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THE BOOK WITH SEVEN SEALS OPENED BY JESUS CHRIST
Revelation 5:6-10. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he come and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung 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 the earth.
THE doctrine of the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ is that which sheds the brightest lustre over our most holy religion. It is his Deity which alone gives virtue to his sacrifice, and renders it a sufficient propitiation for the sins of the whole world. There are indeed many, who, whilst they profess a regard for Christianity, would rob it of its chief stay and support; and, to effect their object, will mutilate the very Scriptures themselves, and cut out of the sacred volume what they find themselves unable to controvert or distort. But, methinks, if we were to grant for a moment that the saints on earth may have erred in giving to Jesus the same glory as they give unto the Father, (though their obligation to do so is, in my apprehension, as clear as the sun at noon-day,) have they also erred in heaven? Are the glorified saints around the throne of God under a mistake? It is undeniable that they are worshipping the Lord Jesus precisely as they worship the Father. Consult the chapter which precedes my text. There we are informed, that “the four beasts (the four living creatures) rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever; and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created [Note: Revelation 4:8-11.].” No one, I suppose, will doubt, but that in that passage worship is given to Jehovah the Creator of all things, and as the one supreme God. Now compare the words of our text, and there you will find the same persons (the four beasts and four and twenty elders) with the very same posture (that of utter prostration) in precisely similar language adoring the Lord Jesus Christ as their Redeemer; and all the angels in heaven confirming this act of theirs in terms the most exalted that could possibly be used, and uniting both the Father and the Son in one song of praise, saying, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing: therefore, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
In opening to you this song of the redeemed, I shall bring before you,
The occasion of it—
This is particularly adverted to in our text—
[There was “in the hand of Him who sat upon the throne a book written both within and without, and sealed with seven seals.” To conceive of this book aright, we must bear in mind, that it was a volume, rolled up, and consisting of seven parts, each rolled within another, and having a distinct seal affixed to it, so that the contents of one only could be known at a time, the opening of the first making a way for the second, and the second for the third, and so on in succession throughout the whole [Note: ver. 1. with Revelation 6:1-12; Revelation 8:1.]. But to open the book, and loose the seals thereof, was beyond the power of any created being: there was “not one found worthy of this honour in heaven, or in earth, or under the earth [Note: ver. 2, 3.].” On this account, the Apostle tells us, “he wept much.” He had no doubt but the contents of that book were of infinite importance to the Church and to the world, because it contained a record of God’s secret purposes respecting both the one and the other to the end of time; and it was not from the disappointment of an idle curiosity that he wept, but from an apprehension that God would be less glorified by the concealment of his purposes than by a revelation of them to his Church.
To his great joy, however, One was found, who was “worthy to open this book,” even the Lord Jesus Christ, who was here characterized as “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, and as the Boot of David.” Under the former character, the Messiah had been revealed to Jacob [Note: Genesis 49:9-10.]; and under the latter, to David, as David’s Lord [Note: See Isa 11:10 and Psalms 110:1.]. But it was under a new character that he prevailed to open the book, even as “a Lamb that had been slain,” even as that Lamb of God, that having offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of men, yet bears upon his person the marks of all the cruelties and indignities that he suffered upon the cross. Yet, though bearing these marks of his humiliation, he is represented as “having seven horns, and seven eyes,” even all perfection of power and of wisdom also, of which there is none in the whole universe, that does not emanate from him: for from him proceeds the Holy Spirit, in all his diversified influences and operations, to the utmost ends of the earth [Note: The text.].
This glorious Person “went to him that sat upon the throne; and took the book out of his hand,” in order to loose the seals thereof, and to open its contents: and immediately the living creatures and the elders burst forth into the song of praise. What occasion this circumstance afforded them for their song, will be more profitably noticed under a distinct head, after we have considered, as we now proceed to do,]
The song itself—
Of the living creatures and the elders, we are told, that “every one of them had harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints.” There is here, beyond a doubt, a reference to the temple service. In the temple-worship harps were used in blessing and praising God [Note: 2 Samuel 6:5.Psalms 137:2; Psalms 137:2.]: and, “when the priests went into the sanctuary to burn incense, all the people continued praying without [Note: Luke 1:9-10.].” Thus these worshippers, being all, as we shall see presently, made priests unto God, they had in their hands censers full of incense, through the odours of which “the prayers of the saints” ascended up with acceptance before God. Not that the glorified spirits are mediators between God and us: no, “there is but one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus;” but, as the efficacy of his intercession was typified by the incense offered by the priests, so was it further intimated in this vision, where all were executing, as it were, the priestly office, which in this very song they claimed as pertaining to them.
In the song which they sang, and which was “a new song,” they celebrated the praises of that adorable Lamb, and gave him thanks for,
The work of redemption as wrought out by him—
[Here all, without exception, to whatever nation, or kindred, or tongue, or people they belonged, traced their reconciliation with God to one common source, the atoning blood of Christ. Not one of them all presumed to claim a share in that glorious work, or to ascribe any part of it to his own strength or goodness: there was but one song amongst them all; all acknowledged equally, that they had once been slaves of sin and Satan; all confessed their obligations to Christ, for interposing for them; all referred to his blood as the price paid for their redemption; and all with one consent joined in saying, “Thou hast redeemed us to God by thy blood.”
Greatly were it to be wished that all self-justifying Pharisees would learn of them; and that those who look for acceptance, either in whole or in part, through any works of their own, would fix in their minds what song they will sing, if ever they shall be admitted to the realms of bliss. That they will not be able to join with those who are already before the throne, is evident; for not any share of the glory do they arrogate to themselves; they ascribe it all to Him who bought them with his blood: and be it known to you, that not one soul shall ever be joined to that blessed assembly, who is not like-minded with them, and has not learned already to give the entire and undivided honour of his salvation to “the Lamb that was slain.”]
The benefits of redemption as experienced by themselves—
[Wonderful was the honour to which they were exalted, all being “kings and priests unto God;” “kings” to exercise dominion over all the enemies of their salvation: and “priests,” to offer spiritual sacrifices before him for ever and ever.
To a yet further extension of their privileges also they express themselves as looking forward, when they add, “And we shall reign on the earth.” Some have thought, that, in the Millennium, the saints will come down from heaven, and reign on earth a thousand years. But I rather understand the expressions which refer to that period, as importing, not that the departed saints will actually rise from the dead, and reign on earth, but that, so universal will be the reign of piety at that period, that it will appear as if all the departed saints had risen to dwell on earth. This is certain, that the day is coming, when “the saints shall take the kingdom,” and piety shall reign as triumphantly on the face of the globe, as hitherto impiety has reigned: and, in the prospect of this, the saints in glory may well rejoice, and consider themselves as participating in the blest event!
And all these benefits, both to themselves and to the world at large, they trace to the death of Christ as the one procuring cause: “Thou wast slain,” and hast brought us thereby into this happy state. To the same blessed source also must we trace all our privileges, and all our hopes: tasting redeeming love in all, and giving the glory of them all to “the Lamb that was slain.”]
But, as it does not at first sight appear how this song could arise from the occasion that called it forth, I shall proceed to mark,
The connexion between the two—
Recall to mind what the occasion was. The book which was sealed with seven seals contained all the purposes of God towards his Church and people for ever and ever. And none but the Redeemer himself was found worthy to open it. But, when he took it into his hand with a view to open it, then all the redeemed burst forth into this song of praise; expressly founding their acknowledgments on this as their proper ground. Now this they might well do; because,
The events themselves recorded in that book, all arise out of his work of redemption—
[Had not the Lord Jesus Christ given himself a sacrifice for the sins of men, there would have been no difference between our fallen race and the fallen angels: all having alike transgressed, they would all have paid the penalty of transgression, and been consigned over, the one as well as the other, to irremediable and everlasting misery. But the Lord Jesus Christ having purchased to himself a peculiar people, the purposes of God respecting them are infinitely diversified, every one of them being destined to experience trials and deliverances peculiar to himself, in order to fit him for that precise measure of glory ordained for him from all eternity. Who then should open this book but He from whom it has derived its existence, and to whom all the blessings contained in it must be traced as their proper source?]
They will all issue in the felicity of his redeemed—
[Much indeed is spoken in that book respecting the persecutions of the saints, all of whom are said to come out of great tribulation: and can it be said that such dispensations minister to their happiness? I answer, yes; even in this present life, the trials to which they are subjected by their enemies, work for their good, inasmuch as they tend to the perfecting of their graces, and lead to a more abundant supply of heavenly consolations. And, in the world to come, the weight of glory assigned to each, is proportioned to what every individual sustained for his Lord, and to the fidelity with which he executed his Lord’s commands. The book, like the cloud at the Red Sea, was dark on the one side, even darkness itself; whilst on the other side it was luminous as the noon-day sun: and in both respects it subserved the interests of Israel: so, whether the dispensations contained in that book be dark or light, they shall all tend to the security of the saints, and the completion of the deliverance ordained for them.]
They will all reflect glory on him as the Redeemer—
[We may easily conceive of this as far as the mercies are concerned: but is it true also of the judgments? Can we imagine, that the calamities inflicted on his enemies on earth, and the infinitely heavier judgments executed on them in hell, shall bring glory to the Redeemer? Look into the book of the Revelations, and you will find, that the condemnation of the wicked, no less than the salvation of the righteous, is an occasion of triumph to the hosts of heaven, and calls forth the devoutest acknowledgments and hallelujahs to Almighty God [Note: Revelation 19:1-4. Recite the whole of this.] — — —
Here then the acknowledged right of “the Lamb” to open the book, and the acclamations of his redeemed on seeing him undertake to open it, stand in the closest connexion with each other, and form one great subject, worthy of our devoutest attention.]
This book of the Church’s destinies, though opened as to the seals, is yet but very indistinctly seen by any: nor will it be fully known, till the events contained in it are fulfilled.
Are there not some amongst us to whom the whole of revelation is yet “a sealed book?”
[It is to be feared that, notwithstanding all our advantages for knowing the great truths of revelation, they are yet but very imperfectly understood by the generality. Take the work of redemption, and interrogate the great mass of Christians respecting it, and you will find, that the grossest errors obtain in relation to it. The freeness, the fulness, the excellency of the Gospel salvation are but very imperfectly seen, and very unworthily appreciated. Dear brethren, if John “wept much,” because he could not gain an insight into the book of God’s decrees, what reason have many of you to weep, yea, to weep even floods of tears, on account of your ignorance of the Gospel of Christ, of that which “he that runs may read,” and of that on which your everlasting salvation depends. O, look to the Lamb of God to open it to you; and cease not to weep and pray, till he has revealed to you the glorious mysteries contained in it — — —]
Are there not, however, others to whom its blessed truths have been made known?
[Yes, surely, there are not a few, “the eyes of whose understanding have been opened,” and who have been enabled to behold “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Who then amongst you are of that happy number, who can say, “Whereas I was once blind, I now see?” To you I say, Imitate the hosts above: give glory to your Lord and Saviour: shout forth his praises: sing without ceasing “to Him who has redeemed you to God by his blood, and made you kings and priests unto God and the Father.” To you also I say, Look to it that you “reign on the earth.” You are no longer “the servants either of men” or devils: “being bought with a price, you are His” who bought you, and must do his will, and seek his glory, even his only. None are you to fear, but Him: none to love, in comparison of him: none to serve, but in subordination to him. You are to be training now for heaven, and learning the song of the redeemed whilst yet on earth; that when the harps shall be put into your hands in the realms above, you may not strike the chords as novices, but as those who are well instructed in the heavenly science, and fully prepared to bear your part amongst the celestial choir.]
THE DOXOLOGY OF THE REDEEMED
Revelation 5:11-13. 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. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
WE know at present but very little of the blessedness of heaven: yet the word of God enables us to form some faint conception of it. St. John draws aside the vail, and reveals to us,
The assembly which he saw—
The inhabitants of heaven are composed of angels, and glorified saints—
[The angels are those who “kept their first estate,” from which others fell. The saints are spoken of under two characters, “the beasts, or living creatures,” and “the elders.” The former are supposed to represent the ministers of Christ [Note: In the peculiar qualities of the four living creatures an allusion is probably made to the talents requisite for the ministerial function. The preacher of the Gospel ought to be bold, patient, compassionate, and discerning. Revelation 4:7.], and the latter, the members of the Church [Note: They are twenty-four; probably in-allusion to the twelve Patriarchs and twelve Apostles, who were the heads of the Jewish and Christian, i. e. of the universal Church.]: they altogether compose one body in and under Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:10.].]
Their number exceeds all computation—
[The way to heaven has always been a “strait and narrow way;” yet from the death of Abel their number has been continually increasing: their collective number is inconceivably great [Note: Daniel 7:10. Revelation 7:9.].]
The saints take the lead in the worship—
[They are represented as standing nearest to the throne [Note: Revelation 7:11.]: they begin the song [Note: ver. 5:9, 10.], and the angels join in chorus [Note: ver. 11–13.].]
There is perfect harmony throughout the whole assembly.
The Object they adored—
Many deny that Christ is a proper object of worship. But he has ever been worshipped in the Church—
[Paul prayed to him, and received an answer from him [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.]: Stephen addressed him, as Christ himself had before addressed the Father [Note: Acts 7:59.]: the offering of prayer to him characterizes every true Christian [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:2.].]
And He is the object of universal adoration in heaven—
[He is the person described in the text and context [Note: ver. 6, 8, 9, 12.]. The description given is applicable to him alone [Note: John 1:29.].]
He is expressly joined with the Father as an equal object of worship—
[The terms used are the same, and they are addressed alike to both.]
The worship they offer him is such as is proper to God only—
The adoration they offered Him—
The heavenly hosts do not offer blind and ignorant devotions: they proclaim the Redeemer’s worthiness of divine honour—
[Stronger expressions of adoration are no where offered to the Father: the accumulation of words expresses the fervour of their hearts [Note: To explain each word would destroy the energy of the whole.]: their view of his essential glory must convince them of his worthiness; but they most admire him in his mediatorial character: the angels, though not interested as we, gladly unite their praises.]
They all join in this unitedly, and with a loud voice—
[Those from earth, and sea, &c. are the spirits of departed saints: all seem to vie with each other without one discordant voice.]
How great is the privilege of the saints!
[The saints are even now joined to this blessed assembly [Note: Hebrews 12:22-23.]: they have the same views of Christ’s worthiness and glory: they are engaged in offering the same praises and adorations: they are daily growing in a meetness to join the saints above. How glorious, how desirable is this privilege! Let all seek it by faith in the Lamb that was slain.]
How astonishing is the folly of the unregenerate!
[This blessedness is offered to all who will believe in Christ; yet the unregenerate “make light of it.” But would they think it so contemptible if they had such a vision of it as St. John had? Would they despise it if they could see the state of the damned as contrasted with it? May God convince them of their guilt and folly!]
How inconceivably glorious must heaven be!
[Here the felicity of the saints is often great [Note: Genesis 28:17.]; but hereafter it will transcend our utmost conceptions [Note: Here, our views are dim (“by faith”) our company few, our associates polluted, our capacity small, our difficulties great, our alloy inseparable, our intermissions frequent, our declensions lamentable: but there, we shall see Christ as he is, together with innumerable hosts, each of them shining as the sun; our powers will be wonderfully enlarged; we shall serve him with perfect ease and readiness; and our bliss will be pure and unmixed, without intermission or end, yea, continually, eternally progressive.]. Let us frequently rehearse here, that we may be more fit to perform our part on the theatre of heaven.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Revelation 5". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany