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Bible Commentaries

MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture

Revelation 5

Verse 6




John received a double commission, to write the things which are and the things which shall be. The things which are signify, I suppose, the unseen realities which flashed upon the inward eye of the solitary seer for a moment in symbol when the door was opened in Heaven. All that is here is seeming and illusion; the only substantial existences lie within the veil. And of all those ‘things which are,’ in timeless, eternal being, this vision of the throned ‘Lamb, as it had been slain’ is the centre.

Between the Great White Throne and the outer ring of worshippers, representing in the ‘living creatures’ the crown and glory of creatural life, and in the elders, the crown and glory of redeemed humanity, stands the Lamb slain, which is the symbolical way of declaring that for ever and ever, through Christ and for the sake of His sacrifice, there pass to the universe all Divine gifts, and there rise from the universe all thankfulness and praise. His manhood is perpetual, the influence of His sacrifice in the Divine administration and government never ceases.

The attributes with which this verse clothes that slain Lamb are incongruous; but, perhaps, by reason of their very incongruity all the more striking and significant. The ‘seven horns’ are the familiar emblem of perfect power; the ‘seven eyes’ are interpreted by the seer himself to express the fullness of the Divine Spirit.

The eye seems a singular symbol for the Spirit, but it may be used as suggesting the swiftest and subtlest way in which the influences of a human spirit pass out into the external universe. At all events, whatever may have been the reason for the selection of the emblem, the interpretation of it lies here, in the words of our text itself. The teaching of this emblem, then, is: ‘He, being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received the promise of the Father, sheds forth this.’ The whole fullness of spiritual Divine power is in the hand of Christ to impart to the world.

I. The ‘slain Lamb’ is the Lord and Giver of the Spirit.

He ‘hath the seven Spirits of God’ in the simplest sense of all, that the manhood of our Brother who died on the Cross for us, lifted up to the right hand of God, is there invested and glorified with every fullness of the Divine Spirit, and with all the mysteries of the life of God. Whatsoever there is, in Deity, of spirit and power; whatsoever of swift flashing energy; whatsoever of gentleness and grace; whatsoever of holiness and splendor; all inheres in the Man Christ Jesus; unto whom even in His earthly lowliness and humiliation the Spirit was not given by measure, but unto whom in the loftiness of His heavenly life that Spirit is given in yet more wondrous fashion than in His humiliation. For I suppose that the exaltation with which Christ is exalted is not only a change of position, but in some sense His manhood is progressive; and now in the Heavens is yet fuller of the indwelling Spirit than it was here upon earth.

But it is not as the recipient, but as the bestower of the Spirit, that He comes before us in the great words of my text. All that He has of God, He has that He may give. Whatsoever is His is ours; we share in His fullness and we possess His grace. He gives His own life, and that is the very central idea of Christianity.

There are very many imperfect views of Christ’s work afloat in the world. The lowest of them, the most imperfect, so imperfect and fragmentary as scarcely to be worth calling Christianity at all, is the view which recognizes Him as being merely Example, Guide, Teacher. High above that there comes the view which is common amongst orthodox people of the more superficial type - the view which is, I am afraid, still too common amongst us - which regards the whole work of Jesus Christ as terminated upon the Cross. It thinks of Him as being something infinitely more than Teacher and Guide and Example, but it stops at the thought of His great reconciling death as being the completion of His work, and hears Him say from the Cross, ‘It is finished,’ with a faith which, however genuine, cannot but be considered as imperfect unless it is completed with the remembrance that it was but one volume of His work that was finished when He died upon the Cross. His death was really a transition to a form of work which if not loftier was at all events other than the work which was completed upon Calvary. His earthly life finished His perfect obedience as Pattern and as Son; His death on the Cross finished His mighty work of self-surrender and sacrifice, which is propitiation and atonement for the sins of the whole world. His life on earth and His death on the Cross taken together finished His great work of revealing the Father in so far as that revelation depended upon outward, objective facts. But His life on earth and His death on the Cross did not even begin the work, but only laid the foundation for it, of communicating to men the life which was in Himself. He lived that He might complete obedience and manifest the Father. He died that He might ‘put away sin’ and reveal the Father still more fully. And now, exalted at the right hand of God, He works on through the ages in that which is the fruit of His Cross and the crown of His sacrifice, the communication to men, moment by moment, of His own perfect life, that they too may live for ever and be like Him.

He died that we might not die; He lives that the life which we live in the flesh may be His life and not ours. We may not draw comparisons between the greatness of the various departments of our Master’s work, but we can say that His earthly life and His death of shame are the foundation of the work which He does to-day. And so, dear brethren, whilst nineteen centuries ago His triumphant words, ‘It is finished,’ rang out the knell of sin’s dominion, and the first hope for the world’s emancipation, another voice, far ahead still in the centuries, waits to be spoken; and not until the world has been filled with the glory of His Cross and the power of His life shall it be proclaimed: ‘It is done !’

The interspace between these two is filled with the activity of that slain Lamb who, by His death, has become the Lord of the Spirit; and through His blood is able to communicate to all men the life of His own soul. The Lord of the Spirit is the Lamb that was slain.

II. Then let me ask you to look, secondly, at the representation here given of the infinite variety of gifts which Christ bestows.

Throughout this Book of the Revelation we find this remarkable expression, in which the Spirit of God is not spoken of as in His personal unity, but as in sevenfold variety. So at the beginning of the letter we find the salutation, ‘Grace and peace from Him which is and was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His Throne.’ And again we read, in one of the letters to the churches: ‘These things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars’; the correspondence being marked between the number of each. And again we read in the earlier part of this same vision, in the preceding chapter, that before the throne there were seven torches flaming, ‘which are the seven Spirits of God.’ And so, again, in my text, we read, ‘seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.’

Now it is obvious that there is not any question here of the personality and unity of the Divine Spirit, which is sufficiently recognized in other parts of the Apocalypse, such as ‘the Spirit and the Bride say: “Come!”‘ and the like; but that the thing before the Evangelist’s mind is the variety of the operations and activities of that one Spirit.

And the number ‘seven,’ of course, at once suggests the idea of perfection and completeness.

So that the thought emerges of the endless, boundless, manifoldness, and wonderful diversity of the operations of this great life-spirit that streams from Jesus Christ.

Think of the number of designations by which that Spirit is described in the New Testament. In regard to all that belongs to intellectual life, He is ‘the Spirit of wisdom’ and of ‘illumination in the knowledge of Christ,’ He is ‘the Spirit of Truth.’ In regard to all that belongs to the spiritual life. He is ‘the Spirit of holiness,’ the ‘Spirit of liberty’; the Spirit of self-control, or as rendered in our Bible, ‘of a sound mind’; the ‘Spirit of love.’ In regard to all that belongs to the practical life, He is ‘the Spirit of counsel and of might,’ the ‘Spirit of power.’ In regard to all that belongs to the religious life, He is ‘the Spirit of Adoption, whereby we cry, Abba! Father!’; the ‘Spirit of grace and of supplication,’ the ‘Spirit of life.’ So over the whole round of man’s capacity and nature, all his intellectual, moral, practical, and religious being, there are gifts which fit each side and each part of it.

Think of the variety of the symbols under which He is presented: ‘the oil,’ with its soft, gentle flow; ‘the fire,’ with its swift transmuting, purifying energy; the water, refreshing, fertilizing, cleansing; the breath, quickening, vitalizing, purifying the blood; the wind, gentle as the sigh of an infant, loud and mighty as a hurricane, sometimes scarcely lifting the leaves upon the tender spring herbage, sometimes laying the city low in a low place. It is various in manifestation, graduating through all degrees, applying to every side of human nature, capable of all functions that our weakness requires, helping our infirmities, making intercession for us and in us, with unutterable groanings, sealing and confirming our possession of His grace; searching the deep things of God and revealing them to us; guiding into all truth, freeing us from the law of sin and death. There are diversities of operation, but the same Spirit. It is protean, and takes every shape that our necessities require.

Think of all men’s diverse weaknesses, miseries, sins, cravings - every one of them an open door through which God’s grace may come; every one of them a form provided into which the rich molten ore of this golden Spirit may flow. Whatsoever a man needs, that he will find in the infinite variety of the spiritual help and strength which the Lamb slain is ready to give. It is like the old fable of the manna, which the Rabbis tell us tasted upon each lip precisely what each man chose. So this nourishment from above becomes to every man what each man requires. "Water will take the shape of any vessel into which you choose to pour it; the Spirit of God assumes the form that is imposed upon it by our weaknesses and needs. And if you want to know the exhaustless variety of the seven Spirits which the Lamb gives, find out the multiplicity and measure, the manifoldness and the depth, of man’s necessities, of weakness, of sorrow, and sin, and you will know how much the Spirit of God is able to bestow and still remain full and unexhausted.

III. Still further, my text suggests the unbroken continuity of the gifts which the slain Lamb has to give.

The language of the original, for any of you that can consult it, will show you that the word ‘sent’ might be rendered ‘being sent,’ expressive of a continual impartation.

Ah! God’s Spirit is not given once in a way and then stops. It is given, not by fits and starts. People talk about ‘revivals,’ as if there were times when the Spirit of God came down more abundantly than at other times upon the world, or upon churches, or upon individuals. It is not so. There are variations in our receptiveness; there are no variations in its steady efflux. Does the sun shine at different rates, are its beams cut off sometimes, or poured out with less energy, or is it only the position of the earth that makes the difference between the summer and the winter, the days and the nights, whilst the great central orb is raying out at the same rate all through the murky darkness, all through the frosty days? And so the gifts of Jesus Christ pour out from Him at a uniform continuous rate, with no breaks in the golden beams, with no pauses in the continual flow. Pentecost is far back, but the fire that was kindled then has not died down into grey ashes. It is long since that stream began to flow, but it is not yet shrunken in its banks. For ever and for ever, with unbroken continuity, whether men receive or whether they forbear. He shines on, communicating Himself and pouring out the Spirit of grace, ay! even into a non-receiving world! How much sunshine seems to be lost, how much of that Spirit’s influence seems lost, and yet it pours on for ever.

Men talk about Christianity as being effete. People to-day look back upon the earlier ages, and say: ‘Where is the Lord God of Elijah?’ The earlier ages had nothing that you and I have not, and Christianity will not die out, and God’s Church will not die out, until the sun that endureth for ever is shorn of its beams and forgets to shine. The seven Spirits are streaming out as they were at the beginning, and as - blessed be God! - they shall do to the end.

IV. And, lastly, my text suggests a universal diffusion of these gifts. ‘Seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.’ The words are a quotation from a remarkable prophecy in the book of Zechariah, which speaks about the ‘seven eyes of God,’ running - ‘To and fro over all the earth.’

There are no limitations of these gifts to any one race or nation as there were in the old times, nor any limitations either to a democracy. ‘On My servants and on My handmaidens will I pour out of My Spirit.’ In olden days the mountain-tops were touched with the rays, and all the lowly valleys lay deep in the shadow and the darkness. Now the risen sunshine pours down into the deepest clefts, and no heart so poor, so illiterate, so ignorant but that it may receive the full sunshine of that Spirit.

Of course, in the very widest of all senses the words are true of the universal diffusion of spiritual gifts from Christ; for all the light with which men see is His light; and all the eyes with which they have ever looked at truth, or beauty, or goodness, come from Him who is ‘the Master-light of all our seeing.’ And poet, and painter, and thinker, and teacher, and philanthropist, and every man that has helped his fellows or has had any glimpse of any angle or bit of the Divine perfection, has seen because the eye of the class or order. Christianity as the true Lord has been in some measure granted to him, and ‘the inspiration of the Almighty has given him understanding.’

But the universal diffusion of spiritual gifts of this sort is not what is meant in my text. It means the gifts of a higher religious character. And I need not remind you of how over broad lands that were heathen when John in his rocky Patmos got this vision, there has now dawned the glory of Christ and the knowledge of His name. Think of all the treasures of the literature of the Christian Church in Latin and African and Teutonic lands that have come since the day when this chapter was written. Think of what Britain was then and of what it is to-day. Remember the heroisms, holinesses, illuminations that have shone over these then barbarous lands since that time; and understand how it has all come because from the Lamb by the Throne there has been sent out over all the earth the Spirit that is wisdom and holiness and life.

And think how steadily down through layers of society that were regarded as outcast and contemptible in the time of the founding of the Church, there has trickled and filtered the knowledge of Himself and of His grace; and how amongst the poor and the humble and the outcast, amongst the profligate and the sinful, there have sprung up flowers of holiness and beauty all undreamed of before; and we shall understand how all classes in all lands may receive a portion of the sevenfold Spirit.

Every Christian man and woman is inspired, not to be a teacher of infallible truth, but inspired in the true and deep sense that in them dwells the Spirit of Jesus Christ. ‘If any man have not the Spirit he is none of His.’ All of us, weak, sinful as we are, ignorant and bewildered often, may possess that Divine life to live in our hearts.

Only, dear brethren, remember it is the slain Lamb that gives the Spirit. And unless we are looking to that Lamb slain as our hope and confidence, we shall not receive it. A maimed Christianity that has a Christ, but no slain Lamb, has little of His Spirit; but if you trust to His Sacrifice, and rest your whole hopes on His Cross, then there will come into your hearts His own mighty grace, and ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus will make you free from the law of sin and death.’

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Bibliographical Information
MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 5". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.