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A great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun.
The sign of the woman in heaven
Let us consider the scene. There is a woman clothed with the sun, crowned with stars, and having the moon under her feet. A woman has ever been the chief symbol of the Church. The relation between the Lord and the Church is most correctly represented by the relation between a true husband and a faithful wife. The husband is delighted to supply his wife with every comfort; his counsel guides, his strength defends her. So is the Lord to the whole universe, but especially to heaven and the Church. A wife, on the other hand, loves her husband, and him only, as a husband. She trusts in his judgment, she has confidence in his strength and protection, she delights in carrying out his views so far as she can see them to be right (Psalms 45:10-11). The Church, then, is the Lord’s wife: she loves Him--leans upon Him--confides in Him--is jealous for His honour, worship, and dignity, and clings fondly to Him in life, death, and eternity. She, therefore, is represented by this glorious woman. And the teachings of this chapter show us that when the Church would be manifested to the world, she would be a great wonder, she would startle and astonish mankind, and would have to encounter the fierce opposition of those who are meant by the dragon, which sends out floods from his mouth to destroy her and her man child. The Church, then, especially as to her love for the Lord, His law, His kingdom, and His children, is meant by this woman. And, in truth, it is this love which forms the very essence of the Church (John 13:34-35). No other qualifications have the Church in them if there be not charity in them. To be, then, in the love of truth and goodness, is to be in that blessed community, the Church, which is represented by the magnificent symbol presented to the spiritual sight of St. John, “a woman clothed with the sun.” The sun corresponds to the Divine love, and this all-essential source of blessedness appears to the angels of heaven as a sun immeasurably surpassing ours in splendour, and while its holy glow warms, it also blesses them. The Lord (Jehovah) is a sun and a shield, lie giveth grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly (Psalms 84:11). The sun is the centre of the solar system. Divine love is the centre of the spiritual system. The sun warms all nature, Divine love warms all heaven, and every heaven-seeking spirit in the world. The soul is cold, chilled, and barren, until Divine love cheers, encourages, and quickens the affections. The woman, then, was clothed with the sun, to teach us that the Church in her purity is filled, nourished, embosomed, and blessed, by the Divine love of the Lord. To be clothed with the sun is then the privilege of the Church, when she is single-hearted and true to the Saviour. She feels His presence cheering, purifying, exalting, and blessing her; He raising her up far above all that is low and sordid, with “healing in His wings.” The object next offering itself for our attention is the moon. “The moon was under her feet.” And when we remember the two great lights mentioned in Genesis, “the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night,” we shall readily perceive that the moon corresponds to the light which shines in the soul when we are in states of spiritual night. Our limited powers tire, and must have rest, variety, and restoration. In spiritual things the mind opens with delight to the beauties of the Divine Word. Worship is welcome, and we enjoy a delightful season of refreshing. There are showers of blessing, and, like the apostles of old, we exclaim, “It is good for us to be here! Let us make tabernacles and abide.” It is full day. But, after a season, we feel the necessity of a change. We have been hearing and enjoying, now we must go and act. We have had our spiritual day, now we must have night, and that is often the period of external activity. We are engaged in natural business, and our natural feelings and perceptions become dim. It is night; we are no longer conscious of the cheering presence of the light of love in which we formerly rejoiced, but we are not without light, we have the light of faith: this is the moon. Faith, like a beautiful moon, rules the night. Upon such a moon, then, the woman was observed to stand. And so it is with the true Church. She relies on an enlightened faith, not upon dark mysteries. The moon reflects light, and illuminates the darkness, and just in proportion as it faces and reflects the sun. Faith, in proportion as it perceives the Divine love prevalent in all things, affords light and comfort to its possessor. While, then, the sun of Divine love is described as embosoming the woman, the moon of faith is under her feet. The one affords nourishment, support, and joy, the other yields a firm foundation. Faith is a rock, derived from the Rock of Ages. And a clear, firm, heartfelt, rational, spiritual faith, will enable the members of the Church to stand firm under every trial, and to conquer in every conflict. “There was upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” The stars are used to represent the glorious possessions of this woman, because they correspond to the smaller lights of religion afforded by individual truths. When we clearly see and know the spiritual lesson afforded by each verse of the Holy Word, it becomes a star in the firmament of the soul. When the mind is well stored with the sacred knowledge of Divine things, it is like the heavens in the night-time, when the sky is radiant and robed with brilliancy. When the soul has no longer the bright manifest presence of the Sun of Righteousness, and shade and darkness come on, it is a blessed thing to have one and then another small but holy light breaking in upon us like star after star, which shows its lovely ray in the evening, until the whole gorgeous canopy is lighted up. The twelve stars represent all the knowledge of Divine things. The number twelve in the usage of the Divine Word represents all things both of goodness and truth: it is the compound of four and three multiplied together. The woman is said to have a diadem of twelve stars, to teach us that she loves and honours all the instructions that come from the Lord: all the knowledges of goodness and truth are to her as so many stars, and she makes them her glory and her crown. The head represents the highest intellectual faculty, and a diadem the wisdom which enriches and adorns that faculty in the Lord’s true servants. They do not esteem the knowledge of Him and His kingdom as things indifferent; they are the glories of their intellect: they do not wear them about their feet; they are their crown. “And she, being with child, cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered.” The man child which she desired to bring forth represents the new system of doctrine and order and society, which she desired to initiate. Instead of the love of self which had so long desolated society, and made God’s earth a scene of turmoil, struggle, and distress, she desires to substitute the love of God, and love to one another. Instead of life’s business being regarded as a mere worldly pursuit, she would teach all men in all things to live the life of heaven. Such is the new system of doctrine and practice which the Lord’s new Church would fain engender. But ah! she cries, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. When society has been so long formed upon the two great sources of mischief, selfishness and mystery, as so-called Christendom has, we need not wonder that purer principles shored at first be received with difficulty. This difficulty arises from two causes, a contrary faith and a contrary life. Let it then be our first and chief aim to bring the rule of the man child fully into our daily conduct, and evincing an example in our lives of the blessedness of living for heaven and earth at the same time, we shall then be able to assist others in their life-work by encouragement and counsel, and that not only in private but in public matters. For surely the woman cries loudly that the earth is groaning from a thousand sorrows, which are but the results of ignorance, folly, and falsehood. (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
The sun-clothed woman
1. We have the image of a “woman.” Woman was made out of Adam. Adam was “the figure of Him that was to come.” Christ is “the second Adam.” And the wife of the second Adam is the Church, made out of Him by the hand and Spirit of God from that deep sleep of His for the sins of the world.
2. This woman is in the way of motherhood. This is the characteristic of the Church in every period of its existence. The Church is meant for the work of begetting and bearing saints. It is not for show but for fruitfulness--for the bringing forth of a royal seed of God, to inherit His kingdom, and to rule and reign in the ages of eternity.
3. This woman is magnificently arrayed. Of course, no mere creature, or any number of creatures, can be literally dressed with the sun. It is only a pictorial representation, which is to be figuratively understood. The sun is the fairest and most brilliant thing our eyes have ever seen. It is the great orb of brightness. To be clothed with it, one would needs be clothed with light. And so it is with the Church and the people of God. Jesus says, they are “the children of light” (Luke 16:8). It is the office and end of all God’s merciful appointments “to turn men from darkness to light” (Acts 26:18). The Church has ever been an illuminated body. Its children are not of darkness, but of the day. While others grope in darkness they are arrayed in light. The sun is at the same time the great lightgiver. It radiates brightness as well as possesses it. And to be clothed with the sun, one must necessarily be a glorious dispenser of illumination. And such is the Church. Its members and ministers have been the brightest lights of the ages. It is constituted and ordained for the teaching of the nations, and the bearing of the light of heaven to the benighted souls of men. The sun is likewise an orb of great excellence and purity. Nothing can diminish its glory, or taint its rays. To be clothed with it is to be clothed with unsullied excellency. And so it is with the Church. It may have shabby members, but they are not really of it. Light is the garment of God. It is the symbol of His own nature. And as all true people of His are “partakers of the Divine nature,” being begotten unto Him from above, they enter also into the same clothing. The Church is robed with the sun.
4. This woman is victorious in her position. She has “the moon under her feet.” As the sun is the king of day, so the moon is the empress of night, and is a fit picture of the kingdom of darkness. And as to be clothed with the sun is to be “light in the Lord,” so to tread the moon under foot is the image of victory over the powers of darkness, whether of nature, or aught else. And this is a blessed characteristic and honour of the Church. All her true members are conquerors. They have subdued their prejudices, and brought their bodies and passions under the sway of another and better dominion and discipline. The moon is under their feet. And the same is equally true of the Church as a body. She is the hero of battles and victories. Kings have combined to exterminate her, tyrants haw oppressed her, children have betrayed her, friends have deserted her, but still she has lived on. The moon is under her feet.
5. Still further: this woman is royal in rank and dignity. Regal gems glitter about her brow. There is “on her head a crown “--a crown “of stars.” Whatever the particular allusion may be, whether to patriarchs, or tribes, or apostles, or all of these, or to the totality of her teaching agency, there flashes forth from this the unmistakable idea of kinghood and authority; yea, of celestial royalty and dominion (1 Peter 2:9). People look with contempt upon the Church. They think her mean among the majesties of this world. They esteem her manner of life a letting down of man’s proper dignity and consequence. They scorn her modesty and humility as effeminacy. But the Church is a royal woman, crowned with the stars of heaven.
6. And she is ha travail to bring forth. She is persecuted; but these are not so much pains of persecution. Persecution has its spring in hall’s malignity; this agonising has its origin in the love, and faith, and hope of a pious maternity. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Social Christhood and social fiendhood
I. Social Christhood.
1. It is glorious. Encircled with the solar beams of Divine truth. Treads down all worldliness in its spirit and aims.
2. It is multiplying.
(1) Its offspring is brought forth in pain. Who knows the anguish of those earnestly engaged in endeavouring to form Christ in men, and to bring Him forth?
(2) It is brought forth to govern. Every Christly convert is a king, as well as a priest unto God.
(3) It is destined for a Divine fellowship. Sublime destiny.
II. Social fiendhood. The “great red dragon,” the old serpent, the prince of the power of the air, works in the children of disobedience everywhere.
1. His possession of enormous power.
(1) Of intellect. “Seven heads.”
(2) Of execution. “Seven horns.”
(3) Of empire. “Seven crowns.”
(4) Of mischief (verse 4).
2. His determined antagonism to Christhood. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The Church a woman
1. Where John says, there appeared a great wonder in heaven, this shows us that God’s works for His Church, and against her enemies, are most part wonderful.
2. In the comparing the Church to a woman, we see that of herself she is but weak, but strong is He who owns her.
3. By her description, we see that all her decking and ornaments are heavenly and spiritual.
4. More particularly, she is clothed with the sun: herewith should we likewise be clothed, to make us glorious before God, and acceptable.
5. She has the moon under her feet, which teaches all her true members in like manner to tread upon the world in affection, and never to let it have place, either in heart or head.
6. It is first said that she was clothed with the sun, and then that she trod on the moon, to show us that we will never despise the world till we put on Christ, and know the excellence of Christ and of heavenly things. (Wm. Guild, D. D.)
A great red dragon.
The great war
A contest here is waging which enlists and engages the mightiest powers that exist. It is the great and far-reaching conflict between good and evil, between truth and falsehood, between right and usurpation, between the kingdom of God and the empire of Satan, between heaven and hell--the great war of a divided universe, coming to final issue upon this little world of ours! It is largely silent and invisible. Though raging round us every hour, we perceive so little of it, that many doubt its reality. But its very hiddenness is evidence of its awful greatness. The little broils and disputes of a neighbourhood are loud, and thrust themselves on every ear, because they are confined to a level and limit within easy observation and comprehension; but this conflict we can only know by Divine revelation, because it encompasses so much of eternity, and pertains to spiritual potencies under and behind the outward ongoing of things. But, whether conscious of it or not, such a mighty strife exists, and we ourselves are all parties to it, and combatants in it. If not of the glorious woman, we are of the seven-headed and ten-horned dragon, at war with her, her seed, and her God. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The dragon foiled and the Church preserved
Ever since wrong commenced, there has been a bitter antagonism between it and right. Though varying with varied circumstances, all moral wrong and all falsehood have their deep origin in selfishness. This monster-evil displays itself in ten thousand ways, but in essence it is always the same, the substitute of man’s individual will for the will of God. Every new unfolding of truth and goodness from heaven finds the state of society previously formed by selfishness and mystery ready to assail it, and if possible to destroy. Thus was it when the Lord Himself came upon the earth. He ushered into the world new doctrines of love and light. The serpent, then, in His case, stood ready to devour, and at length nailed Him to the Cross, crying, “Crucify Him! crucify Him!” The great dragon is, then, a pretended religion, which is, however, nothing but disguised selfishness. Let us look at each of these features in detail. The serpent, as being the form on earth which corresponds to self-love in its disorderly state, when we call it selfishness, is felt to be truly so instinctively by us all, and is so used throughout the Divine Word. The great business of all religion is to conquer this serpent in every one of us. Unless selfishness is overcome, there can be no progress made. We cannot of ourselves destroy our serpents, but the Lord will give us power to do so. He says (Luke 10:19). By the help of Him, then, who conquered all the efforts of the powers of darkness, and sanctified His own human nature that He might give us power to purify ours, we can obtain the victory over self-love in all its unhappy forms. From being proud we can become truly humble; from being hard and stern we can become gentle and considerate; from being cold and stately we can become warm and happy. We can tread on the serpent of self-love and the scorpion of malignant falsehood, and deprive them of that life by which all things die around them, and fill their places with that heavenly life which is the source of every blessedness. The great and terrible figure before us, then, is indicative of a system which, though prepared to soar, and having much power and much adornment, yet is deeply grounded in selfishness, and would be ready with all its might to oppose the new Church and its heavenly doctrines. It was a serpent, but a serpent with wings--a dragon. Wings are the means by which birds soar, and they correspond to those general truths by means of which men’s thoughts soar. But the wings of the dragon are false principles of religion, by which there is an imitation of truth, but only an imitation. There is a flying upwards, but it is only the flying of a serpent. That is to say, it is a system of pretended truth respecting God, and heaven and eternal things, but altogether, in its interior character, selfish. It would be constructed with great ingenuity and skill, indicated by its having seven heads. It would have much power of persuasiveness and apparent truth intimated by its ten horns, and would make a great display of heavenly wisdom, misapplied. The heads are seven, to signify, as that number ever does, completeness, and a relation to holy things; but as they are heads of the dragon, they represent that completed, but perverted, ingenuity by which a false religion satisfies its deluded adherents. Horns are the emblems of power. Horned animals push, and exert their power by means of their horns. The crowns, or diadems, as the Greek word more properly expresses, are literally fillets or bands for the head, beautified with precious stones. They represent, therefore, a display of numerous heavenly truths of considerable brilliancy, for these are spiritual precious stones, but decorating principles inwardly false, nothing but dragon’s heads. Every religion lives by its real or supposed power of meeting the demands of the soul for inward peace and everlasting happiness. True religion is genuine, pure, healthful, and wears the glorious beauties of heavenly knowledge gracefully. False religion is inwardly corrupt, but decorates herself with many heavenly excellences to charm by outward show, and to hide its interior iniquity. Such, then, is the system before us; secretly the same selfishness which has been the groundwork in every age of all the misery which has afflicted the whole world; but having an apparent air of great intelligence, great plausibility, great power, and an abundant use of the holy truths of the Word, ready, however, to oppose the Lord’s bride, the New Jerusalem, and devour her manly and genuine doctrine. Selfishness has decorated itself with the appearance of religion, but by its fruits we may know it. It can fly abroad, and show itself as soaring to heaven, but it is only a flying serpent. (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
She brought forth a man child.
The Church protected
1. The godly of the Christian Church brought forth by the pains of the apostles and their successors, are called but one man child: which teaches, that all the true members of Christ’s Church should be in a holy unity but as one man (Acts 4:32); and of masculine courage for the truth (Jeremiah 9:3) against all opposition.
2. Whereas that which is primely proper to Christ is in a secondary respect attributed to His Church, to rule all nations with a rod of iron; we learn the strict union that is between Christ and His Church (Acts 9:4).
3. Whereas it is said that the man child was caught up to God and to His throne, we see--
(1) Satan’s disappointment in all his attempts against Christ’s Church (Psalms 2:4).
(2) What happiness and high preferment abides God’s children at last, however they be troubled or despised here.
(3) How joyful may death be to them, who is justly called the king of terrors to others. (Wm. Guild, D. D.)
The woman fled into the wilderness.
The emblem of the church militant
“And the woman,” there is the frailty of her nature; “fled,” there is the uncertainty of her state; “into the wilderness,” there is the place of her retiredness; “where she is nourished by God,” there is the staff of her comfort; “a thousand two hundred and three score days,” there is the term of her obscurity, and the period of all her troubles.
1. First her origin.
2. Her fruitfulness. The honour of women is their childbearing. The Church a fruitful mother, the mother of all that live by faith.
3. Her tenderness. Such is the temper of the militant Church, in fear always, weeping continually for her children, never out of trouble in one place or other.
4. Her weakness or impotency. Howsoever she be always strong in the Lord, and the power of His might.
5. Her frailty. All those usual similitudes whereby the Scripture setteth the Church militant before our eyes, show her frailty and imbecility. She is a vine, a lily, a dove, a flock of sheep in the midst of ravening wolves. What tree so subject to take hurt as a vine, which is so weak that it needeth continual binding and supporting, so tender that if it be pricked deep it bleedeth to death? No flower so soft and without all defence or shelter as a lily; no fowl so harmless as the dove that hath no gall at all; no cattle so oft in danger as sheep and lambs in the midst of wolves. This picture might leave been taken of the Church as she fled from Pharaoh into the wilderness, or as she fled into Egypt from Herod, or as she fled into all parts of the earth in the time of the first persecutions from heathen emperors, in all which her trials she gained more than she lost. For as Justin Martyr rightly observed, “persecution is that to the Church which pruning is to the vine, whereby it is made more fruitful.” (D. Featly, D. D.)
There was war in heaven.
War in heaven
I. The character of the war of rebel angels in heaven.
1. Wilful. They brought it on themselves.
(1) On the part of God.
(2) This war is irreconcilable on the tart of rebel angels also, for when they sinned that moment their natures were changed. The passions of the soul, and the affections of the heart, which once so sweetly harmonised, were thrown into disorder and became as jarring elements, or as the troubled sea that cannot rest.
3. Unreasonable. It was a war of ingratitude, of folly, of madness--was a war against duty, against interest, against happiness itself; a war, in short, for which not only the justice of God must for ever condemn them, but the voice of reason, and the voice of the whole intelligent creation.
4. It was to rebel angels a most fatal and disastrous war. They gained nothing, but lost much.
(1) They lost the favour of God, even that favour which is life, and that lovingkindness which is better than life.
(2) They lost their own moral loveliness.
(3) They lost their seats in heaven.
II. Compare and contrast the war of rebel angels in heaven with the war of rebel men on earth.
1. Was the war of rebel angels a wilful war? So also is the war of rebel men.
2. Was the war of rebel angels an irreconcilable war? Thank God, here we can drop the comparison, and take up the contrast. Yes, on this theatre of war, in the midst of heaven-daring rebels, our blessed Redeemer has, by the shedding of His most precious blood, made the great atonement.
3. Was the war of rebel angels an unreasonable war? And what shall we say of the war of rebel men? Angels sinned against creating goodness--man against redeeming love. Angels warred under black despair--man under hope of heavenly grace. The sword of justice pursued revolting angels--the wings of mercy were outstretched to shelter revolting man. And yet man rebels!
4. Was the war of rebel angels fatal and disastrous? So, also, most assuredly, will be the continued war of rebel men. Millions have already fallen in the impious contest, and shall rise no more. (D. Baker, D. D.)
The heavenly and the earthly conflict
1. It is here indicated that we are members of a larger community than that which is apparent to our senses; a community which gathers into itself all intelligent souls, all spirits which God has made, all who at whatever distance can approach Him in adoration or prayer. You and I, busy as we are with our occupations, our human interests, our sympathies, more or less wide with politics and society, blind as we are to the eternity in which even now we move, are one in life and hope with sons and servants and ministers of God, whose number cannot be counted for multitude. Where they are and what they are, whether they be in our midst as we sit here, or whether they tenant yonder far-off stars; whether their shape be what Hebrew poets imagined, and Italian painters painted, or whether it be some new and to us unknown clothing of the spirit--are questions about which we may dream, but to which we can give no answer. It is sufficient for us to know that between us and God is not the deep void of an appalling nothingness, but beings who, like us, are conscious of His presence; and some at least of whom if, unlike us, they need not pray, can at least, like us, bow down their faces and adore.
2. The text implies also that in that larger community there is the same great conflict going on which is for ever raging here--the conflict for mastery between evil and good. This present world of human souls is not the only scene of strife. For back in the remote and incalculable past we read of angels who “kept not their first estate”; and far on in the perhaps still distant future we read of “war in heaven.” Stretched between the two is human history, and all the acted problems of which history is the sum. It is not given to us to fight the great battle which St. Michael is represented as fighting with the dragon; but it is given to us to fight a battle apparently smaller, but in fact as great, which involves the same principles, and which is only another form of the same universal struggle. What is it, for example, to tell a lie? It seems but a little thing: the yielding to a sudden impulse--the movement of a muscle or two--a faint vibration of the air--and the lie is told. We forget it, and all seems over. And what is it to tell the truth instead of a lie? Only a momentary resolution--the perhaps reluctant passing of a sentence in the judgment-hall of the conscience--a breath, and nothing more. And yet on these two courses depend issues which stretch out into illimitable space, and into endless time. As the balance of motives sways to truth or to falsehood the soul ranges itself in one of two great armies; it is one more victory or one more defeat for the cause of goodness and of God. The battlefield is not some vast interstellar space in which all the gathered spiritual hosts are massed in dense array, but the prosaic ground of our studies, our shops, and our dining-rooms. The battle is not waged so much at some supreme moments of mental struggle, when all the forces of our nature come into conscious play, but in the subtler form of the setting aside of plausible motives, and the struggling with apparently trivial sins. “Do this--it is very pleasant, and will do no real harm.” “Do this--it is almost necessary, and the little wrong of it can soon be undone.” Sometimes we listen and sometimes we refuse! and all our lives long, day by day and hour by hour, we alternate between victory and defeat, in a struggle which sometimes becomes a despair. For the path of holiness is not the calm ascent of a marble stairway; it is for all of us, for some no doubt more than for others, a life-long journey over a rugged and sometimes uncertain road, a stumbling over many stones, a wandering into many a by-path, a fall into many a snare; and when heaven’s gates open to us at last, they open to a tattered traveller with a worn and weary soul. But for all there need be no despair. The victory is slow to come, but it comes at last; and its coming, for this world at least, depends, in God’s providence, not on angels and archangels, but upon you and me and men like ourselves. It depends on our doing the best we individually can, with the help which is given to us from above, to crush in our own souls, and in the sphere in which we move, the daily and hourly temptations to selfishness, to injustice, to untruth, to uncharitableness, to indolence, and to irritability. Every dishonest act which we decline to perform, every falsehood which we refuse to utter, every uncharitable word which we leave unsaid, every sensual impulse which we crush, is for ourselves, for the world of men, for the world of spirits of which we are members, one more thwarting of the power of evil, one more victory of the power of good, one more step towards that consummation when the great choir of intelligent souls shall circle round the Father of spirits from whom both they and we derive our life, and to whom both we and they alike return. (Edwin Hatch, D. D.)
Hope of the final triumph of good
Looking at these words from a Christian’s point of view, we are reminded by them that whatever else was meant by the war in heaven of which they speak, they, at least, mean for us that the powers of evil have done their utmost to overcome Christ and the powers of good, and have failed--that Christ has proved good to be stronger than evil, and light than darkness. And the high hope is raised that He has done this for the whole universe, for the spirits in every other world-if such there be--as well as for the spirits of us poor men struggling with evil in this. That He has done it for us, is what His gospel tells us. The powers that are for us, we are taught, are greater than the powers that are against us. God the Father is for us. Christ the Son, the express image of His person and character, is for us. The Spirit which communes with our spirit, and stirs up conscience, and keeps it alert against the foe, and helps our weakness, and disturbs and tortures us with remorse when we yield to temptation--this Spirit is for us. All good influences are for us and help us against sin, and these influences begin early, and last while life lasts in some one or more of their manifold shapes--the words of our parents, the little prayers they taught us, the words and example of dear friends that are gone, the softening power of sorrow, the warnings of sickness and pain, the calm, peaceful face of the just man, the turbid complexion, the restless eye, and repulsive look of the wicked, the influence of a familiar friend, the influence of a good book, the influence of the best of books, the blessings of thought and labour, and of duty done, the power of prayer and communion with God, the power which words of truth, of charity, of wisdom have over us, the pleasure we draw from beauty, whether in poetry, in painting, or in music--these, and ten thousand other influences with which all of us may, in one way or other, surround ourselves, are all of them so many ministering angels which fight under Christ’s banner on our side against that which is false and evil, and for that which is good and true--and all proclaim a victory won elsewhere for good, which shall in the end be a victory here too--complete and final over evil. There is another spiritual and eternal truth here. We are told the good angels conquered the bad angels and their leader, and drove them out. Now, again, whatever we may choose to say of this account, at least it suggests a very plain and wholesome lesson. When we think of angels at all, we may imagine that the great difference between us and them is that they are strong and we are weak; but this festival warns us that this is not so. The great difference between us and them is, that they are obedient, and we are disobedient; they are humble, and we are proud. All other differences lie in that. The strong good angels beat the strong bad angels, because the one were obedient to God’s laws, the others were rebellious against them. Michael overcame the dragon, because Michael was God’s champion, and the dragon was his own. The one depended upon God, the other depended on himself. We may call this a story, an allegory, still there is an abiding truth in it. Say, for a moment, it is a story, then this is the moral of the tale. Obedience is strength; disobedience ensures defeat. In science, in knowledge, in conduct, in religion, obedience, humility, and trust in God, are qualities without which no discoveries are made, no advance accomplished, no virtue attained, no holiness perfected. They are qualities without which our characters are poor and weak, our ways unstable, and our thoughts and desires mainly selfish. (John Congreve, M. A.)
Michael and his angels fought.
Who is Michael?
It is in itself probable that the Leader of the hosts of light will be no other than the Captain of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The dragon leads the hosts of darkness. The Son has been described as the opponent against whom the enmity of the dragon is especially directed. When the war begins, we have every reason to expect that as the one leader takes the command, so also will the other. There is much to confirm this conclusion. The name Michael leads to it, for that word signifies “Who is like God?” and such a name is at least more appropriate to a Divine than to a created being. In the New Testament, too, we read of “Michael the Archangel” (Jude 1:9)--there seems to be only one, for we never read of archangels--and an archangel is again spoken of in circumstances that can hardly be associated with the thought of any one but God (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Above all, the prophecies of Daniel, in which the name Michael first occurs, may be said to decide the point. A person named Michael there appears on different occasions as the defender of the Church against her enemies (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21), and once at least in a connexion leading directly to the thought of our Lord Himself (Daniel 12:1-3). These considerations justify the conclusion that the Michael now spoken of is the representative of Christ. (W. Milligan, D. D.)
St. Michael and all angels
We need only remark, with reference to the combatants whom we find engaged the one against the other, that they are undoubtedly good and evil angels, Michael the archangel being the leader of the first, and Satan, or the devil, the leader of the second. The battle is between those angels which have never swerved from allegiance to God, and mighty spirits that “kept not their first estate.” Now, though St. John may have intended to delineate a long subsequent struggle between evil and good, we can hardly doubt that he derived his figures from the first moment of apostasy, when rebellion brake out in the heavenly hosts, and evil appeared in the universe. There is often much said as to the mysteriousness of the entrance of evil, regard being had only to its entrance into the world which we inhabit. But in reality the mysteriousness belongs to an earlier stage. It is not very wonderful that man should fall when there was a devil to tempt him; the wonder is that there should have been a tempter. We may proceed from one order of being to another, and so observe the propagation of evil; but sooner or later we must come to a point at which evil commences spontaneously--at which, that is, it originates itself; for there is no way of explaining how, under the economy of God, any creature can be sinful, except by allowing that some creature made himself sinful. And Scripture confirms this conclusion. And it would appear to have been through pride that Satan originally transgressed. And it is further to be observed that idolatry has been the chief sin to which in all ages Satan has tempted mankind; as though his great aim was to attract to himself the worship due only to God, so that he might in a measure substitute himself for God, and thus be upon earth what, on the popular supposition, he had impiously and profanely attempted to be in heaven. But whatever may have been the precise object at which his pride moved Satan to aim, it is certain that it brought him into opposition to God, or placed him in a condition of revolt to His authority. And it is also certain that he was not solitary in rebellion. But legions there also were which stood faithful in the midst of the growing apostasy. And it would seem more than probable that what is delineated under the imagery of a battle is nothing but that contest between the evil and the good, which took place through temptation upon the one side and resistance upon the other. The battle was the battle of principle--apostate angels plying the unfallen with solicitations to rebellion, and the unfallen withstanding those temptations and maintaining their allegiance--certain squadrons of the heavenly hosts, with Satan at their head, endeavouring to draw into their own sinfulness the remainder who, with Michael as their leader, were still faithful to their God. And it gives us a very striking representation of the fury and the shock of temptation, that the effort on the part of angels to involve others in apostasy should be set forth as the assault of an army upon army--nothing less than the meeting torrents of hostile battalions being stern enough to express the fearful collision. Alas! it is not so with ourselves. We know little of what may be called the shock of being tempted. There must be the perfection of holiness in order to the perfection of this. It may help to satisfy us as to what our Redeemer endured from temptation in the struggle maintained with His repugnance to evil--it may help, we say, to satisfy us as to this, that what good angels endured while solicited to rebellion is like the crash when one belted squadron is sword to sword with another. But temptation was necessary; and then it was, according to the figurative representation, when good angels had been sufficiently exposed to the onslaught of evil, that God interfered as a God of judgment, and banished from His presence those who disputed His authority. The great dragon was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out of heaven. “Neither was their place found any more in heaven.” It was a final expulsion when Satan and his angels were cast out from heaven; there was no mercy, there was no plan of redemption, by which the apostate might regain their lost place. But though it was foreknown to God that Satan would prevail over man though he had not prevailed over Michael and his angels, it was also foreknown that a Mediator would interpose, and should finally “destroy all the works of the devil.” It was not to hold good of man, when banished from paradise, “neither was their place found any more in heaven.” And therefore there can be no ground for arraigning the goodness of God, in that the dragon and his angels were allowed to plant themselves there. There was to be provided immeasurably more than an equivalent to all the evil wrought; and what charge is there against mercy, when the gift of a Saviour in store is set against the allowance of a tempter? Now, hitherto we have confined ourselves to what may be called the literal interpretation of the passage under review. However figurative may be the mode of description, we are certified that there are orders of spiritual beings higher than our own, that a large section of those creatures apostatised from God, while others, though tempted to rebellion, continued faithful and were then confirmed in happiness, so as to be placed beyond the power of falling. It is not necessarily at all a metaphorical representation that “ Michael and his angels fought with the dragon and his angels,” but this actual battle gave a metaphor expressive of other conflicts between evil and good. Other conflicts, in short, are likened to and shadowed forth by one of which heaven itself was the scene; but this obviously gives a literal character to the first battle, by which the imagery is supplied that is used in this passage. Our text most probably refers to the downfall of heathenism in the downfall of the Roman empire. The “war in heaven” is the contest between Christianity and paganism; the leading combatants are the Christian preachers, martyrs, and confessors on the one side, and persecuting emperors, magistrates, and priests on the other. The former are likened to Michael and his angels, because God and good spirits were on their side; the latter to Satan and his angels, because their cause was emphatically that of the devil, and all his powers were employed and exerted for it. And when Michael and his angels cast out the devil and his angels, the great revolution under Constantine is depicted, which deposed heathenism from all rule and authority, and advanced Christianity to dominion and empire. But we need not dwell longer on the prophetical import of our text, our object being answered, if we can make you see that there is so actual a conflict between evil angels and good as may furnish metaphor for any high contest which goes forward on the stage of this creation, when the cause of God and Christ is that which marshals to the fight. Ah! men and brethren, ye who have not cared anything for the soul, who through that carelessness have wrought the defeat of good angels and strengthened the devices of bad, be ye moved by the intense interest which mighty spirits take in you to take some interest in yourselves, and not to throw away that immortality which the unfallen cherubim would have you spend gloriously with them, and which fiends are plotting to involve in their own fearful anguish. “Michael and his angels have fought against the dragon, and the dragon has fought and his angels”; but the dragon has “not prevailed”; he has been” overcome through the blood of the Lamb”; and so thorough is the moral change, so complete the substitution of the soul now turned into a habitation of God--the dominion of righteousness for the dominion of evil, that we may say of the apostate crew, as was said of them when they were hurled from their original abode, “Neither is their place found any more” in him. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The great dragon.
., that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan.
The foes of God and of His Church
I. Our For Is A Personal One (Revelation 12:9).
II. He Is An Old One. “The devil sinneth from the beginning” (1 John 3:8; John 8:44).
III. He Is A Daring One.
IV. His Attempts Are Often Failures. The dragon warred and his angels, and they prevailed not (Revelation 12:8).
V. He Is An Angry Foe. “He hath great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time” (Revelation 12:12).
VI. He Is A Malicious One (Revelation 12:13).
VII. He Is A Watchful And Crafty One (Revelation 12:4; Revelation 12:13; Revelation 12:15), varying his methods according to the case in hand.
VIII. He Is A Circumscribed Foe. This chapter tells us of three limits put to him and to his power.
1. One, of space. He is cast down to earth. He is “the God of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
2. A second, of time. “A time, and times, and half a time.”
3. There is yet a third limit, that of force. “The earth helped the woman,” etc. (Revelation 12:16). We are taught in Scripture that there are five ways by which his power is restricted and his intention foiled.
(1) There is providential dispensation (Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14; Revelation 12:16; 1 Corinthians 10:13).
(2) There is angelic ministry (Revelation 12:7).
(3) There is the direct exertion of Christ’s commanding word (Matthew 17:18).
(4) There is the counteracting power of Divine grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).
(5) There is the intercession of our Redeemer (Luke 22:31-32).
IX. He is a foe with whose devices we have to reckon in fighting the battle of life (Revelation 12:17). Note--
1. He is one at whom we cannot afford to laugh, and whose existence we cannot afford to deny.
2. He is a foe before whom we need not quail.
3. He is a foe to whom not an inch of room should be given (Ephesians 4:27).
4. He is a foe for whose onsets we should prepare by a survey and appropriation of heavenly forces.
5. He is a foe on whose ultimate defeat and complete discomfiture we may surely and confidently reckon if we look to Jesus. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
Satan the great dragon
In calling him the dragon, the Holy Spirit seems to hint at his mysterious power and character. To us a spirit such as he is must ever be a mystery in his being and working. Satan is a mysterious personage though he is not a mythical one. We can never doubt his existence if we have once come into conflict with him; yet he is to us all the more real because so mysterious. If he were flesh and blood it would be far easier to contend with him; but to fight with this spiritual wickedness in high places is a terrible task. As a dragon he is full of cunning and ferocity. In him force is allied with craft; and if he cannot achieve his purpose at once by power, he waits his time. He deludes, he deceives; in fact, he is said to deceive the whole world. What a power of deception must reside in him, when under his influence the third part of the stars of heaven are made to fall, and myriads of men in all ages have worshipped demons and idols! He has steeped the minds of men in delusion, so that they cannot see that they should worship none but God, their Maker. He is styled “the old serpent”; and this reminds us how practised he is in every evil art. He was a liar from the beginning, and the father of lies. After thousands of years of constant practice in deception he is much too cunning for us. If we think that we can match him by craft we are grievous fools, for he knows vastly more than the wisest of mortals; and if it once comes to a game of policies, he will certainly clear the board, and sweep our tricks into the bag. To this cunning he adds great speed, so that he is quick to assail at any moment, darting down upon us like a hawk upon a poor chick. He is not everywhere present; but it is hard to say where he is not. He cannot be omnipresent; but yet, by that majestic craft of his, he so manages his armies of fallen ones that, like a great general, he superintends the whole field of battle, and seems present at every point. No door can shut him out, no height of piety can rise beyond his reach. He meets us in all our weaknesses, and assails us from every point of the compass. He comes upon us unawares, and gives us wounds which are not easily healed. But yet, powerful as this infernal spirit certainly must be, his power is defeated when we are resolved never to be at peace with him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now is come salvation.
The heavenly song of victory
This is a song of heaven--of that heaven from which the dragon had been cast out.
I. The salvation. It is “the salvation” that is here sung of--the salvation of Him whose name is Jesus, the Saviour. It is salvation--not consisting of one blessing or one kind of blessing, but of many; made up of everything which can be indicated by the reversal of our lost condition. It is not done at once, but in parts and at sundry times, each age bringing with it more of “salvation” in every sense; unfolding it, building it up, gathering in new objects, overcoming new enemies, occupying new ground, erecting new trophies.
II. The power. This is the more common rendering of the word (not “strength”), as when Christ’s miracles are spoken of, or “the powers of the world to come.” As yet God’s power has not been fully manifested; it has been hidden. Many trophies, no doubt, it has won; many enemies it has defeated; many brands it has plucked from the burning; but the full revelation of its greatness is yet to come. When that day arrives, earth as well as heaven shall rejoice.
III. The kingdom of our God. It is the kingdom--the kingdom of kingdoms; not of Satan or man, as now, but of God, nay, our God. Our God, says heaven; our God, re-echoes earth.
IV. The authority of His Christ. “The Christ of God” is the full name for Jesus of Nazareth--God’s Messiah--He in whom all royal, priestly, judicial, prophetical power is invested. To this Messiah all power has been given, all authority entrusted, in heaven, and earth, and hell. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
1. By this song of thanksgiving we see what should be our rejoicing and duty in thanking God in like manner; to wit, that Christ, His Church and cause prevails; and that Satan and his instruments are foiled.
2. When the former prevail, we see the great benefit to man that redounds thereby; to wit, salvation comes, and strength, and the kingdom of our God to reign in men’s hearts, and the power of His Christ to be seen in their lives.
3. Whereas it is said that the accuser of the brethren is cast down; then as it is said (Isaiah 1:9; Romans 8:33), who is it that can condemn, or lay anything to the charge of the Lord’s elect? It is He that helps and justifies us, and has cast down the accuser of the brethren.
4. Here is a great comfort likewise, that there is such a sweet communion between the glorious saints in heaven and the Church militant on earth; that when they speak of God they say, “our God,” and when of the Church on earth, “our brethren.” (Wm. Guild, D. D.)
The accuser of our brethren is cast down.
The accuser of the brethren
I. The accuser. The accuser, in this instance, is the enemy of our souls. An accuser need not necessarily be a foe--a friend may accuse; but his relationship to us depends upon the object he has in view by accusing us. If his intention be to harass and vex the accused, then he is an enemy; but if his design be to reform, then, indeed, he is a friend. Though the law accuses, the law is not our enemy. The law is our “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” But the design of Satan in accusing the saints is to afflict them, and not that he may induce them to amend their ways; it is not zeal for the glory of God that urges him to blame them for their remissness; he merely takes advantage of their failings to molest them.
II. The accused. “The brethren.” He does not accuse his own subjects. He commends in them the works which in the children of God he censures. It is better for us that he should be our censor than that he should be our vindicator; preferable that he should impeach us than that he should be our advocate.
III. The accusation. The impeachments of Satan, however fictitious they may be found to be in the aggregate, always have a sprinkling of the truth in them; just so much as will give an air of justness to the whole; for our arch-enemy is well aware that falsehood in and of itself cannot injure. Were they charged with neglecting God’s house the accusation would be false, and consequently would not affect them; but when they are accused of alienating their affections from God, they feel the justness of the charges and are grieved--there is sufficient force in the accusation to afflict their conscience. A slander was never known to be either wholly true or entirely false. Satan is incapable of telling the truth as truth. It were as impossible for him to confine himself wholly to it as that the sun should shed showers of rain, or that water should burn. He is “the father of lies”; but he makes use of the truth to keep his inventions together. It is difficult to detect his devices and contrivances--he is capable of transforming himself into an angel of light. Yea, he usurps even the functions of the Holy Spirit; he approaches the Christian while he is meditating upon his performances, and insidiously breathes his charges of lukewarmness and worldliness, causing his heart to bleed thereby. Neither is he to be recognised by the doctrines he inculcates. What measures does the Holy Spirit make use of in convincing the sinner of his wickedness? Does He show the evil of sin? Satan also does this. Does He point to the stringency and rigour of the law? So does Satan. But although he is not recognisable in his doctrines, he may be easily detected in the inferences which he draws from those doctrines. The conclusions which he invariably draws from his teachings are couched in such language as the following: Firstly, thy sins are too great to be forgiven. Secondly, thou mayest as well suffer punishment for much as for little. Thirdly, God is very unrelenting.
IV. The tribunal. It is not to be imagined that Satan gains admittance into heaven, there to lay his charges against the saints, because he has been eternally banished thence. Neither is it by any means probable that, were permission granted him to enter there, he would avail himself of it. And the reason of this is quite plain. He that bruised his head sits triumphant there. His design is to create enmity between God and His children; his purpose is to effect a breach between the saints and their heavenly Father. He endeavours to embitter their spirits when they approach God in meditation and prayer. He strives to weaken their power in prayer, and so to crush their faith as to render it powerless to bear the blessing they came to seek.
V. The victory. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” (D. Roberts, D. D.)
Overcoming the accuser
1. The accuser charges the servants of God with guilt. They are not worthy, as he alleges, to stand in the Holy Presence. To this, however, they have a triumphant reply. They do not deny that they have sinned and are unworthy; but they have God’s free gift of pardon since Jesus has died. There is a Rabbinic tradition to the effect that Satan is compelled to refrain from accusations against Israel, and keep silence, on one day of the year--the great Day of Atonement. Though it be a mere legend, it indicates some true perception of the only ground on which the charge of guilt before God can be successfully met. But let us extend the statement. There is no respect of days. The peace of conscience which rests on “the blood of the Lamb” is not for one day, but for all the days of the year. There is a continual and unfaltering answer of the Satanic accusation.
2. The accuser rails against the servants of God as mere self-seekers. In this respect, wicked men are very like their father the devil. Their base instinct is to suspect and jibe at goodness. All virtue is in their eyes humbug. All who seem to be in earnest for any moral or religious object are seeking praise for themselves, and perhaps money also. Disinterestedness is a dream, and holiness a fraud. So says the devil; and so say his followers. Now it may be impracticable in many instances to meet this odious charge with a complete refutation. A good man cannot prove his inward motives to all the outside world, least of all to those who wish to think the worst. To some, however, both in early and in later times of the Church, opportunity and power have been given to make a triumphant answer to the unworthy accusation of selfishness. They were exposed to cruel persecution, and obliged to show whether their hearts were so knit to Christ that they would lay down their lives for His sake. These overcame “because of the word of their testimony.” Far from shirking the ordeal, they conquered by their firm endurance. What then could Satan allege?
3. We are not of “the noble army of martyrs.” But all Christians are called to be martyrs in the sense of witnesses, and all are subjected to some test of fidelity. Yet every one in his own order, and according to the measure of grace which he has received; not the least effective being the little ones that honour the Lord Jesus. (D. Fraser, D. D.)
They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.--
How they conquered the dragon
I. All the blessed ones who are rejoicing in heaven were once warriors and victors here below. We too often think of the saints that have gone before as if they were men of another race from ourselves, capable of nobler things, endowed with graces which we cannot reach, and adorned with holiness impossible to us. The mediaeval artists were wont to paint the saints with rings of glory about their heads, but indeed they had no such halos; their brows were furrowed with care even as ours, and their hair grew grey with grief. Their light was within, and we may have it; their glory was by grace, and the same grace is available for us.
1. It is clear from our text that every one of the saints in heaven was assailed by Satan. How could there be a victory without a battle?
2. The glorified, in addition to having been attacked, were led to resist the evil one, for nobody overcomes an antagonist without fighting.
3. We find that these warriors all overcame, for heaven is not for those who fight merely, but for those who overcome. “I do fight against my sin,” says one. Brother, do you overcome it? Attack, resistance, and victory must be yours.
4. So, then, in heaven they all rejoice because they have overcome, for the next verse to our text puts it, “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them.” It is a theme for gladness in heaven that they did fight and resist and overcome. There is joy among the angels, for they had their conflict when they stood firm against temptation; but ours will be a victory peculiarly sweet, a song especially melodious, because our battle has been peculiarly severe.
II. The victors all fought with the same weapons.
1. First, the blood of the Lamb: it was theirs. The blood of the Lamb will not help us until it becomes our own. It is the blood of the covenant, and it secures all the covenant gifts of God to us. It is the life of our life. So, then, they had the blood of the Lamb, and they possessed the privilege which the blood brings with it.
2. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Now, what is the testimony of the saints? It is a testimony concerning the blood of the Lamb. If ever we are to conquer Satan in the world, we must preach the atoning blood.
III. While they all fought with the same weapons they all fought with the same spirit; for the text says, “they loved not their lives unto the death.”
1. The expression indicates dauntless courage. They were never afraid of the doctrine of a bleeding Saviour. Let us never be ashamed of our hope.
2. These men, in addition to dauntless courage, had unanswering fidelity. They “loved not their lives unto the death.” They thought it better to die than deny the faith.
3. More than that, they were perfect in their consecration. “They loved not their lives unto the death.” They gave themselves up, body soul, and spirit, to the cause of which the precious blood is the symbol, and that consecration led them to perfect self-sacrifice. No Christian of the true type counts anything to be his own. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The blood of the Lamb, the conquering weapon
I. What is this conquering weapon?
1. The blood of the Lamb signifies, first, the death of the Son of God. The sufferings of Jesus Christ might be set forth by some other figure, but His death on the Cross requires the mention of blood. The death of Christ is the death of sin and the defeat of Satan, and hence it is the life of our hope, and the assurance of His victory. Because He poured out His soul unto the death, He divided the spoil with the strong.
2. Next, by “the blood of the Lamb” we understand our Lord’s death as a substitutionary sacrifice. It is not said that they overcame the arch-enemy by the blood of Jesus, or the blood of Christ, but by the blood of the Lamb; and the words are expressly chosen because, under the figure of a lamb, we have set before us a sacrifice. Sin must be punished; it is punished in Christ’s death. Here is the hope of men.
3. Furthermore, I understand by the expression, “The blood of the Lamb,” that our Lord’s death was effective for the taking away of sin. When John the Baptist first pointed to Jesus, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Our Lord Jesus has actually taken away sin by His death.
II. I have shown you the sword; now I come to speak to the question, how do you use it? “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” When a man gets a sword, you cannot be quite certain how he’ will use it. A gentleman has purchased a very expensive sword with a golden hilt and an elaborate scabbard; he hangs it up in his hall, and exhibits it to his friends. Occasionally he draws it out from the sheath, and he says, “Feel how keen is the edge!” The precious blood of Jesus is not meant for us merely to admire and exhibit. We must not be content to talk about it, and extol it, and do nothing with it; but we are to use it in the great crusade against unholiness and unrighteousness, till it is said of us, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” Let me show you your battle-field. Our first place of conflict is in the heavenlies, and the second is down below on earth.
1. First, then, you who believe in the blood of Jesus, have to do battle with Satan in the heavenlies; and there you must overcome him “by the blood of the Lamb.” “How?” say you. First, you are to regard Satan this day as being already literally and truly overcome through the death of the Lord Jesus. Satan is already a vanquished enemy. By faith grasp your Lord’s victory as your own, since He triumphed in your nature and on your behalf. I would have you overcome Satan in the heavenlies in another sense: you must overcome him as the accuser. At times you hear in your heart a voice arousing memory and startling conscience; a voice which seems in heaven to be a remembrance of your guilt. All comfort drawn from inward feelings or outward works will fall short; but the bleeding wounds of Jesus will plead with overwhelming argument, and answer all. Still further, the believer will have need to overcome the enemy in the heavenly places in reference to access to God. The sacred name of Jesus is one before which he flees. This will drive away his blasphemous suggestions and foul insinuations better than anything that you can invent. We next must overcome the enemy in prayer.
2. It is time that I now showed you how this same fight is carried on on earth. Amongst men in these lower places of conflict saints overcome through the blood of the Lamb by their testimony to that blood. Every believer is to bear witness to the atoning sacrifice and its power to save. He is to tell out the doctrine; he is to emphasise it by earnest faith in it; and he is to support it and prove it by his experience of the effect of it. You can bear witness to the power of the blood of Jesus in your own soul. If you do this, you will overcome men in many ways. First, you will arouse them out of apathy. This age is more indifferent to true religion than almost any other. The sight of the bleeding Saviour overcomes obduracy and carelessness. The doctrine of the blood of the Lamb prevents or scatters error. I do not think that by reason we often confute error to any practical purpose. We may confute it rhetorically and doctrinally, but men still stick to it. But the doctrine of the precious blood, when it once gets into the heart, drives error out of it, and sets up the throne of truth. We also overcome men in this way, by softening rebellious hearts. Men stand out against the law of God, and defy the vengeance of God; but the love of God in Christ Jesus disarms them. The Holy Spirit causes men to yield through the softening influence of the Cross. How wonderfully this same blood of the Lamb overcomes despair. Glory be to God, the blood is a universal solvent, and it has dissolved the iron bars of despair, until the poor captive conscience has been able to escape. There is nothing, indeed, which the blood of the Lamb will not overcome; for see how it overcomes vice, and every form of sin. The world is foul with evil. What can cleanse it? What but this matchless stream? Satan makes sin seem pleasure, but the Cross reveals its bitterness. This blood overcomes the natural lethargy of men towards obedience; it stimulates them to holiness. If anything can make a man holy it is a firm faith in the atoning sacrifice. When a man knows that Jesus died for him, he feels that he is not his own, but bought with a price, and therefore he must live unto Him that died for him and rose again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Church’s victory
I. The church’s victory. The Church is here set before us in a state of triumph, having conquered all its enemies and received its reward.
II. The medium through which this victory is obtained, “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.”
III. The connection that subsists between the means and the end of the conflict.
1. The blood of the Lamb is the source of the disposition which regenerated men feel when entering upon this spiritual warfare.
2. It is the blood of the sacrifice that perpetuates the conflict, by carrying on the sanctification of the soul.
3. The blood of the Lamb alone can inspire fortitude and courage for this conflict.
4. The blood of the Lamb is the only source of spiritual life, and therefore they conquer by it. It was not spilt as water upon the ground, it was the opening of the fountain of immortality for the soul of man.
5. By the blood of the Lamb they learned the example of conflicting to the death, and gathered the assurance of a glorious triumph beyond it. Two things will tend to make a man a good soldier--a readiness to leave his body a corpse on the battlefield, and a thorough conviction that ultimately his cause must succeed. Both are requisite in the spiritual strife. (John Aldis.)
The encouragement to increased missionary effort to be derived from the assurance of final victory
I. We shall never be aroused to magnanimous efforts till we have a clear apprehension of the invisible enemy who foments all the opposition against Christ and His gospel.
1. In the general description, mark, first, his deadly hatred to God and goodness, implied in the names Satan, the Enemy, the Adversary, the Wicked One. Next, his rage and fury, as the great Red Dragon, the Apollyon or Destroyer. Further, his craft and subtilty, as the Old Serpent, in allusion to the form under which he seduced our first parents. Next, the extent of his dominion, the whole world lying in wickedness, or, in the wicked one.
2. And what is the general method of Satan’s opposition to Christ, and the salvation of men? His grand vantage-ground is the tendency in human corruption to listen to all his suggestions. He thus works his way unperceived into our hearts.
3. The place where Satan carries on this opposition is set forth in this symbolical passage as his heaven, from the popular notion of heaven as a place of eminence, of ease, safety, and enjoyment. It imports, here, the visible kingdom of Satan in its full pride and power; from which, when he is dispossessed, he is said to be cast down unto the earth.
II. The means of resisting this great adversary.
1. The faithful overcame by the blood of the Lamb; and in what manner did they do this?
(1) By trusting to it for their own salvation;
(2) By proclaiming it to others, as men touched with the love of Him who shed it;
(3) By seeing all the purposes of Almighty God centre in it.
III. The issue of the conflict. “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb.” (Bp. Daniel Wilson.)
Missionary conflict and victory
I. Let us consider missions under the aspect of a victory gained.
1. Of course the word implies conflict. The Revelation, resonant with sounds of battle, exhibits the King of Heaven upon earth as engaged in a, struggle. This mode of representation only displays in pictures ideas common to the whole of the New Testament. The Church under the present dispensation is church militant. Let us not despise or underestimate our foe. To follow Christ and to take up His cause anywhere is to challenge the world, the flesh, and the devil.
2. But the point now is that a victory has been won, and this victory is distinguished by two features, celebrated in the song heard by John, which render it extremely interesting and important for those on the threshold of life, whose privilege it is to look forward to service.
(1) The accuser has been cast down, and in his casting down certain practical problems have been solved and doubts swept out of the way. No great and good movement has ever been inaugurated that did not stir up an accuser. He was maliciously busy at the outset of the missionary enterprise, and tried to raise obstacles to harass the timid.
(2) Then, too, in the gospel victories is to be included a beautiful, delightful social revolution, for “now is come the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ.”
II. The principles and instrumentalities whereby this victory was gained.
1. We would not lose sight of the fact that “there was war in heaven.” We have always had the supernatural support of a leader of invisible legions, whose name, “Michael,” suggests the question, “Who is like unto God? “ and whose guarantee, conveyed along with the marching orders, is, “Lo! I am with you alway unto the consummation of the age.”
2. Looking at these words as a whole, we say they intimate conquests gained through dependence on spiritual forces. It was so, we may remind ourselves, in the conflict with the paganism of the ancient Roman world. It would be a mistake to suppose that the triumph of Christianity followed the so-called conversion of Constantine. On the contrary, he gave in his adhesion because Christianity was already on the march, firm and triumphant. The victory had been won, and it was won with the weapons of faith, hope, love, patience, forgiveness, and prayer. So also has it been in the conflict with the paganism of the modern world. God in nature, God in history, and God in grace is one God, and we may expect Him to be making each department of His rule dovetail in some way into the other, in order to the accomplishment of His purposes.
3. Three things are, we take it, specially necessary to meet the fundamental spiritual requirements of the human heart--viz., redemption; revelation; and these mediated and ministered by messengers of intense self-sacrificing sympathies. These are the very elements which are here displayed aa grounds of success.
(1) “They overcame because of the blood of the Lamb.” Readers must note that in this book, in which the general outlines of Church history are exhibited in symbolic pictures, the blood of the Lamb holds a most prominent place. It precisely forecasts what has happened in the actual event. By the atoning sacrifice of Calvary were the missionaries’ hearts first set on fire. The provision made in the death of God’s dear Son for meeting their condition as sinners was what deeply agitated, and, like the touch of the “live coal from off the altar,” flamed through them into the offer and entreaty, “Here are we, send us.” By the same sacrifice they were sustained in their surrender. The Saviour’s blood was their life. His dying wounds were not only fountains of expiation and cleansing, but also springs out of which pulsated the streams of life through the lips of faith into their thrilled hearts. Advancing with this experience, it turned out that the “story of redemption through His blood” was just the good news the heathen needed, and leaped excitedly to welcome.
(2) To meet the cry for light, the ministers of grace delivered “the word of their testimony.” Observe, “testimony.” Not an argument, but a testimony; not a denunciation, but a testimony; not a destructive attack, but a testimony; not a “peradventure,” but a testimony. This testimony, originally received by apostles from Christ and His Spirit, was by them embodied in “a word.” This “word,” again tasted and tested through the Spirit of Christ by believers, became in their lips and lives a “testimony.” They marched to the field with this testimony, a Pentecostal glory mitring their brows and firing their tongues, and breaking out in “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” They knew whom they believed, and, Philip-like, joining themselves unto the chariot of heathendom, they just preached and explained Him of whom every voice of truth in the Vedas also spoke to those in the darkness feeling after “an unknown God” to be their Shepherd and King.
(3) The third reason does not occupy precisely the same level as the other two. It is not joined to them with “because.” The proposal to surrender life, standing by itself, would be impotent and fruitless. It is when united with “the blood of the Lamb and the word of testimony” that it is energised into an important factor in the product. The mode of expression seems based upon a common course in human affairs. A man takes a stand from which it is sought to divert him by threats of poverty, want, and hardship. There are some in whom the love of life is so near the surface, and so sensitive and ready to take alarm, that the above threat would be enough to make it leap to its feet instantly and shriek out, “You shall not.” Others, however, are not conscious of this love at that point, and the threat does not move them. Then it is represented they will lose caste, be boycotted in society, be shut out of the road which leads to applause and power, and condemned to calumny, reprobation, scorn--or, what is worse, neglect. Some who resisted in the first stage would be sifted out here, whilst a remnant would continue yet untouched and resolute. But now I imagine the ghastly king of terrors drawing nigh to these and compelling them at close quarters to look into his cavernous, cruel face. Proud is this grisly monarch, and omnipotent in his own conceit. But many think that Death’s bark is worse than his bite. I know the prospect is under some conditions appalling, and yet I can fancy those who had stood the first two tests contemplating this almost with contempt. There is, however, another deeper, darker possibility suggested. It is not merely hardship; it is not merely shame; it is not merely physical extinction; it is the sacrifice of the opportunity of self-cultivation for what seems a grander destiny in this world, and even a better, higher standing in the world to come. Many missionaries, like, e.g., Carey and Livingstone, possessed surpassing powers. They would succeed splendidly anywhere. Had they stayed in this country no one can predict the distinction to which they might have risen. To go away, say into the wilds of Africa, as evangelists is to renounce magnificent chances. Nay more. They who feel the loss most will leave the stimulus of Christian society; the bracing impulse of Christian atmosphere; the sweet help of the first day of the week, with its sacred hush and uplifting worship; the very continuance of the life of piety will be imperilled. That education and development of the faculties and qualities of mind and spirit which in itself is so delightful must be relinquished, and, so far as this world is concerned, relinquished for ever. They must cease to love their own soul, and that unto death. I believe that scores of witnesses in all ages, and, thank God, in ours also, have risen to this height; and it is in this way and by this means they have gained the victory. If you want to capture others, you must abandon self. (R. H. Roberts, B. A.)
Victory over the foe
I hope it is possible for a few minutes to interest you in the fortunes of a battle. “The fight is fought, and the victory is won. Your troops have engaged and conquered the foe.” And we are told they overcame him by three modes and weapons of warfare--the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and the not loving their life even unto death. The several particulars are striking; their combination is wonderful. “They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb.” Strange! But is it not true--true to a history none the less real because it is, in part at least, the history of souls? Is it not true that that Cross of pain and shame has in it the virtue of a thousand times ten thousand victories, compared with which Marathon and Salamis, Trafalgar and Waterloo, were events of temporary and fleeting significance? Is it not true that lives have been remade in their most secret, and yet in their most practical, being--remade for strength, remade for happiness, remade for usefulness, influence, and blessing to other lives, entirely by that sacrifice of the Son of God for sin which is here briefly characterised as “the blood of the Lamb”? The man who has conquered a besetting sin by reason of the blood of the Lamb is a greater hero, greater in kind as well as in degree, than the man who can count his slain enemies in some death-grapple on the Nile by tens and by twenties. But it is conceivable that there might be in some heart a strong sense of gratitude for the death of the Son of God, which as yet has nothing to say for itself as to a definite work to be done for Him. Therefore the voice from heaven speaks in the second place of the word of their testimony. The Christian owes his victory, secondly, to a word--that is, a message or revelation from God, to the truth of which he himself is witness. We have three thoughts here. First, God has spoken. A word is more than a sound. A word has meaning in it. It is the communication of mind to mind. Word is speech, and speech is, by definition, reason communicating itself. This is why Christ Himself is called by St. John “the Word.” In Christ God has spoken, not in precept and prohibition only, rather in revelation of will and mind, setting before us the Divine character in human action, and saying, “This am I; this be thou. Made, and now remade in My image, bear, act, be this to thy brethren.” Thus the word becomes next a testimony. The business of the Christian is witnessing, having, as St. John says, “the witness in himself”; able from experience, able from consciousness of the power and beauty of the gospel, “to set to it his seal” that it is true. He goes about his business, speaks his daily speech, does his everyday work, as one who believes, strives not to contradict, not to belie his conviction, lives as its witness, dies as its martyr. And thus, thirdly, he overcomes because of it. The blood of the Lamb is his motive, but the Word of His testimony is his direction. Without this he might be well-intentioned, but he would neither know his enemy nor know how to cope with him. They overcame him, therefore, because of the Word of which they were witnesses. Yet another principal cause remains. “They loved not their life even unto death.” Contempt for death is a great secret of victory. Even in the perpetration of deeds of darkness, the chance of success is infinitely enhanced by the willingness of the doer to die for it. The assassin who will give life for life is half assured of victory. The text speaks of a nobler strife, that of the Christian victor, and it says of him that side by side with two other things, faith in Christ’s sacrifice, and faith in Christ’s word, there stands this reason also for his victory, that he loved not his life. The earthly conqueror must have no friendship for his life in comparison with two other things--duty and honour. The earthly conqueror must have no charity for his life when it tries to stand between him and courage, or between him and the love of his country. ‘Tis the peculiarity of the Christian victor, not always realised, perhaps, to the full, even in him, that, taking all things into account, he has a positive desire--positive desire--to “depart and be with Christ.” It is not only that there are so many dark features of the world he lives in, it is rather that he knows Someone on the other side of death, whom he longs to be with. He endures as seeing the Invisible, but all the time he is seeking a better country, that is, a heavenly. (Dean Vaughan.)
They loved not their lives unto the death.--
The evidence of Christianity from the persecution of Christians
The progress of Christianity is a most interesting object of speculation, and must appear truly wonderful when it is considered that it prevailed by means the very reverse of what might have been expected, and which have been used to establish other systems of religion or philosophy, and the corruptions of Christianity itself. Other religions had either the aid of power, or at least of the learning of the age and countries in which they were established. The founders of them were either conquerors, legislators, or men who were distinguished in life; so that independently of the doctrines they promulgated, they appeared in a respectable light to the world. On the contrary, the Founder of Christianity was an obscure person, a common mechanic, in a country the inhabitants of which were despised by the rest of the world; without the advantage of any learned education, where the greatest account was made of that advantage, and where persons destitute of it were held in contempt. The first followers of Christ were, in general, of the same low rank of life with Himself, wholly destitute in power, or of policy. They were all their lives persecuted, as He had been, and many of them died violent deaths. What then were the means by which Christianity, thus extraordinarily circumstanced, did make its way in the world, till, in the natural course of things, the very powers which opposed it came to be on its side? They were, as we are informed in my text, the death of the Founder of Christianity, and the testimony of His followers to His doctrine, miracles, and resurrection, sealed with their blood. If we consider the nature of Christianity, and the object of it, we shall see that it could not be established by any other means than these, how ill adapted soever they may, on a superficial view of things, appear to answer the end. What is Christianity but that firm belief in a future life which produces the proper regulation of man’s conduct in this? Any attempt to gain belief to this, or any doctrine, by power, would have been unavailing and absurd. It is evident that nothing could make mankind believe that Christ wrought miracles, that He died, and rose from the dead, and therefore that there is a future life, to which themselves will be raised, but the proper evidence of the truth of those facts. And in distant ages, in which persons can have no opportunity of inquiring into the truth of the facts for themselves, the only evidence to them is the full conviction that they who had that opportunity did believe them. Now we cannot imagine in what manner any person can express his firm persuasion of the truth, or the value, of any set of principles, more strongly than by his suffering and dying for them. Still, however, there would have been room to doubt, if they had not persisted in their testimony, and if they had not also had both sufficient opportunity, and sufficient motives to consider lind reconsider the thing. Now the witnesses were numerous, and, living together, they must have had frequent opportunities of conversing with one another on the subject, and of comparing their observations. And surely no motive could be wanting, when all the happiness of their lives, and even life itself, was depending. How satisfactory, then, is the evidence of the truth of Christianity from the testimony of almost all its proper witnesses, as sealed with their blood, and therefore not given without the most deliberate consideration, and in opposition to the strongest inducements to declare the reverse of what they did. How much more convincing is this kind of evidence than that of men who draw their swords in defence of any cause? The man who fights hopes to get the victory, and most probably expects to secure to himself some temporal advantage. It cannot by any means, therefore, be inferred that a man may not fight for a falsehood, provided it promises to be a gainful one. We see, then, the infinite superiority of the pretensions of Christ to those of Mahomet, or of any who have endeavoured to establish a religion by violence. Our Lord, confiding in the power of truth, disclaimed all other aid, and therefore ordered His disciples not to fight, but to die. I would farther observe, that violence in support of truth is utterly contrary to the nature and genius of the Christian religion; and it supposes a temper of mind inconsistent with it, viz., hatred and revenge. And not only should we avoid all actual violence, but everything that approaches to it, as anger and abuse. If calm reasoning fail, these are not likely to succeed. As we must not make use of violence or abuse ourselves, so we should take it patiently when it is offered by others. It is generally a proof that our adversaries have nothing better to offer, and therefore is a presumption that we have truth on our side; and surely the sense of this may well enable us to bear up under any insult to which we may be exposed. A state of persecution has been the lot of truly good men, and especially of all great and distinguished characters whose aim has been to reform abuses, and introduce new light into the minds of men, in all ages. (J. Priestley, LL. D.)
Geleazius, a gentleman of great wealth, who suffered martyrdom at St. Angelo, in Italy, being much entreated by his friends to recant, and thus save his life, replied, “Death is much sweeter to me with the testimony of truth, than life with its least denial:”
Therefore rejoice, ye heavens.
The defeatibility of the devil
I. Mighty as is the master-fiend of evil, he is not proof against defeats. “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens.”
1. Here is a defeat implied. There is nothing permanent in error, there is no stability in wrong. As light extends, and virtue grows, all schemes of wrong, political, social, and religious, crack to pieces and tumble to ruin.
2. Here is a defeat righteously exultable. It is the joy of the prisoner quitting his cell, of the patient returning to health.
II. Great as his defeats may be, they do not quench his animosity. “Having great wrath,” etc. Like the ravenous beast of the desert, his failure to fasten his tusks in one victim whets his appetite for another. Evil is insatiable.
III. His animosity is especially directed against the true church. “He persecuted the woman,” etc.
1. Wherever the spirit of Christ is, the spirit of tenderness, humanity, self-sacrificing love, this he hates and seeks to destroy.
2. Who shall say what he pours forth from his mouth? False accusations, pernicious errors, social persecutions, etc.
IV. The true Church, even in trying circumstances, is under the special protection of heaven.
1. The Church is in the wilderness. The way of Christly men on this earth has always been--
2. Though in the wilderness, it has enormous privileges.
(1) It is endowed with heaven-soaring power.
(2) It has the whole earth to serve it. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
1. By this exhortation of others that are in heaven to rejoice likewise, we see, that the saints of God think it not enough for themselves to rejoice at the prosperity of Christ and His Church; but they exhort, and would have all others to join herein with them, that as God is all in all, so He may of all and by all be praised and glorified.
2. We see the contrary disposition of the godly and wicked; that which is matter of joy to the one is of sorrow to the other, and on the contrary; which was seen at Christ’s birth or first coming, and shall beat His record.
3. By the denouncing of a woe to the inhabiters of the earth, we see when it shall be well with the godly then it shall be woe to the wicked.
4. Whereas it is said that the devil was come down to them in great wrath, we see--
(1) Who is the author of all unjust wrath and malice.
(2) As they who serve God get His loving favour, but they who are Satan’s slaves get nothing but his wrath as their recompense in the end; being first their tempter, next their accuser, and at last their tormentor.
5. It is said that he comes in great wrath, because his time is short; which, as it is a comfort to the godly, so it should be a lesson of wisdom: as he is busy in doing ill, so should they be in doing good, because their time is short here, yea, and most uncertain. (William Guild, D. D.)
Woe to the inhabiters of the earth.
Woe on the earth
1. Note how dark is the outlook of the Church of Jesus with respect to this present world! We wonder betimes at the smallness of its success, and the hard struggle it ever has for its existence. But why should we wonder? Think of the might of the devil and his angels, of their malignity against it, and how deeply the whole world is in their possession. All that we can do is to work on, like Paul, if that by any means we may “save some.”
2. Note the true source of dislike and hatred to the Church. There be many who think more of anything on earth than of the Church. They may consider it well enough to have its services when they die, but whilst they live they only neglect and despise it, and are only offended and enraged when its claims are passed. They forget that this is the very spirit of the devil. And every one who dislikes, hates, or persecutes the Church and people of God, has in him the devil’s spirit, acts the devil’s will, and is one of the devil’s children.
3. Note what a lesson of rebuke and duty addresses itself to Christians from the devil’s example. He never rests from his murderous endeavours. He stops for no losses, succumbs to no adversities, desists for no hindrances, turns back from no encounters, and surrenders not even to the Almighty’s judgments, so long as he has liberty to act or time in which to operate. Look at the untiring energy of hell for destruction, and learn wisdom for eternal life.
4. Finally, note the pressing need there is to keep ourselves awake and in readiness for the coming of our Lord. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The devil is come down unto you, having great wrath.--
Satan in a rage
The text tells us that the shortness of Satan’s opportunity excites his wrath, and we may gather a general rule from this one statement, namely, that in proportion as the devil’s time is shortened his energy is increased, and we may take it as an assured fact that when he rages to the uttermost his opportunities are nearly over. He hath great wrath, knowing that his time is short. I hope there will be something of instruction in this, and somewhat of comfort for all those who are on the right side. Now, what is true on a great scale is true in the smaller one. Missionaries in any country will generally find that the last onslaught of heathenism is the most ferocious. We will find, whenever the truth comes into contact with falsehood, that when error is driven to its last entrenchments it fights for life, tooth and nail, with all its might; its wrath is great because its time is short. The same truth, will apply to every individual man. When God begins His great work in a sinner’s heart, to lead him to Christ, it is no bad sign if the man feels more hatred to God than ever, more dislike to good things than before: nor need we despair if he is driven into greater sin. The ferocity of the temptation indicates the vigour with which Satan contends for any one of his black sheep. He will not lose his subjects if he can help it, and so he puts forth all his strength to keep them under his power. The general fact is further illustrated in the eases of many believers. There are times when in the believer’s heart the battle rages horribly, when he hardly knows whether he is a child of God at all, and is ready to give up all hope. He cannot pray or praise, for he is so distracted; he cannot read the Scriptures without horrible thoughts. It seems as if he must utterly perish, for no space is given him in which to refresh his heart, the attacks are so continual and violent. Such dreadful excitements are often followed by years of peace, quiet usefulness, holiness, and communion with God. Satan knows that God is about to set a limit to his vexations of the good man, and so he rages extremely because his opportunity is short.
I. How does Satan know when his time is short in a soul? He watches over all souls that are under his power with incessant maliciousness. He goeth about the camp like a sentinel, spying out every man who is likely to be a deserter from his army.
1. He perceives that his time is short, and I suppose he perceives it first by discovering that he is not quite so welcome as he used to be. The man loved sin, and found pleasure in it, but now sin is not so sweet as it was, its flavour is dull and insipid. The charms of vice are fading, and its pleasures are growing empty, vain, and void, and this is a token of a great change. The adversary perceives that he must soon stretch his dragon wings when he sees that the heart is growing weary of him and is breaking away from his fascinations.
2. He grows more sure of his speedy ejectment when he does not get the accommodation he used to have. The man was once eager for sin, he went in the pursuit of vice, hunted after it, and put himself in the way of temptation, and then Satan reigned securely; but now he begins to forsake the haunts where sin walks openly, and he abandons the cups of excitement which inflame the soul.
3. One thing more always makes Satan know that his time is short, and that is when the Holy Spirit’s power is evidently at work within the mind. Light has come in, and the sinner sees and knows what he was ignorant of before: Satan hates the light as much as he loves the darkness, and like an owl in the daylight he feels that he is out of place. Joyful tidings for a heart long molested by this fierce fiend! Away, thou enemy, thy destructions shall soon come to a perpetual end!
II. Inasmuch as the shortness of his tenure excites the rage of Satan, we must next observe how he displays his great wrath. His fury rages differently in different persons. On some he displays his great wrath by stirring up outward persecution. The man is not a Christian yet, he is not actually converted yet, but Satan is so afraid that he will be saved that he sets all his dogs upon him directly. The devil will lose nothing through being behind. He begins as soon as ever grace begins. Now, if the grace of God be not in the awakened man, and his reformation is only a spasm of remorse, it is very likely that he will be driven back from all attendance upon the means of grace by the ribald remarks of the ungodly, but if the Lord Jesus Christ has really been knocking at his door, and the Spirit of God has begun to work, this opposition will not answer its purpose. Much worse, however, is the devil’s other method of showing his wrath, namely, by vomiting floods out of his mouth to drown, if possible, our new-born hope. When the hopeful hearer as yet has not really found peace and rest, it will sometimes happen that Satan will try him with doubts and blasphemies, and temptations such as he never knew before. The tempted one has been amazed and has said to himself, “How is this? Can my desire after Christ be the work of God? I get worse and worse. I never felt so wicked as this till I began to seek a Saviour.” Yet this is no strange thing, fiery though the trial be. At such time, also, Satan will often arouse all the worst passions of our nature, and drive them into unwonted riot. The awakened sinner will be astonished as he finds himself beset with temptations more base and foul than he has ever felt before. He will resist and strive against the assault, but it may be so violent as to stagger him. He can scarcely believe that the flesh is so utterly corrupt. The man who is anxiously seeking to go to heaven seems at such a time as if he were dragged down by seven strong demons to the eternal deeps of perdition. He feels as if he had never known sin before, nor been so completely beneath its power. The Satanic troopers sleep as a quiet garrison while the man is under the spell of sin, but when once the heart is likely to be captured by Immanuel’s love the infernal soldiery put on their worst manner, and trample down all the thoughts and desires of the soul. Satan may also attack the seeker in another form, with fierce accusations and judgments. He does not accuse some men, for he is quite sure of them, and they are his very good friends; but when a man is likely to be lost to him, he alters his tone and threatens and condemns.
III. How are we to meet all this? How must Satan be dealt with while he is showing his great wrath because his power is short?
1. I should say, first, if he is putting himself in this rage, let us get him out all the more quickly. If he would remain quiet even then we ought to be anxious to be rid of his foul company, but if he shows this great rage let us out with him straight away.
2. And the next thing is, inasmuch as we cannot get him out by our own unaided efforts, let us cry to the strong for strength, who can drive out this prince of the power of the air. There is life in a look at Jesus Christ, and as soon as that life comes away goes this prince of darkness as to his domination and reigning power.
3. One more comfort for you, and it is this--the more he rages the more must your poor, troubled heart be encouraged to believe that he will soon be gone. I venture to say that nothing will make him go sooner than your full belief that he has to go. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The earth helped the woman.
The help of the earth
I. Some illustrations of this help. How the earth has rendered help to God’s people sometimes by--
1. Its wide extent. The primeval going forth of Abram, the father of the faithful, from Ur of the Chaldees, was in all probability owing to the discomfort, distress, and may be actual danger, for one who had renounced idolatry as he had, should he live any longer in an idolatrous land. And so he went far away westward into the land God showed him. And the Exodus was another going forth into a far-off land, that the people might worship God as they could not do in Egypt. Pharaoh would not let the people go, but God compelled him, and the colonisation of Palestine by Israel, and all that followed from that, was the result.
2. The division of the earth into separate states and kingdoms has been another great help to the Church of God in her days of distress. Egypt was a refuge for the infant Christ when Herod would have put Him to death. One of the most awful results of the wide-spread Roman Empire was that its law--which in its evil days was but the will of the reigning emperor, and he too often one of the vilest of men--ran everywhere, and shut off all retreat from its oppression. Its agents met the fugitive on every shore, till the world became one vast prison-house for the oppressed. The shattering, therefore, of that empire, and its division into separate states, were a vast relief for mankind, of which the Church of God often took advantage in her days of trouble. That the rule of that red dragon, like Herod, could not pass beyond the limits of Judaea, was a blessing that Joseph and the mother of our Lord were quick to avail themselves of by fleeing into Egypt. And what a thrilling story of the earth’s helping the people of God has been the result of--
3. The earth’s varied surface and form. From the days when David clambered up the rocky steeps of the mountains of Judea, and hid himself from Saul in inaccessible caves and fastnesses, in secret places on the mountain sides, and amid their frost-covered summits--places known only to himself and his trusty followers--from those days right down to the days when the Waldenses and the Christians of Piedmont found shelter from the murderous might of Papal Rome--more fierce and dragon-like than even Pagan Rome--amid Alpine snows and crags and cliffs, whither the blood-stained hand of their adversaries could not reach them, though they often tried. Well did the earth’s mountain fortresses help God’s people then. Nor may we overlook--
4. The earth’s natural phenomena. The ten plagues of Egypt were but intensified forms of such phenomena, as any one resident long enough in that ancient land will know. The dividing of the Red Sea was by “a strong east wind.” The defeat of the Spanish Armada, like the pestilence which slew the Assyrian army that threatened Hezekiah and his city and people--what were these but earth’s phenomena, bidden of God to go to the help of His people, as assuredly they did? And how often have--
5. The politics of earth been Used in a similar way. In 303 a.d., an edict was passed, requiring Christians to deliver up their sacred books under pain of death. This was speedily followed by another, dooming all Christian ministers to prison. And that was immediately followed by a third, authorising the inflicting on them the most savage tortures, unless they would sacrifice to the heathen gods. In the year 304, a fourth edict was issued, ordering the magistrates to force all Christians to offer sacrifices to the gods, and to employ all sorts of torment if they refused. But relief was at hand. In the year 306 Constantine rose to power, and soon after to imperial power. In the year 313 liberty was proclaimed to the Christians, “and in the year 324 the Emperor publicly declared himself a Christian.” Thus did the great earthly power of Rome help the people of God by swallowing up for ever the pagan and long-persisted-in persecution, which had been designed to overwhelm them in its full, fierce-flowing flood.
6. Nor have the passions of earth played an unimportant part in this same helping of God’s people. God “maketh the wrath of man to praise Him”; and not man’s wrath only, but his avarice, and at times even baser passions still. As when that sensual Persian tyrant, for the sake of Esther, hurled down the party of Haman and exalted that of Mordecai. And our own English Henry the Eighth leaned not a little towards the reformed faith because by means of it the beautiful woman he desired might more readily become his. And what a sad and deplorable part did the lust after the Church lands play in persuading the peerage and gentry of that age to pull down the old Church and put up the new. Granted well-nigh all that can be said against that old Church and for the new, still the dark fact remains that avarice and greed were the governing motives of not a few. And that wild outburst of a nation’s rage, known as the French Revolution, how that availed to put down the cruelties of the Inquisition, and all those tortures whereby the Church of Rome had been wont to force men to acknowledge her sway. And finally--
7. The men of this world--such as the apostle speaks of as “earthly” and worse--then the very children of earth have once and again helped the children of God, the chosen of the Lord. Even Pilate wanted to. And what a list of like unspiritual, worldly men, who yet have proved friends of Christ, the apostolic records furnish--Gallio, Lysias, Festus, Felix, Agrippa, and the centurions and officers of the guard, who were kind to Paul, and stood between him and his enemies. And it has been so ever since. In the life of Lord Shaftesbury, we find him frequently telling how, in one and another of his benevolent but at that time most difficult enterprises, he was helped far more by those who made no profession of religion at all than by not a few of those who did. And to-day, do we not know many who refuse the Christian creed but who will yet do Christian deeds and help Christians therein? And the reason is that God has implanted in man Conscience, the instinctive love of justice and goodness, and hatred of injustice and oppression; and because the Church appeals to these principles she often gets the good will of worldly men, and their practical help and sympathy.
II. Some teachings of this help.
1. How inevitably it will be needed. God’s faithful people being what they are, and Satan being what he is, how can it but be that he should persecute the Church of God?
2. It will surely be forthcoming. All men and all material agencies are ministers of God for good to His people, if He pleases to make them so. And He will do this if need arise.
3. How blessed to be of the number of those for whom God will do this. It is His faithful Church, His true people, for whom He will do this. Are we of their number? (S. Conway, B. A.)
Nature serving Christianity
I. By its grand revelations.
1. There is God. All nature proclaims not only His existence, but His personality, unity, spirituality, wisdom, goodness, power.
2. There is law.
3. There is mediation.
4. There is responsibility.
5. There is mystery.
II. By its moral impressions.
1. Sense of dependence.
III. By its multiplied inventions.
5. Government. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Science and the Church
The “woman” mentioned here is a symbol of the New Testament Church. She is represented as pursued by the devil, who ejects from his mouth a river of water after her. Just then the earth opens; the deluge is swallowed up; so the woman is saved. Hence we catch from so rapidly flitting a vision at least as much as this welcome proposition: Nature is on the side of genuine religion; science is ready now to be helpful to the Church when it needs succour.
I. Hence it might be wise for us, in the first place, to allude to the somewhat ungenerous way in which the woman has been treating the earth in modern times. There is a violence of prejudice in the minds of a great many of God’s people which is almost inexplicable. From the outset they suspect all offers of help from the world of natural research. Now the day has passed for a mere show of bigotry. Whoever considers that his opinions are settled beyond modification is simply a conceited or obstinate debater. Now if skilled philosophers have to be modest in dealing with each other, how much more wary ought the rank and file of mere theologians to be! For they are a class of scholars who do not claim to be experts in the details of the material sciences. Is it not time that religious people recognise the lapse of time and the growth of ages? Some things have come to light which Turretin and Luther and Calvin did not know, or they very likely would never have written what they did. The true prudence for us all would be to welcome aid in any difficult field of labour, no matter whence it comes. A fact is a fact, as a diamond is a diamond, and both are valuable; and it would be sheer waste of time to inquire jealously the colour of the first searcher who found either. There was a day when the gold and silver of Pharaoh’s people went into the heaps of money contributed for building the tabernacle of God in the wilderness; there need be no fear but that all the discoveries of every science in turn, as soon as they have become fixed and tabulated by scientists themselves, will range their valuable brightness where they can best beautify the temple of God’s Word.
II. Now let us seek some few of the forms of actual help which natural science of every sort has already furnished, thus exhibiting its real friendliness.
1. To begin with, let us consider its answer to what have beech termed the “unconscious prophecies” of the Bible.
2. In the second place, the Church has occasion to thank science for its help in giving a constant rebuke to impertinent cavils which petulant objectors are in the habit of urging. Voltaire founded an argument against the truthfulness of the Old Testament upon what he termed the ignorant mistakes of the writer who composed the various books. Among these he instanced the expression of Solomon in the Proverbs, “Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the glass.” Now, said this witty Frenchman, Solomon could not have been the wise man he was reputed to be, or else he would have been fully informed that glass was not known as a substance until long after he was dead; it was invented subsequent to the date of his somewhat fragmentary book. Now science stepped into the controversy, not precisely for the Bible’s sake in that sceptical age, but for its own. Chronology settled that Solomon lived about 1004 B.C. Then a historian proved that glass was in use among the Egyptians far before that time, for he had found pictures of glass-blowing in the ruins of the temples sculptured on the stone slabs. Archaeology followed with an exhibition of a glass signet engraved with a monarch’s name, and dated 1500 b.c.; this was discovered in ancient Thebes. And to this there was added the fact, announced by the expedition just returning from Egypt, that there were glass beads buried with the mummies they began to unroll. At this moment also came in philology to say that Solomon had not in fact mentioned the name of glass at all in his proverb; the original Hebrew word meant “cup,” a mere drinking-vessel of any material; the wise man had warned against wine “when it giveth its colour in the cup.” Thus, again, four distinct sciences in turn took up the contemptible little cavil and silenced it. It seems a waste of energy; but this has often been the result of such a demonstration.
3. Once more: consider science as exemplifying its friendliness for the Church in the illustration of difficult doctrines which it furnishes. It does not matter where we seek for examples. The resurrection of the body, perhaps one of the doctrines of the New Testament the most mysterious, was quite a fresh revelation to the world at large. It is a hard matter of belief to many a perplexed mind now. But it is no harder than the mystery of a tree’s growth from the seed; and this is the figure which the Apostle Paul used for his help in explaining it. There are reserves in science into which the all-wise Creator retires as He does in revelation.
4. In the fourth place, let us be ready to acknowledge the help we receive in the reconciliation which science offers concerning the paradoxes of reason and faith in the Scriptures. We find in the revealed Word the statement that our Maker is “the Light of the world.” Vivid indeed is the illustration offered by optical science just at this point. Here are three primary colours entering in to produce perfect white--the blue, the yellow, and the red. The natural philosopher places before our eyes a broad disk of metal; he paints on it segments of colour in due proportion, running from circumference to centre and ending at a point; then he whirls the disk like a wheel on its axis; the colours disappear, and the metal shines whiter than a silver shield. We cannot understand it; but the fact is the three elements have blended into one whole: three are one, and one is three. Then the lecturer tells us that the red gives off all the heat in the sun’s ray, the yellow spreads all the illumination, the blue effects the chemical changes in living organisms. He says we read by the yellow ray, but we should shiver without the red, and we should wither and die without the blue. They are all needed as colours, and they all work together as one beam of sunlight. Now it is not contended that this is an explanation of the Scriptural doctrine of the trinity of God’s being; but this we do insist upon: whenever cavillers demand scientific reasoning, because they cannot believe what they do not understand, R does seem as if we might wait for them to play their little arithmetical puzzles about three are one and one is three off upon the spectrum before they try them on the Trinity. And we go a single step farther. We cannot help thinking, in view of such astonishing analogies, that it must have been infinite wisdom which said, “God is light.”
5. Finally, let us consider the friendliness of science as manifested in the positive help which it offers in the interpretation of obscure passages in the Word itself. Think of the helpfulness of Layard’s discoveries at Nineveh to the students in explaining the books of Jonah and Nahum. So of the other forgotten cities and empires; we are to read concerning the fall of Tyre, the overthrow of Egypt, the extinction of Edom, the destruction of Babylon, in the light of late investigations of the ruins in those lands, all made in the interest of science. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The earth helps the woman
The names of worldly-minded subscribers to religious societies prove how greatly the earth helps the woman. (W. Wayte Andrew, M. A.)
The dragon … went to make war with the remnant.
War against the remnant
1. We see that the dragon’s wrath against the woman breaks out in war: which shows us, that even so wrath or any sin harboured in the heart, will at last break forth in action. Cain.
2. We see who is the principal author of the bloody wars and massacres that have been in sundry nations.
3. It is said that he went to make war with the remnant of her seed: to show us hereby the insatiable blood-thirstiness of Satan and his instruments: who, when they had killed the Lord’s witnesses and so many more, yet cannot rest till in like manner they have killed the remnant.
4. This seed of the woman is described from keeping of the commandments of God, and having the testimony of Jesus Christ: by this mark, therefore, let us try ourselves if we be of this number who are the members of Christ’s true Church; to wit, if we hold fast, the profession of the truth constantly, and make our practice or conversation conform thereunto. (Wm. Guild, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11