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er, and beholding the excellency of the latter, may glorify God.
They are to seek supplies of grace from the living fountain opened in the gospel. Hence they are compared to lamps burning with oil poured into them by pipes from the olive trees, which stand before God.
They are to be fervent in prayer, for themselves, and for the church of God, especially in times of declension and danger. The witnesses are described as having power to shut heaven in the days of their prophecy. This figurative expression signi. fies, that their fervent prayers were effectual and availed much.
4. This prophecy teaches us, that in times of prevailing infidelity and corruption, there is always a pointed opposition to the ministers of the gospel.
If men wish to exterminate the religion of Christ, they will first oppose the means of its support; and of these one of the chief is a learned and godly min istry. Such an opposition appears in the period, which we have been considering.
In all professions there are some unworthy characters; and some such there often are in the ministerial profession. And the sacredness of the office ought never to protect the vices of the man who holds it. To censure a scandalous minister, when he appears to be such, is just; but to cast indiscriminate reproach on the order is vile; it is nothing less than to explode an institution of God.
To prevent the intrusion of unworthy characters into office, or their continuance in office, Christ has prescribed a particular mode of introduction and trial. And while his prescription is observed, there is little danger, that unworthy men will be patronized, unless the church in general should apostatize from gospel purity, But if men assume the office at their
own will, and exercise it at their own pleasure; and if people countenance the usurpation by following the intruders, there is no security against fraud and imposition. The only security is an adherence to the institution of Christ. And perhaps among the ministers regularly introduced into office, there has never in Newengland been an immoral man countenanced and patronized by his brethren. Such a man on regular complaint is brought to trial, and on competent evidence is removed from office. It is the sense of mankind in general, as well as of professed Christians, that a wicked man ought not to stand in the sacred office. And this sentiment, while it generally prevails, will greatly contribute to preserve the purity of the ministerial character.
A displeasure manifested against ignorant and immoral, or irregular and disorganizing pretenders to the ministry, is certainly wise and virtuous. But to comprehend the whole ministerial order in promiscuous censure, for the faults of a few, savors too much of prejudice, not only against the order, but against the gospel, which has instituted it. Our Savior says to his Apostles," He that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that
Obloquy against the ministry has ever been one main artifice of infidelity to undermine religion.The ancient idolaters in Israel "smote God's proph ets with the tongue." And our Savior warns his Apostles, that "men would revile them, and speak all manner of evil against them falsely for his sake." The first persecutions raised against the Christian church, were directed principally against the Apostles; and John foretells that the case would be the same, during the period, in which the witnesses shall prophecy. And history has hitherto verified the prediction.
5. We are taught in this prophecy from whence arises the enmity of wicked men against the stated teachers of religion. St. John says, that, when the witnesses shall be slain, they who dwell on the earth "shall rejoice over them, because these two prophets tormented them."
How did these prophets torment them? Not by persecution; for they possessed neither the power, nor the authority to persecute; but merely by proclaiming those solemn truths, which condemn the practice, expose the guilt, and announce the punishment of irreclaimable sinners.
Opposition to the gospel, in whatever form it is made, proceeds from corruption of heart. Our Savior says, " He that doth evil hateth the light, neither cometh he to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved: But he that doth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." He says of the unbelieving Jews, "If I had not done among them the works, which no other man did, they had not had sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father." It was the plainness of his preaching, the pungency of his reproofs, and the solemnity of his warnings, which excited their malice and enmity against him. And the same causes operated to bring on his Apostles the persecutions, which they suf fered.
This degree of enmity is not common to all wicked man; but peculiar to those, who are fixed and determined in their wickedness. There are many unrenewed sinners, who, under a serious concern for their salvation, are solicitous to know, and attentive to hear the truth. They wish to have the state of their own souls laid open to the view of conscience: They love that plain kind of preaching which is pertinent to their case, because they are anxious to
escape the wrath to come. Patience under such preaching is not a decisive proof of a renewed heart; for it may be, and often is the effect of those awakenings and convictions which usually precede a sav ing renovation. And wherever it appears, it is a hopeful disposition. But they, whose hearts are fully set in them to do evil, and who, in the pride and vanity of their thoughts, feel themselves above the humbled duties of religion; these employ all their reasoning to pacify their uneasy and guilty minds; they eagerly embrace the licentious opinions, which relax the morality, explode the warnings and subvert the authority of the gospel. They hate to hear the precepts which require purity of heart and life, and the doctrines which announce destruction to the wicked and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity. If the gospel is defended by arguments, which they cannot gainsay, and its truths are urged with an energy, which they cannot repel, they are disgusted and offended; or, in the language of our Apostle, they are tormented. "Their ear," as the prophet says, "is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: The word of the Lord is to them a reproach, and they have no delight in it." If men oppose religion, it is because they are condemned by it: If they embrace licentious opinions, it is because these tend to quiet their guilty fears: If they disseminate corrupt principles, it is that they may be fortified against self reproach, and screened from general censure. The zeal of wicked men to cor, rupt others, is not direct malice toward those, whom they corrupt: It is a desire to strengthen their own suspicious cause, quiet their restless minds, and repel their mérited infamy. If we would then hold fast the faith, we must maintain a good conscience; for, as the Apostle says, "some, having put away a good conscience, concerning faith have made ship.
wreck." "Let us take heed, lest there be in any of us an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. It is a good thing that the heart be established with grace."
6. Another observation, which here presents itself to us is, that the Christian church is meek, humble and peaceable. So she is represented in this prophecy. She suffers persecution from her enemies; but does not persecute them in return. Her deliverances are effected by the hand of God; not by her own hand. The main instruments of her de. fence are the excellency of her religion, the purity of her works, and the fervor of her prayers. These weapons of her warfare have proved mighty through God to confound the devices and defeat the power of those, who sought her overthrow.
The enemies of the gospel have often accused it, as being the occasion of much contention, violence and bloodshed among the human race. But if it has been the occasion, it has been an innocent occasion of these evils; for it does no injury, offers no provocation, allows no cruelty, seeks no revenge; but its spirit is patience and forbearance, benevolence and love. If zealots, assuming the name of Christians, have made use of persecution to enforce a conformity to their own faith, they have departed from the spirit of the gospel, and imbibed the spirit of the world.
To discredit the gospel, some have alleged, that, until this made its appearance in the world, religious persecution was unknown; that among heathens the different sects tolerated one another, and lived in peace. But this pretence is contrary to the truth of fact.
Persecution for religion was known as early as the time of Cain. "He slew his brother, because his own works were evil, and his brother's right