תמונות בעמוד

man 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 the 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 helps by which he supported his people, and then it would soon appear that the Christians had no real zeal or fortitude, but would soon 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 with. draw 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, orders the archangel, Michael, the protector of the Christian Church, to banish Satan utterly

from the heavenly regions : upon which a fierce battle ensues between St. Michael, assisted by an army of angels, and Satan with his associates. These latter are worsted, and cast down to the earth. Upon which,

V. 10. “ And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ; because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night."

Upon the victory of St. Michael over Satan there follows joy and acclamation of the Christian saints in heaven, saying: “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ,” &c. : now the Almighty has displayed his power, has assumed victory and dominion, and has ascertained the reign of Jesus, his Christ : for now we see Satan foiled, and no more permitted to appear before the throne of God with accusations against our brethren on earth, as he was wonted to do.

V. 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 death.

V. 12. “ Therefore, rejoice, O heavens, and you that dwell . therein."

The saints in heaven thus continue their exultation, for the fortitude and constancy of their brethren, who by virtue of the blood of the Lamb, that is, by virtue of the plentiful graces purchased for them by the blood of the Lamb, had generously bore testimony to, and laid down their lives for, that faith which Satan endeavoured to extirpate, and thus had overcome him. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens, for these new illustrious inhabitants, and rejoice you that dwell therein, for your new happy associates. Thus is celebrated the double victory; that of St. Michael, and that of the Martyrs, over the devil. But on the other hand,

V. 12. “ Wo to the earth and to the sea, because the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time."

A terrifying alarm is here proclaimed to the earth and sea, that is, to the Christians wherever they be, because the devil, now utterly expelled from heaven, is come down in great wrath, to exercise anew his fury against them. The Almighty had rejected the fiend's malicious suggestion of withdrawing his powerful graces and protection from his people, but by an unsearchable determination of his infinite wisdom, permits

Satan to raise a fresh persecution, much more terrible than any before. This is the persecution of the Emperor Dioclesian; in which, as it was to be the last, the dragon poured out his utmost venom and rage, as knowing that he had but a short time left him.

V. 13. “ And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman, who brought forth the man-child."

And no sooner did this persecution begin to break out, but,

V. 14.“ And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place; where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.” .

Here the woman, or the general body of the Christians, seeing the storm rising, betake themselves again to their former retreats in the deserts, the catacombs, and other lurking places. And as the violence of this exceeded that of all preceding persecutions, so is the woman furnished with two wings of a great eagle to enable her to fly with more strength and swiftness, that is, she is favoured in her flight with a more special protection and assistance from God: in a similar manner to what the Israelites experienced, when the Alınighty saved them from the fury of the Egyptians : “ You have seen,” said God to his people, “what I have done to the Egyptians : how I have carried you on the wings of eagles and have taken you to myself.” Exod. xix. 4. But further more, Divine Providence fails not to nourish or provide with spiritual and corporal food the Christians in their desolate abodes, where they are obliged to remain for a time, and times, and half a time, that is a year, two years, and half a year, or three years and a half; the utmost period of any one part of this persecution, which indeed in the whole lasted ten years, from 303 to 313, but with some interruptions.

V. 15. “ And the serpent cast out of his mouth, after the woman, water, as it were a river; that he might cause her to be carried away by the river."

And now the serpent or devil, in his full rage against the woman, or Christian Church, resolves to overwhelm her, it possible. For that purpose he casts out of his mouth after her a flood or river of water; he raises a more cruel and bloody persecution, than had ever been known, through the whole Roman empire, actuating the emperors and governors of the provinces with the most implacable rancour and most sa vage fury against the Christians, who for ten years together had little respite

The persecuting emperors were, Dioclesian, Galerius, Maximian, Maxentius, and Maximinus Daia, some of whom reigned at the same time in different parts of the empire. Dioclesian and Galerius, began the persecution in the eastern part of the empire in 303. It was continued for three years and a half; while Maximian carried on the same bloody work in the west. At this time the whole earth was barassed and tormented," says Lactantius, “and three most cruel beasts” (namely, Dioclesian, Galerius, and Maximian) “raged every where from east to west, exoept in Gaul,” where Constantius Chlorus governed and checked very much the violence of the persecution. The Christians were diligently sought for; some were discovered and dragged from their lurking places; and the cruelties and barbarities exercised in this persecution exceeded all description. “If I had a hundred tongues,” says again Lactantius, “and a hundred mouths, I should not be able to recount all the different torments that were employed against the Christians.” De mort. Pers. c. 16. After some respite, the persecution was renewed in Italy by Maxentius in 308; and it raged most violently in the east under the orders of the Emperor Maximinus Daia, the most sanguinary tyrant, as St. Jerome styles him, that ever persecuted the Church. His inhumanity, and barbarity in torturing the martyrs surpassed every thing that had been practised before. This bloody scene lasted also about three years and a half; and after a short interval of rest, the same implacable tyrant revived it in 312, but the next year he himself miserably perished.

This was a long and severe trial, which it pleased Almighty God in his wisdom to subject his people to; but he had fixed the bounds of it, and now he sends an unexpected relief.

V. 16. “And the earth helped the woman, says St. John, and the earth opened her mouth; and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth.”

The woman was helped by the earth, that is, by a prince of the earth, Constantine the Great, who caine to her succour, and became the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Upon the demise of his father Constantius Chlorus, who died in Great Britain, Constantine was there proclaimed emperor in 306. His first care was, though not yet a Christian, to prohibit all persecution in the western provinces which were under his dominion. He even wrote to his colleagues, the other empefors, advising the same, upon which they suspended their persecution but soon renewed it. Constantine marched against the tyrant Maxentius, who had declared war against him : but before the encounter, by a special revelation he erected the standard of the Cross at the head of his army, making it his chief ensign. For he saw in the sky a cross of light with this inscription: “In this shalt thou conquer.And effectually under its auspices he defeated the tyrant in the neighbourhood of Rome in the year 312. Maxentius in his flight being drowned in the Tyber.Constantine entered Rome in triumph, and was declared by the senate the first of the emperors. The consequence of this victory was the restoration of peace to the Christians throughout the whole western Roman ernpire. Maximinus in the east, after being vanquished by Licinius, having put an end to his own life in 313, there remained but two emperors, Constantine who governed in the west, and Licinius in the east. They both concurred, though Licinius was a pagan, to publish an edict, that suppressed all persecution in the eastern empire, and granted full liberty to the Christian religion. Thus at last, by human help, under the divine concurrence and direction, the sunshine of peace was restored to the Church throughout the whole extent of the Roman dominions. And thus it appears how “the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth."

V. 17. “And the dragon was angry against the woman : and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

No wonder the dragon, or devil, was angry against the woman, seeing that, instead of his destroying her, she had defeated him; and that she was now entirely rescued from nis power, and under the protection of a prince, upon whom he could have no influence. He was further enraged, to see his own power crushed, his reign of idolatry expiring, his agents, the heathen Roman princes exterminated, and now Christianity established through the whole empire, that is, through the greater part of the then known world. He had with infinite regret seen himself driven by Constantine from the western boundaries of the empire to its utmost limits in the east. Satan thus overcome, but still swelling with rage and malice against the woman, leaves the Roman dominions, and flies into the kingdom of Persia, there to continue his hellish work in making war with the rest of the woman's seed, the servants of God, who keep his commandments, and

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