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would judge them ?And, Thirdly, When did this work of judgment commence? and is it now over, or is it still carried
First, Who are meant by the dead that were to be judged? They must be understood either of the dead in Christ, or of Antichrist's dead. But of these last we have no mention whatever, either in this context, or in any of the preceding parts of this book; whereas we often read of those that were slain for the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Many of them fell under Rome Pagan, and a far greater number under Rome Antichristian. So terrible were the slaughters under the last, they appeared as if they had been reduced to two individuals, who, after struggling with their persecutors, likewise fell by the hand of violence; but within the space of three days and a half, and before they were buried, they were restored to life. As we read so frequently in the preceding parts of this book, of the deaths of the members of the true church, and have no intimations respecting the carnage, or even ordinary deaths of their enemies, it is natural to suppose, that the dead in Christ, and especially his martyrs, are intended.—The classification in the text is sufficient to determine this point. Here we have two classes of persons that were to be rewarded; first, those that belonged to Christ, called his servants the prophets, the saints, and such as feared his name, both small and great; and, secondly, their enemies, called, them that destroy the earth. Now if these dead had sustained the same general character, while in life, with those that were the destroyers of the earth, what possible reasons can be given for such an arrangement? But if we understand them of the dead in Christ, the arrangement is the most natural that can be supposed. As they sustained the same general character, while in life, with those called servants and saints, the account of what God was to do for them is immediately followed by the account of what he was to do for those that were alive; and then follows the prediction of what he would accomplish upon the enemies of both. The dead here meant seem to be intended of the mar
tyrs; and therefore the predicted judgment must be intended of something which God was to do in their behalf.
This leads me, in the second place, to consider in what sense it is predicted that God would judge his dead saints. To judge is to decern upon equitable grounds; it is to pass a sentence of condemnation or of acquittal, as the guilt of the accused party is established or not. It is not the business of a judge merely to condemn; an imperious duty is laid upon him to absolve and vindicate, when the proof of innocence has been fairly made out. Accordingly, the word translated judge, signifies also to vindicate. In this sense it is used, chap. vi. 10., and in the same sense it must be understood here. The matter of this prediction respects a judgment in behalf of the dead; or something by which their characters were to be vindicated, and the foul aspersions which had been cast upon them wiped off. There are various ways in which the Lord judges for his dead, especially for his martyrs; and as it will afford a very pleasing theme of meditation, and also present you with a more enlarged view of this prophecy, we shall mention a few of them.
1st, The Lord judges for his dead in the way of maintaining the cause which they had espoused, and for which many of them bled and died. In this manner he judged for his martyrs during the whole period of the 1260 days. He never suffered the cause of the martyrs to perish. When one race of witnesses was cut off, another was raised up, who embarked with equal ardour in the cause of truth and holiness; or ra ther, as one race of witnesses was retiring, another was enter. ing upon the scene. The armies of the true church were recruited by new levies, and the banners of truth continued to be displayed. Gamaliel reasoned upon sound principles, when he said, "If this counsel or work be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God,' Acts v. 38, 39. Nearly eighteen hundred years have elapsed since the speech of Gamaliel was delivered; and the cause for which the
apostles had been imprisoned still maintains its ground, and seems to be in as little danger of perishing as in the age of the apostles. It is thereby manifested to be the cause of God, especially as it has been preserved in the face of the greatest opposition. The preservation of this cause is a clear vindication of the propriety of the contendings of the martyrs in its behalf. It shews that they did not die as a fool dieth, when he throws away his life for a thing of nought; but that, valuable as the lives of these men were, they made no sacrifice but what was reasonable, when they laid them down in its defence.
2d, The Lord judges for his dead saints in the way of reviving and giving celebrity to the cause in which they were embarked. Even in the worst times of Antichrist, there were revivings in the midst of bondage. Accessions were made to their numbers, where we would least have expected them; and the power and influence of the truth were sometimes very sensibly felt. Religion was not extinguished during the seventy years' captivity in Babylon; the principle was preserved in the hearts of some of the captives; and in the middle, as well as toward the conclusion of that mournful period, such life and vigour were communicated to a select company of witnesses, that neither the furnaces, nor any other method of cruelty which the enraged court could employ, were sufficient to intimidate them. What a noble attestation was given to the character of the three witnesses, by their miraculous preservation in the midst of the furnace! and how completely were they vindicated in the sight of their enemies, by the confession of the king, when he acknowledged that there was no other God that could deliver after that sort! Dan. iii. 29. A singular attestation was given to the character of the dead in Christ at the period of the Reformation. The cause which they had struggled to maintain for 1260 years, rose like a beautiful structure out of the midst of rubbish and confusion. The holy city, that had been little better than stones and ashes, was rebuilt, and some degree of scriptural order established. The
temple of God was then opened, after it had been long shut by Gentiles; and in it was seen the ark of his testament. Great voices were heard in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. And he will yet judge in a more remarkable way for his dead, when, in the latter days, their cause will be everywhere triumphant.
3d, The Lord judges for his dead in the way of vindicating the characters of those that had been most basely calumniated by their adversaries. Every martyr for the truth died under the imputation of some foul crime. Their enemies represented them not only as fools, or men of weak minds, who had imbibed opinions which none but fanatics or fools would have received, but also endeavoured to impress the minds of others with the idea, that they were wicked as well as weak, and that, independently of their heretical opinions, they ought not to be permitted to live. There is one article of charge which they never failed to bring against them, which was that of being enemies to the public peace of the countries in which they lived. The apostles were stigmatized as political incendiaries, men that turned the world upside down. And who among our venerable Reformers has not been represented in the same odious light? If you could believe the assertions of infidel writers, you would be tempted to suppose, that two greater furies than Martin Luther and John Knox never escaped from the pit, and that Calvin was one of the most unfeeling bigots that ever existed. The very men to whom, under God, we stand indebted for almost every thing valuable, have been often held up to the execration of mankind. This ungenerous treatment has been persisted in, almost ever since these great and good men were laid in the dust. But, within these twenty years, the tide of public opinion has been running in favour of these dead in Christ, and appears to be still setting in with a stronger current. In the mysterious providence of God, such well authenticated facts have been brought to light as are a complete vindication of these dead, in opposition to
the gross calumny and abuse with which their memories had been loaded.*
4th, The Lord judges for his dead in the way of executing judgments upon their persecutors and murderers; and this we apprehend is the judgment more immediately intended here. It is seldom that bloody men escape by a natural death; vengeance sooner or later overtakes the murderers of the saints. The retribution may not always be inflicted upon the immediate transgressors; but where grace is not given to repentance, where posterity approve of what their fathers did, they are virtually guilty of the same crime, and thus entail the woes of former generations upon their own heads, till persecutors have been left without a name and a representative on the earth.—We cannot judge of any man's condition before God, from the outward dispensations of Providence in his lot; but we cannot be at any loss to form a judgment respecting any public cause from the general tenor of providential dispensations towards public bodies, or individuals, that have manifested an implacable hostility against it. If they have got blood to drink, who put the witnesses to death, and if God has avenged the blood of his servants long after they were gone, can we have clearer or more convincing evidence, that the cause of the witnesses was his own? or can there be a higher attestation in favour of the character of his slain witnesses, than what these holy and awful retributions afford?
Our last inquiry respects the commencement and conclusion of this vindication of the cause and character of the martyrs, by the judgments to be inflicted upon their enemies. When did this work of judgment commence ?-The work of judging for the martyrs commenced in God's judicial procedure with Cain, the first that imbrued his hands in the blood of a saint.
• I refer particularly to the able defence of Luther in Milner's Ecclesiastical History, and to the more recent publication of Dr M'Cree, in his Life of the Scottish Reformer-a work which has wrested a valuable character from the grossest and most unfounded reproach; which shews, that the writer has drunk at the same spring with his deceased friend; and that few men were better qualified, by lite rary attainments and regard to historic truth, to do justice to his memory.