast, in all its heads and horns is actuated by the devil,—before as well as after its dismemberment, from the time of Romulus. its founder, till its overthrow by the third woe. At the time referred to in the text, when the empire has “assumed the livery of heaven,”—professedly in the interest of Christ, then it is that the devil bestirs himself. Like his prototype, he dreads the growth and power of the woman’s offspring. Under pagan Rome’s persecutions, “the more God’s people were afflicted, the more they multiplied and grew.” Now the adversary shapes his policy accordingly.—“Come on, let us deal wisely with them, lest they multiply.” His avowed object is, to “devour the child as soon as it is born,”—by persecution to prevent ministers from laboring to convert sinners to God; and to destroy all who “as new—born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word.”—The woman had still “strength to bring forth.”—”She brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.”—With united voice papists and prelates declare, this child can be no other than Constantine the first Christian emperor. The very fact that this interpretation comes from such a source, may well suggest suspicion as to its correctness. Two considerations demonstrate the error of this prelatic interpretation, besides the fact that it is prelatic.
Constantine had gone the way of all the earth some hundreds of years before the birth of this child. And again, the eternal Father never made the promise to Constantine or any other earthly monarch, to which the apostle John here refers. (Ps. ii. 8, 9.) This promise is obviously made to the Lord Christ. But it is objected by those learned expositors, much like the Pharisees, (John vii. 52,)—“Search and look, for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet.” So reason these men. They haughtily and confidently object thus: “Christ is the son of the Jewish church, but this child is the son of the Christian church.” This argument destroys the unity of the church of God, which is one under all changes of dispensation of his gracious covenant. (Rom. xi. 16—24; Eph. ii. 20.) The Messiah is here represented as in the beginning of the war with the same enemy; the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. Still may the church of God joyfully declare,—“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” (Is. ix. 6.) This masculine son, however, is not to be understood of Christ personal, but of Christ mystical,—of those who are with him “called, and chosen, and faithful;” whom “he is not ashamed to call his brethren.” (Ch. xvii. 14; Heb. ii. 11.) The “sealed” company, (Ch. vii. 4,) the “two witnesses;” (xi. 3, the “144 thousand,” (xiv. 1,) are the “manchild.” As many rulers constitute but one “angel,” (Chs. ii. and iii.,) so the two witnesses are one manly Son. The Lord Jesus was alone in the work of redemption; but he allows his faithful disciples to share in the honor of his victories, (Ch. ii. 26, 27; Ps. cxlix. 9.) From the devouring jaws of the dragon, as it were, the “child is caught up unto God, and to his throne.” The leaders in church and state supposed that they had “made sure” of the Saviour, when they had “sealed the stone and set a watch.” So thought the enemies of the witnesses while their dead bodies . lay unburied.—“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” The Anointed of the Father, the Head of the church, and Prince of the kings of the earth, as the representative of his people, in defiance of the serpent, is caught up to the throne of God, (Eph. ii. 6;) while the church flies to her appointed place in the wilderness during the 1260 years. At the beginning of that gloomy period the woman fled. This flight is not mentioned “by anticipations” as some suppose; for the wilderness condition of the woman, and the sackcloth of the witnesses, are emblematical of the same depressed state of the church, and during the same time. The witnesses prophesy during the whole period of the 1260 years; and the woman is fed in the wilderness during the same time. Her flight, sojourn in the wilderness, and feeding there, are allusions to the history of Elijah as before, (Ch. xi. 6,) when he fled for his life from the wrath of Jezebel. (1 Kings xix. 1-4.) Jezebel has been already introduced as an enemy to the church, (Ch. ii. 20.) There may be allusion also to the miraculous subsistence of the church in the wilderness, till the “cup of the Amorites should be full.” During the time of the conflict, to be described in the rest of this chapter, the woman is in a place of safety. In the worst of times there are places of safety provided for God’s children. (Isa. xxvi. 20.)
7. And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought, and his angels.
8. And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven,
9. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
10. And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.
11. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
Vs. 7-11.—In this part of the chapter we have three attacks of the dragon upon the friends of true religion. The first is the war in heaven, (vs. 7-12.) The second persecution on the earth, (vs. 12-16.) The third is mentioned in verse 17th: and these three contests cover the whole period of the 1260 years.
The first war is waged in heaven. The allusion is obviously to the rebellion of angels, for which they were cast down from heaven, (2 Pet. ii. 4.) The contest is the same in principle as the first war; but it is conducted in a different form and place. Heaven here, is the church general, and the serpent acts by the authority of the empire. The woman having fled into the wilderness, the dragon’s power becomes so great in the symbolical heaven, that he aims at the entire destruction of true religion in the world. The advocates of the true religion at this time were the Waldenses, called by their adversaries in derision Leonists and Cathari,—citizens of Lyons in France; and Puritans, a term of reproach heaped upon their successors till the present day. These people were deemed the most dangerous enemies to the church of Rome. Yet the reasons for their condemnation by the inquisitors, are their full vindication in the judgment of impartial men. They are three,—“This is the oldest sect; for some say it hath endured,—from the time of the apostles. It is more general; for there is no country in which this sect is not. Because when all other sects beget horror in the hearers, this of the Leonists hath a great show of piety: they live justly before men, and believe all things rightly concerning God; only they blaspheme the church of Rome and the clergy.” While the beast by its horns, instigated by an apostate church, and both by the dragon, was “making havoc of the church,” represented by the Puritans: there were some even in the Romish cloisters whose hearts God had touched, and who occasionally espoused the cause of a virtuous minority at the hazard of life. This war in heaven, conducted with various success by Bernard, Peter Waldo, John Wickliffe and others on the European continent and in Britain, may be pronounced by Gibbon “premature and ineffectual;” but the Captain of salvation and his heroic followers, will give a different verdict. These noble confessors and martyrs, under the conduct of Michael our prince, began the struggle with the dragon, although the war did not come to its height till the early part of the 16th century. Then it was that “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels.” Both parties became more visible in the symbolic heaven before the eyes of all Christendom. Michael, (who is like God?) is the well known description of Jesus Christ. (Phil. ii. 6; Heb. i. 3.) To Daniel, while contemplating this same contest, he was made known as the “great Prince, that standeth for the children of God’s people,” and long before Daniel’s time, had “contended with the devil.” (Jude v. 9.). “Christ and Belial” are therefore the two opposing leaders of the armies. In other words, Christ mystical and the devil incarnate are the belligerents; and we know that “greater is he that is in the saints, than he that is in the world.” (1 John iv. 4.) The result of the war is not doubtful. The whole power of Rome, civil and ecclesiastical,—emperors, kings, princes, pope, cardinals and prelates, were baffled; and this too, whether in the use of the sword of the Spirit,—polemic theses,—or of the material sword, in literal warfare. When the Lord Jesus “mustered the hosts to the battle,” he furnished them “with the whole armour of God to stand in the evil way.” When Zuingle, Luther, Calvin, Knox, their compeers and successors, were obliged to wrestle with the hosts of Antichrist,—“against principalities, against powers, against the rulers. of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” (wicked spirits in heavenly places,) they found in both lawful and necessary,—“having no sword, to buy one.” (Luke xxii. 36.)
The dragon and his angels were defeated and routed,—“They prevailed not, he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” The thunders of the Vatican thenceforth lost their wonted power to terrify. Ever since, they are but brutum fulmen,—vox, et praeterea nihel,—harmless thunder, unmeaning voice. Papal curses, though annually launched against all heretics, tend only to amuse the popular mind, not to reach or disturb the individual conscience. For centuries the dragon has been unable to rouse any one horn of the beast to deeds of blood.
It is usual for the victors to give outward expression to their joy. “The voice of them that shout for mastery,” has been heard since the days of Moses. (Exod. xxxii. 18.) Accordingly, these conquerors congratulate one another on their recent victory, but their joy terminates on the proper object. The “kingdom of their God and the power of his Christ” constitute their theme. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him the victory. The devil accused Job before God. His accusations in that instance were prosecuted through Job’s friends and his wife. (Job ii. 4, 5, 9, 11.)—So it was in the experience of the reformers. They were loaded with infamy by their persecutors; and while they were depressed, God himself seemed to give sentence against them. This was the wormwood and the gall in the cup of their affliction, as it was in holy Job’s experience: but in due time God “brought forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday.” Their “good conversation put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” The power of the Lord’s Christ was made manifest through the instrumentality of his servants, by producing conviction in many hearts that the cause for which they suffered was from God, and thus prevailing with such to join in their fellowship. The hearts of kings and princes of the earth were touched from on high; so that they braved the combinations of imperial and papal power, while extending the shield of their protection to the followers of the Lamb. Frederick the Wise, and especially John his brother, electors of Saxony in Luther’s time, were notable bulwarks of defence to the sufferers, against the bloody edicts of Charles fifth, emperor of Germany. The “good regent” in Scotland and others extended effectual protection to Knox, his coadjutors and followers in the cause of reformation. When the seven thunders uttered their voices, John “was about to write,” (Ch. x. 4.) He was about to proclaim a final victory! He was too sanguine. “The time was not yet.” Just so in the case of his legitimate successors in the work of the Lord. Confident in the power and faithfulness of Michael their Prince, confident in the righteousness of their cause, fondly hoping that at this time their Master is about to restore again the kingdom to Israel, they prematurely exclaims—“Now is come salvation.”—In reaping the first fruits of victory, they anticipate the harvest of final and absolute conquest, (Ch. xiv. 8.) Indeed, the salvation of God and the power of his Christ, were experienced by great multitudes during the time of this contest. The saints experienced times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. Then followed a work of grace, both on the continent of Europe and in the British Isles; Christians entering into solemn covenant bonds with God and with .one another, whereby the kingdom of God was rendered more visible among mankind than in the “dark ages,” The weapons, with which the saints overcame the dragon, were not carnal, but mighty. These, we are told, were “the blood of the Lamb, and the word of their testimony.” They believed and they taught in opposition to the popular doctrine of good works and penances, that the righteousness which the law of God requires of a sinner, is provided by a Surety; that the blood of Christ alone cleanses believers from the guilt of sin, and thus justifies them in the sight of God. No man ever used stronger language than Luther in denouncing the supposed efficacy of works, or in asserting the sovereignty of free grace, in the justification of a sinner. Indeed it was the deep impression which the doctrine of justification made upon the hearts of men, and the firm hold which faith took of it, that enabled and constrained them to forsake the Romish church and to seek and erect a separate fellowship. This was with them “the word of Christ’s patience.” Other doctrines of grace were, of course, connected with this of justification in the apprehension of the Reformers, but it was the central one. And thus we may learn, that any doctrine of the Bible, when generally opposed, may lawfully become a point of testimony; and when openly opposed and practically denied, it may become a warrantable and imperative ground of separation, In all such cases,—and history supplies multitudes of them,—the declining majority are truly the schismatics and separatists. The malicious, the indolent and credulous, however, in all ages have joined in the cry of schism as attaching to the virtuous minority.
Many of the combatants fell in the conflict, “resisting unto blood; striving against sin.” “They loved not their lives unto the death.” They could give no stronger evidence of love to Christ and truth. Their faithful contendings constituted their testimony. This testimony is Called in the 17th verse, “the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Does this mean that it belongs to Christ? or that it treats of him? The language may probably be taken in either sense, or as embracing both. It is Christ’s testimony, as he is “the faithful and true Witness, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession;” or it may be understood as bearing upon Christ in his person, office and work. In either sense his faithful disciples enjoy intimate communion with himself sharing the honour of his victories, (v. 5.) Therefore let the heavens rejoice in prospect of final victory, (Ch. xviii. 20.)
12. Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. 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.
13. And when the dragon saw that he was cast into the earth, he persecuted the woman, which brought forth the manchild.
Vs. 12, 13.—Here is a note of warning. The dragon, though ejected from the symbolic heaven, the seat of imperial and ecclesiastic power, is not yet bound with the great chain, (Ch. xx. 1, 2.) His late defeat has only incensed his rage, “as a bear robbed of her whelps.” But the special reason assigned for his “great wrath” is, “because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” How does the devil come to this knowledge? Is he omniscient! No. Was he joint-counsellor with the Most High? No. (Isa. xl. 13, 14; Rom. xi. 34.) He must have derived this knowledge from revelation; and from some instances in Scripture, we might infer that the devil is more skilled in theology, especially in prophecy, than many, if not most modern interpreters. In the time of our Lord’s humiliation he quoted and applied to him a prophecy in the 91st Psalm, (v. 11, 12.) He also dreaded being tormented, “before the time.” (Matt. viii. 29:) from which it appears that he reasons of the “times and the seasons” as revealed in the Bible. But by the phrase, “a short time,” the devil understood,—and we are to understand,—not the time to transpire till the end of the world; but, the time intervening between his ejectment out of heaven, and the overthrow of Antichrist, when he is to be bound. Now, we may learn from the devil’s calculation, that all those learned and famous divines, especially of the prelatic church of England, “do greatly err, not knowing the Scriptures;” who say, that the dragon was cast out of the symbolic heaven in the time of Constantine! The space of duration from Constantine till the millennium, cannot be relatively “short,” under the New Testament dispensation. The time of the dragon’s being cast out of heaven, and the instruments by which this was accomplished, are to be found clearly verified in the authentic histories of the sixteenth century, to which some references have been already made, as elucidating the events of the 11th chapter; for it is to be still remembered that the former part of the 11th chapter agrees in time with the 12th, 13th and 14th chapters. At the end of the second woe, which we supposed to be in the latter part of the seventeenth century, about the year 1672, it is declared “the third woe cometh quickly,” (Ch. xi. 14.) Now here it is said “the devil, hath but a short time.” Taking both expressions as relating to the same period, it follows that we are now living,—not in the time of the third woe, but in the time of the devil’s activity among the “inhabiters of the earth and of the sea;” that is, the population of Christendom either in a tranquil or revolutionary state. The enemy makes his second attack upon the “woman” in a new and unexpected mode of warfare. So long as permitted, he never ceases to persecute the saints. When defeated in heaven, he renews the assault upon the earth. If the edicts and bulls of crowned and mitred heads have lost their power to terrify and destroy the souls of men, he will try to effect the same object by other means.
14. And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly 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.
Vs. 14-16.—To guard against the second attack of the dragon, the woman flees a second time to the place of safety, which had been mercifully prepared for her preservation before the war began, (v. 6.) And she is in no less peril from her deadly enemy than before.
The “two wings of a great eagle” have furnished occasion to many fertile minds for indulging in fanciful conjectures. To such persons nothing occurs answerable to the symbol but some emblem of imperial power or national sovereignty. And because the eagle was the visible symbol on the military banner of Rome, it is conjectured that “the eastern and western empires afforded protection to the church!” Why, the empire, in both its wings, was the deadly enemy of the church, as we have already seen! (Ch. xi. 7.) Alas! what absurdities result from political bias! The unlettered Christian will readily perceive under the emblem in the text, a plain allusion to the gracious interposition of the church’s Redeemer in the days of old. “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Exod. xix. 4.) Thus the Lord delivered his people and brought them into a literal wilderness on their way to the promised land of liberty. And now in a time of equal danger, he will “set his hand again the second time” to deliver his people. He who delivered them from so great a death as Pharaoh threatened, doth still deliver; in whom his saints have ground to trust that he will still deliver them. (2 Cor. i. 10.) The great and beneficial change accomplished among the nations by the reformation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, whereby the dragon was hurled from seats of ecclesiastical and civil power, did not materially change the position of the “two witnesses.” The time had not yet come when they were to be called up into the symbolic heaven. They must continue to prophesy till the close of the appointed period of 1260 years. Till the expiration of that definite period the true church of Christ is not to be permanently established in any nation of the earth. The actual condition of the church and of the nations among whom she dwells is delineated in these Verses during the time subsequent to the Protestant Reformation,—consequently in our own time. The “time, times and half a time” of the 14th verse, are an obvious reference to Daniel vii. 25; xii. 7; and are the same period as 42 months, or 1260 days, “a day for a year.” During this whole time the woman is nourished in the wilderness “from the face of the serpent.” Safety is secured for her only “in her place.”
“Water,” as a symbol or metaphor, is of frequent occurrence and varied import in Scripture. Among its diversified significations, perhaps that of a destructive element is most common. (Ps. xviii. 4; xxxii. 6.) It is indeed often used to denote gospel blessings, (as Is. lv. 1; John vii. 38; Rev. xxii. 17.) As here used, the “water as a flood,” represents something intended by the dragon for the destruction of the woman. If he cannot destroy her by fire, he aims to overwhelm her with water. This water comes out of the dragon’s “mouth.” So of the “unclean spirits,” (Ch. xvi. 13.) Soul—destroying errors,—heresies,—are undoubtedly intended. If he cannot devour as a roaring lion, he will endeavour to deceive and seduce as a cunning serpent. We are therefore instructed hereby to look for “damnable heresies” to prevail, accompanied and followed by popular commotions and licentiousness. The age in which we live is remarkably characterized by false systems and impious theories. Speculative atheism caused the French revolution, and led to the erection of the United States government; which, having openly declared independence of England, soon after virtually declared independence of God. France, Germany, England and the United States, have all been pervaded with infidel and atheistical sentiments; and these, whether propagated under the name of solid science or polite literature, have corrupted the public mind for generations. In the name of science, treating of the material or moral world, the agents of the dragon have been exceedingly successful. Meta—physicians and geologists have constructed systems which would exclude the Almighty from the heavens and the earth. But however active and zealous these laborers in the service of the dragon, they do not reach the popular ear but in part. Those sons of Belial who devise false systems of religion under the name of Christianity, have been still more pernicious to the nations, and dangerous to the church. If the church of Rome cannot prevail with kings as before, to execute her cruel sentences of death upon heretics, she is not less active in disseminating her idolatrous and superstitious dogmas among the nations. By freemasonry, oddfellowship, temperance associations, and a countless number of affiliated societies,—the offshoots of popery and infidelity, the dragon still assails the woman. Reason, toleration, humanity, charity and liberality are terms which have been selected and abused by the servants of the devil, “to deceive the hearts of the simple.” These are alike the watchwords of the spiritual seducer and the political agitator. What dogma or heresy so absurd,—what conduct so immoral, as not to find patronage in the journals of the day? or not to find tolerance or protection under the fostering wings of church or state? What is impiously called “free love,” as well as avowed infidelity and polygamy, are patronized by constituted authorities in Christendom. When taking a survey of the errors and systems of error, hostile to the honor of Messiah and the free grace of his gospel, how few can be found in the different nations of the earth, who “overcame by the blood of the Lamb!” The religions established by the nations of the world are all more or less tainted with the errors, and disfigured by the ceremonies of the church of Rome. Surely we have before our eyes a constant fulfilment of the prophecy under consideration. To all outward appearance the woman is in the wilderness. She is in fact so obscure that some of her sons begin to question her visibility. They are ready to cry in despondency,—“The Witnesses are slain.”—They are mistaken. This is their infirmity. The 1260 years are not yet expired, nor the testimony finished. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isa. lix. 19.) The mystic woman is yet in the wilderness, and there she is nourished with the hidden manna “a time, times and half a time,” “forty and two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days,”—that is, years; for, as formerly noticed, all these expressions mean the same period of time; the period during which the witnesses prophesy, on the one side, and the gentiles: tread the outer court, on the other. The profanation of the holy city,—the church nominal, and the testimony of the witnesses against that conduct, is the same contest which in this, chapter is represented under other symbols. The waters of the symbolic flood have spread over all the nations of Christendom, corrupting the very fountains of natural and moral science, literature, politics and religion; so that hardly any principle is accepted by the human mind as settled, but all is thrown into debate; Man’s intellect, craving substantial nourishment, and thirsting for refreshment which nothing” but the water of life can supply, vibrates between ritualism and skepticism in our day. The flood from the dragon’s mouth, consisting of truth and error, a combination of Christianity, refined idolatry and speculative atheism, fails to satisfy the necessary cravings of the immortal soul. “There be many that say, Who will show us any good?” (Ps. iv. 6.)
In this state of the popular mind, there is a general sentiment which discountenances penalties inflicted for mere opinion. The cry of toleration,—“freedom of speech and of the press,” resounds in the public ear among most communities since the dragon was cast down from the mystic heaven. This popular sentiment is not an expression of the law of charity, actuating hearts influenced by divine grace; but rather originates from indifference alike to the claims of Messiah and the destinies of mankind. Thus “the earth helps the woman.” Indeed, the nations of Christendom, contrary to their former policy, are now much more tolerant of ecclesiastical than of political heresies. With few exceptions, the policy of the nations at the present time is to discriminate, not among churches, but among religions. The popular voice is obviously in favor of dissevering that alliance between church and state, from which mankind have suffered in past generations. While every earthly potentate, usurping the place and prerogatives of the Mediator, assumed to dictate the faith and worship of his subjects, all dissenters and recusants must necessarily be subjected to penalties. Such was the policy of the dragon for centuries, while in the heavens of ecclesiastical and civil power. The nominal church established by the state, defined heresy; and the heresy found by the church became rebellion against the civil authority. Of course the saints were then executed as traitors. Even a superficial view of the signs of the times will result in the conviction, that a great change has taken place in the policy of nations and churches. The dragon has now prevailed with most politicians and statesmen, as well as with most professing Christians, to demand a total “separation of church and state;” by which demand they do not mean a divorce of the unscriptural and antichristian alliance only or chiefly, but a simple and absolute rejection of religion, and especially the Christian religion, from any connexion with or influence upon civil affairs. This is undeniably the avowed aim and declared desire of the great body of the population of Christendom at the present time, (1870.) And what is this but an open denial of the authority of the Mediator as he is the “Prince of the kings of the earth?” Thus has the dragon, since his ejection from heaven become a terrible “woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea!” And thus has the “earth opened her mouth: and swallowed up the flood, so that the woman remains comparatively safe “from the face of the serpent” in the very obscurity of her position. Some of her sons, from time to time, venturing abroad from their secluded place in the wilderness, becoming weary of sackcloth and aspiring to worldly distinction, have been, borne along by the waters of the flood, and drowned in the general deluge. Against the force of this strong current of popular errors, nothing will avail the seed of the woman but the “living water” which Jesus imparted to the woman of Samaria. To him who partakes of this water, those of the dragon will be distasteful; for “it shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,” (John iv. 14.) Since the middle of the seventeenth century, when by the reformation in Europe and the British Isles, the dragon was cast down from the symbolic heaven, he has been assailing in “great wrath” all ranks and degrees of men, not, as before, with fire and sword, with scaffolds, gibbets, thumb-screws,—torturing and destroying their mortal bodies, that he might reach their immortal souls: but by bringing them together in voluntary associations on principles of the covenant of works, subversive of the covenant of grace, and consequently aiming at the drowning of the mystic woman. This the enemy of all righteousness has been attempting, and with too much success, by public and professed ecclesiastical and Christian associations; such as Jesuits, Socinians and other self-styled Unitarians, Latter-day Saints, Mormons,—or by combinations in secret and sworn confederacies; such as Odd Fellows, Freemasons, Sons and Daughters of Temperance, with other affiliated fellowships innumerable. The special subtlety of the serpent consists in blending these two kinds of communions, so that under the name of reform, moral and spiritual, those who fear God may be unconsciously drawn into the snare. And alas! how many simple ones have been thus carried away by the waters of the flood! And many strong men have been thus cast down from their excellency. We are not to be surprised if we find the witnesses few in our time,—the seed of the woman diminished when the dragon makes his final attack.
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.
V. 17. In this verse we have the last effort of the enemy, to destroy the woman’s offspring. It is the third attempt, and, as we suppose, is yet future. We cannot therefore, of course, be so exact or certain as to the nature of this contest. Some things, however, are plain enough. The dragon, disappointed in his efforts hitherto against the woman, so far from ceasing the warfare, is only thereby the more exasperated. “The dragon was wroth with the woman.” Malice overcomes reason, He knows that he cannot finally prevail,—that “no weapon formed against her shall prosper;” yet he continues to vent his rage. The mode of attack is to be different from what it was in the second struggle. He is said to “make war,”—to resort to open violence, to employ the agency of the civil power, the beast of the bottomless pit, (Ch. xi. 7;) for this third and last war, waged by the dragon agrees in time with the slaying of the witnesses. This third onset agrees also with the “third woe—trumpet,” the “vintage” and the last “vial;” and immediately precedes the introduction of the millennium. “The remnant of the woman’s seed” are so called with reference to those of her offspring who had suffered death under pagan and papal Rome, (Ch. vi. 9.) Perhaps also we may suppose the number to be comparatively few at the time of the last war with the dragon; as during the whole period of the 1260 years, it was the aim of the dragon, through his instruments, to wear out the saints of the Most High. (Dan. vii. 25.) The character Which the Holy Spirit gives of these sufferers proves them to be the woman’s seed. They “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” This is the special ground of the devil’s hostility towards them. A more comprehensive and definite description of true believers is not to be found in the whole Bible. In matters of religion they adhere strictly to the commandments of God. They will not introduce, nor permit to be introduced, any corruptions into the doctrines of grace or into the matter of God’s worship. The temple, altar and worshippers must stand the measurement of God’s word in their fellowship. No human traditions or innovations are to be tolerated. But besides their conscientious care to have all the laws of the house of God duly observed, these remaining witnesses sustain and propagate the testimony of their predecessors, with such additional facts as they may have collected in their own time, for the personal glory, the offices and work of Jesus Christ. This testimony will necessarily bring them into collision with the children of those who killed their fathers in the same quarrel. Like their fathers, “they have the sentence of death in themselves, that they should not trust in themselves, but in God which raiseth the dead,—not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (2 Cor. i. 9; Heb. xi. 35.) For as already hinted, this remnant is to “overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” as others did; and in death to gain the final victory over death by vital union to their living Lord, “being made conformable to his death? (Heb. ii. 14, 15.)
 The terms “clergy and laity” are of papal origin, and the unlearned Christian should know that they are contrary to the mind of the Holy Spirit. 1 Pet. v. 3. The body of the people are “God’s heritage,”—clergy.