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THE SECOND GENERAL DESCRIPTION : OR, THE GREAT RED DRAGON,
AND THE WOMAN FLYING INTO THE WILDERNESS.
Chap. xii. 1-6.
The first general description, it has been observed, took up the apostasy at the time when things were so matured that the Catho, lic church was ordered to be left out of God's temple, as not belonging to it : but this appears to trace it to its origin. Here we go back to an early period of history ; possibly as far as to the fourth century, and to the times of some of the first trumpets. At a time when the church was in danger of being lost in superstition and worldly conformity, it was natural for the faithful to feel anxious for the cause of Christ. For their encouragement, the church is described in vision as bearing a seed which should be preserved by the special care of heaven, through all these evil times, and become in the end victorious over the whole earth. Such appears to be the scope of this second general description. Vol. VI.
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. 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 cast 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.
Prior to the introduction of antichristian corruptions, the church is described as a woman clothed with the sun, and having the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars ;" denoting the plenitude of gospel light which compassed her as a garment ; her superiority to the Jewish dispensation ; and, in consequence of her adherence to the doctrine and examples of the apostles, her triumph over ten successive persecutions.
The woman is said to be “ with child, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered ;' denoting, it may be, the earnest desires of the true church after the increase of believers. Such has always been its character. Worldly men, who have taken upon them the Christian name, have invariably been employed in compassing selfish objects. But true Christians have at all times been distinguished by a desire to extend the kingdom of Christ.
The following description, by EUSEBIUS, of the labours of the immediate successors of the apostles, is doubtless applicable to the church so long as it adhered to their doctrine and example.
They built up those churches the foundations of which were laid by the apostles, promoting greatly the doctrine of the gospel, and scattering the salutary seed of the kingdom of heaven at large over the whole world.--Travelling abroad, they performed the work of evangelists to those who as yet had not heard the word
of faith, being very ambitious to preach Christ, and to deliver the books of the divine gospels. And these persons having only laid the foundation of faith in remote and barbarous places, and constituted other pasto rs, committed to them the culture of those they had perfectly introduced to the faith, departing again to other regions and nations, accompanied with the grace and co-operation of God." Lib. III. c. 37.
While the woman is thus in labour, "behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads, whose tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth, stands before her, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born." The dragon is in ver. 9. expressly called "the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world," and all that is said of him in the remainder of the prophecy agrees with this in its literal application: but by his having the heads and horns of the Roman beast, is intimated that it was under this form, or by means of this government, that he did what he did in the present instance.
As the woman is not an individual, but the society of the faithful, so neither is the man-child an individual, but the woman's seed, which in ver. 17th is explained of them who " 'keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." It was this seed that the dragon aimed by persecution and corruption to destroy. This child was born to rule; not however at present: for if so, there had been no need of his being caught up to the throne of God, nor for his mother's flying into the wilderness for 1260 years. It is at the termination of that period that the man-child, or the seed of the church shall rule; and this accords with Dan. vii. 27. "The kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High." Nor need it be objected that the sceptre of this government is a rod of iron: for such the kingdom of Christ must ever be to the ungodly.
There are two marks by which the times referred to in this vision may, if I mistake not, be ascertained. One is the 1260 days, or years, which, being the appropriate number of the reign
of the papal antichrist, proves it to have no reference to the times of paganism. The other is, that the ten horns are not upon the beast, but upon the dragon, and the crowns are not as yet upon them, but upon the seven heads. When the horns are spoken of in reference to the times following the overthrow of the empire by the northern nations, and of its becoming ten independent kingdoms, they are described as being upon the beast, and as having crowns upon them. Chap. xiii. 1. This indicates that the introduction of the vision contained in the first five verses of this chapter, though it does not go so far back as to the days of Paganism, yet neither does it go so far forward as to the times of Popery; but to those which were intermediate and preparatory, namely, the fourth and fifth centuries, in which Christianity became exceedingly corrupt, and a connexion was introduced between the secular and ecclesiastical powers, which issued in what is exhibited in Chap. xvii. a woman riding upon a scarlet-coloured beast! I do not suppose that the 1260 years of the reign of antichrist are to be reckoned from the time when these corruptions began. Antichrist did not commence his reign from his birth; but from thence his way was preparing. It is of what was done prior to the woman's flight into the wilderness for 1260 years that these verses speak. By the accession of Constantine, the beast was as it were wounded to death;" and this may be the reason why no mention is made of him. Under the Christian emperors the beast for some time would lie apparently dead: the dragon, however, "that old serpent the Devil and Satan, who deceiveth the whole world,” knew how even at that time to make use of the pomp and power of the empire to serve his purposes.
It is in the corruptions of the fourth and fifth centuries that we are to look for the origin of popery. It was by the influx of worldly power and glory into the church that Satan first seduced a great part of those who had shone like stars in the Christian firmament, and, (alluding perhaps to his having originally drawn into apostasy a great part of the angels of heaven,) cast them to the earth. But perceiving, notwithstanding what has been done as to a number of the leaders of the church, that a large body of