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Alleluia; Salvation … unto the Lord our God.
The Eternal in the universe, and His representative to man
I. A symbolic aspect of the eternal in the universe. He appears here as receiving the highest worship.
1. The worship was widely extensive. Worship is the vital breath and Inspiration of all holy intelligences. On the Eternal their eyes are fixed with supreme adoration, and their hearts with intensest love turned in impressive devotion.
2. The worship was supremely deserved.
(1) He is absolutely true and righteous in Himself.
(2) He is true and righteous in His procedure against the wrong.
3. The worship was intensely enthusiastic. The “Alleluias” seem to wax louder and louder as they are repeated, until they become as “the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings.”
II. A symbolic aspect of the Eternal in His representative to man.
1. The loving husband of the true.
(1) Mutual choice.
(2) Mutual sympathy.
(3) A mutual aim.
2. The triumphant conqueror of the wrong.
(1) The instrumentality He employs, and the titles he inherits.
(2) The aspect He wears, and the followers He commands.
(3) The course He pursues, and the greatness of His supremacy.
(4) The war He wages, and the victories He achieves. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The godly--their work and their praises
I. The characteristic given of the saints.
1. They are a people, the people of God, and grace has made them so.
2. The saints are represented as “much people,” a multitude which no man can number.
(1) They consist of some of all ages of the world.
(2) Some of all nations.
(3) They will be found among some of every sect and party.
(4) The number of the redeemed includes persons of all ranks and conditions in life, and possessing every variety of talent and disposition; the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the most renowned monarchs, and the most abject slaves.
II. The work in which the saints is heaven are employed.
1. It was “a great voice” which the apostle heard in heaven, and may be so denominated on three accounts.
(1) It was exceeding loud, like that which John heard in another vision, as the sound of many waters, or as when seven thunders utter their voices.
(2) It was a great voice in regard to the subject or occasion of it, for it related to a great salvation on the one hand, and a great destruction on the other.
(3) It was a great voice in reference to the numbers who joined in it, a uniform and melodious voice from all that were round about the throne.
2. The great voice of much people in heaven cried “Hallelujah.” This may teach us--
(1) That it becomes the people of God to be joyful: praise is comely for the upright, however unseemly it may be in the lips of a deceiver.
(2) That our joy must not terminate in ourselves.
(3) That our praises must not terminate in any creature like ourselves.
(4) Our praises must all centre in God, in the excellences of the Divine nature.
III. The subject matter of the song of the redeemed.
1. Observe, after the general shout of “hallelujah,” they ascribe “salvation” unto the Lord our God.
2. They ascribe “glory and honour” unto the Lord our God. Glory is the highest degree of honour, and is more immediately appropriated to the Supreme Being, to whom alone the highest praise is due, and who will not give His glory to another.
3. The ascription of “power,” as well as honour and glory, makes a part of the song of the redeemed. Power implies ability or strength, and when predicated of the Supreme Being it denotes His almightiness and all-sufficiency, by which He is able to do all things.
4. All this glory is ascribed unto the Lord our God, as what properly belongs to Him. Salvation and glory, and honour and power, are His exclusively, and in the most eminent degree.
1. How dreadful is the sin of ingratitude, especially towards our best and only Benefactor.
2. The exultations of the saints in glory may teach us how unseemly are the idle songs and profane mirth of carnal men, and how utterly inconsistent everything of this kind is with the profession of Christianity.
3. The spirit and employment of the redeemed and glorified, may serve as a criterion of true religion, by which we may judge whether we are made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
4. A gracious heart would have all that is glorious ascribed to God, and to Him alone; and not only the glory of salvation in general, but of his own salvation in particular.
5. Let mourning saints take comfort, from a view of the blessedness of the spirits of just men made perfect. Those who now hang their harps upon the willows, saying, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” shall shortly have their hearts attuned to joy and praise, when like Judah they return from their captivity. (B. Beddome, M.A.)
I. We have in these two words (which sum up and condense the whole spirit and tenour of the adoration of the saints in bliss) a marvellous simplicity of perfected intelligence, blending in one eternity of love and infinity of thought. It would not be heaven if either of these words were wanting; it must be heaven where both are felt. For what is Amen? The perfect receiving of every dispensation from God. And what is Alleluia? The perfect giving back of all praise in every dispensation to the bosom of God. Amen is the open breast to receive; Alleluia is the full heart to return the ray: for Amen gathers all, and Alleluia reflects all: Amen sits still and endures; but Alleluia soars away in praise. The one sets to its seal that God is true; but the other encircles the confession with a crown of glory: and the passing and repassing of their crossing rays is heaven. But let us look for a moment at each component part in the whole, which is not to be divided.
1. Amen is nothing else but the ratification of another’s will. Thus Christ, being the ratification, in the counsels of the adorable Trinity, of His Father’s will, and perfectly performing it, is called the true “Amen.” The promises of our redemption in God are said to be “Yea and Amen.” God Himself is called in Isaiah the “God of Truth,” or (in the original) the “God of Amen.” Thus man’s truth comes from God’s truth. They who desire to say a full Amen in prayer, must thereby understand that they not only ask or appropriate to themselves all that the mouth of the interceding priest or of the petitioner desires; but far more than this; that there may be on all points agreement between their mind and the mind of God; that whether the prayer be granted or denied, they may equally subscribe with the heart, and say “Amen,” and desire that all the mind of God, expressed or unexpressed, may be fulfilled in them. This is indeed to say “Amen.” And who can estimate the peace of a mind thus at one with God, which should never turn over a leaf of time before subscribing an Amen to the last? Would you gain such a mind? You must recognise the ever-present care of God. You must seek to acquaint yourself with Him whom you seek to obey. You must not only connect the event with God, and God with love; but you must connect God and all events in one great scheme, of which you see only the outline: you must look on to the grand result of all this complicated work: you must live much in the distant future; and there--not in this preparatory scene, but in that grand development--must learn to ponder reverently on the being, the character, the design of God, till you are able to bring back with you to this lower world your firm Amen.
2. Now consider the word “Alleluia.” It is one which, in the letter, is found only in this chapter, where it is several times repeated as the native language of heaven. But that it is known too upon earth, David shows: for in all those Psalms which begin “Praise the Lord,” the word is “Alleluia”; yet, doubtless, we shall pronounce it as a foreign word, till we have learnt the accents of our home. Still, even upon earth, we can associate and connect it with our nearest approaches to the future bliss. It is when no cloud comes in between to obscure the light of God’s countenance; it is when we read Him in His full and overflowing mercy; it is when we kneel in lowly adoration at the altar, and the Lord whom we seek comes to His temple; it is when we most feel, as then, “This God is our God for ever and ever,” that Alleluia, unprompted and untaught, is wont to flow. Had we to define Alleluia as it regards God, we should say it is admiration of God, affection to Him, joy in Him. Had we to define it as regards man, we should call it a present bliss, the earnest of a bliss future, and deeper still.
II. It is not needful to consider whether of the two is the sweeter sound, the Amen or the Alleluia. Let us not so love the one as to forget the other. Sometimes the thought of past mercies will give us preparation of heart, and the Amen will grow up out of the Alleluia. Sometimes trial itself will lead us into the experience of such deep and blessed comfort, that our Amen will pass gradually from acquiescence into Eucharist. The more we join the two, the deeper our portion of the Spirit of Christ, the nearer our approach to the worship of redeemed souls. (J. S. Bartlett, M. A.)
Praise our God, all ye His servants.--
Praise to God from all saints
Consider what God is; how infinitely above the highest angels; the only Fountain of goodness and life and immortality, and whatsoever is blessed and glorious either in heaven or in earth. Consider again what we are--mortal, sinful, unworthy creatures. Does it not almost seem as if we might well be afraid to praise Him? But Almighty God, by His infinite condescension in Holy Scripture, encourages us not to keep silence. He declares Himself ready to accept our praise and thanksgiving as a sacrifice of a freewill offering. Here in the text we find His approbation yielded, in a very remarkable manner, to the duty and blessing of praising Him, as it has been understood and practised from the beginning by all saints. “A voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great.” What voice was that? It was the voice of God, for it came out of the throne; out of the unapproachable glory, where none but God was. It was the voice of the Lamb of God, of Him who is set down in glory on His Father’s right hand, having been slain, and redeemed us to God by His blood. We know it is His voice from the manner in which He speaks: “Praise our God, all ye His servants”; not your God only, but our God. “I ascend,” He said, “unto My Father and your Father, and unto My God and your God.” In like manner, here at the very end of the New Testament, He speaks from His everlasting throne to the whole Church, now represented as triumphing over her enemies, and makes Himself one, in the work of praising God, with all God’s servants, and all who fear Him, of all sorts and degrees, “both small and great.” “Praise our God, all ye His servants,” says that gracious but awful voice. His servants only are privileged to praise Him; that is, as we should call them, His slaves; those who have given themselves up to Him entirely; who try to have no will but His; who give up what else would please them best when they understand it to be displeasing to Him, and take joyfully affliction, labour, self-denial, when He lays it upon them, and would prepare them thereby for His heavenly kingdom. Nor let any one Christian draw back in indolence or timidity, as if he, for one, had no part in this merciful invitation of our Saviour. Observe with what encouraging words He concludes it: “Praise our God all ye His servants, and ye that fear Him, both small and great.” Fearing God is the great thing; and they who have that in their hearts, how unequal soever in other respects, may come here with all saints and unite in praising Him. In this place, if nowhere else, all ranks and degrees are equal. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the Tracts for the Times.)
The voice of a great multitude.
I wish to speak to you about our Church services. I wish to ask you to help me in making them different from what they now are. There is a coldness and a lifelessness about our services which to my mind is very painful. When we meet together in God’s house we come especially to pray. And if we come to pray, we come to present ourselves before God. The very idea of prayer and of all worship implies at once that we are entering into God’s presence.
1. Now, first, if God is in the midst of us the thought will teach us reverence.
2. And one word about inattention and wandering thoughts before I go on. It is a great grief to many a worshipper, and it comes even to the best. But you are not without a remedy. Besides your prayers for grace to resist these wanderings of eye and thought, I believe the best help will be to use the Prayer-book more, and to keep the eye more fixed on the page. You are less likely to think of other things when you are following the words.
3. But there is another help, which perhaps is more effectual still, that you should take your proper part in the services of the Church. And it is especially of this, the responding aloud, the joining in the common worship of Almighty God, that I wish to speak. In the early days of the Church we read of the worshippers joining so heartily in the prayers that their responses, we are told, sounded like thunder, or like the roar of waters. And still, in our own day, when our missionaries come back to England, they almost invariably speak with pain of the coldness of our English worship. Among their own people, among the converts whom they have gathered round them, there is an intelligent taking part in the services; all responding where the responses are to be made, and all repeating the “Amen” at the end of the prayers. It is to our great loss that we fail in this. It is a mighty power, that power of sympathy. It helps to keep up our own flagging attention it helps to increase our own devotions to find that others are praying at our side, following the words, and joining in the service. It moves and quickens the heart to feel that your voice is blending with the voice of others, that your petitions are going up, not singly, but united with other prayers, to the throne of grace. And surely in that stronger enthusiasm there was a sense of God’s presence: a real honest belief that He was near to bless, because His blessing was really desired. The real dignity and power of the service of our Church will not be understood till you have learned its congregational character, till you have come to understand how grand is the effect of a great multitude of voices uniting in praise together, or together imploring God’s pardon and grace; each encouraging the other, and so each contributing to the noble tribute of worship, which ascends like sweet incense before God’s throne from a Christian congregation met together in His name. And in this way, also, you will be approaching negater to the service of the redeemed in heaven. We read in the Revelation of St. John of the great company of all nations and kindreds, and people and tongues, standing around the throne. And out of the throne there came forth a voice, calling all that mighty host to praise their God. And we are to do our part in fulfilling the vision of the apostle, when he heard “every creature which is in heaven and on the earth,” etc. (Canon Nevill.)
Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.--
The hymn of the reign of God
This hymn is sung after the destruction of Babylon. They sang with no diffident breast. It was a great voice breaking forth into syllables distinct and strong. They sang of the reign of God. At last the yearned-for result has been attained. “The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.”
I. It is the true interpretation of worldliness. The name of the world is applied in Scripture to two facts--one is transience, the other is godlessness. Because it is passing away we are warned against loving the world: but we are told how transience may degenerate, and the feeling of insecurity infect the whole character, because “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This is a natural sequence; for the affection towards the trivial and passing destroys affection towards the great and abiding. It is a contradiction of our nature too; and any such contradiction, any continued violation of a natural law in the moral world, means weakness and disease. What else cored come to that great world-city of Babylon? Her delicious living and extravagance, her selfishness and impurity, could find in all the universe but one goal. Nor can it be otherwise. For nations, for cities, and for men, there is the one law unchangeable and irrevocable. The worldly mind, the fleshly, sensuous mind, is decay and death. Selfishness can only destroy self; luxury but ruin comfort, and passion but annihilate pleasure.
II. It teaches us that faith and holiness are never alone. It was as the voice of a great multitude--a voice of thunder--a voice of many waters. The young Christian thinks he stands sometimes absolutely by himself. In the counting-house, the school, the shop, he finds none to stand with him. There is not a voice to utter anything in harmony with what his heart most dearly loves. All have gone after their Baal, and the danger is that he rolls himself within his own loneliness, and shrinking back becomes morbid and unhappy. But all the while others, under perhaps the colour of some worldly cant, are longing as he has longed. The same thoughts have filled their minds; the same fears have held their hearts. Had any of them the courage to speak out his own thoughts, had the voice been strong and his heart brave, he would instantly have won companions and friends.
III. It shows us the nature of true progress. The first step therein is the marriage of the Lamb. (W. M. Johnston, M. A.)
The reign of the Lord a source of consolation
I. He reigneth through the exercise of His providence. When we speak of the providence of God, we speak of the exercise of His perfections, of His power and wisdom and goodness, co-operating for the direction of the universe. We say that He is everywhere present, and superintends whatever happens here below; that all things are the result, not of unmeaning chance or relentless fate, but of the purpose and pleasure of God. We say that all dispensations, whether great or small, prosperous or adverse, are entirely to be explained on the supposition of the present as an arrangement of things of which we are enjoined to confide in the equity of the end, though neither our diligence nor sagacity can always discover the fairness of the means. We say theft He exercises a moral government over His rational creation; that angels and archangels fulfil His pleasure; that the spirits of darkness are under His control, and that we ourselves arc, in an especial manner, the subjects of His administration; that by Him our very thoughts are observed; the circumstances of our condition arranged, and watched, as it were, with the vigilance of individual attention. We say, in short, that the world, instead of being a kingdom deprived of its head, abandoned to be the victim of the lawless passions of its inhabitants, and to suffer all the vicissitudes of degradation and advancement, is under the direction of Him to whom not merely its interests are known, but by whom they are also secured. It is interesting to trace the workings of a pious character that has taken much of its form, and that is advancing towards its maturity, under the strong operation of this consolatory truth. Even in the ordinary course of events, when others see things going on only as they did since the beginning of the world, he discerns an Intelligent Reality, silently, but successfully, supporting an infinite charge of dependent beings, and not the less everywhere present, hidden though His glory be beneath the curtains of the material world. Amid the uncertainty of surrounding events, amid the fluctuation of his hopes and fears, he feels that he need not be afraid; for this Providence, as the Providence of One incomprehensibly excellent in all perfection, has in it every quality which can recommend and endear it--every quality which can brighten even the darkest appearances--everything which tends not only to secure the submission, but also to engage the affections of the heart. He can look upon the present and enjoy the plenitude of the passing moment, because he knows by whom every moment, and all the events of every moment, are dealt out to him; and upon the faith which he reposes on this Providence is he willing to make the great experiment of futurity--ready to go wherever He will transmit him, satisfied that everywhere, in height and depth, in time and eternity, He will be his portion for ever.
II. He reigneth through the mediation of His son. In appointing the Son to act as mediator between Himself and us, God did ordain certain offices for Him to execute and certain characters for Him to assume ere the purposes of His mediation could be accomplished. He commissioned Him as a teacher to instruct us in the knowledge, and to reveal to us the will of God--to republish that law of nature which the fall had obscured--to dispel those apprehensions of futurity which our ignorance and guilt had engendered. He gave Him up as a sacrifice to make atonement for our guilt as well as to dispel our ignorance. He has established Him as a lawgiver to subdue our stubborn wills, and to bring them into His holy captivity; to make them obedient in word and deed; to fashion our lives after the rules He lays down; and to mould our hearts to the sway which it is given Him to exercise. He has revealed Him as an advocate, as our ever successful intercessor within the veil, pleading for the pardon of our sins, for the supply of our wants, for the strengthening of our faith. And, finally, He has exhibited Him as a model for us to admire, a character for us to resemble, a pattern which we are called upon industriously to copy, that upon the table of our hearts we may inscribe those graces and those affections and those virtues which animated and which distinguished His; and that, striving to walk even as He did walk, we may, by the zeal with which we seek to imitate Him, and the prayers we put forth that we may imitate Him with success, endeavour to be in all our conversation and in all our practice the images and the representatives of what He was during all the days of His earthly manifestation. And from this view of the mediation of Jesus Christ, slight and superficial though it be, it must be evident that the government which the Divine Being doth maintain by means of it, is a government which is adapted to all the varieties of its subjects. What are all the means of grace which we receive--what are they but just so many ways in which this government takes effect? What is the removal of our ignorance--what is the forgiveness of our sins--what is the subjection of our rebellious wills, and the improvement of our own characters in excellence and perfection--what are those spiritual changes when they are effected and brought about upon us, but each a separate field in which its influence has been displayed?
III. He reigneth through the means of grace and the ordinances of His appointment. It is true, indeed, that God might reveal all the essential truths of the gospel by a direct and immediate process to any man--that inward devotion might be excited and expressed without the agency of outward acts--that did it but seem good in His sight He could produce the change which is necessary to be produced upon our hearts and affections without the intervention of means. But though this might be the case, and sometimes is the case, we have no warrant for expecting that it ever will be the case. Such a mode o: procedure forms no part of His ordinary providence. We have no ground for anticipating that His saving impressions will descend upon us, except in the use and through the channels of the appointed means of grace. Now if we reflect on the object which those ordinances have directly in view, on the preparation which is necessary for their right observance, and upon that spiritual good which they actually do produce, in respect both of the instruction they communicate and the impression which they make in the case of all who sincerely observe them, we may have some conception of that reign or influence which, through these means, the Almighty doth exercise.
IV. He reigneth through the agency of affliction. (John Paul.)
I. The wide extent of Jehovah’s government.
1. With respect to holy and happy angels in heaven.
2. Over the powers of darkness--. restraining their malignity, bounding their furious rage, and turning all their stratagems into artillery against themselves.
3. Over the children of men on earth.
II. The essential properties of His providential administration towards mankind in general, and to His own renewed adopted children in particular. The word “providence” suggests two ideas intimately connected together, namely, preservation and government.
1. In His dispensations our God acts as an independent sovereign, carrying into certain accomplishment the purposes He has formed, and fulfilling them in His own way and at His own time.
2. Another property of the Divine administration is its perfect rectitude and purity: “The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.”
3. The dispensations of Providence in this world are all subservient to the enlargement of the glorious Redeemer’s kingdom in the world.
1. Doth the Lord God Omnipotent reign? and are you the subjects of His providential kingdom? Then be it your care to think, and speak, and act, as becomes His creatures; as the dependent pensioners on His bounty, and as the dutiful subjects of His administration.
2. While praising the Lord God omnipotent for all the comforts of life you hitherto have enjoyed, entrust also to Him all your future interests; for He justly claims the right of imparting mercies in His own time and manner.
3. Is there a kingdom of grace on earth, as well as a kingdom of providence? Then be it your highest concern to know if you are the real subjects of this spiritual kingdom. (A. Bonar.)
The marriage of the Lamb is come.--
The marriage of the Lamb
I. The antecedents of this marriage. What will happen before the public marriage is celebrated?
1. One great event will be the destruction of the harlot church. Everything which sets up itself in opposition to the sacrifice of Christ is to be hurled down, and made to sink like a millstone in the flood.
2. Furthermore, in the immediate connection, we note that before the marriage of the Lamb there was a peculiar voice. Read the fifth verse: “And a voice came.” Where from? “A voice came out of the throne.” The Mediator, God-and-man in one person, was on the throne as a Lamb, and He announced the day of His own marriage. Who should do it but He?
3. The voice from the throne is a very remarkable one; for it shows how near akin the exalted Christ is to His people. He saith to all the redeemed, “Praise our God, all ye His servants.” In that glory He still owns His dear relationship, and in the midst of the Church He singeth praise unto God (Hebrews 2:11-12).
4. Next notice the response to this voice; for this also precedes the marriage. No sooner did that one august voice summon them to praise, than immediately “I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude.” He heard the mingled sound as of an innumerable host all joining in the song; for the redeemed of the Lord are not a few.
5. Observe that this tremendous volume of sound will be full of rejoicing and of devout homage. “Let us be glad and rejoice,” etc.
II. The marriage itself.
1. The marriage of the Lamb is the result of the eternal gift of the Father. Our Lord says, “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me.”
2. Next: this is the completion of the betrothal which took place with each of them in time. I shall not attempt elaborate distinctions; but as far as you and I were concerned, the Lord Jesus betrothed each one of us to Himself in righteousness, when first we believed on Him. Then He took us to be His, and gave Himself to be ours, so that we could sing, “My beloved is mine, and I am His.” This was the essence of the marriage.
3. The marriage day indicates the perfecting of the body of the Church. The Church is not perfected as yet. We read of that part of it which is in heaven, that “they without us should not be made perfect.”
4. I cannot tell you all it means, but certainly this marriage signifies that all who have believed in Him shall then enter into a bliss which shall never end; a bliss which no fear approacheth, or doubt becloudeth.
III. The character under which the bridegroom appears is that of the lamb. “The marriage of the Lamb is come.”
1. It must be so, because our Saviour was the Lamb in the eternal covenant; when this whole matter was planned, arranged, and settled by the foresight and decree of eternity.
2. It was next as the Lamb that He loved us and proved His love. He did not give us words of love merely when He came from heaven to earth; but He proceeded to deeds of truest affection. The supreme proof of His love was that He was led as a lamb to the slaughter.
3. Love in marriage must be on both sides, and it is as the Lamb that we first came to love Him. I had no love to Christ, how could I have, till I saw His wounds and blood? This is the great heart-winning doctrine. Christ loves us as the Lamb, and we love Him as the Lamb.
4. Further, marriage is the most perfect union. Surely, it is as the Lamb that Jesus is most closely joined to His people. Our Lord came very close to us when He took our nature, for thus He became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh.
5. We never feel so one with Jesus as when we see Him as the Lamb.
IV. The preparedness of the bride: “His wife hath made herself ready.” Up till now the Church has always been spoken of as His bride, now she is “His wife”--that is a deeper, dearer, more-matured word than “bride”: “His wife hath made herself ready.” The Church has now come to the fulness of her joy, and has taken possession of her status and dower as “His wife.” What does it mean--“hath made herself ready”?
1. It signifies, first, that she willingly and of her own accord comes to her Lord, to be His, and to be with Him for ever. This she does with all her heart: “she hath made herself ready.” She does not enter into this engagement with reluctance.
2. Does it not mean that she has put away from herself all evil, and all connection with the corruptions of the harlot church has been destroyed? She has struggled against error, she has fought against infidelity, and both have been put down by her holy watchfulness and earnest testimony; and so she is ready for her Lord.
3. Does it not also mean that in the great day of the consummation the Church will be one? Alas, for the divisions among us!
4. Notice what the preparation was. It is described in the eighth verse: “To her was granted.” I will go no further. Whatever preparation it was that she made, in whatever apparel she was arrayed, it was granted to her. When we shall be united to Jesus, the ever blessed Lamb, in endless wedlock, all our fitness to be there will be ours by free grant. Look at the apparel of the wife, “To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white.” How simple her raiment! Only fine linen, clean and white! The more simple our worship, the better. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The bride of Christ
I. The church’s final blessedness is found in an indissoluble union with Christ.
II. For this the church is prepared by sanctity and fidelity.
III. The ultimate blessedness of the saints is the occasion of joy to all. “Blessed are they that are bidden to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (R. Green.)
The righteousness of saints.--
A very slight acquaintance with the lives of those who may most truly be called saints will satisfy us that they are not all cast in one mould. On the contrary, they are characterised by an almost infinite variety, diversity, and even contrariety of form. But beneath all this contrariety, diversity, and variety, there may be traced a fundamental unity, a substantial identity. Features and form are endlessly different; the spirit is one. I do not speak now of the mere surroundings and outward circumstances of a life. Riches and poverty, solitude and society, sickness and health, all may be said to come alike to it; inasmuch as it is independent of all, and can turn all to good account. We may represent human life, the life of each one of us, to ourselves, as a series of concentric circles, circle within circle, all having the same centre, and that centre being the “I,” the soul, the spirit, the will, the very substance of our human personality, call it by what name we will. What we describe as the “circumstances” of our lives will be represented by the outermost of these concentric circles. But we may pass inwards from one to another on our way to the centre of all, and still find endless variety and diversity, and yet the saintly life still. Thus we will take what is certainly much nearer to the centre than the circle already described, which was that of outward circumstance and surrounding. We will take the circle of ritual and worship, which, you will all agree, touches the soul much more nearly than the outward form or fashion of our lives does or can do. Let our thoughts range back over the history of this our own beloved place of worship. What changes and varieties of ritual has it not witnessed in the course of the many centuries that have elapsed between its first conversion from a pagan temple into a Christian Church, and the present moment! Each generation in turn has worshipped here after its own fashion, now with Roman splendour, and now with Puritan simplicity. Better the coldest, barest, ugliest ritual, with spiritual edification, than the costliest and most beautiful and most ornate, without. We pass yet again within--nearer and nearest to the innermost circle and centre of all. We take the circle of religious opinion, of doctrine and dogma; which is indeed the very vesture of the soul. For our intellectual beliefs, our modes of thought upon religious questions--what are they but the garment, as it were, and most immediate environment of the soul; an environment, which acts upon the soul, and upon which the soul reacts, at once moulding and moulded? The saintly life, therefore, cannot but be deeply affected by this intellectual environment; and, according to the nature of that environment, accordingly, to a great extent, will that life be conceived of and lived. Yet, even in this nearest circle of all, it is astonishing to note the amount of possible variety and diversity that is consistent with that fundamental unity and substantial identity of which we have still to speak. To stereotype thought is to kill it; to stereotype religious thought is to destroy its fructifying, generating, or regenerating power. The word of God, if it is to be spoken with power, must be spoken under the influences, and according to the intellectual, as well as the moral and spiritual, necessities of the day in which it is spoken. To borrow our modes of thought and speech from the repertory of a past generation however excellent, or from teachers however devout and learned in their day, is to be, at the best, but as a scribe half instructed unto the kingdom of God. For our Saviour said: “Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” We pass through all these circles, which, even to the last, are still external, to that innermost circle which is the centre of all. What is that inner fundamental unity, that substantial identity, of which we are in search, and which constitutes the veritable communion of saints; the true, everlasting bond of fellowship between God’s elect, past, present, and to come, here and hereafter? The answer is not far to seek: but an example will be better than any definition. “I see nothing else in the world that can yield any satisfaction besides living to God, pleasing Him, and doing His whole will”: such is the dying confession of Brainerd. “Wish always, and pray, that the will of God may be wholly fulfilled in thee”: so writes the devout a Kempis. And we might multiply such statements from the lips and pens of the saints of one generation after another, almost without number--whatever their intellectual creed, and what men call their “Denomination.” But why spend time on the testimony of those, who are, after all, but the satellites of the Sun of Righteousness? Listen to the language of Him, who is the King of Saints, the faithful and true Witness: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” Saints we already are--we all of us are--in name, by title and profession, according to the Scripture meaning of the word “saints,” that is, persons consecrated or dedicated to God. Saints we are by title; but woe to us, if we rest content with being mere titular saints! To the outward consecration must be added the inward sanctification, which converts the name into a reality; the righteousness of saints--the saintly life. We see now very clearly in what that life or righteousness consists; that it consists, above everything else, in devotion to the will of God, in the reconciliation of our wills to His holy and blessed Will, alike in action and in suffering, in joy and in sorrow. Here is the root of the matter. And this root has such marvellous virtue in it, that it will grove and flourish and bear fruit in any soil of circumstance, of ritual, of religious opinion. But if it is to do this it must be cultivated with all diligence, by watching, by striving, by praying--by incessant struggles against the snares and temptations and enticements of the world, the flesh, and the devil--by repeated efforts after self-mastery and self-renunciation--in a word, by earnest imitation of Christ in the power of the Spirit of Christ. (Canon D. J. Vaughan.)
Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.
The marriage supper of the Lamb
I. The lamb. We know at once who this is; but it is remarkable that, with one exception and that occurring in this evangelist’s own Gospel, this is the only part of the inspired writings in which our Lord is ever called by this name. Now this could not have happened by accident. There is a meaning in it, and it is not difficult perhaps to see what it is--the Lord Jesus would have us look up to Him in heaven as the same Jesus who died for us on the Cross.
II. The marriage supper of the Lamb. Here, you observe, is a complete change of metaphor. Our Lord puts off the character of a Lamb, and takes on Him that of a Bridegroom; or rather He takes this character on Him without putting off the other.
1. A long looked for and much desired hour. The Saviour Himself desires it. It is the hour that will bring Him the consummation of all His wishes, the full reward of all His labour and sufferings. And His Church desires it. Scarcely had He disappeared, when its language was, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
2. An hour of great love and affection. No earthly affection is equal to that of a redeemed sinner for his Saviour. There may not at times seem much warmth in it, but when it is real there is as much strength and depth in it perhaps as man’s nature, in its present state and circumstances, is capable of. But still it is an imperfect love, very much broken in upon by the love of other things, and damped by the cares of life, its business and troubles. It is an unseen object too that we love, and we find it difficult to realise anything we have never seen. And even in our best moments, we often feel as though we only half loved our Lord. We long for a better and higher nature, that we may love Him more. At this marriage supper we shall have what we long for. We shall see our Lord, and see Him in a form in which we shall know Him; and shall have souls within us, that will for the first time feel large enough to love Him, and these souls shall be filled to overflowing with admiration of and delight in Him. The love of this hour will be the perfection of love. This marriage feast will be the feast, the triumph of love--the exalted Saviour showing to the whole universe that He loves us to the utmost bound love can go, and we loving Him with a fervour, a gratitude, an adoration a delight, that are new even in heaven.
3. A scene of abounding joy. The affection that reigns in it would of itself make it so. “Let me only be with my Lord,” the Christian says, “and I ask no more. That, without anything else, will make me happy, and happy to the full.” The heavenly Bridegroom provides for His guests all that can gratify and delight them, and all too that can show His love for them and His munificence. The provisions made by Him for our enjoyment, will astonish us. So will it be with us in heaven. We shall find it a feast and a monarch’s feast.
III. Those invited or called to it.
1. They are those who have been invited before to this supper. And here we are all included.
2. They are those only who have before accepted the invitation to it.
3. These guests are yet further distinguished--they are ready and prepared for this supper. A worldly-minded, ungodly man in heaven, would be a miserable man in heaven. A prepared place for a prepared people, a holy place for a holy people--this is the heaven of the Bible.
IV. The happiness of these men. “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” It is not an invitation to every feast that will make a man happy. Not a snare or a danger can await them there. Not a single being will they see there who can do them harm or whom they would wish away. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The marriage supper of the Lamb
I. The description of the bridegroom.
1. As the Lamb He is the one everlasting sacrifice for sin: He will not be other than this in His glory.
2. As the Lamb, suffering for sin, He is specially glorious in the eyes of the angels and all other holy intelligences; and so in His joyous day He wears that character.
3. As the Lamb He most fully displayed His love to His Church; and so He appears in this form on the day of His love’s triumph.
4. As the Lamb He is best loved of our souls. Behold, how He loved us even to the death!
II. The meaning of the marriage supper.
1. The completion and perfection of the Church. “His bride hath made herself ready.”
2. The rising of the Church into the nearest and happiest communion with Christ in His glory. “The marriage of the Lamb is come.” The espousals lead up to this.
3. The fulfilment of the long expectations of both.
4. The open publication of the great fact of mutual love and union.
5. The overflowing of mutual delight and joy. “Be glad and rejoice.”
6. The grandest display of magnificent munificence in a banquet.
7. The commencement of an eternally unbroken rest. “He shall rest in His love.” The Church, like Ruth, shall find rest in the house of her Husband.
III. The persons who are called to it.
1. Those who are so called as to accept the invitation.
2. Those who now possess the faith which is the token of admission.
3. Those who love Bridegroom and bride.
4. Those who have on the wedding garment of sanctification.
5. Those who watch with lamps burning.
IV. The blessedness which is ascribed to them.
1. They have a prospect which blesses them even now.
2. They have great honour in being called to such a future.
3. They will be blessed indeed when at that feast, for--Those who are called will be admitted. Those who are admitted will be married. Those who are married to Jesus will be endlessly happy. How many a marriage leads to misery! but it is not so in this case. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“The marriage supper of the Lamb”
A distinction seems to be drawn between “the marriage,” and “the marriage supper” of the Lamb. “The marriage,” takes place now,--“The marriage supper” is to follow by and by. “The marriage” is that act of union between each soul and Christ, when that soul, drawn by God’s love and made willing by His grace, is linked to, and made one with, the mystical body of Christ. “The marriage supper” will be the public celebration, and the glorious consummation, of that union. Therefore there are differences. “The marriage” here, blessed and beautiful as it is, has its trouble and its separation. The soul has to leave, not without pain, what once was very dear to it. And some fear cannot help to mingle, even where love prevails. But at “the marriage supper” it will be all union, and no parting; and there will be no room for the shadow of a fear there. “The marriage” here is an individual act. One by one, each as God chooses, one here, and another there, a soul gives itself to Christ. “The marriage supper” will be the solemnity of the whole Church’s collective partnership, one and another, with Jesus. “The marriage” here, at least so it seems, sometimes, to the poor Christian’s heart, was capable of being dissolved again. But when “the marriage supper” comes, who will ever think of breaking the tie? In “the marriage” here, real and perfect though it be, there are intervals of distance; seasons, when there is no union between the soul and Him it loves. But in “the marriage supper,” the felt and visible presence of Christ will be for ever and for ever. In “the marriage” here there were many who, though truly and indissolubly joined to Christ, yet often seemed to others, and seemed to themselves, not to be His. But at “the marriage supper” there will be no misunderstandings. Christ will have proclaimed His own; and the whole universe will confess Him, and His saints. (James Vaughan, M. A.)
And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.--
The Scriptures divinely true
I. A right estimate of holy scripture.
1. These words which we find in the Old and New Testaments are true. Free from error, certain, enduring, infallible.
2. These are Divine words. Infallibly inspired, so as to be in very truth “the sayings of God.”
3. These words are thus true and Divine in opposition to words of man. These may or may not be true. Pretended words of God. False prophets and men with addled intellects profess to speak in the name of God; but they lie.
4. These words are all of them truly Divine. Neither too severe to be true, nor too terrible to be uttered by a God of love, as some dare to say. Nor too good to be true, as tremblers fear. Nor too old to be true, as novelty-hunters affirm. Nor too simple to be truly Divine, as the worldly-wise insinuate.
5. These words are a blessing to us for that reason. What else can guide us if we have no sure revelation from God? How can we understand the revelation if it is not all true?
II. The result of forming such an estimate. If you believe that “these are the true sayings of God”--
1. You will listen to them with attention, and judge what you hear from preachers by this infallible standard.
2. You will receive these words with assurance. This will produce confidence of understanding. This will produce rest of heart.
3. You will submit with reverence to these words, obey their precepts, believe their teachings, and value their prophecies.
4. You will expect fulfilment of Divine promises under difficulties.
5. You will cling to revealed truth with pertinacity.
6. You will proclaim it with boldness.
III. Our justification for forming such an estimate.
1. The Scriptures are what they profess to be--the word of God.
2. There is a singular majesty and power in them; and we see this when the truth of God is preached.
3. There is a marvellous omniscience in Scripture, which is perceived by us when it unveils our inmost souls.
4. They have proven themselves true to us. They warned us of the bitter fruit of sin, and we have tasted it. They told us of the evil of the heart, and we have seen it. They told us of the peace-giving power of the blood, and we have proved it by faith in Jesus. They told us of the purifying energy of Divine grace: we are already instances of it, and desire to be more so. They assured us of the efficacy of prayer, and it is true. They assured us of the upholding power of faith in God, and by faith we have been upheld in trial. They assured us of the faithfulness of God to His people as shown in providence, and we have experienced it. All things have worked together for our good hitherto.
5. The witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts confirms our faith in Holy Scripture. We believe, and are saved from sin by believing. Those words must be truly Divine which have wrought in us such gracious results. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Supreme Being the only proper object of religious worship
I. The scripture represents God as the only proper object of religious worship.
II. The absolute supremacy of God in all His great and essential attributes.
1. God is supreme in respect to His existence.
2. God infinitely surpasses all other beings in the immensity of His presence.
3. God far transcends all other beings in His knowledge.
4. God is absolutely supreme in wisdom.
5. God is supreme in power.
6. God is supremely excellent in His holiness, goodness, or benevolence.
III. It is absurd to pay religious worship to any being who is not possessed of the essential attributes of divinity. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
The great prophetic burden
I. The theme or burden of the bible is Jesus. Not philosophy, nor science, nor theology, nor metaphysics, nor morality, but Jesus.
II. The theme of bible-annals is Jesus. Not mere history, but history as containing Jesus. Not the mere rise and fall of nations and kingdoms, but these as connected with the promised seed of the woman.
III. The theme of the Psalms is Jesus. It is not mere poetry, Hebrew poetry, that we find in them, but Jesus. It is poetry embodying Jesus; it is praise, of which every note is Immanuel.
IV. The theme of prophecy is Jesus. It is not certain future events, dark or bright, presented to the view of the curious and speculative; it is Jesus; earthly events and hopes and fears only as linked with Him. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The one witness and the one testimony
(with Revelation 22:20):--
I. The oneness of the testifier. He is the one God. The sender of the testimony is the one Jehovah; the subject of the testimony is the one Jesus; the inspirer is the one Spirit. Through many lips He has spoken, by many pens He has written; but it is the mind, the will, the purpose, the revelation of the one God that is here.
II. The oneness of the messenger. It is intimated here that it was one angel alone that was employed to communicate the testimony. He was sent to patriarchs and prophets of old, to apostles and brethren in later times. The instrument or medium of communication was a created being, an angel; but it was the same throughout.
III. The oneness of the testimony. It is not many testimonies, but one; it is the word (not words) of God. It was given at sundry times and divers manners; in fragments and portions, great and small; yet there is unity throughout, not discord or contradiction--marvellous unity, which can only be accounted for on the fact that there was in reality but one writer, He to whom one day is as a thousand years, and that therefore the truths enunciated are the offspring of one mind, the thoughts of one heart. This testimony bore all upon one point, one person, one work, one kingdom. It was the “testimony of Jesus,” that is, it testified of Him from first to last; for Christ is the all and in all of prophecy, the all and in all of the Bible. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
A white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True.
The rider on the white horse and the armies with Him
I. John saw our Captain, the King of kings.
1. Let us notice His glorious state. Our Lord is here described as sitting upon a gallant steed, charging His foes upon a snow-white horse.
(1) This means that Christ is honoured now. In royal state our Jesus goeth forth to war, not as a common soldier, but as a glorious prince, royally mounted.
(2) By a horse is denoted not only honour, but power. To the Jews the employment of the horse in warfare was unusual, so that when it was used by their adversaries they imputed to it great force. Jesus Christ has a mighty power to-day, a power which none can measure.
(3) Here is symbolised swiftness, too. His word runneth very swiftly. The colour of the horse is also meant to denote victory. He comes to fight, but the fight is for peace; He comes as a conqueror, but it is as a delivering conqueror who scattereth flowers and roses where he rides, breaking only the oppressor, but blessing the citizens whom he emancipates.
2. John looked into the open vault of heaven, and he had time not only to see the horse, but to mark the character of Him that sat upon it. He says that He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True. By this you may know your Lord.
3. John still looked, and as he gazed with open eye he marked the mode of action and of warfare which the champion employed, for he says, “In righteousness He doth judge and make war.” Jesus is the only king who always wars in this fashion.
4. One other thing John saw, and that was His name. But here he seems to contradict himself. He says that He had a name which no man knoweth, yet he says that His name war the Word of God. Oh, but it is all true, for in such a one as our Master there must be paradoxes. No man knoweth His name. None of you know all His nature. His love passes your knowledge; His goodness, His majesty, His humiliation, His glory, all these transcend your ken. You cannot know Him. Oh, the depths!
II. His followers.
1. Christ has a great following--not one army, but “armies,” whole hosts of them, numbers that cannot be counted.
2. These that follow Him, you notice, are all mounted. They followed Him on white horses. They are mounted on the same sort of horses as Himself, for they fare as He fares: when He walks, they must walk; when He bears a cross, they must carry crosses too; but if ever He gets a crown, He cries, “They shall be crowned too.”
3. The armies of Christ followed Him on white horses. Look steadily at these white horses, and observe the armour of their riders. Cromwell’s men wore at their side long iron scabbards in which they carried swords, which oftentimes they wiped across the manes of their horses when they were red with blood. But if you look at these troops there is not a sword amongst them. They are not armed with lance or pike, and yet they are riding forth to war. Do you want to know the armour of that war? I will tell you. They are clothed in white linen, white and clean. Strange battle array this! And yet this is how they conquer, and how you must conquer too. This is both armour and weapon. Holiness is our sword and our shield.
4. Yet I have said they were all on horses, which shows you that the saints of God have a strength that they sometimes forget. You know not that you ride on a horse, O child of God; but there is a supreme invisible power which helps you in contending for Christ and for His truth. You are mightier than you know of, and you are riding more swiftly to the battle and more rapidly over the heads of your foes than ever you dream.
III. The warfare. What is this warfare? There cannot be war without a sword, yet if you look all along the ranks o” the white-robed armies there is not a sword amongst them all. Who carries the sword? There is one who bears it for them all. It is He, the King, who comes to marshal us. He bears a sword. But where? It is in His mouth! Yet this is the only sword my Lord and Muster wields. Mahomet subdued men with the scimitar, but Christ subdues men with the gospel. We have but to tell out the glad tidings of the love of God, for this is the sword of Christ with which He smites the nations. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
On His head were many crowns.
The Saviour’s many crowns
I. First, let every believing heart rejoice while it sees the many crowns of dominion upon His head. First and foremost there sparkles about His brow the everlasting diadem of the King of Heaven. His empire is higher than the highest heaven, and deeper than the lowest hell. This earth also is a province of His wide domains. Though small the empire compared with others, yet from this world hath He perhaps derived more glory than from any other part of His dominions. He reigns on earth. On His head is the crown of creation. “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” His voice said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It was His strength that piled the mountains, and His wisdom balances the clouds. Together with this crown of creation there is yet another, the crown of providence, for He sustaineth all things by the word of His power. Let Him once withdraw His hands, and the pillars of earth must tremble; the stars must fall like fig leaves from the tree, and all things must be quenched in the blackness of annihilation. On His head is the crown of providence. And next to this there glitters also the thrice-glorious crown of grace. He is the King of grace; He gives, or He withholds. The river of God’s mercy flows from underneath His throne; He sits as Sovereign in the dispensation of mercy. He reigneth in His Church amidst willing spirits; and He reigns for His Church over all the nations of the world, that he may gather unto Himself a people that no man can number who shall bow before the sceptre of His love. Methinks I hear one say, “If this be so, if Christ hath these many crowns of dominion, how vain it is for me to rebel against Him.” Believer, look to Christ’s thrice-crowned head and be comforted. Is providence against thee? Correct thy speech; thou hast erred; God hath not become thine enemy. Providence is not against thee, for Jesus is its King; He weighs its trials and counts its storms. Thy enemies may strive, but they shall not prevail against thee; He shall smite them upon the cheek-bone. Art thou passing through the fire? The fire is Christ’s dominion. Art thou going through the floods? They shall not drown thee, for even the floods obey the voice of the Omnipotent Messiah. Wherever thou art called thou canst not go where Jesu’s love reigns not. Commit thyself into His hands.
II. Christ hath many crowns of victory. The first diadems which I have mentioned are His by right. He is God’s only begotten and well-beloved Son, and hence He inherits unlimited dominions. But viewed as the Son of Man, conquest has made Him great, and His own right hand and His holy arm have won for Him the triumph. In the first place, Christ has a crown which I pray that every one of you may wear. He has a crown of victory over the world. For thus saith He Himself, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” I would that we could imitate Christ in our battle with the world. But alas, the world oftentimes gets the upper hand of us. Sometimes we yield to its smiles, and often do we tremble before its frowns. Have hope and courage, believer; be like your Master, be the world’s foe and overcome it, yield not, suffer it never to entrap your watchful feet. Stand upright amid all its pressure, and be not moved by all its enchantments. Christ did this, and therefore around His head is that right royal crown of victory, trophy of triumph over the entire forces of the world. Furthermore, the next crown He wears is the crown by which He has overcome sin. He has cast down every shape and form of evil, and now for ever stands He more than a conqueror through His glorious sufferings. Oh, how bright that crown which He deserves who hath for ever put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And then again, Christ wears about His head the crown of death. He died, and in that dreadful hour He overcame death, rifled the sepulchre, hewed death in pieces, and destroyed the arch-destroyer. Glorious is that victory! Angels repeat the triumphant strain, His redeemed take up the song; and you, ye blood-bought sons of Adam, praise Him too, for He hath overcome all the evil of hell itself. And yet, once again, another crown hath Christ, and that is the crown of victory over man. Would to God that He wore a crown for each of you. Say, has His love been too much for you? Have you been compelled to give up your sins, wooed by His love Divine? Have your eyes been made to run with tears at the thought of His affection for you and of your own ingratitude? If this be the case with you, then you may yourself recognise one of the many crowns that are on His head.
III. The crowns of thanksgiving. Surely concerning these we may well say, “On His head are many crowns.” In the first place, all the mighty doers in Christ’s Church ascribe their crown to Him. Not a martyr wears his crown; they all take their blood-red crowns, and then they place them on His brow--the fire crown, the rack crown, there I see them all glitter. For it was His love that helped them to endure; it was by His blood that they overcame. And then think of another list of crowns. They who turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever. What crowns shall theirs be when they come before God, when the souls they have saved shall enter paradise with them. What shouts of acclamation, what honours, what rewards shall then be given to the winners of souls! What will they do with their crowns? Why, they will take them from their heads and lay them there where sits the Lamb in the midst of the throne. But see, another host approaches. I see a company of cherubic spirits flying upwards to Christ, and who are these? The reply is, “We lived on earth for sixty, or seventy, or eighty years, until we tottered into our graves from very weakness; when we died there was no marrow in our bones, our hair had grown grey, and we were crisp and dry with age.” “How came ye here?” They reply, “After many years of strife with the world, of trials and of troubles, we entered heaven at last. And ye have crowns, I see.” “Yes,” they say, “but we intend not to wear them.” “Whither are ye going, then?” “We are going to yonder throne, for our crowns have been surely given us by grace, for nothing but grace could have helped us to weather the storm so many, many years.” I see the grave and reverend sires pass one by one before the throne, and there they lay their crowns at His blessed feet, and then, shouting with the infant throng, they cry, “Salvation unto Him,” etc. And then I see following behind them another class. And who are ye? Their answer is, “We are the chief of sinners saved by grace.” And here they come--Saul of Tarsus, and Manasseh, and Rahab, and many of the same class. And how came ye here? They reply, “We have had much forgiven, we were grievous sinners, but the love of Christ reclaimed us, the blood of Christ washed us; and whiter than snow are we, though once we were black as hell.” And whither are ye going? They reply, “We are going to cast our crowns at His feet, and ‘Crown Him Lord of all.’” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. On His head is the crown of conquest of sin. This is the victory.
II. On His head is the crown of the conquest of sorrow. That reigned supreme.
III. On His head is the crown of the conquest of suffering.
IV. On His head is the crown of the conquest of Satan. No light conquest!
V. On His head is the crown of the conquest of death. (W. M. Statham, M. A.)
The royalty of the glorified Redeemer
I. The glory of the great Redeemer.
1. His essential majesty.
2. The grandeur and the equal diversity of His peculiar functions. There is no work so glorious, no prerogative so high, that it is not specifically ascribed to Him in the pages of inspiration.
3. The greatness of those obstacles He is represented to have overcome in the fulfilment of His exalted undertakings.
4. The completeness of His victories in themselves.
5. His resulting satisfaction and the fulness of His joy.
6. The same almighty power which displayed itself so illustriously in His personal conquests was, even in the earliest age, exhibited in the progress of His cause, and the preservation of His followers, in spite of the most aggravated injuries and most threatening dangers.
7. We must now turn, somewhat mere directly, to the spiritual consequences of redemption, whence the real value of that recompense the Saviour has attained for all His privations, humiliation, and sorrow. They are of every kind. His victories are those of pity and of wrath, of indignation and of tenderness, of insulted majesty avenging its own wrongs, and of mercy rejoicing against justice. They spread over every department of the Divine administration, extend to every diversity of power which menaces, or of impurity which would pollute, or of sorrow which would darken and afflict, diffusing their happy consequences through an unlimited territory and a never-ending duration.
II. Those obvious practical reflections the subject so forcibly suggests.
1. Let its contemplation teach us the sentiments we should habitually cherish respecting the power and glory of the Saviour.
2. Let us cultivate those associations which belong to His supremacy, for we cannot too highly exalt Him. Let us see, in all that is fair and good amidst the scenes that encompass us, the skill of His workmanship--the beauty of His image. Let the convulsions of empire and the vicissitudes of time instruct us to confide in that eternal presidency over the affairs of men, by which the ends of His redemption shall be finally secured. (R. S. McAll, LL. D.)
The supreme kingship of Christ
The supreme kingship of Jesus Christ as Mediator is manifestly the theme of our text. The ruling principle in the mediatorial empire is benevolence. The final purpose o! the mediatorial empire is the highest possible good of man. This Jesus is able to accomplish by reason of His infinite attributes of wisdom and of power.
I. Let us look, then, at the material universe. There are many kings in matter. The sun is the king of day; the moon is the queen of night. The planet, with its attendant satellites, exercises a kingly rule over them. Gravitation, subtle and invisible, yet permeating all things, and influencing all things in sea, air, and land, exercises a kind of kingly rule over everything within the range of its influence. Just as the British Empire has its colonies and dependencies in Africa, Australia, and America; each possessing its own governor and its own mode of government; each independent in its place, yet dependent upon the parent power; each supreme in its own locality, subject nevertheless to the higher supremacy of the Queen: so is it in this material creation. It is divided into miniature kingdoms, petty empires, and in each kingdom there is a king. Look at the bee-hive. There is congregated under that straw cone an empire. All the elements of a kingdom are found there. A queen rules within. Authority and subjection, rule and submission may be found under that covering. The same thing is true of the ant-hill. The naturalist assures us that order and harmony prevail in what appears to us confused chaos. There a kingly rule is recognised, submission to supreme authority is observed, and in these you have the elements of an empire. Lifting your eyes from the earth around you to the heaven above you, we are told that those heavens are divided into districts and groups of worlds, that in each group there is one system exercising a kingly rule over the rest. Far above all these petty kingdoms and minute empires is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He moulded every atom. He brightened every star. He fashioned every system. He appointed to each its boundary. He created all forces and originated all laws. From Him all things proceed. To Him all things tend. For Him all things exist. And around Him all things revolve. He is King of kings and Lord of lords in the material world. The disciples of a sceptical science have endeavoured to extort from nature evidence against her King. The geologist has dived into the depths of the earth, hoping to discover some strange hieroglyphics on the rocks of nature which would bear testimony against the King of nature. The astronomer has soared into heaven, and tried to get the very stars in their courses to fight against Him who made them. In fact, nature has been twisted and torn and disembowelled in order to obtain evidence against her Lord. Faithful to her mission, she moves on for the accomplishment of the great purposes for which her King has made her; so that, whether by her regular movement, or the occasional suspension of her laws, as in the case of miracles, she asserts the kingship of her Lord, and proves her obedience to her Master. This world materially considered is eminently fitted for Christ as Mediator. We can only conceive of three kinds of worlds. One in which there shall be nothing but purity, and consequently nothing but happiness; such is heaven. The second, a world in which there shall be nothing but sin, and consequently nothing but misery; such is hell. The third, a world in which there shall be an admixture of the two, good and evil, right and wrong; such is the world we occupy. This world, take it geologically, is not fitted for anything else than a mediatorial world. It is not fitted, as to its material construction, to be a heaven, a world of unsullied purity, and, consequently, a world of unmixed happiness. Lightnings and storms ruthlessly pursue their destructive and desolating course; the volcano belches forth its destructive lava, which carries desolation to cities and villages and fruitful plains. These things could not exist in a world of unsullied happiness and purity. We find the elements of ruin and destruction in the very material of which the world is constructed, and it is not fitted on that account to be a heaven. It is not fitted, on the other hand, to be a world of retribution and of unmixed evil. The sun shines here. The valleys smile with luxuriance here. Thrilling sensations of pleasure are experienced here. Scenes of loveliness spread themselves before the vision here. There is no sunshine in hell; no beauteous scenes are there; no sweet harmony there: but they do exist here. Why have we this admixture of destructive and benevolent forces stored up in the secret places of nature? These elements are necessary in order that the earth may be a fitting theatre for Jesus Christ to carry out His mediatorial purposes. He must have elements to appeal to man’s fears, and He finds them in the destructive forces of nature. He must have elements to appeal to man’s hopes, and He finds them in the benevolent forces of nature. The component parts of earth were adjusted, put together, with a view to redeeming purposes. All the elements of nature, all its laws, and all its forces have been made for Christ as Mediator, and are placed under His immediate control. He is King of kings and Lord of lords in the material world.
II. In the mental world Jesus Christ is King of kings. Earth has her crowned kings, monarchs surrounded with symbols of royalty; the crown, the sceptre, and the throne. The extent of their dominions varies, as does also the amount of power they wield. Some are despotic, arbitrary, and absolute; others are mild and paternal in their rule. Some are the mere tools of parties, and retain nothing akin to kingship but the symbol. While some of them happily and trustfully acknowledge the supremacy of Christ, there are others who recognise no authority higher than their own, and no power superior to their own. Nations are organised and held together, scattered or established on the one principle of subserviency to the empire of Christ. The ruling powers of earth exist for Him. Willingly or unwillingly they are His servants. Consciously or unconsciously they are carrying out His purposes. When they cease to be His instruments He often removes them, and brings others in their place. “By Me princes rule,” “By Me kings reign and princes decree justice.” Sceptics sneeringly say, “Your Christianity has been in the world for eighteen hundred years, and this surely is time enough for it to subdue the world. The fact that it has failed to meet with universal acceptance throughout all the ages is proof enough that it is not the Divine religion you profess it to be.” Our reply is, God feels no hurry. When man strongly desires to accomplish an object he often exercises haste. He is liable to so many contingencies. Unforeseen circumstances may arise to check his progress and to defeat his purpose. But God exercises no haste, nor doubts the issue. Eternity is before Him; endless ages are waiting for Him. But there are also uncrowned kings--men who never wore a crown, perhaps never saw one; but who, nevertheless, are the true kings of society, who possess minds of kingly proportions and imperial mould, who influence and move and control minds inferior to their own. There have been the founders of false religions, the originators of errors, like Buddha, Mahomet, Sabellius, Arius; and nearer our own times men like Tom Paine, Voltaire, Gibbon, Hume; and men of our own day like Strauss and Renan. These men possess kingly intellects, and wield a kingly power over many other intellects. They have set themselves up against the kingly rule of Christ. They have inspired millions with their errors. The battle they have waged with the King of Truth is fierce and desperate. It has been going on for ages. But this we know, Jesus is unchanging and immortal. His enemies in succession die and pass away, but He never dies. Let the kings of the earth, crowned and uncrowned, social rulers and mental rulers, set themselves against God’s anointed; let them join in an unhallowed conspiracy, and associate with them the whole mass of infernal powers, and rise up in rebellion against the kingly rule of Christ, all that they can do is but the menace of a puny worm against One whose frown is perdition. “The Lamb shall overcome them.” A reverent universe will then bow at the feet of His victorious Majesty, and creation shall become vocal with the song, “The kingdoms of this world” have “become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever.”
III. Jesus Christ is supreme in the moral world. Men are everywhere actuated by principles, passions, purposes, motives existing within them. These inward forces are in possession of the mastery; they exercise kingship. In the language of the Scriptures, they reign, they have dominion. “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.” The lust of power, the lust of money, the lust of pleasure, the lust of pride, the lust of envy, are the imperial powers which control men, bringing them into vile and degrading bondage, and hurrying them into wrong doing. Evil, when thus dominant, exercises a crushing sway over its victim. Some of you have been conscious of this. Some base passion has mastered you. And after a short conflict you had to beat a retreat and own yourself again mastered. But why? Because you faced the foe in your strength. Sin has but one master, one king, the Lord Jesus Christ. He destroys the works of the devil, and it is through Him strengthening you that you can be made victorious. However mighty evil may be when enthroned in the human heart, Jesus is mightier far. He is stronger than the strong man armed. Christ while yet on earth confronted and mastered moral evil under a variety of forms and circumstances. Look at Him against the grave of Lazarus. He saw in that grave evidence of the triumph of moral evil--a proof that sin had obtained kingship over human life, and reversed the destiny of man from life to death. His tears were shed over sin and its sad results as witnessed in that sepulchre. His contest was not with death but with moral evil. But there are moral laws as well as moral forces in the world. We will just mention one or two as an illustration. One law is this: that hardness is the inevitable result of resistance. Just as the anvil becomes hardened by every stroke of the hammer, the heart of man is hardened by every resistance it offers to the Divine Word and Divine Spirit. This is not an arrangement. It is a law in God’s moral empire, and this law explains to me what otherwise seems to be paradoxical in the history of Pharaoh. The penalty of hardness was inflicted by God, that is, by an inevitable law which He appointed; and in this sense it may be said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. But, on the other hand, Pharaoh did the wrong, the penalty of which is hardness. God neither compelled nor disposed him to resist. God is responsible for the law which inflicts hardness as the penalty of resistance; but Pharaoh alone is responsible for setting that law at defiance, and thereby incurring the penalty of hardness. Another great law in the mediatorial government of Jesus is that sin is its own punishment. Where there is wrong-doing there must be suffering. That is God’s law. And so we understand the declaration, “Tophet is ordained of old; the breath of the Lord doth kindle it.” God affixed suffering as the penalty of wrong-doing. But the wrong-doer alone is responsible for bringing himself under the dominion of that law. God has made it a law that fire should burn. If I foolishly thrust my hand into the flame I become a sufferer under the dominion of that law. God is responsible for the law: but who is responsible for my suffering? Certainly not God, but myself alone. Why does not retribution fall at once on transgressors? It is because the Mediator reigns. He is above law, superior to law. He restrains the action of the law of retribution. He holds back the penalty. But what right has Jesus Christ to interfere with the law and to delay retribution? This right is not based on His absolute sovereignty, but on His atonement. The kingly title of the Lord Jesus is written on His vesture. What kind of a vesture is it? It is not a kingly robe, but a priestly one. He is clothed with a vesture dipped in blood. His kingship is based on sacrifice. But this restraint will only be exercised for a time. Probation being over, the impenitent will be given up to the law of retribution.
IV. In the spiritual universe Jesus Christ is supreme. There is not a portion of the universe where His sway is not felt and confessed. There is not a locality abandoned. That dominion extends to the place of banishment, the abode of the lost. Kings many dwell in hell. Princely titles are given to them. They are designated “principalities” and “powers,” “spiritual wickedness.” They are masters in evil, but they are in chains. Jesus, while yet on earth, confronted some of these spiritual rulers, and proved His kingship over them by mastering them. His dominion extends also to heaven, the abode of the holy. Good spirits are subject to His kingship. “The armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (verse 14). These constitute His retinue, accompanying Him in His march of conquest, sharing His toils, sympathising with His purposes, and aiding His triumphs. With outspread wings they are ever waiting His behests; ever ready to execute His purpose, whether of judgment or of mercy. His will is their rule, His word their law. What a pledge have we of the final triumph of truth! If Jesus is the King of all beings, all forces, all laws; if all power is given Him in heaven, earth, and hell; if He regulates and overrules all events, we need have no doubt of the issue. From the beginning He keeps one end steadily in view, the subjugation of moral evil, the destruction of the works of the devil. We have spoken to you of the kingship based on atonement, but we would remind you of the kingship based on power. The title is written not only on the priestly vesture, but also on His thigh. But why upon the thigh? The thigh is a symbol of power. It is the strongest place in a man. It is the place where the muscles congregate. The angel of the covenant touched Jacob on the thigh, and sent him limping all the way through life, to humble him, and to remind him how weak he was even in his strongest place when God touched him. Hence the kingship of Jesus is written on His thigh. Men who will not yield willing submission to His authority and the claims of His love shall be made to yield unwilling submission to His retributive justice. If the milder aspects of His kingly character fail to subdue them, He must turn upon them the sterner aspects of that character. If the kingship of the vesture fail to subdue you He must turn upon you the kingship of the thigh. If the revelation of His mercy and love fail to allure you, He must by a revelation of power break what refused to bend. We all must be the subjects of either the kingship of the vesture or the kingship of the thigh. (Richard Roberts.)
The crowned Christ
1. Christ’s perfect physical health and bodily beauty is a crown that attracts us. We read of His fatigue, hunger, and lack of sleep; but nowhere of inability to sleep, or of disgust of food, or of any physical infirmities.
2. There is the crown of intellectual wisdom. Not that, indeed, of scholastic and rabbinic lore; but there was marvellous maturity of mind, a balance of faculties, a felicity, aptness, and proportion about His mental development.
3. The crown of moral perfection rests on the head of Christ.
4. Divine love. When on earth there was in Christ this element which drew men to Him.
5. The crown of suffering.
6. Power to save. This is operative here and now as well as in the future life. (A. J. Lyman, D. D.)
Many crowns--Christ as King
I. To understand this passage we must compare it with a very similar passage in chap. 6., where is described the beginning of a conflict which is here drawing to a victorious end. There the Rider on the white horse, going forth conquering and to conquer, is followed by riders on red and black and pale horses--powers which were to destroy, hunt, kill. Here these riders have vanished. Now, “the armies that were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.” There “a crown” was given to Him. Here He has “many crowns,” or rather diadems, upon His head. The same crown is still worn, but now it is glorified by many circlets, which have been added to it one by one. Each has been a diadem or crown of victory; each represents a new conquest over the powers of evil
III. Notice that the crown itself is the King’s by gift (chap. 6:2). This crown was given to Jesus at His Incarnation, when He came forth out of the heavenly places, conquering and to conquer. He had, indeed, before that day a crown which was His own by right and by inheritance. But that crown He laid aside. With infinite condescension He emptied Himself of all that glory (Philippians 2:6-8). Then He accepted this crown as a gift. Being already King of the angels, King of the universe, He now stooped to become King of humanity. But this world, to which He thus came to be its King, was a scene of rebellion. He had to win His sovereignty, to vindicate and prove His title. Opposition had to be crushed, mighty foes to be vanquished. Each of His achievements wins for Him another circlet in that golden crown. The glory at the end will be infinite, even as His humiliation was infinite.
III. There is an old reading which makes the text run thus: “On His head were many crowns having names written,” as though each circlet contained its own description. Well do we know the single words which would glitter on some of the brightest of the diadems--Suffered; crucified; dead; buried; descended into hell! Each of them sounds indeed, like a defeat, and yet each is, we know, a stupendous victory. Then will follow those two in which His triumph is openly displayed--He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, etc.
IV. The tale is not yet completed. More circlets have yet to be added. The things which Jesus began to do and to teach up to the day when He was taken up, He left His Church to go on doing and teaching till the end of time. Not until all the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ will the crown of Jesus be complete, and the many diadems have reached their full number. Lessons:
1. The duty of loyalty to our King.
2. Personal devotion to our King.
3. Each should do something for the spread of His kingdom.
(1) We ought to do it, because He is our King and the nations belong to Him of right.
(2) We shall be anxious to do it, in proportion as we realise the beauty of His character. (R. H. Parr, M. A.)
Christ’s kingly authority
I. Christ, in His mediatorial character, has a crown of supreme dignity.
II. Christ, as Mediator, has a crown of victory.
III. Jesus, as Mediator, has a crown of sovereign power. Unto Him is given all power in heaven and upon earth: as far as the bounds of creation reach, so far does His dominion reach.
IV. Christ, as Mediator, has a crown of sovereign right. He has not only the power to compel, but the right to demand the obedience of every creature; and it is the great distinction between those who are and those who are not His people, that while all the creatures of God, whether willingly or unwillingly, must execute Christ’s pleasure, those who are indeed His submit joyfully and heartily to His rule, and keep themselves ready to do or suffer whatever He requires of them, simply because He requires it.
V. Jesus, as Mediator, has a crown of judicial authority: “The Father Himself judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son,” etc. (Wm. Ramsay.)
The many crowns
I. It is most probable that special attention is hereby meant to be drawn: first, to that multiplicity of characters in which our Lord is set forth. Those words which we so glibly utter--Mediator, Advocate, Saviour, Redeemer, Intercessor--are not different words to represent the same thing. Every one has its own true and proper signification; every one gathers up into itself, and expresses a distinct and independent part of tits work for man. But, further than this, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only Being who possesses more than one Nature. These varied offices spring out of this further truth. They are the branches which grow out of the doctrine that He is at once the Root and Offspring of David, being both God and Man.
II. But there is a further interpretation to be given of the mystic crowns. It is a remarkable prophecy of Isaiah when addressing the spiritual Zion, that is, the Christian Church, “Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord,” making the diadem of Christ to be the company of His elect. So also St. Paul writes (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). The idea in all these passages is the same, that the disciples are the crown of the teacher. And, transferring this to our Blessed Lord, we get another, and perhaps the most blessed signification of the text, even this--that the crowning of the Redeemer, and His highest glory within the Heaven of Heavens, are the Churches which have been gathered unto Him, and the souls which have been saved through Him. Let us pause upon this thought in connection with the Mission work of the Church. Why should we take an interest in it? Why, with confessedly great calls upon us at home, must we contribute money and send men to labour beyond the sea? Now observe, first, that if there were no visible results to encourage us, we should still be bound to “preach the gospel to every creature.” The Church forgets one main purpose of its existence if it forgets this. But observe, secondly, that God does seem to have vouchsafed us a measure of success, at least, in proportion to our exertions and the short time during which the work has been carried on. And whilst there is a great dearth of men abroad, is there not also a great dearth of prayer at home? (Bp. Woodford.)
The crowns of Christ
[See Matthew 27:29.] Contrasts often powerfully reveal truth. But never did the universe present a contrast so striking as that suggested by our texts. Yonder in Jerusalem is a despised Nazarene, forsaken by His friends, hated, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns! Yonder in heaven is the same Being, gloriously apparelled, crowns of victory on His head, worshipped by myriads of radiant spirits as “King of kings,” etc.
I. The crown of thorns symbolised Christ’s submission to sin; the crowns of glory His triumph over sin. The world has often looked upon this most unnatural sight, this reversal of the true, Divinely-appointed order of things--the evil triumphing over the good. The Son of Heaven’s King is crowned with thorns and crucified; who will keep His laws or care for His sceptre now? The sharp thorns which pierced Him have healed many a wounded heart. His death has been a spring of life to the world. His shame has won immortal glory for countless redeemed souls.
II. The crown of thorns shadowed forth Christ’s love to men; the crowns of glory men’s love to Him.
III. The crown of thorns showed that Christ’s kingdom is limited in its instruments; the crowns of glory that it is universal in its extent. The excited multitude would have made Jesus a King, and placed earthly weapons, soldiers, etc., at His disposal; but He thrust all these aside. He wore a “crown of thorns” to show that He was a King ruling not by force, but by influence, not by material instruments, civil power, etc., but by spiritual weapons, love, truth, etc. Universal dominion has been the dream of proud conquerors, Alexander, Napoleon; but they have traced their empires on shifting sands, to be obliterated by the next storm blast. But man’s dream is God’s sober truth.
IV. The crown of thorns unfolded the transitoriness of Christ’s sufferings--the crowns of glory the eternity of His joy. Thorns! Perishable in their very nature. The “many crowns” point to the everlasting joys which thrill the Redeemer’s heart. His happiness is as permanent as His sovereignty. (T. W. Mays, M. A.)
The Redeemer’s crowns
To our Lord Jesus Christ belongs the crown of--
1. Royal descent.
5. Every excellence.
6. Eternal glory. (Preacher’s Portfolio.)
Christ and His crowns
I. The regal crown.
1. The crown of universal proprietorship belongs to Christ.
2. The crown of universal dominion belongs to Christ.
II. The victor’s crown. The Redeemer proved Himself a conqueror in three respects: by His life, by His death, and by His resurrection.
1. He won the crown of unspotted obedience.
2. He won the crown of immortality.
3. He won the crown of championship over the grave.
III. The bridegroom’s crown. The Church is to be presented “as a chaste virgin” to Christ. Then “He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” Then shall another crown be added--the crown of universal adoration and gratitude. (The Study.)
The dignities of Christ
I. These dignities are of priceless value. What on earth does man regard as more valuable than a “crown”? But what are all the crowns of the world to the diadems that encircle the being of Christ?
II. These dignities are manifold. There is the dignity of an all-knowing intellect; of an immaculate conscience; of an absolutely unselfish love; of a will free from all the warping influences of sin, error, and prejudice.
III. These dignities are self-produced. All His dignities are but the brilliant evolutions of His own great soul.
IV. These dignities are imperishable. How soon the “crowns” worn by men grow dim and rot into dust! But Christ’s diadems are incorruptible; they will sparkle on for ever, and fill all the heavens of immensity with their brilliant lustre. (Homilist.)
The Saviour crowned
I. Whence it is that these honours accumulate upon Him.
1. From the essential dignity of His nature.
2. From the offices He sustains in the economy of salvation.
3. From the exploits He has won and the conquests He has achieved.
II. By what means we may contribute to multiply the honours of the Saviour’s name.
1. By our personal submission to His spiritual empire. We must all take side.
2. By consecrating an individual interest to His cause.
3. By taking part in the great institutions of the times in which we live. (M. Braithwaite.)
He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood.--
The war in heaven
Who, then, is the being whom St. John sees in the spiritual world appearing eternally as a warrior, with his garments stained with blood, the leader of armies smiting the nations, ruling them with a rod of iron? St. John tells us that He has one name which none knew save Himself. But He tells us that He has another name which St. John did know; and that it is “the Word of God”; and He tells us, moreover, that He is called Faithful and True. And who He is all Christian men are bound to know. He it is who makes perpetual war, as King of kings and Lord of lords. He Himself is full of chivalry, full of fidelity; and, therefore, all which is base and treacherous is hateful in His eyes, and that which He hates He is both able and willing to destroy. He it is who makes perpetual war. He makes war in righteousness. Therefore, all men and things which are unrighteous and unjust are on the opposite side to Him, His enemies, and He will trample them under His feet. But the meek and gentle Jesus? That the Lord was meek and gentle when on earth, and is, therefore, meek and gentle in heaven, from all eternities to all eternities, there can be no doubt. But with that meekness and lowliness there was in Him on earth, and, therefore, there is in Him in heaven, a capacity of burning indignation against all wrong and falsehood, especially against that worst form of falsehood, hypocrisy; and that worst form of hypocrisy, covetousness, cloaking itself under the name of religion. For that He had no meek and gentle words; but, Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers I How shall ye escape the damnation of Gehenna? And because His character is perfect and eternal--because He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever--therefore we are bound to believe that He has now, and will have as long as evil exists, the same Divine indignation, the same Divine determination to cast out of His kingdom--which is simply the whole universe--all that offends, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. The wisest of living Britons has said: “Infinite pity, yet infinite rigour of law. It is so that the universe is made.” I should add: It is so that the universe must needs be made, because it is made by Christ, and its laws are the reflection of His character--pitiful because Christ is pitiful; rigorous because Christ is rigorous. So pitiful is Christ that He did not hesitate to be slain for men, that mankind through Him might be saved. So rigorous is Christ that He does not hesitate to slay men, if needful, that mankind by them may be saved. I know but too well that most people find it very difficult, always have in every age and country found it most difficult to believe in such a God as Scripture sets forth--a God of boundless tenderness, and yet a God of boundless indignation. Men’s notion of tenderness is too often a selfish dislike of seeing other people uncomfortable, because it makes them uncomfortable themselves. They hate and dread honest severity and stern exercise of lawful power; till it has been bitterly but truly said that public opinion will allow a man to do anything except his duty. Now this is a humour which cannot last. It breeds weakness, anarchy, and, at last, ruin to society. And then the effeminate and luxurious, terrified for their money and their comfort, fly from an unwholesome tenderness to an unwholesome indignation; and, in a panic of selfish fury, become--as cowards are too apt to do--blindly and wantonly cruel, and those who fancied God too indulgent to punish His enemies are the first and the fiercest to punish their own. “Christian,” says a great genius and a great divine--
“If thou wouldst learn to love,
Thou first must learn to hate.”
And, if any answer: Hate? even God hateth nothing that He hath made; then the rejoinder is: And for that very reason He hates evil, because He has not made it, and it is ruinous to all that He has made. Let every man go and do likewise. Let him hate what is wrong with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, for so only will he love God with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. Let him say, day by day--aye, almost hour by hour--“Strengthen me, O Lord, to hate what Thou hatest and to love what Thou lovest”; that so when that dread day shall come, when every man shall receive the reward of the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or whether they be evil, he may have some decent answer to give to the awful question: “On whose side hast thou been in the battle of life? On the side of God and all good beings, or on the side of all bad spirits and bad men?” (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
The grand review
When my text, in figure, represents the armies of the glorified as riding upon white horses, it sets forth the strength, the fleetness, the victory, and the innocence of the redeemed. The horse has always been an emblem of strength. When startled by sudden sight or sound, how he plunges along the highway! The hand of the strong driver on the reins is like the grasp of a child.
1. Therefore, when the redeemed are represented as riding on white horses, their strength is set forth. The days of their invalidism and decrepitude are past. O the day when, having put off the last physical impediment, you shall come to the mightiness of heavenly vigour! There will be hardly anything you cannot lift, or crush, or conquer.
2. The horse used in the text is also the emblem of fleetness. The wild horses on the plain, at the appearance of the hunter, make the miles slip under them, as with a snort they bound away, and the dust rises in whirlwinds from their flying feet, until, far away, they halt with their faces to their pursuer, and neigh in gladness at their escape. More swift than they shall be the redeemed in heaven. O the exhilaration of feeling that you can take worlds at a bound, vast distances instantly overcome--no difference between here and there!
3. The horse in the text is also a symbol of victory. He was not used on ordinary occasions; but the conqueror mounted him, and rode on among the acclamations of the rejoicing multitude. So all the redeemed of heaven are victors. Yea, they are more than conquerors through Him that hath loved them. My text places us on one of the many avenues of the Celestial City. The soldiers of God have come up from earthly battle, and are on the parade. We shall not have time to see all the great hosts of the redeemed; but John, in my text, points out a few of the battalions: “And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses.” Now, come on the battalions of the saved. Here passes the regiment of Christian martyrs. They endured all things for Christ. They were hounded; they were sawn asunder; they were hurled out of life. Here comes up another host of the redeemed: the regiment of Christian philanthropists. They went down into the battle-fields to take care of the wounded; they plunged into the damp and moulded prisons, and pleaded before God and human governors in behalf of the incarcerated; they preached Christ among the besotten populations of the city; they carried Bibles and bread into the garrets of pain: but in the sweet river of death they washed off the filth and the loathsomeness of those to whom they had administered. There is John Howard, who circumnavigated the globe in the name of Him who said: “I was sick, and ye visited Me.” Here goes Elliott, who once toiled for Christ among savages, saying to them: “I am about the work of the great God. Touch me if you dare!” Here comes a great column of the Christian poor. They always walked on earth. The only ride they ever had was in the hearse that took them to the Potter’s Field. They went day by day poorly clad, and meanly fed, and insufficiently sheltered. But a shining retinue was waiting beyond the river for their departing spirits, and as they passed a celestial escort confronted them, and snow-white chargers of heaven are brought in, and the conquerors mounted; and here they pass in the throng of the victors--poor-house exchanged for palace, rags for imperial attire, weary walking for seats on the white horses from the King’s stable. Ride on, ye victors! Another retinue: that of the Christian invalids. These who pass now languished for many a year on their couches. But I cannot count the interminable troops of God as they pass, the redeemed of all ages, and lands, and conditions. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
His name is called the Word of God.--
The victory of the Word of God
“The Word of God.” What is it? where is it? is it at all? Has God spoken? If so, how has He spoken, and what is the word He has spoken?
I. What is a word? A word may be broadly defined as that which expresses thought. Now, thought is expressed to some extent by language, but only to some extent. It is also expressed by action. Action, therefore, is a word. Conduct is a word. Everything that man has made or done is a word, because it expresses thought, and expresses it sometimes much more effectively than any spoken or written language can. The artist can best express his thought by a picture; the sculptor, by a statue; the musician, by his music. Action is a word. Everything that man has done or made is a word, because it expresses thought. The houses we build, the factories, the ships, the churches, the clothes we wear, the movements we make, everything that man has made or done, from the easiest and simplest and most trifling thing up to the hardest and most complex--it all stands for thought, is the expression of thought, is resolvable back into thought--the word, the embodiment, the manifestation of thought. In the Book of Genesis it is said that God speaks it into existence. God said, “Let there be light.” Light is His word, the expression of His thought, and He speaks it. And God said, “Let the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the dry land, and living creatures appear”; the sun, the stars, the living creatures--these are His words, the expression of His thought, and therefore it is said, Ha speaks them into existence. Is there any other word that God has spoken? Is there any other expression of His thought? In making up the inventory of the contents of the universe, we must not leave humanity out of the reckoning; and if the sun, the stars, the great globe itself, be the expression of thought, and constitute the word of the infinite God, must not human nature also be regarded as the word of the infinite God? Yes, man is God’s word as well as physical nature, expressing the thought of God. But that statement must be guarded, must be qualified. For nowhere in our ordinary life do we see what man is, and therefore cannot know from the study of the ordinary man what God is. We see much that is good and noble in the history of man, and we also see many things that are base and ignoble, and which our moral sense will not permit us in any wise to attribute to God; and looking upon these evil things in human history, we are forced to say, “Some enemy hath done this, and the tares have sprung up with the wheat.” But let our eyes somewhere see the perfect man, in whose humanity there is no flaw or blemish; then and there we shall see the perfect word of God, “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.”
II. And now, having found what in the broadest sense is meant by the Word of God, let us consider the victory of that word; and, first, as we see it in the forms and forces of the physical creation about us. Physical science, as we call it, is the dominant study to-day, and marvellous are the results which have been accomplished by it. Not only have we explored the earth and gathered its hidden treasures, but the heavens, and the waters under the earth, and all the forces of nature, we have gathered in golden chains around the feet of man. And yet if, as the result of all this, man is only becoming greater and richer in material products; if all the forces of nature which he has discovered and utilised are only giving him greater material growth and expansion, then, although to-day he can send his messages under the waters and across the seas, and the earth has been made to give its coal and iron and oil and mineral treasures to him, and the stars in their courses fight for him instead of against him, then I say that in spite of all these things he is just as much a prisoner--although, indeed, he is bound with golden chains--as in the days of Sisera and of Job; and, with the materialistic philosophy coming in to tell him that there is nothing but matter and force about him--no thought, no spirit, no heaven, no God--not even a “prisoner of hope.” Let us eat and drink and be merry, for to-morrow we die. But no! The physical universe about us is not merely matter and force; it is the word of mind. There is thought in it, through it, pervading it. It is the embodiment of the thought of God. And, looking at it in this way, then does human life become truly rich, and is “crowned with many crowns.” We are standing, not on the floor of a prison, with the walls of a prison around us, and the great sealed roof of a prison over our heads: we are living in the open of God, and “There is not a bird that sings, There is not a flower that stars the elastic sod, There is not a breath the radiant summer brings, But is a word of God.” But human nature as well as physical nature--the world of man as well as the world of nature--is the word of God. And in the perfect man Christ Jesus, as I have tried to show, we have His perfect word; and, oh, what victories that Word of God has wrought! The story of civilisation is the story of its triumph. All the best things in the world to-day, all the best and purest feelings that touch and sway, if they do not completely control, the heart of man--his highest conduct, his bravest deeds, his noblest sacrifices, his brightest hopes for the future, without which the future is cold and dreary and impenetrable darkness to him--that Word of God has inspired. By that Word of God we have been taught that we are sons of God; and, looking out upon the vast physical creation about us, or looking up through the moral and spiritual clouds above us, we have been able to say, “Our Father, who art in heaven, Thine is the kingdom of the physical creation about us; Thine is the power that is working mysteriously in our human life for our good; Thine is the glory for ever!” And, finding our fatherhood in God, we have found our brotherhood in one another; with the consciousness of that brotherhood we have been trying to live and perform our duties, and are trying, with many infirmities, to perform our duties to-day. Far as we yet come short of that ideal form of life, we are moving toward it, and will continue to move until at last, here or somewhere--it matters not, for everywhere we are in the open of God--here or somewhere we shall all come, in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Jesus Christ. (D. K. Greer, D. D.)
The Word of God
The Infinite Father has spoken two great words to His intelligent family. One word is Nature. “The heavens declare His glory,” etc. The other word is Christ. He is The Loges.
I. The word of absolute infallibility.
II. The word of exhaustless significance.
III. The word of almighty power.
IV. The word of universal interpretability.
Even the written words that make up what we call the Bible are frequently uninterpretable. Hence their renderings and meanings are constantly fluctuating, and often contradictive. But here is a word that stands for ever--“the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” This word is a Life. A Life a child can interpret, and the greater the life of a man, the more generous, truthful, loving he is, the more readily a child can read and understand him. Hence no life is so interpretable as Christ’s life. (Homilist.)
The four names of Christ
I. The “faithful and true” (verse 11). So was He:
1. In avenging His people.
2. In carrying out His purposes. It mattered not who or what withstood.
3. The past proves the righteousness of this name. His prophecies have been fulfilled. His promises made good. His precepts owned as just.
II. The unknown name. (Verse 12, “And lie had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself.”) It was a written name, but illegible, incomprehensible, to all but Himself. The names advance in majesty. “Faithful and True”--that is an august name, but it cannot be said to be incomprehensible, and known to none but Himself. Glory be to Him that we do know Him by that name, and that the name is rightly His. But now the ineffable nature of the Son of God seems to be suggested. “Who by searching can find out God?” Christ is more than all our thought, than all we have understood or have imagined. Who knows what is the relation between Him and the Father, and what the nature of the union in Him of humanity and God? Who can understand the profound philosophy of the Atonement, the Incarnation, the Resurrection? “No man knoweth the Son but the Father”--so said our Lord; and this unknown name, written, though not read, endorses that sublime saying. And do we wonder that we cannot understand? Why, this we fail to do even with our fellow-men if they be of higher nature than our own. Let us be glad and grateful that, whatever riches of grace and glory we have already known, there is an inexhaustible fountain and an unsearchable store yet remaining. And now a name more majestic still is given.
III. “The word of God” (verse 13).
IV. “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (verse 16). (S. Conway, B. A.)
The armies which were in heaven followed Him.--
Armies invisible and distant on the side of the good
I. The hosts of heaven are interested in the moral campaign which Christ is preaching on this earth. They not only know what is going on on this little planet, but throb with earnest interest in its history. They desire to look into its great moral concerns. No wonder some in heaven are related to some on earth; they participate in the same nature, sustain the same relation, and are subject to the same laws. Here, too, stupendous events have occurred in connection with Him who is the Head of all Principalities, Powers, and that must ever thrall the universe.
II. The hosts of heaven lend their aid to Christ in his tremendous battles. If you ask me in what way they can render Him aid, I can suggest many probable methods. We know that one great thought struck into the soul of an exhausted and despairing man, can repeat and reinvigorate him. May it not be possible for departed souls and unfallen spirits to breathe such thoughts into the breasts of feeble men on earth?
II. you ask me why Christ should accept such aid as theirs, or the aid of any creature in His mighty struggles, I answer, not because He requires their services, for He could do His work alone, but for their own good. By it He gratifies their noblest instincts, engages their highest faculties, and gains for them their highest honours and sublimest joys.
III. The hosts of heaven are fully equipped for service in this martial undertaking on earth. It was customary in Oriental lands for soldiers of the highest rank to go forth to battle on steeds. It is a law of Christ’s kingdom that those only who are holy and pure can enter therein: hence these heavenly soldiers are furnished with “white horses,” the emblem of purity, and “white linen” also. No one in heaven or on earth will Christ allow to fight under His banner who are not qualified, both in capacity and character, for the work they undertake. (Homilist.)
He hath on His venture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords.--
The kingdom of Christ
I. The title here given to Christ.
1. Christ’s Godhead.
2. His dominion. The kings and lords of the earth exercise but a contracted authority. Not so Christ. His dominion is so great, that it comprehends all principalities and powers in heaven, as well as all thrones and dominions upon earth. Yea, even the devils in hell are subject to His sceptre, and are compelled to obey His commands.
II. The way in which that title is displayed.
1. Christ’s past victories. The Lord Jesus has already displayed His sovereignty over the whole earth, executing vengeance, whenever it was necessary, upon the heathen, and punishments upon the people, binding their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. How often, when the iniquity of a land has become full, has He sent one of His four sore judgments upon that land, the sword, or the famine, or the noisome beast, or the pestilence, to cut off man and beast! And then as to individual transgressors--Adonibezek and Goliath, Haman, Judas, and Ananias--all serve as so many beacons of His righteous indignation, and show that, notwithstanding all the opposition of pretended friends and avowed enemies, His cause has prospered and triumphed; so that in every generation the Lord Jesus has been known for the judgments He has executed, snaring the wicked in the works of their hands.
2. His future triumphs. Blessed be God, the prosperity of the ungodly, and the low estate of evangelical truth, shall not always continue as we now see them.
We may infer hence--
1. The happiness of Christ’s subjects.
2. The importance of knowing whether Christ is our King. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
King of kings, and Lord of lords
Let us consider over what the Christ is king--how many kings He holds in submission to Himself. This earth has been tyrannised over by usurping kings, under whose grievous yoke humanity has had to groan. It is a sad history, that of these kings of the earth. The ancient Romans had one dark page in their history--it was the annals of the kings. The story began very well, but it ended very terribly; and so deep and indelible was the impression left on the national feelings by the record of the history of the kings, that even when in later years the Commonwealth and Republic gradually developed into an Autocracy, not even Julius Caesar, not even Augustus, dared to assume the title of king. Caesar became an emperor--a king he dared not become. But there is a still darker page in the history of the world, the annals of its sins. Where is the man whose breast sin has not entered? And what a tyrant power sin is I not an abstract idea, not a mere name given to a phase of experience, but aa actual power exciting within us base desires, stimulating our neutral desires till they become base, perverting our reason, silencing our conscience, degrading our whole manhood, destroying our souls. We have indeed suffered many things from this king’s tyranny; but to-night, as I survey the wondrous work of the Conqueror who has risen from His tomb, I rejoice to recognise Him as King of kings and Lord of lords, and first and foremost as King over this fearful tyrant. The rod of the oppressor is broken, and the staff of the shoulder the Lord Himself has undertaken for the human family. “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” O glorious message for those of us who have found all our strugglings and toilings and efforts futile! Now, when a king has asserted his supremacy over any conquered power, it is to the credit of that king that he should maintain that supremacy; and the practical thought I want to press home on your minds is this: If the Lord Jesus Christ has gained the right to be supreme over the powers of evil, within and without; if this is one of the royal crowns placed upon His brow; let us glorify Him by believing in His power, and let us with unwavering faith call upon Him to exercise His sovereign prerogative on our behalf. Don’t you see what honour you put on Jesus when you claim that in virtue of His resurrection power you shall be enabled to do as He has done--put your foot on the neck of that which has previously tyrannised over you? When you approach sin, let there be no wavering, no holding back. Let us not approach the powers of darkness as uncertain of the issue of the conflict. Oh, children of God, when you are called to go into the midst of temptation, do you advance with palpitating heart, with inward misgiving? Very well; then thanks to yourself if you do fall, and fall again and again before the foe, if disaster follows disaster, and defeat, defeat. What! shall we rob Jesus of His rights by conquest? Is it a fact that He wears the royal crown upon His brow, which He has snatched from the head of the fallen dragon? Is it true that “as sin reigned unto death, even so grace reigns by righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord”? (Romans 5:21). Is it a fact that He holds this royal crown upon His brow? is He King of kings and Lord of lords? Is it true that He has trampled down transgression, and made an end of sin? Has this been the glorious result of His passion? Then you are not merely privileged to ask Him to help you, but to claim that sin shall not have dominion over you, and to look the enemy in the face with holy calm. Our blessed Lord before His passion makes this statement: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Here is another dethroned monarch--and a very powerful one. Very few of us have not felt something of his sway. Very few of us have not bowed down before his throne, and yet, thank God, he too is conquered! A monarch, but a dethroned monarch. He has no longer the right to lord it over those whom Christ has made free. The man who is living in fellowship with Christ will survey the power of this world with the eye of holy jealousy, just as a loyal subject of Great Britain would be jealous of any person setting up his throne in any part of the dominions of Queen Victoria. But how much stronger would be such feelings in the heart of the Queen’s own son, partaker as he himself is of her rank and greatness! How his jealousy would burn against any pretender or usurper who should set himself up as a rival of the royal authority! Nor would he rest without doing all in his power to overthrow the obnoxious sway. Are we not sons of God, and heirs with Christ Himself of the glory of God the Father? Once again. He is supreme over that regal force within our nature which we call self. Yes, He has rightful supremacy over every one of us. He conquered Himself as the Son of man, that He might teach us how to conquer ourselves; but, further, our wilful self has been crucified in Him, that we might be in a position to learn the lesson of self-mastery. He conquered for us, that He may conquer in us; He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live to themselves, but to Him who died for them, and rose again. Do you want to lead a happy, do you want to lead a powerful, a successful, a God-like life? The greatest of all obstacles to this you find to be the power of self. How are you to resist that power? Fix your eyes or, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, as St. John did (John 1:13-18). It is as we gaze at Him, and behold His glory, as one after another His perfections shine out on us, that we begin to abhor ourselves, to hate our selfishness, to find out that His will is better than self-will, His character is nobler than ours, and that to yield ourselves up to His control is better than to fight our own way, and thus He who once triumphed over Himself will triumph over us, King of kings, and Lord of lords! Then when He has asserted His royal rights as King over sin, King over the world, and King over Self, there is another force that now we may trust Him to do battle with--nay, He has done battle with already; and because of His victory, blessed be God, we need not fear to face the foe. Death is conquered! he is only now a tributary of Jesus, only the door-keeper who stands at the palace gate; and it is his duty to open the door whenever the Master sends the summons. There is a kindly look on his face now, and it is a friendly hand that he stretches out. If we have proved the power of Jesus Christ to raise us above sin, death has lost all its terror: the dying saint may stretch out his hand to welcome that dread janitor, who once seemed so stern, but is now become so kind; who smiles as one after another he gathers the children of God into the heavenly houses. (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
What would intimidate any loyal Englishman, if he were quite satisfied and sure, and that too from personal interview, that the monarch of the realm was decidedly and unalterably his friend? Would he fear poverty? Would he fear enemies? Would he fear dangers? Would he fear reverses of fortune? Oh! no, he would say, “The monarch is my friend, and he has all power to accomplish all I wish, and he is quite as willing as he is able.” Now, I think this ought to rebuke our slavish fears--just to bear in mind, that our warmest friend is no less a being than “the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
I. It is the supreme Sovereign of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, of whom it is expressly written, “He doeth as seemeth Him good in the armies of heaven,” existing in His own eternal self-existence, dependent upon no being, but making all dependent upon Himself, He holds all worlds at His command. He is the Maker of all worlds, and the Maker of all kings and lords too; therefore, He surely has a right to be King and Lord over them. Moreover, He is the moral Governor of the universe, and, consequently, all things in it are under His control; He even giveth power to get wealth, and, if He withholds that power, and lets us sink into poverty, He still acts as King of kings and Lord of lords; and it is your business and mine to say, “Do as thou wilt with mine and me too.”
II. Now a word or two, in the second place, relative to the exhibition of His name. It is said to he written “upon His vesture and upon His thigh.” You will read, by looking a little higher up in the chapter, that His vesture was peculiarly marked, yea, and stained--the name was perfectly legible. It is said that He was clothed in “a vesture dipped in blood.” Does not this exactly agree with Isaiah’s predictive inquiry, when he says, “Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozra?” and gives as the answer, “I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save”; and when the question is resumed, “Why is Thine apparel red, and Thy garments like one that has trod the winepress?” the answer is, “I have trod the winepress alone, and of the people there was none with Me.” Here then, I discover His official character. His vesture is dipped in blood, and He is clothed with this vesture down to His foot--the priestly robe, for He only is priest of our profession as Christians. Moreover, the name is written not only upon His vesture, but upon His thigh. Why was this? Was not one writing enough? Just for this express purpose, that His power might be held forth at every step. Wherever He steps, whether in providence or grace, absolute power goes forth with Him. Now what can a man do, as regards walking, running, or working, if the strength has gone out of his thighs? It is not so with our King. His strength is in His thigh--His name is written on His thigh--so that wherever He advances He is sure to be known as the King of kings, and Lord of lords. The power of Christ, as the eternal God, is conspicuous in all His movements, both in providence and in grace; by Him the worlds were made, and by Him they are sustained; yea, we are expressly told by the Holy Ghost (John 1:8). And this power is constantly put forth on behalf of His elect, blood-bought Church, inasmuch as He counts her interests His own. Cheer up, then, ye timid saints, your cause is not more yours than it is Christ’s; nay, nor so much, for if He could allow the injury or the ruin of His Church, the name which is written upon His vesture and upon His thigh would be tarnished, nay, forfeited, and He would no longer be owned King of kings and Lord of lords. But, “it shall endure for ever,” etc., (Psalms 72:17). Yea, more, His name, emblazoned in glory, shall be the chorus of all the redeemed throng as long, as eternity shall roll on. Mark, I pray you, how, in the exercise of His prerogative, He subjects all beings to His will. He “brings every thought into subjection to the obedience of Christ.” Now, I ask, where is the king to be found that can do that? There are two ways in which He brings all beings into subjection, whether friends or foes. The first is by the omnipotence of His grace He brings every elect vessel of mercy to the knowledge of His will, to bow to His sceptre and live for ever; and of those rebels that would not that He should reign over them, He says, “Bring them hither and slay them before Mine eyes.”
III. Go on to mark that the highest expectations of the Lord’s family are encouraged. His name written on His vesture and on His thigh is legible to all His saints. They see Him the King and the Priest upon His throne. They witness the victories He has already realised--they mark the sacred and cheering fact, that He has “spoiled principalities and powers,” and has fulfilled what is said, “O death, I will be thy plague; O grave, I will be thy destruction.” The ancient promise has been accomplished by Him, and the serpent’s head is bruised. The grand victory was won upon Mount Calvary, by the glorious Captain of salvation, whom my text calls “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” And now what remains but that He shall still go on on His white horse of pure gospel truth, from conquering to conquer. Here take, for a moment, a twofold view of His overcomings. He is going forth from conquering that sinner’s heart to conquer another sinner’s heart--from conquering that corruption of the old Adam nature of the child of God, to conquer the next that rises and struggles within him. He will go on conquering and to conquer, until He has conquered every elect vessel of mercy, and transformed them to His own image. Nor is this all, His conquests and His people’s are one; for it is written concerning those that surround His throne, and walk with Him in white, that “they overcame by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of His testimony.” Well now, will you not buckle on your armour? Will you not furbish your sword? Will you not cry out for more help from on high to wield it? Will you not look in a menacing form at all your enemies? (J. Irons.)
Christ’s kingly office
The office of king belongs to Him by eternal right, inasmuch as He is the Son of God. The Father constituted Him heir of all things. Being the express image of His person, and the visible shining forth of His glory, it is He who is to all created being its Lord and Ruler and manifested King. We are the work of His hands: we, and all our world. We owe Him allegiance by the very fact of our birth and our being. And we are the kings of earth; in our hand hath He put all the tribes of His creation: in our hands all the wonders of capacity latent in His inanimate works. We, and all this oar dominion over which we reign, are His. And not we and our world only. There are hosts of happy spirits, rising through all the gradations of created glory, even to the very presence of God, and the skirts of the brightness which flows round and veils the eternal throne. These too, however lofty and holy, are His: Him they acknowledge as their King and Lord, by the very condition of their angelic being. Behold Him then, the Head over all things: the rightful and everlasting Sovereign of the universe of God. Such spectacle we might contemplate with adoration; with wonder, the more we thought, at His unapproachable majesty and power: but it has pleased Him to reveal to us greater things than these. The throne of majesty was not enough for Him: He must win a higher throne of love. To stand by the throne of God and rule, satisfied not the yearnings of His heart: He must come down among His own creatures, and endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself, and resist, striving unto blood: and fight and fall, but conquer while He fell, with the weapons of redeeming love. It was not enough for Him, to have created man in God’s image, after His likeness; to be the rightful Head by creative lordship over their nature, the wonder of His universe: but when that image was marred, He must Himself descend into the tabernacle of the flesh, and gain for Himself another and a closer headship and kingship--so that He is now not only the Son of God, but the Son of Man: has not only His supreme and undoubted rights over our nature ab extra, as its God and Creator, but also rights far more wonderful ab intra, inasmuch as He is its second head and righteous root, and blessed renewer in righteousness. Let us pursue a few of the grounds and details of this His sovereignty. He is King of man, inasmuch as He is the only man who has ever fulfilled manhood. He is our King also, because He is the Head of our common nature. He has taken unto His personal Godhead our whole and entire nature, as complete as it was in Adam, and as free from taint as it was when Adam was created in it; and on account of this His being the second root or head of our common nature, and on no other account, it is, that every man has a part in Christ, that we preach Christ the Saviour of the world, and call on all to look unto Him and be saved. He thus is rightful and undoubted King of that nature of ours, and of all that it has and rules, by virtue of His including it all in Himself, and standing before God as man; all we and our world being contemplated by the Father as existent solely in and because of, and as summed up in, Him. Advancing onward again with those new titles to kingship which He who by His own right was king, has been in the process of redemption pleased to make for Himself, we come to this one; that He has, besides His perfection in our nature, besides His headship over it, purchased it to Himself by the price of His own precious blood. Not only is He the light of the world, not only is He the second Adam, but He is the Redeemer. He became our representative, not in perfection only, not in entireness of bearing our nature only, but inasmuch as He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, and bowed under the burden of the world’s guilt in His own body on the Cross, and came up out of death triumphant, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence. God and evil, God and impurity, cannot exist face to face: nor can He permit an unconquered antagonist in that universe which He hath created. But because, in the eternal verities of God, who counts not time, but sees as present all that happens in all time, Jesus had suffered, had died, had risen again, man was spared, nature was spared: the sun was commanded to shine on the evil and on the good, and the rain to rain on the just and on the unjust. So that as we are told, “in Christ all things consist,” have their being: and to Him alone this existence of ours, and of things around us, this life and motion, and joy, and increase, is owing from moment to moment. Then, has He not a right to it all, as His? to us, and to all that is ours? to all that would have perished with us had He not died, but which is now preserved to us and to Him? And if He is a King, He has a kingdom. And what is His kingdom? In that wider sense in which we have treated of His sovereignty, it is the universe of God: all that ever was and is and shall be: but of that His kingdom we will not now speak. Let us rather tell of the issues of that lower and more limited kingdom, which He hath won here below among us, and see whether that have not for us a voice within our hearts, and a claim which grasps at the threads of our common motives and affections. Christ is the King of man. Who remembers this, who acts upon this, as he ought? Every man on earth is Christ’s subject: He is your King and my King, and the King even of the poor heathen who know Him not: for He hath bought us all for Himself: He is thus our rightful King: and it is a claim which He will not forego. All kings shall bow down before Him: all nations shall do Him service. But O, it was not for this that He won for Himself a kingdom; not for this, that the wheels of His chariot might crush down all that opposeth, that He might hear His enemies calling on the rocks to fall on them, and the hills to cover them; no, for He is, as we have seen, not only a King of right, but a King of righteousness to the sons of men. When Pilate asked Him in the hour of His deepest humiliation, “Art thou a King then?” in asserting His Kingship, He added, “For this cause was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I might bear witness unto the truth.” There is no truth, but in Him: and whatsoever is true is His, part of His kingdom, and woven into His design, and blessed by His sanction, and matured by His fostering Spirit. Here is the Redeemer’s more glorious, more heavenly kingdom; the kingdom of truth, and purity, and holiness, and love. But the question arises, What is this truth of which He is speaking? Is it truth in science merely--is it truth in art--those subtle powers of harmonising with God’s creative laws, which seem as if they might and do exist where there is no deeper truth of heart and life? Is it, in a word, any of those outlying branches of truth, which seem as if they were rooted in earth for themselves, and got no life from the parent stem? Let us reply to this in His own words, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It is He who has revealed to us the truth, and He has revealed it in Himself. And as He is the revelation and the fountain of truth, so in order to be a subject of His blessed kingdom of truth must a man enter into it by Him: by knowing Him and believing Him, and being knit unto Him, and living his common life by virtue of faith in Him. This process of self-renunciation, this acceptance of Him as King, and of His Spirit as guide of His life, must accompany all effectual entrance, with the will and the affection, into His kingdom of grace--all heirship of His kingdom of glory. Such a kingdom then is God establishing on earth among men: a kingdom of truth and mercy and love, of which His Son is the Head and King. Day by day He is calling its subjects out from among the falsehood and the strife which is the rule of life of this world. Among the nations, He is preparing it; in His own way, not in ours. He is still suffering the darkness to prevail over wide tracts of this earth: still permitting the oppressor to oppress, and the truth to be kept down: but it is that that truth, by trial and by sifting, may become purer and surer. And we look for a day when that His kingdom, which sprung not out of this world, shall yet be manifested in this world and rule over this world. But we are called on by our text to look forward further even than this. Its words treat of a time when Christ’s kingdom shall have passed altogether out of conflict into triumph, out of grace into glory. (Dean Alford.)
Christ a King
This title is one of very extensive meaning. Other kings are usually content to wield the sceptre over an empire of private individuals. But instead of being king over individuals in a private capacity, our Lord claims to be the King of kings. Princes and monarchs of every degree of power are subject to His control. Before Him they all are required alike to bow, to pour forth their gratitude, and to offer a tribute of adoration.
I. Contemplate Him as the mighty God, the everlasting Father; as Him by whom the foundations of the earth were laid, and the work of whose hands are the heavens. Contemplate Him as invested with all the attributes and perfections of the Deity, and you will see that His control is illimitable, and that His government is without termination.
II. What is the practical use of this truth?
1. If Christ be the King of kings, the almighty Ruler of the universe, then we have confidence that all the dispensations of Divine providence will be such as to promote the general interests of His people.
2. If Christ be the King of kings and the Lord of lords, then we have confidence that He will so direct whatever pertains to our spiritual interests, as to promote and secure our growth in grace, and our final salvation.
3. If Christ be the King of kings and the Lord of lords, then the Church is safe.
4. If Christ be the King of kings and the Lord of lords, then individual Christians are safe.
5. If Christ be the King of kings and the Lord of lords, then His people have no occasion to be ashamed of their Lord, or of the principles of His government.
6. If Christ be so great a King, He ought to be feared. He wields all the machinery of nature, and can bid winds, lightnings, tempests, diseases, arrest, scourge, or destroy His enemies. He can turn against them the tide of human passions, and thus overwhelm them in dismay. Even our breath is in His hands; and subject to His control are all our ways. He has power to destroy both soul and body in hell.
7. He ought to be adored.
8. If Christ be so great a King, His enemies ought to tremble before Him. (J. Foot, D. D.)
The mark of the beast.--
The mark of the beast
In the eyebrows of some people there are one or two hairs that are thicker and longer than the others, and stand out like the whiskers of a cat. A good many persons have the round fold in the upper part of their ears ending in a blunt point, like the tip of an animal’s ear folded down. At school I knew a boy who had the strange power of moving his ears at will, like a dog or a rabbit; and there was one big lad who could contract the skin of his head so strongly that, by the mere power of his muscles, without moving his head, he could throw off a book laid upon it. Some people have great canine teeth, and others have their face and body covered all over with thick hair. These things are said by scientific men to be the signs of man’s origin from the lower animals, and remain as traces in some persons of the stages through which all the human race has passed. The lower animals are our poor relations; and it ought not to be considered strange if we should retain many marks and proofs of the relationship. Every human being has the mark of the beast in him, to show that God has made all animal structures after the same pattern; and united together all His creatures, from the highest to the lowest, by ties of mutual resemblance and sympathy, so that they all might be able to live harmoniously together on the earth. But there is a mark of the beast that ought to make us ashamed--that does degrade us. It is the mark of sin in our souls which destroys the image of God within us, and reduces us to the level, nay, below the level, of the beasts that perish. For the dumb, irrational animals faithfully obey the instincts of their nature, and God can say of them, “The stork in the heavens knoweth its appointed time”; “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib”; but of man He says, “Israel doth not know, My people do not consider.” The animals obey in every respect the will of God; they cannot but obey; but we are continually breaking His commandments, and doing things that are contrary to His will and to our own welfare. One of the marks of a beast is impatience and hasty rage if it does not get its own way. The reason is that dumb animals have no other way of expressing themselves; and you find that the more limited the power of utterance, the quicker and more violent is the temper. And when any of us yield to the temptation of indulging in rage and violence and impatience, we show very distinctly upon us the mark of the beast, and forfeit our glorious gift of gentle and dignified speech, and descend to the level of the beast. So, too, with falsehood and dishonesty. Wild beasts steal from one another and deceive one another without compunction, for that is their nature, and in the stern struggle of life they have to be selfish and to take care of themselves at the expense of others. But in us who have a high moral nature, such acts would be wrong. Such marks of the beast in us would degrade us in our own esteem and in the estimation of others. Wild beasts kill each other without any mercy or remorse. And alas! many human beings have this wild-beast nature in them. If they do not go the length of acts of bodily violence, they wound each other in their hearts and characters. They are guilty of many acts of unkindness and positive cruelty to each other. Animals rend the sick or lame animal. Wolves will devour the unfortunate wolf that is wounded in the pack; and, therefore, animals instinctively avoid their fellows when they are hurt in any way, and seek the loneliest solitude in which to suffer or die in peace. All human beings who act in the same way--who, when they discover a weakness or a failing in their friends and neighbours, hasten to crush them altogether; who, if they discern a pin-hole, wish to work it into a huge gap, and, if they can only get their fingers in, long to rend the piece asunder--all such persons have the mark of the beast. It is an awful truth, that the more the image of God disappears in us, the more do the marks of the beast manifest themselves. What is it that can remove the mark of the beast in man, and restore the image of God? The brute elements cannot drop out of man’s character by a natural process, however favourable may be his environment; the human race of its own accord cannot grow better, as surely as the bud expands into the perfect flower. Scientific men themselves tell us that the natural process is not necessarily upwards to better things, but may, indeed, be downwards to worse; especially if the surrounding circumstances and conditions of life be degrading. And we might well despair of the future of our race, if it were left to the force of natural evolution alone to work out the beast in man, and let the ape and tiger die. It is here that the power of spiritual religion comes in. The regenerating forces of living Christianity can be trusted to raise and renew mankind. You know that loveliest and most instructive of all the fairy tales--the familiar story of Beauty and the Beast. You remember how the merchant was to be put to death for plucking the bunch of roses in the garden of the Beast, and how his youngest and fairest daughter, whom he loved the most, offered to take his place and suffer his doom. When Beauty first saw the frightful form of the Beast, she was dreadfully afraid, and shrank from him; but by and by, as she got to know him better, she began to feel pity for him, and was touched with his gentleness and kindness. At last she agreed to marry him; and then a wonderful thing happened. Instead of the ugly beast, she saw a handsome and graceful young prince, who thanked her with the tenderest expressions for having delivered him from the wicked enchantment that had transformed him into a beast. The moral of this lovely story, which is as old as the hills and as young as each child in our midst, is that it is love that changes the beast in us into the nobler human nature, that takes away all the marks of the beast in us, and transforms us into true men and women. And so, in the highest sense of all, is it not the pure, disinterested love of Jesus Christ, who consented to take our nature, and die in our room and stead, and who unites us to Himself by an everlasting union, that takes away all the marks of the beasts in us, the old, sinful, degraded nature, and transforms us into His own likeness by the renewing of our minds? United to Christ, we become new creatures; the image of God is restored in us; our faces shine as the face of Moses shone when he came down from his communion with God on the mount. It is said of the great St. Francis of Assisi, that he prayed earnestly on one occasion, that he might realise in his body, as well as in his soul, the sufferings of Christ; and immediately there appeared in his hands the prints of the nails, and in his side the wound of the spear, which he bore all the rest of his life, but carefully hid, for he did not wish to expose to the eyes of cold curiosity the secret which made him one with his Lord. But not in visible imprint, not in fleshly wounds, do we bear the signs of the cross; no, but in holy affections, in crucified tempers, in heavenly desires, in Christlike meekness and gentleness. The Brahmins of India have a mark upon their foreheads in honour of the god they worship, by which every one can distinguish them. And so those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and serve Him have a mark upon their foreheads, by which all men can take knowledge of them that they are keeping company with Him. They have what the high priest of old had inscribed upon the gold plate of his mitre, in a pure and candid and heavenly look, “Holiness to the Lord.” And as they grow in likeness to Christ, so this bright sign of their high calling will be more clearly seen, and their outward beauty will be as their inward grace. In the old creation we see how beasts of low type and cruel nature, that wallowed in the mire, were swept away, and creatures of higher organisation and gentler mood appeared on the earth in their place. The wonderful researches of geology have made us familiar with this significant fact, that after forms that were emblems of evil, there gradually rose others that were emblems of good; and the Bible tells us that the new creation will develop this progress on a higher plane; that eventually all serpent-forms of evil will be subdued, and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and a little child shall lead the most ferocious creatures. He who was with the wild beasts in the wilderness of the temptation will change the wilderness of men’s souls, with its wild beasts of evil passions and tempers, into a fair and fertile garden, the home of gentle and holy graces. And John shows us, in his glorious vision in Revelation, those who had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, standing on the sea of glass as the symbol of their purity, and having the harps of God as the symbol of their harmony, and singing the song of Moses and the Lamb as the token of their triumph. They have obtained the final victory over the beast in man; they have risen completely out of the degradation of sin; they have had all the marks of the beast obliterated, and all the image of God restored in their glorified souls and bodies. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 19". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter