A pure river of water of life, clear as crystal
The life river
It is a river of heaven. They that drink of it must drink immortality and love. “It is the river of God.”
II. It is a river of grace. It flows from the throne of the Lamb; and everything that has connection with the Lamb is necessarily of grace.
III. It is a river of power. It comes from the throne--the throne of God; and therefore possessing the properties of that throne. It communicates power into the soul of every one that drinks, or even that walks along its banks. The power and authority of God are in it; for it issues from the fountainhead of universal power.
IV. A river of purity. “A pure river of water of life!” Like the Lamb from whose throne it comes, who is without blemish, and without spot! Like the city through which it flows, into which nothing that defileth shall enter! As it pours its heavenly waters on us now, it purifies.
V. A river of life. Wheresoever the river cometh it quickeneth (Ezekiel 47:9). Each drop is life-giving; it contains everlasting life, for the Spirit of life is in that river.
VI. A river of brightness. The words “clear as crystal” should be “bright as crystal”--the same word as in Revelation 22:16, “the bright and morning star.” It is river of splendour, Divine and heavenly splendour. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The river of life: or the spiritual enjoyments of the heavenly life
I. The spiritual enjoyments of the heavenly life are abundant in their measure. “And He showed me a pure river.” Great cities are generally built on the banks of rivers to ensure health, commerce, and pleasure. The spread of the Gospel is sometimes set forth under the emblem of a river (Ezekiel 17:1; Habakkuk 2:14; Psalms 16:4). Here, however, we have the spiritual enjoyment of redeemed and glorified humanity imaged forth. St. John did not see a brook, or a well, but a river flowing from the great Throne. The spiritual enjoyments of heaven are not scanty. On this river the richest products will be borne to glorified humanity.
II. The spiritual enjoyments of the heavenly life are pure in their nature. “Pure”--“Clear as crystal.” Are we to judge of the purity of water by its cleansing properties? Then none so pure as this which flows from the Throne of God, as it can purify the unclean soul. It can wash out sins of the deepest dye from the garments of the moral nature, and make them white as no fuller on earth can whiten them; hence, the faultless multitude before the throne.
III. The spiritual enjoyments of the heavenly life are invigorating in their energy. “Water of life.” This great river of heaven is not sluggish in its flow, but quick and rapid. It gives life and verdure wherever it comes. The things of earth are dead and barren, but when touched by the influence and grace of the Divine Spirit they teem with vitality. But the life of the soul now is nothing in intensity as compared with what it will be when it attains the enjoyment of heaven. Then it will become possessed of an immortal vitality which shall know from decay or decline.
IV. The spiritual enjoyments of the heavenly life eternally meet the needs of the human soul. The thirsty there have a river at which they can drink, and which will never be exhausted. The Divine gifts in heaven will be adapted to the requirements of our renewed and glorified natures. Thus the soul will be made glad.
V. The spiritual enjoyments of the heavenly life are the outcome of the sovereign mercy of God. “Out Of the Throne of God and of the Lamb.” And so all the spiritual enjoyments of heaven, in abundance, in purity, in life, in satisfaction, and in perpetuity will be the outcome of the Sovereign Grace of God as exercised through and manifested in the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ. Lessons:
1. That we should prize the ordinances through which the water of life is conveyed to men.
2. Contemplate the active spiritual enjoyment of the good. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Divine love river
I. Exhaustless. It rises from the infinitude of the Divine nature--a source unfathomable.
II. Universal. This river rolls everywhere. It rolls under the universe: and all things float on its waves. It refreshes and beautifies all.
III. Ever flowing. The inexhaustible fountain is always active, outpouring itself. Creation is a work never finished, for the river of Divine love is overflowing.
IV. Restorative. It at once resuscitates and cleanses: it quenches thirst and removes defilement. Christ is the channel through which flows this soul-restorative love. (Homilist.)
Christianity a transcendental system
I. It is transcendental in its Value. What on earth is of such worth as water? But what is the character of this water?
1. It is a “river”--not a stagnant pool, a sleeping lake, or a purling brook; but a river, profound in depth, majestic in volume, resistless in movement.
2. It is a “pure” river. How pure is Christianity! How holy its morals, how morally perfect its leading character--Christ!
3. It is a pure river of life.
4. It is a pure river of life that is transparent. “Clear as crystal.”
II. It is transcendental in its Origin.
1. It proceeds from “the throne”--the centre of universal authority. Christianity is a code rather than a creed, more regulative than speculative.
2. It proceeds from the “throne of God.” Christianity is a Divine system; its congruity with all collateral history, with our moral intuitions, with all our a priori notions of a God, proves its Divinity.
3. It proceeds from the “throne of God and of the Lamb.” Christ has to do with it. Conclusion: Such is the gospel. Value river. Kind Heaven, speed the course of this river! May it penetrate every region of the world, and roll its waves of life through every heart! (Homilist.)
I. Wherein the glorified life in heaven will be similar to, and wherein it will differ from, spiritual life on earth.
1. The first truth that meets us in this passage is, that the influences which will sustain the future life in heaven are described in precisely the same figurative language as that used by our Lord and the inspired writers in relation to the spiritual life on earth. That which John saw flowing in the midst of the street from its perennial source in the throne of God and the Lamb was a river of “water” of life. This is exactly the language used in Scripture to indicate the powers and influences which sustain the spiritual man in this world. Isaiah invites men to partake of spiritual blessings in the words: “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” Jeremiah thus laments over the unfaithfulness of the Jews: “‘For my people have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewn out to themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith unto thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” We are clearly taught, therefore, by this vision of the apostle, that while the outward condition of the life in heaven will be vastly changed, the weak and sinful body giving place to one like the glorified body of Christ--yet the life itself will be the same. We shall then continue to be what we begin to be now. Heavenly life, in its deepest and inmost reality, is begun on earth. As, in the unopened bud, there are in microscopic form all that will afterwards expand into the flower; as, in the child, there are all the incipient faculties that will afterwards develop into the full power and maturity of manhood; so with man as a spiritual being. Grace is the infancy of glory, and glory is the manhood of grace. Natural death, which, when seen from the human side, appears an overwhelming catastrophe, can have no power over that life--it only separates the germ from the material husk in which it has been enclosed.
2. As then the future life will be a continuation under changed conditions of the life we possess now, it follows not only that present experience must in its measure be the only true interpretation of the future, but, further, the glory of that future life reflects light back upon the present. It becomes us not only to fix our hopes upon the blessings yet in reserve, but to prize highly those we have already received. While we think of heaven as the one hope of the present life, let us learn to set more value on and use more diligently the grace which sovereign mercy has already bestowed.
II. Wherein the glorified life in heaven will differ from spiritual life on earth.
1. Observe, as the first special characteristic of this water of life, that it flows in a river, at once suggesting the idea of unfailing abundance. Our great rivers never become dry. Generations of men are born and perform their part in life and then die, while the rivers of which they drank, and beside which they built their cities, remain the same. Some, like the Nile, have been flowing from long before historic times. “Men may come, and men may go, but they flow on for ever.” And the blessings that will be given in the future to sustain the spiritual life of the believer are here symbolised by a river of water of life, denoting certainly, among other things, that in heaven there will be an unfailing abundance of whatever is necessary to sustain the life and growth of the spiritual nature. No pressing need will ever darken the brightness of that Divine home, or promote the decay of spiritual vigour. The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. Its source is perennial. Sooner shall all the powers of the universe fail; sooner shall God Himself cease to be God, than the fountains from which spiritual blessings flow become dry or empty.
2. Observe, as a second point, that John saw the river of water of life flowing in the midst of the street. To understand the symbolism here, we must remember that the street is the place where men meet together, where they pursue their varied occupations. And the golden undefiled street of the New Jerusalem represents the scene of the common activities of the life there. And the position of the river flowing in the midst of the street teaches the truth that whatever the occupations may be, there will be nothing in them antagonistic to the highest interests of the spiritual life. Now the street is the scene of ears and toil. Here on earth it is the place where temptations have to be met, where sin assaults and wickedness displays itself. No river of water of life flows in the midst of our streets, but rather the waters of ungodliness and iniquity. The man who longs for communion with God does not go into the open highways of human traffic to find strength and peace: he goes, rather, into his closet. He must put the world outside in order to pray for the lessening of the power of the world within. But in heaven fellowship with God will need neither abstraction nor privacy. Every occupation will harmonise with the highest aspirations of man’s renewed nature. All outward things will perfectly accord with and promote the well-being of his spirit.
3. Observe, further, John speaks in the most emphatic manner of the purity of that river. “A pure river of water of life clear as crystal.” Spiritual influences, the truth that enlightens, the Divine grace that quickens and sustains the spirit, are in themselves always pure. But how continually on earth they become dimmed and weakened by mixing with what is human and worldly! How strangely truth becomes mixed with error, and Divine influences marred and weakened by human passions and prejudices! What man can maintain that he has received and holds only the truth? that he has made no mistakes? that in him the grace of God is unmarred by any human weaknesses or by any contrary affections? But in heaven the river of water of life is “pure, clear as crystal”; it has no admixture of error or imperfection; it has never become adulterated by inferior elements.
4. Then observe, as a last point, this vision of John teaches that in heaven faith will give place to sight. John “saw the river of water of life proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb.” How much of unbelief and misbelief mingles with the strongest faith on earth! How insidiously doubts creep into our minds and rob them of their joyful confidence! There are times when our fear suggests that the ground of our faith is slipping away from beneath our feet. But those who will drink of that pure stream will behold the source whence it comes; they will have no need of faith, and they will have no temptation to doubt. Every joy will be permeated and intensified by a sense of blessed certainty that it is the true gift of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. (W. H. King.)
The river of life
I. Its source.
II. Its progress.
III. Its properties.
1. Living. “Water of life” (John 4:10).
2. Pure (Ezekiel 36:25; Ephesians 4:30).
3. Bright. “Clear as crystal.” Radiant with light. Illuminating.
IV. Its effects.
1. Quickening (Ezekiel 47:9; John 4:14; John 7:37-39).
2. Beautifying (Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 35:6-7; Isaiah 58:11).
3. Fructifying (Revelation 22:12; Jeremiah 17:8; Psalms 1:3; Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 22:17). (E. H. Hopkins.)
Gleaming as crystal
If we are to understand the New Jerusalem properly, we almost need to have been citizens of the old. Observe, then, that the ancient Jerusalem was not situated, as most cities, on the banks of some river, or the shore of some sea. It stood in a peculiar position, at some distance from either: it was badly watered; we read of a pool or two, of a little brook, of an aqueduct and some other artificial water-structures. Bearing this fact in mind, you will understand how forcible an appeal to the imagination would be contained in the verse of the 46th Psalm, which tells of a river that should “make glad the city of God.” In evidence of the foregoing you may notice the following remark of Philo on the verse quoted: “The holy city, which exists at present, in which also the holy temple is established, is at a great distance from any sea or river, so that it is clear that the writer here means figuratively to speak of some other city than the visible city of God.” It is evident, therefore, that the mention of a pure, fresh stream flowing through the midst of Jerusalem was a figure of a very striking nature; and we say that the basis of this magnificent description in the Apocalypse lies in the insufficiency of the water supply of the ancient city. The life of the future, and by that we mean heaven on earth as well as heaven, shall be as different from that which you are now realising as the water supply of Jerusalem would be if a river flowed in the midst, from what it is now with merely Kidron and Bethesda and Siloam and Solomon’s Pools.
1. It is not a standstill life: no one can stand still who lives with God. There must be fresh discoveries of truth and duty every day; and fresh inquisition made into the heights and depths of Redeeming Love. Abandonment to God must mean advancement in God.
2. Neither in earth nor in heaven is the life to be an intermittent one. There should be no such word as “revival” in the dictionary of the Christian Church: we want “life,” not “revival.” You hear people saying of certain religious movings--“They are having quite a revival”; alas! and were they dead before? Indeed, I am sure this intermittent fountain expresses only too accurately the lives of many of us. The best that God can do with us is to make us an occasional blessing--a sorrowful thing to confess when there are suffering ones around waiting and watching the surface of our hearts to see whether there is any moving of the water.
3. It is not a life for which the world is too strong, and which cannot therefore be kept pure. It is not figured by a little brook, as Kidron, defiled with all the impurities of a city, and that an Oriental city. And yet how many lives there are of which we have to say, “The world is too strong for them”; well-intentioned people, but feeble in grace, and who have received but little of the Life of God.
4. It is not a humanly-devised life, as Solomon’s aqueducts. Our faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. The Divine Life is not sect, and it is not system. The channel of a sect! it is a pipe that bursts when the tide of life rises beyond a certain point. The channel of a system I it is an aqueduct through which, if one stone be taken out, the water ceases to reach you. If one travels on the continent, one can see (I think it is at Avignon) the ruins of the ancient Roman aqueduct; but the Rhine and the rest of the rivers of God flow on still, full of water.
5. Finally, we may say, that the Life is one of absolute dependence, and is conditioned on the sovereignty of God and of the Lamb. Grace and the Holy Ghost are the portions of the dependent soul: they only flow from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (J. Rendel Harris.)
The throne of God and of the Lamb.--
The coronation of the Lamb
Regarding here the mere grammar of the words, we have a partnership Deity presented. But the matter I have now in hand is not the plurality encountered, but the name; to trace the ascending progress, issued in the final coronation, of the Lamb. The ascending stages of this progress we shall best discover if we glance at the Scripture record of the story. The word “lamb” begins of course at the creature, and the creature required, first of all, to be created, having just the qualities of innocence, inoffensiveness, incapacity of resentment and ill-nature, ready submissiveness to wrong, necessary to the intended meaning, and the finally sacred uses, of the word. Lambs of nature were first-stage symbols, for the due unfolding of the Lamb of religion. Then follows, we may see, a process in which artificial meanings are woven into and about the words and images provided, by the religious uses of sacrifice; for God is now to be displayed in the dear passivities of sacrifice. Abel. Sacrifice of Isaac. Passover (Isaiah 3:1-26; Isaiah 53:1-12.). At last the fulness of time is come; when a strange new prophet appears, announcing the kingdom of God now at hand. “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Now at last the advances and preparations of so many ages are ended, the Lamb of God is come. And then what does He Himself do, three years after, when He encounters the two disciples going back, heavy-hearted, into the country, but open to them all the ancient scripture, showing out of it how certainly Christ ought to suffer, and so to be the Lamb of prophecy. And what does He give them to see, in this manner, but that all sacrifice and passover are now fulfilled forever in His Divine passion? Then, passing on a stage farther, we are completely certified in our impressions, by the discovery that, at this same Lamb and passover blood, all apostolic preaching begins. God’s new gospel of life is the revelation of the Lamb. For this, says Philip to the eunuch, is the prophet’s “lamb that was dumb before His shearers.” And this, says Peter, is “the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
1. What does it signify, that God has now the Lamb throned with Him, but that He is now to be more and more distinctly conceived as a susceptible being; to be great, not as being absolute, or an infinite force, not as being impassive--a rock, a sea, a storm, a fire--but as having great sentiments, sympathies and sensibilities. Nothing has been so difficult for men as to think of God in this manner. The human soul is overborne, at first and for long ages, by the satutral dimensions of God; filling up this idea with mere quantities; putting omnipotence in the foreground, and making Him a grand positivity of force; adding omniscience, or absolutely intuitive knowledge, adding also will, purpose, arbitrary predestination, decrees: exalting justice, not as right or rectitude, but as the fearful attribute of redress, that backs up laws regarded mainly as rescripts of will in God, and not as principles. He has always been at work to mend this defect in us; protesting by His prophets, in the matter of His sensibilities, that He is “hurt,” “offended,” “weary,” “was grieved forty years,” that “in the affliction of His people He was afflicted, and bare and carried them all the days of old.” All this in words to little or no effect; but now He shows us in the Lamb, as the crowning fact of revelation, that He is a God in moral sensibility--able to suffer wrong, bear enemies, gentle Himself to violence, reigning thus in what is none the less a kingdom, that it is the kingdom and patience of Jesus. Physical suffering is of course excluded by the fact of His infinite sufficiency, but that is a matter quite insignificant for Him, compared with His moral suffering. Under such conceptions of God we of course approach the great matter of atonement, in a wholly different predisposition. We shall look for something that belongs to the Lamb, something in the nature of suffering patience, and sorrow. What we call grace, forgiveness, mercy, is not something elaborated after God is God, by transactional work before Him, but it is what belongs to His inmost nature set forth and revealed to us by the Lamb, in joint supremacy.
2. God’s nature itself is relational to both sin and redemption. Sometimes we begin to imagine that the sense of sin is likely, as things are just now going, to quite die out. No, the Lamb is in the throne, and it is impossible henceforth, that a God unrelational to sin, or a fate unbeneficently relational, should ever be accepted by the settled faith of the world. Simply to think the supreme eminence there of the Lamb is to look on Him we have pierced, and see Him rising higher and yet higher, age upon age, and feel the arrows that were hid in His sorrows growing even more pungently sharp in our guilty sensibility. All the more resistless too will be the stabs of bad conviction, that they are meant to be salutary, and are in fact the surgery of a faithful healing power. We are also shown by this revelation of the Lamb in the throne, and shall more and more distinctly see, that the nature of God is, in like manner, relational to redemption. The two points, in fact, go together and are verified by the same evidence. It is not for one moment to be imagined that Christ the Lamb has somehow softened God and made Him better. He came down from God as the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world, and the gospel He gave us is called the everlasting gospel, because it has been everlastingly in God, and will everlastingly be. God’s nature is so far relational to redemption, that His glorious possibilities are bleeding always into the bosom of evil. There is a fixed necessity of blood, and He has the everlasting fountain of it in His Lambhood. So that condemnation for evil, or sin, is not a whir more sure to follow than forgiveness, sweetened by self-propitiation.
3. Having the Lamb now in the throne, it will be more and mere clear to men’s thoughts that God’s most difficult and really most potent acts of administration are from the tenderly enduring capacity of His goodness, represented by the Lamb. The richness and patience of His feeling nature, in one word His dispositions, are the all-dominating powers of His reign. What He is in the Lamb--determines what He is and does universally. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The throne of God and of the Lamb
I. “Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Look at Him in the dawn of His ministry, when first He comes within the range of mortal vision--a man, a lowly man, one chosen out of the people. He lived and He died in the presence of many witnesses: what further evidence could be desired that Jesus was a man and not a myth, a lamb-like man, and none of your pretenders to greatness? His character, too, is so purely natural that the example of excellence He sets needs no explanation. How lamb-like He is I Thus you see the Lamb of God among men: will you track His footsteps still farther on till He becomes the Lamb of sacrifice, and actually takes the sin of man upon Himself, that He may bear its penalty?
II. Behold the throne. Let us see it first from the Lamb’s side of it. Of course there is only one throne: God and the Lamb are not divided. The Lamb is God, and the interests of God and the Lamb are one. Acknowledging the oneness of the throne, we proceed to inspect it from the point of view in which the Lamb chiefly challenges our notice. You will remember that He is portrayed to us as “the Lamb in the midst of the throne.” The midst of the throne means the front of the throne, according to the Greek. The Lamb was not on the throne in that vision, but standing immediately before it. That is a position in which our Lord Jesus Christ would have us see Him. To the awful throne of God there could be no access except through a mediator. The throne of heaven is the throne of God and of the Lamb. His dominion over nature always appears to me a delightful contemplation. Lord of all the realms of life and death, His providence runs without knot or break through all the tangled skeins of time. All events, obvious or obscure, great or small, are subject to His influence, and fostered or frustrated by His supremacy. The Lord reigneth, and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end. Well, that is the aspect of the throne from the side of the Lamb. Let us now take another look and behold the throne of God. The throne of God is the throne of the Lamb. The throne of God, if we view it as sinners, with a sense of guilt upon our conscience, is an object of terror, a place to fly from. Henceforth eternal praises to His name, the throne of God is the throne of the Lamb. It is a throne of righteousness, but no less a throne of grace. There, on the throne of the Almighty, mercy reigns. According to the merit of the sacrifice and the virtue of the atonement all the statutes and decrees of the kingdom of heaven are issued. The altar and the throne have become identical. One fact remains to be noticed--it is this: the throne of God and of the Lamb is in heaven. We must pass beyond this earthly region, and join the company of those who people the celestial realm before we can see the throne of God, so as to obtain a complete view of it. Is not this among the chief joys of heaven? What hallowed communion with Him we shall there enjoy. In His Church below He has given us some pleasant foretaste of His sweet converse; but there the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall always feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The tree of life.
The tree of life
As we gradually are being drawn nearer and nearer to the end, and the sentence of death which has been passed upon us becomes more imminent, have we yet tasted of the tree of life? Ah, we shall be asked before we enter paradise again, not what riches we have, not what knowledge, not what intelligence, but what life? whether our soul is alive unto God? Oh, when hundreds and hundreds are tasting of the tree of knowledge, when the world is so clever, so eager, so wicked, would that more tasted of the tree of life, of religion, of holiness I And the tree of life is accessible to all; multiplied it stands on each side of the river, in the wilderness, and in the promised land. There is an open church, and an open Bible, and open privileges for every one. And there is fruit to be found on that tree for all, not only for the good, but twelve manner of fruits: fruit for this hard, weary life, fruit for the tempted, fruit for the penitent, fruit for the occupied, fruit for every one. And for those who despise the fruit there are the leaves. Yes, the very outskirts of religion are blessed; yes, even to linger in these courts, to hear the voice of God speaking in the psalms, “To go with the multitude, and bring them forth into the house of God”; even in the scanty service, the cold devotion, the imperfect knowledge, there is a leaf from the tree of life; there may be healing in it. It was such a leaf from this tree that healed the fevered soul of St. Augustine, fluttering to his feet charged with power and virtue. Many an old wound has been healed over by the buried leaves of early training; many a chance word which has winged its way from the Bible, or some good book or sermon, has proved to be a leaf from the tree of life. Ah, yes, if you need healing, if you are full of wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, if you shrink from the fruit, still there is healing in the leaves. In the very outskirts of religion there is healing, but not satisfaction. Medicine is not food, but also food must sometimes be preceded by medicine. (Canon Newbolt.)
The tree of life
I. The tree of life bears fruit. “Twelve”--symbol of plenty. “Every month”--symbol of constancy. The tree of life is never without plenty of fruit. Every man can find in the Cross of Christ the particular blessing that will suit his need.
II. The tree of life is the purifier of the world. Does not the Cross of Christ heal the nations? Does it not turn evil into good, and change curses into blessings, and so maintain the balance of the moral world? We know how the story of the Cross, by its unselfish teachings, its spiritual influences, its pure precepts, its noble principles, has laid hold of nations, countries, and empires; how it has changed them gradually, powerfully, successfully; how it has lifted them up from superstition and corruption into the sweet light of culture and purity; how it has consolidated them and made them powers for good in God’s world.
III. The tree of life is our protection. (J. G. Davies.)
The tree of life
In the Authorised Version it is not easy to understand the statement that “in the midst of the street and on either side of the river was the tree of life”; but by dividing the sentence after the word “street,” as is done in the Revised Version, all is made easy to understand. You have the picture of the river of water of life running down in the midst of the street; then on each side of this central stream you have a row of trees; and these trees are all described as “the tree of life.” In the history of Genesis the tree of life appears to be spoken of as one single tree; it was an exotic there; only one specimen in the whole garden; but in the new paradise which St. John saw, it would seem to have grown abundantly; “on either side of the river” does not admit of the supposition of one single tree; the word tree must be generic; as we say that the apple-tree abounds in Devonshire, or that the vine flourishes in France, meaning that Devonshire is a land of apple-trees, and France of vines. Hence I have spoken of a row of trees on each side of the river; there could not be less than one row, there might be several. Next observe what is said about the “twelve manner of fruits.” Those of you who have visited countries where the orange-tree grows will understand the description at once: you will remember to have seen the ripe oranges, the small green fruit, and perhaps the blossom, all flourishing together: “three manner of fruits.” Multiply this by a process of heavenly arithmetic, and you have St. John’s picture of the tree of life bearing fruit in twelve different degrees of maturity; the number twelve corresponding to the months of the year. So that the tree has ripe fruit all the year round; no long winter of sterility; no anxious spring with tender leaves and delicate blossoms, and fears concerning east winds and late frosts; no calm decay of autumn, after the fruit has been gathered and is gone; not this, but perpetual sunshine above, perpetual supply to the roots of living water below, and so a perpetual bearing of fruit for the support of human souls. Putting Genesis and Revelation together, I think we may draw the conclusion that in some sense the tree of life is ever necessary to the human soul. You find it in paradise, you find it in heaven; it flourishes in the first creation of God, it flourishes still more abundantly in that new creation which St. John saw in his vision. We may safely conclude that if in two such different creations the tree of life was a prominent feature of God’s work, it cannot be absent from any intermediate dispensation, or at all events that it is ill with the world, when access to the tree of life is forbidden. May it not be said that if access to the tree of life is that which man lost when, in his wilfulness, he determined to eat of that other tree, then a renewed access to the tree of life is just that which Christ has gained for humanity by His Incarnation, by His Cross and Passion, by His precious death and burial, by His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the coming of the Holy Ghost? May we not say that the vision of the tree of life, which St. John saw in all its heavenly luxuriance and completeness, is the true consummation of all that God does for human souls upon earth by the means of grace, which for Christ’s sake He supplies? There is one other view of the subject which I should like to bring before you. It is scarcely possible to speak of the tree of life without thinking of the antithesis of the tree of knowledge. I observe that one of our publishers has adopted as his colophon a picture of two trees bound together by a scroll which carries the legend, “Arbor Scientiae, Arbor Vitae” (The Tree of Knowledge, the Tree of Life). If it be meant by this that there should be alliance and harmony between human knowledge and that knowledge which is life eternal, I think the motto is a good one and true. But it must be an alliance and harmony, not an identification or a confusion of one with the other. “Knowledge is power,” according to a well-known aphorism, but knowledge is not life. And therefore it is impossible to think upon the tree of life without thinking upon that other tree; the tree of knowledge bears fruit which is beautiful to the eye and good for food, and in man’s present condition the fruit is not forbidden, but it cannot take the place of the fruit of the tree of life; he who eats of it will hunger again; he who eats of the fruit of the tree of life will hunger no more, but will have part in the eternal life of God. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
Look at this tree in three aspects.
I. As centrally rooted--“In the midst of the street of it.” Christianity is a life well rooted and well guarded--an incorruptible seed, that “liveth and abideth for ever.”
II. It is essentially vital. It is “the tree of life.” Life of all kinds, even vegetable and animal, is, say men of science, inextinguishable. This is true of this spiritual life--this life of Christianity in the soul.
III. It is marvellously fruitful--“Which bare twelve manner of fruits.” How abundantly fertile is living Christianity in the soul! What new thoughts, affections, resolves, are constantly evolved.
IV. It is always seasonable; yielding its fruit every month. The fruits of living Christianity in the soul are always seasonable.
V. It is universally healing--“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Twelve manner of fruits.--
The tree of life shaking his fruits and leaves among the nations
I. Speak a little of Christ under the notion of the tree of life.
1. Some general remarks concerning this blessed tree here spoken of.
2. Why He is called, in a way of eminency, “the tree of life.”
3. What sort of life springs out of this tree of life.
4. A few properties or qualities of this life that springs out of the tree of life.
II. The situation of this tree in the city of God.
1. The city spoken of is none other than the Church of God.
2. This city has streets in it. By the street, I understand the ordinances of Divine appointment, especially these of a public nature.
3. Notice here, that there is a river, which is said to run through the midst of the city, and in the streets of it, according to what we have (Psalms 46:4). By this river, the whole city of God, all true believers, are refreshed, supplied, fructified, cleansed, and quickened.
4. Christ, the tree of life, is on each side of the river, and in the midst of the street of it.
III. The fertility or fruitfulness of this tree of life; it bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields fruit every month.
1. Some of the fruits of the tree of life.
(a) It is by His death that an angry God is atoned and reconciled.
(b) The debt-bond that justice had against us is torn; the hand-writing that was contrary to us is cancelled (Colossians 2:14).
(c) Everlasting righteousness is brought in when it was quite out of the world.
(d) By His death the covenant is confirmed with many (Daniel 9:27).
(a) The quickening and raising up of the soul that was dead in sin is a fruit of the resurrection of the tree of life.
(b) Another fruit of His resurrection is the discharging of our debt that we were owing to Divine justice.
(c) Another fruit of the tree of life in His resurrection is the reviving of our hopes of recovering the lost inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4).
(d) Our victory over sin and death is secured.
(a) The leading captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8).
(b) The conferring of ministerial gifts upon men, yea, the very office of the ministry and ordinances of the gospel for the edification of His mystical body (Ephesians 4:8).
(c) The downpouring of the Spirit in a more plentiful measure than under the Old Testament dispensation. Of this Christ Himself speaks (John 16:7).
(d) The preparing of heavenly mansions for us, where we may be with Him for ever, is a fruit of the exaltation of Christ (John 14:3). The head being above, the body shall follow.
(a) Freedom from, and strength against, temptation (Luke 22:31-32).
(b) Boldness and confidence toward God, and acceptance at His throne (Hebrews 4:16).
(c) Through Christ’s intercession we have a ready answer unto all challenges and accusations that are brought in against us.
(d) The assurance of the effectual application of all the benefits of His purchase and legacies of His testament is a fruit of His intercession.
(e) The hearing of our prayers, the acceptance of our persons and weak services, is another fruit of His intercession.
2. Some of the months wherein He yields fruit to the souls of His people.
(a) There is the spring month, or time of conversion, or effectual calling; the tree of life yields fruit then to the soul.
(b) There is the pleasant summer month of manifestations and discoveries of the Divine glory of the Lord’s countenance.
(c) There is the pleasant and sweet summer month of access to God in duties and ordinances.
(d) There is the pleasant month or season of remarkable deliverances that the Lord works for His people either from spiritual or temporal enemies.
(e) There is the pleasant month of the renewed or lively actings of faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ or on the covenant and promises.
(f) There is the month of a lively love to the lovely Jesus. This is a pleasant summer month in which the soul feeds liberally on the fruit of the tree of life.
(a) There is the sharp, piercing winter month of conviction, reproofs, and challenges from the Lord.
(b) There is the dark and weary winter month of desertion.
(c) There is the weary winter month of the prevalency of indwelling corruption, when the soul is crying, “Iniquities prevail against me: O wretched man that I am,” etc.
(d) There is the heartless winter month of deadness, dulness, and barrenness. This is another melancholy, weary month.
(e) There is the stormy month of inward and outward trouble.
(f) There is the melancholy and gloomy month of death.
IV. The medicinal quality of the tree of life; his very leaves are for the healing of the nations.
1. Whom are we to understand by the nations? I answer, All that ever sprung of Adam, every creature endued with a reasonable soul, whether of Jew or Gentile.
2. What diseases do the nations labour under which make them need the healing leaves of this blessed tree to be brought unto them? Answer in general, ever since the fall of Adam the whole nations of the earth have been just like a great hospital of diseased persons overrun with a loathsome leprosy. And if you still ask me What is to be understood by the diseases of the nations? In a word, it is just the disease of a depraved nature venting itself in all manner of sin and wickedness (Ephesians 2:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Romans 1:21-22).
3. What are we to understand by the leaves that are for the healing of the nations? The expression imports that everything in Christ is useful and beneficial. I conceive that by the leaves of the tree, which have a healing virtue upon the nations, we are in a particular manner to understand the doctrines, promises, histories of His holy Word, by which the knowledge of Christ and faith in Christ is wrought among the nations of the earth (Psalms 72:20).
4. How doth it appear that this tree and the leaves of it are for the healing of the nations.
V. The application.
1. The first use shall be in a few inferences rom the whole.
2. The second use of this doctrine shall be by way of trial and examination.
3. The third use of this doctrine shall be of exhortation.
(a) Consider what life is to be had by coming to this tree of life; a life of justification, sanctification, consolation, and of eternal glory; a Divine life, a royal life, a heavenly life, a growing life, an immortal life; all which I spoke to in the doctrinal part.
(b) Consider what an excellent defence thou shalt find under the shadow of this tree. Here thou shalt find a defence--
Against the wrath of an angry God, who is a consuming fire.
(ii.) Against the rage of Satan.
(iii.) From the fury of men.
(c) Consider the excellent qualities of the fruit of the tree of life.
It is pleasant fruit, sweet to the taste (Song of Solomon 2:3).
It is profitable fruit; it “cheereth the heart of God and man.”
It is plentiful fruit. Come and eat thy fill, even to satiety; nothing will be missed, the tree is laden.
There is variety of fruits in this tree. Some fruit-trees they hear plenty of one kind of fruits; but here is the excellency of this tree, that it has twelve manner of fruits--fruits of all sorts--adapted to the necessity of the soul.
The fruits of the tree of life are permanent and perennial, always continuing; for it brings forth fruit every month, every season.
It is nourishing fruit. By the fruit of this tree the soul is made to grow, and “go from strength to strength, until it appear before the Lord in Zion.”
(d) Take a view of the leaves of the tree, and let this invite you to come to it in a way of believing.
(i.) Art thou a blind sinner? Well, here is a leaf of the tree suited unto thy disease (Psalms 146:8; Revelation 3:18).
(ii.) Art thou deaf that thou cannot hear the voice of God in His Word or rod? Well, here is a leaf of the tree of life for healing thy disease (Isaiah 35:5).
(iii.) Art thou a lame sinner that cannot walk in the Lord’s way? Here is a leaf for thee (Isaiah 35:6).
(iv.) Art thou a dumb sinner that thou cannot speak a word in the matters of God, cannot pray, nor praise? Well, here is a leaf for thy disease (Isaiah 35:6).
(e) Consider that as the tree of life is calculate to thy necessity, so it is ordained for thy use and for the use of every sinner that will make use of it by faith (John 3:14-16). He is given to us (Isaiah 9:6).
(f) Consider that this tree is accessible; for He is in the midst of the street. And though He be highly exalted and lifted up above the heavens, yet His boughs stoop and bend down to the very ground that the hand of faith may reach His fruits and leaves (Romans 10:6-8).
(g) You are not only invited but commanded to eat the fruit and apply the leaves of the tree by faith. This is the very work of God which He requires of you--“This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.”
(h) You will die except you eat of the fruit of the tree of life (John 8:24). (R. Erskine.)
Leaves … for the healing of the nations.--
I. In reference to heaven.
1. The heavenly city is described as having an abundance of all manner of delights.
2. As everything good is present, our text hints that nothing ill is there.
3. It is in heaven, according to our text, again, that there grows the tree which is not only health to heaven, but which brings healing to the nations here below.
II. In reference to ourselves below.
1. All the nations are sick. All the nations need healing, our own among them. Do not iniquities abound? Go to the West End and see its fashionable sin, or to the East End and see its more open wickedness. And all individuals in every nation want healing. The evil is in our nature from the very beginning.
2. There is but one cure for the nations--the leaves of the tree.
3. Jesus is pictured here as a blessed tree whose leaves heal the nations. Now the point of the text is this, that the very leaves are healing, from which I gather that the least thing about Christ is healing. The least fragment of this sovereign remedy has omnipotence in it. We may also learn that the humblest and most timid faith in Jesus Christ will save. Pluck a leaf of this tree by thy poor trembling faith and it shall make thee whole. Beloved, after we have been saved from our sin by faith in Jesus Christ it is very wonderful how everything about Christ will help to cleanse. Study His example; it will exercise a curative power over you. You will be ashamed to be selfish, you will be ashamed to be idle, you will be ashamed to be proud when you see what Jesus was. If we take His precepts, and I hope we prize them as highly as we do His doctrines, there is not a command of our Lord but what possesses a sacred power, by the application of the Holy Spirit, to cure some fault or other of our character. Do thou as He bids thee, and thou shalt be made whole. His least words are better than the best of others.
4. Then, too, this medicine heals all sorts of diseases. The text puts it, “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” It does not say of this or that malady, but teaches us that the medicine is universal in its curative power. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. The disease of the nations.
1. It is universal; affects the whole race.
2. It is deep rooted. Not a surface disease; not an accidental, but a constitutional disease.
3. It exposes man to the displeasure of God.
4. It is the source of all the misery and wretchedness of man.
II. The remedy supplied iii the application of the remedy. (W. D. Ingham.)
And there shall be no more curse.
The curse abolished
I. The absence of all curse and malediction: “And there shall be no more curse.” How much is contained in this description of that state, negatively, in the absence of all evil!
1. The curse pronounced after the first transgression. But in the state and time here foreshown, all this will be happily reversed.
2. The curse upon individual persons. Thus it fell upon Cain: Genesis 4:11. But there shall be no more of this curse, for there shall be no murderer then or there.
3. The curse has fallen upon cities for their wickedness and impiety. Thus was Jericho devoted to destruction. But this curse shall be no more; for there shall be no iniquity, and so no devastation, neither shall there be any Achan, any one to trouble God’s Israel, and bring a curse upon himself and it, by coveting any forbidden thing.
4. Nations also have been accursed, as Israel Malachi 3:9; Isaiah 43:27-28; Daniel 9:11). And how long and grievous has that curse been! how bitter that cup which they have drained! But the time is coming when the blessing shall come upon them as it is promised them Malachi 3:12; Zephaniah 3:18.; Jeremiah 31:40).
5. One of the three great portions of the family of man--the descendants of Ham, the third son of Noah, these were accursed: Genesis 9:25. And how awfully has this curse been fulfilled! What hundreds of thousands of our fellow-creatures are held in the grievous bonds of slavery! But then there shall be no more hard bondage, no cruel taskmasters, no more severing of the nearest and dearest ties.
6. There was the curse of the sinful confederacy of Babel. But in the world to come there shall be one heart and one tongue.
7. All flesh has incurred the curse of the transgression of God’s law (Galatians 3:10). This, in the unbelieving and impenitent, who do not receive and obey the gospel, ends in that most woful, final, and irreversible curse (Matthew 25:41). But in the happy state predicted in the text, there shall be no more transgression. The law will be written in indelible characters upon the heart.
8. The Son of God was made a curse (Galatians 3:13). But in heaven He suffers no more curse. How great the change!
9. Some, under the pressure of affliction, have cursed the day of their birth. Thus Job’s (Job 3:1), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14). But in the world to come there shall be no affliction to cause such bitter and passionate feeling. Now Job and Jeremiah bless God that ever they were born.
10. Satan, through Balak and Balaam, sought to curse the people of God (Numbers 23:7). But in the world to come Satan will not be there, nor Balaam with diabolical counsel to seduce the righteous into sin.
11. A solemn curse is uttered against all corrupters of the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:9). But in the world to come the gospel can be darkened and perverted no more. Then it will be seen in all its effulgence and blessedness.
12. Equally solemn is the curse upon all who love not the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 16:22). But will there be any in that world who do not love Christ--any who do not worship Him? Not one (chap. 5:13).
II. The presence of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
1. The abiding presence of God.
2. The glorious presence of God.
3. The glorious presence of God in His redeeming love. For it is “the throne of God and of the Lamb.”
III. The exalted privileges of God’s servants.
1. “And His servants shall serve Him.”
2. “And they shall see His face.”
3. “And His name shall be in their foreheads.” It denotes visibility of relation to God, that we are His servants and children, and that God is not ashamed of us, but will own, acknowledge, and glory in us. The mark of our belonging to Him shall be no secret mark, but open and conspicuous, as the graving of “Holiness to the Lord” on Aaron’s mitre. (J. T. Parker, M. A.)
The negative happiness of the saints in heaven
I. Who the persons are who shall be thus highly favoured.
1. They have been called by the Word and convinced by the Spirit of sin, of unbelief (John 16:9); have been deeply affected on account of it, and alarmed for the consequences (Acts 16:30).
2. They have received Christ in the gospel by a lively faith, through which their freedom from the curse is begun in this life (John 5:24; Galatians 3:13).
3. They love Christ, and consequently are delivered from the dreadful anathemas (1 Corinthians 16:22).
4. It is their care and endeavour, as a fruit of this love to Christ, to give sincere, universal, and constant obedience to His commandments (Revelation 22:14).
5. They consider it as heaven to be where God and His Christ are, to serve Him, and to enjoy Him for ever (Philippians 1:23).
6. They are careful to maintain good works, particularly works of charity, towards the members of Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:34-41).
II. The happiness of those who shall be thus highly favoured.
1. There will be no more sin in such, or ever done by them, to occasion any curse: they are the just made perfect (Hebrews 12:23).
2. There will be no more wrath in God to inflict any curse: once He was angry with them on account of sin (Isaiah 12:1; Psalms 38:8), but it shall not be so any more (Ezekiel 16:42).
3. There will be no more sentence passed against them including a curse. Once they were subject to that tremendous sentence (Galatians 3:10), but never shall any more (John 5:24).
4. Security against every degree of separation from God (Revelation 3:12).
5. Exemption from all the evils of afflictions and sufferings which are so common here (Isaiah 35:10).
6. There shall be no person who is a curse or is accursed among the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem.
III. Whence it is that they are thus blessed.
1. The love of God the Father is the original cause.
2. The death of Christ is the meritorious cause.
3. The Holy Ghost, with His gracious influences, is the efficient cause (Galatians 3:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Psalms 143:10).
1. How pleasing are the prospects of the real Christian as to a future state!
2. How dreadful the future of the finally impenitent! (T. Hannam.)
The curse abolished
I. There shall be no more curse. In the New Jerusalem the deliverance of the believer from the curse shall be complete. No streak of gloom shall mar the brightness of joy’s perfect day. All sin shall be shut out, and therefore also all penal consequences of sin. What a great word of salvation is this! Would you seek to realise somewhat the depth of meaning in it? Look abroad at the widespread spectacle of the world’s wretchedness. In the New Jerusalem all that shall have come to an end. There shall be no more cruel oppressions, no more the desolation of war, no more the ravages of famine and plague, no more “distress of nations,” no more blighted homes and scathed hearts. But look into your own hearts. Each child of God has enough in his own experience to teach him the meaning of the curse, and the blessedness of the deliverance given when “there shall be no more curse.” Every carking care and gloomy fear, all suffering and all sorrow, constitute parts of the same great curse for sin; and all, from whatsoever cause they spring, the child of God shall shake off in glory. The heavy load of toil, poverty, the hindering body, and death will be done away. Again, the curse of vanity, which weareth out all things, shall, in the New Jerusalem, have worn out itself. On earth, and under the curse, every promise falsifies itself, and every hope deceives (Jeremiah 17:5). Nothing that springs from the root of the flesh ever comes to fruit, but in apples of Sodom and grapes of Gomorrah. Fruitlessness, vanity, is the most malignant power of the curse; it is a worm gnawing at the root of all that is most fair. But in the New Jerusalem the saints shall at length gather the fruit of their earthly lives. But, above all, the saints of God shall, in the eternal glory, be delivered from all spiritual distress. It is sin, spiritual desertion, and doubts, and fears, and shame, that wound the Spirit. And a wounded spirit who can bear? But all these, too, shall have come to an end. What grief, too, does the power of sin still remaining in us cause! What a grief to a true-hearted Christian, that he feels himself making so little progress in the Divine life! Finally, what bitter grief it causes the Christian heart, to mark the dishonour done to God by others, the breaking out of great iniquities, the cold-hearted worldliness of professors, the hardened indifference of sinners alike to the warnings, the rebukes, the invitations of the gospel!
II. The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it.
1. God shall be present in glory, because there shall be in the Holy City nothing accursed, nothing polluted, and no suffering.
2. There shall be no more curse, because the throne of God and of the Lamb is there. It is by the coming of God and the Lamb into our world that the curse is expelled; and it is in the Divine power of the Lamb of God enthroned in glory that the curse is kept at bay, and never more may enter.
3. The positive blessing of heaven, the “weight of glory,” consists in this presence of God. The kingly power of the Lamb not only serves to chase from the streets of the Holy City everything that defileth, and everything that can torment; but He Himself is the Sun of the saints’ gladness and the Fountain of their life. That the Lord God shall dwell among them is ever represented as the sum of His people’s blessedness. (James Hamilton, M. A.)
The curse cancelled, and the kingdom begun
I. The removal of the curse. Many are the curses that have lighted upon earth--the primeval curse, with all the many curses that have flowed out of the first sin. All this is now reversed; the sentence is cancelled; the curse is exchanged for blessing. The atmosphere is purged. The sun scorches not by day, nor the moon by night. Thorns and thistles disappear. Fertility is restored to earth. The wolf lies down with the lamb, and the leopard with the kid; and there is nothing found to hurt nor to destroy in the holy mountain of the Lord. There is the new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.
II. The eternal throne. The new Jerusalem has come down out of heaven from God. The great kingdom has come.
III. The eternal service. “His servants shall serve Him.” “They serve Him day and night in His temple” (Revelation 7:15).
IV. The eternal vision. “They shall see His face (Psalms 41:12).
V. The eternal inscription. “His name shall be in their foreheads.”
VI. The eternal day. This is stated negatively. No night, no need of lamp nor of the sun! (Isaiah 9:19). Everlasting day! Everlasting light! Everlasting spring!
VII. The eternal sun. “The Lord God giveth them light.” The light of heaven and earth, of all things material, and all things spiritual, is to come from the face of Jehovah Himself--the one sun of the universe, the one sun of the soul!
VII. The eternal reign. “They shall reign for ever and ever.” A bright future is this for every one who has received the testimony of the Father to His beloved Son; for on our reception of that testimony does our right to that Kingdom depend. It is so fair a prospect that it cannot fail to influence us now.
1. It purifies us. For all in it is pure and perfect.
2. It invigorates. The prospect of an inheritance like this nerves us for conflict, and makes us invincible.
3. It cheers. The light will soon swallow up the darkness. The glory will be enough to make up for all.
4. It comforts. Our light affliction will soon be swallowed up in eternal joy. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The perfect life
“No curse any more”--thus the last chapters of the Bible are in complete antithesis to the first.
I. God, as Creator and Redeemer, is the very ground and fount of all Our existence, and in that perfect life of the hereafter it must be yet more manifestly true that “in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
1. “The throne of God shall be in it”--as indicating the absolute supremacy of God. “The Lord reigneth” now, but His reign is largely a reign of suspension, of waiting, of patience. If He does not crush and destroy His enemies, it is that He is “not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9); and if He does not immediately deliver His servants from all the seeming evil of life, it is because they need the discipline of pain and conflict, that they may be truly fitted for the perfect life. But to that life He will surely lead them; and even here we see a progress towards that consummation, as regards both the subdual of evil and the deliverance and victory of the good.
2. “The throne of God and of the Lamb”--as indicating that the supremacy shall be a supremacy of love. The people of God are familiarly known, in the Old and New Testaments alike, as God’s flock; and how significant, then, that the Shepherd of the sheep should be spoken of as a Lamb--a Lamb of the flock of God--one of themselves, sharing their nature, and living their life!
II. The relation to this redeeming God of the redeemed people is set forth under three aspects--service, vision, likeness.
1. “His servants shall do Him service.” The true idea of rest, not only does not exclude, but demands service, providing there be adequate motive, scope, and strength. And in that life the motive shall be the noblest, the scope amplest, and the strength untiring. How this thought ennobles, by anticipation, the proper training of our faculties here!
2. “They shall see His face.” As here, so there, there shall be an alternation of working and beholding, of service and of fellowship. Our thought must be evermore replenished from His thought, our affection from His affection, our strength from His strength. Thus the ideal shall be ever growing in our soul, that we may act with growing intensity and success on the real--in that realm, as in this, achieving victory and laying hold of life.
3. “His name shall be on their foreheads.” Such shall be the resultant alike of vision and of service. Thus, by taking in and giving out, by beholding and serving, shall we become for ever like the God we love. (T. F. Lockyer, B. A.)
The curse abolished
I. The scene of this service shall be as the paradise of God--“there shall be no more curse.” Here everything connected with our abode renders the most delightful service--for such is the service of God--irksomely laborious. All our religious efforts proceed on this very fact, that we work on an accursed soil; that our iniquity has imposed on us excessive labour; and that in the sweat of our brow we must eat our bread. The land that is on high, inhabited by the servants of God, is subject to no painful or disagreeable vicissitudes.
II. Nor shall the curse extend to the persons of the saints, for there His servants shall serve Him: and do they not on earth, where the curse is found? No: they, it is true, attempt it; but such are their multiplied infirmities, that they confess, when they have done all, they are unprofitable, and deserve not to be viewed even as the hired servant.
III. The curse shall no longer influence the service render to God. “His servants shall serve Him.” Our obedience on earth scarcely deserves the name; our sinful dispositions render it more like slavery. We no sooner begin to live unto God, but conflict, toil, and fatigue, distinguish our services. Polluted are these services, in fine, as that which is corrupt cannot produce what is pure, servants so feeble and unholy must render of necessity an unprofitable obedience.
IV. The curse pronounced on man, is banished from paradise.
V. It may be observed, that as soon as the first malediction was heard, the historian adds, “so he drove out the man.” “And they shall see His face”; shall render their service in His immediate presence, cheered by the complacent smiles of His gracious approbation.
1. By way of improvement, let me urge on you the necessity of inquiring, whether you are the servants of God? “And how shall we know?” Your own conscience must settle the point.
2. Let the servant of God be cheered by remembering who is his master. Every relative character is well exemplified and sustained by Jehovah.
3. Let us contemplate the happy termination of the sacred volume. It begins with the entrance of crime and the curse; and closes with the abolition of sin and misery, and an assurance of perfect and perpetual sanctity and joy. (Wm. Clayton.)
The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it.--
The immediate presence of God and the Lamb in heaven
I. What presence of God and the Lamb this presence upon the throne is, which makes heaven, and the happiness of it, to the saints.
1. The presence of His glory. So is the presence of God upon His throne expressed (Jude 1:24). By the glory of God is meant the conspicuous lustre of His perfections shining in the highest excellency of their brightness.
2. A second view of the presence of God upon His throne, that it is the facial presence of God, the presence of His face. For, in the next verse to our text, it is added, “His servants shall see His face.”
3. His immediate presence, manifested no longer through obscuring mediums, as in our present state.
4. His countenancing presence.
5. The fixed and abiding presence of God and the Lamb.
6. An efficacious and influxive presence.
II. Shew, by comparing scripture with scripture, what manifestation of the glory of God, and of the Lamb, the similitude of a throne points out unto us, as peculiar to heaven.
1. The throne of God in heaven points out, that there is the highest manifestation of His absolute sovereignty and dominion over all.
2. The throne of God and of the Lamb being in this city, hints to us, that as kings use to display all their glory and majesty upon their thrones, so in heaven the shining excellency of His majesty is most bright, and the glory of His perfections most splendid.
3. A throne is the place where the deepest respect and homage of subjects is paid to their sovereign. Heaven is the place where God hath the most solemn worship from His creatures, all His courtiers attending about His throne with a pure love and glowing zeal.
4. A throne is a place where solemn addresses are presented and answered. It is to God in the heaven, upon a throne of grace, that we are directed to come with boldness, “that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
5. The throne of God, and of the Lamb, expresseth this to us, that glorious Christ appears not only in His Father’s glory, which is naturally His, as He is one God with the Father, but also in that glory, honour and majesty, conferred upon Him as man and Mediator, as the reward of His sufferings and obedience.
III. Shew how the throne of God and the Lamb, being in heaven, contributeth to the happiness of its inhabitants.
1. All contraries to happiness are inconsistent with this presence of God and the Lamb; and therefore the least opposite to blessedness can never enter into this city where this throne is.
2. As the throne of God and the Lamb, being in this city, excludeth all contraries and opposites to blessedness, so it is an immediate productive cause of the most perfect positive happiness to the utmost capacity of all its inhabitants.
3. The glory of the mediation of our Redeemer will appear to all eternity, in this city, as the procuring cause of all the happiness the saints possess in it, and the glorious Mediator Himself shall remain for ever as the mean through whom the glory and blessedness of God shall be seen by, and communicated to the saints in heaven.
1. Doth the throne of God and the Lamb make the happiness of the heavenly Jerusalem, by its being there? then, how dreadful will your misery be, who shall for ever be shut out of this city where this throne shall be.
2. The people of God should comfort themselves in the hope of being for ever where the throne of God and the Lamb shall be.
His servants shall serve Him.--
The serving and the reigning
(with verse 5):--Setting these two passages together, we get these two truths, that the redeemed are servants, and that they are also kings. Their eternity is to be an eternity of service, and an eternity of dominion.
I. Service. His servants shall serve Him. They are the servants of God, and the servants of the Lamb. As Christ was the Father’s servant, so do we become. Let us ask,--
1. When this service begins? It begins at conversion. For conversion is
2. How it begins? Christ answers this: “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me.” It begins by taking His yoke; by taking the cross; by denying self; or, as the apostle expresses it, by “obeying from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto us.”
3. How it is carried on? By a life of devotedness to God and His Christ; by doing His will, working His work, carrying out His plans, running His errands, looking after His interests.
4. Where it is carried on? First here on earth, and afterwards in the new Jerusalem before the throne. It is carried on everywhere; in the closet, in the family, at the table, round the hearth, in the market, in the shop, in the field, on the highway--everywhere. How it is to be carried on hereafter we know not. In the city and out of it; at the throne and away from it; all over space; doing every kind of work; such shall be the service hereafter.
5. How long it shall last? For ever. It has a beginning, but not an end. It is an eternal service. All other services are bondage, this is liberty: all others are drudgery, this is blessedness throughout. The Master now waits to hire you; will you not be hired?
II. The dominion. They shall reign for ever. This is wholly future.
1. Who are these feigners? They are men, not angels.
2. Whence came they? Out of sin, out of weakness, and persecution, and tribulation.
3. How did they become what they are? They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They believed and became sons of God.
4. What raised them to this dignity? Grace; God’s free love.
5. In what way did they reach the throne? They fought their way to it.
6. How extensive is this dominion to be? He that overcometh shall inherit all things. Heaven and earth are theirs. “Heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.”
7. How long is it to last? For ever. It is an everlasting dominion; a kingdom that shall not be destroyed. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Servitude and royalty
(with verse 5):--The servants and the kings are identical, they are alike the beings written in the Book of Life; the redeemed from the earth; those who have entered through the gates into the city. I take this twofold word from among the final promises of Him who cannot lie, not now to look upward through it upon the brightness of the eternal future, but to see the light of that future cast through it downward on our present life.
I. His servants. Such is the title of the glorified. In heaven itself there is no emancipation from the bonds of God. The holy nations are eternally bound, in absolute obligation, to the will of God and of the Lamb. The created soul cannot be the basis of its own being; how could it be the source of its own joy and power, or the law of its own eternity? We read what is but likely when we read that the nearer and the clearer is the sight of the Creator granted to the creature, the better the creature recognises the blessedness of self-surrender. Now, does not this truth of the future begin to be realised on earth? You know how full the Scriptures are of the idea of the service of God; a service not the less real as service because it can also be viewed as “perfect freedom” in the light of knowledge and love; a service not meant to be a figure of religious speech, a form of courtly deference to the Majesty above; but an obligation real and binding; compelling with the united power of the love and the law of God (John 13:13; Acts 27:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).
II. They shall reign. Such is the twin promise of the better life. The bondmen of the Eternal, in that existence of endless duty, shall for ever reign. Scripture does indeed largely promise honour to man. Never does it flatter him; this is part of its Divine manner. But of hope and promise it grudges nothing to him if only he will seek it in the way of Christ. Poor must be our best conjectures of what the fulfilment will be. We cannot yet understand what is the nobility of being, the lofty purity, the greatness of knowledge, the wealth of joy and power, which are indicated in the figures of the promise, the crowns of life, and righteousness, and glory, the session on thrones, and this reigning as of kings for ever. But, little as we know of the fulfilment, the process towards it is even now begun. Even in this present world the true servant of God, in proportion to the reality and simplicity of his servitude, receives also some foretastes of his royalty. Let him, in truth, “endure, seeing Him who is invisible”; and it will bring him a power not his own over and amidst the visible. He will tread, by his Master’s strength, calmly and habitually, on besetting sin; he will turn to real flight the alien armies of temptation; he will in some true sense and measure rule amongst influences at enmity with his Lord. There is no independence upon earth so strong, and so nobly strong, as that of a Christian who wills wholly to be Christ’s servant. (H. C G. Moule, B. D.)
The Divine reign within the soul
I. That the Divine reign within the soul will banish all moral curse.
1. That the unregenerate soul of man is under the dire curse of sin.
2. That the Divine reign tends to the ultimate banishment of the curse of sin from the soul.
II. That the Divine reign within the soul will awaken to hallowed service.
1. The Divine reign within the soul awakens the truest feeling of service.
2. The Divine reign within the soul imparts the highest capability of service.
3. The Divine reign within the soul reveals the best opportunity of service.
III. That the divine reign within the soul will tend to a clear vision of God. This vision is--
IV. That the Divine reign in the soul leads to the dissipation of moral darkness. What a glorious privilege and capability to be equal to the enjoyment of an eternal day--for the sun never to set upon the activity and love of the soul.
V. That the Divine reign in the soul leads to moral kinghood. Lessons:
1. That the throne of God must be established in the soul of man.
2. That the Divine reign in the soul is conducive of the highest good.
3. That only the good will enjoy eternal moral sunlight. (The Study.)
The heavenly life
Heavenly blessedness consists of service. Even the angels excel in strength to do His commandments. We shall never get beyond that. The highest blessedness consists in being beneficently useful and reverently obedient. Our aim should not be to become ornamental, but to render perfect service. To serve God without imperfection, without the frailty of this human nature of ours, without the sin that mixes up here with our divinest things; that is the highest ambition of every true servant of God. The truth emphasised here is the advancement of the true servant into higher spheres of service. This is just what heaven will do for us. It will not take away from us the opportunity or capacity for service, it will only ennoble and exalt all. Who of us will not begin to serve Him here? Never mind where you begin. It may be in the back kitchen, or in the scullery, in God’s great house. You may not be required to take a prominent or honourable part in it; go on and do the little work you have to do--do it well, and according to the fidelity of your service shall be your progress, until at last you shall enter into the highest celestial meaning of a service that began amid earthly infirmities and human sin.
II. The Lord’s servants shall have not only exaltation in service, but also fulness of vision--“And they shall see His face.” This clear vision of God is spoken of by Our Lord Himself as the reward of purity. “The pure in heart shall see God.” The obedient spirit is the seeing one. “The doer must ever be the true seer. The only way in which you can see Him face to face is to take the path which He has taken.
III. His name shall be upon their foreheads. The face of God seems always to represent the revelation of Him by vision, and His name the revelation of Him by testimony. In our text, those who see His face are represented as bearing HIS impress, and carrying the sign of ownership upon their foreheads. The forehead is that part of the face expressive of strength. (D. Davies.)
Heaven, as a state of service unto God and the Lamb before the throne
I. The characters of those who are the Lord’s servants here, and shall be continued in His service to serve Him in heaven.
1. If you are such servants now, as shall be admitted to serve Him in heaven, you will have embraced by faith the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Covenant of grace.
2. If you are such servants now as shall serve Him in heaven, then you have been effectually called, possessed by the Spirit of Christ, quickened, sanctified, and planted by Him into Jesus Christ, after the likeness of HIS death and resurrection from the dead.
3. If you are His servants, who shall serve Him not only in this but the coming world, you will have renounced all other lords and masters.
4. If you are the servants of God and the Lamb, who shall serve Him in heaven, you will live under a sense and conscience of this your dedication, not as your own, but God’s.
5. Are you devoted and addicted to the fear of God, not a slavish, but filial fear of Him?
II. The service you, who are the servants of God now, shall be employed in when you are in heaven.
1. As to the matter and particular kind of the service of the saints in heaven, it is yet a secret, and in a great measure unknown to us.
2. In what manner the Lord’s servants shall serve Film in heaven.
III. Whence it is they, who are God’s servants now, shall serve Him in heaven.
1. From the sovereign, rich, and free grace of God.
2. From the merit and intercession of the Son of God.
3. From the efficiency of the Holy Ghost. “He seals the servants of God unto the day of redemption”; and is so good as to “lead them into heaven, the land of uprightness.”
4. From the faithfulness of God.
5. From the unchangeableness of God.
1. Is it a part of the happiness of heaven that the servants of God and the Lamb shall serve Him in heaven? then hence we may learn that heaven is a state of eternal service to God and the Lamb.
2. Shall the Lord’s servants now serve Him in heaven? then there is more honour and happiness in active doing holy duties than we are well aware of.
3. Shall these, who are His servants now, serve Him hereafter in heaven? Then you have in this what to answer to the atheist’s profane query, “ What profit is it to serve God?”
4. Learn from this clause of our text, in its connection, that an uninterrupted serving God, and an uninterrupted communion with God, and enjoyment of Him go together. (James Robe, M. A.)
The service of God
There is not a little in the temper of our day which resists the thought that God is a Master. Many people more or less consciously recoil from the assertion of a claim so imperative as is necessarily involved in such a conception of the Supreme. Some absolutely reject religion on this account; they think, or speak as if they thought, that their independence would be compromised, their dignity insulted, by the recognition of a Sovereign in heaven, no less than by subjection to a master on earth; perhaps they go so far as to say that the very notion of a God claiming to have dominion over man’s whole being is an invention of the governing orders, a piece of the machinery devised by their class-selfishness for the obvious purpose of “keeping the people down.” Others, who cannot dispense with religion altogether, endeavour, as far as possible, to keep the idea of Divine sovereignty in the background. Perhaps they may in part be under the influence of a recoil from one-sided and repellent views of that Sovereignty, which were a stumbling-block to believers in the Divine moral perfection. But the reaction must be worse than extravagant which leads men to emphasise “the Fatherhood of God” by detaching from it, in effect, the idea of paternal authority (Malachi 1:6). Given the idea of a living God, and the conviction that we are bound to serve Him follows; and Scripture does but emphasise the conclusion which natural reason forces upon all serious theists. “I am Thy servant,” is the burden of all that intercourse between the human soul and its God which pervades and vitalises the Psalter; and the prophet’s language about “the Lord’s servant,” passes beyond an “idealised Israel” to its fulfilment in the obedience completed on the Cross. And although the gospel is a “law of liberty,” yet no delusive spirit from the pit ever uttered a deeper falsehood than that which could confound liberty with license, or deny that moral law is involved in the relations between men. St. Paul repeatedly intimates that God’s moral law is still to be the rule of Christian conduct; he speaks of the “law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus,” and of our “fulfilling the requirements of the law,” very much as St. James speaks of the “royal law of liberty,” and as St. John identifies sin with “lawlessness.” Furthermore, the gospel reveals a new and special ground of the obligation of God’s service; He has acquired a supernatural right over us in virtue of the fact of our redemption. If we have been bought, in the Scriptural imagery, at no less a price than the blood of God’s own Son, it follows that “we are not our own”: we cannot be “without law to God,” we must be “under law to Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Corinthians 9:21). If we call Him Saviour, we must also call Him King. Two phrases are used in the New Testament, to impress this thought upon us. In some passages a word is used which originally represented the condition of a hired servant (Acts 27:23; Romans 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 9:14). But as if this term were not strong enough to stand alone, the relation between a bondservant or slave, and a master whose rights over him were absolute--a relation which Christianity was to undermine, but which for the time was suffered to exist--is utilised, so to speak, for the purpose of enforcing this great lesson (Romans 1:1; Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Revelation 1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1:1.). In the text both phrases are combined: “His slaves shall do Him service for wages.” Do we shrink from the austerity of this language? Do we fancy that it makes our religion servile--that if apostles used it in their own time, we need not treat it as symbol]sing a permanent truth--that it is, in fact, a surviving fragment of Judaism, inconsistent with the higher apostolic affirmation, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty?” Do we plead, so to speak, that our Lord has promised us the truest freedom as the result of an effective knowledge of the truth, and that, on the last evening of His earthly ministry, He said to His faithful eleven,” Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends? Well, this was His gracious condescension, assuring them that their relation to Him was to be one of affectionate confidence. Blessed be HIS name, He does not keep us at arm’s length; He does not treat us coldly, sternly, magisterially: we are to be “willing,” freewill offerings, “in the day of His power.” We are to be made “sons” in Him, the true and only-begotten Son, and so to be “free indeed.” His service is to be, in a most true sense, perfect freedom, or even a true royalty; but it must needs be service, if He is what He is, if we are what we are. Take just one noble and beautiful instance of the combination of obedience and love, of service and joyfulness, in him who had apparently been consecrated to the episcopate by St. John, and who, when invited to save his life by uttering some form of renunciation of Christ, answered, “Eighty-six years have I been His servant, and He has done me no wrong: how, then, can I revile my King Who saved me?” (W. Bright, D. D.)
The triple rays which make the white light of heaven
These words give us three elements of the perfect state of man--service, contemplation, likeness; these three are perfect and unbroken.
1. The first element in the perfect state of man is perfect activity in the service of God. If we have not here the notion of priesthood, we have one very closely approximating towards it. That, then, is the first thought that we have to look at. Now, it seems to me to be a very touching confession of the weariness and unsatisfactoriness of life in the general that the dream of the future which has unquestionably the most fascination for most men, is that which speaks of it as rest. Now this representation of my text is by no means contradictory, but it is complementary of that other one. The deepest rest and the highest activity coincide. They do so in God Who worketh hitherto in undisturbed tranquillity; they may do so in us. The wheel that goes round in swiftest rotation seems to be standing still. Work at its intensest, which is pleasurable work, and level to the capacity of the doer, is the truest form of rest. “They rest from their labours.” “They rest not, day or night.” From their labours?--yes! From toil disproportioned to faculty?--yes! From unwelcome work?--yes! From distraction and sorrow?--yes! But from glad praise and vigorous service?--never! day or night. Then there is another thing involved in this first idea, namely, the notion of an outer world on which and in which to work; and also the notion of the resurrection of the body in which the active spirit may abide, and through which it may work. Perhaps it may be that they who sleep in Jesus, in the period between the shuffling off of this mortal coil and the breaking of that day when they are raised again from the dead, are incapable of exertion in an outer sphere. At all events, this we may be sure of, that if it be so they have no desires in advance of their capacities; and of this also I think we may be sure, that whether they themselves can come into contact with an external universe or not, Christ is for them what the body is to us here now, and the glorified body will be hereafter: that being absent from the body they are present with the Lord. The next point is this: such service must be in a far higher sphere and a far nobler fashion than the service of earth. God rewards work with more work. The powers that are trained and exercised and proved in a narrower region are lifted to the higher; as some poor peasant-girl, for instance, whose rich voice has risen up in the harvest-field only for her own delight and that of a handful of listeners, heard by some one who detects its sweetness, may be carried away to some great city, and charm kings with its tones, so the service done in some little corner of this remote rural province of God’s universe, apprehended by Him, shall be rewarded with a wider platform, and a nobler area for work. “Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.” Notice again, that the highest type of human service must be service for other people. The law of heaven can surely not be more selfish than the law for earth, and that is, “he that is chiefest amongst you, let him be your servant.” The last point about this first matter is simply this--that this highest form of human activity is all to be worship; all to be done in reference to Him; all to be done in submission to Him. The will of the man in His work is to be so conformed to the will of God as that, whatsoever the hand on the great dial points to, that the hand on the little dial shall point to also. Obedience is joy and rest. To know and do His will is heaven.
2. Next, look at the second of the elements here--“They shall see His face.” Now that expression “seeing the face of God” in Scripture seems to me to be employed in two somewhat different ways, according to one of which the possibility of seeing the face is affirmed, and according to another of which it is denied. The one may be illustrated by the Divine word to Moses: “Thou canst not see My face. There shall no man see Me and live” (Exodus 33:1-23.). The other may be illustrated by the aspiration and the confidence of one of the psalms: “As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.” Where is the key to the apparent contradiction? Here, I think; Jesus Christ is the manifest God, in Him only do men draw near to the hidden Deity, the King Invisible, Who dwelleth in the light that is inaccessible. And here on earth we see by faith, and yonder there will be a vision, different in kind, most real, most immediate and direct, not of the hidden Godhood in itself, but of the revealed God-hood manifest in Jesus Christ, Whom in His glorified corporeal Manhood we shall perceive, with the organs of our glorified body, Whom, in His Divine beauty we shall know and love with heart and mind, in knowledge direct, immediate, far surpassing in degree and different in kind from the knowledge of faith which we have of Him here below. But there is another point I would touch upon in reference to this second thought of our text--viz., its connection with the previous representation, “They shall serve Him,” that is activity of service in our outer sphere; “they shall see His face,” that is contemplation. The Rabbis taught that there were angels who serve, and angels who praise, but the two classes meet in the perfected man, whose service shall be praise, whose praise shall be service.
3. The last element is “His name shall be in their foreheads.” The metaphor is taken from the old cruel practice of branding a slave with the name of his master. And so the primary idea of this expression: “His slaves shall bear His name upon their foreheads,” is that their ownership shall be conspicuously visible to all that look. But there is more than that in it. How is the ownership to be made visible? By His name being on their foreheads. What is “His name”? Universally in Scripture “His name” is His revealed character, and so we come to this: the perfect men shall be known to belong to God, in Christ, because they are like Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Caroline Herschel, the sister of the great astronomer, was through all her life the most attached servant to her brother. She called herself “a mere tool, which my brother had the trouble of sharpening.” She learned the details of observing with such success that she independently discovered eight comets. Her devotion was most complete. Wherever her brother was concerned she abolished self, and replaced her nature with his. Having no taste for astronomy, her work at first was distasteful to her, but she conquered this, and lived to help his work and fame.
They shall see His face.--
The heaven of heaven
The Italians so much admire the city of Naples, that their proverb is, “See Naples and die”; as if there remained nothing more to be seen after that fair bay and city had been gazed upon. To behold the far fairer sight mentioned in the text men might well be content to die a thousand times. Forget for awhile your present cares, and live for awhile in the future which is so certified by faithful promises that you may rejoice in it even now!
I. The beatific vision. “They shall see His face.” It is the chief blessing of heaven, the heaven of heaven, that the saints shall there see Jesus. Christ is all in all to us here, and therefore we long for a heaven in which He shall be all in all to us for ever; and such will the heaven of God be. The paradise of God is not the Elysium of imagination, the Utopia of intellect, or the Eden of poetry; but it is the Heaven of intense spiritual fellowship with the Lord Jesus. In the beatific vision it is Christ whom they see; and further, it is His “face” which they behold; by which I understand two things: first, that they shaft literally and physically, with their risen bodies, actually look into the face of Jesus; and secondly, that spiritually their mental faculties shall be enlarged, so that they shall be enabled to look into the very heart, and soul, and character of Christ, so as to understand Him, His work, His love, His all in all, as they never understood Him before.
II. The surpassing clearness of that vision. “They shall see His face.” The word “see” sounds in my ears with a clear, full, melodious note. We see but little here. “We walk by faith, not by sight.” Around us all is mist and cloud. What we do see, we see only as if men were trees walking. The saints see the face of Jesus in heaven, because they are purified from sin. The pure in heart are blessed: they shall see God, and none others. They may well see His face when the scales of sin have been taken from their eyes, and they have become pure as God Himself is pure. They surely see His face the more clearly because all the clouds of care are gone from them. Moreover, as they have done with sin and cares, so have they done with sorrows. They see His face right gloriously in that cloudless atmosphere, and in the light which He Himself supplies. Moreover, the glorified see His face the more clearly because there are no idols to stand between Him and them.
III. The matchless privilege which this vision involves. We may understand the words “they shall see His face” to contain five things. They mean, first, certain salvation; secondly, a clear knowledge of Him; thirdly, conscious favour; fourthly, close fellowship; and lastly, complete transformation.
IV. Who they are to whom this choice boon is afforded by the divine mercy. “They shall see His face.” Who are they? They are all His redeemed, all the justified, all the sanctified. Some are taken away to see His face while yet young. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The face of Jesus
“His face”! That can never be produced upon canvas; that is the medium of Divine revelation; that is the type of perfect humanity.
I. Heaven possesses one special attraction--the face of Jesus.
1. This chides our idle speculation. The presence of Jesus makes heaven, and to see His face is eternal joy.
2. Here is a test for our religious desires. Do we long to see Jesus?
II. Heaven will continue the experience of earth.
1. It is possible to see Jesus now. We can see His face in the mirror of the Word--dimly in the law, gloriously in the gospel. We can see it smiling from the Cross. We can see it in the gifts of His heart.
2. It is possible to realise heaven upon earth.
III. Heaven will soothe the deepest sighing of the regenerated heart.
IV. Heaven will perfect our likeness to Jesus. (Philip Reynolds.)
The vision of God
Of all the happiness and honour that fill that city of glory, this is the sum, and the centre, and the overflow: “They shall see His face.”
I. Whose face? It is the face of God; and that face is Jesus, the Word made flesh; the brightness of His glory, etc.; light of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the face of majesty, yet the face of love. Like unto it there is not any face in earth or heaven--in all the vast universe of God--so bright, so fair, so perfect, so glorious, so Divine.
II. Who shall see it? His servants. “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.” “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty.” “If any man serve Me, him will My Father honour.”
III. What is it to see his face? See Psalms 41:12; Esther 1:14; 2 Kings 25:19.
1. Nearness. These servants form the inner, nay the innermost, circle of creation.
2. Blessedness. The nearest of the disciples was the most blessed, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The nearest to Him in heaven will be the most blessed.
