I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The new heavens and new earth
I. Scripture distinctly reveals the fact that this world is not destined to continue as it is. “The fashion of this world changes” is the constant statement of the inspired writers. We seem to learn this from the very fading qualities of everything that surrounds us. We have scarcely enjoyed the warmth of the summer sun when the leaves of autumn fall fast and thick around us. These have scarcely disappeared when we tread upon the snows of winter; and these have scarcely melted away before the budding of spring again surrounds us, and Nature gives indications that she is about once more to revive. It is not only from Scripture that we gain such lessons as this. We give it to you as a fact, which is proved to demonstration by science, that there is constantly going on, in the mechanism of the universe a similar decay to that which is going on in any other mechanism that you know. You are aware that the various planets that surround our globe move through an atmosphere; and that this atmosphere acts as a repelling and hindering force upon the planets which thus move; and that this hindering force, acting constantly upon every planet that moves through space, must eventually so check the velocity of those planets, and at length so act upon their movements, as to bring the whole of the planet-machinery to a stand. And, in addition to this, you are to remember that science points out to us the fact that in the very centre of our globe there exists a sufficient quantity of igniting matter to burst the crust of our globe, and make it a ruin at our feet. And now for what object is this to be? Is there to be anything in the place of this materialism when it thus falls into ruin? Or are we to reside in a place altogether different from this our world--a place rather spiritual than material in the elements that compose it? “I beheld a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth were passed away.” “We, therefore, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.” In the first place, the incarnation of Christ would lead us to infer, I think, that we were destined to be material as well as spiritual in our final and everlasting state. You are to remember, again, that Christ when He rose from the dead did not fling away materialism for ever; on the contrary, His body came back to His spirit, just as ours shall come back. And not only so, but He now bears that glorified body in the courts of heaven. And we may conclude that if Christ has thus brought materialism up to the courts of God, if He not only walked the earth in a material body, but now resides in heaven in glorified materialism, materialism is destined to decay, only that it may be purified with the fires of the last day. But, again, this is only a natural inference to be drawn from another doctrine of the Christian religion--I mean the resurrection of the body. Thus we come to the conclusion that when St. John saw a new heaven and a new earth he saw what literally should come out of the ruins of the old. And then who can describe the beauty of such a residence as this? Scripture only gives us a glimpse into paradise. Methinks, perhaps, we could not understand what paradise was; we could not realise the beauty of its sounds, the richness of its sights, the glories of its landscape. And so Scripture only gives us a glimpse into the glories of our future home. But in order to make this more evident we would ask you to remark that there is to be not only a new earth, but a new heaven as well. We perhaps could understand that the earth required renewing. It is inhabited by a sinful race. But you will naturally ask, Why does heaven require to be renewed--heaven, the residence of God. But we think you mistake in fancying that the heaven which is here stated to be renewed is the heaven wherein God dwells. We think, rather, it alludes to the firmamental space that surrounds this earth, and that what St. John means to assert is that not only does the earth become renewed by the process of the last fiery trial, but that also the atmosphere itself, the place wherein planets move, where the whole machinery of the stars is at work, that this place too is purged by a similar process. If so, we ask you, Does not imagination at once falter when we strive to conceive such a splendid spreading of materialism as this must throw open? Not only shall the earth, then, be clad with beauty, but there shall come a clearing process upon the air; and this shall so throw open the firmamental regions to man’s view, and so render the planetary system visible, as to make the scene literally accord with the vision of St. John--a new heaven, as well as a new earth.
II. What shall be the pre-eminent mark and characteristic of the arrangements and inhabitants of this glorious scene? St. Peter tells us, “We look for new heavens and a new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness”; and we therefore infer that righteousness will be the characteristic of the future heavens and earth. If there was anything permitted there that was not thoroughly righteous--if there was anything like impurity infecting the region or sinfulness throwing its taint upon the scene, then in vain should we hope for such a beautiful residence. And thus there comes the practical question to ourselves, Are we or are we not fitted for such a scene as this? Fasten not your affections upon things below. Take them as God gives them to you: enjoy them as far as God allows you; but, remember, there is decay in everything you see. (J. P. Waldo, B. A.)
The new heaven and new earth
These words refer especially to the future. We all live in the future more or less; it is so full of possibilities of improvement that we are strongly disposed to dwell upon it. God has not allowed the future state to be wrapped entirely in mystery; enough has been revealed to inspire us to inquire into its glorious realities.
I. That there is a great change to take place in the heaven and the earth.
1. The new heaven implies that the future state will be suited to the soul in the fullest possible sense. There will be no night there--i.e., there will be no ignorance there. The “god of this world” will not have any power in “the new heaven,” nor will any evil men or false teachers be found there to blind or delude the minds of the inhabitants. The state will be perfectly adapted to the redeemed soul. There will be no doubt there. Certitude will be the mental state of all in the future life; nor will there be any fear in that state. The deep mysteries of the future will not create any fear in the minds of the redeemed. There will be no falsehood in that state either; no one who loveth or doeth a lie shall enter into it: truth will be the very atmosphere of the place. There will be no such thing as a selfish emotion experienced by any soul in the “new heaven.” Righteous principle will be the governing power in all. Neither will there be any hatred in the “new heaven.” All will be sweet and harmonious reasonableness.
2. It will be suited to the body. It will be a state of established health and vigour. The “new earth” will abound in all the elements of true and pure strength. So perfect will the body, which we shall then possess, be in all its parts, that we shall never be conscious of any evil passions whatsoever. There will be no want in the “new earth.” The “new earth” will be richly supplied with all that the new body will require; the new earth and the resurrection body will be most thoroughly fitted the one for the other.
3. The society of the future state will be of the purest and the best. The character of the inhabitants will be such that defection will be impossible. There will be great progression to fuller knowledge, larger views, and more comprehensive understanding of things spiritual and eternal. The very thought of it is an inspiration; what must an experience of it be?
II. That the future state will be one of very intimate spiritual association between God and His people. “The tabernacle of God will be with men.”
III. That the future state will be entirely free from all trial (D. Rhys Jenkins.)
The unending age of blessedness
I. It will be in a sense a new state.
1. It may be physically new.
2. It may be dispensationally new. Christ will deliver up the kingdom to God the Father.
3. It may be relatively new. New in the estimation and feeling of the occupants.
II. It will be a state widely differing from all preceding ones.
1. The difference will arise from the absence of some things which were identified with all the preceding states.
2. This difference will arise from the presence of some things which have not been in connection with any preceding states.
(b) Permanent. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The new heaven and the new earth
1. Our future state of being will partake very largely of a material character. That is, we shall not exist in an invisible, impalpable condition, floating in ether, as some have fancifully supposed, or mysteriously suspended upon nothing. The soul and body are not two antagonistic beings, to be severed and divorced for all eternity. They are separated by death to be re-united at the resurrection.
2. Our occupation in a future state will be greatly influenced by material things. It would be unreasonable to attribute to the future life an entire absence of all those warm and sensible accompaniments which give expression and force to our present being. Christ did not come to take sway all taste for the beautiful in nature, but to refine and elevate those powers by which we apprehend and appreciate the lovely and the sublime. Our capacity for investigating the works of God will not merely remain undestroyed, but be developed so as to meet the requirements of the new state of being. When we have made the material world minister to our wants; when we have gathered to our tables the produce of all lands, and when we have culled from the beauties of nature for the adornment of our homes--nay, further, when we have made the steam-power print for our use the ripest thoughts of the greatest minds, and when we have girdled the earth with an electric band, so that words of hearty friendship may be flashed as in a moment to the uttermost ends of the world--when we have done all this have we yet put the works of Omnipotence to their highest use? Are there not fields yet to be entered, regions yet to be explored, treasures yet to be discovered, harvests yet to be reaped?
3. We anticipate future opportunities to unravel the perplexities of a Divine providence.
4. The new earth, with its new and sinless life, will afford opportunity for the more perfect comprehension of the mysteries of grace. (F. Wagstaff.)
The new heaven and the new earth
I. The sources whence the happiness of heaven is derived.
1. The happiness of heaven will be derived from increased and perfected knowledge. On earth our residence is so short, our mental faculties are so limited, our hearts are so carnal, and our opportunities of acquiring knowledge are, in many cases, so few, that the wisest and the holiest know but little either of the character or the works of God. What sources of happiness will be afforded by the moral government of God, when we are permitted to read the sealed book of providence, and by the work of redemption, when, in the very presence of the Redeemer, we gaze upon its height and depth and length and breadth.
2. The happiness of heaven will be derived from holiness of character. Sin and misery are so connected that no mere change of place can sever them; and the mind of man is so much its own place that, if unsanctified, it would make a hell of heaven.
3. The happiness of heaven will be derived from the society of angels and the redeemed.
4. This happiness will be derived from the presence and friendship of Jesus Christ.
5. This happiness will be derived from the employments of the inhabitants.
II. The peculiarities by which the happiness of heaven will be distinguished.
1. The happiness of heaven will be perfect in its nature. That is, it will be free from every imperfection and alloy that mingles with our enjoyments here.
2. The happiness of heaven will be various in its degrees. There is a prophet’s reward, and a righteous man’s reward.
3. The happiness of heaven will be progressive and eternal. (S. Alexander.)
The future abode of the saints
None can deny that after the resurrection and the final judgment the just made perfect will not be, as angels, simply spiritual essences, but be endowed, as when on earth, with material bodies. Now material beings naturally presuppose a material locality; material sight would be simply useless unless there were material substances to see; material hearing, unless there were material sounds to hear. This obviates one great objection to what I am saying, that the whole Apocalyptic description is only the lowering of heavenly ideas to earthly minds. If a mere spiritual state were being described, doubtless it would be so; but when, to say the least, much that is material must be mixed up with it, the argument vanishes. Consider, again, the remarkable terms in which the abode of the elect is mentioned, after the final doom: “A new heaven and a new earth.” And lest any one should think this is a mere casual expression of St. John’s (granting that such things might be), St. Peter also and Isaiah speak of “new heavens and a new earth.” If, now, there were no analogy between the old and the new, between the first and the second earth, to what purpose this particular and thrice- repeated expression? And most remarkably it is said, “There was no more sea.” There is, therefore, so strong a resemblance between the two earths, that the absence of the sea in the second is thought a point worthy of notice. Therefore, all the varieties of natural beauty, besides this, it may be presumed, still will exist. If of one thing in a series it is recorded that it is abolished, the natural presumption about the others is that they remain. And in the mystical descriptions of heaven with which Scripture abound, we find frequent references to the other most remarkable components of earthly scenery. To trees, for there is the tree of life; to mountains, for there is the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; to lakes, for there the glorious Lord will be a place of broad streams; to rivers, for there is the river of the water of life. Surely it is impossible to believe that these things are purely metaphorical; nor can it be even said that the expressions are used in a sacramental sense. (J. M. Neale, D. D.)
There was no more sea.
Heaven without a sea
1. There shall be in heaven no more trackless wastes. Over three-fourths of this whole globe is composed of a wild, cheerless, trackless waste of waters. The ship passes over it and leaves no trace of its route. The sun woos it, the zephyrs waft it, the dews and rains descend upon it, yet it produces no vegetation. How many human beings seem to spend useless lives, leaving the world no better nor happier than when they came into it! There is no corner for such supernumeraries in the New Jerusalem. Its inhabitants shall not spend eternity in doing little but to sing songs and wave palm branches; but in service, glorious service, for the great King. Great energies will not be expended, as too often in this life, in vain efforts.
2. There shall be in heaven no more devouring waves.
3. There shall be in heaven no buried secrets. The sea is full of concealment and mystery. The scientific explorer dredges out wondrous revelations from the bosom of its gloomy depths. In heaven all earthly secrets shall be revealed, and there shall be no more sea.
4. There shall be in heaven no restless existence. The changeful tides, the constant agitation of surface, the winds and hurricanes, the ever-shifting scenery of old ocean are a picture of human life, with its rises and falls, its joys and sorrows, its births and deaths, its successes and failures--fickle, transitory, uncertain, unsatisfactory human life. What, is it possible that all this agitation of time shall some day cease? Its unquiet of body, its tumult of mind, its yearning of soul all come to an end? Yes, in heaven, where “there is a rest for the people of God,” a blessed calm, an eternal peace of soul in the presence of God. (M. D. Kneeland, D. D.)
No more sea
We know not whether there will be a literal physical sea or not in the future world. To the Apostle John, who doubtless, in common with all his countrymen, looked upon the sea with dread, the absence of it in the heavenly vision may have been welcomed as a relief. All the allusions to the sea in the Bible refer solely to its power or danger--never to its aesthetic aspects; and many, especially those to whom the sea has proved cruel, may sympathise with this prejudice, and rejoice to accept the announcement in all its literality, that in heaven there shall be no more sea. To others, again, whose earliest and sweetest associations are connected with its shelly shores and its gleaming waters, a world without a sea would seem a world without life or animation, without beauty or attraction--a blank, silent realm of desolation and death.
I. The existence of the sea implies separation. The sea, along with its accompanying lakes and rivers, is in this world the great divider. In the peculiar arrangements of land and water on the surface of the earth we have a clear and unmistakable evidence of God’s intention from the very beginning of separating mankind into distinct nationalities. For this separation a twofold necessity suggests itself. It exercised a restraining and a constraining influence. Had mankind been permitted to remain for an indefinite period in one narrow region of the earth, brought into close and constant communication with each other, and speaking the same language, the consequences would have been most disastrous. They would have inevitably corrupted one another. Family and individual interests would have come into frequent and violent collision. Their proximity would have been the occasion of endless wars and deeds of violence and bloodshed. God, therefore, mercifully interfered; He separated mankind into distinct nations, placed them in different scenes and circumstances, and effectually kept them apart by means of seas and trackless oceans; and thus the maddening passions of man were rendered comparatively innocuous, or circumscribed within the narrowest possible limits. Another reason for this separation of the human race by means of the sea was that national character might thus be formed and educated--that the one type of human nature might develop itself into every possible modification by the force of different circumstances and experiences. If there were no individuality among nations mankind could make no progress; all human societies would lose the mental activity, the noble competition, the generous emulation which distinguish them; there would be no mutual instruction, nothing to keep in check local evils, and by the better agencies of one region stimulate into action similar agencies in another. And it is a remarkable circumstance that this barrier continued insurmountable while the infant races were receiving the education and undergoing the discipline that were to qualify them for enlarged intercourse with each other. When, however, the day appointed by God to enlighten and emancipate the world approached, the sea became all at once, through the improvement of navigation and ship-building, the great highway of nations, the great channel of communication between the different and distant parts of the world. Christianity is rapidly melting the separate nationalities into one; but the fusion of these discordant elements into one glorious harmony, pure as sunlight, inspiring as a strain of perfect music, will never be accomplished in this world. “And there was no more sea.” Methinks these words must have had a deep and peculiar significance to the mind of the old fisherman when we think of the circumstances in which he was placed when he wrote them. A touching tradition pictures the aged apostle going day after day to an elevated spot on the ocean-rock, to which, Prometheus-like, he was chained, and casting a longing look over the wide waste of waters, as if by thus gazing he could bring nearer to his heart, if not to his sight, the beloved land and the cherished friends for whom he pined. The cause of his beloved Master needed the aid of every faithful arm and heart, but he could do nothing. Oh! a feeling of despondency must have often seized him when he thought of all from which the cruel sea divided him. And when the panorama of celestial scenery was spread out before his prophetic eye, to compensate him for the trials of banishment, with what joy, methinks, must he have seen that from horizon to horizon there was no sea there--nothing to separate--nothing to prevent the union and communion of those whom the grace of Christ had made free, and His power had transferred to that “large place”! “And there was no more sea.” Do not these words come home to our own hearts with peculiar tenderness of meaning? For what home is there whose circle of happy faces is complete, from which no wanderer has gone forth to the ends of the earth? Heaven is the land of eternal reunion. The friends who bade reluctant farewell to each other on earth, and dwelt apart with wide seas rolling between, shall meet on the eternal shore to separate no more for ever.
II. “And there was no more sea.” These words imply that in heaven there shall be no more change. The sea is the great emblem of change. There is nothing in the world more uncertain and unstable. Now it lies calm and motionless as an inland lake--without a ripple on its bosom; and now it tosses its wild billows mountains high, and riots in the fury of the storm. And not only is it the emblem of change: it is itself the cause, directly or indirectly, of nearly all the physical changes that take place in the world. We cannot name a single spot where the sea has not some time or other been. Every rock that now constitutes the firm foundation of the earth was once dissolved in its waters, lay as mud at its bottom, or as sand and gravel along its shore. The materials of our houses were once deposited in its depths, and are built on the floor of an ancient ocean. What are now dry continents were once ocean-beds; and what are now sea-beds will be future continents. Everywhere the sea is still at work--encroaching upon the shore--undermining the boldest cliffs by its own direct agency. And where it cannot reach itself, it sends its emissaries to the heart of deserts, and the summits of mountain ranges, and the innermost recesses of continents--there to produce constant dilapidation and change. Viewed in this light there is a striking appropriateness in there being no more sea in the eternal world. Heaven is the land of stability and permanence. There will be progress, but not change; growth, but not decay. There will be no ebb and flow--no waxing and waning--no rising and setting--no increasing and diminishing in the life of heaven. There will be perfect fulness of rest in the changeless land where there is no more sea.
III. The existence of the sea implies the existence of storms. And is not this life, even to the most favoured individuals, a dark and rainy sea, with only here and there a few sunlit isles of beauty and peace, separated by long and troubled voyages? There are many outward storms that beat upon us in this world--storms of adversity arising from personal, domestic, or business causes; as soon as one blows past, another is ready to assail us. And there are inward storms--storms of religious doubt, of conscience, of temptation, and, worse than any of these, the raging of our own corrupt affections and unsubdued desires. Between these two seas many of us are scarcely ever allowed to know what a calm means. But amid all these storms we are strengthened and consoled by the assurance that they are necessary, and are appointed to work together for good. Yet still we long for their cessation, and look forward with joyful hope to the region of everlasting peace. In heaven there will be no stormy winds or raging waters. Through the shoals and the breakers, and the sunken rocks of those perilous worldly seas, the Christian voyagers, some on boards and some on broken pieces of the ship, will escape all safe to land--and there shall be no more sea. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
No more sea
I. No more painful mystery. We look out upon the broad ocean, and far away it seems to blend with air and sky. Mists come up over its surface. Suddenly there rises on the verge of the horizon a white sail that was not there a moment ago; and we wonder, as we look out from our hills, what may be beyond these mysterious waters. And to these ancient peoples there were mysteries which we do not feel. Whither should they come, if they were to venture on its untried tides? And then, what lies in its sunless caves that no eye has seen? It swallows up life and beauty and treasure of every sort, and engulphs them all in its obstinate silence. What should we see if depth and distance were annihilated, and we beheld what there is out yonder, and what there is down there? And is not our life ringed round in like manner with mystery? Oh! to some hearts surely this ought to come as not the least noble and precious of the thoughts of what that future life is--“there shall be no more sea”; and the mysteries that come from God’s merciful limitation of our vision, and some of the mysteries that come from God’s wise and providential interposition of obstacles to our sight shall have passed away.
II. No more rebellious power. God lets people work against His kingdom in this world. It is not to be always so. The kingdom of God is in the earth, and the kingdom of God admits of opposition. Strange! But the opposition, even here on earth, all comes to nothing. Men may work against God’s kingdom, the waves may rave and rage; but beneath them there is a mighty tidal sweep, and God’s purposes are wrought out, and God’s ark comes to “its desired haven,” and all opposition is nugatory at the last. But there comes a time, too, when there shall be no more violence of rebellious wills lifting themselves against God. The opposition that lies in all our hearts shall one day be subdued. The whole consent of our whole being shall yield itself to the obedience of sons, to the service of love.
III. No more disquiet and unrest. Surely some of us are longing to find anchorage whilst the storm lasts, and a haven at the end. There is one, if only you will believe it, and set yourselves towards it. There is an end to all “the weary oar, the weary wandering fields of barren foam.” On the shore stands the Christ; and there is rest there. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
No more sea
This fact can be read physically. It would be the easiest reading, but perhaps not the only one, nor the most satisfying and helpful one. Rendered physically, it would neither satisfy curiosity nor offer stimulus. It would add nothing practically to our knowledge of the future, because we know nothing of the other physical conditions with which this fact of sealessness would stand in relation; and no fact means anything when standing alone. Every man in conceiving the things which are eternal has to think in terms of time; and in conceiving the things which are celestial has to think in terms of earth. In our most spiritual moods we cannot get away from our common surroundings or from our every-day vocabulary. We have only one language in which to phrase present experience and heavenly anticipatings. The finest pictures which our thought paints of the things which are unseen and eternal are done in tints gathered from off a pallet of earthly colour. If we are weary, then heaven means rest; if we are sin-sick, then heaven means holiness; if we are lonely, then heaven means reunion with the loved ones that have gone on before. If any kind of barrier invests us, we think that in heaven that barrier will be erased. In the sailor-boy’s dream of home, no buffeting waves or tempestuous sea divide longer between him and the old hearthstone. For the time being there is with him no more sea. Now there are many phases of life, many limitations by which we are hedged in, upon which this sentiment of our text falls with a singular power of stimulus and of comfort, and the more completely these waters of separation sunder us, and exile us from our soul’s object, the more richly freighted with fruition does the new and the sealess city become to us. There are in the first place our physical limitations, by which we are so many of us so closely and painfully walled. Much of our severity and acidity is only indigestion become a mental fact, and a good deal of our solicitude and distrust are no more than an enfeebled condition of the blood telling upon the spirit: The body made to be the helpmeet of the soul is become its adversary. Much of sin is the offspring of the body. Redemption and immortality are as much of the body as of the mind. Then there are our mental limitations. Men want to know, but they do not know how to know. Our philosophy is tentative. Thinking is trying experiments mostly. We think different things at different times, and no two men think the same thing, as no two eyes see the same rainbow. And then most of that which we do know is of things chat are going to last but a little; as it were, a gathering of wilting flowers. All knowledge is transient, that is, of things that are transient, as the splendour fades from off the hills as the sun passes under the west. There are also our moral limitations. Holiness is yonder, and there is a great gulf fixed. We can abstain from acts of sin, but do not succeed in becoming clean through and through. Our wishes outrun our attainments. Our bodies hold us back; our past holds us back; our surroundings detain us. We want it should become our nature to do right. Holiness lies in the future, but it is a sure fact of the future, and our wall of moral separation shall be broken down, our exile repealed, the island made continuous with the continent, and no more sea in the New City of God. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
No more sea
I. There will be no more mystery.
1. Our life is a mystery--birth, health, sickness, death.
2. Revelation is a mystery--prophecy, miracles, Calvary.
3. Providence is a mystery--prosperity of ungodly, adversity of the godly, death of children, war.
II. There will be no more trouble. The sea a picture of our life--restless, stormy.
1. Business troubles.
2. Domestic troubles--an erring son, bereavement.
3. Personal troubles--disease of body, perplexity of mind about religion, spiritual needs.
III. There will be no more impurity.
IV. There will be no more danger.
1. Danger from pernicious books.
2. Danger from evil companions.
3. Danger from Satanic influences.
V. There will be no more hidden life. Vi. There will be no more separation. (A. Gray Maitland.)
The world without a sea
I. There is no division there. How much there is in this world that divides men! There are:
1. Social caste.
2. National prejudices.
3. Religious sectarianism.
4. Selfish interests.
5. Mutual misunderstandings. None of these will exist in heaven.
II. There is no mutation there. The only change is that of progress.
1. Progress in higher intelligence.
2. In loftier services.
3. In nobler fellowship. No change in the way of loss. The crown, the kingdom, the inheritance--all imperishable.
III. There is no agitation there. Human life here has many storms. In how many hearts does deep call upon deep, and billows of sorrow roll over the soul! In heaven there are no spiritual storms. (Homilist.)
The sea-less world
St. John saw that the sea, whilst a great and essential good on earth, might in some aspects be regarded as an emblem of what was evil, and therefore undesirable.
I. The sea is emblematic of separation. Think of receiving a cablegram to-day telling that, say in Australia, a loved mother or child was lying,lying and calling for you. How keenly you would feel the barrier set by the sea!
II. The sea is emblematic of peril. Some of the saddest wrecks on record have taken place on our coasts. The sea, therefore, is a fit type of peril. Now “the sea is no more” in heaven, and so there is no occasion of hurt, no cause of danger, no need for anxiety. We move amid perils now.
III. The sea is emblematic of commotion. The sea is never still. Even at its calmest there are ebbings and flowings, and sometimes in storm the disturbance is very great, we have our calms, but also our storms. A life of uninterrupted prosperity would be good for none of us. But the heavenly experience is better than earth’s best. When we reach the land of light the need of testing shall be past, and the reason for discipline shall have vanished away. And so “the sea shall be no more.” (G. Gladstone.)
Why there will bone more sea
St. John writes of the blessed life of the new creation, where holy souls are at rest, that there is “no more sea.” What was the sea, then, to him--what is it everywhere--that he should choose it to symbolise something that is unheavenly--something that is to be done away with when that which is perfect is come?
I. The sea is that which sunders man from man. It divides nation from nation, as well as land from land. Whatever the original unity of the race, it breaks that unity apart. That is the very epithet that a Latin poet (Horace), who lived just before St. John’s time, applied to it--the “dissociable” ocean. So long as the seas intervene, this is a divided world. The family of souls cannot be literally one; the universal neighbourhood and brotherhood at which the gospel aims cannot be actually represented till the first earth is passed away and there is no more sea. But if there is one thought that lies nearer the heart of the gospel than any other, it is that of the perfect oneness, or flowing together, and living together, of the nations and souls of men. The bond of that harmony began, in fact, to be woven when Christ was born, and the angels predicted peace at His coming, at Bethlehem. We know well enough how slowly the consummation has advanced against wars, crusades, caste, slavery, the complicated injustices and wrongs of a selfish society! Hereafter it will not be so. Hatreds, suspicions, oppressions, cruelties, quarrels, are all to be swept away. The spirit of Christ’s mediation shall be the reigning force. So much for the society at large. Think, too, of the heavenly comfort it must bring to private hearts to have all the sorrows of personal separations ended. There will be no empty rooms that feel empty, or deserted hearts. Communion, fellowship, love, the presence of the loved, will be perpetual.
II. There is a second character of the sea which probably likewise suggested it to St. John, for Christian comfort, as an image of what is of the earth earthy, and must therefore pass away before the coming in of an everlasting satisfaction. The ocean is all a field of nothing but barrenness. Nobody makes a home on that restless, fluctuating floor. The sailor is a ceaseless fugitive. Nothing settles or abides on that restless breast. All the life it ever sees or supports is a transitional, passing life, moving from one tarryingplace or coast to another. What an image it is of the fickle and transient elements of this world that now is, compared with the fixedness and stability and blooming life of that which Christ has opened! More than this: there is a key to this second part of the meaning of the text in the closing passage of the chapter that goes just before. “The sea gave up the dead which were in it.” The sea is a great graveyard. It is the home of the drowned and buried that it has swallowed up by thousands. And it never allows affection to set up a sign where the dead go down. There is no harvest from it, except the harvest of the resurrection. But then, following this scene of the judgment is the new creation, and when the Evangelist comes just after to speak of that, his mind goes back to the sepulchral sea. And lo! it is gone for ever. In other words, dropping the figure, that new world--the Christian home--is all a dwelling-place of life--life everywhere; life without sleep; life for ever. Deselations and destructions are come to a perpetual end. Everything there must be as useful as it is beautiful, and as fruitful as it is fair. You may say there is s wild and wondrous beauty about the ocean; and no doubt in this material world it has its uses; hat neither the gospel in this world nor the evangelic descriptions of the next recognise any beauty that is not the source of peace, or life, or benefaction. Heathen beauty, Greek beauty, cold, restless, faithless intellectual beauty, must be baptized into the warm “spirit of life” in Christ Jesus, or there is no room for it in the heaven Christ opens. (Bp. F. D. Huntington.)
I. Some of the many present uses of “the sea.” Among other special particulars, and mast material, one of the most prominent that strikes us is, it causes under Providence--
1. The fertility of the earth.
2. The temperature of climates. How serviceable are its gales, and how refreshing are its breezes, especially after the burthen and heat of the summer’s day!
3. Employment and sustenance to man. The first followers and chosen disciples of our Lord were chiefly “fishermen.”
4. Intercourse with foreign and distant lands. Again, the sea--
5. Affords security and defence for weaker states, and enables them to withstand the entrenchments of their more powerful neighbours.
6. It signally subserves the purposes of its Creator. “Fire and vapour, storm and tempest, all fulfil the Almighty’s word.” Once the sea arose, “the deeps were broken up, and the foundations of the earth were discovered,” in order to destroy the world.
II. Some emblems taken from “the sea.” In other words, the instructive lessons it particularly gives.
1. It reveals somewhat of the Divine perfections. Doth it not remind us continually of His power, His mercy, and His judgments? How widely spread, how fathomless!
2. The sea represents the varied characters of men.
3. The vicissitudes of human life.
4. The state and circumstances of the world.
III. Some events either literally or figuratively represented as fulfilled--“there shall be no more sea.”
1. No more dangers! no more hazards, likened to “perils on the sea.”
2. No more trials, deceptions, errors, mistakes, and persecutions from the world!
3. No more concealment of, or the keeping from us what is agreeable, and of which we would desire the possession.
4. No more straitened limits and bounded habitations.
5. No more estrangement from our brethren.
6. No more separation from our friends.
7. No longer any distance (any of our present intervening barriers) between the Christian and his God. (W. Williams, M. A.)
No more sea
1. The sea, to St. John and the men of his day, was a great barrier of separation. We must remember that the art of navigation was not then what it is to-day. Think of the ships of the ancients as compared with ours; think of them probably without either chart or mariner’s compass. All this is changed now. The sea, instead of being a barrier, has become the great highway of the nations. But we have to remember what the sea was to St. John. It was a type, an emblem of things that divided men. There was the sea of racial hatred, of selfish interests, of false religions, of cruel prejudice, of bitter animosities. To the Jew every Gentile was a natural enemy, an outcast, a dog of the uncircumcision. To the Greek the people of other nations were barbarians. To the Romans all but their own countrymen were hostes, towards whom enmity was the approved relation. And how much of this continues to this day! We see it in the grasping policy of chartered companies and of statesmen, in the competitions of modern commerce, in the deadly warfare between capital and labour, in the bitterness of sectarian life, in the jealousies and rivalries of social life and the domestic circle.
2. The sea, to St. John, was doubtless a source of fear and terror. The Jews seem to have had no love for the mighty deep. They invariably looked upon it with dread and awe. St. John appears to have shared the sentiment of his countrymen. From his desolate island he had gazed upon the sea in its many and ever-changing moods. His mind associated the most terrible objects with it. It was out of the sea that he saw arise the wild beast having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his heads the name of Blasphemy. It was on the many waters of the deep that he saw seated that purple-clad woman who had upon her forehead written, “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” To him the sea was a type of the confederate forces of evil that were sweeping over the world, spreading ruin and desolation; of the fearful storms that were breaking in upon the infant Church. But it was only to last for a season. Gradually the wild instincts of the human heart would be subdued. The fierce billows of opposition and wickedness and unbelief would be hushed and stilled. They had their limits fixed: “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” There should be “no more sea.”
3. The sea was a type of the world’s unrest. That AEgean Sea, laving the rocky island of Patmos, like the great ocean everywhere, was never still. Whenever he looked out upon it, its waters were heaving and tossing to and fro. A picture of the disquietude of the human spirit apart from God. He had felt it himself before he became a disciple of Jesus Christ: he had seen it in the life of his countrymen, in the life of the philosophers he had met at Ephesus, in the life of that Roman world with which, in various ways, he had been brought into contact. Unrest was the sign everywhere. The world was full of a restless life, of longings and questionings and yearnings it could not still. And the sea described that restlessness better than anything else. And John turned with relief from the troubled scene which everywhere presented itself to the rest-giving work of the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.
4. The sea was a symbol of mystery. It was specially so to the ancients with their limited knowledge of its vast confines and of the wonders and glories of its fathomless depths. Think of the mountains that lie beneath the surface of the deep; of the life with which it teems of the towns and villages it has engulfed; of its myriads of nameless graves; of the secrets it keeps; of tales it has to unfold. Oh, sea! thy name is mystery. And the mystery of which the sea speaks meets us everywhere. Find a man who is not awed with a perception of life’s mysteriousness, and you have found a man who has never seriously begun to think. No sooner do I ask, “What am I? Whence came I? Why am I here? Whither am I going?” than I am conscious that I am in the presence of profound and inscrutable mysteries. Why should there be disease and pain? Why do the innocent suffer with the guilty? What was the origin of evil, and why was it permitted to enter the world? Why does a good and wise Providence allow storm and tempest to overtake men? And here is our comfort, that John foresaw a time when the mysteries of life shall be swallowed up in knowledge. No longer will the great sea of doubt or mystery roll over us; we shall know as we are known, the day shall break, and the shadows rice away, and the dark, impenetrable waters shall be no more. (J. H. Burkitt.)
The holy city, New Jerusalem.
The descent of the New Jerusalem
When tired of the turmoils of the present, how delightful it is to look up and hear, from the blessed source of all transgression, “Behold, I make all things new!” (chap. 5). All things--science, literature, arts, philosophies, commerce, trade, intercourse between countries and provinces, and above all, in religion--all things will be made new. This new golden age belongs to a more interior Christianity than earth has yet received: an inner city for the soul, which was imaged by that which John saw, a golden city and a crystal one, descending from the Lord out of heavens a New Church, the Bride, the Lamb’s wife. Some are startled when they hear of a new Church; yet nothing can be plainer than that such a Church was in due time to be given to men. Jerusalem in the Scriptures signifies the Church: a New Jerusalem must therefore mean a New Church. The magnificent city beheld in spirit by John was a grand symbol of the future new and glorious Church which would bless the earth. It is to descend from God, the Father of His people and the Author of all good out of heaven. It does not originate with man. When the Lord came into the world and planted the kingdom of God within men, as He said (Luke 17:20-21), it is foretold by the prophet in similar terms to those used by John, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,” etc. (Isaiah 65:17-18). To alter the state of society altogether, both as to its principles and practices, is to change heaven and earth. “If any man be in Christ,” said Paul, “he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). And, indeed, when this happy change takes place with any one individually, he feels all things to have a new face and a new reality for him. His view of the Lord is altogether bright and new, where it had before been dark and threatening. His thoughts, his hopes, his prospects, are altogether confident and cheerful, and his outward life is new and virtuous. And may we not look around now, and ask, Is it not so? Has not society, even now, immensely changed? Where are the old bigoted principles which taught men to go out and persecute, and even destroy others, in the name of God? Where all the old maxims which taught each nation to regard others as their natural enemies, and to injure and destroy their power and their trade as a patriotic act and a duty? Where are the selfish maxims which confined power and privilege to a few to whom all others should slavishly bend? These are all gone, or rapidly going; and, instead of their unholy reign, we see constantly advanced and constantly extending sentiments of brotherhood, of reverential remembrance that we are all children of One who is our Father and our Saviour. Every year the mutual intercourse of nations, and the good-will which is its attendant, are extending, and, aided by the victorious march of steam and telegraph, will no doubt ere long unite all nations in the ties of mutual love. A new heaven and a new earth are indeed appearing. And now, therefore, is the time that the New Jerusalem may be expected. Oh, what a hope and a blessing for mankind are unfolded by the descent of this city of God! To those who enter it the perplexities of ages are ended. Enmity gives way to love, anxiety to trust, and crime to virtue. God in His Divine humanity dwells with men. They shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
“I saw the holy city.” The words are allegorical of course. But they signify something in which we all believe. A city is a real thing. Not the less real if it be heavenly. “The holy city” is what we commonly call heaven.
I. Heaven is a state. It is not a place. It may or may not be connected with space: we know not. Certainly that is not its essence. Where God is, where Christ is, there is heaven. If even it have a place, that is not what makes it heaven. Even already, even in this life, we have had experience that neither place nor yet circumstance is a condition of happiness. Such glimpses of happiness as we catch below, whether in others or in ourselves, are absolutely independent of both. Heaven is a state--a state of happiness; of perfect satisfaction for the whole man, in body, soul, and spirit; the entire absence for ever of all that is painful and bitter and sorrowful, and the conscious, the pervading presence of all that is restful and delightful and blessed.
II. Heaven is a society. On the one side we have had trying experiences in this world of companies and co-existences which were not delightful. The wear and tear of life, the rubs and jars of life, the annoyances and wearinesses of life, are connected in our “thoughts not with solitude but with society. But when we speak of heaven, of the Holy City, as a society, we must carefully exclude all these experiences. In heaven there will be perfect communion of mind with mind, heart with heart, spirit with spirit.
1. In his vision of the great multitude which no man could number he gives this as the history of them all (Revelation 7:14).
2. There will be this also--a unity of employment (Revelation 14:4; Revelation 22:3). There will be no monotony there--but there will be unbroken harmony; harmony not of praise only but of work.
3. This unity of memory, and this unity of employment in the holy city, will be, further, and yet more briefly, a unity of worship. (Dean Vaughan.)
The New Jerusalem
But why a New Jerusalem? Because the old one failed of its purpose, and was spoiled by the wickedness of man. What is the idea of Jerusalem as depicted in the Bible? Simply a city where everything is at peace because it is under the full enjoyment of God’s presence, a city which is safe and happy because it allows itself to be guided and ruled by God in every detail. As, however, this old Jerusalem failed of its object, it is the work of God in the Christian dispensation to form a new one. And this is going on now; we are still hoping for and working towards the New Jerusalem. But God does not tell us merely to look forward to it. Just as in the wilderness He was with His people, foreshadowing the glory of Jerusalem in the glory of the tabernacle, so now He is still going about with humanity. We are not, then, to look forward to a Jerusalem as something which will be entirely new, or to a heaven which will be absolutely strange, but rather it is our duty in this world to build up a social life upon such principles as we know will form the basis of life in the future state. There are three great principles appearing over and over again in the Apocalypse in its references to this heavenly society, the New Jerusalem; and the first is that it is a life of brotherhood, of social brotherhood. All the beings to be found there are of one mind, of one heart and soul, before the throne of God, all singing one song, all clothed in the same dress. They are a great brotherhood banded together with but one aim, one desire--and that the glory of Almighty God. The second great principle of the New Jerusalem is the awfulness of sin; over and over again we are told that out of it must be cast everything that is unclean; every sin must be banished. God Almighty is the Light of it, and He cannot look upon impurity. Once more, the third great principle is the absolute supremacy of Jesus Christ. Who is the object of worship in heaven? Who is on the throne whom all the saints and angels are worshipping and adoring? Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha arid Omega, the Beginning and the End, In the New Jerusalem there is but one object of adoration--the Lord Jesus. There is but one beginning and ending, but one answer to every question--Christ. What we want is greater faith in Jesus Christ; a greater belief that God is as good as His word, and that though the world does present a very sorry appearance, and though the Church may seem to be an utter failure, still God is on His throne, and Jesus is interceding for us, and the saints and angels are on our side. But remember, we must be true to our part of the transaction; He needs our co-operation, and it is only by thus working together that we shall produce the New Jerusalem. (James Adderley, M. A.)
The first city and the last
(with Genesis 4:17):--In Genesis we have the first city built by Cain, in Revelation the last city built by Christ. I wish to show how the spirit of Christ will purify and exalt city life, how it will arrest the evil of the multitude within the city walls, how it will develop the good, and bring the corporate life to a glorious perfection. It was said of Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble; but Christ shall work a far grander transformation, for, finding the cities of the earth cities of Cain, He shall change them into New Jerusalems, holy cities, cities of God. We must not look for the city that John saw in some future world, strange and distant; we must look for it in the purification of the present order. Now, what makes a great city a sad sight? what is the cause of its terrible and perplexing contrasts? and how will Christ cure these evils, and bring the clean thing out of the unclean?
I. The spirit of Cain was the spirit of ungodliness. It was the spirit of worldliness, it was the fastening to the earthly side of things, and the leaving out of the spiritual and Divine: it made material life a substitute for God, and in all things aimed to make man independent of God. In opposition to this Christ brings into city life the element of spirituality. “Coming down out of heaven from God.” It is in the recognition of the living God that Christ creates the fairer civilisation. He puts into our heart assurance of God’s existence, government, watchfulness, equity, faithfulness.
II. The spirit of Cain was the spirit of unbrotherliness. The first city was built in the spirit of a cruel egotism, built by a fratricide, and Cain’s red finger-marks are on the city still. The rich things of commerce are stained by extortion and selfishness--the bloody finger-marks are not always immediately visible, but they are generally there, Yes, the foundation-stone of the city was laid on the corpse of a brother, and ever since has the city been built up in the spirit of rapacity, ambition, and cruelty. And what is the outcome of this selfishness? It creates everywhere weakness and wretchedness and peril. It throws a strange black shadow on all the magnificence of civilisation. And in the end, whatever has the stain of blood on it rots and smells and perishes. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of brotherliness. There are red marks once more on the new city, but this time they are the Builder’s own blood, teaching us that as He laid down His life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. Oh! what a mighty difference will the working of this spirit make in all our civilisation! How it will inspire men, soften their antagonisms, lighten their burdens, wipe away their tears, make rough places smooth, dark places bright, crooked places plain.
III. The spirit of Cain was the spirit of unrighteousness. Cain acted in untruthfulness, injustice, violence. Our great populations are full of wretchedness, because there is everywhere such lack of truth and equity and mercy. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of righteousness. Christ comes not only with the sweetness of love, but with the majesty of truth and justice. He creates, wherever He is received, purity of heart, conscientiousness, faithfulness, uprightness of spirit and action. And in this spirit of righteousness shall we build the ideal city. Some time ago, in one of the Reviews, a writer gave a picture of the London of the future, when all sanitary and political improvements shall have been perfected. No dust in the streets, no smoke in the air, no noise, no fog, spaces everywhere for flowers and sunlight, the sky above always pure, the Thames running below a tide of silver; but think of the city of the future in whose life, laws, institutions, trade, politics, pleasure the righteousness of Christ shall find full and final manifestation. Where is the poet, the painter who shall paint for us that golden city so holy and clean? It is painted for us here; it is “the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven,” etc. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The tabernacle of God is with men
The elimination of the law of antagonism
(with Isaiah 28:21):--
The law of antagonism is unnatural. Some great thinkers maintain that nature is altogether good and glorious. A distinguished scientist reminds us of “that gracious Nature to whom man yearns with filial instinct, knowing her, in spite of fables, to be his dear mother (Ray Lankester, “Degeneration;” p. 67). On the other hand, equally able men teach that nature is malefic and abominable. J.S. Mill in a famous passage paints nature as teeming with amazing cruelty and terror. In the opinion of the Gold Coast people a large spider made the world, and the philosopher would have readily agreed that it bore many marks of such creation. So widely different is the interpretation of the world given by these thinkers, that it is hardly possible to believe that they are speaking of the same object. Which view, then, is correct? We say both, and taken together they express the view of the world given in the Christian revelation; the conclusions of philosophy agree with the theology of the Church. Revelation declares that the world as it existed in the thought of God, as it came from the hand of God, was “very good.” The constitution of things was altogether gracious; the original order was full of harmony, loveliness, and blessing. It was just like God to make a world like that which arises with music and splendour upon our delighted senses in the beginning of revelation. A world so garnished and ordered agrees with our conceptions of the Divine wisdom and goodness. Over such an orb well might the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy. Our first text reminds us that God sometimes executes what must be described as “strange work”; that is, work which seems altogether at variance with His glorious character, and with the acknowledged principles of His government. Now we affirm that the whole present government of this world partakes largely of this character; it is a “strange work” to meet an extraordinary crisis. The sweating, the groaning, the bleeding, the dying, all the tragic aspects of life, do not belong to the Divine eternal order; they are the consequences, not of the laws of God, but of the violation of those laws, and they exist only locally and temporally for ends of discipline, lesser evils permitted and overruled for the prevention of greater. If, entering a house, we find a father speaking angrily to his child, taking away his toys, limiting his liberty, chastising him with the rod, we know that all this is contrary to parental feeling, an interruption of the common beautiful order--that it is a “strange work” directed to specific, pressing, necessary ends; so we believe it to be with this present epoch of world-suffering--it is God’s strange act necessitated by our disobedience, still over-ruled by His love.
II. It is the purpose of God in Jesus Christ to abolish the law of antagonism. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them.” The Deity is revealed to us in the Man Christ Jesus, who brings us into loving relationship with God, and into loving relationship with one another, thus banishing the world’s disorder and distress. In His life and death we have the supreme illustration of unselfishness. The grand burden of His gospel is love, mercy, pity; it is the most eloquent plea for charity, sympathy, humanity. And by the power of His Spirit He breaks down in men that tyranny of selfishness which is the secret of all our woes, and enthrones within our soul the power of love. He utterly destroys in the heart of man the egotism, pride, greed, envy, wrath, which render the emulations of society so bitter and destructive. But the question may be urged, What is to guarantee our safety and progress when the fiery law is abolished? The prevalence of the spirit of Jesus Christ. Universal love shall take the place of antagonism in the discipline of the race. In the individual life we find a ready and apposite illustration of the passage from the lower law of action to a higher. In the days of youth we were kept to duty by the austerity of our masters; a whole system of minute and coercive discipline was necessary to overcome our laziness, our love of indulgence, our waywardness. The law of antagonism, as we encountered it in the schoolroom, was very bitter indeed to some of us; yet we now know it was essential to our progress that we should have been subjected to such coercion. But, growing into men, we conceived a passion for knowledge, art, business, duty; larger views opened to us; nobler motives began to make themselves felt, a sense of dignity and responsibility was created in us; the spur within took the place of the spur without, and the whole work of life is now done in a far freer, happier spirit. In Christ we receive the adoption of sons, the inheritance of brothers, and as the spirit of Christ prevails, the race will be controlled by the milder yet stronger principle. The energy of love will replace the energy of hate; the energy of hope, the energy of fear; the energy of disinterestedness, the energy of selfishness; the energy of joy, the energy of suffering: the energy of conscience and righteousness, the energy of lawless passion.
III. The law of antagonism is being eliminated. One of the most remarkable features of modern thought is its deep discontent with the law of antagonism. We are greatly and increasingly pained by the spectacle of universal strife and suffering. We are told that for various reasons the agony of the world is not so great as it seems, that nature knows no morality, that the splendid results justify the bloody battle; these and other excuses are urged in extenuation and defence of the principle of antagonism. But we refuse to be comforted; we will not reconcile ourselves to such ghastly state of things; we decline to believe that such infinite sorrows are normal and inevitable. We may well believe with Emerson, “This great discontent is the elegy of our loss, and the prediction of our recovery.” We see signs of change to a happier state of things in our relation to nature. We are beginning to understand much better the laws and forces of the physical universe; we are rapidly learning how gloriously the elements and creatures may serve us: nay, in the fields of nature we discover how more and more to gather grapes from thorns and riga from thistles. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock”; “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fig tree; and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree.” A celebrated traveller concludes a famous book with these pregnant words: “The superiority of the bleak north to tropical regions is only in their social aspect; for I hold to the opinion that, although humanity can reach an advanced state of culture only by battling with the inclemencies of nature in high latitudes, it is under the equator alone that the perfect race of the future will attain to complete fruition of man’s beautiful heritage, the earth.” Only by battling with the inclemencies of nature can man reach an advance state of culture, but having reached that intellectual and moral perfection, he will under the equator enter into complete fruition of his beautiful heritage. How much all this sounds like the teaching of the Bible! The bleak north makes us, and, being made, the perfect race enters into the paradises reserved for it beneath the sun. And there is much in modern life to indicate how easily all this may come to pass. We see signs of change to a happier state of things within society itself. A process of amelioration is going on everywhere. There is an attempt to get more justice, fairness, and even mercy, into commercial rivalries; to substitute some plan of co-operation for the existing competition, if that is possible. Signs of change to a happier state of things are visible also in international life. There is growing up with wonderful rapidity a sense of the brotherhood of man; a larger and purer patriotism. Salvator Rosa long ago painted his picture, “Peace burning the Instruments of War.” This generation may not witness that glorious bonfire, but many signs signify that ere long it shall be kindled, lighting the footsteps of the race into the vaster glory that is to be. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The tabernacle of God
I. The tabernacle of God is with men.
1. Throughout this whole book we find continual reference to the temple service of the Jews. This furnishes some of its most striking symbols. Thus we have an altar, incense, priests clothed in white, cherubim, and the sacred presence of God.
2. This symbol of the tabernacle denotes the personal approach of the saints to God.
3. This allusion to the tabernacle also instructs us that part of the felicity of heaven will consist in the worship of God.
II. They shall be His people, and He shall be their God.
1. His people. There shall be a public and infallible acknowledgment of all who are His, by their admission into the tabernacle of God.
2. He will be their God. This implies, as in the case of the ancient Jewish Church, the engagement of all His perfections on their behalf.
III. Their exemption from the sufferings and sorrows of mortality. (J. D. Carey.)
Change and the unchangeable
“The tabernacle of God is with men.” That is our great vision of victory, so glorious, so touching. These beautiful words never fail to stir. Let us think a little over the picture. “The tabernacle with men.” First, it tells us that God’s presence among men is now in a house, in an abode, in a home, so that we may know where He is to be found. He is no longer here upon earth merely as a flying cry in the wilderness, as an invisible wind that bloweth where it listeth. But God has done more than send out a cry to the world; He has made Himself a tabernacle, a chosen spot, selected, appointed, where He is always, for every one who will come there, in a permanent, secure place; He has taken up His abode, and He has set His name there in the midst of men, so that among their houses you may know God’s house, and in the thick of their affairs you will see God’s affairs going forward. Look at this vast Cathedral of ours, with its dome and golden cross lifted above, always to be seen, and within the hush of the silent spaces, and souls that are there being steeped in calm. There is just a little something here to show that God has made His tabernacle with men. And yet that is not all or half the picture conveyed to us by these words of St. John. The tabernacle it is, not the temple, we remember. The old word carries us back far beyond the Temple of Zion and the rock. It bids us think of the days of the pilgrimage, of the longtrailing masses moving across the desert sands, always moving, ever onward, drawn forward. In the morning the tent is struck: then there is the long, weary march, and, at the fall of night, the camp again. The changing scene, the unchanging home, that is the stamp and the brand that should be on the Church. First, the moving tent, the tabernacle, that follows as they move. Men are moving still, moving to-day fast, on and on, no rest and no pause, that long, unflagging pilgrimage still proceeding, multitudes and multitudes, and all in motion, quick, eager motion. And the tabernacle of the Church must move with them--“with men” it is to be. That is its first necessity. Wherever they go, beyond all these tumbling seas they have crossed, it must go, through all hazards, at their side, moving with this moving host, they must never miss it. There must be no scruples and dallyings, and fears and anxieties, and suspicions and sloth, which keep the tabernacle behind on the march, lagging, belated, timid, shrinking, left behind in some old deserted camp through which they have gone. There it is to be; not somewhere else, but just there; touching all these novel adventures, welcoming all these new sights, tasting all this new experience, bearing all these new burdens, sharing all these new burdens, sharing all these new anxieties--“with men.” Oh! it must go amid incessant change, and yet still the same tabernacle of our fathers, the same abode where God always can be found, the one gospel, the one pardon, the one benediction, and the one full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice. (Canon Scott Holland.)
God tabernacling with men
Here we have first the announcement of a fact, the fact that God has entered into associations of some kind with man, of an especial and intimate character, more intimate apparently than any which exists between Him and the other creatures of His hand. And secondly we have here as expression of wonder--“the tabernacle of God is with men.”
I. What the “tabernacle of God” implies. Certainly when we transfer an expression like this from the associations of our finite life to the life of the Divine and illimitable Being we must do so with serious reservations. To the Arab of the desert his tent is his covering, his shelter, his home. When a tabernacle is said to be God’s, something more must be meant which corresponds in some way with our human associations with the expression, but something also widely different. To the Omnipresent a tabernacle cannot be a covering, it cannot be a shelter to Him who fills all in all. The expression is of itself startling and parodoxical, and yet it does contain a truth which is not the less worth attention. Reflect, then, on the power which we men have of making our presence emphatic and felt. We know from experience how a man may sit among his fellows, giving little or no token of intelligence and sympathy, watching what passes, hearing what is said, yet making no sign, no intimation even of recognition. And we know how possible is the very reverse of all this, how thought, and feeling, and resolve may flash forth in countenance and in speech, and may profoundly impress, win, subdue all who come within the limits of a striking human personality. This means that we have the power of accentuating our presence among our fellow-men at will. We do not cease to be present in our limited way when we do not thus accentuate it, when we find ourselves in company which throws us back upon our own thoughts as distinct from company which provokes an expression of what we are thinking and feeling. Still, we are made in God’s image, and therefore it is not irreverent, making all due allowance for the interval which separates the finite from the infinite, to presume something analogous in Him. He is the Omnipresent. But He may surely, if He wills, emphasise His presence by connecting either its manifestations or its blessings with particular spots, or actions, or persons, or incidents, or edifices, or ordinances. He is the Almighty, and who shall say Him nay? For us His creatures the only reasonable question can be whether there are grounds for thinking that He has done so: and we do not forget the essential conditions of His illimitable being because we attribute to Him the exercise of a power which He has not denied to ourselves. “The tabernacle of God,” then, is an expression which implies not that the presence of the Omnipotent can be limited, but that it can be for certain purposes determined or emphasised in a particular direction. What is the deepest desire in human nature? what is the secret of that unappeasable restlessness of the human heart which no created object can permanently allay? It is the implanted longing for God. “Like as a hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God”--not merely a desire to know God; knowledge of the unattainable may be only torture, not merely a desire to be purified for the sight of God, but a desire to be really united to Him, a hope that we may evermore dwell in Him and He in us. When the soul which the Infinite Being has created for Himself finds itself one with Him, its deepest instinct is perfectly satisfied, and then, and then only, it is at peace. Now the realisation of this implanted hope of the soul of man was first shadowed out, and then it was provided for. God tabernacled among men first intermittently and distantly, and then by actual union with mankind in the incarnation, and lastly in the society which sprang from this union, the holy Church of Christ.
II. The first Jewish tabernacle. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men.” This might have been said of the sacred tent of which we read so much in the books of Moses, and which was the centre of the worship of Israel until the building of the Temple. It is “the tabernacle of the congregation,” as our version renders the original words; more accurately it is “the tabernacle of meeting.” This solemn phrase implied not a house in which men would meet together to talk or to hear about God, but where God would meet with His people. God would hold His court in it or at it. There He would instruct His chosen servants; there He would meet His people. And the history of Israel abundantly illustrates what was practically meant. With the tabernacle was closely associated a cloud, or pillar of cloud, as the visible symbol of the Divine presence. From it proceeded the guidance, the warning, the judgment which might be needed for Israel. Nor was this cloud by any means the only association of the tabernacle with the sacred Presence. Within the tabernacle was the breastplate of the High Priest, the Urim and Thummim, through which the Divine will was communicated to devout inquirers; and in the holiest recess of the tabernacle was the sacred ark containing the two tables of the law, and covered by the mercy-seat, that symbol of the Divine compassion covering human transgressions of the eternal law; while above were the winged cherubim, representatives these of created life in its highest form, bending to adore the moral revelation of the Self-Existent which the contents of the ark enshrined. We cannot exaggerate the importance of the position of the two tables of the law. It marked off in the eyes of Israel, as sharply as was possible, God’s revelation of Himself as righteousness, from the Egyptian and other Eastern conceptions of Him as some form of cosmic force or nature-power, whether productive or otherwise. And this was the central scene of the Presence vouchsafed in the tabernacle, which made it as the Psalmist calls it, “the tent which He had pitched among men.” And above this ark was the Shekinah, Divine glory, the centre point of the adoration of primitive Israel. The Presence in the tabernacle was undoubtedly a localised presence, a particular determination of the presence of God, whose Being knows no bounds. But the tabernacle had no necessary or inseparable relations to the Presence which it for a while enshrined. Its relation to the Presence was provisional. It did its work for the people of revelation, and then it passed away.
III. A deeper meaning. The sacred manhood of our Lord Jesus Christ, His body and His human soul, became by the incarnation the tabernacle of God. The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, very and eternal God, took man’s nature upon Him in the womb of the Blessed Virgin of her substance; so that two whole and perfect natures were joined together in one person, never to be divided. The Son had existed from eternity; and then He wrapped around His eternal person, and indissolubly, a human body and a human soul. His human body and soul were the tabernacle in which He, the Eternal Word and Son, deigned to dwell, not for thirty-three years only, but for ever. And thus whilst men looked on a human form and heard human language, and noted the circumstances of a human life, and asked, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? and is not His mother called Mary? as if nothing in the world could possibly be plainer, He on the other hand could say without a trace of exaggeration, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father”; “The Son of Man which is in heaven”; “Before Abraham was (become) I am”; “I and the Father are one.” It is this which makes the Gospels unlike any other books, even any other inspired books. They describe a life radically unlike any other life that ever was lived on earth. It is the life of the Divine Being making human nature His tabernacle, dwelling on earth in human form. True, the first three Gospels lay stress chiefly on the human form, and the fourth lays stress chiefly on the Divine nature which it veiled and yet manifested. But they all of them describe One who, living among men, was infinitely more than man, since His manhood was the tabernacle of God.
IV. The Christian Church. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men.” This is true in a somewhat different sense of the Church of Christ, in which Christ has dwelt throughout the Christian ages. He has kept, He is still keeping, His promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” He has been with us for more than eighteen centuries. His Church is an outflow of His incarnate life. For this Church of His is an aggregate of Christian lives, and each living Christian is a product and an extension of the life of the Redeemer. “As He is, so are we in this world,” “Christ in you the hope of glory.” There is more in a Christian’s life, as there was more in that of the Lord Jesus Christ, than meets the eye. The Christian’s thought is supplied, enriched, controlled by a Book in which human words veil the mind of the Eternal. His intellect is illuminated, his affections are expanded, his will is invigorated, his whole nature is first renewed, and then sustained and developed by a force which Christendom calls grace, and which flows forth from the sinless manhood of the incarnate Christ at the bidding of His Spirit. Still, although Christ is thus with His Church, and she is the tabernacle which He has pitched in the wide field of humanity, she is composed of weak and sinful men, and so far she is out of correspondence with the perfect manhood in which His God-head tabernacled on earth, and in which He still dwells within her. The Bride of the Lamb is not yet prepared for the Bridegroom’s welcome. The tabernacle of the Church in which Christ dwells on earth is soiled and torn. It could not be translated in its present condition to the courts above. He who dwells in it must prepare, must glorify, must embellish it. (Canon Liddon.)
God’s tabernacle on earth
The voice that uttered these words is said to have been a “great” one, indicating their importance, and God’s desire that we should listen to the announcement. We are not told who uttered it. It “came out of heaven”; this is all we know. It was the inhabitants of heaven looking down from the upper glory, and rejoicing in what had at length, after so many ages and so many hindrances, been accomplished upon earth.
I. The desirableness of this state of things. Many things show us this.
1. The interest which the inhabitants of heaven take in it, as seen in the words before us.
2. The pains and costs which God has been at to bring about this issue.
3. The work of Christ, through which it has been brought about.
4. The desire with which prophets and righteous men have desired this issue.
5. The change which it will produce on earth.
II. The declared purpose of God as to this glorious issue--God having His tabernacle with men. One of the earliest statements is an intimation of God’s purpose respecting this. Paradise was meant not merely as man’s abode, but as God’s abode with man; so that when man sinned, God is represented as coming down to the garden in the cool of the day. Man’s sin then frustrated, if we may so speak, God’s purpose in the meantime, yet it did not hinder that purpose from being made known. This great original purpose of God to have His dwelling with men continued to be presented to man in type and prophecy from that day forward, to show that it had only been postponed, not abandoned--postponed in order to be carried out more fully and more gloriously than it could have been before. Especially was this the case in Israel’s history, from the time that the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness to the day when the temple and city were laid in ruins by the hand of the aliens. The statement in the Gospel of John regarding the Son of God is another declaration of this same purpose: “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”; literally, tabernacled or pitched His tent among us. And, in our Lord’s words, we have more than once the intimation of the same thing. “If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23). And it is this which is the complete fulfilment of Christ’s name Immanuel, “God with us.” Nor have there been any intimations of God’s design ultimately to abandon earth, after He has accomplished certain ends. On the contrary, all that He has said and done hitherto indicate His intention to restore it, to glorify it, and to fit it for being His abode.
III. The means, or process, by which God is bringing all this about.
1. The first actual step was the incarnation. By taking a body made out of the substance of earth, He joined Himself in perpetual affinity with man and his world; and that which God has thus joined together, who shall put asunder?
2. His life on earth was the second step towards the end in view. His living here for thirty-three years was the declaration of His desire and purpose to make earth the seat of His tabernacle. But in this life we see more than this. We see Him taking possession of creation; we see Him doing battle with its oppressors: we see Him casting out Satan, healing diseases, overcoming death. He who did these things in the day of His humiliation and weakness, and before His great work upon the Cross was accomplished, will surely do exceeding abundantly more than all these, in the day of glory and power, now that He has finished His work, and put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
3. His death was the next step. He was earth’s Sin-bearer as well as man’s. He took upon Him the curse of earth as well as man; and the thorns which formed His crown showed how truly He was bearing the curse upon creation which Adam’s sin had caused. As the bearer of man’s guilt, He was nailed to the cross; as the bearer of earth’s curse, He was crowned with thorns. Earth has now been sprinkled with His blood; and that blood cleanseth from all sin.
4. His burial was the next step. By death the Prince of life overcame death; and in His burial He was pursuing the routed foe, and compelling him to deliver up his prey. Thus did He commence the expulsion from death of that mortality and corruption which had defaced it so sadly.
5. His resurrection was the next step. Wresting His own body from the dominion of death, He showed how ere long He is to wrest, not only the bodies of His saints, but the whole creation, from the bondage of corruption. Christ’s resurrection not only proclaimed Him to be the Son of God with power, but also the Prince of the kings of the earth.
6. His ascension into heaven was the next step. When He ascended, He not only led captivity captive, but He carried up into heaven His own body as the representative of earth. That portion of earth which, in His body, He has carried up into heaven, proclaims to the inhabitants of heaven His interest in earth, and to the inhabitants of earth the certainty of His purpose respecting earth’s final restitution. And for what is this ascended Saviour interceding? Not only for His Church, but for earth itself. “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost ends of the earth for Thy possession.”
Nor shall these intercessions be long in vain. Soon shall they be all answered, and the cry be heard, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men!”
1. Saint, are you making ready for that day? Are you walking worthy of an heir of that glory? Are you remembering that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost? Are you at one with Father and with Son in your desire for that restitution of all things?
2. Sinner, what are your thoughts of that day? What hopes have you of sharing its blessedness? From that world all sin is swept away; and can you hope to dwell in it? Nothing that defileth shall enter; and do you expect to enter it? (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The descent of heaven to earth
I. The sentiments of which this proclamation is expressive.
1. The exultation of joyous discovery.
2. The rapture of sacred astonishment.
3. The eagerness of solemn expectation.
4. A benevolent interest in all that pertains to the welfare and destiny of man.
5. The satisfaction of devout intelligence, beholding in the events which it contemplates fresh attestations of the stability and fulness of their own eternal welfare, as dependent on the Divine counsels and character.
6. Preparation for instant and cheerful concurrence in the effectuation of God’s purposes, and the advancement of His glory.
II. The events by which this proclamation is called forth.
1. It is impossible not to be directed, in the first place, to the wonders of providence, as exhibiting, in all their succession and variety, the immediacy of God’s concern for human welfare, and the individuality, as well as constancy, of His regard.
2. But we turn to a still more elevated subject, and notice the sublimer wonders of redemption, as adapted pre-eminently to arouse the emotions and corroborate the sentiments which our text embodies.
3. We would briefly advert to the mysteries of sanctifying influence, as signalising the residence of the Spirit of God even in the hearts of His people.
4. The final revelations of the Divine power and greatness, both at the close of time, and through the ages of eternity.
III. For the direct improvement of this inquiry, let us now examine the manner wherein it teaches us to reflect both on our privileges and our duty.
1. We should meditate upon this subject with mingled gratitude and wonder, as on a theme majestic even beyond our highest contemplation, and yet not too elevated for our hopes.
2. We should reflect on the subject before us with united watchfulness, diligence, and trust, by which alone we can practically realise the enjoyment of so great a blessing.
3. Let us connect our meditations, in relation to the truth thus certified, with a correspondent appreciation of every ordinance which confirms it, and every symbol whereby it is made known.
4. The consideration of this blessing should inspire us with sacred ambition and a generous ardour to diffuse both its knowledge and its participation among those who are yet destitute of its enjoyment.
5. Let us, finally, contemplate the declaration of the text with holy and unquenchable desire directed habitually towards that happy period, wherein it shall attain the perfect disclosure of its import and the perpetuity of its unlimited fulfilment. (R. S. McAll, LL. D.)
The tabernacle of God with men
The Feast of Tabernacles is fulfilled by the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. His body--tent-like--was set up in the manger.
1. The tabernacle in the desert was in the first instance the pledge of God’s constant presence with His people. Christ said, “I am with you alway.” But in the tabernacle of the Jews there was a special token of the Divine presence in the Shechinah. So the presence of Christ is at times made more manifest by the Holy Ghost.
2. The tabernacle was also a witness. It was a witness to God’s faithfulness, love, and care. What a witness was the Incarnation.
3. The tabernacle was the appointed place and means for all intercourse with God. By Jesus we have communion with God. He is God brought near.
4. The tabernacle was for sacrifice. No sacrifice could be offered in any other place. The incarnate Christ is the sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is our burnt offering--He is also the altar of incense, and it is only through Him that any of our offerings, praise, money, service, bodies, can rise acceptable to God.
5. This tabernacle, altar, sacrifice, incense are always at hand--“with men” we can obtain forgiveness at any moment. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The highest good
I. The highest companionship.
II. The highest relationship.
1. Subjects of My kingdom.
2. Students in My school.
3. Children in My family.
III. The highest proprietorship.
1. No one can have higher possession.
2. No soul can be satisfied without this possession. (U. R. Thomas.)
Heaven on earth
The text tells you that the tabernacle of God can come down from heaven and be a dwelling-place to man. You are living in a world of sin, which is continually pressing upon you on every side with all its weight. Your souls made for higher things cannot breathe freely in it. Its elements are hostile to your well-being. And the only way in which you can protect yourselves effectually from the evil that is in the world is to bring down the air of heaven into it, and surround yourselves with its crystal purity. It you take that vital air with you wherever you go, it will be a wall of defence round about you, which will keep out all evil influences. There is no protection like this tabernacle of God within which you dwell, this element of godliness in which you live, and move, and have your being. And what blessedness do they enjoy who are hid in this tabernacle of God! Whatever may be the things that yield you most happiness here, nothing can give you solid satisfaction even in these, but the enjoying of them in the Lord, in union with Him whose blessing maketh truly rich and addeth no sorrow. Nothing can give such a zest to earthly joys and pursuits as the assurance that you are naturalised in the heavenly world. What wonderful properties does the air of heaven impart to the things of earth! We forget that our common earth is already among the stars, is itself a star; that we are truly at present celestial inhabitants. Would that it were true of us that we are made to sit together in the heavily places in Christ Jesus here and now; that the spiritual world is over our natural world as the sky is over the earth, and influences everything in it! Would that we were not merely preparing for a future heaven, but living in heaven now! And in order to make the tabernacle of God to be indeed with men, you must each of you do your share. If God is your own tabernacle, and you show by your character and conduct that you are living a life of faith in Christ, you will help to make the whole world one tabernacle of God. The kingdom of heaven within you, will help to make a kingdom of heaven without you. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.
No tears in heaven
Tears are the symbol of sorrow. Tears are sometimes shed through excess of joy. Yet a tearful joy is ever akin to grief.
I. The present state of the believer is one of tears.
1. Because he is living in a world of sin.
2. Because he is in a world of suffering. Because of sin, suffering has an inlet through our whole nature, and is the chief burden of its history. It rises up like mist out of the landscape, to darken the whole scene of our present pilgrimage.
3. Because the world in which he lives is a world of death. As a curse, death is inseparable from sorrow. Even where unstinged, it tells of pain, of suffering, and tears.
II. The future state of the believer is one in which there shall be no tears.
1. This removal of tears is directly traceable to God. It is enjoyed through grace in virtue of the Saviour’s blood, and God bestows it through the pardon of the believer’s sins, and by giving him a right and title to eternal life.
2. This removal of tears is complete. In the future world every source of sorrow shall have gent.
3. This removal of tears shall be for ever. Never shall heaven’s sky be clouded nor heaven’s bliss be interrupted by one single moment’s experience of the vicissitudes of time.
III. The reason why the future state of the believer shall be a state free from tears.
1. Because of the believer’s personal presence with Christ.
2. Because it is a state of personal perfection.
3. Because it shall be a state of renewed union and communion with Christian friends for ever.
4. Because it is a state of unalloyed happiness. (G. Jeffrey, D. D.)
The tearless heaven
Amongst the troubles of this chequered earth our griefs are sometimes so sore that tears come as a relief. But this is not because tears are a good thing in themselves, but because an outward weeping is better than an inward lamentation. Tears have but one deep, primary source, and that source is sin. Beneath our gentlest virtues there sleeps the lava of an evil impulse ready to spring forth at any small ignition. When the penitent weeps over his sins, when the Christian weeps over his shortcomings, it is well; for they are the mourners in Zion to whose gloom a dawn is promised. “Blessed are they that thus mourn, for they shall be comforted.” When the finger of the destroyer beckons us to look at our cherished ones lying in his embrace, it is not wrong to weep. Such tears must flow, for they are the signs of severed love. From whatever source the tears we shed may spring, they shall be wiped away in heaven.
1. They are sometimes caused by temporal depression. Such depression cannot extend beyond the bounds of time. In the abode where tears are wiped away there shall be no more poverty. “They shall hunger no more,” etc.
2. Defective friendships are a prolific source of tears. Sometimes this defection is occasioned by infirmity, temper, ignorance, or prejudice. Many are our friends just so long as the sun of prosperity is shining; bat as soon as our sky darkens into gloom, their smiles darken into frowns. Ay, and treacherous relationships, too, draw forth our tears. What bitter tears did David shed over the perfidy of his own son! And there’s many a father now who knows something of the same grief. The flatterer of to-day is the reviler of to-morrow. The smile will often wreath into a sneer, and the eulogy change into a scoff. But there will be no faithless friends in heaven. No Judas shall be found sitting at the board. No tears shall fall over the treachery of lover, brother, friend.
3. How widely, moreover, do the fingers of affliction fling open the sluices of our tears! These frames of ours are frail. “All flesh is grass.” And it is an affecting sight to watch in those we love the gradual or quick transition from health to sickness, from activity to languor, and from strength to pain. But there is no infirmity, no mental or physical decay, to break in upon the immortal activity and youth of heaven. And what is the hand which shall thus wipe away our tears? It is a hand which once was pierced with nails; but there is no scar upon it now.
The banishment of these tears is an act which is Divine. He sends no ministering angel round to soothe and comfort those He has redeemed; but He is His own missionary, and carries His own solace. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
1. He will do in lovingly. As the “brother born for adversity,” He will come gently on His assuaging errand; and as a high priest touched with a feeling of our infirmities, will He bid our mourning cease.
2. And He will do it effectually. He will not merely dry up a fountain that shall anon break forth afresh; but all tears shall be wiped away. Every cause of tears shall be removed; for He shall destroy sin, the great master evil--the wide, deep ocean from which all tears have been supplied. (A. Mursell.)
The utter removal of sorrow in heaven
I. We are to consider the tears.
1. We will mention those which arise from secular affliction.
2. Those that arise from social losses.
3. Those that arise from bodily pains and infirmities.
4. Those which arise from moral imperfections--to a Christian the most painful of all.
5. Those which arise from the wickedness of others.
II. Let us pass from the tears to consider the removal of them. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”
1. It is Divine. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” He alone can do it; He is the Father of mercies, the God of all grace, the God of all comfort.
2. The deliverance is future. It is not said, God does, but “God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes.” Earth will always be distinguished from heaven. You are now in the conflict; and it is a trying one. It is death that will proclaim the triumph, and say the warfare is accomplished.
3. The deliverance is complete. “God shall wipe away all tears.” Nothing shall be seen but joy and gladness--nothing heard but thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
4. It is certain. Thy hope maketh not ashamed, because it is founded in the word of Him that cannot lie.
III. The uses we are to make of this delightful assurance.
1. Are you found in the number of the heirs of this promise? Will this be accomplished with regard to you?
2. The subject should remind us of our obligation to the Redeemer of sinners.
3. Does not this subject completely roll away the reproach of religion?
4. Christians, in the midst of your troubles, this subject ought to comfort you. You see that the last is the best, not only of some but of all your trials. (W. Jay.)
No more death.
What is death?
I. Death is “the wages of sin.” Men try to keep that fact out of view, and ascribe death to accident, disease, and second causes, without fathoming the depths to which they ought to descend. In Adam’s transgression, that was wrapped up like the oak in the acorn. “The wages of sin is death.” Man works for and wins that; and the Judge of all the earth uprightly pays it.
II. Or, death is a divine appointment--“It is appointed unto man once to die.” It did not obtain a place in God’s world without His permission or decree. No casualty, no blind chance precipitates man into the grave. It is not nature worn out, or so much animal machinery wasted away, it is the judicial appointment of the Holy One, protesting against all iniquity.
III. Or, death is “the king of terrors.” It is often called “the debt of nature”; and that is one of the softening epithets by which men try to disguise from themselves the true character of death. But, in truth, nature abhors and recoils from such an allegation. Death comes because nature has been outraged, because the heart of man has revolted against his God; and the rebel must therefore encounter all that is terrific, since he supposed there was a more excellent way than living in amity and walking in love with his Maker.
IV. Or, death is the extinction of spiritual life--“In the day that thou eatest thou shalt die.” Man then became dead to God, to holiness, to happiness, and heaven--he was dead in trespasses and sins.
V. But mercy did interpose; and we therefore proceed to view death under another aspect--it is an abolished thing; Christ has “abolished death.” Strange message that, amid our crowded churchyards, where the dead far outnumber the living in the less crowded city! Yet not more strange than true--wherever the way appointed by the Lord of Life is followed, death is abolished, and the body and soul will both live for ever.
VI. Or, death is a sleep. “Sleep in Jesus.”
VII. Or, death may be regarded as the servant, and the very property of believers: “All things are yours … whether life or death.” In such a case, death is the messenger sent to call the believer home, or to summon him into the presence of his Father. The grotto of Posilippo is a long dark passage through a mountain near Naples. While in that vault-like place, extending over some hundreds of yards, the wayfarer feels the dreariness and discomfort of the scene. But when he emerges to the west, the bay of Bairn stretches at his feet, one of the richest and most balmy even of Italian scenes; or to the east--then he is greeted by the bay of Naples, with its unutterable outspread of beauty, of city, of mountains, ocean, and volcano, till the eye revels and luxuriates amid the profusion of loveliness. It is a type of the believer emerging from death. The new heavens and the new earth are spread out before him; and though there be “no more sea,” the fulness of joy becomes his beatitude for ever. The curse is quenched--the sting is extracted; and misery, sorrow, fear--for all these things are portions of death--are over for ever. (Christian Treasury.)
The end of sorrow
How many tears now fall daily from weeping eyes.
1. How oft-times the Christian sheds the tears of penitence, as he feels the shadow of guilt fall across the memories of the past. But there the painful remembrance of his errors will be lost in the glad radiance of eternal absolution.
2. Here we sometimes cannot help the bitter tears of mortification rising to our eyes at our own failures in the Christian life. In a better world we shall see how God led us. He will wipe away the tears of regret and mortification, as we learn why it was that our lives were moulded and shaped in this or that fashion.
3. Often in this life the Christian sheds tears of indignation. Dean Swift, who, with all his faults, had an honest hatred of what was mean and unjust, had inscribed, by his own direction, on his tomb, that he hoped to rest, “where fierce indignation would no longer lacerate his heart.” But the balmy air and the sunny slopes of the new paradise of God will never know anything of the sin, the injustice, and the cruelty, which, by their shadows, darken the heart even of the Christian here. (W. Hardman, LL. D.)
Neither … pain.--
No more pain
There is no need to explain to any human being what it is that is meant by pain. We know pain by the best means of knowing: we know it by having felt it. There is a sense in which we may use the word, in which its meaning is wider than it is as it stands in this text. Pain may be taken to mean everything that you would shrink from, from whatever source it may come everything that implies suffering, sorrow, anguish. But it is not in this large sense that the word is to be understood in this text. For you observe that the writer of the Revelation distinguishes it from sorrow, from death, from tears. But pain means bodily suffering. Pain means that suffering which though felt in the soul has its origin in the body. And now you see that in the better world there is to be an end of it. “There shall be no more pain.” In the better world above, then, pain shall be unknown. Many a poor sufferer, doubtless, will cherish a very soothing and cheering thought of heaven as the only place where there is “no more pain.” Pain is in itself never a desirable thing. Great good may come through it, or of it; but the actual suffering in itself must always be a thing from which we would, if it were possible, shrink away. You know how pain, even when not very great, and even when not likely to be followed by serious consequences, destroys the enjoyment of life. A thousand blessings may be neutralised, so far as concerns their power of making us happy, by one little fretting pain. For pain is a thing that you cannot well forget while you are enduring it; it has a wonderful power of compelling attention to itself; you cannot long or heartily think of anything else while you are suffering acute pain. But pain does worse than mar the enjoyment of life; it unfits, as a general rule, for the work and duty of life. As a general rule you cannot do your work well when you are suffering pain even if not very great. It worries you; it draws off your attention from what you are about; you have no heart for your task. And there are worse possibilities about pain than even these. I do not forget that by God’s blessed Spirit’s working it has often been sanctified to work the soul great good; it has served to wean the affections from the things of time and sense. But this is the tendency of pain sanctified, it is not the natural tendency of pain. Do not you know that pain just as frequently makes the sufferer fretful and impatient, peevish and ill-tempered to those around; nay, ready to repine at the allotment and providence of God! But all this naturally leads us to ask, If pain be so bad a thing, and if it be so happy an assurance that the day is coming when there shall be no more of it, why is it here at all?
1. Pain teaches us, for one thing, how feeble and dependent we are. The proverb says that pride feels no pain: only let the pain be great enough and where will be the pride!
2. And for a second thing, pain is something to remind us of the evil of sin. You never would bare had a headache if it had not been for sin. You never would have known a sleepless night, a shooting pang through the nerves, or a dull weight at the heart, if it had not been for sin. Our natural tendency is to think to ourselves, oh, sin is not right--it cannot be justified, it is bad no doubt,--but it is not such a very great matter after all. What does pain say to that, think you!
3. And another lesson taught us by pain is suggested by this, it is how terribly God can punish; what tremendous appliances of punishment He has at His command. What fearful suffering God does inflict even in this world! No man would have kept that poor sufferer in that suffering for one minute. But God keeps him there: keeps him day after day, week after week. Oh, we have an inflexible Judge to face, merciful though He be! So pain teaches something of the severity of God. But I turn gladly to another lesson, a far happier lesson, taught us by pain.
4. It reminds us how great was our blessed Saviour’s love for our poor sinful souls, which made Him bear such an unutterable load of anguish as He bore for us. Such are certain lessons which we are taught by pain. But in the better world pain will not be needful to enforce them. They will be remembered there so far as it is fit that they should be remembered, without the necessity of having that sad monitor ever near. And thus, as in that happy country, pain would be of no use, pain will go. Oh the comfort of the thought! Christians who have suffered much in this being remember this, that in heaven there shall be “no more pain.” The parting pang which the believer feels in leaving this world is the very last that he shall ever feel at all. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
No pain among the blessed
I. What are the evils which flow from pain, and usually attend it in this life?
1. Pain has a natural tendency to make the mind sorrowful as well as the body uneasy.
2. Another evil which attends on pain is this, that it so indisposes our nature as often to unfit us for the business and duties of the present state.
3. Pain unfits us for the enjoyment of life as well as for the labours and duties of it.
4. Another inconvenience and evil which belongs to pain is that it makes time and life itself appear tedious and tiresome, and adds a new burden to all other grievances.
5. Another evil that belongs to pain is that it has an unhappy tendency to ruffle the passions, and to render us fretful and peevish within ourselves, as well as towards those who are round about us.
6. Pain carries a temptation with it, sometimes to repine and murmur at the providence of God.
7. To add no more, pain and anguish of the flesh have sometimes prevailed so far as to distract the mind as well as destroy the body. Extreme smart of the flesh distresses feeble nature, and turns the whole frame of it upside down in wild confusion. It has actually worn out this animal frame, and stopped all the springs of vital motion.
II. What just and convincing arguments or proofs can be given that there are no pains nor uneasy sensations to be felt by the saints in a future state, nor to be feared after this life?
1. God has assured us in His Word that there is no pain for holy souls to endure in the world to come.
2. God has not provided any medium to convey pain to holy souls after they have dropped this body of flesh.
3. There are no moral causes nor reasons why there should be anything of pain provided for the heavenly state.
III. What are the chief moral reasons or designs of the blessed God in sending pain on His creatures here below, and at the same time show that these designs and purposes of God are finished.
1. Pain is sometimes sent into our natures to awaken slothful and drowsy Christians out of their spiritual slumbers, or to rouse stupid sinners from a state of spiritual death.
2. To punish men for their faults and follies, and to guard them against new temptations.
3. To exercise and try the virtues and the graces of His people.
IV. Inquire what are those spiritual lessons of instruction which may be learned on earth from the pains we have suffered or may suffer in the flesh.
1. Pain teaches us feelingly what feeble creatures we are, and how entirely dependent on God for every moment of ease.
2. The great evil that is contained in the nature of sin, because it is the occasion of such intense pain and misery to human nature.
3. How dreadfully the great God can punish sin and sinners when He pleases in this world or in others.
4. When we feel acute pains we may learn something of the exceeding greatness of the love of Christ, even the Son of God, that glorious Being who took upon Him flesh and blood for our sakes, that He might be capable of pain and death, though He had never sinned.
5. The value and worth of the Word of God, and the sweetness of a promise which can give the kindest relief to a painful hour, and soothe the anguish of nature.
6. The excellency and use of the mercy-seat in heaven, and the admirable privilege of prayer.
1. The frequent returns of pain may put us in mind to offer to God His due sacrifices of praise for the years of ease which we have enjoyed.
2. To sympathise with those who suffer.
3. Since our natures are subject to pain it should teach us watchfulness against every sin, lest we double our own distresses by the mixture of guilt with them.
4. Pain in the flesh may sometimes be sent to teach us to wean ourselves by degrees from this body which we love too well; this body which has all the springs of pain in it.
5. We are taught to breathe after the blessedness of the heavenly state wherein there shall be no pain. (T. Hannam.)
The painless world
I. Pain is not needed there to stimulate scientific research. Supreme love for the Creator will give men such a delightful interest in all His works as will make inquiry the highest delight of their nature.
II. Pain is not needed there to test the reality of moral principle. The character will be perfected--the gold purified from all alloy.
III. Pain is not needed there to promote the development of character. We shall be like Christ, changed into His image, from glory to glory.
IV. Pain is not needed there to aid us in appreciating the sufferings of christ.
V. Pain is not needed there to impress us with the enormity of sin. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Pain: its mystery and meaning
Suffering is the most stupendous fact in human experience; it is the most difficult problem in our religion. Alas! it is not necessary to prove its existence. We see it everywhere. It is a blessed thing that amidst such surroundings sensitive persons, who feel the thrusts of life keenly, and acutely sympathise with pain in its manifold forms, as experienced by others, can by means of the imagination be cheered with a foreglance of a better state of things when the former things shall have passed away. The Apostle Paul, a man of massive and logical intellect, the greatest Jew that ever lived, was a glorious dreamer who found comfort and courage in the bright prospect of the far-off future. The first point of view in which pain presents itself is that of a mystery. Let us hear what metaphysicians have to say respecting it. Plato tells us that pain is the root, the condition, the antecedent of pleasure, and the latter is only a restoration of the feeling subject from a state contrary to nature to a state conformable with nature. The Kantian philosophy maintains that pleasure is the feeling of the furtherance, pain of the hindrance of life. “Pleasure,” says Hamilton, “is a reflex of the spontaneous and unimpeded exertion of a power, of whose energy we are conscious. Pain, a reflex of the overstrained or repressed exertion of such a power.” “Pain,” affirms Calderwood, “is not merely a negation or want of pleasure, but a positive experience opposite in kind.” “By pleasure and pain I must be understood to mean whatsoever delight or uneasiness is felt by us, whether arising from any grateful or unacceptable sensation or reflection,” is the opinion expressed by John Locke. After reading all that philosophers have written on the subject, mankind will still regard it as an unmitigated evil, nor will they be on the way to unravel the mystery. It may be said that this is a world of probation, and that pain is penal or disciplinary. Such is often the case, but it is not always so. Walk through the lengthy wards of a children’s hospital. There is no discipline there. Poor children! they are too young to be its fitting subjects. Take man as we find him--African or Englishman, Greek or Roman--and stud what you see. The poor beggar that sweeps the crossing, and that holds out his hat to you for a copper, is a child of God as much as you; the only difference being that perhaps you know it and try to act like a child, while he has forgotten it altogether. Every-day life experiences are illustrative of the Pauline expression, “The whole creation groaneth,” etc. Does Almighty God find His pleasure in the most degraded form of sensualism, in witnessing the torments of His creatures? Were such a conclusion possible, I could not ask you to render homage to Him, because He is the sweetest, gentlest, noblest of beings. I should become the victim of despair. But let me crush the spirit of blasphemy, and clear up this dark mystery by consulting the oracles of God. Therein I learn that man is the author of all the misery he endures. God made man free, the arbiter of his destiny; but when put to the proof he failed, yielded to temptation, and chose evil for his good. Man being the creature of sin, disease, and pain, his posterity, from the hour of birth, must have inherent in their nature the elements of multiform suffering. Here you see that sin is not necessarily the penalty, but the consequence, always of previous transgression. Moreover, you will observe that each generation, by its own irregularities, will entail upon its successor minds more debased, and bodies more accessible to disease. Here you have an explanation of the mystery of pain. From our own experience we can reason that pain in its manifold shapes works for our good. Tell me the painful feeling in you, and I will explain to you its mode of operation. Have you a want unsatisfied, are you weary of your pleasures, are you discontented with your circumstances? In this feeling there is a strong impulse to action. Are you depressed by a sense of deficiency or of transgression? Therein you have an impulse towards virtue, towards improvement. Do you sigh for friendship, or feel the sting of unrequited love? Therein you are urged to live out of self, and to be kind, generous, and pitiful to the many hearts that bleed in this cold and selfish world. Are you sick-bereaved? Has pain deadened your body to all sensuous pleasure? Or, surrounded by your kind, is your heart a desolation? Fortitude, faith, patience, trust in heaven, the hope of heaven there are no other resources when the heart is broken and the body shattered by disease. To the eye of a sculptor in every block of stone there is a statue; but to make it visible to every eye it must be cut out of the block with mallet and chisel. But the stone does not see the end in view, it only feels the rough treatment which it querulously resents. It wishes to be left alone. It is quite satisfied with itself as it is. “How long must I suffer?” asks the stone sorrowfully. “Only till all that is unsuitable and improper shall be removed,” rejoins the chisel; “and when made meet for the high situation you are to occupy, you will be placed amongst the others, and be as beautiful as they are.” Pain is oftentimes the result of disobedience to physical laws; not seldom is it hereditary, the diseased body and corrupt affections being transmitted by parents to their offspring; but in many instances it is not traceable to either of these causes. A being may be sinless and still a sufferer; a sufferer, not because his heart is base, but because his soul is noble. It we be pitiful, tender, and sympathetic, we cannot escape suffering. Such suffering develops character; and by it we become partakers of God’s holiness--of His exquisite compassion and sensibility. Do not, therefore, suppose that simply because you suffer you are set apart of God and made an example. You are under the law which Christ lived under, which all human families live under. Those who have never suffered know only the surface of life. As one must strike flint to call forth sparks of fire, so must we strike the heart to make it capable of great and noble deeds. Austerity and mortification moulded the saints of old. They met misfortune with a smile, and scorned the fear of death even when the fire was at the stake, and the flames rose around their heads, because they knew that out of their very ashes God would call them to an immortality of happiness. This is the true effect of sorrow: it detaches us from the earth, lifts us up to heaven, and unites us to God. (J. E. Foster, M. A.)
I. The existence, and even the dominance of pain. I do not think that we get to the deepest root of this tree of mystery by the common assertion that it was the sin of man from which all death and pain sprang. It is a significant fact that the higher the nature the more sensitive it is to pain.
II. It is not impossible for us to discover some of the purposes of pain whose prevalence in this world is so widespread.
1. Take one of the lower signs of human progress by way of example. Think of the increase in knowledge and skill which has followed on the sufferings of the race.
2. Think next of the connection existing between sufferers and sympathy. May it not be a part of God’s purpose in permitting pain that it links us together in the bonds of love?
3. Nor must we overlook the effect of pain and sorrow on moral character and on religious faith. Wrongly received, they provoke to sin; rightly received, they lead us to self-conquest, to patience, to sympathy for others, and to fellowship with Christ. (A. Rowland.)
“Neither shall there be any more pain.” This is the inscription on the tomb of Robert Hall in Bristol cemetery. He would often roll on the carpet in agony, we are told, with the pain in his back. (Thos. Cooper.)
Pascal, the great mathematician and moralist, said, “From the day that I was eighteen I do not know that I have ever passed a single day without pain. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
F.W. Robertson’s sufferings
Torturing pains in the back of his head and neck, as if an eagle were rending there with its talons, made life dreadful to him. During Monday, Tuesday, and the greater part of Wednesday in every week he suffered severely. Alone in his room he lay on the rug, his head resting on the bar of a chair, clenching his teeth to prevent the groans which, even through the sleepless length of solitary nights, the ravaging pain could never draw from his manliness. (S. A. Brooke, M. A.)
For the former things are passed away.--
The transient making room for the permanent
As a mere statement of a fact obvious to one who reviews any period of a history from a point subsequently reached, this of course is comparatively commonplace. The former things are always passing away as one advances in knowledge and character and power. It is so with the individual. No man or woman has reached the period of maturity without having left behind many things which belong to the earlier periods of life. And what is true of the individual is true as well of the community; true of a city. So it is with the world itself. All former things are continually passing away. The early cannibalism, the early human sacrifices; war undertaken simply in an impulse of rapacity and carried on in a spirit of ferocious cruelty; tyrannies, kingly and feudal; slaveries which were so universal in the past--they have gone into history. Society, in the world at large, has thus been radically changed, and while perhaps not complete, certainly the life is better; it has more liberal institutions, juster legislation, wider possibilities, a trust in God more quickening, more instructive literature, more lovely and laudable arts than it had in the earlier time. Former things from it have passed away, the chains have dropped from the limbs of the emancipated slave as the darkness passes from the vision under the hand of the skilful surgeon who removes the cataract from the eye. Many things are lost which we would like to keep in this process of development, and which we would like to blend with the knowledge and power of our maturer years--the simplicity of childhood, its capacity for learning, its confidence and admiration and wonder. In the city as it goes on in opulence and power we would like to retain, if it were possible, the early neigh-hourly feeling, early simplicity of manners. And the world at large loses something in losing its primitive fancies, which belong to the auroral period of human experience. And yet, upon the whole, it is vastly for the better, as we are constantly aware. The hope of humanity consists in this continual progress, where the former things are passing away and the new things are being attained and realised. It is the introduction of Christianity into such sluggish, stagnant and unaspiring empires as those of China or of Japan, as they were only a single century ago, which gives for them hope and promise as concerning the future. The former things are passing away. In the nature of the case they must pass away from the individual and from the race, as higher influences come to act upon it. So we should anticipate that when John, the prophet of the Apocalypse, looked forward into the final period of human history he would be struck with this fact that all the former things were passed away and He who is Lord of the earth hath made all things new. He would find his prophecy in part realised if he were to return again upon the earth and mingle in human society as it now exists. But yet these changes as they have already appeared, and as he would see them if he were to revisit the planet, are only prophetic of changes which are to be realised when the power by which these have been wrought has come to its complete consummation in history. And it is a beautiful thing in his prophecy that, looking forward to the very termination of history on earth, he sees the earth and the heavens closely assimilated, so that you cannot tell where the horizon of the earth ends and that of heaven begins. There are some points I will remark upon for your consideration.
1. One is that we here touch the characteristic difference between the Christian and any other form of religion known in the world. What is sadder in history than to see how the Greek mind, the Egyptian mind, the Persian mind, and the Roman mind had sunk into hopelessness of the future, at the time when the gospel of Christ was preached in the world. On the other hand, the gospel looks forward to glory to be realised in the centuries to come; sees for ever things passing away that better things may appear; sees the customs of society shivered and suddenly disappearing or gradually disintegrating, or falling into heaps of rubbish. So in all a new force is working in the world to lead men forward in communities to a higher level and nobler vision. It expects its ultimate victory in the glory of the future.
2. That is one thought, and another is of the superb confidence which the early Christianity felt in itself and which its teachers had in it. It is to conquer where philosophies have failed; it is to triumph where arts have only degraded the world; it is to purify where the human race has been sinking deeper and deeper in the mire of sin. Now, cannot we enter into the sublime confidence of the apostles, with Christianity enthroned already over the larger half of the world? I am ashamed of myself; I am ashamed of any Christian individual or Church where there is the least fear or apprehension concerning the progress and the mastery of this religion, whose earliest disciples knew its power, because they had seen the Lord; had stood around His Cross; had looked into the gate of the sepulchre from which He had come forth.
3. Another thought is suggested--namely, this: I have said already that we are sorry to lose many things which we, after all, have to leave behind us as we go on in our life personally or as communities, but when sin is expelled there is no longer any reason why that which has been lovely in the earlier life of any person should not continue, and only come to its more perfect manifestation in the completed maturity. What is it that corrodes and destroys the simplicity of childhood? What is it that destroys that early and tender confidence in others which is the beauty of our unfolding life? What is it that makes us desirous in future life of the consciousness of power out of which comes pride? Of the consciousness of position out of which we are aware that we have lost the pure sincerity and sweetness of our childhood’s years? Everywhere it is the element of sin. When at last that completed state is realised from which sin itself is eliminated, all the innocence of childhood with all the wisdom of age shall be charmingly combined; all the sweetness of early fancy with all the power of developed faculty; and then, in addition to this, that which has been imperfect and ignorant in the first will become an occasion of gladness and praise because we have been delivered from it.
4. Finally, the perfection of that state is the warrant of its fixedness and finality; that which is perfect is susceptible of no further change; you cannot re-make the sunshine, because it is perfect, the same to-day as when it fell on the bowers and blooms of paradise; you cannot re-make the atmosphere, because it is perfect, the same as when the lungs first inhaled it on the earth; you cannot re-make the element of water, or the blue of the sky, or the green of the verdure, or the sunset splendours. When this final stage is reached for which the Lord died, on account of which He underwent His sacrifice, which the apostle saw in prophetic vision, of which we beforehand may catch the beauty through his eyes, and for which it is the privilege in life of each of us to work and pray; when that final period comes where earth and heaven blend and holiness and wisdom bring perfect peace, the absolute completion of it, with sin expelled and grief left behind, is the Divine warrant that it shall be everlasting. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
The coming of the perfect, and the departure of the imperfect
I. The former things connected with the body have passed away. Our bodies shared the ruin into which sin brought our race. Mortality and corruption took possession of them. They became subject to pain, and weariness, and disease, in every organ and limb. All this shall yet be reversed. Former things shall pass away. This head shall ache no more; these hands and feet shall be weary no more; this flesh shall throb with anguish no more.
II. The former things connected with the soul have passed away. The beginning of this renovation was our “being begotten again unto a lively hope.” This re-begetting displaced the old things and introduced the new. The sin, and the darkness, and the misery, and the unbelief, and the distance from God--all these shall come to a perpetual end. In their place shall come holiness, and love, and light, and joy, and everlasting nearness--unchanging and unending fellowship with that Jehovah in whom is life eternal.
III. The former things connected with the earth have passed away. This earth is the seat of evil since man fell. The curse came down on it; creation was subjected to the bondage of corruption; Satan took possession of it. The devouring lion shall be in chains, and “no lion shall be there.” The curse shall vanish from creation; the blight disappear. Beauty shall clothe all things. Paradise shall return. Holiness shall revisit earth. God shall once more delight in it and set His throne in it. Righteousness shall flourish, and holiness to the Lord be inscribed everywhere. And all this irreversible! No second fall. Messiah--even He who died for us and who rose again--is on the throne, and no usurper can assail it. He ever lives and ever reigns. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.
The matchless Creator
Who is He that brings into existence on our planet a new order of spiritual things, that creates a new moral heavens and earth?
I. He is immutable truthful. What He has spoken not only has been done, but is being done, and must be done.
II. He is everlasting.
III. He is infinitely beneficent. He pours forth in all directions the refreshing and crystal streams. And all this freely, without any coercion, limitation, partiality, or pause; freely as He gives the beams of day and the waves of vital air.
IV. He is surpassingly condescending. Two things are here stated which suggest this amazing condescension:
1. This recognition of every individual who does his duty. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things.” That He should notice a man in the mighty aggregate may well impress us with His condescension, but that He should notice individual man, how much more! Here we have the universe won by self-conquest. Notice:
2. The amazing condescension is seen in the affiliation of every individual man that does his duty. “And he shall be My son.” He only is a son who has the true filial instinct, involving trust, love, obedience, acquiescence. The great mission of Christ into our world was to generate in humanity this true filial disposition, enabling them to address the Infinite as “our Father.”
V. He is essentially sin-resisting. Sin is cowardice, sin is faithless, sin is abhorrent, sin is murderous, sin is lascivious, sin is deceptive and idolatrous. All these productions of sin are abhorrent to the Divine nature. “It is the abominable thing” which He hates, and He consigns sin to irretrievable destruction, for it is destined to have its part in “the lake which burneth with fire.” (Homilist.)
Christ the Renovator: an anticipation
There are two words in the original which are necessarily translated alike--“new”--in our Testaments. Of these two adjectives, one signifies new in relation to time, the other new in relation to quality--the first temporal novelty, the second novelty intellectual or spiritual. The Apocalypse is full of the Divine novelty implied by the latter of these two words. Up above we see “a new heaven.” Down below the long “becoming” of the evolution of history and nature is complete, the “one far-off divine event” is reached; we have “a new earth.” Out of the city that was in idea perfectly holy and beautiful, but which was marred by sin, and whose battlements were never steeped with the sunrise of the day for which we wait--out of it, as it were, grew “the holy city, new Jerusalem.” Christ is the One Renovator. “He that sitteth upon the throne saith, Behold, I make all things new.”
I. The source of the new creation is the new humanity, Christ the Second Adam. The Incarnation is the creation by God the Holy Ghost of a new member of the human family to be the head of “a people that shall be born.” It was not merely the most consummate possible evolution of pre-existing moral and historical elements. The gardener sees a stem which his experience tells him is endowed with peculiar capacities. He enriches it by grafting into it a new scion, not of or from the tree, but from another which is of a higher and nobler kind. Nothing less than this is in the mystery of the Incarnation. This, I believe, was foretold by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:22).
II. The result of this is the creation in Christ and by Christ of a new humanity. I say, by Christ. Christianity has a history, but is not a history. Christianity has a book, but is not a book. An idea may be great, a history may be great, but a person is greater. Luther’s work, or Napoleon’s work, is now linked to Luther’s and Napoleon’s ideas or history, and to nothing else. We have the ideas and the history of Christ in the Gospels and Epistles, the most efficacious of all ideas, the most true and living of all history. But Christ’s work continues linked to Christ’s life. Christ is not merely the central figure of the Galilean idyll, or a form nailed to a crucifix, or a pathetic memory. Our relation to Him is not merely one of idea, or of recollection, or of literary sympathy. It is a present union of life with life. He does not say--“because My words shall be gathered up and written down with absolute truth, My religion shall live.” He does say--“because I live, ye shall live also.” This new creation by Christ begins in the depths of the human heart and life. One of the world’s greatest writers has illustrated the difference between true and false schemes of virtue by the difference between the work of the statuary and that of nature. The statuary deals with his marble piecemeal; he is occupied with the curve of a finger-nail, or the position of a lock of hair, and while so occupied can do no more. But nature is at work with a simultaneous omnipresence in root and leaf and flower. Christ’s renovation is unexhausted and inexhaustible. He says Himself, “Behold, I make all things new.”
III. We naturally--perhaps in these days uneasily--proceed to ask whether the words of the text admit of application to the intellectual as well as social progress of Christendom. Those of US who have seriously tried to reconcile that in us which thinks with that which feels and prays may entertain some misgiving. As we look back to the point from which we started many years ago we recognise the fact that, slowly it may be, but surely, we have advanced from our old position.
1. As we turn to nature, all of us at least who are over fifty will remember our youthful view of Genesis, with its rash anathemas and unhesitating dogmatism, with its crude schemes of premature conciliation. All things were flashed out of nothing, moment by moment, in six consecutive days of twenty-four hours. Reflection and knowledge have convinced us that the anticipation of exact science was not one of the purposes of the Bible. But there is a higher life than that of which science knows. There is a light in which it lives. The light for that life which is beyond science comes to us through the revelation of Moses. What, then, do we learn from the first pages of the Bible? We say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” not less truly than of old, but with a deeper and larger meaning. Christ says to us even as we repeat the beginning of our creed, “Behold, I make all things new.”
2. As we turn to Scripture we meet with a similar renovation of our earlier view. Consider, for instance, the question of the origin of the Gospels. It may be looked upon as ascertained that the Gospels were all written within the first century, none earlier than about a.d. 60, none much later than about a.d. 80. This historical fact in itself seems strange to certain primary notions from which most of us started. Yet a little reflection dissipates our uneasiness. In the bridal days which succeeded Pentecost the young Church was filled with a heavenly enthusiasm. At first, then, there was not--and there needed not to be--any official memorial of the life of Jesus. The apostle’s sermons were sometimes, perhaps generally, summaries of the characteristics of that life. In portions of the apostolic epistles particular incidents are touched upon briefly--e.g., the birth, the circumcision, the transfiguration, His poverty, the fact that He came of the tribe of Judah, His going without the camp bearing His Cross, the “Abba, Father,” the “strong crying and tears” of Gethsemane. It seems to be certain that an unwritten life of Jesus, graven upon the living heart of the Church, preceded the written life. In this, indeed, there is no derogation from the real glory of the written word. No ark of the new covenant, overlaid round about with gold, kept in its side the book of the new law. Yet the Holy Spirit--without a separate miracle working in each syllable and letter--freely used the memory and intelligence of apostles and their disciples, that Christ’s people in all ages might know the certainty of those things wherein they had been instructed; and that across the gulf of ages, through the mists of history, our eyes might see the authentic lineaments of the King in His beauty. Further, in the three first evangelists there is a certain common basis of similar, or identical, sentences and words. Critics may show that Matthew copied from Luke, or Luke from Matthew; may discuss whether Matthew is the “primitive” of Mark, or Mark of Matthew. Even without taking into account the promise of the Spirit to “bring all things to their remembrance whatsoever.” He had said unto them, “such words from such a teacher could never perish from the earth. Thus, any change which criticism may make in our view of the origin and character of the Gospels tends to elevate our conception of their subject. We see in them a Saviour more exalted, if that were possible. We hear words yet deeper and more tender. Here, too, Christ saith, “Behold, I make all things new.”
3. As we contemplate the process of religious thought, we may be sometimes tempted to fear that a period is approaching when religion will be so spiritualised as to dissolve away. The answer is afforded by simply considering the abiding, irreducible elements in man’s nature--his intellect, his conscience, his affections. (Abp. Wm. Alexander.)
Christ the true Reformer
The Church of Christ has been from its foundation a society for the promotion of the reform of mankind. You may not, perhaps, be willing to recognise this at first, for two reasons. First, so much has been accomplished. Remember the state of things in the world before Christ came. A world in which men and women were bound down in cruel bondage, in which there were no hospitals for the sick. How completely Christianity has changed the whole course of life. But there is another reason why you may find it very hard to identify the Christian religion with reform. It is because the reform which the Christian religion works is based on the life, the teaching, and the death of one man, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God.
All things new
I. The Divine method of effecting the great change.
1. It is spiritual. The evils which exist here are either the direct fruits of sin, or the necessary means of moral discipline for its removal. A remedy for them must be found, not in miraculous interference with the established order of nature, but in the gospel of salvation.
2. The gospel begins by regenerating man himself. The Spirit of God touches his heart, quickens his intellectual nature, kindles the imagination, develops the reasoning faculties, and imparts a desire for knowledge.
3. Herein is found the principle which is to regenerate society, which is to be the basis of a true civilisation. Even the science, so called, which scoffs at both God and revelation, owes to Christian schools its culture, to a Bible-taught people the ability to understand and use it, and to the generous protection of Christian laws the liberty to assert itself in defiance of the most sacred convictions of mankind with impunity.
4. Other millennial blessings are the abolition of the great social evils which have hitherto cursed the world--war, and slavery, and intemperance, and lust. The only effective way to reach these and similar evils is to make men themselves better.
5. But it is not alone the moral and social renovation of the world that is to be effected; it is the physical as well. The same power that makes man’s heart new will ultimately make his body new, and so abolish disease and premature death.
II. The progress which has been made in the past towards this promised result. It was a hard soil in which Christianity, the Divine mustard-seed, was dropped eighteen hundred years ago. What was the reception He met with? Not frigid indifference, but violent opposition. At last the world was startled to hear that even Caesar himself had bowed at the feet of the Nazarene, and, by imperial decree, placed the hated religion on the throne of the empire.
II. What is yet to be done, and what is the prospect as to its completion?
1. The whole world is to become known and accessible to Christian nations.
2. Christianity is soon to become the sole religion of mankind. All others are on the wane.
3. Christianity is rapidly increasing in power.
4. Christianity, as never before, is inspiring the powers of the world, and directing them to the improvement of mankind. Science, art, commerce, wealth, are her handmaids. She is using them all to make the world better, and man happier.
5. Only one thing is wanting more, and that is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church and the nations.
6. The grand hope and expectation of the Church as to the future becomes thus more than an object of faith. (J. P. Warren, D. D.)
The renewal of all things
I. The need of a complete moral renewal. All visions of a political or economic millennium wreck themselves upon the obstinate fact of human depravity. With this, legislators, philosophers, and moralists have been found powerless to deal.
II. An adequate power. “He that sitteth on the throne.” He who created the human soul can renew it. Omnipotence rises up to work.
III. The wonder of regeneration.
IV. The secret of “holding out.”
V. The great need of the church--a regenerate membership.
VI. THE ULTIMATE RENEWAL OF ALL OUTWARD THINGS--nations, nature. (James C. Fernald.)
The new things of God
There are many new things spoken of in Scripture, some of more and some of less importance. Take the following as specially the new things of God:
I. The new testament or covenant (Matthew 26:28). That which was old has vanished away. It was insufficient; it Could not help the sinner; it said nothing of forgiveness. But the new covenant is all a sinner needs: it comes at once with a free pardon; it presents a work done for the sinner, not a work for the sinner to do.
II. The new man (Ephesians 4:24). This seems to correspond with the “ new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17); with the “new heart” (Ezekiel 18:31); with the “new spirit” (Ezekiel 11:19); with the “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26); with the new birth (John 3:3); and the being begotten again (1 Peter 1:3). Newness of nature, of heart, of life, of words, of the entire being, is the basis of all religion and true worship.
III. The new way (Hebrews 10:19). All God’s dealings with the sinner are on a new footing, that of free love, simple grace. It is a free way, a sufficient way, an open way, a perfect way.
IV. The New Song (Psalms 23:3; Revelation 5:9). Every new day brings with it a new song; or rather it brings materials for many new songs, which we should be always singing. Our whole life should be full of new songs. Yet the old songs are not thereby made obsolete; they do not grow tame or unmeaning. As the old songs of a land are always fresh and sweet, so is it with the old songs of faith. These new songs have to do with the past--for often, in looking into the past, we get materials for a new song--with the present, and with the future. They are connected with ourselves, our families, with the Church, with our nation, with the work of God just now, with resurrection, with the restitution of all things, with the glory, the New Jerusalem, and the new creation.
V. The new commandment (John 13:34; 1 John 2:8).
VI. The new wine (Matthew 26:29). He is Himself the giver and the gift. His blood is drink indeed here; much more hereafter. It is “new” here; it will be much more new hereafter.
VII. The New Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:3; Revelation 12:10). This is no earthly city.
VIII. The new heavens and new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13).
IX. The new name (Revelation 2:17).
1. Of love. The Father’s love will be in it.
2. Of honour. It will be no mean nor common name, but glorious and celestial.
3. Of blessing. It will proclaim blessing; it will be a name of blessing.
4. Of wonder. It will astonish the possessor, and every one who hears it; no one shall know it or guess it.
5. Given by Christ. “I will give.” As He gave names to Abram, Jacob, Peter, John, so will He give this new name, superseding our old earthly appellation.
6. Most suitable and characteristic. It will in itself summarise our past history and character. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Making all things new
The love of new things is natural to man, but the love of old things is equally natural. How to reconcile these two instincts without doing wrong to either is a perpetual problem. The love of what is new takes three principal forms. First there are those who are always looking for something new. This is its lowest form. It is a perpetual demand for novelty, for new things simply as new. In such a mind thought is disorganised, and becomes a heap of sand. Interest in life fades away, for the heart is anchored to nothing. The soul drifts before every wind of accident. The power of attention is lost: many things are taken in, toothing retained. Secondly, there are those who are always contending for new things. The danger here is in narrowness and bigotry, for a man may be as bigoted to a new creed as to an old one, and as ready to persecute the conservatives as they are to persecute him. Nevertheless, by the help of this class the world moves forward. Thirdly, there are those who make all things new. And this is the highest and best style of reform, for it reforms the world by putting new life into it. Every spring God says, “Behold I make all things new.” The old types remain unchanged, the forms of the familiar landscape continue the same, the grass grows green in the valleys, the trees cover themselves with leaves, exactly as they have done ten thousand times. It is not novelty but renewal. And so the best things which can come to our lives are not novelties, but new inspirations of the one eternal life. Life, in all its forms, makes all things new, and makes the world new. Events which have happened a million times before are nevertheless always new with each recurrence. What can be older than birth, childhood, love, marriage, death? But what can be more new, more full of fresh influence, bringing a sudden influx of joy and mystery, awakening the soul to a new life, than these? A new truth makes all things new. I have often talked with men who were brought up on some dead creed, who were taught to go through certain forms of worship and call it religion. These doctrines had hardened their hearts, deadened their spiritual nature, and driven them from God into doubt and unbelief; for, as love casts out fear, so does fear in turn cast out love. Then they were led by some good Providence to see God in a new light--a being without caprice or self-will, with steadfast laws, always working for the ultimate good of all His creatures, wisely giving, wisely withholding, not willing that any should perish. This benign truth opened their soul, made all nature new, all life new, made a new heaven and a new earth, took away anxiety and fear, and filled their days with bright hope and joy in all work. So, too, a new love makes all things new. Do you remember the beautiful story of Silas Marner--how a man with no friendships, no affections, living alone in a solitary hut, devoting himself to saving a hoard of gold, was robbed of his money? And then, when he came back to his but in despair, he found a little abandoned child who had crept into his house and gone to sleep on the hearth, and how this little child stirred the hidden fountains of life in the miser’s heart, so that he devoted himself to the infant, and all the world became by degrees to him another world, old fears expelled and new hopes created by the power of this new affection? In this way Christ makes all things new, and “if any man be in Christ he is a new creation.” Christ gives us a new heart and a new spirit, not by any miraculous or supernatural power, but by the power of the new truth which He shows to us, and the new love with which He inspires us. We want no better world than this, no better opportunities than we have here. But we need a new spirit of faith and love, in order that God’s kingdom shall come, and His will be done in this world, making this a heaven. This heaven must begin in our own hearts, or it will be no heaven to us. I was told by a friend that, when at the Centennial Exhibition, he was accosted by a family who were walking about the grounds, who asked him how much it would cost them to go into all the buildings. “Why,” said he, “it will cost you nothing. You paid at the gate when you entered the grounds the whole price.” So I see persons who go to church year after year, and yet stand outside of Christianity, not enjoying the love of God. They stand outside of all these Divine comforts and hopes, and do not take hold of them, because they think they have no right to do so. To them I say, Go in at once, and take all you need. When God led you through the gate into Christianity the price was paid. You will not probably, it is true, become great saints at once. But you can begin now to receive God’s help, God’s power, God’s inspiration, and the hope of the gospel. Nothing is necessary but to go in. Thus God makes a new heaven and a new earth, wherever the truth and love of Jesus go. The new heavens first; the new earth afterwards. First, the inward convictions; then the outward life. First the seed, then the plant; the fruit last of all. (James Freeman Clarke.)
The new self
(with Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 5:17):--
I. Human hearts unappeasably cry out after change. Something new we all need; and because we need, we crave for it; and what we crave after, we hope for. The old we have tried, and it is not enough. We are still not right; we are not full; we are not at rest. In the future there may be what we need, and so long as there is a future, there is hope; but the past is dead. Now, the best lesson which the years can teach is, perhaps, this one: that the new thing we need is, not a new world, but a new self. Not change in any outward surroundings of our lives; not an easier income, not a cheerfuller home, not stronger health, not a higher post, not relief from any thorn in our flesh against which we pray; but a change within--another self. We have done evil, and the evil which we have done cleaves to us. We are the children of our own deeds. Conduct has created character; acts have grown to habits; the lives we have led have left us such men as we are to-day. And forward into the “new year” we must go, unaltered with this old, evil, dissatisfied self confirmed and stiffened and burdened only the more as the past behind us grows longer and longer.
II. At this point the gospel meets us. It is the singular pretension of the Christian gospel that it does make men new. It professes to alter character, not as all other religious and ethical systems in the world have done, by mere influence of reason or of motives, or by a, discipline of the flesh; it professes to alter human character by altering human nature. It brings truth, indeed, to satisfy the reason and powerful motives of every sort to tell upon the will, as well as law to stimulate the conscience; but in the very act of doing so, it pronounces all these external appliances to be utterly insufficient without a concurrent action of God from within the man. The real change it proclaims to be a change of “heart” or spiritual being; and that is the work of God. Born of a man who is flesh, and therefore flesh ourselves; we have to be born of another Man who is Spirit, that we too may become spiritual. And this other Man, of whom we have to be spiritually begotten, can beget, for He is our original Maker-the Lord from heaven. A race which includes God need not despair of Divine life; it can be divinely re-created from within itself. Think; to be a new creature! Men have fabled fancies of a fountain in which whoever bathed grew young again, his limbs restored to elasticity and his skin to clearness. To the old world it was as good a thing as priests could promise to the good, that when they died, the crossing of that dark and fateful river should be the blotting out for ever from the soul of all memorials of the past. But God gives us a better mercy than the blessing of forgetfulness. The Lethe which obliterates from recollection a sinful past is a poor hope compared to the blood of cleansing, which permits us to remember sin without distress, and confess it without alarm. With a new self, cut off from this dreadful moral continuity with the past, eased of one’s inheritance of self-reproach, and made quick within with the seed of a new future, all things seem possible to a man. Old things pass away; all things become new.
III. Here I turn to some in whose bosoms these warm words find cold response. It is very beautiful to think of--this transformation of a man and of his life by the breath of God. Once you were as enthusiastic and hopeful about it as anybody. You desired it, you sought it; you believed and were converted. You found, certainly, a new peace, and for a while-your world did seem a changed world and yourself a changed man. You walked lightly, like one grown young; you could praise, and love, and rejoice. But that is long ago. The novel pleasure of being religious faded out of your days, like evening red out of the sky; somehow the old world resumed its place about you, and you returned by degrees to the old life. To-day God has given us a new year, and with it He has sent us a new message--“To-day, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart”; “to-day is the day of salvation.” Dead again or never truly alive; what matters it? You surely do need now, at all events, the new heart and the new spirit. And the offer of it in Jesus Christ is as genuine and sincere as ever--to you as free as ever. The way to it lies through desire and petition and expectation.
IV. In proposing that we should all inaugurate the year by seeking, before everything else, that breath of life, that inward renewing of the soul through the inbreathed Holy Spirit of Jesus, which makes us new, I propose what will ensure to all of us a real “new year.” The new self will make all around it as good as new, though no actual change should pass on it; for, to a very wonderful extent, a man creates his own world. We project the hue of our own spirits on things outside. A bright and cheerful temper sees all things on their sunny side. A weary, uneasy mind drapes the very earth in gloom. Any great enthusiasm, which lifts a man above his average self for the time, makes him like a new man, and transfigures the universe in his eyes. Now, this power of human nature, when exalted through high and noble emotion, to make its own world, will be realised in its profoundest form when the soul is re-created by the free Spirit of God. Let God lift us above our old selves, and inspire us with no earthly, but with the pure flame of a celestial, devotion; let Him breathe into our hearts the noblest, freest of all enthusiasms, the enthusiasm for Himself; and to us all things will become new. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The new creation
I. The resemblance.
1. In both there is the production of a new order of things. From chaos of old, God, by His creative fiat, brought life, beauty, light, etc., and from the corrupt soul of man, by His redemptive power, He evolves high spiritual virtues.
2. In both there is the production of something new by the Divine agency. Who created the heavens and the earth? etc. God, and He only. Who creates a soul? The same glorious Being.
3. In both there is a production of the new according to a Divine plan. Every part of the universe is created on a plan. Science discovers this. In conversion it is so (Ephesians 2:10).
4. In both there is the production of the new for His own glory. “The heavens declare His glory.” The conversion of men reveals the glory of God.
5. In both there is the production of the new in a gradual way. Geology and the Bible show that the work of creation is a very gradual work. It is so with the work of spiritual reformation--very gradual.
II. The dissimilarity.
1. The one was produced out of nothing, the other from pre-existing materials. In conversion no new power is given to the soul, but the old ones are renovated and wrought into right action.
2. The one was effected without any obstructing force, the other is not.
3. The one was produced by mere fiat, the other requires the intervention of moral means. Nothing in the creation came between the work and the Divine will. In spiritual reformation it does; hence God had to bow the heavens and come down and become flesh.
4. The one placed man in a position material and insecure; the other placed him in a spiritual and safe abode.
5. The one develops and displays God as the absolute Spirit, the other as the Divine Man. (Homilist.)
The renovation of all things
1. The Church in heaven will be new in respect of the number of its members.
2. We now dwell in earthly bodies. These vile bodies will be changed, and fashioned like to Christ’s glorious body.
3. It will be a new thing, and as happy as it will be new, to find ourselves freed from sin, and mingling with those, who, like us, are made perfect in holiness.
4. It will be a new thing to see all united in love. There will be no interfering passions, separate interests and party designs--no evil surmises and unfriendly insinuations. There will be one common interest, and one universal spirit of love to unite the whole. Jews and Gentiles, yea, angels and men will all meet in one assembly.
5. The saints, while on earth, experience a sensible delight in communion with God, and in the stated and occasional exercises of piety and devotion. But this delight is often interrupted by the infirmities of the flesh and the avocations of the world. In heaven the saints will be continually before God’s throne, and will serve Him day and night.
6. Here we need the Word of God to instruct and quicken us. We need threatenings to awaken us, promises to allure us, and precepts to guide us. We need sensible representations to affect the mind through the eye, and living sounds to reach the heart through the ear. But in heaven things will be new. There we shall be all eye, all ear, all intellect, all devotion and love.
7. Here we need the vicissitudes of day and night for labour and rest. But in heaven there is no need of a candle, for there is no night there; and no need of the sun, for the glory of the Lord doth lighten it, and Jesus is the light thereof.
8. Here we have our seasons of sorrow and affliction. Our joys are transient. In heaven things will be new. All friendship there will be the union of pure and immortal minds in disinterested benevolence to one another, and in supreme love to God. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
The gospel of the new life
I. It is a saying which indicates consciousness of Divine power.
II. It is a saying which indicates a sublime plan.
III. It is a saying which indicates transcendent love. Man is not to remain in a fallen condition.
IV. It is a saying which indicates the most blessed and triumphant anticipations. (Family Churchman.)
The symbolism of the throne
is the symbolism of stability. It is the planted seat of power, the settled place whence authority springs. According to the paternal theory of government, the throne is the Father’s chair, from which the household’s law goes forth. Its very structure is suggestive. The throne lies upon the ground, broad and square and firm. Perpetuity is of the very essence of its nature. The waves of popular wrath rage and swell around it, the tides of public opinion ebb and flow; it, the centre of unity, the seat of authority, stands fast. This is the idea of the throne; and who shall deny that it is a most majestic one? Take the idea illustrated as we may see it in the life of any one of the great nationalities that have preserved their identity through long periods of time--take the story of England, with which we are familiar, and than which there could be no better for our purpose. Start with the throne on the day William the Norman set it up in the open space his sword had cleared, and follow its history, century by century, down to the present day. Mark how it stands unshaken as storm after storm of change sweeps over the face of the nation. Nobles conspire against it, ecclesiastics try to undermine it, popular risings threaten it, usurpers claim it once democracy put it aside for a season, again peaceful revolution transfers it to a collateral line, but still the throne survives, the same that the Conqueror founded, the centre of authority, the centre of national unity, the centre of the whole people’s associations, loyalties, and loves. What, then, is the truth that lies behind this symbolism of the throne? Briefly this, that in the universe of which we make a part there are two great principles at work; the principle of stability and the principle of change, and, furthermore, that the sovereignty--and this is the important point--belongs to the former--to the stability. (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
When the Almighty says, “Behold, I make all things new,” He is giving expression, not to a suddenly formed purpose, not to an altered intention, but simply to a principle of action, a law of conduct by which we daily see that He does guide Himself now, and by which, so far as we know, He has guided Himself through the eternity of the past. In order to bring out the thought, let me lay down the general principle, that whatever thing is capable of life and growth, must, if it is to live and grow, be made the subject of continual renewal. Consider a plant growing in your window-garden. In one sense it is the same plant you put there a week or a month or a year ago; in another sense it is not the same. It has been continually taking in from the soil and from the atmosphere, through its roots and leaves, new material, and as continually it has been giving forth and putting away from itself the superfluous and dead products of the vital processes. As this is true of vegetable life, so is it true of animal life. It is true of man in both of his natures; true of him in his body, true of him in his soul. Nay, the principle is of still wider application. We may discern its working in the history of institutions. Societies, Churches, governments, all come under the law. It is God’s law, “Behold, I make--yes, am continually making--all things new.” He is for ever the Renewer. Life is God’s purpose, not death; and this is the meaning of His renewals. Clearly as the Christian sees that this is a dying world, still more clearly is he bound to see that it is a world continually coming into possession of new heritages of life. (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
God’s work of renovation
Some boat is ashore. The timbers are fast breaking up. The cargo is washed away. The grim rib-work stands out on the horizon, the melancholy remnant of a sound and well-appointed vessel. No man would be proud to call himself the master of such a craft. A pile of noble buildings is burnt to the ground. No one would be particularly happy to call himself the lord of those gaping windows and dropping timbers and unsafe foundations. If the owner had not capital to reconstruct his property, he would very soon take steps to get it off his hands. And so God can never glory in His sovereignty over a nature that is dissolved by death. The declaration of His continued sovereignty implies that the ruin shall yet be reversed. “He is not a God of the dead, but of the living.” (T. G. Selby.)
The Christian hope respecting the world
Shelley calls this “a wrong world”; St. Paul, “a present evil world.” They saw it alike, but the apostle put into the word “present” a hope that the wrong and evil world will at last yield to a right world. (T. T. Munger, D. D.)
Finalty of good
“Music has taught us that it is impossible to end upon a discord.” This was Dora Greenwell’s way of putting the expectation expressed by the poet laureate, in the familiar lines:--
“O yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill.”
(J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
God’s law of continuity
His making all things new in the regeneration will not be His making them out of nothing, but rather His remaking them. Look about you and see if this view of the matter, full of comfort as we shall find it, be not substantiated by all that we are able to observe of God’s methods now. Do you anywhere find a new thing that is not in some way a product and result of an older thing? We are tempted into taking the despairing view of God’s law of renewal, because we think that the past is not only gone, but lost. This is a blunder. Nothing is lost of which we preserve the precious results. Your childhood, for example, is gone, but it is not lost. You could not be the man or the woman you are, save for that childhood’s having been. How then can you say that your childhood is lost? It lives on in your mature character. No other childhood could have produced precisely the man or woman you are to-day. This continuity, this keeping up of the chain of connection, is what is really meant by that much used and much abused word, “evolution.” This is God’s way. He draws the new out of the old, not violently but slowly, gradually, continuously. The old that is fading away and ready to perish does not actually perish until the new one has been grafted upon it. Take that very best of all living products the world can show, a Christian character; how did it become what it is? Suddenly? Abruptly? No; but by the quiet, gradual, patient shaping and moulding of the hand of the Spirit. The saintliness of St. Paul is different from the saintliness of St. John. Why? Because John differed from Saul at the start; and even in recreating them God would not neglect His own law of continuity. Sainted, they are just as much unlike each other as they were unsainted. In making all things new for both of them, He that sitteth upon the throne has respected and preserved the identity of each. We see the same law holding in the larger life of the whole Church. The Christian Church of this nineteenth century is certainly different, in very many ways, from the Church of the Crusades, for instance, as that in its turn differed from the Church of the catacombs and the martyrs, and yet it was one holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church through all the generations, the same body from first to last. Nay, we may push the principle further still in the same direction, and affirm that from the dawn of history there has always been a Church on earth, always an elect people of God, and that the Church of the gospel is joined to the Church of the law and the prophets by ties and ligaments that bleed if you attempt to sever them. But let us lift our thoughts to their grandest and best fulfilment. How will it be with the new heavens and the new earth? Will they be cut off by an impassable gulf of oblivion from all the memories, all the associations, all the home feeling of the old life? No, we do not so read the mind of God either in His works or His Word. His way of making all things new is not by the utter destruction and annihilation of the old, but rather by the remoulding and readjustment of it. Nothing could be more new than was the resurrection life of Christ, and yet how intricately, how indissolubly was it wrapped up with the old life out of which it came forth. And as with the resurrection body of the Christ so with His body mystical, His Church, there will be change, adaptation to new conditions, fitness for larger and fuller life, and yet at the same time a continuity, a remembrance of the battles and the victories--yes, and of the defeats--of the far back militant days, when on the old earth and under the old heavens and before the former things had passed, it lived and struggled and endured. (J. F. B. Tinling, B. A.)
The course of Divine justice
This was the culmination of the fearful scenes which had passed before the apostle as the vision of the course of Divine judgment was unrolled before him. At length, when these fearful works of judgment are completed, he saw the great white throne and Him that sat upon it, and the earth and the heaven fled away. Then the books were opened, and the dead, both small and great, who stood before God, were judged, every man according to his works. Then it is, after this awful consummation, that the apostle sees a new heaven and a new earth, and He that sat upon the great white throne said, “Behold I make all things new.” Such in brief is the burden of the Book of Revelation. It will be observed that it involves these two cardinal points. First the judgment and extirpation of all that is evil by woes, fearful struggles and agonies. And secondly, after all these terrible experiences, all things are made new. The first part of the process of the Divine administration consists of a series of scenes of misery, distress, and bloodshed than which nothing more terrible can be imagined. Visions of the destruction of the elements of human society, even of the heaven and the earth, are brought before us, until men are reduced to cry to the very mountains and rocks to cover them. These dread scenes, these fearful judgments are depicted as inevitable preliminaries in the manifestation of the Divine will, the establishment of the Divine kingdom. The New Testament begins with a promise of peace, and it ends with a vision of peace and glory, in which God will wipe all tears from off all faces. But the warnings conveyed to us through the last apostle are that this blessed consummation cannot be reached except through the manifestation of Divine justice on the earth, which will bring upon the earth and mankind inconceivable miseries. The Book of Revelation, in its fearful scenes, is but a true description of the actual experience of mankind. The slaughters, plagues, and other dreadful visitations which that book depicts have, as a matter of fact, been realised. It is through scenes of suffering of this nature that the world is being conducted by Divine justice to its ultimate goal. But we have the more reason to be inexpressibly thankful that the goal revealed is one of peace and bliss. When we bear in mind the miseries and agonies of the Book of Revelation, we recognise the full force of the promise with which it concludes. “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes,” etc. Seeing what the world has been hitherto, and the miseries by which it is beset now, we might well despair of such a result unless we had the express assurance of Revelation that there is One sitting upon the throne who gives this as the very definition of His work, “Behold I make all things new.” We should indeed be ungrateful not to recognise that the state of things around us tends in itself to give us some earnest of this blessed renovation. Still no men feel more gravely than those who have the conduct of human affairs how slight would be our hope of a complete peace on earth did it depend simply upon the wisdom and strength of even the wisest leaders of mankind. They cannot extirpate the passions which are the real ultimate cause of the miseries wars bring upon us. All our hope lies in the assured faith that all the terrible scenes which the earth has witnessed are under the control of Him that sitteth upon the throne working out the great purpose of true justice, of Him who counts all men, small and great, as subject to His unerring judgment. Finally, when the issues of right and wrong have been worked in this world in a way vindicating truth and righteousness, God will fulfil that good work on which He is even now engaged--the making of all things new. We are not able with our limited earthly vision to discern the work of God from the beginning of the world, His mysterious methods for establishing His kingdom and making His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We must submit to take our part, whatever it may be, in His mysterious dispensations, possessing our souls in patience with such assurance as the words of His Book can alone supply. Our personal private lives reflect in greater or less degree the stern experiences which this book describes in the case of the world at large. We have our sins, and as the consequence of our sins our sufferings, and sorrows, hindrances, and fears. We must expect to bear them in greater or less degree until the moment of our departure arrives, and by God’s grace we are allowed in some measure to anticipate the privilege which is held out to the world. This is our own ultimate hope, the blessed promise that God will make all things new, not merely afterwards, but if we will trust and do His will in our hearts and souls, while we are still upon earth. (H. Wace, D. D.)
It is done.--
It is very solemn to think that we shall one day look back to our own lives, and all on earth will be past and done. “It is done.” How the word brings us to a standstill, taking us to the end of all things! And surely here is the only true way to look at life. We do not value what looks fair to the eye, but what is real and enduring. We do not praise a promising plan, but a successful result. Wisdom is that which gains its end. In a burning house, men’s first impulse is to save what is most precious. What shall we save from the ruin of the burning world? Not the pleasures of the body, act lands and houses, not earthly wealth, or health, or beauty, none of those things which are now much valued and sought after. Surely, then, if we are wise, we will ponder these things now. We shall say to ourselves, what will come of my present life? If men have to think and toil, and reckon carefully and patiently for the mere fruits of that earth, year by year, is it not reasonable for us to think and reckon what sort of harvest we are likely to have in eternity, off the broad field of life? If our religion does not run through our whole life, if the thought of God and judgment is banished from our conscience, it is not real religion, It must colour, our whole life, of course, when we bring ourselves to the Light of Eternity. And having once been moved to choose the better part, let not Satan dismay us by telling us we cannot persevere, If we only have the faith and resolution heartily, to throw ourselves into, Christ’s service, land yield up our hearts and lives to Him, He will never leave us. (Literary Churchman.)
The end of all things
In one word did our Lord upon the Cross sum up the whole of man’s salvation and His own eternal purpose for our redemption, “It is finished.” In one word doth He here, revealing Himself as He sitteth upon His throne in glory, sum up the whole of time, “It is done.” This one great word, in a manner, stood over against, and carries on and enlarges the other. “It is done.” What a Word is that! As it sounds, what a world of busy restlessness it seems to cut off at once. Well may it! For it is the end of the whole world itself, of all but God. We are, mostly, ever looking forward, and this “Voice turns us round at once, and bids us look back. We are, too often, living in an earthly future; then, all of earth will he past and “done.” Now men are looking on; and hope is as that glass which enlarges things distant; look back, and all shrivels and contracts into a speck, and can no longer fill eye Or heart. The past preacheth stern truth, if we will but hear. It is real It has come to an end; and so in it we may see things as they shall be in the end. “Call no man happy before his death,” said once a wise heathen We judge of things as they tend towards their end; contain, in a manner, their end in themselves, secure it. Wall laid schemes ye call those which in every step look to, advance towards, their end. Worldly wisdom is that which gains its end. And shall not Divine wisdom be that which gains its own unending end, the end of all ends, the Everlasting God? This, then, can be the only measure of the value of things in time, what shall be their value when time itself is gone? Even a heathen wast taught of God to say, “The whole life of the wise is a thinking on death.” That only is wise to be done which in death ye shall wish ye had done. Seasons of sorrow or sickness or approaching death have shown persons a whole life in different colours from what it worse before; how what before seemed “grace” was but “nature”; how seeming zeal for God was but natural activity, how love of human praise had robbed men of the praise of God; how what they thought pleasing to God was only pleasing self; how one subtle self-pleasing sin has cankered a whole life of seeming grace. Wherever, then, we may be in the course heavenwards, morning by morning let us place before ourselves that morning which has no evening, and purpose we to do that and that only which we shall wish we had done when we shall see it in the light of ‘that morning, when in the brightness of His presence every plea of self-love which now clouds our eyes shall melt away. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.--
The King of saints
There is no doctrine more universally accepted in these days than the doctrine of human progress. And it is observable that this idea of human progress is not alien from the general representation of Scripture. What is the first picture and the last of the race of Adam? The Bible opens with the picture of the single man and woman in the garden of Eden, standing in the midst of the profuse but undeveloped riches of creative goofiness, holding the Divine commission to subdue the earth, and appropriate its resources to their own use. It leaves the same race gathered within” the walls of the New Jerusalem, the city of God, built up and embellished with all the bright things and the glorious which the Lord hath made. The successive revelations of Himself to Adam, to Noah, to Moses, in Christ, the gradual straitening of the moral law, as men were able to bear it, which is the true explanation of the imperfections discernible in the worthies of the Old Testament, are all indications of the progressive character of human life--stages in its journey towards the golden city. But while this is so, very marked is the solemnity with which it declares that in the Person and work of Christ a point was touched beyond which there is nothing. “And He that sat upon the throne said unto me, It is done--I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” From the commencement of our era, the words have been felt to form one of the sublimest descriptions of Him in whom we have believed. Let us see how and with what results they may be adopted as a true description of our blessed Lord.
1. Now there is a habit of mind common in our day with regard to religious truth, the habit of dwelling with a morbid particularity upon minute objections, and forgetting the broad evidence upon which the general structure of the faith is built. The description of our Lord in the text, as the Alpha and Omega, suggests one of these broader lines of evidence. If it be true that Christ Jesus is in His Person and in His doctrine the central figure in the world’s history, that His life and ministry is the key which unlocks the mysteries of God’s providence, then we have surely here a solid argument that we have not followed cunningly devised fables. We may begin by reminding you of the manifest preparation for Christ’s appearance through the previous ages of the world. We will take up the Old Testament, not now as inspired, but simply as a most ancient history, and it is surely unparalleled how in the multiplicity of books which make up the Bible, through all the varied maze of narrative, poetry, philosophy, runs ever in deep undertone the idea of One who should be in His day the author of a new era of holiness and truth. The world’s history, so marvellously is the thread of Jewish life woven into the web of the old world’s life, the world’s history before Christ points unto Christ. And not less remarkable is that which follows. There are two great facts, it has been said, which are standing witnesses to the truth of the Christian revelation, the Israelitish race and the Catholic Church. The former in their earlier career, in their disruption and dispersion within our Lord’s generation, exhibits a destiny unmistakably mixed up with Him. The latter, notwithstanding the sullying of its first purity, the dissolution of its first unity, notwithstanding the slowness of its progress in some ages, Rs withdrawal from certain districts in others, is still the section of the human family in which all that is noble and great in man is developed. And when we contemplate the life of Christ, still more markedly does He vindicate to Himself the title of “the Alpha and Omega,” with all the claims therein involved. The character of Christ is the fulfilment and embodiment of the conscience of humanity. A marvellous testimony it is, that unbelief ventures not to touch the ark of that immaculate purity; on the contrary, with but the single exception of a single infidel’s after-thought (Vide Notes to Shelley’s Poems), it recognises Him frankly as the pattern man. In Him, it is granted, and in Him alone, gentleness never degenerates into weakness, nor wisdom into craft, nor severity into harshness. And it adds to the force of these thoughts, that although, when the life of Christ in all the ineffable beauty of its Divine lineaments is presented to it, the heart of humanity throbs at once in sympathy; yet human philosophy never imagined beforehand the character. And not less observable is it that no man has ever reproduced that image. The saints have copied it in their measure since it was unveiled to mortal vision; but just as it was said of the heathen, that being unable to comprehend God as a whole, they broke up the Deity into fragments, and worshipped one or other of His attributes apart from the rest; so has it been with the followers of Christ. They have seized upon portions of His character, and imitated Him, some in meekness, some in boldness, some in patience, but not one of all the mighty assembly of the saints has individually presented again to the world the complete likeness of his Lord. Anal in this, the very imperfection of their discipleship, have they been witnesses to His divinity. “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” Is it indeed so that in Him is at once the source and limit of all our conceptions of the holy and the good, the measure of truth, and purity, and love? Then what an argument is here for rendering unto Him our worship, and building on Him our hopes.
2. And when we pass from the person of Christ to the system of Christianity, we find yet another illustration of the text. The sublime title there claimed belongs to Him upon this ground also, that is the Christian faith is to be found the alone instrument for purifying and consolidating society. There are two characteristics of our blessed Lord’s teaching and example, which are well worthy of note under this head. The first is, that those precepts which are most startling, such as the unconditional forgiveness of injuries, non-resistance of evil, benefiting those from whom no return is possible, whilst like Christ’s own character they were never anticipated by man, are yet the only precepts which we can conceive the Lord God to give His creatures. We recognise their Divinity by the light of what they have wrought. The second speciality of the character as proposed in the preaching and pattern of Christ, is its universal adaptability. It stands equally detached from, yet equally blended with, poverty and wealth, youth and age, learning and ignorance. The more you compare Christ as a teacher with any other teacher, the more conspicuously does He stand forth as the Alpha and Omega of all practical righteousness. And this view of our Lord’s teaching, we may observe in passing, throws a fresh light upon His miracles. Those miracles were not marvels designed simply to arrest attention, they were indications of the character in which He came. That He is the Renewer of all that is broken and worn and corrupt in humanity; that alike for the moral diseases of the soul, as for the miseries of this earthly life, He is the one everliving Physician; that in His religion lies the only cure for our individual and social ills, the only sure principle of union and benevolence; this is the truth which underlies all those wonders of omnipotence--the healing of the sick and the raising of the dead. If of all truth He is the “Beginning and the End,” superseding or concluding in His religion all other methods of educating man, then if miracles upon men’s bodies are to be shadows of His work upon the heart, the stamp on the visible of His office towards the invisible, I should expect, that whilst in former ages miraculous cures might be worked occasionally by great renovators of society, herein types of Him, yet that in His life this miraculous agency would culminate, and that after Him (not perhaps suddenly and sharply, for God’s providences ever shade off gradually into each other) miracles would cease. And this is just the Scripture account. The Bible recognises a miraculous gift in prophets and apostles, but in strict subordination, both in number and authority, to His wonder-working; leaving Him still distinctly witnessed unto as the Alpha and Omega of all moral healing. “I have seen the end of all perfection, but Thy commandment is exceeding broad.” Who then will mot bow down his head and worship before Him--the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last? There is a double moral cowardice amongst us from which the cause of truth equally suffers, first, the moral cowardice of those who, not daring to proclaim their entire unbelief in Revelation, profess to receive the cardinal doctrines of Christ, and question and cavil at those which are offshoots therefrom; hiding the broader scepticism under the veil of a loss. The second exhibition of moral cowardice is that of the men who do believe firmly, but shrink from confessing their faith, and so love to speak of Christian doctrines and facts under a sort of vague philosophical terminology, thus undermining their own steadfastness and withholding their testimony from the truth. Against these two forms of evil let my last words warn, urging you to a manly confession, in your speech, and in your lives, of Christ Jesus before men, as the Alpha and the Omega of all that has been, and shall be. (Bp. Woodford.)
Alpha and Omega
I. The Description, which contains the speaker’s character.
1. It regards His personal nature, and shows the duration and immutability of His being.
2. It regards agency, and is intended to express not only its continuance, but its peculiarity and exclusiveness; that He is the commencer, and that He is the completer; that in all influences He is all and in all. First, let us look at creation. Here, it is true, He is the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” “Without Him was not anything made that was made.” Secondly, let us look at salvation; and here it is equally true that He is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” Thirdly, in providence. Fourthly, in the Church He is Alpha and Omega.
II. Let us proceed to consider the promise, in which we shall find the sinner’s hope, and therefore cur hope. “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.”
1. The excellence of the blessing itself. Observe the representation; it is water--it is water from the fountain. He is a fountain; always full, always flowing, always fresh.
2. The manner in which it is to be imparted--“freely.” Worthiness has no recommendation here, and unworthiness has no barrier.
3. The distinction by which the recipients are, characterised. “I will give to him that is athirst of the water of life freely. Enjoyment does not arise only from the excellency of the object, but from its adaptation to our state, to our wants, to our wishes, and to our hopes. Then the gratification it affords is satisfaction; and this is the case here. Without this thirst, what is even the water of life itself? (W. Jay.)
The beginning and the end.--
The beginning and the end
“It is done.” There is often a difficulty not of the reason so much as of the imagination, in thinking that anything will end, or at least anything in which we are actively interested. Men look out for a graduated sequence in the course of events. Catastrophes, we are told--catastrophes are discredited. Why events ever began to succeed each other at all, to what events are tending as their final goal--these vital questions are never raised; but this one-sided way of looking at the facts of life is seized upon greedily by the imagination, which thus will clog and choke the equitable action of the reason, will throw unwelcome facts into an arbitrarily-chosen background, will involve plain conclusions in some cloud of mystic indefiniteness, and will thus create a confidence that, somehow or other, things will for ever go on very much as they do. Now this appears, first of all, in the power we many of us have of putting aside altogether the thought of death. You are a young man or woman just entering life; will you be, some little time hence, admired, well spoken of, or the reverse? You do not know. Will your family life, some years hence, be a centre of warm affection, or a scene of unspeakable discomfort and misery? You do not know. You do not know how you will die, but of the inevitableness and certainty of death itself you are, or you ought to be, as well assured as of your own existence. Each stroke of the bell echoes the voices of the angels, echoes the voice of God: “It is done,” “It is done.” And the same difficulty of entering into the fact that that which exists now, and here, will come to an utter end, appears in our way of thinking about organised human life, about society. You study a section of human history, you mark man’s progress from a lower to a higher stage, you observe the steps of social and political growth; the task of imagination in conceiving that it will all utterly end becomes increasingly difficult. It looks so stable and so strong, so vigorous, so justly self-reliant, so based upon high courage, upon keen sagacity, upon hard common-sense, that nothing, it seems, can avail to shake it. It is so easy to put out of account that which is not obtruded upon the sight, to make no allowance for the unforeseen, to assume that the apparent is the real, and that the real of to-day is always permanent; and so men drift on until something happens that startles the world out of its dream of security. And still more difficult do men find it to accustom themselves to the conviction that one day this earthly home on which we live will itself be the scene of a vast physical catastrophe. The course of nature--the phrase itself helps to disguise from us the truth--the course of nature seems so ascertained, and, within certain limits, so unvarying, that the mind recoils from the thought that one day all this ordered sequence of movement, of life, of growth, and of decay, will suddenly cease, buried in the ruins of a vast catastrophe. Law, it seems, will effectually prevent the occurrence of any such catastrophe; it could only, we are told, be anticipated even by an apostle in the unscientific age. Now, let us observe that such a catastrophe need by no means imply the complete cessation of what we call law, but only the suspension of some lower law or laws through the imperial intervention of a higher law. We see this suspension of lower by higher laws constantly going on around us; indeed, it is an almost necessary accompaniment of man’s activity on the surface of this planet. You and I never lift our arms without so far suspending and defying the ordinary operation of the law of gravitation. St. Peter, when arguing against the scoffers of his day that because all things continued as they were from the beginning, therefore the promise of Christ’s coming had become practically worthless, points to the flood, points to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And yet these catastrophes were brought about by the operation of existing laws; and if this was so, is it inconceivable that He, in whose hands and whose workmanship we are, should have in His illimitable universe other and more imperative laws beyond even those which more immediately surround our puny life?--moral laws which have their roots in the necessities of His eternal being, and not mere physical laws which He has made to be just what they are according to His own good pleasure. These are the three elements involved in the Christian representation of the second coming of Christ: the end of all human probations, the final dissolution of the organised or social life of mankind, the destruction of man’s present home on the surface of the globe-there is nothing in them, to say the very least, violently contrary to our present experience, nothing more than an extension of the facts of which we have present experience. Individual life abounds with the presages, with the presentiments, of death. The aggregate life of man, human society, contains within itself many a solvent which threatens its ruin, and the planet which we inhabit is a ball of fire, which may easily one day pour out over its fair surface the pent-up forces which already surge and boil beneath our feet. And when all is over, what will remain? “He said unto me, It is done; I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” God, the Almighty, the All-wise, the Compassionate; God, the Infinite, the Immeasurable, the Eternal Father, Son and Spirit, undivided essence God remains. There are two principal reflections which you should try to take home with you. One is the insignificance of our present life. It is natural that, so long as they can, those who believe in no future life should exaggerate the worth of this; it is indeed their all, and when before their eyes it begins to break up, they have no resource but despair. But we Christians have a hope, sure and steadfast, of a future which is infinitely greater than the present, and which can assure to our immortal spirit true union with Him who is the true end of its existence, a satisfaction which is here impossible for us. The instability and perishableness of all human things are but a foil to the eternal life of God. And the other reflection is the immense importance of life. Yet, this life, so brief, so transient, so insignificant, so made up as it is of trifles, of petty incidents, of unimportant duties, is the scene upon which, in the case of every one of us, issues ere decided, the importance of which it is impossible to exaggerate, issues immense, issues irreversible. (Canon Liddon.)
I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.--
The free invitation of the gospel
I. The blessings here offered--“the fountain of the water of life.” The figure is descriptive of the inestimable worth and efficacy of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is a living stream, flowing from the throne of God, through the waste howling wilderness of this world.
II. The persons to whom the offer is made. “I will give unto him that is athirst of the water of life.” He who is athirst is just the individual who is destitute of, and ardently longing for, happiness.
III. The freeness by which the gospel offer is characterised. “I Will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” Such is the munificence of our gracious Benefactor, that He will not sell His benefits. (P. Grant.)
The fountain of the water of life
I. The character under which the Lord Jesus represents himself. The Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief is “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.” Ascended up on high, far above all principalities and powers, He is constituted Head over all things to the Church; and from Him, as an inexhaustible fountain, all spiritual and eternal blessings flow.
II. The persons to whom a blessing is here promised by the Alpha and Omega are those who are athirst. They alone will receive with gratitude the boon which He so graciously offers.
III. The blessing to re bestowed is water--the water of life. This expression denotes the various benefits procured for man by the adorable Redeemer, and which are distinctly set forth in the Gospel; more especially the influences of the Holy Spirit, by which alone that mighty transformation is produced on the human soul.
IV. The manner in which this blessing will be bestowed next demands our consideration--“freely.” The precious benefits here referred to are a free, unmerited boon, wholly undeserved on the part of man, and graciously of His free favour bestowed by God. It is when, as a helpless debtor, he has not one farthing to pay, that he is frankly forgiven all. (T. Bissland, M. A.)
Good news for thirsty souls
1. All souls by nature are in great and dire want. Our Lord here speaks of those who are “athirst,” and thirst is the index of one of our most pressing necessities. It this thirst be not quenched you are in a desperate plight indeed.
2. Some persons begin to be conscious of their soul’s great need, and these are they of whom the Saviour speaks as “athirst”: they have a dreadful want, and they know it. I would have you know that frequently those are the most thirsty who thirst to thirst.
3. Thirst is a desire arising out of a need. Now, so long as you have that desire, you need not stop to question your right to take Christ. A man is thirsty, even if he cannot explain what thirst is and how it comes.
4. The text promiseth water from the fountain of life to the man that is athirst; but thirst cannot quench thirst. Some seekers act as if they thought it would. “Oh,” say they, “I am not thirsty enough; I wish I felt my need more”: but your thirst will not be quenched by being increased. “I should have some hope,” says one, “if I were more sensible of my danger.” Yet that is not a gospel hope. Why should a man’s despairing because of his danger operate to deliver him from danger? As long as you stop where you are you may get more and more sensible of danger until you reach the sensitiveness of morbid despondency; but you will be no nearer salvation. It is not your sense of need, it is Christ’s power to bless you, and your yielding yourself up to Christ, that will bring you salvation.
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ keeps open house for all thirsty ones. “Let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
2. Now, as if it were not enough to keep open house, our Lord Jesus goes further; for He issues many invitations of the freest kind (Isaiah 55:1).
3. Does any one say, “Well, I know that the ever-blessed Saviour keeps open house, and that He invites men freely; but still I am afraid to come”? Peradventure, we may overcome your diffidence if we remind you that our Lord makes a proclamation, which has the weight of His personal dignity about it, and comes as from a king (John 7:37).
4. Peradventure a trembler replies, “Ay! here is a proclamation; but I should be more comforted if I could read promises.” Our text is one of the freest promises possible, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” Come and test the promise now, and see if it be not true. But if you require another, turn to Isaiah 12:17.
5. Our gracious Lord, still further to encourage souls to come to Him, has been pleased to give many gracious explanations of what He meant. You will find one in the fourth chapter of John. How sweetly He explained to the woman at the well what living water is, and what drinking of it is.
6. Furthermore, our Lord, in order to make this very plain, has set before us lively emblems. Rock in wilderness. Also see Psalms 107:5.
7. Our Lord has given us, besides, many encouraging instances of men who have thirsted for grace (Psalms 42:1-11; Psalms 62:1-12.).
8. Our Lord has been pleased to give His own special blessing to the thirsty ones; for, when He opened His mouth upon the mountain and gave out the benedictions which commence His memorable sermon, He said, “Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst,” etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The fountain of the water of life
I. The promised is also the Giver.
II. The gift is Himself.
III. The effects. Water softens, fertilises, satisfies.
IV. The receiver.
1. There is one qualification needful in order that we may share the gift, and only one--desire.
2. There is great wisdom in God’s mentioning this qualification.
He that overcometh shall inherit all things.--
The Bible closes with a great outburst of hope and courage. The words I have quoted are words that correspond to many others which are to be found in the Book of Revelation--promises to him that overcometh. I ask at once what is meant by the overcoming that is spoken of again and again in the earlier chapters as well as in this later chapter of the great Book? There is no special difficulty, there is no peculiar struggle of the life spoken of. It takes life as a trial, and represents the great relationship which man is to hold to life. He that overcometh, not this or that special difficulty, not this or that peculiar struggle in which he is engaged, but he that in his whole life comes forth as victor, it is to him that the great promises are given. And we recognise at once, and think something which occurs to us in all our observation of the world, in all the experience of our life--the way in which man is either overcome by this world or overcomes this world. Either it becomes his master or it becomes his slave; he gets it under his feet or is trampled under its feet. We do not know what may be beyond, what new experiences, what other trials, what other chances and new opportunities may be offered to the soul that has failed in this world, but we do know that there are failures in this world and we do know that there are successes. And every man has it in his power to conquer the world, for man is stronger than circumstance, because man is the child of God and circumstance is only the arrangement of God for the service, the development, and education of His children. What is it to overcome? It is to know that the one great power that is in this universe is our power. We talk about power, and men may grow conceited as they lift themselves up and say, “I will be strong and conquer the world.” Ah! it is not to be done so. There is one real and true strength in this universe, and that is God’s strength, and no man ever did any strong thing yet that God did not do that strong thing in him. A man makes himself full of strength only as the trumpet makes itself full, by letting it be held at the lips of the trumpeter; so only man lets himself be made strong as he lets himself be held in the hand of God. As the chisel is powerless--if it tries to carve a statue by itself it goes tumbling and stumbling over the precious surface of the stone--as the chisel becomes itself filled and inspired with genius when it is put into the hand of the artist; so man, putting himself into the hand of God, loses his awkwardness as well as his feebleness, and becomes full of the graciousness and the strength of the perfect nature. Know God your Father; recognise what your baptism means, that it was the claiming of your soul for the Father-soul of God; give yourself to Him in absolute, loving obedience. Give yourself to Him as the child gives himself to the father as the most natural and true thing in all your life; and then, His power glowing through your power, the world shall become yours as it is His, and in overcoming you shall inherit all things--inherit, because they are your Father’s, so they shall become yours. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
The character and blessing of him that overcometh
What, then, are the qualifications of him who would fight successfully?
1. The first is faith; such is the express and repeated declaration of Scripture. “This is the victory that overcometh the world,” etc.
2. Secondly, he who overcometh must exercise constant and unremitting watchfulness. In the spiritual, as in mortal warfare, the hour of fancied security is that of most evident danger. When you blindly indulge the wishes which arise in your hearts, or follow unguardedly the maxims and example of the world, you wilfully expose yourselves to the most imminent hazard of being betrayed into sudden misery and danger.
3. A third, and the most important weapon in the hand of him who overcometh, is prayer. Weak, indeed, are the children of men, wavering in their opinion, inconstant in their affections, inconsistent in their conduct. To vessels, thus weak, thus insufficient, thus destitute of power in themselves, there is strength from on high.
4. Another of the requisites in him that overcometh is self-denial. We are seldom just judges of what is truly for our own benefit. Even in the plainest cases of duty we are often miserably misled by passions, prejudices, or evil inclinations. The ruling passion, the favourite inclination, of every man is, in fact, his weak side, through which he is most apt to be betrayed into the sin that doth most easily beset him. Here, therefore, the prudent man is particularly on his guard, lest he should be betrayed by it, and brought to experience the truth, that for all things God will bring him to judgment.
5. Lastly, it is essential to him that overcometh, that he persevere. There are many who set out in life with a fair outward appearance of success. They contend for truth with energy and zeal, but, by degrees, their zeal waxes cold, their energies abate, lassitude and indifference creep upon them, religion wearies and disgusts. They begin by entertaining doubts as to some of its doctrines, and by throwing of all respect for its precepts. (The Scottish Pulpit.)
The battle of sonship and the inheritance of the conqueror
The great hindrance to our full belief of all such words as these lies in the very grandeur of the truth to be believed. We turn from the mighty inheritance promised to the Christian conqueror to survey our own fives; and because amidst their poverty and insignificance, their low earthly tendencies and deep spiritual infirmities, we can discover no traces of a battle whose results will be so sublime, we find the promise hard to be believed. But yet the very position of this promise at the end of the last book of God’s revelation, shows that it is simply the natural and necessary result of redemption, and therefore belongs with all its greatness to every redeemed man. It is not an end to be sought by the greatest souls alone, but is the birthright of every faithful man. And the lowest, poorest Christian on earth may see, by looking beneath the outward things of life into life’s spiritual meaning, that he is actually fighting a battle, which, if he do but fight out faithfully, will render him an heir of all that God can give, or immortality bestow.
I. Why does our sonship demand a conflict? We must begin by laying down two facts, which prepare the way for the answer, and avoid two errors into which we are prone to fall.
1. The struggle is not to become sons of God; it results from our being so already. The grace by which God makes us feel that we are His sons--that we could not have made ourselves such--gives rise to a conflict in the soul. The power of the Holy Spirit acting on our nature creates at once s spiritual war. The faith that closes the weary effort to make ourselves God’s children, in the belief that we are such, creates at once a deep life-long struggle. The love that flows into our hearts from God witnessing to our adoption, transforms our hearts into fields of battle.
2. The conflict rising from sonship is not created by any outward circumstances, but by the state of the soul itself, in all conditions of life and ages of time. Take the first moment in which a man hears God’s voice, and becomes conscious of the Divine summons, and you will see how the battle begins. Aroused, perhaps, by trial, sorrow, the sense of life’s vanity, he sets out as a pilgrim of the eternal. In the first dim twilight of spiritual life there comes to him the voice of God. At once it seems to isolate him; he feels alone with God and his sin; he discovers the awfulness of individuality. Then commence the first clashings of the spiritual war of which his soul is the battle-field. The earthly and the heavenly, the human and the Divine, the selfish and the holy, conflict in one loud storm of emotion.
II. Why must the conflict be pepetual? Is there no earthly state in which it will cease? Can we achieve the victory only on the heavenly side of the grave? I answer, it must be long as life, because the old war between the two natures manifests itself in three forms, from which there is no escape.
1. The spirit pants for the invisible--the flesh or the visible world. Is it not manifest that there can be no pause, no safety no repose, till God crowns us as victors in His heaven?
3. The spirit lives in God--the flesh creates temptation to oppose Him. If it be true that all life’s circumstances--solitude or companionship, wealth or poverty, joy or sorrow, ease or labour, are filled with temptations, through the shadowy power of the carnal, where can there be a pause in the battle but on the deathless side of the grave?
3. The tendency of the flesh is to be a creature of circumstances: that of the spirit is to be their king. Carnal men move in masses, are swayed by every influence, lose their individuality, and become slaves to the spirit of the world. All spiritual men have found that this loneliness, this separation with God, formed part of their life-struggle. And this, too, is an undying form of our battle as sons of God. “Worship success, gold, power,” is the cry of the carnal. “Worship God and measure life by heavenly laws,” is the voice of the spiritual. Translate your commonplace toils into this meaning, and they become transfigured. You, in your obscure sphere of work, if you are true to heavenly laws, are in spirit a great warrior. You are taking a part in the spiritual battle of the ages, and if faithful unto death, the full glory of perfected sonship will be yours. “He that overcometh shall be My son.”
III. The inheritance of the conqueror. “He shall inherit all things.” The very conquest of the carnal nature brings us so near to God that all things become our own.
1. Our struggles become our possessions.
2. Inheriting God, we inherit all things. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The conqueror’s reward and the coward’s doom
I. The fountain for the sons of men.
II. The conqueror and his reward. As believers we are saved, as conquerors we get the recompense.
1. The inheritance of all things. We are heirs of God; joint-heirs with Christ.
2. The Divine portion. “I will be his God”--a repetition of Abraham’s blessing (Genesis 17:7). Does not this include everything? (1 Corinthians 3:21; 1 Corinthians 3:23).
3. The Divine adoption. The conqueror becomes a son, and all that is contained in sonship is his, all the paternal love, all the Divine patrimony, all the endless glory.
III. The coward’s doom (verse 8). Though the “fearful” or coward is specially singled out here, yet there are others associated with him in his awful doom. They are all of earth, sons of Adam, men--not devils.
1. The fearful. This means the cowards who refused to come out from the world and join Christ, though their consciences urged them; who shrunk from confessing Christ; who, through fear of men, of the world, of their good name, of earthly honour and gain, either kept their religion to themselves or threw it away.
2. The unbelieving. These are the rejecters of Christ. Oh the hatefulness of unbelief! What must it be to refuse God’s testimony to His Son! to refuse that Son Himself!
3. The abominable. Those who were partakers of the abominations and filthiness mentioned before (Revelation 17:4)--revellings, banquetings, riots, blasphemies.
4. Murderers. Whose hands are red with blood; whose heart is full of angry passions, envy, malice, revenge, grudging; whose lips give vent to irritating and angry words.
5. Whoremongers. All who give way to their lusts, who live in uncleanness; those whose eyes are full of adultery, and who cannot cease from this sin.
6. Sorcerers. They who have taken part in Babylon’s sorceries and witchcrafts; all allies of the evil one, and workers of the lying wonders of the last days.
7. Idolaters. Not only the heathen worshippers of graven images, but all who have chosen another god; who love the creature more than the Creator; who worship mammon, pleasure, art, splendour, or gold, for “covetousness is idolatry.”
8. All liars. All who speak falsely in any way; who practise dishonesty; who care not for truth. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The saints inheriting all things
The little child believes that all things belong to it, and claims everything it can touch, book, or toy, or picture, stretching out its hands for the moon with a divine sense of ownership. And the child is not wrong: the child is never wrong in its spontaneous conduct, acting out what God puts into it, reflecting the thought of the face that its spirit beholds. All things do belong to it, and are withheld only while it is in its spiritual minority for purposes of discipline, and until it learns to distinguish between the good and the evil. But at last God’s children become heirs, inherit, and all things become theirs. (T. T. Munger.)
I will be his God, and he shall be My son.--
The restored sonship
I. Let us think of what is conveyed to us here, when God promises that he will be our God. He is the God of all the world now, for He rules it, and is calling men out of it; and whether they honour Him or not, He presides over them, and directs their destinies after the counsel of His own almighty will. Still, God is not the same to man now as He was to him before he fell from his first estate in paradise. Whosoever has a hard thought of God, disowns His Deity; and it is thus with many a sinner now. But we shall have no hard thoughts of Him when we “shall see Him as He is.” He shall be our God, our very own; and it shall be in this respect, as it is with men on earth, we shall low what belongs to ourselves. Let it be, therefore, that God is not in one sense the God of the sinner. He is, and shall be, of His people; the place which He does not occupy in the hearts of the one, He shall in the hearts of the other. Every thought which the saints have shall confirm Him in the high position which He holds. And how could it be otherwise? When we have inherited “all things,” shall we not see the fruits of His beneficence all around? “God” shall be, as it were, written upon all; and because “God” is written upon all, therefore all shall be for man; for man shall then be in the possession of all things which belong to God. And shall not this supremacy of the Deity be delightful for us to own? Then also shall we understand the dispensations which perplex us now so much; we shall no longer wonder at the short triumph which the ungodly had for a season, at the momentary gloom which for a while seemed to eclipse the Christian’s sun; all these shall appear well connected parts of one great plan, which was to issue, as now indeed it shall be seen to have done, in the glory of God, and the happiness of the saints. But to see and to understand are not enough to satisfy. Far more than these is conveyed in the promise that the Most High will be our God--the saints shall possess and enjoy the liberality of His heart: there shall be positive ownership exercised by the redeemed; they shall make all these things their own. And keeping in mind the point on which we are now immediately engaged--namely, that God on His part will restore man to his high original, and indeed to something more, we might remind you again that such as “overcome” shall dwell in His very presence for ever. But what more, it might be asked, is contained in the promise, that “the Lord will be our God”? We answer, all those especial developments of the Deity which God has withdrawn from us because of our sin, He will then openly make; and amongst these we might notice this, that He will display His omnipotence in us. Let us think what that power can do. Can it not make us noble, and rich, and perfect, and exalt us beyond the ordinary advancement of man? Undoubtedly it can. And as God will not have any around Him who are not fitted for His court, we may reasonably expect that all this shall be done for us. The Master is noble, and the servant shall be as his Master; he shall be free from the taint of everything that defaces or defiles. Then there shall be no more predisposition to sin, no more contraction of heart, no more sordidness of thought, nothing that is unworthy of God Himself. And our attainment of this will be a display of Divine omnipotence; nothing less than that could accomplish anything with such intractable hearts as ours. But nothing shall be impossible with God.
II. We turn now to that which is said concerning ourselves. One blessing, then, to which we may look forward in the promise that “we shall be His sons,” is this, that the unfilial feeling of terror shall be done away. Let the peace of sonship here be an earnest of how sweet the communion of sonship shall be hereafter. And let us not forget, that not only shall all un-son like feelings of terror pass from the bosom of the saints, but that filial delight shall return, delight keener, sweeter, than that which Adam had in paradise. “He shall be my son!” Does not this speak volumes? What we shall feel in heaven? With whom were we so happy when we were in the state which approaches the nearest to innocence? To whom did we cling the most? In whose smile did we bask with the greatest joy? Is not a parent’s figure almost the only one which we can see in the long perspective of the past? From this we can learn what Adam felt in Eden, what we shall feel in heaven. This long lost feeling shall return, our sonship shall act, we shall see that there is none equal to our Father, that from Him everything flows, in Him all blessing centres, that He is All in All. And one great element of our blessing shall be this; the consciousness of connection with Him shall come back to us again. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
But the fearful and unbelieving … shall have their part in the lake.
Who are “the fearful”?
“The cowards” would express the sense more accurately, at least in modern English. Those condemned are those who are afraid to do their duty, not those who do it, though timidly and in spite of the fears of nature: still less those who do it “with fear and trembling” in St. Paul’s sense. (W. H. Simcox, M. A.)
We learn from the context where they failed.
1. The irreligious or unbelieving found that a religious life required hardness, restraint, restrictions; whereas it was easier for them to float with the tide of inclination than against it.
2. The dishonest man found it easier to be dishonest than honest: his gains were quicker; he had not to wait and struggle with poverty as the honest man had.
3. The liar had not the courage to tell the truth and face the consequences; but shirked it.
4. The sensualist found it easier and pleasanter to live a life of unrestrained self-indulgence, than to keep his body under, and bring it into subjection, by reining in his unruly appetites. These are the lost, moral wrecks, the cowards in life’s hard battle, who had not the courage to do right. For these there is no promise--they had no thirst after God--their lot, or portion, is the second death. Whatever this may mean more, it is here placed in direct contrast, and as the opposite to the promise made to the conquerors. They are within, these are without. They are the sons of God, these are dogs. They inherit heaven, these drop into the abyss. They are fit company for God and the holy inhabitants of the heavenly city, these for that of devils. (Proctor’s Gems of Thought.)
The final doom of impenitent sinners
I. The persons. They are, in short, all kinds of sinners, unless they timely repent and instantly forsake their sins.
1. Of these we have a long catalogue in the text, beginning with the “fearful,” who place their fear on a wrong object, and dare not venture to run any hazard for the sake of religion and a good conscience. These lead the van in this long list of sinners, as being the largest in number, and of all others the most egregious and insolent offenders. For no manner of good can be done by persons of so mean a character, who are left destitute of manly courage and rational conduct, and have quite perverted the order of things by estimating the loss of wealth and grandeur to be the only formidable accidents, and the loss of innocence and integrity readily to be dispensed with in hopes of gaining them. Religion, but above all our strict and pure religion, requires that we undergo cheerfully the greatest temporal losses in the service of our Lord and Master, to whom we have vowed dutiful allegiance and persevering obedience. Now, this criminous fear we are speaking of makes us desert and prove traitors upon the least intimation of approaching ill. The most valiant and courageous men are those who, fearing God above all, dare run any hazards in order to serve Him.
2. The “unbelieving” come next to be considered. By these undoubtedly are meant--
3. The “abominable.” By the abominable we are to understand those polluted wretches who have given up their bodies to the commission of the foulest and most unnatural lusts.
4. “Murderers.” He is one that has no regard to the image of God stamped upon our nature, no concern for the welfare of his neighbour and brother.
5. “Whoremongers.” Their guilt, I suppose, is legible enough in that most awful threatening (Hebrews 13:4). Temperance, soberness, and chastity are the most sweetly-becoming ornaments of the Christian life; intemperance, sensuality, and incontinence, the lasting blemishes and utmost scandal of it (Jude, verse 13).
6. The “sorcerers.” They are such as deal by magic and unlawful arts with the devil.
8. “All liars” it seems must come in for their share among the rest. All that upon any pretence or occasion willingly and deliberately offend against the truth, or, in other words, such as speak not the truth from their hearts.
II. Their punishment. “Fire and brimstone.”
1. It contains our being deprived of the beatific vision, and of all that is good.
2. Our being tortured with the miseries of hell, and all that is evil. (R. Warren, D. D.)
The doom of the righteous and the wicked
I. The first prejudice which we intend to attack is this: A life spent in ease and idleness is not incompatible with salvation, if it be free from great crimes. Against this we oppose this part of our text, “He that overcometh shall inherit.” In order to inherit, we must overcome. Here vigilance, action, and motion are supposed.
II. The second prejudice is this: A just God will not impute to His creatures sins of infirmity and constitution, though His creatures shall be subject to them during the whole course of their lives. Against this we oppose these words of the apostle, “The fearful and whoremongers shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”
III. The third prejudice is this: Speculative errors cannot be attended with any fatal consequences, provided we live uprightly, as it is called, and discharge our social duties. Against this we oppose this word, the “unbelieving.” The unbelieving are put into the class of the miserable.
IV. The fourth prejudice is this: Religions are indifferent. The mercy of God extends to those who live in the most erroneous communions. Against this we oppose the word “idolaters.” Idolaters are considered among the most criminal of mankind.
V. The last prejudice in this: None but the vulgar ought to be afraid of committing certain crimes. Kings will be judged by a particular law: the greatness of the motive that inclined them to manage some affairs of state will plead their excuse, and secure them from Divine vengeance. Against this we oppose these words, “abominable,” “sorcerers,” and “all liars,” which three words include almost all those abominations which are called illustrious crimes. (J. Saurin.)
The character and condition of the lost
I. The character of the lost. There is but one way to heaven, but there are many ways to hell. It is true that “all, like sheep, have gone astray,” but “every one has turned to his own way.” There are “the fearful” who have followed the way of cowardice. There are “the unbelieving” or “the faithless” who could not take God at His word. There are “the abominable” or “the abominated,” who through association with wickedness and sin are defiled in mind and conscience. Unbelief and wrong-doing are more nearly connected together than many people think. There are “murderers” also, not merely those who have imbrued their hands in the blood of their fellow-men, but those also whose hearts have been dead to the voice of pity and love, who have shut up their bowels of compassion from the poor and needy. The “fornicators” are there also, those sinners against the laws of moral purity which teach us to keep our bodies in temperance, soberness, and chastity. “Sorcerers” are there likewise, who have used curious arts and familiar spirits, intruding into those things which they have not seen, vainly puffed up by their fleshly mind. Following Satan’s deceit, they find at last their lot with him, “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” “Idolaters,” too, are there, who have followed the example of King Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:24). There are idols of the heart as well as idols of the hand. “All liars,” also, are there. The word literally is “lies,” and it includes all forms of deceit, hypocrisy, fraud, “whatsoever loveth and maketh a lie,” counterfeits and shams, self-deceit, tongue-craft, the lying life. The phrase, indeed, may be intended not so much to indicate a distinct class of sins and sinners as to stamp the falseness of the seven kinds of iniquity already enumerated. The catalogue is like that of the works of the flesh named in Galatians 5:19-21, and it sets forth the tale of man’s disobedience to the whole law of God. Moreover, we may trace in this succession of sins a gradation of wickedness. Men shrink from the trouble and effort of a godly life, and take refuge in unbelief. This brings them into willing association with sin, and those who sin against their brethren become sinners against their own souls, and intruders into the secret counsels of the Most High. They have practically denied the God that is above, and the result is the idolatry of the creature; and thus (Romans 1:25).
II. The condition of the lost. A similar description of the lot of the wicked is that given by St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9).
1. First, the loss which the finally impenitent will undergo will be the loss of God indicated in that awful phrase, “the second death.” This language is evidently intended to distinguish this state from another which may be called “the first death.” But what is the first death? Not, it would seem, the separation of body and spirit in natural death. The context tells us that there shall be no more death in this sense (verse 4); and the period to which our text refers is subsequent to the resurrection of the body. Rather does the term, “the second death,” lead us to think of the first death as the present spiritual state of those who are not renewed by the Holy Spirit. Such are, to use St. Paul’s language, “dead in trespasses and sins,” etc. (Ephesians 2:1-2; Ephesians 4:18). Separation from God, which sinners chose on earth, they find in hell, and what they thought so desirous here they find, with their quickened sensibilities, to be their sorrow there. Cut off from their former opportunities of sin and facilities for ignoring spiritual things, they are face to face with their real position, and they find in it the bitterness of death. The dream of vanity and folly and sin, from which no word or judgment could rouse them here, has vanished, and they wake up now to shame and everlasting contempt.
2. For this second death is an actual judgment as well as a woeful loss. The golden sceptre of grace shall be exchanged there for the iron rod of discipline. (James Silvester, M. A.)
I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
The glorious bride
I. Who and what she was before she became the bride. She had no high descent to boast of. Her lineage was not royal, but low and mean. Without goodness, without beauty; without personal or family recommendation; unloving and unlovable; an alien, a captive, a rebel. Such were you once, O saint; such are you still, O sinner!
II. How and why she was fixed upon. Of the “how” and the “why” of this sovereign purpose, what can we say but this, that in one so unlovable and worthless it found opportunity and scope for the outflow and display of free love, such as could be found in no other? It was the Father’s free choice, and the Son’s free choice, that made her what she is now, the bride, and what she is through eternity to be, “the Lamb’s wife.”
III. How she was obtained. She is a captive, and must be set free. This the Bride-groom undertakes to do; for her sake becoming a captive. She is a criminal, under wrath, and must be delivered from condemnation and death. This also the Bridegroom undertakes; for her sake submitting to condemnation and death, that so her pardon may be secured, her fetters broken, and life made hers for ever.
IV. How she was betrothed. The Bridegroom Himself came down in lowly guise to woo and win her for Himself. But now He is carrying on His suit in absence, through the intervention of others, as Isaac’s proposals to Rebekah were carried on through the faithful Eliezer of Damascus. We tell of our Isaac’s noble lineage, His riches, His honours, His worth. We tell of all that He has done to win your love, and set before you the glory of His person, that you may see how worthy He is of all this love; how blessed, how honourable it would be for you to be the bride of such a Bridegroom; and we say, “Wilt thou go with the Man?”
V. How she is prepared and adorned. It is through the Holy Spirit that this is carried out. This Spirit having overcome her unwillingness, and persuaded her to consent to the glorious betrothment, immediately commences His work of preparation. He strips her of her rags, and puts on royal apparel. He cleanses her from her filthiness, and makes her whiter than snow. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The bridal city
Not heaven itself, but “the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” Not the palace-home, but the bride herself, the Church of the firstborn made perfect, presented under the gorgeous imagery of a magnificent temple-city--an ideal of perfect glory and beauty, safety and fitness--this is the true subject described by John. “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
1. Often, in the old days, John had heard from his Master teaching, parabolic and otherwise, which suggested the thought that His saved people should, in their corporate capacity, constitute His bride. This, in turn, would recall to the reverent student of the Old Testament all the bridal imagery of the prophecies--notably of Isaiah and Jeremiah-imagery so curiously and suggestively interlaced with the whole circle of paradise, city, and temple symbolism. Out of all this material, so familiar to him, John had no difficulty in constructing a distinct picture of the New Jerusalem, the virgin daughter of Zion, married as a bride to her Lord. Already Ezekiel, with extraordinary elaboration of detail, had pourtrayed this ideal bridal-city, and not a few of Ezekiel’s details are transferred, with but little change, to this New Testament picture.
2. It requires no stretch of fancy to believe that John, during his residence in Ephesus, had frequently read the famous circular-letter which Paul sent, first to Ephesus. And it is a significant fact, that in the Epistle to the Ephesians we have precisely the same combination of temple-city and bride which meets us in this chapter. It is a highly figurative picture of a perfected Christ-ideal at present, but an ideal one day to be realised.
The practical use to which the vision may legitimately be turned is twofold.
1. It is an inspiration of hope. You see what is the hope of your calling. To this ye are to come. This is the final destiny of the saints.
2. It is also--and this I believe to be its main purpose--a “pattern in the Mount.” One of the great peculiarities of the Church of Jesus Christ is this, that its golden age does not lie in the past, but in the future. And when we desire an example--a pattern up to and after which we may work--we find it in the revealed future; and that is the only justification of the revelation of the future--to supply us with a “mark for the prize of our high calling.”
I. “Having the glory of God.” The first thing noted is the radiant beauty of the bride--a beauty which consists in the striking resemblance between her and her Lord. The Church, in her ideal condition, has been so long with her Lord, coming up through the wilderness, that she has caught the beauty of His face and form, and is a “partaker of the Divine nature,” and falls only a little way short of “the measure of the stature of His fulness.” This is her golden wedding-day-the jubilee of her redemption. We may read earlier in the Book how she was caught up into heaven out of the wilderness, and now she is “coming down from God out of heaven,” arrayed in garments white and glistening, “having the glory of God.” The first impression often produced on Church review days--at conferences, and congresses, and unions--is not altogether so noble as this. What an influential Church! So many hundred thousand members! What perfect organisation! What resources of wealth and culture! What buildings! But in the great review-day--the day of “the marriage of the Lamb”--the first thought will be this, “having the glory of God.” This is the ideal at which we are to aim. If you desire to form a distinct idea of the glory of God, read the descriptions of God’s glory as seen in ancient times by Moses or Isaiah; as revealed in God’s name, or in ancient song; as shining in the face of Jesus Christ; as manifested in His life and works; as revealed in words fallen from His lips, or written by St. Paul, or pictured in the visions of this Book. Think of the purity, the holiness, and righteousness, of the mercy and truth, of the faithfulness and lovingkindness, of our God and Father! This is “the image of God” in which we are to be renewed. This is to be “the mark for the prize.”
II. “having a wall great and high.” Walls, in ancient times, were for three purposes:
1. Defining. The position of the Church in relation to the world must be clearly defined. Everywhere throughout the Bible this is taught. “Having a wall great and high,”--a clearly defined creed, resting on foundations of precious stones, bearing the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; an equally clearly defined discipline; a distinct organisation of fellowship--“A wall,” built of good stones--well bounded--“great and high.” Not that the Church is to be narrow, little, without elbow-room, stifled, “cribbed, cabined, or confined.” The Holy City which John saw--the ideal Church--was vast beyond our poor power to conceive--twelve thousand stadii--all the cities of the earth are mere villages in comparison. By the same measurement, London would be but a small and straightened dwelling-place.
2. Walls were for purposes of enclosure. We are to be an enclosed people. Not nomadic--mere wilderness wanderers, heedlessly roaming hither and thither, like unclean spirits, “walking through waterless places, seeking rest and finding none”; but a people with a home, “a city of habitation,” and, therefore, with a work, living for s definite purpose, sharing a common life, helping one another, “bearing one another’s burdens.”
3. Walls were for defence. If they prevent lawless wandering, they also prevent lawless incursions. The success of Christian work depends very much on the Churches’ power to protect. And a Church cannot protect unless it has this “wall” of sound doctrine and faithful discipline, and clearly defined fellowship--“a wall great and high.” One feature of the Bride’s resemblance to her Lord--one true sense in which she may have “the glory of God”--is this, that she is able, not only to save, but also to keep. Like her Lord, she may say, “Of all whom Thou hast given me I have lost none, save the son of perdition.” “I have lost none.” A Church cannot say that, if she carelessly allows any part of her protecting walls to be mere mud-heaps, “daubed with untempered mortar.” And do not lose sight of the adornment--“with all manner of precious stones.” Do not frighten the people away from the Church by dull, heavy, rough, ugly buildings. You are not rearing a prison, or a criminal lunatic asylum; but a temple, a palace, a bridal city.
III. Having twelve gates. The Church is not to be imprisoned, nor is it to imprison its members, or its influence, its light, its melody. But, at all times, and on all sides, it is to have perfect power to “go through the gates.” (N. Curnock.)
A sight of the bade
I. Now you know, idle curiosity prompts a great many persons to go and see great sights; and frequently, when persons have been into the metropolis from distant parts of the country, the neighbours ask when they return, “Did you see such a sight?” Well, what are they after all? “the things which are seen are temporal”; “the eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing” them. But when the soul gets a sight of Christ, he never wants to turn from it. I advise you, as the angel did John, to “come hither” along with me to this “great and high mountain,” that we may get this lovely and enamouring sight. The advice, you see, is that of an aspirant--to get away from the position which he was occupying--the low ground of earthly attractions; one of the most important points in our whole Christianity, to get away from things on earth, to rise, and aspire, and soar on high. Moreover, this advice calls for the obedience of faith--obedience to the Divine call. This messenger was one of God’s messengers, an angel sent with a direct errand to John, to tell him to “come hither.” Now, wherever this obedience is yielded, there is a mighty deliverance, because we are by nature so entangled with the things of the world, so entangled with self-righteousness, so entangled by sin and Satan, that it requires a mighty deliverance to get us away, to draw us from, and bring us out of, our love and practice of the things that are only earthly. But I hasten to remark, that decision is all-important in thin act of obedience to the Divine call. There must be no hesitating about the matter. There must be no looking back, with a lingering, longing look, upon Sedum. “Get thee out hence.” When Jehovah calls by His messenger, and says,. “Come hither,” delay is dangerous, decision is important. And then this coming up hither, this aspiring after heavenly things, must be devotional. It is that which is created by the power of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and amounts to nothing less than the aspiring of all the graces in lively exercise. Faith will aspire, and hope will aspire, and love will aspire, and all the graces of the spirit must aspire, as moved, supplied, acted upon, and constrained by the omnipotence of the Holy Ghost. Now glance at this aspiring soul, and see his progress. He is rising and rising, higher and higher every hour; just as you see the skylark ascending from its nest where it had been grovelling; when it first warbles, it seems but a little above your head, but it sings and mounts, and sings and mounts, till it is almost out of sight. Once more observe, that as we rise in knowledge, we shall rise also in enjoyment, we shall rise in love to Him. Then mark, we shall rise in anticipation. “Come hither” to the top of this great and high mountain, and anticipate the bliss that is to be revealed, that glory that is about to open to view.
II. Now upon this position we may expect the sight which follows, “Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” What a sight! Now I want to show you the bride, because there are a great many persons who presume to assume the name to whom it does not belong.
1. And, in the first place, you may know her by her wedding dress. What do you think it is? Why, the imputed righteousness of her loving Lord. And therefore she sings as Isaiah taught the Church to sing in olden time--“My soul shall rejoice in the Lord and be joyful in my God, for He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness and clothed me with the garments of salvation, as a bride adorneth herself for her husband.”
2. Moreover, “I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife,” in her indissoluble union. The husband that is really married has not only a bride, but a wife. Now, before time began, before the world was formed, before angels fell, before sin existed, Jesus and His bride were betrothed in love, and engaged in eternal union. Moreover, this indissoluble union is effected by Him in the fulness of time. I confess I like to talk about this courtship, and this marriage too.
3. Well, let us go on a step further--it is enjoyed. This union which is indissoluble between Christ and His Church, is enjoyed in communion, enjoyed in fellowship, enjoyed in association, enjoyed in every possible expression of affection, enjoyed in mutual help. There are pangs frequently felt in the most affectionate unions upon earth at the idea of separation; but “I am persuaded,” says St. Paul, that in this union there can be no separation; “for neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Is not she a happy bride, then? (J. Irons.)
The Holy City, the Bride of the Lamb
Our great work is to build the city of God upon the earth, and this can be done only through the organised life of the world. We must not be content to go one way, and to allow what we call secular institutions to go another way. We are the salt of the earth. We, through the Spirit of God, are the makers of the new city, and God has given us the old city as the material out of which we are to make the new. It is ours to transform the earthly city so that it shall be glorified into the heavenly.
1. In the first place, it is clear that the ideal city in this character of “Bride” is in living union with God. So that the figure of the “Bride” as conceived in the New Testament is one of loving dependence and living unity. She finds her joy, her fulness, her splendour, her very life, in Him for whom she is adorned. She is a very part of His life, and finds her true glory in losing herself in Him. Such is the relation to God of that city that would realise God’s ideal. This is precisely what is implied in the picture before us--namely, that all the vast secular organisations of society must find their ideal in being the “Bride of the Lamb.” What is thought to be the peculiar characteristic of a number of people that have certain religious and spiritual affinities must come to be recognised as the best thing for all the busy world, and as the normal attitude of the city or State that would attain true and abiding prosperity. We cannot keep the higher ideal in its strength by our religious combinations and assemblies unless we insist upon its maintenance in and for the busy hum of life. The worshipping attitude of the sanctuary is also the ideal attitude for the mart, the exchange, the council chamber, and the senate. But let the Church realise that it is not the ideal of a select coterie, however worthy and however divinely elected, but the ideal that must sweep the world, and sit upon the throne of every State, an ideal that is as good for the market-place as for the sanctuary. Then it will have new power and influence, and our Churches will rise to higher levels of worship and consecration. The old Puritans realised this when they knelt together for prayer in the British House of Commons. They believed that the grandest thing a State could do was to worship God, provided it were done in spirit and in truth, and not by the mockery of mechanical enactments. The city that will not be the Bride of the Lamb shall perish.
2. This condition of living union with God involves the development of holy affinities with God. The ideal city must construct its life and frame its ends according to the pattern on the Mount. If it is to be in living union with God, it must live according to the divinest motives and ideals. The Bride must be adorned for her Husband in the jewels that He loves. Many tell us that the heavenly and spiritual ideas that we place before them are not necessary or suited for the great life and problems of the city. They say that the city has to do with earth, not with heaven; that its development and prosperity and elevation depend upon philanthropies and social revolutions and political changes. For this worship is not necessary, thoughts and hopes of heaven are hampering, and ideas of spiritual renewal, holiness, and Divine peace are altogether Utopian. They tell the Church, in effect, that its ideas are altogether out of place in this world of states and cities. And some good men have unfortunately fallen victims to this modem falsehood. They have forsaken the Christian ideal, and accepted the ideal of the social revolutionist and the secular politician. What they think the gospel cannot do they hope to do by some loud-sounding Ism, and proclaim this as the world’s salvation, rather than the Divine ideals of Jesus Christ. The scornful wisdom of the world will again, as in times past, be brought to confusion. The present glorification of material things and material ends and methods will end in failure. The ideal city will be the Bride of the Lamb. (John Thomas, M. A.)
I. Come hither and see the bride as thou hast never seen her before.
1. In the enjoyment of nearer communion.
2. Participating in the highest honours.
3. Possessing enlarged knowledge.
4. Entirely absorbed in contemplation of Him.
II. Come hither and see the bride where she never was before.
1. Beyond the tempter’s power.
2. Beyond the rags of poverty and the experience of famine.
3. Far removed from the darts of the enemy.
4. Away from the vineyard. Toil a thing of the past. The curse revoked.
III. Come hither, and see the bride as she herself never expected to be.
IV. Come hither, and see her as she was decreed to be.
V. Come hither, and see her as she shall for ever remain.
1. Her Husband has paid her debts.
2. Her Husband is unchangeable.
3. No fear of divorce.
4. No fear of estrangement on her part.
5. No death.
VI. Come hither and see her as she should now aim to be. (R A. Griffin.)
That great city, the holy Jerusalem.--
The new Jerusalem
One of the most remarkable paradoxes of the Church of our times is its abhorrence of materiality in connection with the kingdom of Christ and the eternal future, whilst practically up to its ears in materialism and earthiness. No wonder that professed believers of our day are anxious to put off getting into the heaven they believe in as long as the doctor’s skill can keep them out of it, and finally agree to go only as a last despairing resort. It has no substance, no reality, for the soul to take hold on. It is nothing but a world of shadows, of mist, of dim visions of blessedness, with which it is impossible for a being who is not mere spirit, and never will be mere spirit, who knows only to live in a body, and shall live for ever in a body, to feel any fellowship or sympathy. But such are not the ideas of our futurity which the Bible holds out to our faith and hope. Did men but learn to know the difference between a paradise of sense and a paradise of sensuality, the truth of God would not suffer in men’s hands as it does, and their souls would not suffer as they do for something solid to anchor to amid the anxious perturbations of life and death. Did men but rid themselves of the old heresy that matter means sin, and learn to know and feel that there was a material universe before sin was, and that a material universe will live on when sin shall have been clean washed away from the entire face of it, they would be in better position both to understand and to enjoy the fore-announcements of the futurity of the saints which God has given for their consolation amid these earthly vicissitudes and falsities. The New Jerusalem, which we now come to consider, is in the line of these ideas. It stands in antithesis to the final Babylon. That a real city as well as a perfected moral system is here to be understood, I see not how we can otherwise conclude. All the elements of a city are indicated. It has specific dimensions. It has foundations, wails, gates, and streets. It has guards outside and inhabitants within, both distinct from what characterises it as a real construction. Among the highest promises to the saints of all ages was the promise of a special place and economy answering to a heavenly city, and which is continually referred to as an enduring and God-built city.
I. Its derivation. John sees it “coming down out of heaven from God.” It is of celestial origin. It is the direct product of Almighty power and wisdom. He who made the worlds is the Maker of this illustrious city. No mortal hand is ever employed upon its construction. The saints are all God’s workmanship. They are all begotten of His Spirit, and shaped and fashioned into living stones from the dark quarries of a fallen world, and transfigured from glory to glory by the gracious operations of His hand. They reach their heavenly character and places through His own direct agency and influence. And He who makes, prepares, and places them, makes, prepares, and places their sublime habitation also.
II. Its location. This is not specifically told, but the record is not without some hints. John sees it coming down out of heaven. The idea is that it comes close to the earth, and is intended to have a near relation to the earth; but it is nowhere said that it ever alights on the earth, or ever becomes part of its material fabric. Though coming into the vicinity of the earth, it is always spoken of as the “Jerusalem which is above” (Galatians 4:26).
III. Its splendour. Here the specifications are numerous and transcendent, as we would expect in a city erected and ornamented by Jehovah, and coming forth direct from the heavens. Everything built by God’s direction is the very best and most splendid of its kind. And this city has, and is invested with, the glory, light, brightness, and radiating splendour of God.
IV. Its amplitude. There is no stint or meanness in God’s creations. When He set Himself to the making of worlds, He filled up an immeasurable space with them. When He created angels He added myriads on myraids, and orders on orders, till all earthly arithmetic is lost in the counting of them. When He started the human race it was on a career of multiplication to which we can set no limit. When He began the glorious work of redemption, and commenced the taking out and fashioning of a people to become the companions of His only begotten Son and co-regents with their Redeemer, these pictures of the final outcome tell of great multitudinous hosts, in numbers like the sands of the seashore. And the city He builds for them is of corresponding dimensions. Amplitude--amplitude of numbers, as well as glorious accommodations--is unmistakably signified, in whatever way we contemplate the astonishing picture.
V. Its system of illumination. What is a city without light! The glory of God’s brightness envelopes it like an unclouded halo, permeates it, and radiates through it and from it so that there is not a dark or obscure place about it.
VI. Its lack of a temple. “A temple,” says the seer, “I saw not in it.” What a vacuum it would create in every earthly city if its temples were taken away! What would ancient Jerusalem have been without its temple? But it is no privation to the New Jerusalem that there is no temple in it. Nay, it is one of its sublimest peculiarities. Deity will then have come forth from behind all veils, all mediating sacraments, all previous barriers and hidings because of the infirmities of the flesh or the weaknesses of undeveloped spirituality. Himself will be the temple thereof. The glorious worshippers there hold direct communion with His manifested glory, which encompasses them and all their city alike. As consecrated high priests they will then have come into the holiest of all, into the very cloud of God’s overshadowing glory, which is at once their covering, their temple, their God.
VII. Its relation to the world at large. Of old, the song of the Psalmist was: “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, the city of the Great King” (Psalms 48:2). In every land into which the Jewish people wandered, there was a glad thrill upon their souls when they remembered Jerusalem. We cannot look back upon those times, even now, without a degree of fascination which draws like a magnet upon every feeling of the heart. And what was then realised on a small and feeble scale, in the case of one people, is to be the universal experience with regard to this blessed city. It is to be the centre and illuminator of the world.
VIII. Its supreme holiness. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The city of God
I believe that it was a purpose of God in making the world that it should have in it great cities. Wisdom, in the beginning of God’s ways, “rejoiced in the habitable parts of the earth, and her delights were with the sons of men.” A peopled earth--A city-covered earth--was, I have no doubt, from the beginning part of what God meant should be. Ages of great cities are of His appointment. But sin has spoiled all. Here’s the mischief. The only thing to be complained of in London, or any other city, is sin. Now, the thing that sin has spoiled here--the life of great cities--is “to be perfectly shown in another world.” There is “a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. God is not ashamed to be called the God of His saints, for He hath prepared for them a city.”
I. The city--what it is. Talk of great London! Rome! Nineveh! Babylon!--the vision of St. John conveys the idea of something much more vast and beautiful in the last home of the saints. City and country, street and garden, Jerusalem and Eden, are mixed in the picture here, to show, I suppose, that heaven will have in it all that is fairest in nature with all that is richest in civilisation. The city is built of “precious stones”--all manner of precious stones piled together. Precious stones are in themselves more astonishing than any form, however curious and beautiful, into which they can be carved. In their nature they are images of heavenly things. Just think: no objects last so long as precious stones: they are the oldest and the strongest things in nature. No objects are so pure and clear as precious stones. The crystal is purer than the water, when the water is said to be like crystal. No objects are so free from corruption and decay, so utterly beyond the reach of inward stain. And no objects are at once so richly dyed, so rainbow-like in colour, and yet so well seen through, so ready to get and to give light. Are they not striking images of the things of heaven? The lasting nature of heaven! the bright clearness of heaven! the impossibility of staining heaven! the truth, the faithfulness, the love, the justice that dwell and reign in the city of heaven! The life lost by Adam’s sin is brought back, and perfected and made to last by Christ’s obedience. Redemption more than repairs the fall; the Lamb has slain the serpent; simplicity has got the better of subtlety; the patience, self-denial, and sacrifice of the atoning Mediator have destroyed the mischief of the tempter’s pride, selfishness and cruelty; for a heaven better than Eden is opened to men driven from Eden. In the New Jerusalem there are none of the drawbacks and evils of an earthly condition. Especially we are taught that the city is “holy.” The tabernacle and the temple were patterns of things in the heavens. Now, in every possible way they showed the quality of holiness. In the other world, as much as in this, physical purity as well as moral, moral purity as well as physical, are indispensably needful. A clean heart in a clean house--that is wanted for comfort in this world and in that. Clean hands, pure worship, and a soul full of health and joy--that was the order of things in Jerusalem; so it is in the Christian Church, and will be in heaven. Heaven is pure: it must be so; the necessity is grounded on the deepest reasons. It follows, from its being the habitation of God; of God the holy;--whose eyes are called the eyes of His holiness; whose arm is called His holy arm; whose name is a holy name: who swears by His holiness; who cannot look upon sin; whom to rob of His moral perfection, in our thoughts, is to insult even more than by the denial of His being. It follows, from the perfection of the saints. Any defilement in them would destroy their perfection. Any defilement in their companions would endanger their perfection. It follows, from its being a world of bliss. Sin would spoil the bliss. The consciousness of it would unmake heaven. (John Stoughton.)
This figure of heaven suggests--
I. Its relation to god’s empire. What the Metropolis is to a country, heaven is to the universe.
1. The central influence of the kingdom.
2. The dwelling-place of its chiefest and strongest.
3. The residence of its sovereign.
II. Its marvellous construction.
1. Heaven is a vast city--a city, not a mere hamlet for a handful of the elect.
2. Heaven is a secure city. Its walls, its gates, etc. “Nothing can hurt or destroy.”
3. Heaven is a magnificent city. Nothing impoverished, no by-ways of shame, no lurking places of misery; its very streets are of gold.
III. Its famous population. The population is--
1. Immense in number; “a great multitude,” etc.
2. Honourable in occupation. Jerusalem a city of priests; Athens, of sages; Rome, of soldiers; London, of shopkeepers: heaven, of saints, who serve God day and night.
3. Holy in character. This the glory of the population; they are robed in white. Their moral lustre is their beauty. (Homilist.)
The holy city
This city is not earthly, but heavenly, and is among the heavenly things said by the apostle to be purified by the “better sacrifices”(Hebrews 9:23.). Why did such a city need “ purifying:? Not because unclean, but because sinners were to dwell in it; and they would have defiled it, had it not been for the great sacrifice for the blood does two things--it makes the unclean clean, and it keeps the clean from being defiled.
1. It is a great city. There has been no city like it. It is the city, the one city, the great metropolis of the mighty universe.
2. It is a well-built city. Its builder and maker is God. Its foundations are eternal; its walls are jasper; its gates pearls; its streets paved with gold. It is “compactly built together,” lying foursquare, and perfect in all its parts, without a break or flaw, or weakness or deformity.
3. It is a well-lighted city. Something brighter than sun and moon is given to fill its heaven. The glory of God lightens it; the Lamb is its “light” or “lamp,” so that it needs no candle, no sunlight.
4. It is a well-watered city. A pure river of the water of life flows through its streets, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb. What must its waters be! What must be the rivers of pleasure there!
5. It is a well-provisioned city. The tree of life is there, with its twelve variety of fruits and its health-giving leaves. It has more than Eden had. It is paradise restored; paradise and Jerusalem in one; Jerusalem in paradise, and paradise in Jerusalem.
6. It is a well-guarded city. Not only has it gates, and walls, and towers, which no enemy could scale or force; but at the gates are twelve angels keeping perpetual watch.
7. It is a well-governed city. No misrule is there, no disorder, no lawlessness, no rebellion.
8. It is a well-peopled city. It has gathered within its walls all generations of the redeemed. Its population is as the sands or the stars; the multitude that no man can number; the millions of the risen and glorified.
9. It is a holy city. Nothing that defileth shall enter; no spot or speck or shadow of evil. All is perfection there, Divine perfection.
10. It is a glorious city. The glory that fills it and encircles it is the glory of God. Everything resplendent is there. It shines like the sun.
11. It is a blessed city. It is truly “the joyous city.” It is the throne of the blessed One, and all in it is like Him. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The manifold Christ
Three gates on each side of the celestial quadrangle. So much as to the accessibility of the heavenly city. Christ is Himself gateway impersonated, what Scripture calls “open door.” Three gates in each wall. Christ is not only one gate; He is all the gates, and His multiplicity matches our diversity. So that each man to be saved will be saved by his own particular Christ, and enter the kingdom through his own special private portal. We believe in the same Christ, and yet we have not the same belief in Christ--like two men standing on the opposite side of a hill, who have a view of the same hill, but not the same view of the hill. We are in that respect like different kinds of flowers growing out in the sunshine; one flower when it is touched by white light will extract from the white light one particular tint, another flower will extract another particular tint from the same white light, So while we all in a way believe in Christ we each believe in our own way, and He is not the same to any two of us. This leads on to say that Christ as you apprehend Him--not as I apprehend Him, not as your neighbour apprehends Him, hut Christ as you apprehend Him--is your open door. Doubtless, as we come to know Him better and to enter more deeply into the intimacies of His character and spirit, our conceptions of Him will have more and more in common, and we shall draw nearer and nearer to each other in our views and experience of Him. Three gates on a side. “The Lord is nigh unto them that call upon Him.” Christ, in the conception that you already have of Him, is your gate; no hunting necessary in order to find it; no waiting requisite. The Bible would not say, “Choose ye this day” if there were anything to wait for. Such words as “now” and “to-day” would have to be left out if the gate were anywhere but directly in front of you. This Biblical idea of “to-day” just matches this apocalyptic idea of three gates on a side, every man’s gate close to him. The object of this is not to encourage the notion that it makes no difference how little idea a man has of Christ. Our only point is that the veriest scintilla of an idea, if made available, is enough to begin with. Supposing in a dark, starless night you become lost in the woods. The glimmer of a distant candle reaches your eye, and you are not lost any longer. There may not be light enough about it to show you where you are, but you are not lost any more because there is light enough about it to give you a direction. Any smallest, feeblest conception you may have of Christ will answer every purpose if only you will treat it in the same way that you would treat what appeared to be the glimmer of a distant candle falling upon your eye by night in the midst of a black forest. Light is a sure guide, because, unlike sound, it goes in straight lines. And wherever and howsoever far out upon the circumference of Christ’s character you take your position and begin threading inward any one of its radiating lines, you are moving by a line as straight as a sunbeam toward the heart and centre of the entire matter. When the disciples were bidden by Christ to follow Him, clearly that meant to them at the outset little more than patterning their fives after Him, going where He went, and doing what He did. That was where they first took hold of the matter. Anything like mere imitation seems mostly to disappear from their life in its later manifestations and farther developments; but it was not much but imitation to begin with. They commenced by obeying Him and trying to be like Him. Christ’s early instruction to them was in this line. Now, it must needs be said that this obediently doing what God in Christ enjoins upon us, important and indispensable as of course it is, is by no manner of means the best and most distinctive part of the Christian matter. At the same time there are two things to be said about it that are practical and that are in close line with our present thought. The first is that while studiously doing as Christ bids us is not the best part of the Lord’s matter, it is singularly educating, and contributes with wonderful facility to initiate us into the best part of the Lord’s matter. Obedience to Christ is only gateway so far as relates to the full meaning of Christ and of Christian life, but it is gateway that portals one of the central avenues conducting directly to meanings that are more essential and complete. The other point is that this matter of taking Christ’s commands and doing them is not only gateway, but gateway that opens itself immediately in our face. We have not to search around in order to find it. The door is directly in front of us. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
The many gates
I. The variousness of men’s manner of approach to the heavenly city. The “gates” open in all directions, because an almost infinite variety of travellers, and journeying from most dissimilar regions, are to be gathered there. Said our Saviour to His disciples, “Other sheep I have, who are not of this fold.” The gospel He proclaimed was not for one nation only, but for the world. And so this New Jerusalem, to which that gospel points the way, must be accessible to men of all languages and lands. But it is not this geographical variousness of approach to the New Jerusalem alone which the fourfold aspect of the heavenly gates suggests to us. There is a moral variousness still greater than any geographical one. The people who gather, are gathered not only out of unlike regions, but out of unlike faiths, ideas, habits, deficiences. Those must needs be, in many respects, very different pathways of approach, intellectually and morally, which are traversed to the heavenly city by one who comes thither out of African ignorance, out of Oriental mysticism, out of Indian savagery, and out of European refinement. How unlike, after all, are the dwellers who live door to door in a city like this; or sit side by side in this Sabbath sanctuary! What diverse dispositions, inclinations, experiences, characters! And in leading men and women so variously constituted to the heavenly Jerusalem, the Spirit of God conducts them in most diverse ways. Here is one who arrives thither through the throes and agonies of an experience as stormy as that of Luther or of Paul. Here is another whose Christian experience is like that of Fenelon or John. Almost natural it seems for this man, when he heard the words, “Behold the Lamb of God,” to turn and follow Him. Here are those on whom in their journey Zionward the sun always seems to smile. Others come, but it is always under a stormy sky. More and more alone as they go forward, heavier and heavier weighted with suffering and with care, they arrive at last, spent and buffeted, like a shipwrecked sailor, smitten by a thousand seas, stripped and exhausted, at the heavenly refuge.
II. The unexpectedness of the arrival of many there. As many of the travellers to the city were on their way thither, they often seemed at least to be journeying in different directions. Their pathways sometimes ran not parallel but crosswise, and even in contrary courses, according as each was led by the Good Spirit which guided him to one or another of the opposite gates. And it would not be strange if, while they thus crossed and traversed one another, doubt should arise, and even controversy, as to the probability of one another’s arrival. Sometimes the road insisted on has been the road of a particular church organisation. Sometimes the prescribed pathway has been a particular form of some Christian ordinance. How reassuring, in view of an almost interminable catalogue of controversies like these, to remember the many and opposite-looking gates of the heavenly city! How comforting to know that not one road, but many roads, leads thither! And what a suggestion this affords of the surprises which will await those who finally enter; the unexpectedness to multitudes of the arrival of multitudes besides. (Leon Walker, D. D.)
The gates of heaven
The Cashmere Gate of Delhi, where converged a heroism that makes one’s nerves tingle; the Lucknow Gate, still dented and scarred with Sepoy bombardment; the Madeline Gate, with its emblazonry in bronze; the hundred gates of Thebes, the wonder of centuries, all go out of sight before the gates of my text.
I. Examine the architecture of those gates. Proprietors of large estates are very apt to have an ornamented gateway. Gates of wood and iron and stone guarded nearly all the old cities. Moslems have inscribed upon their gateways inscriptions from the Koran of the Mohammedan. There have been a great many fine gateways, but Christ sets His hand to the work, and for the upper city swung a gate such as no eye ever gazed on, untouched of inspiration. There is no wood, or stone, or bronze in that gate, but from top to base, and from side to side, it is all of pearl Not one piece picked up from Ceylon banks, and another piece from the Persian Gulf, and another from the Island of the Margarette; but one solid pearl picked up from the beach of everlasting light by heavenly hands, and hoisted and swung amid the shouting of angels. The glories of alabaster vase and porphyry pillar fade out before this gateway. Julius Caesar paid a hundred and twenty-five thousand crowns for one pearl. The Government of Portugal boasted of having a pearl larger than a pear. Cleopatra and Philip
II. dazzled the world’s vision with precious stones. But gather all these together and lift them, and add to them all the wealth of the pearl fisheries and set them in the panel of one door, and it does not equal this magnificent gateway. An Almighty hand hewed this, swung this, polished this. Against this gateway, on one side, dash all the splendours of earthly beauty. Against this gate, on the other side, beat the surges of eternal glory.
II. Count the number of those gates. Imperial parks and lordly manors are apt to have one expensive gateway, and the others are ordinary; but look around at these entrances to heaven and count them. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve. Hear it all the earth and all the heavens. Twelve gates. Gate the first: the Moravians come up; they believed in the Lord Jesus; they pass through. Gate the second: the Quakers come up; they have received the inward light; they have trusted in the Lord; they pass through. Gate the third: the Lutherans come up; they had the same grace that made Luther what he was, and they pass through. Gate the fourth: the Baptists pass through. Gate the fifth: the Free-will Baptists pass through. Gate the sixth: the Reformed Church passes through. Gate the seventh: the Congregationalists pass through. Gate the eight: the Episcopalians pass through. Gate the ninth: the Methodists pass through. Gate the tenth: the Sabbatarians pass through. Gate the eleventh: the Church of the Disciples pass through. Gate the twelfth: the Presbyterians pass through. But there are a great number of other denominations who must come in, and great multitudes who connected themselves with no visible Church, but felt the power of godliness in their heart and showed it in their life. Where is their gate? Will you shut all the remaining host out of the city? No. They may come in at our gate.
III. Notice the points of the compass toward which these gates look. They are not on one side, or on two sides, or on three sides, but on four sides. What does that mean? Why, it means that all nationalities are included. On the north three gates. That means mercy for Lapland, and Siberia, and Norway, and Sweden. On the south three gates. That means pardon for Hindostan, and Algiers, and Ethiopia. On the east three gates. That means salvation for China, and Japan, and Borneo. On the west three gates. That means redemption for America. It does not make any difference how dark-skinned or how pale-faced men may be, they will find a gate right before them. Hear it! oh, you thin-blooded nations of eternal winter--on the north three gates. Hear it! oh, you bronzed inhabitants panting under equatorial heats--on the south three gates. But I notice when John saw these gates they were open--wide open. They will not always be so. After awhile heaven will have gathered up all its intended population, and the children of God will have come home. And heaven being made up, of course the gates will be shut.
IV. The gatekeepers. There is one angel at each one of those gates. You say that is right. Of course it is. You know that no earthly palace, or castle, or fortress would be safe without a sentry pacing up and down by night and by day; and if there were no defences before heaven, and the doors set wide open with no one to guard them, all the vicious of earth would go up after awhile, and all the abandoned of hell would go up after awhile, and heaven, instead of being a world of light, and joy, and peace, and blessedness, would be a world of darkness and horror. So I am glad to tell you that while these twelve gates stand open to let a great multitude in, there are twelve angels to keep some people out. Robespierre cannot go through there, nor Hildebrand, nor Nero, nor any of the debauched of earth who have not repented of their wickedness. There will be a password at the gate of heaven. Do you know what that password is? Here comes a crowd of souls up to the gate, and they say: “Let me in. Let me in. I was very useful on earth. I endowed colleges, I built churches, and was famous for my charities; and having done so many wonderful things for the world, now I come up to get my reward.” A voice from within says: “I never knew you.” Another great crowd comes up, and they try to get through. They say: “We were highly honourable on earth, and the world bowed very lowly before us. We were honoured on earth, and now we come to get our honours in heaven;” and a voice from within says: “I never knew you.” Another crowd advances and says: “We were very moral people on earth, very moral indeed, and we come up to get appropriate recognition.” A voice answers: “I never knew you.” After awhile I see another throng approach the gate, and one seems to be spokesman for all the rest, although their voices ever and anon cry, “Amen! amen!” This one stands at the gate and says: Let me in. I was a wanderer from God. I deserved to die. I have come up to this place, not because I deserve it, but because I have heard that there is a saving power in the blood of Jesus.” The gatekeeper says: “That is the password--‘Jesus! Jesus!’” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The gates of the city
Bearing in mind still that this is a description of the ideal Church, we have here four suggestive features presented to our attention.
I. The church is a walled city with many gates. “And had a wall great and high, and twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels.” Evidently there is no exclusiveness here, but there is protection from unsanctified and unlicensed intruders. The wall is for a bulwark, but not for a barricade; it separates from the world, but it does not shut out the world. And angels stand at the gates-large-hearted, loving angels, not bigoted priests, not stern and crabbed formulators of creeds, but angels with the sweet face of charity; and they stand there, not so much to challenge intruders, as to trumpet forth into every corner of the world their summons, “Come in and welcome.” A walled city, but with an abundance of open gates. That is the true idea of the Church. Separate from the world, yet always uniting the world; offering freedom of access to all, but license to none. But men have always been trying to improve on this idea. Heaven’s methods are too simple for their self-conceited ingenuity. The pattern in the mount wants accommodating to the state of things below. Men have always been trying to improve on this idea of the Church, and in improving have defaced and marred and impoverished and corrupted it. On the one side we have the gates of the city closed, and nothing left but some narrow back stairs entrance, and that so covered over with a network of forms and creeds and subscriptions and questions that only the most pliable and yielding souls can worm their way through. But on the other side--and this is by far the greater danger at present--we have not only the gates multiplied, but the very walls thrown down, and the guardian angels dismissed, as though they were no longer needed. Come in where you like, how you like, believing what you like, or as little as you like. Let us take care that we abuse not in this way the sacred name of charity. I am willing to pay a great price for brotherly love, but to buy it at the cost of truth is a losing bargain. There are twelve gates lying open to all the world, and voices on every watch-tower singing the song of welcome: “Come in, come in. But come in the name of our Lord and Saviour.”
II. A City With Gates On Every Side--not only protesting against exclusiveness by their numbers, but proclaiming the grand catholicity of the Church by their position. “On the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.” It is another rendering of the Saviour’s words, “They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north and south, and sit down with Abraham in the kingdom of God”; and a picture of the same kind as that magnificent vision which floated before the Saviour’s eyes when He stood under the shadow of the Cross and looked through the scorn and mockery of universal rejection at a world bowing at His feet, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” All the ages travail for its fulfilment. The gates of this city which point north and west have been crowded for a thousand years.
III. Every gate has its own peculiar beauty and attractiveness. “The gates of the city were twelve pearls, every several gate of one pearl”; that is, there are no two gates alike, but they are all alike beautiful. Here, firstly, is the carrying out of the thought which runs through the whole description--that the Church below, like heaven above, manifests its life, and power, and graces in infinite variety. There are all manner of precious stones; all manner of fruits; all manner of gates; all imaginable colours and forms. It is God’s vindication of individuality; God’s protest against cramping uniformity--against all attempts to fashion Christians in the same mould and turn them out after the same pattern. It means that Christ, in fashioning men, never repeats a design; that no two Christians are beautiful in exactly the same way; that no two Christians have the same training, the same experience, the same thoughts and feelings, but that God sends every one a different school and subjects every one to a different discipline, that at last He may present every one perfect after a different fashion. All the pictures of heaven which I have seen are gross caricatures, for they represent rows of saints and angels as much alike as rows of pins. God does not fashion His jewels in that way. All very well for pins, but God’s elect are not machine-made, turned out by the gross. They all glow with the same Christ-light, but each of them is cut after a unique pattern. But further: there is a special meaning in the distinction and variety of the gates. It means that men enter the Church by different ways, and are drawn to Christ by various attractions. The promise which brought me peace as I knelt at the Master’s feet would perhaps hardly have touched you at all; and the word which thrilled you would perhaps have fallen dull and meaningless on my ears. Christ has a separate song for every heart. Here is a youth, restless, fiery, full of activity, eager for some great field of battle. Christ chants this battle-song to him: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” Here is a student panting for knowledge, fired with a passion for truth, ready to suffer martyrdom for it. He hears a voice behind him saying, “In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Here is a mystic, who longs to break the veil of the unseen, dreamy, idealistic, half inclined to believe in spiritualism, courting fellowship with invisible souls. Christ sings to him thus: “Ye are come unto an innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant.”
IV. The gates are always open. “The gates shall not be shut by day.” Yes, the gates are open! You have heard of that girl who had left her father’s house and wandered into paths of sin; and one night there came over her a flood of shameful remorse and the agony of a great repentance, and she thought she would go back and look at the old home again, but not to enter. Ah, no! those doors were closed for ever. Just to look--one stolen look--at the old Paradise, and then back into darkness and despair! And with tear-blinded eyes and wearied feet she crept up to the door in the silent midnight hours, and half mechanically put her hand upon the latch; and lo, the door opened, and she entered. For the father had said, “It shall be left open night and day; it may be that she will come back again.” And there she lay until the morning, and awoke to find him kneeling by her side, kissing her with the sweet kiss of forgiveness. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The heavenly Jerusalem
Let us take up two or three points in the inspired description of the city in this chapter and consider what they really mean.
1. Consider first what is said in verse 13 “on the east three gates,” etc. What do these twelve gates mean then, three on each side? What, save that the city lieth open and accessible to all quarters, and to all quarters alike? Now let us not fail to notice how strongly this contrasts with the character of all human institutions. How obvious it is that they are accessible to the few only, and almost in exact proportion to the advantages they offer is the smallness of the number of those who are admitted to share in them. The prizes of this life are only for the rich, the successful, the talented, the favourites of fortune; only its miseries, its sicknesses, its bereavements, seem the common heritage of all, of rich and poor, high and low, one with another. But it is not thus with the glories of the holy city; they lie equally open towards every quarter, equally accessible to men of every race and clime, and colour, and circumstance. Therefore take courage, O traveller Zionwards; if only thy face be set towards the holy city, thou too shalt surely find a gate open to admit thee, from whatever direction thou shalt come.
2. Consider next what is written about the city in verse 15 that it “lieth foursquare,” etc. The city is the same in every direction--thoroughly symmetrical, with no inequality about it; all is full, complete, utterly satisfactory, nothing falls behind the mark of the rest. How great and striking, again, is the contrast between this and any human happiness, any earthly good, so unequal, so incomplete as that always is!
If well in one direction, so certainly ill in another; if pleasant for the body, so generally bad for the soul; if wholesome for the spirit, so generally grievous to the mind. But in heaven nothing will be wanting; perfect and equal extension will be the law of being; life will have its threefold expansion, in fulness infinite, in intensity perfect, in duration eternal.
3. Consider, again, how it is written in verse 18 that “the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.” We shall remember at once that no gold on earth is like this, for it is one of the qualities of gold to be opaque, however thin it may be beaten out; even gold-leaf is not transparent: the beauties of pure gold and of clear glass are never combined in this world. Nor, if they were, would the result be at all desirable for building purposes. For what would be the consequence if a city were made of such material? Why, that every house and every chamber would be transparent, and that one could look through the whole city from side to side. But what does this universal transparency signify in heaven, save that there will be nothing to hide, nothing to keep secret, but that all will be open to all, because nothing will be shameful and nothing selfish? And now, since we have gone round about our Sion, and marked well her bulwarks and considered her palaces, tell me, O my fellow-pilgrims, shall this be really our home? It is ours, no doubt: we are heirs of it, joint heirs with Christ of all that He as man hath won for man; but shall we certainly come into our inheritance? Oh, my fellow-pilgrims, travellers together, as ye say, towards the heavenly’ Jerusalem; this holy city, this happy city is certainly ours; its joy is our joy, its glory is our glory. Shall a little toil, a little need for earnestness, a little necessity for patience, daunt us and defeat us? Shall we fall short of so great and full salvation for want of a few years’ careful watching, a few years’ resolute striving? (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
The gates of heaven
I cannot help thinking that there is more meaning in the vision than the mere quarter of the earth from which the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem are to come. I believe the gates refer also to the different periods of life at which persons go to heaven. The gates on the east side admit those who enter heaven in the morning of life, when the sun is just rising, and the dew is on the grass, and all is fair and bright, and full of beautiful promise. The gates on the west side admit those who enter heaven with heavy step, at the close of a long life, when the sun is setting, and the sad twilight shadows are gathering and deepening, making the path dim and indistinct, so that there is danger of missing the gates altogether. The gates on the cold, dark, wintry north side admit those who have had few advantages in life, who have been poor and friendless, whose circumstances have been unfavourable, and perhaps through much persecution and tribulation entered the kingdom. While the gates on the warm and sunny south side admit those who had prospered in life, to whom everything had been favourable and pleasant, who had no difficulties to overcome, and no trials to endure. Such, I believe, is a deeper meaning implied in the position of the gates of the New Jerusalem. (H. Macmillan, D. D., LL. D.)
And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Names on the stones
The twelve apostles of the Lamb are for the most part obscure and hidden figures in the later gospel history. We have often wondered what became of them, and why the record of their toilsome, suffering lives was not preserved. We find them together on the day of Pentecost and a few subsequent days, and then persecution scatters them abroad, and their names, with one or two exceptions, appear no more. Paul, Peter, and John are the only members of the holy brotherhood whose services are honoured with historical recognition, and the rest ere passed over in silence. Tradition, indeed, partly fills up the blank, and imaginative works have elaborated romances to supply the place of history. But it is none the less true that of the labours of the great majority of the apostles there is no trustworthy record whatever. It may be that some of them suffered martyrdom at an early period of their ministry; some, perhaps, were prevented from achieving great success by imprisonment or banishment; while others, like Andrew, may have been men of unobtrusive and retiring nature, and withal of such inferior power, that the results of their labours were too insignificant to gain public notice. Be that as it may, at the very commencement of the Church’s history their names drop out. The names, which no human historian thought worth inscribing, are gathered together by God’s own hand, the dust swept from their obscurity, and stamped in jewelled letters on the foundations of the everlasting walls. The meanest and the humblest names are made equal to the greatest and most honoured.
I. Christ, the Master Builder, writes the name of His servants alongside His own. He takes care that those who have been willing to forget themselves for His sake shall be eternally remembered, and that if they have been in a very small degree companions in His patience, they shall be in a very large degree sharers in His kingdom. The jasper superstructure on which His name shines does not overshadow and obscure the meaner atones on which their names ere written. It rather illumines them by its more brilliant light, and makes the obscure names splendid. “Because He lives, they live also.” They have been co-labourers with Him in His humiliation, and they are joint-heirs with Him in His glory. Now the “Ideal Church” is in this respect quite unique. There is nothing like it in the works and fashion of this world. On the great buildings which men raise only one name is inscribed. The founder or architect is immortalised, the helpers sink into speedy oblivion. Christopher Wren, maya history, built St. Paul’s Cathedral; Michael Angelo, St. Peter’s; and with superb disdain it sweeps all their co-labourers into the dust of forgetfulness. In every battle of the warrior it is the general alone who carries off the palm. And even in great moral and religious works the same rule holds. On the basement of the Reformation building we find only the names of Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, and one or two others. The rest, if they were ever written, have been worn away by the slow abrasion of time. Now were this rule carried out in the building of the Church, we should find no name on the foundation walls but Christ’s. For He was the designer, His throughout was the directing and inspiring mind. It is a city, as John tells us, not earth-built, but coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and adorned throughout by the Divine hand of its builder. His name, therefore, is alone worthy to be inscribed on its walls. But the Master casts aside human rules, and honours His servants after a fashion of His own.
II. The obscure and unrecorded work abides in deathless character, and reappears in immortal glory. When the work of faithful souls is too insignificant to attract the attention of human scribes, God takes the part of historian, and writes the record, not on melting wax or fading paper, but on everlasting stones; or rather, He makes the work live and tell its own tale. Each one of these disciples, whether obscure or renowned, has added one precious stone to the eternal building. Their sorrows and tears and secret prayers, their pleadings of love and self-forgetfulness, their charity and faith and patience, have been thrown into God’s alembic, into God’s refining furnace; and there comes forth in each case a precious stone, with the name of the worker inscribed on it, and it remains for ever “a spectacle unto angels and unto men.” It has taken its place as one of the never-to-be-forgotten facts; and heaven and earth shall pass away sooner than one jot or tittle of its glory shall be diminished. It is well that Christian workers of every kind should lay to heart this joyful lesson, and especially those who are ever complaining that they are labouring in vain, and spending their strength for nought. Such a thing is not possible in the holy building of Christ. No statistics have chronicled our exploits, no human praise has flattered our vanity--that is often all. But God writes success where men write failure. Heaven sees triumphs in what the world calls blanks. The only true history is that which God writes, and His history is made up for the most part of unrecorded facts. Here are the stones on which you laboured, which seemed like clay there, but are now sapphire and chalcedony, all beautiful and complete, the human marks in them made Divine, the lines of mingled light and darkness transfigured into perfect glow; and if you look on them carefully you will find that where you wrote only Christ’s name He has written yours. Most men are trying to write their own names.
III. In the ideal church the lowly and obscure workers have equal recognition with the great and renowned. The most unknown of the apostles are placed in line with the best known. No one would be surprised to find the name of Paul in the foundation stones. We should look for that writ in largest characters of gold. For we know that with mighty signs and wonders he preached the gospel from Illyricum unto Jerusalem, won great trophies for the Master’s kingdom, and laid more stones upon the building than any other worker. But we should hardly look for the names of Andrew, and Thomas, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and the rest, or if we did we should expect to find them writ in letters so small and indistinct as to be scarcely legible. For the part which they took in the great building, if measured by visible results, was quite insignificant. James suffered martyrdom almost as soon as he had put his hand to the work. Andrew was too retiring to do great things. But our text shows that the Divine Master has a grand disdain of all these differences. The great and small, the known and unknown, are equally recognised. The world measures men by their visible triumphs. “All history,” says Carlyle, is at bottom the history of great men, and that means the history of men who have made most noise in the world, and achieved the greatest successes. “It is natural,” says Emerson, “to believe in great men. The knowledge that in the city is a great man raises the credit of all the citizens; but enormous populations, if they be all beggars or all obscure, are disgusting--the more the worse. Our religion,” says he, “is the love and cherishing of these great men.” And this is the best gospel that the world has for those of us who are obscure, who do our work in quiet places. But, thank God, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the gospel for common and obscure men. Its promises of honour are given to the humblest. All that Christ requires is that the one talent should be used as faithfully as the five; that being done, the honour at the end is equal. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
Foundations of precious stones
By engraving upon the “foundations” the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, John emphasises that standpoint, from which we view these foundations as representing the life and power of the Christ as received and manifested by His redeemed people, of whom the twelve apostles are here representative. The Christ becomes the foundation of the city only as He enters in all the fulness of His power and glory into the lives of men. The Incarnation, the Atonement, and the Resurrection uphold and upraise a new world only as they are transformed into vital truth and living force in the waking heart of human life. These precious stones have a human setting, and the brightness of them should and can be found in the lives of men. In brief, they denote all those Diviner qualities and forces that enter into the life of man from the Christ of the Cross. Thus we are led, as we anticipated, to see that John views the “foundations” as an adequate cause for the production of the ideal city. It not only supports the city, but the city must spring forth from it. It already contains the Divine energies by which the New Jerusalem shall be erected. If these foundations are present there can be no difficulty in conceiving a time when the completed city shall stand--the joy of the earth.
1. The preciousness of the foundations is very emphatic. The most precious material things in the world are chosen to symbolise it. John is clear on the point that the ideal city cannot be raised except on foundations of the Divinest quality, on a base where man’s deepest life enters into fellowship with the glory of God. When we apply this principle to modem schemes for the construction of an ideal social life, we find that they disastrously fail to stand the test. For what are the foundations on which many would raise the temple of human glory? They would raise it on the foundations of intellectual advance, of scientific achievement and progress, of industrial invention, of the growth of moral science and art, of the increase of material resources, and of political changes. Alas! the foundations are brass, iron, wood, hay, stubble. No temple of true glory can ever be raised on such a base. The poverty of the foundations would be repeated in an intenser degree in the poverty of the city. The ideal city can stand only on a base of precious stones.
2. Another thought that forces itself upon us is the vastness and comprehensiveness of the foundations of the city. Not only does this city rise like a living growth out of a Divine root, where the most precious forces are encentred, but the preciousness of its base is equalled by its incomparable immensity. “I determined,” said Paul, “not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” There are some that would call this a narrow sphere of action, but that is because they are blind, and cannot see the wonder of God. In Jesus Christ the fulness of the infinite stretches around us, beneath us, and above us. He that would see and feel the power of the immeasurable, let him come hither. There are those that would explain away the incarnation of God by calling it a beautiful fiction. And, having done this they desire to have credit for breadth! They reduce the unspeakable wonder of the Atonement to a human exemplification of heroic fortitude. And then they desire to pose as men of expansive views! Poor fools! Their little horizon has narrowed around them until they can touch it with their outstretched hands. The length, and breadth, and height, and depth of the world has disappeared for them. Their little foundation will not bear the weight of a single human soul, much less the city of God’s coming ages of glory.
3. The manifoldness and variety of the city’s foundations are also set forth graphically in this picture. They are adorned with “all manner” of precious stones. Not only must there be room in the structure of the city of God for a host of variant types, but such variety must of necessity be present in order to give it perfection and fulness. One uniform monotony would be an eternal weariness. So on far-extending and diverse foundations a rich manifoldness of life is based, and tree lives of every mould shall be upreared on the city’s twelve foundations.
4. Our last thought is the homogeneity of the city’s foundations. They are far-extending and various, yet through it all they possess a common nature. They are all “precious stones.” They all pertain to that which is most precious--that is, to that which is Divinest in human life. John will have no admixture of the lower elements of life in the foundations of the city. The gospel of Jesus Christ will to orate no admixture of worldly wisdom or achievement. Such admixture would only destroy its power. Some very clever people have what they call an eclectic religion. They put together stray bits from different religions and call this a collection of treasures. Such a gathering of odds and ends can never be the foundation of the holy city. All that we need is found in Jesus Christ, and in the Jesus Christ whom the apostles proclaimed. (John Thomas, M. A.)
A golden reed to measure the city.
A talk with children--measures
What should we do in life without measures? This beautiful building could not have been erected as well as it has been if there had not been a good deal of very precise measuring, so that everything should fit into its proper place, without a chink or crack to be seen anywhere. So, every house that is built, every road that is laid out, and especially every railroad, requires a great deal of measuring. When, too, you have to draw a map, or plan, you must be very precise about your measurements to do it properly. Then, again, the singers’ measure. They have so many beats to the bar. Even poetry is governed by different measures. John says the heavenly city had been measured carefully--“And the city lieth four-square,… and he measured the city with the reed.” The first measure that people used was just a reed out of the hedge: a very rough and ready sort of thing; but it answered the purpose if it was exactly the right length. But as we get more and more respectable, we adopt more costly measures. They are not necessarily a bit more correct; but they are more imposing. We have our wooden measures; then comes the ivory measure; and in this instance we have the costliest of all materials, namely, gold--a measure to measure the city which is a golden reed. Everything was measured with great precision--“the gates thereof, and the walls thereof,” etc. Now I want to show that it is God’s will that you should do everything in this way systematically and punctually--not by rule of thumb, as we call it. Some of the old people used to measure with their thumbs. You know there are some who do that to-day. They reckon as inch between the point of the thumb and the first joint. That is the rule of thumb, and is not very exact. Now what God would have us do in life is not to measure anything in that haphazard way, but everything by a certain and infallible standard. Now, this Book is God’s law from heaven for life on earth; and there is one great standard of whom this Book speaks, namely, Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul teaches us that it is possible for us by the grace of God to come up to the stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus. He is our infallible standard; and nobody else is infallible. There are some very good people whose example it is well for us to imitate, in so far as they follow Christ, but no further. Whenever even they fall short, we must not imitate them. We are to go back to the original standard, even Jesus Christ our Saviour. This Book further teaches us what we ought to do. “Ah,” you say, “we so often fail.” Yes you do; and there forgiveness comes in. There are many sins. Some fall through ignorance: they do not know any better, and the Lord forgives them freely. Others sin through sheer wickedness; and if even they repent, the Lord will forgive. But our aim should be to come up to the standard; and the Saviour will give us every needful grace to do so. We could not do much without Him; but we can do a great deal through Him. (D. Davies.)
The book of the Revelation is full of contrasts:--e.g., Michael and the dragon; the woman clothed with the sun, and the woman clothed in scarlet; the beast and his mark, and the Lamb and His mark. One might almost re-arrange the contents in a series of contrasts or antitheses, culminating in the great antithesis of Babylon and the New Jerusalem.
I. The appearance of the two cities. Both lie foursquare, but--In Babylon there are no natural heights; such heights as there are, are artificial, and barely rise to the level of the walls. In the New Jerusalem, on the other hand, the height and the length and the breadth are equal. Surely this well represents the difference which exists between the world and the Church. Worldly ambition can, at most, rear for itself some mound of fame; the saints progress by an upward pathway which winds towards the summit of the holy mountain. “Ye are come unto Mount Zion.”
II. The rivers which water the two cities. Babylon was watered by the Euphrates, of which the source lay without the walls. The city was taken through this radical defect; the invaders, altering the course of the river, entered secretly along the river-bed. In the New Jerusalem the river of the water of life has its source in the midst of the city, flowing out from beneath the throne, which occupies its midmost summit. In either case the river is a type of health and happiness. The pleasures of the world, however, are never safe from pollution at the source. Disease and death may taint them at any time, or draw the stream into other channels. But “there is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God,” and that river has its source protected; it confers pleasure “for evermore,” because it is sheltered by His right hand.
III. The comparative size of the two cities. Babylon was a “great city”--about three times the size of London. Yet, comparing the measurements which Herodotus gives of Babylon with those which St. John gives of the New Jerusalem, we find that the latter would contain just 10,000 of the former. The world has great influence, and the cause is adequate to the effect; yet how comparatively insignificant it is when we contrast its pretensions with the greatness of God’s Church!
IV. The gates and streets of the two cities. Babylon here seems to have the advantage--one hundred gates instead of twelve. The advantage, however, is only apparent, and serves to illustrate its real deficiencies. For observe--Babylon is built on a plain, with twenty-five gates on each side, and streets running from gate to gate; its ground-plan forms a series of squares held together by the limiting square of the walls. The New Jerusalem is built on a hill. The city is pyramidal in form; all the streets run up towards the summit, and meet in the vicinity of the throne. The world is held together by restraint; its elements have all a pseudo independence; its motto is, “Each for himself.” It has no true principle of unity. In the Church, on the other hand, there is a centre of attraction. “The throne of God and of the Lamb” gives to the whole an organic unity. Its members may approach from different sides, but all of necessity approach the centre. Their motto is, “Thy will be done”; in dependence on that will they are united. (C. A. Goodhart, M. A.)
The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.--
The symmetry of life
So much of the noblest life which the world has seen dissatisfies us with its partialness; so many of the greatest men we see are great only on certain sides, and have their other sides all shrunken, flat, and small, that it may be well for us to dwell upon the picture which these words suggest, of a humanity rich, and full, and strong all round, complete on every side, the perfect cube of human life which comes down out of heaven from God.
I. The length of life. All men have their special powers and dispositions. Each man finds that he has his. That nature which he has discovered in himself decides for him his career. What he is, even before he knows it, has decided what he does. His life has run out in a line which had the promise and potency of its direction in the nature which his birth and education gave him. All his self-culture strove that way. Through the confusion and whirl of human lives, his life ran in one sharp, narrow line, from what he knew he was, to what he meant to be and do. That clear, straight line of unswerving intention, that struggle and push right onward to the end--that is the end of his life. To have an end and seek it eagerly--no man does anything in the world without that. Therefore, we may freely say to any young man, Find your purpose and fling your life out to it; and the loftier your purpose is, the more sure you will be to make the world richer with every enrichment of yourself. This, you see, comes to the same thing as saying that this first dimension of life, which we call “length,” the more loftily it is sought, has always a tendency to promote self-development.
II. The second dimension of life is breadth. Breadth in a man’s life is its outreach laterally. It is the tendency of a man’s career to bring him into sympathy and relationship with other men. First, the man’s own career becomes to him the interpretation of the careers of other men; and secondly, by his sympathy with other men, his own life displays to him its best capacity. His task is always glorified and kept from narrowness by his perpetual demand upon it, that it should give him such a broad understanding of human life in general as should make him fit to read, and touch, and help all other kinds of life.
III. The height of life is its reach upward toward something distinctly greater than humanity. The reaching of mankind towards God! Evidently, in order that that may become a true dimension of a man’s life, it must not be a special action. It must be something which pervades all that he is and does. It must not be a solitary column set on one holy spot of the nature. It must be a movement of the whole nature upward. To any man in whom that uplifting of life has genuinely begun, all life without it must seem very flat and poor. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
The proportionateness of the spiritual kingdom of God
The proportionateness of the Holy City as an illustration of what ought to be the proportionateness of another structure.
I. Some are disproportionate through isolated height. Such a one was, at first, the Apostle John. He saw a city in the air, and gazed into heaven. There are many such who dreamily meditate upon the glories of heaven. Such are often the very ones who would pass the beggar-child on the street. They do not notice the tear-dimmed- eyes and the anguish of the suffering face; for they are hurrying home to read, perchance to weep over thoughts that are beautiful. The height and the length and the breadth are not equal.
II. Others are disproportionate through isolated length These are the exclusively practical people. They see the plain matter-of-fact way of duty before them, and they walk bravely along it, yet they have never caught a glimpse of the lights in the streets of the city of God. The length and the height and the breadth are not equal.
III. Others still are disproportionate through isolated breadth. Some are broad for the sake of being broad, and there is no beauty in such. They delight in making a parade of their breadth; they enjoy the look of surprise and pain on the face of some saint of God. They imagine themselves to be liberal, but their knowledge is scant. In them is no height of contemplation; they have never dreamed a dream of the Holy City, nor have seen the Lamb in the midst of the throne. In them is no length of practical usefulness; they have not visited the widow and fatherless in their affliction. Even the breadth which they have is the laxity of ignorance and waywardness, and that is all they have. The breadth and the height and the length are not equal. Some naturally incline towards the heights of spiritual meditation, to gaze on the glories of the Holy City; others towards the plain pathway of the practical; others still towards the breadth by which they hear other voices expressing other thoughts of God’s universe. Others, again, pass through the various stages in succession; while still others possess these three qualities in different degrees. It is the purpose of God, by His grace, to make these qualities in the youthful soul proportionate and harmonious--to make the height, the length, and the breadth equal. Some day a scholar will write a book in which he will tell how God sought to accomplish this in one and another of the disciples. The book will be one of rare suggestiveness. John, the beloved, had the height and the breadth--to him came the command to cast out devils. Paul scaled the heights of contemplation when he meditated upon “the exceeding riches of His grace,” and he passed far along the way of duty when he answered the call, “Come over and help us.” But he needed the breadth, and this he must gain by the sympathy of a common suffering. Therefore came the thorn in the flesh; and thus he saw in the breadth of sympathy at once the sorrows of others and the sorrow of the Son of Man. In the souls of young Christians, the height and length and breadth will meet together in the clear and harmonious colours of a rainbow of our God. The Christian religion, and it only, extirpates or represses no noble instinct; it welcomes height and length and breadth, and all that is included in them, and gives to each its proper place. But we need an ideal to be before us. We look on the noblest sons of men one by one, and find them marred by reason of irregularity. Where shall we find this ideal? Within the magic circle of the Person of the Man Christ Jesus all these three are presented in absolute fulness and exquisite harmony! We stand in awe of the heights of heavenly contemplation of which glimpses are given to us. When He departed into a solitary place, when He lifted up His eyes to heaven in communion with His Father, He drew aside the veil and showed to us the glories of heavenly contemplation. Then, to think of the practical aspect of His active life. How He toiled to realise the Messianic plan by training the twelve, by announcing the laws of the kingdom, by healing every sickness and every disease among the people! Then in Him was breadth bounded only by the universe, broad as the love of God. It was a breadth which led Him to hear voices of sheep not of this fold who would yet enter to find pasture, that there might be one fold and one Shepherd. It is the priceless privilege of every young Christian who has yielded himself to God through Christ, to seek to attain by His grace towards the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; for in Him and in Him alone the height and the length and the breadth are equal. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
And the building of the wall of It was of jasper.
The jasper super-structure
That is, the superstructure, all that part of the wall which rises above the foundation rows, was one great mass of brilliant jasper. There was jasper at the foundation and jasper at the summit; this stone is “the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, of the heavenly building, clasping the intervening rows together by two perfect bands of light.” Now what this jasper was cannot be exactly ascertained; but it is perfectly certain that it was not the stone which bears that name now. The common jasper is of many kinds. Sometimes purple, sometimes cerulean, sometimes green, and more frequently a green stone streaked with veins of red. Moreover, it is not very precious, not distinguished by its brilliancy, and it is far surpassed both in beauty and worth by many others. These marks prove beyond question that our jasper is not the stone which was in the apostle’s mind. The descriptions which are given of it in the Apocalypse correspond exactly with the characters of the diamond, and unless the diamond was unknown to the ancients, which is hardly possible, the jasper must have been this stone. But whether the diamond or not, the jasper of John’s vision had all the characteristic features of the diamond. It was the most precious of stones, it shone like the sun, and, while showing no particular colour, contained all the colours in its pure, white light. Bear in mind, further, that the jasper throughout the Apocalypse is the type of Christ. “He that sat upon the throne was to look upon like a jasper,” says the inspired writer; and, further, “God Almighty and the Lamb are the light of the city,” and “this light is like unto a jasper.” The thought of our text, then, is this--that above the foundation rows, with their stones of various colours and of various price, is the stone most precious, most brilliant, shining with the pure, white glorious light of Christ. Christ is the top-stone as He is the chief corner-stone, the superstructure as He is the foundation.
I. The superstructure of this building contains in perfection and completeness all that the foundations save in imperfection and incompleteness. The sapphire, the chalcedony, the sardius, and the rest, are very beautiful; but they are stones of one or, at most, two colours, and these colours not clear, but flecked and stained with spots and dark lines; while the white light of the jasper, like the white light of the sun, contains all the colours, and contains them in unmixed purity. As all the hues of the rainbow are in the sun’s rays, so all the hues of the twelve foundation stones are combined in the splendid jasper band which crowns the summit. Or, putting it in other words, while the foundations have each their separate grace, and shine each with their distinct glory, the jasper superstructure holds all the graces, there all the glories unite. All the special qualities found separately in the stones below are found in splendid combination in the building above. And this means--
1. That Christ combines in Himself all actual and possible graces. The prophets and apostles and holy men of old were like the rows of foundation stones, men of one colour, of some one or two distinguishing graces. At their best they were still one-sided men; giants in one Christ-like virtue. God’s glory shone through them all, but they were imperfect mediums. They intercepted more than they transmitted of it: they showed only one or two hues of the jasper light in perfection. But Christ unites them all, and shows them all in their most complete and glorious form. It is this all-comprehending beauty and perfection of Christ that charms us, touches every fibre of our moral nature, and chains our wandering fancies to His feet. Everything that we have ever admired, or ever longed for in our best moods, meets us here. Here is perfect love and sinless anger; mighty self-assertion, and still mightier self-abnegation; a child’s humility, and a king’s dignity; a peasant’s simplicity, and a philosopher’s profundity; David’s fearlessness, Elijah’s zeal, Isaiah’s raptures, Jeremiah’s tears, a woman’s tenderness, and God’s almighty strength. Yes: in Him is all that the most aspiring souls ever longed for, and the most heroic hearts ever throbbed for. “He is the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely.”
2. The ideal Church, the Church that is to be, combines in itself, like Christ, all the graces. It is growing up out of the parti-coloured stones into the white, all-embracing jasper. The Church, as we have known it in history and experience, has always been one-sided; the successive ages of the Church have been almost exactly like the foundation stones, showing each of them one prominent colour. Each period in the Church’s history has been distinguished by one strongly marked Christian virtue. The first age was bold in confessing Christ, strong in its contempt for the world, full of the martyr’s zeal; yet strangely impatient, almost inviting martyrdom. That early Church was sublime in some of its moods, but altogether childish in others. Look at the early monastic age again. There also the Church is strong in its contempt for the world’s pleasures, in its power to trample on the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life; but there is no Christ-like sympathy, no concern for a guilty, sorrowing world. See again the Church of the Reformation. It has a giant’s strength and courage; faith mighty enough to remove mountains. It walks with God, but its sternness is not tempered by the gentleness of Christ. It has the Master’s hatred of sin without the Master’s mercy for the sinner. And the Church of to-day, while great in charity and humanitarianism, is in danger of becoming, if it has not already become, just as one-sided in another way. It is tempted to look only on the gentle side of Christian doctrine, to let charity enfeeble its robustness, and pity for the sinner engender shallow views of sin. But the Church is striving up, patiently, through the coloured rows, to the superstructure. When it has attained that it will no longer be a partial, one-sided Church, but beautiful, with all the graces of the Master. More faithful than the early Church, purer from the world’s stains than the Monastic Church, stronger in its zeal against sin than the Reformation Church, and more tender and charitable than the Church of to-day. Nothing will be lacking to its completeness.
3. The same thing is true of the individual believer. Our growth in Christ is like that of the Church--each stage characterised by some prominent grace, but not one of them uniting all the graces. In the early stages of the Christian life there is much faith and courage, but little patience; in the later stages, great patience, but often diminished zeal. The average Christian is never eminently Christ-like at more than one or two points. It is as if he had to starve one grace to feed another. When our lives are fairest and our faith strongest we still show only one or two sides of the beauty of our Lord. We have His tenderness without His strength, or His gentleness without His stern hatred of sin, or His boldness without His forbearance. But this is because the building has not yet risen above the foundation rows. The superstructure of it is of jasper. We shall be “complete in Christ.” When He has finished the work in us there will be nothing wanting. No partial colouring there, but the white jasper light which combines all the hues. For each believer, then, as well as for the Church, “the building of the wall is of jasper.”
II. The beauty and glory of the superstructure are made up in great part of the elements which compose the foundation. If you could take the twelve rows of stones, bring all their varied colours into combination, concentrate their diffused radiance, and remove all impurity, the result would be just such a brilliant diamond belt as the wall of jasper. As you trace the foundation stones from the base to the summit, you see them becoming continually more glorious and ethereal, nearer to the perfect white, the higher bands taking in all the colours of the underlying ones until the jasper completes and embraces all. And the thought is this, that the glory of the perfected Church will be made up, as it were, of all that it has been and done and suffered through all the ages of its history. In spite of all evidences to the contrary, the Church of to-day is stronger and more faithful and more able to wrestle and endure, more like her Master than she has ever been before. For she has learnt something, and won something, from every one of her past experiences. The fervour of the first centuries, the purity and contempt for the world of the monastic age, the strong warrior-like faith and courage of the Reformation period, have influenced her, moulded her, bequeathed their best features to her. And all her waiting, all her labours, all her conflicts, are still helping to supply the colours which are wanted for her perfect beauty, so that the jasper wall may be at last complete. And this truth holds of individual believers just as fully as of the Church. The superstructure of our lives, the glory to which we are growing in Christ, is made up in large measure of the trials and struggles and patience, the faith and hope and love, of our present changeful experience. If you look at the solar spectrum--that is, sunlight divided into its component rays by passage through a prism--you will see all the colours of the rainbow there; and not only these colours, but dark lines, thousands and thousands of them--dark lines, and quite mysterious, for scientists cannot explain them, or say what purpose they serve. Yet they are necessary parts of the ray, they join with the colours to make the light complete. And so it is with our lives when they are fashioned into Christ’s perfect beauty, made up of many colours bright and sombre, from sorrowful blood-red to triumphant purple, and crossed with dark lines innumerable, incomprehensible. We would leave some of these colours out if we could, we should like to erase all the dark lines. We would have no red, especially--no passion, no tears, no sorrow. But the result would be miserably disappointing. For the royal purple is made up of blue and red, and the golden has red for its base, and the perfect white light needs all the colours and all the dark lines to make it complete. We cannot reach the jasper superstructure without passing through the trial and patience which are symbolised by the stones below. But all these things are helping to form the perfect Christ in us. The foundation-stones are beautiful because Christ is in them, but they are not like the top-stone which knows no darkness, no lines of sin, no incompleteness, and where joy and peace are stamped in perfect and eternal characters. We are reaching up to that, Christ’s strong hand holding ours to make the ascent secure. And the superstructure is of jasper. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The jasper wall
The picture of the measurement of the city has a colour and tone of triumph in it. Heaven rejoices in its divinely perfect proportions. Goal marks with the exactness of love the holy city that mirrors heaven’s own beauty, and would proclaim its lineaments and proportions of glory to all the world. There are some things that are not worth measuring. Heaven will take no copy of some lives, that they may die the sooner. The measurement also symbolises heaven’s inexorable demand for ideal perfection in human life. In the city of God there must be no defect or redundancy. The vessels of God’s glory must be without flaw and without alloy. No column in His temple shall be broken or deficient. God will not stop half-way, or be content with rough approximations to His ideal. Hence it is that the best human structures must fail and be condemned. This measuring is, therefore, further, a symbol of eternal preservation. To “measure off” implies a selection for some purpose or other, and here it is clearly for the purpose of honour and preservation. In the first verse of the eleventh chapter we find “the temple of God and the altar, and them that worship therein,” measured in the same way, while “the court without the temple” is left unmeasured. In that passage the symbol is explained by the assertion that the” outer court” is so far left unprotected that it has been given unto the nations for forty and two months.
I. The first question that presses for an answer in any attempt to interpret this symbol is, What relation does the jasper wall hold to the general structure and constitution of that city?
1. In the first place, the “jasper wall” gives unity to the varied expanse of the city. In the ancient conception, a city without a surrounding wall scarcely found a place in the mind at all, except as a picture of desolation and ruin. The myriad-sided life of the city and State can never be gathered into perfect harmony except within the wall of jasper, except by being pervaded by the Divine life in its profoundest manifestation of love. Men will of a certainty remain scattered, in spite of all human devices, until they are united by that transcendent love which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Through this, and through this alone, are those strong conflicting interests overcome that separate men from one another.
2. Further, this wall of jasper marks the extent of the city. With the encompassing wall the city ends. The description which John gives, therefore, represents the ideal city as being of vast and magnificent extent. It is bounded by the “jasper wall”--that is, by nothing of narrower dimensions than the vast thought, purpose, and power of redeeming love. At this point John adds symbol to symbol, in order that there may be no mistake as to his meaning, and that the meaning may be emphasised in the strongest way. The length and breadth and height of the city are given in symbolic numbers. The three are equal, and their measurement is twelve thousand furlongs. That is, we are informed by a new symbol that this city is as vast as the energies of the Divine kingdom of redeeming love. Of course, it is now clear that the length and the breadth and the height of it cannot be other than equal. In every direction of its life it must reach the full measurement of redeeming power. As far as the love of Calvary can transform the lives of men, as far as it can lift the thoughts and purposes and attainments of men towards the lofty heavens, so great is the length, the breadth, and the height of the holy city.
3. It is instructive to note, further, that the wall of a city was its great watch-tower. Upon its summit the watchman stood to take observation of the country around, to warn the city of danger, and to instruct it concerning the outer world. The walls of the ideal city are not only ramparts, but also watch-towers, the place of furthest vision. The blind children of this world make the mistake of supposing that the city of redemption is a narrow enclosure, which hides from us the wide and varied prospect which they imagine lies before themselves. They pity us, and invite us to leave the narrowness of the Cross, and the fetters of redeeming love, that our vision may become as free as theirs. It is they that are enclosed around, and cannot see afar off. The Cross is the true watch-tower of the mind, as well as of the spirit. It is not only the centre of power, but also of wisdom and knowledge. It is the light of God in which “we also shall see light.” In proportion as we rise to the knowledge of the revelation of God in Christ, all the vast realm of thought will appear in its true character and proportions before us; for the God-man is, in every sense, the light of the world.
4. The jasper wall is, further, representative of the defence of the city. The need of defence against attack was probably the earliest reason for the construction of the ancient city walls, the other ideas of which we have spoken having afterwards grown upon this underlying one. So the ideal city is safe for ever, guarded by this wall of jasper, which is great and high. No battering ram can beat down these walls, for they are constructed out of the mightiest forces of omnipotence, the forces of eternal grace and infinite love.
II. A few words will suffice to show the relation of the jasper wall to the foundations of the city. The first thing that strikes us as impressively suggestive is the fact that the deepest base of the city and its towering walls are composed of the same material. When we begin to search for the strength of the twelve foundations, John meets us with the assertion: “The foundation is jasper.” When we raise our eyes to behold its lofty ramparts, and would fain know what its topmost glory is that mingles with the skies, John again says: “The building of the wall thereof was jasper.” It is the symbolic representation of the utterance of the Divine Saviour, who says: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” In Christ, the effulgence of the Father’s glory, the first foundations are laid of the city of a glorified human life, and in Him its final splendour will be realised. The name of Jesus is the all-potent source of new life for the fallen sons of earth, and it shall be the eternal boast and wonder of the glorified. As is the lowest foundation of the holy city, so shall be its supremest splendour. The Cross can never be superseded. The wall of jasper is a living growth out of the foundations of precious stones. This living relation in the growth of the ideal city is determined by eternal and inexorable law. The city’s jasper wall cannot be built unless the foundations are set in precious stones, and the deepest of these is jasper. Passing from symbolic language to plainer speech, the quality of a city’s life cannot rise higher than its deepest foundations. The nature of the principles and ideals upon which men proceed will determine the value and permanence of such a social life as they are likely to create. Upon foundations of iron and brass nothing better than iron and brass can ever be built. If our ideals fall short of the divinest that are possible to men, if our deepest principles fall short of the glory of the eternal skies, then the building of the ideal city becomes for ever impossible for us. On the other hand, the foundations of precious stones cannot fail to issue in the wall of jasper. “When Divine forces form the base, the city is certain to rise in the likeness of God. Out of the love of the Cross a kingdom of love shall of necessity grow. All ye that desire to build the jasper wall, remember that it cannot be built except on the jasper foundation.
III. There are one or two points remaining in the characterisation of the jasper wall which must receive brief notice. One consists in the measurement of the thickness of the wall, which is declared to be a hundred and forty and four cubits--that is, twelve cubits by twelve. This is clearly, once more, the number that symbolises redemption, and so brings the thickness of the city-wall into line with the twelve thousand furlongs that measure the length and breadth and height of it. In the last place, it is instructive to note that the city when measured proves to be an exact cube. “The length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal.” The cube has from ancient times been regarded as a symbol of ideal perfection. Here human life is at last full and complete, having found the complete cycle of its power. Probably, however, John’s picture is more immediately connected with the form of the “holy of holies” in the tabernacle, which was also a perfect cube, no doubt based upon the ancient idea of that form as being specially perfect and sacred. (John Thomas, M. A.)
And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.
The foundation stones
Our text is part of John’s description of the New Jerusalem. It is the living city of the living God. I say, emphatically, the “living” city, for the apostle is thinking not so much of a place as of a people. The imagery, regarded superficially, would suggest to us a literal city, with actual walls and houses and streets; but a closer examination shows us that this was hardly the writer’s intention. He tells us, for instance, that the twelve foundations bear the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, that God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it, and that it is not lighted by sun or moon, but the Lamb is the light thereof. From all which we conclude that it is not a material but a spiritual city--a city whose stones are living souls, whose pearly gates and streets are resplendent, not with material radiance, but with the more ethereal light of moral and spiritual beauty. It is a city built and compacted together by Christ--Christ Himself being both the foundation and the superstructure of it. In a word, it is the redeemed Church of God. Not the Church as it actually exists. It is the bride adorned for her marriage without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Let us keep this in mind as we seek the interpretation of the imagery.
I. There is nothing base or common in this city. Every part is most beautiful and every part most precious. It is this feature of the description which fills us with a sense of rapture. Now, remember we are speaking of a living city, not of mere dead walls and buildings. The meaning, then, is that every member of the glorified Church, every living stone on those living walls, is of perfect beauty, and of priceless worth, most precious in the sight of God, most precious in each other’s sight. Once common dust, stained with sin, fit only to be trampled on by God and all pure angels, now wrought by a Divine alchemy into radiant pearls and precious stones, so that even the place where God puts His feet is glorious. Now every streak of imperfection has been removed, every fault repaired. In the olden time alchemists spent weary days and nights, and wore their flesh to bone and their brains to madness, in striving to change the common metals into precious gold. Of course their labour was in vain; and yet the dream had a foundation of reality. Christ, the Divine transformer, has succeeded in a far grander sense than they thought and intended. There, on the radiant walls and streets of the New Jerusalem, are the proofs of His success. The common charcoal and the brilliant diamond are, as you know, of the same material. Each of them is simply a lump of carbon, and the chemist can actually change the splendid gem into dull black charcoal. But there his power ends; he cannot change it back again. And the world and the devil can put noble souls into their crucibles and turn them out black and lustreless. Their genius suffices for that transformation, and then fails. But Christ takes these marred elements and touches them back into such vivid splendour that they shine like jasper on the heavenly walls. And the Church of the Apocalypse is a treasure-house filled with these Christ-wrought jewels. It is the communion of beautiful souls, where “the feeblest is as David and David as an angel of God,” where “a man is more precious than the gold of Ophir,” where “each esteems other better than himself,” and where the spiritual beauty of each one is the wealth of all. This is not, as some suppose, the setting forth of a heaven of material splendour--a magnified jeweller’s shop, as it has been irreverently called. It is rather the exaltation of the moral over the material. It means that the true gold and pearls of the universe are the graces of God’s elect souls. “The foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones.”
II. The imagery of our text suggests infinite variety. “All manner of precious stones.” The apostle enumerates twelve of them, but these twelve are only representative of the greater number. Similarly the twelve gates of the city are pearls, but no two alike, for each several gate is of one distinct pearl. Further on, the tree of life, growing in the midst of the city, yields twelve manner of fruit: and so it is everywhere. There is only one feature of general likeness. Every part shines with the radiance of the jasper. The apostles of Christ were just as diverse in mind, manner, and disposition as any twelve men could be. James was a thorough conservative, Paul as thorough a radical. Peter was bold and enterprising, Andrew timid and retiring. John was imaginative and sanguine, Thomas prosaic and despondent. Yet they were all vessels made meet for the Master’s service; all alike sanctified; all alike filled with the Divine Spirit; and now they are built up in the New Jerusalem, each one with his individuality preserved, each one a precious stone beautiful and glorious after its own kind. This living city has room for all manner of souls. See how Christ gathered them in. Fishermen and sailors, rude in speech and uncultured in mind; publicans, inclined to cautiousness and calculation; scribes, full of book-learning, exact and formal; Pharisees, in whom ritualism was ingrained; Roman centurions, soldierly and imperious; physicians, like Luke. An endless variety, indeed, whose peculiarities Christ’s service would not remove, but only purify and deepen. Now they shine all manner of precious stones in the Holy City, making heaven’s intercourse delightful. How significant are the words which follow our text! “The kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour unto it”; and further on, “They shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it.” “The kings of the earth”; that is, not the Caesars, and Constantines, and Charlemagnes, but the more royal souls who are kings by the imposition of a Divine hand. And “the glory and honour of the nations,” the most faithful of the Israelites, the noblest of the Greeks, the purest Romans, the most brilliant of Frenchmen, the most artistic of Italians, the strongest among German and Anglo-Saxon thinkers--all of them, with the fine qualities which distinguished them as nations, preserved and sanctified in Christ. The most gifted minds, the sweetest singers, the sublimest poets, the rarest geniuses, the bravest soldiers, the noblest patriots and statesmen--all the glory and honour of the nations. Christ claims the best of every kind to garnish the living walls. Chrysostom and Augustine its orators, Pascal and Malebranche its philosophers, Newton and Kepler its scientists, Dante and Milton its poets, Michael Angelo and Titian its artists. Men who were as devout in faith as they were gigantic in intellect, and these, and thousands of others as noble as they, have brought their honour and glory into the city. Oh, what a building that will be when it is completed! What a society of elect and choice souls when every variety of human disposition, every manner of gift purified and immortalised, are gathered together in one redeemed company! “The foundation of the wall of the city was garnished with all manner of precious stones.”
III. The imagery of our text suggests the mode of Christian growth. The apostle enumerates singly and in their proper order the twelve foundation stones. He must have had some distinct meaning in this. The precious stones rising one above the other would represent, if we could only interpret them correctly, the growth, the upbuilding of the Holy City--the Church. And as the Church is built up exactly after the manner of the individual believer, we have also Christian growth represented in the picture. Now look for a moment at the twelve rows. There is first, as we might expect, the jasper, which represents Christ. All living, growing faith starts from that as foundation. There can be no enduring building on any other base. Next comes the sapphire, a rich blue stone, like the azure of the sky--that blue sky which is the everlasting type of calmness and peace. So this sapphire represents the second stage of Christian growth, the indescribable peace and calm which come from resting on Christ, and from the sense of forgiveness. The third is the chalcedony, white, and yet not unmixed white. It is the first purity of the Christian life, the purity of the young fervent disciple, not perfect, not altogether unselfish--for the beginnings of religious life are always too self-regarding--and yet very fair to look upon. The fourth is the emerald, a flashing green pearl, the colour which all poets of all nations have chosen as the symbol of hope, and so indicative of the hope which glows in the disciple’s breast, enduing him for trial, and spurring him on to all his endeavours. Then comes the sardonyx, a stone with a white surface on a dark ground. See what that means--the fervour of the first love is gone, and the time of temptation and partial backsliding has come. The dark ground, the old nature, which was deemed dead, reappears, thrusting itself up under the Christian purity. Then follows the deep blood-red sardius, the type of suffering and patience and death--the type pre-eminently of Christ; for you remember, “He that sat upon the throne was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone.” The sardius after the sardonyx--suffering to correct impurity. For when the Church has lost the fervour of its faith and the glow of its love, and the dark world spirit is reappearing under its white professions, then nothing can avail but a new baptism in Christ, a fresh draught of His cup of martyrdom, fellowship in His sufferings, and conformity to His death. Trial, affliction, tears, are denoted by the blood-red sardius. Next is the chrysolyte, washed with gold, radiant with the colour of gold, showing how the Church and the single believer come forth from their baptism of suffering refined and glorious, like gold. Then the beryl, blue again, to represent God’s heavenly calm, but a richer, deeper and clearer blue than the sapphire, because that second peace which results from renewed baptism with Christ and a share in His sufferings is deeper and more enduring. The ninth is the topaz, where the green tints mingle with the gold. It is the exquisite commingling of joys realised and joys yet expected--a large measure of heaven now and a confident waiting for more. The tenth is the chyrsoprasus, gold and blue. The riches of God’s love, the wealth of increasing graces, and the peace which passeth all understanding. All through the colours are becoming purer and deeper and more refined. Last are the jacinth and the amethyst, the darker and the lighter purple, the colour which in all ages has done service as the emblem of victory and triumph, the colour into which the rainbow refines itself at last--for violet is the topmost of the rainbow’s bands, and points upward to the deep heavens’ hinting at far-off glories. So the Church has grown, through its long, wayward, distracted, man-vexed, God-guided history. Now pure and fervent and full of unspeakable calm; and now falling from its first faith and love, and needing to be crucified with Christ again and purified afresh by baptisms of martyrdom and pain; but ever rising to clearer knowledge, to larger charity, to purer faith, and to the still far-off hills of triumph. And thus do we rise from glory to glory. And yet that is not the last. For above the amethyst is the jasper again--“the superstructure of the wall is of jasper.” That means like Christ at last. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The street of the city was pure gold.
The golden street
The “street of the city” stands for the lowest range of its life. In its foundations there must exist vast and eternal principles to make its many-sided life possible. Its “wall” of unity and defence must be equally resplendent. In its “gates” the vastest thoughts and forces and aims of the city find expression. But in the “street” that which is low and obscure finds its place. There the narrower and lower interests of life are centred, the little wrangling in the bazaar or market-place, the little cares for daily bread. Such a symbol would not deny that there may be greatness and nobility in the street.
1. The ideal city is here presented as possessing lower and higher ranges of life. Looking at the “city of human life” as it is in actual existence at present, the “street” must correspond with what we call in an emphatic way the earthly relations of life, of which the human body is the typical medium and symbol. The lowest rung of life is that which has to do with the necessities and cravings of our physical existence. These constitute an influence that ever tends to drag us downward, to lower our ideals, to narrow our vision, and to dwarf our action. This antagonism between the higher and the lower, between the “foundations” and the “street,” is forcibly brought out in our Saviour’s injunction: “Do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Yet these earthly needs are ever with us, and the battle and struggle for earthly things fills a large place in human life. Though we cannot live by bread alone, we cannot yet live without bread. The “street” problem in our cities is one of vast proportions. The earthly side of life looms large, and threatens to overwhelm the others. It is in the corresponding relation in the ideal city that we must look for the street of gold. It is not to be supposed, then, that these earthly relations are in themselves an evil. On the contrary, they are a valuable addition to the sum of human life, just as the street is to the city. The evil consists in the abuse of them, in their degradation through sin and selfishness, or in giving them a position of false pre-eminence. The “walls “ must not be flung down in order that the “street” may be seen. Yet without its street the city would be mutilated. Leaving the metaphors into which John’s picture so strongly tempts us, let us remember that the total of human life is greatly enriched by its earthly side. The wider the range of desire, sensibility, and consciousness, the nobler are the possibilities of power. A life without higher and lower elements in it would be a dull monotony, a stagnant simplicity, like the same note struck for ever on the same string. To make the rich music of harmony you must have higher and lower notes. The secret of the wonder of our human lives is found in the great ranges of higher and lower, of which they are composed. St. John’s symbols tell us that the life of the ideal city will be analogous to the present in this, that it will range all the way from the heavenly to the earthly, from the spiritual to the corporeal. There will still be earthly interests to attract, earthly tasks to perform, earthly pleasures to enjoy, and earthly ends to gain. The life of earth, in as far as it is innocent and pure, will be there in all its completeness. If the ideal city can in any sense be realised before the coming of Christ, it can only be as a smaller society within the larger whole of human life. For nothing appears to be clearer in the New Testament than that there will be ungodliness in the world at the time of His coming, and even ungodliness of a gross, arrogant, and powerful kind.
2. So we are led to another thought--namely, that in the ideal city there shall be nothing commonplace even in life’s lowest range. I think most will instinctively feel at this point in our exposition that there is beautiful appropriateness in the selection of gold to describe the lowest element in the life of the holy city. So in this city there is nothing common or unclean. The street of the city of our life is at present full of commonplace. Very frequently it is but wood, hay, and stubble. And there are unfortunate moments when we even trample it into mire and clay. The dead level of earthly cares and interests seems often to mock the dignity of the spirit within us, and many of life’s tasks and experiences seem trivial and mean. But in the holy city the lowest interests and powers shall be exalted into dignity. All the stubble of our daily life shall disappear. The street of the city shall be of pure gold. There are two or three ways in which this may be achieved. In the full glory of the ideal city there will, without doubt, be a considerable elevation in our earthly faculties and earthly relations. The children of the resurrection shall stand together upon a higher plane of life. Those things in our present earthly existence that are most gross and incidental shall disappear entirely, while all that is essential in the earthly and corporeal part of our nature shall be preserved and greatly exalted. A great elevation of earthly relations will also be secured by their due subordination. It is almost a truism, although a paradox, that the undue exaltation of earthly things effects their degradation. What is beautiful and appropriate in its due place becomes hideous and repulsive when it is exalted beyond its measure. By this means many earthly relations that in their due place add to the symmetry and beauty of human life are so used as to make life a hollow and distorted thing. Thus the gold is perverted into dross, and the precious becomes injurious. So, when all things shall be subordinated according to their measure, the whole of life will rise in value, and that which is lowliest shall become exceeding precious. “The street shall be of pure gold.” Further, the lowest relations of life will be raised by the Diviner spirit that shall be infused into them. Much of our life is common and trivial, because we exercise it in a common and trivial spirit. If we partake of the common meal in the spirit of holiness and love, it is no more common. It also becomes a sacrament, a holy thing, and a means of grace to the soul. In this way shall the lower ranges of life in the ideal city become greatly exalted.
3. Further, in this description of the street of the city there is a distinct indication of a special process of purification having been performed. In the eighteenth verse the word “pure” is used twice, so as to give it special emphasis. “Pure gold” is constantly used in the Scriptures to symbolise that which has been purified, and especially by fire. The application of this part of the symbol is obvious and striking. The lower ranges of life are preeminently those in which wood, hay, and stubble appear. But, as a kind of compensation for this, it is in this lower region of life that the fires of purification burn most frequently and effectively. The great discipline of men is carried on amid the sorrows, the disappointments, and the crosses of daily life. The great fires of a purifying Providence sweep through the streets of the city, burn up the dross, and purify the gold.
4. In the last place, John’s symbol teaches us that in the ideal city the lowest range of life will be a mirror of the highest. The “street of the city” was pure gold, as it were transparent glass. Leaving the language of symbol, all the lowest interests of the holy city will reveal the presence and the power of the higher. In every corporeal activity, in every earthly function, even in the lowliest tastes, the spiritual grandeur of the soul will be seen, and the spiritual ends of the life will be revealed. To raise the earthly that it may become the mirror of the heavenly should be our constant aim. (John Thomas, M. A.)
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls.
The gates of pearl
It was no fantastic vision separated from all earthly associations that the seer of Patmos beheld. On the contrary, it was linked to all that was dear and sacred to himself and to his race. The forms were the same, but the materials were changed. The materials of the earthly city were substances that faded and decayed, for they had only a temporary purpose to serve; those of the heavenly were unchangeable and indestructible, matter in its most sublime and enduring form connected with the unceasing service of bodies and spirits of just men made perfect. Not from his recollections of his own old home could the unique feature of the gates of pearl have been derived. It must have been suggested by the circumstances of his island home, as Peter’s vision on the housetop at Joppa took shape from the hunger of his body and the occupation of the tanner with whom he lodged. There was nothing to remind him of the gates of pearl in the earthly Jerusalem.
I. The number of the gates. There were twelve of these gates; three on the east, three on the north, three on the south, and three on the west. What a contrast does this feature of the heavenly city present to the narrowness and exclusiveness of the old Jewish polity! The Jews were the hermits of the human race. They were kept apart from all other nations on the high plateau which had walls of mountain, desert, river-trench, and stormy sea hemming them in on every side. It was considered unlawful for a Jew to keep company with or come in to one of another nation. The people prided themselves on their exclusive privileges as the favourites of heaven, and pushed to an extreme the restrictions of their religion. Even St. John himself could not altogether divest his mind of his Jewish prejudices. He could hardly yet realise the idea that the world was greater in God’s eyes than Judaea. Unlike the little Jewish capital, type of its narrow creed, the heavenly city was vast as the largest thought or hope could compass, a perfect cube of twelve thousand furlongs, capable of containing all the cities of the world within its circuit. Through the earthly Jerusalem no river ran, no highway passed. Its gates were shut for safety and security in its mountain fastness. But through the heavenly Jerusalem the broad full river of life flowed; and through its gates or up the river the nations brought their wealth into it. Through its gates, open to the four quarters of the globe, a multitude which no man could number of all nations and kindreds and people and tongues had entered in. If there was one thing especially opposed to the whole tenor of Jewish thought, it was Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. And to us in the Christian Church, who have been placed on a more elevated standing-point, and have been educated by eighteen centuries of Christian experience, the range of the Divine regard seems as limited as ever. We are accustomed to hear about the strait gate and the narrow way and the few who find it; and we make out of the saying a straitened faith and a narrow gospel. We need, indeed, the vision of the vast heavenly city--with its twelve gates pointing to every part of the compass, and its multitude, which no man can number, out of every nation--to correct our narrow, selfish judgments of men, and to enlarge our hopes of the destiny of the race. That vision is the highest illustration of the teaching of Scripture by precept and example, that God is no respecter of persons. But while there are many modes of entrance into the heavenly city corresponding to the varying conditions and circumstances of men, there is only one way of salvation. The gates of the New Jerusalem, although twelve in number and placed on different sides, are nevertheless composed of the same material. Every several gate is of one pearl. It is the one Cross that draws all men to the Saviour. It is by the rugged, tear-stained path to Calvary that the Good Shepherd finds every lost sheep straying in the wilderness and brings it back to the fold. We are told that the gates are not shut day or night. They are not needed for defence or security like those of the earthly city, for the inhabitants dwell in a peaceful habitation, and in a sure dwelling and in a quiet resting-place. Like the broken sword laid in the grave are the gates of the celestial city. Their existence reminds the inhabitants of a former condition of warfare and insecurity, while their open state shows the contrast between the old guarded fortress, exposed to continual alarms, and the present freedom and enlargement of the quiet habitation, defended only by the glory of God, as the wide border of Canaan was guarded by angel sentinels during the keeping of the solemn feasts. For beauty therefore, not for use, the heavenly city has its twelve gates. All that might cause fear or a feeling of insecurity will be gone for ever; but all that will remind the redeemed of the way by which they had been led in the past, all that will enhance the value of the Saviour’s love and serve to deepen their own peace, will be kept before their minds by everlasting memorials.
II. The material of which the gates were composed. Every several gate was of one pearl. What a beautiful symbol this is! Death is the gate by which every one must enter the heavenly city. And what a dark and gloomy appearance does it present to us on this earthly side! Sin has done everything possible to make the gate unsightly to poor creatures of sense. But how different is the entrance into the heavenly life! We pass through the iron gate of death, and looking back from the other side, from the golden street of the celestial city, we see it transformed into a gate of pearl. All its gloom has disappeared; all its relics of mortality have vanished. It is a triumphal arch for the passage of those who have been made more than conquerors through Him that loved them. How strange will be the transition to many of God’s timid saints who are in bondage all their lifetime to the fear of death, who dread every allusion to it, and keep every object and association connected with it away from their eye and their mind! Through darkness into light, through pain and weeping into everlasting joy, through fear and dread into a bright and blessed assurance for evermore; the gate of iron changed into a gate of pearl; that which was an object of the utmost abhorrence into an object of admiration unbounded! How much do these gates of pearl say to the redeemed souls that have passed through them! To the inner ear these gates of pearl, set up where there is no more sea, speak of the far-off vanished seas of earth, through whose dangers the redeemed escaped safe to land. None, too, can gaze upon the gates of pearl without being reminded of their wonderful deliverances, when the Lord “ drew them out of great waters” and cheered them with a precious promise like a pearl found in the depth--“When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee.” They cannot think of the storm without thinking of Him who came through the storm to their help, and said to the waves within and without, “Peace be still.” How were these gates of pearl formed? The walls of the heavenly city are formed of jewels, each of which was crystallised in the dark depths of the mine, under the pressure of rocks, by igneous or aqueous agency. From sand and clay and coal, and other worthless or repulsive substances, they were sublimed into their present beautiful forms and hues, as the blossoms of the mineral kingdom. But the truth that what is fairest and most precious is obtained only through sore and long-continued struggle, which the jewelled walls witness to, is attested in a more tender and touching way by the gates of pearl. This substance is not of mineral but of animal formation. A pearl is caused by the irritation of a minute parasite, or by the presence of a particle of sand or other extraneous matter accidentally introduced between the mantle and the shell of a species of mussel. The creature cannot get rid of it, and therefore to allay the irritation, covers it over with a series of layers of nacre or pearly matter. This smooth, round shining object, which feels so soft and pleasant to the touch, which reflects the light in a tender way like snow or moonlight, which is so precious that it is deemed worthy of a place in the crown of a monarch, is caused by a struggle with difficulties, an effort to overcome a trial; subliming by a wonderful alchemy, by the victorious power of life, into enduring patience a source of irritation, turning a worthless grain of sand into a pearl. The fact therefore that the heavenly gates are made of a substance with such a remarkable history as this, irresistibly suggests the trials by which those who pass through them are made meet for their abundant entrance into the city. That gate speaks of temptations vanquished, of degree of excellence reached through suffering, of a Divine beauty destined to supersede every mark of sorrow and be eternal. Who would have thought that out of the rough, broken, coarse-looking shell, as it appears on the outside, and by the labours and sufferings of a creature almost at the lowest point in the scale of life, whose structure is as simple as it can well be, without beauty of form or hue to attract, the glistening loveliness and preciousness of the oriental pearl could be produced! And who could have thought that out of the dark and sorrowful experiences of earth, purified by suffering, could have come the great white-robed multitude within the gates of pearl! (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Gates of pearl
Thoreau thinks that he can trace the leaf pattern throughout all the kingdoms of nature, and he declares that the Creator, in making this earth, but patented a leaf. One who follows the building art through the centuries, from its first rudimentary principles to its consummate blossom in the medieeval cathedral, is impressed with the idea that the architect has but patented a door. A habitation without some way of getting into it was of course useless. The way of ingress and egress being the most important feature of the domicile, it naturally called forth the first exercise of that architectural skill which distinguishes man from the beaver or bird. This skill was shown by placing a horizontal stick or stone upon two perpendicular posts, and forming what is called a door lintel. This simple principle, multiplied and extended, gives us the common frame building or stone building, with windows and a fiat roof. It is the principle which, under the touch of Grecian genius, resulted in that matchless gem of architecture, the Athenian Parthenon. It has been suggested that this simple door lintel, at some time or other, broke under the heavy weight which was placed upon it, and that the broken halves were set up against each other upon the doorposts in an inclined position. The transition from this arrangement to three or more wedge-shaped stones fitted together, was easy, and thus, in time, the arch sprang into being, out of which have grown the wonders of mediaeval and modern architecture. The entrance way being thus, in a sense, the germ of the building, it is not strange that it should, in time, become the gem of the building. Being a conspicuous feature, and the first to attract critical inspection, it was natural that the architect should employ his subtlest skill in adorning it. Carrying our thought over into another realm, we are reminded that it is a rule of literature to be mindful of beginnings--to beautify the gateway. A preface is the most difficult part of the book to write. If well written, it is the most important part, for it predisposes the reader to a favourable acceptance of what is to follow. The same is true of introductions to speeches and lectures. “The success of a discourse,” says Gaichies, “often depends upon the beginning. From first impressions, whether good or bad, we do not easily recover.” And I am tempted to add that the same is true of people. From our first impressions of them we do not easily recover. Everything depends upon the gateways of life, and the reason, I think, has been made obvious, because at the portals we get our first impressions of the structure. Now I might turn this truth before you in a great many lights, and apply it in many ways, but I must confine myself to two of them. And, first, I think of the youth-time as the portal which opens into the realities of life, and I think how important it is to make of it a gate of pearl, that the young spirit which passes through may receive only wholesome impressions. What book lies upon the table? What words fall from the lips of parents and friends? Do they possess the pearl quality? Do they foreshadow to the child the grand, true man which he may be? Do they inspire him to be that man? I am just here reminded of three gateways and the impressions which they give of what lies beyond them. Should you take a drive or a walk upon a certain suburban road, you would pass all three of them. At the first you would find a rickety gate swinging askew upon a single hinge, as though making a vain attempt to obtain a bill of divorcement from the tottering post to which it is attached. Beyond the dilapidated gateway you picture to yourself a dilapidated farm, a dilapidated house, and a dilapidated family. The country proverb,”A farmer is known by his fences,” comes to you, and you pass on, saying, “The owner of that place is a thriftless man.” You may be mistaken, of course, but that is your first impression. A weary, heart-broken wife and mother, hinged to a thriftless, unfeeling, and perhaps drunken husband, surrounded with the weeds, the nettles, and the briars of domestic infelicities. Scowls and oaths, blows and recriminations, envy, impatience, irreligion--these are the influences through which thousands of the children of the land are looking into the untried future. It is the only gateway to life which they know. Is it any wonder that they make life a cruel, thriftless thing? But this suburban road will bring you to another gateway, an imposing structure, with massive stone posts, and two strong iron gates, which are closed Over them is written, “These are private grounds; visitors not allowed. All trespassers will be promptly prosecuted.” A magnificent estate evidently--broad, winding avenues, luxuriant shrubbery, and beyond, probably, acres of velvet lawn, with flowers from every clime, and a mansion wherein wealth and taste find rendezvous. But that frowning wall and that inhospitable gate! Strange, you say, that the owner should create so much beauty, and then wall it in to his family and a few friends. How many homes we find like this gateway, beautiful, thrifty homes, but seclusive and exclusive, in the sense of being closed to the outgoing and incoming sympathies and charities of life; homes in which children receive the impression that the great world which lies before them is a selfish world, and that their own lives, to be successful, must be devoted to selfish getting and selfish enjoying! But if you go far enough on that suburban road, you will find a third gateway, as imposing as the second, but it stands open, and from either side of it, around the broad acres, extends a low, rustic fence. Near the entrance is a sign bearing the words, “Visitors will kindly refrain from injuring the shrubbery.” You notice the inviting seats and vine-covered arbours. As you look upon this vision of beauty, you feel very much as the good woman did, who, dewing her wealthy neighbour’s well-kept grounds from her humble chamber, exclaimed, “How good the Lord is to give me the enjoyment of this paradise without the trouble of taking care of it!” You may be wrong in your estimate of the man who owns this estate, but you cannot avoid the impression that he is an open-hearted, public-spirited citizen, one who, in seeking enjoyment himself, is willing that the others should share it. And so you point another moral: Homes there are, yes, thousands of them, which to the young are like this last open gateway, suggesting and opening into a large, unselfish, beneficent life; homes where the young are inspired by Christian example to live Christian lives. But, taking this last thought with us, I am prompted to lead you still farther along the line of our text. There is a material life and there is a moral and spiritual life; two realms adjoining; and there are ways which take us from the one to the other. I suppose there is no experience more familiar to many of us than that of finding in some strong, true character the example and the instruction which leads us to noble striving. Hood, in speaking of Cromwell, says, “An age cannot move without its great men. They inspire it, they urge it forward. They are its priests and its prophets and its monarchs.” All of which is but saying that the great man is the portal of promise and opportunity to the ago in which he lives. His superior character furnishes the model, his superior genius provides the opportunity, for the development and advancement of the race. The progress of humanity has been continuously through these gates of pearl--these massive, resplendent lives which have sprung, clean-out and beautiful, out of the conditions of their times. Even the unbeliever is one with us here. He admits the power of example, and the influence of the stronger soul. He says, “Yes, these are the gateways of character, these strong men and women standing all around us, and they help us to live better lives.” Is it not strange that one who can believe all this does not go a step farther, does not stand in loving faith before Him who alone can give us entrance into the highest possible life, who hath said, “I am the door; by Me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” Here is the gate of pearl which, swinging back upon its hinges reveals to us, and admits us to a lifo which the world knew nothing of before the Advent. The direct agency of God in bringing a soul through the portal of the new life we cannot explain. Regeneration is a Divine mystery, but it is none the less a Divine fact. But the going through the door, the passing into a higher manhood and womanhood through Jesus Christ, the Elder Brother and Saviour, is something which we can understand. It is through Him that we are made meet for the kingdom of heaven. (C. A. Dickinson, M. A.)
I saw no temple therein.
Heaven, without a temple; why?
1. A temple is a place set apart for the residence of a Deity. In heaven there is no temple, no particular place of worship. In Revelation 7:1-17. it is said, “they serve Him in His temple.” There heaven itself is the temple mentioned; here it is meant that no portion in particular could be styled the temple.
2. A temple is a place where particular rites are observed. In Deuteronomy 12:13, it was expressly commanded that no sacrifices should be offered but in the temple; elsewhere they would be a profanation. But in heaven no place was set apart for religious services; they might be offered in all parts alike.
3. A temple is a place where the worshippers resort at seasons for worship: three times a year the Israelites went up to Jerusalem to appear before the Lord from all parts of the holy land. In heaven there are no stated seasons of worship; no need to say there, “Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord”: the inhabitants are everywhere and always engaged in the service and worship of God.
4. A. temple is set apart from common uses for sacred exercises. In heaven there is no distinction between ordinary and religious employments.
1. Those must be essentially disqualified for heaven who find no pleasure in devotion.
2. What a reason is here why we should improve the seasons of devotion, and especially these Sabbath opportunities of religious improvement!
3. Finally, how happy are those that love God and His service! (R. Hall, M. A.)
No temple in heaven
The explanation given of how this comes to be does not at the first satisfy us. We all know that in this world, to say that every day should be kept as a sabbath, comes to exactly the same thing as having no sabbath at all. Some of you will think how a certain eminent man, set free from work after many years of weary and uncongenial drudgery, said that he found that where all your time is holiday, there are no holidays. And yet this is all the comfort given us in the presence of the statement that in heaven there is no temple. We are told that there will be no temple in particular, because the place will be all temple. Now, the somewhat disappointed feeling that rises at the first glance at our text comes of our applying our common worldly ways of thinking to the better world--to a state of being that transcends our present thoughts. As we are now, it is only for short isolated times that we can be at our best in the matter of spiritual mood and holy feeling. But in heaven all this is changed. And it seems to me as if there were a sudden light cast upon the state of the redeemed, by the brief statement that as for heaven, the happiest and holiest place in all the universe, there is no temple there. You know, that statement might, standing by itself, read in either of two quite opposite ways. It might be the very worst, or the very best, account of the place of which it is written. “No temple there,” might mean no care about religion at all. “No temple there,” may mean that the whole place is one great temple; and that the whole life there is worship; and that the inhabitants are raised quite above all earthly imperfections, and above the need of those means which in this world are so necessary to keep grace in the soul alive. All temple would, with creatures like us, be equivalent to no temple at all. But with glorified souls, it means that they are always at their best: always holy and happy: always up to the mark of the noblest communion with their Saviour and their God! All this, however, is but one truth set out by this text. Let us now proceed to an entirely different view of it. It is something to remind us of the great fact that blest souls in heaven are lifted above the need of the means of grace. They have reached the end of all these; and accordingly the means are needed no more. You have got the good of them, indeed, but you do not need to use them now. They were very well in their time, but their time is gone by. Now, all the means of grace--and God’s house, with its praises, prayers, and exhortations, among the rest--are just as steps towards heaven. And when the soul has reached heaven their need is over. The church and its services are no more than the means, and when we can have the end without the means we may well be content. You know the scaffolding which the workmen use in building up some tall church spire may be very ingenious, may serve its purpose admirably well; but when the spire is finished you do not propose to keep the scaffolding up permanently. And the means of grace, all of them, and God’s house with the others, are no more than as the scaffolding by whose means the soul is edified. And when the glorified soul has reached the highest attainments of Christian character, and has always within reach the sublimest depths of Christian feeling and solid enjoyment--as it has in heaven--then the scaffolding by which it was built up to this may be taken down; the means of grace, so needful in their time, may be done without, may go. (A. K. H. Boyd, D. D.)
No temple in heaven
Our apostle’s mind, then, had been Divinely enlarged until the old doctrinal methods of worship had begun to tell upon him with the power of a hindrance and limitation. This prophecy of a city without a temple, like all true prophecy, is the daughter of unit. It is the attempted escape out of form of a mind or heart that feels strained by present limitations. Pressure, such as it discovers itself to be in our unrest, is the impulse outward of a mind that finds its immediate quarters too small for it, and so moves, or undertakes to move, into a house that is larger. As we grow we outgrow everything in the way of a mode and form of worship. Worship up to the time of Christ had centred in the temple at Jerusalem, a custom of Divine origin. Now, St. John had had that experience of the spiritual character of God that disclosed to him the utter incompatibility existing between true worship and any admixture of the building or house element; and because he realised that the temple and perfect worship are incompatible, he saw that there was sure to be a time when the temple would be everywhere, and it is thus explained to him. And this prophecy of his, like all true prophecy, is but the name we give to that power by which a Divinely quickened mind rises against those restraints by which its own thoughts and experiences have hitherto been bound. There is a very important purpose subserved in having the ideal disclosed to us, although not able to live by it. It gives us a direction like the polar star to the fugitive escaping towards freedom, and lays down a pathway along which we, too, may move in the direction of freer life. And the ideal is not only a distant line of guidance, but instructs by the power of contrast, for the brighter and purer it is the more startling the contrast in which the non-ideal is seen to stand to it. I would not try to trust myself, nor would I recommend it to the most spiritual-minded man or woman among you to trust yourself to any system of worship or method of religion that is not, in part, formal or methodical. The fact that some time we are going, we hope, to live in a city that has no temple, or will need none, has nothing to do with it. The fact that we already appreciate the incompatibility between stereotyped methods and places and religion has likewise nothing immediately to do with it. The great matter of spirituality is what must determine the moral and spiritual law that is to govern us. People in absenting themselves from the sanctuary are saying that, according to the words of the apostle, and even of the Lord Himself, sanctuary worship makes up no true part of religion. Well, neither is the shell the true part of the nut, and the nut will not always need the shell. The sanctuary and all its form and local appurtenances are not religion, but simply its encasement, its integument, and is not for its own sake, but for the sake of religion. When religion has become perfectly natural to us--that is to say, when it is just as natural for us to be religious as it is to be irreligious, when irreligion has become perfectly unnatural to us, and spiritual-mindedness a second instinct, and obedience to God has become spontaneous, and adoration before Him and the spirit of communion with Him works within us with the enforced facility of new genius--then, having become ideal men and able to live an ideal life, we need be amenable only to an ideal law. Just to the degree that we are dominated by the Divine Spirit, we are free from the obligations of the studied and the narrowed. But because religion is going to be a purely spiritual thing some time, or because there are those to whom it is mostly such now, that is not what it is to us, except as we are ourselves spiritualised. Counting the time, I believe, is no true ingredient of musical skill, but the fact that an accomplished musician can keep time without counting is no reason why the novice should omit doing so until he has so progressed that he can keep time without counting. As has been said before, the ideal has no relevancy to us any farther than we ourselves get in the range with the ideal, and become ourselves idealised. If we are ever competent to live in an untempled city, it will be because of our faithful use of the formal we have graduated out of the necessity of the formal, just as the grown man’s ability to get along without parents to control him proceeds from the fidelity with which he conformed himself to parental instruction before he became a man. Fidelity to His sanctuary is God’s appointed means of making us free from the necessity of the sanctuary, and forms faithfully observed, and methods loyally and devoutly adhered to, are so many appliances Divinely contrived for reinforcing human infirmity, and for the protection of the renewed spirit, till that spirit shall have reached such proportions of sanctity and power and have become so instilled with the life of God--that is, shall be competent safely to determine for itself its own methods, and its expanded heavenly genius have become within it the secure law of its own individual spiritual life. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
No temple in heaven
He who witnessed the glorious vision recorded in this book had doubtless oft travelled from Galilee to Jerusalem to present himself before the Lord in the temple. He who had seen and rejoiced in the sight of the earthly Jerusalem had now a different scene opened before him. What would the earthly Jerusalem have been without its temple? A body without a soul, a world without a sun. In the world we have many institutions which are intended for good, but their very presence is an indication of evil. In going through the streets of a large city, you often find buildings, some of them like palaces, not intended for the rich and gay; but, it may be, for orphans, or destitute old men and women. What a blessed city that would be where there was no need of such institutions. And so is the absence of the temple the crowning glory of the Holy Jerusalem. That we may enter more into the meaning of the text, let us glance at the uses of the temple.
1. It was a meeting-place between God and His people. How grateful ought we to be that God has appointed to man meeting-places. Are we strengthened, enlivened, comforted, by meeting with fellow-Christians? If the temple and the church now be a place for such purposes, how is it that the absence of a temple in the heavenly Jerusalem is a mark of its perfection? The history of our earth tells, when there was no imperfection, no sin ill the world, there was no temple; there was no need for it. A temple conveys the idea of limiting the worship of God to a set time and place; and not only that, but it reminds us of how many places there are where we seldom think of meeting with God. In heaven there is no temple, because it is not needed. There is no need of a meeting-place when God dwells among the inhabitants; no need of a temple, for we shall never be forgetful of Him; no need of getting our hearts anew enkindled with a devout and heavenly flame when every heart is full of love.
2. The temple a place of reconciliation. If two friends have quarrelled, how delightful to see them reconciled and walking together! But the very fact of your saying that they are reconciled shows that they have quarrelled. So it is in the church and in the temple. You cannot listen, you cannot look upon the ceremonies, without at once learning that man has quarrelled with God; that he has sinned against Him, and is now reconciled. But in the New Jerusalem there is no need of the symbol, or the words that tell man has been reconciled to God--brought back to God--for he is with God; what need of a place where friends should come to be reconciled, when they are reconciled already. (James Aitken.)
And I saw no temple therein
I. The symbol of the Divine glory, which was seen in the temple at Jerusalem, will be exchanged in heaven for the immediate presence of God and of Christ. There shall be no display of supernatural light there, such as dwelt in fearful majesty of old within the holy place of the temple; there shall be no symbol of mysterious glory, as in the ancient sanctuary, fitted and designed rather to veil the face of God than to reveal His character; the Almighty will not clothe and hide Himself, as in former days, with the impenetrable cloud, or the equally impenetrable brightness. But, without the intervention of any sign or symbol, or even outward representation, the living God shall be there seen as He is; the excellent glory that blazed between the cherubim as the representative of the Divine presence in ancient times will give place to the revealed form and the open face of Jehovah.
II. The sacrifices and offerings for sin, which formed a principal part of the services of the temple at Jerusalem, will be exchanged in heaven for the favour of a reconciled God and an exalted Redeemer. The sacrifice once presented on the Cross by the Son of God Himself has completely taken away the guilt of sin and the Divine wrath that was due to it. The one shedding of blood upon Calvary has perfectly done what the blood streaming upon a thousand altars, and shed by ten thousand victims, in former ages, could never accomplish. There shall be no temple in heaven, in respect that there shall be no need of sacrifice or shedding of blood there. But more than this. We are assured by the inspired apostle that, in the absence of any other temple, “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb shall be the temple there”; and no small share of the happiness of the redeemed, as we learn from the passage before us, will be that, in exchange for the sacrifices and offerings presented for sin in the ancient temple, the saints of the Lord in heaven shall enjoy the favour of a reconciled God, and dwell in the presence of an exalted Saviour. And shall not the presence of the Lamb in the midst of heaven, the appearance of the crucified Saviour in human form among the multitudes whom His blood has saved, lend to them an assurance of peace and safety, and complete acquittal from the guilt of sin, which cannot fail to swell their hearts with more than mortal gladness?
III. The imperfect revelations peculiar to the ancient temple at Jerusalem will be superseded in the celestial world by the full knowledge of God and the redeemer. In this world of sin and imperfection the Christian sees only through a glass darkly. He sees, therefore, but in part, and he knows but in part. Mortal ears are not capable of hearing the accents of eternity; and there are sights there which could not be unveiled to mortal eyes. The angels of heaven “desire to look into them,” and even they look in vain. And the redeemed of the Lord, when they break away from the confinement of their present condition and awaken to the vastness of their future lot, shall enter upon a state of existence in which new thoughts, new feelings, and new truths concerning God and concerning the Saviour, shall occupy and enlarge their souls throughout eternity.
IV. The particular places and seasons, which were peculiar to the devotions of the temple at Jerusalem, will be done away with in the worship of heaven. The many mansions of that celestial city will be alike pervaded by the glory of the Almighty, and alike sanctified and gladdened by it. The inhabitants of that kingdom, which is eternal in the heavens, will not have to wait the slow return of those annual seasons when His ancient people were invited to appear before God in Zion, and to hold fellowship with the Most High in His sanctuary; for their life will be a season of continual and endless fellowship with their Maker; and the day of glory which they shall spend in His presence--a day which has no morning and no night--will be one everlasting and uninterrupted Sabbath. (J. Bannerman, D. D.)
The perfection of the heavenly state
I. There is no temple in hell. There is none for the devil. Here he has innumerable followers; and the Scriptures call him not only the prince of this world, to show that they are his subjects, but the god of this world, to show that they are his worshippers. There are days set apart for his honour, and places of worship open for his name. They will soon see him as he is--they will see what a wretch they have been serving here; how he has deceived them--how he has destroyed them; and, after having been their tempter, proving only their tormentor; and therefore Scripture says, “They shall look upward, and curse their king and their god.”
II. There is no temple in heaven.
1. There is no idol temple there.
2. There is no temple there for heresies and error.
3. There is no party temple there.
4. There will be no material temple there.
The reason is, because they will be unnecessary. They are now in the order of means, but then the end will be accomplished.
III. Now there are temples on earth which deserve our attachment and our respect.
1. It is even possible for us to err now on the side of excess. We do this whenever we forget that their institutions and ceremonies are not to be regarded for their own sake. They are not ends, but means; they are not religion, but the instrumentalities of religion; and these temples, therefore, are not in all respects essential to religion even here.
2. We are more liable to err on the side of deficiency than of excess; and, therefore, having opposed formality which rests in temples, we must assail enthusiasm that would rise above them, and despise the things that are not necessary in eternity, though important and necessary here. Hereafter we shall live without food and without sleep; but what should we think of a man who affected to be spiritual enough to despise these vulgarities now, and to think that he could live without them? Let us take six views of man, each of which will show that, though our temples are to be dispensed with hereafter, yet that they are important and necessary now.
The heavenly temple
I. The use of temples in man’s present state.
II. The absence of temples from man’s future state. What changes then must have passed upon our condition ere temples may be swept away without injury, nay, rather, with great benefit, to vital religion. It tells me there is no keeping of the earthly Sabbaths, for all its days alike are holiness to the Lord: and telling me this it also tells me that if once admitted within the gates of pearl, and privileged to tread the streets of gold, I shall be free from every remainder of corruption; I shall no longer need external ordinances to remind me of my allegiance, and strengthen me for conflict; but that, made equal to the angels, I shall love God without wavering, and serve God without weariness. It is, however, when we consider churches as the places in which we are to gain acquaintance with God, that we find most of interesting truth in the fact that there is no temple in heaven. Allowed not direct and immediate intercourse with God, we can now only avail ourselves of instituted means, and hope to obtain in the use of ordinances faint glimpses of that Being who withdraws Himself majestically from the searchings of His creatures. And we may not doubt that God shall everlastingly continue a mystery to all finite intelligences; so that we look not in the favoured expatiations of the future for perfect acquaintance with Deity. We rather take it as a self-evident truth, that God can be comprehensible by none other but God; and that consequently there will always be between the Creator and the created that immeasurable separation which forbids all approach to familiar inspection. But nevertheless we may not doubt that although God must be inscrutable even to the angel and the archangel, there are disclosures of Deity made to these illustrious orders of being such as we ourselves are neither permitted nor qualified to enjoy. The manifestation of Godhead in that to us unknown region which we designate heaven, and to those ranks of subsistences which we believe associated highest in the scale of creation, must be, we are sure, of that intenseness and that vividness which give to intercourse the character of direct and personal communion. To such manifestations we ourselves are privileged to expect admission. It shall not be needful in order to advance in acquaintance with the Deity, that the saints gather themselves into a material sanctuary, and hearken to the teaching of one of their brethren, and partake of sacramental elements. They can go to the fountain head, and therefore require not those channels through which riving streams were before time transmitted. Present with the Lord, they need no emblem of his presence: faith having given place to sight, the apparatus of outward ordinances vanishes, like the shadows of the law when the substance had appeared. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The negative glory of heaven
I. In that world there is no speciality in the forms of religious worship. A city without a temple would strike the common notions of men as atheistic. To the Jewish mind especially it would give the idea of a city to be avoided and denounced. Still, whatever might be the popular notions of men about temples, with their methods of worship:
1. Their existence implies spiritual blindness and imperfection, they are remedies for evils.
2. Their history shows that men, in many instances, have turned them to a most injurious account. They have nourished superstition; men have confined the idea of sacredness and worship and God to these buildings. They have nourished sectarianism. When it is said, therefore, that there is no temple in heaven, it does not mean that there will be no worship in heaven, but that there will be no temple like that on earth; always implying imperfections. The reason assigned for the non-existence of a temple in heaven is a very wonderful one, “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” God and His Holy Son are not only the objects of heavenly worship, but the very temple of devotion. All there feel, not only that they have to render to God and His Son worship, but they are in them in the worship.
II. In that world there is no necessity for second-hand knowledge. The fountain of all light is God Himself. He is the Father of lights. Here, like Job, we hear of God by the hearing of the ear, there we shall see Him as He is, and be like Him. He will be the light, the clear, direct, unbounded medium, through which we shall see ourselves, our fellow worshippers, and the universe.
III. In that world there will be no apprehension of danger from any part. “And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.” No fear of temptation; here we are bound to watch and pray lest we fall into temptation. Why? Because of the greater amount of motive that now exists in heaven to bind the virtuous to virtue, the Christian to Christ, the godly to God.
1. There is a motive from the contrast between the present and the past.
2. There is the motive from the appearance of the Lamb in the midst of the throne. There is no fear of affliction; we are told there “shall be no sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”
IV. That in that world there will be none of the inconveniences of darkness. “There shall be no night there.”
1. Night interrupts our vision. It hides the world from our view, and is the symbol of ignorance. The world is full of existence and beauty, but night hides all.
2. Night interrupts our labour. We go forth unto our labour until the evening.
V. That in that world there will be no admission of impurity of any kind. “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Homilist.)
The mission of the temple accomplished
The first of these ideas is that of special local manifestations of God’s presence and power. This idea was strongly suggested by the ancient Jewish temple, and particularly by the Shechinah which always blazed above the mercy-seat. It was the earthly palace of the heavenly King, where He held His earthly court. This temporary idea was necessary for the development of the human sense of the Divine presence on the earth, as the scaffolding is required for the construction of a building, or a ladder may be needed to reach the summit of a cliff. The spiritual sense of humanity was not sufficiently developed to see the glory of God everywhere and in everything, to behold every common bush afire with God. Only a great spiritual eye can read the name of God in the common everyday writing of human history. In order that men should see it at all it was necessary to write it here and there in great capitals. Just as a man pursuing his way in the midst of gathering electric forces may know nothing of them until the lightning flashes bright from the thick cloud, so men, as yet untrained to feel the invisible, would have become regardless, and perchance ignorant, of the Divine presence were it not for its special and pronounced manifestation in the “temple” and other holy places. The attempt to force men at once to recognise an equal Divine presence everywhere would have resulted in their not recognising it anywhere. In the interminable and pathless jungle of human life they would forget a God that might be present everywhere but was conspicuous nowhere. (John Thomas, M. A.)
The glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.--
The God-enlightened city
I. The principal purpose here mentioned, for which the heavenly bodies were created, and for which we need them in this lower world is, to give light upon the earth. But agreeable and necessary as they are to us, the New Jerusalem needs them not for this purpose; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. The unfathomable flood of light and glory which unceasingly flows from the Father, is collected and concentrated in the person of His Son; for He is the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His person. Heaven is, therefore, illuminated not only with God’s glory, but with the brightness of His glory, with the most dazzling effulgence of Divine, uncreated light, a light which enlightens and cheers the soul as well as the body. Of the nature and degree of this light, who but the happy beings that enjoy it can form any conception? As the inhabitants of heaven will not need the light of created luminaries, so, we may add, they will no more need the assistance of human teachers, or of the means of grace. Little do they need human teachers, who know incomparably more of Divine things than all the prophets and apostles united knew, while here below. Little do they need the Bible, who have forever escaped all its threatenings, who are enjoying all its promises, who intuitively understand all its doctrines, and who have arrived at that heaven to which it points out the way.
II. Another purpose for which God formed the sun was, we are told, to divide the day from the night. To creatures constituted as we are, the vicissitude of day and night, which is thus produced by the sun, is equally necessary and agreeable; and we ought ever to acknowledge the wisdom and goodness to which it is owing. Our bodies and our minds are soon fatigued, and indispensably require the refreshment of sleep. But we may easily perceive that it would be a great privilege to be freed from the necessity of sleeping, and especially from that subjection to weariness and fatigue which occasion the necessity. Do the rays of light grow weary in their flight from the sun? or does the thunder-bolt need to pause and seek refreshment in the midst of its career? As little do the inhabitants of heaven become weary in praising and enjoying God. As little do they need refreshment or repose; for their spiritual bodies will be far more active and refined than the purest light; and their labour itself will be the sweetest rest.
III. Another purpose for which the heavenly bodies were created was to serve for signs, and for the regulation of the seasons. In this, as in other respects, they are eminently useful to a world like ours. The heat of the sun is no less necessary than its light; but the convenience and happiness of man require that this heat should be communicated to us in different degrees at different periods. But however necessary the celestial luminaries may be for signs and seasons on earth, they are needed for neither of these purposes by the inhabitants of heaven. They need no pole star to guide their rapid flight through the immeasurable ocean of ethereal space; for God, their sun, is everywhere, and where He is, there is heaven; there they are at home. They need no signs to warn them of approaching storms, or impending dangers; for they enjoy uninterrupted sunshine and perpetual peace.
IV. Another purpose for which the heavenly bodies were created was to show the flight, and mark the divisions of time. But though such divisions of time, as days and years, are thus necessary on earth, they will be perfectly needless to the inhabitants of heaven. With them, time has ended and eternity begun; and eternity neither needs, nor is capable of division. They know with the utmost certainty that their happiness will never, never end. Why then should they wish to know, what possible advantage could it be to them to know, at any given period, how many days or years had passed away since they arrived in heaven? (E. Payson, D. D.)
The light of the New Jerusalem
I. It is peculiar light. There is none like it. Its blaze is not earthly. Yet it is truly light for men. It is Divine, but it is also human. All created and all uncreated brilliance is concentrated in it. The Man Christ Jesus is there. God over all is there.
II. It is unchanging light. He from whom it emanates is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Here there is no rising nor setting; no clouding nor eclipsing.
III. It is festal light. The feast is spread; the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.
IV. It is all-pervading light. It is not confined to a few favoured dwellings; to one region of the city. The whole city shall be full of fight.
V. It is the light of life. It is living light, fife-giving light; not dead and inert like that of our sun, and moon, and stars, but living; instinct with fife, and health, and immortality. It fills the whole man with life--body, soul, and spirit.
VI. It is the light of love. For that name, “the Lamb,” contains within it the revelation of the love of God. That lamp, which is the Lamb, then must be love; its light must be the light of redeeming love. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Christ the light of heaven
I. What Christ is in heaven. He is the Son of Man, it says; for it calls Him “the Lamb,” the same name that was applied to Him in His human nature on earth, and a name which will not admit of being applied to Him as the everlasting God. It involves in it an idea, not at variance with divinity, but yet quite foreign to it. Further, this name sets Him forth as retaining in heaven the marks of His sufferings on earth. This teaches us not only the blessed truth that we shall see in heaven the Saviour who bled for us, but that we shall see Him as the Saviour who bled for us; we shall never look on Him without beholding in Him that which will remind us of His dying love. But again--our Lord is styled also in this text “the glory of God.” I say, our Lord is so styled, because it seems quite evident that the glory of God and the Lamb mean here one and the same object. The apostle evidently speaks as though by God and the Lamb he meant the same Person; as though he could not separate them in his mind; as though, in fact, they had been presented to him in this vision but as one object, and were but one object. And we are to infer more from this, than that the ascended Jesus is acknowledged in heaven to be God and Lord; we are warranted to infer that no other God or Lord is seen or thought of in heaven; and more also--that Christ’s human nature is as complete a manifestation of the Divine glory as even heaven itself can understand or bear.
II. What Christ is to heaven. He is in it as the Son of Man, the once crucified Son of Men, the glory of God; He is to it a light, and all the light it has. There are two ideas generally connected with the word “light” in Scripture, when used in a spiritual sense--one primary idea, knowledge, because light shows us things as they are; and then a secondary idea, joy, because a right knowledge of spiritual things imparts joy. When therefore we are told that there is light in heaven, that God dwells in light there, that the inheritance of the saints there is an inheritance in light, we are to understand that heaven is a world of knowledge, and such knowledge as gives rise to pleasure and joy; that we shall not lose our character as intellectual beings there; that our minds and understandings will go with us to heaven, and be called into exercise in heaven, and have everything brought before them that can expand, and elevate, and delight them. But whence is this knowledge to come? The text tells us. It traces it, observe, to the glorified Jesus as its source. God in Christ, it says, and in Christ as the Son of Man, is the author of it. “The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it.” In this imperfect state of the Church, we need the sun and the moon, all the help we can obtain. We want the assistance of created things to impart knowledge and joy to us--Scriptures, and ministers, and sacraments, and ordinances. But not so in heaven.
III. The greatness of this heavenly happiness. This is evidently the point to which the text is intended to bring us. Its design is to show us how much happier a world heaven is than earth, and how much happier the Church in heaven is than the Church on earth. It supposes, you observe, the Church to have some blessedness here. It has its sun and it has its moon, some sources of knowledge and joy, and these quite sufficient, not to meet its desires, but to answer the purposes of its present condition. But then it implies that these sink into nothing, when compared with the light which will shine on it, the knowledge and joy which will be imparted to it in the heavenly city.
1. The light that flows immediately from Christ in glory, is clearer and brighter than any ether light can be. There is more of it, and what there is of it is of a purer nature.
2. The knowledge we shall have in heaven is not only more accurate than any we can attain here, it is a knowledge more easily acquired. How difficult do we sometimes find it now to lay hold of Divine truth! What a process we are obliged to pass through in order to arrive at a clear comprehension of the simplest truths of the gospel! Now in heaven a glance will teach you. Knowledge will flow like a stream into our minds, and bring happiness with it, and this every moment, and this for ever, without mixture, without interruption, withoutend. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The Lamb--the light
In that millennial state of which the text speaks, Jesus Christ is to be the light thereof, and all its glory is to proceed from Him; and if the text speaketh concerning heaven and the blessedness hereafter, all its light, and blessings, and glory, stream from Him: “The Lamb is the light thereof.”
I. The millennial period. Jesus, in a millennial age, shall be the light and the glory of the city of the new Jerusalem.
1. Observe, then, that Jesus makes the light of the millennium, because His presence will be that which distinguishes that age from the present. That age is to be akin to paradise. It is true we have the presence of Christ in the Church now--“Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” We have the promise of His constant indwelling: “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” But still that is vicariously by His Spirit, but soon He is to be personally with us.
2. The presence of Christ it is which will be the means of the peace of the age. In that sense Christ will be the light of it, for He is our peace. It will be through His presence that the lion shall cat straw like an ex, that the leopard shall lie down with the kid.
3. Again, Christ’s presence is to that period its special instruction. When He comes, superstition will not need an earnest testimony to confute it--it will hide its head. Idolatry will not need the missionary to preach against it--the idols He shall utterly abolish, and cast them to the moles and bats.
4. Once again, Christ will be the light of that period in the sense of being its glory. Think of the splendour of that time! Oh! to be present and to see Him in His own light, the King of kings, and Lord of lords!
II. The state of the glorified in heaven itself, “The city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it.”
1. The inhabitants of the better world are independent of creature comforts. We have no reason to believe that they daily pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Their bodies shall dwell in perpetual youth. They shall have no need of raiment; their white robes shall never wear out, neither shall they ever be defiled.
2. While in heaven, it is clear that the glorified are quite independent of creature aid, do not forget that they are entirely dependent for their joy upon Jesus Christ. He is their sole spiritual light. They have nothing else in heaven to give them perfect satisfaction but Himself. The language here used, “the Lamb is the light thereof,” may be read in two or three ways. By your patience, let us so read it. In heaven Jesus is the light in the sense of joy, for light is ever in Scripture the emblem of joy. Darkness betokens sorrow, but the rising of the sun indicates the return of holy joy. Christ is the joy of heaven. Another meaning of light in Scripture is knowledge. Ignorance is darkness. Oh! what manifestations of God there will be! Dark dealings of providence which you never understood before will then be seen without the light, of a candle or of the sun. Many doctrines puzzled you; but there all will be simple.
III. The heavenly man’s state may be set forth in these words. First, then, even on earth the heavenly man’s joy does not depend upon the creature. In a certain sense we can say to-day that “the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it.” As we can do without these two most eminent creatures, so we can be happy without other earthly blessings. Our dear friends are very precious to us--we love our wife and children, our parents and our friends, but we do not need them. May God spare them to us I but if they were taken, it does not come to a matter of absolute need, for you know there is many a Christian who has been bereft of all, and he thought, as the props were taken away one after another, that he should die of very grief; but he did not die, his faith surmounted every wave, and he still rejoices in his God. We finish by observing that such a man, however, has great need of Christ--he cannot get on without Christ. We can do without light, without friendship, without life, but we cannot live without our Saviour, (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The light of the city
“And the city hath no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it.” The sun and the moon are obviously the symbols of earthly resources. It is not through the city’s sun and moon that God will flood her streets with the light of the jasper stone. It is not through the development of knowledge, the progress of thought, and the growth of the Arts, that God will raise city and State to an ideal condition. The impartation of God’s glory to the earth is not dependent upon sun and moon. “The city hath no need of the sun.” The “jasper” glory is obtained by direct communication with God. It is imparted immediately by the Divine Spirit to the spirit of man, and can only be received by spiritual trust and personal devotion. The “jasper” brightness will give new splendour to sun and moon, but the latter can never create the former. (John Thomas, M. A.)
No night there.
The everlasting day
I. No natural night there. The large portion of our existence that sleep now consumes will be added to our peaceful, our blissful occupations.
II. No night of sin there.
III. No night of suffering there.
IV. No night of ignorance there.
V. No night of infirmities there.
VI. No night of mysterious providences there.
VII. No night of hindered prayers there.
VIII. No night of disappointed expectations there.
IX. No night of separation there.
X. No night of temptation there. (T. Nunns, M. A.)
No night there
In looking at the emblems employed in the Word of God, you cannot fail to be impressed with their simplicity as well as their beauty. Night is one of these.
1. It is the season of repose.
2. It is the time of evil--the season chosen for the performance of deeds of darkness and of sin.
3. And it is the time of fear. Yet notwithstanding all this I praise God for the night.
4. Night is suggestive of sorrow. This is the inevitable lot of the good on earth. But “there shall be no night” of sorrow “there!” No tears shall be shed, no hopes shall be frustrated, no disappointments felt, no friends removed, no graves opened. Night, as we have seen, is associated with deeds of darkness. And hence, when it is affirmed of the heavenly state that “there shall be no night there,” we are reminded of the perfect purity of our eternal home. Further, night is associated with weariness and fatigue. To affirm, therefore, of the heavenly world that there shall be no night there, is to declare that weariness and fatigue shall be unknown. One of the most difficult questions is that of the exact nature of the glorified body the redeemed will possess. And then, night is associated with obscurity. Its shades conceal much from our vision, and hence it has ever been regarded as an appropriate emblem of mental obscurity. Mystery surrounds us on every hand. Questions are continually arising to which we can return no complete answer. Now it is night with us. The unclouded day is yonder. (S. D. Hillman, B. A.)
No night there
I. The absence of night in the glorified church implies that there will be no sin there.
II. The absence of night implies there shall be no ignorance there
III. The absence of night implies there shall be no weariness there. Here God’s people are wearied with labours.
IV. The absence of night implies that there shall be no change there.
V. The absence of night implies that there shall be no death there. (B. W. Bucke, M. A.)
The happiness of heaven
I. The import of the representation by which this state is here distinguished.
1. Among the mansions of the blessed, there shall be no fatigue, no tendency to lassitude, and no reason for repose.
2. There shall be no hostile intrusion there; there is no reason for precaution.
3. There is no impurity and no sin.
4. But night is a season of privation; and when we are told of heaven as a state where no privation shall be, we are well reminded that no night shall be there. Do you speak of privation of society? In heaven you will have delightful and hallowed fellowship. Do you speak of privation of knowledge? In heaven, illumination will be poured upon our faculties to the utmost extent which those faculties can, by possibility, bear. Do you speak of privation of happiness? In heaven, perturbation and pain, and fear, and distress, will be removed for ever.
5. “No more death”--“no more death” to our persons: “for this corruptible shall put on incorruption.” “No more death” to our happiness; “no more death” to our attainments; “no more death” to our joy. All unchangeable, and all imperishable, and all for ever!
II. The conclusions which our contemplations of the heavenly state under this representation ought forcibly to impress upon our minds.
1. Our contemplations ought to induce preparation.
2. Our contemplations of the heavenly state ought to induce gratitude. You were the slave led captive by the devil at his will, and now have been brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God--a liberty which is to be consummated in the skies.
3. These contemplations of the heavenly state should induce desire. And truly there is nothing--if we are preparing for such scenes as those which have now been laid before you--there is nothing which should keep your desires from heaven. (J. Parsons.)
Heaven without night
1. We are wont to associate with night the idea of weariness. Sweet to the myriad toilers in the world’s vast workshop is the coming of the still evening hour, when the tasks of day are laid aside, and tired limbs and overwrought brains draw refreshment from slumber. So benign is this provision that Scripture has included it among the special acts of Divine goodness, in the beautiful saying, “He giveth His beloved sleep.” Now, as this arrangement is not found in heaven, the inference is obvious that the denizens of that bright realm do not require its operation, and are so constituted as to be inaccessible to fatigue from any intensity or duration of employment.
2. Night is the symbol of ignorance. How often do the Sacred Writers represent the intellectual and moral blindness of men under the figure of darkness! Thus Job, describing the errors and follies of the devotees of human wisdom, says, “They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noonday as in the night.” And the fearful ignorance of God and of truth, which overspread the world at the period of the Redeemer’s advent, is pourtrayed by the graphic declaration, “Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people.” In this emblematic sense, a deep and cloudy night stretches over the sphere which we now inhabit. How imperfect are our faculties! How narrow the limits of our knowledge! How obscure and uncertain our researches! What barriers of gloom and mystery meet us on whatever side we attempt to push our investigations! But in heaven there will be no intellectual night. All the errors that now shade and darken our minds--all the obstacles which here impede and limit our acquisitions-shall there be for ever removed. The faculties of the soul which, amid the fogs and illusions of sense, are so restricted in their range, and so distorted in their vision, will, in that radiant world, expand into seraphic strength, and under the beams of eternal day receive a new impulse, and a right direction. The veil also, which now hangs over so many departments of Truth, will then be lifted, and we shall enter her inmost temple, and worship at her most secret shrine.
3. Night is the symbol of sin. The time which God has ordained for rest, man has appropriated to crime. All classes of the depraved and lawless look upon night as their chosen patron and protector. “The way of the wicked is as darkness.” “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” When, therefore, we read of heaven as being without night, the expression evidently implies that into those holy realms no impurity can ever be admitted. “There shall in no ease enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
4. Night is the symbol of danger. The hours in which darkness broods over the earth are peculiar for their insecurity. It is then that the robber, the housebreaker, the incendiary, and the whole tribe of depredators on property and life, steal from their lurking places, and roam abroad on their work of mischief. And then it is that perils easily avoided by day deepen and multiply their terrors. The exclusion of night from heaven may, therefore, be interpreted as a pledge that, in that secure asylum, no adversary shall assail us, and no possibility of evil ever menace our peace. The seductions of the world, and the treachery of our own hearts, will not follow us there, nor can Satan cross “the great gulf fixed” between hell and heaven to vex us with his assaults.
5. Night is the symbol of want. Sleep is the sister of death. During its reign over us, we retire within ourselves; the senses close their portals, and the soul is shut in from all its wonted delights. Communion with man and with Nature has ceased. Perception is suspended. Reason is in abeyance. Gone are consciousness, memory, hope. And even should slumber be interrupted, what a dreary blank does the eye behold! Hidden is the rich land-scape--stream, and forest, and mountain--all the grand things and the lovely on which the daylight looks. Above us may glimmer the watching stars and the silvery moon, but they only awaken regret for the nobler luminary departed. So is it that night typifies want; and the fact that heaven knows no night is a most expressive sign that it also knows no privation. Want, in one or another of its forms, is inseparable from our earthly condition. Pilgrims in the desert, we must expect to sigh in vain for much that is essential to perfect felicity. But when we reach the land of Divine fulness above, every need will be supplied. Everything around us, every scene, every object, every employment, will be adapted to exclude disquietude, and to minister delight. Every faculty, every passion, will be absorbed in adoration, and overflowing with ecstasy. And He that sitteth on the throne will bring out His treasures to augment our bliss, showering down upon our spirits all the raptures which Almighty Goodness can bestow.
6. Night is the symbol of death. There are few analogies in the whole range of sacred imagery more suited to represent death than the season of night. And thus we find it very frequently employed by the inspired writers. The Psalmist, in speaking of the removal of his friends by death, says, “Mine acquaintance hast Thou put into darkness.” Job calls death “the day of darkness,” and the grave “the bed of darkness,” “a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.” “Our Divine Teacher has also given us a very striking description of death under the figure of night. “I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh in which no man can work.” To beings situated as we are, it is hardly possible to form an idea of a state of existence in which death is unknown. Yet this is true of heaven. “There shall be no more death.” Oh, what a soul-ravishing announcement is this! No more death! Then hope has dawned on the midnight of the tomb; the King of Terrors is despoiled of his power, and the all-conqueror is himself conquered! No more death to our persons--no more death to our attainments--no more death to our usefulness--no more death to our joys! All are changeless and perfect. God is our portion, holiness our vesture, happiness our allotment, eternity our home. Oh, what a boon is Immortality when it thus stamps its own endless duration on all that awaits us in “the Better Land!” (Dr. Ide.)
The vision of the truth
I. Now here is seen the value of Christian principle. The Man of Sorrows is on His march for the morning; for the principles of the passion place you on the track of the dawn.
II. These principles are powers of guidance in three important--nay, momentous--questions of conduct.
1. What is seriously necessary for any soul in order, in its mortal journey, to be useful and happy? The answer is--Not to live at random, but to have an object in life.
2. What is to be my view of the world? What is the attitude of the soul of the Christian towards the mass of mankind? The optimist views it all through the medium of a rose-coloured dream. All is going onward as merry as a marriage-bell. The only objection is--theories do not alter human suffering, and to this theory facts do not square. It is impossible here reasonably to deny the darkness. It is true it is blessed to remember “there shall be no night there.”
3. There is here a revelation of the future. The eternal city is in fact the working out of the twofold Divine benediction. It is the completion and beatified result of purified characters. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way,” and “Blessed is he whose unrighteousness is forgiven and whose sin is covered.” This is the glorious end of innocence and penitence. The breaking of the dawn! It is coming, there is a land of brightness after darkness; amid all sorrow hope will yet have its triumph: “there shall be no night there”!
III. Night here, however. Why? From the absence of the sun: from the accumulation of the clouds.
1. There is sin. Wills opposed to the will of changeless goodness: wills almost fixed in evil--eyes from which all vision of brightness seems gone: hearts which seem to keep no trace of pity. Ah me!--a ruined soul, or a soul on the road to ruin, how terrible! To be growing worse instead of better: to be losing foothold, not climbing boldly on. Soul of a sinner! Pause, think twice. It is hard to imagine deliverance: hard to believe at times that God’s grace, that fresh breezes from the heavenly courts, can disperse such clouds, but it is true. Look up, march eastward; repent, cry for help, take heart; though the path be rough it is the path of the Holy Passion. The city of the saints is the land of the sunlight. “There shall be no night there.”
2. There is sorrow. Ah! who has ever read, who can ever read, the mystery of tears? But there it is. There is a home where no sorrow enters--there dwelleth no evil, “there is no night there.”
3. There is death. However it be lightened by the faith of a Christian, what thinking mind can fail to acknowledge there is the solemnity of night about the grave? Well, the dawn of eternity shall break, and death itself shall die.
IV. There are many difficulties, many sorrows; yet are there not some alleviations? Life is never altogether darkness When it is illuminated by hope. Look upward, take courage, never allow the cowardice of permanent despondency, or the blasphemy of final despair. Trust God. Surely even here are streaks in the darkness. There are quiet hours of rest and blessing; such a converse with a dear friend; such a happy day of pleasure; such evidence that the sun is there, though veiled by the vapour; such approaches of the daylight; such streaks of the dawn. To repent, heartily, manfully, thoroughly, when you have sinned; to receive trial and sorrow with loving submission, and willingly to taste the sweet “uses of adversity”; to love goodness, truth, duty, God in Christ, and by the power, the moral power of love, to help and make men better--this, this, surely, whatever happens, is to plant your feet firmly on the track of the dawn.
V. What about the future? Well, John assures us that there lies before us something beyond all words happy, which he can only convey to us by speaking of it as “a city.” Remember that in that city you will find the result of your toil and the end of your journey. (Canon Knox Little.)
There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth.
I. The word of exclusion. This is no arbitrary decree, it is a solemn declaration to which all holy spirits give their willing assent and consent; an ordinance of which even the excluded themselves shall admit the justice.
1. For, first, it is not meet that so royal and divine a corporation as the glorified Church of God should be ruined by defilement. God forbid that “her light, which is like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal,” should ever be dimmed by the breath of sin.
2. There can be no entrance of evil into the kingdom of God, for it is the very essence of the bliss of the glorified Church that evil should be excluded.
3. Furthermore, consider that there is an impossibility of any sinful, unrenewed person ever entering into the body corporate of the glorified Church of God--an impossibility within the persons themselves. The sea cannot rest because it is the sea, and the sinner cannot be quiet because he is a sinner.
4. Our own hearts forbid that evil should so enter. You know how a few rags from the East have sometimes carried a plague into a city; and if you were standing at the quay when a plague-laden ship arrived you would cry, “Burn those rags; do anything with them, but do keep them away from the people. Bring not the pest into a vast city, where it may slay its thousands!” So do we cry, “Great God, forbid it that anything that defileth should enter into Thy perfected Church! We cannot endure the thought thereof.”
II. The word of exclusion working within the soul--within my soul, within yours. No person who defiles, no fallen spirit, or sinful man can enter. And as no person, so no tendency, leaning, inclination, or will to sin can gain admission. No wish, no desire, no hunger towards that which is unclean shall ever be found in the perfect city of God. Nor even a thought of evil can be conceived there, much less a sinful act performed. Nothing shall ever be done within those gates of pearl contrary to the perfect law, nor anything imagined in opposition to spotless holiness. Consider such purity, and wonder at it. It is altogether perfect! And, mark well, that no untruth can enter--“neither whatsoever maketh a lie.” Nothing can enter heaven which is not real; nothing erroneous, mistaken, conceited, hollow, professional, pretentious, unsubstantial, can be smuggled through the gates. Only truth can dwell with the God of truth. Bethink you that not only does actual sin shut men out of heaven, but this text goes to the heart by reminding us that we have within us inbred sin, which would defile us speedily, even if we were now clean of positive transgression. How can you and I enter heaven while there is unholy anger in us? There shall in no wise enter into heaven a hasty temper, or a quick imperious spirit, or a malicious mind; for these defile. But then look at the other part of the difficulty--that is, the making of your own heart pure and clean. How shall this be done? Have you tried to master your temper? I hope you have. Have you managed it? Your tendencies this way or that, you have striven against them, I hope, but have you mastered them? I cannot overcome myself, nor overcome my sin. I will never cease from the task, God helping me, but apart from the Divine Spirit the task is as impossible as to make a world.
III. The word of salvation, which just meets the difficulty raised by the sentence--“There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth.” But, first, my past sin, what of that? “Washed in the blood of the Lamb!” This is our first great comfort, “He that believeth in Him is not condemned.” But here is the point, there is still no entrance into the holy city so long as there are any evil tendencies within us. This is the work, this is the difficulty, and since these are to be overcome, how is the work to be done? Simple believing upon Christ brings you justification, but you want more than that; you need sanctification, the purgation of your nature. Faith in Christ tells us of something else beside the blood. There is a Divine Person--let us bow our heads and worship Him--the Holy Ghost who proceedeth from the Father, and He it is Who renews us in the spirit of our minds. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. Into heaven shall enter nothing that defileth. Every one, and everything whatsoever that is tainted with any impurity shall be utterly excluded. Not merely that eventually heaven will be cleared of such blemishes, but such shall never enter there. Absolute truthfulness and perfect purity, without any admixture of defilement at all, these are what God requires in all who cross the threshold of His home above. Better to be blind to the glory altogether than to gaze longingly upon it, if we must also gaze with despair on the forbidding regulation that those defiled, as we are, shall in no wise enter.
II. This is true; but, God be thanked! it is not the whole truth. For, note--the lamb was slain to cleanse the defiled. There would never have been found in heaven a “Lamb as it had been slain,” unless it had been God’s intention that some poor defiled creatures should get rid of their defilement and be found there too. We could not have climbed that frowning wall; we could not have burst through those glorious gates; a flaming sword of cherubims would have kept us, the defiled, from entering. But where Christ our atonement goes, there, clinging to His feet, we may go too. If He mounts to heaven, we may follow Him.
II. He sits upon the throne of God, there, too, our dwelling-place shall be. The transgressor may be sunk in the guiltiest pollution; but if in his distress he casts his sinful soul into the forgiving arms of the Redeemer, he shall surely be forgiven. Out of his great tribulation he shall come, and wash his robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb, and therefore he, too, once defiled, and banished, and despairing, shall be found before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple.
III. Those recorded in Christ’s book of life, and washed in His blood, shall enter into life. But we stand here in our pollution, full of abomination, and falsehood, and defilement. The antagonism is frightful, the exclusion complete. But the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, and His blood cleanseth from all sin. In that fountain, “whosoever will” may wash and be clean. Being justified by faith he has peace with God. The Holy One will regenerate and sanctify his soul. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)
The impassable gulf
The other day our Australian colonists were urging us on to what might have been a very formidable struggle with France. They pleaded, and that justly, that it was almost fatal to the well-being and security of the communities on the east coast of Australia that France should have its convict station in such close proximity. Men steeped in triple murders and every unnatural abomination made their way across from New Caledonia from time to time to a colony planted with fair and virtuous homes. Of course we all sympathised with the colonists; we should resent the existence of a passable gulf between our homes and culprits of that sort. If by an income tax of sixpence in the pound we could make the strip of sea an impassable gulf, we should all be ready to do it. When man has passed impenitent into eternity, his sin is just as much an abomination to the God of light and the children of light as the crime of the French convict is to us. How is it that we sympathise with the colonist, but question God’s right m fixing this impassable gulf? Had He no right to protect His children in their new home? Heaven would be no heaven if the proud Pharisee could come sweeping by, wounding some poor saint of God at every step, and seeking to press God’s emancipated sufferers into new serfdoms. (T. G. Selby.)
Future punishment retributive
I wonder that men should have such faith in the reformative effect of punishment. When we call to mind that forty-five per cent of the convictions in our police courts are the convictions of people who have been sentenced before, and that ninety-five per cent of sentences to penal servitude are passed upon people who have previously had an acquaintance with the pains and rigours of prison life, it does not seem very reasonable to hope much from the reformative tendency of the punishment that will overtake the wicked beyond the grave. (T. G. Selby.)
The Lamb’s book of life.--
The Heavenly Church Book
I. The register. The Infinite One must know everything--what it is, where it is; its nature, character, and uses. But it is not said that there is an indiscriminate register for all, but simply for the holy and true. Not for the wicked. Are you enrolled in that book among the saints? If in Christ, you are, you must be--no one can keep you out of it. If not in Christ, you must be out of it, and no one can put you in.
II. The registrar. “The Lamb’s book.” The Book of Life must be the most difficult to keep. What wisdom--discrimination and justice are required! The combined intelligence of heaven and earth could not keep it; even archangels would make mistakes, but the “Lamb” cannot. Think of His high qualifications. His wisdom is perfect, His omniscience unfailing, His justice unsullied, and His love deep and eternal.
III. The registered. To be in that book is to be safe. To be there is to have heaven for an eternal possession. To be there, is to be among the highest and the best. What honour can be comparable with this? (Homilist.)
The heavenly register
I. The book referred to--
1. The book of life.
2. The Lamb’s book.
II. The names recorded--
1. Repentant sinners.
2. Living believers.
3. Sanctified disciples. Of all ages--countries--dispensations--conditions.
III. The privileges of the registered.
1. Divine honour.
2. Divine riches.
3. Every good.
4. Heavenly glory.
Conclusion: The subject should produce--
1. Unspeakable joy.
2. Entire confidence.
3. Holy circumspection.
4. Fidelity and obedient perseverance. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany