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The Saints of God (for All Saints' Day)
These are the saints of God. They have been men and women like ourselves. They were diverse in character, they had come from all nations, they were equally diverse in experience, they had had helps, but they had had trials and difficulties. Many of them had their faults, but they are the saints of God. They are one in this, that their testimony is to the triumph of the Lamb.
I. All Saints' Festival. All of us have an interest in All Saints' festival, for most of us have known some saints, and all of us hope to be saints. Though, of course, the festivals more directly and closely connected with the great events in the life of our Blessed Lord Christmas, Easter, Ascension must always hold the first place in our minds, and though they claim over all mankind the sovereignty and power of Jesus Christ, because He claimed mankind through them, yet do we not know that all that is good and true in us comes from Him, and we are honouring Him in the celebration of the festival of All Saints? If we see light as we look up and think of all that it means, we do not forget that He is the Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world, He is the true King of Saints, He, glory be to His name, is the Elder Brother of every good man and woman, every good boy and girl. It is good for us sometimes is it not? to turn away from the thoughts of the sins of men, and to behold them in the white robes. It helps us, does it not, and it inspires hope among us, for all of us may have an inheritance among them. I know that to some it is almost a hindrance to think about the mediaeval saints because they cannot well enter into the meaning of their surroundings and the general character of their lives, and one could well wish that the roll of saints on our Church calendar were extended to much later times, that we might include in it those who seem in our own day to have stood up so strongly for Christ and have lived as the saints of old. We certainly cannot forget Living-stone and General Gordon, we cannot forget Lord Shaftesbury or Lord Lawrence, we cannot forget Bishop Patteson and his noble martyrdom, or Bishop Hannington in his manly march to death, or the tender ministrations of the devoted Sister Dora or the self-abnegation of Father Damien. All these fill our minds with ennobling ideals. They have stood so near to our own time that we seem to be in touch with them, and if we think of them we are reminded of the saints of God. There are two marks especially which are characteristic of the saints of God.
II. The Purity of the Saints. The first is their purity. Their victory may be over the passions of their own nature, it may involve struggle itself, but it is clear enough that purity is the mark of God's saints. Yet we do wrong if we fail to recognise that in the Holy Scriptures that great word means something more than we generally associate with it It does mean singleness of aim, it does mean sincerity of purpose: 'If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light'. It was said of Sir Isaac Newton by one who knew him well, 'His was the whitest soul I have ever known,' and it was said of Dean Stanley by Dr. Vaughan in the sermon that he preached after his funeral, 'I who have known him longest have never known him other than pure'. But, I say, that word goes further than we commonly mean, and it is plain enough that such men as these were free from all double-mindedness. They were single-hearted, and such are the pure in heart who see God. Yes, purity is one of the marks of the saints of God. We may be conscious of our need of it, but it is stated of those who are standing round the throne of God, that they have washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb. I take that to mean that in the self-sacrifice of the Blessed Lord they have so learned to love Him, to become one with Him, and to be imbued with His spirit that their own selfish and sinful aims have lost all power over them, they have been cleansed from them, they have been washed from them, and realising the love of Christ Who loved them and gave Himself for them, they have found their home, their forgiveness, and their peace with God. And to this may we not each of us attain? We need not despair. The roll of God's saints includes many that have washed their robes and made them white after they had been stained with sin. Our hope, our redemption, our sanctification are just the same as were the hope of all those saints of God. Christ, Who indeed said, 'No man cometh to the Father except by Me,' said also, 'Whosoever cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out'. It is in Him that the saints have found their power of purity.
III. The Purposefulness of the Saints. The second mark of these saints of God is their purposefulness. No man can ever drift into sanctity. No man can go to sleep a sinner and wake up a saint. He may forget what is past, but he needs cleansing from it. No man can serve God without an effort. No man can do his duty without really meaning to. In all respects the best work in the world is done by men of purpose. Of course it involves self-discipline, it involves the restraint of foolish imaginations, it often means the curbing of many natural impulses; but is it not the case that too often we fritter away our best ideals and we never seem in any way to realise them? Our very energies fail us because we have not sufficiently concentrated our minds on any true end. But God's saints have felt the constraining love of Christ. This has made each one of them pull himself together and set his face steadfastly towards the goal.
The Saints in Past Time a Comfort in Present Weakness
It is a frequent trouble or trial with almost every thoughtful Christian to feel disappointed with the measure of success that the Gospel has had in the world. And the simplest, and, in a measure, the truest answer to this feeling of disappointment is, that we are to estimate its success, not by the extent, but by the degree and intensity of its influence. I. In the first place, ought not the Christian to be disappointed? Shall he complain, if the world has not realised the desires of his charity. How can he, when he knows that they have even more cruelly disappointed the love of his Lord Himself?
II. But though the Christian's rightful lot and proper feeling is one of disappointment, he is not without comfort under it. And next to that great comfort, of knowing that the sorrows of Christian love are a share of the sorrows of Christ, the greatest comfort is faith in the Communion of Saints. Though the elect in any one age and country and society are few, the elect of all time are a great multitude; the elect in all past time are many enough to encourage us; the elect in the time to come will be many enough to be worth our while to work for. Each single soul that is saved, at death or at the final coming of the Lord, belongs thenceforth not to the crooked and perverse generation in which its lot was cast, but to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn; it is not a single isolated member of a feeble minority, but a soldier in a mighty army, a citizen of a kingdom able to conquer the world. This is one difference between a servant of God and another man, that one belongs to a society and the other does not. Think what a truly innumerable company it is! Clearly then we have no need to faint, when we are compassed with so great a cloud of witnesses.
W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 215.
References. VII. 9. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-Tide Teaching, p. 195. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 220. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 48. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Revelation, p. 331. VII. 9, 10. Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 174. D. W. Simon, Twice Born and other Sermons, p. 194. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd Series), p. 55. E. T. J. Marriner, Sermons Preached at Lyme Regis, p. 85. F. O. Maurice, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 306. T. Arnold, Interpretation of Scripture, p. 302. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 188. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 232. F. J. A. Hort, Village Sermons (2nd Series), p. 224. VII. 13. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 209. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 272. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p.l.
Heaven Through Tribulation
Reading men and women know that this word 'tribulation' has a wonderful history. There is always a vision at the root of every word; and until you see the hidden picture you do not know the meaning of the word. Tribulation. We see a threshing machine, an instrument for cleansing corn and wheat, for separating straw and dust from wheat, called Tri-bulum. God borrowed the word from the husbandmen of the East, and put it into this Book.
I. Tribulation is God's way of separating earthliness from the heaven of His people. Tribulation means trouble, but it means trouble sanctified, trouble that has done us good, that sends us to our knees, to our Bibles. It takes great tribulation to sanctify a sinner; but God will not let one item of tribulation come upon him that is not needed. He has His eye day and night upon His saints.
II. These are they which came out of great tribulation, but that is not all tribulation alone will not do it. They washed their robes. The blood of Christ alone can atone. Sin is such a tremendous evil that it will take nothing less than a tremendous lotion to wash it away nothing less than the blood of God Himself. They serve Him day and night in His Temple. The whole of heaven is one temple, for God is the Temple of it, and the Lamb is the Light thereof. Oh, if it is so good to be here, what must it be to be there?
A. Whyte, The Sunday School Chronicle, vol. XXXIV. p. 315.
Reference. VII. 13, 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1040.
Saved to Serve
I. The gorgeous visions and somewhat clouded vistas of the Apocalypse are sometimes difficult of interpretation. The passage before us, however, is on the whole simple and clear; men with a spiritual understanding have little or no difficulty with it. It is the vision of the redeemed, victorious Church, numbered in it the men and women whom we knew, who dealt with us here and strengthened and comforted our lives, but who have now gone from our mortal sight. What blessed work they do who can say? Milton in one of his majestic moments, which was also one of his humblest moods, speaking of the heavenly host said: 'Thousands at His bidding speed and post o'er land and ocean without rest. They also serve who only stand and wait.' Whatever their work, it is work without weariness, it is service without labour, it is toil without tears, it is the glad service of those who are at Home, and see and know as they are known.
II. Now surely here is a great truth which the Church on earth needs to learn. This vision of the Church redeemed proclaims the great truth that God saves men to serve. Those garments of the saints mean honour, victory; yes, but also service. In the Kingdom of God all are enrolled and equipped for active service, and no man can lazily loiter in pride or selfishness or ease, and be counted worthy.
III. Crowned to serve? Yes. But that is a thought that the world has great difficulty in understanding. Is it easy for the Church? It is the kind of truth that ennobles life, and opens up visions, and shows us how worth living life is, and that following Christ even as He was as a servant and minister, giving His life a ransom for many is the one thing that makes life heroic and worthy of a man's toil and struggle And the Church must learn it.
IV. How do we think of it personally in relation to Christ's Church on earth? It is a great honour for us to have been called of God to see the face of Christ; it is also a great responsibility. Our cleansing in Christ clothes us with the uniform of active service. There are a great many people who have not got any joy in their religion, because they have missed this truth. There is much faith that is very feeble, and it brings little or no joy to the heart, or to the home, or to the Church, because it is not sweetened and strengthened by work.
D. L. Ritchie, Peace the Umpire and other Sermons, p. 157.
From Stress to Triumph
I. Two features in the past history of the victorious hosts are briefly indicated. (1) The elder who draws near to interpret the vision speaks of the discipline through which the multitude has passed a lesson not without its significance to this saint in exile. 'These are they which came out of the great tribulation.' The weird imagery of this book seems to suggest that the stages of the tribulation are so ordered that it achieves the ends of a great spiritual discipline. The convulsions which rend the earth are one and all determined by movements before the throne of God in heaven. The saints are sealed ere the restless forces of destruction rush forth upon their errands, and the trials which are to prove high qualities take place under the eye of a watching God and amidst the ministries of His messengers. (2) The interpreting elder sketches the past history of the redeemed multitude in its ethical inwardness. The life once lived upon earth was a life of purifying faith in the Divine sacrifice. 'They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.' Admitted to the holiest sanctuary of all worlds, they minister before God as priests and kings. But it is through the blood of propitiation that they have won access to this high standing-ground.
II. This vision brings into view the higher destiny upon which God's redeemed servants have entered. Four elements combine in the gladness of this beatific life. (1) The life of the glorified first presents itself to the mind of John as a grand victory in which uncounted hosts participate. The sense of a well-won victory, the victory of the highest of all causes, pulsates in the life of the glorified. 'Salvation to our God which sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb.' (2) The elder goes on to describe the redeemed as raised to a priesthood of worship and service. This is the central absorbing employment of the new state upon which they have entered. 'Therefore are they before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple.' (3) These triumphant saints are still in fellowship with the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. This thought is brought out in the Revised Version: 'The Lamb in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd'. Between Himself and those who have been made white by His sacrificial blood there is a bond no change can weaken or destroy. (4) The last touch in this picture sets forth the Eternal God as the Comforter of His saved people. 'And God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.' Not only is He the object of worship upon the throne, He comes nearer still to the redeemed multitude, healing all the smarts of earth, and dispersing the last memory of pain. When God puts His hand upon the fountain of mortal tears, the fountain is sealed up for ever.
Did you ever observe the force of double symbols? Sometimes they increase the light they cast, like twin stars. There is that fine one in the Apocalypse, 'Who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb'. Isn't that wonderfully expressive? Ah yes, and they'll be prouder of their redness than of their whiteness.
Dr. John Duncan, in Colloquia Peripatetica.
'Think, Madam,' wrote Samuel Rutherford to Lady Ken mure, after a great sorrow in her family, 'it is a part of your glory to be enrolled among those whom one of the elders pointed out to John, "These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Behold your Forerunner going out of the world all in a lake of blood, and it is not ill to die as He did.'
References. VII. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1316. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 269. A. Smellie, The Scottish Review, vol. vi. p. 443. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 125; ibid. vol. vi. p. 251; ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 218.
The summer of 1826 was, I believe, the hottest and driest in the nineteenth century. Almost no rain fell from May till August. I recollect the long continued sultry haze over the mountains of Lorne, Loch Etive daily a sea of glass, the smoke of kelp-burning ascending from its rocky shores, and the sunsets reflecting the hills of Mull and Morven in purple and crimson and gold. I can picture a sultry Sunday in that year in the quaint, rudely furnished, crowded parish church, then beside the manse, and the welcome given to the sublime imagery of the Apocalypse in the words which formed the text: 'These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat'
Prof. Campbell Fraser, Biographia Philosophica, p. 17.
Compare the use of these verses also in Mrs. Gaskell's North and South, XI. XIII. and XVII.
Reference. VII. 15. A. Smellie, The Scottish Review, vol. vi. p. 163.
The Dignity of Service
Revelation 7:15 ; Revelation 7:17
This is one of the glimpses of the better life which John gives us in this book of celestial visions. Heaven is a place of sweet activities. The redeemed are serving God day and night before His throne. The Lamb in the midst of the throne is still occupied as when on earth He said: 'I am among you as He that saveth'. All these, from the highest to the lowest, are busy in the ministry of love. And we take it that that is the pattern in the mount after which God would have us fashion all things in the earthly life, and so in the text we get a sermon not so much about heaven as about the work and interests of the present day. We learn:
I. That the highest life is a life of perpetual service. In God's view rank is determined by the measure of service. It is strange how the world has set aside and reversed this principle in its conceptions of rank and dignity. We speak of service with a sort of disdain, and of servants as ignoble and inferior persons. We are nearest heaven in proportion as we serve.
II. The highest life is a life of service in the temple, or rather of temple service. The highest life on earth is a life made up entirely of temple service a life in which we do all things from the least to the greatest in the same spirit in which we sing hymns and offer prayers, honestly, reverently, and purely, as in the sight of God and our Master Jesus Christ. What we need more and more to feel is that we are always in the temple; that though we do not see God's face, we are for ever in His sight; that we serve before His throne, and that He takes careful and loving knowledge of everything. It is possible even on earth to be like those who serve Him day and night in His temple.
III. The highest life is a life of work inspired by love, by love and not by necessity. In all that we do there may be the willing, thankful, rejoicing spirit, a feeling of infinite indebtedness to God for His great gifts and His great love, which gives, as it were, wings to the feet that are engaged in common labour. According to the measure of your love will you be near to those who serve as they behold His face.
J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 209.
'No one who has never wanted food knows what life is,' said Wilderspin.... 'No one knows the real primal meaning of that pathetic word Man no one knows the true meaning of Man's position here among the other living creatures of this world, if he has never wanted food. Hunger gives a new seeing to the eyes.'
Theodore Watts-Dunton, Aylwin.
References. VII. 16, 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1800, and vol. xxxvi. No. 2128.
When evening came, the Oriental shepherd gathered his flock around him, and, in imagery borrowed from the flocks feeding on Olivet, we are told that he puts himself at the head of his sheep and slowly mounts the hill, tenderly carrying the weakest in his arms, and leading them gently on until they reach the permanent Fold which stood on the high ground of the Mount of Olives.
It is a true picture of the way in which Jesus deals with us when the evening of life comes to us. Then the Good Shepherd comes and calls us home. Do we ask in trembling anxiety when will death come to us? Where will it be? In what shape will it present itself? There is no answer to these questions. I remember once, at the unveiling of a memorial to some colliers who had perished in an explosion, a pitman spoke with much pathos of the way a collier would say goodbye to his wife and children each morning when he started for his daily toil, not knowing if he would ever return home alive again. Surely we might each say the same thing of ourselves. However short the absence from home may be, who can tell if he will be permitted to return again? Such thoughts should not be put away as alarming; it is our wisdom to realise the possible nearness of death much more then we usually do.
But what is Death? We ask the question in trembling anxiety, and Jesus does tell us something in answer. Death is certainly not destruction, it is no cessation of being; it is not even a suspension of being; it is a changed condition of life: 'Absent from the body, present with the Lord'; 'Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's'. Death is a birth into new conditions of life. We are told of our Blessed Lord, that 'He was put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit'; that which seemed like falling into a deep unconscious sleep was, in Jesus, the passing into quickened energy of life, As with our Forerunner, so will it be with us death is our birth into the life of Paradise.
He is the Comforter, Nourisher, Guide and Teacher of the Saints at rest, for this is the best definition of life in Paradise it is a life of rest. This is its characteristic feature as it is brought before us in the Bible. 'The souls of the righteous are in the Hand of God, and there shall no evil touch them; in the sight of the unwise they seem to die, but they are at peace.' And again, 'I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord... that they may rest from their labours'.
Let us consider some of the elements of that rest.
I. The waiting souls in Paradise enjoy the rest of those who have escaped for ever from weariness. Here on earth the sun smites upon us with its burning heat, and we become very weary. How tired one gets of life sometimes! The strain of even an ordinary existence is so great, not only from its outward circumstances, but from its continual inward conditions. But the souls in Paradise are at rest. No longer does the corruptible body weigh down the incorruptible soul; no longer have they to bear the heavy burden of this mortal flesh; no longer does 'the sun light upon them, nor any heat'; they enjoy the deep, abiding, and refreshing rest of Paradise.
II. They have the rest of freedom from life's anxieties. There is no care there; 'they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more'; they are freed from anxiety as to their own perseverance, from the terrible anxiety of living under conditions of known spiritual peril. Theirs is the rest of temptation escaped; the rest that comes after the battle has been fought out to its extremest limits; it is the rest of attained security.
III. They enjoy the rest of spiritual satisfaction. Here, it is our very beatitude to know unsatisfied desire: 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness;' and well we know by experience the truth of this beatitude, for our progress is marked by increasing desire, and every Eucharist adds to the intensity of the longing of the soul after God.
IV. There is also the rest of Service. We carry with us into Paradise consciousness, memory, and the power of communion with the Lord. It must therefore surely follow that if we are present with the Lord, sharing His Love, blending our will with His high purpose, the rest of Paradise must be the rest of activity; and one undoubted sphere of that activity is the Ministry of Intercession. The saints within the veil are ever bearing us upon their hearts, as they think of us as being on the perilous journey of earthly life; and their supplications blend with the Mighty Sacrifice offered by the Great High Priest at the Golden Altar, as He intercedes for His Church on earth.
V. Yet, once again, and sweetest thought of all, the waiting souls are living in the rest of Hope. There is a restlessness even in their rest, and through it they know the crowning joy of Paradise, as they cry from beneath the Altar, 'How long, O Lord, how long?' In this life of hope they have foretastes of the greater joys that await them in heaven; they look for the joy of Resurrection when they shall live once more an embodied life, but in a resurrection body, conformed to the glory of the risen Lord; they look for the joy of 'His appearing,' for that fulness of bliss which they shall know when they shall wake up after His likeness and be satisfied with it. They have the anticipation of all that awaits them in the glorious Resurrection life of the Saints, and ever, under the power of the grace of Jesus, does this joyful hope grow clearer as the entranced spirits enter deeper into the secrets of their future life in heaven.
George Body, The Good Shepherd, p. 99.
The Feeding of the Lamb
The first words which John ever heard of Jesus were words that described Him as a Lamb. When John was a disciple of the Baptist's, drinking in inspiration from that stern teacher, he had heard these words fall from the Baptist's lips, 'Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world'. What experiences John had had and what a vast deal he had suffered when he came to write this book of Revelation! Yet in Revelation some seven and twenty times John repeats the sweet expression Lamb of God the first words he had ever heard of Christ. How blessed is a life when from its first stage to its last there runs through it one regulating thought!
I. Christ in heaven today is the very Christ who walked by the banks of Jordan. I think we all need to be assured of that, for we are very prone to disbelieve it. We know that He is no longer rejected and despised, and we know that the body of His humiliation has been glorified, until insensibly we transfer these changes from His outward nature to His heart, as though death and resurrection had altered that. So do we conceive Christ as far away from us, separated from the beating of the human heart; glorious, yet not so full of tender brotherhood as in the days of Capernaum and Bethany. That error is combated by the vision of the Lamb in heaven. Purity, gentleness, and sacrifice are there.
II. Another thought which our text suggests is this, that we shall need Christ in heaven as much as we do here. The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them even in heaven there shall be no feeding without Christ. We all know in some measure how great and how constant is our need of Christ on earth. Are we not prone to imagine that in the world beyond the need of being nourished by Christ Jesus will be less? However such an idea may arise within us, remember that it is not the conception of the Bible. All that we owe to Him on earth is but a tithe of what we shall owe to Him when we awake. It is suggested, too, by the words of the original that this feeding shall be a perpetual process. The love of God will expand and deepen endlessly so that every fresh hour will have its sweet surprise.
III. Lastly, and most significant of all, will you note the position in which the Lamb is standing. In the very centre and seat of power He has His place: He is the Lamb in the midst of the throne. That means that the redeemed shall be fed not only gently, but by one who stands in the place of sovereign power.
G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 259.
'How can we conceive,' James Smetham once wrote, 'of a complete joy, if those we love are not there with us? I dare hardly turn my eyes this way. It is like the beginning of our agony to think of eternal separation; it seems as if it would fill eternity with tears. What is that view of Truth that will wipe all tears away? What that consent to the Divine Rectitude which cannot permit a diminished joy even when the wicked are silent in darkness? I need help for such thoughts as these God bring all we love safe within that circle of glory. God grant we may have no loves on earth that will not be everlasting.'
Her sympathy for man is not the 'child of golden hope,' but of deep and tender pity. The grave will right many wrongs, the future will bring in a peaceful, better time what more can science or its religion promise? Not that God will wipe away the teal's from every eye; for its heaven is only the vision of the ideal, and never can be a fact.
Dr. William Barry, on George Eliot.
In a letter to his father, written out of a fit of youth-full melancholy, Burns alludes to this passage thus: 'I am more pleased with the 15th, 16th, and 17th verses of the seventh chapter of Revelation, than with any ten times as many verses in the whole Bible, and would not exchange the noble enthusiasm with which they inspire me for all that this world has to offer. As for this world, I despair of ever making a figure in it Indeed I am altogether unconcerned at the thoughts of this life.'
References. VII. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 643. J. Morlais Jones, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 356. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays After Trinity, p. 229. Ibid. Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 340.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 7". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany