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or, “ heathenize * with flatteries; but the people that do know their God, shall be strong, and do exploits : and they that understand,” or," the teachers, among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall [more correctly, be impelled to their fall]ť by sword and by flame, by captivity and by spoil, many days."
“ These things,” Bishop Newton observes, " are applicable to the Christian Jews; for now the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the temple was given to desolation, and the Christian church had succeeded to the place of the Jewish the new covenant in the place of the old : and such as do wickedly against, ‘condemn,' or ' reject,' the covenant, shall he, that is, the power before described, who took away the daily sacrifice,” &c.-shall
Corrupt with flatteries."
What is this but to say, that Rome shall be the seducer of the faithless Christians, as it had been the destroyer of the formal Jews? Corrupt by flatteries," or, “profane by seductive speeches,” or, “ cause them to heathenize," as the term may signify, we may apply to the arts used by the heathen magistrates, to cause the primitive professors of Christ's holy religion to apostatize; or more especially to that “stronger delusion,” which from the Romish church as its centre, and upheld by the powers of the state in the Roman . world, sealed the eternal ruin of those that "received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved :” and which apostate power actually restored, with but small variations, the corrupt institutions of the ancient Pagan religion. In either case, those alone who knew not their God, and
who were not steadfast to his covenant, could be brought to apostatize by their flattering speeches : “ Those who knew their God were strong, and did exploits,” or, “prevailed in their deed," -- they “ acted, and succeeded.” We have Christ's own words for it, “ The very elect” are not, - cannot possibly be deceived. Those who “wondered after the beast,” in the language of a future prophecy, though they are pronounced to be “all the world,” did not include those “ whose names were written in the Lamb's book of life from the foundation of the world."
“ And they that understand among the people,” or as we should rather render, “ The teachers of the people, shall instruct many: yet they shall fall,” or, “ be impelled to their fall, by sword and by flame, by captivity and by spoil, many days.” One of the leading institutions of the Christian church, was the appointment of a distinct order of men to be “ministers of the word;" what they received in their divine commission, “the same they were to commit to faithful men able also to teach others," and thus to perpetuate their order. It was by these ministers that the Gospel was propagated, “they instructed many :" and on the bishops and clergy of the Christian church the weight of persecution for the most part fell. The mention of flame, as the instrument of persecution, appears to me to extend the view of the prophecy to those who fell in the papal persecutions. The sword of the executioner generally terminated the witness of the primitive Christian; but the burning fire was the almost universal instrument of the cruelty of apostate Christian Rome, by which she prevailed over the martyrs of Jesus.
34. “ And when they shall fall,--and when they shall be
impelled to their fall,” or, “ thrust at that they might fall—they shall be holpen with a little help; but many shall cleave to them with flatteries."
This, like the last verse, is to be applied to the general history of the church; and that history well explains the predictions. This persecution of the teachers and confessors of the Gospel was not to be perpetual and uninterrupted. They were to have their breathing times, or rather their turns of favour, from the world that persecuted them: and the language of the prediction seems to imply, that the very violence of their adversaries would operate to produce this change in their favour in the public mind :-“and when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help, but many shall cleave to them with flatteries.”
Such has been the issue of the persecutions of the church; they generally promoted her interests in the world, so that it became proverbial, " the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.” It was especially the case in the last heathen persecution of Dioclesian. For a short season, the injuries of the church seemed to be recompensed with the prostration of all the power and wealth of the empire at her feet. So in Germany and the United Provinces, at the time of the Reformation, after the persecutor's sword had laid many low, and the church had been weakened “ by flame, and captivity, and by spoil, many days,” a considerable degree of public favour and support was vouchsafed to the professors of the Gospel. The same scene was unfolded in the persecution and dispersion, and in the subsequent re-establishment, of the British churches.
The help afforded, however, is pronounced to be but little.' But little in reality; in appearance it is much: many shall cleave to them with flatteries.” Alas! is not this a true description of that favour which the Gospel has received in those nations and cities where it has been adopted and acknowledged as the public religion? The whole population, perhaps, rulers and people, have embraced it, and very zealously maintained its peculiar doctrines; insomuch, that an evangelical tone has been given to the public sentiment and language; but, for the most part, this has proved hollow and deceitful. The true disciples of Christ found themselves in a new situation indeed, caressed and highly flattered by that world that had formerly persecuted them; but, when they looked to the real interests of faith and godliness, they found the help afforded by a nominally subject world was but small. The Gospel, instead of being persecuted, was complimented; but this was nearly all. Too
; true a character of the public profession of revealed religion, in all the various Protestant and reformed communities and nations which have renounced popery ! Though the religion of the Gospel be the public and national profession, you must make a marked distinction between the few who are the true successors to the primitive martyrs, and the many that cleave to them with flatteries; who “ have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof:” and while they publicly profess to be the advocates for the truth, are known to be hostile to it.
35. “ And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white even to the time of the end; because it is yet for a time appointed.” 1
This verse, I conceive, has not been generally under
“ Quia adhuc, aliud tempus crit."-Vulg.
stood. Them of understanding," or rather, " those who make to understand;" the same word that I have rendered “ teachers" above. - Of these teachers and authorized instructors of the Christian faith, some shall fall”_" shall stumble" in doctrine, and fall into error. “ To try them,” or as it is in the English margin, try by them, and to purge, and to make white.” 1
We shall recollect, that in the view just taken of the professed church, persecution has ceased, many are cleaving to the followers of Christ; not sincerely, but with flatteries. The professed church is become, therefore, a very unsound and corrupted body. What is to show this, and separate the precious from the vile ? False teachers shall be permitted to arise, to put it to the proof whether the professing world do really know and love that truth which they profess.—“ There must be heresies, that those that are approved amongst you may be made manifest.” This then is the ordeal and the touchstone of the church, at whatever time, or in whatever place, persecution has ceased. Those, however, that can be drawn away from the truth, do not know it, nor love it. It is only those whom false doctrine cannot deceive, that are the genuine people of God. But so subtle would be the deception, our Lord has told us, that it “would deceive, if it were possible, the very elect.”
We collect, therefore, that all who can at any time be drawn away from the truth, by false doctrine of any kind,