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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 16

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Verse 1

Revelation 16:1

Pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.

Predestined suffering in the government of the world

All the dispensations of this suffering are under the direction of God. “And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.” From the very Shrine of the Almighty, the Holy of Holies, He deals out and regulates every item.

1. He orders their agents. Each of the “seven angels” or messengers are sent forth by Him. “Go your ways.” The Supreme Governor of the universe conducts His affairs through a vast system of secondary instrumentalities. There is not a pain that quivers in the nerve of any sentient being that comes not from Him. Is not this a soothing and a strengthening thought under all the dispensations of sorrow?

2. He appoints their seasons. The “seven angels” do not all come together, each has its period.

3. He fixes their places. Each of the seven angels who, under God, are to dispense the plagues, has his place assigned him. Each had his “vial,” or bowl, and each bowl had a place on which it was to be poured. The first came upon “the earth,” the second on “the sea,” the third upon “the rivers and fountains,” the fourth upon “the sun,” the fifth upon “the seat (throne) of the beast,” the sixth upon “the great river Euphrates,” and the seventh “into the air.” Whether there is a reference here to plagues in Egypt, or sufferings elsewhere, I know not.

4. He determines their character. The sufferings that came forth from the bowls were not of exactly the same kind or amount, some seemed more terrible and tremendous than others. The sufferings of some are distinguished by physical diseases, some by social bereavements, some by secular losses and disappointments, some by mental perplexities, some by moral anguish, etc. “Every heart knoweth its own bitterness.”

All the dispensations of this suffering have a great moral purpose. They are not malignant but merciful. They are not to ruin souls but to save them. They are curative elements in the painful cup of life; they are storms to purify the moral atmosphere of the world.

1. The righteous punishment of cruel persecution. “For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy.”

2. The righteous punishment of supreme worldliness. “And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat (throne) of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues.” Worldliness in the ascendant is indeed like this beast pourtrayed in the Apocalypse. It sits supreme; it has a throne, a crown, a sceptre that extends over all.

3. The overwhelming ruin of organised wrong. Great Babylon, what is it? The moral evils of the world organised into its metropolis. Falsehood, sensuality, pride, ambition, impiety, fraud, tyranny, embodied in a mighty city. This is the Babylon, and all unredeemed men are citizens in it. The Divine purpose is to destroy it. All His dispensations are against it, and will one day shiver it to pieces. Take courage, be of good cheer!

All the dispensations of this suffering have an influence co-extensive with the universe. There was not a drop from the bowl in either of the angel’s hands that terminated where it fell. The contents of these bowls are not like showers falling on the rocks in summer, which having touched them are then exhaled for ever. No, they continue to operate. The bowl that fell on the earth became an evil and painful sore, that which fell on the sea became blood and death, that which fell upon the sun scorched mankind, that which fell on the beast spread darkness and agony in all directions, that which fell upon the Euphrates produced a drought, and drew out of the mouth of the dragon wild beasts and strange dragons, the bowl that poured out its contents on the air produced lightnings, and thunders, and earthquakes, causing Babylon to be riven asunder, and every mountain and valley to flee away. Observe--

1. Nothing in the world of mind terminates with itself. “No man liveth unto himself.” Each step we give will touch chords that will vibrate through all the arches of immensity.

2. Whatever goes forth from mind exerts an influence on the domain of matter. (David Thomas, D. D.)

The first five bowls

Ere the end cometh God’s judgments of wrath will be poured out upon the world.

God hath his “bowls” in which are the contents of his wrath waiting to be outpoured.

The bringing out of these hidden forces is foreseen and determined.

When the angels of judgment pour out the “bowls,” all nature may be full of whips and stings (cf. Revelation 16:1-4; Revelation 16:8-11).

The effect of these judgments on ungodly men will be to excite to anger, and not to bring to repentance. “They repented not”; “they blasphemed” (Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11).

The holy ones see in the Divine retribution a manifestation of righteousness. In Revelation 16:5 “the angel of the waters” celebrates the righteousness of God, and in Revelation 16:7 “the altar” is said to do it; so the Revised Version reads; meaning, probably, the souls of the martyrs beneath it (Revelation 6:9). Only those beings who are in full sympathy with the Divine righteousness and love are in a position to judge rightly of the Divine procedure. Note--

1. Although all Scripture points to trouble on a vastly greater scale than we as yet see it, ere the end shall come, yet on a smaller scale God’s judgments are ever at work. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.” That which is a bulwark to the good is a detective to the evil.

2. Let us not forget that the wondrous way in which the balance of nature’s forces is preserved, so as to bring us life and peace and comfort, is owing, not to nature, but to God.

3. In our daily life we can sing of both mercy and judgment. No cup is all sweetness. A dash of bitter mingles with all. Not all bitter, lest we should pine away; not all sweet, lest we should become insensible to life’s peril and responsibilities.

4. We are indebted to Divine mercy even for the sanctifying effect of our trials. (C. Clemance, D. D.)

They repented not to give Him glory.

The hardened heart

“They repented not to give Him glory.” This impenitence is told of in Revelation 9:20, and in this chapter again at Revelation 9:11; Revelation 21:1-27.

A very certain fact. The late Mr. Kingsley, in his book, “The Roman and the Teuton,” draws out at length the evidence both of the horrible sufferings and the yet more horrible impenitence of the Roman people in the days of their empire’s fall. He refers to these very verses as accurately describing the condition of things in those awful days, when the people of Rome “gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed,” etc. (Revelation 9:11). And it is to Rome and her fall that St. John is here alluding. There can hardly be doubt of that. But the sinners at Rome were not the only ones who, in spite of the judgments of God resting upon them, have, nevertheless, hardened their hearts. Who has not known of such things?

And very wonderful. We say a burnt child dreads the fire, but it is evident that they who have been “scorched with great heat” (verse 9) by the righteous wrath of God are yet not afraid to incur that wrath again. Nothing strikes us more than the persistent way in which, in the “day of provocation in the wilderness,” the Israelites went on sinning, notwithstanding all that it brought upon them in the way of punishment.

And very awful. “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.” “Why should ye be stricken any more?”--no good comes of it, punishment does not make any difference.

But yet not inexplicable. For--

1. Times of such distress as are told of here are just the most unfavourable times of all others for that serious, earnest thought which would lead to repentance. Distress distracts the mind, drags it hither and thither, so that it cannot stay itself upon God. To trust to the hour of death to turn unto God is, indeed, to build upon the sand.

2. Resentment against their ill-treatment holds their mind more than aught else. Where that fear is not, God’s wrath will exasperate, enrage, and harden, but there will be no repentance.

3. They attribute their sufferings to every cause but the true one.

4. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil “ (Ecclesiastes 8:11). (S. Conway, B. A.)

Judgments and no repentance: repentance and no salvation

Judgments, apart from Divine grace, may produce a kind of repentance.

1. Judgment may produce a carnal repentance--a repentance that is of the flesh, and after the manner of the sinful nature of men. Though the man changes, he is not savingly changed: he becomes another man, but not a new man. The thunders, and the storms, and the hail, and the noisome sores can produce in men nothing more than a fleshly repentance; and flesh repenting is still flesh, and tends to corruption.

2. And hence, again, it is but a transient repentance. They repent but for a season. While they see the immediate evil of their sin in its results, they cry out as if they really hated sin; but their hatred is only a little tiff, which lasts for a while, and then they make friends with their sins, as Pilate made friends with Herod. Their goodness is as the morning cloud; and as the early dew it passes away.

3. Such a repentance is superficial. It only affects the surface of the man. It does not go to the heart, it is hardly more than skin deep. Beware of a superficial repentance, for God abhors it. God is not mocked; He sees the loathsomeness of the ulcer through the film which seeks to hide it.

4. The awful terrors of God may produce a despairing repentance. What an awful thing it is when the law of God and the terrors of God work upon the conscience, and arouse all a man’s fears, and yet he will not fly to Christ I

Judgments do not and cannot of themselves produce a repentance such as gives God glory. “They repented not to give Him glory.” Now, this not giving God glory is a very important omission, and one which vitiates the whole matter. True repentance gives God glory in many ways. Is yours true repentance or not? That is the question.

1. It reverences and adores God’s omniscience. It is a confession of the fact of God’s knowledge, and the truthfulness of His statements, for the man says, “O Lord, I am what Thy Word says I am. Before Thee have I sinned. In Thy sight have I done evil. Thou knowest me altogether, and I adore Thine omniscience.”

2. The truly penitent gives glory to the righteousness of God in His law. Impenitence rails at the law as too severe, speaks of transgression as a trifle, and of future punishment as cruelty; but the truly repentant soul admires the law, and champions it even against its own self. Do you know all this in your own heart?

3. The sincerely penitent also adores and glorifies the justice of God in His punishment of transgression. Is sin really sinful to you? Do you see its desert of hell? If not, your repentance needs to be repented of.

4. True repentance glorifies the sovereignty of God in His mercy, saying, “Let Him do as He wills, for His will is holy love.”

5. Further, the man has repented to the glory of God when he spies out that there is a way by which God can be just and yet the Justifier of the ungodly--when he sees the Lord Jesus Christ, the adorable Son of God, coming in our human nature and becoming the substitute for sinners, and the sacrifice for sin.

6. For, mark you, it glorifies God in one other way--by setting the sinner ever afterwards craving after holiness. “The burnt child dreads the fire”; and the sinner dreads sin when he has been delivered from the flame of it by the Lord Jesus.

The judgments of God, apart from Divine grace, may, through our hardness of heart, involve us in greater sin.

1. If God has chastened you very much, until He is saying, “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee?” then all this chastening which you have despised involves you in deeper sin, because you now sin with a clearer knowledge of what sin really is.

2. To many lives judgments also introduce the element of falsehood. The man vowed that if he recovered from sickness he would fear God. He was sick, and a saint he would be. But when he got well, ah I how much of a saint was he?

3. There are some whose conduct has in it the element of deliberate hatred of God; for these have had time now to see which way evil goes, and yet they follow it. They love sin as sin.

4. This introduces the element of presumption, deliberation, resolve; and when men sin so, there is a talent of lead in the measure of their iniquity, and it weighs exceedingly heavy.

The judgments of God are to be viewed with great discretion. He who studies them must do it with solemn care.

1. Judgments tend to good. Do not forget that. They ought to tend to good to you who are exercised by them. How many are aroused to think of better things by sickness in their own persons, or sudden death in others! National judgments are frequently a ministry of grace.

2. Judgments do impress some men. Many will come to hear a sermon just after a dear baby has died, or a brother or father has been taken away. Death whips the careless into thought.

3. Some, no doubt, are sweetly subdued by judgments, when these are qualified with grace. The grace of God working with their afflictions, they bow themselves beneath the chastening hand; and when they do this, it is good for them that they are afflicted.

4. But then, next, still let it be recollected that these things will not work good of themselves. I want you to remember this, because I have known people say, “Well, if I were afflicted I might be converted. If I lay sick I might be saved.” Oh, do not think so. Sickness and sorrow of themselves are no helps to salvation. Pain and poverty are not evangelists; disease and despair are not apostles. Look at the lost in hell. Suffering has effected no good in them.

5. Oh, that God would lead you to repent now, before any of His judgments fall upon you! Why should we not repent at once? Surely we ought to repent of doing wrong when we perceive that we are wronging so good a God. Permit me also to say to you how much nobler and sweeter a thing it is to be drawn than to be driven. Must you be beaten to Christ? And then, again, recollect, you can repent now so much more clearly than in the hour of sickness. God helping you, this is a very good hour for repenting. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verses 10-11

Revelation 16:10-11

The fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast.

Punishment concentrated upon the sinner

1 As we see in the plagues of Egypt, so we see here, that the Lord begins farther off at first, to wit, at the earth, waters, and sun, before He comes nearer to the throne or seat of the beast; which should teach men, before God come near them with His plagues or punishments, to draw near to God by true and timely repentance.

2. The wonted glory and lustre that the beast’s kingdom had by ignorance, error, and idolatry, is now turned to darkness; which teaches us, that all seeming good, profit, pleasure, advancement, which is got by sin, ends at last in the contrary.

3. As nothing could hinder the darkness of Egypt, so nothing could hinder this; which teaches us, that when God is to punish, none are able to impede His judgments.

4. It is said here, that they gnawed their tongues for pain, where we see that as the Lord makes the guilty conscience of the wicked to be their own accuser and condemner, so He makes them likewise to be their own tormentor and burden.

5. We see here again the Lord’s suitable judgments to the sin; they seduced and sinned by their tongue, therefore here they are punished in their tongue; wherefore beware in what manner, or by what member we sin, lest by the same we be likewise punished. (William Guild, D. D.)

Verses 12-16

Revelation 16:12-16

The sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates … Three unclean spirits

The mission of the three spirits

The river Euphrates, the dividing stream (in old time) between Israel and Assyria, between Israel and Babylon--the dividing stream (in typical language) between the Israel of God and the foes of God, between the Church and the world, between the disciples of Jesus Christ and the opposing hosts and powers of evil--is dried up, by the outpouring of the sixth vial, that the last confederacy of infidelity and ungodliness may be tempted onward to its ruin.

These vials are vials of wrath. The longsuffering of ages is at length exhausted: the measure of earth’s iniquity is at last fun. The time is come for a decisive battle: the kings from the east, from the enemy’s side of the river, shall be encouraged to cross over, shall be permitted to pass over dryshod, that they may throw themselves, in all their proud superiority of strength and numbers, upon “the camp of the saints” and upon “the beloved city.” Such is the parable. Enough of palliatives and enough of compromises: enough of human expedients for harmonising the irreconcilable, for making truth speak the speech of compliment, and toning down revelation till human reason shall flatter herself that she invented it: not thus can the true life be lived, the reality of death faced, or a boundless eternity entered: not thus shall place ever be found for that “new heaven and new earth,” “in which dwelleth righteousness,” in which “the tabernacle of God is with men.” There must first be a war and a battle: the war of spiritual combatants, the battle of the great day of God Almighty. Thus we are enabled to contemplate, with awe but not with dismay, all that growing boldness and insolence of unbelief which seems likely to be characteristic of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It is all working up to a consummation--a consummation foreordained of God--a consummation revealed by Him in prophecy. The three unclean spirits which gather the invading powers to the battle of the great day are said to issue from the mouth of the dragon, and from the mouth of the beast, and from the mouth of the false prophet. The reference is to the section of the three enemies, occupying the twelfth and two following chapters of this book.

1. The dragon is described to us in the twelfth chapter by figures and names, which leave no doubt of their meaning. He is expressly termed the devil and Satan--the old serpent, with evident reference to the history of man’s fall--the deceiver of the whole world--the accuser of the brethren. He is described as a dragon--that fabulous monster of antiquity, with its huge coils of serpent-like scales--here painted with seven heads, ten horns upon one of them, and seven crowns--telling at once of manifold versatility, giant strength, and more than regal dominion. He is described further as casting down to the earth the third part of the stars of heaven--to express at once the audacity of his presumption, and the superhuman sweep of his success. He stands before the woman clothed with the sun and crowned with the stars--emblem of the Church of God now travailing in birth with the Saviour of prophecy and of expectation--stands, I say, watching for the Incarnation, and eager to devour the Divine Child at the moment of His birth. Frustrated by the final rescue which transfers the imperilled Saviour, by ascension, to the throne of God in heaven--and himself receiving a defeat in the war with the glorified Christ which hurls him back, wrathful and revengeful, upon an earth not yet regenerated--he turns all his fury first upon the Church, which escapes from him into the wilderness, cared for by God Himself, who has prepared there her temporary home and her heavenly supplies--cared for by God, but helped even by the earth, who, in a sense wonderfully true to history, has sometimes even protected and favoured her--first, I say, upon the Church herself, and then (by a slight modification of the metaphor) upon the individual Christian, represented as not yet sharing the full security of the Church as a whole, as having still to fight for his life, though the Church is guaranteed from the once threatened destruction.

2. The second enemy is depicted in the thirteenth chapter. A wild beast of hideous composite form--lion, bear, and leopard in one--is seen by the evangelist rising out of the sea. With one slight--very slight--difference his first appearance is that of the dragon himself. There are the seven heads and the ten horns upon one of them, only in this latter case the horns arc crowned, not the heads, and therefore the crowns are ten, not seven. The dragon gives him his power and his throne: he is to represent him: the dragon is a power out of sight: the beast is his impersonation and his “express image.” One peculiarity of this foe is a portentous vitality. He receives a mortal wound, but he lives again. The admiration of the beholders rises into adoration. They worship the dragon who gave him his authority, and they worship the beast who lives after dying. The second enemy is the world. There is no mistaking the symbolism. In the interpretation of Daniel’s vision the four beasts combined into the beast before us are expressly said to be kings: the beast is the world, as the dragon is the devil. The world, in its aspect of power--the aspect here presented--is a great reality. In St. John’s time it was the formidable--apart from revelation the irresistible, invincible--foe of the little Church of Jesus Christ. The time was to be when an apparently fatal wound was to be inflicted upon this antagonist--a wound, of which one illustration, if not the one fulfilment, was to be the nominal conversion of the Roman Empire to the faith which once it persecuted. Surely that wound was a mortal wound? Wait a while and you shall see the world rise from its bed of death--you shall see names changed, realities surviving--you shall see kings ruling in lust and rapine “by the grace of God”--you shall see the nominally Christian world wax wanton in turn against its imaged and sculptured Lord--you shall see Christian kings issuing their edicts of exile against Christian worshippers, and Papal Rome drawing from her scabbard the sword which Pagan Rome had for ever sheathed. The power of the world is superhuman in its vitality: the dragon--this accounts for it--gives the beast his throne and his authority, and that throne and that authority, call themselves what they may, are still adverse and antagonistic to the cause and the people of Jesus Christ.

3. There is a third enemy, called in the text, for the first time, “the false prophet”; but clearly marked, in later passages of the nineteenth and twentieth chapters, as identical with the “beast from the earth” of the thirteenth. His characteristics are peculiar. They combine might and meekness. He has two horns like a lamb, but he speaks like a dragon; he unites the seeming innocence of the lamb with the subtlety which beguiled Eve in the serpent. There is no doubt as to his origin--it is more patent than that of the second--he comes up out of the earth whatever his apparent influence with heaven and the unseen. In some sense he is the viceroy of the second enemy; “he exercises all his power before him”--the power which the dragon gave he guides to its destination. His work is to glorify in every way the beast which is the world. He makes earth worship the world. He magnifies, by every art and every persuasion, the miracle of the revival. He props miracle by miracle, can make fire come down from heaven by his incantations to deceive mankind into the idolatry of the beast which died and lives. He bids them make an image of the god-world, and then he puts life into the image and makes it speak. St. John lived in days when the beast was embodied in the empire, and when the image of the emperor was an object of worship. The suspected Christian was bidden for his life to sacrifice to that image. All this would make the figures of this part of the vision very real and very life-like to the Church of that time. Illustrative, not exhaustive, of them. The second beast, like the first--the third enemy, like the second, lives on until now. He is the wisdom, as the other is the power, of this world. He is that subtler, more penetrating influence of policy and diplomacy, of skill and scheming, of expediency and statecraft, of knowledge divorced from religion, of science falsely so called, of reason set against revelation, and creatureship exalted into rivalry with the Creator, without which the brute-force of wealth and numbers, of edicts and penalties, of arms and armies, would have no avail ever against intellect and enlightenment, would have lost it long ago in the face of popular growth and advancing freedom. It must be confessed that it is not easy to set before ourselves in a sharp, strong, telling way the distinctions and contrasts of the three enemies. They interlace and intertwine with each other--their general drift is the same--they are working to one end, and they are helping one another to reach it. Yet we must endeavour to see why they are distinguished, and to discover their special characteristics as influences upon the generation occupying the earth on the very eve of the great day. “I saw three unclean spirits come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet.”

(1) We might hesitate long and anxiously about the first of these. We might think of many characteristics of the evil spirit in his fall and in his ruin, in his reign and in his warfare, as they are suggested to us in the hints and warnings of the Bible. But there is one quality which seems to underlie and motive all, and that is insubordination. It is the unwillingness to keep the rank and the station--“the first estate,” as St. Jude calls it--assigned by the Lord of all to the individual being created. It is the inability to curb and coerce the unruly workings of that pride of self, that lust of liberty, that passion for independence and exemption from jurisdiction, which begins by trying to escape from the omnipresence, and ends by making omnipotence itself its foe.

(2) And what of the inspiration from the “beast” which is the world? To it also we might assign many names, but we shall choose one among them and call it materialism. It is the pressure upon us, the influence over us, of this brute thing, the power of the present, the power of the seen, the power of sense and time, the power of the circumstance and the surrounding of the men that shall die and the world that passeth away; it is the inability to withstand the custom and the fashion, the force of numbers and the cry of voices and the command of the society which can compel or outlaw; it is the influence, in One shape, of clamorous appetite and eager ambition and unsatisfied getting; it is the influence, in another shape, of the meanest and vilest of philosophies, saying, The body is all--let it have its way; or, The body is all--there is no hereafter.

(3) Insubordination--materialism--what shall be the third spirit? Think of the characteristics of the lamb-like, serpent-like wonder-worker--of the ingenious subtle inventor that can draw fire from the sky and make images speak--that can assert itself under another’s name, impose its edicts with authority, and ostracise the poor Christian that would so much as buy or sell unmolested--think of all this, and you will not count the third influence misnamed if we call it intellectualism--the thing which struts and parades itself as “thought,” intelligence, an open mind, a refusal to see with other’s eyes, a repudiation of the received, a passion for the original--though its discoveries are oftentimes the mere echo of an echo from days of obsolete objection, of puerile, infantine bewilderment. (Dean Vaughan.)

The battle of that great day of God Almighty.

The final conflict

Is it possible, after all, that we have mistaken the character of the final triumphs of humanity and Christianity? Are they to be peaceful triumphs? or are they to be gained in the bloodiest grapple of the long-opposing forces which the pen of history ever had or ever shall have to record?

1. In the first place it lies level to the most superficial observation that this, our earth, was chosen of God as the theatre of a great judicial conflict. This world is not a pleasure-garden in God’s realm, in which white-footed angels may walk at the cool of day, fearing no thorns or flinty roughness, and inhaling only the fragrance of roses and spices. It is not a place of idle sauntering for any citizens of God’s empire, just giving grateful shade, and musical with birds and fountains. It is a rough battlefield on which Good and Evil are met to strive for the mastery. It would not be strange, then, at all if in a world so purposed and elected the conflict should ever be keener; the progress be not more and more pacific, but more and more troubled and stormy; the struggle should ever gather to itself on either side more masterful forces, and the final battle be more resolute and deadly, as it is to be more determinate than any that have gone before.

2. But let us descend for a little from the broad view to details of the engagement, and see how the strife goes in the individual heart--what the law of progress, and what the character of the most decisive victories. Leave out the more spiritual aspects of the conflict for a moment, and come in upon one who is wrestling with some evil habit. Here is a man trying to break away from the bands of intemperance. His first efforts are feeble and ineffectual. He doesn’t understand the power of his adversary. All his measures are mild, all his efforts are languid. He tries gentleness and moderation long enough to see that they only play into the hands of the enemy. It begins to dawn upon him that nothing but a terrible final duel can lay his enemy prostrate. Now the grim appetite rises in its strength. The soul, too, seeks to put on power. It thinks of whatever may stimulate its prowess--property wasted, health blasted, name dishonoured, family comfort and peace desolated, life imperilled--and meets the dread hour. It has need of all the heroism it can summon up. It navel: knew till now what the contest must be, and more than once now, doing its best, it may be worsted. It must yet put forth a more desperate strength. The battle that wins for it deliverance, that breaks the tyrant’s sceptre, will be the fiercest battle of all the war. So it is with all the vices--with every evil habit. Is it not thus with the more spiritual struggles for the new spiritual life? The soul begins perhaps by entertaining graver thoughts. That is well, but that doesn’t end it. It isn’t even the beginning of the end. It reasons with its wild and lawless propensities. The headstrong rioters laugh at such proclamations. They are paper-bullets. It seeks realise an outward reformation. This is no more than cutting off the outposts of evil--shooting down a picket or two. It tries exercises, Bible-reading, praying, good-willing; but only to discern more clearly how immovable the heart. The heart is yet securely intrenched. The citadel has not been carried. The soul becomes more in earnest, and the forces waken and multiply on either side--the truth pleads, and conscience and fear and the Holy Ghost and the world pleads--and the flesh and the adversary. This will be another struggle from any that have gone before. It will be a striving unto blood. It will be a grapple for life or death. The soul, if it wins, comes out of it after all pale and spent, with scarce strength to raise the shout of victory. Is not this private and individual strife an epitome of the larger--the public--the universal and comprehensive struggle? Are not the final conflicts ever the most desperate? Is not the fact of hopeful progress declared, not by increasing pacification, but by the growing sternness and fierceness of the contest?

3. When these three combine against God and his people--Sadduceeism, with audacious head; absolutism, with a chained fellow-man beneath its heel; and false religion, binding and loosing human consciences with a lie--then will that last great battle be joined whose fortunes and whose fluctuations will issue in giving the kingdom to the saints of the most High God. There will yet be such a combination. There is yet to rock the perturbed earth the tumult of that battle-day. Evil is not to be quietly dispossessed of its seat in this fair province of God. It holds by immemorial possession. It shall please God to show the full prowess of truth. The mightiest rally of evil in its united strength will be permitted. Gog and Magog will be gathered to the war. The false prophet, the beast, and the old dragon will consolidate their divisions in one dread array. Christianity will advance her banner and sound her charge. Considering what she is called to encounter, considering the long historic past, considering all the prophetic intimations, it will not be strange if she is called to contend against carnal weaponry. That “Armageddon” of the Lord, on which evil, with all its myrmidons, is finally to fall down slain, will be, we believe, not figuratively, but in some part of it, and in the high places of the field, literally an “aceldama.” There will be “the thunder of the captains,” “with confused noise and garments rolled in blood.” (A. L. Stone.)

Behold, I come as a thief.--

The coming of Christ

How comes a thief? He comes secretly and unexpectedly; secretly, lest he be discerned, and then with all advantages of surprisal, that he may not be taken himself while he is taking others. So Christ is said to come to judgment. He comes suddenly and unexpectedly. When people will take no warning He watches the time of their destruction, so that here you have “the goodness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22): first, His goodness is showed in that He will give warning in all dangers; but here is His severity also: when warning will not be taken, then He comes with judgment. Christ here says “He will come as a thief in the night,” and this His coming is by reason of our unfaithfulness. And His coming is sudden, unless to some of His children that He prepares by warning. When He came into the world at His first coming there were but a few “waited for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25): the rest did not. When He comes to any man or nation in His judgments doth He find faith? No; He finds them blessing themselves that to-morrow shall be as to-day. All that have spiritual life, labour to be waking Christians and then watching Christians. What is the difference between men but that carnal men are sleepers and spiritual men are waking? And what is the difference of Christians that are good and that are not? The one is a watchful Christian and the other not so. Wherein is one better than another? As the one is more careful to avoid sin than another. To come, therefore, to some directions how to carry ourselves, and among others remember this: we should have this waking and watchful consideration that we have a soul immortal, and that we are for eternity; and whatever we do in the flesh that shall be ever with us; and how that shortly we are going to the tribunal seat. In all these respects we should labour to be watchful at all times, because that time in which we take liberty to ourselves may be the time of our surprisal. We should therefore watch at all times, in prosperity and adversity. We should watch against all the sins of our persons and the sins of the state we are in. Besides, if we use this course, we shall bring our souls to that awe as that they shall not dare to offend God, by reason they must come to be examined. And how will our souls be willing to be judged before Christ, when we are unwilling to set ourselves before ourselves? If we use this it will bring a holy awe upon our souls, because they know they must come to examination for every sin. But mark what follows: “Blessed is he that watches and keeps his garments close lest he walk naked.”

1. First, know we have no garments of our own. Now it is thus in spiritual things. We have no garments of our own since the fall; but before we had. We have none now but original corruption that spreads over the soul. Besides that, men living unto years have another nature worse than the leprosy, custom. Here is all the clothing we have of ourselves; but for any spiritual good we must fetch it from Christ (Revelation 3:18).

2. Now the second thing is this, we having none of ourselves, therefore we must have garments; and when we have them we must keep them clean and close: “Blessed is he that keeps his garments close.” For the first must be garments for defence; so in spiritual things there must be garments to defend us from the wrath of God, else we lie as naked to God’s wrath as a man in a storm being naked lies open to the storm. We must have garments of amity and friendship now. Again, we must have garments for distinction. Now, garments do distinguish Christians at the day of judgment. Garments that are coverings must be all over of equal extent. They cover the whole man. So head, hands, and heart, all must be sanctified as well as justified. So that those that look upon a Christian should see nothing in him but somewhat of Christ, His words, His callings, His thoughts. And we must be clothed not only with garments, but armour, because we live in the midst of our enemies, by which we may perceive the necessity of the putting on of the one as well as the other. Now, as we must have garments and must keep them close, so also we must keep them from stains. The persons where these graces are may be defiled, but the graces are pure. We should, therefore, labour to keep our actions unspotted. The righteousness of Christ is an excellent garment, but it must be put on; and if we have Christ we have all. There is another thing intended in this Scripture. These are dangerous times, and there are spiritual cheaters abroad in the world. Therefore we should keep our profession close, and keep our truth and our judgments close, and get love into our affections; for we shall be set upon, and if we walk at large, then heretics and seducers will come between us and salvation, because our garments are not close. If a man will have any good by religion, he must cleave to religion. “Lest they walk naked, and men see their shame.” All shame arises from this, that we do not keep our garments close. So long as truth and Christ by truth have a place in the soul, so long we are safe. Now to give some directions how to keep our garments close.

(1) Labour for convincing knowledge, because all grace comes into the soul by the light thereof. Grow, therefore, in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; and often propound queries to our judgments about the Word and sacraments. Am I able to maintain this truth I have been brought up in? And do I find them true to my soul, &c.

(2) Those that will have good gardens will have flowers of every kind, so a Christian must have graces of every kind. We must put on whole Christ for justification and sanctification, and we must add grace to grace; and when we have put on every grace we must keep them clean, and not defile our profession. (R. Sibbes.)

The swift and sudden advent

These are words specially for the last days. With eighteen hundred years behind us now, we may take them home most solemnly to ourselves.

1. They warn.

2. They quicken.

3. They rouse.

4. They comfort.

The coming. It is the long-promised advent. Christ comes! He comes--

1. As Avenger.

2. As Judge.

3. As King.

4. As Bridegroom.

Like lightning; like a thief; like a snare. Like lightning to the world, but the Sun of morning to His Church; like a thief to the world, but like a Bridegroom to the Church; like a snare to the world, but like the cloud of glory to His own.

The watching. Not believing, nor hoping, nor waiting merely; but watching--as men do against some event, whether terrible or joyful, of which they know not the time. Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour of His arrival. Watch, for that day is great and glorious. Watch, for ye are naturally disposed to sit down and take your ease. Watch, for Satan tries to lull you asleep. Watch, for the world, with its riches and vanities and pleasures, is trying to throw you off your guard.

The keeping of the garments. Be like Nehemiah, who, when watching against the Ammonites, did not put off his clothes night nor day. Keep your garments all about you, that when the Lord comes He may find you not naked, but robed and ready.

The blessedness. Blessed is the watcher; blessed is the keeper of his garments. Many are the blessed ones; here is one class specially for the last days.

1. It is blessed, for it cherishes our love.

2. It is blessed, for it is one of the ways of maintaining our intercourse.

3. It is blessed, for it is the posture through which He has appointed blessing to come, in His absence, to His waiting Church.

The warning. Lest ye walk naked, and men see your shame. “Shame” has three meanings

1. The shameful thing or object.

2. The feeling of shame produced by the consciousness of the shameful thing.

3. The exposure to shame and scorn from others. The first of these is specially referred to here. But all the three are connected. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The necessity of vigilance

“Behold!” Here is a business infinitely more momentous than any other that can engage you.

“I Come.” Jesus the Son of Mary--Christ the Son of God. He whose hands were filled with mercies, and whose heart overflowed with love. He comes to see how we have requited His love--what benefit we have derived from His glorious incarnation and His great redemption--what use we have made of His Word, of His Sacraments, of His Church, of His ministers, of His Sabbaths, of His grace. I come, not I will come, but I come--the present tense, I am coming, I am on My way. “Behold, I come as a thief”: when all is repose, quietness, confidence, security. Such will, very generally, be the state of that generation of men who are living when the Lord descends at the last day. “Behold, I come as a thief.” Most who die, die suddenly. A year before, a month before, they never thought of dying. Many never give a serious thought to death a week before they die, and some not even a day.

1. Watch, while others sleep.

2. Pray, while others trifle.

3. Labour, while others are idle. (T. Nunns, M. A.)

Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments.--

Garments--a Scriptural figure

It was customary in the temple at Jerusalem for certain of the Levites to keep watch or guard during stated hours of the night. An officer was appointed over them, whose business it was to go round, and see that these watchers were attentive to their duties. He carried a lighted torch in his hand, and, if he found any of the men asleep at their posts, the law permitted him, if it did not require of him, to set fire to their garments. The offender, thus marked, was brought up before the magistrate on the following day, with his garments either wholly consumed or partially scorched, and then received the punishment due to his negligence. Now, see the force of the text: “Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments.” Blessed is the man who so takes heed to his Christian profession in this dark world, where it is necessary he should act as a watchman, because his enemy Satan goeth about to catch him asleep at his post. Blessed is the man who so minds his duties and his Master’s interests that no mark of disgrace is put upon him, and that a charge of negligence cannot fairly be brought against him. Blessed is the man who gives such “diligence to make his calling and election sure,” that the garments in which he will have to appear, in the light of perfect day, when every man’s work will be tried of what sort it is, may not prove his confusion.

First let us take the word “garments” as used literally, and as denoting only the clothing or covering which we wear upon our bodies. The Bible teaches us something about our garments in this plain and literal sense. Many seem to think that religion has nothing to do with the manner in which a love of dress and outward adornment is indulged; that every one is at liberty to choose and act for themselves in this matter. A Christian, however, does not think so. He has learnt that there is a sobriety and suitableness of attire which become godliness; and he makes it his aim to adorn, not himself, but the gospel he professes, even in this particular.

But let us now take the word “garments” in its figurative sense, and see what doctrinal truths it is employed to teach.

1. The perishable nature of all earthly things.

2. The sinfulness of our nature, and the worthlessness of our best deeds.

3. Again, the figure contained in the text is used also in the Bible in a more cheering and gracious signification. “Garments of light,” are spoken of; “garments of praise”; “white garments”; “holy garments”; “shining garment.” These beautifully significant figures were not all of them applied, in the first instance, to sinful creatures like ourselves; yet they truly betoken the state of God’s redeemed people at one period or other of their earthly pilgrimage. Collectively, they portray the believer’s sanctification.

4. But I must proceed to remark, lastly, that there is a sense given, in the Bible, to the figure in our text, which is especially glorious and worthy of remembrance. “Garments of salvation” are spoken of, beautiful garments, which are something more than mere garments of sanctification, though that is an immense blessing; garments in which the believer may appear before God “with exceeding joy.” (F. W. Naylor, M. A.)


Watch against old sins

Watch against old sins. Sitting on a flowery bank, a viper crawled forth and bit us. Great were the pain and the peril before the wound was healed. Shall we carelessly choose that very bank on which again to rest? Would it be wise to let the pale primrose and the fragrant violet tempt us where deadly reptiles may still make their nest? Let us watch against the delusion that there is no longer need to watch. After a severe struggle the victory was won over our reigning lusts, and we fancy that the peril is past. But let us watch. The rebellion has been put down; but though its armies have been scattered and its prince dethroned, many traitors lurk in secret places watching for opportunities to renew the struggle. The embankment is weak where it once gave way; and though the breach has been repaired it must be diligently watched. The flames have been put out, but the ashes are still smouldering; and, if the wind rises, the fire may burst forth anew. (Newman Hall.)

And he gathered them together unto a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.--

The eve of Armageddon

The hosts that have mustered behind the Euphrates were once God’s handiwork and God’s creatures. They have broken loose from that relationship. They have chosen them another leader--himself already emancipated from the yoke of the original blessedness. There is one power, one only, which God does not-shall we say it with reverence? perhaps cannot--exercise: the compulsion of the will--that coercion of the moral being, which some talk of as though it certainly would be applied if God were at once Almighty and all-loving, but which a deeper reflexion feels to be inconsistent alike with the definition of man and with the definition of salvation. Man without free will is man no more--and a salvation imposed by main force would be no salvation. There is a point in the affairs of nations--there is a point even in spiritual history--beyond which war is the one solution. Enmity--even between man and his Maker--may become hostility. As the end draws on, prophets and evangelists concur in anticipating a culmination, if not an incarnation, of evil, only to be dealt with by an intervention of God Himself to decide the long controversy, and to regenerate earth, as a prophet has written, “by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.” The prophetic figure for this catastrophe is that of a war and a battle. God would have the matter fought out. But how strikingly is the distinction here drawn between God’s part, and that which is not God’s part, in the impending conflict! An angel dries the Euphrates, but no angel stimulates to the crossing. That is the office of the unclean spirits; and they issue from the mouth of the three enemies--the dragon, the wild beast, and the false prophet. “He gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” The “gathering” is ascribed, in the 14th verse, to the three spirits. The word is the same here--and the Greek idiom will bear the rendering “they gathered.” But the instinct of our English translators has well guided them to the transition: the parenthesis of verse 15 has broken the thread. The unclean spirits go forth to gather--“Behold, I come as a thief--Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments”--“And he gathered them together into the place which is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” The spirits of evil do not choose the battle-field: they whisper, and buzz, and irritate--they suggest, and prompt, and incite; but there is a hand and a will above theirs, which leaves not to them the strategy or the combination. “He gathered together,” and He chose the ground. Thus is it in the Old Testament prophecies of the same last encounter. “Thou shalt come up against My people, as a cloud to cover the land: it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee.” Thou shalt come--and I will bring this is from Ezekiel. “I will gather all nations … thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord.” This is from Joel. “The day of the Lord cometh For I will gather all nations to battle … Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations.” This is from Zechariah. The spirits go forth, but it is God who “gathers.” He dries the Euphrates, and He fixes the Armageddon. We scarcely recognise, in that name of mystery, the familiar Megiddo--“Armageddon,” “hill of Megiddo”--on the southern skirt of that great plain of Esdraelon which was the scene of so many conflicts, for defeat or victory, in the earlier and later history of Israel. But does any one imagine that we are to seek, on the map of Palestine or of the world, a site or a place for the last great battle? It is well to look into the imagery: it is helpful toward the understanding of the thing signified; it is in the comparison of Scripture type and Scripture parable that we learn what God has written about this consummation of all things. Even in that last suggestion, of the attractiveness to a later enemy of a battle-field fatal to Josiah, we have something to learn as to the fascinations of that lying spirit which alone can make any man a fighter against God. But we are reading of spiritual things: the field of that war is not local--any more than its armour, whether of defence or attack, is carnal. Nay, the place itself is varied in various predictions. St. Jehu points us to the valley of Esdraelon and the hill of Megiddo; Joel makes the place of “decision” the valley of Jehoshaphat; and Zechariah gathers all nations against Jerusalem, speaks of a siege and capture of Jerusalem, and sets the feet of the Divine Deliverer upon the Mount of Olives before Jerusalem eastward. Such varieties should guard us against all temptations to limit or localise where the matter itself spoken of is not carnal but spiritual. As surely as the vulture scents its prey wheresoever there is death, so surely shall the destroying Angel find out sin, so surely shall delivering Angels find out God’s elect, so surely shall there be for every man a day of judgment, for every man a way of salvation: not here, nor there, particularly, shall the war of the end be waged or the battle of decision fought out: Armageddon is a type, not a locality, and the prophecy, like all prophecy, is not letter but spirit.

(1) We have before us, then, the two camps, distinct and separate, of the faithful and the foe. It is characteristic of the scene and of the time. A battle is impending, and there can be no battle without a choice of sides. Silently and half unconsciously the two camps are forming: every sinful thing done, every unkind word spoken, every heart-murmuring, every spirit-blasphemy, against the commandment or against the revelation or against the providence of God, is drifting the doer or the speaker or the thinker towards the camp of the foe: every act of good, every earnest effort, every struggle with a sin, every soul’s prayer and soul’s “feeling after” the invisible, every thought of love to Him who died for us, every longing yearning desire after a heaven of holiness and of service, is tending towards that “camp of the saints” of which a later chapter tells--safe whatever befalls, because God Himself is there.

(2) “Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth.” The absent Lord speaks--and says, I come. On the eve of the battle--while yet there may be a failing heart needing to be encouraged, or a rebel heart opening itselt to conviction--the voice sounds between the two camps--I come. Creep back, rebel heart, to thy allegiance--be strong, coward heart, be strong--behold, I come--come as a thief--mad blessed is he that watcheth! And what is “watching”? Is it a restless, hurrying, rushing activity, which counts every moment a sin that is not either excited devotion or bustling charity? Is it the refusal of every comfort and every enjoyment, lest a God who is looking out for our fall should take advantage of us and come because we are resting? Is it the eager calculating of times and seasons, the living much with what Isaiah calls “stargazers and prognosticatore,” men who can give a name out of this book to each dynasty and each potentate of modern history, and tell precisely at what point we stand on the bank of the stream of time in reference to the advent or the millennium? Is this the life to which Jesus Christ calls us, when He sends that voice, between the two camps, from the excellent glory, “Blessed is he that watcheth”? None of these things. To “watch,” in Christ’s sense, is to have the heart interested in truth, and the spirit alive to duty--to be able to say, in hours of resting, “I sleep, but my soul waketh”--to listen for the voice of God, even in the night hours, and to be always alert to answer, “Speak, for Thy servant heareth.” To “watch,” is to keep the heart with all diligence, lest it pollute, at the source, the very stream of the life--to guard against the first rising of sinful thought, ere it form itself into desire or have time to set up an idol--to have the door ever open between the soul and its God, that it may breathe the air of heaven, and weigh all things here with the very shekel of the sanctuary. (Dean Vaughan.)

Battle of Armageddon

Dream not of marching battalions and of mustering squadrons when you hear of Armageddon, dream not of a local battlefield. No; this is no common earthly battle; it is a spiritual battle; a war of principles; of righteousness against unrighteousness; of faith against unbelief; of Christ against Antichrist. This war has been waging ever since St. John received the revelation. In the latter days it will culminate in this one grand final conflict--the crisis of the world; the battle of the great day of God Almighty; the great decision between good and evil, sin and God, the world and Christ. The future of the Church used to be described as a shining river flowing full to the promised end, silently widening itself out into a bright tranquil summer sea. How different the predictions of Scripture, of Christ and His apostles. Rather is the future of the Church in their view that of a mighty river sweeping to a great Niagara. The bright tranquil summer sea is beyond, seen afar off, but first there is the terrible precipice; the tranquil sea is only reached through the war of falling, tossed, and troubled waters. I am sure that this is the prediction repeated again and again of Christ and His apostles: “In the last days perilous times shall come; “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Do not these words most strikingly answer to those of the text? Are not these powers, and signs, and manifestations, and embodiments of “the spirits of devils working miracles, which go forth” to gather together the hosts of the world to the battle of the great day of God Almighty; to gather them together to the battlefield of Armageddon? And by what evil influences will these malignant spirits work their will and delude the world? It would seem from several passages, as well as the text, that it may be allowed to them to perform the appearance of lying miracles, with what will look like supernatural powers. But in the main these evil spirits will appeal, nay, are appealing, to that which is worst in the hearts of men--to an impatience of moral restraint, to a dislike of pure Christian morality, to the longing after independence, to the rising in the human heart against the childlike teachableness and submission of soul which the Christian faith requires of us, to the desire to have no superior, to be a law unto ourselves, a god to ourselves. And all this is carrying on at this very day, and every day more and more actively; so actively, so successfully, that we might almost despair of the good cause if we did not remember that two hosts are being gathered to the battle--the host of Christ as well as the host of Antichrist--and that the influence and energies which enlist soldiers for Christ are quite as powerful and more powerful than those which enlist soldiers against Christ. And if the adversaries of Christ were never more numerous, so never were the devoted soldiers of Christ more numerous. And just as in the English army the immediate prospect of war leads men to enlist, so in this spiritual war are Christians keen for the battle, and the growing opposition and the pressing danger only awaken in their hearts an enthusiasm for the cause of Christ which they would not feel in more quiet times. In prospect of the coming battle I will not despair. I address you as soldiers of Christ. I ask of you an enthusiasm for the person of Christ your Lord, a devoted faith and love for Christ. This is what the captain of an earthly host desires of his soldiers: if they have an enthusiasm for him, they will follow him anywhere, they will follow him to the death; and this enthusiasm Christ asks and is able to inspire. And in your dealings with others, who perhaps seem to be in the opposing army. I do not ask you to contend with them, to argue with them, still less to think evil of them (some of them may yet be standing shoulder to shoulder by your side before the battle is over); but I ask you by your life, much more than by your words, to let all see and know that you have a true devotion to Christ, that you love Him with your whole heart. This will draw them to your side--yes, all the truest souls among them; they all long in their hearts, half unknown to themselves, for such a noble love, for such an inspiring devotion. Let them see in you that such a love, such a devotion, is possible, is real, is all-powerful. And in your dealings with others, remember that the love of Christ is the magic influence which alone controls the human heart. (E. J. Rose, M. A.)

Verses 17-21

Revelation 16:17-21

The seventh angel poured out his vial into the air.

The seventh bowl

How much of earth’s sin must there be for God to witness!

Men often ask--why is God silent so long?

Whatever may be the trial of faith thus caused, we are certain that God forgets nothing.

God has great purposes to answer in permitting evil to go so long unpunished.

At the appointed hour the long-suffering will cease.

Then Babylon the great, with all her sins, shall come up for final beckoning and recompense.

The fact that all is in the hands of God is a guarantee of perfect equity.

With our God the execution is as certain as the purpose. The seer heard “a great voice from the temple, out of the throne, saying, It is done!” Note--

1. Amid the perplexity caused by the prevalence and power of evil, let us stay ourselves on God.

2. Let us do right, and wait God’s time.

3. Revenge is never to be any part of our policy.

4. Let us be glad and grateful that believers in God are not left in the dark as to the meaning, aims, and issue of the Divine government of the world. (C. Clemance, D. D.)

Satanic influence

The air which has received the last vial may be considered as the home or seat of the devil and his angels. There is no fancy in this, for you may remember how St. Paul himself describes the devil as “the prince of the power of the air.” It is, however, of little importance that we determine where fallen angels have their habitation; and perhaps the associating the devil with the air is not so much for the purpose of defining the residence of Satan as to give us information as to the nature of his dominion. We mean that probably we are not hereby taught that the devil dwells in the air--though that also may be the meaning--but rather that he has at his disposal the power of the air; so that he can employ this element in his operations on mankind. And we know of no reason why the power of the devil should be regarded as confined to what we are wont to call spiritual agency, so as never to be employed in the production of physical evil--why the souls and not also the bodies of men should be considered as objects of his attack. Indeed, forasmuch as the soul is the nobler part of man--the more precious and dignified--it would be strange if this alone were exposed to his attack, and the body were altogether exempt. We believe, therefore, that Satan may have a great deal to do with those pains and sicknesses which so abound in the world. It is certainly the representation of Scripture that Satan has much to do with inflicting diseases of the body. The woman who had “a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together”--what said Christ of her, when the ruler of the synagogue was indignant at her being made whole on the Sabbath day? “Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo! these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” Again, we know not exactly what that “thorn in the flesh” was from which St. Paul suffered. But the expression makes it seem probable that it was some acute bodily pain, or some oppressive infirmity; and the apostle distinctly calls it “a messenger of Satan, sent to buffet him.” Do we not seem warranted in inferring from these intimations that Satan is greatly concerned in bringing maladies on men’s bodies? And if this be once allowed, we may enter into the meaning of the title, “The prince of the power of the air.” We are accustomed, and as it would seem with much accuracy, to refer to certain states of the air as producing certain diseases of the body. Without being able precisely to trace the connection, or investigate the cause, we consider that the atmosphere is frequently impregnated with disease and sickness, so that we may be said to inhale death whilst inhaling what is essential to life. Thus we virtually suppose the “power of the air” to be a power over health and over life; and therefore, that he who possesses that power--and this St. Paul says is the devil--must be one who is greatly instrumental in the inflicting disease. If you add to this that many of the worst calamities, as well as sicknesses with which men are visited, may be traced to the air, you have the materials from which to show that it is assigning to the devil an awful dominion to give him the sovereignty of the air. Again, we remind you that we are fully aware that Satan can do nothing except as he is permitted by God. We speak only of the power which he can wield when the permission has been granted. Never can I hear of a land which is laid waste by plague, and never can I hear of the rushing of the tornado, passing over fertile plains, and leaving them a desert, without the most startling apprehensions of the fearfulness of the enemy who can use this element as his engine, and without also feeling how justly may the final triumph of good over evil be associated with some great deed that shall be wrought in the air, even according to the representation of our text--“And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.” We Cannot well doubt that this association of the air with the devil is equally appropriate when the devil is regarded under the more common point of view--that of the assailant of the soul, the instigator to sin in all its varieties of form. It may not be so easy to show the appropriateness in this case; for we cannot make much way when we would endeavour to explain what is generally understood by spiritual agency--the operation of spirit on spirit, whether it be for good, or whether it be for evil. There is nothing more mysterious with our present faculties and capacities than those secret influences to which we are undeniably subjected--influences which employ no visible, tangible instrumentality, but whose sphere is at once the inner man, and which make themselves felt, though we know not how they enter into that hidden world, which each bears within himself. We are not, however, concerned with more than the fact, that the spirit of evil, as well as the spirit of good, has access to our minds, and can bring itself into such association and intimacy with us as to act by and through our own thoughts and feelings. Assuming this fact, it is our business to endeavour to show that our spiritual adversary, as the adversary of our souls, may fitly be described as inhabiting the air. In order to this we would remind you, that whatever is visionary and unstable, whatever is a mere delusion and cheat, this we are accustomed to connect with the air; so that we describe as aerial what we find to be unsubstantial or deceptive. It has undoubtedly been through the putting a cheat on man, that the devil, from the first, has effected his destruction. His endeavour has been too often successful l has been to prevail on man to substitute an imaginary good for a real, the creature for the Creator, and to mock their own capacities for happiness by seeking it in the finite and the perishable. If it be by what we should call a series of optical deceptions that he acts on our race, distorting one thing and magnifying another, and throwing a false colouring on a third, how is he proceeding but so as to avail himself of those strange properties of the air whence spring such phenomena as that of the Egyptian morass, the weary traveller being cheered with the appearance of the blue waters of a lake, on whose margins green trees are waving, but finding as he approaches that there is only the hot sand and no drop of water wherewith to cool his tongue? If, again, it be by crowding the field of view with witching but unsubstantial forms, with gorgeous thrones and splendid pageants, which sweep before the mind and beckon onward to disappointment--if it be thus that Satan retains, undisputed, his dominion over thousands, what can he be truly said to employ so much as the power of the air, weaving those brilliant phantoms which have seemed to hurry to and fro, as though hurrying from cloud to cloud, and causing those strange delusions which have startled the peasant, and made him think the glens into which he was entering tenanted by shadowy and mysterious beings--in short, if it be that Satan tries to deceive mankind by the inconstant and unsubstantial--if the ambitious, and the voluptuous, and the avaricious, be all and each pursuing a beckoning shadow--if the whole apparatus by which the world is lulled into moral slumber, or roused to self-destruction, be made up of the mere imagery of happiness, could any description be more apposite than one which represents the devil as lord of that element in which floats the meteor, and through which glides the spectre, and out of which can be formed nothing that we can grasp, though it may be the vehicle of a thousand deceptions arrayed in beautiful array? We take this subject of discourse because we desire, by every possible means and by all varieties of illustration, to make you aware of the powers, and put you on your guard against the malice of the devil. We are indeed well aware that it is not the devil who destroys man. It must be man who destroys himself. The devil can do nothing against us, except as we afford him opportunity, yielding ourselves to his suggestions and allowing him to lead us captive at his will. But it may at length come to pass, if we persist in walking as children of disobedience, that we quite expel from our breasts the Spirit of God, whose strivings have been resisted and whose admonitions have been despised, and enthrone in His stead that spirit of evil, whose longing and whose labour it is to make us share his own ruin. And then is there as clear a demoniacal possession as when the man was cast into the fire or water through the fearful energies of the indwelling fiend. Every sin which you wilfully commit helps forward the great design of the devil--the design of obtaining such hold on you that he may claim you as his own; and “as a strong man armed, he keepeth his goods.” Let us look now once more with careful attention to our text and its context. We read in the chapter before us of seven angels, having the seven last plagues, in seven vials, each of which is filled with the wrath of God. These plagues are manifestly those tremendous judgments which are to conclude the present dispensation, and make way for that glorious season when Christianity shall have a home in every land and in every heart. The first six vials are emptied on the earth, or on the waters, or on the sun, and are followed by fearful catastrophes which are preliminary to a more tremendous one which is to close the strange work of vengeance; but it is the seventh vial with which seems associated the final deliverance of the creation--the overthrow of the Lord’s enemies, and the vindication of all His attributes. For, as you learn from our text, so soon as the seventh angel pours out his vial, there is heard a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, “It is done!” as though this were the completion and consummation of a mighty and long-protracted work. Why this triumphant exclamation, “It is done!” as though the emptying of the seventh vial had finished the extirpation of evil, and made a clear scene for the erection of the kingdom of Jesus. Our whole discourse has turned on this--the vial is emptied into the air. We identify the air with the residence and dominion of Satan, and hence the seventh vial may be considered as containing those judgments which are immediately directed against the devil. The destruction of the devil’s sovereignty will be the emancipation of the whole creation which has so long groaned and travailed in pain, hence the shout. Not on the land, not in the sea, not in the fountains is the vial poured; it is poured into the air, and fallen angels, who have their abode in that element which they have long polluted and spoiled, are driven down to their heritage of fire. And then the atmosphere has all the blandness and freshness of a new spring, and the lost flowers of Paradise once more cover the earth. (H. Melvill, B. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/revelation-16.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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