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The Communion of Saints.
The communion of saints is (1) the restoration of fellowship between God and man; (2) the restoration of the fellowship of men with each other.
I. Let us learn from it that we can never be lonely or forsaken in this life. Our Lord has promised, "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." And in Him all His saints are with us too. No trial can isolate us; no sorrow can cut us off from the communion of saints. There is but one thing in which the sympathy of Christ has no share, and that is the guilt of wilful sin. The faith is the common consciousness and life of the elect, and they who stand for it, although they stand alone against all the world, are never alone, for all the companies of heaven and all the generations of the Church are at their side. Kneel down, and you are with them; lift your eyes, and the heavenly world, high above all perturbation, hangs serenely overhead. Only a thin veil, it may be, floats between.
II. Let us learn further, by the reality of this heavenly fellowship, to live less in this divided world. If we love the world, the love of the Father is not in us, and if no love of the Father, then no communion with His kingdom. Between these two we must make our choice. We are between two cities, the one visible, the other invisible; the one an object of sense, the other of faith; the one garish, splendid, and tumultuous, the other calm, glorious, and serene: on the one side, the world and this earthly life, with its fair show, luring gifts, bright promises, gilded ambition; on the other, the city of God, the fellowship of saints, the sympathy of Christ, the love of the Father, the beatific vision.
III. Let us learn from the communion of saints to live in hope. They who are now at rest were once like ourselves. Their life was once homely and commonplace. While on earth they were not arrayed in white raiment, but in apparel like that of other men, unmarked and plain, worn and stained by time and trial. Only one thing there is in which we are unlike them: they were common in all things except the uncommon measure of their inward sanctity. In all beside we are as they, only it is now our turn to strive for the crown of life.
H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 303.
References: Revelation 14:1-3 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 110; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 17. Revelation 14:2 , Revelation 14:3 . T. Burton, Christian Life and Truth, p. 425.Revelation 14:3 . G. Calthrop, Words Spoken to My Friends, p. 207; Talmage, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 92.Revelation 14:4 . R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 4th series, p. 89.
The Everlasting Gospel.
Some one not long ago published a book with the title "Gospels of Yesterday." It discussed the writings of several authors who in our generation have caught the popular ear, and analysed their doctrines with keen incisiveness. Gospels of yesterday how many there have been of them. They lasted as long as they could, but the world outgrew them. There is only one Gospel which is everlasting, which can pass from country to country, from continent to continent, and be everywhere at home; which time cannot wither nor custom stale; which has the safe and certain reversion of all the future. Now why is this? What makes the Gospel of Christ everlasting? To this question I give two answers. First, it is a message to what is universal in man; and secondly, it is a message to what is peculiar in every man.
I. Its universal message. The reason why so many gospels have been doomed to become gospels of yesterday has been because they have addressed themselves to what is transient or partial in human nature. Religions have been the religions of single tribes or single countries, and have not been adopted for other parts of the world; philosophies have addressed themselves to select sections of that community, like that one which inscribed over the entrance to its school in Athens the intimation, "Let no one ignorant of mathematics enter here." Men have been hailed as saviours of society because they have been able to give relief from a need pressing at some particular time, or because their doctrines have fallen in with some passing phase of popular sentiment. But the glory of Christianity is that its teaching is addressed to what is most characteristic in human nature, and absolutely the same in all members of the human race, whether they be rich or poor, whether they inhabit the one hemisphere or the other, and whether they live in ancient or modern times. The three great watchwords of the Gospel the soul, sin, and eternity which it is uttering continually wherever its voice is heard at all, are enough to show why it is an everlasting Gospel. Nowhere in the wide world and at no period in the lapse of ages can human beings be found to whom these words will not have all the reality and all the interest of life and death, and if the Gospel can tell how the infinitely precious soul is to be saved, how sin is to be overcome and blotted out, and how eternity is to be transmuted from a dream of terror into a home and an inheritance, then it can never lack an audience.
II. Its particular message. The Gospel has a message for the difference in each specimen of human nature, and for each quarter of the globe and each age of the world, as well as for that which is common to all. God has a special message for every age. His Gospel has a word in season for every condition of life, for the child, and the young man in his prime, and for old age, a word for the multitude and a word for the few. The Chinese, when they accept the Gospel, will find secrets in it which the British have never discovered; the twentieth century will discover phases of the Christian life which are lacking to the nineteenth. We have not exhausted Christ, and we have not exhausted the Gospel of Christ.
J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli., p. 397.
Reference: Revelation 14:6 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 122.
There are mainly three conditions required in order to the attainment of the grace of patience.
I. Learn to look on all trying circumstances from the true point of view. The first and most natural view of them is that they destroy our ease. The sense of injury or annoyance, the soreness at the unkindness or disappointment this occupies us, and the one longing is that the cause of pain may be removed, that at any cost we may be freed from the unwelcome pressure. Thence arises the restless impatience which is the source of some of our worst temptations. We need to rise above this estimate of trial, to look at it on a different side, to view it as God views it. As in mounting a hilly range, when looking down from a higher eminence on points which were above us as we commenced the ascent, their aspect is altogether changed from the mere effect of change in our point of view, so we need to rise above the first appearance of the trial, above the mere temporary effects, separating from it the selfish aspect, the idea of injury, or hardship, or personal annoyance, to rise high enough to apprehend the Divine will regulating it, the love restraining it, lest it become heavier than we are enabled to bear, the virtue which God intended to work in us by its means.
II. The second condition is the self-sacrifice which alone can surrender inward sensibilities to be chastened as God wills.
III. The third condition is the habitual study of the life of Jesus, which cherishes as a reality a spirit of patience. No impulse can rise in rebellion before the face of the Crucified.
T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 292.
I. Our text shows us the chief graces which have made the saints what they are: "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." So then the saint-like graces on which we are invited to gaze are faith and patience. Patience says, "Do not take for granted that you have failed because the result at present seems poor." The end is not yet. Look with suspicion on rapidly won victories. Those master-builders who have been permitted to raise up the grandest edifices, either of personal piety or of extensive reforms, have generally been men who have passed through repeated disappointments, and by failing often have been taught to build circumspectly, to examine the soil, and to lay warily every stone. It is interesting often to see on its secular side the operation of a grand Christian grace. Some who would scorn patience at the hand of a saint may reverence her when she comes from the hand of a statesman. An instructive story has reached us of the most commanding of English Ministers. One day, we are told, the conversation turned on the quality most required in a Prime Minister. One said eloquence, another knowledge, another toil. "No," said the man who bore the burden for seventeen years; "it is patience."
II. Patience and faith are sister-graces. The saints clung to the powers of the world to come. They were not satisfied with what they saw. Faith is still, as it always has been, the salt of the earth, the one thing which prevents mankind from becoming utterly corrupt and keeps open the ladder of communication between God and man. Nor is it always acting on the defensive. The faith of the saints, the firm trust in God which fills the souls of all His true servants, has been the author of all the great achievements which redeem the history of the world from vulgarity and from selfishness. There is nothing impossible for those who believe in Christ, and are content to bide God's time.
H. M. Butler, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 71.
Reference: Revelation 14:12 , Revelation 14:13 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi., No. 1219.
Degrees of Glory.
We are justified casually by God's eternal grace; we are justified effectively by the blood of Jesus Christ; we are justified instrumentally by faith; we are justified evidentially by good works. Or, to put this a little more plainly, we are justified before God i.e., we are accounted righteous and acceptable only by the faith in Christ which His Spirit creates and moves in our hearts. But how are we justified to ourselves in believing that we are justified before God? how are we justified to the world in saying that we are justified? By our good works. This harmonises the apparent discrepancy between St. Paul and St. James. We are "justified by our works," as St. James says, in believing that we are "justified" before God, as St. Paul says, "by faith" only. "They rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
I. Observe that it does not say, "They rest from their works " for that would imply that where they are gone they cease from work, which is entirely the contrary to the fact but, "They rest from their labours ; and their works do follow them." Now labour is work's distress. Work itself as such is joy. There is no happiness without work. Every man must work, some with their heads, some with their minds, some with their hands; but all must work. The secret of all the wretchedness that there is in the world is the absence of work. Whoever you are, you can never lead a happy life if you do not work, really work, work hard. If your circumstances do not define your work for you, you must define your work for yourself. You must work. It is God's universal law in His government of this world, "If any man will not work, neither let him eat" eat of any of the pleasant things which I spread for My children. But then, in this present state, the law of work has its dark shadows: fatigue, infirmity, too great tension, ill-health, disappointments, mistakes, waitings, suspensions, and sins. There is the miserable, depressing sense of inadequacy for the task; there is the perplexity of what is the line of duty and all the entanglements of self on every point; there is the feeling, "After all, all this is but a drop out of the ocean of misery!" I do not wonder that even in His work, Jesus "sighed." Now, all this, and much more, makes the labour. The Greek word has for its root the verb "to cut" it cuts to the heart. It is like that other word, "Take no thought for the morrow," which is in the original, "Do not cut or split your heart about the morrow." But yet all this that cuts to the quick is necessary now to make work what work was intended to be in this stage of existence. The labour of work is the discipline of work; it is the education, the discipline, the school. It was not the work which was the punishment of Adam and Eve doubtless they would have worked in paradise but it was the excess of the work above the power of the being of the worker, work's pressure: "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." And therefore, because it is the needful discipline, the rule holds good, whether it be the bread for the body, or whether it be the bread for the mind, or whether it be the bread for the soul, you can never get what is really satisfying but by dint of real, hard fag, hard toil: "in the sweat of thy brow." It is not work only, but it is labour, which is the condition of the peace of life. Therefore it was that Christ chose the word for He knew how wide it was "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
II. If a man is in Christ, and that man works, and that man casts the labour of his work upon Christ, its vexings and its harassings, then that man has entered into rest so far, for he does the work, and he casts the labour. Absolutely, however, death is the point when the believer perfectly and for ever exchanges labour for work. Death might be defined as going from labour to work. For do not think that those busy minds which were so active and so earnest here when they were among us, who are gone to their prepared places, are leading there a life of mere receptive enjoyment or meditative peace. They have not so unlearned their natures. "His servants shall serve Him." "They rest not day and night," while they glorify God, in His boundless ministrations, still "each upon his wing," while he soars away for activity in his vast circumference. It is tolerably clear, then, what it is the Spirit saith when He saith, "Yea, that they may rest from their labours."
III. We have now to examine a little further how it is that "their works do follow them." It certainly admits of the interpretation that those works in which Christians are engaged here continue to interest them in the next world. Why should it not be so? Do we not make too much of death if we look upon it as destroying any of the interests of life? For what is death but as if a person should go into some foreign land? He can see no longer what he used to love so well, and what he called home. But do those things which lie beyond the sea become indifferent to him? Are his affections closed to them? Nay, are not those things, in some sense, dearer to him than ever they were before? Surely we may believe that those high and busy enterprises, which had so large a place in the hearts of God's children here, are not forgotten by them in their perfected happiness! The conversion of the Jews, the missions to the heathen, the flock, the schools, things once so near and bound up with their very life-blood do you think they are passed away? And if not, if the interest lasts, and is imperishable, then may we not say that, in this way, "their works do follow them"? Nay, may we not go a step further, and hold it probable that there is a continuity between the special tastes, and occupations, and habits of thought, which characterised us here, and that which shall stamp our condition and our services in another state? Do not let us make the gulf between the two worlds greater than it is. There are two offices which the works we have done on earth are fulfilling in another world. (1) The one is to be our witnesses in the day of judgment. The matter which will be examined into at that tribunal will not be acts, but character. It will be, Did you love God? What was Christ to you? What were you to Christ? But, to determine the answer to that inquiry, acts will stand out in evidence; words will be an index. Therefore "by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned." Deeds of charity will stand out in evidence: "Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it not to Me"; "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." Thus, then, just as our justification was justified by our good works when we were here, so there God, though He needs it not, will be justified before the universe, in His final award to all men, by their works, which will be manifest then before men and angels. (2) The second purpose for which our "works will follow us" will be to determine, as I believe, the measure of our glory and our place in heaven, our place, not geographically, but morally, not so as to separate one saint from another for the communion will be perfect in all saints but just as Christians here meet in one, but yet are of various capacities and degrees, so there it will be in glory: they are all one, all filled, but the vessels are of different sizes.
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 6th series, p. 90.
References: Revelation 14:13 . S. King, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 51; R. Thomas, Ibid., vol. vii., p. 40; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., vol. xviii., p. 92; Bishop Barry, Sermons for Passiontide and Easter, p. 104; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 1st series, p. 262; Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 83: Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 363.Revelation 14:15 . H. Robjohns, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 271; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 142.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Revelation 14". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13