And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet…
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven, etc. What strange objects the human imagination can create, or in a passive state receive! What a remarkable dream or vision this is of the apostolic hermit on Patmos! "A woman arrayed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars around her head, brings forth a man child. A huge scarlet dragon with ten horns and seven diademed heads, whose tail sweeps after it the third part of the stars to the earth, stands before her to devour the child the moment it is born, since the child is to rule the nations with a rod of iron. But the child is snatched up to the throne of God, and the woman flies into the wilderness, where she is nourished for twelve hundred and sixty days." I shall take this strange creature of the imagination as I have taken the other visions - not to represent things of which we know nothing, but to illustrate some important realities with which we are more or less acquainted. There are two subjects here -
(1) social Christhood, and
(2) social fiendhood.
I. SOCIAL CHRISTHOOD. By "social Christhood" I mean the existence of Christ in a human society, or in a community of men. I use this language in preference to the term "Church," for that term now, alas! seldom represents Christhood, but often the reverse. The expressions in the Episcopal community, "our Church," and, in the Nonconformist domain, "our Churches," are, alas! far enough from representing Christ, either in his doctrines, ethics, or spirit. Self-sacrificing love is the essence of Christhood; but where do we find that, either in "our Church" or "our Churches"? Christhood is peace, eternal antipathy to all anger, resentment, ambition, war. But "our Church" gives war a sanction, a licence, a blessing. The word "Church," therefore, in its conventional sense, I repudiate as a calumny on Christ. Using this vision, therefore, to illustrate social Christhood, two remarks are suggested concerning the society or community in which Christ lives and works.
1. It is glorious. "A woman clothed [arrayed] with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars" (ver. 1). It is encircled with the solar beams of Divine truth. Beneath the feet is the world. It treads down all worldliness in its spirit and aims. Around its brow, as a peerless diadem, are twelve stars. The true Church as a community of Christly men - Christly in idea, spirit, and pursuit - is the most glorious object under the grand heavens. It reveals more of God than all the globes that roll through immensity. It is a glorious Church. The conventional Church is a crawling sycophant; the true Church is a crowned sovereign.
2. It is multiplying. "She being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered" (ver. 2). The true Church is not sterile or barren, but otherwise; it is fecundant and multiplying. Three remarks are suggested concerning its offspring:
(1) It is brought forth in pain. "In pain to be delivered." "All life," it has been said, "dawns in anguish, according to the fiat (Genesis 3:16)." There is an anguish of the Church which Christ laid upon her; it is the law of her life that she must bring forth Christ to the world, but she cannot work deliverance without knowing suffering. Paul speaks of himself as "travailing in birth." Who knows the anguish of those earnestly engaged in endeavouring to form Christ in men, and to bring him forth? What is genuine, personal religion but Christ in men, working within them to "will and to do his own good pleasure"?
(2) It is brought forth to govern. "And she brought forth a man child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron" (ver. 5). Every Christly convert is a ruler - is born to rule. Servility and flunkeyism in all its forms are foreign to its instincts and spirit. His instincts and bearing are imperial. All the offspring of the true Church are kings as well as "priests unto God."
(3) It is destined for Divine fellowship. "And her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne" (ver. 5). Whatever might be the trials of the truly Christly, here is the end. Sublime destiny this. "God hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Though the mother had in her trials and persecutions to flee unto the "wilderness," even there she was secure. "She had a place prepared of God."
II. SOCIAL FIENDHOOD. Not only is there a society on earth in which Christ is, but there is a society in which the devil is. "And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads," etc. There is as truly a social fiendhood as there is a social Christhood. The "great red dragon," the old serpent, the "prince of the power of the air," works in the children of disobedience everywhere. Two facts are suggested by the highly symbolic and probably uninterpretable description here given of this fiend in human society.
1. His possession of enormous power.
(1) Enormous power of intellect. "Seven heads." The devil has a larger amount of human intellect at his command than Christ; sevenfold, peradventure, more.
(2) Enormous power of execution. "Ten horns." Horns are the emblems of force. How mighty is the devil amongst men! He works in all the navies and armies of the world.
(3) Enormous power of empire. "Seven crowns [diadems] upon his heads." The human world abounds with chiefs and princelets, and kings and queens; but in how many is there Christhood? The "great red dragon" seems to master most, if not all; the "kingdom of Satan" is all but worldwide.
(4) Enormous power of mischief. "And his tail drew [draweth] the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth." There are stars in the moral firmament of the human soul, stars of social love, of reverent piety, of moral intuition, of spiritual insight, of infinite worship. These stars Satan sweeps away, and leaves us to grope our way in nocturnal gloom. Where are these stars seen in the political management of England today? Truly we are walking in darkness and have no light.
2. His determined antagonism to Christhood. It is said, "The dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born." It is against Christ in his true Church, Christ in his few but multiplying progeny, that this "great red dragon" stood.
CONCLUSION This determined and active antagonism between social Christhood and social fiendhood is a commentary on the old text, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed." It explains, moreover, all domestic conflicts, all political battlings, and national wars. Evil and good are at war on this earth. This is the grand campaign, inspiring and explaining all other feuds. - D. T.
Parallel VersesKJV: And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: