The Dragon Foiled

<< Revelation 12: The Dragon Foiled, and the Church Preserved >>

3And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. REVELATION XII

In our last discourse we endeavoured to admire the beauty of the Church, now in its infancy, which is to be the Church of the future, as represented by the woman clothed by the sun. And seeing that she is the symbol of a Church which will love the Lord supremely as her husband, rest upon a true faith in the Lord with a firm and holy trust, and at the same time be adorned with the bright stars of heavenly knowledge, like a diadem of beauty, one might imagine that the new doctrine and state of society she would bring forth would be welcomed by all. But it is not so. There is presented to our view by the next wonder, a fearful opposing power, represented by the great dragon standing ready to devour the man-child as soon as it was born. It was a saying of one of the Grecian sages, that virtue is so lovely that if she could appear in her own pure charms on earth, she would win all hearts. But this is only partially true. Virtue is lovely to those who love virtue. The sunbeams are hateful to the owl. To the lazy and impure cleanliness is abhorrent. Goodness and wisdom incarnate did once tread the earth, and were crucified. We must not, therefore, be surprised when we find that principles which are to us clear as daylight, are rejected by the prejudiced as absurd, and teachings which are those of justice itself are regarded for that very reason with abhorrence by the selfish.

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. In our first parents this principle displayed itself in the suggestion that they should not be altogether led by the Lord and His wisdom, but should use their life as their own, and conclude that what their senses taught them was truer than the teaching of God’ s wisdom. They determined to eat of the tree of their own knowledge, and be, as they fancied, as gods. Their self-will, which the moment it is separated from the will of God becomes evil-will, was the root of error then, and is so to the present day. From the simplest cheat to the mightiest fraud, from the snatch of the meanest thief, to those immense burglaries which ambition makes and calls heroic conquests; from the juggle of an overreaching shopman, to those elaborate systems of false theology which cheat masses of nations, and make them the abject slaves of grovelling superstitions; leading their fanatical millions to reject those principles of mercy, justice, and truth, by which alone God serves men, and can renovate nations, the deep ground of all these wrongs is self, self, self. This is the old serpent, which, with one or another skin, with one or another form, without wings or with wings, as the case may require, deceiveth the whole world (Rev. xii. 9).

Between lawless self-love under all its manifestations, in private and in public life, in State and in Church, in essence and in doctrine, and the Lord’s pure Church, which is formed from love and wisdom, there is inherent and instinctive aversion. A selfish system dreads the advent of disinterested love. An evil system dreads the presence of goodness. A false system, shrouded in mystery, dreads the presence of light, and scents that which it hates afar off. It stands ready to devour the man-child as soon as it is born (ver. 4).

Such has ever been the case, and we must not be surprised that the New Church of the Lord at this day should find a similar opposition. 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 common people heard Him gladly. When He spoke of mercy, justice, faith, universal brotherhood, and of a better world beyond the grave, a few souls welcomed the joyful tidings; but not so the priests and the powerful. The Sadducees and the Pharisees watched around, not to receive, but to betray. They stood to ensnare and then accuse. They declared He had a devil, that He was mad, and that He was a traitor. No matter to them that He was purity and love incarnate. No matter that He blessed the poor, fed the hungry thousands, healed the sick, and raised the dead; He came to supersede the dominion of selfishness and sin, and therefore the selfish hated Him. The wily priests hang round to catch His words, that they might misrepresent and pervert them. The serpent writhed within them, and prepared to bite. By the power of His love and wisdom the Saviour was crushing the serpent’s head, and with instinctive hate the serpent struck at His lowest part. His human nature. His heel, the only part that it could reach. The serpent, then, in His case, stood ready to devour, and at length nailed Him to the cross, crying, ” Crucify Him! crucify Him!”

We may now be prepared to perceive the application of the divine description of the “great dragon” who stood before the woman ready to devour her child as soon as it was born. It represents the selfish system of a fallen Church, ready to oppose and destroy the new manifestation of divine truth, as given in the New Jerusalem. The serpent is the symbol of self-love, and a dragon is a serpent with wings. The wings denote the soaring power with which self-love decks itself when it professes to be religious. It had seven heads to represent its pretended great intelligence in holy things, and crowns upon its heads as emblems of divine truths, shining but perverted; ten horns to signify its extensive power by truths from the Word, which it parades but misinterprets.

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. How common is it with us, when we see a person pursuing his own low ends, by subtle secret means winding round others, and at last destroying them for his own advantage, to say that such a one is a real serpent ! The Word supplies us with frequent and undoubted use of this correspondence of the serpent. Such only could be its meaning when, after the fall, it is said, “Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shall thou eat all the days of thy life.” — Gen, iii. 14. For no outward serpent eats natural dust all the days of its life. But selfishness is always low and mean and crawling, and has no aim higher than the dust of earthly possessions all the days of its life. Between the woman and her seed, the Church and her children, and the serpent and his seed, or selfishness, and its children, there would he perpetual enmity. The seed of the woman, the children of the Church, and especially that divine child in which Jehovah Himself was, would bruise the serpent’s head, would conquer selfishness in its very root, which He did when He overcame the powers of hell. The same use of serpent is made in the latter portion of Genesis. It is said, “Dan is a serpent by the way, an adder in the path. He biteth the horse’s heels, and makes his rider fall backward” (Gen. xlix. 17). Dan was not, of course, a literal serpent, or adder in the path; but so far as he was actuated by selfishness in heart and in thought he was spiritually a serpent and an adder, and when selfishness assails the intellect by which we ought to advance on the path of truth as on a noble horse, and subverts it to dishonest objects, it bites the horse’s heels and makes his rider fall backward.

In the Psalms the serpent is frequently introduced as the correspondence of the selfish nature. “The wicked are estranged from the womb : they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Their poison is as the poison of serpents: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear ; which will not hearken to the voice of charmers, charming never so wisely.” — Psalm lviii. 3-5. Again, “Deliver me, Lord, from the evil man : preserve me from the violent man ; which imagine mischiefs in their heart ; continually are they gathered together for war. They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent ; adders’ poison is under their lips.” — Psalm cxl. 1-3. By bearing in mind the correspondence of the serpent, these passages are at once seen to be most true and most instructive. For no poison is so destructive as falsehood. The tongue of the intensely selfish man is sharpened like a serpent indeed.

When we come to the Gospels, the spiritual signification of serpent meets us very early, and continues throughout. When John was baptizing and preaching repentance, he saw many of those embodiments of selfishness — the pious pretenders who devoured widows’ houses, and for a pretense made long prayers; and it is recorded, ” But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ? Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” — Matt. iii. 7, 8. No one can fail to discern, in this graphic description by John, the perception on his part of the designing character of these wicked priests. They spoke of God, but they meant their own interests. They loved the flock, but only for the sake of the fleece. They spread abroad their sanctimonious pretenses like a spider’s web, to catch the simple and the unwary, who, when they walked into the snare, discovered that what they had supposed was the path to heaven was but the way to a den of thieves. The Lord Jesus tore the holy mask from these serpent-faces with still more scathing bitterness, —

“He fudged them with as terrible a frown.
As if not love, but wrath, had brought Him down.”

Read the whole of the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, and you will have the character of the serpent in religion truly delineated. See for instance, ” Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell.”— Ver. 27, 28, 33.

This denunciation seems to be terrible and wonderful, as proceeding from Him who was love, pity, and tenderness itself. But we must remember to Him all hearts are known. He sees principles in all their depth, and in their true character. To Him this spirit of selfishness is the foulest thing in existence. It has in it all the monstrosities which defile earth, and create hell. Robberies, murders, adulteries, all proceed from it. Every transgression of the law comes from the sinner lawlessly rushing in to gratify his own will and lust, instead of the will of God, and the happiness of his neighbour. Selfishness then, when seen by Him to whom all hearts are open, and all time is now, appears as one enormous serpent composed of innumerable smaller serpents;–”that old serpent which deceiveth the whole world.” The great business of all religion is to conquer this serpent in every one of us. Unless selfishness is overcome there can no progress be made. We may be amused with the fancy that we are Christians, because we attend to religious worship, but unless self be overcome we are simply sailing on the current of life, the victims of a fond delusion. We are not worshippers of God, but, like many ancient nations we are insane worshippers of the serpent, the most degrading form of worship. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me (Matt. xvi. 24). This is the Lord’s first and grand requirement, yet how few learn it. He who has not, however learned this, has as yet learned nothing as he ought to learn it. Deny self, or you will not receive truth purely, but will pervert it. Deny self, or you cannot be happy. Deny self, or you cannot enter heaven, where all is disinterested love. It will be hard, but that is the cross you have to bear, the battle you have to fight.

“And he who bears the cross to-day.
Shall wear the crown to-morrow.

We cannot of ourselves destroy our serpents, but the Lord will give us power to do so. He says, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy : and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” — Luke X. 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 conceited we can become yielding and deferential ; 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 doctrine. 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 — the conviction that there is a heaven to which we should aspire ; and all the truths connected with our immortal life form wings, as it were, to the soul, and give it lofty flights. This soaring tendency of the spirit is perceived by all. It is our capacity to contemplate a celestial life, to rise above the bounds of time and space, and live in the atmosphere of an inner life. Poets often allude to this power, and all feel it.

” My soul, on wings of ardour rise!
Contemplate yonder happy skies,
The home of all the blest!
Fain to this kingdom I would soar :
The world can captivate no more:
I seek the realms of rest.”

The Scriptures often employ wings to designate the truths which help the soul to fly upward, and also defend it, for this is another office of wings. “They that wait upon the Lord,” it is it is said, “shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary ; and they shall walk, and not faint.” — Isa. xl. 31. “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.” — Ps. lxviii. 13. The wings of a dove represent the soft, sweet truths of heavenly love. It was no wild wish the Psalmist uttered when he said, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest ” — Ps. lv. 6, but the yearning of a soul wearied with struggle and contention, and longing for lofty thoughts of peace and heaven.

The Lord is said to have wings, because all truths which elevate the soul are from Him. When we feel these truths protecting us from the world’s cold blast, we are said to be under the shadow of His wings. To the humble loving soul who trusts in Him, it is said, “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”— Ps. xci. 4. Here the protecting principle is called His truth. Again, ” How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings.” — Ps. xxxvi. 7. And that tender expostulation of our Lord in the Gospel, where He declares that all the hindrance to salvation comes from man and not from Him, uses the same spiritual sense of wings. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not.” — Luke xiii. 34. That is, the Lord constantly invites us to come under the influence and protection of His holy truths. For want of perceiving this spiritual sense of wings, not only has much of the language of the Word been obscure, but some ideas have become common which will not bear examination. The angels are said in the Word to fly, as we have seen men are said to fly, to mount up and to have wings ; but those who never dream of applying literal wings to men or to the Lord, have thought it meant that angels really had wings in addition to having arms. But we should not forget that wings to the bird are what arms are to men; they are, in fact, imperfect arms, as fins are to fishes, and to fix them to angelic beings would be to place upon them the marks and appendages of a rank in creation much lower than man. No ; the angels fly, but on the wings of contemplation, not of outward shape. And when our contemplative powers are furnished with sacred interior lessons of wisdom, we can take flight far beyond beings of inferior wing. It is of such truth that it is written, “The Sun of righteousness shall arise upon those who fear His name, with healing in His wings.”— Mal. iv. 2.

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 interim 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 complete, but perverted, ingenuity by which a false religion satisfies its deluded adherents. The unity of true religion is represented by a beautiful woman with one head; the inconsistency of a perverted religion is signified by a monster with seven heads. It will be found, on a close examination of a perverted religion, that its principles, however ingenious they may seem when separately examined, are not only inconsistent with the truth, but also inconsistent with each other. The heads are divided.

Horns are the emblems of power. Horned animals push, and exert their power by means of their horns. Hence, it is said by the Psalmist, ” All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.” — Ps. lxxv. 10. And again, “I said unto the fools. Deal not foolishly ; and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn : lift not up your horn on high : speak not with a stiff neck ” — ver. 4, 5, where no one can fail to see that horn is symbolical of power. It is so used in relation to the Lord Himself. It is said, in the prophecy of Habakkuk, “And His brightness was as the light; He had horns coming out of His hand, and there was the hiding of His power.” The hand of God means His omnipotence, and the horns which come out of His hand represent the varied powers which His omnipotence supplies for all the requirements of His servants in heaven and on earth.

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 dragons’ heads. Beautiful truths are the goodly pearls which spiritual merchantmen seek (Matt xiii. 45). They are what the divine promise implies in Isaiah, “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires, and I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord ; and great shall be the peace of thy children.”— Chap. liv. 11-13.

Precious truths are like precious stones ; they are exceedingly beautiful, they shine like gems; but they are sometimes used to decorate systems which are inwardly most injurious and profane. Hence, we read of the woman, who is styled Babylon the great, the mother of the abominations of the earth, being “decked with gold, precious stones, and pearls ” — Rev. xvii. 4 ; and here of the diadems which were on the heads of the dragon. 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 excellencies 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. Ready to devour : hence we may gather that such a system would chiefly exist where the New Church would first and mainly appear.

Such a corrupt religion, and the tendencies to it in all minds, is represented by a dragon and dragons in other parts of the Word. Israel, when inwardly become corrupt, is described in Deuteronomy, and we read, “Their wine is the poison of dragons, ind the cruel venom of asps.” — Chap, xxxii. 33. When the Lord’s coming into the world is predicted, the transformation which would take place in human minds, while He imparted truth, and made fertility of soul where barrenness and falsehood were before, it is written, “And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes” Isa. xxxv. 7. Where the dragons lay was where Pharisaic hypocrisy had been received. On the contrary, the good man who loves the Lord is assured of the divine protection in that beautiful Psalm, the ninety-first, in these words, ” Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder : the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. Because he hath set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him : I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.” — Ver. 13, 14. Of course, we are not to suppose that the lover of the Lord is to go and trample upon outward beasts, and astonish the world by attempting strange and useless feats of dangerous hardihood ; but the Lord will empower him to subdue those inward evils and false principles which are terrible and destructive to the soul, like lions and dragons.

Let us ask now, if there be any system at the present day of which the dragon may be seen to be the prophetic symbol : a system inwardly, profoundly selfish, but professing to have a regard for everything sacred and divine? Is there a system which describes the God of heaven in such awful terms, that it is in reality only self-love deified? Which, with religion in the mouth, great persuasiveness, and a profuse display of Biblical learning, yet contrives to leave its votaries greedy, sectarian, bigotted, and unjust? Is there a religion which removes the great terms of salvation from the laws of love to God and love to man to an obstinate, and often blind belief of certain theological dogmas, and those not true ? Is there a system which has borne the name of religion, and loudly proclaimed its sanctity and worth, but has, nevertheless, left the inward principles of its votaries very much the same as those which govern the savage man, ambition, and the love of gain ? We fear there is no difficulty in answering these questions. The religion of salvation by faith alone is precisely such a system. It makes a profession of sanctity, but is inwardly a serpent. The commandments of God are made of none effect, when they are declared to be non-essential to salvation. When a man’s life is regarded as neither condemning nor saving, but only his faith, a system is set up essentially deceptive and fallacious. The evil will seize it, and prostitute religion itself. And this mixture of selfishness and salvation makes a dragon. No human examples of selfishness approach by far the character this system attributes to God. Human beings, when they are really only seeking their own glory in what they do, endeavour to hide it. But this system blazons it abroad that God does everything for His own glory. Human beings, even bad ones, are ashamed when it is shown they are partial, and respect one child or one person, when there is no moral difference between them, more than another. But this system says, that God, before the foundation of the world , from His own sovereign caprice ordained a few to be saved, and still went on creating innumerable millions, to whom He never gave the power of saving themselves, and whom He would not save, and yet He would punish in the most awful manner in hell for ever, because they did not do what they could not do. Even the laws of Draco, which are always mentioned with horror, and as written in blood, because they ordained temporal death for the least crime, were nothing in severity to what is pretended by this system to have been God’s law, when, for eating an apple, He is said not only to have doomed man himself to temporal and eternal death, but all mankind then unborn also. No selfishness in the world has ever been so monstrous as that.

This system, then, goes on to divide God into three persons, notwithstanding it declares, also, that God has neither body, parts, nor passions ; thus, presenting to the mind the idea of no personal form, and yet three personal forms— of a God who has no passion, and yet is so full of passion, that, for a slight offense he condemns a world, and only pardons a few, after he has infinitely punished his only-begotten Son. It sets before the mind’s eye two divine persons, one most strict and fierce, who, although he has punished our Saviour infinitely, and thus been paid, in this awful manner, to exercise mercy to the uttermost, yet can with difficulty be got to deal out pardon, and that only to a few. This system proceeds, in the most elaborate manner, to describe the God it depicts as giving laws which never could be obeyed, and which He never intended should be obeyed, but uttering the most awful maledictions upon those who do not obey them, and urging continually that they should, they must be obeyed. It describes the Deity as frightening man to the utmost extremes of terror, under the plea of his not having obeyed the law ; and then, at last, informing him that if he believes at any moment, even just before he dies, it will do quite as well. This awful system is a dragon of the most fearful kind. It has existed, and it exists now, and to its existence it is mainly owing, in Protestant countries, that real piety, real wisdom, real love, and real obedience to God’s commandments are so rare, and mammon-worship and other idolatries, so common.

In Romanist countries it is the great Babylon sitting upon many waters, and making the nations drunk with her fornications, which usurps spiritual power over the souls of men, and blinds them with mysteries ; but, in Protestant countries, it is the system of Justification by FAITH ALONE. This is the great dragon. It is described as red, from the fiery zeal with which it inspires selfish men. It should be observed that all who study the Word, and talk about it, but remain sensual and natural, and do not live it, are parts of this dragon. Self-love is its heart, self-derived intelligence its breath, the learned in its mysteries are its heads, the less so its body ; those who follow in the wake, and adulterate and pervert the Word, until it is of no practical service to them in salvation, but all its holy truths are cast down, are the tail, which drew down the third part of the stars to the earth. When we look round upon the world, and observe a great profession of Christianity, and yet wonder that there is so much evil among mankind, we have often been puzzled to account for such a state of things. We see the religion of the Lord Jesus, as unfolded by Himself, is love to God, and love to man, brought forth into a spotless life. It is a religion of life : of daily life and of Sabbath life. It is a religion of being good, and doing good. It is a religion that has no fellowship with evil. It will do no one harm, but do all the good it can. This religion would make its members just, good, wise, and happy. But that is not the state of Christendom. How is it ? Can it be the religion of Jesus which has so failed, and produced such perplexing results ? Look over Europe, and see millions of men in arms to keep other millions in subjection and suffering. See everywhere the lower classes, despised, ignorant, discontented, moody, and miserable ; the upper classes, with some bright exceptions, vain, heartless, frivolous, and exacting. How seldom is a bright cheerful faith to be seen, how often infidelity ? Everywhere there is knavery, adulteration, uncertainty, and suspicion. Again we ask, are these the genuine products of the divine influence of the Saviour Jesus ? Assuredly not. Look around, it is the religion of the dragon. Well may such results come from such a cause. Selfishness has decorated itself with the appearances 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.

The two beasts mentioned in the following chapter, to which the dragon gave his power, and seat, and great authority, and which are afterwards called the beast and the false prophet, chap. xvi. 13, 14, represent the religion of faith alone, as received by the laity and by the clergy. The deadly wound which the first beast received, but which was afterwards healed, was the discovery, even early in its career, of the contrariety between this system and the Word, which ever insists on good works being done as essential to salvation. The deadly wound was healed, and this system made acceptable, when it was plausibly explained that good works, though not essential to salvation, would flow from this faith as a natural consequence. Then the world wondered after the beast, and worshipped the dragon. Now, however, its character is better known. The good works that were to come do not come, except with such as are good from reading the Bible, and in spite of their false and dragon-like doctrine. The second beast, which had two horns like a lamb, and spake like a dragon, and caused the earth, and them that dwell therein, to worship the first beast, whose deadly-wound was healed, who doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire to come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, represents the clergy, who have great influence from their meek profession of piety, and their fiery zeal as if from heaven, but who exert all their efforts and influence to maintain a system foreign to holiness, to justice, and to heaven.

When the Lord again gives pure religion, represented by the woman and her man-child, to mankind, such a system feels an instant opposition, and prepares for bitter conflict.

It is said, ” The serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.”— Ver. 15.

The flood that comes out of the mouth will be easily seen to be false reasonings and accusations, which are made against the New Church opening among men. And those who have had much experience in watching the advance of truth, will readily recognize the fulfillment of this portion of prophecy. Wherever the sublime doctrine of the supreme and sole divinity of our blessed Saviour is unfolded, there the dragon is sure to cast out his flood. If the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Jesus Christ, what is to become of one angry divine person, and another pacifying him, without man doing anything but believing ? If the Lord Jesus be Himself King of kings, and Lord of lords, the First and the Last, how can he apply to another Being to forgive man for his sake ? The whole of the artificial scheme falls away, and I stand face to face with the One Divine Saviour, who will love me, enlighten me, and help me, but who says, ” If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” — Matt. xix. 17.

Keep the commandments, keep the commandments, says the serpent, and pours out a terrible flood indeed. Keep the commandments! why man cannot keep the commandments. Keep the commandments! why that would be going to heaven by your own merits. Keep the commandments! Why that would be workmongering. Keep the commandments! why that is doing away with the merit of the Lord’s death, with the value of faith, with all that the learned teachers of faith alone have been insisting upon for hundreds of years. How can you be better than your fathers ? Poor feeble beings like you, how can you keep the commandments ? And so the outcry, and so the flood, continue. But God takes care to preserve the woman and her child, although only in the wilderness. She is preserved, for a time, with a few. She has not crowds about her. There are only a few. It is a wilderness around. But she keeps the testimony of Jesus Christ and the commandments of God. The dragon, though wroth, can do her no harm.

She has the testimony of Jesus Christ. What a sublime heritage is this! — The testimony of Jesus Christ. For what is the testimony of Jesus Christ? It is the knowledge that in Him God is man, and man is God. It is the testimony that He is the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the Jesus of the New. It is the testimony that all the prophecies which declared that Jehovah would come into the world as the only Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, have been fulfilled, and “God was indeed in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.” — 2 Cor. v. 19. It is the testimony that the Everlasting Father, out of love to His creatures, assumed a nature like ours, except that He was its only Father. He caused that Humanity to go through all the temptations of ours, the troubles, the divided states, the sufferings, the death of ours, but purified it, sanctified it, and raised it by His own proper power, so that this glorified Humanity might be for ever the uniting medium between us and our adorable heavenly Father. He in us, and the Father in Him. This is the glorious testimony of Jesus. Jehovah manifest, God with us. The souls of all His children, united to Him as their Creator, Redeemer, and Friend, one with the Father, all having access to the Father by Him, so that He who sees Him sees the Father. Happy, thrice happy, are they who have this testimony of the Father.

While, then, the dragon, consisting of those who despise the religion of life, and rely for salvation on faith alone, are using the dragon’s claws vigorously, and sending out most copious floods of falsehood to destroy the New Church and its new doctrine, its members are protected by the Lord, and feel quite safe; they have the testimony of Jesus; and what a delightful and consolatory testimony is that. It is the assurance that the Lord they love is not only the Lord of all, in whose hand are all things in heaven and on earth, but that He is their loving and instant defense. He is with them always (Matt. xxviii.) He is the lion of the tribe of Judah, and however all spiritual and earthly antagonists may assail, He who is the Lion and the Lamb will overcome, for He is King of kings, and Lord of lords (Rev. xvii. 16).

But, besides this testimony which they have, ” they keep the commandments of God” — Ver. 17. The dragon is most bitter upon this very subject. He has an intense antipathy to keeping the commandments. He cannot see how persons can keep the commandments without supposing they have merit therein. He cries out, Those who keep the commandments are going to heaven by their works, and are dishonouring their Saviour. But the very reverse of all this is true, and the faithful ones who keep the commandments are they who know that it is true. While they neglected the keeping of God’s commandments they could easily suppose they had merit, for then self ruled them, and the love of self can make a merit of anything. Those who are in faith alone fancy there is great merit in being of their faith, and look disdainfully upon others. But the men who strive to do the Lord’s will by a just and loving life, by a merciful spirit and a virtuous walk with God, these discover their short-comings fully, and know there is no merit in them. They know that all the good they do is from the Lord Jesus, and because they are branches in Him, the living vine. Instead of dishonouring the Saviour by endeavouring to do good works by power from Him, they cannot express their feeling of sadness at the dishonour put upon Him by the members of the dragon, when they pretend that although Jehovah gave His commandments for man’s good, and then came into the world to save mankind from their spiritual enemies, and lived, and died, and rose again, to enable man to serve Him in holiness and righteousness all the days of his life, that yet all this has failed, and man cannot yet keep the commandments. But they know better. They know that they may begin imperfectly ; by looking to the Lord in urgent holy prayer and steady practice, they will acquire daily new power to love Him more and serve Him better. They are sure the apostle’s words are true : ” This is the love of God, that ye keep His commandments ; and His commandments are not grievous.” Let us in this spirit obey, my brethren, and we shall know that he who dwells in this love dwells in God, for ” God is love.”

The earth, too, we are assured, will help the woman (ver. 16). And this, we can easily perceive, will certainly be a fact. The earth represents the earthly; those external men who do not yet trouble themselves about heavenly things, but who can appreciate goodness in the life. These discern the effects which follow the religion of enlightened charity, of loving and doing what is right in all things. They mark also religion of faith only, which leaves the roots of evil where they were, but glosses them over with pious usages and pious conversation. The men of no religious profession have no respect for the zealots of faith, but much regard for the doers of good. Whenever they are called upon to judge between the two, the earth will help the woman. The bigotted professor of a narrow faith assails with virulence and bitterness the children of the New Dispensation : but if they truly live out their principles of love to their heavenly Father and Saviour, and of obedience to His laws ; of love to their neighbour, irrespective of name, class, or creed, carried out in trustful obedience to the laws of God ; in the Word and in nature ever trusting in the right, faithful to truth, upright and kind ; not only will they have the smile of heaven, but also the earth will help the woman. “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)