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of history, in the detail of facts, without reference to this prediction, we see how, after the pollution and destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, the abolition of the Jewish rites and worship, and the subversion of their state, and desolation of their country by the Romans, the people that knew their God, and understood among the people, and instructed many in the knowledge of the only living and true God, and of his salvation by Jesus Christ, instead of being received and welcomed by the world, while proclaiming the glad tidings of redemption and calling men to repentance, fell by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, MANY DAYS.
Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries. Ver. 34. In the 304th year of the Christian era, the last and severest of the edicts of Diocletian was issued against the Christians; and the execution of it " had liked to have proved fatal to the Christian cause.” “ The divine providence, however,” to use the words of Mosheim,
was preparing more secure and happy days for the church. In the year 306, Constantius Chlorus dying in Britain, the army saluted, with the title of Augustus, his son Constantine, surnamed the Great, on account of his illustrious exploits, and forced him to accept the purple." The elevation of Constantine to the throne, and his conversion to Christianity, gave outward peace to the church. In human view, the help seemed great. But as many had formerly become genuine converts, on witnessing the integrity of saints, conjoined with the intrepidity of martyrs, the religion of the court became then the lure to a formal and false profession of a holy faith; the cause of truth received but a little help; and many did cleave to them with flatteries. Eusebius, in his life of Constantine, relates that the emperor's kindness was wont to be imposed on by the unspeakable dissimulation of those who craftily crept into the church, and falsely assumed the name of Christians. Julian, afterwards the apostate, was, while it served his purpose, one of these hypocritical pretenders to a faith they did not cherish. That he might allure the Christians to favour him, he publicly professed the faith, from which he had long ago privately revolted; he even went to church, and joined with them in the most solemn offices of religion. * His dissimulation carried him so far as to become an ecclesiastic in lower orders, or a reader in the church. Moreover, this is also called a little help,”-observes Bishop Newton, (to whose excellent dissertations on the prophecies none should be a stranger,) " because the temporal peace and prosperity of the church lasted but a little while. The spirit of persecution presently revived ; and no sooner were the Christians delivered from their heathen adversaries, than they began to quarrel among themselves, and to persecute one another.
And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, to the time of the end : because it is yet for a time appointed. Ver. 35. The things noted in the scripture of truth, prior to the time of the rise and standing up of the Roman power, and the consequent subversion of the Jewish state, form a succession of political events, in which the fate of the Jews was immediately involved: and it would seem that, for this reason, the history of the kings of the north and of the south was specially introduced into the prophetic record. The interests of Judaism as a church then merged into those of Christianity. The prospective restoration of the Jews was still in view, and
* Ammian. Marcell. lib. 21, c. 2, quoted by Bishop Newton.
thing that was noted exhibited a suceession of events which were finally to be wound up in that consummation of the vision : but the history of the Jews, during the time that desolations were determined, was, everywhere alike, that of a people whom God had cast off, though not for ever; and who were without a king, and without a prince, and without an altar, and without a country. And as soon as the subversion of the Mosaic dispensation was effected, and the abomination that maketh desolate was placed and set up by the Romans, the things that immediately after are noted, pertain not any more to a succession of earthly monarchs, but to the people that know their God. They were to instruct many, but they were to fall by the sword, by captivity, and by spoil, many days. A new era denoted by persecution for righteousness' sake, was immediately to succeed the extirpation of the Jews from Judea. And the character and fate of the church of Christ, propagated by the preaching of righteousness, and nurtured by the blood of martyrs, became a new object in the vision. The Roman power, in whatever form, was to maintain its ascendency; and no other is mentioned as succeeding to it, though some were to come against it, and finally supplant it in the east. In the same manner, or under the same form of government, in which it stood up, the persecution of the preachers of the gospel was to succeed to the abolition of ordinances of the law. Slaughter, burning, imprisonment, or banishment, and spoliation, were to be practised and persevered in, in order to bring to nought, and extirpate from the world, a doctrine according to godliness which then sprang up. In the days of these kingdoms, of which the Roman was the last, did the God of heaven set up a kingdom; and such was the reception given to it by the rulers and nations of the world! But after a long time of fiery trial, and still without any change in the form of the government of Rome, they who had been afflicted long were holpen with a little help; and hypocrisy and worldlymindedness began to be associated with the profession of the gospel. Many clave to them with flatteries, when a smile from a throne, in lieu of the prospect of a cross, awaited the convert to the Christian faith. But little, in a spiritual sense, was the help which the conversion of the emperor of Rome conferred on the cause of the cross. The truth was not greatly aided by nominal converts, or by worldly men. The spirit of the world was gradually infused into the church, which became corrupted by prosperity, as previously it had been purified by tribulation. The hierarchy gradually arose, and attained a domineering ascendency, as if the kingdom of Christ. had been a kingdom of this world, dependant for its stability on human power. They who held the offices of those that before had instructed many, became lords over the consciences of men; and held God's heritage as their own. Thev who ought to have been known of all men as the disciples of Jesus, by their mutual love, vented their unholy zeal in fierce animosity and violence; and the reputed guardians of the gospel of peace, copying the example of blind idolaters, strove to maintain the interest of the church by the very means which had been tried in vain to effect the subversion of the gospel. Persecution for conscience sake revived in another form; that of papal ultimately succeeded to that of pagan. And churchmen inflicted against men of understanding, the injuries and cruelties, which martyrs, in the earlier history of the church, had suffered at the hands of heathens.
From the first great collision between Persia and Greece, the record of the prophet passed at once to the final result ; and on the first influential exercise of the authority of Rome over the kingdoms of Syria and Egypt, and the subjugation of Macedon, the things that are next noted are the achievements of the Romans in Palestine. But in that part of the vision under our immediate consideration, the first era of persecution after the preaching of the gospel, and the littlé help that was afterwards to ensuc, are distinctly marked as followed by a long period of trial and affliction to the men of understanding, or to those who should adhere to the genuine truths of the gospel, as first preached unto the saints, and sealed with the blood of martyrs. They who, like those that had gone-and that, for the truth's sake, had suffered-before them, would take the word of God, and no counsel or decree of fallible mortals, for the rule of their faith, and who, like the primitive Christians, would, in the exercise of their own judgment, but in perfect submission to divine authority, have their understanding exercised by reason of use to discern both good and evil, were to be oppressed and persecuted still to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, for a time appointed and subsequently in this and other prophecies, expressly defined That such a time of trial and of persecution for conscience sake, succeeded to the earlier martyrdom of Christians, and was continued, from age to age, is a truth too prominent and glaring to be questioned or disguised. It is not the