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While I think of it, why is the sea (in that apologue of Attar once quoted by Falconer) supposed to have lost God? Did the Persians agree with something I remember in Plato about the sea and all in it being of an inferior nature, in spite of Homer's 'Divine ocean,' etc.
Fitzgerald's Letters, I. p. 320.
Will not one of the properties of the spiritual body be, that it will be able to express that which the natural body only tries to express? Is this a sensual view of heaven? then are the two last chapters of the Revelations most sensual. They tell not only of the perfection of humanity, with all its joys and wishes and properties, but of matter! They tell of trees and fruit and rivers of gold and gems and all beautiful and glorious material things.... Why is heaven to be one vast lazy retrospect? Why is not eternity to have action and change, yet both, like God's, compatible with rest and immutability? This earth is but one minor planet of a minor system: are there no more worlds? Will there not be incident and action springing from these when the fate of the world is decided?
References. XXI. 1. C. Anderson Scott, The Book of Revelation, p. 287. R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 234. C. D. Bell, The Power of God, p. 168. W. L. Watkinson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 393. T. J. Madden, Tombs or Temples? p. 85. J. H. Burkitt, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 374. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 187. A. H. Bradford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 401. R. C. Cowell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 372. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. i. p. 85. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 381. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 355. XXI. 1-3. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 293. XXI. 1-5. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 149. XXI. 1-7. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 293.
The New Jerusalem ( for Septuagesima )
On this Sunday, Septuagesima, we have the beginning and the end of the Bible brought before us in the Lessons both of the Morning and of the Evening Services; the First Lessons being taken from the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis, the Second from the concluding chapters of the book of the Revelation. And whilst the beginning of the Bible speaks of the world being prepared for man and of man making his appearance on its stage, the close of it sets before us visions of a future awaiting man and the world which he has subdued to be his dwelling-place.
I. The book of the Revelation is professedly a collection of visions; it is full of imagery. And imagery sets us seeking interpretations of it. But it is not always easy to interpret; and the Revelation, or the Apocalypse the two names mean the same thing, unveiling or drawing a curtain aside has been subjected to a great variety of more or less ingenious interpretation. Some of the visions were no doubt intended to indicate definite historical events of the age in which the book was issued; but others set forth spiritual realities belonging to the nature and purposes of God and the development of the kingdom of Christ, in forms which were intended to fasten on the imagination and so to feed the spiritual life. Thus a curtain is drawn aside, and we have a vision of the Court of heaven. We see a throne, and there is One sitting on the throne, but He is hidden in splendour; worshipping Him are four living creatures, which are symbols of the animated Creation, and twenty-four Elders, twelve representing the old dispensation and twelve the new as it were the twelve Patriarchs and the Twelve Apostles in a celestial form. These and all other existing things are shown to us paying homage after their kind to their Eternal Maker. Then the Lamb is introduced a lamb as though it had been slain and this figure remains throughout the book the symbol of Him Who had offered Himself up in sacrifice to the Father, and had been exalted to the right hand of God.
II. It is to this class of imagery that the visions of the concluding chapters belong. They exhibit scenes which represent the triumph of the kingdom of Christ. They are intended, as I said, to interest the imagination and so to supply nourishing food to Christian faith and hope. They set forth spiritual realities and relations which have a bearing on our present life; and it is in this character, and not as enigmatic predictions of historical events, that they are to be valued and studied.
III. Here, where the Church is described under the figure of a golden city, we have a sort of final vision of what we are to look forward to as a completion of the Divine work, a fulfilment of the Divine purpose. It is a vision of mankind ordered according to God's will. This form of mankind is God's creation; it comes down out of heaven from God, and it has the glory of God. It has a civic character, is of the nature of a commonwealth, having diverse offices and functions and classes in it It is in a supreme degree orderly, like a city built after a definite plan. It is the outcome of the Old and New Covenants: it preserves the memory of the Twelve Tribes, the Twelve Apostles are the foundation on which its wall is built. It has all manner of splendour and preciousness. It lives in the light of God. The nations walk in that light; the kings of the earth bring their glory into the presence of God. National life is not superseded; but all the actions of men are just and harmonious, and therefore there is nothing but happiness in the world. Nearly everything in the imagery of these chapters represents perfection; all is of the absolute best, under the light of God, in joyful devotion to God. But there is a hint of what is not yet as it should be, where the seer beholds the river of water of life proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and the tree of life growing on the river's banks; for the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. So the nations want healing. We may take this as implying that the ideal form of mankind, divinely ordered, divinely enlightened and quickened, divinely blessed, has to work itself out by degrees into actual and victorious existence.
IV. In endeavouring to draw from these shining chapters at the close of the Bible what we can receive as their instructive significance, we are led to observe that here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, there is a mysterious slurring over of the line which divides this mortal life from the other life beyond the grave. To Christians of a great number of the later generations nothing was very important but the passing of that terrible line. Christian hope looked entirely away from this earth to the region of the departed; all glory was associated with that unseen world. But a change, with far-reaching effects, has passed over the theology of our English race. Since the publication of a memorable book on The Kingdom of Christ, by F. D. Maurice, just seventy years ago, the sermons and writings of our accepted teachers have drawn away, at first very slowly but of late quite rapidly and completely, from dwelling on the contrasted miseries and felicities of individuals in the life beyond the grave, and have directed attention to that kingdom of God which Christ came to establish, and which He has opened to all believers. And the rediscovery of this heavenly kingdom which is to subdue the kingdoms of the earth to itself has coincided with the springing up of a generous longing, independent of professed Christian belief, and bent on building from the earth upwards, for a world from which all the pains and disadvantages of poverty are to be banished. That clarion-song of Blake's
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land
has never been the cry of so many hearts and minds as at the present time. Those who have been made disciples to the kingdom of heaven cannot exclude the abolition of the miseries of poverty from their hopes. But the commandment which they have received bids them look for a city which shall come down from heaven. They are to seek first the kingdom of the heavenly Father and His righteousness. They are to pray and labour that this kingdom may come; they are to be remembrancers of the Lord, giving Him no silence till He establish and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. Which if they do, it is promised that the things which the Gentiles seek shall be added to them. And the seer of the Revelation is true to the teaching of Him Who through sacrifice was exalted to be King of kings and Lord of lords. He pictures a world blessed by the coming down of a city from heaven. The scene is not that of a remote Paradise on high, to which the favoured few have gone up, but that of a city on its way from heaven to earth; it is beheld from a mountain-top; the nations walk in the light of it: the leaves of its tree of life are for the healing of the nations.
J. Llewelyn Davies, The Guardian, 10th February, 1909.
The New Jerusalem, as we witness it, is no more exempt from corruption than was the Old. That early Christian poet who saw it descending in incorruptible purity 'out of heaven from God,' saw, as poets use, an ideal. He saw that which perhaps for a point of time was almost realised, that which may be realised again. But what we see in history behind us and in the world about us is, it must be confessed, not like 'a bride adorned for her husband'. We see something that is admirable, and much that is great and wonderful, but not this splendour of maiden purity. The bridal dress is worn out, and the orange-flower is faded. First the rottenness of dying superstitions, then barbaric manners, then intellectualism preferring system and debate to brotherhood, strangling Christianity with theories and framing out of it a charlatan's philosophy which madly strives to stop the progress of science all these corruptions have in the successive ages of its long life infected the Church, and many new and monstrous perversions of individual character have disgraced it.... But the triumph of the Christian Church is that it is there that the most daring of all speculative dreams, instead of being found impracticable, has been carried into effect, and, when carried into effect, instead of being confined to a few select spirits, has spread itself over a vast space of the earth's surface, and, when thus diffused, instead of giving place after an age or two to something more adapted to a later time, has endured for two thousand years, and, at the end of two thousand years, instead of lingering as a mere wreck spared by the tolerance of the lovers of the past, still displays vigour and a capacity of adjusting itself to new conditions, and lastly, in all the transformations it undergoes, remains visibly the same thing and inspired by its Founder's universal and unquenchable spirit.
It is in this and not in any freedom from abuses that the Divine power of Christianity appears.
Sir John Seeley, in Ecce Homo.
What will it be at last to see a 'holy' city! for Londoners, for Parisians, for citizens of all cities upon earth, to see a holy city!
C. G. Rossetti.
References. XXI. 2. J. Adderley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 22. R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 411. J. Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 262. T. Phillips, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. p. 1. Bishop Welldon, The Gospel in a Great City, p. 168. R. J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 323. XXI. 2-7. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 323. XXI. 3. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxi. p. 393.
The Elimination of the Law of Antagonism
I. The law of antagonism is unnatural.
II. It is the purpose of God in Jesus Christ to abolish the law of antagonism. The Spirit of Christ shall never cease to work in the race until there is no more useless antagonism, misdirected antagonism, destructive antagonism, but there shall act instead the affinities, the attractions, the forces of a higher law, and the reign of blood and iron shall be over for ever. But the question may be urged, What shall guarantee our safety and growth when the fiery law is abolished? The prevalence of the spirit of Jesus Christ.
III. We mark the signs that the law of antagonism is being eliminated. (1) We see signs of change to a happier state of things in our relation to nature. (2) We see signs of change to a happier state of things within society itself. (3) Signs of change to a happier state of things are visible also in international life. Salvator Rosa long ago painted his picture, 'Peace burning the Instruments of War'. This generation, may not witness that glorious bonfire, but many signs signify that ere long it shall be kindled, lighting the footsteps of the race into the vaster glory that is to be. Let us first ourselves get the spirit of Christ. Let us profoundly believe in the golden year. It will come. This vision of the Revelation is no mockery.
W. L. Watkinson, The Transfigured Sackcloth, p. 223.
References. XXI. 4. D. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 341. Bishop Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 165. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 39. Dinsdale T. Young, The Gospel of the Left Hand, p. 139. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 102.
A New Year's Sermon
The first Sunday of the New Year is a day of hope, of promise, of anticipation. It is true indeed that the stream of time flows onwards uninterruptedly; the periods which mark its course are in a sense the mere creations of human convenience. But who does not feel moved to take stock, so to say, of his life; who does not imagine that it is somehow possible to make a fresh start upon the anniversary of his birth, or of his marriage, or upon Christmas Day, or Easter Day, or at the beginning of a New Year?
For Christianity is the religion of hope; it touches the hard rock of human nature, as it were, with a magic wand, and immediately there breaks forth the fresh bubbling water of a regenerate life. The one word wholly incompatible with the Christian faith and the Christian spirit is 'despair'.
I. There is hope for the individual.
Read the story of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and see how His presence breathed a new life, wherever He moved, into sad, downcast, penitent, abandoned souls. The publican or tax-gatherer, the alien Samaritan woman, the leper, the Magdalene, the thief upon the cross He gave them all hope.
II. There is hope, too, for society.
Do we hear any faithless voices today protesting that this England of ours is going to the dogs because of Free Trade, or unemployment, or the physical degeneration of the people, or the decadence of patriotic spirit and virtue? Such despondency is un-Christian, it is rebellious against the Providence of God. It denies the possibility of His 'fulfilling Himself in many ways'. But the future is, as the past was, in His keeping. His name is not 'I was,' but 'I am'. It may be impossible to fight against the spirit of the age, but is not that spirit the breath of His Almighty Will? In human history the great tendencies, the great achievements, are all the direct and visible results of God's working; it is only small results which are even apparently wrought by man. Not less true is it of the present than of the future life that God 'is not the God of the dead, but of the living'.
III. 'He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.' The promise stands as part of the vision which St. John in his Apocalypse enjoyed and revealed. But it is a promise of heaven, not of earth. The Holy City, the new Jerusalem which the Apostle beheld, does not rise from the earth heavenwards; it 'comes down from God out of heaven'. Vain is it therefore to suppose that any change of social or political environment will effect the regeneration of society. In all the actual or possible circumstances of the State human nature remains and will remain the same, the same in its greatness and its littleness, the same in its aspirations and temptations, the same in its essential and inalienable needs.
The millennium, if it comes at all, will not begin in any Hall of Science or Socialism; it will begin and can only begin in regenerate human hearts. 'The Kingdom of God,' says the Saviour, 'is within you'.
Men need reform, but the most needed of all reforms is self-reform.
The new heaven and the new earth will be realised, so far as they are possible upon earth, only when Jesus Christ has become Lord over the hearts and consciences of men. It is He who sits upon the throne; it is He who says, 'Behold, I make all things new'.
Bishop Welldon, The Gospel in a Great City, p. 18.
The Incarnation (For Christmas)
Each festival of the Church declares a special truth and offers a peculiar grace.
I. The Festival of Christmas Declares the Incarnation of the Eternal Word and offers the grace of renewal. The Incarnation is the starting-point of a new order of things, and the whole of human life is affected by it. As a help to the better understanding of the great truth, it is well that we should distinguish between Personality and Human Nature. Personality is that which we share with no one else; human nature is that which we share with every other member of the human race; human nature is that which unites; personality is that which separates; human nature is communicative; but no one can part with his personality or share it with another.
II. What, then, took place when the Eternal Word took Flesh and became Man? This: He took the nature of Adam in all its fulness; but instead of His human nature being centred round a new Personality, it was taken up into the Personality of the Eternal Word. The Son of God took to Himself that which would unite Him to the human race; He took human nature, but not a human personality. We do not see in the Lord Jesus Christ the prominence of any one characteristic, such as we are accustomed to find in the saints. He belonged to no one human race or nation. Pilate was right when he said, 'Behold the Man'; and the Apostle reminds us that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but that all are one in Christ Jesus.
III. If any ask 'Why Perplex us with these Subtleties of Dogma? ' it is enough to say that the very life of the Church and of every individual Christian is bound up in a right faith in Jesus Christ. Again and again we find that those who came to Him when He was on earth had to face the question 'What think ye of Christ?' More than half the heresies of the past have arisen because men will not, or do not, know Jesus Christ It is such a help to us when we see that the Incarnation starts a new era for mankind. 'In Christ,' wrote St. Paul, 'man is a new creature;' and as the Incarnation is appropriated by the individual soul, the communicated nature comes not as a dole, but it is ours by way of personal endowment. Therein is our hope, our power of renewal, certain.
IV. If we Know the Gift of God we shall listen to the voice of Christ as He stands in our midst 'Come unto Me' such is His invitation 'and I will give you rest.' We are looking into this New Year; with the past forgiven undone it cannot be our hearts will be set at liberty and we can run in the way of God's Commandments. Then we shall become indeed new creatures, and our inner life may be renewed day by day by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The Divine Poet
I. This chapter is already full of the word and the wine and the music new: 'A new heaven and a new earth'; the 'new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven'; 'behold, I make all things new'. And not before the time. The world is weary of its wickedness and groaning and restlessness; we have had tears enough and death enough and sorrow and crying and pain ineffable: great God, awake and make all things new! This is the promise of these opening verses: 'And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said' and said by right 'Behold, I make all things new,' and the past shall be forgotten like a dream without memory. Enough! These are grand words; they thrill us by their power, we are caught up into somewhat of their stature and majesty. The New Testament is bound to bring us new things by its very name; it is a new testament: there was a Testament before it. This is the real newness the continuation and the completion of something which has gone before. This is not a first writing, it is a second writing, and new, not in its God, not in its redeeming purpose, but new in many an application, new in many a realisation by the soul of the higher life and the grander possibility.
II. Note the personality of the text. The Speaker is alive; the Speaker is individualised from all other speakers; the Speaker is appalling in His awesome solitude. He would seem to have no companion now; yea, rather, it would seem as if the threefold Personality had become united in one name. No more we hear of 'Let us make,' we are now confronted by an intenser term, 'Behold, I make all things new'. It would seem as if each Person in the Divine Trinity had times of special expression and times of special relation to nature and to man and to providence and to destiny: now it is the Father; and the other Persons of the Trinity are concealed, as it were, behind His glory: now it is the Son, the only begotten Son, the Saviour of the world: and, finally, it is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who rules the whole mystery of human development. And what if now the Three should in a peculiar and definite sense be One as if the Three-One should all be speaking in, 'Behold, I make all things new'.
III. Has the word 'make' any special significance in this passage? Certainly; it is the keyword. God represents Himself as the maker, the poet; for in the deepest classical sense the poet is the maker, not the statistician, not the geometer, not the man who deals in magnitudes and quantities and numbers and ever-changing relations of an arithmetical or superficial kind: these men are not makers; the poets 'make' God is the Poet. He makes, He makes all things, He makes all things new. God is the fountain of wealth, God is the author of precious stones, God is the maker of harvest-fields and vineyards; God pours out the sea, God causes the stars to spill their glory on the meaner worlds. Associate the idea of the poet with the term worker or maker. God is the beginner of all things: all things are in God; there is not a pebble on all the seashore that He did not let fall there a diamond in His eyes, mere sand in ours, for vulgarity debases whatever it looks on. God is the unceasing poet, the unceasing maker. He never makes a June that lasts longer than a month, but He makes millions of Junes, millions of springs, millions of autumn days, with their brown and gold and play and flash of exquisite beauty. He makes them as a lapidary might make the stone shapely; He makes them as the poet might startle the common wind into music. See the Poet Divine in every summer day, in every sparklet of dew, in every dawn, in every babe, in every morning promise.
IV. Note that the proclamation by the very necessity of its terms is full of hope. 'Behold, I make all things new.' In the Divine economy things seem linked together in festoons and masses and unities. When one thing is made new all things seem to be made new.
Christianity is the religion of hope, the religion of renewal, the religion of development. It has never uttered its final word; it begins its eloquence, it never finishes it in any sense that means finality or the exhaustion of God. 'Behold, I make all things new.'
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. I. p. 2.
Jacques Lefèvee, the father of French Protestantism, used to say to his pupil, William Farel, 'William, the world is going to be renewed, and you will behold it'. Farel frequently recalls in letters this impressive prophecy. In his Commentary on St. Paul's Epistles, Lefèvre wrote: 'The signs of the times announce that a renewal is near, and while God is opening new ways for the preaching of the Gospel, by the discoveries and conquests of the Portuguese and Spaniards in all pails of the world, we must hope that He will visit His Church and raise it from the degradation into which it has fallen'.
References. XXI. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi. No. 1816. A. Coote, Twelve Sermons, p. 27. Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 284. H. P. Chapman, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xvi. p. 28. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvii. p. 4. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 371.
'I Am Alpha and Omega'
There is no great mystery about the title. The smallest Sunday school child knows that it is simply the first and the last letter of the Greek alphabet. It is as if He said, 'I am the A and the Z'.
I. He is the Alpha and the Omega in the great alphabet of time. Look back as far as you can; go back as far as ever thought can pierce, and yet you can hear the echo from some far-off distance, 'I am', Then look forward to the future. Think of the time when the little rill of time will lose itself in the great ocean of Eternity; imagine the universe blotted out, the lamps of heaven quenched, the firmament rolled together as a scroll but Jesus Christ will ever be still the same, 'yesterday, today, and for ever'. He is the Omega, the last. He Who was the Architect, will also be the Builder, and will bring it to a perfect end. 'I am confident that He which hath begun the good work in you will finish it.' He Who began will complete in spite of all opposition, and in spite of all sin.
II. He is not only the Alpha and the Omega in point of time, but He is the Alpha and the Omega in point of rank. He is the Alpha. He was made higher than the angels. In whatever character you regard Jesus Christ, we claim the Alpha for Him. And yet He became the Omega. He, Who was the equal with God, becomes obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross; and died for our sins upon the Tree.
III. So once more He is the Alpha and the Omega in the great scheme of salvation. The origination of salvation must be with Him. So He must also be the Omega; He will be the Omega for the salvation of the world. We do not believe in some gradual evolution towards a day of glory; we believe sin will never be really cast out until He comes we believe that evil will never be really extirpated until He comes.
IV. He must be the Alpha and the Omega of your salvation. (1) First let Him be the Alpha and the Omega of your trust. (2) We would urge you that He may be the Alpha and the Omega of your love. (3) He must be our Alpha and our Omega in all our teaching and in all our work. My Christ is first, my Christ is last, my Christ is all in all!
E. A. Stuart, His Dear Son and other Sermons, vol. v. p. 113.
References. XXI. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1649.
Man, the Conqueror
I. Life, a warfare, is the first reflection forced on you by the words 'He that overcometh,' that is, there is something to overcome. In every Church, in every city in Asia Minor, there must be a contest. For the man who will not contend there is no promise in this book. One of the most familiar phrases on the lips of teachers and moralists, whether they teach through fiction or dry philosophy, is 'the battle of life'.
Whatever of mystery there be about it, it is a fact that the highest life is not reached without severest conflict Whatever truth there may be in the theories of the quietists concerning rest and peace in the Christian life, this is always true it is never lived without conflict. It is fighting all the way. If Christ calls you to anything by example and word He calls you to battle with the world, the flesh, and the devil. The man who will not fight can never live the Christian life.
II. The second thing is, that life may be a great victory. The word is not 'To him that fighteth,' as though the fighter might be defeated and get a kind of solatium for his reward, but 'To him that overcometh,' seeming to say that overcoming is certain to him who will fight. And it is. There is no hopelessness for the moral warrior. Victory is the great possibility. The circumstances and conditions of the seven Churches in Asia differed widely. Some, like Sardis, seem to have been mastered. But the same great door of hope is opened to all, and the one word to all is 'overcometh'. Jesus Christ never led anybody to defeat yet If you have been defeated it is because you have lost touch with Him.
III. Life is designed to be a great inheritance. He that overcometh shall inherit what? All things. All that you can cram into the word 'life': joy, peace, pleasure, satisfaction. Not hereafter but here. Who is the man that enjoys nature, for whom every spring brings a new world, who finds the relationships of life teeming with interest? The man with the pure heart. Who is the man who enjoys the world? Not the man who is mastered by it and made its slave, but the man who conquers it.
IV. Lastly, life was intended to be a high and holy fellowship. I was intended not merely to know and feel that there was a God, but to say, 'My God' and to know that God says to me 'My Son'. To live the life of a son of God is the highest part of my inheritance.
Charles Brown, God and Man, p. 43.
References. XXI. 7. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 68. C. Brown, God and Man, p. 43.
Mr. Yorke, the impetuous manufacturer in Shirley, 'believed fully that there was a judgment to com If it were otherwise, it would be difficult to imagine how all the scoundrels who seemed triumphant in this world, who broke innocent hearts with impunity, abused unmerited privileges, were a scandal to honourable callings, took the bread out of the mouths of the poor, browbeat the humble, and truckled meanly to the rich and proud were to be properly paid off, in such coin as they had earned. But,' he added, 'whenever he got low-spirited about such like ongoings, and their seeming success in this mucky lump of a planet, he just reached dawn t'owd book' (pointing to a great Bible in the bookcase), 'opened it like at a chance, and he was sure to light of a verse blazing with a blue brimstone low that set all straight. He knew,' he said, 'where some folk was bound for, just as weel as if an angel wi' great white wings had come in ower t' door-stone and told him.'
Courage, says John Stuart Mill in his essay upon Nature, 'is from first to last a victory achieved over one of the most powerful emotions of human nature.... It may fairly be questioned if any human being is naturally courageous. Many are naturally pugnacious, or irascible, or enthusiastic, and these passions when strongly excited may render them insensible to fear. But take away the conflicting emotions, and fear reasserts its dominion: consistent courage is always the effect of cultivation.'
In private we read Paley's Evidences or Leslie on Deism. These two stuck by me, and did my head good. I took in the whole argument, and I thank God that nothing has ever shaken it. If history is a foundation of certainty, Christianity, even by human evidence, is certain. This has been with me through life, in every state and age and intellectual condition. The book of Revelation 1:0 read at Tretteridge and the 'lake that burneth with fire and brimstone' never even faded in my memory. They were vivid and powerful truths and motives which forwarded and governed me; I owe to them more than will ever be known till the last day.
Cardinal Manning's Journal.
I had always a fear of judgment and of the pool burning with fire. The verse in Revelation 21:8 was fixed in my whole mind from the time I was eight or nine years old, confixit carnem meam timore , and kept me as boy and youth and man in the midst of all evil, and in all occasions remote and proximate; and in great temptations; and in a perilous and unchecked liberty.
The Work of the Bride of Christ
The Church, the Bride of Christ, is not called into existence simply for itself, but it is called into existence for the sake of the Bridegroom. The work of the Bride of Christ: 'Ye shall be witnesses unto Me'. 'Ye shall make disciples of all the nations.' In other words, a husband and wife ought to be one in thought, in character, in work. And that is the idea, that the Church of Christ should be one in thought, in character, and in work with Him. Now what is Jesus Christ's character? That should be the character of His Bride, and the different parts of the Bride. The different members of the Church should have the character of Jesus Christ.
What is the thought of Jesus Christ? That should be the thought of the Church, the different parts of the Church. What is the work of Jesus Christ? That should be the work of the Church, the different parts of the Church. One in thought, character, work, one in Him.
I. The Work of the Bride. Just think of the love of Jesus Christ for the world! Can we estimate it? Can we picture it? Can we even imagine it? And yet if we are one with Him and His Bride, there ought to be in us that same spirit of love and devotion, that keenness for the work, that characterised Him. He came down on earth to seek and to save that which was lost. It is said that Michael Angelo one day went to call on Raphael, before Raphael had made his great name, in his earlier days, and Raphael was not at home. And Michael Angelo went into his house and saw there a picture Raphael had commenced, and it was like nearly all the work of Raphael in that day, very cramped, very small, apparently insignificant. And Angelo looked at it and then he wrote underneath on the canvas, 'Larger, larger, larger,' and signed it. And Raphael came home, saw Angelo had been to visit him, and he looked at the canvas and saw the words, 'Larger, larger, larger'. And that was the turning-point in the artistic career of the great artist Raphael. And it seems to me that Jesus Christ will come and write on our churches, aye, and in different Christians' hearts and lives, 'Larger, larger, larger'. We have such puny, small conceptions of things, instead of the great conception that Jesus Christ would have us have, the great conception of character He would have us have, the great idea of work and usefulness and sphere of labour which Jesus Christ would have us possess. Be larger in prayer. We want do we not? showers of blessing to come down upon our Church. As one preacher said recently in a sermon, showers of blessing depend equally upon us along with God. You look at the shower coming down. Where is that rain coming from? The clouds. How did it get to the clouds? The sun drew it up from the earth. The sun drew the water up from the earth and it got into the clouds, and it descends in fertilising showers. The more our prayers are gathered up in the heavens, the more they descend in showers. If there is a famine, if there is no rain, depend upon it it is because the Sun has not gathered from the earth the prayers of God's people. Therefore, if we want showers of blessing, we want as a Church to be engaged in prayer. How wonderful it is, that we can influence God, and influence others by prayer! St. Augustine says, in one of his works, that the Church owes the mighty and wonderful example of St. Paul to the prayer of dying Stephen. It is the prayer of the Bride of Christ going up to God, which gives showers of blessing. God cannot deny the Bride of His Son anything. The Church of the living God has power with God. Let us be a praying people, praying for the blessing of God to come down upon our heads.
II. The Position of the Bride. Let us just remember this, the position of the Bride of Christ, the privilege of the Bride of Christ. When you are united to Jesus Christ in the closest of all ties as His Bride, think what a claim you have upon Him, think what a claim He has upon you. If you are His Bride, what has He a right to expect from you? Loyalty to Himself, nothing coming between. What have you a right to expect from Him? Everything. Think of the Queen, because she is the wife of the King, think of her privileges, her prerogatives! She occupies a different position from that of any other lady in the land. The wife of the King! You are the Bride of Christ.
III. The Ambition of the Bride. Just as a wife looks up to the husband, so the Church must look up to Jesus Christ Jesus only! that is the cry of the Church, that is the cry of the Christian. Jesus only! If that could only appeal to our heart, what a difference it would make to our life! Then other things would not move us. We should simply have Jesus the Bridegroom, Jesus the Husband, Jesus the Master, Jesus the Lord. Think of the great love wherewith He hath loved us. Can you tell me what the love of Christ is? and yet it is this love that will come into our hearts. Think on all we might be if one with Jesus Christ, one in Jesus Christ? The glory of it, the possibility of it! Let us never rest till we have the realisation of it!
Hugh Miller, in My Schools and Schoolmasters, tells of an old Highlander, Donald Roy, who, as each of his three grand-daughters married, 'added to his other kindnesses the gift of a gold ring. They had been brought up under his eye sound in the faith; and Donald's ring had, in each case, a mystic meaning; they were to regard it, he told them, as the wedding-ring of their other Husband, the Head of the Church, and to be faithful spouses to Him in their several households.'
The action of a future world as a control upon our deeds and a stimulus to our desires, depends upon its being such, upon our believing it such at least, as we can conceive of and aspire to. If it is to operate upon us it must be picturable by us. Only through our idea of it can it influence our lives. Why then quarrel with our conceptions because necessarily imperfect, and probably much more as all finite ideas of the Infinite, all material description of the Spiritual, must be? Heaven will be, if not what we desire now, at least what we desire then. If it be not contracted to our human dreams, those dreams will be expanded to its vast reality. If it be not fitted for us, we shall be prepared for it. In the true sense, if not in our sense, it will be a scene of serene felicity, the end of toil, the end of strife, the end of grief, the end of doubt; a Temple, a Haven, and a Home!
W. Rathbone Greg.
Reference. XXI. 9-27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2648.
No architect's designs were furnished for the New Jerusalem, no committee drew up rules for the Universal Commonwealth. If in the works of Nature we can trace the indications of calculation, of a struggle with difficulties, of precaution, of ingenuity, then in Christ's work it may be that the same indications occur. But these inferior and secondary powers were not consciously exercised; they were implicitly present in the manifold yet single creative act. The inconceivable work was done in calmness; before the eyes of men it was noiselessly accomplished, attracting little attention. Who can describe that which unites man? Who has entered into the formation of speech which is the symbol of their union? Who can describe exhaustively the origin of civil society? He who can do these things can explain the origin of the Christian Church. For others it must be enough to say, 'the Holy Ghost fell on those that believed'. No man saw the building of the New Jerusalem, the workmen crowded together, the unfinished walls and unpaved streets; no man heard the clink of trowel and pickaxe; it descended out of heaven from God .
Sir John Seeley.
References. XXI. 10. Archbishop Benson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 264. XXI. 10-12. Bishop Wordsworth, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 172.
Revelation 21:11 ; Revelation 21:19-21
How beautiful these gems are! It is strange how deeply colours seem to penetrate one, like scent. I suppose that is the reason why gems are used as spiritual emblems in the Revelation of St. John. They look like fragments of heaven.
George Eliot, in Middlemarch.
That elegant Apostle, which seemed to have a glimpse of heaven, hath left but a negative description thereof: which neither eye hath seen, nor ear hath heard, nor can enter into the heart of man: he was translated out of himself to behold it; but, being returned unto himself, could not express it. St. John's description of emeralds, chrysolites, and precious stones, is too weak to express the material heaven we behold. Briefly, therefore, where the soul hath the full measure and complement of happiness; where the boundless appetite of that spirit remains completely satisfied that it can neither desire addition nor alteration; that, I think, is truly heaven; and this can only be in the enjoyment of that essence, whose infinite goodness is able to terminate the desires of itself, and the unsatiable wishes of ours. Wherever God will thus manifest Himself, there is heaven.
Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici.
It is not to be denied that the favourite delineations of heaven are almost wholly suggested or coloured by the book of Revelation, in which the descriptions, magnificently splendid and sometimes sublime, are yet, if we except seven verses of the twenty-first chapter, almost wholly material. And not only so, but the material elements are by no means the noblest that might have been chosen. The New Jerusalem is painted as something between a gorgeous Palace, and a dazzling Conventicle.... The writer's conception of what befitted the Temple of the Lord and the dwelling of the redeemed embraced rather the rare curiosities than the common loveliness of nature; palaces and jewels and precious stones not gentle streams, and shady groves, and woodland glades, and sunny valleys, and eternal mountains, and the far-off murmur of a peaceful ocean. His heaven was a scene of magnificent ornamentation rather than of solemn beauty; of glory, not of love and bliss. It might kindle his fancy; it chills ours.
W. Rathbone Greg.
Yas, they's life an' happiness a-plenty in cheerful labour in the open fields, an' a mighty slim chance for the doctor. Why, they's even wealth in it ef it's lived right: not riches, maybe, but wealth.... Why, the way I read Scripture, it seems to me we're given to understand that heaven is a home of wealth. 'Many mansions' sounds that a-way, I'm shore; an' golden streets shows thet they won't anything be considered too good for use. An' sometimes I've thought that maybe it meant to give us to understand that simple riches like gold was to be trod under foot. An' all the Revelational jewels, why, they seem to be set either in the walls, or doors, or somewhere, not let loose in piles, to be swapped or squabbled over. No riches to possess, but they's wealth to enjoy.
Ruth M'enery Stuart, in Century Magazine, April, 1903.
References. XXI. 11. J. Waddington, Penny Pulpit, No. 1680, p. 479.
Gates on Every Side
When St. John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, it is clear that the entrance-gates made a deep impression on his mind. Over and over again he comes back to the theme, speaking of their number, their substance, their beauty, and the names written upon them. He tells us, for example, that the city had twelve gates and at the gates twelve angels. Next he relates that the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl. And once more, in this text, we learn that there were three on every side, looking away to the four quarters of the compass, on the east and the north and the south and the west.
It is all a picture, of course; a picture, not in colours but in poetry; a picture of the great love of God the Father. God will have all men to be saved; and the twelve gates, facing each possible approach to the city, are an emblem of that. The doors of the Father's house look out to all the winds of heaven, and they are shut neither night nor day; for the love of God is open and the heart of God is waiting. Like the entrance to a great city hospital, they are never closed. However late a wanderer may arrive, however long after the rest he may stumble in, broken and weary, he will find that he has been expected, and that kind hands are ready to receive him. The penitent never takes God unawares. The prodigal is always seen a great way off. God's care is not pre-occupied, or His mind too full to think of us. Come when or how we may, there are gates of pearl open on every side.
It is a great and moving thought that men find their way to Christ from every quarter. Yet the gates on every side call up still another suggestion; they recall the variety of motives by which men are led to faith. Men come from every direction, but they also come for every kind of reason.
I. Men come from a sense of duty. For there is a large class of persons who, though totally unaffected by emotional appeals, are yet filled with a powerful desire to do right. These people before long are confronted with the personality of Jesus; His words stick in their conscience. Soon they feel that to refuse to submit their will to Christ's is to evade responsibility and evade obligation. So the pressure on conscience grows. The necessity arises of choosing between the higher life and the lower, of seizing the one real opportunity of life, or making the great refusal.
This may not be the commonest impulse, or the easiest path; yet without question it is an impulse and a path which God Himself has appointed, and if it be followed sincerely it leads to Him. Only, if it is to do anything for us, we must be in deadly earnest, refusing to be content with a desire, and pressing with resolution on to the reality. We must make up our mind to be thorough, taking to ourselves Prof. Drummond's advice to University students: 'Don't be amphibian, trying to lead two lives; be out and out'. If conscience is urging us to Christ, then we must go all the way with conscience.
II. Others come from vague discontent with an empty life. They long for some purpose or ideal worth battling for; they covet an experience adequate to the enthusiasm they know they are ready to give.
III. Still others come to God for shelter. What these people a great unnumbered multitude seek in God is refuge.
Christianity, it has been said, is not a sorrowful religion, but it is a religion for the sorrowful. The Gospel would be no Gospel, and Christ would not be Christ, were there in Him no glad tidings for the friendless and the sad.
IV. Still further, others come from fear of moral ruin. They have learnt that they are no match for their own nature; they have discovered how little the anchors of prudence can be trusted when the storms of passion rise.
Take the gate you are nearest to; they all lead into the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
V. Finally, many come to God to be forgiven. All come to this ere long; all must so come; but also many set out from it. A writer has lately said that the feeling of guilt is dead today; if that be true, it will pass. There is a soul of honesty in men and women that may be trusted to keep alive the feeling of accountability, so long as there is a God in heaven and failing, wandering mortals on the earth.
Let my concluding word be this, that no one entrance among them all has an exclusive claim against the others. They all lead in; and it is the redeeming love of God that has opened every one.
H. R. Mackintosh, Life on God's Plan, p. 29.
XXI. 13. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 387. F. L. Goodspeed, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 10.
The Proportions of Life
At first glance this figure seems absurd. We could understand a city being equal in its length and breadth. Many fine cities of the world have been built in an almost perfect square. But this city that John saw was equal, not only in its length and breadth, but in its height as well. And it is almost impossible to picture that. I think that the truth that John 'is struggling here to utter is just the perfect symmetries of glory. John may be speaking of the city here, but he is really thinking of the citizens. There will be nothing ill-developed or un-symmetrical. But you will mark, that if the perfect life is to be quite symmetrical, that does not mean it is to be all the same. In the endless life there is no sameness, there is no dull and cheerless and wearisome monotony, but a carrying out of individual character on its own lines to its own completeness until the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.
I. Now one of the first things that impresses us in human life is the want of proportion in men's actual characters. All character has got a threefold aspect. There are the duties of a man towards himself. There are the outgoings of his life towards his brother. There are the upgoings of his heart towards his God. And we only need to look within a little, or to think of the men we know, the men we love best, to feel that here, whatever it may be yonder, the length and the breadth and the height are never equal. And there can be little question that just that want of symmetry is often essential to what men call success.
II. Now over against our ill-proportioned characters, there stands the perfect symmetry of the character of Jesus. All that is best in the thousand hearts of men, and all that is noblest in the separate types, meets and is crowned in the Redeemer. In the midst of the blinding specialism of the age, and all the contracting and narrowing tendencies abroad, there is no such help to a fully-rounded character as a constant friendship with Jesus Christ
G. H. Morrison, Flood-Tide, p. 12.
References. XXI. 16. G. Matheson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 325. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 341. XXI. 17. F. W. Farrar, Everyday Christian Life, p. 82. XXI. 18. T. E. Ruth, Baptist Times and Freeman, vol. lv. p. 39. XXI. 21. J. Dodd Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 198. J. Waddington, Penny Pulpit, No. 1680, p. 479.
Deus Meus Et Omnia
I. Let us confess that if we now for the first time heard these words heard them, too, after the ravishing description of our true home which precedes them, they would fall rather blank on the ear. What! we, whose highest and best times have been in the Temple of God on earth, we, who believe that the most glorious services below are but the poorest shadows, the most wretched photographic negatives of the perpetual Liturgy there; to be told at last, 'I saw no Temple therein'. What is the use of all the art, all the skill, all the labour, all the cost, to make our Churches less unworthy of the indwelling of Him whom Heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain? What is the use of those great speeches which glow like a warm coal at one's very heart. 'The house which I am about to build shall be wonderful great,' and the resolution of the Spanish Chapter, 'Let us build such a Cathedral that they who come after us may take us to have been mad when we imagined it,' if, after all, when these things are passed away, 'I saw no Temple therein'.
II. But then, O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! This is not the only instance in which, as regards that our future home, what must in one point of view be taken so differently, is, if looked at aright, so glorious.
'They rest not day nor night.' That we know is said of the glorious city; said of it too, as concerning one of its chief glories and blessings. But is it not also true of the city of misery? They rest not day nor night. So, over and over again, we find that the 'very excellent things' spoken, or to be spoken, of the City of God, are things which, except for the perfect happiness of the place, must be anything but blessings; they must be curses. 'The gates of it shall not be shut at all.' Would that be any happiness, here on earth, to us in our warfare? 'For there shall be no night there.' Would that be any blessing to us, here on earth, wearied as we often are; as our dear Lord, according to His manhood, was before us? But the most remarkable lesson we have is in the most glorious self-contradiction, to say it with all reverence, in Isaiah, when that fifth Evangelist, setting forth to us those things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, says: 'The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light and thy God thy glory.' And then: 'Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended'.
III. So we come back to that 'I saw no Temple therein'. And, lest any man should say, 'This is a hard saying; who can bear it?' St. John gives us the reason, 'For the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it'. That is, the one Temple and the all Temple, that which cannot be seen, even then, with the bodies of our resurrection, is this and this only, the Beatific Vision.
What the Beatific Vision is, we can only fancy by knowing what it is not. And keeping all this in view, small regret shall we have in 'I saw no temple therein,' when the Beatific Vision itself will be our Temple. It is that God who is love, filling His happy servants with the outpouring of that love, it is the God who is light, satisfying them with the perfect brilliancy of that light. And always remember, that unto that height of glory our Human Nature has entered; that there, in its fullest blaze, a Man is seated at the right hand of the Father; that eyes, in every point fashioned as our eyes, behold Him there, whose face, however far off, we could not see and live.
J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, etc., p. 102.
References. XXI. 22. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 310. R. M. Benson, Redemption, p. 388. XXI. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 583. Archbishop Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, p. 3.
'The soul that lives,' says Richard Baxter, 'ascends frequently and runs familiarly through the streets of the Heavenly Jerusalem, visiting the patriarchs and prophets, saluting the Apostles, and admiring the army of the martyrs; so do thou lead on thy heart and bring it to the palace of the great King.'
References. XXI. 24. Bishop Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 360. Bishop Festing, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 407. H. S. Holland, ibid. vol. lxi. p. 393. XXI. 25. W. P. S. Bingham, Sermons on Easter Subjects, p. 149. W. H. Savile, Church Family Newspaper, vol. xv. p. 196.
'Veracity,' observes John Stuart Mill, in his essay upon Nature, 'might seem, of all virtues, to have the most plausible claim to being natural, since, in the absence of motives to the contrary, speech usually conforms to, or at least, does not intentionally deviate from, fact. Accordingly, this is the virtue with which writers like Rousseau delight in decorating savage life, and setting it in advantageous contrast with the treachery and trickery of civilisation. Unfortunately this is a mere fancy picture, contradicted by all the realities of savage life. Savages are always liars. They have not the faintest notion of truth as a virtue. They have a notion of not betraying to their hurt, as of not hurting in any other way, persons to whom they are bound by some special tie of obligation; their chief, their guest, perhaps, or their friend; these feelings of obligation being the taught morality of the savage state, growing out of its characteristic circumstances. But of any point of honour respecting truth for truth's sake, they have not the remotest idea; no more than the whole East, and the greater part of Europe, and in the few countries which are sufficiently improved to have such a point of honour, it is confined to a small minority, who alone, under any circumstances of real temptation, practise it.'
'A truthful man,' said Tennyson, 'usually has all the virtues.'
In the Life of Dean Stanley (vol. II. p. 314), there is an anecdote of two soldiers who, on their way home from gunnery practice at Shoeburyness, spent a day in London and found themselves at Westminster Abbey, just as the gates were locked. A gentleman noticed them turning away in disappointment and invited them to accompany him. Taking the keys from the beadle, he showed them the sights of the abbey, and as they paused opposite one monument to a soldier he took occasion to remark, 'You wear the uniform of her Majesty, and would like, I daresay, to do some heroic deed worthy of a monument like this'. They both said, Yes, they should when, laying his hand on each of them, he continued, 'My friends, you may both have a more enduring monument than this, for this will moulder into dust and be forgotten; but you, if your names are written in the Lamb's book of life, will abide for ever'. 'We neither of us,' said the soldiers, 'understood what he meant. But we looked into his grave, earnest, loving face, with queer feelings in our hearts, and moved on.... And as we travelled home, we talked about our visit to the abbey and puzzled much as to the meaning of the Lamb's book of life.' Eventually, those words of the Dean proved the turning-point in the lives of the two men and of their wives.
References. XXI. 27. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1590. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 39. XXII. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 464.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 21". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany