« AnteriorContinuar »
lated to the cause and interests of Protestants.-There was something like the exultation of spirit described in ver. 10. among the members of the council of Trent, and all the friends of the Popish interest, when they heard of the successes of the emperor over the Protestants, and especially when the interim was enforced by the most severe civil pains. But when matters took that favourable turn which we have also mentioned, there was something like a resurrection of the witnesses, by their restoration to the possession of all their former privileges. But these events, so favourable to the friends of truth, excited such terror among their enemies, that the council of Trent broke up; the members of that council thought of nothing but their personal safety, and fled in all directions; and even the emperor himself was glad to seek a refuge among the mountains of the Alps.* The fulfilment of the chronological part of the prophecy was equally remarkable. The interim was accepted May 15th, 1548, but not published by an imperial decree till the beginning of June. Three years and a half from this date, brings to December, 1551, when Maurice commenced his operations, which led to the successful issue in favour of the Protestants.t
I do not however suppose, that the application of this prophecy should be limited to the events in Germany at the time of the Reformation. In other countries, the witnesses might not make such a shameful defection, as was done by submitting to the interim, and thereby virtually returning to the church of Rome for a season; yet, in these countries, the literal slaying of the friends of truth was as extensive, in proportion to their numbers, as within the limits of the German states; and in some of them it was continued the same length of time. This was remarkably the case in France. From Bartholomew day, 1572, in which the horrible massacre commenced, till the 14th May, 1576, assassination and persecution were uninterrupted within the limits of that kingdom. But at the last of these periods, which was three years and a half from the first, the Protestants had almost every thing secured to them by law, which they could reasonably desire. They were not only granted the free exercise of their religion, but they were put nearly upon a level with the other subjects of the state ; they were admitted to all civil dignities and emoluments in common with Papists, and many of them to the most important offices of trust in the government. The case was pretty similar in England. The Reformation had a very inauspicious beginning under Henry VIII. That capricious tyrant sometimes burned Protestants and Papists at the same stake; even those who were disposed to be most compliant to his wishes, were at a loss how to please him by the avowal of their religious sentiments, his opinions were so fluctuating and uncertain. But under his son, Edward VI., the Reformation met with every sort of encouragement. He was succeeded in the throne, after a short and prosperous reign of six years, by his sister Mary, who attempted to throw down what it had been the principal aim of her brother to build up and maintain. The natural ferocity of her temper was strongly irritated by the gross insult that had been offered to her mother, in the famous divorce which was the immediate occasion of Henry's rupture with the church of Rome. Under her reign, the Protestant religion was put down, and Popery once more established by law; and every method was employed for maintaining the perpetuity of that false system of religion, and rooting out the principles of the Reformation from among her subjects. This bloody woman was brought to her grave, after a reign of only five years, and was succeeded by Elizabeth, under whom Popery was abolished, and the Protestant religion once more established as the religion of the country. Though the reign of Mary was about five years, the witnesses in England could not be said to have been slain during the whole of that period. She at first amused them with proclamations and promises, to do nothing injurious to their religion, provided they would submit peaceably to her government; and it was not till she found herself firmly established in the throne, that she proceeded to measures of violence against them, which were terminated by her death in three years and a half after their commencement.-In our own country, the interests of the Reformation never appeared in greater danger, than only a few months before the Protestant religion was established by law. In the month of November, 1559, the army of the Protestants mutinied and dispersed, and the leaders of the Reformation fled from the scene of danger, as if the cause for which they had formerly contended with such a noble ardour of spirit, had been lost for ever; till the intrepid Knox, whom no dangers could intimidate, and whose spirit no adverse circumstances could subdue, by his powerful eloquence put their cowardice to the blush, and united them again as one firm compacted body. By the most unexpected turn in their favour, they soon got every thing their own way; and by the month of May, 1560, the Protestant religion was established in Scotland.
* The celebrated historian of the reign of Charles V., has thus described the flight of the emperor and his attendants from Inspruck, on the approach of Maurice.-Charles,' says he, was informed of the approaching danger late in the evening; and, knowing that nothing could save him but a speedy flight, he instantly left Inspruck, without regarding the darkness of the night, or the violence of the rain which happened to fall at that time; and, notwithstanding the debility occasioned by the gout, which rendered him unable to bear any motion but that of a litter, he travelled by the light of torches, taking his way over the Alps, by roads almost impassable. His courtiers and attendants followed with equal precipitation, some of them on such horses as they could hastily procure, many of them on foot, and all in the utmost confusion.'— Robertson's Chas. V. v. III.
+ I am chiefly indebted to Mr Faber for this view of the prophecy, to whom I refer the reader for a more copious detail of the facts, in his ingenious Dissertation upon the 1260 days. He will also find a very luminous statement of them in Dr Johnston's Commentary on the Revelation,
There is such a similarity of events in different countries, at the memorable period of the Reformation, which appears to be as much the fulfilment of this prophecy in one country as in another, that it would be improper to restrict its application to any one of them, exclusive of the rest. The two witnesses are the representatives of the Protestants, not in Germany alone, but in all the countries of Europe over which the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome extended. Though some shades of difference subsisted among them with respect to the degrees of their attainments, there was a beautiful harmony in their
creeds and confessions, so far as their minds had been opened to the discernment of the truth; and even their external cir. cumstances were remarkably similar. In most countries where the Reformation afterwards was finally established, their cause seemed to prosper at first ; success marked their steps to such a degree, it appeared as if their sackcloth covering was to be wholly laid aside; but when they were flushed with success, the Lord was pleased to convince them, that without his powerful aid they could do nothing, by permitting a sad reverse to take place for a season, till it appeared as if none were to be shut up or left;' and then he as unexpectedly wrought deliverance, and gave them occasion to say, • The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.'-From these verses it
appears, 1st, That the testimony of the witnesses during the greater part of the reign of Antichrist, was in a very unfinished and imperfect state. It was only as they began to approach towards the conclusion of their sackcloth state, that their testimony began to be enlarged and filled up. Formerly it was only like a mere outline; it was stated against the more gross and palpable abominations of the Antichristian system : the more spiritual evils were overlooked, as they did not imagine that that huge body which was called the church of Rome, was so corrupted as it really was. And while they had only a superficial acquaintance with her evils, their testimony against her must have been very limited. We have a striking illustration of this in the case of the Reformers themselves. When Luther began to reprobate the sale of indulgences, he had no apprehensions that the whole mass was corrupted ; he had, therefore, no intention of separating from her communion. His testimony then was exceedingly limited ; but as he proceeded in his inquiries, his mind was gradually opened to see the discordancy between the doctrine and worship of the Ro mish church and genuine Christianity; and his testimony against her became more full and complete. And, indeed, such was the perfection of the testimony of the witnesses in the early
period of the Reformation, that their successors have hardly gone one inch beyond them.-In the dark ages, the measure of light enjoyed, even by those that endeavoured to be faithful, was very small. It would therefore be vain to look for that full, luminous, and pointed testimony for truth and condemnation of error among them, which afterwards appeared, when the minds of the witnesses were more enlightened, and the errors and abominations of Popery were better understood.
2d, That the cause of genuine religion may be sometimes brought very low. Here the witnesses were slain, and their dead bodies treated with such indignity, that they were denied the rites of sepulture; the cause of truth and holiness seemed to be lost, and the hopes of the church to be ruined for ever. -Such evils never can be owing to indifference on the part of God, with respect to that cause which is his own; nor do they take place because his powerful arm cannot interpose and prevent them. They are meant for the trial of the faith, fidelity, zeal, and other militant virtues of the saints ; they are likewise permitted, that the glory of the Divine excellencies may be displayed to the greatest advantage, and that the confusion of adversaries may be the more complete when the season of deliverance comes. How singular the display of power in the resurrection of the witnesses; and with what confusion must their enemies have been covered, when they saw them stand upon their feet, and ascend in the chariot of the clouds !
3d, That the afflictions of the church are sometimes greatly increased, from the peculiarity of the season in which they are measured out. When the witnesses were carrying forward their testimony towards a much more finished and perfect state of it than any in which it had hitherto appeared, since the age of the apostles, the beast made war against them and killed them. Together with the severity of the stroke, they were subjected to all the agony of pain which arises from disappointment, when expectations are raised to the highest. It is impossible indeed, that expectations built upon the word of God, can utterly fail. No event will ever be permitted to con