33. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many; yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days.
33. Et intelligentes populi docebunt multos, et cadent in gladio, et flamma, et exilio, vel, captivitate, et direptione, diebus multis.
34. Now, when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries.
With reference to the words, they mean,
Lastly, the angel signifies how small a seed God should preserve in his Church as the teachers and rulers of others, though but few in number; as Isaiah says, God shall consume his people, but that consumption should leave some remnant, and then it shall flow forth. (Isaiah 10:22.) The sentiment of this passage is the same; even if many should degenerate and depart from the faith, and this spirit should extend to the whole people, yet some few should stand firm perhaps ten in a thousand -- and these should be God's ministers in gathering together a new Church; and thus the land which was formerly sterile, should profit by this irrigation and produce new seed.
He adds next,
Besides this, the old enemy the devil, who formerly opposed the Church, is equally troublesome to us. He assails us partly by enemies without and partly by enemies within. Such teaching as this was useful, not only to the ancients, but, to us also in the present day. First of all, the angel predicts the assistance to be received by the faithful as small. Let us learn, then, when God wishes to succor and to help us, -- that he does not always exert the fullness of his power. He does not thunder from heaven and overthrow our enemies by the first stroke of his lightning; but he enables us to contend successfully with our cross, and thus we are far separated from the reprobate by our firmness in resistance. Again, from the second clause we must notice the absolute certainty of many hypocrites being found mingled with the souls of God, and when God purges his Church, but a small portion will remain sincere, just as in these days the very counterpart of this prophecy is exhibited before our eyes. The whole Papacy is called the Church of God; we are but few in number, and yet what a mixture exists even among us? How many in these days profess attachment to the Gospel, in whom there is nothing either solid or sincere! If God should search narrowly into small Churches, still among these few, some would be found deceivers. It never has been otherwise, or shall be different. until the end of the world. Here, then, we are admonished to desire, as far as lies in our power, the purity of the Church, and to avoid all impurity, because, in desiring auxiliaries too eagerly on the pressure of any urgent necessity, we shall be certain to become sprinkled with many stains which may ultimately cover us with confusion. The angel doubtless here reproves a fault in the conduct of the Maccabees. Although God stirred them up to afford some consolation to his Church, their proceedings are not to be approved; for it does not follow that all their actions were praiseworthy because their cause was pious and holy. But I must defer this subject till to-morrow.
Grant, Almighty God, as at this day thou dost try the faith of thy people by many tests, that they may obtain strength from the unconquered fortitude of thy Holy Spirit. May we constantly march under thy standard, even to the end, and never succumb to any temptation. May we there join intelligence with zeal in building up thy Church: as each of us is endowed with superior gifts, so may he strive for the edification of his brethren with greater boldness, manliness, and fervor, while he endeavors to add numbers to the cause. And should the number of those who are professed members of thy Church diminish, yet may some seed always remain, until abundant produce shall flow forth from it, and such fruitfulness arise as shall cause thy name to be glorified throughout the whole world, in Jesus Christ our Lord. -- Amen.
We began yesterday to explain what the angel said about the future persecution of the Church, and its subsequent consolation. He first shewed how all the intelligent among the people should be subject to the cruelty of their enemies, in consequence of their manly perseverance in teaching others. We have shewn how inefficient those teachers whom God has set over his Church would be, if they discharged their duties at ease and in the shade, and were unprepared to undergo all contests, and intrepidly to expose their lives to a variety of dangers. This, then, is a living and efficacious method of touching, when we do not cease to discharge our duties in the midst of sword and flame. But, on the other hand, we must notice how much this instruction is sought for when these fatal conflicts arise. Many in these days listen to our instruction concerning Christ; only they must continue without injury or annoyance. We observe many greedily drinking in the evangelical doctrines; but yet when anything disperses the crowd they flee immediately, and with as little consideration as when they first joined the assembly. That conduct which we daily observe was equally common in former times. Clearly enough this fault has been rampant throughout all ages, and it is innate in men not only to escape the cross and all things vexatious, but especially to disclose their own infirmities, because they are unwilling to undergo any danger for the worship of God and the free confession of the truth. This passage, then, must be noticed, since the Prophet not only exhorts the learned and the wise to instruct others, but he prescribes a rule for the infirm and unlearned, urging them to strengthen theme-selves against all temptations, when they see all things in confusion, and Satan plotting for the complete annihilation of piety. As this is the angel's language, we must diligently notice the circumstances of the times, for he was not here instituting a peaceful school, and discoursing like philosophers at their ease concerning virtue without any practical contest; but he enforces the duty of both learning and teaching, even if a variety of deaths should be placed before our eyes. He speaks next, as I have lately stated, the language of consolation. God shews how he would afford help to his elect, although it might possibly seem of no consequence to them. For he dwells on
We have already adverted to the usefulness of such instruction for our own times.; for we ought to apply it personally to ourselves, as our circumstances are similar to those of the ancients. Out of the great multitude of those who wish to be esteemed Christians, we observe how very few retain the pure and uncorrupted worship of God. The Papists treat their own community, which is defiled with filth of all kinds, as the only Church; there piety is utterly subverted or else contaminated with the multitude of superstitions. And even in that small company which has withdrawn itself from the Papal idolatries, the greater part is full of perfidy and deceit. They pretend to remarkable zeal, but if you thoroughly examine them, you will find them full of deception. For if God should probe his Church to the quick, as he did some years ago in Germany, and as he may do shortly in our own case, in all these serious conflicts, and amidst these persecutions, many will boast in the bravery of their championship, and yet their zeal will quickly ooze away. When the Lord, therefore, exercises us by methods similar to those by which he proved the ancient Church, this ins6ruetion ought always to occur to our remembrance, lest our minds should grow dull and languid.
This passage may lead us to inquire whether the angel approved of all the exploits of the Maccabees. We may reply to the question in two opposite ways. First of all, if any one persists in contending from the angel's words for God's approval of every action of the Maccabees, this view is by no means correct. God might use the Maccabees in succoring the wretched Israelites, and yet it does not follow that they conducted the good cause properly and lawfully. It very often occurs, when the faithful offer their services to God, and have one object set before them, that they fail either through inconsiderate zeal, or through partial ignorance. Whether we take this view or not, our object is often good when our manner of proceeding is objectionable. And thus it was with the Maccabees; God, doubtless, stirred up Mattathias to collect the dispersed remnant of the people, to restore his worship, and to purge his temple from the abominations which Antiochus had set up. Yet in the troublous times which occurred, his sons, doubtless, failed in many points of duty. The cause which they undertook was just, while particular actions of theirs cannot be approved by us. It now follows --
1 When they shall fall. -- Calvin.
2 These two words spring from the same root; as "they shall be fortified," comes from "fortitude," so "they shall be assisted," from "assistance." -- Calvin.
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