The twelfth chapter commenced, as we stated in yesterday's Lecture, with the angel's prediction as to the future state of the Church after the manifestation of Christ It was to be subject to many miseries, and hence this passage would soothe the sorrow of Daniel, and of all the pious, as he still promises safety to the Church through the help of God. Daniel therefore represented Michael as the guardian of the Church, and God had enjoined this duty upon Christ, as we learn from the 10th chapter of John, (John 10:28, 29.) As we stated yesterday, Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defense of his elect people. He is called the mighty prince, because he naturally opposed the unconquered fortitude of God to those dangers to which the angel represents the Church to be subject. We well know the very slight causes for which terror often seizes our minds, and when we begin to tremble, nothing can calm our tumult and agitation. The angel then in treating of very grievous contests, and of the imminent danger of the Church, calls Michael the mighty prince As if he had said, Michael should be the guardian and protector of the elect people, he should exercise immense power, and he alone without the slightest doubt should be sufficient for their protection. Christ confirms the same assertion, as we just; now saw, in the 10th chapter of John. He says all his elect were given him by his father, and none of them should perish, because his father was greater than all; no one, says he, shall pluck my sheep out of my hand. My father, who gave them me, is greater than all; meaning, God possesses infinite power, and displays it for the safety of those whom he has chosen before the creation of the world, and he has committed it to me, or has deposited it in my hands. We now perceive the reason of this epithet, which designates Michael as the great prince For in consequence of the magnitude of the contest, we ought to enjoy the offer of insuperable strength, to enable us to attain tranquillity in the midst of the greatest commotions. It was in no degree superfluous for the angel to predict such great calamities as impending over the Church, and in the present day the, same expressions are most useful to us. We perceive then how the Jews imagined a state of happiness under Christ, and the same error was adopted by the Apostles, who, when Christ discoursed on the destruction of the temple and the; city, thought the end of the world was at hand, and this they connected with their own glory and triumph. (Matthew 24:3.) The Prophet then is here instructed by the angel how God should direct the course of his Church when he should manifest to them his only-begotten Son. Still the severity of distress awaited all the pious; as if he had said, The time of your triumph is not yet arrived; you must still continue your warfare, which will prove both laborious and harassing. The condition of the new people is here compared with that of the ancient one, who suffered many perils and afflictions at God's hands. The angel therefore says, even although the faithful suffered very severely under the law and the prophets, yet a more oppressive season was at hand, during which God would treat his Church far more strictly than before, and submit it to far more excruciating trials. This is the meaning of the passage, a season full of afflictions should arise, such as the nations had never seen since they began to exist. This may refer to the creation of the world, and if we refer it to the people themselves, the exposition will prove correct; for although the Church had in former periods been wretched, yet after the appearance of Christ, it should suffer far more calamities than before. We remember the language of the Psalmist: The impious have often opposed me from my youth; they have drawn the plough across my back. (Psalm 129:1-3.) Through all ages then God subjected his Church to really evils and disasters. But a comparison is here instituted between two different states of the Church, and the angel shews how after Christ's appearance it should be far from either quietness or happiness. As it should be oppressed with heavier afflictions, it is not surprising that the fathers should wish us to be conformed to the image of his only-begotten Son. (Romans 8:29.) Since the period of Christ's resurrection, even if a more harassing warfare awaits us, we ought to bear it with great equanimity, because the glory of heaven is placed before our eyes far more clearly than it was before theirs.
At length he adds, At that time thy people shall be preserved. By this expression the angel points out to us the great importance of the protection of Michael: He promises certain salvation to his elect people, as if he had said, although the Church should be exposed to the greatest dangers, yet with respect to God himself, it should always be safe and victorious in all contests, because Michael should be superior to every enemy. The angel then, in thus exhorting the faithful to bear their cross, shews how free they should be from all doubt as to the event, and the absolute certainty of their victory. Although at first sight this prophecy might inspire us with fear and dismay, yet this comfort ought to be sufficient for us: |We shall be conquerors amidst fire and sword, and amidst many deaths we are sure of life.| As perfect safety is here set before us, we ought to feel secure, and to enter with alacrity into every engagement. We are in truth obliged to fight, but Christ has conquered for us, as he says himself, Trust in me, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33.) But the angel restricts what he had said generally by way of correction. Many professed to belong to the people of God, and every one naturally sprung from the stock of Israel boasted of being the, offspring of divine seed. As all wished promiscuously to belong to God's people, the angel restricts his expression by a limiting phrase, all people, says he, who were found written in the book This clause does not mean all Israel after |the flesh,| (Romans 9:6-8,) but such as God esteems to be real Israelites according to gratuitous election alone. He here distinguishes between the carnal and spiritual children of Abraham, between the outward Church and that inward and true community which the Almighty approves. Upon what then does the difference depend between those who boast of being Abraham's children, while they are rejected by God, and those who are really and truly his sons? On the mere grace and favor of God. He declares his election when he regenerates his elect by his Holy Spirit, and thus inscribes them with a certain mark, while they prove the reality of this sonship by the whole course of their lives, and confirm their own adoption. Meanwhile we are compelled to go to the fountain at once; God alone by his gratuitous election distinguishes the outward Church, which has nothing but the title, from the true Church, which can never either perish or fall away. Thus we observe in how many passages of Scripture hypocrites are rejected in the midst of their swelling pride, as they have nothing in common with the sons of God but the external symbols of profession.
We ought to notice this restriction, which assures us of the utter uselessness of outward pomp, and of the unprofitable nature of even a high station in the outward Church, unless we are truly among God's people. This is expressed fully in Psalm 15 and 24, while Psalm 73 confirms the same sentiments. How good is God to Israel, especially to the upright in heart! In these passages of the Psalms the cause is not stated to be the secret election of God, but the outward testimony of the conduct; and this although inferior in degree, is not contrary to the first cause which produces it. This has its proper place, but God's election is always superior. The word book refers to that eternal counsel of God, whereby he elected us and adopted us as his sons before the foundation of the world, as we read in the first chapter of Ephesians, (Ephesians 1:4.) In the same sense Ezekiel inveighs against the false prophets who deceived the people of Israel, (Ezekiel 8:9.) My hand, says God, shall be upon those prophets who deceive my people: they shall not therefore be in the secret assembly of my people, nor shall they be found in the roll of the house of Israel. The word signifying to write is used here, -- they shall not be written in the enrollment of the house of Israel. The word book is here used in the same sense and yet we need not adopt the gross idea, that the Almighty has any need of a book. His book is that eternal counsel which predestinates us to himself, and elects us to the hope of eternal salvation. We now understand the full sense of this instruction, as the Church shall remain in safety amidst many deaths, and even in the last stage of despair it shall escape through the mercy and help of God. We must also remember this definition of a church, because many boast of being God's sons, who are complete strangers to him. This leads us to consider the subject of election, as our salvation flows from that fountain. Our calling, which is his outward testimony to it, follows that gratuitous adoption which is hidden within himself; and thus God when regenerating us by his Spirit, inscribes upon us his marks and signs, whence he is able to acknowledge us as his real children. It follows, --