« PreviousContinue »
lyptic beast, namely, of the Roman empire, was without a name; but it resembled, in some respects, the other three beasts which the prophet had seen, and which united the fierceness, cruelty, and terror of all the rest. In fact, this beast, seen by the Apostle, was identically the same as the fourth beast of the Prophet; and it represented the same power. But it is here introduced at a particular period of its existence, when it it was to have authority to practise and prosper against the saints of God for forty-two months; that is, for the period of twelve hundred and sixty years so frequently alluded to. This beast, abstractedly viewed as the Roman empire, had been in existence more than eight hundred years previously to the time when St. John received his visions from the Almighty, and upwards of thirteen hundred years before the period referred to in this prophecy. Thus Daniel saw the rise of the Babylonian empire, as well as that of the others, though it preceded his prophecy in respect to time. But St. John, in this vision, sees the beast not at the time of its rise, but at a subsequent period, when it was to exercise a peculiar power. This is evident from the circumstance afterwards noticed, that five of its heads had fallen. The beast was introduced at a period when it was to use an especial power which the dragon should give him, together with his throne and great authority. The dragon here means the devil; who, in the beginning of this century, in a peculiar manner, gave his power to the beast, at this period of its existence. When another idolatrous persecuting power had succeeded to that which had before been exercised by the heathen emperors, the devil then transferred his dominion to it. Now, this in fact is the power represented by the beast in the state in which it was at the period when St. John saw it. Satan could no longer oppose and persecute Christianity by pagan emperors and magistrates, because they did not exist. The project of re-establishing the old idolatry having failed, a new species was invented, in the corrupted church which will be presently introduced. Angels and saints succeeded to gods and demi-gods; and power was given to the beast to support and promote this new kind of idolatry by means of persecution.—
The Apostle saw one of the seven heads of this beast as it were “ wounded to death." Now, when it is afterwards declared, that five of the heads were fallen at the time when St. John saw this monster, and that all the apocalyptic visions were prophecies and not histories, it must necessarily have been one of the two last heads that was thus wounded unto death, and was afterwards healed. Which of these two it was will be considered hereafter, when we come to that part of the prophecy in which this circumstance is more particularly described.-It is next remarked, that “all the world wondered after the beast." The nations of the empire were astonished at the sight and appearance of him, and were filled with wonder at his power, riches, honour, and grandeur.—“ And “ they worshipped the dragon which gave power “ unto the beast; and they worshipped the beast,
saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to “ make war with him?" The subjects of the empire submitted without reserve to another idolatrous persecuting power, to which they paid a blind and implicit obedience; and thus they virtually worshipped the devil, the dragon, who gave his power to the beast. For idolatry of every kind may justly be denominated the worship of the devil. They also worshipped the beast as well as the dragon, as one who never had his equal on earth, and who would surely crush all who presumed to oppose him. All the world, says Bishop Newton, in submitting thus to the religion of the beast, did, in effect, submit again to the religion of the dragon; it being the old idolatry with only new names. What is the worshipping of demons and angels, but, in fact and reality, the worshipping of devils
5. And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty and two months.
The empire assumed great and pompous titles indicative of its sway over many subjugated countries. The beast spoke blasphemies in giving himself the title of “ the sacred Roman empire ;” and in the system of worship that he supported, which, in fact, was a system of blasphemy. Power also was given him to continue, or rather, as Bishop Newton observes, to practise, prevail, and prosper, or, as some copies of the Greek Testament read, to make war, forty-two months; which being reduced to days, give twelve hundred and sixty prophetic days, the identical time of the prophesying of the witnesses, of the treading down of the holy city by the Gentiles, and of the abode of the woman in the wilderness. The beast will therefore continue in existence twelve hundred and sixty years from the period when he began to practise against the Church. It does not, however, necessarily follow, as the learned Bishop rightly argues, that the beast is to exist no longer. The prophecy certainly expresses no more than that the beast is to make war upon the Church of God precisely that time. It is, nevertheless, highly probable, that at the termination of this period, or soon after, the power which has so long oppressed the Church will meet its doom and “ go into perdition."
6. And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.
It is very evident, that during the period of this prophecy, the beast here spoken of combined with the other beast afterwards described, the ecclesiastical
power, in its usurpation and in intrenching on the Lord's peculiar honours and prerogatives. One instance out of multitudes that might be mentioned,
illustrating in a striking manner the beast's mouth of blasphemy against God, may be found in a part of the Golden Bull published by Charles IV. A.D. 1356. These are some of its impious words : “ But thou,
envy, how often hast thou attempted to ruin by “ division the Christian empire, which God hath “ founded upon the three cardinal virtues, faith,
hope, and charity, as upon a holy and indivisible
Trinity ; vomiting the old venom of discord among “ the seven electors, who are the pillars and seven “ principal members of the holy empire ; by the
brightness of whom the holy empire ought to be “ illuminated as by seven torches, the light of which “ is reinforced by the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." The beast has also blasphemed the name of God, by arrogantly assuming the divine prerogatives, and exercising antichristian authority over the consciences of men.
He has, moreover, blasphemed the tabernacle of God, by stigmatizing, anathematizing, and murdering true Christians as heretics : and finally, them that dwell in heaven; for this beast has disgraced the names and characters of departed saints, and of the angels in heaven, by fabulous legends about them, by scandalizing them, as if they were pleased with the idolatrous worship that he gave them, and by making them mediators between God and man. If angels and saints are represented as attracting to themselves that worship which ought to be appropriated only to God, they are undoubtedly blasphemed.
7. And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
It is sufficiently evident that the Roman empire made war with the saints, and overcame them, when the woman was driven into the wilderness. This was effected by the instrumentality of this tenhorned beast. But the war has continued to rage with more or less violence ever since; nor can it be
expected to cease before the termination of the twelve hundred and sixty years. Throughout the western empire, true Christians, during a great part of this period already past, have been exposed to persecution and death for daring openly to dissent from the religion of the beast. All the persecutions which Popery has stirred up against the saints have been carried into execution by the secular Roman power. It was this power which waged war with the Waldenses, and in one century only (the fourteenth) destroyed in France alone a million of these witnesses for Christ. It was by the power given him by the beast that the ferocious Duke of Alva boasted of having put thirty-six thousand to death during his government in the Netherlands, in the space of a few years, by the hands of the public executioner. The Inquisition delivered over to the beast one hundred and fifty thousand in thirty years, who were put to death by various kinds of horrible and devilish tortures. It was the power of the beast that instigated in France the memorable massacre of St. Bartholomew, when several thousand were destroyed in Paris in the space of three or four days, by all the varieties of cruel deaths that the most unbounded malice could invent. The same scenes were acted over in other cities of France; so that, in the space of two months, thirty thousand Protestants were murdered in cold blood. During the tremendous persecution in France, which occurred in the reign of Louis XIV. five hundred thousand Protestants were driven into banishment in the course of a few years, and the prisons and galleys were filled with those who were unable to make their escape. About four hundred thousand still remained in the kingdom. They were compelled to go to mass and communicate. Some who rejected the host, after having received it, were condemned to be burnt alive. Such of the Protestant ministers as returned to the kingdom, after having quitted it, were condemned to the gallows or the