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In the Book of the Revelation of John, chapter 1, from the ninth verse onward, we have a personal experience. The Apostle John tells us where he was, what he was, what he saw, what he heard, what he did. He tells us the whole story in his own name and in his own person. Anything that is autobiographical, when the person speaking is a noted or great or useful man, is ever intensely interesting and is likely to be vivid and piquant. The men who write in the Scriptures often write in their own personality. They give us a part of their own history," they vouch for their evidence. It is not second-handed; it is uttered with the frankness, sometimes with the abruptness, always with the sincerity of eye-witness.
How certain days engrave themselves on the memory! This would seem to be the day's work of the particular occasion referred to by the Apostle John. There are days of which no written record is needful. Their history is on the tablets of the heart. We could not write all that we heard or saw or did. Our completest narration is but a gathering-up of almost incoherent memoranda; we who passed through the living scene can fill up all the spaces, but when others come to read our words they will hardly know what we meant to convey, so poor is language, so empty is eloquence, so useless altogether is any yet discovered medium of communication as between mind and mind, when the very highest utility is aimed at. Every man has his own sunny day. There is always one day that shines more brightly than any other time with which the memory is familiar; there are days which may approach it in glory, still it stands out with a radiant singularity that can never be mistaken. Every soul has its own misery the recorded woe that even the most eager and fullest joy cannot obliterate: it may have been a disappointment, a loss, or a bereavement, it was an overturning of the lot, it was the first grave dug; something in it was unique, that never could be repeated. Having dug one grave you are used to it; you may now dig a thousand: but who can dig that first grave and forget it? There are heroic days, as well as days sunny, and days all night, times when great vows were spoken and great deeds were done and holy promises were carried into their fullest realisation; times when we said No to the devil a great heart-No that falls upon the tempter, like a bomb from heaven, under which he reels and retires, at least for a season.
John refers to a memorable day he had. It was also in a place which he made memorable, in the isle called Patmos a Mediterranean isle which owes all its fame to its prisoner; The place would have been forgotten but for John, but through John it is glorified for ever; it is the isle we would like to see, it is a kind of sanctuary in the ocean. Whatever Christianity touches it glorifies. Wherever you find the deepest human experience of Christianity you find place and time memorialised for ever. What if this little earth owe all its fame among the stars to the fact that once there was set up on its rocks the Cross of Christ? Astronomy would never save the earth from contempt. Astronomy takes no count of the earth; astronomy tells us the earth could be blown out and nobody would ever miss it; even our neighbours in the nearest planet would hardly know that such a puff of smoke had vanished from the clouds. We do not owe our fame in the world to anything astronomy has ever done for us; our fame as a planet all comes from Christ having been born here. He made this Patmos the favourite isle in all the ocean space, the very sunniest, dearest, sweetest spot on all the unmeasured universe of God. We memorialise places. Passing through some little or obscure village we are arrested by the legend that long years ago the queen halted here. That is the only repute the place has beyond its own boundaries. Yonder is another legend in a farther village: Here fifty years ago and more the king planted this oak. Man likes something of fame, something of royal association and royal reputation; and so we put up our little signs and memorials indicating the stupendous fact that one, called monarch, halted here for an hour. What if the earth be spoken of among the other worlds as the place to which Christ went on his redeeming mission? What if the angels say as they are coming away through all the gallery of the stars, Now we are almost within sight of the little place where the Son of God was cradled as a Child? hush! This may be so: why should it not be so? Certainly to ourselves there is no greater fact in all history, no greater confidence and certainty in all consciousness than that Jesus Christ lived and died and rose again on this very earth whoever he was. The historical Christ cannot be laughed out of court. Even if the theologians were all disallowed, as witnesses, there would come up historians of an unsuspected type who would declare that one called Jesus Christ did live, was born, was developed, was taught, himself instructed others, and was finally put to death on the Cross. All these facts are glorified and continued by Christian interpretation: and this being the case what world can there be amid all the constellations so brilliant in reputation, so glorious, so pensive, yet so triumphant in its recollection?
John was in Patmos. He did not say he was in prison in so many words, yet he said it by very vivid suggestion, for his language is: "I... was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." We need not always in set and blatant terms tell our deepest and hardest experiences. There is an ellipsis in language more eloquent than the most cunningly devised succession of phrases. He was not in the isle called Patmos for the purpose of studying the word of God and entering critically into the historical evidences for the testimony of Jesus Christ; that is not the right filling up of this ellipsis. Why in the isle called Patmos? for a summer vacation? for a period of rest? Was he there as an earnest discoverer, an explorer, a geographer? He says he was there "for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." That is how the apostles took their holidays. John was really in prison, Patmos was his jail; however beautiful it may have been or however dreary, that was his Norway: but the crime for which he was there, namely, the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ, took all the sting out of his residence. Whenever a man is sent anywhere for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, he is not in prison, he is not in Patmos only. Jesus Christ said "the Son of man who is in heaven" at the very moment when he was sitting upon the earth and was visible to spectators: and so John might have said I was in Patmos yet I was in heaven; in the body I was confined to a limited island, but in the spirit I was with my Lord in the sanctuary of the skies, lost in contemplation and adoration, and preparing to return to the earth with fuller equipment as a gospel preacher. This is the explanation of how men are able to endure prisons. There are two causes which will enable a man to abide almost comfortably in prison. The one is a certain sense of his guilt, and therefore of his deserts: otherwise the murderer could not live; but he is thankful for his condemned cell. Thus extremes meet. The martyr could accept the condemned cell, and say, This is only one of the stepping-places, my foot is here for a moment, my next bound will be into heaven: what care I for this rock-prison, this place of humiliation? I am here but for a moment. Thus, let me repeat, extremes meet. The self-convicted murderer says, This place is too good for me: may God grant that I may never see the light again; I have offended against light, I have affronted every flower that blooms, every star that shines: oh, I hug this cell, I love it, because I have deserved its humiliation and its bitterness. The good man says, Patmos is but a calling place, I am on the road to wider liberty; this is one of the necessities of the journey, and as the traveller when he has passed through a long career forgets all the mere detail of the road, all the dull little vexatious inconveniences, and brings back with him only the wondrous apocalypse, many-imaged and many-coloured, so when I am through this journey even Patmos itself will set into the right perspective, and I shall see all its growths and all its beauties as I cannot see them now. Say thou this, poor soul, now in poverty and trouble and disappointment, now in the agony of temptation and now in the bitterness of contrition. It is but for a moment, after that moment Heaven!
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day," I became in the Spirit; I got into the spirit of the occasion; I experienced the joy of a new birth; not a birth which means conversion, as if I had been doing something wrong, but a birth into a fuller, more vivid, and passionate consciousness. Who can interpret the word "consciousness" in all the fulness of its significance? Who can tell what the word "know" really means? We have a superficial meaning of it, and we are often victimised by the very superficiality of our notion: but we cannot know through the intellect alone, we can only know when the whole man is on fire, when every finger becomes a medium of communication between us and the stars, when every hair of the head is turned into a channel through which God pours some blessing, when all the blood is a-boil with heavenly flame. When we are in a paroxysm, then only can we know what life is, or man, or God. "In the Spirit" means in sympathy with the Divine, in touch with the Infinite, in the conscious presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; in a passion, in an ecstasy ineffable. Some persons have never been in that ecstasy, and therefore they are not fit to criticise it. It is not given to every man to realise the fulness of himself. Therefore we have but few prophets, few poets, few diviners to whom all time lies bare as to the issues of providence and history. Is it for men whose blood was never aflame to criticise the prophets? What could a man of ice make of Isaiah all fire? Never call upon winter to bear testimony to summer, or to offer any opinion at all about summer; never call for a man who did never for one moment realise the higher passion to tell you what he thinks of seraphic Isaiah or glowing Ezekiel or apocalyptic Daniel: the men live in different universes, and no telegraph has been laid between the immeasurable distances. John was "in the Spirit," in the paroxysm, in the ecstasy; he was a transformed and translated man; he had shuffled off his old and little self and gone onward to his angelhood. Sometimes we have had glimpse of such possibilities, and our eyes could not bear that stinging light long; we desired to be permitted to return to our customary atmosphere that, in our usual commonplace, we might beat out the remainder of our pulsations. Yet when men have suffered for us in this way we should be grateful to them; we should be thankful to the prophets who have undergone the divine madness that we might know something of the divine wisdom; we should count our great intercessors men, who hold the key of prayer, as amongst the greatest benefactors of the race. When we ourselves are dumb with sorrow we go to David and say, Pray for us: thou knowest the road to the throne, thou hast the speech of the heavens at command: oh, find for this agony words worthy of its sorrow! Do not imagine that all men are equal, or that all men live upon one spiritual plane, or that all men are gifted with a common consciousness. We must always have a consecrated and ardent ministry of prophecy, of poesy, of philosophy, of theology, of devotion: these be the ministers of God, however varied their gifts, or divergent their manner.
"I was in the Spirit... and heard." Mark the sequence. This is not a succession of literal words; this is an oncoming of real, natural, if you please supernatural, consciousness. I was silent, I was solitary, I was in the Spirit, I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard. You can only hear when you are in the Spirit. You expect ministers to perform miracles for you. If you enter a place of worship directly and immediately from the market-place without a preparatory thought concerning the sanctuary or the altar, and expect some poor human creature to take hold of you, and in a moment translate you into the higher consciousness, you are expecting miracles where you have no right to expect them. He who comes into the sanctuary "in the Spirit" will hear. He will hear for himself, he will hear what no other auditor hears. Every man hears his own sermon: every man hears his own gospel: the discourse is one, but the interpretation of it by a thousand men is a thousandfold. No one man can report the sermon! He can report the letter, but what a thousand hearts thought and felt about it at the time must be subject for talk in other and larger spaces.
I heard "a voice," "a great voice," "a great voice, as of a trumpet." Have we ever heard that voice in history before? Never. What voice have we heard? A gentle, tender, insinuating voice, persuasive; it never lifted itself up in the streets, or made itself heard in startling cry. Yet we always knew that there was no voice like it. We felt sometimes that when that voice gave itself its fullest power it could call the universe to order; nay, it must have made the universe. There was a quality in it we never heard before, there was an undulation in its music which meant mountains and waves and valleys and wonders of nature; sometimes there was for one brief moment a loftiness in it which curled around the stars as if by right of proprietorship. Now that the body is away, now that the grave has had its poor little banquet, now that death has been worsted, we shall hear that voice. Tell us, thou seer of visions, what the voice was like. He says it was "as of a trumpet." Any other figure? Yes it was "as the sound of many waters." There was a clear blast in it, a ring, a resonance, that made the mountains leap and the rocks vibrate and the stars pulse as if hastened in their courses; and there was a softness, a roll and plunge and splash gentle, soft, mighty, tremendous. Now the Son of God is coming to the fulness of his power. We saw the grain of mustard seed, now we see the fullgrown tree; we heard the infant's cry of weakness, now we hear the thunder of the divine power. This is how revelation will always proceed. We shall have higher and higher revelation, broader and broader light, ever-increasing space: and there will be no noise when God rolls back the horizon, and gives us to feel that growing life is growing liberty.
What was he like? "His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace and his voice as the sound of many waters.... His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." Then who was he? Not Jesus, because we read of Jesus in another book, and we heard there that he was "as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not." We have read of the coming Messiah, and the prophet said his countenance was marred more than any man's: and now over the grave his countenance is "as the sun shineth in his strength," the sun's sun. This is right. The beauty was in him; it needed to be brought out. Everything about Christ was crushed down by the flesh, by space and time, by all the limitations inherent in the present existence. But the moment he passed over the little black line he was himself, his. very self; still the Son of man, still the Son of God.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent