_________ REV. xii. 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. THE history of the church, in all ages of this present world, is but a history of persecution and blood, when we follow her through all dispensations from Adam to Moses, and from Moses to Christ; so likewise from Christ's first coming down to his second appearance, the church have experienced, and according to the whole tenor of Scripture, must expect to realize from the kingdoms and men of this world, this one promise at least, "In the world ye shall have tribulation." These facts are so plain and obvious, that it has given rise to a common saying among almost all writers, that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church." Yet there is a bright side to her history; for she has come out of all her persecutions more purified, more faithful, and with more energy, to prosecute the work her divine Master has left her to perform. And one other thing is certain--God has preserved her, whether in the wilderness or among the nations of the earth, in an extraordinary and miraculous manner; even her enemies themselves being her judges. Where has a kingdom stood when all the nations about them have conspired their overthrow? Where is the Assyrian and populous Nineveh? Where is Chaldea, the queen of nations? Where is the Grecian empire, once the colossus of the world? Where is imperial Rome? Gone, gone, by the power of earthly foes. But behold the church of Christ and of God, delivered first from Egyptian bondage by the mighty arm of the God of Jacob, led by miracles through the wilderness forty years, brought into the promised land, although all the nations of the earth were her enemies, preserved as a nation through the rise and fall of mighty empires, and experiencing a reverse of fortune only when she courted the aid of worldly kingdoms, or suffering diminution only when she adopted the more popular worship of heathen idolatry. Yet in her lowest estate, God told his servant the prophet, that "he had reserved seven thousand that had not bowed the knee to Baal." And if men would reason on the subject of religion as they do on other subjects, there could not be an infidel in the world. For nothing is or can be more manifest than the miraculous interposition of Providence in the preservation of his people through the most severe trials, heaviest afflictions, and deadliest hatred of all men, that men or societies ever endured.
Our present discourse will show us the history of the church by prophecy, through the darkest age the church has ever been permitted to experience since the days of Abraham.
I. I shall show what we may understand by "the woman" in our text.
II. I shall show what we are to understand by the great red dragon and beast.
III. I shall give the history of the woman given in the chapters of our text.
IV. The time specified in the text, 1260 days, their beginning and end.
I. What may we understand by woman in our text?
I answer, We must understand the people of God, in all ages of the church, whether among the Jew or Gentile: she is called a woman because she is the spouse of Christ; she is likewise called a woman because of her dependence on Christ for all things. As a man is the head of the woman, so is Christ the head over all things to the church, says the apostle. As the woman depends on her husband for a name, for food, and for raiment, so likewise the church on Christ, for a name--"And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name," Isa. lxii. 2-5. "And they were called Christians first at Antioch." For food, our text says, "that they should feed her there," &c. The prophet Isaiah says, xl. 11, "He shall feed his flock as a shepherd." John vi. 53, "Except ye eat the flesh of the son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." For raiment, the psalmist, speaking of the church, says, "She shall be brought to the king in raiment of needlework; her clothing is wrought gold." The angel to the seven churches says, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment." And again, "I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God, out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." This shows conclusively that the people of God are compared to a woman. And now let me show,
II. What we may understand by the great red dragon and beast that persecuted the church, or woman that fled into the wilderness.
The red dragon is the same power as Daniel's fourth kingdom, the Roman, for the description is the same, having ten horns; his character, too, is the same. Daniel says he should break in pieces the whole earth, and stamp the residue with his feet; that he should work deceitfully, &c. John says that the dragon drew a third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth, and that he deceiveth the whole world. The Roman government, then, must be the apocalyptical red dragon beast, having seven heads and ten horns. The Roman power is called red, either because of their persecuting and bloody spirit, or on account of their emperors wearing purple robes, when dressed in state; either might be sufficient to entitle them to the appellation "red." "Dragon" is undoubtedly given the Roman government from the fact that the Romans changed their forms of government so often, having seven different forms in about five hundred years, and from their deceitful, cunning, intriguing manner by which they obtained power over the nations around them, that they were properly a nondescript; and could not be described by Daniel or John by any thing seen on earth; and therefore they took one of the inhabitants of the bottomless pit, "the dragon," to describe to us by figure this dreadful, persecuting, and bloody power. The red dragon is, therefore, used as a figure to denote Pagan Rome, and the woman sitting on the scarlet-colored beast to denote the church of Rome, or Papal Rome; and both together, civil and Papal, make the anti-Christian abomination, which would drive the church of Christ into the wilderness, where she would be fed 1260 days, or time, times, and half a time. I shall,
III. Give the history of the woman, as in the twelfth chapter of Revelation.
Verse 1, "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven,"--John saw this wonderful sight as transpiring under the gospel day, or government of God, with his people in the gospel, the circle in which the church moves, here called heaven,--"a woman clothed with the sun," the church adorned with gospel light; as the natural sun gives light to the world, so does the gospel the church,--"and the moon under her feet." This shows us that John had a view of the church while it was in its Jewish state. For the moon represents the ceremonial law, which was typical of the gospel, like the moon shining in a borrowed light, and liable to change when the Shiloh should come. "Under her feet," shows that she walked or stood on the ordinances of God's house, which, like the moon, pointed to the sun both before and after Christ. "And upon her head a crown of twelve stars,"--first the twelve patriarchs, afterwards the twelve apostles, Eph. ii. 20. Like stars they are smaller lights in the government of God, and teachers under the law and gospel.
Verse 2, "And she, being with child,"--having the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head,--"cried travailing in birth,"--denoting prayer in faith,--"and pained to be delivered,"--that is, an anxious and deep longing for the advent of the promised Messiah, when she expected deliverance from bondage, sin, and all her foes, Matt. xiii. 17.
Verse 3, "And there appeared another wonder in heaven,"--another sight or view of God's government of the world in connection with the gospel,--"and behold, a great red dragon"--a figurative representation of the Roman kingdom.
Verse 4, "And his tail drew a third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." Judea became a Roman province before the Messiah's advent, which is figured by the tail, and the Jews had for a number of years been governed by tetrarchs or kings of the Romans' appointment. The Jews were governed by three different offices, figuratively called stars--kings, high priest, and sanhedrim, or the seventy elders. When, therefore, the Jews were deprived of their right to appoint their own kings, one third part of their rulers fell to the Roman power, in this passage called "earth"--"And the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered,"--Herod was then king of the Jews, at the birth of Christ, a representative of the Romans, because he was supported by their authority,--"for to devour her child as soon as it was born." Herod sought the young child's life, to destroy him. See Matt. ii. 13.
Verse 5, "And she brought forth a man child,"--Jesus Christ, born of a virgin. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given," &c. Isa. ix. 6, 7, "Who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron," denoting the power of Christ to break in pieces and subdue all the kingdoms of the earth. Psalms ii. 9. Rev. xix. 15,--"and her child was caught up to God and his throne." Christ has ascended up on high, and is seated at the right hand of the Father until he makes his enemies his footstool." See John vi. 62. Eph. iv. 8-10.
Verse 6, "And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God." The church had grown weary of the protection of the Roman power, for she found, by woful experience, that whenever she placed herself under the protection of this red dragon, he destroyed some of her blessed privileges, and brought in a flood of errors, which caused divisions and subdivisions in the church. The Jews had tried their friendship and protection for more than two hundred years before and after Christ, and the event proved the destruction of their nation and place. The Christians, too, had tried the friendship of the same power, under Constantine and succeeding emperors, for little more than two hundred years, beginning A.D. 313, and ending in A.D. 538, as we shall show; which so corrupted the Romish church that she became the anti-Christian abomination, and the true children of God were driven into the wilderness out from her connection with the anti-Christian church, "the city of the nations," as she is called. But God took care "that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days," which is 1260 years, from A.D. 538 until 1798, during which time a free toleration of religious rights were not permitted in any of the kingdoms which formerly composed the Roman empire; but God raised up teachers among them, who retained in a good degree the doctrine and purity of the word of God, and practised the ordinances as they were delivered to the saints in the apostles' days: yet but little is known of them for six or seven hundred years.
Verse 7, "And there was war in heaven." After the prophet John had given us a history of the church, as in the preceding verses, he now goes back to bring up the history of the dragon, the Roman kingdom, and begins his history in the days of Christ and his apostles. "Michael and his angels fought"--Christ and his apostles. See Matt. x. 34, "Think not I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword"--"against the dragon," against principalities and powers, and wickedness in high places.--"And the dragon fought, and his angels," imperial Rome and worldly men.
Verse 8, "And prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven." Rome could not prevail against the kingdom of Christ or the gospel; for it differed materially from the Jewish mode of worship; and although Rome in her Pagan state could find easy access into the Jewish sanctuary, because of the similarity of their worship, yet when Christ set up his gospel kingdom they were excluded, for none could enter this kingdom without regeneration, faith, and repentance.
Verse 9, "And the great dragon was cast out,"--Rome Pagan was deprived from having any authority in the gospel kingdom, as Christ says in John xii. 31, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out"--"that old serpent,"--Rome Pagan is compared to the old serpent because he works deceitfully and deceives the church, (woman,) as the serpent did Eve, the woman in the garden,--"called the devil," because they devour and persecute with a devilish spirit,--"and Satan," because satan-like he claims power over all kingdoms of the world--"which deceiveth the whole world."--This may be said of Rome, for she conquered more nations by deceit and flattery than by fair warfare.--"He was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." This was literally fulfilled when Christ cut off the Jews and all unbelievers; when he said, "My kingdom is not of this world;" when he excluded the kingdoms of this earth from participating in the spiritual kingdom which they claimed on account of their authority among men.
Verse 10, "And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven,"--many voices in the church under the gospel dispensation,--"Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ."--This represents the grand chorus of all the saints, when they discover the true principle on which the kingdom of God is built. This was literally true at the day of Pentecost.--"for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God night and day." The Romans had, by drawing the Jews into idolatry, caused them to sin against God in all their evening and morning sacrifices. And by these means, they were accused before God, that is, God was angry with them, and destroyed our brethren, the Jews.
Verse 11, "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb,"--by the blood of atonement, all believers in Christ do finally overcome the powers of darkness and princes of this world,--"and by the word of their testimony,"--preaching and testimony of the apostles.--"And they loved not their lives unto the death"--suffered martyrdom. This was fulfilled in the death of the apostles and others.
Verse 12, "Therefore rejoice ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them." It was a matter of great joy among the primitive Christians, to be counted worthy to suffer persecution for Christ's sake. "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth,"--those who live under the Roman government,--"and of the sea,"--meaning the principal kingdom among the ten kingdoms. France is generally meant by sea in this prophecy. "For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." The devil means destroyer, and the three woes, and seven last plagues, were all to be sent upon the earth and sea, which denote wars, revolutions, and changing of governments. These things would prevail in the close of this Roman kingdom, and war would be the closing up of the earthly scene of this fourth kingdom which Daniel saw and John has been describing under the figure of the "great red dragon."
Verse 13, "And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth,"--when the Roman government saw they could have no control in the things of Christ's kingdom, they hated the church and the doctrine that taught that Christ's kingdom was not of this world, and they "persecuted the woman that brought forth the man child," which is the church that had a Savior born unto her, Christ Jesus, the Lord of life and glory.
Verse 14, "And to the woman was given two wings of a great eagle,"--by which wings I understand the means God used between the Arian and Papal controversy, at the time of the division of the Greek or eastern church from the west or Roman church, which happened in the reign of Justinian, emperor of the east, about A.D. 538, when the controversy arose concerning the worshipping of departed saints, images, and the infallibility of the church at Rome. In this controversy, many privately withdrew themselves, and settled in the north-west part of Asia and in the north-east part of Europe, and after a number of years colonies were sent by them into Piedmont and valleys of the Alps, where it is supposed the true worship of God was retained during the dark ages of Papal ignorance, bigotry, and superstition. (See Milner's Church History, and Benedict's History of the Baptists.)--"that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place,"--a separation from the world, as says the voice from heaven, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues," Rev. xviii. 4.--"where she is nourished for a time, times, and half a time,"--fed and nourished by the spirit and word of God 1260 years, "from the face of the serpent"--from the knowledge of Papal Rome.
Verse 15, "And the serpent cast out of his mouth waters as a flood after the woman,"--waters, in prophecy, means people, Rev. xvii. 15. Therefore I understand this prophecy to have been fulfilled when the Pope, the head of Papal Rome, sent forth his armies and inquisition to subdue the heretics, as he called them, who dwelt in the valleys of the Alps, which was about the beginning of the thirteenth century,--"that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood"--exterminated and destroyed by his armies and inquisition.
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." This verse was fulfilled in the wars which followed the above-mentioned time of persecution, in which the German princes helped their subjects against the armies of the Pope, and destroyed and swallowed up many of the Papal armies, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century. Or, as some authors have supposed, the waters which the dragon cast out of his mouth was the flood of errors which arose about the time of the French revolution, under the name of Deism, which was calculated to destroy the doctrine of the gospel, as they vainly supposed, backed up by the republican armies of France, and afterwards by the power of Bonaparte, who was finally subdued by the combinations of the kings of the earth. But, as this transaction seems to me to be too late to affect the woman in her exiled state, I have inclined, in my humble opinion, to my first exposition of these texts.
Verse 17, "And the dragon was wroth with the woman,"--Papal Rome was angry with the true church,--"and went to make war with the remnant of her seed." This war has not yet come; for it is evident by the expression "remnant of her seed," that it means the last of the church "who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." This is the last struggle of this anti-Christian beast, and is described in many places as the last great battle, or the supper of the great God. Such expressions as "and went," as though this power would go to some place out of their own territory, and "the kings of the east might be prepared," show that they will go west. I am, therefore, constrained to believe that this battle of the dragon's last power will be in America; and if so, it must be mainly in these United States. It will be a battle on political principles, as we may learn by the passage in Rev. xvi. 13-16, "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet;"--the "unclean spirits" shows that it is political principles; and, like the frogs in Egypt, it will pervade all the departments of life--the social, civil, and religious. By "dragon," we must understand the kings of the earth; by the "beast," Papal principles, or the church of Rome; by the "false prophet," Mahometan power;--"for they are the spirit of devils, working miracles,"--that is, spirit of deceit, separating friends, dividing kingdoms, states, societies, churches, and families, and crumbling every man-made institution, and levelling to the dust all law, order, and bond of union, which the wisdom of man may have invented,--"which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world." This shows the universal spread of this fanatical spirit of disorganization, and it will finally lead to "gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty." "Behold, I am come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame." We are here notified that his coming will be like a thief to those who are engaged in this political warfare, and in those popular and men-made societies of the day; and we are told that those will be blessed who watch, that is, for his coming, and the signs of the times, and that keepeth his garments unspotted from these worldly institutions, which engender strife and animosity among brethren. Be warned, dear Christian, "enter into thy chamber, and hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be over and past, that ye need not be ashamed before him at his coming." It will also be a battle of religious principles, as is evident by the following scripture, Rev. xix. 11-16, "And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written that no man knew but he himself, and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood; and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; and he treadeth the wine-press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God." This passage proves that there will be at the close of this dispensation, immediately preceding the marriage of the Lamb to his bride, a great and last struggle between error and truth, between infidelity and the word of God. And you may inquire, perhaps, and with propriety too, How shall we know on which side we are engaged in this great war of principle? I answer, "In righteousness," he doth make war. But, say you, we are so prone to follow tradition or prepossessed notions, and think we are right, that, like Paul, we may be found at last fighting against God. You must see to it, that you are "faithful and true," have faith in his name, "and his name is The Word of God." This is your only rule--The Word of God. Be careful; lay yourselves on this word. Try yourselves by this standard. If your life, faith, experience, and hope, are built on this foundation, you can never fail; for he that is The Word of God, is "KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS." Again: it is to be a literal battle with the sword, for Christ says, "He that taketh the sword shall die by the sword." And kings, Papal Rome, and the Mahometans, have ruled the world by the sword, and their swords, during all the days of their power, have been red with the blood of their subjects, and the innocent victims of their hate. And in Rev. xix. 17-20, it is evident, by the "fowls" spoken of in the 17th verse, is meant, warriors in favor of liberty who are to "eat (destroy) the flesh (strength or power) of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and them that sit on them, (armies are undoubtedly meant in this passage,) and the flesh of all men," who are engaged in favor of kings, papal Rome, or false prophet, "both free and bond, both small and great." "And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army." "And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon," (awake to the spoil,) Rev. xvi. 16-21.
These will be the means the dragon will use in his last great struggle to gain ascendency over the minds, consciences, and bodies of men. He will fan up their political animosities; he will stir up strife and division among religious communities; and, last of all, and not least, he will encourage an intolerable thirst for blood. In which battle Christ will come, chain the dragon, give his body to the burning flame, confine the spirits of all who worship the dragon, beast or false prophet, in the pit of woe; raise the saints, purify, cleanse, and glorify them with his own glory.
IV. We are to speak of the time the saints, or church, were to be in the wilderness, "one thousand two hundred and threescore days." I believe all commentators agree that these days are to be understood years; and, as I have proved this point in a former lecture, I need not stop to argue this given principle at this time, but will proceed to give some proof when this time began and when it ended. The time given in our text is the same length of time as given by Daniel for the reign of the little horn. See Daniel vii. 25. It is, also, the same time John has given for the image beast to have power "to continue forty and two months." Thirty days to a month is 1260 days, Rev. xiii. 5. It is, also, the same length of time that was given the Gentiles to tread the holy city under foot. See Rev. xi. 2. Also for the witnesses to prophesy, clothed in sackcloth. Rev. xi. 3. And there can hardly be a shadow of a doubt but that all these times had their beginning and ending at one and the same time. If so, then the arguments used heretofore may have their proper bearing in this place.
But let us consider a few things in addition to our former reasons. 1st. What may we understand by the woman "fleeing into the wilderness," and "from the face of the serpent." We must consider it in a state of obscurity; this was true in the time we have stated, A.D. 538. Historians tell us but little about any regular church but the Roman church, and this has never been in an obscure state; of course the Roman is not the church in the wilderness. But they do tell us that, in the days of Justinian, emperor of Constantinople, there were many schismatics, as they were called, who opposed the power of the bishop or pope of Rome, and doings of councils in the east and west, and a large share of the latter part of Justinian's life was spent in religious broils and expelling from his kingdom these schismatics; and the code of laws which he published about A.D. 533, forbade any Christians any rights or privileges as citizens in his empire who would not acknowledge the bishop of Rome as head. And in these laws he gave the bishop power to hold courts and try all matters of faith within his kingdom. These, and other things of like import, drove all true followers of the word of God to seek a rest out of the jurisdiction of the city of nations; and, of course, became outlaws to the Roman government. Then, if we fix the beginning of the exile of the church at the same time of setting up anti-Christ, A.D. 538, then the church was in its exiled state until A.D. 1798, which would be the 1260 years. It is here worthy of remark, that the code of laws passed by Justinian were in full force in the kingdoms belonging to, or under the control of, the pope of Rome, respecting the rights and privileges of those who might differ from the Catholic faith, until the French took Rome, in 1798, and declared Italy a republic; when free toleration was given for any religious opinion or privilege whatsoever. Here, then, the church, in whatever form she might appear, was permitted to enjoy the rights and privileges of citizens, and to worship God as their conscience might dictate. This is the first time, during the 1260 years, that free toleration of religion was granted in any kingdom where the Catholic church had power; and, although Catholic princes and popes have since had rule in Italy and France, yet they have never dared, as yet, to pursue the former intolerant course of conduct towards Protestants. And it is very evident, my dear friends, that the church is now out of the wilderness; that is, if she ever was; for there never has been a time since the days of the apostles, no, nor even then, that the church, in all its several branches, has enjoyed greater privileges than for nearly forty years past. She has spread her wings over every land, and carried the news of salvation into every language on the known world. Her reapers have followed the sowers of seed, and there is handsfull of corn in the tops of all the mountains; but the harvest is short. The church has had rest as long as she has ever had since Christ left her and ascended to his Father. The dragon begins to show his anger; the trumpet begins to sound to the onset; the armies of the beast begin to muster for the battle, they are furbishing their swords for the slaughter; the kings of the earth are combining against the freedom of their subjects; the great men and nobles are riveting closer the chains of their vassals; tyrants are braiding in firmer knots their scorpion whips for their slaves; expediency has taken the room of moral law, and anarchy has crowded order from his seat; mobs have taken the place of judges, and law is popular will; the liberty of the press is but the nod of demagogues, and the freedom of speech is called fanaticism. Division seems to be the order of the day, and our valuable institutions are tottering to their base. Be warned, then, O my friends, to seek safety under the banner of the gospel before the armies are filled up. "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." "The spirit of prophecy"