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THE FELICITY OF HEAVEN
Revelation 14:1-5. And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Fathers name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.
A CONSIDERABLE part of the Book of Revelation is yet involved in impenetrable obscurity; though we doubt not but that, when the predictions contained in it shall have been fulfilled, the whole will appear as lucid and intelligible as any other prophecies which have been already accomplished. There are parts however which may be understood by every reader; and which are particularly interesting, on account of the sublime views which they unfold to us of the heavenly state. Indeed in the whole of the inspired volume there will not be found such bright displays of heaven as in this closing part of the sacred canon. The vail seems on many occasions to be drawn aside, as it were, and we are admitted to see and hear all that is taking place in the regions of bliss. The passage before us is of this kind. The Apostle himself was, as it were, caught up into the third heavens, where he saw his adorable Lord and Saviour in the midst of all his redeemed people, and heard the songs with which they proclaimed his praise. His record concerning it will lead me to set before you,
The blessedness of heaven—
There the Lord Jesus Christ dwells in the midst of his redeemed people—
[Heaven doubtless was the place now opened in vision to the Apostle’s view: it was “Mount Sion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem [Note: Hebrews 12:22.].”
There the Lord Jesus Christ dwells, still retaining in his person all those marks which his murderous enemies inflicted on his sacred body, when he offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of a ruined world. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and in that sublime character does he yet appear, though seated on his heavenly throne: for in that character he is most glorified in himself, and most endeared to his redeemed people.
Around him stand the myriads of his redeemed. They are called “an hundred and forty and four thousand, “every tribe of Israel having twelve thousand of its members “sealed in their foreheads” as God’s peculiar property [Note: Revelation 7:4.], and “having the Father’s name engraven there” as an evidence of their relation to him. But we are not to suppose that there are no more in heaven than the number specified: for they are in reality a multitude that no man can number, out of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues [Note: Revelation 7:9.].”]
There are they adoring him with unceasing songs of praise—
[The song in which they join, though not specified here, is made known to us in a former chapter. It is “a new song;” because it was unknown to the bright morning stars which were first created, nor could possibly be sung by those who never fell. Hence it is said to be “a song which no man could learn, except those who had been redeemed from the earth.” Hear the song itself, as reported to us by him who heard it: “They sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on earth.” He then adds, “And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels, round about the throne and the beasts and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing [Note: Revelation 5:9-12.].” Here are two things to be noticed; one is, that the song was new; for it could not be sung till the Lamb was slain; and the other is, that the angels are unable to join in the song of the redeemed: for whilst the redeemed celebrate his praises as having been “slain for them, and having redeemed them to God by his blood,” the angels can only join so far as to acknowledge, that He is “worthy to receive” the praises that are so offered to him.
This chorus of the redeemed, swelled as it is by the acclamations and amens of all the angelic hosts [Note: Revelation 5:13-14.], is “as the sound of many waters, and loud as thunder itself:” yet is the song so melodious, that every one of the redeemed accompanies it with his harp; for it is “the voice of harpers harping with their harps.” The music of the temple-service in the days of Solomon must have been grand beyond all that men of this age can conceive: but not Solomon in all his glory could form a conception of that melody which John heard, and which, I pray God, we may be admitted to hear, and join in, to all eternity.
It is said of all this band, that “they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” Whilst they were in this world, they endeavoured to walk in his steps, and to follow him in all his ways; and now they attend upon him through the boundless expanse of heaven, all vying, as it were, with each other in testifying their love and gratitude to their adorable Redeemer. As in the days of old, at the time of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, “the whole multitude followed him, crying, Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest [Note: Matthew 21:9.];” so now in heaven they follow him with similar acclamations, and rest not day nor night from this glorious employment [Note: Revelation 4:8.].
Such are the circumstances related by the Apostle: but, to form any idea of the bliss enjoyed by the heavenly hosts, we must ourselves be partakers of it: the language of mortality cannot paint it; nor, if an angel were to come from heaven to describe it, could our feeble apprehensions grasp the mighty theme.]
In relation to this blessedness, the point which more particularly demands our attention is,
The character of those that are admitted to it—
This is minutely marked,
In its source—
[“They have been redeemed from among men.” Once they were in bondage even as other men: but God in his mercy delivered them “by a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm.” Israel when in Egypt were an exact picture of them in their unregenerate state. Their subjection to sin and Satan was entire: nor could they by any means cast off the yoke with which they were bound. But God, in his tender mercy, pitied them; and sent his only dear Son to redeem them; to redeem them, by offering his own soul a ransom for them, and by enabling every one of them for himself to burst his bonds. Thus to God’s sovereign love and mercy must their emancipation be traced in the first instance, and then to the efficacy of the Redeemer’s blood, and the almighty power of his grace. As Israel were “a nation taken out from the midst of another nation for the praise of the glory of his grace,” so are all that either are, or shall be, transferred to the heavenly Canaan, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people, that they may shew forth the praises of him that hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].”]
In its progress—
[“They are a willing people, though made so in the day of God’s power [Note: Psalms 110:3.]:” and the very instant that they begin to taste redeeming love, and to experience the mighty working of God’s power on their souls, they offer themselves up to God “as first-fruits to God and to the Lamb.” The first-fruits of every thing were God’s peculiar portion: nor could any man appropriate them to his own use without being guilty of sacrilege. And such are all who are truly converted unto God [Note: James 1:18.]. Under this character then they present themselves to him: they know that “they are not their own, but his: and therefore they desire to glorify him with their bodies and their spirits, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].” They account this “a reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.];” and they engage in it with their whole hearts.
Having consecrated themselves to God, they endeavour to be faithful to their engagements. This is what is meant, when it is said in my text, “They were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” It is of spiritual fornication that the Apostle speaks. This is a common figure in the Holy Scriptures. Men are often said to “go a whoring after their idols.” But the saints in glory have kept themselves from spiritual, as well as from open and outward, idolatry. They have given up themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, as a virgin betroths herself to her husband [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:2.]: and they have “kept themselves pure;” not transferring to any rival the regards which are due to God alone.
Nor is it from overt acts only that they have abstained, but from unfaithfulness even of thought or desire. They know that God requires the heart: and that the smallest alienation of the affections from him would excite his just resentment. They have therefore laboured to be sincere and without offence before him: and through the grace and mercy of their God “they have been preserved blameless [Note: Jude, ver. 24.]:” so that “in their mouth there was no guile; and they are found without fault before the throne of God.”
Here you see the whole Christian life depicted; and the process by which every saint in glory is fitted for his place. The whole work of grace originates with God, and is carried on by God to its final issue. But man is neither an unwilling nor inactive servant in the house of his God. He is aware that he must be meet for the inheritance of heaven before he can possibly enjoy it. This meetness therefore he aspires after, and labours for with all his might: and, through the operation of God’s grace upon his soul, he is fully prepared for glory, being perfected after the Divine image, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.]
Permit me now to address you all,
As candidates for heaven—
[Men who are candidates for earthly honours find that much labour is necessary for the attainment of their object. Be assured then, brethren, that notwithstanding heaven is a free gift of God for Christ’s sake, yet must it be laboured for as much as if it were altogether the fruit of our own exertions: as it is said, “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man will give unto you.” And permit me to ask, Is it not worth a whole life of most strenuous exertion? Consider only the representation that has been given of it: is it not desirable to be of that happy number, who are following the Lamb through all the courts of heaven, and with voice and harp ascribing to him all possible glory and praise?
But think of the alternative: think, if you are not admitted there, where will you be, and be to all eternity! There is no middle place between heaven and hell. The idea of purgatory is a mere Popish delusion. As, if you have not the mark of Jehovah’s name upon your forehead, you must bear the stamp of Satan’s children; so if you are not made partakers of the glories of heaven, you must for ever participate in the miseries of hell. See what is spoken but a few verses after my text. “If any man worship the beast, and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation: and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.” Now though this is spoken primarily of those who enter into the abominations of popery, and bear on their forehead or on their hand the mark of that idolatrous Church, it is true also of all who die in their sins: the persons that are not admitted to the marriage-supper of the Lamb, are “cast out into outer darkness, where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth for ever.” Compare now these states: both those in heaven and those in hell are “in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb;” but the one, as the monuments of mercy, and joint-heirs of glory; the other, as monuments of vengeance, and heirs of wrath and fiery indignation. Need I then say to you, be diligent to make your calling and election sure? I pray you, consider how many there are who fall short of this inheritance. Of all that came out of Egypt, two only entered the promised land: and the perishing of all the rest in the Wilderness is set forth as an admonition to you, lest you also come short of the promised rest [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:1-6. with Heb 3:17 to Hebrews 4:1.]. I cannot then be too urgent with you on this important subject. I would have you all to succeed in this great enterprise, and so to approve yourselves to your Saviour now, that you may be counted worthy to dwell with him in a better world.]
As expectants of it—
Strange it is that every one conceives heaven to be his portion, though he never in the whole course of his life made one effort to obtain it. But, beloved brethren, you have already heard the character of those who are in heaven; and that to those only will heaven be assigned. Inquire then whether you have attained this character? What have you experienced of that great work, the work of redemption? Have you been delivered from the yoke of sin and Satan? Have you been brought out from an ungodly world, as the Israelites were from Egypt; and are you living like them under the guidance and government of Jehovah? Does your conscience bear witness for you, that you have presented yourselves to him as the first-fruits, desiring to be wholly and altogether his? When have you so surrendered up yourselves to him? Do not imagine that your dedication to him in baptism, or in any other public ordinance, is any evidence of your having personally fulfilled this duty, unless you are yet in the habit of renewing that dedication of yourselves to him in secret from day to day. And, supposing that you have given yourselves to him, have you been faithful to your engagements, so that in the last day, when the time for your everlasting union with the heavenly Bridegroom shall come, we may “present you as a chaste virgin to Christ?” Have the world and the flesh so far lost their ascendant over you, that you no longer comply with their solicitations, or yield to their temptations? Finally, Can the heart-searching God attest, that, as far as respects any wilful sin, you are blameless and harmless, and shining as lights in the midst of a dark world? These things are indispensably necessary to any well-grounded expectation of the heavenly glory: and if, whilst destitute of these essential marks, you buoy up yourselves with the hopes of heaven, you do but deceive your own souls to your eternal ruin. I even appeal to yourselves: would you who have never touched a harp be able at a moment to accompany with it a band of music, and to join harmoniously in the sublimest strains? How then shall you, if undisciplined and unprepared, accompany the heavenly hosts in all their songs of praise? Their song, as you have before heard, is one which none but the sealed can learn: and were you admitted there in an unconverted state, your harp would yield nothing but discordant sounds, nor would a single note of your voice be in unison with the heavenly choir.
But I would hope and trust, that there are many here who on good grounds are expecting a portion among the saints in light. To such then I would say, “Press forward, forgetting the things which are behind, and reaching forward to that which is before.” And, if at any time the thought occur to your mind, Can such a sinner as I be saved? then look into heaven, and see who there are already around the throne: do you not see there a Manasseh, a Mary Magdalen, a dying thief, and a whole host from the Church at Corinth [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:10-11.]? Then there can be no reason for you, or any other person, to despond. Only seek to be interested in the redemption that Christ has wrought out for you, and every thing else will follow. Through him you shall be justified; through him you shall be sanctified; “through him you shall be presented unto God without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, yea, as holy and without blemish:” for to all who seek acceptance through him, “he is made of God, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”]
THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO ALL NATIONS
Revelation 14:6-7. I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.
ON many occasions we find angels employed by God to execute his purposes respecting men. Sometimes they have been sent as executioners of his judgments; but most generally as dispensers of some special mercy; for their more appropriate office is, as “ministering spirits, to minister unto the heirs of salvation.”
In the passage before us an angel is sent, not to an individual, or a family, or a single nation, but to the whole world; having received a commission to “preach the everlasting Gospel to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people upon the face of the whole earth.” His mode of executing this commission also is made known to us; and the whole account will afford us very valuable instruction, whilst we consider,
It is here manifestly intimated,
That the whole world need to have the Gospel preached to them—
[We are apt to imagine that every man may be saved by the religion which he professes: and to intimate the contrary is deemed a libel even upon the Deity himself. But on this subject we can know nothing except as we are informed by God himself: and we must not set up our opinions in opposition to his revealed will. We must receive with implicit faith the declarations of his word; and whether they accord with our preconceived views or not, we must rest satisfied, that the Judge of all the earth will do right. I am far from saying that God may not save some from amongst all nations, even though they have not a distinct knowledge of the Gospel: for God may do whatsoever seemeth him good; and we are no more at liberty to limit the exercise of his mercy, than we are the rights of his justice. But “secret things belong to him; and the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children:” and the uniform testimony of revelation is, that men are all in a lost and perishing condition; that they all need a Saviour; and that “there is no other name given under heaven whereby any man can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.” This then is the testimony which we must bear, without presuming to be “wise above that which is written.” Indeed the very circumstance of an angel being employed to preach the Gospel to the whole world, is itself a proof that the whole world needs to be instructed in it in order to their final salvation; for we cannot suppose that God would use such means for the information of the world, if the information itself were not greatly needed. We shall do well therefore to fix this as a settled principle in our minds, that as Christ has offered himself “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world,” the whole world needs to be directed to him as the only ground of a sinner’s hope.]
That the office of a preacher is one which even an angel from heaven may well affect—
[Think you that this angel counted his office an indignity? or that he regretted even his absence from the throne of God, whilst he was occupied in the discharge of it? No surely: a regard for God’s honour and for the welfare of mankind would carry him forward with exquisite delight, whilst flying through the vast expanse of heaven. And let me say, that the office, by whomsoever discharged, if executed with fidelity and zeal, is as honourable as any that can be sustained on earth. We justly account it a great honour to be an ambassador from an earthly monarch, and especially if for the purpose of effecting peace between contending nations. But how infinitely more honourable is it to be an ambassador from the court of heaven, and a representative of the King of kings, to proclaim to a rebellious world the terms on which they shall be restored to his favour, and receive all the benefits which Omnipotence itself can confer upon them! Let none then think lightly of this office; let none imagine that talents of the most distinguished kind can be employed in any service more worthy of them, or that in any line whatever the most strenuous exertions can be more richly recompensed: for if a preacher be made an instrument of saving only one single soul, he has already gained that which is of more value than the whole world.]
Let us now turn our attention to,
His execution of it—
There are many who imagine that the Gospel consists merely in an exhibition of Christ as crucified for the sins of men. That this is the point to which all must lead, I readily acknowledge: but it is necessary that men should be awakened to a sense of their guilt and danger, in order to prepare their minds for a due reception of the Gospel salvation: “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick:” and, unless people feel their malady, it is in vain to speak to them of a remedy suited to it. The true mode of preaching the Gospel may be learned from the angel, in our text, who first calls men to a state of humiliation on account of sin; then exhorts them to embrace the salvation offered them in the Gospel; and then enforces his exhortation with a consideration calculated to stimulate them to the utmost care and diligence.
He calls men to a state of humiliation, on account of sin—
[The whole world ate asleep, or rather “dead, in trespasses and sins.” All fear of God, yea, all thought of God, is cast off; and men are as unmindful of their accountableness to him as if there were no God in heaven. To awaken them from their slumber, he opens his commission, by saying, and “saying with a loud voice,” “Fear God.” And in like manner would I “lift up my voice like a trumpet,” yea, if I could speak, as the angel himself, like thunder, it would be no more than the occasion calls for, if peradventure I might awaken one single soul to a consideration of his lost estate. I say to you all then, “FEAR GOD;” whatever be your age, whatever your condition, whether ye be old or young, or rich or poor, I say to every one of you individually as well as collectively, “Fear God:” for he is “a great God, and of terrible majesty;” and ye have all greatly offended him, and are obnoxious to his everlasting displeasure. In the view of this, even a heathen monarch issued “a decree that every man in his wide-extended dominions should tremble and fear before the God of heaven [Note: Daniel 6:25-26.].” And well may this be inculcated on every human being: for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The inculcating of this too is a very essential part of the Gospel: for so was the Gospel ministered by the forerunner of our Lord, and by our Lord himself, and by all his holy Apostles: they all preached “repentance towards God” as preparatory to “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Mark 1:4; Mark 1:14-15.Luke 24:47; Luke 24:47. Acts 20:21.]:” and he neglects a very essential part of his duty who does not make repentance a preliminary requisite to a due reception of the Gospel salvation.]
He exhorts them to embrace the salvation offered them in the Gospel—
[God has in his tender mercy sent his only dear Son to die for our redemption; and has told us, that through him he will be reconciled unto us, and that all who believe in him shall be justified from all things. This Gospel then we should receive with the profoundest reverence, and the most lively gratitude. In so doing we “give glory” to all his glorious perfections. We glorify his wisdom and goodness, which have devised such a plan for the salvation of a ruined world: we glorify his love and mercy, in accepting it: we glorify his truth and faithfulness, in expecting the accomplishment of his promises in the appointed way. It is said of Abraham, that when a child was promised to him in his old age, he “staggered not at the promises of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” Believe ye then, brethren, that this way of salvation through a crucified Redeemer is both suited to your wants, and sufficient for your necessities. Believe that, if you “look unto Jesus, you shall be saved;” and that “those who come unto him he will in no wise cast out.” Do not dishonour him by any doubts either of his ability or willingness to save you. Do not for a moment assign limits to the mercy of your God, or to the power of Christ, who is “able to save you to the uttermost.” If I may use such an expression, take God at his word; embrace his promises; rely upon them; plead them in prayer expect the accomplishment of them to your souls: and know that sooner shall “heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or one tittle of his word shall fail.”]
He enforces his exhortation with a consideration calculated to stimulate them to the utmost care and diligence—
[It is probable that there is some reference here to the judgments which will be inflicted on the anti-Christian powers, to make way for the more rapid diffusion of the Gospel. But that will be only a prelude, as it were, to the general judgment, when all the enemies of the Lord and of his Christ shall be finally destroyed. Of that period the Apostles often speak, with a view to detach our minds from present things, and to quicken us in our spiritual course: and so strongly did the Apostle insist upon this thought, that he judged it necessary afterwards to remove from his Thessalonian converts the erroneous impression, which, by the strength of his own representations, he had made upon their minds. Eighteen centuries have elapsed since that time; and consequently the destined period must be so much nearer its arrival. But, whether it be in itself near at hand or not, it is as it respects us; because at the instant of our dissolution all opportunity for repentance or faith is for ever closed. Can you think of this then, brethren, and delay this necessary work? What would not millions, who are gone into the eternal world, give for one single day to work out their salvation, if by any means it might be obtained? I pray you, lose not the present hour; but “to-day, whilst it is called to-day,” humble yourselves before God in dust and ashes, and embrace with all earnestness the salvation he has given you in the Gospel of his Son.]
Let me now yet further improve the subject,
In reference to yourselves—
[You generally acknowledge that the Gospel should be carried to heathen nations. But do not you yourselves need it as much as they? True, you are in some measure acquainted with the scheme of salvation: but to what purpose is it that you have a speculative knowledge of the Gospel, if you have not an experimental acquaintance with it in your souls? Let me then follow in the train of that divine messenger, and repeat to you his authoritative admonitions: “Fear God” — — — “Give glory to him” — — — Reflect how soon the hour of his judgment will have come, when all possibility of securing this salvation will be for ever terminated — — — Despise not his message, because it is delivered by a worm like unto yourselves; for the word, however weakly delivered, is God’s, and not mine: and therefore I beseech you to “receive it with meekness as an engrafted word, able to save your souls.”]
In reference to the general subject of missions—
[What can we need to recommend the office of a missionary, when we see it executed by an angel from heaven? Suppose he had been commissioned to inquire for an assistant, who amongst us would not have volunteered his services? Or, if he had felt the need of pecuniary aid, who would not gladly have contributed to the utmost of his power? Methinks, the society now established in our Church, in concurrence with other societies of a similar nature, is that angel from heaven: and the voice of that society, like that of Jehovah himself, is, “Who will go for us?” Are there not then many amongst you ready to say, “Here am I; send me?” Would to God I could see such a zeal in the midst of you! Would to God that you were all, like that blessed angel, ready to deny yourselves, and make every sacrifice for the honour of your God! In the early ages of Christianity such a zeal was common; insomuch that the knowledge of Christ was in the space of thirty or forty years diffused through all the Roman empire: but now for these seventeen hundred years how little has been done towards the evangelizing of the world! Alas! not one sixth of the world knows so much as even the name of Christ; and of them, a very, very small portion, it is to be feared, knows him to any good effect. I call upon you then to awake from the supineness in which you have lain, and, by redoubled exertions, to redeem the time that has been lost, and the character of the Church to which you belong. The time for us to work is surely come; and if we enter into the sacred cause with suitable affection, we shall at least have the happiness of sowing what, at a future period, we may expect to produce an abundant harvest.]
THE PUNISHMENT OF THE UNGODLY
Revelation 14:9-11. And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.
MINISTERS, who wish to discharge their duty conscientiously both to God and man, are placed in a very painful dilemma: if they declare faithfully the whole counsel of God, they are considered as harsh and severe: if, on the contrary, they keep back the more offensive truths, they contract an awful responsibility before God, to whom they must give an account of every soul that has perished through their unfaithfulness. What then are we to do? If the forbearing to alarm the consciences of our auditors would be attended with no evil consequences to them, we might perhaps run the risk of displeasing God ourselves, rather than excite in them any unnecessary disquietude; but when the loss of their souls, and of our own, must infallibly result from such timidity, we feel a necessity laid upon us, and can no longer forbear. Yet, why need we apologize for delivering to men the message which God has sent them? Did not an angel deliver it, when first it was announced? and did he not deliver it with a loud voice, as feeling its importance, and determined, if possible, to arrest the attention of all the world? Let us then be pardoned for treading in the footsteps of an angel, and for seeking, in the way that he adopted, the welfare of your souls.
In the words before us there are two things which we shall endeavour to point out:
Who they are against whom God here denounces his judgments—
All Protestant writers are agreed, that “the beast” here mentioned, and more fully treated of in the preceding chapter, is the Papal Hierarchy. The Romish Church, from the time that it attained a sovereignty over other Churches, has been an idolatrous, superstitious, persecuting power. It has been idolatrous, in that it worships saints and images, and the consecrated wafer; and blasphemously ascribes to its supreme head the titles and prerogatives of God himself. It is superstitious, in that it substitutes penances, and pilgrimages, and other ordinances of man’s device, in the place of Christ, our only Advocate and Propitiation. And it is persecuting, insomuch that the cruelties exercised by Pagans themselves against the primitive Christians, do not exceed those which she has committed against those who have asserted their Christian liberty, and refused to comply with her abominations. But as, on the one hand, we cannot suppose that all the members of that Church shall perish; (for God will discriminate between those who serve him to the best of their knowledge, and those who, with high pretences to piety, are enemies to all that is good;) so, on the other hand, all who drink into the spirit of that Church, or, in the language of our text, “receive the mark of the beast in their forehead or their hand,” will certainly be found amongst those who shall endure the judgments here denounced against them. Amongst these therefore we must specify,
The adherents of idolatry—
[We do not worship saints or images: true; but are there none who arrogate to themselves an authority in opposition to that of God, or who yield to such authority in points directly contrary to God’s commands? What is this, but to usurp, or acknowledge, a power superior to God; or, in the language of the Apostle, “to worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore [Note: Rom 1:25]?” We do not mean to magnify every instance of wilfulness into an act of idolatry: but, where it is habitually exercised, or submitted to, in opposition to God’s will, there is, in fact, a power elevated above that of God himself: and whether God will resent such usurpation, you yourselves may judge.]
The advocates for superstition—
[Superstition is not confined to penances and pilgrimages: it exists wherever there is a substitution made of any human observances in the place of our Redeemer’s sacrifice. Some things may be more palpably absurd than others; but whether we seek to establish a righteousness of our own, by counting beads and repeating the Lord’s prayer, or by a certain round of religious duties, we equally invalidate the Gospel, and make void the death of Christ [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. In fact, this, more than any thing else, was the ground of separation from the Church of Rome. Much as transubstantiation and the infallibility of the Pope were objected to, it was the doctrine of human merit that most of all kindled the zeal of the Reformers, and stimulated them to protest against such fatal errors: and in proportion as we entertain hopes of meriting salvation by any works of our own, we return to Popery, and cherish the most damning corruption of “the beast.”]
The abettors of persecution—
[It is a strange idea entertained by some, that persecution for the Gospel’s sake has ceased. But if fires be not now kindled for the extirpation of pretended heretics, is therefore persecution ceased? Are there no such things as “cruel mockings” yet in existence? Yea, where is the person who is at all active in the cause of Christ, that is not despised and hated on that very account? Let him possess every qualification that can entitle him to respect, that one fault of loving and serving the Lord Jesus Christ, is sufficient to despoil him of all, and to render him an object of derision. Nor is it to any abhorrence of persecution that we are indebted for the measure of peace that we enjoy, but to the laws, and the knowledge which men possess on the subject of religious toleration. The same spirit that has “made war with the saints” in the Romish Church, still exists in ours: and inasmuch as it does so, we “bear the image of the beast in our forehead, and are in danger of the judgments which are treasured up for it.]
Having ascertained the characters here spoken of, let us inquire into,
Whether the metaphors that are used to describe the punishment of the ungodly are to be understood in any thing like a literal sense, we will not pretend to determine: nor is it of any importance to us to know: for, though there should be no lake of fire and brimstone to torment our bodies, yet will there be torment of some kind or other both to our bodies and souls; and that torment cannot be more fitly represented to us in our present state, than by the images used in our text. We can form some little idea of the internal agony arising from the drinking of a cup composed of burning ingredients; and of the outward agony which we should experience in being burnt alive: and therefore God is pleased to represent his judgments by these images. And, O! what a terrible idea is that of a cup filled with the wrath and indignation of an incensed God; and that of a lake of fire and brimstone, “kindled to the highest degree of fury by the breath of the Almighty [Note: Isaiah 30:33.]!” But not to dwell on these metaphors, let us descend to those plainer matters which characterize the misery of the damned. It will be,
[Here, in our deepest troubles, we find something to mitigate our grief, some mixture of sweet in our cup of bitterness. There is some occupation to amuse us, some thought to sooth us, some friend to console us. But in that world of misery, our cup is “without the smallest mixture” of any thing to assuage our anguish; no engagement to draw away our attention; nothing in the retrospect or prospect to afford us the smallest consolation. Here we have “mercy and judgment;” there we shall have “judgment without mercy.” Small as a drop of water would be to one burning in a lake of fire, it cannot there be granted to us [Note: Luke 16:24.].]
[Whatever our afflictions be, whether of mind, or body, or of both together, the very weakness of our frame procures us some respite; and the overwhelming nature of our troubles leads to an occasional suspension of them. But in the future state of our existence, our bodies and souls will be strengthened on purpose that they may be capable of suffering incessant torture. The unhappy sufferers never close their eyes to sleep; they “rest not day nor night;” they are always “weeping, always wailing, always gnashing their teeth” with inexpressible anguish.]
[The sons and daughters of affliction find in this world some benevolent person ready to compassionate their state at least, if they be not able to relieve their misery. But those who are suffering the wrath of God, though tormented in the “presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb,” find no pity whatsoever. Those benevolent spirits, who once would gladly have ministered to them with the tenderest solicitude, now hear their cries, and behold their writhings, without any other emotion than that of acquiescence and perfect approbation. Yea, they themselves are willing instruments of their torture; “gathering them together as tares, and binding them up in bundles, and casting them into the fire [Note: Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:39; Matthew 13:41.].” The Lord Jesus too, who once left the bosom of his Father for them, and assumed their nature, and groaned, and wept, and bled for them, and would have accounted all the travail of his soul richly recompensed, if they had but availed themselves of his proffered mercy, even He now beholds them, and, so far from pitying their misery, “laughs at their calamity, and mocks now that his judgments are come upon them [Note: Proverbs 1:24-26.]:” he even finds “rest and comfort to his own soul from the vengeance that he inflicts upon them [Note: Ezekiel 5:13.].” And there is reason to believe that every created being, not excepting the dearest relatives of those who perish, will be like-minded with Christ and the holy angels, and will applaud, and even rejoice in, the sentence that shall be executed, whether it be on the ungodly at large, or on their own relations in particular [Note: Revelation 19:1-6.].]
[Whilst here, the troubled look forward to death as the termination of their woes: and men often find satisfaction in the decease of their dearest relatives, from the consideration that they now “rest from their labours.” But in that place of torment, they “cry to the rocks and hills to fall upon them, and to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb;” but they cannot obtain this desired end: they wish for death, but it flees from them. Could they but hope that their misery would end at the expiration of millions of years, they would instantly congratulate themselves on their prospects: but the thought of eternity, O this fearful thought adds such a poignancy to their anguish, as no finite imagination can at all conceive. Could the fire ever be burnt out, or their powers be consumed by it, they would rejoice: but their punishment is everlasting [Note: Matthew 25:46.]; “their worm dieth not, and their fire cannot be quenched [Note: Mark 9:43-48.];” on the contrary, “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.”]
Most of you will anticipate me in the following reflections—
How astonishing is the supineness of the ungodly!
[Were the cry of fire to be made in a crowded assembly, what pressing would be made to escape the devouring element, and how backward would people be to believe that they were not in danger! But let God, and his ministers, warn them of eternal fire, and none will pay the smallest regard to their voice. O sad infatuation! For, “who can stand before his indignation? who can abide in the fierceness of his anger [Note: Nahum 1:6.]?” “Who amongst us can dwell with the devouring fire? who amongst us can dwell with everlasting burnings [Note: Isaiah 33:14.]?” May God awaken all of us from our security; and so lead us to examine our real character, that we may humble ourselves before him, and “flee from the wrath to come!”]
How happy are they who have the mark of God’s image upon them!
[Blessed be God! there are many whose dispositions and habits are altogether changed; who were once idolatrous, and superstitious, yea, perhaps contemners and persecutors of real godliness, but are now enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and “renewed after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness.” You also are “marked in your foreheads [Note: Ezekiel 9:4.];” but “your spot is the spot of God’s children [Note: Deuteronomy 32:5. ].” Blessed indeed are ye; for “ye shall be counted worthy to escape all those things which are coming on the ungodly, and to stand before the Son of man” in his glory. For you is prepared a very different cup, a cup “wherein is fulness of joy, and pleasures at God’s right hand for evermore [Note: Psalms 16:11.].” Yes, whilst “fornicators, liars, hypocrites,” and sinners of every description “shall have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone [Note: Revelation 21:8. with Psalms 9:17.],” you shall dwell in the presence of your God, and enjoy an inconceivable happiness without mixture, intermission, or end.]
THE BLESSEDNESS OF DEPARTED SAINTS [Note: Intended for a Funeral Sermon.]
Revelation 14:13. I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.
AS connected with the context, these words were intended to comfort and encourage those who should suffer martyrdom for the cause of Christ. The destruction of Antichrist is declared in the preceding verses. But as, in the meantime, the saints would be harassed with grievous persecutions, they are here taught to endure their trials with patience, in an assured expectation of a glorious recompence at the instant of their departure from the body. This will account for the very extraordinary way in which the most simple of all truths is here both announced and attested. The blessedness of departed saints, one would have thought, should not have needed to be promulgated in so solemn a way; especially when Christianity had been for a long period propagated, and, if I may so say, established throughout all the Roman Empire. But the circumstance of its being thus solemnly declared may well lead us to contemplate it with peculiar attention.
Let us, then, consider the blessedness of departed saints,
As announced from heaven to the Apostle John—
But who are they who are here pronounced blessed?
[Some imagine that martyrs alone were referred to: and it is certain that they were primarily in the mind of him who spake; because they are the persons to whom, more particularly, the preceding context belongs. But yet it cannot be said of all martyrs, that they are “blessed:” for we are assured on infallible authority, that persons may go, and probably have gone, from the flames of martyrdom to those more tremendous flames that never can be quenched. St. Paul says, we may even “give our bodies to be burned, and yet want that charity” which is indispensable to our final admission into heaven [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:3.]. We must extend our views to believers: yet even of believers it is not necessarily and universally true, that they are blessed: for we know, that there are some who “for awhile believe, but in time of temptation fall away [Note: Matthew 8:13.].” In truth, it cannot be certainly said of any, whilst they are yet alive, that they shall be happy in the eternal world; because there is no human being of whom it can be infallibly declared, that he shall persevere unto the end. After the fall of David, and Solomon, and Peter, and Demas, who shall venture to say, that he may not, after all his profession, “make shipwreck of the faith?” It is of “the dead” only that it can be affirmed, that they shall certainly be saved: and of those only who “die in the Lord.” They must first be in Christ by a living faith; they must then “abide in him,” bringing forth fruit to his glory; and, lastly, they must “die in him,” humbly “hoping in him even to the end,” and being “faithful unto death.” Persons so living, and so dying, are truly blessed.]
And why is their blessedness so peculiarly proclaimed?
[It is announced, by an audible voice from heaven: and the Apostle is commanded to record it, for the benefit of all future generations. Whence was the necessity for such a manifestation of so plain a truth? Had it not been known in the Church as long as any written record of God’s mind and will had existed? True; it was known: but yet it was foreseen that it would be obscured by that corrupt Church that would in due time arise; and a special revelation of it therefore was given, in this extraordinary manner, for the comfort of God’s saints whom that Church would persecute; and for a warning to those who should give way to fear, and turn from the holy commandment committed to them. That persecuting Church would inculcate the doctrine of purgatory, in order to enrich her ministers: but those who should die in defence of the Gospel might rest assured that their felicity would be immediate and complete, as soon as ever they should have sealed their testimony with their blood; as would also he the misery of those who either inflicted those sufferings, or, through fear of suffering, renounced their holy profession. The faithful should “from henceforth,” from the very moment of their death, be happy; but the others, from the instant of their departure from the body, should “drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which should be poured out, without mixture, into the cup of his indignation.” The faithful universally, and the faithful exclusively, might apply to themselves this glorious truth. They should be “blessed;” but they alone: “the fearful and the unbelieving should altogether be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where they should immediately and to all eternity endure the second death [Note: Revelation 21:8.].”]
Lest, after all, this declaration should not have its due weight on our minds, we are led to contemplate it,
As attested by the Spirit, to every child of man—
Were the Spirit’s testimony conveyed only in a way of simple asseveration, it would be amply sufficient to engage our fullest confidence: but it is given in such a way as to approve itself to the judgment of every considerate man: for, with the testimony, he makes known the grounds and sources of that very blessedness, to the certainty of which his testimony is borne.
They (the departed saints) “rest from their labours”—
[The trials of those who are called to suffer martyrdom are greater than we, who enjoy the protection of the civil magistrate, can imagine. I say again, We, of this happy land, have no idea of the horrors of the inquisition, or of the cruelties exercised by the Papal Church. Even in our own land, in former days, multitudes of the most holy men have been burnt alive for their fidelity to Christ. O! what a transition must those holy saints have experienced, from the flames of martyrdom to the bosom of their Lord! But, in truth, the labours of every saint are very great: it is an arduous course that they have to run; a distressing warfare to maintain. Hear the holy Apostle himself groaning under the burthen of his in-dwelling corruptions, and crying, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death [Note: Romans 7:24.]?” Those, indeed, who think but little of eternity, may pass through life without much care or conflict: but they who know the value of the soul, and consider that, by every act, word, and thought, they are treasuring up for themselves an ever—increasing weight, either of misery or of glory, to all eternity; they, I say, feel a burthen upon the mind, a fear of falling into sin, a desire to approve themselves to God, a longing to be dissolved, that they may be with Christ: and to them rest will be sweet, as to a weary traveller, or as the haven after a tempestuous voyage.]
“Their works do follow them”—
[Their works, however excellent, do not go before them to receive a recompence on the ground of merit; but they follow them as evidences of their integrity, and as proofs of their union with the Lord Jesus Christ. In this view, the very least work they ever performed for Christ, and by virtue derived from him, even “the giving of a cup of cold water to a disciple for his sake, shall in no wise lose its reward.” Every prayer that they ever offered, yea, the very groans by which their feelings found an indistinct utterance; and their tears, which from time to time were treasured up in God’s vial; shall then be brought forth by him as witnesses for them, and as demonstrations, that, in his final decisions, God conducts every thing with perfect equity. Indeed, if God were not to bring forward their works with a view to future retribution, he would account himself unjust: as St. Paul has said; “God is not unrighteous, that he should forget your works and labour of love which ye have shewed towards his name.” Though, as I have already said, our works can challenge nothing at his hand on the ground of merit, they may, and shall, challenge a reward of grace, and actually be the measure of our recompence at that day: for God will deal with every man according to his own works; and “every man shall receive according to his own labour.” How truly blessed then will be the man who “died in the Lord!” Perhaps, at times, he was ready to doubt whether he should find acceptance with God at all, or not: but now, to his unutterable joy, he hears his Saviour say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Now, then, his utmost desires are all satisfied; and he is completely happy in the bosom of his God.]
Let me now conclude, with briefly adverting to the text—
In reference to the deceased—
[— — — — — — [Note: Here may be stated the character of the deceased.
The character of the person, on occasion of whose death this Sermon was preached, was as near to perfection as could well be expected in the present state of the Church. The Author, in the space of forty years, has seen few that he considers as equal to her, and never one that was superior. She was indeed “a Mother in Israel.” Her name was Jane Chapman. She was one of the first-fruits of the Author’s ministry: and during nearly forty years she maintained so undeviating a course of piety, as to be the admiration of all who knew her. Till about the age of fifty-three, she lived ignorant of God and of his Christ. Her mind was first awakened to a sense of her lost condition by reading Vivian’s Dialogues between a Minister and his Parishioners: and, from the moment that she sought for acceptance with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, her soul was filled with peace and joy in believing. Doubtless there were variations in her frames, as well as in those of others: but the general tenour of her life was remarkably peaceful; and she closed a most honourable career of piety, at the age of ninety-one. What the particular character of her religion was, shall now be stated in few words; but not so much for the purpose of doing honour to her, (though she is worthy to be held in the highest honour,) as for the benefit of those into whose hands this brief memorial may fall.
Her religion, then, was modest and unassuming: there was nothing of that obtrusive forwardness which is so common amongst the professors of our days, and so justly odious both to God and man. It was also fraught with humility and contrition. A deep sense of her utter unworthiness abode at all times upon her mind: yet there was nothing of gloom about her, nothing of melancholy; for her contrition was tempered with a lively faith, a faith that was remarkably simple. There was no leaning to any thing of her own; nor any doubting of the sufficiency that was in Christ. Her whole life was one act of faith: she “lived entirely by faith in the Son of God, as having loved her, and given himself for her.” At the same time it did not shew itself in a bold unhallowed confidence, but in a meek and humble affiance: and it was operative upon all her tempers, her spirit, her conduct, insomuch that it was really her “meat and her drink to do the will of God;” and so uniform was her deportment that she seemed to have been cast into the very mould of the Gospel, and to possess, as far as the frailty of our fallen nature would admit, “the very mind that was in Christ Jesus.” She was truly a light, not only in the world, but in the Church to which she belonged: and, whilst her graces were extremely diversified, and capable, like the rays of light, of bearing a distinct scrutiny, they were so blended (the sombre with the brilliant), and kept in such proportioned measure and simultaneous motion, as to display a brilliancy which it was impossible to behold and not admire. Her death was such as might be expected: truly it might be said of her, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace.” Her last words were, “Come, Lord Jesus! I long for thee. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!”—May the latter end, both of him who writes this Memorial, and him who reads it, be like hers! Amen, and Amen!]]
In reference to those who are yet living—
[Inquire, I pray you, whether ye be “in Christ:” for, if ye be not in him, and abide not in him, it is in vain to hope that ye can “die in him” — — — It is in vain also to dream of blessedness in the eternal world. This is the privilege of those only who “live and die in the Lord” — — — O ye who are strangers to a life of faith in the Son of God, think what your feelings will be, when your works shall follow you to the bar of judgment! In what light will they then appear? What judgment will you then form of a life devoted to the concerns of time and sense? Will a neglect of God and of your eternal interests be thought so venial then, as you account it now? Will such a witness benefit you at the bar of judgment? Or will the prize that shall be accorded to the successful racer and the victorious warrior, be held forth to you? No; the “rest” which is here spoken of, is reserved only for the weary traveller, who has walked with God, and “held on his way even to the end.” Let this record then, which was written for your instruction, sink deep into your ears: and cease not to cry mightily to God for his converting grace, that you yourselves may be that character, for whose consolation it was so announced, and for whose encouragement it was so attested.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Revelation 14". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26