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siastical heavens said, Now is come salvation.Enemies might suppose
that their flight into the wilderness was a sure proof of defeat, and that therefore they had no cause to sing of victory; but a retreating army is not always a vanquished one. Some generals act almost wholly upon the defensive; they seldom risk a battle but where they are sure of victory; they sound one retreat after another, till they exhaust the strength of their pursuers, and place them at such distances from their magazines and supplies, that they are compelled by famine and the risk of certain destruction, to give up the pursuit. And nothing is more common in the history of warfare, than to find one party feigning a retreat, to draw the other from the advantageous grounds on which they are posted, that they may return and attack them with the better hope of success. It was not, therefore, a conclusive evidence that the friends of truth were worsted in their contest with the dragon, when they retired into the wilderness. Their march thither was conducted in good order ; though the enemy hung upon their rear, and tried to make every step as painful as possible, he was not able to interrupt the line of their march, nor to cut off their supplies. They gained their object; and as the designs of Satan were completely frustrated, their retreat into the wilderness is justly celebrated as a great victory. But for the separation of the friends of truth from those that were either heretical in their opinions, or bewitched by the fascinating influence of a splendid ritual, it does not appear that a church state would have been preserved. Had the former remained in full fellowship with the latter, the whole mass would have been leavened. Their secession was the means of their preservation; they might therefore sing of salvation, as in this text.
How can this view of the subject be reconciled with a residence in a wilderness, or a sackcloth condition of the witnesses ? -Dwelling in a wilderness is, no doubt, fitted to suggest the idea of an afflicted as well as an obscure condition ; but to judge fairly of the situation of others, we must take a view of all the circumstances of the case. If a dragon were watching to devour them, a dwelling in a wilderness at a distance from such an adversary would certainly be preferable to one in any other situation in his immediate neighbourhood ; especially if every thing was provided which might be necessary for their subsistence and accommodation. Was not the church, when wandering in the wilderness of Horeb, in a much more enviable situation than when she sat by the flesh-pots in Egypt? In the land of her enemies, she might find the means of temporal subsistence; but the grievous bondage to which she was subjected prevented any thing like a regular use of the means of salvation for the souls of her members. And when all the springs of the church came to be poisoned by superstition and false doctrine, a residence in the wilderness, where the pure water of life could be obtained in abundance, was certainly an eligible condition. Here the friends of truth remained in safety in the place prepared of God, and were fed a thousand two hundred and threescore days.
The season of this retreat was a time of salvation, on the two following accounts : First, It was a time of deliverance from open persecution. When the friends of truth were lodged in the wilderness, they were like Elijah in the cave, where few suspected the place of his retreat ; or like the children of Israel after their escape from Pharaoh, when the sands of the desert proved a rampart against invasion. There were different individuals who suffered in the dark ages on account of their religious opinions; but, during the whole of that period, there never was such a thing as a general persecution. The inhabitants of Piedmont lived unknown, and without molestation by the church of Rome, till near the time of the Reformation, when an army of five hundred thousand soldiers, originally intended for the invasion of Palestine, was sent in among them to destroy them.-Secondly, It was a time of salvation, in as much as their retiring into the wilderness was the means of preserving any measure of truth and purity in the earth. Their wilderness state was the barrier which God, in his providence, was pleased to rear, that no adversary might take away their crown of twelve stars, or spoil them of any of their true ornaments.—And as this retreåt partook of the nature of a deliverance, it is therefore celebrated in a song of praise.
Though this deliverance might not be se conspicuous as that which was afterwards wrought at the time of the Reformation from Popery, it does not appear to have been less remarkable. Circumstances in the fourth and fifth centuries were, no doubt, very different from what they were in the sixteenth; these made the deliverance in the one case partake of the nature of a Reformation, and gave to the other the nature and form of a secession. Thousands, at the memorable period of the Reformation, got their eyes opened to see the errors and absurdities of the church of Rome, and were brought to renounce her communion. They had been previously under the influence of her delusions, and, till the period of their separation, they were looked upon as true sons of that corrupted society. But in the period to which this prophecy refers, the friends of truth had not been previously corrupted with the evils of the times; they had been honoured to retain their integrity, and to testify for truth and duty, in a state of fellowship with the public body, so long as communion with her did not involve an approbation of existing evils. But when it came to be otherwise, they parted fellowship with that large society, which was usually called the church, and remained by themselves. In the dragon-state of the empire, the friends of truth were like a body of patriots that had long contended, by every legal and constitutional means, for the liberties and rights of their country, in opposition to the encroachments and oppression of those in power, and who refused to forsake her so long as their services could be of the smallest advantage. But when they saw that her ruin was inevitable, and that any farther resistance on their part would only rivet the chains of despotism more firmly upon the people, they retired like a colony in quest of a new settlement, where they might be far from oppression, and from the jurisdiction of any foreign yoke. In this manner did the colony of ecclesiastical patriots continue through a
succession of many generations, during a period of 1260 prophetical days, till the time of the Reformation from Popery.
Power, or energy of operation, is the second thing that is celebrated in this song ; Now is come salvation and strength. The power of God is never more conspicuous than when those means are made effectual, which, from their apparent feebleness and inefficiency, are least fitted to produce any great effect. When Jacob, though a worm, threshes the mountains, and beats them small as dust, it must be obvious that the power by which these feats of strength are performed is of God and not of man. And what but the power of Omnipotence could have preserved this mystical woman and her child, when they were beset by the wiles of a serpent, and opposed by the strength and fury of a dragon ?-Men are naturally proud of the countenance of princes, and are therefore easily seduced by those in power ; they are also fond of a splendid ritual of worship, and of every thing that is fitted to make an impression upon
the organs of sense. Hence, the facility with which the ministers of religion were corrupted, and any new rite was introduced, till all the ordinances of religion were so completely disfigured, that they had more the appearance of Pagan than of Christian institutions. In what manner shall we account for the preservation of any competent number to bear witness for the truth, in this time of general defection ? This note of the song contains a sufficient answer to the inquiry. Had those who retired to the wilderness been left to the influence of their own feelings and inclinations, they would have remained with the multitude, and would have been equally obsequious with them to the desires of the dragon. But the power of God was put forth in their behalf, and this was sufficient for their preservation on the side of truth and holiness.
The next thing celebrated in this song is the coming of the kingdom of our God.—The power that was exercised over the church in the dragon-state of the empire, was more properly an Erastian than an Antichristian power. The former is a power exercised by the state, in and over the church ; the latter is a power exercised by the church over the state. Neither Constantine, nor any other emperor, was fond of the last; but all of them grasped more or less at the first. After the Roman empire became Christian, the first magistrate held nearly the same place in the nominal society of Christians, that he had formerly held in the Pagan association. In this last he was Pontifex Maximus, or chief priest of the Romans; in the first, though he did not officiate in the ministry of the word, he was as really the head in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil, as any monarch in Europe has been since that period. When the church received a visible head, whom all her members were to acknowledge as their ecclesiastical superior ; and when this headship was claimed over the church, in virtue of the supremacy with which the monarch was invested as the head of the political body,-church and state then appeared to be no longer two distinct associations. Being put under one head, they seemed to be only one body. And as it is impossible that the church of Christ can be identified with any civil association, this holy society then appeared as if it had been broken up, and was no longer to be found among men.-But when the witnesses retired into the wilderness, there was then a coming or manifestation of the kingdom of our God. They acknowledged God only to be the Lord of the conscience, and the only head of the ecclesiastical body. The incorporated society might be called the church; the seceding party might be branded with the name of sectarians, separatists, and enemies of the state; but in the judgment of the Spirit of prophecy they were the true church, and therefore the kingdom of our God. This separation is an important fact in the history of Christianity, and was of such vital importance to the interests of religion, that it is called a coming or manifestation of the kingdom of God among men.