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This prophecy furnishes the solution of a problem which has puzzled all those historians who have written upon the decline and fall of the Roman empire. They have been at a loss to account for the fall of that state by the invasions of the tribes of the North. The fact is well known, but it cannot be explained or accounted for upon ordinary principles. How bar. barians of various name and lineage, without any knowledge of one another, and without any concerted plan of operation, should have assaulted the Roman state in every direction about one and the same time, and never have thought of sheathing their swords till they had accomplished its destruction, cannot be accounted for without the aid of this prophecy. But here it is levelled to any capacity that will receive the dictates of revelation. The devil, we are told, was to come down in great wrath among the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea. The great mass of the population upon the shores of the Baltic and the Caspian seas, and even as far as the empire of China, were to be roused and actuated by the devil. In these hardy warriors, he acted as a spirit of ambition, urging them to war and conquest; he acted as a spirit of avarice, tempting them with the prospect of the richest spoils that ever were divided ; and as a spirit of cruelty and blood, that they might spare neither the young nor the aged, nor any object that was found in their way, whether it was accounted sacred or profane. Bad as were the inclinations of these invaders, they were not left to the inAuence of their own dispositions only; as they had no knowledge of one another's designs, and were unacquainted even with the language and residence of one another, it is impossible that such numerous bodies, left to the impulse of their own feelings, could at one and the same time have formed the resolution of deserting the territory of their fathers, and of going with their wives and children, and all their substance, in quest of new and distant settlements. The legions of hell were let loose among them; and under the influence of these invisible but powerful agents, the population of these extensive and remote regions were put in motion, and persevered in their measures of aggres
sion and violence, till the mighty empire of Rome was overturned, and desolation spread over the fairest portions of the civilized world.
Interpreters have been very much divided respecting the scason which, in the close of the verse, is called a short time. Those who understand the dragon as symbolizing the Heathen state of the empire, generally interpret this short time as meant of the 1260 years of Antichristian usurpation; because, though the period of Satan's rule through Antichristian policy might appear long when abstractly viewed, yet, when compared with the rest and felicity which the church would enjoy in heaven, it is as nothing, and might therefore be called a short time. But this view of the expression cannot be supported by any reasonable principle of interpretation. There is no part of Scripture where the reign of the Man of Sin, either abstractly or comparatively viewed, is represented as only a short time. Even when it is represented under the notion of days, months, and the like, it is not the intention of the Spirit in these representations, to shew that it would be only like a few months or days, in respect of its continuance; the terms are used in accordance with other figures employed in the descriptions. As the true church was symbolized by two witnesses who prophesied during the whole period of the apostacy, it would have been an unnatural representation to have described them as existing through a period of 1260 years ; they are therefore said to prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days clothed in sackcloth.-It may likewise be mentioned, that this interpretation makes the short time far longer than the whole period of the dragon-state of the empire. If it is meant of the Pagan state of the empire, we cannot date its commencement more early than the birth of Christ, nor could it exist in this capacity later than the accession of Constantine; the period of its Pagan state, therefore, could not be more than three hundred years; and if this was to be followed by 1260 years of Antichristian usurpation, with what propriety could the former be represented as the long and the latter as the short season, while the latter was more than four times the length of the former ?
Those again, who consider the dragon to be the same with the Antichristian or Papal state of the empire, are still more at a loss to affix any definite meaning to this expression; because, according to their plan of interpretation, Satan's down-casting from heaven must be the same with his being bound by a great chain at the commencement of the Millennium ; and this leaves him no time at all to disturb the inhabitants of the earth, or of the sea, till he is loosed from that chain, and permitted to go forth and collect the armies of Gog and Magog, to make his last and most terrible assault upon the church.- To get rid of this difficulty, there are some who understand the downcasting of Satan as meant of the Reformation from Popery; and this short season as denoting the time that was to elapse between that remarkable event and the final subversion of the Popish interest. But neither can this application be admitted, because it is contradicted by facts. It is now three hundred years or thereby since the Reformation from Popery, and to this day we do not see the subversion of the Papal throne, nor the whole of the Antichristian leaven purged out of any one political constitution in Europe. How then, after a lapse of three hundred years, and the work, even in that period, not yet fully accomplished, can such a season ever be represented as a short time?
But if we understand the dragon as symbolizing the state of the empire after it assumed a profession of Christianity, and his fall as meant of its condition, when, by open violence and secret intrigues, it had forfeited all title to be acknowledged as a Christian state, we cannot be at any loss to perceive the meaning of the expression. The short time is the period which was to elapse between his fall and the dissolution of the imperial government. If we date the commencement of his fall from the death of Theodosius, about the close of the 4th century, only a very short period was to elapse till he would be completely ruined. Till the imperial title was abolished, a period of only 80 years intervened. Or if we suppose that the period of his final destruction was not till the time of Justinian, when all the ancient forms of the Roman polity were put down, it does not extend beyond a period of 150 years.
Ever since the fall of the Macedonian state, the Roman empire had been the great secular instrument by which Satan had carried on his designs against the church ; and as the existence of this empire was soon to terminate, and was not to be succeeded by another universal monarchy, he was eager to employ it to the prejudice of the church while it remained, and even in its fall, to make it subservient to his wicked designs, by burying the church among its ruins. Hence, knowing that he had but a short time to make use of this state, as his instrument either of deceit or violence, he appeared like one determined to make the best improvement possible of this little season while it was running on. He came down, infuriated with all the rage that is peculiar to a devil, among the inhabitants both of the earth and of the sea. He agitated and disturbed the world beyond any thing that has been known to be the state of society, either before or since that mournful period when the empire of Rome was overthrown.
OBSERV. 1st, Deliverances may sometimes be wrought for the church when there are few to appreciate the great things that are done in her behalf. Adversaries saw nothing great or good which was done for the little remnant that retired into the wilderness; they looked upon them as a party completely vanquished, whose numbers were greatly reduced, and whose shattered remains were glad to find a refuge among the sands of the desert, where, if they did not perish, it was supposed that they never would attract public notice; and even the friends of truth might not at first see all the advantages which would be reaped from their retiring into a state of such deep obscurity.-Appearances were no doubt very different in the time of Constantine from what they were at the time of this retreat ; but in the prophetical account of the first of these seasons, you have no mention of any song that was sung; nor was there much occasion for singing, because by the accession of Constantine, the church lost far more than she gained. The age of Constantine was not a period of reformation; it was not distinguished by any remarkable reviving of the power of godliness, nor any repairing of the external fabric of the church, according to the Scripture model. The foundation of a worldly monarchy had been laid by ecclesiastics, before any emperor of Rome had avowed his attachment to the Christian faith; and the emperors no sooner renounced Heathenism and embraced Christianity, than they aided them with all their power and wealth to rear up the fabric. There was no successful attempt to clear away the rubbish, and to build upon the true foundation. The builders of that age occupied the gr just as they found it; and as their means were increased when they got the wealth and the power of the state upon their side, the progress of the hierarchy was amazingly rapid, while any rite was adopted that might serve the purpose of cement to the walls of this building.–But when the church retired into the wilderness, there were loud voices heard in heaven. A song of victory and deliverance was sung. And as this retreat was the means of her safety, and of securing to her all her valuable privileges, on this occasion she had ample matter of a song afforded, though few might have as much discernment as to mark the grounds or occasion of the song.
2d, Secession is not a new thing in the history of the church. At an early period, the friends of truth separated themselves from that numerous body which had been called the church, and associated together for their mutual edification, and the maintenance of their common faith, as laid down in the holy Scriptures. Persons are not to break off from any ecclesiastical communion without a sufficient cause. To rend and divide the visible body for a thing of nought, and even for evils of a very serious nature, but to which an obstinate attachment has not yet been manifested, is a sin of no ordinary magnitude. We are to plead with our mother; and it is not till she refuses to be reclaimed, and fellowship with her can no longer be en