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THE PERSECUTION OF ANTICHRIST.
DANIEL Xii. 1.
"There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time; and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book,"
We have been so accustomed to hear of the persecutions of the Church, both from the New Testament and from the history of Christianity, that it is well if we have not at length come to regard the account as words of course, to speak of them without understanding what we say, and to receive no practical benefit from having been told of them; much less are we likely to take them for what they really are, a characteristic mark of CHRIST'S Church. They are not indeed the necessary lot of the Church, but at least one of her appropriate badges; so that on the whole, looking at the course of history, you might set down persecution as one of the peculiarities by which you recognize her. And our LORD seems to intimate how becoming, how natural persecution is to the Church, by placing it among His Beatitudes. "Blessed are they who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;" giving it the same high and honourable rank in the assemblage of evangelical graces, which the Sabbath holds among the ten Commandments,-I mean, as a sort of sign and token of His followers, and, as such, placed in the moral code, though in itself external to it.
He seems to show us this in another way, viz., as intimating
to us the fact, that in persecution the Church begins and ends. He left her in persecution, and He will find her in persecution. He recognizes her as His own,-He framed, and He will claim her, as a persecuted Church, bearing His Cross. And that awful relic of Him which He gave her, and which she is found with at the end, she cannot have lost by the way.
The text speaks of the great persecution yet to come-and seems referred to by our LORD in His solemn prophecy before His passion, in which He comprises both series of events, both those which attended His first, and those which will attend at His second coming-both persecutions of His Church, the early and the late. He speaks as follows: "Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be; and except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake, those days shall be shortened '."
Having been led, at this season of the year, to speak of that dreadful visitation which will precede the return of CHRIST to judge the world, I mean the coming of Antichrist, I will end the subject now with a few brief remarks on the persecution which will attend it. In saying that a persecution will attend it, I do but speak the opinion of the early Church, as I have tried to do all along, and shall do in what follows.
First, I will cite some of the principal texts which seem to refer to this last persecution.
"Another shall rise after them, and .... he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hand until a time, times, and the dividing of time" i. e. three years and a half.
"They shall pollute the Sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the Daily Sacrifice, and they shall place the Abomination that maketh desolate, and such as do wickedly against the Covenant shall be corrupt by flatteries; but the people that do know their Goo shall be strong and do exploits. And they that
1 Matt. xxiv. 21, 22.
2 Dan. vii. 24, 25.
understand among the people, shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days '."
"Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly.... and from the time that the Daily Sacrifice shall be taken away, and the Abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days"."
"Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world 3," and so on, as I just now read it.
"The beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. . . . . And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth'."
"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 "."
"And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against GOD, to blaspheme. His name, and His tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven: and it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them... and all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world"."
"I saw an Angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand; and he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the devil and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.... and after that he must be loosed a little season.... and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom
1 Dan. xi. 31-33.
2 Dan. xii. 10, 11.
3 Matt. xxiv. 21.
6 Rev. xiii. 5-8.
is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city "."
These passages were understood by the early Christians to relate to the persecution, which was to come in the last times; and they seem, evidently, to bear upon them that meaning. Our SAVIOUR's words, indeed, about the fierce trial which was coming might seem at first sight to refer to the early persecutions, those to which the first Christians were exposed; and doubtless so they do yet, violent as these persecutions were, they were not considered by those who suffered them to be the proper fulfilment of the prophecy; and this surely is itself a strong reason for thinking they were not so. And it is confirmed by parallel passages, such as the text, which certainly speaks of a persecution still future; yet surely our SAVIOUR used the very words of the text, and referred to what it refers to; and therefore, whatever partial accomplishment His prediction had in the early Church, He surely speaks of nothing short of the last persecution when His words are viewed in their full scope. He says, "There shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be: and except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." And immediately after, "There shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." In accordance with this language, the text says, "There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." One of the passages I quoted from the Revelation says the same, and as strongly: "It was given him to make war with the Saints, and to overcome them. . . . and all that dwell on the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life "."
1 Rev. xx. 1-9.
2 Rev. xiii. 7, 8.
Let us then apprehend and realize the idea, thus clearly brought before us, that sheltered as the Church has been from persecution for 1500 years, yet a persecution awaits it, before the end, fiercer and more perilous than any which occurred at its first rise.
Further, this persecution is to be attended with the cessation of all religious worship. "They shall take away the Daily Sacrifice," words which the early Fathers interpret to mean, that Antichrist will suppress for three years and a half all religious worship. St. Augustine questions whether baptism even will be administered to infants during that season1.
And further we are told: "They shall place the Abomination that maketh desolate," they shall "set it up :" our SAVIOUR declares the same. What this means we cannot pronounce. In the former fulfilment of this prophecy, it has been the introduction of heathen idols into God's house.
Moreover the reign of Antichrist will be supported, it would appear, with a display of miracles, such as the magicians of Egypt effected against Moses. On this subject, of course, we wait for a fuller explanation of the prophetical language, such as the event alone can give us. So far, however, is clear, that whether real miracles or not, whether pretended, or the result, as some have conjectured, of discoveries in physical science, they will produce the same effect as if they were real, viz. the overpowering the imaginations of such as have not the love of GoD deeply lodged in their hearts,-of all but the elect. Scripture is remarkably precise and consistent in this prediction. "Signs and wonders," says our LORD," insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." St. Paul speaks of Antichrist as one "whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the Truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause GoD shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie 2." And St. John: "He doeth great wonders, so that He maketh fire come down from heaven 22 Thess. ii. 9-11.