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persecutions which existed before Constantine the Great. And thus the woman fled into the wilderness from the face of the serpent. Rev. xii. 6, 14. “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place: where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent." The people being settled there, their posterity continued from age to age: and being, as it were, by natural walls, as well as by God's grace, separated from the rest of the world, they never partook of the overflowing corruption.
These especially were those virgins who were not defiled, when other churches prostituted themselves; but they kept themselves pure for Christ alone. They followed the lamb, their spiritual husband, whithersoever he went: they followed him into this hideous wilderness, Rev. xiv. 4, 5.-Their doctrine and worship appear to be the same with the Protestant doctrine and worship; and by the confession of Popish writers, they were a people remarkable for the strictness of their lives, for charity and other Christian virtues. They lived in external poverty in this hideous country; but they chose this rather than comply with the great corruptions of the rest of the world.
Living in so secret a place, it was a long time before they were noticed. But at last, falling under observation, the Romanists went out in mighty armies against them, fell upon them with insatiable cruelty, barbarously massacreing, and putting to death men, women, and children, with all imaginable tortures. Their enemies continued persecuting them with but little intermission for several hundred years; by which means many were driven out of the valleys of Piedmont. These fled into all parts of Europe, carrying with them their doctrine, to which many were brought over. Their persecutors could not by all their cruelties extirpate the church of God; so fulfilling his word, "that the gates of hell should not prevail against it."
4. Towards the latter part of this dark time, several noted divines openly appeared to defend the truth, and bear testimony against the corruptions of the church of Rome.The first and principal of these was a certain English divine, John Wickliff, who appeared about one hundred and forty years before the Reformation; he strenuously opposed the Popish religion, taught the same doctrine that the Reformers afterwards did, and had many followers in England. He was hotly persecuted in his lifetime, yet died in peace; but after he was buried, his bones were dug up by his persecutors, and burnt. His followers remained in considerable numbers in England till the Reformation; they were cruelly persecuted, and multitudes were put to death for their religion.
Wickliff had many disciples, not only in England, but in
other parts of Europe, whither his books were carried; and particularly in Bohemia, among whom were two eminent divines, John Huss and Jerom, a divine of Prague, the chief city of Bohemia. These strenuously opposed the church of Rome, and had many who adhered to them. They were both burnt by the Papists for their doctrine; and their followers in Bohemia were cruelly persecuted, but never extirpated till the Re formation.
The Success of Redemption from the Reformation to the present Time.
THUS having gone through the dark time of the church, I come now to consider that part which begins with the Reformation, and reaches to the present time. And here I would, 1. Speak of the Reformation itself; 2. The opposition which the devil has made to the Reformed church; 3. What success there has lately been of the gospel in one place and another; 4. What the state of things is now in the world with regard to the church of Christ, and the success of his purchase.
I. The first thing to be taken notice of is the Reformation itself. This was begun in Germany, about the year fifteen hundred and fifteen, by the preaching of Martin Luther, who being stirred in his spirit to see the horrid practices of the Popish clergy-and having set himself diligently to enquire after truth by the study of the holy scriptures, and the writings of the ancient fathers of the church-very openly and boldly decried the corruptions and usurpations of the Romish church in his preaching and writings. He had soon a great number who fell in with him; among whom was the Elector of Saxony, the sovereign prince of the country to which he belonged. This greatly alarmed the church of Rome; it rallied all its force to oppose him and his doctrine, and fierce wars and persecutions were raised against it. But yet it went on by the labours of Luther and Melancthon in Germany, Zuinglius in Switzerland, and other eminent divines, who were cotemporary with Luther; particularly Calvin, who appeared after the beginning of the Reformation, but was one of the most eminent Reformers.
Many of the princes of Germany soon fell in with the Reformed religion, and many other states and kingdoms in Europe, as England, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, great
part of France, Poland, Lithuania, Switzerland, and the Low Countries. So that it is thought, that heretofore about half Christendom were of the Protestant religion; though since, the Papists have gained ground: so that the Protestants now have not so great a proportion.
Thus God began gloriously to revive his church again, and advance the kingdom of his Son; after such a dismal night of darkness from the rise of Antichrist to that time. There had been many endeavours used by the witnesses for the truth for a reformation before. But now when God's appointed time was come, his work went on with a swift and wonderful progress; and Antichrist, who had been rising higher and higher from his beginning till that time, was swiftly and suddenly brought down; he fell half-way towards utter ruin, and never has been able to rise again to his former height. A certain late expositor (Mr. LoWMAN,) who explains the five first vials in the 16th chapter of Revelation with greater probability perhaps than any who went before him, explains the fifth vial, which was poured out on the seat of the beast, of what came to pass in the Reformation; having explained the four preceding vials of certain great judgments which God brought on the Popish dominions before the Reformation. It is said, Rev. xvi. 10, that "the fifth angel poured out his vial on the seat of the beast;" in the original, it is the throne of the beast; "and his kingdom was full of darkness, and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds." He poured out his vial upon the throne of the beast, i. e. on the authority and dominion of the Pope: so the word throne is often used in scripture; so 1 Kings i. 37. "As the Lord hath been with my lord the king, even so be he with Solomon, and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David ;” i. e. make his dominion and authority greater, and his kingdom more glorious.
But now, in the Reformation, the vials of God's wrath were poured out on the throne of the beast, till it was terribly shaken and diminished. The Pope's authority and dominion was so greatly diminished, both as to extent and degree, that he lost about half his dominions; besides that authority, even in Popish dominions, which he had before. He is not regarded, and his power is dreaded in no measure as it was wont to be. The powers of Europe have learned not to put their necks under the Pope's feet. He is as a lion that has lost his teeth, in comparison of what he was once. And when the Pope and his clergy, enraged to see their authority so diminished at the Reformation, laid their heads together, and joined their forces to destroy the Reformation; their policy, which was wont to serve them so well, failed. They found their kingdom full of
darkness, so that they could do nothing, any more than the Egyptians, who rose not from their seats for three days. The Reformed church was defended as Lot and the angels were in Sodom, by smiting the Sodomites with darkness or blindness, so that they could not find the door. God then fulfilled that in Job v. 11, &c. "To set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety. He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprize. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong. They meet with darkness in the day-time, and grope in the noon-day as in the night. But he saveth the poor from the sword, from their mouth, and from the hand of the mighty."--Those proud enemies of God's people being so disappointed, and finding themselves so unable to uphold their own dominion and authority, were made as it were to gnaw their tongues for pain, or to bite them for mere rage.
II. I proceed to show what opposition has been made by Satan and his adherents, to this success of Christ's purchase by the Reformation; observing as we go along, how far they have been baffled, and how far they have been successful.
The opposition which Satan has made against the Reformed religion has been principally of the following kinds, viz. that which was made, 1. by a general council of the church of Rome; 2. by secret plots and devices; 3. by open wars and invasions; 4. by cruel oppression and persecution; and, 5. by bringing in corrupt opinions.
1. The first opposition that I shall notice is that which was made by the clergy of the church of Rome in a general council. This was the famous council of Trent, which the Pope called a little while after the Reformation. In that council, there met together six cardinals, thirty-two archbishops, two hundred and twenty-eight bishops, besides innumerable others of the Romish clergy. This council, in all their sittings, including the times of intermission, was held for twenty-five years together. Their main business all this while was to concert measures for establishing the church of Rome against the Reformers, and for destroying the Reformation. But it proved that they were not able to perform their enterprize. The Reformed church, notwithstanding their great counsel, remained, and still remains. So that the counsel of the froward is carried headlong; their kingdom is full of darkness, and they weary themselves to find
Thus the church of Rome, instead of repenting of their deeds, when such clear light was held forth to them by Luther and other servants of God, persisted, by general agreement in council, in their vile corruptions and wickedness, and obstinate opposition to the kingdom of Christ. The doctrines and 47
practices of the church of Rome, which were chiefly condemned by the Reformed, were confirmed by the decrees of their council; and the corruptions in many respects, were carried higher than ever before. They uttered blasphemous reproaches and curses against the Reformed religion, and all the Reformed church was excommunicated and anathematized by them. According to the prophecy, they blasphemed God. Thus God hardened their hearts, [i. e. left them to do so,] intending to destroy them.
2. The Papists have often endeavoured to overthrow the Reformation by secret plots and conspiracies. There were many plots against the life of Luther. The Papists were contriving to dispatch him out of their way; and he, being a very bold man, often very much exposed himself in the cause of Christ; but yet they were wonderfully prevented from hurting him, and he at last died in his bed in peace. There have been innumerable schemes secretly laid for the overthrow of the protestant religion; one of the most considerable, and which seemed to be the most likely to have taken effect, was that in the time of King James II. of England. There was at that time a strong conspiracy between the King of England and Lewis XIV. of France, who were both Papists, to extirpate the Northern heresy, as they called the Protestant religion, not only out of England, but out of all Europe; and they had laid their schemes so, that they seemed to be almost sure of their purpose. They looked upon it, that if the Reformed religion were suppressed in the British realms and in the Netherlands, which were the strongest part, and chief defence of the Protestant interest, they should have easy work with the rest. And just as their matters seemed to be come to a head, and their enterprize ripe for execution, God in his providence, suddenly dashed all their schemes in pieces by the Revolution, at the coming in of King William and Queen Mary; by which all their designs were at an end. Now the Protestant interest was more strongly established, by the crown of England being transferred to the Protestant house of Hanover, and a Papist. being, by the constitution of the nation, for ever rendered incapable of wearing the crown of England. Thus they groped in darkness at noonday as in the night, and their hands could not perform their enterprize, and their kingdom was full of darkness, and they gnawed their tongues for pain.
After this, there was a deep design laid to bring the same thing to pass in the latter end of Queen Anne's reign, by the bringing in of the Popish pretender; which was no less suddenly and totally baffled by divine Providence; as all the plots against the Reformation by bringing in the pretender have been.
3. The Reformation has often been opposed by open wars