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 the smallness of the assistance -- which literally happened. Without doubt the angel referred to Mattathias and his sons, usually called the Maccabees. (1 Maccabees 2:1.) A restriction is put upon that help by an allusion to the members who should prove hypocritical out of that small band. We are fully aware how the Church would be reduced in its extent, for all would not prove sound in the faith, but the greater part would be drawn aside by those fallacies which the angel here calls blandishments. This was a very grievous trial to the faithful when they perceived their own fewness and weakness in the face of their enemies. Besides, they dared not trust those allies who had pledged their faith to them and made wonderful promises, since many were deceived by these flatteries, and abandoned the cause through want of sincerity of mind.
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 --