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Mercy and love are sins in Rome and hell.
Beaumont and Fletcher, 'Bonduca,' Act iv. Scene 4.
The Lamb's War with the Beast
It is strange that the most mysterious book of the Bible should be especially singled out as the Revelation. Yet though no book is less patient of a detailed and pedantic exposition, none is more full of the triumph and the tears of God's Word, none is richer in lessons to guide us in the stern and fluctuating conflict of our Lord with Satan. There is a roll of martyrs in the Christian Church, and over against it a roll of apostates. There are stories of great stones rolled to the door of sepulchres and removed by angel hands, of life and victory, but also of failure and disappointment and every form of death. The battle is often pictured here as a war between the Lamb and the beast The beast may be taken to denote the rebellion of the animal, the untamed, the sensual, the violent element, blatant and blasphemous.
I. A powerful and painful little book, lately published, under the title, From the Abyss, sketches a typical working man, John Smith by name. The writer foresees a not distant day when by the help of the policeman and the Peabody buildings the ape and tiger instincts will be eliminated in man. He thinks that lives now insurgent and unconfined will become confined and acquiescent, that the block-dweller of the future will pass from the great deep to the great deep, vacant, cheerful, undisturbed by envy, aspiration, or desire. John Smith represents half a million people. He lives in a four-roomed cottage at Camberwell, with a wife and five children, and a lodger. Six days of the week he goes early to his work at bricklaying; he returns at night to his pipe and supper, and, perhaps, goes round to the public-house to hear the news. On Sunday he sleeps late, but he has Sunday dinner, a stroll in Peckham Rye, and he closes his day with his companions at the 'Blue Dragon'. So long as work is good, and pay regular, he does not lift his voice in complaint. Intellectual interests he has none. He will not listen to lectures. He will read a newspaper, but the news does not stir him. He cannot be galvanised into utterance. He drifts to his work daily, dumbly contented if work is easy and lucrative, dumbly resentful if it is not, but dumb always. To the Churches he is practically invulnerable. He has no quarrel with religion, but what faith he has is merely in a Deity of universal tolerance. He is commonplace, respectable, and fairly virtuous. Yet he is an immortal spirit journeying between two eternities through a world of tragical meaning, to the significance of which he seems destined to be blind. There are, we are told, in this vast city hundreds of thousands of such, and the trouble about them is not that they are unhappy, but that being what they are they should be so happy. Against this apparent death of the spiritual needs and cravings, against this life under the low sky, against this apparent numbness of heart and conscience, the Lamb wages His war.
II. 'These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them.' This is our task the awakening of the soul. How shall we do it? How shall we stir that heavy sleeper? How shall we rouse it into the tumult of yearnings and aspirings? How shall we break the force of the opiates that have drugged it till it seems dead, till the sole object in life seems to be to eat well, to drink well, to sleep well, to work as little as possible, and to keep out of the way of trouble? This is a harder task than to meet the soul awake and aware, clamorous, craving, exacting, rebellious, wild for home. Well, we will labour with all our might to destroy the social conditions that make a decent life impossible. Is it true that in many cases here in London there is a strength of circumstance that even the Gospel cannot quell and dominate, cesspools in which they who live must sin and perish? Is it true that there are thousands of children defrauded of their childhood, born to an inheritance of vice and wretchedness, damned from the beginning? We must change that at any cost, and that Church has strayed from the Master which is not in earnest sympathy and in mutual sacrifice with those inspired by a passion of pity to take away what Emerson calls this accursed mountain of sorrow. But as Christians we go very much further. Our problem is not solved when every dweller in London has four rooms. The problem of John Smith would still remain to us. It would not be solved even if we could transfer the East End to the West End, or even if we could mingle and equalise the privileges and opportunities of the two. The deliverance from materialism is not to be achieved in this manner, and it is the deliverance from materialism that we supremely care for. I come back to the point that we must awaken the soul. The Lamb sees the soul, and because He sees we should see also. There is an old legend which perhaps you remember. The Saviour and His disciples were walking along the way when they came upon a dead dog. The disciples did not conceal their disgust; the Saviour said, 'How white its teeth are!' And He always finds in the most degraded that touch of hallowing beauty, that germ of spirit and life, through which His redemption may come.
III. 'The Lamb shall overcome them.' What ideas are associated with the Lamb? How does He awaken, how does He cast out devils, how does He raise the dead? For answer, we read of His knowledge, His love, His power, His sacrifice. In the soldiers of the Lamb these in measure must be reproduced.
Mark Rutherford tells us of a friend who longed to try for himself a mission in one of the slums about Drury Lane. 'I sympathised with him, but I asked him what he had to say. I remember telling him that I had been into St Paul's Cathedral, and that I pictured the Cathedral full and myself in the pulpit, and I was excited when imagining the opportunity offered me to deliver some message to three thousand or four thousand persons in such a building. But in a minute or two I discovered that my sermon would be very nearly as follows: 'Dear friends, I know no more than you. I think we had better go home."' But because the Lamb has prevailed to open the book and to loose the seals thereof, we may speak without faltering, without fear, with the ring of certainty.
The Lamb is another name for love. In that Lamb love was shown stripped of the veils that hide. The love of the Lamb is the spring of our love, the love of Christ which no sin can weary, and no lapse of time can change, all-redeeming, all-glorifying, changing even death and despair to the gates of heaven. That love may win fresh triumphs in the wilderness through our love.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 134.
Reference. XVII. 14. C. Bradley, The Christian Life, p. 347.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany