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The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ
I. The Revelation, or Apocalypse.
1. This sacred book is called the Revelation, or Apocalypse, to express its origin. It is the Word of the living God, given by Divine inspiration, and invested with Divine authority.
2. It is called the Apocalypse to express its nature. It gives a blessed manifestation of the character, counsels, and dealings of God.
3. It is called the Apocalypse, to express its object. There is an objective revelation of the character and will of God which is given in His Word; of the great plan of mercy which is given in the gospel; of the great events of Providence which are given in sacred prophecy.
4. It is called the Apocalypse, to express its subject. There is a subjective revelation experienced by the saint, consisting in the saving illumination of the Spirit (Matthew 11:25; Psalms 119:18).
5. It is called the Apocalypse, to express its great design. The word signifies to remove the veil that conceals an object from view.
6. There is, notwithstanding this glorious manifestation, considerable darkness resting on this book. It is denominated “The mystery of God.” This obscurity arises from the depth of the counsels of heaven, from the symbolical language in which they are revealed, from the prophetical nature of the sacred book. But amid all the mystery with which it is enveloped, there is a light within the cloud to illuminate and cheer.
II. The revelation of Jesus Christ.
1. It is a revelation from Him as the great Author, and the great Medium, and the great Depositary, and the great Dispenser of Divine revelation, and all its hopes, promises, and blessings.
2. It is a revelation concerning Him as the great subject, the sum and substance of the glorious gospel.
3. It is a revelation through Him, as the medium of Divine communication, as the great Prophet and Teacher of the Church.
4. It is a revelation to Him as the great object, the end, the proprietor of the oracles of heaven. It is His--His own peculiar charge, ant His own Divine prerogative. In Him all the lines of Divine truth centre; from Him all the beams of its glory irradiate; to Him all the prophets gave witness.
III. The great design of this sacred charge.
1. The nature of this design. It is “to show.” This partially explains the word “revelation,” which is to make manifest what was before concealed. It also explains the word “signified,” which is to show verbally, in plain language; or symbolically, by signs or symbols.
2. The persons to whom this design is made known. They are “servants”--the servants of God, by a devout and voluntary surrender of themselves. They are not only servants, but they are kings and priests. To these distinguished servants God’s holy will is given. The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.
3. The objects revealed.
4. The time of fulfilment--“Things that must shortly come to pass.”
(1) This may be viewed personally, as referring to ourselves as individuals. The time of our departure is at hand. “Lord teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
(2) It may be viewed generally. The time is at hand with regard to the Church, and the end of the world, and the day of judgment.
(3) It may be viewed comparatively. The time is short when we view it in connection with eternity.
(4) It may be viewed progressively with respect to the nature, the order, and arrangement of Divine operation--the time is at hand.
5. As the message was important, so the messenger was honourable: “He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John.”
(1) The message, and how it was delivered. He signified and testified, or showed it; He made it manifest by plain words, direct testimony, and by signs or symbols (Hosea 12:10).
(2) The person that sent--“He sent.” God the Father sent His angel to His servant John. The Lord Jesus sent His angel: I, Jesus, sent Mine angel to testify to you these things in the Churches.
(3) The messenger sent was “His angel.” All the holy angels are His by creation, providence, electing love, confirming grace, and sacred office. But some He selects for distinguished services. (James Young.)
The design of the book and reward for its study
There is an irresistible charm in lofty eminences. There is exhilaration in ascending them, though attended, often, With much fatigue. Similar should be the charm of this wondrous book.
I. The title--“The Revelation of Jesus Christ.”
II. The design. “To show unto His servants,” dec.
III. The special promise. “Blessed is he that readeth,” etc. (D. C. Hughes.)
I. Its original source is expressed in the title which the author gives to his book: It is a revelation of Jesus Christ, and not the revelation; as though it were the only one which He has given, or the only one which He gave to His servant John. There may be a reference in this term to the special design of this book to reveal the time and manner of the Saviour’s coming. It was an exciting topic then, as it is now; and many were the conflicting sentiments that were entertained concerning the apocalypse, or revelation of Jesus Christ. It is styled “a Revelation of Jesus Christ,” because in His mediatorial person, as Immanuel, or God-man, and in His official capacity as the great Prophet and Teacher of His Church, He was the principal party in making it known. Yet in this, as in every other part of His work, He acts by delegated authority from the Father, and in subserviency to His will. Not less in heaven than on earth, in His glorification than in the scenes of His humiliation, is He the medium of communication between God and His redeemed. This revelation was given to Jesus Christ “to show unto His servants.” It was given to Christ to reveal to others. He knew them before. The revelation was not made for Him, but for Him to make known. The persons to whom He is empowered to reveal them are “His servants.” The servants of Christ, or of God, are the redeemed. This He is ready to do by His Word, and the teaching of His Spirit.
II. Of the general character of these contents we are thus informed: they are “things which must shortly come to pass.” It is not a history of the past, nor a record of the present, but a prophecy of the future. It is not a mass of conjecture, but of certainties. Though pending upon the fickleness of human passions, the whole future course of events is as unalterably fixed as the past.
III. We are informed to whom this revelation, in the first instance, was made known. “He sent and signified it … unto His servant John.” He teaches one, that this one may teach many. Ministers should look for their teaching immediately from Christ. John had borne a faithful testimony of the things which had been, and now he is to bear record of the things that should be hereafter. Those who have evinced a sound judgment, and given a faithful record of things which are, and have been, are best qualified to treat of things to come.
IV. We are informed of the manner in which this revelation was communicated by Jesus Christ to His servant John: “He sent and signified it by His angel.” God gives the revelation to Jesus Christ, and He to an angel, and the angel to John. The word “angel,” which simply signifies a messenger, is not applied in Scripture exclusively to that particular order of beings of which it is the generic term. What more natural to conclude than that saints carry with them their prevailing disposition to heaven; and that the saint whose heart was most interested in the events here recorded should have been selected by Christ as His messenger to John? We have Moses and Elias appearing in angelic forms to our Lord upon the mount. Why not Isaiah or Jeremiah, or Daniel, to John in the isle of Patmos?
V. We are informed of the purpose for which this revelation was recorded. It was for our study and observance; “Blessed is he that readeth,” etc. Whoever undertakes to read the Divine Word to ethers, shall be blessed in his deed. While he is reading new light will burst upon the sacred page, and his own mind will be instructed. The hearers too will be blessed. Few, if any methods, are better adapted to ascertain the meaning of Scripture, and to impress it upon the mind, than its being read by one and afterwards made the subject of mutual inquiry and observation. The multiplication of copies ought not to have superseded this wholesome practice. Let the reading and familiar discussion of all parts of the sacred volume once become general, and a blessing, as the dew of Hermon, will descend upon the mountains of Zion. The particular reason for the blessedness which would accompany the study of this book is given in the concluding observation: “for the time is at hand.” This had a special application to the Churches to which it is first addressed. It was an intimation to them that the first events of the series in which they were principally concerned would speedily occur. It was needful, therefore, that they should take them at once into serious consideration. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Let them avail themselves of these preadmonitions, and they would experience the blessedness of those who are prepared for the conflict and sure of final victory. Conclusion:
1. The Church is entrusted with the observation and improvement of events as they rise.
2. It must adapt itself to external changes in the use of appointed means.
3. Prophecy is intended to point out the direction in which its energies should be employed. (G. Rogers.)
Christians are not confined to this world in their enjoyments of life. They not merely behold the things of men, but also the things of God; not merely the things of time, but also those of eternity.
I. They proceed from the infinite source of knowledge and love.
1. God is the primal author of spiritual revelations. He is the source of light, and alone can cause it to shine from heaven into the heart of man.
2. Christ is the sympathetic medium of spiritual revelations. St. John is here writing of Him as having ascended to heaven with a Divine-human nature.
3. Varied messengers are the communicating agencies of revelation. Angelic ministeries are interested in the instruction of the good. Who was the messenger here employed? It would seem that prophetic fires were kindled in some ancient seer who had entered upon his heavenly rest, and that he was employed to uncover to the imprisoned apostle the sublime visions of this book.
II. They are given to those engaged in the moral service of the universe. “To show unto His servants.”
1. They are not given to the nationally presumptuous. These have other visions more welcome to their ambitious spirits--visions of fame. They would rather dream of servile crowds paying them transient homage, than be permitted the grandest revelation of heaven that is possible to human soul.
2. They are not given to the socially great. They are not given to kings by virtue of their kinghood. They are not given to the warrior in acknowledgment of his victory. They are not given to the wealthy in praise of their industry and thrift. They are rather given to the humble, to the poor in spirit, to the pure in heart, to the loving servants of the Lord.
3. They are not given to the intellectually wise. To untutored minds, but of heavenly thought, things Divine are made known, far grander than are suspected by the students of earthly things. They are given to the good--
(1) Because the good are in sympathy with God.
(2) Because the good will live under the influence of the revelation.
(3) Because the good will be faithful to the revelation.
III. They are given at times of solitude and grief.
1. The good man’s solitude is never lonely. But when earth is far removed, when the hurry of business and the excitement of pleasure are behind, then come those heavenly visions which so enrich the soul.
2. God does not forsake His faithful servants in their time of need. In the furnace we get bright visions of the Son of Man.
IV. They are designed to interpret the eventful ages of mankind.
1. Man is unable to interpret the spiritual meaning of the ages.
2. The moral significance of the ages ought to engage our most careful study.
1. Adore the condescension of God in revealing Himself to man.
2. Praise the glory of God which He has manifested to your soul in time of vision.
3. Live and write the spiritual revelations of the Eternal. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Aspects of human history
I. As a revelation. Christ reveals the future history of mankind--
1. By disclosing its essential principles.
2. By the dispensations of Providence.
II. As a record.
1. Here is a commission from heaven to record certain things.
2. Here is a commission from heaven to reveal certain things, addressed to a man.
3. Here is a commission from heaven to record certain things, addressed to a man of the highest moral class.
III. As a study.
1. Historic events are of moral significance.
2. The moral significance involves a Divine law.
3. In practical obedience to this Divine law there is true happiness. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
To show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.
Christ’s cabinet council
For the behoof and benefit of the family of faith who are all of Christ’s cabinet council. (J. Trapp.)
I. Timely revelation. “To show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.” There was a time when we did not see into the evil of sin as we were afterwards led to do. There was a time when we did not see into the infallible certainty of the judgment of God as we did when the Lord was pleased to cause the weighty matters of judgment to sink down deep into our souls. Then the question was, How are we to escape this tremendous evil? What, then, is to be done? Some of us ran one way, and some another; but ere long the Lord showed unto us that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.
II. confirmation. Now these are the servants of the Lord that are thus brought to serve Him in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter; that are thus brought to serve Him, not at Mount Gerizim, nor at Jerusalem, nor any other earthly locality, but brought to serve Him in spirit and in truth, and consequently to worship Him everywhere. And we need confirming in these things, or else our unbelief, our many infirmities, our many trials, would put an end to His religion. And so we need confirming from time to time in God’s truth in order to keep us pursuing. How does the Lord confirm us now? Is it not by a fresh manifestation of the redeeming power of the blood of the Lamb? Is it not by a fresh opening up unto us of the excellency of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ?
III. direction. What a mercy this is! It is a great thing to be guided by the Lord; there is not anything too hard for Him. I have found it good in my time to watch the hand of the Lord in all these things. So, then, “to show unto His servants,” to direct them; and He does in many of His dealings say, “What! do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”
IV. The things that were shortly to come to pass. How there are two orders of things that were shortly to come to pass; one very unpleasant, and the other exceedingly pleasant. Well, you and I know not what troubles lie in our path yet, but there is not anything too hard for the Lord. I am not going to look to coming troubles--that is not my business, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” So, then, if tribulation shall abound, consolation shall abound also. But now I must be careful in pointing out the pleasant circumstances--“things which must shortly come to pass.” To speak plainly, it means that these people should soon be in heaven. You observe that every one of the promises is founded upon victory. “To him that overcometh.” It is a legal victory, or victory of right. In righteousness did He judge and make war. He strove for the victory lawfully. Now the Lord shows unto His servants the way of victory, and that way is by faith in what the Saviour has done. (Jas. Wells.)
Advantage of revelation
If there be no revelation, we have no hope, and can have no comfort in our death, and no assurance of immortality after it. If there be no revelation, we are in a perpetual maze, as if we were at sea without star or compass, and knew not what course to take to gain our harbour. (Bp. Williams.)
His servant John, who bare record.--
The Christianity of St. John
Of what sort was the Christianity of St. John between thirty and forty years after Christ’s death, as we find it in the Book of the Revelation?
(1) In chap. 4. we have a vision reminding us of Isaiah and Ezekiel. There is a Throne, and One who sits on it. He is Lord and God. He lives for ever and ever. He created all things, and is worthy to receive glory and honour and power. In the second chapter we read of One who is the Son of God. He in whom St. John believes is therefore God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
(2) This Son of God is Jesus Christ, who is also King of kings and Lord of lords, and therefore Lord of all men, our Lord. The Lamb, that is Christ, is worshipped by every created thing, in one breath with Him that sitteth upon the Throne.
(3) The Incarnation of Christ is implied in His crucifixion, His blood, His death, and the title, or description, Son of Man. All of these are expressly mentioned in the Revelation. Besides we find Christ described by him as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and the Root of David.
(4) That Christ suffered is implied in His overcoming, and in His being a Lamb, as it had been slain; a phrase recalling the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, where the suffering is described at length, and where it is foretold that the Sufferer shall triumph after death.
(5) The Descent into Hades must be understood from the words, “I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore,” etc. The Resurrection is not only stated in these and other like words, but is a fundamental conception of the whole book.
(6) We do not read of the Ascension; yet as the death took place on earth, and Christ is described as in heaven after His resurrection, an ascension is implied.
(7) The sitting on the Throne of God, and the coming again to judgment are me prominent as to need no special reference.
(8) Then we have the Spirit, symbolised in His abundant powers by the seven lamps before the Throne, and again by the seven eyes of the Lamb. From this last may we not infer the double procession?
(9) The Communion of Saints is indicated in many ways. The Angels of the Seven Churches are wreathed into a garland of stars in the right hand of the Son of Man. The souls of the martyrs, under the altar, are to wait for their brethren. The great multitude who have come out of the great tribulation stand before the Throne and before the Lamb.
(10) The Remission of Sins meets us in the very first chapter;
(11) the Resurrection of the Dead comes in the twentieth; and
(12) the Life Everlasting is the one great gift variously shadowed forth by the Tree of Life, the Crown of Life, the Hidden Manna, the Morning Star, the Book of Life, the Pillar in the Temple, the Sitting Down with Christ on His Throne; the Seven Gifts to the Seven Churches. Here then, in this venerable monument of the apostolic age, are all the Articles of the Christian faith, as we now have them in our creed.
2. Until a man has made a careful study of the Revelation, he might very possibly set it down as a tissue of harsh allegories, thrown together without skill or method, and betokening little in its author but a bewildered enthusiasm. But indeed there is in it a wonderful order. The whole book seems to have been all present to the writer’s mind at once, like the universe to the mind of the Creator, before a word of it was written. Vision follows vision, each complete in itself, like a picture, yet all adding something new, like each of the seven parables in the 13th of St. Matthew, to the manifold lineaments of the kingdom of heaven. Then there is this peculiarity: Almost every phrase of the Revelation has its counterpart in the old Testament. The Revelation consists of Old Testament ideas spiritually combined with New Testament narratives.
3. St. John, after all, only translates the Old Testament prophecies out of their local dialect into catholic speech. Malachi’s pure offering in every place, Zechariah’s feast of tabernacles, Daniel’s kingdom of the saints, Jeremiah’s Jerusalem with the ark. What is all this but our Lord’s teaching to the woman of Samaria, and the absence of a sanctuary from the New Jerusalem--everywhere Immanuel? Then we have Isaiah’s abounding prophecies of these things, the Psalms with their trumpet-call to all lands, the seed of Abraham blessing the nations, nay, the primal promise of bruising the serpent’s head--the wonder is that there could ever have been a mistake. These old prophets saw there was something in their faith and worship, different in kind from the local idolatries of other nations, something which had in it the germ of catholicity. St. John had touched and handled the stem which grew from that germ, and he knew that it must grow till it filled the earth.
4. St. John paints an ideal; and ideals are never realised completely in this world. But what would the world have been without them? Here in England, what has been, deep down beneath the vulgar strife of parties, the ground of our Constitution in Church and State? What but the walking of our nation amidst the light of the holy city, and our kings bringing their glory into it? (J. Foxley, M. A.)
Of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.
Three aspects of revelation
Some apply these three expressions to the three portions of Holy Writ, of which John was the inspired penman. The word of God, they refer to the gospel; the testimony of Jesus, to the epistles; and the things which he saw, to the Book of Revelation. But they rather seem to refer to the subject of all these sacred writings.
I. “The Word of God” is His personal, essential, and eternal Word--His only-begotten Son. John bare record of Him in the gospel, in the epistles, and in the Book of Revelation. Or the Word of God is His written Word, the glorious doctrines of Divine revelation. This is the meaning of the Word of God in verse 9; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 20:4.
II. “the testimony of Jesus” is the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
1. The gospel is called the testimony of Jesus, because He is the author of it, equally with the Father. He is the faithful witness, revealing the character, the counsels, and the will of God.
2. Because He is the subject of it. The Spirit of Christ testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that followed.
3. Because He is the object of it. To Him gave all the prophets witness. The holy apostles were His inspired witnesses.
4. Because He was the recipient of this testimony (John 5:19-20; John 7:16; John 8:28; John 12:49; John 14:10; John 17:7; Matthew 11:27).
III. Of all things that He saw. (James Young.)
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear--
The seven “blesseds” in the Revelation
There are seven benedictions in the Book of Revelation. Seven is said to be the number of completeness or perfection. The first of these benedictions occurs in the opening lines of John’s Apocalypse: “Blessed is he that readeth and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep,” etc. Just at the close of the Apocalypse is another similar passage: “Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.” These two verses are like the golden clasps--one on either lid--that hold together a dear old family Bible. The next benediction is pronounced upon the gospel-guests: “Blessed are they who are called unto the marriage-supper of the Lamb.” They who are drawn by the attraction of the Cross, and yield to that drawing, are renewed by the Holy Spirit. Theirs is a place at the celestial banquet. How careful should every disciple be to walk unspotted from the world, for every stain looks ugly upon a white ground. There is a hint as to the method of keeping thus clean, which is given in the third benediction: “Blessed is he that watcheth and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” No believer can preserve the purity of his character without prayerful vigilance. “Watch.” And one reason for this watchfulness is that Christ’s coming is to be as unannounced as the midnight visit of a burglar. Old Dr. Alexander used to say with solemn tenderness, “I won’t answer for any Christian who dies while in an awful state of backsliding.” Upon the gospel-doers rests the sweet approval of the fourth benediction. It is the blessing upon those “that do His commandments.” The evidence and the joy of discipleship both lie in obedience to Christ. This is what the world has a right to demand from us--a religion of fruits. God will judge every one of us according to our works. The next blessing is that angelic voice that floats over the resting-place of the pious dead. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord.” To them the perils of the voyage are over. They have cast anchor in the haven. They are safe. About the last one of the benedictions in this sublime book there has been no little controversy: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection.” It is enough for me that, if I fall to sleep in Jesus I shall awake with Him. There is not an unmarked grave in all Christ’s household of the slumberers. Them which sleep in Jesus will God bring together with Him. (T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
Reading the Revelation
A scholar of singular simplicity and holiness of life was asked by a friend at the University, why he so often read the Book of the Revelation. The answer savoured of great humility and simple faith. He turned to this verse, “Blessed is he that readeth,” etc. Bengal, with his usual sagacity, in his commentary on these words rebukes men for their neglect of this great book, reversing the promise, as ii it were written, “Blessed is he that readeth not!” The very title “Revelation” should, he says, quicken our interest, and provoke our desire to look in and see those things which are revealed; whereas too many pass by the uplifted veil with eyes averted, and lips closed, as if silence were wisdom, and indifference a sign of reverential fear. But let them take heed, he says, lest, while they devise all manner of excuse for refusing the heavenly gift, they weary God as did Ahaz, when in pretended modesty he would ask no sign of Him; lest also they be found ungrateful to Jesus Christ. (Canon Furse.)
The Apocalypse to be read
What if there be a veil laid over this Revelation, will it not be rarified by reading, and by degrees wholly worn away? (J. Trapp.)
The words of this prophecy.--
Prophecy, though difficult to understand, must yet be studied
When Professor Stuart, one of the greatest biblical authorities, was asked one time by his scholars to explain this book to them, he told them he wouldn’t till he understood it. Now, if you wait till you understand every stone, rivulet, tree, bush, and blade of grass in a picture it will be a long time before you admire it. And so with our food. If you wait to analyse every kind of edible on the table it will be a long while indeed before you enjoy it. Because we can’t understand every thought, word, and picture in the Book of Revelation is no reason why we should not give our attention to what we can understand in it. (H. A. Buttz.)
And keep those things which are written therein.--
Keeping the Word of God
1. To keep those things is to believe them. Faith must be mixed with the hearing of the gospel; we cannot keep those things unless we believe them.
2. To keep those things is to remember, ponder, keep them in mind (Luke 2:19; Luke 2:51). We are saved by the gospel, if we keep it in memory. We must remember God’s name, His wonderful works, His holy Word, and His precious promises.
3. To keep those things is to observe or obey them; to be doers of the Word and not hearers only; to resemble, embody, and exhibit the holy Word of God in living characters in the life and conversation.
4. To keep those things is to hold them fast; to hold fast the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end; to take heed lest at any time we should let them slip; lest there he in us an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God; lest we should draw back unto perdition.
5. To keep those things is to make progress in holiness, to go on from strength to strength, from grace to grace, from glory to glory, till every one appears in Zion before God. (James Young.)
John to the seven Churches … in Asia.
I. The writer of this book is again named--“John.” The things he was now about to relate depended upon his own testimony. He therefore mentions his name once, and again, and yet a third time. He refers to his former writings for his credibility as an inspired historian, and relates circumstantially the occasion upon which this revelation was given him. “I, John,” he says in verse 9, “I am the person to whom these disclosures were made, by whose hand they were written down, and am open to the examination of the most sceptical inquirer.”
II. The persons to whom he dedicates this book: “To the seven Churches,” etc. It is dedicated to them particularly, partly because they were more immediately under this apostle’s care, and partly because they were suffering from the same persecution with himself, and most needed the consolations which the views here given of the final triumph of the Church of Christ were calculated to impart.
III. The salutation. “Grace be unto you and peace.” The origin of our salvation is grace, the effect peace. In proportion as we perceive the grace, we have peace. First grace, then peace. Both are from God. We are reminded here of their threefold source. The Father is first mentioned as of unchanging form, who has never appeared under any other aspect than that of the Supreme Being, “Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” Next we have the Spirit under a divided form, as illustrative of the variety and diffusion, and also of the limitation of His influences; and here we have the Son in the distinguishing characteristics of His mission, “and from Jesus Christ who is the Faithful Witness and the First-begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.” Thus all the persons of the Godhead are mentioned as constituting the well-spring of grace and peace to the Church. Nor is there any saving grace, nor is there any permanent peace, that does not flow from each and all of these.
IV. This dedication includes an ascription of praise to the Redeemer: “Unto Him that loved us,” etc.
V. This is followed by a reference to the second coming of Christ. “Behold He cometh with clouds,” etc.
VI. This is further confirmed, by an announcement from Christ Himself, of His proper Divinity. “I am Alpha and Omega,” etc. To the foregoing truths Christ affixes this as His signature.
VII. This dedication closes with a statement of the time and place in which this revelation was given. “I, John, who also am your brother,” etc. We need only observe here the humble and affectionate manner in which, though an aged apostle and favoured with these revelations, he speaks of his station amongst other Christians. He is not exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations. He speaks not of anything in which he was superior, but of that only in which he was upon an equality with them. He calls not himself a companion of Christ and of His apostles, but their “companion in tribulation.” He does not address them as their diocesan, or father in God, but as their “brother.” The humility of the apostles, it is to be feared, as well as their dignity, died with them. This “I, John,” which is repeated in the last chapter, yet stands out as on the borderland of that primitive simplicity which the Church has yet many steps to retrace before she regains. (G. Rogers.)
Grace be unto you, and peace.
The gifts of Christ as Witness, risen and crowned
I. Grace and peace from the faithful Witness. But where did John get this word? From the lips of the Master, who began His career with these words (John 3:11); and who all but ended it with these royal words (John 18:37). Christ Himself, then, claimed to be in an eminent and special sense the witness to the world. What was the substance of His testimony? It was a testimony mainly about God. It is one thing to speak about God in words, maxims, precepts; it is another thing to show us God in act and life. The one is theology, the other is gospel. It is not Christ’s words only that make Him the “Amen,” the “faithful and true Witness,” but it is all His deeds of grace and truth and pity; all His yearnings over wickedness and sorrow; all His drawings of the profligate and the outcast to Himself, His life of loneliness, His death of shame. The substance of His testimony is the name, the revelation of the character of His Father and our Father. This name of “witness” bears likewise strongly upon the remarkable manner of our Lord’s testimony. The task of a witness is to tell his story, not to argue about it. And there is nothing more characteristic of our Lord’s words than the way in which, without attempt of proof, He makes them stand on their own evidence, or rather depend upon His veracity. And now, ask yourselves, is there not grace and peace brought to us all from that faithful Witness, and from His credible testimony? Surely the one thing that the world wants is to have the question answered whether there really is a God in heaven that cares anything about me, and to whom I can trust myself wholly; believing that He will lift me out of all my meannesses and sins, and make me pure and blessed like Himself. Surely that is the deepest of all human needs, howsoever little men may know it. And sure I am that none of us can find the certitude of such a Father unless we give credence to the message of Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. Grace and peace from the conqueror of death. “The First begotten from the dead” does not precisely convey the idea of the original, which would be more accurately represented by “The First born from the dead”--the resurrection being looked upon as a kind of birth into a higher order of life. And how is it that grace and peace come to us from the risen Witness? Think first how the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the confirmation of His testimony. In it the Father, to whom He had borne witness in His life and death, bears witness to Christ, that His claims were true and His work well-pleasing. He is “declared to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead.” Strike away the resurrection and you fatally damage the witness of Jesus. If Christ be not risen our preaching and your faith are alike vain; ye are yet in your sins. Grace and peace come from faith in the “First begotten from the dead.” And that is true in another aspect. Faith in the resurrection gives us a living Lord to confide in, not a dead one, whose work we may look back upon with thankfulness, but a living one, whose work is with us, and by whose true companionship and real affection, strength and help are granted to us every day. In still another way do grace and peace flow to us, from the “First begotten from the dead,” inasmuch as in His resurrection life we are armed for victory over that foe whom He has conquered. If He be the Firstborn, He will have “many brethren.”
III. Grace and peace from The King of Kings. The series of aspects of Christ’s work here is ranged in order of time, in so far as the second follows the first, and the third flows from both, though we are not to suppose that our Lord has ceased to be the faithful Witness when He has ascended His sovereign throne. His own saying, “I have declared Thy name, and will declare it,” shows us that His witness is perpetual, and carried on from His seat at the right hand of God. He is the “Prince of the kings of the earth” just because He is “the faithful Witness.’’ A kingdom over heart and conscience, will and spirit, is the kingdom which Christ has founded, and His rule rests upon His witness. And not only so, He is “the Prince of the kings of the earth” because in that witness He became, as the word etymologically conveys both ideas, a martyr. His first regal title was written upon His Cross, and on the Cross it ever stands. He is the King because He is the Sacrifice. And He is the Prince of the kings of the earth because, witnessing and slain, He has risen again; His resurrection has been the step midway, as it were, between the humiliation of earth and death, and the loftiness of the throne. By it He has climbed to His place at the right hand of God. He is King and Prince, then, by right of truth, love, sacrifice, death, resurrection. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A ministerial salutation and a sublime doxology
I. A ministerial salutation.
1. It was given by an old minister to Churches with whom he was formerly acquainted. It is well for ministers to communicate the experience of their higher moments of spiritual enjoyment to their congregations. Pastors should never forget the old churches from which they have removed. They should always be ready to write to them a holy salutation.
2. It evokes the highest moral blessing to rest upon the Asiatic Churches.
(1) All Christian Churches need Divine grace, to inspire with humility, to strengthen in trial, and to quicken in energy.
(2) All Christian Churches need peace, that sympathy may extend from member to member, that moral progress may be constant, and that the world may have a pattern of holy unity. God only can impart these heavenly blessings.
3. It mentions the Divine Being under the grandest appellations.
(1) Indicative of eternity, “Which is, and which was, and which is to come.”
(2) Indicative of dignity. “And from the Seven Spirits.”
(3) Indicative of fidelity. “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful Witness.” During the period of His Incarnation Christ was a faithful witness. He was a faithful witness of His Father. He was faithful to the Jews; before Pilate; to humanity. He sealed His testimony with His death.
(4) Indicative of royalty. “The Prince of the kings of the earth.” Rendered supreme, not by the victory of an earthly conquest, but by the right of eternal Godhead.
II. A sublime doxology.
1. Inspired by a glad remembrance of the Divine love. “Unto Him that loved us.” Ministers ought to delight to dwell on the love of God. If they did, it would frequently awaken a loving song within them. It would also have a glad effect upon their congregations.
2. Celebrating the Divine and sweet renewal of the soul. “And washed us from our sins.” The love of Christ, and the renewal of the moral nature, should go together, not merely in the pages of a book, but also in the actual experiences of the soul. He can wash us from our sins, and give purity, freedom, and peace in their stead. What process of cleansing so marvellous, so healthful, and heavenly as this!
3. Mentioning the exalted position to which Christian manhood is raised in Christ. “And hath made us kings and priests unto God.”
(1) The Christian is a king. He rules himself; his thoughts, affections, and passions. He rules others by the sublime influence of patience and faith.
(2) The Christian is a priest. He offers sacrifices to God, the sacrifice of himself, which is reasonable and acceptable; the sacrifice of his prayer, praise, and service. He also makes intercession for others.
4. Concluding with a devout ascription of praise to Christ. “To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Christ has “glory.” The glory of Divinity; of heavenly praise; of terrestial worship; of moral conquest; of unbounded moral influence. Christ has “dominion”; dominion over the material universe; over a growing empire of souls; by right of nature rather than by right of birth. Both His glory and dominion are eternal. Both should be celebrated in the anthems of the Church, as they are glad reasons for human, as well as angelic, joy. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. A world of grace surrounds us.
2. A time of grace lies back of us.
3. A hope of eternal grace opens up before us. (B. Hoffmann.)
From Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.--
The proper object of all religious worship is the living and true God
1. Divine worship must be presented to God, essentially considered, as possessing all those Divine perfections which form a proper object of contemplation, praise, and adoration; and a proper ground of hope and holy confidence.
2. Worship must be addressed to God, personally considered, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, as possessing all those personal characters that form a ground of confidence, love, and adoration.
3. Worship must be given to God, graciously considered, as possessing all those covenant and gracious excellences that form a ground of hope and everlasting consolation in all our approaches to the throne of grace. Such is the character recognised by the apostle in the prayer before us. The words imply the existence of three Divine persons in the adorable Trinity, and they apply equally to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. They are also expressive of His adorable sovereignty, as the Ruler, the Lawgiver, and the Judge of the universe. They suppose the kingdoms of nature, of providence, and grace, to be under His power; and they also teach the eternity of that kingdom. (James Young.)
Christ for ever
We speak of time as past, present, and future; but what a mystery it is! The present moment is all of time that actually exists. All past time ends in the present moment. All future time begins in the same point. To use the experience of the past so as to shape the future aright is to redeem the time. This gives to every moment of time a tremendous importance. It makes the thought of it the most practical of all things. It is from this extremely practical point of view that I wish to look at this otherwise most abstruse of subjects. I wish to look at Christ’s relation to time, in order to determine our own relation to it. He is here spoken of under the aspect of a past, a present, and a future Christ. The relations of Jesus Christ to time span the whole of time. They are commensurate with the whole purpose of God in time. It is only as our lives run into the line of Christ’s life, as stretching through all time, that we can be saved. The life that flies off at a tangent from that line, or that crosses, contradicts, or reverses it, is a lost life.
I. The Christ of the past. It is very evident to a spiritual reader of the Bible that Christ runs through the whole of it, from the beginning to the end. But what I want specially to notice here is that the Christ of the past represents three great facts that are for ever settled and done. First, that one, and only one, perfect human life has been lived in the world; second, that one, and only one, atoning death has been died in the world; and third, that one, and only one Person, in virtue of the life He lived and the death He died, is the conqueror of sin and death. Those are facts that belong to the past history of this world. They are eternally consummated and complete. Moreover, they are thoroughly well authenticated facts; and it is not easy to see how there can be any real justification of doubt concerning them. You cannot separate the one from the other. You must believe in a whole Christ or not at all. What the age wants is of a diluted Christ--not a mere spectre of Christianity, or ghost of morality, but a whole Christ.
II. The Christ of the present. Christianity is much impeded by the want of progress in the Church. There is not that growth and robustness in our modern Christianity which there ought to be. Why has Christ not remained the Christ of the past alone? Why has He not remained in the grave? Why is He at the right hand of God in heaven--at the very goal of the ages? Because He would not have His people live in the past. He is the Christ of the present, to be with His people to-day, to lead them on to far higher things than they have yet realised. The present ought to be full of Christ. For what does this belief in a living Redeemer imply? It implies three things: First, that in Christ, as seated on the right hand of God in heaven, we have an actual Person in whom might and right are absolutely one. Further, this Christ who exists to-day in the face of all the tyrannies and inequalities of the world, as the absolute embodiment of might and right, is not sitting aloft in heaven in passive contemplation of the conflict here. He is actually ruling over all worlds for the accomplishment of a Divine purpose. There is a third idea here belonging to the Christ of the present. Believing in Him as the actual embodiment of might and right, and as that One who is ruling over all things for the accomplishment of a Divine purpose, we are called upon to co-operate with Him in the present, and we have the promise that just as we intelligently do so will we receive of the power of the Spirit to enable us to do the work to which we are called. He rules in heaven to shed down power upon His people. He walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and holds the seven stars in His right hand.
III. The Christ of the future, What, then, are the certainties in connection with the Christ of the future in which we are called to believe? There is, first of all, the certainty that the Word and Spirit of Christ will prevail throughout the whole earth. There are tremendous obstacles to be overcome. There are false principles at work everywhere in human society. There is scepticism of first principles altogether. There are the disintegrating forces of a shallow and self-elated criticism. And beyond all these there are the dense masses of pure heathenism. But in view of what we have already considered, we cannot possibly have one atom of doubt as to the result. Who can doubt what the future will be? It must be the legitimate sequel of the things which, in the name of God, have been accomplished in the past, and are being wrought out and applied in the present. Having once got an intelligent hold of these things, we can no more doubt them than we can doubt our own existence. But it follows also that the Christ of the future is that One whom we have individually and personally to meet. There is just one other thought lying in the Christ of the future, and that is the relation that is destined to exist for ever between Christ and His own people--the relation of the heavenly Bridegroom to His bride, the Church. In that sublime relationship we have the consummation of felicity. (F. Ferguson, D. D.)
The seven spirits.--
Omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence
, are here ascribed to the seven spirits which are before the throne.
1. They are called seven spirits symbolically. The number seven is the symbol of blessedness. He sanctified the seventh day; He made it a holy day. The number seven is the symbol of holiness. He rested on the seventh day; He made it a day of sacred repose. The number seven is the symbol of rest. He rested and was refreshed on the seventh day, because His work was finished. The number seven is the symbol of perfection.
2. They are called seven spirits typically, in allusion to the typical use of the number seven in the law of Moses and in the Old Testament.
3. They are called seven spirits prophetically. We find the sevenfold spirit described in prophecy as resting upon Christ (Isaiah 11:2). And we find a sevenfold effect of the manifold gifts of the Holy Spirit described by the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-3).
4. They are called the seven spirits emblematically. The seven lamps and the seven eyes (Zechariah 4:2; Zechariah 4:10), are explained to be the spirit (verses 6, 7). The seven lamps are applied in the same sense in Rev.
4. and 5.; and the seven eyes are explained in this sense in chaps, 5. and 6., all of which refer to the Spirit of God.
5. They are called the seven spirits officially (1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Zechariah 12:10).
6. They are called the seven spirits relatively, in reference to the symbolical number seven applied to the Churches. As there are seven Churches, so there are seven spirits. The number of the one corresponds with the number of the other. The fulness of the Spirit is commensurate with the necessities of the Church. But amid this variety there is still a blessed unity. As the seven Churches are the symbol of the one Church of Christ, so the seven spirits are the symbol of the one Divine Spirit. (James Young.)
Jesus Christ … the faithful witness.--
The trustworthiness of Jesus Christ
Those who do not regard Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, find themselves at once placed in a difficulty, by the very attitude which He assumes toward mankind in this respect. The Bible abounds with the very strongest denunciations against the sin of trusting anybody else but God. The ancient law pronounced a distinct curse upon any man who fell into this sin. The Psalmist exhorts us not to allow ourselves to be drawn into it (see Jeremiah 17:5-6). Now, if our blessed Lord laid Himself out to induce, on the part of His contemporaries, a moral attitude towards Himself, which was incompatible with the direct law of God, He was not a good man, but an impostor. Christ was either the Son of God, or else, from first to last, throughout the whole course of His ministry, He allowed persons to fix upon Him a confidence which they ought not to have reposed upon any person--whatever his pretensions--unless that person were God Himself. Nay, it is not merely that He permitted His people to trust Him; but He actually held Himself forward as an object of faith. He positively demanded faith in Himself before He would comply with the entreaties of those that approached Him. Still more emphatic is the position which He occupies in the moral world. He represents Himself ks the object of the sinner’s confidence. “As Moses lifted up the serpent,” etc. What blasphemy if He be not the Son of God! I venture to say that the man who fixes the eye of intelligent faith upon the dying Son of Man, if Christ be not the Son of God, is guilty of idolatry, and the blighting curse of the prophet will rest upon him: “That man shall be like the heath in the desert, he shall not see when good cometh.” I marvel greatly, then, if Christ be not the Son of God, why these results do not follow. How comes it to pass that those who trust Him most fervently, are not the most shrivelled beings on the face of God’s earth? I said I was to speak to you about Christ’s trustworthiness. There is this great truth that underlies it all; but I want to point out other considerations that lead us in the same direction, in order that our faith may be strengthened. First, He gathered around Him a little band of followers, and asked them to do a good deal. Their fishing boats and nets, to be sure, were not very valuable property; but then, remember, these were all they had. What authority had they to make such a tremendous sacrifice? Simply the bare word of a Stranger, who says, “Follow Me.” Very well, did He prove Himself trustworthy? They wandered about with Him many a weary night; sometimes their commissariat was very slender indeed; yet, somehow, they never wanted; “the five barley loaves” managed to supply the wants of all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus. “Jesus Christ is the same to-day.” In our outward circumstances, how many are there of us that make proof of it? How many are there of us who pass through difficulty and trial, and sometimes have been sore straitened, and yet the Lord has met our wants| He has fulfilled His promise. Is that all? No; by no means. From beginning to end of our Lord’s blessed ministry, He was continually being approached by the children of want and misery. Now observe--from the nobleman at Capernaum to the dying thief on the cross of Calvary, the very first thing He demanded of them was confidence; and we do not read of one single case where that confidence was ill reposed. There were plenty of enemies who would have been glad to point to such cases. Contemporary history says nothing about them. The Jews have left no contradiction of the glorious facts which our blessed Lord actually achieved: the cases where He failed remain unknown, and will for ever remain unknown, because they never existed. All this leads up to the conclusion that the Lord Jesus Christ was pre-eminently a trustworthy Person. But now, one step further. If He was trustworthy in these minor details of His daily life, does it not seem reasonable to conclude that He would also be trustworthy in the great work which He came into the world specially to perform? “Well,” you say, “it was a greater work than any of the rest.” So it was. “It entailed a great deal more moral power.” Yes, a great deal more. “It involved vaster mysteries.” Yes; all true. Set against that, however, another consideration. We shall readily admit that God must have known the nature of the work; He must have foreseen its difficulties, understood its condition. Now, there was only one Person God could have trusted with the work--His own eternal Word, co-eternal with Himself--One with Himself for ever--He could afford to trust Him. Now then, if God could trust Him with this work, I think we may trust Him with it. The passage of Scripture which I have brought before you, represents Him as “the faithful Witness, the First begotten of the dead.” He stands before us as the risen Christ, and the question naturally arises, Is His character different now from what it was when He lived here on earth, 1800 years ago? Well, it seems only reasonable to suppose that the words of the risen Saviour will be even more trustworthy, if possible, than the words of a living Saviour. As the Son of God, He knew all about eternity from all eternity; but, as the Son of Man, He had to make that long, long voyage into that unknown region which lies beyond the stream of death. He has returned from His journey, and He stands before His disciples in the fulness of resurrection-life as “The Trustworthy.” If He was trustworthy when He lived, surely He is no less trustworthy now. Lo! the risen Jesus stands before you. His very life witnesses to something. The fact that He is “raised from the dead to die no more” witnesses to something. What does it witness to? The very first words He utters, set my doubt at rest. He speaks of “My Father and your Father, My God and your God.” What? Has a risen Christ borne faithful witness to me, that there is now established between fallen man and a holy God this blessed relationship, so that I may look up and say, “Father!” and that I may know that He looks down and says “Son!” What were His first words to the disciples, as they gathered together in fear and trembling? He stands in their midst, and says, “Peace be unto you.” Is it true? The risen Christ says so: “the faithful Witness” says so. It is true; because it is witnessed to by a risen Saviour. The Lord Jesus Christ stands before us as “the First begotten of the dead,” and as “the faithful Witness.” (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Jesus His own witness
The two-fold proposition we offer for your acceptance is this: Jesus Christ was not a product of the age in which He lived, but a native of another world who came to this world for a purpose; that He was God and man in one person. The geologist, finding a stone where there was no other stone like it, reasonably concluded that it was imported. A Chinaman walking down the streets of Shanghai meets an American missionary. The missionary is a man like himself, but in dress, language, and religion is totally different A foolish man, that Chinaman, if he does not conclude that he has met a foreigner. Now Jesus Christ was a man like other men, and yet so different from all other men that we are justified in believing that He is more than man and not a native of this world at all. Our first proof of this proposition is Jesus Christ Himself, in His claims, His character, and His works. He claimed that He was the Son of Man. His claim was not that He was a son of man, nor the son of a man, but the Son of Man, of all men, of the human race, of humanity. His was a life world-wide. His was a heart pulsating with the blood of the human race. He reckoned for His ancestry the collective myriads of mankind. Now, was there anything in the environments of Christ to make out of Him such a world-wide Son of Man? Just the contrary. He lived in a mountain village, and village life tends to make men narrow. Travel may correct this tendency, but He did not travel out of Palestine. Born of the tribe of Judah, and having a legal right to the throne of David, we would naturally expect Him to share the narrow, bitter feeling of His Jewish kindred, and, like them, chafe under the loss of national glory. On the other hand, He shares none of their narrow feelings. He teaches them a lesson of brotherly love by condemning their priest and Levite for passing by on the other side, while He praises the hated Samaritan who stops and helps the wounded man. All through His life there was a conflict between His universal sympathy and the narrow bigotry of His people. The forces at work at that time did not produce such a man. He evidently brought into the world this new idea, which we find through Revelation to be native of the world from which He came. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. He was not a Son of God, but the Son of God. It was evident that His friends and enemies understood Him as claiming that in being the Son of God He was God. In many places He claims attributes which none but God can possess. There are some, however, who demand more evidence than a mere claim. They wish to know the basis on which the claim rests. Let me say to such there are but three positions we can hold with reference to Christ. None but a God, a madman, or a deceiver could have made the claims that He did. The charge that He was a madman no one is foolish enough to defend. Then He was either God or the worst of men. A good man cannot claim to be what he is not. Nor does any one at this day claim that Jesus was a deceiver. There is no middle ground. The very thought shocks the conscience of one who is at all familiar with His character. If, then, there be none foolish enough to claim that He was a madman, or bad enough to assert that He was a bad man, surely the verdict that He was good is universal; and if good He was God. (A. C. Dixon.)
The resources of Christianity
It is no little war which Christianity is waging.
1. Christianity possesses the resource of the truth. Jesus Christ is the “faithful Witness.” A faithful witness is one who utters the truth. And truth is something conquering and eternal.
2. Christianity possesses the resource of the truth sub-stunt!areal. Christ staked everything upon the Resurrection. But the fact of the resurrection stands. So Christianity stands with it.
3. Christianity possesses the resource of a present Divine power. The pierced hand is on the helm of all things.
4. Christianity possesses the resource of a sacrificial Divine love. It is from the Cross that Christ appeals to men. Such appeal must be irresistible.
1. Of courage. The Christian is on the winning side of things.
2. Of wise prudence. He who opposes Christ must go down before Him. Is it not best to make alliance with the Conquering One? (Wayland Hoyt, D. D.)
Views of Christ
We have Christ here in three aspects--
I. In relation to truth. “He is a witness.” What is truth? Reality. Christ came to bear witness of the reality of realities. As a witness of God. Christ was a competent witness--
1. Intellectually competent. “No man hath seen God at any time, the only-begotten of the Father.” He alone knew the Absolute.
2. Morally competent. He had no motive to misrepresent Him. You must be pure to represent purity, just to represent justice, loving to represent love.
II. In relation to immortality. “First begotten of the dead.” How was He first begotten of the dead? Did not Lazarus rise from the grave? Not in time, but in importance.
1. He rose by His own power. No one else ever did.
2. He rose as the representative of risen saints.
III. In relation to empire. “The Prince of the kings of the earth.” “All power is given unto Him.” (David Thomas, D. D.)
Christ as Mediator
I. Christ’s mediatorial titles.
1. Christ is invested with prophetic order. As a prophet He is “faithful.” He shed the true lighten the momentous questions.
2. Christ is invested with priestly order. He was the first who rose from death to immortality. He entered heaven with His own blood, to appear before His Father to intercede for the salvation of all who would believe on His name.
3. Christ is invested with kingly order.
II. Christ’s mediatorial work.
1. The original cause of the work. “He loved us.”
2. The efficacy of the work. “Washed us.”
3. The end attained by the work. “Hath made us kings and priests.”
III. Christ’s mediatorial glory. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever, Amen. “Glory and might.”
1. It is personally addressed--“unto Him.”
2. It is constantly felt,--“unto Him that loved us.”
3. It is everlastingly due--“for ever and ever.”
4. It is universally approved--“Amen.” (Homilist.)
A threefold description of Christ
First, from His prophetical; secondly, from His priestly; thirdly, from His regal. We begin with the prophetical office of Christ, expressed in these words, wherein Jesus Christ is said to be the faithful witness. First, it is the witness. Christ is a witness, and He is a special and singular witness, so as there is none else besides that in this particular is like unto Him (Isaiah 4:4). First, by way of discovery and revelation, as making known to us the will of His Father (Matthew 11:27; John 1:18). There were two ways wherein Christ did make known unto us the gospel, and the will of His Father. First, in His own person (Isaiah 61:1, etc.) Second, He did it also, and still does in His servants, who were sent and appointed by Him (1 Peter 1:10-11). Third, by way of assurance and confirmation, not only so far forth as He reveals to us those things which we knew not; but also as He does further settle us in these things which we know; He is a witness in this respect likewise. And that by virtue of His Spirit that dwelleth in us (2 Corinthians 2:10). Now there are two things which Christ by His Spirit doth thus witness to all those that are members of Him. First, the truths and doctrines of Christianity; and second, their own spiritual condition and state in grace, as having such truths belonging to them. The second is, the faithful. Christ is not only a witness but a faithful witness, which is the chief commendation of a witness. This faithfulness of Christ in point of testimony may be explained in three particulars. First, in the veracity of it. Christ is a faithful witness, because He witnesses nothing but that which is indeed truth. Second, from the universality of it. Christ’s faithfulness is seen, not only in delivering the truth, but the whole truth. And as without reservation, so without addition likewise; that which the Father commits unto Him to be declared, that alone does Christ declare. Third, His faithfulness is seen in His sincerity in all this, in that herein He seeks not His own glory, but the glory of Him that sent Him (John 7:18). The consideration of this point thus explained may have a suitable influence upon ourselves in a way of application. First, as a special argument to us to believe what is propounded by Christ. Faithfulness on Christ’s part calls for faith on ours; and His witnessing, it calls for our assent. Let us hold upon Christ’s faithfulness by trusting perfectly to the grace which is revealed. Second, as for promises, so for threatenings; He is the faithful witness here likewise. A second use of this point may be to acquaint us with the blessed estate of the servants of God. Those that are true members of Christ are happy persons, because He is a faithful witness. Whatever they have at present here below they have much in reversion and expectation; and that because they have an interest in Christ, who will be sure not to fail them. Third, seeing Christ is a faithful witness it should teach us also conformity to Christ in this particular, whether ministers or other Christians. The second is taken from His priestly, in these, “And the first begotten of the dead.” The principal actions of Christ’s priesthood consist in two particulars--the one is in dying for us, and the other in rising again from the dead, and making intercession for us. First, Christ was once dead. This is one thing which is here implied (1 Corinthians 15:3). The death of Christ is a special article of our Christian faith. Second, He rose again from the dead; He was begotten among the dead, that is, He was raised from death to life. And this the Scripture also mentions to be profitable to us, both in point of justification, and in point of sanctification likewise (Romans 4:25; the latter in Romans 6:4). Third, Christ was the first begotten of the dead (Colossians 1:18). Christ was said to be the first begotten of the dead, in point of order, as being first in the glorious Resurrection. Therefore He is called the first-fruits of them that sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christ is before any other in this particular. And this again in a twofold respect. First, as to the principle of His resurrection; and secondly, as to the terms of it. Though Lazarus and some others rose from the dead before Christ, yet they rose from natural death to natural life, and so as to die again; but Christ so rose as never more to die (Romans 6:9). Thus now Christ is the first begotten of the dead, in point of order. The second is in point of influence; so far forth as Christ’s resurrection was operative and efficacious to ours; by way of merit, by way of efficiency, and by way of pattern or example. Again, He is said to be the first begotten of the dead, in regard of that authority which He has over the dead, obtained by His rising again (Romans 14:9). Christ was Lord of us before He rose again; but His resurrection put Him into the actual possession of this lordship, and was a clearer manifestation of it. This is a point of singular encouragement to God’s children; and that especially against the fear of death, and the horror of the grave. There is an inseparable union betwixt Christ and every believer; and that not only in regard of their souls, but also of their bodies (1 Corinthians 6:15). And God has made a gracious covenant with them likewise in Christ, to be their God, even for ever and ever, and in death itself, which they shall at last be also raised up from, upon the account of Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-4). His regal, or kingly office. “And the Prince of kings of the earth.” Christ is not only a prophet and a priest, but likewise a king (Acts 5:31). This Christ is said to be upon a twofold consideration. First, in reference to His nature. Second, in reference to His office. Thus He hath all power in heaven and earth committed unto Him (Matthew 28:18). Now here He is said not only to be a prince absolutely, but relatively, the Prince of the kings of the earth, as showing both His influence upon them, and likewise their dependence upon Him. The consideration of this point is useful both to princes and people. First, it is useful to princes to teach them to look up to this great and mighty Prince of all, whom they thus stand in subjection unto. And second, it is useful to people in sundry regards likewise. First, to infer their obedience; and second, to regulate it. (T. Horton, D. D.)
The first begotten of the dead.--
The risen Christ the only revealer of immortality
Simple as these words are, it is perhaps impossible for us to understand how deep and blessed their meaning was to him who wrote them. Their brief sentence, beautiful in its brevity, must have formed his only strength against the powerful influences that tended to depress his faith. To that old man, gazing on the desolate sea, and thinking of that unseen and boundless ocean in which all things seemed to perish, every wave which broke on the shores of Patmos would seem to speak of the omnipotence of death, if there were no human Christ exalted above its power. But such a One there was. John saw Him, and His name was this--“the First Begotten of the dead.” The name, “first begotten,” implies that He, the first who rose, should lead the great armies of the sons of God to a conquest over death, thereby implying that He was the first who revealed to them the certain truth of their deathless destiny. John says, “He is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.” Between these three facts there is a fundamental connection. They teach us, then, that unless Christ had risen, His witness to God and His truth would have been imperfect and vain, and that on His rising stands His kingship over men. And if that be true, it is evident that unless we realise in our individual experience the meaning of “Christ, the first begotten of the dead,” we can neither understand nor feel the power of the testimony which He bore to God.
I. Let us inquire on what grounds, apart from those given by the risen Redeemer, man could build any belief in a deathless life. Let us imagine that there is no Christ, and we shall find that every ground of belief will fail us.
1. We may grant at once that in hours of glad and hopeful feeling nature might seem to suggest to man a life beyond the sleep of the grave, and that, for a time, he might think he believed it. But that is not a true test. To judge of the real personal value of such natural suggestions, we must test them in times of darkness, doubt, and sorrow. Do you think that then men can rise to faith on the strength of some dim and mystic hint which nature appears to convey--that, because she renews her life, man’s life will rise from the tomb? No! The human spirit, startled at its own doubts, and anxiously punting for belief, can never build its faith in a thing so awfully glorious upon any emblems such as those.
2. Again, men have tried to find a proof of immortality by reasoning from the great law that God leaves none of His works unfinished. We admit that this argument is very strong. When taken in union with the truth of Christ, it seems to prove unanswerably the immortality of man. But we can, perhaps, show that, if there were no Christ, it would furnish no certain proof, but only indicate a probability. For, mark, it assumes that we can tell whether man’s life is completed or not. I know God’s works are never unfinished, but may not man’s life have answered all its ends, though we see not how? The insect sports its life away during a summer morning; the “bird pipes his lone desire, and dies unheard amid his tree.” And man, before God, is but an insect of a day; even compared with God’s angels, he is an insignificant creature; and may not this strange life of ours have answered the purposes God designed?
3. Once more, men have appealed to the instincts of the human heart as pledges of immortality. These beliefs might afford convincing proofs but for two facts. The first is, that sin deadens aspiration, denies the Divine, and blots out the heavenly. Sin stifles those yearnings after the spiritual and eternal, which nothing finite can satisfy. The sinner’s eye glances not beyond the visible. The second fact is, that by clothing all faith in a future with terror, sin tends to produce disbelief in it.
II. We proceed to note how Christ’s rising is the great revelation of immortality.
1. On the one hand, the fact of His rising reveals it to every man. No mere voice from the unseen world would satisfy man’s heart. A real Son of God and of man must descend into the dark unknown, and come forth a conqueror. Man stood before the grave in doubt; the Christ rose, the doubt was gone.
2. The risen Christ reveals immortality in a still deeper sense to the Christian. Christ rose, and the man who is in Christ realises the resurrection now. With Christ he is dead to the old life, and is risen with Him into a new spiritual world. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
Unto Him that loved us.--
John’s song of praise to Christ
It is not a song which John heard, but a song which welled up in John’s heart. It is not a song which came down from heaven, but a song which ascended to heaven from earth. The very mention of the Saviour’s name awakened in his heart the memory of His love. Here is the song of an exile. Here is the song of one who was solitary, without a heart to sympathise with him, or a voice to unite with him in his praises. It was in a loathsome dungeon that Bunyan followed the Pilgrim from the City of Destruction to the heavenly Jerusalem, and so mapped it out that it has imparted gladness to millions from that day to this. It was in the midst of sickness and when the victim of persecution, of which Judge Jeffreys was the appropriate instrument, that Baxter wrote his “Saint’s Everlasting Rest,” picturing by faith and hope, even from this world of sorrow, the depth of joy that remaineth for the people of God. And so here, this apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, banished to Patmos, “for the Word of God and for the testimony of Jesus,” found Patmos a second Paradise.
I. The theme which awakened his praises was the love of Jesus. It was this that even in Patmos made John sing this doxology of praise, and it is the great theme which pervades the whole of this book.
1. The Lord Jesus Himself had an irrepressible eagerness to speak of His love to His disciples. “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” “As My Father loved Me, even so have I loved you.” “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
2. The revelation of the love of Christ was ever on the lips and ever on the pens of those sacred writers. “We love Him, because He first loved us.” The apostle Paul said, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” The greatest prayer he offered for man was this, that they might be “rooted and grounded in love,” and that they might “be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, and be filled with all the fulness of God.”
3. The love of the Lord Jesus, of which the apostle here speaks, was a love that was undeserved. This very apostle had seen what the love of Christ had cost Christ. This very apostle had heard such language as this from the lips of Jesus: “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.” He had heard Him say, “Father, the hour is come, glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may also glorify Thee.” He had heard Him say, “Now is My soul troubled. What shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour.” He had stood by the very Cross, and had watched the long hours of agony and of death.
4. It was love which John realised for himself. It was not a sentimental thing with him. He could say, “I speak of that which I know, and testify of that which I have tasted.”
II. The blessings which the apostle celebrates in his song.
1. “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood.” The apostle thought of his past state and his present state. He was a sinner, and he had been cleansed from sin. This separated his song from the songs of the angels in glory. Their song is a song of sympathy with the redeemed; but here is a song for sinners. It is this that makes it suitable for our lips.
2. “He has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.” (J. J. Brown.)
John’s first doxology
John had hardly begun to deliver his message to the seven Churches, he had hardly given in his name and stated from whom the message came, when he felt that he must lift up his heart in a joyful doxology. The very mention of the name of the Lord Jesus, the “faithful witness,” etc., fired his heart. This text is just the upward burst of a great geyser of devotion.
I. The condition of heart out of which outbursts of adoration arise.
1. This man of doxologies, from whom praise flashes forth like light from the rising sun, is first of all a man who has realised the person of his Lord. The first word is, “Unto Him”; and then he must a second time before he has finished say, “To Him be glory and dominion.” His Lord’s person is evidently before his eye. He sees the actual Christ upon the throne. The great fault of many professors is that Christ is to them a character upon paper; certainly more than a myth, but yet a person of the dim past, an historical personage, but who is far from being a living, present reality. Jesus was no abstraction to John; he loved Him too much for that. Love has a great vivifying power: it makes our impressions of those who are far away from us very lifelike, and brings them very near. John’s great tender heart could not think of Christ as a cloudy conception; but he remembered Him as that blessed One with whom He had spoken, and on whose breast he had leaned.
2. John, in whom we notice the outburst of devotion, was a man firmly assured of his possession of the blessings for which he praised the Lord. Doubt has no outbursts; its chill breath freezes all things. Oh for more assurance! I would have you know beyond all doubt that Jesus is yours, so that you can say without hesitation, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” John was certain that he was loved, and he was furthermore most clear that he was washed, and therefore he poured forth his soul in praise.
3. John had also felt, and was feeling very strongly, his communion with all the saints. Notice his use of the plural pronoun. It is well for you and me to use this “us” very often. There are times when it is better to say “me,” but in general let us get away to the “us”; for has not our Lord taught us when we pray to say, “Our Father which art in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; forgive us our trespasses,” and so on? Our usual praises must be, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins.”
II. The outburst itself.
1. It is a doxology, and as such does not stand alone: it is one of many. In the Book of the Revelation doxologies are frequent. If you begin praising God you are bound to go on. Praise is somewhat like an avalanche, which may begin with a snowflake on the mountain moved by the wing of a bird, but that flake binds others to itself and becomes a rolling ball: this rolling ball gathers more snow about it till it is huge, immense; it crashes through a forest. Thus praise may begin With the tear of gratitude; anon the bosom swells with love; thankfulness rises to a song; it breaks forth into a shout; it mounts up to join the everlasting hallelujahs which surround the throne of the Eternal.
2. This outburst carried within itself its own justification. Look at it closely, and you perceive the reasons why, in this enthusiastic manner, John adores his Saviour. The first is, “Unto Him that loved us.” This love is in the present tense, for the passage may be read, “Unto Him that loveth us.” Dwell on the present character of it, and be at this moment moved to holy praise. He loved us, first before He washed us. Yes, He loved us so much that He washed us from our sins, black as they were. He did it effectually too: He did not try to wash us, but He actually and completely “washed us from our sins.” The stains were deep; they seemed indelible, but He has “washed us from our sins.” “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow,” has been realised by every believer. But think of how He washed us--“in His own blood.” Men are chary of their own blood, for it is their life; yet will brave ones pour it out for their country or for some worthy object; but Jesus shed His blood for such unworthy ones as we are, that He might by His atonement for ever put away the iniquity of His people. At what a cost was this cleansing provided I Nor is this all. The Lord that loved us would do nothing by halves, and therefore, when He washed us in His own blood, He “made us kings.” We walk like kings among the sons of men, honoured before the Lord and His holy angels--the peerage of eternity. Our thoughts, our aims, our hopes, and our longings are all of a nobler kind than those of the mere carnal man. We read of the peculiar treasures of kings, and we have a choice wealth of grace. He has made us even now among the sons of men to possess the earth and to delight ourselves in the abundance of peace. Furthermore, our Lord has made us priests. The world is dumb, and we must speak for it. We are to be priests for all mankind. Oh, what dignity is this! Peter Martyr told Queen Elizabeth, “Kings and queens are more bound to obey God than any other persons: first, as God’s creatures, and secondly, as His servants in office.” This applies to us also. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ’s love to us in washing us from our sins
To Him that loved us: it is spoken in a manner exclusively, as if none did so much love us as Christ, as indeed there does not. The use of this point is to believe it, and to teach us to labour more and more to assure our hearts of it. We should endeavour to have the sense of this love of Christ more upon our souls, and to be well settled in it. Which was that which the apostle Paul did so much pray for (Ephesians 3:16-17). This is discerned by such notes as are most proper to it. We may know that Christ hath loved us, according to that which He has done for us, and especially done in us, by changing our natures and by infusing of His graces into us. The second is from the manifestation of this affection in particular, in these words, “And hath washed us from our sins in His own blood.” First, take it absolutely and in itself, as it is an expression of the privilege of believers, and that is to be washed from their sins by Christ’s blood. The blood of Christ hath that efficacy with it as to cleanse from all sins (1 John 1:7). There is a double benefit from the blood of Christ--the one is the benefit of justification, as to the taking away of the guilt of sin; and the other is the benefit of sanctification, as to the taking away of the power and dominion. And each of these are here included in this expression. The improvement of this point to ourselves may be drawn forth into a various application. First, it may serve as a discovery to us of the grievous nature of sin, which had need of such a remedy as this to be used for the removal of it. Secondly, here is matter of encouragement also to the servants of God in all the upbraidings of conscience and of Satan setting in with it, that here is a remedy and help for them. Hence also we have abound of encouragement in our access to the throne of grace and hope of our entrance into heaven at last. Lastly, seeing we have so much benefit by the blood of Christ, we should in a special manner take heed of sinning against it. And so much may be spoken of this passage in its absolute consideration, as it is the expression of a Christian’s privilege, which is to be washed from his sins in Christ’s blood. Now, further, we may also look upon it relatively, and in connection with the words before, where it is said that He hath “loved us.” And so it is an expression to us of Christ’s affection. First, in His death itself He showed His love to us in that, and that is implied in His blood. It was not only the blood of His finger, but the blood of His heart, His very life went with it. Secondly, in the manner of His death there was His love also in that. And this likewise implied in the word “blood,” which does denote some violence in it, a cruel and painful death (Colossians 1:20; Philippians 2:8). Thirdly, in the full and perfect application of this His death unto us. It is said “that He washed us in His own blood.” He did not sprinkle us only, but bath us. He did give us a plentiful share and interest in it. And lastly, there is an emphasis also in the word of propriety, in that it is said “His own blood.” The priests under the old Law, in the execution of their office, sprinkled the people with blood, and did in a sense and after a sort wash them from their sins in it. But that blood was not their own, but the blood of beasts. And this is a further enlargement of His love towards us. The use of all to ourselves is to enlarge our hearts in all thankfulness and acknowledgment to Christ for His goodness, which we should be very much quickened unto. And we should make it a ground of encouragement in the expectation of all things else from Christ which are necessary for us. He that has not stuck at this great expression of love will be sure not to stick to anything which is inferior to it; and He that has given us the greater will not stick to give us the less. And so I have done also with the second general part of the text, which is the description of Christ from the particular discovery of His affection, “who hath washed us,” etc. The third and last is from the effect and result of it in these words, “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.” Wherein there is a twofold dignity which believers do partake of from and with Christ.
I. His kingly office; all true believers are kings. This is to be taken not in a temporal sense, but in a spiritual; and so the Scripture still expresses it (Luke 12:32; Luke 22:29).
1. For the state of grace. All true Christians, they are kings in this particular, namely, so far forth as they have power over their spiritual enemies, and all those things which might hinder their salvation. Thus is he a king in reference to the state of grace.
2. In reference to the state of glory also, so far forth as he is an heir of heaven, and shall reign with Christ for ever and ever. Thus he is a king in regard of right and title, even here in this life, though he be not in actual possession.
II. His priesthood, “And hath made us priests,” etc.
1. In regard of the prayers which are continually put up by them both for ourselves and others (1 Peter 2:5).
2. As to the keeping of themselves from the pollutions and defilements of the world. The priests they were prohibited the touching of those things which were unclean.
3. As to the teaching and instructing of others in the communion of saints (Malachi 2:7). And so should every Christian also in his way and within his compass (Genesis 18:19).
4. As to the offering up of themselves to God. And then the high priest especially, he entered into the sanctum sanctorum, so should every Christian have his heart always towards the Holy of Holies, etc.
5. The priests they still blessed the people; so would the mouths of Christians do others with whom they converse (1 Peter 3:9). (T. Horton, D. D.)
Christ and the soul
I. Christ is the lover of the soul. He loved it with--
1. An absolutely disinterested love.
2. A practically self-sacrificing love.
3. An earnestly forgiving love.
II. Christ is the cleanser of the soul. The grand mission and work of Christ are to put away sin from the soul. Sin is not so ingrained into the texture of the human soul that it cannot be removed; it can be washed out.
III. Christ is the ennobler of the soul.
1. Christ makes souls “kings.” He enthrones the soul, gives it the sceptre of self-control, and enables it to make all things subservient to its own moral advancement.
2. Christ makes souls” priests.”
IV. Christ is the hero of the soul. “To Him be glory,” etc. Worship is not a service, but a spirit; is not obedience to a law, but the irrepressible instinct of a life.
V. Christ is the hope of the soul. “Behold, He cometh,” etc. (David Thomas, D. D.)
Loved and laved
I. The love of Christ.
1. He loved us freely. He did not love us because we were righteous, because we had neither omitted any duty nor committed any offence. We are described in Scripture sometimes as crimson, and again as scarlet with sin. These are glaring colours, and sin is a glaring thing that must be seen. God has seen it; God abhors it. But though He saw it He loved us.
2. He loved us condescendingly. He loved us “and washed us.” That God should create, I understand; that He should destroy, I also understand; but that He should wash and cleanse those who have made themselves foul with sin is marvellous. God is so full of power that, if a thing is broken, it is never worth His while to mend it. It is the poverty of our resources that compels us to put up with defiled and broken things and make them better. Yet He loved us, so that He stooped to wash us from our defilement.
3. He loved us in a holy manner. Even the Almighty could not make us happy and let us remain in sin.
4. He loved us at a costly rate; lie hath washed us from our sins “in His own blood.”
5. He loved us effectually. The text says that Christ “loved us and washed us from our sins,” or “loosed us from our sins.”
6. Once more, this love of Christ is perpetual; He loves us still. Turning to the Revised Version we read, “Unto Him that loveth us.” He did not finish His love by His death. He loves you still, and He will always love you.
II. Glorify this loving, living Saviour.
1. Gladly confess His name. “Then, I should have to bear a lot of ridicule,” says one. And are you afraid to follow your Master for fear of ridicule? Remember what, for love of you, He bore.
2. Next, if we really do wish to glorify Him, we must shun all sin. A man cannot say, “Unto Him that loved me and washed me from my sins be glory,” and then go and drink with the drunkard. You dare not say “Unto Him be glory,” and then, as a professed Christian, go and do a dishonest deed, or speak a lie, or do that which would be discreditable to yourself and would bring dishonour on His name.
3. Again, if we truly say, “To Him be glory and dominion,” then we must give Him dominion over ourselves. Each man is a little empire of three kingdoms--body, soul, and spirit--and it should be a united kingdom. Make Christ King of it all.
4. And then, next, if we say, “To Him be glory and dominion,” we must seek to bring others under His sway. There is some way in which every one of us can do it. Begin at home; do not be content till the boys and girls all belong to Christ. Then look after your neighbours. You that are large employers, care for the men who work for you.
5. If we really wish that Christ should have glory and dominion because He has washed us from our sins in His blood, we must do nothing to dishonour Him ourselves, and we shall do anything sooner than see His blessed gospel and His holy name dishonoured by others.
6. Unto Him that loved and laved us let us give all glory and dominion; but if we would do that we must not be cold and indifferent about holy things. You know what kind of hearers some people are. You may say what you will to them, but they are never moved. They are so solid, so cold. Can I hear of that dear name and never catch the sacred fire? Can I think of Calvary and still my heart remain cold and chill? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Praise to Christ
I. What Christ has done for His people.
1. He hath loved us. Can anything be more evident? He loved us from eternity. He foresaw our misery, and, moved with pity, provided for our relief. He loved us when we existed only in His eternal idea. What a love, reaching through eternal ages and undiminished! “He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love.” “He hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself.” All this from the infinite love of His nature; because He loved us. All that He hath done for His Church through ages are proofs of His love to you. By this merciful preservation of the Church the news of salvation has reached us.
2. He hath washed us from our sins in His own blood.
3. He honours us. “And hath made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.”
II. The returns of gratitude and praise which His people render to Him.
1. To Him be glory. He has an essential glory as God. He is possessed of glory arising from His undertaking in behalf of sinful men--from His unparalleled condescension--glorious example--unreserved benevolence--patient submission--from His Cross--spoiling principalities and powers--making a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it--conquest over death--glorious ascension. All this glory the believers see, with gladness, beaming on the crown of the Redeemer. The glory of the Saviour receives additional lustre from those offices which He so successfully fills for His people at the right hand of God. Is He an Advocate? How many causes has He gained! Is He a Priest? All the services of His people are rendered acceptable to God through Him. Is He an Intercessor? What innumerable benefits hath He obtained for them! Is He a Mediator? What hosts of enemies hath He reconciled to God, making them one in Him. Is He a Saviour? How complete and perfect His work, saving to the uttermost all who come unto God through Him. Is He a Leader and Commander of the people? What glorious achievements and conquests have His people made through Him. But His people look forward with pleasing expectation to a period when the glories of their Saviour shall be abundantly increased, and shine forth in their greatest splendour. In the day of judgment He will gather His people before Him, and glorify His grace in their eternal salvation. “He will come to be glorified in His saints and admired by all them that believe.” He will be glorified by their variety; out of all nations and kindreds and tongues. He will be glorified by the circumstances attending their salvation. These are they which have come out of great tribulation--through reproaches and persecutions. He will be glorified by the infinite rewards which He will then bestow upon them.
2. “To Him be dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Christ hath a natural dominion as God, and in this His people acquiesce and rejoice. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of the isles be glad thereof.” But He hath acquired dominion as Mediator by grant from His Father. “Ask of Me and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance,” etc. As the reward of His obedience. “He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, wherefore God hath highly exalted Him,” etc. This is but partly established. So He hath taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” etc. (R. Watson.)
The measureless love of Christ
I. The duration of the love of Christ. He had us in His heart ages before any sign appeared of our existence upon this earth--in spirit He was slain for us--before the foundation of the world. The most ancient of all love is that of Jesus. But turn now from the past to the future. Even as to this present life, what a distinction does it confer on any attachment cherished towards us, the absolute certainty of its continuance, of its surviving all the trials of time, or separation, or misunderstandings, or collisions of interest, or variations of taste and of pursuit. We rejoice in the knowledge that there are earthly friendship, which are wholly delivered from all such fear; that there are those of whom we are assured that, come what will with them or us, they will love us still, will love us to the end. But then, there is that close of all things here below; and what of the existence afterwards? Who shall love us throughout that unknown, unending life which awaits us beyond the grave? Shall those who loved us so long and so tenderly here be there beside us to bless us with an everlasting affection? We hope so; in our best moments we believe that it shall be so. Still, there is a shade of dimness over the prospect. There is, however, one love upon whose continuance through time and throughout eternity we can most securely count. He whose heart it fills, is the same yesterday, to day, for ever.
II. Let us contemplate the love of Christ in the width of its embrace, its amplitude, its infinity. It surrounds us with its vast, its measureless expanse. Its mighty volume is around each separate spirit, as if the enfolding of that spirit, the guiding, guarding, purifying of that spirit were its sole and separate care. Yet what untold multitudes of such spirits does it embrace.
III. The intensity of the love of Christ as shown in actual operation. We measure the intensity of any affection by the difficulties it overcomes, the burdens it bears, the services it renders, the sacrifices it makes. Now, so far as we can see, there was a great, initial difficulty in the love of Christ turning upon such sinners as we are. For what is it that begets love but the sight in the object of that which is lovable? Was there not much fitted rather to alienate than to attract? This very feature, however, of the love of Christ--that it was love to those not worthy of it, is one that goes far to enhance it in our esteem. He saw in us the guilty that might be pardoned, the defiled that might be purified, the lost that might be saved. Nay, the very things in us that might have turned away another benefactor, and led him to seek a more congenial field of labour, gave but the quicker wing, and the firmer footstep to that great love. The life of Christ on earth was throughout a manifestation and expression of this love. For let us remember that it is not merely human heart that beats in Jesus Christ--a human sensibility with which that heart is gifted. The Divine capacity to love is present here, and the Divine sensibility attaching to that capacity. (W. Hannay, D. D.)
Christ’s present love, and its great outcome
[Read “loveth us, and loosed us from our sins.”]
I. The ever-present, timeless love of Jesus Christ. John is writing these words of our text nearly half a century after Jesus Christ was buried. He is speaking to Asiatic Christians, Greeks and foreigners, most of whom were not born when Jesus Christ died, none of whom probably had ever seen Him in this world. To these people he proclaims, not a past love, not a Christ that loved long ago, but a Christ that loves now when John was writing, a Christ that loves us nineteenth-century Englishmen at the moment when we read. Another thing must be remembered. He who speaks is “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Is it not beautiful that he thus takes all his brethren up to the same level as himself, and delights to sink all that was special and personal into that which was common to all. The foundation of all our hopes and all our joys, and all our strength in the work of the world should be this firm conviction, that we are wrapped about by, and evermore in, an endless ocean, so to speak, of a present Divine love, of a present loving Christ. Then, further, that love is not disturbed or absorbed by multitudes. He loveth us, says John to these Asiatic Christians; and he speaks to all ages and people. Again, it is a love unchilled by the sovereignty and glory of His exaltation. The Christ of the gospels is the Christ in His lowliness, bearing the weight of man’s sins; the Christ of the Apocalypse is the Christ in His loftiness, ruling over the world and time. But it is the same Christ. From the midst of the glory and the sevenfold brilliancy of the light which is inaccessible, the same tender heart bends down over us that bent down over all the weary and the distressed when He Himself was weary; and we can lift up our eyes above stars, and systems, and material splendours, right up to the central point of the universe, where the throned Christ is, and see “Him that loveth us”--even us!
II. The great act in time which is the outcome and the proof of this endless love “He loosed us from our sins by His own blood.” The metaphor is that of bondage. “He that committeth sin is the slave of sin.” Every wrong thing that we do tends to become our master and our tyrant. The awful influence of habit, the dreadful effect upon a nature of a corrupted conscience, the power of regretful memories, the pollution arising from the very knowledge of what is wrong--these are some of the strands out of which the ropes that bind us are twisted. We know how tight they grip. But the chains can be got off. Christ looses them by “His blood.” Like a drop of corrosive acid, that blood, falling upon the fetters, dissolves them, and the prisoner goes free, emancipated by the Son. His blood looses the fetters of our sins, inasmuch as His death, touching our hearts, and also bringing to us new powers through His Spirit, which is shed forth in consequence of His finished work, frees us from the power of sin, and brings into operation new powers and motives which free us from our ancient slavery. The chains which bound us shrivel and melt as the ropes that bound the Hebrew youths in the fire, before the warmth of His manifested love and the glow of His Spirit’s power.
III. The praise which should be our answer to this great love. Our praise of Christ is but the expression of our recognition of Him for what He is, and our delight in love towards Him. Such love and praise, which is but love speaking, is all which He asks. Love can only be paid by love. Any other recompense offered to it is coinage of another currency, that is not current in its kingdom. The only recompense that satisfies love is its own image reflected in another heart. That is what Jesus Christ wants of you. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Christ’s measureless love
I. The love is absolutely sovereign. It was not called forth by any sort of worthiness in the objects of it, but was entirely spontaneous, self-moved. No doubt these objects come to have most attractive features. In course of time they are washed, cleansed from the filthiness in which they lay by nature, or loosed from the degrading bondage in which they were held. They have moral and spiritual excellences of the highest order, though not unmixed with imperfections and impurities. But to whom are they indebted for all this distinction? To Christ alone. And what moved Him to beautify them with salvation, to take them, as it were, from the dunghill and set them among the princes? His love. When the love first rested on its objects, when it contemplated and planned their redemption in the counsels of eternity, it had respect to them simply as fallen, ruined creatures. It was while provoking the vengeance of high heaven that the arresting hand was laid on them. Nothing like personal doing or desert had any place whatever in effecting the blessed change. And this feature is made still more abundantly manifest by a consideration of the persons often thus raised to a participation in the high calling of the saints. They are not seldom those that would have been deemed by us the most unfit and unlikely. They are not the best, but the worst characters; not those standing out from their fellows for good, but for bad qualities.
II. The love is immeasurably great. How shall we estimate its magnitude? In no better way than by considering what it freely bestows on its objects, and the sacrifices it makes for what it thus bestows. Try this love by both these measures. What, then, does it give those upon whom it rests? All the benefits of redemption. Take these benefits as summarised here, in connection with and as the ripened fruit of the love in question. The washing spoken of very specially points to forgiveness, the blotting out of sin in the blood of atonement. The graces of the Spirit spring up where before there were only the works of the flesh, and these graces both beautify the character and satisfy the soul. Thus believers are fitted for being kings and priests unto God and the Father. And has all this cost Him nothing, or cost Him but little? Has no sacrifice, or only a small one, been required? He has washed them in His own blood, and to it is to be traced not less their royal priesthood. His blood was that of sacrifice, of atonement, the price of our redemption. Here was the great ransom, and it is only in consequence of it that any sinner is washed and invested with a royal priesthood. Truly, when tried thus, the love passes knowledge.
III. The love is unchangeably constant. He loved and He loveth us. Who can tell how much He suffers at the hands of His people? How unthankful and rebellious are they! But still He forgives, restores, and keeps them. No doubt there are sometimes appearances to the contrary. He withdraws from His people, hides His face from them, so that they walk in darkness, and feel as if they were utterly forsaken. But there is no proof here that His love is either gone or weakened. Behind the frowning Providence there is still a smiling face. The clouds temporarily obscure, but they do not extinguish, or even really diminish, the light of heaven. And so it will ever be. The love has stood true during all the past, and it will not fail in all the future. (John Adam, D. D.)
The love of Christ
I. With respect to the manifestation of the love of Christ, we may remark, in general, that love was the spring of all His mediatory acts. No doubt, He chiefly sought the glory of His Father, and testified His love to Him by fulfilling His will. But in prosecuting these objects He was gratifying His own love.
1. It was love that induced the Son of God to undertake our cause in the counsels of eternity.
2. The love of Christ appears in the delight He took in the prospect of the work, arduous and grievous as it was, which He had engaged to perform.
3. His love appears in the assumption of our nature. Oh, what a stoop was there!
4. The love of the Redeemer appears in the whole of His obedience unto death.
II. The nature and properties of Christ’s love.
1. It is the love of a Divine Person.
2. It is the love of a Divine Person in human nature.
3. The love of Christ is transcendently great. It is incredible to all but those who have been taught from above.
III. Let us attend to the practical improvement of this subject.
1. We may see one proof of the deep depravity of mankind.
2. Here is food for faith.
3. The reasonableness and the duty of love to Christ. (T. McCrie, D. D.)
The love of Christ in Redemption
I. Some of the great general characters of the love of Christ.
1. An everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3; Psalms 103:17; Isaiah 54:7-8; Ephesians 1:4-5; Ephesians 3:11; Revelation 13:8). Does not this lead us to contemplate the glory of an infinite God, as it shines in this everlasting love?
2. Free and unmerited love (Psalms 8:4; Psalms 144:3; Job 7:17).
3. Unsolicited love (1 John 4:10; Romans 5:10). There is something infinitely more noble and generous in extending mercy to the miserable without waiting for their request, than when it is hardly procured, or as it were extorted by importunity or solicitation.
4. A distinguishing love, which must greatly enhance the obligation of those who are the objects of it.
5. An expensive love.
6. A most generous and disinterested love. It was giving to those from whom He could receive nothing.
7. A most fruitful, active, and beneficent love.
II. Practical improvement of the subject.
1. If so great are the obligations of believers to the love of Christ, how dreadful must be the condition of those who die in their sins.
2. Learn that the great and leading motive to obedience under the gospel, is a deep and grateful sense of redeeming love.
3. The necessity of a particular application of the truths of the gospel to ourselves, and the reliance of every believer upon them as the foundation of his own hope.
4. This leads me to invite every sinner to accept of Christ as his Saviour and to rely upon Him as He is offered in the gospel. (J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
The work of works
The word translated “washed” should be “loosened.”
I. This is the most important of all works. Sin is a chain that enslaves not the mere body, but all the faculties of the soul. What a chain is this!
1. It is heavy.
3. Strong, and--
4. Becomes stronger with the commission of every sin.
II. This, the most important of all works, is effected by Christ and by Him only. He came into the world to set the captives free. “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
III. That for this, the most important of all works, Christ receives the praises of eternity. True gratitude implies a belief in three things.
1. A belief in the value of the service rendered.
2. A belief in the kindness of the motive which inspired the service.
3. A belief in the undeservedness of the service on our part. (David Thomas, D. D.)
It is the echo of the heavenly harping that John hears. This is what they are singing on high, and what we are training for here.
I. The source of salvation in eternity. “Unto Him that loved us.” When God set out for His journey of redemption He must have looked round the shelves of glory for what to take, as some of you starting on a journey, pack your bag or portmanteau. Certain things you take with you for the journey. So with God. There are the thunders of almighty power. Is He to take these? No. He became man--poor, feeble man, and the thunders slept till He came back. Is He to take the glory above the sun’s strength? Is He to take the robe of uncreated light? No. He strips Him of the visible Godhead. He lays aside the uncreated Shekinah manifestation, but He takes something--something that heaven can give and that earth needs. He dips His almighty heart in love. He cannot do without that. He will not get love enough here, and if He is to bring love He must get it before He starts. He comes with the only qualification for His great work that He sees needful--love in His heart. And it is that love that you and I need, the love that death hath no power over, a love that is to exist and be strong when yonder sun flickers out into eternal midnight. It is that love that my longing soul craves for, and it is that love that is in Christ’s heart. Human love--why, we dare only creep from headland to headland; we cannot launch out into the deep, for death is nigh. But in Christ’s love you can let your soul go. You can sail into the mighty ocean assured that there is no limit, that there is no further shore to it, that there are no shoals to tear the ribs of the vessel of your heart asunder. The love of Christ will outlive the sun; the love of Christ will be strong in mighty current when the stars, the last of them, pull a veil over their faces and die. The love of Christ is the one eternal, abiding, almighty force in the universe. Can you sing it? “Unto Him that loved us” with a deathless, undying, unchanging, abiding, eternal love, to Him “be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”
II. The effect of salvation in time. The stream runs from the hillside to the valley, and it gets deep and wide and broad, and the masts of the navy of a commercial city are reflected in its fair bosom. So with the love of God. It came rushing out of the pearly gates a mighty torrent, and it came down to the valley and expanded there into a broad lake, and the love has become a fact in time. And the way it has become a fact is this: The love has washed us in the precious blood of Christ. Oh, how foul we were, how the streets of time had left their defilement on our spirit. A thousand rivers--have they water enough to cleanse a sinful heart? What did God find and feel to be necessary? What is that awful tinge that reddens the waves of the laver of regeneration? What is this mysterious chemical, Thou, God, art putting there? Why this agony of Thy beloved Son? Why the open side, why the pierced hands and feet, why the blood? “Without shedding of blood there is no remission,” says God. If you turn to the Revised Version you will see the word “loosed” for “washing.” It is the same idea, but more vigorously expressed. Sometimes when the dirt sticks you take pumice stone, or something that will rub or scrape. And so the Greek word shows that God’s washing is so effectual, the blood of Jesus is so powerful in its cleansing, that it is more like cutting off, it is more like excising and putting aside. The word is a strong word--loosing, cutting us out from our sins by His precious blood.
III. The effect of salvation on man. “And hath made us kings.” We crouch, a slave, to the Cross, but we give three leaps from it, and tread to heaven with the tramp of a king. The Cross gives dignity, the Cross gives royalty, to the saved heart. Christ crowns us when the heart accepts Him. We are kings, and we have a country. We are not like John Lack-land, for a king must have a kingdom. We are kings from the Cross, and what is our kingdom? It is our heart, our own soul, that is our kingdom. Your great country of promise has to be conquered by your own little fist of fulfilling. So with your heart. It is the promised land, but you have to fight for it. You have, as a conqueror, to make the plains of your own soul reverberate with your own tread. Old habits come out! old sins, passions, lusts, come out! “Put your feet on the necks of them,” says Christ, and I, by the grace of God, put my feet on old habits, old sins, old passions, and am king over my own heart. “And hath made us kings.” And it is the priest’s service that God accepts and needs to-day. It is the profession of adoration, it is the song of praise from my heart that He cannot get from the harps of heaven. It is this, that you and I should just tell Him more that we love Him. You know they say a Scotchman never tells his wife he loves her till he is just dying. Well, it is a great pity. In this world he would be happier and she would be happier, if he would tell his love into the ear while it can hear. So the Lord Jesus is longing for you and me, in time, while we have the opportunity, just to tell Him. Go home, then, to your own room, and kneel down and say in this holy priesthood of thine, “Lord Jesus, I adore Thee, I love Thee; to Thee be the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (John Robertson.)
The believer’s acknowledgment of Christ’s love
I. What Christ has done for us.
1. Christ loved us. You all know, from the feelings of your own hearts, something of what it is to love, and likewise what it is to be the object of affection. Christ’s love to His people surpasses in intensity and purity and disinterestedness anything that was ever felt by a human heart. There was no worth or excellence, no good thing about us. In His eyes we were unseemly and loathsome objects. We were altogether unable to render Him any service, or to make Him any compensation for the benefits He might bestow. His essential happiness and glory could neither be diminished by our ruin, nor increased by our salvation. And consider who it was that loved us in this manner; for we are in the habit of estimating the value of any expression of love by the character and condition of the individual from whom we receive it. Now He who thus loved us was not a mere man like ourselves, but He was the Eternal God, the Author and the Head of the whole creation; He was not an angel or an archangel, but One whom all the angels of God are commanded to worship; He was not liable to errors of judgment, or to mistakes of feeling, but He Was possessed of the Divine perfections, as well as the Divine nature and prerogatives.
2. “He washed us from our sins in His own blood.” This was the first great step that was necessary in order to our deliverance and salvation, and this accordingly is mentioned as the first great manifestation of Christ’s love that was poured out upon believers.
3. “He has likewise made us kings and priests unto God and His Father.” Here the priestly character, as well as the “kingly” one, is but imperfectly developed, and its privileges but partially enjoyed. Here we see through a glass, darkly. But a time will come when all believers shall see face to face--when their intercourse with God shall be much more close and uninterrupted and delightful than it has ever been upon earth--when anything that can defile or annoy shall be taken away.
II. The feelings and desires which the contemplation of what Christ has done for us ought to produce. (W. Cunningham, D. D.)
The love of Christ
I. In this song the redeemed make grateful mention of the love of Christ; that being the spring of all their present privileges and all their future hopes. This is well put first in order, not only because it is the source of every spiritual blessing, but also because it is in itself their chief happiness--they being the objects of his love; and every ingenuous mind will more esteem the kindly heart, than the costly gifts of a benefactor. How, in ordinary cases, do we estimate the strength of a friend’s affection for us? Is it in the first instance by the ardour with which it is expressed in words? Then what are the terms in which the Redeemer speaks of His people? “I have loved them with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.” Does it enhance our esteem of the benignant heart of a friend, when his kindness is continued, notwithstanding we have given him cause of offence; and is that friendship sufficient to melt the hardest heart which requites every offence with forgiveness, and suffers us not to sink under an unworthy return? Then is Christ such a friend. Is the love of a friend the more valued because it comes to us in circumstances of great destitution or distress? Now, it was when we were miserable and poor that the Redeemer loved us. His office was to bind up the broken-hearted, and to make the mourner glad. Do we appreciate the friendship which we have reason to believe has no connection with selfish motives or personal ends? The friendship of the Redeemer was purely disinterested. The only reward which He sought was the salvation of His people. The only joy that was set before Him was, that He should see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. Do we estimate the strength of a friend’s affection for us by his fondness for our society, by his affording us free access at all times, and by the frequency and kindness of his invitations to meet us? Then with what condescension has the Redeemer invited, nay, urged His people to repair to Him as their friend, as “a very present help to them, in every time of need!” Do we estimate the strength of a friend’s affection by the sacrifices he makes, or by the personal sufferings He endures for our sakes? Then what sacrifice is so great, what sufferings so severe as those of the Son of God? Do we estimate the kindness of an earthly friend by his long-suffering patience in bearing with our infirmities, and in dealing tenderly with us, even when we most try his patience by our provocations? And what believer can fail to acknowledge that he is a living monument of the Redeemer’s mercy, an unprofitable servant whom none but Divine patience could have spared. Finally, do we rest with confidence on the friendship of one who identifies himself with us, and acts as if our interests and his own were the same? Then is Christ the friend of His people. Whoso, saith He, receiveth you receiveth Me: Whoso shall give but a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose his reward.
II. But that love was not without effect, and the beloved disciple adverts to some of the benefits which have flowed from it to His people. He has washed us from our sins in His own blood. The words imply that the Saviour’s blood was shed, and shed for the remission of sins; and it was a noble proof of His love. They also intimate that, besides being shed, that blood had been savingly applied, and had sufficient efficacy to wash them from their sins. And believers will ever regard the sawing application of that blood to their consciences as no less proof of the Redeemer’s kindness than the fact of His having shed it. His love in leading them to that fountain is not less to be celebrated than His love in having opened it, especially when it is considered that, without such a personal application of His blood to them individually, His death would have been of no avail. By that blood they were delivered from the burden of an accusing conscience, and admitted into peace and friendship with God. By that blood they were delivered for ever from judgment to come.
III. The design of the Saviour was not accomplished, nor His love exhausted, by pardoning the sins of His people. It was His design to advance them as monuments of His grace to a state of great dignity, and to employ them in a very exalted station.
IV. It is the natural fruit, and a strong evidence of faith, and at the same time a source of great spiritual comfort, to be much engaged in reflecting on the love of the Redeemer, and regarding with holy gratitude the benefits which you have received or yet expect at His hands; for while we thus meditate on His love, and on our own honour and privileges, as His people, our hearts will burn within us, and our lips break forth in His praise. To many among us, indeed, who are downcast and sorrowful, it may seem as if this strain were more fitted for those who have already fought the good fight, and finished their course, than for us who are still in the body, burthened with the remains of a corrupt nature; weak, yet beset with strong temptation; prone to backsliding. But may not the most desponding believer take courage at least from their success? May not their triumphant song inspire us with new hopes, since it tells us that men like ourselves have obtained the victory. (James Buchanan.)
The redeemed ascribing glory to Christ
I. What Christ’s saints owe to him.
1. A debt of everlasting love. “Unto Him that loved us.”
2. The debt of their redemption.
3. The debt of glory. He “hath made us kings and priests unto God, even His Father.” “A kingdom of priests,” some will read it. Be it so. Then they are, in reality, what the Israelites were typically, “a kingdom of priests, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” In the light of this interpretation we see the significance of the washing previously mentioned; for when any one of that royal and priestly nation had contracted any ceremonial uncleanness, before he was restored to his national privileges--or when any one was called to minister to God in the priestly office, before he was consecrated to the service--and every time before he went into the temple to minister--it was ordained that he should be washed. Or, let us interpret, as promising separate offices in glory, that expression “kings and priests.” We have here evidently a complete reversal of their condition before regeneration. Once they were slaves, now they are not only set free, they are made kings to God. Once they were afar off, now they are not only brought nigh, they are engaged as priests in His own immediate service; kings and priests to One to whom to serve in the most menial capacity, in the outermost courts of His earthly temple, were a dignity of surpassing honour.
II. We will now advert to the ascription by the saints to Christ, in acknowledgment of their obligations to Him, of glory and dominion for ever and ever--which glory and dominion, you will observe, are the very things of which Christ disrobed Himself in order to accomplish their salvation; and common justice demands that they should be restored to Him when the work is done; nay, more, that they should not only be restored, but restored with increase. (G. Campbell.)
How wonderful that Christ should love us
We know how to love our children, because they are better than we; we know how to love our friends, because they are no worse than we; but how Christ can stoop from out the circle of blessed spirits to love us, who are begrimed with sin, and bestormed with temptation, and wrestling with the lowest parts of humanity--that is past our finding out. He has loved us from the foundation of the world; and because heaven was too far away for us to see, He came down to earth to do the things which He has always been doing profusely above. Christ’s life on earth was not an official mission; it was a development of His everlasting state; a dip to bring within our horizon those characteristics and attributes which otherwise we could not comprehend;--God’s pilgrimage on earth as a shepherd, in search of his wolf-imperilled fold. And when I look into His life, I say to myself--“As tender as this, and yet on earth! What is He now, then? If He was such when imprisoned in the flesh, what is He now in the full liberty and largeness of His heavenly state?” (H. W. Beecher.)
And washed us from our sins in His own blood.--
Christ’s eternal sacrifice
There is no such thing as age in His sacrifice; centuries cannot give antiquity to His atonement, time cannot wear out its virtues. His blood is as precious now as when it was first shed, and the fountain for sin and uncleanness flows with a stream as full and ]purifying as when first it was opened. And how? Simply because by His intercession He perpetuates His sacrifice; and His offering, though not repeated on earth, is incessantly presented in heaven. It was enough that He should once die to make atonement, seeing He ever lives to make intercession. He is now carrying on in heaven the very office and work which He commenced when upon earth; and, though there is no visible altar and no literal sacrifice, no endurance of anguish and no shedding of blood, yet still He presents vividly and energetically the works of His Passion, and the effect is the same as though He died daily, and acted over again and again the scene of His tremendous conflict with “the powers of darkness.” (E. Mason, D. D.)
The filthy can be made clean
In some of our factories the filthiest of rags are put through a purifying process and made clean. They enter the machine soiled and dirty, they come out beautifully white and clean sheets of paper. Thus will even a poor illustration show us that our righteousness is as filthy rags, but that through the blood of Christ we are washed and made white aa snow. (Silas Jones.)
And hath made us kings and priests unto God.--
Kings and priests
Now, observe that this dignity of “kings and priests” is conferred as by a definite act, contemporaneous with, or, at the most, immediately consequent on, the “loosing from our sins.” It is then a present dignity.
I. Jesus Christ, the great King, will crown us kings, too, if we will. Every man who has become the servant of Christ is the king and lord of everything else; to submit to Him is to rule all besides. Reign over what?
1. First, over the only kingdom that any man really has, and that is himself. We are meant to be monarchs of this tumultuous and rebellious kingdom within. We are like some of those little Rajahs whose states adjoin our British possessions, who have trouble and difficulty with revolted subjects, and fall back upon the great neighbouring power, saying: “Come and help me: subdue my people for me, and I will put the territory into your hands.” Go to Christ and say: “Lord! they have rebelled against me! These passions, these lusts, these follies, these weaknesses, these sinful habits of mine, they have rebelled against me! What am I to do with them? Do Thou come and bring peace into the land; and Thine shall be the authority.” And He will come and loose you from your sins, and make you kings.
2. And there is another realm over which we may rule; and that is, this bewitching and bewildering world of time and sense, with its phantasmagoria and its illusions and its lies, that draw us away from the real life and truth and blessedness. Do not let the world master you! It will, unless you have put yourself under Christ’s control. He will make you king over all outward things, by enabling you to despise them in comparison with the sweetness which you find in Him, and so to get the highest good out of them. He will make you their lord by helping you to use all the things seen and temporal as means to reach a fuller possession of the things unseen and eternal. Their noblest use is to be the ladder by which we climb to reach the treasures which are above. They are meant to be symbols of the eternal, like painted windows through which our eye may travel to the light beyond, which gives them all their brilliancy. If you want to be set free from all these things, to be lifted above them, to have a joy that they cannot touch, and an inward life which they will feed, and not thwart, such emancipation from their control, such power of using them for your highest purposes, can only be secured by taking Christ for your King and resting your souls upon Him.
3. And then, all things serve the soul that serves Christ.
II. The King, who is the Priest, makes us priests as well as kings. In what is the force of this grand conception of the Christian man’s dignity? Four things make the priest--two of them express his standing, one of them his office, one of them his character. The priestly standing is marked by consecration and free access to God, the priestly office is sacrifice, the priestly character is purity. And these four things--consecration, direct access to God, the power of offering sacrifice which is acceptable to Him, and purity of life and heart--are the gifts of Christ’s hands to each of you, if you will have them. Every one that is perfect shall be as his Master, and even here on earth, the Christian life is the life of Christ in the soul, and consists in growing likeness to Him. Is He a King? So are we. Is He a Priest? So, therefore, are we. Is He a Son? So are we. Is He the Heir? So are we. Is He the “Anointed”? “He that in Christ hath anointed us is God.” His offices, His dignity, His character, His very life becomes ours, if we are His. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The humility and dignity of the Christian life
(with verse 1):--
I. The humility of the Christian life.
1. The Christian life is a service: rendered to--
(3) The Christian himself.
(a) Great in requirement.
(b) Solemn in obligation.
(c) Eternal in reward.
2. The Christian life as a service is esteemed lowly.
II. The dignity of the Christian life.
1. It is a life of moral rulership. He is a moral king. He rules by prayer. Many conspiracies are formed against Him, but He outlives and controls them all.
2. It is a life of moral sacrifice. He is a priest, not domineering and exclusive, but loving and expansive in His sympathies.
III. The harmony between the king-hood and the servanthood.
1. The Christian is a king because he is a servant.
2. The Christian is a priest because he has a trust.
1. As servants of God let us do His work.
2. As kings of God, let us extend His kingdom.
3. As priests of God, let us offer His sacrifices. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Christians are kings
I. In respect of their birth and extraction. Their lineage is direct and undisputed from Him who is the fountain-head of all honour and authority. They hold in their veins the blood royal of heaven. Though not by natural, yet by spiritual birth, which is better, they are the “sons of God”; though not by succession or inheritance, yet by adoption which is equally valid, and yet more distinguishing.
II. In respect of their relations and allies.
1. They are members of a family, partly on earth and partly in heaven, which is all legitimate and royal; which is unstained by any inferior, impure admixture.
2. Their allies, too, are royal like themselves. “Ye are come to Mount Sinai, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant.” “Truly, our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.”
III. In respect of the dominion which they have been called to exercise. The empire of a Christian is his own heart--“the kingdom of God is within him.” And “wisdom,” says Solomon, the wisdom of self-government, “is better than weapons of war”--better, inasmuch as it supersedes the use of them; “and he that ruleth his spirit is better,” bolder, more truly courageous and noble, “than he that taketh a city.” Until ye thus become “kings,” you must needs remain, not only subjects, but slaves. You are not your own masters; your “unruly lusts and passions” have the command of you.
IV. To the exercise of this kingly dominion, there are princely, kingly revenues attached. Believers are not left to their own resources in maintaining their high dignity. In themselves, and in their own right, they are as poor and dependent after their elevation as they were before it; their ability to rule is derived exclusively from Him who gave them the authority to do so, who “made them kings unto God!” They are not only the allies, but the stipendiaries, so to speak, of Christ; they have all their riches from Him, and in Him. He is not only the “Lord of their treasury,” He is their treasury--their storehouse itself. In regard to temporal provision, they may indeed be poor--they often are so. But poor though they be, they always have enough--enough for their real, as distinguished from their imaginary wants. Besides, whatever they have, they have not by permission, or toleration merely, but by inheritance and of right. Then, as to their spiritual provision, if that is not--not only ample but abundant, they have themselves alone to blame for the deficiency. And voluntary poverty of this kind is not only unnecessary, it is injurious, it is sinful; it is dishonouring to Him who has made them what they are. The whole domain of Scripture is theirs--ever fresh and verdant--in which to expatiate and delight themselves: the “wells of salvation” are theirs--“the upper springs, and the nether springs,” “from which to draw water with joy.” Theirs are the treasures of grace--theirs is the hope of glory!
V. Yet, after all, it remains to be added, the chief part of the dignity to which believers are admitted is yet to come; or at least yet to be known and Ben. In the present state, it is the least part of it which is visible. God’s people below are kings in disguise. They are travelling, in the dress of pilgrims, to their dominions above. In conclusion, let me remark--
1. If the statements now given be true, there are few Christians who know what their privileges are; and fewer still, it is to be feared, who are careful to realise and enjoy them.
2. Let me say to those of you who are, or who believe yourselves to be, “kings unto God,” “Be holy.” To “keep one’s own heart with all diligence”--to rule one’s own unruly spirit, the temper, the appetites, the passions--to have that “little member” in subjection, which “worketh mightily, and which no man can tame,” that is to be a king. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Christians a royal priesthood
I. The functions or offices here assigned to believers.
1. They are made kings. Temporal power and dignity belong to earthly kings. To Christ, the great King, belong all Divine power and glory. And all His redeemed followers partake of His power and dignity.
(1) Christians are kings in respect of their power. They have wonderful power over all their enemies, if they are but careful how to use it and to put it forth. Thus they can resist the devil, until he flees from them. They can also resist their own evil tendencies, mortify the deeds of their bodies, crucify their flesh with its affections and lusts. And they can withstand the world, despising its allurements, and patiently enduring its frowns.
(2) Christians are also kings in dignity, as regards both their personal dignity and their bellowed glory.
(a) They partake of the personal dignity of kings. They have in them a kingly nature. There is a moral majesty in the character of all God’s children.
(b) Christians also partake of a borrowed dignity that is Divine. They partake of the glory that belongs to the Divine Redeemer. They are arrayed in the robes of His righteousness. Go to the dying-bed of a mighty, graceless monarch, and you find him, in the midst of weakness and of misery, hastening down to the sides of the pit. Go to the dying-bed of an humble child of God, and, though you find him on his pallet of straw, yielding to the power of dissolution, his face is radiant with the light of the Divine countenance, and with the hopes of glory that fill and cheer his heart; and already you see Satan, death, and hell dragged, as powerless, prostrate foes, at the chariot-wheels of his triumphing faith, and find him raising the song of victory ever all his enemies, as one who already feels that in Christ he is more than conqueror.
2. Christians are made priests.
(1) The foundation of the priesthood of Christians is their oneness with Christ. As bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh, their surety and repreresentative, their sin-bearer, their righteousness, and their life, all that He did and suffered for them, and is doing for them, they are dealt with as having done and suffered themselves, as now doing in and with Him.
(2) The introduction of Christians into their priesthood.
(a) They are called to it by God.
(b) They are Divinely qualified and prepared for their priestly work.
They have been duly purified, being washed by Christ from their sins in His own blood. They are clothed in the necessary priestly vestments; for Christ has put upon them the garments of salvation; He has covered them with the robe of His righteousness (Isaiah 61:1-11.); He has arrayed them in that fine linen, white and clean, which is the righteousness of saints (chap. 19.); and they have an unction from the Holy one, a Divine anointing, an anointing of the Spirit, by which they are made to know and ]eve their priestly work (1 John 2:1-29.). They are thus prepared to yield themselves unto God, as alive from the dead, through Jesus Christ.
(3) Thus called to their work, and qualified for it, they perform the duties of their priesthood, as the proper business of their life. They present their bodies a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-21.). They present to God the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart (Psalms 51:1-19.). They offer the sacrifice of a living faith (Philippians 2:1-30.). They offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, or what are termed “the calves of their lips” (Hosea 12:1-14., Hebrews 13:1-25.). They lay on Christ, as their altar, the deeds of love done by them to others; remembering that with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Hebrews 13:1-25., Philippians 4:1-23.), and that they are the odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable to God (Philippians 4:1-23.).
II. The inseparable connection between the royalty and the priesthood of Christians, between their work as kings and their work as priests. They have the honour, and exercise the power, of kings, because thus only can they be prepared to perform their duty as priests. For, as kings, they are laden with honours, make conquests, and in various ways put forth their power, and accumulate the fruits of its exercise, in order that, as priests, they may take their honours, resources, and conquests, and the varied fruits of their power, and consecrate them all to the service and glory of God.
III. The subordination of their kingly to their priestly office and work. The office of Christians, as priests, is higher than their office as kings. And the reason is found in the very nature of the offices of believers, as kings and as priests to God. For, as kings, they but rule over themselves, and over creation around, conquering and keeping under the spiritual enemies that fill and surround them, and causing the creatures around them to pay them tribute. But as priests, they turn their back upon creation, and their faces toward God, and stand in His immediate presence, and minister before His eternal throne. As kings, they but exhibit the honour with which they themselves are invested. But as priests, they are employed in giving all glory to God. They are thus not priestly kings, but kingly priests. They are a “royal priesthood.” This view of the subordination of their kingly to their priestly office and work, becomes more evident and impressive when we consider how their office, as kings, shall at length be in a great measure absorbed in their office as priests. For when, as kings, they have conquered sin and Satan, and death and hell, they shall come out of all their tribulation, and wash their robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, and be before the throne of God, and, as priests, for ever serve Him day and night in His temple. And though, as kings, they shall at last appear with crowns of glory, yet, as priests, they shall take their crowns, and cast them at the feet of Him who bought them with His blood; and they shall then, and for ever, have it for their chief employment, to give, as priests, all glory to the Eternal. (W. Nixon.)
The responsibility of exaltation
Frederick the Great, before he became “the Great,” was seated with his roystering companions, and they were drinking and hallooing, and almost imbecile, when word came to him that his father was dead, and consequently the crown was to pass to him. He rose up from among the boisterous crew, and stepped and cried, Stop your fooling; I am Emperor! (T. de Witt Talmage.)
To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.--
A glorified Christ
I desire to speak of Christ glorified. But how shall we learn what He is like on His throne? These dim eyes cannot pierce the skies and the clouds to see Him. Men look through their telescopes at the stars, and mere sparkling points of light prove to be burning suns. But no telescopes can reveal to us Christ on His throne. Some day we shall see Him as He is, but now no eye can behold Him. Yet human eyes have seen Him in vision since He went back to His glory, and those who saw Him have told us what they saw. The beloved disciple had a vision of His glory.
1. He appears as a glorified Lord. Very wonderful is the contrast between the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ of the Revelation. Yet they both are one. In the lowly Jesus of the Incarnation all the Divine glory was enshrined. Men did not see its outflashings, but the splendour was there. But now in heaven there is no longer any concealing or hiding of His glory. In our Lord’s intercessory prayer at the Last Supper He prayed, “Now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” This prayer was answered. He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.
2. We must not fail to notice that it is as man--God-man--that Jesus Christ is glorified. John saw in vision “one like unto a Son of Man” in the midst of the golden candlesticks. That is, Ha bore there in the glory the form of our humanity. It was that same body on whose bosom John leaned, whose feet Mary bathed with her ointment, which had lain in the grave, and in which Thomas saw the wounds--it was that same body that was taken up into heaven and seated at the right hand of the Father. As He never for a moment ceased to be God while here on the earth in lowly flesh, so He has never for a moment ceased to be man since ascending into the heavenly places. The Godhead and the humanity are forever inseparable. How near it brings Him to us to think of Him as really human still, in His eternal glory! How it exalts our thought of the dignity of humanity to remember that one of our race is on the throne of thrones!
3. Another feature of the glorified Christ, as He appeared in vision to John, was His complete victoriousness. We must never forget that His exaltation was won. He was crowned with glory and honour for the sufferings of death. Especially does He appear in John’s vision as victor over death. Those who were raised up before Him were only brought back to a few more years of the old life of struggle, pain, and sinning. They were still under death’s power, ant! had to die again. But Christ was born from death into life--not the old life of pain, infirmity, struggle, tears, and mortality, but into life--full, rich, blessed, immortal.
4. The vision of the glorified Christ shows Him deeply interested and active in our behalf in heaven. In John’s vision the risen Lord appears in the midst of the golden candlesticks. The golden candlesticks are the Churches of the Redeemer in this world. The vision then represents Christ as in the midst of His Churches, always with His people. He is still the Good Shepherd. The same truth is taught in another part of the same vision. “He had in His right hand seven stars.” The stars, we are told, are the Churches of the redeemed. The symbol is very beautiful. Christ’s Churches are stars in this dark world. But He held the stars in His right hand, the hand of strength and honour; so He holds His Churches in His right hand. The picture suggests guidance, security, help. Christianity cannot fail while the all-conquering Christ holds the Churches in His right hand. Let us look a little more closely into the manner of Christ’s activity in heaven for us. What does He do there on our behalf? Several things. Having all power in heaven and earth, He rules so that all things work together for good, not only for His Church at large, through the ages, but for every individual believer who trusts Him and follows Him. Shall we be afraid, amid enemies and storms and convulsions and conflicting providences, while the government of all things is in the hands that were pierced with the nails for our redemption? Another form of the activity of the glorified Christ in heaven is His intercession for us. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
The angel of requests--so the legend runs--goes back from earth heavily laden every time he comes to gather up the prayers of men. But the angel of thanksgiving, of gratitude, has almost empty hands as he returns from his errands to this world. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Behold, He cometh with clouds.
Behold, He cometh
The second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is set before us as the supreme hope of the Church, that great and glorious event towards which all is leading up, or for which all is preparing. This being so, our feelings in regard of it will serve us as a test by which to gauge ourselves with respect to our present condition before God. If things are as they should be with us, we shall be able to say from our heart, “Even so, Amen.” Have any of us failed before this simple test? Have we come to the conclusion that, though we hope we love the Lord, we do not love His appearing? What are the causes that render it possible for any true child of God to shrink from the thought of his Master’s return? Conspicuous amongst these is that secret worldliness of heart, against which the Master so solemnly warned us: “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your heart be overcharged with … the cares of this life.” Have we to confess that we have been living and labouring to win wealth, or fame, or social distinction, or to better our position, and to gain the honour that cometh from man? Ah! no wonder then that we love not His appearing, for has not our worldly self become within us a little Antichrist, whom the Lord must needs destroy by the brightness of His coming? Or peradventure we are entangled by worldly associations. Instead of so loving the world as Christ loved it, and going into it to save its perishing children, we have gone there in search of social pleasure, and have found a social snare; and instead of going outside the camp bearing Christ’s reproach, we have become conformed to the world’s image, and accept its maxims and wear its uniform. Ah! how can we desire the Lord’s appearing if we have been false to our colours? Or again, is it not only too obvious that many are prevented from uttering this prayer from the heart because they know that they have been leading an indolent and useless life? Have you an inward conviction that the Lord Jesus Christ must, as a matter of simple truth, say of your service, were He now to appear, “Thou wicked and slothful servant … take the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents”? Or, once again, how many a Christian is robbed of his Advent hope by some secret sin, known perhaps only to God and himself, extenuated and even defended by a perverted understanding, but already condemned by the inward witness of the Holy Ghost in his hearty It may be some crooked, or at any rate questionable, practice in business; it may be some impurity of thought, or even of action; it may be some habit of levity and frivolousness, or loose and giddy speech; or it may be a custom of exaggeration and untruthfulness which you have familiarised yourself with until you scarcely are aware of it when you fall into the fault. Or perhaps it may not be secret sin which stands between us and our hope, but rather an open and obvious inconsistency apparent to all around as well as to ourselves. Many real Christians, I am persuaded, are unable to love the Lord’s appearing because they are walking rather after the flesh than after the Spirit. Now, if for any of these reasons you feel yourselves unable to love and pray for the Lord’s appearing, consider, I pray you, whence you have fallen, how your highest glory is being turned into your deepest shame. Oh, cast away all that robs thee of thy Advent hope and of the joys of anticipation, and make a fresh and full surrender of thyself. But if the thought of this glorious event prove so very heart-searching to us, who have already come under the influence of God’s grace, how very powerfully should it weigh with those who have not yet taken the very first step in the Christian life! It is surely high time for such to listen to the Advent cry, “Behold, He cometh with clouds.” “Behold, He cometh.” Oh that men would respond to that call for here indeed is something worth looking at. Man may say “Behold!” about many things of small import, but when God says “Behold! “rest assured there is something worth looking at before us. A voice from heaven is pleading for our attention, and it seems to say, “Stop and think, the foredoomed hour draws nigh, return and come!” “And every eye shall see Him.” It will not be a matter of choice or preference then, as it is now; a stern necessity will compel every human being that God has made, whether he will or no, to behold the approaching King. Drawn as by an irresistible force, all shall be brought into His presence, and find themselves arraigned before the bar of the Judge. Who are they to whom this revelation of Jesus Christ will cause such unspeakable despair? They are described here. And let us be honest with ourselves, and face the question candidly: “Do I belong to the classes that are mentioned here as being plunged into such dire distress? First we hear of those who pierced Him. Have any of us pierced Him? True, we were not present at Calvary, we had no part in driving in the iron nails into His quivering palms, or in thrusting the spear into His side. But have we never pierced Him? Yes, not once only, but over and over again, in the long, dark ages of man’s history, Jesus Christ has been pierced, and He is being pierced still. How do men pierce Him? Surely by undisguised hostility and contemptuous scorn. It is wonderful to what length men will still go in their hatred of Christ. Still He has to complain, “They hated Me without a cause.” The bitter things that men of the world say about Christians, what is it but a determined attempt to wound the Master through the servants? Others, again, pierce Jesus by cold indifference and heartless ingratitude. You can be kind and tender in every other relationship of life; you are a generous husband and a considerate and sympathising father; and you are a gentle and devoted wife and a tender-hearted mother and friend; there is only one Person whom you habitually slight and treat with ingratitude and neglect, as though it were a matter of indifference to you whether you pleased or pained Him, and that Person is Divine. Him you have treated with contempt, His love you have rejected, and His mercy you have despised. Ah, how will you face Him when every eye shall see Him, and you shall know at last how your callous indifference, your black ingratitude, has pierced the sensitive heart of the Son of Man, who lived and died for you? How will you endure the wrath of the Lamb? Some of you again have pierced Jesus by deliberately choosing something which He hates in preference to Himself. Ah, how often this is done! It may be that your preference falls on some evil habit that is destroying you, body and soul; it may be some accursed sin that is poisoning your whole being, and yet you prefer it to Christ. But our text speaks of others besides these. It tells us how “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” To which of the two kindreds do you belong? Are you of the earth, earthy, or are you citizens of Mount Zion? for to one or other of these two classes we all belong. Judge yourselves, lest that day come upon you as a thief in the night, revealing to you your true character and position when the revelation comes too late. Again, we ask, Who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? Those surely have nothing to fear from the Lord’s appearing who can say, “Unto Him that has loved us,” etc. Judgment has no terrors and eternity no alarms for those who are living in the conscious enjoyment of the benefits of redeeming love. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The revelation of the mystery
St. John is speaking in the language of ancient prophecy. Christ is coming. “Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him.” This is a truth of the faith, and St. John corroborates Daniel, not because he imitates the prophetic spirit by echoing prophetic phrase, but because each prophet stands on a mountain peak of Revelation, and surveys an unalterable fact. For the mind to grow into the force of that fact is one of the most necessary methods of advance in the Spirit and will of God.
I. St. John is speaking in the language of a seer, which is the real language of man’s immortal life. His words are a cry of relieved tension of feeling, of suddenly fulfilled expectation; like the watcher from Athens catching sight of the corn-ships as they doubled Sunium; like the anxious gazer descrying in the distance the British flag which announced approaching relief to the beleaguered sufferers in Lucknow; like the dying man straining the ear through the silent night for the first footfall of one he loves, and longs to see before he dies.
1. Man expresses his sense of relation to objects and persons external to himself by two names--Time and Eternity. These names of course represent real ideas. These ideas are dim and vague enough. Surely he has to learn that Time is “a phantom of succession”; that he himself, not Time, is moving on; that now his life is partially developed; surely he has to realise that Eternity can include no sense of succession, but represents life as fully possessed. We must learn in the things of the soul to weigh and measure by the scales, by the standard of Eternity, for we are immortal. Speaking, then, as we should speak, with a sense of our full, our endless life, the close of the great conflict is not far off.
2. To each one of us there shall be a full consciousness of the coming and the presence of the Lord. “Every eye shall see Him.” The eye is the watch-tower of the human spirit, whither it ascends to view God’s universe. The eye is the instrument by which impressions from the objects of an outer world, impressions of colour and harmony and form, are conveyed to the lonely soul. The eye can alone convey the message, the power to use it is in the soul itself. My friends, it would seem that the human soul has a strong likeness to the poor frail human body. Living, though sick with sin, it is conscious, in a dreamlike consciousness, of the presence and claims of God; if life is failing in it, if the disease of sin is settling into spiritual death, it loses that consciousness. But one thing is certain: the hour is coming when each of us--with a consciousness of soul as clear as the sight of the eye of the body--when each of us shall see the fairest, the most awful vision, the coming Christ. Here we see but dimly; there will be the full revelation.
II. We are brought face to face with him whose appearing shall be the interpretation of all dreams, the solution of all perplexing problems, “behold, He is coming with clouds.”
1. St. John’s account of the pageant of Christ’s appearing is an appeal to an instinct of humanity face to face with nature. Of all natural objects that awaken the sense none can rival for power mountains, clouds, and sea. But clouds combine, in a measure, the resources of sea and mountains; smoothed out at dawn or sunset, twisted into strange contortions by the storm, they rival the solemnity of mountains in their vast proportions, and imitate in their changeful movements the beating of the waves. Everywhere they give the sense of thinly veiled depths of mystery yet to be revealed, and of the wrath and power of God against human sin. When Christ comes, then, this is certain, He will come revealing “hidden things of darkness,” ay! and hidden things of light. It will be a time of unveiling. But more: He will come in the fully manifested display of God’s irreconcilable antagonism to human sin. It will be a moment of startling and complete revelation.
2. But there is a further feature, the most striking of all. It is an unexpected touch in the picture which follows--“they also that pierced Him”--a sudden allusion to the Passion. Doubtless there is a warning in such words, that those who deride, reject, or seek to destroy the highest goodness now shall one day see the magnitude of their madness. But this is not all. Face to face with human sin in its closing crisis, the great Representative of the race displays before assembled worlds the extent of its malignity in wounding God. Even those who have hated it most shall then for the first time vividly realise its actual dreadfulness. And in these wounds of the Passion are exhibited the stores of the experience of human life, He is in direct relation to all, for all have pierced Him, and He has learned by experience the sorrow and sin of that humanity which is common to all. And then we are reminded that the judgment to follow takes its force and derives its necessity from the necessities of His nature. With the knowledge of God He comes, and with the feelings and experiences of man.
3. The great wail of the human family recorded in the close of the verse is its outspoken sign of recognition of the truth. In some--His persecuting enemies--the cry of fear and fury at the certainty of the triumph of goodness; to some undeveloped soul the anguish of fuller recognition of that marvellous majesty, which on earth it only recognised by stray sigh of penitence or a passing thought of desire: to some who through no fault of their own, by a specialite of circumstances, or mystery of mental build, or owing to a fog of prejudice, or an involuntarily blinded mind, have never known Him--the purifying sorrow of awakening at last to the unveiled beauty; to some who have known and loved Him, the fuller sense--for love is the real illumination--of how unworthy they have been, how their best has been bad, their self-sacrifices pitiful, face to face with the unshrouded loveliness of that supernatural sorrow.
III. What, then, is the relation of that final vision with the mystery of the passion? This: in that supreme crisis of humanity it is a mystery no more; or rather the souls of those who are passing from the limitations of time are themselves in a sphere of mystery; they see, they understand such visions with the quickened senses of eternity. Life here is in deepest shadow, but nothing since the beginning of creation has been so wrapped in shadow as the fact and the consequences of Calvary; if that be clear, all must be plain. And clear it will be. Christ is the Great Revealer, in Him we shall see all. What shall we see? This. The real meaning of humility. The strange and now interpreted story of the humiliation of the Cross. What shall we see? The perfected sympathy of God in Christ with all that is truly human, all that would permit that sympathy by a surrendered will. What shall we see? The evident and now intelligible splendour of the ideal of humanity. But, oh! the surprise of the souls of the blessed when first they see unveiled in awe and majesty the ideal of Divine, of human beauty--the Fairest of the fair! What shall we see? The meaning of suffering. It seemed awful, almost cruel, when borne in the darkness of probation, but here is the end. In the light of the Crucified now in unshrouded beauty, the full splendour of that suffering once borne with difficulty, but borne in patience, will reveal what, in the “valley of the shadow,” lay concealed within it--some inconceivable secret of the love and the loveliness of God. What shall we see? We shall see in its overwhelming glory the mystery of power. It could only speak on earth in the mystic but eloquent symbol of the Cross. Here it is plain in the clear Revelation. Power elevating, perfecting the uncreated beauty. The power that could deal with the ruin of the creature, the redeemed the work of the Redeemer, the forces of redemption--God in Christ. (Canon Knox Little.)
The Second Advent of Christ
I. The Judge. “Behold, He cometh.” Who? Christ Jesus. Were He only a man, He could not be qualified for this high office, for no man, however acute his discernment, can know “the thoughts and intents of the heart”; but, being God as well as man, He is omniscient. His justice is equal to His knowledge, for “justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne, while a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of His kingdom.” There is no quality more important in a judge than this.
II. The certainty of his approach. “Behold, He cometh,” exclaims the apostle, as if he had actually seen Him on His way.
III. The manner of His coming. “Behold, He cometh with clouds.” This agrees with the exhibition that was given at the promulgation of the law from Sinai, when clouds and thick darkness, from which there proceeded flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, enveloped the mountain. And further, since clouds are always spoken of as the symbols of Divinity, and since few things are more sublime in their appearance and motion, could any representation be more descriptive of the God-like manner of His operations, or better calculated to convince us that the mighty agent in this grand movement is God?
IV. The universal publicity of His appearance. “Every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” Men of all creeds, in short, of all colours, of all grades of talent, and of all conditions of society, will be there.
V. The way in which these two different classes will be affected by the sight of their Judge. Not one of them, we may well conceive, will behold Him with indifference. Still, however, there will be a vast difference between the feelings of the wicked and the feelings of the righteous. (W. Nisbet.)
The final coming of Christ to judgment
I. Christ will come to judgement.
1. The announcement of prophecy: Enoch, Job. Christ and His disciples were frequent in their reference to fits final advent. They made it a motive for diligence, an incentive to watchfulness, and the occasion of other solemn instruction.
2. The statement of Scripture. “Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.” “He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained.”
3. The conviction of reason.
4. The dread expectation of conscience.
II. The coming of Christ to judgment will be associated with majesty and glory. “He cometh with clouds.”
1. The clouds are indicative of mystery. Clouds hide many things from mortal vision. So the coming of Christ will be associated with great mystery. There will be the mystery connected with a judge possessed of a nature at once human and Divine. There will be the mystery associated with the life and attendance of angelic spirits. There will be the mystery consequent upon the resurrection and trial of humanity.
2. The clouds are indicative of beauty. We have all seen and admired them. So the great coming of Christ will be associated with everything that constitutes moral grandeur. The scene will be one of supreme rectitude, of infinite purity, and, therefore, unrivalled glory.
3. The clouds are indicative of power. With what force do the clouds rush along the heavens; who, or what could resist them in their rapid march? So the final coming of Christ to judgment will be irresistible.
III. The coming of Christ to judgment will be witnessed by an assembled universe. “And every eye shall see Him.”
1. He will be seen by the devout Christian. By men who have consecrated their lives to His service. These will be in sympathy with His coming.
2. He will be seen by the impious sceptic. Hobbs and Hume will see Him. These will behold His coming with surprise.
3. He will be seen by the morally impenitent. Herod, Judas, Pilate; sinner, you will see Him. These will see Him with dismay. Hypocrite and backslider, you will see Him. You will see Him with despair.
IV. The coming of Christ to judgment meets with the solemn approbation of the good. “Even so, Amen.”
1. They approve, not because they desire the final overthrow of the wicked. The good man’s desire is, that the whole world should be saved.
2. They approve, because it is the legitimate termination of mortal affairs.
3. They approve, because it will lead them into a bright and more durable vision of the eternal.
1. The world will one day see Christ.
2. Will you “wail because of Him,” or say, “Even so, Amen”? (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The second advent
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the great ordinance of Jehovah for bringing all things to that state and bearing which He has assigned them in His eternal mind. The whole of this dispensation of God to man is called the mystery of God, and the whole of this mystery has its accomplishment in three comings of Christ; His coming in the flesh, His coming in the Spirit, and His coming in the clouds. It is to the last of these comings that John refers our attention in the text. “Behold He cometh.” The coming of Christ in the clouds is yet, perhaps, at some distance, but faith anticipates it, realises it.
1. Now, that the coming of our Lord in the clouds is an event worthy of all your attention and wonder, I think will appear, if we consider--
(1) The place from which He comes--from heaven. Angelic voices sound from that far country whither He has gone to receive a kingdom, into the royalties and glories of which He has entered as the reward of His suffering. From that country He shall come back.
2. The coming of Christ with clouds is worthy of all our attention and wonder because of the place to which He comes. To this earth once more--to this earth where His delights were with the sons of men--to this earth in which He was born--to this earth, again, where He lived, like a common Jewish peasant, three and thirty years--to this earth again, from which He was hissed away by a scandalised death.
3. The coming of Christ in the clouds is worthy of your attention and regard, because of the circumstances of glory in which it will take place. “Behold, He cometh with clouds.” Why, He came with clouds before, but they were clouds of poverty, clouds of obscurity, clouds of shame; but now He comes in clouds of glory, of brightness.
4. This coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the clouds is an event worthy of your attention and wonder also, because of the time of it. He says, “Behold, I come quickly.” He will not delay His coming beyond the time assigned for it.
5. The coming of our Lord in the clouds, is further worthy of all your attention and wonder, because of the solemn preparations which shall usher it in. There will be signs in the air, signs in the sea, signs in the sun, signs in the stars, “men’s hearts failing them for fear, the sea and the waves roaring,” mighty events treading on the heels of one another.
6. The coming of Christ in the clouds is an event worthy of your attention and wonder, because of the solemn work He then comes to perform. He says, “Behold I come; My reward is with Me.” (J. E. Beaumont, M. D.)
Christ coming with clouds
John, who once heard the voice, “Behold the Lamb of God!” now utters the voice, “Behold, He cometh!”
I. Our Lord Jesus Comes.
1. This fact is worthy of a note of admiration--“Behold!”
2. It should be vividly realised till we cry, “Behold, He cometh!”
3. It should be zealously proclaimed. We should use the herald’s cry, “Behold!”
4. It is to be unquestioningly asserted as true. Assuredly He cometh.
(1) It has been long foretold. Enoch (Jude 1:14).
(2) He has Himself warned us of it. “Behold, I come quickly!”
5. It is to be viewed with immediate interest.
(1) “Behold!” for this is the grandest of all events.
(2) “He cometh,” the event is at the door.
(3) “He,” who is your Lord and Bridegroom, comes.
(4) He is coming even now, for He is preparing all things for His advent, and thus may be said to be on the road.
6. It is to be attended with a peculiar sign--“with clouds.”
(1) The emblems of His majesty.
(2) The ensigns of His power.
(3) The warnings of His judgment. Charged with darkness and tempest are these gathered clouds.
II. Our Lord’s coming will be seen of all.
1. It will be a literal appearance. Not merely every mind shall think of Him, but “every eye shall see Him.”
2. It will be beheld by all sorts and kinds of living men.
3. It will be seen by those long dead.
4. It will be seen by His actual murderers, and others like them.
5. It will be manifest to those who desire not to see the Lord.
6. It will be a sight in which you will have a share. Since you must see Him, why not at once look to Him and live?
III. His coming will cause sorrow. “All kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.”
1. The sorrow will be very general. “All kindreds of the earth.”
2. The sorrow will be very bitter. “Wail.”
3. The sorrow proves that men will not be universally converted.
4. The sorrow also shows that men will not expect from Christ’s coming a great deliverance.
5. The sorrow will in a measure arise out of His glory, seeing they rejected and resisted Him. That glory will be against them.
6. The sorrow will be justified by the dread result.
Their fears of punishment will be well grounded. Their horror at the sight of the great Judge will be no idle fright. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The coming of Christ
I. The coming of Christ.
II. The evidence of His coming. This appears from the character of God, from His holiness and righteousness, His faithfulness and truth, from His holy covenant, counsels and promises, His infinite glory, and Divine government. The truth of this appears from the character of Christ--from His human nature, His atoning death, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to heaven, and Divine administration. The evidence further appears from the work of the Spirit, who convinces the world of judgment to come--from the law of God, which is perfect, pure, and spiritual, holy, just, and good. The truth of this appears from the types of Holy Writ (Numbers 6:24-26; Matthew 25:34). Again, the evidence appears from the prophecy of Enoch (Jude 1:14-15); from the character of God as the Judge of all the earth; from the faith of Job in the living Redeemer (Job 19:25; Job 19:27); from many of the Psalms; from the vision of Daniel (7:10-14); from Christ’s parables, the testimony of the angels when Jesus ascended, and from the doctrines and promises of the prophets and apostles. The truth of this will be rendered obvious from the works of Providence, and the unequal distribution of Divine dispensations. Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth. The evidence of this appears from reason, the light of nature, the power of conscience, and the inseparable connection between the Creator and the creature.
III. The manner of His coming.
1. We have in these words the solemnity of His coming. This great event is ushered in with a “Behold!”
2. We have in these words the reality of His coming. He will come personally: “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven.”
3. The certainty of His coming.
4. The nearness of His coming.
5. The suddenness of His coming. His first coming was slow and progressive.
IV. The majesty of his coming. “Behold He cometh with clouds.” Clouds are the symbols of Divine majesty. He shall come in the Father’s glory, invested with all His essential perfections, with all His authority, excellence, and majesty. He shall come in His own glory, the glory of His Deity, His person, and His offices as mediator. He shall come in the glory of the Holy Spirit, resting upon Him as the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel, and of might, of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. He shall be glorious in His throne--the great white throne. He shall be glorious in His apparel--robes of light; and also in His power--travelling in the greatness of His strength, mighty to save. He shall be glorious in His chariot--the clouds of heaven, the wings of the wind. He shall be glorious in His attendants--the holy angels, the beings of light. He shall be glorious in His Church, who shall bear His blessed image, reflect His moral glory, and exhibit the transcendent excellence of the last, the finishing touch, of His glorious, skilful, wonder-working hand. He will be glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that believe. He shall be glorious in His last great work of judgment and mercy, now finished for ever, and He shall contemplate the whole scene with Divine delight, and pronounce it to be good.
V. The effects of His coming. The first effect is the misery of the wicked: “All the kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.” There is here an allusion to the book of Zechariah (Zechariah 10:12). The second effect is the triumph of the righteous: “Even so, Amen.” The first word is Greek, the last word is Hebrew. The expression is doubled, to strengthen the assertion. It expresses the apostle’s acquiescence in the promise: even so, thus let it be; it is just and right that it should be so. It expresses the soul’s approbation of the promise; of all the counsels and arrangements of heaven. It expresses faith in the promise: “Lord, I believe that Thou wilt come.” It implies hope in the promise: “Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God our Saviour.”
VI. The uses of his coming. Hence see the glorious consummation of the whole plan of mercy. All the perfections of God shall be displayed, His character shall be glorified, His law shall be honoured, and His government vindicated; all His counsels shall be fully unfolded, and all the predictions of His Word shall be verified; and God shall then be all in all, in His ineffable resplendent glory. Hence see the necessity of constant preparation for the coming of Christ. We cannot die in safety unless we enjoy peace with God. (James Young.)
Despair of sinners in judgment
I cannot put into English the full meaning of that most expressive word. Sound it at length, and it conveys its own meaning. It is as when men wring their hands and burst out into a loud cry; or as when eastern women, in their anguish, rend their garments, and lift up their voices with the most mournful notes. All the kindreds of the earth shall wail: wail as a mother laments over her dead child; wail as a man might wail who found himself hopelessly imprisoned and doomed to die. Such will be the hopeless grief of all the kindreds of the earth at the sight of Christ in the clouds: if they remain impenitent, they shall not be able to be silent; they shall not be able to repress or conceal their anguish, but they shall wail, or openly give vent to their horror. What a sound that will be which wilt go up before high heaven when Jesus sits upon the cloud, and in the fulness of His power summons them to judgment! Then “they shall wail because of Him.” Will your voice be heard in that wailing? Will your heart be breaking in that general dismay? How will you escape? If you are one of the kindreds of the earth, and remain impenitent, you will wail with the rest of them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending.
Christ all in all
I. Of creation.
II. Of history.
III. Of Scripture.
IV. Of salvation.
V. In the life of the believer.
VI. In the Christian Church. (D. R. Key, M. A.)
Alpha and Omega
I. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of human aspirations. He meets men’s strongest yearnings.
1. It is so in reference to theological aspirations.
2. Immortal aspirations are likewise met in Jesus. Men believe in a hereafter. On the last page of life’s book we do not write Finis, but “To be continued in our next.” Christ ministers to this yearning for immortality. “I go to prepare a place for you”; “This day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise”; “Where I am there also shall My servant be.”
II. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of human character. Christ comprehended in Himself every form of excellence. No virtue was lacking; each grace was present. A visitor in Spain, delighted with the paintings of Rubens, asked where his bad pictures were? He failed to discover them. Inquire for the defects of Christ, and you cannot get an answer.
III. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega of human privilege. What is true of the Bible is true also of Christ. It meets all moral needs. There is a bridge in a certain Austrian city on whose parapets stand twelve statues of the Saviour. He is represented in various relationships, as, for instance, prophet, priest, king, physician, pilot, shepherd, sower, carpenter. The country people, coming into town soon after dawn with produce for the market, pause before the sower or the shepherd Christ, and offer their prayers through Him. The artisans, two hours later, repairing to the workshop, bend before the carpenter Christ. Later on the sailor kneels at the feet of the pilot Christ. And in the warm sunlight of the forenoon invalids, creeping out to enjoy the fresh air, rest under the shadow of the Great Physician. Apt symbol of our Lord’s adaptation to universal necessities! He is all and in all. (T. R. Stevenson.)
Christ the Alpha and Omega
I. As it respects the relation in which He stands to the covenant of grace.
II. As it relates to the personal enjoyments and salvation of the true believer.
III. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the great works of nature and providence. (T. Hutchings.)
The first and the last
I. First, consider the title as expressive of the eternal duration of our Saviour’s existence. “I am the first,” He says, and thereby claims precedence of all created beings and things. He is before all things, and by Him are all things. “I am the first,” He says, and thereby claims to be coeval with the Father; for if the Father existed prior to Himself He could not be said to be the first. It is a most direct and unequivocal assertion of His divinity. He, as the God-man, the Divine taking upon Him the human, is the Centre and the Sun, the Alpha and Omega, of His own world. This statement is supported by the second part of His title. It points us to an impenetrable future, as the first does to an illimitable past. He is the Omega no less than the Alpha; the end even as He is the beginning. His existence bounds all being. As no one preceded Him, so no one can outlive Him. The Father does not live longer than the Son. What could show more clearly that He is dependent on none; that all are dependent on Him. It is of no small importance that you should practically realise this truth. It bears on our conduct, for if the Saviour be what this title claims, He is not to be regarded as a mere man, however holy and divinely endowed, but to be worshipped even as the Father is worshipped. It is conducive to our comfort, for, to say nothing of the efficacy which His dignity imparts to His atoning work, it is a blessed thing to know, amid the trials and the vicissitudes of this changing scene, that there is a Friend who ever lives and who is ever the same.
II. Then we consider the title as expressive of our Saviour’s action in all the movements of the universe. The self-existent and independent one must necessarily be the author and upholder of all created existence. Observe
1. How unlimited is the power which is thus attributed to our Lord. The fact of creation is in one point of view the most stupendous of which we have any knowledge. While all this is awful, is it not delightful to reflect how that power is wielded by our best Friend, by One whose heart is as tender as His arm is strong, and wielded for the welfare of those who put their trust in Him?
2. He carries all things forward to their consummation. He terminates as well as originates all the processes of the universe--all beings, all things, all existence. We are not to think of Him as severed from Bib works, but as pervading and upholding them, and still conducting them all. He is the centre of all forces, the fountain of all law, the sustainer of all existence. Look around you in your own world; in the multitude of the activities that you witness you behold the exercise of His power. It is seen in the flowing river, in the restless ocean, in the rising and setting sun, in the still or stormy atmosphere, in all activities of organic substance, in animal and vegetable life. It is His power that bursts in the budding of the plant; His beauty which is unfolded in the opening flower; it is His providence which shapes the life of the buzzing insect, His will that determines the mode and manner of its death. Even the smallest grain of dust takes its shape from His hands; He directs the course of every particle of spray, every feather and every snowflake in the breeze. There is nothing too minute for His care, as there is nothing too great for His might. Look into the inner world of the soul, and with equal certainty you can discern His movements there. Not only did He lay down His life to provide redemption for us, but by His Spirit He applies that redemption to the individual soul. The work of grace in its beginning, its continuance, its consummation, is all of Him. There is human instrumentality, but the efficiency is all Divine.
III. Again, consider the title as intimating that all things exist on our Saviour’s account, and actually and ultimately tend to the promotion of His glory. It is not a subject for dogmatism, scarcely for speculation, when we say that the purpose of creation was the manifestation of the Divine attributes, to give expression and embodiment to the truth, the purity, the beauty, the wisdom, the goodness, and the perfection of the attributes which exist in the Divine mind, that God might complacently behold and rest in His works, and that His intelligent creatures, beholding these perfections in the visible universe, might respond to those expressions of the Divine with devout and joyful adoration. Christ came to restore the Divine order which sin had interrupted, and all creation, true to the purpose of its existence, co-operates with Him for this end. His Incarnation is not an isolated fact; it is the centre of the universe, pointing to the past order which has been broken and is yet to be restored. (W. Landels.)
The A and the Z
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega is the last; so that Christ in this text represents Himself as the A and the Z. That is one reason why I like the Bible; its illustrations are so easy to understand. When it represents the gospel as a hammer, everybody knows it is to knock something to pieces; or as salt, everybody who has put down meat in barrels knows it is to keep things from spoiling; or as a salve, that is to cure the old sores of the heart. Anybody who knows the a b c understands that the text means that Christ is the Beginning and the End in everything good.
I. He is the A and the Z of the physical universe. By Him were all things made that are made. It is exciting to see a ship launched. The people gather in a temporary gallery erected for their accommodation. The spectators are breathless, waiting for the impediments to be removed, when down the ship rushes with terrific velocity, the planks smoking, the water tossing, the flags flying, the people huzzaing, bands of music playing. But my Lord Jesus saw this ship of a world launched with its furnaces of volcano, and flags of cloud, and masts of mountain, and beams of thunderbolt, while the morning stars shouted, and the orchestras of heaven played, “Great and marvellous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty!” The same hand that put up this universe will pull it down.
II. Christ is the A and the Z of the Bible. Here is a long lane, overshadowed by fine trees, leading up to a mansion. What is the use of the lane if there were no mansion at the end? There is no use in the Old Testament, except as a grand avenue to lead us up to the Gospel Dispensation. You may go early to a concert. Before the curtain is hoisted, you hear the musicians tuning up the violins, and getting ready all the instruments. After a while the curtain is hoisted, and the concert begins. All the statements, parables, orations, and miracles of the Old Testament were merely preparatory, and when all was ready, in the time of Christ, the curtain hoists, and there pours forth the Oratorio of the Messiah--all nations joining in the Hallelujah Chorus.
III. Christ is the A and the Z of the Christian ministry. A sermon that has no Christ in it is a dead failure. The minister who devotes his pulpit to anything but Christ is an impostor. What the world wants now is to be told in the most direct way of Jesus Christ, who comes to save men from eternal damnation. Christ the Light, Christ the Sacrifice, Christ the Rock, Christ the Star, Christ the Balm, Christ the Guide.
IV. Christ is the A and the Z in the world’s rescue. When the world broke loose, the only hand swung out to catch it was that of Jesus.
V. Christ is the A and the Z in Heaven. He is the most honoured personage in all the land. He is known as a World-Liberator. The first one that a soul entering heaven looks for is Jesus. At His feet break the doxologies. Around His throne circle the chief glories. At heaven’s beginning--Christ, the Alpha. Then travel far on down the years of eternity, and stop at the end of the remotest age, and see if the song has not taken up some other burthen, and some other throne has not become the centre of heaven’s chief attractions. But no; you hear it thrummed on the harps and poured from the trumpets and shouted in universal acclaim, “Christ, the Omega!” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The Alpha and Omega
I. The Lord Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, because he is the manifestation of God. The use of the various letters is just to articulate your truest self--to render intelligible to others your thoughts and wishes, your feelings and your purposes. And in this sense Immanuel is the Alpha and Omega of the ever-blessed Godhead. He is the articulation of Jehovah’s mind. He is the Word of God. He is the visible embodiment of all that is in the invisible Three-One. Whatever the mind of the Lord Jesus is, the same is the mind of God; whatever the dispositions of the Lord Jesus are known to be, the same are the dispositions of Him whom no man can see; and whatever perfections were seen in the person of Christ, the same perfections reside in the great I Am.
II. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, because of His All-Sufficiency. Like the literal Alpha and Omega, He includes everything within Himself. He is the beginning and the ending, which is, and was, and is to come--the Almighty--the All-sufficient. There is nothing which a believer needs but he will find it in the Lord Jesus.
1. A sufficient Saviour. His name was called “Jesus,” because He saves His people from their sins. You can do nothing which more truly honours Him, than to trust your salvation entirely to Him.
2. A most attractive and assimilating pattern of all moral excellence. In His direct operations on the mind, the Holy Spirit is the immediate sanctifier of God’s people; but it is by revealing the great model of all excellence in the person of the Lord Jesus, that the Holy Spirit changes them into the same likeness.
2. A wise Counsellor and unerring Guide. He knows the end from the beginning; He sees the issue of every undertaking, not only in time, but in eternity. His counsel is wonderful, for it meets the very case; and--what cannot be said of much good advice--He can not only give the best counsel, but He can make you willing to take it. In His ever-living Word, He has left principles available in all the casuistry which ever can occur in your experience--formulae which only need to be filled up with your particular case, and the doubt is at once dispelled--the path is at once made plain.
III. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, because all things that concern the Church are in Him summed up or “recapitulated.” In His person the Church on earth finds its access to God, and the earnest of its everlasting life; and in that same person the Church of the glorified finds the guarantee of permanent joy--the stability of its bliss secured. All that belong to Him are safe within the circle of the changeless love and all-embracing might of Him who filleth all in all.
IV. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, because He is the first and the last, the beginning and the ending--He that liveth and is alive for evermore. There is a power which bade Lebanon rise, and a power which can bid Lebanon and his continental roots subside in fiat chaos again. The day will come when that hoary deep must die--when old Ocean will lift up his waves and clap his cymbal hands no more. Yes, old apparatus of the universe, obsolete version of a system fast verging to decay, ye soon must vanish, and make room for a world where there is no more sea, and for cities which don’t need the sun. But when ye are gone the Fountain of Life will still include in His all-encircling fulness everything that lives. (Jas. Hamilton.)
The security of the Church amid the vicissitudes of time
I. This important information the Saviour is pleased to communicate in this passage.
1. The figurative mode of expression He employs.
2. The evident sense of His communication. Christ precedes all things by the eternity of His nature; He pervades all things by the omnipresence of His Spirit; He survives all things by the immortality of His nature.
II. The solemn confirmation Christ deigns to afford. He announces--
1. The eternity of His duration.
2. The omnipotency in His possession. Christ says that He is the Almighty.
III. The blessed consolation the Saviour designs to bestow.
1. The security it affords to the believer amid the calamitous changes of life.
2. The stability of the Church amid the overthrow of empires.
3. The immortality of the Christian amid the ravages of death. (J. Blackburn.)
Take Christ first, before you think of doing anything else. Did He not say, “Without Me you can do nothing”? So, then, all you do without Him is sheer nothing, however pious and noble it may appear in the eyes of men. Is Ha not the Alpha, and is not the Alpha the first letter? Then do not try to put a letter before it; do not say to yourself, “I will try to obtain a true recognition of my sins, and then I will go to Jesus and obtain salvation.” This is beginning with the Z instead of with the Alpha. By doing so you make yourself like that fool who said, “I will learn to swim first, and then I will go into the water.” Do you want to know your sins truly? Who is to give you that knowledge but Christ? Do you want to become better and more heavenly minded? Who can give you that godly disposition of heart but Christ? (T. Guthrie.)
The Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.--
The eternity of God
I. The different senses in which the words eternal, immortal, and everlasting, are used by the sacred writers.
1. Sometimes they signify nothing more but only a long duration (Genesis 17:8; Numbers 10:8; Genesis 49:26; Hab 3:6; 1 Samuel 3:13; Exodus 21:6).
2. The next sense they are used in is to denote a duration continuing as long as the subject exists, and then putting it in a state out of which it shall never be restored (Numbers 24:20; Deuteronomy 13:16; Jude 1:7).
3. In other places of Scripture the words “eternal” and “for ever” signify in a higher sense a duration, not figuratively, but properly and literally everlasting, without end, though not without beginning. Thus angels and the souls of men are eternal, or immortal.
4. The last and highest and most absolutely perfect sense of the words “eternal” and “everlasting,” is when they signify a duration of inexhaustible and never-falling permanency, both without beginning and without end. And not only so, but including also necessary and independent existence, so as in no manner whatsoever to derive from any other.
II. Some observations concerning this doctrine of the eternity of God in particular.
1. This eternity is a perfection, an attribute, by which God is very frequently described in Scripture, in order to raise in our minds a just veneration of His Divine majesty (Deuteronomy 33:27; Romans 16:26; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Samuel 15:29; 1Ti 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16; Psalms 102:24).
2. Not only in Scripture is God frequently described by this attribute of eternity, but even under the light of nature also is He represented to us after the same manner. For since it is in some degree a perfection to be, and a greater degree of that perfection, to continue in being, it is evident, when we conceive of God the most perfect being, we must conceive Him to be infinite in this perfection also, as well as in others. Again, it is evident even to the meanest capacity which considers things at all, that He who first gave being to all other things could not possibly have any beginning Himself, and that He who hath already existed from all eternity, independently and of Himself, cannot possibly be liable to be deprived of His being, and must therefore necessarily exist for an eternity to come.
3. The true notion of the Divine eternity does not consist in making past things to be still present, and things future to be already come, which is an express contradiction. The eternal, supreme cause has such a perfect, independent, and unchangeable comprehension of all things, that in every point or instance of His eternal duration, all things past, present, and to come, must be, not indeed themselves present at once, but they must be as entirely known and represented to Him in one single thought or view, and all things present and future be as absolutely under His power and direction (Psalms 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8).
III. What use this meditation may be to us in practice.
1. This attribute of eternity, absolute, necessary, and independent, is one of the principal characters by which the true God of the universe is distinguished from false Gods.
2. The consideration of the eternity of God is an argument why His providence ought not to be cavilled at, nor His promises doubted of, even though there be no present appearance of the performances of His promises, and no present way of explaining the methods of His providence.
3. The consideration of God’s eternity is a sure ground of trust and confidence, of hope and cheerfulness, to good men at all times, seeing His protection may be relied on and depended upon for ever.
4. The consideration of this Divine perfection, the eternity of God, is a ground for frail and mortal man to hope for pity and compassion from Him.
5. The consideration of God’s being eternal leads us to a right knowledge and just sense of the excellency of that reward, wherewith He will finally crown those who obey His commandments.
6. If God is eternal this consideration ought to be matter of infinite terror to all impenitent sinners; that He who liveth for ever, as He will reward His servants eternally, so He can punish His enemies as long as He pleases, for there is no end of His power. (S. Clarke, D. D.)
The eternity of God the Son
Contemplate God our Saviour--
I. As He was.
1. He was--in the bosom of the Father from all eternity.
2. He was--a little helpless babe, born in a stable, cradled in a manger.
3. He was--“a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”
4. He was--a sacrifice for sin.
5. He was--again on earth forty days (Acts 1:3).
II. He is--His present state and circumstances.
1. He is--glorified.
2. He is--the head of His Church.
3. He is--preparing a place for us.
4. He is--in a state of expectation.
III. He is to come.
1. His second advent is as certain as His first, and depends upon it.
2. He is to come--suddenly and unexpectedly.
3. He is to come--with power and great glory.
4. He is to come--for the final consummation of all things. (Dean Close.)
I John, who also am your brother.
St. John--a sublime character
I. A character of distinguished excellence described.
1. As a “brother”; his heart glows with a Christly fraternity for the good of all the Churches throughout all the world.
2. As a sufferer; he is in “tribulation.” The best men on earth are subject to suffering.
II. A character of distinguished excellence banished by bloody persecutors. “In the isle called Patmos.” On this desolate island, amidst the greatest villains of the age, this great character was banished. Strange that the Providence of heaven should have allowed one of the most Christly men on the earth at that time to live for an hour in such a scene. But Patmos to John, and Patmos to the other residents, was a different place. To John it was a theatre of sublimest revelations--the very gate of heaven.
III. A character of distinguished excellence banished by bloody persecutors for the cause of Christ. He bore “testimony of Jesus,” and preached the “Word of God.” (Homilist.)
Companions in the Divine kingdom
1. Holy men of God, who committed to writing the oracles of heaven, frequently mention their name, their office, and the high authority with which they were invested, as an evidence of the truth of their sacred message, and as a ground of confidence in it.
2. The blessings, the promises, the hopes, the privileges of the kingdom, and the glorious prospects of life and immortality belonged in common to all the holy brethren. They were brethren in affection; they loved one another with a pure love fervently; they were brethren in profession, a holy band of brothers, united together in the faith, hope, and profession of the gospel; they were brethren in action, holy obedience, devoted effort, in deed and in truth, in work and in warfare, in sorrow and suffering, in conflict and conquest, in life and in death.
3. They were also companions. They were companions in friendship, like David and Jonathan; companions in love, like Paul and Timothy; companions in arms, as soldiers of the Cross. They had all the same cause, interest, and object; the same profession, conflict, and triumph; and the same cause, prospects, and glory.
4. The objects in which John was their brother and companion were three: the tribulation, the kingdom, and patience of Jesus.
(1) He was their brother in tribulation. This supposes subjection to all the common calamities of life; we are born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. It includes persecutions for the sake of Christ. Of these the primitive saints had a large share. To be a brother and companion in tribulation includes sympathy with the afflicted. The fellowship of saints consists greatly in sympathetic feelings. If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.
(2) He was a brother and companion in the kingdom of Christ. Observe the connection between the tribulation and the kingdom of Jesus. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him. The Lord Jesus Christ is the King of this kingdom. He is the King of Zion--the King of martyrs. As a King, he was prefigured by many an ancient type--Melchizedek was king of Salem; Moses was king in Jeshurun; Judah was the lawgiver from whom the Shiloh came. The kingdom was foreshadowed as well as the King. The people of Israel were a royal priesthood, a kingdom of priests.
(3) The patience of Jesus Christ. This word includes a patient enduring, a patient waiting, and a patient persevering.
5. The exile of the apostle. His grace shall be sufficient for us; He will perfect His strength in our weakness.
6. It was for the sake of Jesus that John was now an exile; but He for whom he suffered was infinitely worthy; and John was ready to count all things but loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord. (James Young.)
The glorified Saviour
I. The revelation to the imprisoned saint. Though confined on this prison-isle, the disciple of Christ was not left a prey to regrets or mournful contemplation about the failure of his own or his Master’s work. Arabi Pasha from his coffee plantation in Ceylon contemplates without hope the decline of the arms of the crescent under which he fought and the nationality he defended. John Baptist from his dungeon in the Machaerus when Christ was on the earth had sent to make sure that the Messiah had come; but this other John, though a captive, and a disciple of a departed Master, yet beheld the unmistakable marks of victory on that countenance shining as the sun in his strength. The restoration would not come in his day, but the victory was sealed. In the inferences we draw from startling events concerning the coming of the Lord to earth, there are some facts which should be borne in mind. One is the manifold increase of population and human activity with advancing years. There are bound to be with this enlarged area of civilisation a vast series of crises and combinations. Again, the means of communication are such that we read of all the world’s calamities summed up in one day’s journal. The occasions of trouble are multiplied by our very frequent contact with nations and individuals. We cannot infer, therefore, a disproportionate increase of evils because we hear of them oftener than formerly. Our spirits chafe under the slow advance of reform according to the vernier scale when we wish for the yard measure standard of progress. But we are still with our brother John in the tribulation and patience period of the kingdom, and yet one of hope.
II. The fulness of the revelation to a single saint. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” That was a magnificent service which was performed for that troubled soul on his seagirt isle that Sabbath day. The presence of one worshipper is sufficient to start the angelic choir, to secure the entrance of the high priest in his robes of ascended majesty. One troubled spirit requires the whole of the Divine ministry. The disciple of Christ who puts himself in the line with Divine commands, whatever his estate or humiliation, often finds the whole splendid ritual produced for him. It was the Lord’s day when this mighty revelation came to the prisoner. He was in the spirit, though depressed and anxious. Many persons will stay away from church because of evils which have come or misfortunes in the family. But they thus fail of the very relief God has vouchsafed to those who seek to serve Him. The choicest blessings are for those who are in the line of appointed duty. The individual is not overlooked. We are taught here how in all the mighty movements of nations and the universe itself Christ has time to spare and disposition to care for His humble, persecuted disciples.
III. The continued story for the world. “Write therefore the things that thou sawest.” After the personal revelation comes the permanent message for the ministry, the Church, and the world. There was to be a book and a commentary by the living One. Attention was here called to the value of permanent records of the Lord’s will for the Church in all ages. The Bible was not only largely written by captives, but has been ever the prisoners’ book. (William R. Campbell.)
Brother and companion
I. Brother and companion. He does not write as a lord over them, but as one of themselves. He is one of the many “brethren” in Asia; one of the “household of faith.” He is no stranger, no master or ruler, but truly a part of themselves, who needed their sympathy and love even more than they needed his. Not a brother only, but a “companion”: a co-partner with them in all things; a sharer with them in the same faith and hope, the same sorrow and joy.
II. Brother and companion in tribulation. There was tribulation in the Churches then, as now; in some eases it was “much tribulation” (Acts 14:22), or “great tribulation” (Revelation 2:22; Revelation 7:14). “Weeping endured for a night” (Psalms 30:5); for this is the night, and it is the time of tears. What John suffered, these Churches suffered; what they suffered, he suffered: for the sympathy between all the members of the body was quick and instantaneous in these days of love. Sympathy between the members of Christ’s body is little known in these last days; so many non-conducting materials have prevented the communication. The world has come in; false brethren have come in; the members do not realise the vitality of their connection with the Head. The links are broken; the fine nerves that carried the spiritual feeling through every part have frozen or become insensible, if not dead. Who of us appreciates this deep, true spiritual union, with which no external unity can intermeddle, either to hinder or to help?
III. Brother and companion in the kingdom. The kingdom belongs alike to all the members of the one body from the beginning. One in sorrow, one in joy; one in shame, one in glory; one in tribulation, one in triumph!
IV. Brother and companion in the patience of Jesus Christ. Until that kingdom come, there is need of patience; patience such as all the saints have shown in the days of their pilgrimage; the patience exhibited by the Master Himself; the patience of faith and hope; the patient waiting for the kingdom. Be patient unto the coming of the Lord. Be patient under wrong, and suffering, and weariness, and hope deferred. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.
The threefold common heritage
I. The common royalty. John does not say, “I am going in be a partaker,” but says, here and now, in this little rocky island of Patmos, “I yet, like all the rest of you, who have the same bitter cup to drink, I even now am a partaker of the kingdom that is in Christ.” What is that kingdom? It is the sphere or society, the state or realm, in which His will is obeyed; and, as we may say, His writs run. But then, besides that, there is a wider sense of the expression, in which Christ’s kingdom stretches all through the universe, and wherever the authority of God is, there is the kingdom of the exalted Christ, who is the right hand and active power of God. So then the “kingdom that is in Christ “is yours if you are “in Christ.” Or, to put it into other words, whoever is ruled by Christ has a share in rule with Christ. His vassals are altogether princes. We rule over ourselves, which is the best kingdom to govern, on condition of saying, “Lord, I cannot rule myself; do Thou rule me.” So we do not need to wait for heaven to be possessors of the kingdom that God hath prepared for them that love Him. But while the kingdom is present, its perfect form is future. They used to say that in the days of the first Napoleon every French soldier carried a field marshal’s baton in his knapsack. That is to say, every one of them had the chance of winning it, and many of them did win it. But every Christian soldier carries a crown in his, and that not because he perhaps may, but because he certainly will, wear it, when the war is over, if he stands by his flag, and because he has it already in actual possession, though for the present the helmet becomes his brow rather than the diadem.
II. The common road to that common royalty. There are no short cuts nor bye-paths for the Christian pilgrim. There is “tribulation in Christ,” as surely as in Him there are peace and victory, and if we are in Christ we shall be sure to get our share of it. The Christian course brings new difficulties and trials of its own, and throws those who truly out-and-out adopt it into relations with the world which will surely lead to oppositions and pains. It has not ceased to be a hard thing to be a real and thorough Christian. The law is unrepealed--“If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him.” But this participation in the tribulation that is in Christ has another and gentler aspect. The expression points to the blessed softening of our hardest trials when they are borne in union with the Man of Sorrows.
III. The common temper in which the common road to the common royalty is to be trodden. Patience is the link, so to speak, between the kingdom and the tribulation. Sorrow does not of itself lead to the possession of the kingdom. All depends on the disposition which the sorrow evokes, and the way in which it is borne. We may take our sorrows in such a fashion as to be driven by them out of our submission to Christ, and so they may lead us away from and not towards the kingdom. The worst affliction is an affliction wasted, and every affliction is wasted unless it is met with patience, and that in Christ Jesus. A vivid metaphor underlies the word--that of the fixed attitude of one bearing up a heavy weight or pressure without yielding or being crushed. Such immovable constancy is more than passive. The true Christian patience implies continuance in well-doing, besides meek acceptance of tribulation. The first element in it is, no doubt, unmurmuring acquiescence in whatsoever affliction from God or man beats against us on our path. But the second is, continual effort after Christian progress, notwithstanding the tribulation. The storm must not blow us out of our course. We must still “bear up and steer right onward,” in spite of all its force on our faces, or, as “birds of tempest-loving kind” do, so spread our pinions as to be helped by it towards our goal. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The efficiency of the passive virtues
Kingdom and patience I a very singular conjunction of terms, to say the least, as if in Jesus Christ were made compatible authority and suffering, the impassive throne of a monarch and the meek subjection of a cross, the reigning power of a prince and the mild endurance of a lamb. What more striking paradox! And yet in this you have exactly that which is the prime distinction of Christianity. It is a kingdom erected by patience. It reigns in virtue of submission. Its victory and dominion are the fruits of a most peculiar and singular endurance. We too commonly take up the impression that power is measured by exertion; that we are effective simply because of what we do, or the noise we make; consequently, that when we are not in exertion of some kind, we are not accomplishing anything; and that if we are too humble, or poor, or infirm, to be engaged in great works and projects, there is really nothing for us to do, and we are living to no purpose. This very gross and wholly mistaken impression I wish to remove, by showing that a right passivity is sometimes the greatest and most effective Christian power, and that if we are brothers and companions in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, we are likely to fulfil the highest conception of the Christian life. Observe, then, first of all, that the passive and submissive virtues are most of all remote from the exercise or attainment of those who are out of the Christian spirit and the life of faith. It is commonly not difficult for men to be active or even bravely so; but when you come to the passive or receiving side of life, here they fail. To bear evil and wrong, to forgive, to suffer no resentment under injury, to be gentle when nature burns with a fierce heat and pride clamours for redress, to restrain envy, to bear defeat with a firm and peaceful mind, not to be vexed or fretted by cares, losses, or petty injuries, to abide in contentment and serenity of spirit when trouble and disappointment come--these are conquests, alas how difficult to most of us! Accordingly it will be seen that a true Christian man is distinguished from other men not so much by his beneficent works as by his patience. Consider also more distinctly the immense power of principle that is necessary to establish the soul in these virtues of endurance and patience. Here is no place for ambition, no stimulus of passion, such as makes even cowards brave in the field. Here are no exploits to be carried, no applauses of the multitude to be won. The disciple, knowing that God forgives and waits, wants to belike Him; knowing that he has nothing himself to boast of but the shame of a sinner, wants to be nothing, and prefers to suffer and crucify his resentments, and, since God would not contend with him, will not contend with those who do him injury. He gets the power of his patience wholly from above. We can act out of the human, but to suffer well requires participation of what is Divine. Hence the impression of greatness and sublimity which all men feel in the contemplation of that energy which is itself energised by a self-sacrificing and suffering patience. And accordingly there is no power over the human soul and character so effective and so nearly irresistible as this. Notice again, yet more distinctly, what will add a yet more conclusive evidence, how it is chiefly by this endurance of evil that Christ, as a Redeemer, prevails against the sin of the human heart and subdues its enmity. Just upon the eve of what we call His Passion, He says, in way of visible triumph, to His disciples, “The prince of this world is judged”; as if the kingdom of evil were now to be crushed, and His own new kingdom established by some terrible bolt of judgment falling on His adversaries. It was even so; and that bolt of judgment was the Passion of the Cross. When law was broken, and all the supports of authority set up by God’s majesty were quite torn away, God brought forth a power greater than law, greater than majesty, even the power of His patience, and by this He broke for ever the spirit of evil in the world. The new-creating grace of Christianity is scarcely more, in fact, than a Divine application of the principle, that when nothing else can subdue an enemy patience sometimes will. Again, it is important to notice that men, as being under sin, are set against all active efforts to turn them, or persuade them; but never against that which implies no effort--viz., the gentle virtues of patience. They provoke no opposition, because they are not put forth for us, but for their own sake. They fix our admiration, therefore, win our homage, and melt into our feeling. They move us the more, because they do not attempt to move us. They are silent, empty of all power but that which lies in their goodness, and for just that reason they are among the greatest powers that Christianity wields. Once more, it is important for every man, when he will cast the balance between the powers of action and of passion, or when he will discover the real effectiveness of passive good, to refer to his own consciousness. See how little impression is often made upon you by the most strenuous efforts to exert influence over you, and then how often you are swayed by feelings of respect, reverence, admiration, tenderness, from the simple observation of one who suffers well; receiving injury without resentment, gilding the lot of poverty and privation with a spirit of contentment and of filial trust in God; forgiving, gentle, unresisting, peaceful, and strong, under great storms of affliction. Let every Christian carefully observe his own consciousness here, and he will be in the least possible danger of disesteeming patience as a barren or sterile virtue, or of looking upon effort and action as the only operative and fruitful Christian powers. Let us notice some of the instructive and practical uses of the truth illustrated.
1. It is here that Christianity makes issue with the whole world on the question of human greatness. It works out the recovery of transgressors by the transforming power of sacrifice. And so it establishes a kingdom, which is itself the reign of the patience of Jesus. The whole plan centres in this one principle, that the suffering side of character has a power of its own, superior in some respects to the most active endeavours. And in this it proves its originality by standing quite alone.
2. The office of the Christian martyrs is hero explained. We look back upon the long ages of woe, the martyr ages of the Church, and we behold a vast array of active genius and power, that could not be permitted to spend itself in works of benefaction to the race, but was consecrated of God to the more sacred and more fruitful grace of suffering. The design was, it would seem, to prepare a Christly past, to show whole ages of faith populated with men who were able, coming after their Master and bearing His cross, to suffer with Him, and add their human testimony to His.
3. We see in this subject how it is that many persons are so abundantly active in religion with so little effect; while others who are not conspicuous in action accomplish so much. The reason is that one class trust mainly to the virtues of action, while the others unite also the virtues of patience. One class is brother and companion in the kingdom and works of Jesus, the other in the kingdom and patience of Jesus.
4. The reason why we have so many crosses, trials, wrongs, and pains, is here made evident. We have not one too many for the successful culture of our faith. The great thing, and that which it is most of all difficult to produce in us, is a participation of Christ’s forgiving, gentleness, and patience. This, if we can learn it, is the most difficult and the most distinctively Christian of all attainments. Therefore we need a continual discipline of occasions, poverty, sickness, bereavements, losses, treacheries, misrepresentations, oppressions, persecutions; we can hardly have too many for our own good, if only we receive them as our Saviour did His cross. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The kinghood of patience
That is a very remarkable phrase--“the kingdom and patience.” It might almost seem to be an arbitrary and fanciful phrase. And more than this, the two ideas would appear, to some minds at least, to be contradictory. Patience does not appeal to such minds as a kingly virtue, but rather as a commonplace quality befitting people of humbler rank. Impatience is somehow conceived as a king’s privilege. The Bible puts this whole matter directly the other way. Kinghood, instead of being dissevered from patience, is bound up with it: the kingly virtues are all intertwined with patience and dependent upon it. This truth, when we come to examine it, is not confined to the region of Scripture or of religion. It is, in part at least, an every-day, business truth. It is a familiar enough fact that the great successes of the world have been won by hard and patient work, and not by inspired flashes; and we are beginning to have greater respect for the power of holding on than for the power of brilliant striking out. And, as in so many cases, Christ shows us how, in these familiar views, we have gotten hold of one end of a truth which runs up through the whole spiritual economy; a truth which takes the form of a principle: patience is kinghood. But if that principle is to commend itself practically to mankind it must be incarnated. Men will not believe it on the strength of mere assertion. In Jesus there are these two elements, dominion and patience. Now, I ask you to consider the peculiar trial of patience applied to a cultured mind and a pure character m contact with dense Ignorance, wicked cruelty, intense bigotry, enormous conceit, and personal degradation in every conceivable form. Look at the matter, for instance, on its lowest side. Did you ever do a full day’s work in a hospital, surrounded from morning until evening with the sick and wounded and dying? If you have, you know how weary in body you were when the night came. And yet your worst experience of that kind was but a faint shadow of many days in Christ’s life, especially those in which He was pressed all day long by that fearful oriental crowd, thrusting their various ailments upon His attention. Wise and good men who devote their lives to the ignorant have nevertheless some compensation. They step out of their own congenial circle, where their character and thoughts are appreciated, and down into the lower circle; but they can step back again at intervals, and refresh themselves with the contact and sympathy of congenial minds. But this compensation was denied Christ. There was, indeed, small band that loved Him, listened to Him, and believed in Him, but even these could sympathise with Him only to a very small extent. Nothing is more beautiful than the patience of Christ as related to His uncompromising fidelity to His standard of duty and of truth: His holding by His principles while He holds on at the same time to those slow, backward pupils in the school of faith and of self-sacrifice. Many a man, by his severe devotion to his moral ideals, cuts himself loose from other men. They admire his courage and consistency, but refuse to follow him; and a reason for this is often found in his impatience with their slowness. It was the patience of Christ which enabled Him to bate not one jot of His high claims and at the same time to lose none of those whom the Father had given Him. He could mourn over slow faith and uneducated conscience and low ideals of duty, yet He could go on teaching, and continue to wait long and patiently while they toiled slowly and painfully up toward His higher level. Once more let me briefly refer you to Christ’s patience as shown in His method of securing friends and helpers. Most reformers, in their zeal to secure partisans, are willing to receive them under the influence of momentary enthusiasm. They are willing to have a man commit himself while his reason is unconvinced and only his fancy captivated. You cannot hut observe how Christ guarded against this mistake, though His caution doubtless cost Him many followers. He had patience to wait for followers who should embrace His cause deliberately, from conviction; and in this light the plainness of His statements concerning the terms and consequences of His service are worth noting. Nothing is concealed. And now I should like to dwell upon the patience of Christ as shown in His waiting. Christ’s mission, in its very nature, involved long, patient waiting. It was the mission of a sower, sowing seed of slow growth. The harvest of Christ’s ideas was not going to be reaped in three years nor in a hundred. He knew perfectly that He should return from earth leaving behind Him almost nothing in the way of visible results. He was content to await the slow growth of the gospel seed; to wait for the consummation of a sovereignty based on the spiritual transformation wrought by the gospel. His course in this stands out as the sublimest illustration of patience in all time, and stamps Him as the true King of the ages. Christ, therefore, by His own example, no less than by His word, commends to us this kingly virtue of patience. So, then, if you and I are expecting to win moral and spiritual dominion, this element must come to the front in our lives. Suppose we want to be good, truthful, pure in heart, single in purpose, Christlike in temper. Are these things wrought in us on the instant? No, you and I know it is not so. We know that each morning we wake to a twofold fight, with the world outside and with the self within. God help us if patience fail. God help us if there be not something within which keeps firm hold of the exceeding great and precious promises; which will not suffer faith to fail, that He that hath begun a good work will perfect it; which is not disheartened at slow progress, and which, spite of the tears and the dust, keeps our faces turned toward the place where we know the crown and the glory are, though we cannot see them. So, too, like Christ, we have a work to do among men. We shall not do it without patience. We must try and get a firmer hold of the great principle of Christ’s life: “not to be ministered unto, but to minister”; and when we shall have gotten it clearly into our minds that our main purpose in life is not to be blessed by the world, but to bless the world, then we shall find ourselves on the road where every day and every hour will beget a prayer for the patience of Jesus Christ. Bearing, waiting, enduring--these do not seem to be means to kinghood; but if we aim at spiritual kinghood, dominion over our hearts, dominion over self, dominion over character--the kingdom of Jesus Christ--that and that only is the way to it. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
In the isle that is called Patmos.--
John in Patmos
Whenever a man is sent anywhere for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, he is not in prison, he is not in Patmos only. Jesus Christ said “the Son of Man who is in heaven” at the very moment when He was sitting upon the earth and was visible to spectators; and so John might have said--I was in Patmos yet I was in heaven; in the body I was confined to a bruited island, but in the spirit I was with my Lord in the sanctuary of the skies, lost in contemplation and adoration, and preparing to return to the earth with fuller equipment as a gospel preacher. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The influence of solitude and suffering upon a Christian life
I. To make it truly sympathetic. “I John, who also am your brother.”
II. To make it intensely sad. “And companion in tribulation.” Not even aged apostles are exempt from sorrow. But while in this solitude, St. John was not wholly occupied with his own suffering; he remembered that of his fellow Christians. The companionship of pain will merge into the companionship of praise.
III. To make it supremely godly. “And in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.”
IV. To make it deeply conscious of its innocence. “For the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” A consciousness of rectitude is always a soul-sustaining influence in periods of trial.
V. To make it subserve the Divine purpose. “What thou seest write in a book.” God can make the wrath of persecutors, the tribulations of saints, to praise Him. Lessons:
1. That wicked men have a strange power of rendering sad the lives of the good.
2. That loneliness may augment the efficiency of ministerial work.
3. That the common sufferings of the Christian life should have a uniting tendency.
4. That God gives bright visions to tried saints. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Solitude for Christ
1. See here how far graceless and profane persecutors may prevail against the servants of Jesus Christ.
2. Solitariness for Christ is not the worst condition. Christ can make up that another way, and if there be a necessity of withdrawing men from their duty: neither doth John lose anything by his banishment; for he finds more intimate communion with Christ, and gets more of His mind: nor doth the Church lose anything by it; for she gets this revelation of God’s mind. If we believed this we would never go out of God’s way to make up His work: for if He please to lay us by He knows how to make up that both to ourselves and God’s people. The Christian Church is as much beholden to Paul’s imprisonment in epistles, as to his liberty in preaching.
3. Honest suffering for Christ hath often with it the clearest manifestations of Christ. Folks that will continue faithful and bide by their duty through sufferings, they shall not only not be losers but gainers (1 Peter 4:14). (James Durham.)
I was in the Spirit.--
St John in the Spirit in Patmos
1. To be in the Spirit is to possess the Spirit.
2. The second thing referred to is the time of the vision: “The Lord’s Day.” It is His Day because it is the day of His Divine appointment. This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will be glad and rejoice in it. And it is His day because He is the subject of it. His personal glory; His victory and triumph over death and the grave; His holding the keys of hell and of death; from the subjects of holy meditation on this blessed day. (J. Young.)
I. The Lord’s Day. All days are His, but this belongs to Him by special right.
1. It is the memorial of His resurrection.
2. It eternises the sabbatic ideal. A day of fulfilment, completion, and rest.
3. It is the earnest of the ultimate enfranchisement of the race. A day of enlarged liberty and not of more stringent bondage.
II. The spirit’s day.
1. It “takes of the things of Christ” and shows them unto us.
2. The entire being is uplifted and transformed. Inspiration is no fruitless ecstacy, no mere festival of the emotions; it is full of practical impulse, intellectual enlightenment, and moral purification.
3. Only “in the Spirit” can the Lord’s Day, especially the great Easter Day, be fully and profitably observed. (St. J. A. Frere, M. A.)
On the Lord’s Day.--
The Lord’s Day
What is the meaning of this expression, “the Lord’s Day”? Does it mean the day of judgment? Such a meaning would not serve St. John’s purpose here. He is plainly giving the date of his great vision, not the scene to which it introduced him. Does it, then, mean the annual feast of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, our Easter Day? That day, as we know from the Epistle to the Corinthians, was observed in apostolic times. But it could hardly have served for a date; because in those days, as for some time afterwards, there were different opinions in the Church as to the day on which properly it ought to be kept. Does the phrase, then, mean the Sabbath Day of the Mosaic Law? God calls the Sabbath by the mouth of the prophet “My holy day.” And the language of the fourth commandment, “the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” might well seem to justify the expression. But there is no known instance in the New Testament of the Sabbath being alluded to except by its own name, “the Sabbath.” If St. John had meant the Sabbath, or seventh day of the week, he would certainly have used the word “Sabbath.” He would not have used another word which the Christian Church, from the days of the apostles downwards, has applied not to the seventh day of the week, but to the first. There is indeed no real reason for doubting that by “the Lord’s Day” St. John meant the first day of the week, or, as we should say, Sunday. Our Lord Jesus Christ has made that day, in a special sense, His own, by rising on it from the dead, and by connecting it with His first six appearances after His resurrection.
I. The first principle embodied in the observance of the Lord’s Day is the duty of consecrating a certain portion of time, at least one seventh, to the service of God. This principle is common to the Jewish Sabbath and to the Christian Lord’s Day. “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath Day.” “Keep the day holy”--consecrate it--so the precept runs. Such a consecration implies two things. It implies a separation of the thing consecrated from all others, and a communication to it of a quality of holiness or purity which it had not before. The day is to be unlike other days, and it is also to be marked by some positive characteristics which should proclaim its dedication to God. Now, to this idea of a special consecration of a section of time, it is sometimes objected that in a true Christian life all time is already consecrated. Does not this consecration of a section of time ignore the obligation to a service which knows no limits? The answer is, that the larger obligation of love is not ignored because the smaller obligation of duty is insisted on. All a Christian’s time is, properly, consecrated time. But, practically, in many cases, none at all would be consecrated, unless an effort were made to mark a certain portion of it off by a special consecration. And apart from its importance in the life of a servant of God, the public setting apart of a certain measure of time to God’s service, is a witness to God’s claims borne before the world, calculated to strike the imaginations of men. Such an observance makes room for the thought of God amidst the pressing importunities of business and enjoyment.
II. A second principle represented in the Lord’s Day is the periodical suspension of human toil. This principle is closely connected with that of the consecration of time. In order to make the day, by this particular prohibition, unlike other days; in order to make room for the acknowledgment of God on it, ordinary occupations are suspended. Here we have a second principle which is common to the Jewish Sabbath and to the Christian Lord’s Day. In the Old Testament a variety of particular occupations are expressly forbidden on the Sabbath--sowing and reaping, gathering wood, kindling a fire for cooking, holding markets, all kinds of trade, pressing grapes, carrying burdens of all kinds; and in a later age the Pharisees and the lawyers added very largely to these prohibitions. It was against the Pharisaic perversions of the Sabbath that our Lord protested both by act and word, reminding His countrymen that the Sabbath was made for the moral good of man, and not man for the later legal theory of the Sabbath. But the broad principle of abstinence from labour, however it was caricatured in the later Jewish practice, was itself a sacred principle, and it passed on as such into the Christian observance of the Lord’s Day. Thus the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day agree in affirming two principles, the hallowing of a seventh part of time, and the obligation of abstinence from servile work on one day in seven. But are they identical? May we rightly, scripturally, call the Lord’s Day the Sabbath? These questions must be answered in the negative. The Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day, while agreeing in affirming two principles, differ in two noteworthy respects. First, they differ, as has already been implied, in being kept on distinct days. The change was made because there was an imperative reason for making it. For the Lord’s Day and the Sabbath differ, secondly, in the reason or motive for observing them. The Sabbath is the weekly commemoration of the rest of God after creation. It brought before the mind of the Jew the ineffable majesty of the great Creator, between whom and the noblest work of His hands there yawns an impassable abyss. Now, the Christian motive of observing the Lord’s Day is the resurrection of Christ from the dead. That truth is to the Christian creed what the creation of the world out of nothing is to the Jewish creed. It is the fundamental truth on which all else that is distinctively Christian rests; and it is just as much put forward by the Christian apostles as is the creation of all things out of nothing by the Jewish prophets. The Jewish Sabbath stands in the same relation to the Lord’s Day as does circumcision to Christian baptism; as does the Paschal Lamb to the Holy Communion; as does the law in general to the gospel. It is a shadow of a good thing to come. It is only perpetuated by being transfigured, or rather it is so transfigured as to have parted with its identity. The spiritual consecration of a seventh part of time, the abstinence from labour, these remain; but the spirit, the governing motive of the day, is fundamentally changed.
III. But here a third, and a last principle, comes forward, which is embodied by the day. And this third principle is, the necessity of the public worship of God. The cessation of ordinary work is not enjoined upon Christians, only that they may while away the time, or spend it in self-pleasing or in something worse. The Lord’s Day is the day of days, on which Jesus our Lord has a first claim. On this great day every instructed and believing Christian thinks of Him as completing the work of our redemption, as vindicating His character as a teacher of absolute truth, as triumphing publicly over His enemies, as conquering death in that nature which had always hitherto been subject to the empire of death, as deigning, now that He has overcome the sharpness of death, to “open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” And when the religious obligations of the day have been complied with, there are duties of human kindliness which may well find a place in kind deeds and words to friends, in visits to the sick, in acts of consideration for the poor; all of these are in keeping with the spirit of the day. Above all, the day should be made--mark it well, parents and guardians--a bright, as well as a solemn day, for children--first solemn, but then and always bright; so that in after life they may look back on the Sundays of childhood as on the happiest days of youth. Among the thoughts which Sunday, more than other days, brings to us is the memory of those whom we have known and loved, and who have passed away--the memory of the dead. We do well to make the most of these thoughts. They are sent to us from above to enable us to prepare, after our measure, and by God’s grace, to follow. But, as I have said, the mental atmosphere of a true Christian, on Sunday especially, is above all things an atmosphere of worship. He may think it right and reverent to say little; but the day says to him from its early dawn, “Lift up thy heart,” and his answer is, “I lift it up unto the Lord.” He is, in his way, like St. John, “in the Spirit.” He sees the higher and the everlasting realities; he measures earth against heaven, and time against eternity, and poor, weak man against the almighty and everlasting Creator. Sundays such as these are to the human life like shafts in a long tunnel--they admit at regular intervals light and air; and, though we pass them all too soon, their helpful influence does not vanish with the day. It furnishes us with strength and light for the duties which await us, and makes it easier to follow loyally the road which God’s loving providence may have traced for each one of us, on towards our eternal home. (Canon Liddon.)
The Christian’s Sabbath
I. A delightful encouragement to those who are the Lord’s example of the beloved John hath, in the next place, a manifest application to those who are permitted to enjoy the privileges of public worship.
II. It is their duty to be in the spirit on the Lord’s Day, and in His house of prayer.
III. The danger of those who neglect the privilege of sabbath ordinances, and forsake the assembling of themselves together in the house of prayer. Did it ever occur to you why the Creator made man in His own image and likeness, on the evening before the Sabbath? Let me say that surely it was thus done in order that His gifted creature might forthwith enter upon the observance of the Sabbath; that he might begin his life with that worship of the Most High which was the chief end of his being. It is related concerning one of the richest mines of Peru, that thousands passed over it without noticing the wealth beneath their feet, until at length a poor Indian, just falling down a precipice, snatched at a bush to save his life, and exposed a mass of ore, of which it appeared that the whole surface of the mountain was composed. If ye had attended in the house of prayer, and caught at the ordinances of the gospel, the treasures of the love of Christ would have been discovered, and they would have made you rich indeed. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)
St. John’s view of the Sabbath rest
This in truth is not his thought at all. His primary question is, not what he shall see, but whether he shall be fit for the sight. The arduous part of the work to him is not the opening of heaven nor the revelation of heaven; it is the preparation for heaven. He feels that what he needs before all things is the spirit of the sabbath. The question now is, What in the view of St. John is the spirit of the Lord’s day--that spirit which the seer regards as essential and preliminary to any rending of the veil between earth and heaven. Every anniversary day requires its appropriate spirit. Without that spirit, nothing which happens outside will reveal anything to the spectator. The day of a Queen’s jubilee requires the spirit of loyalty; without this, no streaming of flags will convey it to the eye, no blast of trumpets will communicate it to the ear. The day which commemorates a victory needs the spirit of patriotism; without this the roll of artillery is all in vain. The day which keeps the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth demands the spirit of poetry; without this the banquet has no significance. The sabbath is in John’s view also an anniversary. It is the anniversary of creation and resurrection. It, too, can only be understood by its appropriate spirit. What is the appropriate spirit of this day as it appears to the seer of Patmos? Do we find in this passage any trace of the thought which lay beneath the words, and which led him to connect the visions of his book with the breath of the seventh morning? I think we do. I believe that, if we join the second clause of the verse to the first, we shall reach a luminous understanding of the idea which dominated the mind of the apostle, “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet.” I take the explanatory clause to be the hearing of the trumpet behind him. The idea is clearly that of retrospect, looking back. Now, John’s ideal of the sabbath rest is that of a satisfied past. It is the ability to look back and say “It was all very good.” Now, this view of the sabbath rest is borne out both by the Old Testament and by the New. In the book of Genesis it is described as God’s rest from creation; but it is a retrospective rest. It is not the joy of prospect but the joy of memory. It is the looking back upon the work that has been done, and finding that it has been done well, “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” In the New Testament the day has the significance of a triumph. It is the rest of the soldier who has fought the battle and ascended up on high leading captivity captive. Yet here again it is a retrospective rest. It is the triumph of a work done. The spirit of the Lord’s day is the spirit of retrospective rest. We come next to ask, What is it that renders this the fitting spirit for the Apocalypse? We often think that our chief desire in seeking the rending of the veil is to get a glimpse of the future. In that we deceive ourselves. No man would be satisfied with such a revelation if he got it to-morrow. We want, not mainly a sight of the future, but a sight of the past. The desire of man in this world is not simply to feel that in another world it will be all right with him. He wants to feel that it is all right now. His hope is that in a future life the clouds of this will be, not simply rolled away, but explained. This was John’s vision. He put himself in the spirit of the Lord’s day. He conceived himself to be standing in the seventh morning of creation, and looking back. He heard a trumpet behind him--the voice of the vindicating past proclaiming that it was all very good; and it was the sabbath of his soul. Now, I believe that psychologically St. John is right. I think that to our age, even more than to his, the greatest religious rest in the world is that which comes from the retrospect of history. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
The Christian’s Sabbath
I. As a day of Divine sanction.
1. The sanctification of the day of our Lord’s resurrection by the new-covenant Church was prophetically notified by David when he wrote Psalms 118:22-24.
2. The example of the apostles and early Christians carries with it the weight of conclusive authority.
3. The usefulness with which the observance of the Christian Sabbath has been attended is a full ratification of all it has claimed.
II. As a day of holy employment.
1. The Sabbath should be hallowed by the cessation of secular business and toil. In this respect it should strictly answer to the signification of its name, and be a day of rest.
2. The Sabbath should be hallowed by the careful avoidance of all frivolities, and all pleasures which do not advance the spiritual welfare.
3. The Sabbath should be hallowed by devotional attendance on the public worship of God. Nor must you imagine that an occasional attendance on the engagements of public worship is an adequate discharge of obligation. To be regular, to be punctual, to be devout--these must characterise your habits in the service of your God.
4. The Sabbath should be hallowed by performance of the relative and private duties of religion.
III. As a day of Christian gladness and anticipation.
1. Gladness, on this blessed season, must inspire every Christian mind. A source of joy exists in the events it commemorates.
2. Anticipation necessarily arises out of the nature of the institution. The Sabbath is emphatically, as it always has been, type. We anticipate, from the rest of the Sabbath, that age so earnestly desired, when religion shall have completed her triumphs. “The Lord’s Day” is a distinct memorial of the period, when the latter glory shall dawn; and when the incense of pure worship shall be offered to the living God from every kindred and tongue and people. (J. Parsons.)
Heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet.--
A great voice as of a trumpet
1. What John heard. It was “a voice.” It was not a mere sound, but it was a voice. Words are the expression of thoughts, the language of mind, the utterance of the heart, and the wishes of the soul; they are the medium of mental and moral communication of man with man, of mind with mind. The voice of God is the utterance of His will, the revelation of His mercy, and the medium of Divine communication with man.
2. Whose voice was this he heard? It was the voice of the Son of Man, a brother and a friend. It was a voice infinitely gracious, unutterably tender, full of compassion.
3. What was the voice which the prophet heard? It was “a great voice.”
(1) It was great in its author, the great God and our Saviour.
(2) It was great in its nature, its power and excellence, magnitude and mystery.
(3) It was great in its subject, the plans and arrangements of providence and grace.
(4) It was great in its design, to arouse the regards of a slumbering world.
4. What the voice resembled. It was “as of a trumpet.” It was not a mere sound, but an articulate voice. It was as the voice of a trumpet, sonorous, powerful, solemn, and majestic; gracious, awful, clear, and commanding; giving forth a distinct and certain sound. It was as the trumpet of the God of Israel, the symbol of His presence.
5. Whence the voice came: “I heard a voice behind me.” It came from behind as the voice of a Watchman, whose eye never slumbers, whose eye never sleeps. It came from behind as the voice of a Teacher: “Thine eyes shall see thy teachers; and thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, or when ye turn to the left.” (J. Young.)
Voices and visions from eternity
I. A wonderful voice from eternity comes to man.
1. The voice was marked by clearness.
2. By fulness. Is there any voice in nature equal to the voice of the old ocean--majestic, full, continuous, drowning all other sounds?
II. A wonderful personage from eternity appears to man.
1. The scene of the appearance.
2. Its characteristics.
III. A wonderful impression from eternity is made upon man. What were John’s emotions? Was there amazement at seeing One whom he loved above all others, and with whom he had parted, some thirty years before? Was it dread? Was he terror-struck at the marvellous apparition? Was it remorse? Did the effulgence of its purity quicken within him such a sense of guilt as filled him with self-loathing and horror? Perhaps all these emotions blended in a tidal rush that physically paralysed him for a while. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
What thou seest, write in a book.--
The two Bibles
(with Hebrews 10:16):--Here are two Bibles, two Divine books. The first passage refers to God’s writing through man upon parchment; this constitutes the book which we commonly call the Bible. The second passage refers to God’s writing through the Bible by His Spirit on the human soul. Christianity in human life is better than Christianity in cold ink. Why?
I. Because it contains the Divine things, the other only contains the symbols. Divine virtues are not in the letter press, they are only represented there. But in the Christly life they themselves are breathing, operative, soul-fashioning forces.
II. Because it is the end of culture, the other only the means. When men get into them the true spiritual graces, the moral principles and temper of Christ, they have realised the end of Divine training. The paper Bible is the means of this.
III. Because it is self-obvious, the other requires explanation. A Christly life is a Bible that a child can read, that men of all tribes and languages can interpret. Not so with the paper Bible, it contains many things “hard to be understood.”
IV. Because it is imperishable, the other is temporary. The principles of truth, love, and goodness that are written on the human soul are not only indestructible in themselves, but the substance on which they are written is indestructible, it is eternal life. Conclusion: Prize the paper Bible by all means, but don’t superstitiously worship it. Prize the Christly life, it is greater than all literature. (Homilist.)
Christian authorship in its higher moods
I. That it writes upon a heavenly suggestion. “What thou seest write in a book.”
1. It does not write merely upon the suggestion of some interesting topic.
2. It does not write for the desire of popular authorship.
3. It does not write in the hope of financial remuneration.
4. It writes upon the prompting of a Divine impulse.
II. That it records celestial visions.
1. It does not record the fancies of fiction.
2. It does not record the vagaries of philosophy.
3. It records the higher moral experiences of the soul.
III. That it writes for the moral instruction of the Church. “And send it unto the seven Churches which are in Asia.”
1. The Church needs the instruction of Christian authorship.
2. Christ requires that Christian authorship should seek the moral good of the Church.
1. God commands good men to write books for the welfare of the Church.
2. Let men seek the higher moods of authorship.
3. Let us cultivate an experience of soul worthy of record. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Christ and literature
The first century of our era was by no means an unlettered age. Yet there is no point in which the contrast between the first century and the nineteenth is more striking than the place that literature takes. Now reading is not confined to a cultivated circle: it is a universal acquisition. This diffused power of literature is of very modern growth: its origin was in the invention of printing four hundred years ago, and its stalwart youth to-day is due simply to the cheapening of paper and the improvements in the processes of production. Its future is altogether incalculable. Now this vast change in the habits and the conditions of the world necessarily creates a number of problems which could not be alluded to in the New Testament, such problems as these: How should we read? What should we read? How are we to regard printed matter? What principles should regulate us in the use of it? Now it is to be observed that though the Bible can give no direct answer to these questions, the Bible by its very existence is in a certain sense the suggestion of an answer: for this ancient book is a proof that from the very beginning God laid claim to the human faculty of reading and writing for His own purposes. We find Jesus Christ in the text claiming the pen of a certain man in order that He may communicate with men through ages to come. From the recognition of this fact I want to pass to a very broad and general statement. Looking at the whole mass of printed and written matter with which the world at the present day teems, I propose that we should divide it into two parts, and of the one part we should say: “This is such that Christ said, or might have said, ‘Write it,’ such as He could approve and use, and that is such that you could not possibly conceive Him saying, either ‘Write or read it,’ such that it could have no imprimatur of His, and stands condemned in the light of His countenance.” That stern edict of the Caliph Omar, commanding the library at Alexandria to be burnt, because, as he said, “If it contains what is in the Word of God, the Word of God is sufficient, and if it contains what is against it, it ought to be destroyed,” has frequently been censured. But I would suggest that we actually take his recommendation, with a little modification, as the principle of modern reading; we may say, with regard to every book or paper or pamphlet that we wish to read, “Is this a thing about which my Lord might have said, ‘Write,’ or even ‘Read’? Then I propose to read it and understand it to the best of my ability. Is it, on the other hand, a writing of a kind concerning which He would have said neither ‘Write’ nor ‘Read’? for me it shall be an unwritten book, a blank, illegible paper; by no means shall my eyes peruse it.” First, consider the penetrating and insidious power of a printed page. Suppose it is bad, suppose it is corrupting; it comes before us with a quiet, demure, and decent aspect; nothing could be less aggressive, less dangerous than this; it may even be bound in the costliest binding and printed upon the best paper. Now, if a living companion approached us with the same corrupt influences in him as are contained in this innocent page, every decent mind would keep him at a distance, and would insist upon some satisfactory introduction. He would give more or less an indication of what he is, and as we got to see what he is we should decline his acquaintance. But this companion, this written page leaps into the breast at a bound; it is there at once unquestioned and uncensured; it is like that wooden horse which was introduced into Troy with the approbation of all the people, containing within its belly the armed men that were to be the ruin of the city, but not disgorging itself until it was well within the walls. But, on the other hand, suppose that the writing be good, consider what a winged and miraculous power this written thing possesses. It can fly where no human voice can reach it, can arrest and hold a man whom no human hand can touch, and when it has laid its spell upon him it will be like a two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing of the bone and of the marrow. The Press is a great pulpit to-day, the greatest of pulpits. Those who have learnt to write at the bidding of Jesus reach a wider audience than could ever be assembled in St. Paul’s or the Metropolitian Tabernacle. But another reason for a principle of selection arises from the simple fact that the printed literature of the world is so vast. None of us can read everything; and is it not, therefore, best to make up our mind that we will read all that is good? and if we go upon that principle, we shall not have time to read anything that is bad. But the principle of which I have been speaking is a little more specific, that we read only what Christ has said “Write,” and refuse all the rest. Now, is it possible that some of you are afraid that in adopting this principle you would restrict your reading within very narrow limits, and is it possible, too, that some of you say, “How are we to know which things are in accordance with the literary censorship of Jesus Christ”? Let me point out that you need mot be troubled by the narrowness of the literature that is thus suggested, and, secondly, that there is a very easy way of knowing which literature Christ approves. A good critic knows the mark of any well-known writer before he has gone half-way down the first page, and a good Christian seldom has to read more than two or three sentences before discovering whether that is a piece of Christ’s literature or not. But in this matter of determining, I frankly admit that if you adopt my principle you will not always be in the fashion. It is no part of the Christian’s duty to read a book because it happens to be in vogue. Again, if you adopt this principle, you will not find it necessary to read through your daily paper: you will read, perhaps, a good deal less of the daily paper than most people do read. But I said that the literature to be read on this principle is not limited as some people suppose. Let me tell you what it is. There is the Bible to begin with. There is another branch of literature that has to be read by Christians, the reports of the progress of the Master’s kingdom, the news which comes from the front of the Lord’s battle in the world. Then, leaving the Bible and the reports of the Master’s kingdom, there is the noble pile of books on science; and I wonder if it has occurred to every one here that if, as the Bible teaches us, Jesus Christ is the Creator of this universe, every true fact about this universe is a record of Jesus Christ’s handiwork? and, considering the incalculable mass of scientific detail to-day, no one can say that the literature is limited. Then there are all the accredited records of human history--an almost unlimited sphere of reading. Then, again, there are the poets--not all the poets, nor all of any poet, but you may mark this, that no poet of the first rank ever wrote but, when he gets into the higher region of his thought and utterance, he has become a mouthpiece of God. Then there are all the wise, true masters of thought in this age and ages that have gone by, so numerous, so great, and some of them even so voluminous that we are never likely to finish them; and then there are all the stories--I dare not call them novels, for the name has been defiled--but all the stories that have come from the pure and purifying imagination of great writers and thinkers, the mass of which very few of us have read. (R. F. Horton, M. A.)
Send it unto the seven Churches which are in Asia.--
Things common in all the letters
I. Christ sustains a common relationship to them all.
1. The relationship of authority. The only Lord in the kingdom of souls.
2. The relationship of oversight. Christ knows all Churches, reads their inner heart, sounds the depths of their impulses.
3. The relationship of moral discipline. In all the letters there is commendation, rebuke, promise, threatening. His spiritual providence and power run through all.
II. Christ speaks through their “angels,” or messengers to all.
III. Christ promises great blessings to the victorious in all.
1. The resistance of evil is the characteristic of all Christians. Other men may speak against evil--condemn evil in words; but the Christian resists it.
2. The resistance of evil must in all cases be personal. To be supposed that there can be any social or ecclesiastical resistance of sin as sin is a delusion. It is to Him “that over-cometh,” not it.
3. The resistance of evil is a matter of difficulty. Every warfare implies difficulty, peril, enterprise, perseverance, and so forth.
4. The resistance of evil, though difficult, may be achieved. “To Him that overcometh,” etc. Thank God, in the case of every man evil may be overcome, and the triumph is one of the most blessed in the history of intelligent beings.
IV. Christ demands attention to the voice of the spirit in all. The “Spirit.” What Spirit? God. God in Christ’s ministry. (Caleb Morris.)
The seven Epistles compared
I. The circumstances of these letters common to all.
1. In all Christ assumes different aspects.
2. In all Christ addresses Himself through a special officer.
3. In all Christ declares His thorough knowledge of their moral history.
4. In all Christ promises great blessings to the morally victorious.
5. In all Christ commands attention to the voice of the Spirit.
6. In all Christ’s grand aim is spiritual culture.
7. In all Christ observes a threefold division.
(1) A reference to some of the attributes of Him who addresses the Church.
(2) A disclosure of the characteristics of the Church, with appropriate admonition, encouragement, or reproof.
(3) Promises of reward to all who preserve in their Christian course and overcome the spiritual enemies who assault them.
II. Circumstances in which some of them differ.
1. We find two (Smyrna and Philadelphia) who receive commendation.
2. Two (Sardis and Laodicea) are censured.
3. Three (Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira) contain mingled censure and commendation. In these cases the approbation precedes the blame, showing that it was more grateful to commend than to reprove. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I saw seven golden candlesticks.--
The seven golden candlesticks
1. The nature of the symbol. The Church is called a candlestick, in allusion to the candlestick in the ancient sanctuary-in allusion also to the exposition of the symbol given by the prophet (Zechariah 4:2-6); and on account of her own celestial light--she receives, resembles, embodies, and dispenses the light, glory, and gladness of heaven (Isaiah 60:1).
2. The precious material of which they are formed. They are golden candlesticks. The formation of the Church is the doing of the Lord, and marvellous in our eyes. The plan, the contrivance, the direction, and formation of the golden candlesticks were all Divine and heavenly; bearing the impress of the hand that formed them. They are called golden candlesticks, to express their intrinsic excellence, their purity and value, their glory and beauty, their splendour and their preciousness. They are called golden candlesticks, to express the estimation in which they are held by the family of heaven.
3. The form and number of the golden candlesticks. They were seven. There was but one candlestick in the ancient sanctuary, which represented the one Church of Israel--complete within itself.
(1) The number implies the purity of the light; it proceeds from the pure celestial oil.
(2) The fulness of the light; a plenitude of glory is poured from the Churches, to enlighten and cheer a dark world.
(3) The power of the light; it has a power of holy influence and everlasting consolation; the power of sweet attraction.
(4) The variety of the light; the beauty and variety of the colours of the rainbow meet and mingle here.
(5) The unity of the light; there is a blessed unity without uniformity; although there are seven, they are all one; they have all one support, they are formed of one material, nourished by the same means.
4. The use and design of the seven golden candlesticks. The use of a candlestick is to receive, exhibit, and dispense the light. Now, the Church of Christ does this by her purity; her purity of doctrine, purity of communion; purity, simplicity, and spirituality of worship; and by her spiritual power to command heavenly purity. She does it by her testimony to the character of God, in the embodied form of Divine truth, in the pure essential doctrines of grace, and she does it by her efforts to publish the gospel; as a witnessing Church, in maintaining the truth; and a missionary Church, in dispensing the truth throughout the whole world. (James Young.)
The cedars and the candlesticks
(with Genesis 3:8):--The Book of Revelation is a mosaic, in which the previous parts of the Bible are brought together and formed into a new picture, illustrative of the fortunes of the Church and the world. As Genesis is the book of beginnings, so Revelation is the book of completions.
1. Between the two revelations of God to man which meets us respectively at the commencement and at the close of the sacred Scriptures, we find the closest connection. He who appeared to our first parents walking among the trees of the garden, appeared in vision to the beloved disciple in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks in the Isle of Patmos. The two Divine manifestations were essentially the same, although they differed in outward form and circumstances. Between them there were connecting links. The experience of the exile on Horeb, for instance, was repeated in the case of the exile in Patmos. The same vision of the burning bush which appeared to Moses appeared to John in the vision of the seven golden candlesticks. The Son of Man associated Himself with the one symbol in the same way that He had associated Himself with the other. The occasion in both oases was similar. The burning bush was never to be extinguished, it was to become a candlestick; and the fire of God’s dealings with His people for their purification was to become a conspicuous light held aloft to lighten the whole world. The same truth is still further illustrated by the fact that the vision of John in Patmos was based upon the Jewish tabernacle and temple. Separated outwardly from the solemnities of the ancient worship--from the priesthood, the altars, the sacrifices, the festivals, the Hebrew Christians could still enjoy all that was most precious and enduring in the possession of their race. And the modification in the old form which the apostle beheld was itself full of significance. The single candlestick of pure gold, whose light illumined the holy place which was the pattern of the Church upon earth, appeared before John in the darkness and loneliness of his exile, multiplied into seven distinct candlesticks, as if each branch of the prototype had become a separate candlestick; in token that the original Jewish Church, which was one--the Church of a single people--had differentiated into a Christian Church, which while one as to its unity of faith and love, is also many as regards its organisation and individual life, the Church of all nations and people and tribes and tongues. And as the vision of Patmos was thus connected with the tabernacle and temple, and with the vision of Horeb, so we can trace them all back to the Adamic revelation, whose symbol was the tree of life in the midst of the garden. The difference between the living tree and the dead fuel on the hearth or in the lamp, is that the fire in the one, owing to the conserving power of the vital principle, is burning without being consumed; whereas in the other is the burning and consuming--reducing to dust and ashes, because of the absence of the vital conserving principle. The bowls which contained the oil were shaped like an almond-nut, the knops looked like the flower buds, and the carved flowers resembled the fully-expanded blossoms of the almond tree. This tree was selected as the pattern of the golden candlestick, and as that which yielded Aaron’s miraculous rod, because it is the first to awaken from sleep of winter, as its Hebrew name signifies. It was a symbol of the life of nature, rising in perpetual youth and beauty out of the decaying ruins of man’s works. And so the Hebrew candlestick might be regarded as emblematical of the life of the Church, being the first to awaken out of the wreck of human sin, exhibiting its beauties of holiness and fruits of righteousness, while all around the world is wrapt in the winter sleep of spiritual torpor.
2. But between the revelation of Eden and the revelation of Patmos there are some striking points of contrast. The revelation of Eden was given in circumstances of peace and happiness. Nature was a faithful outward reflection of man’s moral state. Its beauty and fruitfulness coincided with man’s moral beauty and fruitfulness. But the revelation of Patmos was amid widely different circumstances. The symbol of it was not the tree that grew spontaneously by the laws of natural growth, but the candlestick wrought by human hands, with the sweat of the face. The gold of which it was composed was dug with toil and trouble from the mine, melted in the furnace, purified from its ore, and not cast into a mould, but beaten out of a solid piece with the hammer into the form in which it appeared. The oil for the light was also beaten from the olive berries grown, gathered, and expressed by human toil and skill; and the wick in like manner was a human manufacture made of the fine twined linen which formed part of the curtains of the tabernacle. The whole idea of the candlestick implied toil and trouble. And this is the great characteristic of the revelation of which it is the symbol. Everything connected with it indicates salvation from sin through toil and suffering. Every image, every symbol and type in sacred Scripture, speaks of the curse of the ground and the sorrow of the soul which sin had brought into the world. This great factor is taken into account in all remedial schemes. The first promise to our race announces redemption through pain and toil and sorrow. The bruising of the serpent’s head is to be accomplished only through the wounding of the victor’s heel. The Levitical institutions disclose the painfulness of the covenant of grace in g most remarkable manner. Their limitations, their restrictions, their heavy burdens, their awful sanctions, their sacrifices of blood and death, all speak in the most impressive manner of the evil of sin and the costliness of the deliverance from it. And the life and death of our Saviour disclose this in a way still more solemn and emphatic. The trees of Eden in His case were converted into the Cross of Calvary; and the glorious fiat of the first creation, “Let there be light, and there was light,” into the awful cry of darkness and death--the birth-pang of the new creation, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” In the midst of the seven golden candlesticks the beloved disciple heard Him saying, “I am He that liveth and was dead.” In the midst of the throne, John, through his tears, saw “a Lamb as it had been slain.”
3. Another point of contrast between the revelation or Patmos and the revelation of Eden is the clearness and fulness of the one, in comparison with the dimness and obscurity of the other. God talked with Adam not only among but through the medium of the trees of the garden, conveyed to him spiritual instruction by the objects and processes of nature around him. Religion meant to Him simply the knowledge, worship, and service of God as He was revealed by the objects and processes of nature; and on these points nature could give him all the light that he needed. But we have sinned and fallen, and religion to us includes, besides these elements, repentance of sin and dependence upon an atonement. Nature therefore cannot solve the awful doubts which arise in the human heart regarding the justice of God. “How shall man be just with God?” We need that He who at first commanded the light to shine out of darkness, should give us the light of the knowledge of His glory in the face of Jet-as Christ. God has given to us this special revelation, suited to our altered sinful state, in the economy of redemption.
4. And now we come to the last point of contrast between the revelation of Eden and the revelation of Patmos, namely, the transitory nature of the one and the permanence of the other. God appeared to our first parents walking among the trees of the garden. These trees were in their very nature evanescent. But, on the other hand, God in Christ appeared to the beloved disciple in Patmos in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; and these candlesticks were the symbols of the Word of the Lord which endureth for ever. The form and substance of these candlesticks indicated the imperishable nature of the revelation which they symbolised. They were all beaten out of solid gold--the most enduring of all earthly materials--the very pavement of heaven itself. They were carved with the figures of flowers and fruits, preserving the exquisite loveliness of the fading flowers and fruit of earth in an imperishable form. Thus they are appropriate emblems of the beauty and glory of the new creation of God, a creation, though new, yet founded as it were on the ruins of the old, fashioned of lasting and unfading materials, and yet combining all the beauty and glory of that which shall pass away. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The seven golden lamps
I. The candlesticks. It is not so much to the light as to the utensil or stand for holding it that his attention is turned, for the light of these lamps is not from an earthly source, but from Him who is “the Light of the world.” Israel, for ages, was the world’s only light--a light confined within narrow boundaries; not diffused over earth, nor set upon a hill. Of this the one seven-branched candlestick in the tabernacle and temple was the symbol. The lamp-stand was doubly shut in--first, by the outer curtain, or wall of the house; and, secondly, by the inner curtain, or wall of the holy place. But now that lamp stands in uncurtained, unhidden splendour, shining out over all the world.
II. The materials of which the candlesticks are made. They are of gold. Generally in Scripture gold symbolises the holy, the perfect, the Divine. The Churches are “in God the Father, and in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” They are not from beneath, but from above; they are not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. They are composed of men born from above. With Divine glory they shine; with Divine beauty they stand forth before the world, representing the surpassing and all-precious excellence of Him in whose beauty they s re beautiful, and in whose perfection they are perfect. Golden Churches! Golden men t Golden witnesses for Christ and His truth! How far the Church of God in the past centuries, since John wrote, has fulfilled the description, ecclesiastical history can tell. The age of gold was not a long one; and then followed the silver, the brass, and the iron. How much of gold is to be seen in the Churches of our day?
III. The number of the candlesticks. Seven--
1. Perfection. As the one sunbeam is composed of seven parts, and thus perfected into whiteness, so seven is the Divine number of perfection, or completeness.
2. Variety. The manifold gifts of the one Spirit, sent from the one Christ.
3. Unity. Seven is oneness; oneness with diversity: one firmament, many stars.
4. Covenant-certainty. Seven is the covenant-number (Genesis 21:31). The Churches are the Churches of the everlasting covenant--the covenant between the Father and the Son--“ordered in all things, and sure.” (H. Bonar, D. D.)
In the midst of the seven candlesticks One like unto the Son of Man
The Son of Man amid the candlesticks
His wonderful position. “In the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”
1. This implies His presence with His people (Exodus 33:14-15; Psalms 132:13-14; Isaiah 43:1-2). He is in the midst of the golden candlesticks as the great High Priest, trimming, preparing, and lighting the lamps.
2. The symbol supposes communion and fellowship; He walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks.
3. The words imply Divine superintendence; His peculiar power and providence; His gracious inspection; His unceasing care.
4. The words are expressive of Divine operation. Jesus works while He walks; He is never idle.
(1) He works by His Spirit.
(2) He works by His providence.
(3) He works by His judgments, as well as by His mercy.
(4) The effects of Christ’s working are manifold and gracious.
The first effect is holiness. The next effect is happiness, everlasting consolation and good hope through grace. A third effect is glory: Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
5. His presence implies the stability of the Church. He is in the Church as the God of nature, providence, and grace; and no weapon formed against her shall prosper.
II. His Divine person.
1. The human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ--“I saw one like unto the Son of Man.”
(1) The likeness. There is the likeness of resemblance: God sent forth His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. He was not sinful flesh, but lie bare the likeness. There is the likeness of identity: He that was in the form of God was really God; He that was in the form of a servant was really a servant; and He that was made in the likeness of men, and was found in fashion as a man, was really a man. There is also the likeness of equality: He not only took the nature of man, but his frail, afflicted, mortal state. And there is here also the likeness of representation: in His low and afflicted condition on earth, we have an image of man as a mourner and a mortal; and in His glorified condition at the Father’s right hand, we have a representation of what the saints in heaven shall for ever be. As we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
(2) The reality of His human nature. Although comparison is here employed, yet the reality is implied in the comparison. The incarnation of the Son was an important part of the counsels of eternity. This great doctrine was taught by types and symbols. All his appearances to the holy patriarchs were preludes and pledges of His coming in the flesh.
(3) The necessity of His human nature. As a Prophet, it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren; as a Priest, to be taken from amongst men; as a King, to be made of the house of David. Thus in the glorious description that follows, He appears in the likeness of the Son, and human members are ascribed to His Divine person.
2. The Divine nature of our blessed Lord.
(1) The likeness of the Son of God. There is here, as in His human nature, the likeness of resemblance--He resembles God; He resembles Him in everything; He is the perfect image of the invisible God.
(2) The reality of His Deity.
(3) The necessity of His Deity. It behoved Jesus to be God as well as man, that He might be the Daysman between both parties; that His Deity might impart infinite value to His obedience and suffering and atoning sacrifice; that He might be the object of faith, hope, and confidence; and that His Deity might impart power and dignity to His intercession and His government.
3. The wonderful union between the Divine and human natures in His one Divine person; as Immanuel, God with us. He is both God and man in two distinct natures, and one person for ever. This union is ineffable, unsearchable, mysterious, and Divine. It is the great mystery of godliness; God manifest in the flesh.
4. The effects of this union. (James Young.)
The Christ of Patmos
The Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Having neither beginning of days nor end of years, He is a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. But the views which His people have of Him are extremely varied. According to our progress in grace will be the standpoint from which we view the Saviour; and according to the position from which we look at Him, will be what we see of Him.
I. The value of this vision to us.
1. It is a representation of the same Christ who suffered for our sins.
2. It represents to us what Christ is now.
3. It represents what He is to the Churches.
4. The effect it would have upon us if we really felt and understood it.
We should fall at His feet as dead. Blessed position! We are never so truly living as when the creature dies away in the presence of the all-glorious reigning King.
II. The meaning of the vision. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
St. John’s vision
Ordinarily, if we would enjoy the Divine presence and blessing, we must seek them in the ordinances of Divine appointment. But the case is different when our absence from the public means of grace is unavoidable. God is not, in the bestowment of spiritual good, confined even to the means which He Himself has instituted. The truth of this St. John realised.
I. Explain the vision which St. John beheld, and notice its effect upon him.
1. The personage described as in the midst of the seven candlesticks was a representation of Him who was accustomed, while upon earth, to designate Himself, “The Son of Man.”
2. St. John further describes His situation: He was in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
(1) This exhibits the character and duty of the Churches of Christ. They are candlesticks. Having been themselves enlightened from above, it is the duty of Christians to diffuse light.
(2) The light which Christians are required to shed on the gloom of a sinful world is not their own, but a borrowed light. The light which they possess has been kindled within them by the Father of lights.
(3) The care which Christ manifests towards the Churches.
3. The glorious Person who appeared to John is also described in His habit. He was “clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.” The dress was sacerdotal. He is not only a prophet and a king but also an high priest.
4. In this representation of Christ He is more particularly described by the parts and members of His body.
(1) “His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.” A hoary head denotes age; and may not our adorable Saviour be thus set forth as the “Ancient of Days”?
(2) His eyes are described as “a flame of fire,” clearly to denote His piercing knowledge.
(3) His feet are described as “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” This is symbolical of the power of Christ, which nothing can resist. Whatever opposition may be made to the Divine plans and proceedings, it will utterly fail.
(4) His voice was “as the sound of many waters.” The same simile is employed by the prophet (Ezekiel 43:2). The roar of waters is powerful, and is heard afar. And so Christ will command attention. By the representation before us, He probably intended to signify that, however His words had been disregarded by the fallen Churches, they could not drown His voice.
5. The glorious Personage whom the apostle beheld in the vision is also described as holding in His hand seven stars. Stars appear when the sun has withdrawn himself; so Christian ministers are the ambassadors of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, praying men, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God. Of what service are the stars to the mariner, as he sails over the trackless deep! The Christian is a mariner, voyaging over the sea of life, anxiously tending towards the haven of the skies, yet fearing lest he should make shipwreck of faith. The ministers of Christ are stars. Their peculiar office is to hold forth the light of God’s truth, and, by their course in the world, by their life and conversation, to be examples and guides to their flocks. Christian ministers are stars, and have, therefore, orbits assigned them in which to move. The Head of the Church plants each in His proper place within it.
6. The protection which Christ affords to His ministers is also strikingly set forth in this description. He holds them in His right hand. He holds the stars in His right hand, and every one of them is immortal till His work is done.
7. Of the glorious Personage whom St. John saw in the vision, he says that there went out of His mouth a sharp two-edged sword. This sword manifestly denotes the word of truth which Christ has spoken. If it fail to cut the heart of the sinner with conviction, it will pierce and destroy him.
8. In the vision under our notice, we have Christ represented as with a countenance like the run shining in his strength. Oh, how changed from that visage which was so marred more than any man!
II. Deduce one or two suitable remarks from the subject before us.
1. The clearer the discoveries which Christ makes of HimseLf, the more humbled shall we be under a sense of our own vileness.
2. God vouchsafes special comfort and support to those who suffer for His sake.
3. What cause will the enemies of Christ have to tremble, when He appears, in the last day, to judge them! (W. Cardall, B. A.)
The first scene in the great revelation
I. The recipient of this glorious revelation. “I John,” etc.
II. The manner in which the first scene was ushered in.
1. The fulfilment of the vision is guaranteed. “I am Alpha and Omega.” God will ever live to carry on His work.
2. The permanency of the revelation is implied. “What thou seest, write.”
3. The universal reference of this revelation is expressed.
III. The real significance of the scene itself.
1. The Saviour’s relation to His Church.
(1) He occupies a central position, “in the midst of the seven candlesticks.” This was a position of authority and honour.
(2) He assumes a brother’s form. This was intended for the comfort of the saints; for while the Saviour wore a brother’s nature, He would retain a brother’s heart.
(3) He performs the office of an intercessor. Long robes were worn by men of lofty station: but the girdle seems to refer to the priest’s official robe.
2. The Saviour’s relation to the opponents of His cause.
(1) His supreme authority. The white hair is intended to remind us of the knowledge, experience, and authority of age.
(2) His clearness of vision. Not a tear was ever shed, but the eye of Jesus saw it; not an act of cruelty or of crime was ever perpetrated, but the Saviour marked it in His book.
(3) His irresistible force. He can tread to dust His fiercest foes.
(4) His terrible majesty. Nothing is more majestic than the crash of the cataract. Those who have seen the Fall of Niagara never can forget the impression it made upon the mind.
3. The Saviour’s relation to Christian enterprise.
(1) The safety and guidance of His agents. “He had in His right hand seven stars.”
(2) The power of His word. “And out of His mouth went a sharp, two-edged sword.” The two edges show the manifold effects of Christian teaching.
(3) The unsullied glory of the Saviour. Whatever happens, the glory of Jesus will never pass behind a cloud. No greater comfort can the Christian find than this. (Evan Lewis, B. A.)
The introductory vision
I. John mentions the day on which this vision occurred: “the Lord’s Day.” The loss of the Sabbath was felt by John in Patmos. Our pleasures brighten as they take their flight. This is particularly the case with the experience of Christians in relation to the Sabbath.
II. The apostle alludes to his frame of mind at the time this vision was given him: “I was in the Spirit.” The blessing of God comes in the use of His appointed means; and supernatural communications begin where the highest effort of ordinary grace ends. God honoured His Sabbath, and He honoured the prayerful endeavours of His servant, by His revelations at that time. There is a spirit of the Sabbath which all believers should seek to attain, and which, when cultivated to the utmost, will bring them well nigh to the borders of inspiration, and to the gate of heaven.
III. We come to the first supernatural sign. “And heard behind me a great voice as of a trumpet, saying,” or as of a speaking-trumpet, the epithet “saying” agreeing not with the “voice,” but with the “trumpet.” Such an instrument was much in use amongst the ancients. It was employed by generals to give orders to their armies. The brazen lungs of Stentor, mentioned by Homer, in the wars of Troy, were probably of this kind. Hence the “voice of a trumpet” is used in Scripture for a loud and authoritative word of command.
IV. The language he hears. How important it is to note clown impressions as they occur! How needful, for correct preservation, to record them at once! Our memories are treacherous. New scenes arise to obscure the deepest impressions in our minds.
V. The vision he beholds. “And I turned to see the voice that spake with me.” The true reason why natural beauty and tasteful proportions are disregarded in the image before us is, that it is solely of a hieroglyphical character. Hieroglyphics have no pretension to beauty. Symmetry is the last quality that is studied in their construction. In conformity with this method of instruction, we have the image assumed by Christ in vision to John, with this difference, that it is given only as a heiroglyphical representation, and not as a delineation of His real form. The value of hieroglyphics lies in their meaning, and their beauty in their design. What beauty could our first parents see in the imagery by which their restoration was promised, apart from the design? What beauty was there in the serpent of brass, in the altar of burnt offering, in the figures of the cherubim, in themselves considered? What glory is there in the Cross, apart from its design? What beauty in a Lamb as it had been slain, even in the midst of the throne? What is there to gratify the eye, the ear, or the taste, in the only relics of a symbolical ritual, in baptism and the Lord’s Supper? We have here the utmost simplicity of emblems combined with the highest grandeur of design. Visible signs are employed to lead to the contemplation of invisible realities. Under these impressions, we turn again to the vision before us. We expect now no external loveliness and attractions, and are prepared to look for its whole beauty in the moral sentiments it inspires. His appearance, as when known to John in the flesh, would have been equally incompatible with the purpose and the time. He assumes the very figure the occasion required. It was modelled by the revelations He came to unfold. It was not His natural dress, but His adornment for a particular interview; not His home attire, but His equipment for a special expedition. It is not the beau ideal of the Christian’s God, but the symbolical representation of the means by which His kingdom would be established in the whole earth. If the whole aspect had been mild and alluring, it would have given a false impression to John of what it was intended to prefigure and the purpose for which it was assumed. It revealed the combination of those perfections in Christ which would be required; the resources at His command, His unslumbering zeal, His terror in battle, the certainty of His conquest, the serenity of His government, and the glory of His reign. The high priest’s breast-plate is associated with the warrior’s coat of mail, the snow-white locks of age with the sparkling eye of youth, unconquerable prowess with melting pity, the awfulness of justice with the endearments of love, the thunder of His arm with the radiance of His smiles. (G. Rogers.)
The power of an objective faith
If we were asked to fix upon the most prominent want in the spiritual life of the present time, we might perhaps not untruly say that it is the want of objective faith. Visions pass before us, and we believe that in them is our life, but where is the entranced consciousness of their reality? Where is the fresh, warm faith which ever sees One like unto the Son of Man moving amid sacraments, and taking the shape of human symbols? Where is the rapturous conviction that pierces at once through the veil of visions, and sees the well-known features by a perpetual inspiration? And yet, this is undeniably the character of the faith which has drawn the soul to God at all times. If we consider the practical bearing of this great truth, we shall see its efficacy to be of the most momentous kind.
1. And first, it is the true sustaining power of the spiritual life.
2. Again, as objective faith is the sustenance of spiritual life, so is it the true antidote of one of the greatest dangers which beset the soul in times of strong religious excitement--that of morbid self-contemplation. Remorse, terror of conscience, growing scrupulousness, deepening awe at the sanctities of religion--all tend to fix the eye of the awakened soul on itself in a minutely introspective, anxious study, which tends to despondency and alarm, and, sadder still, depressing the soul’s energies, creates fresh hindrances to restoration and to peace. The remedy is to be found in an objective faith. Combine with the care of the soul a deeper care to realise the presence of Him in whom it lives. This vision of His love is the counteracting stay. The soul looks safely on itself, if it look still more earnestly on its God. The one vision is the true complement of the other.
3. Once more: the same truth holds good as to our progress in any single grace. We gain more by looking on what is perfect than by striving against what is imperfect. One of the strongest laws of our nature is the law of imitation. We grow into what we behold. St. Paul is only expressing this great law of assimilation in its highest reality, when he says that, “beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Objective faith is therefore the ordained process in the perfecting of the inner life. We subdue our pride not by mourning over it, but by feeding on the lowliness of Jesus. We learn how to give way to others by contemplating His self-sacrifice. Anger has no power over us, while He who was smitten on the cheek is vividly before our mind. We are stronger to bear pain while we look on the Crucifixion. In conclusion: The catholic principle of life is Christ revealed to the soul. His work in us is the impression of the look on which we feed. Our likeness to Him is the reproduction in us of the features of a Countenance towards which we are continually turned. We live by going out of ourselves; we become what we look upon. “We live by faith; not by sight.” We are what we believe. As some of the lower creatures change their colour according to the food on which they feed, so are we transformed by that which we have received within as the daily food of our soul’s communings. The realities in which we learn to live become our own real life. (Canon T. T. Carter.)
With a garment down to the foot, and … a golden girdle.--
The world’s great High Priest
I. That the Son of Man, who was on the earth, is the world’s High Priest.
1. The apostle saw the ascended Saviour as the High Priest of men.
2. The apostle saw in the High Priest of men the tokens of His human Incarnation.
II. That Christ is from the great eternity. “His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.”
1. As from the great Eternity, Christ can give men counsel.
2. As from the great Eternity, Christ should win the reverence of men.
3. As from the great Eternity, Christ is the pattern of men.
III. That Christ is most penetrating in His scrutiny. “And His eyes were as a flame of fire.”
1. That Christ is most penetrating in His scrutiny of the creed, conduct, and activity of His Church.
2. He scrutinises with terrible wrath the conduct of the enemies of His Church.
IV. That Christ is most unwearied is His purposes. “And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.”
1. Christ is unwearied in His purpose of love toward His Church and Gospel.
2. Christ is unwearied in His purpose of moral retribution toward the enemies of His Church.
V. That Christ is most sublime and effective in His utterances. “His voice as the sound of many waters.” “Out of His mouth went a two-edged sword.”
1. The voice of Christ is majestic. It is as the resounding of many waters.
2. The voice of Christ is diffusive. The sound of many waters can be heard at a great distance, in almost any direction.
3. The voice of Christ is piercing. It is like a two-edged sword.
VI. That Christ is supreme in His beneficent glory. “And His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
1. Because of the glorious majesty that is in Him.
2. Because of the influence He exerts upon growth.
3. Because of the joy He inspires.
1. That Christ is the hope of His Church in time of persecution.
2. That soul-visions are given to men at times of holy communion with God.
3. That the world has a Divine High Priest. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The offices of Christ continued in heaven
1.The authority and warrantableness of our Lord Jesus Christ’s kingly and princely office, as that which followeth, doth of His prophetical office: hereby letting us know, that our Lord Jesus’s being in heaven and in glory hath not made Him lay by His offices, or the executing of them; but He remains King and Priest for ever (Psalms 110:1-7.): even in heaven He bears His offices to His Churches.
2. That our Lord Jesus Christ, not only bears these offices, but In an excellent and glorious manner. There is no such king, no such priest, no such prophet as He.
3. It holds out that our Lord Jesus’s stateliness and glory doth not mar nor hinder Him in the application of His offices, and executing them for the good of His Church. Christ’s greatness and glory is so far from unfitting Him for the discharge of His offices, that He hath robes compacted, and Himself so fitted, as He may handsomely go about the discharge of them, being still girded, though the girdle be of gold. (James Durham.)
His head and His hairs were white.--
The exalted Saviour
1. “His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.” There is here an allusion to Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9-13).
(1) His head of snow is the symbol of eternity. It implies the perpetual existence of His Godhead.
(2) His hoary head is the symbol of sovereignty.
(3) The hoary head is the symbol of wisdom. This is closely connected with His crown.
(4) His head, and His hairs of wool and snow were symbols of His essential holiness and immaculate purity. His beauty is the beauty of holiness, His crown is the crown of purity, His sceptre is the sceptre of righteousness. The best and fairest of the sons of men have their spots or stains; but He is pure, perfect, and unsullied.
(5) The head of snow is the symbol of glory. The word “white,” is shining or resplendent; it is silvery, glistening; shining like lightning, it is radiantly bright, pure, white, effulgent, expressive of the purest splendour.
2. “His eyes were as a flame of fire” (Daniel 10:6). His eyes are the symbol of His Deity or omniscience. His knowledge is absolutely perfect and infinite.
(1) The words imply the splendour of His knowledge. He not only beholds all objects, and every object, but His eyes shed a splendour on everything He sees.
(2) The words imply the purity of His knowledge. He beholds holiness with infinite delight. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and He cannot look upon sin. He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
(3) The words imply the minuteness of His knowledge.
3. “And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.” This is the symbol of the Deity of Christ, His Divine power, His glory and majesty, His eternity and immutability. It is the symbol of His gracious presence with His people.
4. “And His voice as the sound of many waters.” There is a twofold voice attributed to Christ--the voice of His mercy, and the voice of His majesty.
5. “And He had in His right hand seven stars.” Stars are symbols of rulers, who are of two classes--civil and sacred. We proceed to consider the next symbol mentioned, the “right hand” of Christ. The right hand is the symbol of wisdom. God’s hand and His counsel are synonymous terms: it is the symbol of power--“Thy right hand is become glorious in power.” It is the symbol of honour. It is the symbol of favour: The man of God’s right hand is the Son of His love. It is the symbol of comfort: “In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” It is the symbol of security: The child was caught up to the throne of God, beyond the reach of every foe. It is the symbol of mercy: “God saves by His right hand, and the arm of His strength.”
6. “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” There is, as we have seen, a twofold view of the voice of Christ: the voice of His majesty, and the voice of His mercy. It is the last of these that is here intended.
(1) Why is the Word compared to a sword? The Word is compared to a sword, to express its keen and penetrating power, its blessed properties and mighty operations. It has a moral power to touch the heart, to impress the image of the truth upon the mind, to lead the sinner to look with holy mourning on Him whom he hath pierced.
(2) The Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit, because it was indited by the Spirit; because it is employed by the Spirit; because it is blessed by the Spirit, in its sweet and gracious influences; because it is explained by the Spirit--He that inspired it is the best and the only infallible expositor; and, finally, because its gracious effects arise from His powerful operation on the soul.
(3) It proceeds out of Christ’s mouth, as the only-begotten Son of God came forth from the bosom of the Father to reveal Him.
(4) It must be used and improved by every child of God.
(5) What are some of its wonderful effects? There is a twofold effect of the Word of God--one of mercy, and one of judgment.
7. “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.”
(1) There is majesty in the symbol.
(2) There is might in the symbol.
(3) There is mercy in the symbol. What a blessing to creation is the influence of the sun! What a blessing to the universe is the Sun of Righteousness, arising with healing and salvation in His wings!
(4) There is beauty in the symbol. The sun is the loveliest object in creation. And who can express the beauty of the Saviour?
(5) It is also the symbol of His favour and His love. When the face is mild, placid, and serene, like the sun without a cloud, it is the index or emblem of favour and affection.
(6) It is the symbol of anger as well as of love: “The face of God is set against them that do wickedly.”
(7) It is the symbol, in a word, of knowledge, of holiness, and happiness. Thus the Sun of Righteousness shines upon the saint, and pours the marvellous light of His glory, in incomprehensible sweetness and majesty, upon the weary pilgrim in passing through the wilderness. (James Young.)
The white hair of Jesus
I will tell you of the sorrow, the beauty, and the antiquity of Jesus.
1. There is nothing that so soon changes the colour of the hair as trouble. Well, surely, Jesus, my Lord, had enough suffering to whiten His hair.
2. My text sets forth the beauty of Christ. Whimsical fashion changes its mind very often as to which is the best colour for the hair. The Romans sprinkled theirs with silver and gold. Our ancestors powdered theirs white. Human custom decides this and declares that; but God declares that He likes frost colour best when He says: “The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
3. The antiquity of the Jesus. It is no new Christ that has come. He saw the first star beam on the darkness, the first wave swing to its place, and He heard the first rock jar down to its place in the mountain-socket. “His hair is white as the wool, as white as the snow”--an aged Christ. Ah, that gives me so much confidence! It is the same Jesus that heard David’s prayer--the same Jesus on whose breast John laid. You cannot bring Him a new ease. He has had ten thousand cases just like it before. He is an aged Christ. There are times when we want chiefly the young and the gay about us; but when I am in deep trouble give me a fatherly old man or a motherly old woman. More than once in the black night of sorrow have I hailed the grey dawn of an old man’s hair. When I want courage for life I love to think of Christ as young and ardent; but when I feel the need of sympathy and condolence I bring before me the picture of an old Jesus: “His hairs as white as the wool, as white as the snow.” Is there not a balm in this for the aged? (T. De Witt Talmage.)
His eyes were as a flame of fire.--
Christ the Truth
Fire is the element used to consume; and when we think of our Master’s character in the light of that fiery vision, what do we see? Well, putting it into the plain language of every-day life, what St. John must have remembered, and what you and I must remember, is not so much the actual authority of the Judge as the innate sincerity of Christ. Christ was true. He never flinched from the entirety of truth. He met philosopher and Pharisee and Sadducee as He met all others, with perfect calmness and decision; but with firmness and without relenting He dragged out their contemptible baseness of thought and purpose, and set it out in the sunshine before the eyes of all, and said to them all, “Oh, ye hypocrites!” And when He met those who talk about the religion of impulsiveness and not the religion of principle--with the men whose religion varied with every breath of public opinion, who held no truth long, who grasped this thing as being very useful to-day, and flung it to the winds this day week--with this sort of people He dealt, to their intense and surprised mortification, in order to wound their consciences and teach them that religion requires permanent self-denial. And when He met the soul which was at least approximately near to Him, the soul that felt and acknowledged its sin, and did not play a part, or put on airs, or have a stately gait or philosophic mind--to that soul He was tenderer than a woman, kinder than the truest friend, bringing to that soul the bright lights of hope and the stars of eternity; no trace of scorn then, no anger. And so He went through the world; dragging out the defects of the unreal, condemning the falsehood of His friends, and this at the risk of all His popularity. Christ never flattered, never bowed down to human opinion; knowing what was in the mind He was ever true and sincere. I want you to meditate upon that example, to meditate upon His force of sincerity as it touches us. Now apply that truth and sincerity to the judgment. Christ is coming, Christ shall judge us. Apply that character to the judgment. The last judgment, so Scripture tells us, will be the unfailing, true, righteous judgment of God. God’s judgment--the judgment of the coming Christ--is discriminating with fine accuracy; it deals with facts, and not with professions of heart, as we shall know in that last hour. Christ shall save us because He is true. “His eyes are as a flame of fire.” And then remember that it shall be a judgment when He shall show whether our confession was true. (Canon Knox Little.)
And His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.--
The administration of Christ
By our feet we move from one place to another, that we may execute the purposes which we have formed. The feet of Christ, then, are descriptive of His execution of His designs by the dispensations of His grace and providence--more especially of the signal manifestations of His glory in seasons of difficulty and danger.
1. This symbol exhibits to us the stability of the kingdom of Christ, and the energy of His government. The great cause of the stability of Christ’s kingdom amidst all attempts to shake and subvert it, is the invincible energy of His administration. “His feet are like fine brass.” He has fixed His plan of government with infinite wisdom, and He carries it into full effect. No circumstances can occur to thwart or disappoint Him.
2. The absolute purity of the administration of Christ. “His feet are like fine,” or polished, “brass, burning,” purified, “in a furnace.” Men, indeed, have attempted to defile His purity and to sully His spotless character. They have clothed Him with the most detestable attributes. They have accused His administration of folly and injustice. They have invoked His sacred name to prosper plans of iniquity, and to sanction the most unhallowed usurpations. No; still “His feet” are pure and bright “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.”
3. The administration of Christ abounds with splendid and stupendous displays of His glory. His reign suffers no interruption, and with perfect wisdom and righteousness He invariably administers His great kingdom. His enemies, however, sometimes think that He has abandoned the reins of government, and is indifferent how things are conducted. They feel and act as if they were without superintendence and control (Psalms 94:5-7). The ungodly rejoice. The neglected and suffering saints become fearful and despondent. But there are seasons in which the King of Zion gloriously appears, fulfilling promises and executing threatenings, working salvation for His Church, and easing Himself of His adversaries.
4. Christ is continually making progress in accomplishing His wise and holy purposes. He is ever carrying forward His great plan of mercy and of judgment.
5. Let us make the administration of Christ the subject of our devout study. The knowledge which we shall thus acquire of His character, the confirmation which we shall thus receive to our faith, will amply reward all our pains. (James Stark.)
His voice as the sound of many waters.--
The voice of Christ
Many have supposed that there is here an allusion to the sound of cataract. The reference, however, appears to be, not to the roar of a waterfall, but to the motion of the tides. The voice of the Son of God speaking in the gospel may, for various reasons, be compared to the sound of many waters.
I. It is never altogether silent. How many are employed, in almost every quarter of the globe, in proclaiming the message of mercy! As the noise of the seas is created by a multitude of separate waves, so the glad tidings of great joy are announced by a multitude of individual heralds.
II. The voice of Christ is addressed to all the ends of the earth. As we stand upon the beach, we may have something like a community of feeling with the inhabitants of the most distant climes; for the waters of the same great deep wash the shores of all the continents of the globe, and speak in the same tones of mystery and magnificence to all the sons and daughters of Adam. It may be said of the ebbing and flowing tides, as of the other works of creation and of Providence (Psalms 19:3-4). And the love of Christ is expansive as the broad ocean; for He sends forth His invitations of mercy to every kindred and people and nation. The inhabitants of the various countries of the globe cannot understand each other’s speech, as every province has its own tongue or dialect; but the noise of the seas is a universal language, proclaiming to all the power and the majesty of the ever-living Jehovah. And how delightful to anticipate the period when the harmony of the heralds of salvation will be as the sound of many waters, when the same truths will be echoed from shore to shore, and when the uniform reverberation of the tides will be emblematic of the one gospel preached among all nations! (Isaiah 52:8).
III. The voice of Christ is fitted to inspire us with awe and reverence. There is something in the very aspect of the ocean which expands and elevates the mind. Almost every one is constrained to be serious as he stands solitary on the strand, and looks abroad upon the world of waters before him, and listens to the ceaseless agitation of the far-resounding surge. The shoreless sea is the mirror of infinite duration; and as the floods lift up their voice, we feel as if they were repeating their commission from the High and the Holy One who inhabiteth eternity (Psalms 29:3-4). It is thus, too, with the gospel (Psalms 119:161). The truth as it is in Jesus has a self-evidencing power--it commends itself to the conscience--it carries with it a conviction that it is a communication from heaven.
IV. The voice of Christ is by many disregarded. How few, as they pass along the beach, ever think of listening to the dashing of the waves! Some may mark their various murmurs, and their magnificent echoes, and, ascending in thought to Him who formed the seas, and who sendeth the wind out of His treasuries, may contemplate with adoring wonder the glory of Jehovah; but upon the mass of individuals the noise of the many waters makes no impression. And it is thus, too, with the gospel. How many make light of the great salvation! How many listen to the joyful sound as to a matter in which they have no interest--even as to the noise of many waters! (W. D. Killen, D. D.)
He had in His right hand seven stars.--
Lessons from the Christ of Patmos
I. The position of instrumentality in reference to our Lord Jesus. “He had in His right hand seven stars.” God has ordained that there shall be men anointed of His Spirit, who shall, beyond others, be the means of conversion and edification, and these are as stars in the sky of the Church.
1. Note well, that instrumentality is of temporary use, and is intended for the time of darkness. The Lord will use instruments till He Himself appears, but even those whom He calls “stars” are only the transient apparatus of a passing night.
2. This should make us think very humbly of ourselves; for this illustrates our weakness. Were we lights of the first magnitude, the darkness would no longer remain.
3. Still, instrumentality is honourably spoken of by Him whose judgment is supremely wise, The Lord Jesus does not despise the agency which He employs.
4. Stars are guides, and so are the Lord’s true ministers. Some stars in yonder sky have done measureless service to wanderers over the trackless deep, and to those who have lost themselves in the labyrinths of the forest.
5. A certain star, the morning star, is also the herald of the day. Happy messenger of God, who has the sound of his Master’s feet behind him.
6. It is an honourable comparison that the instruments of God’s good pleasure have put upon them in being compared to stars; for the stars are the comfort and solace of the night. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth glad tidings!”
7. Instrumentality is honourably placed; for we see the stars in the right hand of Him who is the First and the Last. They may be despised by those who oppose the Word, but they need not be ashamed; for while the right hand of God is their position, they are more honourable than the princes and kings of the earth.
8. See, also, how true instrumentality is graciously sustained. The chosen servants of the Lord are under special protection; for they shine in Christ’s right hand.
II. The place of real power. “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” Not out of the stars, but out of our Lord’s mouth goes the strength which wins the day.
1. The true power of the Church lies in Christ personally. The power of a Church in the presence of her Lord. He has not deposited power in men; He retains it in Himself, and from Himself we must seek it. Behold the infinite resources of the Church; all power is in Jesus, and Jesus is with His people.
2. The power lies in Christ’s word: “Out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” The power is not in the stars, but in the word which made the stars.
3. It is not only His word, but it is His word as He Himself speaks it. It is not the letter of the word which Jesus spake eighteen hundred years ago which works wonders; but it is that same word as He now delivers it into our ear and heart by His own living, loving, heart-subduing voice.
4. The word is in itself adapted to the Divine end, for it is sharp and two-edged; and when it is spoken by the Lord, its adaptation is seen. The gospel is very sharp when the Spirit of God lays it home. No doctrine of men has such piercing power.
III. The source of true glory.
1. To the saints the glory of Christ lies in Himself: His own countenance is the centre of glory.
2. The favour of Christ, if it be enjoyed by a Church, is effectual for all purposes.
3. The brightness of our Lord cannot be measured, neither could His glory be endured of mortal men if once it were fully revealed. “His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” John therefore could not gaze upon that countenance, but fell at his Lord’s feet as dead. And if the Lord Jesus were to manifest Himself to us as He really is, in all His unveiled majesty, we should die with excess of joy.
4. If Christ’s face be so bright, then we know where to trace all the light and all the glory that we have ever seen or known. Is there any beauty in the landscape? It is the sun that makes it beautiful. Is there any brightness in any object round about us? It is the sun that makes it bright. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.--
Christ’s countenance compared to the sun
1.Because of the glorious majesty that is in it (Song of Solomon 5:15). There is an excellency and beauty in it that dazzles and obscures all the excellency and beauty of the world, even as the light of the sun obscures the stars.
2. Because of the lightsomeness of it; for Christ is to believers as the sun is to the world (John 1:9).
3. His countenance is as the sun shining in his strength, for the refreshingness of it (Psalms 4:6-7). His countenance maketh the heart more glad than corn and wine and worldly comforts whatsoever.
4. His countenance is so compared from the effectual influence ii hath on believers’ growth (Malachi 4:1-6.). (James Durham.)
I fell at His feet as dead.
I. Every age has its moral as well as its social and political tastes; and reverence is not one of the most popular virtues of the present day. Many a man who would be anxious to be considered brave, or truthful, or even patient and benevolent, would not be altogether pleased to hear himself described as a reverent man. Reverence he imagines to be the temper of mind which readily crouches down to the falsehood which it dares not confront; which is easy-going, soft, feeble, passive. Reverence, he thinks, lives in the past, lives in the unreal, lives in sentiment; lives for the sake of existing institutions, good or bad. It is naturally fostered by their advocates, while it is the foe of active virtue in all its forms. This idea of reverence is entertained by many persons who are in no degree responsible for the shape it takes, and who are quite sincere in entertaining it. They do but take in and accept and act on judgments which are floating in the mental atmosphere which they breathe. But, of course, originally, this atmosphere has been made what it is by various contributors and experimentalists. And among these have been some who knew quite well that, if you want to get rid of a doctrine or a virtue, the best way is boldly to caricature it. You ask me, What is reverence? If we must attempt a definition, it is not easy to improve upon the saying that it is the sincere, the practical recognition of greatness. And, when speaking thus, let us take greatness in its widest sense. The Highest Greatness, the Greatness from which all other greatness proceeds, is entitled to the deepest reverence. If the recognition of such greatness is to be not merely adequate but sincere, it will take unwonted forms, and make exacting demands upon us. Certainly, reverence is not the homage which weak minds pay to acceptable fictions. It would not be a virtue if it were. All virtue is based on truth. Reverence is the sense of truth put in practice. Nor is reverence the foe of energy. We can only imitate with a good conscience that which we revere; and reverence stimulates the energy of imitation. Accordingly, on this very account, reverence of a worthy object, the sincere recognition of real greatness is not an excellence which may be dropped or taken up at pleasure. It is a necessary virtue, whether for a man or for a society. The man without reverence is the man who can see in God’s universe no greatness which transcends himself. The really pitiable thing is to revere nothing. Thoughtful Americans have said that, amid all the material greatness of their country--and it is sufficiently astonishing--their gravest anxiety for her future is caused by the absence of reverence among all classes of her people; the absence of any sincere recognition of a greatness which may ennoble its reverers.
II. Reverence, then, is by no means only or chiefly an ecclesiastical virtue; it is necessary to the perfection of man as man, and to the well-being of society. But reverence is peculiarly a creation of religion. And if we ask why religion is thus the teacher and the Church the school of reverence, the answer is, Because religion unveils before the soul of man a Greatness compared with which all human greatness is insignificance itself. To the eye of religious faith, over every life, every character, every institution, every ideal, there is inscribed, “God alone is great.” If the Christian’s eye resin reverently upon an excellence, whether of saint, or office, or institution, beneath His throne, it is not as on something satisfying or final: it is as on an emanation from the Source of greatness. When reverence is in the immediate presence of God, it takes a new form, or it adopts a new expression. It offers that which it offers to none other or less than God. It offers adoration. The least that reverence can do in the presence of boundless Power, Wisdom, and Goodness, is to prostrate before Him every created faculty. For close contact with God produces on the soul of man, first of all, an impression of awe; and this impression is deep in exact proportion to the closeness of the contact. When reverence for God is rooted in the soul, the soul sees God in all that reflects and represents Him on earth, and yields it for His sake appropriate recognition. The father, representing His parental authority; the mother, reflecting His tender love; the powers that be in the State, ordained by God as His ministers; pastors of His Church, to whom He has said, “He that despiseth you despiseth Me”; great and good men, whether in past ages or our contemporaries; the Bible, which embodies for all time His revelation of Himself and His will concerning us; the laws of the natural world, when they are really ascertained, as being His modes of working; the sacraments, as channels of His grace, or veils of His presence; all that belongs to the public worship of Christ in His temples here on earth--these are objects of Christian reverence because they are inseparable from Him Who is the Only Great. Conclusion:
1. Reverence is a test, a measure of faith. We do not see God with our bodily eyes: faith is a second sight which does see Him. If men see God, they will behave accordingly. Apply this to behaviour in a church. But if He is with us, if His presence explains and justifies all that is said and sung, must it not follow that whatever expresses our feeling of lowly awe at the nearness of the Most Holy, before whom His angels veil their faces, is but the common sense of the occasion. No one could for long lounge back in an easy chair if moved by a sense of burning indignation; no one with tender affection in his heart could long maintain an expression of countenance which implied that he was entirely out of temper. He would be conscious that the contrast was ridiculous. In the same way, if a man sees God, he will behave as it is natural to behave in the presence of the Almighty. He will be too absorbed to look about at his fellow-worshippers; too much alive to the greatness and awfulness of God to care what others think about himself: he will yield to those instinctive expressions of reverence which the Creator has implanted in us by nature and refined and heightened by grace; and he will find that the reverence of the soul is best secured when the body, its companion and instrument, is reverent also.
2. Reverence begins from within. It cannot be learned as a code of outward conduct. To act and speak reverently, a man must feel reverently; and if he is to feel reverently, he must see our Lord. If he feels what it is to be in God’s presence, to speak to Him, to ask Him to do this or that, to promise Him to attempt this or that; if he has any idea of the meaning of these solemn acts of the soul, the outward proprieties will follow.
3. Lastly, reverence, the deepest, the truest, is perfectly compatible with love. In sober earnest, reverence is the salt which preserves the purity of affection, without impairing its intensity. We are so framed that we can only love for long that which we heartily respect. The passion which is lavished for a few hours upon an object which does not deserve respect is unworthy of the sacred name of love. And God, when He asks the best love of our hearts, would preserve it from corruption by requiring also the safeguard of reverence. (Canon Liddon.)
The fear of God
It is not alone the first beginnings of religion that are full of fear. So long as love is imperfect, there is room for torment. The thing that is unknown, yet known to be, will always be more or less formidable. When it is known as immeasurably greater than we, and as having claims and making demands upon us, the more vaguely these are apprehended, the more room is there for anxiety; and when the conscience is not clear, this anxiety may well mount to terror. In him who does not know God, and must be anything but satisfied with himself, fear towards God is as reasonable as it is natural, and serves powerfully towards the development of his true humanity. Until love, which is the truth towards God, is able to cast out fear, it is well that fear should hold; it is a bond, however poor, between that which is and that which creates--a bond that must be broken, but a bond that can be broken only by the tightening of an infinitely closer bond. God being what He is, a God who loves righteousness, a God who, that His creature might not die of ignorance, died as much as a God could die, and that is Divinely more than man can die, to give him Himself; such a God, I say, may well look fearful from afar to the creature who recognises in himself no imperative good, who fears only suffering, and has no aspiration, only wretched ambition! But in proportion as such a creature comes nearer, grows towards Him in and for whose likeness he was begun; in proportion, that is, as the eternal right begins to disclose itself to him; in proportion, I do not say as he sees these things, but as he nears the possibility of seeing them, will his terror at the God of his life abate; though far indeed from surmising the bliss that awaits him, he is drawing more nigh to the goal of his nature, the central secret joy of sonship to a God who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, does nothing He would not permit in His creature, demands nothing of His creature He would not do Himself. When John saw the glory of the Son of Man, he fell at His feet as one dead. In what way John saw Him, whether in what we vaguely call a vision, or in as human a way as when ha leaned back on His bosom and looked up in His face, I do not now care to ask: it would take all glorious shapes of humanity to reveal Jesus, and He knew the right way to show Himself to John. Why, then, was John overcome with terror? No glory even of God should breed terror; when a child of God is afraid, it is a sign that the word “Father” is not yet freely fashioned by the child’s spiritual mouth. The glory can breed terror only in him who is capable of being terrified by it; while he is such it is well the terror should be bred and maintained, until the man seek refuge from it in the only place where it is not--in the bosom of the glory. Why, then, was John afraid? Why did the servant of the Lord fall at His feet as one dead? Joy to us that he did, for the words that follow--surely no phantasmic outcome of uncertain vision or blinding terror! They bear best sign of their source: however given to his ears, they must be from the heart of our great Brother, the one Man, Christ Jesus, Divinely human! It was still and only the imperfection of the disciple, unfinished in faith, so unfinished in everything a man needs, that was the cause of his terror. Endless must be our terror, until we come heart to heart with the fire, core of the universe, the first and the last and the Living One! But oh, the joy to be told, by Power Himself, the first and the last, the Living One--told what we can indeed then see must be true, but which we are so slow to believe--that the cure for trembling is the presence of Power; that fear cannot stand before Strength; that the visible God is the destruction of death; that the one and only safety in the universe is the perfect nearness of the Living One! God is being; death is nowhere! What a thing to be taught by the very mouth of Him who knows! Had John been as close in spirit to the Son of Man as he had been in bodily presence, he would have indeed fallen at His feet, but not as one dead--as one too full of joy to stand before the life that was feeding his; he would have fallen, but not to lie there senseless with awe the most holy; he would have fallen to embrace and kiss the feet of Him who had now a second time, as With a resurrection from above, arisen before him, in yet heavenlier plenitude of glory. (G. MacDonald.)
The soul’s vision of Christ
I. The times when the soul gets its brightest vision of Christ.
1. In times of persecution and loneliness.
2. In the communion of the Lord’s day.
3. Upon the threshold of important duty.
II. Sometimes these visions have an appalling effect upon the soul.
1. There is in this terror of the soul an element of deep humility and reverence.
2. This terror of the soul is not overcome by the most intimate friendship with Christ.
III. In these visions the good are consoled and strengthened by the merciful condescension of Christ.
1. There was the strengthening assurance of a kindly action, “And He laid His right hand upon me.”
2. There was the encouraging utterance of a compassionate word, “Fear not.”
1. Soul-visions are Divinely given to the good.
2. Soul-visions are not always at first welcome to the good.
3. That the compassion of Christ renders soul-visions the chief joy of the Christian life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
The nature and design of the vision
I. The effect produced upon the apostle: “When I saw Him,” he says, “I fell at His feet as dead.” This is the natural effect of such a visitation upon the senses and sensibilities of the human frame. If an imaginary apparition has turned many cold and motionless with fear, no wonder that it should have been done by the reality. Our feeble natures cannot bear the lustre of heavenly things. How admirably our sight and all our sensations and powers are adapted to the precise distance of the world of our habitation from the sun l Upon the same principle, He who has adapted the light of nature to our senses has, by a still more elaborate process, and involving far higher dependencies, given us such discoveries of the methods of His grace as are fitted to our precise condition in this life, and will adapt them, with equal wisdom and grace, to our more exalted position hereafter.
II. The means by which the apostle was revived: “He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not.” It is evident from this circumstance that the vision was now close before him. The same hand which had been seen upon the seven lamps was now laid upon him. Here was a further evidence of the reality of the vision. How easily could that hand have crushed him! How well it knew the weight of a hand which distinguishes mercy from judgment! How familiar with the motions indicative of tenderness and aid! This friendly act is accompanied with the encouraging words, “Fear not!” It dispels at once all painful apprehensions from the mind of John, restores the vigour of his frame, and enables him calmly to survey the unearthly and irradiated image before him, and to receive instructions from His lips. Sudden changes, whether of a beneficial or of a disastrous kind, have their effect, first upon the old, and then upon the renovated part of our natures. The more, indeed, we are habituated to the contemplation and indulgence of spiritual motives, the more promptly will they come to our aid, and the nearer they will approach to the instinct of a new nature; but we can never expect to arrive at such a degree of refinement in the present state, in which the instinct of nature shall be surpassed by the promptitude of grace, for that would be to suppose their characteristic distinction to be destroyed.
III. A more familiar announcement of His person is now given: “I am the first and the last,” etc.
IV. The commission is renewed: “Write the things,” etc. (G. Rogers.)
The prostrate apostle
I. The prostration of the apostle: “I fell at His feet as dead.”
1. This was the prostration of guilt and unworthiness, arising from the presence of a sin-abhorring God. If anything can humble a sinful creature, it is to stand in the presence of infinite purity, greatness, and majesty.
2. This was the prostration of weakness and mortality.
3. This was the prostration of terror and alarm.
4. This was the prostration of holy worship.
5. This was the prostration of satisfied delight.
6. Here we may see the overwhelming power of the majesty of God.
7. Here we may see the boundless love and compassion of Jesus.
He deals with His people in infinite kindness. As their days are, their strength shall be.
II. The gracious act of our blessed Lord: “He laid His right hand upon me.”
1. This was a human hand; so it seemed to be. One like the similitude of the sons of men touched the prophet’s lips, and one who was the Son of Man laid His right hand on John.
2. This was not an angel’s hand, but the right hand of Jesus. Amidst the splendours of the vision, John might forget that the Son of Man was the actor on the scene.
3. This was the act of the Shepherd of Israel, who gathers the lambs with His arm, carries them in His bosom.
4. This was the act of our great High Priest, who is possessed of infinite tenderness, who is touched with the feeling of all our infirmities.
5. This touch was marvellous. The angel of the Lord did wondrously, and Manoah and his wife looked on; everything here was astonishing and wonderful.
6. This touch was mysterious: He looks to the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
7. This touch was omnipotent: it was the saving strength of His right hand (Psalms 77:10-15).
8. There was majesty in the touch; it was the touch of that hand which He lifts up to heaven and says, I live for ever.
9. There was mercy in the touch. The eye that pities, and the arm that brings salvation, meet together here in marvellous conjunction.
10. There was comfort in the touch (Psalms 16:11).
11. There was Divine blessedness conveyed by the touch.
12. There was infinite love in this mysterious act. It was not a heavy blow, but a kind and gentle touch.
III. The comfort and encouragement presented to John: “Saying unto me, Fear not.” Fear not the wrath of God, for He is your Father. Fear not the law of God, for it has been magnified, honoured, and exalted. Fear not the curse of God, for it has been inflicted, exhausted, and removed. Fear not death, the dark king of terrors, for by My death he has been vanquished, and swallowed up in victory.
IV. The grounds of holy comfort.
1. His essential Deity: “He is the first and the last, and the Living One.” The essential Deity of the God of Israel is often assigned as a ground of comfort to the ancient Church (Genesis 15:1; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1-2). The Deity of Christ affords the same ground of comfort to His people still. From His power, under the feeling of frailty and infirmity; from His eternity, under the fear of approaching dissolution (Psalms 90:1-2); from His covenant mercy, under the conviction of sin and unworthiness (Psalms 103:13-18); from His covenant faithfulness, under the fear that the Lord will cast us off.
2. His person: “I am He that liveth and was dead.”
3. His office: “I am He that liveth and was dead.” This office consisteth of three great parts--the office of a Prophet, of a Priest, and of a King.
4. His redeeming work. (James Young.)
Philip said, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” He committed the supreme mistake of mankind in supposing that man could endure the sudden and perfect revelation of God. Moses said, “Show me Thy glory,” but the Lord answered, “Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me and live.” Isaiah caught a glimpse of the King, and exclaimed, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” Job said, “Now mine eye seeth Thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” When in the transfiguration the disciples saw Christ’s face shine as the sun, and His raiment became white and glistening, “they fell on their face and were sore afraid.” We think ourselves ready for any revelation, whereas the fact is that our capacity for receiving revelation is distinctly limited, and in this matter, as in every other, we are straitened in ourselves and not in God, and partial revelation is explained by the fact that God adapts the light to the vision which has to receive it.
1. This is open to illustration from the common events of human life.
(1) Doctor’s report of child’s health.
(2) A view of the next seven years’ trials, etc.
(3) We value a friend for his discretion in such matters.
And yet you, who cannot bear these revelations, ask to be shown the Infinite God! A child who cannot bear the twinkle of a candle demands to look upon the noonday sun!
2. This is gracious on the part of God. Child: all the books he has to learn, at once! See how many different languages he has to learn without ever going beyond English! Every new department has a language of its own. If he could hear them all at once, he would enter Babel at a step! Observe: If we could see the last from the first, it would make us impatient of all that lay between. Mark the unhappy effect of such impatience:
(1) Imperfect knowledge.
(2) Restless temper.
(3) Immature conclusions.
A great part of the advantage is in the actual growing. We want breadth as well as height. The day dawns; the year develops; the harvest comes little by little. We are, then, in the line of the Divine movement in receiving revelation by degrees. This is the law. This is God’s way.
3. Any unwillingness to submit to this method of revelation is proof of an unsound and presumptuous mind. It would be accounted so in the family, in business, in statesmanship. In all things it is well to serve an apprenticeship. Let us know that life is a continual revelation. We cannot see over the wall that separates to-morrow from to-day. But Christ says, “What is that to thee? follow thou Me.” We are revealed to ourselves little by little. Another hint, another gleam, and so let knowledge come to us even as the sun shineth more and more unto the perfect day. John could recline on Christ’s breast, yet was dazzled and overpowered by the suddenly revealed glory of his Lord. There is a familiar side of Christ, and a side unfamiliar. Some mountains are accessible on one side only. (J. Parker, D. D.)
He laid His right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not.--
The glorious Master and the swooning disciple
I. The disciple overpowered.
1. The occasion.
2. The reason.
It was partly fear. That fear originated partly in a sense of his own weakness and insignificance in the presence of the Divine strength and greatness. How shall an insect live in the furnace of the sun? We are such infirmity, folly, and nothingness, that, if we have but a glimpse of omnipotence, awe and reverence prostrate us to the earth. The most spiritual and sanctified minds, when they fully perceive the majesty and holiness of God, are so greatly conscious of the great disproportion between themselves and the Lord that they are humbled and filled with holy awe, and even with dread and alarm. The reverence which is commendable is pushed by the infirmity of our nature into a fear which is excessive. There is no doubt, too, that a part of the fear which caused John to swoon arose from a partial ignorance or forgetfulness of his Lord. Shall we charge this upon one who wrote one of the gospels and three choice epistles? Yes, it was doubtless so, because the Master went on to instruct and teach him in order to remove his fear. He needed fresh knowledge or old truths brought home with renewed power in order to cure his dread. As soon as he knew his Lord he recovered his strength. Study, then, your Lord. Make it your life’s object to know Him.
3. The extent. “As dead.” It is an infinite blessing to us to be utterly emptied, spoiled, and slain before the Lord. Our strength is our weakness, our life is our death, and when both are entirely gone we begin to be strong, and in very deed to live.
4. The place. “At His feet.” It matters not what aileth us if we lie at Jesus’s feet. Better be dead there than live anywhere else. He is ever gentle and tender, never breaking the bruised reed or quenching the smoking flax. In proportion as He perceives that our weakness is manifest to us, in that degree will He display His tenderness. “He carrieth the lambs in His bosom.”
II. The same disciple restored.
1. By a condescending approach. “He laid His hand upon me.” No other hand could have revived the apostle, but the hand which was pierced for him had matchless power.
2. The communication of Divine strength. “His right hand”--the hand of favour and of power. There must be actual strength and energy imparted to a swooning soul, and, glory be to God, by His own Holy Spirit, Jesus can and does communicate energy to His people in time of weakness. He is come that we may have life, and that we may have it more abundantly. The omnipotence of God is made to rest upon us, so that we even glory in infirmities. “My grace is sufficient for thee, My strength is made perfect in weakness,” is a blessed promise, which has been fulfilled to the letter to many of us. Our own strength has departed, and then the power of God has flowed in to fill up the vacuum.
3. A word from the Master’s own mouth. Truly there are many voices and each has its significance, but the voice of Jesus has a heaven of bliss in its every accent. Let but my Beloved speak to me, and I will forego the angelic symphonies. Though He should only say, “Fear not,” and not a word beyond, it were worth worlds to see Him open His mouth unto us. But you say, can we still hear Jesus speak of us? Aye, by His Spirit.
III. The same disciple still further instructed.
1. As to the Lord’s person--that He was most truly Divine. Art thou afraid of Him, thy Brother, thy Saviour, thy Friend? Then what dost thou fear? Anything of old? He is the first. Anything to come? He is the last. Anything in all the world? He is all in all, from the first to the last. What dost thou want? If thou hast Him thou hast all.
2. As to His self-existence. Creatures are not living in themselves: they borrow leave to be; to God alone it belongs to exist necessarily. He is the I AM, and such is Christ. Why, then, dost thou fear? If the existence of thy Lord, thy Saviour, were precarious and dependent upon some extraneous circumstances thou wouldst have cause for fear, for thou wouldst be in constant jeopardy.
3. As to His atoning death.
4. As to His endless life.
5. As to His mediatorial office.
Conclusion: The glory and exaltation of Christ is--
1. The saint’s cordial.
2. The sinner’s terror.
3. The penitent’s hope. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
How full of consolation is this grand passage! It breathes a most majestic sympathy.
I. The text is most consolatory in the prospect Of death. Keys are symbols of authority and law, and these keys of death remind us that government and order prevail in the realm of mortality. The gate of the grave is not blown about by the winds of chance; it has keys, it is opened and shut by royal authority. The engineer who constructs a locomotive knows what distance it will cover before it is worn out, one engine being calculated to accomplish a greater mileage, another less. Using material of a certain weight and quality, the engineer knows with tolerable accuracy what wear and tear his machine will endure, and, barring accidents, how long it will run. Thus He by whose hand we are fashioned knows the possibilities of our individual constitution, how far the throbbing machinery will go ere the weary wheels stand still; our appointed days are written in our physiological powers, not in some mystical Book of Fate. From this point of view it is not difficult to understand how one organism will endure for long journey, whilst another necessarily breaks down, having accomplished a few stages only. We said, “barring accidents,” the locomotive will cover a given distance; but what of the accidents which may put an end to the career of the locomotive long before its possibilities are exhausted? and what of the thousand accidents which put a period to human life in its very prime and power? The answer is, Under the personal sovereign government of heaven no real accident is possible to virtue. The woodman knows how trees of different species require to be felled at various seasons; it is best that some are cut down with the fresh leaves of spring upon them, that the axe smites others whilst they are robed in summer’s pomp, whilst a third order must fall when the sap dies down in autumn and the leaves are tinged with the colours of decay. The forester knows when to smite the forest glories; and there is One who knows why some human lives cease in their sweet spring, why others perish in manhood’s pride, and why, again, others are spared to patriarchal years. At the right time, at the right place, in the right way, shall we suffer the stroke of mortality. Death to some may be a blind fury cutting short life’s thin thread; but the Christian knows that the capital power is in the hands of One whose name is Love, and before His fingers turn the key His eyes of flame see the necessity and dictate the moment.
II. The text is most consolatory in the article of death. We have here, not only teaching concerning the law of death, but also precious doctrine touching its Lord. Jesus Christ is the Lord of death. The law of death is the active will of Jesus Christ. It is the glory of Christianity that it consistently exhibits law, not as some metaphysical rule or impersonal force, but as the action of a personal, intelligent, loving Ruler. The law of creation is the will of a wise and gracious Creator, who rejoices in all that His hands have made; the law of evolution is the will of an Evolver, who with wise purpose and unfailing intelligence presses forward all things to some “far-off Divine event”; the law of dissolution is the will of a just and infallible Judge, who determines all crises. When Dr. James Hamilton was dying his brother spoke to him of “death’s cold embrace.” Said the dying saint, “There is no cold embrace, William; there is no cold embrace.” If our dissolution were effected simply by some mysterious abstract law working in the dark, it were indeed a cold embrace; but it is no longer cold when it is the pressure of that breast on which John leaned. In the light of this text death becomes transfigured; the keys are in the pierced hand; the keys are golden, they open the door into heaven. Whilst we think of these things even now strange music steals upon our senses, the rough wilderness smiles with flowers, a light above the brightness of the sun touches pain and sickness and sepulchre into gold, and in the hour and article of death these foretastes shall be fulfilled beyond all imagination; we shall not taste death; we shall not see it.
III. The text inspires deep consolation touching the issues of death. “I am alive for evermore.” “I have the keys of the invisible universe.”
1. There is a limit to the power of death. It does not destroy the personality; the dead may live again, live in new power and splendour.
2. There is a limit to the range of death. “Alive unto the ages of the ages.” In the face of those oriental systems which threatened men with endless deaths, transmigrations, and metamorphoses, systems which modern paganism seeks to revive, Christianity holds that the faithful pass through one eclipse only into personal, conscious, immortal life. The law of death is not the law of all worlds; there are spheres where it has no place, golden ages undimmed by its shadow. Christ alive for evermore declares that immortality is the prerogative of the highest being also. The monad is inaccessible to death by being too low; man in Christ shall be inaccessible to death by being too high. “Fear not.” True, we can never be wholly reconciled to death. Darwin used to go into the London Zoological Gardens, and, standing by the glass case containing the cobra di capello, put his forehead against the glass while the cobra struck out at him. The glass was between them: Darwin’s mind was perfectly convinced as to the inability of the snake to harm him, yet he would always dodge. Time after time he tried it, his will and reason keeping him there, his instinct making him shrink. The instinct was stronger than both will and reason. And it is much like this with the Christian’s attitude toward death: he knows that its sting cannot harm him, but there is an instinct within him that causes him to shrink whenever he comes into contact with the ghastly thing, and this instinct will not be altogether denied whatever the Christian reason and will may say. But in this shrinking is no terror or despair. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Christ destroys the believer’s fears
I. Who it is that prescribes the remedy for your fears. It is Jesus who lays His right hand upon you, saying unto you, “Fear not.” It is not by arguments devised by men that you are called on to look up in hope and confidence. It is by an entreaty coming to yourself fresh from the mouth of Him before whom you tremble. And oh, when it is He Himself that bids you not fear, does not the very glory with which He is encircled bring encouragement to your heart? Do you not feel that you may safely lay aside your fears, when all the terrors of His Majesty are arrayed, not against you, but on your behalf?
II. Examine the remedy in its several parts. Christ not only bids His people fear not, but He urges reasons why they should not. These reasons are contained in the several parts of the remedy.
1. “I am the first and the last, I am He that liveth,” or, as it might be rendered, “I am the Living One.” Several ideas are comprehended under these expressions: Christ existing from everlasting to everlasting--Christ the author and end of all things--Christ their sum and substance. The epithets are, you perceive, expressive of His Godhead. The others which He assumes in the text have respect to His humanity. How beautifully they all unite to dispel the fears of His people! Some of these fears are to be chased away by His Godhead some by His humanity; to chase away all Christ speaks both as God and as man.
2. “I was dead.” In how striking a contrast this part stands to the last! The glory of the Deity is now shaded by the darkness of a human grave. But what an amount of comfort this part is calculated to afford; for, if Christ was dead, why should you fear to approach the throne of grace on which He now sits? But, again. If Christ was dead, why should you, who are one with Him, fear the punishment of your sins? That punishment is all past already. And still farther. If Christ was dead, why should you fear to die? Perhaps you are among those who, through fear of death, are subject to bondage. Then Christ died to deliver you from this fear.
3. “Behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen.” This part is another strange contrast to the last, another brilliant evolution of the character of your exalted Lord. The darkness of a human grave is now dispelled by the light of immortality.
4. “And have the keys of hell and of death.” At death there is a separation not only from friends and the world, but even from your very self. Christ has the keys of all these doors. He has the key of the door by which the body and soul of His people separate. You cannot die, therefore, till Christ with His own hand open the door; the last breath is the turning of the lock. What serenity this should shed around the death-bed of the believer, and how strong consolation it should impart to those who are left behind! Christ has also the keys of the doors by which the souls and bodies of believers pass to each other for an eternal union. If saints on earth “groan within themselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of their body”--if their souls, even when inhabiting their earthly tabernacle, “do groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with their house which is from heaven”--what must be the longings of these souls as the winter of death advances to its close, and the time of the redemption of their bodies draws nigh! (G. Philip.)
Infallible antidotes against unbelieving fears
From this subject we may observe the following: that the death and resurrection of Christ, that eternal life to which He was raised, and His mediatory sovereignty are the great grounds of the saints’ consolation and sufficient to dispel all their unbelieving fears.
I. To speak a little to each of the things in the text, to unfold them, so as that the ground of comfort in them may appear.
1. As to His death. On this I offer these few remarks:
(1) His death supposeth--His incarnation and living as a man in the world (John 1:14).
(2) His death was vicarious: He died in the room and stead of sinners.
(3) His sufferings and death were most exquisite: “God spared not His own Son.”
(4) His sufferings and death were satisfactory, and that fully.
2. As to His resurrection and the life to which He was restored. Here consider--
(1) That God raised up Christ.
(2) Where He now lives. It is in heaven, which we had forfeited by sin, but where we still would fain be.
(3) For what He lives. The apostle tells us that it is to make intercession for us, and He Himself says it is to prepare a place for us in His Father’s house, where there are many mansions.
3. The eternity of this life. The man Christ lives for evermore. He will eternally represent His own sacrifice as the foundation of our eternal glory: and as for His kingdom, it is an everlasting kingdom that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:14). Let us--
4. Attend to His mediatorial sovereignty. Hell and death are terrible to the believer, but Christ holds the keys of both. Now these things, the death, resurrection, life, and power of Jesus, may be considered three ways in order to improve them for consolation to the saints.
(1) As patterns and examples.
(2) As pledges, assuring the saints of what they wish for.
(3) As containing in them sufficient salves for all their sores.
II. To point out the nature of that consolation which saints may derive from these. For this purpose let us take a view of the fountains of their fears and distrust.
1. There is the super-eminent glory and infinite majesty of the great God. This, when seen and considered by poor worm man, whose habitation is in the dust, is a great source of fear. Can ye not look straight forward to Divine majesty, then fetch a compass and look through the veil of the flesh of Christ? and so ye may see God and not die. “Often and willingly,” said Luther, “would I thus look at God.”
2. Sin is another fountain for fear: sinfulness considered with the nature of God. But fear not, O Christian Christ was dead and is alive for evermore; therefore the guilt that exposes to hell-fire is done away. Do ye doubt the completeness of the satisfaction? Behold Christ in heaven with the complete discharge in His hand. He is out of prison. He brought the keys with Him and is now on the throne.
3. The sinner sees pollution in himself and holiness in God. When they behold the spotless purity of God, and themselves as an unclean thing, they are ready to say, Oh, will God look on vile me? will these pure eyes cast a favourable glance on such a dunghill-worm? Fear not, Christ was dead and is alive. He is made of God unto you sanctification.
4. Desertions are a cause of fears. The deserted soul is an affrighted soul. Good news to you in your low state Christ died, and in His death He was forsaken of God; and yet He now enjoys the bosom of the Father and the light of His countenance. Who would not be content to follow Christ, even through the valley of the shadow of death?
5. Temptations are a source of fears. Sometimes Satan gets leave to dog saints at their heels. This fills them with fear: but to such I say, Fear not. Christ died and is alive evermore. He that thus lives evermore gave a deadly wound to the tempter. We have no more to do but to cry to our Lord, who, from His own temptations, well knows how to succour His tempted people.
6. Death is the cause of much fear. But fear not: He that was dead is alive; and when ye are carried off you shall be with Him who is infinitely better than all earthly relations.
7. Hell is a fountain of fears. But fear not, for Christ died; and if so, He suffered the torments thou shouldst have suffered in hell as to the essentials of them. God will not require two payments for one debt.
1. The comfortless state of them that are out of Christ.
2. The duty of Christians to improve these things for their actual comfort.
(1) The grieving of the Spirit cuts the throats of our comforts.
(2) Good men sometimes build their comforts on outward blessings; hence when these are gone their comfort is gone.
(3) On grace within them, not on grace without them; the comfort of some streams from their obedience principally, therefore it is soon dried up; whereas the death and life of Christ are liable to no change, as is our obedience.
(4) Upon the coming in of words to their minds. Hence, when a promise comes in they are comforted; when a threatening, all is gone. I do believe that the Spirit comforts His people by the word, and that He makes words come in with an impression on the soul (John 14:26). But then these words lead the soul direct to Christ and to build our comfort on Him; but it is not of God to build it on the bare impression of a comfortable word. The coming in of a word should guide us to Christ; and though the impression, the guide go, yet we may keep our hold of Him.
A word to other two sources of the saint’s fears.
1. Weakness and spiritual inability for the duties of religion. The soul taking a view of the great work it has to do, what strong lusts are to be mortified, temptations resisted, duties performed; and then, considering how weak and unable it is for any of these things, it is even ready to sink. But fear not: Christ died, etc. (Hebrews 12:12).
2. The danger of an evil time is another source of fear (Psalms 49:5). An evil time is a time of many snares. The soul is afraid that he will never stand out, but one day will fall. Fear not: Christ died, and it was an evil time, a time of many snares, yet He came safe off. This He did as a public person, and so it is a pledge that ye shall also be carried through (Hebrews 4:14-16). (T. Boston, D. D.)
Christ’s words of good cheer
No wonder that John fell senseless at His feet. There is no sign that he was prostrated by any sudden and appalling sense of sin. It was simply the rush of a magnificence too intolerably splendid. In a very small measure we can understand it, by the effect of a sudden glare of lightning and roll of thunder at midnight, or of being afloat on a fiercely agitated sea. It is not the guiltiest that are most excited, even if they be most alarmed; innocent children are overcome, sensitive and gentle women are profoundly moved; delicate nerves have more to do with the effect than guilty consciences. What has happened is a powerful impression of the contrast between these tremendous scenes and our poor faculties, our slight resources to avert, endure, or overcome. But our most awful impression was as nothing compared with his, upon whose mortal vision blazed the immortal splendours of a manhood taken into God. Now what is the comfort for human self-abasement and dread in the presence of supreme power?
1. It is, first, the nearer approach in love of what was so terrible in grandeur. He laid His right hand upon me saying, “Fear not.” So, then, the Highest and Most Awful can be gentle. He whose feet can trample like burning brass has a hand whose touch is soothing; and the great voice, which crashed like a trumpet through the Sabbath stillness, can be so modulated as to reassure the trembling heart.
2. That John may not fear, his Master proceeds to announce who and what He is. The first word needs to be strongly emphasised; “I am the First and the Last,” as if the voice had said, “It is I, and not another, who am thus exalted.” Can we doubt that with this word the personality of Him who spoke came in full force upon the heater’s soul? Well for us, in danger and dread, if our past life has tender and vivid associations with Him with whom we have to do, if we have known Him as the Hearer of our prayer, the Helper of our weakness, the Cleanser of our hearts. “I, then, whom thou knowest, and lovest, and canst trust--I am the First and the Last, and the Living One, and I became dead.” It is not only said that Jesus is first and last, He is the First and the Last. No assertion of Deity could be more explicit. But like all such Scripture statements, this is made in the practical form best suited to the hearers’ need. To the heart that quails and faints amid new revelations of dazzling majesty and overwhelming force, it is announced that His Loved One is behind and beyond all change, and that all life and power flow out from Him, the Living One. It is added that He “became dead,” to remind His creature of expiation for all sin, and of the immutable heart which once broke, rather than be pitiless. (G. A. Chadwick, D. D.)
Till rid of fear we are not fit to hear. (J. Trapp.)
I am the First and the Last.
The Christ of history and eternity
This sublime Apocalypse is the climax of Revelation. It carries us forward from narrative to prophecy, from facts to truths, from present conditions to permanent issues. Without such a revelation the religion of Jesus Christ would have lacked its crowning assurance, and the dispensation of grace its adequate interpretation. What is going on in the invisible above is essential to the understanding of what is going on in the visible around. Only as we get glimpse of the issue can we appreciate the purpose and strength of grace. The vision of Christ in His glory alone completes and justifies the history of Christ in His humiliation. The way-book of our faith could not stop with the record of an ascending Christ. For deep and clear as may be our inward fellowship with Christ, we cannot always escape the tyranny of our eyes. We see too much and too little--too much because too little. With awful precision we see the ravages of sin, the desolating frenzy of passion, the hungry eagerness with which graves close over hopes unrealised and lives whose record is vanity. But with all our seeing we see too little. Sin and strife and death are assuredly here. But with our unaided vision we do not see the large arena on which God is working out His gracious purpose: we do not see how these vast and appalling forces are under the control of a triumphant Redeemer; we do not see where, or how, or to what degree the conquering grace of Christ cleaves its way to the very heart of the conflict and robs the enemy of his spoil. It requires an Apocalypse to show us the wide empire and masterhood of Christ. Only as we see ahead can we see properly around. And in the goodness of His grace God has given us the larger, clearer sight. He has torn aside the veil.
I. Our text is Christ’s new introduction of Himself to the Church militant. It is the revelation of Himself in His Lordship, clothed with the authority and resource of spiritual empire. In His hands are the keys of mastery. To His service bend all heaven’s powers. But what I want just now to emphasise is, that right in the centre of this vision of glory the old familiar Christ of the gospels is made clearly discernible. Not only is He the Living One with the keys; He is the One who became dead; the One, therefore, who lived and moved within range of historic observation. This is a point of present and pressing importance. It indicates and guards us against two opposite tendencies which threaten the vitality of Christian faith. On one hand there is a too evident readiness to minimise the importance of our evangelic narratives; to pass lightly over the great historical facts on which our gospel is based, and even to acquiesce in an account of those events which rob them of all special, not to say trustworthy, significance. On the ether hand, there is a not less evident and equally disastrous tendency in the opposite direction. Some men never seem to get beyond history. The Christ they know is the Child at Nazareth, the homeless Wanderer in Judaea, the sympathetic Teacher and Worker in town and village, the willing Sufferer on Calvary. All this is good. It is a gain for which we ought to be devoutly thankful to have recovered from superstition and conventionalism the simple grandeur of Christ’s actual human life. But this revived interest in the Christ of history is accompanied with some peril to the adequate conception of our Lord and Saviour. The absorbing study of His example, His principles, His revelation of God, His interpretation of man, His work and sacrifice for the redemption of the race, may very effectually obscure the grandeur of His eternal supremacy, and rob us of the strength and comfort derivable from fellowship with the living Lord. Christ is not dead; He is risen. His life to-day is more than the influence of an unquenchable memory and of a love which the world cannot let die. The Christ of history is the living Christ upon the throne. He who was on earth is in heaven. He who is in heaven has come down again and fills the earth. His real presence has entered into every epoch of history. His personality is the most potent contemporary presence in life to-day. Our text sets us in right relation alike to the historic and the risen Christ. It saves us from the indefiniteness of that dreamy faith which declines to seek foothold on the solid earth, which claims self-sufficiency of intuitive knowledge and spiritual certainty. And, on the other hand, it leads us on from that mere back-looking and wingless faith which never escapes from earth and time, which never realises and rejoices in the personal presence of the living Lord.
II. An intelligent faith in Christ must begin with the study of His earthly life. It must look to what He was in order to know what He is. It must understand His work below before it can appreciate the character of His reign above. It must master the facts as a means towards possessing the truths of God’s dispensation of grace. The reasons for this are obvious. Our earliest knowledge of Christ must come to us as our knowledge of any other historical person comes, through the portraiture of competent witnesses and biographers. But not only for the outline of Christ’s personality and purpose are we dependent upon New Testament history. We must betake ourselves to the same quarter for an explanation of Christ’s living power, for an interpretation of the mission He lives to complete, for an understanding of how we are to come into relation with His grace. The evangelical records set forth no mere passing events, no mere transitory phase in the evolution of Divine unfolding, which may be left behind and forgotten as if superseded by clearer and loftier revelations. The Cross of Calvary fills every page of history and overflows into eternity, stretching back and on in perpetual enactment. The Apocalyptic Seer, standing on his high mountain, looked back and saw the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world; he turned his gaze towards the future, and saw the endless ages gathering around the Lamb that had been slain, singing the song of victory through sacrifice. And to the Cross we must go to find God, to know Christ, to learn penitence, to reap forgiveness, to discover life and liberty. Yea, it is by beginning at Jerusalem that faith discovers where and how to find the living Christ, in what way and with what joy to attain fellowship with the risen Lord. But there is yet another reason why faith has need to master and to appropriate the facts of historical revelation. The historic Christ who lived, spake, worked, died, and rose again in our midst, supplies the ultimate ground of verification on which faith rests for its spiritual beliefs and hopes. A religion which is to take adequate grip of man must satisfy the eye and the brain not less than the heart and the spirit. It must approve itself by facts as well as by reasons and sentiments. You tell me, for instance, that God is love. How do you know that? It is not a natural idea. It is, as men phrase it, too good to be true. So says my natural and hesitating heart. Do you refer me to your experience? Do you affirm that the faith has been kindled in you by direct operation of the Divine Spirit? But are there no possibilities of misinterpretation and mistake? Has God ever spoken or wrought in other ways to warrant your belief that He is now speaking and working in you? I cannot believe it until God proves it by an appeal to all the considerations and all the instincts and all the lines of evidence which can reach me down here in the darkness. And that is what God has done. He has come down and embodied His message in a life which appeals to all the faculties, and responds to all the demands, of my nature. The historic Christ proves the trustworthiness of my spiritual conviction, and from the con-temptation of that gracious life I go forward to the confident enjoyment of the elevating and constraining truth. So, too, in reference to the resurrection of the dead, that great gospel of glad tidings to a world filled with the dead and the dying. It is only when I can see and say, “Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept,” that I regain the balance of hope and faith. The intimations of immortality in me immediately radiate with fresh light. All the arguments grounded in nature, in reason, in justice, in spiritual experience, gather a clearer probative force. The accomplished fact of Christ’s resurrection interprets and verifies the instincts and promptings of my spirit within me, and beholding the risen Christ I can ask with exultant confidence, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” and can sing with grand assurance the apostolic song, “Thanks be unto God,” etc. Here, then, must Christian knowledge and spiritual faith find their foundation--in a devout mastery of the life and work of the incarnate Christ.
III. But beginnings are only beginnings, and must not be mistaken for completions. To have mastered the alphabet and the grammar of a language is to have come into possession of the key to its wealth of literature and ideas, but not into possession of the literature and ideas themselves. It is possible to know much about Christ and nothing of Him. For Christ is not contained in any or all the facts and doctrines concerning Himself. They interpret and point the way to Him. But He, the living Lord, whom they interpret, who gives significance and animation to them, is a Person, not an idea, and sits upon the throne of life, to be found of all who seek Him, waiting to bestow the blessings which His incarnate life wrought and revealed. Our study, therefore, of the great history, and of the doctrines of grace, is barren and futile unless we are guided thereby to seek and find the personal, living Saviour; to take from His own hands the gift which Christian history and doctrine explain, and to find in Him the actual enjoyment of promises made and truths revealed. There are two senses in the New Testament in which men are said to know Christ. Nicodemus said, “Master, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God, because … ” Here we have an instance of close observation, of thoughtful appreciation, of faultless logic leading to an irresistable conclusion. “We know, because … ” This was, for the moment, all he knew of Christ: an external understanding--logical, convincing, veracious, but ineffective. How different was Paul’s declaration, “I know whom I have believed”! Not, mark you, “I know in whom I have believed”; still less, “I know in what I have believed.” “I know,” said he, “whom I have believed.” The knowledge was personal, inward, constraining--a knowledge arising out of living fellowship with Christ, and which conferred upon him the power of a new and radiant heart. In this same sense Paul had once prayed that he might know Christ. At the time he uttered that prayer he knew all the facts of the great biography, and had expounded in his principal letters the profound significance of the Lord’s death and resurrection. Not in that sense, nor in those relations, are we to interpret his prayer for more knowledge of Christ. It was for fuller, deeper, personal possession of the Christ who unfolds Himself within the sacredness of Christian experience, whose gracious personality fills heaven with ceaseless wonder and adoration, whose presence in the heart expands into fresh discoveries of significance and charm. (C. A. Berry.)
An apocalyptic vision of Christ
Sixty years ago that old man wandered, glad and radiant, round the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The Word of Christ took possession of him, and he, led by it, followed after it till that blessed moment when, in the upper chamber, he lay upon the Master’s breast. All through the life that followed he looked back that he might look before; his eyes turned to what had been, that his hope might reach up unto what was to be; and lo! he found that the issue was greater than his utmost expectation. The old man found a meaning in Christ the young man never discerned. Age is greater than youth. The glory of youth is the promise that is in it; the glory of age is the performance it represents. See how youth now ripened into perfect fruition in age. In that ancient John there lay the apocalyptic visions; visions of the world, the wonders that were to be. Whether would you have God dealing with you in a way that became God, or in a way that became man? Whether would you have God dealing with you in a God-like fashion, by standards that suit the Divine, or entirely in the measure of your own merit, and according to your own poor deserts? Whether would you have Divine pity, Divine grace, Divine long-suffering determine the great law of the Divine action, or would you regulate that action by standards of man’s making and man’s following? “I am the First and the Last and the Living.” He is the great energy that works from first to last. “Indeed,” saith our modern wise man, “He the energy! Energy, what is it but force? what is force but the power of doing work? what is force but a form of matter? Matter we know, God we do not know, all things that men discover and interpret they interpret in the terms of matter and motion and force. Matter doth make and matter doth rule; it is the one providence we know.” Well, you know, and how do you know? Matter you know, ay, but “you” and “know.” Subtract “you” and where is the matter? Take away thought and where is force? Has matter any being save to thought, save for thought? Matter without thought is not handled, discerned, spoken of, described, it is real only as thought is real. But if there can, even to man, be no reality or knowledge of matter without thought, “nor matter, as object, save to intellect, then below all, underneath all, lies thought “which is spirit, lies energy which is intellect, lies the great directive will that is but the abstract name for concrete God. “I am the First and the Last and the Living,” and there is no life but the life God is, and makes. “And I became dead.” There enters here another and entirely new order of ideas. The great first, last, Living One became dead. To die He had become flesh, to make visible His glory, to veil the glory that He had made visible. There is the great order of thought that speaks of redemption, redemption by Him who became incarnate, who died--died! but “I am alive for ever more”--died to live, yet not as of old, Loges, Word in God; but the great incarnate, the living human heart in the potent Divine breast. It is here now where the matter comes in mainly in need of discussion. Here is this great enthroned Christ alive for ever more. What is the function that He exercises? He has the keys of hell and of death. Well, then, if He has the keys of hell and death, what does hell mean? It does not mean the place of torment or penalty, but the invisible, the home of all the dead, the great unseen land. The heaven above, the hell beneath; these it comprehends; it denotes all the vast, boundless, invisible world. What we know is but a speck, the unseen constitutes the real universe. And this invisible, the great, vast, invisible world in which our minute and hardly-discernible visible world swims, is this Hades, this world unseen, yet most real. Then death, if hell has so great a meaning, death cannot have a shallower. What is death but crossing the ocean, leaving the land that is known and turning one’s face to the great unknown to be unknown no more? Several hundred years ago some men and women gathered round a Southern harbour and they saw three small ships weigh anchor and spread sail and stand out to sea. They watched them as the hull disappeared, as the sail dipped, and as all faded from sight, but whether into the blue heaven above or whether still sailing on the sea below, who behind could tell? Months after in distant Western islands, men sat and wondered whether they were missed at home. In Italian and Spanish homes, longing wives and wistful sisters asked: “Where are they? our husbands, our brothers, float they still on the blue sea? faded they into the great blue heaven?” So our fathers, they that have been, have passed from sight and floated into the great blue heaven, but they are a mightier host than their sons. They think of the sons behind, we think of the fathers before; and thought and faith and hope reach o’er that mighty ocean, and grasp the vision of the mighty dead still living because Christ lives. “The keys of death and hell.” Keys are symbolical, emblems that speak of judgment, the right to judge and the might to execute. As the throne, the sceptre, the crown speak of regal dignity and regal rights, so the keys speak of judicial function. A great Sovereign sits in judgment, and these keys, Jesus Christ, in His capacity as Mediator, holds. He hath the keys of all the visible and invisible--death and hell. Men die, but they die not by chance. Accidents concern men, they do not concern God. Sudden events surprise us, there is no suddenness and no surprise to Him. Death is in the hands of Christ. The dying in Christ’s hands die unto life. In olden days when our fathers roamed the woods that stood where now busy cities are, they hewed from out the fallen oak trunk the frail canoe, they launched it on the ocean, then they skirted along the shore looking fearfully out for the coming storm, seeking safety by hugging the rock that was their very death. Now a mighty steamship which is a floating palace is launched upon the sea, and hundreds of men and women live there, and there, through night and day, in storm and calm, across the ocean the stately ship doth speed. So man without Christ is man facing the great ocean of death, the vast unknown land, in a frail canoe that the waters will surely utterly destroy. Man in Christ is man safe, wrapped in glorious security, resting in perfect peace, making painful yet peaceful and glad voyage out of time into a great eternity. And He who has these keys exercises the great function they give. He judges men. He who saves is He who judges, and who so good a judge as the gracious Saviour? (A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)
Through death to life
I. The designation which our Lord assumed. “I am the first and the last.” Say that these words speak of Jesus Christ as my Lord and my God, and yet as my Friend that sticketh closer than a brother; say that they teach the human and the Divine nature in the one person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and then I can understand how they would comfort the heart of the tremulous apostle.
II. The transition through which our Lord passed. John would be no stranger to Him by and by. Was that eye, like a flame of fire, to tell of corruption? Do those feet, burning as with fine brass, tell of corruption? Does that Voice, like the sound of many waters, tell of corruption? Nay; He had been dead, but now was alive again, and the promises He hath given were assured by His resurrection. No matter what there should be on the part of John in regard to Hades or to death, no matter what he might dread, let him renounce his dread, let him stand on his feet, let him look his Saviour in the face and recognise the old smile as well as that voice, and lay down upon His breast as he was wont to do before our Lord was a sufferer on the Cross. Death had no more dominion over Him now. “He was alive for evermore.” Come what might, there would be no other sacrifice for sin; no other sacrifice wanted. “I am alive for evermore”; and the liabilities of His humanity were exhausted; all the sacrificial responsibilities of His mediatorship were exhausted, there was not a fragment of those responsibilities left. It was finished. He had made an end of sin; He had abolished death, and swallowed it up in victory; He had become the resurrection and the life in perpetuity, throughout all the ages world without end.
III. The sovereignty which He claimed. All harmonised; all was coherent in the three several great departments of this text. Look at the supremacy of the sovereignty He assumed, and take care to use that connecting particle there, “and I have the keys of hell and of death.” Now, the relations of Hades to you and to me are momentous in the extreme. But press questions as we may, to a very great extent they can obtain no satisfactory reply. I may, however, tell you one thing about Hades, and that is it is very effectually controlled. Supposing all the principalities and powers amidst the evil spirits of Hades were to come in all their force and in all their malignity against the Church of Christ which He had purchased with His own blood, what then? It was a foregone conclusion; and the principalities and powers in perdition would just ingloriously succumb. They might boast, as the poet says, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” but they are in servitude after all their vaunting, and He whom they serve is no other than He whom they crucified. (W. Brock, D. D.)
A funeral sermon
I. It is a great thing to die. The Son of God, the Redeemer of men, presides over death. He has the key of death. And is death a trifle, if He is magnified by presiding over it? A reasonable soul has changed states. A never dying soul has gone to bliss or woe. How important is life! And how careful a guard has God set over it!
II. Death never comes at random. The key is in the hand of the Saviour, and it is used with determination and judgment. He employs various means and instruments, but they are all under His control, and work His will.
III. Our life on earth is under the constant notice of the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes constant notice of what we do, and of what we neglect. For as His turning the key at last is a judicial act, it supposes a close and accurate inspection, and proceeds upon it. Of Him who had the key it is said, also, that “His eyes were as a flame of fire.” With these eyes he sees all that is done--they pierce through every disguise--the darkness and the light are both alike to them. If those who trust in Him are left to suffer, it is not from inadvertency, or indifference, or impotence, but from design for their profit.
IV. His power in death cannot be resisted.
V. Souls upon whom this key is turned, though separated from this world, do not cease to be. Their mode of existence and sphere of operation are changed, but the vital power remains. They see with these eyes no more, and no more hear with these ears; but still see and hear and understand. The key that opens the door for their departure from earth, opens the door of admission to another world.
VI. The invisible world is under the control of the Saviour. (D. Merrill.)
The Living One who became dead
I. The royal Christ proclaims His absolute life. There is a much closer connection between the words of our text and those of the preceding verse than our Authorized Version gives. We must strike out that intrusive and wholly needless supplement “I am,” and read the sentence unbrokenly. “I am the First and the Last and the Living One.” Now that close connection of clauses in itself suggests that this expression “the Living One” means something more than the mere declaration that He was alive. It means, as I believe, exactly what Christ meant when, in the hearing of this same apostle, He said upon earth, “As the Father hath life in Himself so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” A life which, considered in contrast with all the life of creatures is underived, independent, and, considered in contrast with the life of the Father with whom that Son stands in ineffable and unbroken union, is bestowed. It is a paradox, I know, but until we have gone round the boundless boundaries of that Divine nature, we have no business to say that it is impossible.
II. The royal Christ proclaims His submission to death. Such a statement implies our Lord’s assumption of flesh. The only possibility of death, for the Living One, lies in His enwrapping Himself with that which can die. As you might put a piece of asbestos into a twist of cotton wool, over which the flame could have power, or as a sun might plunge into thick envelopes of darkness, so this eternal, absolute Life gathered to itself by voluntary accretion the surrounding which was capable of mortality. Let us bow before that mystery of Divine love, the death of the Lord of Life. The motive which impelled Him, the consequences which followed, are not in view here. But there is another consideration that I may suggest. The eternal Life became dead. Then the awful solitude is solitary no longer. As travellers are cheered on a solitary road when they see the footprints that they know belonged to loved and trusted ones who have trodden it before, that desolate loneliness is less lonely when we think that He became dead.
III. The royal Christ proclaims His eternal life in glory. “Behold!”--as if calling attention to a wonder--“I am alive for evermore.” Again I say we have here a distinctly Divine prerogative claimed by the exalted Christ. For that eternal life of which He speaks is by no means the communicated immortality which He imparts to them that in His love go down to death, but it is the inherent eternal life of the Divine nature. The “I” of my text is the Divine-human Jesus. The manhood is so intertwined with the Deity that the absolute life of the latter has, as it were, flowed over and glorified the former; and it is a Man who lays His hand upon the Divine prerogative, and says, “I live for evermore.” And so, “because I live, ye shall live also.” We cannot die as long as Christ is alive. Christ’s resurrection is the pledge and the source of eternal life for us.
IV. The royal Christ proclaims His authority over the dim regions of the dead. The original does not read “hell and death,” but “death and” Hades, the dim unseen regions in which all the dead, whatsoever their condition may be, are gathered. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Jesus Christ and the nineteenth century
The thoughtful traveller in Europe, visiting the churches and cathedrals which are monuments at once to the munificence, religiousness, and superstition of past centuries, cannot fail to notice the many representations of a dead Christ which these buildings enshrine. There are those who insist that this dead Jesus is the symbol of the Christian faith. From that grave in the garden He did not come forth, and all the declarations of His disciples concerning His resurrection, His appearances to them were but dreams and fancies, or at most only mythical and poetic expressions of a continuity of His influence-an influence emanating from the moral beauty of His life and teaching upon the earth. It is against this denial of the actual resurrection of Jesus and the continuance of His personal life that I would speak. Jesus of Nazareth is not dead, but is alive for evermore. We are not unfamiliar with the substitute for this personal immortality, both of our Lord and of ourselves, which is proffered us to-day, namely, “a continuity of spiritual and mental energy and influence, passing from us unto others, and thus on through succeeding generations.” The measure of truth in this we do not deny. It is true that all thought, all emotion, all aspiration of past generations enters into the present. It is true that in this sense Jesus Christ is alive, and lives for evermore. Beyond all others His influence is felt in the throbbing life of our own age. But was this posthumous influence all Christ meant in the predictions He made of His conquest over death and His rising again from the grave? He--not simply the memory of His words, not simply the influence His life has exerted upon His disciples--but He Himself will be with them to the end of the world. True, the visible form vanished from their eyes. That must be so. Limited fellowship must give way to universal communion. But did those followers of the Galilean ever, after that memorable scene on Olivet, doubt that their Master was with them? Never! John may be banished by pagan Rome from all the endearing associations of Christian brotherhood; yet no power could bereave him of the Saviour. Christ living in His followers is the secret of the continued life of the Christian Church. Empires have fallen, philosophies have been exploded. But this body of Christ, animated by His Spirit, has lived and grown, sustained by the life of Him who eighteen hundred years ago died and rose again. But I want to set before you the living Christ in relation to the larger life of our age, its theologies, its sociology, its literature, and its art. Jesus Christ is Himself the centre of all theology, The supreme evidence of Christianity is Christ. Never was there such activity in Christian thought as now. Never was the person or the character of Jesus more scrutinised than in this age. The marked feature of present theological discussion is that it centres around the Christ Himself rather than any of the doctrines or theories men have deduced from His words. Again: This living Christ is felt in the political movements of the present century. The nations of the earth are to-day moving in the direction of democracy. Many see and note this; but all do not perceive the character of the democracy which is thus developing. It is not the democracy of Greece or Rome in the days of their republics, but a new democracy which is coming up the steep of time. They were republic of the few. This is a democracy of the whole. The new democracy will know nothing in race, clime, creed, or colour to bar a man out of citizenship. The seeds of this democracy were sown when Christ proclaimed the brotherhood of man and sent forth His disciples to found a religion which aimed at the enfranchisement of all men. Legislation feels His influence. Law is more and more seeking to embody impartial, universal justice. Government seeks to hold its shield over all alike--the feeble, the poor, the unfortunate, as well as the rich, the strong, and the successful. The element of mercy was never so potent in the administration of law as to-day. The hand of Jesus has wiped hundreds of cruel and unjust penalties from the statute-books. The end now sought by punishment is not revenge, or restraint even, alone, but the reformation of the criminal. Some one has said culture and Christianity walk arm in arm. Jesus Christ said, “Go, teach.” To whom are we indebted for the greatest educational institutions of the present time? Men in whom Christ lived and who would have culture lay its crown at His feet. The children of the poor and toiling masses are gathered into schools, and the gates of knowledge flung open to them. The blind are made to see with the sensitive finger-tips, and the deaf seem almost to hear under the teaching of those who thus seek to do in the world the work of Him who is their Master and Lord. Note the influence of the Christ in the literature and art of this century. A few words must suffice. Never had literature so many men and women of commanding genius, whose work vibrates with the spirit of the Saviour. The essayists, poets, novelists, who have most deeply stirred the pulses of the present generation are those who in a greater or lesser degree write along the lines of religious thought, emotion, and human sympathy. Art is every year becoming purer. The most immortal work of the painter, ancient or modern, is that which seeks to bring before men something in the life and work of this Christ. Music rises to its highest development and takes its grandest forms of expression when it weds itself to sacred themes. The life of the world--social, moral, intellectual, artistic--the world’s nobler life is fed by the unfailing life of Jesus the Christ. Each passing year His presence will be more vividly recalled, His influence more potently felt. “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!” (W. Lloyd, D. D.)
Jesus living for ever
I. Some evidences of the glorious truth, that Christ is He who lives for evermore. I cannot refer you to the light of nature for a proof of this point. Reason, indeed, teaches us that as God was the maker of all things, He must be from everlasting to everlasting, but with respect to Christ’s eternal continuance as man, or even with respect to His becoming man at first, it affords us no light. This is a mystery of godliness, made known by revelation only.
1. Scriptural representations of Christ show plainly that He liveth for evermore. When we would prove that man is a frail creature, we ask the question, What is flesh? And for an answer, we repeat Isaiah’s representation, “All flesh is grass,” etc. Now, compare these representations of men in general with the designations of the Man Christ Jesus, and you will see a striking contrast. What creature more durable than the sun? What is more immovable than a rock? And was not this the very metaphor which Christ used when speaking of Himself as God-man?
2. The types of Scripture import that He lives for evermore. I will mention only two, Moses’ burning bush, and Melchisedec.
3. The testimony of God, recorded in Scripture, shows that Jesus lives for ever. First, hear the testimony of the Father, “The Lord said unto my Lord,” etc. Hear next the testimony of the Son. “Thou wilt show Me the path of life,” etc. Hear also the testimony of the Holy Ghost. It was He who dwelt in the prophets, “testifying of the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” And what do these prophets, as directed by Him, say? One, speaking of Christ, expresses himself, “He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it Him, even length of days for ever and ever”; and another tells us, that “of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end.”
4. Scripture doctrines evince the glorious truth that Christ lives for evermore. There is what is called the analogy of faith; now, the truth of which we speak is not only agreeable to this analogy but essential to it. For instance, according to Scripture, our Lord Jesus is the trustee of the new covenant. Yes, “He hath received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.” H so, must He not live that He may distribute these gifts? Another doctrine of Scripture is, that Christ shall be the judge of the world. But how could Christ judge the world if it were not that He shall live to the end of days? And, then, how could He say, “come” to the righteous, and “depart” to the wicked, unless He were to live thereafter, even through a glorious eternity?
II. The import of Christ’s living for evermore.
1. It denotes that Christ shall eternally exist. This is the lowest sense of the words. What is death but a dissolution of the human frame? but Christ’s humanity shall never cease to be. The body which was crucified He still retains, and shall do so for ever.
2. Christ shall be everlastingly happy. In the days of Christ’s flesh, His afflictions were singular. If His trials were singular on earth, His pleasures in heaven are surpassing.
3. Jesus shall be eternally honoured.
4. Christ shall be everlastingly active. This seems to be the idea conveyed by the term life. Do you inquire wherein is Christ active? In reply, shall I direct your attention to His constant preservation of millions of beings, for “by Him all things consist?” I choose rather to point you to His deeds of grace. Behold Him in heaven--there “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” But His exertions are not confined to the abodes of bliss. It is Jesus “who executeth judgment for the oppressed,” etc. But how long shall Jesus thus live and be active? In His humbled state, not above thirty-three years had elapsed, when He said of His work, “It is finished”; but rejoice, O Christians, His heavenly business shall never cease. “The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.”
III. In what different characters Christ shall live for ever.
1. He shall live for ever as the glorious representative of God.
2. He shall live for ever as our gracious intercessor.
3. He shall live for ever as our spiritual King.
IV. The ends of Christ’s living for evermore.
1. Hereby glory is brought to God. Ask you for a proof of God’s justice in punishing? I point you to the Cross, and say, “Behold, the Surety of sinners died.” But do you seek an evidence of retributive justice in rewarding? I direct your attention to the throne, and cry, “Behold, He lives for evermore.”
2. Hereby a reward is given to Christ. He still remembers Gethsemane and Calvary, but He sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied. Oh, what must that satisfaction be, in the mind of the glorified Jesus!
3. Hereby believers are comforted. Does Christ live for evermore? Our justification must be permanent. Our sanctification is made certain. Does Jesus live for evermore? It secures support in the performance of every duty. Though we are feeble, He is strong; though we are depressed, it is He that raiseth up.
4. Hereby the inhabitants of heaven are transported. A gracious visit from Christ made a desert lightsome to Moses; the valley of the shadow of death comfortable to David; a fiery furnace easy to the three children. Oh, then, what will it be for ever with the Lord in heaven! (E. Brown.)
Christ’s life in heaven
I. His life in heaven is a life that succeeds an extraordinary death.
1. Absolute spontaneity. No being ever died but Christ who had the feeling that he need never die--that death could be for ever escaped.
2. Entire relativeness. He died for others. “He was bruised for our iniquities,” etc.
3. Universal influence.
II. His life in heaven is a life of endless duration.
1. His endless duration is a necessity of His nature.
2. His endless duration is the glory of the good.
III. His life in heaven is a life of absolute dominion over the destinies of men.
1. There is nothing accidental in human history.
2. Departed men are still in existence.
3. Death is not the introduction to a new moral kingdom. The same Lord is here as there.
4. We may anticipate the day when death shall be swallowed up in victory. (Homilist.)
An Easter sermon
I have taken for my Easter text the account which Christ gives of Himself after His resurrection and ascension. See what Christ says of Himself then. First, “I am He that liveth.” That word, “liveth,” is a word of continuous, perpetual life. It describes the external existence which has no beginning and no end; which, considered in its purity and perfectness, has no present and no past, but one eternal and unbroken present--one eternal now. If anything has come to us to make us feel what a fragmentary thing our human life is, I think there is no greater knowledge for us to win than that the life of one who loves us as Christ loves us is an eternal life, with the continuance and the unchangeableness of eternity. See how we alter; how we make plans and finish them, or give them up; how we slip on from one stage of our career into another; how past, present, and future are for ever confusing our existence; how we die, and others come on in our places. How our heads ache and our hearts ache with it all sometimes. “Is this living?” we exclaim. “This is merely touching upon life. Is it living? Is it not like the touching of an insect on the surface of a river that is hundreds of miles long? His wing just brushes it at one point in its long course, and ruffles it for a second, and then is gone again, and that is all he has to do with it. And that is all we have to do with life. Is this living?” And then there comes this voice from Christ: “I am He that liveth,” He declares--continuous, eternal life. See what a wonderful thing comes next. “I am He that liveth, and was dead.” We do not begin to know how wonderful that is. Remember the eternally living, the very life of all lives. And yet into that life of lives death has come--as an episode, an incident. That spiritual existence which had been going on for ever, on which the short existences of men had been strung into consistency, now came and submitted itself to that which men had always been submitting to. And lo! instead of being what men had feared it was, what men had hardly dared to hope that it was not, the putting out of life, it was seen to be only the changing of the circumstances of life, without any real power over the real principle of life; any more power than the cloud has over the sun that it obscures. That was the wonder of Christ’s death. “It is an experience of life, not an end of life. Life goes on through it and comes out unharmed. Look at Me. I am He that liveth, and was dead!” But this is not all. Still the description goes on and unfolds itself. “He that liveth, and was dead,” Christ says, “and behold I am alive for evermore.” This existence after death is special, and different. It is not a mere reassertion of what had been already included in His great Word, “I am He that liveth.” It is something added. It is an assurance that in the continued life which has once passed through the experience of death there is something new, another sympathy, the only one which before could have been lacking, with his brethren whose lot it is to die, and so a helpfulness to them which could not otherwise have been, even in His perfect love. And now think what that great self-description of the Saviour means, and what it is to us. “He that liveth!” And at once your fragment of life falls into its place in the eternity of life that is bridged by His being. “He that was dead!” And at once death changes from the terrible end of life into a most mysterious but no longer terrible experience of life. “He that is alive for ever-more!” And not merely there is a future beyond the grave, but it is inhabited by One who speaks to us, who went there by the way that we must go, who sees us and can help us as we make our way along, and will receive us when we come there. Is not all changed? The devils of discontent, despair, selfishness, sensuality, how they are scattered before that voice, really heard, of the risen and everlasting Christ. But see how He goes on: “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore. And I have the keys of hell and of death.” It is because He died that He holds the keys of death. Can we not understand that? Do we not know how any soul that has passed through a great experience holds the keys of that experience, so that as he sees another coming up to it just as ignorantly and fearfully as he came, he can run up to this new-comer and open the door for him, show him on what side this experience is best entered, lead him through the dark passages of it where he could not easily find his way alone, and at last bring him out into the splendour of the light beyond? There are no nobler lives on earth than those of men and women who have passed through many experiences of many sorts, and who now go about with calm and happy and sober faces, holding their keys, some golden and some iron, and finding their joy in opening the gates of these experiences to younger souls, and sending them into them full of intelligence and hope and trust. Such lives, I think, we may all pray to grow into as we grow older, and pass through more and more of the experiences of life. And now this is just exactly what Jesus does for us by His resurrection. Having the keys of death and hell, He comes to us as we are drawing near to death, and He opens the door on both sides of it, and lets us look through it, and shows us immortality. Now you see we have passed over from Himself to us. Not merely He lives for ever, but so shall we; for us, too, death shall be not an end, but an experience; and beyond it for us, just as for Him, stretches immortality. Because He lives, we shall live also. And now shall we try to tell to one another what it is to be immortal, and to know it; what it is to have death broken down so that life stretches out beyond it, the same life as this, opening, expanding, but for ever the same essentially; just as to Him that always liveth the life that He liveth evermore is the same after the death on Calvary, though with some entrance of something--some new knowledge, and the sympathy of a new experience--that was not there before? First of all I think of the immense and noble freedom from many of the most trying and vexatious of our temptations which come to a man to whom the curtain has been lifted and the veil rent in twain. Sometimes when one is travelling through a foreign country it happens that he stops a day or two, a week or two, in some small village, where everything is local, which has little communication with the outside world; where the people are born and grow up, and grow old and die without thinking of leaving their little nest among the mountains. The traveller shares for a little while their local life, shuts himself in to their limitations. But all the while he is freer than they are; he is not tyrannised over by the small prescriptions and petty standards that are despots to them. He knows of, and belongs to, a larger world. He is kept free by the sense of the world beyond the mountains, from which he came and to which he is going back again. And so when a man, strong in the conviction of immortality, really counts himself a stranger and a pilgrim among the multitudes who know no home, no world but this, then he is free among them; free from the worldly tyrannies that bind them; free from their temptations to be cowardly and mean. The wall of death, beyond which they never look, is to him only a mountain that can be crossed, from whose top he shall see eternity, where he belongs. This is the freedom of the best childhood and the best old age, these two ends of life in which the sense of immortality is most real and most true. And so, again, the whole position of duty is elevated by the thought, the knowledge of immortality. It seems to me that this day is a day for strong and cheerful resolutions, because it is a day when, with the spiritual world open before us, we can all catch sight of the destiny of duty--of how, some time or other, every good habit is to conquer and every good deed wear its crown. Duty is the one thing on earth that is so vital that it can go through death and come to glory. Duty is the one seed that has such life in it that it can lie as long as God will in the mummy hand of death, and yet be ready any moment to start into new growth in the new soil where He shall set it. So let us all consecrate our Easter Day by resolutely taking up some new duty which we know we ought to do. We bind ourselves so by a new chain to eternity, to the eternity of Him who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at God’s right hand. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
A living Christ explains Christian history
A Christ upon paper, though it were the sacred pages of the gospel, would have been as powerless to save Christendom as a Christ in fresco. A living Christ is the key to the phenomenon of Christian history. (Canon Liddon.)
The living Christ
Christian faith is a mass of contradictions and a glorious tissue of harmony. It is easy to make it seem ridiculous to common sense. But it is fatal for religion to appeal to common sense. Our faith is faith in a Christ who is and who is not, in a dead man who is our living God, in one who was humiliated into eternal exaltation, who in extremest weakness realised and revealed the supreme power of heaven and earth. What is this faith in this Christ? It is faith--
1. In a historic Christ.
2. In a living Christ.
3. In a Christ personal to each of us.
1. In a historic Christ. There was such a man. The story of Him is not an invention. Even if it were conceded that everything told of Him is not literally true, He was a reality. His figure is real and palpable in history. Moreover, this man is prolonged into posterity. He has had a vast influence in history. But no serious mind or conscience either denies or deplores that influence. To deplore Christ is to renounce the right to moral consideration. Even if He is not the Redeemer, He has been a vast blessing. He deserves more attention and gratitude than Plato, Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, Newton, or any of the heroes of culture and civilisation. He has done more for the race, for humanity as humanity. None of the most precious boons of civilisation would have been here to-day without Christianity, without Christ. He came in and raised a new civilisation out of the wreck of the old. Especially is this so with the achievements of love and their growth. Nobody has ever exerted such an influence, whether you like it or whether you do not. And it is an effect produced by one who went in the face of human nature. He gave effect, it is true, to certain vast, deep human tendencies, but so far as human prejudices and tastes go, He went in their teeth. What a personality! You cannot get more out than was in. If so much has been got out, how much must there have been in that miraculous soul! And how much remains. All this may be recognised by a dead faith, a poor but honest faith, a faith merely historic and intelligent, as a mere matter of observation. But this is hardly faith. It is not living faith. It is not the kind of response Christ died to evoke. On some who study Christ as a mere figure in history there dawns another kind of influence from Him. They begin as historians, as critics; they end as sympathisers, advocates, enthusiasts. They came to embalm Him with their spices, and they stay to worship and return to confess. They can no more be impartial, as if it were Napoleon, Socrates. The ordinary able man may merely discuss Him. But no human-hearted man, no man of soul, can really be impartial in dealing with Christ. Our sympathies are engaged, captured, preoccupied. The historic Christ stirs in humane minds a faith, a response, which makes mere criticism difficult or impossible. His beauty, terror, dignity, and invincibility tell. His love, mercy, faithfulness master us. His indomitable grace survives death and rises in us. He becomes an imaginative ideal, and then a moral imperative. His principle of Divine Sonship becomes the base of a new religion. But this is a principle which is inseparable from His Person. But many separate the two, and are at a stage at which they answer to His principle more than to His Person. They think more of His present legacy than of His present life. Now these have no dead faith. Yet they have not a living faith. “They are between two worlds: one dead, the other powerless to be born.” They are much more than critics and historians. But they are not yet the property of Christ, slaves like Paul, devotees like John. They believe in the Christ that lived and was dead. But they do not believe in the absolute Victor, Redeemer, and King, in the Christ that liveth for evermore, with the keys of hell and death. A living faith is not mere sympathy with a historic Christ.
2. When we speak of the difference between a dead faith and a living, what we really mean is a difference in the object of our faith more than the kind. The object determines the kind. Living faith is faith in a living Christ. It is only a living Christ that calls out a living faith. Do not fret yourself examining your faith, trying its limbs, feeling its pulse, watching its colour, measuring its work. See rather that it is set on a living Christ. Care for that Christ, and He will care for your faith. Realise a living Christ, and He will produce in you a living faith, He acts in many ways. He acts by His historic character, and He acts by His historic Church. But still more He acts by His Eternal Person and Holy Ghost. This living Lord is invisible, invincible, and immortal; and at the last irresistible; He acts not only on the large course of human events, but directly on living souls and wills, whether humble or refractory; and He rejoices alike in the love of His Father and the love of His redeemed, and in the communion of both. To realise this is more than faith in a historic Christ. Because living faith is faith in a living Christ. If He is not living, faith must dwindle and die. Do you think you can feed living faith on a dead Christ? What I could living faith go on in a God who could let such an one as Christ die, who could disappoint the confident faith of Christ Himself that God would raise Him up to glorious life? If He is not the living, reigning Christ, He is a Christ growing weaker as the ages move on, and He recedes into the past. If He be not a living Christ, then every generation makes His influence more indirect. More souls are interposed between our souls and Him, and absorb His limited light. The world moves on and forgets Him, moves on and leaves Him behind, moves on and outgrows Him. He becomes chiefly a scholar’s Christ. Well, this is a frame of mind fatal at least to Christ’s place as Redeemer. It may esteem Him as a Benefactor, but it displaces Him as Redeemer. It clears the ground for a totally new religion. It is not simply a redemption we need. If Christ had come to perform a certain work of redemption, and then had ceased to be, then we should have had in Him neither the redemption nor salvation that we need. We need a living Redeemer to take each one of us to God, to be for every one to-day all that He could have been upon earth to any one in that great yesterday, and to be for ever what He is to-day. We need Him as the human conscience of God to come to our rescue against our conscience. If we were left alone with our conscience it would do more, on the whole, to overwhelm us than to redeem us or support us. We need some surety more sure and merciful and universal than our conscience. We need something more worthy than our natural moral manhood. That is our need of a Redeemer, of a living, human Redeemer, a moral owner and King, a living Christ, a Lord and Master more immortal than ourselves, and the root of all that makes our immortality other than a burden. Yes, to lose the living Christ is to lose the living God. Whatever enfeebles the hold of Christ on the world relaxes its sense of God. It is faith in Christ that has kept belief in a God from dying out in the world. It is never the arguments of the thinkers or the intuitions of the saints that have done that. If Christ grow distant and dim, the sense of God fades from the soul and the power of God decays from life. And what happens then? We lose faith in man--in each other, and in ourselves. The soul that in its own strength defies God or dismisses Him from life, has taken the greatest step to losing faith in itself. How is that? It is thus. What I say is, lose the living God and you lose your own soul, your very self-confidence. And it is thus. Make your God not a living God, but a force, a blind, heartless power, or even an irresponsive idea, and you make Him something your heart and will can have no intercourse with. Mediator and Redeemer! must we not go farther even than that with an everlasting Christ? Yes, one step farther. Intercessor! Steward and Key-bearer of the spiritual world! “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” It is an everlasting redemption, and therefore it is a ceaseless intercession. The intercession of Christ is simply the prolonged energy of His redeeming work. The soul of atonement is prayer. The standing relation of Christ to God is prayer. The perpetual energy of His spirit is prayer. It is the risen Redeemer that has the keys of the world unseen--the keys which admit it to history as well as open it to a man. The key of the unseen is prayer. That is the energy of the will which opens both the soul to the kingdom and the kingdom to his soul. But never our prayer. It is a prayer for us, not by us. It is Christ the Intercessor that has the key of the unseen--to deliver from death, to deliver into fulness of spiritual life. The Redeemer would be less than Eternal if He were not Intercessor. The living Christ could not live and not redeem, not intercede. Redemption would be a mere act in time if it were not prolonged as the native and congenial energy of the Redeemer’s soul in the intercession of eternity. The priestly atonement of Christ was final, but it was final in the sense of working incessantly on, not only in its echoes and results with us, but in the self-sustained energies of His own Almighty and Immortal Spirit. This is the priesthood which is the end of priesthood, and its consummation the satisfaction of the priestly idea.
3. Faith in Christ is faith in Christ personal to us. We must have the historic Christ and more. We must have the living Christ. But a living Christ who only ruled His kingdom in the unseen by general laws would be no sufficient Saviour. He must be personal to us. He must be our Saviour, in our situation, oar needs, loves, shames, sins. He must not only live, but mingle with our lives. He must charge Himself with our souls. We believe in the Holy Ghost. We have in Christ as the Spirit, the Sacrificer of our single lives, the Reader of our hearts, the Helper of our most private straits, the Inspirer of our most deep and sacred confessions. That is the Christ we need, and, thank God for His unspeakable gift, that is the Christ we have. (P. T. Forsyth, D. D.)
The living Lord
I. His Divine nature. He is “the Living One.”
II. His merciful mission. He came to earth to die.
III. His relation to us now as our living Lord.
1. Our present Lord. He is with us always, even to the end of the world. He is “our very present help,” compassing our path and our lying down; with us in the church and in the chamber, in the study and in the market, in the broad field of daily labour and in the sacred sphere of holy service.
2. Our observant Lord. Reading our every thought and feeling.
3. Our sympathetic Lord. Who can estimate the extent to which the burdens of this world have been lightened, its sorrows mitigated, its loneliness relieved, its apprehensions calmed, its whole life blessed by the felt presence of that sympathetic Lord who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities”?
4. Our appreciative Lord. He values every offering, however small, that is made in purity of heart.
5. Our energising and recompensing Lord. We are not sufficient of ourselves to prevail against the strong spiritual forces opposed to us.
6. Our abiding Lord. (W. Clarkson, B. A.)
The Living One
I. Jesus Christ claims to be the proprietor of life. “I am He that liveth.” The language is emphatic and suggestive. It is not “I live.” Every animated existence in the universe might with truthfulness say, “I live.” It is, however, one thing to possess life, but quite another thing to have it at our disposal. Amid the teeming myriads of existences which people the universe, there is not a creature in the heaven above, or on the earth beneath, or in the far-off districts of immensity, that can say, “I am He that liveth,” or “I am the Living One.” The title belongs exclusively to the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Lord and sole Proprietor of life. The plenitude of life is in Him, and from Him it emanates to all animate existences. This significant title suggests that Jesus Christ is the Proprietor of His own life as well as ours. It was His love for you and me that fastened Him to that awful cross. Had there been no love, the nails could not have detained Him. Even when entombed in the grave He was still the Proprietor of His life, and had perfect power over it. The grave had no power to detain His body a moment longer than He chose to submit to its detention.
II. The life of which Christ claims to be the Proprietor is a life subsequent to death--a resurrection life: “Was dead.” The death of Christ constitutes the foundation of our hope, the ground of our confidence, and the burden of the heavenly song. There could, however, be little or no joy in the hearts of the redeemed in heaven if Jesus Christ had not lived again after having died. To feel, while sharing the bliss of heaven, that the Lord Jesus was away, would shed a dash of bitterness into your cup, otherwise so full of joy, and dim the radiance of your immortality. What pleasure could there be in the feast if He whose beneficence provided it were absent? What joy could there be in your Father’s house if the Master of the house were away? If on Calvary the King’s Son had been lost, if He had then fallen to rise no more, yet the victory of that day would have been turned into mourning, the loss to God’s moral empire would have been greater than the gain--for it would have been greater to lose a Christ than to win a world. But, thanks be to God, costly as was our redemption, it was not at this cost; for He that was dead liveth again; and, behold, He is alive for evermore.
III. The life of which Christ is the Proprietor is eternal.--it is to experience no interruption, no cessation: “I am alive for evermore.” His glorified body is beyond the reach of corruption. Immortality flows through every vein, animates every limb, nerves every sinew. The announcement that Christ would live on for ever was peculiarly fitted to encourage the Church in her sorrow and persecution. Her position at this time was most painful and critical. A dark, portentous cloud brooded over her, and threatened to discharge a tempest of endless destruction upon her. But, in the midst of all her gloom and alarm, the Lord Jesus appears as her Hying and life-giving Head, and announces the cheering fact, “I am alive for evermore.” Men, by hatred and opposition, may bring the Church low, but they can never destroy; they may scatter, but they can never annihilate.
IV. Jesus Christ claims supremacy over death and hell--“I have the keys of hell and of death.”
1. Jesus Christ is supreme over death. Look at that poor Christian pauper languishing on his pallet of straw in his unfurnished room. His death excites no interest, and is treated as unimportant and insignificant. But there stands One by his bed of death. It is no mortal, no creature whatsoever, it is not Michael or Gabriel; it is the Lord of Life, whose mandate must go forth ere the soul struggles loose from flesh. Disease cannot destroy him, the fever cannot consume him, and want cannot waste away the life, until Jesus gives the word of command for the spirit’s departure. A man walking the scaffold trips his foot against a stone, the stone rolls over, and falls upon the casual passer-by, and the result is fatal. The case is brought before a coroner’s jury, and as no malice, no intention, can be proved against the man who tripped against the stone, the verdict is given, “Accidental death.” In the vocabulary of heaven no such word is found. Men do not die at random. Whether a man dies with the suddenness of a thunderbolt or by lingering consumption, by the hand of the assassin or by an agonising disease, it is by no means fortuitous, for it takes place by the permission and under the immediate presidency of the Lord Jesus.
2. The Living One asserts that Ha has the key of hell, of Hades, the invisible world. This term applies to heaven, hell, and the grave.
(1) Jesus Christ has the key of heaven. At the close of this earthly life every human being will undergo the severest scrutiny. It will be for Jesus to decide whether that spirit is fitted for the world of light and blessedness, or whether justice requires it to be doomed to regions of woe and despair for ever.
(2) The expression “Hades” applies with equal force to hell literally. Jesus Christ has “the key of hell.” What a solemn view does this give of the death of the wicked! They have rejected Christ, banished Him from their thoughts; but it is His hand, the hand that was pierced for them, that held out to them the overtures of pardon and peace, that opens for them the outer gate of death and the inner gate of hell. A few years since, a French scientist discovered that the retina of the eye retains for twenty-four hours after death a faithful image of the last object on which that eye fell during lifetime. He suggested that murderers might be detected by this process. Suppose a man murdered on the high road, if the victim’s eye were fastened on the murderer the last lingering moment of his existence, there would be found on the retina a correct image of the murderer. I do not know what amount of truth there may be in this theory, or what practical results may spring from it; but this I believe, that the last object on which the sinner’s eye shall fall before he enters the world of retribution will not be the form of weeping friends, or mourning wife, or sorrowing children; it will be something more awful, it will be the form of a rejected and therefore a grieved Saviour.
(3) The term “Hades” may signify the grave. Infidelity impiously assigns the key of the grave to Annihilation, who is represented like a goddess presiding over the empire of the dead, and announcing that the opening of the graves of this lower world and the quickening into life of the dust of humanity is a thing incredible and impossible. But Jesus Christ holds the key. If I am doomed to be the prisoner of the graver this I know, that both the prison and the prisoner will be in the custody of the Lord of Life. He will watch my dust. Not an atom shall perish. He will know where to find it all, and how to quicken it all. (R. Roberts.)
The life of Christ in heaven
I. The whole strength of this comforting assurance to John lay in the identity between Jesus that He had known, and the Christ that he beheld. “I am alive for evermore.” “I am He that liveth and was dead.” It is an appeal to the memory of John, therefore the consolation to us lies in this, that it is the very same Jesus--however glorified and altered externally--that liveth and was dead. It is the transference of the humanity of Christ to heaven--it is the eternity of the Incarnation--that is to be our comfort, and the great truth upon which we are to lean. What is the practical truth the Christian draws from this fact? The Apostle to the Hebrews commences with a description of Christ in His glory. In the first chapter, at the third verse, he says, “Who being the brightness of His (God’s) glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Here the Son of God is revealed to us as John saw Him--enthroned in His glory. But after the apostle had so described the enthroned Son of God, he requests us, in the third chapter, because he had so described Him, to consider Him--that is, Christ Jesus--“the Apostle and High Priest of our profession.” The Son of God is still in heaven as the Son of Man, acting as our High Priest. In the seventh chapter the apostle proceeds to draw a further inference from this fact. He tells us that He is an eternal Priest--“a priest for ever after the order of the Melchisedec.” Christ Jesus is, then, eternally in the heavens a Priest for us.
II. What practical conclusions the apostle draws from it.
1. In the first place, he draws the conclusion that we have a certain and a better covenant.
2. In the next place, we read another practical inference, that Christ Jesus, as our High Priest, ever liveth to make intercession for us.
3. But Christ our High Priest not only pleads for the pardon and forgiveness of our sins; He, as our High Priest, also sanctifies us. For the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ is the “cleansing of the conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” It is the dedication of the whole man--body, soul, and spirit--to the service of his Maker, making him fit to appear in His temple. (Abp. Magee.)
Christ a living Saviour
What good would it do to you ii your child were suffering torture from some peculiar accident to a limb, and I came and told you of a surgeon who lived a hundred years ago, and who had been wonderfully clever in re-setting the same bone after that precise kind of fracture? I might explain to you how it was he acquired his skill; I might give you fifty cases in which he was successful; you might be astonished at the proofs of his dexterity; you might feel that he would have been able and willing to relieve your child from pain, and to prevent all subsequent deformity. But if I came and told you of some living man who had shown the same skill; if I explained how it was that he had acquired his special experience; if I told you of one case after another in which he had succeeded when every other surgeon was helpless, you would say, “Now I have heard all this, I will send for him at once, and put my child in his hands.” And this is just what men have to be persuaded to do in relation to Christ … to realise that He is living still, and that He is not only willing, but able, to give every man who asks of Him forgiveness of all past evil, and strength to do better in time to come. (R. W. Dale, D. D.)
And have the keys of hell and of death.--
Christ wielding the keys of death, and of the world unseen
It is hard to disenchant our minds of the spell which is laid upon them by words--hard to divest ourselves of the associations which words call up. That solemn and awful word “hell,” which occurs in my text, how inevitably does its very sound bring up into the thoughts the idea of everlasting torments. And yet, as is well known, by the “hell” of the Apostles’ Creed, into which our Lord is said to have descended, is not meant the place of torments, but the place of departed spirits--the very sense attaching to the word in the passage now under examination. “The unseen realm” is, upon the whole, a just representation of its meaning in our language. All that is invisible--all that we cannot see, or the senses (represented by the eye, as the chief or ruling sense) cannot reach--it is a wonderfully comprehensive term. Think how much wider, how infinitely wider, is the range of the unseen than of the seen. This little ball of earth is a very insignificant district of God’s domain. Midnight reveals to us, twinkling through all the realms of space, thousands of other suns, each perhaps the centre of its own planetary system, having worlds revolving round them, which from their immense distances coupled with their opaqueness, are to us unseen. Think how many substances, there are, so minute, or of so subtle an organisation, that we cannot see them--substances like the air, or like the life-blood of the tiniest insect which floats as gossamer upon the bosom of the air, and drinks in through imperceptible vessels the genial warmth of the golden summer day. But in addition to the most subtle organisations of matter, there are in the world spiritual essences. God is a spirit. We are taught to conceive of the holy angels as pure spirits, although we are quite unable to say for certain, that there may not be, attaching to the nature of angels, a certain very subtle organisation of matter. But, speculation apart, of this we are quite sure, that there are multitudes of angels. But this Hades has human, no less than heavenly, inhabitants. Think of the countless souls which, from the first formation of man upon the earth, have forsaken the tenement of the human body, and filed forth into the receptacle appointed for their safe keeping, until the day of the resurrection. Endowed, all of them, with an immortal being--where do their spirits, their proper selves, now reside? We do not know, nor can we know. All we know is that we see them not; of their existence our senses take no cognisance; for us they are as if they were not; they are inhabitants of the Hades, the great unseen realm, which the veil of gross matter shrouds from our view. Aye, as I said, a great realm--exceeding vast--and, in some of its districts, exceeding glorious. The unseen bears to the seen world the same relation which the vast universe bears to a house or mansion. Every house, however sumptuous, is more or less dark, more or less confined, limits more or less the view of the surrounding country, defiles more or less, through its enclosures, the purity of the atmosphere. But go abroad from the midnight festival, where lamps shed an artificial glare, and the house reeks with the odours of the banquet--go abroad into the still, solemn starlight, and catch the fresh breeze on thy brow, and look upwards into the vast expanse, lit up with the lamps of heaven. Or go forth from the close and darkened chamber of sleep, into the light and stir of the fair summer morning, when the woods and streams are vocal with melody, and every little insect is on the wing, and all nature teems with life and animation. Such is the passage from the sphere which is seen with the eye of flesh, to that which is not seen; from the false artificial lights of time, to the solemn stillness of eternity; from the noxious vapours of the world, to the pure breath of heaven’s atmosphere; from scenes where man’s art and man’s handicraft have on all sides set up their memorials, to scenes which man has never trodden. The division of God’s universe, which has been thus suggested, into a seen and an unseen sphere--a sphere which is, and a sphere which is not, under the cognisance of sense--is probably as satisfactory, and certainly as simple, as any which could be devised. But there is another word in our text which, although common in every mouth, will yet be illustrated by definition. That word is death. Hades is the world unseen, which has its door or portal, by which men enter into it. Death is the departure from the seen world, which seen world has its door of exit, by which men pass out of it. Hence death is called, in two or three passages of Scripture, exodus, or going out. There are many doors or avenues by which men pass out of this life, none of which can be opened except by the key which the risen Son of God holds in His hand. There is the door of disease, sometimes sharp and rapid, sometimes chronic and gradual. And the forms of disease, how various are they. There is the lingering decline, which keeps the patient waiting upon the threshold of the door, and mocks him, on bright days, with the hope (how soon to be blighted) of ultimate recovery. There is the burning fever, which hurries him, all hot, from the earth in a fit of frenzy or delirium. There is apoplexy, with its stroke of insensibility shattering the consciousness--paralysis, which ties up the utterances of the fluent tongue--nay, defects incidental to each vital organ, the due development of which may at any time issue in a departure from the world which is seen. There is the door of violence--the assassin’s dagger and the foeman’s lance. There is the door of animal decay, when the vital system is worn out, and the heart, wearied as it were with long toil, at first languidly discharges its functions, and then ceases altogether to beat. The only remaining word of the text which requires exposition is that of “keys”--“I have the keys of hell and death.” The simple notion of a key is that which gives the power of opening a closed, or closing up an opened, door. But something more than a mere power of opening and shutting is, I believe, expressed by this imagery. General administrative power over a kingdom, or over a household (which is a kingdom in miniature), is expressed by the bearing of the key. Nothing more is necessary here, but that I should just advert to the plural form of the word “keys,” which, of course, has reference to the two things specified--hell and death. The key of death is the key which unlocks the passage out of this world. The key of hell is that which unlocks the passage into the unseen and unknown. It is, I think, just worth observing that the notions are kept distinct by the phraseology employed-the notion, I mean, of a passage out of the seen, and an entrance into the unseen world--as if it did not follow that because the spirit has passed out by the door of death it has therefore received its admission into the unseen realm. This remark may throw some light upon the case of those who, after life had seemed to be extinct, have undergone resuscitation, and who can record nothing after the mortal agony beyond their having fallen into a deep swoon, a swoon in which they were perfectly unconscious. It is perhaps possible (at least the phraseology of this passage would incline us to think so) to have the door of death opened to us and closed upon us, and yet (so far as the experience of the soul is concerned) not to have the door of the unseen world opened. And now to pass from the consideration of the words employed in this sublime passage, to that of the statement made in it. The risen Saviour is the speaker--One who, by becoming partaker of flesh and blood for our sakes, subjected Himself to the experience of a cruel and bitter death, and yet One who is now triumphant over death in all the incorruptibility of a glorified body. From which we learn, first, that the Lord Jesus Christ, in His character of God-man--not in that of God--wields at present the administration of the entire universe, comprising both the little puny span of which man’s senses and understanding can take cognisance, and also that vast and glorious domain which lies beyond the ken of flesh and blood--and of which it is our wisdom to confess, that we have neither seen it nor known it. We talk freely of God’s administration in the realms of Nature and Providence, forgetting that it is the mediatorial kingdom, not the kingdom of mere Deity, under which we live at present. All power is committed unto Jesus in heaven and in earth. Upon His shoulder are laid the keys of all the vast Household, embracing thrones, and principalities, and powers among the heavenly hierarchy--men, with their unruly wills and fluctuating fortunes--together with the inferior creation, animate and inanimate, organised and inorganic, down to the meanest insect, and the plainest stone, and the hyssop that springeth out of the wall. Let the feeble and desponding Christian but duly weigh the truth that One who sympathises from personal experience with all his trials--One who was cradled in the manger, and inured to poverty from His youth--One who knew all the bitterness of persecution, and ridicule and abandonment of friends, and drained at last the dregs of the cup of death--is Vicegerent of the universe, and comfort shall soon dawn in the benighted heart, and light up in it the rainbow of a heavenly hope. But this general administration of Christ over the universe of God includes a particular dispensation towards every human individual, whereby He gives to each one of us, at the time of His appointment, our dismissal from the world which is seen, and our passport of entrance into that which is invisible. It is He who calls for the slow or rapid disease--He whose hand contrives the unforeseen disaster, so often attributed to chance--He who withdraws gradually the vital energy from some essential organ, so that, while the mechanism is complete, the function can no longer be discharged--and who thus opens to each separate individual the door of exodus out of this life. When the spirit has passed through this door, it waits awhile in the dark corridor which separates the seen from the unseen. Then, when life’s last spark has really fled beyond the possibility of recall--then, then comes that Great Janitor, and sweeps past it down the dusky avenue, and takes the second key, and throws open to it a world of new experiences, and causes it to be thronged with new images from every district of the realm unseen. Thenceforth the spirit enters into Hades, there either to walk in Paradise and lie in Abraham’s bosom, or to be tormented with a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall be consummated upon it at the sound of the resurrection trump. (Dean Goulburn.)
Christ the King of death and Hades
I. “I am the first and the last.” In these words Christ claims one of the incommunicable attributes of Deity--existence which had no beginning and can know no end. He is the first. Are there not before the throne of God beings who beheld the first star gleam out in the ethereal vault--beings who existed before all worlds, and who relate to younger spirits the wonderful history of God’s creation? But this foremost of created things trembles before the face of Jesus Christ. His eyes gaze out upon the celestial host--rank behind rank--thrones, dominations, virtues, powers--He surveys all the solemn troops and sweet societies, glowing with eternal love, flaming with immortal beauty, excelling in strength, glorious in holiness, and having surveyed them, He cries, “I am the first.” They shine, but with a glory borrowed from Him; they live, but with an immortality derived from the eternal throbbing of His infinite heart. “I am the first, and I am the last.” He lives through two eternities--the eternity past, the eternity future--eternities which, like two infinite oceans, are joined together by the narrow strait of time. In the first eternity “He dwelt in the bosom of the Father,” and made the world by the word of His power. In time He took upon Himself our nature, was formed in fashion as a man, and “His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” And when time shall be no more, through the eternal future, He shall be the centre of heaven’s glory, the object of its ceaseless worship, the fountain of its ineffable happiness. “I am the first and the last.” When heaven and earth have passed away He shall still abide.
II. “I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore.” We do not worship a dead Saviour. In Him is life; with Him is the fountain of life. “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more, death hath no more dominion over Him.” With joy He announces, “I am He that was dead.” He remembers with satisfaction, with exultation, the shame and the pain, the conflict and the agony, by which He accomplished our redemption. He looks back, and with joy, upon the scenes of Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and Calvary. Never will He forget that day when the quivering flesh and fainting heart staggered beneath the awful burden of human sin and Divine wrath. The Cross and the sepulchre were His way to the throne.
III. “And have the keys of hell and of death.” The key was part of the regalia in eastern courts. Like the sceptre, diadem, and orb, it was a symbol of power, one of the insignia of high office. Our Lord here claims supreme control, unlimited authority over death and the invisible world. Christ has the keys of death. The grave is part of Emanuel’s empire. The king of terrors is the vassal of the Lord Jesus Christ. The doors of death cannot open to receive us until Christ has turned the key. We are a fallen race. Sin, being finished, hath brought forth death. Death hath dominion over us. But there is a consolation for us here--a voice like the sound of many waters cries: “I have the key of death.” We do not die by chance or haphazard; the time and circumstance of our death are appointed by Christ our Saviour; everything connected with our departure from this world is under His control. Those doors will not be unlocked till you are ready to pass through them. At the right moment He will turn the key of death, and you will have gone through the most terrible crisis of your history as an immortal being. Through the whole of the time of His waiting He is busy preparing you for that crisis. This life is for you a season of discipline, of education, of culture. Not till the preparation process is completed will you be transplanted from the thorny wilderness to bloom in the paradise of God. But while the true Christian may rejoice in this thought, the heart of the sinner may well meditate with terror. When your measure of iniquity is completed; when by persistent sin and frivolity you have made yourself a vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, then the key will be turned, the doors of death will shut upon you, and in that sad hour shall all your joys perish. The door is shut; the key is turned; you have chosen your lot, and it must be yours for ever. Christ has the keys of death--of the grave. Our dust is in His charge. Over the tomb of every saint He writes, “I will raise him up at the last day.” He is the Redeemer of the body. He has set His seal upon it; it is His. Our dust is precious in His sight. His eye follows it through all its changes, and keeps it safely. Our mortal frames contain the germ of an immortal body, and out of the dust of death His power shall raise us up beautiful in His own likeness. As the rough bulb buried underground springs up into green leaf and gorgeous bloom--as the grain, perishing in darkness, unfolds into tender blade and ripened ear; so this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruptible shall put on incorruption when the last trumpet blows. He who has the keys shall loose the bands of death. He turns us now to destruction, but will at last say, “Return, ye children of men.” Christ has also the keys of Hades--that is, He is Lord of the invisible world of the dead. Death does not free us from His sceptre, but only brings us more sensibly under His authority. This mouldering frame (exquisitely made though it be) is but the least part of us; in the tombs of the saints we have only the “shells of fledged souls left behind”--the cumbersome garment of the spirit which it has thrown aside, in order to flee away to its rest in the arms of God. The notion that the soul passes the interval between death and the resurrection in a dreamless sleep, has been stoutly defended by many theologians. The most cursory examination will suffice to show that this doctrine has no foundation in the Word of God. It is there plainly taught that disembodied spirits are in a state of conscious enjoyment or misery directly after their exodus from this world. Over the world of disembodied spirits--where the Boule of the good have their perfect consummation and bliss: while the souls of the wicked are reserved in a prison of horror and chains of darkness, until at the last day they shall receive their unavoidable sentence--over this world Christ is King. From His golden girdle hang the keys of both the upper and lower Hades. When He turns the key to let us out of this world, He turns that other key which admits us to our own place in the world beyond the grave. His saints who die in humble and joyful faith, relying on His death, and resting on His promises, are borne by the angels to the gates of the upper Paradise. He who has the key graciously admits them, and bids them welcome from the toils and sorrows of earth to those scenes of quiet rest and calm enjoyment. Christ’s enemies, who die rejecting His mercies and blaspheming His name, shall find His dreadful face frowning upon them as they enter the other world. That hand which was so long stretched out to them in mercy shall thrust them into the dolorous prison: house; and, turning the key upon them, He will leave them to anticipate the overwhelming shame and anguish of that dread day. In His Book of Life He inserts the names of His friends. As many as are not written in that book shall be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. Agree with thine adversary quickly. Kiss the Son! Accept at His hand deliverance for thy soul. (T. J. Choate.)
The kingdom and the keys
I. A vast kingdom claimed. To have “the keys” is to possess authority. To possess the key of a house, palace, or region, is to have the supreme power therein the disposal of the things and persons located there. Among the Jews, a key borne on the shoulder, hung by a belt, or inwrought in the robe, was the well-known badge of office. Now, in the text, our Lord claims this supreme regal power for Himself. “I have the keys, and the houses, the palaces, the realms, whatever they are, to which these keys give admission, all are Mine. I possess them, I rule them, and from My decisions there is no appeal.” Yes, this is the sovereign authority. A protest could be lodged, by the conscience at least, against the abuse of any kingly power on earth, and an appeal carried up to the court of heaven. But who shall dare protest against the decisions of the Son of Man? and to what court shall any cause be taken when solemn judgment has been pronounced at His bar? He has the keys--of what? Of earthly prisons? or of earthly palaces? of kingdoms? or continents? or seas? He does indeed possess even those keys; for all earthly kingdoms, with all their inhabitants and all their affairs, are comprehended within His royalty and realm; but the empire here is a far larger one. He has the keys “of Hades and of death.” The keys of Hades and of death, i.e., of the passage which leads from this world into that. All who leave this world, with some rare exceptions, to enter into that, go along the passage of death. Whether they go to glory or to gloom, they go by death, and the Redeemer has the keys of death. His dominion does not begin beyond the last barriers and confines of mortality; it is a power which commands those barriers, which claims death and holds its keys. Death and life, things present and things to come, height and depth, all are His. There is no realm of the universe for which He has not a key; there is no being whom He does not command; no event that He does not control. He has the key of birth, by the turning of which each is ushered into being; the key of childhood, which admits the little pilgrim to the first steps of the journey; the key of youth, which opens the gates into life’s greenest and most radiant fields; the key of manhood, which sets the pilgrim on life’s hill-top; the key of old age, which lets him gently down among the shadows; and the key of death, which ends all toil and sorrow. And of those great realms too, as we have seen, He has the keys: opens and no man shuts, shuts and no man opens. And of all which chequers life and gives character to it in its progress, He possesses the power. Majestic kingdom! whose lengths and breadths, and depths and heights far surpass our knowledge! over the vastness of which we can only look, but never travel
I. The interests of which we can think of but never comprehend! The glories of which come only within the scope of one eye--the eye of omniscience. The powers of which rest only in the hands of one Being, and He the everlasting King!
II. A royal title exhibited. As creation supposes creator, and law supposes lawgiver, so kingdom supposes king; and the king of such a kingdom must have a royal title which cannot be impugned. “I am He that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen.” This title, observe, does not rest on His Divinity alone; that He had from all eternity: nor on His humanity alone; for no mere man could hold space and time in His grasp; and rule life and death; and be the judge of quick and dead. It is a title wrought out by His incarnation, and inseparably connected with His mediatorial character. The substance of it is the life of the God-man with its sorrows, virtues, obedience. It is written as with the blood of His Cross. The light by which we read it is the light of His resurrection. He was born that mothers might forget their sorrow, and rejoice when a man-child is born into the world. He prayed that He might be the hearer of prayer. He died that we might not fear to die, hoping to find life in Him. And now He has gone to claim His kingdom; He has received it from the Father, and through all its wide realms He exhibits His royal title--a title which all the good accept, and which the very devil dare not impugn. His title to this universal kingdom is our title to the blessings of grace and salvation. And so He tells us not to be afraid, for our enemies are vanquished; not to be ashamed, for our redemption draweth nigh. He teaches us to defy all antagonisms; to claim all needful helps; to put our proprietary seal upon every visible thing; to say, “All things are ours, for we are Christ’s”; to open our hearts every day for grace; to hasten on every day to glory; to endow ourselves with His unsearchable riches, and to fill our souls unto all the fulness of God.
III. The gracious proclamation made. “Fear not.” It is very brief. It is a dissuasion from all fear that “hath torment,” from all undue anxiety and apprehension, from all excitement, fore-boding, solicitude, which would bring pain. It affects all personal, all relative, and all religious and public interests. “Fear not” for thyself. I will wash thee thoroughly from thine iniquities, and cleanse thee from thy sins, create in thee a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within thee, give thee the joys of My salvation, and uphold thee with My free spirit. “Fear not” for any among thy kindred and acquaintance of the same family of God. There is a shield over the head of each, a Providence as watchful of every one as if that one alone were a dweller on the earth. “Fear not,” amid changes however startling, circumstances however unexpected; for I am not a mere watcher over a broken and lawless world, mending, and checking, and trying to save something from the wreck! I am the perfect ruler of a perfect providence, setting kings on their thrones and watching sparrows in their fall; preserving your mightiest interests, and numbering the hairs of your head! Brethren, it is this “fear not” which often we most need to hear; we do not exercise ourselves in great matters--we can trust these to Him, for we feel they are too high for us; but we do painfully exercise ourselves in lesser things as if we had the sole charge of them. Not now, or not there, or not thus, we are always saying. Not now, we say, when the father is called to leave the family of which he is the sole stay. “Let him live, let a few years elapse, let his family be provided for, let his work be done!” It is done, is the answer. His fatherless children are provided for; I have taught him to leave them with Me. “The Father of the fatherless, the Husband of the widow, is God in His holy habitation.” Or, we say, “Not there,” oh, not there! Away on the sea--a thousand miles from land--let him not die there, and be dropped into the unfathomed grave. Or not in some distant city or far-off land--strangers around his bed, strangers closing his eyes, and then carrying him to a stranger’s grave. Let him come home, and die amid the whisperings and breathings of the old unquenchable love. “He is going home,” is the answer, and going by the best and only way. “I can open the gate beautiful in any part of the earth or sea.” Or, we say, “Not thus,” not through such agonies of body, or faintings of spirit, or tremblings of faith--not in unconsciousness--not without dying testimonies. Oh, shed down the light, the fragrancy of heaven, upon the dying bed! The answer is, “They are there, and you are so dull of sense that you perceive them not. Your friend is filled with the ‘peace that passeth understanding,’ and safe in the everlasting arms.” (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The royal prerogatives of the living Redeemer
I. He has absolute power.
1. Christ’s power is co-extensive with creation. Inorganic as well as organic substances are the Redeemer’s servants, and He is “able to subdue all things unto Himself.”
2. This power extends over the invisible world.
II. He possesses the highest life.
1. This is life attained subsequently to dying. He poured out that last drop of life-blood to atone for sin, but He rose a Conqueror, and the King of glory.
2. This life is enjoyed in the most glorious destiny. He is above the tumult of sinners, and is the object of angelic rapture.
3. This life is endless. “I am alive for evermore,” is the utterance of a Sublime Conqueror. The immortality of Christ’s life, is the pledge of ours.
III. His prerogatives as the Living Redeemer are exercised for glorious purposes.
1. They constitute Him a magnificent character. He is the most glorious Representative of power, life, and mercy to the universe.
2. This character He achieved by His work on earth. Enthroned in pomp and power, He does not forget Calvary; He connects His crown of life with His execution--“I am He that liveth, and was dead.”
3. This character so achieved is a mighty power for good. As the life of Titian, or Michael Angelo enters the soul of the student, so does the exalted life of Christ enter man’s heart, and elevates him from the dust of sin to the fellowship of God; for “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous.”
4. The influence of this character is felt in every event that takes place. Our lives are in Christ’s hands. There is no chance work about life or death: we are dependent for either upon the will of our exalted Redeemer, who has “the keys of death and Hades.”
5. This character attracts to the highest distinctions. The exalted Saviour has not only “opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers,” but He attracts them to it by the beauties of His life. “To be with Christ, which is far better” than dwelling on earth for ever, is the experience of all genuine Christians. (J. H. Hill.)
Christ’s sovereignty over the invisible world
I. There is no such thing as annihilation of body and soul hereafter. Then I ask you, are you living in this belief in the immortality of the soul? Are you educating your families for God? Are you founding a family in heaven? Are you working in the fear of Him who “has the keys of hell and of death?”
II. If Christ holds the keys of hell, and of death, we know not the duration of our life. Let us, then, work while we may, and not be slothful. Why does Christ hold the keys? In mercy to us, to keep us from agitation and despair. If the time of our death were not a secret, we should have no comfort, and we should be ill fitted for the discharge of our duties. What did God send you into the world for? Not merely to eat, and drink, and sleep and transact worldly business: a beast or bird could live almost as useful, as noble a life. This little span is the threshold of Hades, the prelude of millions of ages in a sphere fitted to your nature, where the soul’s aspirations shall not be clogged and fettered, and often brought to nought, by the grossness of this present body; where the thirst for knowledge shall be fully and eternally gratified; where the heart shall drink ever most deeply into the felt love of God; where we shall, with the noble assembly of ransomed saints and preserved angels, find in the presence of God and of the Lamb employment for those vast powers of the soul, of the existence of which powers we are sometimes permitted to get faint ideas. Oh! live for this.
III. Christ, the head of the church, holds dominion over hades and death; therefore the Church need not fear death. Glorious Captain of our salvation! who could withstand Thee? Thou hast abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel. Death was a curse; Thou has turned it into a blessing. What amazing power! Death was an enemy; Thou hast converted it into a friend. What admirable wisdom! So to baffle and disappoint the plotting spirit of evil.
IV. If Christ holds the keys of hades and of death, men do not die by chance, but by appointment; therefore we should be moderate in our sorrow for departed friends. (W. J. Chapman, M. A.)
Christ with the keys of death and hell
Then hell and death, terrible powers as they are, are not left to riot without government. Let us rejoice that nothing in heaven, or earth, or in places under the earth, is left to itself to engender anarchy. Everywhere, serene above the floods, the Lord sitteth King for ever and ever.
I. What is intended by the power of these keys here mentioned?
1. A key is first of all used for opening, and hence our Lord can open the gates of death and hell.
2. But a key is also used to shut the door, and even so Jesus will both shut in and shut out, His golden key will shut his people in heaven, as Noah was shut in the ark. Heaven is the place of eternal safety. There the gates shall be fast shut by which their foes could enter, or by which their joys could leave them. But, alas! there is the dark side to this shutting of the gate. It is Christ who with His key shall shut the gates of heaven against unbelievers.
3. By the keys we must further understand here that our Lord rules, for the key is the Oriental metaphor for government. He shall have the key of David: “the government shall be upon His shoulder.”
4. One more remark is wanted to complete the explanation of the power of the keys. Our Lord is said to have the keys of death, from which we gather that all the issues of death are at His alone disposal.
II. What is the key of this power? Whence did Christ obtain this right to have the keys of hell and death?
1. Doth He not derive it first of all from His Godhead? In the eighteenth verse, He saith, “I am He that liveth,” language which only God can use, for while we live, yet it is only with a borrowed life. God saith, “I am, and there is none beside Me,” and Jesus being God, claimeth the same self-existence. “I am He that liveth.” Now, since Christ is God, He certainly hath power over heaven, and earth, and hell.
2. But the key to this power lies also in our Saviour’s conquests. He hath the keys of death and hell because He hath actually conquered both these powers. You know how He met hell in the dreadful onset in the garden; how all the powers of darkness there combined against Him. Grim was the contest, but glorious was the victory, worthy to be sung by angels in eternal chorus.
3. We have one more truth to remember, that Jesus Christ is installed in this high place of power and dignity by the Father Himself, as a reward for what He has done. He was Himself to “divide the spoil with the strong,” but the Father had promised to give Him a “portion with the great.”
III. The practical bearing of the whole subject appears to be this--“Fear not.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Hades, or the Unseen
I. I propose to explain what I mean by Hades. The term signifies the place Unseen; or, more properly, the Unseen. And by the Unseen I understand a place or state distinct from the grave, which receives only the bodies, while it, in its awful circle, includes the souls of the departed--different from Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire, which engulfs ultimately both the bodies and the souls of the lost--distinct from heaven, where “summer high in bliss” the angelic spirits, and where, like a mount of diamond, arises the throne of God! As to its character, it is invisible to mortal eye, and inaccessible to human footstep. It is probably divided into two compartments; the one containing, as in a prison, the souls of the wicked; the other, as in a place of safe keeping, preserving the spirits of the just. It has been asked, Shall this Hades be properly a place or a state? Some argue that spirits separated from their bodies cannot be confined to, or connected with, any particular place, but may, nay must, be at large through the vast spaces of the universe. But it would rather appear that (as has been said by the intrepid Bishop of St. Asaph) “to exist without relation to place seems to be one of the incommunicable properties of the Divine nature; and it is hardly to be conceived that any created spirit, of however high an order, can be without locality, or without such determination of its existence, at any given time, to some certain place, that it shall be true to say of it, ‘Here it is, and not elsewhere;’” and that, therefore, there is somewhere a particular spot where all separated spirits reside. Another question irresistibly occurs, Where is this place situated? Some maintain that it lies in the bowels of the earth, and ground this opinion upon the fact that the language of Scripture frequently represents the dead as gone down-wards--upon the fact that Christ is said to have descended into the lower parts of the earth; upon the fact that all nations, in all ages, have supposed the abode of the dead to be beneath. But without venturing further into this dark and doubtful field, I remark once more, that this state is not an ultimate or everlasting state.
II. I would disabuse your minds of some misconceptions of this doctrine. You are not, then, in the first place, to confound Hades with Purgatory, or to suppose that it gives, in the slightest degree, countenance to that wretched fiction of the Roman Catholic Church. The two places are essentially distinct. Hades is a place both of woe and of enjoyment, each unmingled in its kind. In Purgatory there is no joy at all, and the misery inflicted is for the purpose of rendering its victims fit for the enjoyments of heaven, and free from the torments of hell. Again, I beg of you not to suppose that this is a new doctrine. It is as old as the Old Testament.
III. I come now to argue the point from scripture. I might, indeed, have found plausible probabilities in support of it. It is probable that for souls separated from their bodies there should be a place set apart. God has provided distinct habitations for every other separate variety of created objects. He has provided the land for terrestrial quadrupeds; it is their world. He has provided the sea for fish; it is their peculiar province and native element. He has provided the air for birds. For angels He has expanded heaven; and for devils laid the dark foundations of hell. Why should He not, then, on the same principle, have prepared a separate abode for a class of beings so essentially distinct from every other in the universe, as separate spirits, which are neither angels nor devils, nor properly speaking, men? Separate spirits, however perfect in nature, are obviously in an imperfect or unfinished state. Wanting their material frames, they are comparatively naked; unsheathed in sense, they cannot hold such free intercourse with material things. It seems fit, therefore, that a kind of hiding-place should be provided for them. But is Scripture quite silent on the theme? No; it utters a distinct, if not a deafening sound.
1. Hades, in Scripture, is quite a different place from hell. The real terms in Holy Writ for hell are, Gehenna or Tophet, or the Lake of Fire. Hades is never, we believe, used to denote hell properly so called. It is sometimes used in connections where it must mean some other place--“Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire.” How absurd it were to speak of hell being cast into hell! “Thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol or Hades.” Here, assuredly, the term cannot mean hell, else it will follow that Christ’s soul went down alive into that fearful pit, and shared there in the torments of the damned--a horrible supposition. It follows, therefore, inevitably, that the place where Christ went down was not the place of final punishment. But that place was Hades. But neither is it heaven by the same showing, since it were absurd to speak of Christ’s soul being not left there. Neither can it be the grave, since into the grave His soul never went, and from it could never have risen.
2. The fact that Christ did go to Hades proves that His people must go too; and that He went there is undeniable. Look, again, at the 2nd chapter of the Acts, 31st verse, where Peter, after having quoted David’s language in the 16th Psalm, adds, “He seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell (or Hades), neither did His flesh see corruption.” It follows, demonstrably, that if His soul was not left in Hades, in Hades it must have been. Again, in the 4th chapter of the Ephesians, at the 9th verse, we find the following words: “Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” What were these lower parts of the earth? Surely they included Hades. It is vain to tell us that they denote simply the fact that His body descended into the grave. Did His body alone ascend into the heavens? Is not the He who ascended the very He who descended? If He ascended body and spirit, must He not have descended body and spirit too? And if He descended in spirit, where but to Hades could that spirit have gone? If Christ went to Hades, it follows that His people go too. We argue this from His language to the penitent thief,--“To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise,” which means some place of happiness where the twain were to meet that very day. It could not be heaven, since Christ went not there till His ascension.
IV. But I come to answer some of the more prominent objections to this view.
1. Some will say: Is not Hades, according to this doctrine, a prison; and how can a prison be, in any sense, or to any parties, a place of happiness? I simply answer: Why should it not? Is not a prison a place of safe-keeping? Are not the innocent kept in prison equally with the guilty till the day of trial? Hades to the good may be a prison; but such a prison as is a house in a day of storm--such a prison as is woven by a mother’s arms round her dear babe.
2. Is not this a damping view? I have always, says a Christian, expected that when I died I should go to the highest heaven. But what if you were expecting wrong? Will not the society of thy departed friends be a source of deep gladness to thee in that strange world? It is a mere vulgar error to seek to confine happiness within the compass of even the highest heaven. No; it shall overflow into Hades.
3. It will be said: How do these views agree with the expressions of Paul--“I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better; to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”? And will there not, in Hades, be a revelation of Christ far brighter than the most favoured of His people ever can enjoy upon earth, even though His personal presence be absent? To a disembodied spirit what is personal presence? Can we conceive of it without eyes seeing His comeliness; without ears hearing His voice; without hands handling His sides; without feet standing beside Him, on that firm and lofty ground which borders His great high throne? Is not “seeing Christ as He is” expressly stated to be contemporaneous with His future and final appearance? “We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, seeing Him as He is.” Ought a Christian to have no loftier ambition? Is not a spiritual vision of the moral and spiritual Jesus, of the depth of His wisdom, and the warmth of His love, equally desirable with a sight of His person?
V. But how does this consort with the common view which holds that wicked men go immediately after death to the evil one, and that his presence and agency constitute a large part of their torment? I am not careful to answer in this matter. I know already that the influences of the Evil Spirit are not confined to hell; they are felt on earth, and they may, for aught I know, be extended to Hades too. Whether the devil in personal subsistence shall be present with his victims there, is a question that cannot be resolved, and which is not worth solution. But what are we to understand by Stephen’s vision, taken in connection with his prayer “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” No more, probably, than this, that Christ, through His almighty power and Divine spirit, receives the spirits of His people when they die, saves them from the power of the enemy, acquits them, and bestows them in safe keeping, in the hollow of His hand, till dawns the day of supreme and eternal decision. But has there not been generally thought to be a judgment after death, and does not this imply that every spirit shall, unless chased away by His frown and its own wickedness, find immediate refuge in the “bosom of its Father and its God”? But where shall this judgment take place? Must it be necessarily in the highest heavens? May it not take place in the very room where the man has just gasped his last, or at the gate of Hades? The place of the general judgment is plainly declared, that of the personal and private tribunal is left in awful uncertainty. But again, it may be asked, can it be conceived that the spirits of the just and of the unjust are included in the same place? We ask: Why not? We quote not “Let both grow until the harvest or end of the world,” because the reference in that passage is to this world, not to the next. But, we ask: Why, though the place be one, should not the lines of demarcation be numerous, and distinct, and deep? Will not the great laws of moral attraction, which partially operate even here--drawing together similar spirits by a mighty assimilating and converging process--there have their perfect work, and account for the greatness of the gulf which separates the one side of Hades from Abraham’s bosom? It remains that we find, in fine, the uses of this doctrine.
1. Is it true? Then it must have its good uses; and then the responsibility of it is shifted back from us upon the everlasting arms of the God of Truth Himself. No seed of truth can produce evil consequences, or fail to produce good.
2. It gives an enlarged view of God’s universe. It points out, to those, I mean, who have recently heard of it for the first time, a new province in the Almighty’s dominions.
3. This doctrine is cheering to the Christian--cheering both as it confutes the gloomy doctrines of materialism and the sleep of the soul; and as it divides to him the awful ladder of approach to the supreme summit and pinnacle of the heavens. We tremble at the thought of being introduced suddenly, and at once, among the ancients of the heavenly world--into the centre of the circle of eternity--and amid the blaze of those starry splendours, at which “angels tremble as they gaze.” This doctrine shows believers an intermediate stage--an arbour on their far pilgrimage--a gentler and a milder light, through which they pass into the “perfect day.” Once more, it is full of terrors to the wicked. It holds out to them the prospect of looking forward from Hades to a gulf deeper and darker still, into which they shall yet be plunged. It tells them that their misery shall not be consummated at once, but shall go on by distinct and terrible stages towards its completion. (G. Gilfillan, M. A.)
Write the things which thou hast seen.
Christ enjoining the record of His revelation to man and explaining its meaning
These words suggest two general remarks concerning Christ.
I. He requires men to record the revelations He makes to them.
1. Those which had been experienced.
2. Those things which were now present.
3. Those which were approaching. Now these three classes of things John had to write down. Whatever man has seen, or will see of the Divine, he is bound to record--“Write.” Literature, though sadly corrupted and the source of enormous mischief, is a Divine institution. Rightly employed it is one of the grandest forces in human life. Thank God for books, our best companions, always ready with their counsel and their comfort. They are arks that have borne down to us, over the floods of centuries, the vital germs of departed ages.
II. He explains to men the meaning of the revelation He makes to them.
1. The unknown of the knowable. What is mystery to one man is not so to another; and what is mystery to a man to-day is no mystery to-morrow.
2. The unknown of the unknowable. He whom we call God is the great mystery, the absolutely unknowable--whom no man hath seen or can see. Now in the former sense the meaning of the word “mystery” is here employed. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. That it contains the record of things which the authors have seen.
1. Which men have seen with the eye of the body.
2. Things which the authors have seen with the eye of the mind.
3. Things which the authors have seen with the eye of the soul.
II. That it contains the record of things which are happening around us. “And the things which are.” The Bible records the history of the past ages, of a great antiquity, and in this coincides with our expectation; but it also touches the moral, political, and historic life of men to-day. God knew the ages before they commenced their march, and has enabled men to anticipate their meaning by the gift of a holy inspiration.
III. That it contains the record of things which pertain to the future. “And the things which shall be hereafter.” (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
1. That men may by writing
communicate what light God gives them for the good of the Church. It is true the Gospel was at first spread and planted by preaching, that is more properly the means of conversion. There is reason also for this, if we consider
(1) The relation that is amongst all the members of the Catholic Church, whereby all are tied, to be edifying one to another, etc.
(2) The end wherefore God had given men gifts, which is to profit withal: and yet
(3) That a man cannot by word make his gift forthcoming in the extent that he is obliged; there is therefore a necessity of using writing for that end, it being a singular gift of God for promoting edification.
2. That none should take on them to write anything, as the Lord’s mind, for the edification of the Church, without a call to it: I mean not an extraordinary call, as John had; but this I mean, that as there is an ordinary call needful to the preaching of the Gospel, so, in the general, that same consequence will hold in respect of writing for such an end. And if we look through the Scripture, we will find a call for writing as well as for preaching. And to warrant writing, we would conceive so much to be necessary as may
(1) Satisfy the man himself as to his being called to such an eminent duty by God, and therefore there must be somewhat to hold out to him that it is God’s mind he should undertake such a task.
(2) That men walk not by their own satisfaction alone; but that there may be so much as to convince others, that God put them on that work.
3. That a man therefore may have peace as to his undertaking, we conceive there is a concurrence of several things needful to be observed: As
(1) There is a necessity of a single end, to wit, God’s glory, others’ edification; and in part may come in, his own exoneration as to such a duty. It is not self-seeking, nor getting of a name, nor strengthening such a particular party or opinion, that will give one peace in this matter.
(2) It is necessary, not only that the thing be truth; but that it may be edifying, profitable, and pertinent, at such a time: God’s call to anything, doth ever time it, and tryst it well, as most subservient to the scope of edification.
(3) Besides these, there are circumstances in the concurrence of providences trysting together, in reference to the person writing, to the subject written of, the time wherein and occasion whereupon, and such like: which being observed, may contribute to give some light in the thing. As
(a) If the person be called publicly to edify the Church; if he be of that weight, as his testimony may prove profitable in the Church for the strengthening and confirming of others, or the like considerations; though no new thing be brought forth by him: which ground, as a moral reason, Luke gives to Theophilus of his writing the Gospel (Luke 1:1).
(b) Considerations may be drawn from the subject. As
If it be a necessary point that is controversed.
If the Scripture opened be dark and obscure; and possibly not many satisfyingly writing of it.
If the way of handling it be such as gives any new advantage to truth, or to the opening of that Scripture.
(c) The time would be considered, if such a truth be presently controverted, or such a subject necessary to be spoken unto now; if such a person’s interposing may be useful, if such a duty be neglected, or if such a Scripture be not made use of, and the like.
(d) Occasion also may be, from God’s putting one to have thoughts of such a subject when others are otherwise taken up, some not having access to be edifying otherwise; as when occasion of study is given, and the thing by public delivery or secret communication is known to others, and called for by them to be made public: or that they would set themselves to it, God giving occasion of health, quietness, means, etc., for it: the thing getting approbation from such as are single, and intelligent, judging such a thing useful; in this the spirits of God’s servants would be subject to others. (James Durham.)
The mystery of the seven stars … and the seven golden candlesticks.
The stars and candlesticks
It is the realm in which they are stationed, and its characteristics as indicated in the provision made for it. Where you see stars there is darkness. And how dark is that world, that kingdom, that community, that heart, into which the light of Christianity has not effectually penetrated? With all the splendour of its genius, all the glory of its arms, all the brilliancy of its power, how savage, how like a sepulchre, full of chilly gloom and festering death! When the Gospel first arose upon the world, in what state did it find mankind? Let the apostle answer (Romans 1:22-32). And when God’s messengers came to them with the light of truth and righteousness, how were they treated? Let the same apostle answer (Hebrews 11:35-38). Even the Lord of the covenant was crucified and killed, and all His apostles martyred, and the Church’s first age made one continuous baptism of blood by the enthroned malignity of the unsanctified heart. Such is humanity, unreached and unredeemed by the grace of God in Christ Jesus (Luke 10:3). Those stars and candlesticks have not been useless. Some hearts, communities, and kingdoms have been attracted by the light, and have learned to appreciate its transforming beauty, and are found to a greater or less degree walking and rejoicing in it. But still the world in the main is a dark and wicked world. The light sent of God is “a light that shineth in a dark place,” and will so continue “until the day dawn” for the great consummation. Till then, therefore, we must expect to suffer and to fight. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The seven golden lampstands
I. A Church’s business is to hold up the light. A church which fails in aggressive evangelistic activity has failed utterly. What is the good of a lamp-post if there is no light in it? It is only a nuisance, for people to knock their heads against in the dark. A large number of the so-called Christian organisations of this day are lampstands without a light. But then, let us remember, too, that whilst thus one must strongly assert that the function of the Church is to lift up a light which is not its own, on the other hand, whosoever partakes of that light--which he cannot lift unless he loves--is changed into its nature. “Ye are the light of the world.” They are made light by contact with the Light; as a mirror laid in the sunshine will reflect the beams that fall upon it, and will cast them into some corners which, without its intervention, they would not have reached, and will be capable of being gazed on with undazzled eye by some whose optics were too weak to look upon the light itself. Now the scope of this light-bearing and witnessing for Jesus Christ which is the purpose of the Church, and of each individual in it, is not to be unduly narrowed. The Christian community is bound to bring the principles of Christ’s Gospel to bear upon all forms of life, individual, social, moral, and political, and sometimes economical. That is the function of the individual members of the Church because they are Christians. There is one more word I would like to say, and that is, if it is the purpose of a Christian Church to hold forth the light, how utterly irrelevant and puerile becomes the question whether we are to send the Gospel to distant lands, and how ridiculous the attempt to pit home against foreign evangelistic enterprise necessarily becomes. “Light is light, which radiates,” and you may as well expect a sunbeam to elect upon which side it shall shine, and how far it shall travel, as try to prescribe to the expansive and outward-rushing instincts of Christian beneficence, the sphere within which they are to confine themselves. Where I can shine I am bound to shine, and England has not got the language that is going to fill the world in a century or two, and the religion which will bless humanity, only in order that with her worldwide empire she may have markets for her produce, or gather as in a net the riches of the nations.
II. This office is the conjoint business of the whole Church. You have sometimes seen methods of illumination by which a rough triangle of wood is dotted all over with tin sockets, and tapers stuck in them. That is not the way in which a Church is to do its evangelising work. The symbol of our text gives a better metaphor--one lampstand holding one light. Now that contains two thoughts.
1. One is the universal obligation. It is the whole Church which composes the stand for the lamp. It is the whole of any Church which is bound equally to evangelistic effort. We are all disposed to think that the Church should do a deal. What about A., B., C., the members of it? It is their business. And it only becomes the duty of the community because it is the duty of each individual within it.
2. A second thought is combined action. We must be contented often to be insignificant, to do functional work, to be one of the great crowd whose hand on the rope gives an indivisible but to Him up yonder not imperceptible pull to bring the vessel to shore. There are a myriad little spheres in the raindrops which make the rainbow, and each of them has a little rainbow in its own tiny depths, but they all fuse together into the sevenfold arch of perfect beauty that spans the sky.
III. This office is discharged under the inspection of Jesus Christ. According to the vision of which the text is the interpretation Christ is, and according to the words of one of the letters He walks, in the midst of the seven candlesticks. The presence of the Christ is the condition of the churches discharging their functions. “He walks,” says the letter already referred to, “in their midst,” which is the emblem of His continual activity. In so far as we are lights, we are lights kindled, and therefore burning away. There must be a continual replenishing of the inward supply from which the power of illumination comes, as is set forth in another instance in the Old Testament in which this symbol appears--viz., in Zechariah’s prophecy, where he sees the arrangements by which the oil is fed to the golden candlestick. The oil must be fed to us, in so far as we are not lampstands, but lamps. That is to say, the great High Priest of the Temple moves as His predecessors did in the ancient sanctuary, and trims the lamps, not quenching the smoking flax, but raising it to a clearer flame. That presence stimulates. It is a solemn thought that He walks in the midst. It is made more solemn when we remember how, in these letters that follow my text, there is in each case repeated, “I know thy works.” That inspection of our acts is not all that He is here for, thank God! but He is here for that. Oh, if we believed it, what different people we should be, and what a different Church this would be! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The seven golden candlesticks
Your attention will be called to the striking symbol of the Church, as exhibited by the golden candlestick, which, like that which stood in the tabernacle, had its seven branches. We notice the fitness of this symbol of the golden candlestick.
I. In its position. The Church of Christ still waits without the veil, and sheds her blessed light to show to the world the Saviour.
II. The office of the Church. It does not sanctify, nor save, but it does hold forth the true light, and shed its brightness on a darkened world.
III. The unity of the Church.
IV. The source of life to the Church.
V. The beauty of the Church and her holy services.
VI. The value of the Church. (J. H. Norton.)
Things common to all churches
I. That all Christian Churches ought to be presided over by competent and duly-qualified pastors.
1. That all Christian Churches should be presided over by a recognised pastor.
2. That the pastor is the head and representative of the Church to which he belongs.
3. That the pastor exercises a great moral influence upon the Church with which he is connected.
II. That all Christian Churches are under the personal scrutiny of Christ.
1. Christ knows the Church. This thought should solemnise our Church life, and make it reverent in its disposition of soul.
2. Christ rules the Church. His rulership is for the moral welfare and defence of the Church, and should be obediently acknowledged.
3. Christ passes judgment on the Church. He passes judgment on the works, the patience, the suffering, the discipline, the creed, and the enthusiasm of the Church, and condemns or approves accordingly.
III. That all Christian Churches are engaged in spiritual conflict.
IV. That all Christian Churches should be sensitive to the revelation of the Divine Spirit. Lessons:--
1. That the ministerial office has the sanction of Heaven.
2. That Churches should be careful in the selection of their pastor.
3. That Churches should seek to cultivate a pure and fervent spiritual life. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17