« السابقةمتابعة »
its ever flourishing again. For before this, the witnesses prophecy in sackcloth : but now they are dead : before this, they were kept low indeed, yet there was life, and power to bring plagues on their enemies, and so much of true religion left, as to be a continual torment to them. But now their enemies rejoice and feast, have a general public triumph, as having obtained a full victory over them. They have now entirely extirpated them, are completely delivered from them, and from all that might give them any fear of being troubled with them any more. This time, whenever it be fixed, doubtless, is the time, not only wherein fewest professors of the true religion are left in the world; but a time wherein the truth shall be farthest out of sight, and out of reach, and most forgotten; wherein there are left fewest beams of light, or traces of truth, fewest means of information, and opportunities of coming to the knowledge of the truth; and so a time of the most barbarous ignorance, most destitute of all history, monuments and memory of things appertaining to true religion, or things the knowledge of which hath any tendency to bring truth again to light; and most destitute of learning, study and enquiry.
Now, if we consider the present state of mankind, is it credible that a time will yet come, exceeding, in these respects, all times before the reformation? And that such a time will come before the fall of antichrist, unless we set that at a much greater distance, than the farthest that any have yet supposed? It is next to impossible, that such a change should be brought about in so short a time : it cannot be without a miracle. In order to it, not only must the popish nations so prevail, as utterly to extirpate the Protestant religion through the earth; but must do many other things far more impossible for them to effect, in order to cover the world with so gross and confirmed a darkness, and to bury all light and truth in so deep an. oblivion, and so far out of all means and hopes of a revival. And not only must a vast change be made in the Protestant world, but the Popish nations must be strangely metamorphosed; and they themselves must be terribly persecuted by some other power, in order to bring them to such a change: nor would persecution without extirpation be sufficient for it. If there should be another universal deluge, it might be sufficient to bring things to such a pass; provided a few ignorant barbarous persons only were preserved in an ark: and it would require some catastrophe not much short of this to effect it.
2. At the reformation, in the days of Luther, Calvin, and others their contemporaries, the threatened destruction of antichrist, the dreadful enemy that had long oppressed and worn out the saints, was begun. Nor was it a small beginning; for antichrist hath fallen, at least half-way to the ground, from that height of power and grandeur he was in before. Then began
the vials of God's wrath to be poured out on the throne of the beast, to the great shaking of its foundations, and diminution of its extent; so that the Pope lost near half of his former dominions: and as to degree of authority and influence over what is left, he is not possessed of what he had before. God now at length, in answer to the long continued cries of his people, awaked as one out of sleep, and began to deliver his church from her exceeding low state, under the great oppression of this grand enemy, and to restore her from her exile and bondage in the spiritual Babylon and Egypt. It is not agreeable to the analogy of God's dispensations, that after this he should desert his people, hide himself from them even more than before, leave them more than ever in the hands of their enemy; and is it credible that all this advantage of the church against antichrist should be entirely given up and lost, his power and ty. ranny be more confirmed, the church more entirely subdued than ever before, and further from all help and means of recovery? This is not God's way of dealing with his people, or with their enemies. · His work of salvation is perfect : when he has begun such a work he will carry it on: when he once causes the day of deliverance to dawn to his people, after such a long night of dismal darkness, he will not extinguish the light, and cause them to return again to midnight darkness. When he has begun to enkindle the blessed fire, he will not quench the smoking flax, till he hath brought forth judgment unto victory. When once the church, after long and sore travail, has brought forth her man child, and wrought some deliverance, her enemies shall never be able to destroy this child, though an infant: but it shall ascend up to heaven, and be set on high out of their reach.
The destruction that God often foretold and threatened to ancient Babylon (which is often referred to in the revelation, as a great type of the antichristian church) was gradually accomplished, by various steps at a great distance of time one from another. It was begun in the conquest of Cyrus; and was further accomplished by Darius, about eighteen years after, by a yet greater destruction, wherein it was brought much nearer to utter desolation, but it was about two hundred and twenty three years after this, before the ruin of it was perfected, and the prophecies against it fully accomplished, in its being made an utter and perpetual desolation, without any human inhabitant, becoming the dwelling-place for owls, dragons, and other doleful creatures. But yet when God had once begun to destroy her, he went on till he finished, and never suffered her any more to recover and establish her former empire. So the restitution of the Jewish church, after the Babylonish captivity, was by various steps ; there were several tmes of return of the Jews from captivity, and several dis.. tinct decrees of the Persian emperors, for restoring and rebuilding Jerusalem, and re-establishing the Jewish church and state. It was also done in turbulent times; there were great interruptions, checks, and violent oppositions, and times wherein the enemy did much prevail. But yet when God had once begun the work, he also made an end; he never suffered the enemies of the Jews to bring Jerusalem to such a state of desolation as it had been in before, till the promised restoration was complete. Again, the deliverance of God's church from the oppression of Antiochus Epiphanes, (another known type of antichrist) was gradual; they were first assisted a little by the Maccabees; afterwards, the promised deliverance was completed in the recovery of Jerusalem, the restoration of the temple, the miserable end of Antiochus, and the consequent more full deliverance of the whole land. But after God once began to appear for the help of his church in that instance, though it had seemed dead and past all hope, he never suffered Antiochus to prevail to that degree again. The utmost strength of this great monarch was used, from time to time, in order to it, and his vast empire was engaged against a handful that opposed them; yet God never forsook the work of his own hands; when he had begun to deliver his people, he also made an end. And so Haman, that proud and in- ' veterate enemy of the Jews, who thought to extirpate the whole nation, (who also was probably another type of antichrist) when he began to fall before Esther and Mordecai, never stayed till his ruin and the church's deliverance were complete; Haman's wife speaks of it as an argument of his approaching inevitable full destruction, that he had begun to fall, Est. vi. 16.
3. If antichristian tyranny and darkness should hereafter so prevail against the protestant church—the true religion and every thing appertaining to it—as to bring things to the pass forementioned, this would not so properly answer the prophecy of slaying the two witnesses; for doubtless, one reason why they are called two witnesses, is, that the number of witnesses for the truth, was, (though sufficient, yet) very small. This was remarkably the case in the dark times of popery; but since the reformation, the number of those appearing on the side of true religion, has not been so small. The visible church of Christ has been vastly large, in comparison of what it was before. The number of Protestants has sometimes been thought nearly equal to that of the papists; and, doubtless, the number of true saints has been far greater than before.
4. It seems to be signified in prophecy, that after the reformation antichrist should never prevail against the church of Christ any more, as he had done before. I cannot but think, that whoever reads and well considers what the learned Mr
LOWMAN has written on the five first vials (Rev. xvi.) in his late exposition on the Revelation, must think it to be very manifest, that what is said (ver. 10) of the pouring out of the fifth vial" on the throne of the beast," (for so it is in the original) is a prophecy of the reformation. Then the vial of God's wrath was poured out on the throne of the beast, i. e. according to the language of scripture, on his authority and dominion, greatly to weaken and diminish it, both in extent and degree. But when this is represented in the prophecy, then it is added, " and his kingdom was full of darkness, and they gnawed their tongues for pain.” If we consider what is commonly intended by similar phrases in the scripture, I think we shall be naturally, and as it were necessarily, led to understand those words thus : Their policy, by which heretofore they have prevailed, shall now fail them; their authority shall be weakened, their dominion greatly diminished, and all their subtilty shall not avail them to support the throne of the beast, or even again to extend his authority so far as it had been before extended, and to recover what is lost. All their crafty devices to this end shall be attended with vexatious, tormenting disappointment; they who have the management of the beast's kingdom, shall henceforward grope as in the dark, and stumble, and be confounded in their purposes, plots and enterprises. Formerly their policy was greatly successful, as a light to guide them to their ends ; but now their kingdom shall be full of darkness, and their wisdom shall fail them in all their devices to subdue the church of God.
The scripture takes notice of the great policy and subtilty of the powers that support this kingdom, Dan. vii. 8. “ And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes a man. So it is said of Antiochus Epiphanes, that great type of Antichrist, Dan. viii. 23." A king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up." Ver.25.“ And through his policy also, shall he cause craft to prosper in his hand.” This understanding and policy is the light of this kingdom, as true wisdom is the light of the spiritual Jerusalem; and therefore, when the light fails, then may the kingdom of this spiritual Egypt be said to be full of darkness. God henceforward will defend his people from these mystical Egyptians, as he defended Israel of old from Pharaoh and his host, when pursuing after them, by placing a cloud and darkness in their way, and so not suffering them to come nigh. He will protect his church from the men of that city that is spiritually called Sodom, as Lot's house, wberein were the angels, was defended from the men of Sodom, by their being smitten with darkness or blindness, so that they wearied themselves to find the door; and as God defended the city in which was Elisha, the prophet and witness of the Lord, from the Syrians, when they compassed it about with
horses and chariots, and a great host to apprehend him, by smiting them with blindness. The scripture teaches us, that God is wont in this way to defend his church and people from their crafty and powerful enemies ; Job v. 11, &c. - To set up on high those that be low, that those which mourn may be exalted to safety: He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise : He taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and the counsel of the froward is carried beadlong: They meet with darkness in the day time, and grope in the noon-day as in the night ; but he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty." (See also Psal. xxxv. 4, 6.) On account of such defence of God's protestant church, with the disappointment and confusion of all the subtile devices, deep-laid schemes, and furious attempts of their antichristian enemies, to root them out, while they see them still maintaining their ground, in spite of all they do, it makes them as it were gnash their teeth, and bite their tongues for mere rage and vexation; agreeably to Psal. cxxii. 9, 10. - His righteousness endureth for ever, his horn shall be exalted with honour: The wicked shall see it and be grieved, and gnash with his teeth and melt away: The desire of the wicked shall perish.”
Hitherto this prophecy has been very signally fulfilled ; since the reformation, the kingdom of Antichrist has been remarkably filled with darkness in this respect. Innumerable have been the crafty devices, and great attempts of the church of Rome, wherein they have exerted their utmost policy and power, to recover their lost dominions, and again to subjugate the Protestant nations—the northern heresy, as they call it. They have wearied themselves in these endeavours for more than two hundred years past; but have hitherto been disappointed, and have often been strangely confounded. When their matters seemed to be brought to a degree of ripeness, and they triumphed as though their point was gained, their joy and triumph have suddenly turned into vexation and torment. How many have been their politic and powerful attempts against the Protestant interest in our nation in particular? And how wonderfully has God disappointed them from time to time! And as God has hitherto so remarkably fulfilled his word in defending his protestant church from antichrist, so I think we have ground to trust in him, that he will defend it to the end.
5. The hypothesis of those who suppose that the slaying of the witnesses yet remains to be fulfilled, makes the prophecies of the Revelation to be inconsistent one with another. 'According to their hypothesis, that battle (Rev. xi. 7.) wherein the beast makes war with the witnesses, overcomes, and kills them, is the last and greatest conflict between antichrist. and the church of Christ, which is to precede the utter overthrow of