3. Honour. To see the king’s face was the great earthly honour; so is it the greatest heavenly honour.
4. Power. They who see the King’s face are His counsellors, His vicegerents, the doers of His will. Christ’s throne is theirs--for “he that overcometh shall inherit all things.” This seeing of the face of God and His Christ will be:
No interruption; no eclipse; no cloud; no darkness; no setting; no dimness of eye; no unbelief; no distance. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The facial vision of God
I. Who they are that shall see the face of God and the Lamb in heaven.
1. All real believers.
2. The Lord’s servants.
3. The pure in heart (1 John 3:2-3).
4. The righteous (Psalms 17:15).
II. What is imported in seeing the face of God and the Lamb.
1. To see the face of God and the Lamb certainly imports being in the immediate presence of God and the Lamb.
2. To see the face of God and the Lamb importeth an ocular bodily sight of a sensible Divine glory; it is a sight of the face of the Lamb of God incarnate, and in the nature of man, with a glorified super-exalted body.
3. To see the face of God and the Lamb importeth a mental and intellectual sight or knowledge of the glorious perfections of God and the Lamb, shining in their brightest lustre.
4. To see the face of God and the Lamb certainly importeth such a discovery and view of God, and of Jesus Christ, as was never attained by any in this life.
5. To see the face of God and the Lamb importeth a perfect enjoyment of the love and favour of God and the Lamb, a sense and feeling of this favour, and the blessed fruits and effects of it.
6. To see the face of God and the Lamb certainly imports a humble and holy confidence and ability to look upon the face of God and the Lamb.
7. To join them together, immediate and familiar communion with, and the enjoyment of God and the Lamb are hinted to us in this expression, as the attainment of the saints in heaven. An expression of more wonderful condescendency cannot be used, than that of Jehovah’s way of conversing with Moses (Exodus 33:11).
III. How the sight of the face of God and the Lamb tendeth unto, and is a part of our happiness in heaven.
1. The object of this vision is the face of God and the Lamb, that is, the glory of the infinite perfections of God, shining in the highest excellency of their brightness.
2. Consider the act of this vision itself, it is a knowledge of God and His glory--not by report, as all the knowledge of faith we have in this state is;--not by reasoning, as here, which is wearisome and uncertain, but by sight or knowledge directly taking in the glory manifested. It will be a vigorous and efficacious sight, the faculty being strengthened and made able to bear the discoveries of this glory by the object itself.
3. Consider the effects of seeing the face of God and the Lamb in heaven: by this we shall know all things fit for us to know.
IV. What reason you, who are the servants of God and the Lamb, now have to be assured that you shall see His face in heaven,
1. Yell have good and real right to this happiness, upon a manifold title, such as God the Father’s eternal purpose and election.
2. God hath begotten an insatiable desire in you to see His face in heaven.
3. All the Redeemer’s offices are engaged to bring all His servants unto God, and set them in His presence for ever.
V. When the Lord’s servants shall be admitted to see His face.
1. Our souls shall, immediately after death, be admitted to see God.
2. The most eminent season of our being admitted to see the face of God and the Lamb is the day of the resurrection; then shall our bodies be raised up glorified, and reunited unto our long-before glorified souls.
The heavenly life: the living God with His living servants
The Holy Scriptures maintain a consistent and marked reserve in respect of the details of the future life. God calls the soul first, not to reveries, but to repentance.
I. They shall see His face. This is the first element in the promise. It needs no elaborate proof that the Bible presents the presence of the personal God as the soul’s last and highest hope. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” “In Thy presence is fulness of joy”; “We shall see Him as He is.” Nor does it need long proving that this supreme hope, in all views of the future other than that of the Bible, is either absent or quite secondary. The Buddhist votary, far from longing for the sight of a Divine Countenance, desires as his summum bonum--his one true felicity (only too great to be confidently hoped for) the dissolution of his own illusory yet weary personality into the deep repose of a universe of non-existence. The Elysium of Virgil, the happy fields of the just, laborious, and noble-hearted, is nothing but a pale reflection of the joys of earth, and bears not a trace of the ruling and energising power of a Divine Presence in the midst of it. In the great My thus of Plato, again, the chariot-borne spectators of reality, the personages of that vast festal procession which climbs up the steep sides of the lower sky to the ideal heaven, behold at length not a Divine Countenance, loving and loved; they discover only splendours magnificent but cold: universals as they are--absolute justice, temperance, and knowledge--but not One who is eternal and beatifying love. The Pantheist, ancient or modern, western or eastern, hopes only to sink hereafter somewhat deeper into that will-less and loveless absolute which, after all, he holds that he has never left; for all things, in his creed, are but equally and always parts, and no more, of the one Being in its aimless and unbeheld development. It is the Bible, and the Bible only, that makes the presence of an eternal and holy Person the final object of the hopes of man. “They shall see His face.” Heaven, if it includes the idea of endlessness, needs the presence of a Person both eternal and lovable, if it is to be not happy only, but other than terrible, to the created and limited being. It is a woful mistake to feed our souls in prospect on the food of the presence, not of the Creator, but of the creature. Dreadful would be the ultimate famine in the bright but then restless regions, if the created souls were left there to subsist for ever on the resources of each other and themselves. “They shall see His face--they shall be satisfied with His likeness.”
II. And His name shall be on their foreheads. We look on this clause now, not as revealing the Lord God’s influence in the endless life, but is witnessing to the sustained individual personality of those who shall be admitted, in that endless life, to behold His glory. The opinion of Pantheism has spread wide and deep, in many and most various regions and times. It is indeed a seductive evil, an error singularly attractive to many fine and powerful minds, especially in its guise of a quasi-worship of external nature. Yet this error can present itself to the bewildered soul under a subtle show of humility: “Slight and imperfect being! why claim, or why fear, an endless subsistence? Shall the thin flame of your little life glimmer on for ever through the windy currents of an illimitable and unresting universe? No, surely. If you are indeed created, still in no sense whatever can you stand apart from the Creator. You are but one of His, or rather of Its, countless phases. You will soon be dissolved again into the depths of His, or rather of Its, existence.” But to the whisperings of this lie, the Holy Scriptures, strong in their historic record, in their unique method of appealing to Divine facts to attest and teach eternal truths, give a negative equally uncompromising and profound. Scripture seeks not to solve the often-attempted riddle how the Infinite created the finite into a distinct subsistence: in this case, and in that of the origin of evil, it leaves in emphatic silence just the two problems which unchastened human speculation has most eagerly pursued. But that the finite was created into that mysterious distinctness; that the personality of man is real and permanent; this truth the holy Book, through all the sixteen centuries of its growth, presses home in countless ways on the heart of man--that heart in whose depths the truths alike of personality and of guilt find their sure echo. And this is part of the truth of this prophetic verse. “His name shall be,” not upon floating phases of an Absolute Being, but upon “their foreheads.” (H. C. G. Moult, M. A.)
Forcing the sun
Dr. Clemance said, “One day I was climbing one of the Alpine range of mountains, near the boundary line between France and Switzerland. By and by we came upon snow and icicles, and all the usual attendants in the train of winter; but when we got higher we found delightful flowers blooming, in all the beauty of floral loveliness. I said to myself, ‘How is this? Down yonder are icicles and snow, up here are those exquisite flowers. The secret of it was, that this part of the mountain faced the sun, while the other was turned from it.’“ So not unlike this is the change in the heart of him who turns from the cold world of sin to the warming rays of the Sun of Righteousness.
His name shall be in their foreheads.--
Three inscriptions with one meaning
(with Exodus 28:36; Zechariah 14:20):--These three widely separated texts all speak of inscriptions, and they are all obviously connected with each other. Three things, then--the priest’s mitre, the horses’ bells, the foreheads of the perfected saints--three aspects of the Christian thought of holiness.
I. The priest’s mitre. The high priest was the official representative of the nation. He stood before God as the embodied and personified Israel. For the purposes of worship Israel was the high priest, and the high priest was Israel. And so, on his forehead, not to distinguish him from the rest of the people, but to include all the people in his consecration, shone a golden plate with the motto, “Holiness to the Lord.” So, at the beginning, there stands a protest against all notions that make “saint” the designation of any abnormal or exceptional sanctity, and confine the name to the members of any selected aristocracy of devoutness and of goodness. All Christian men, ex officio, by the very fact of their Christianity, are saints, in the true sense of the word. It is a very unfortunate thing--indicating superficiality of thought--that the modern popular notion of “holiness” identifies it with purity, righteousness, moral perfection. Now that is in it, but that is not the whole of it. The root-meaning is “separated, set apart,” and the word expresses primarily, not moral character, but relation to God. How can a man be separated and laid aside? Well, there is only one way, and that is by self-surrender. “Holiness to the Lord” is self-surrender of will, and heart, and mind, and everything. And that surrender is of the very essence of Christianity. What is a saint? Some man or woman that has practised unheard-of austerities? Somebody that has lived an isolated and self-regarding life in convent or monastery or desert? No! a man or woman in the world who, moved by the mercies of God, yields self to God as a living sacrifice.
II. The horses’ bells. Zechariah has a vision of the ideal Messianic times, and of course, as must necessarily be the case, his picture is painted with colours laid upon his palette by his experience, and he depicts that distant future in the guise suggested to him by what he saw around him. So we have to disentangle from his words the sentiment which he expresses, and to recognise the symbolic way in which he puts it. On the whole, the prophet’s teaching is that, in the ideal state of man upon earth, there would be an entire abolition of the distinction between “sacred” and “secular”; a distinction that has wrought infinite mischief in the world, and in the lives of Christian people. Let me transfer these words of our prophet into English equivalents. Every cup and tumbler in a poor man’s kitchen shall be as sacred as the Communion chalice that passes from lip to lip with the “blood of Jesus Christ” in it. Every common piece of service that we do, down among the vulgarities and the secularities and the meannesses of daily life, may be lifted up to stand upon precisely the same level as the sacredest office that we undertake. The bells of the horses shall jingle to the same tune as the trumpets of the priests within the shrine, and on all, great and small, shall be written, “Holiness to the Lord.” Hallow thyself, and all things are clean unto thee.
III. The perfected saints’ foreheads. It is only the name that is written in the perfected saints’ forehead. Not the “Holiness unto the Lord,” but just the bare name. What does that mean? Well, it means the same as your writing your name in one of your books does, or as when a man puts his initials on the back of his oxen, or as the old practice of branding the master’s mark upon the slave did. It means absolute ownership. But it means something more. The name is the manifested personality, the revealed God, the character, as we say in an abstract way, the character of God. That name is to be in the foreheads of His perfected people. How does it come to be there? Read the clause before. “His servants shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads.” That is to say, the perfected condition is not reached by surrender only, but by assimilation; and that assimilation comes by contemplation. The faces that are turned to Him, and behold Him, are smitten with the light and shine, and those that look upon them see, “as it had been, the face of an angel,” as the Sanhedrin saw that of Stephen when he beheld the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Alas! alas! it is so hard for us to live out our best selves, and to show to the world what is in us. Cowardice, sheepishness, and a hundred other reasons prevent it. In this poor imperfect state no emotion ever takes shape and visibility without losing more or less of its beauty. But yonder the obstructions to self-manifestation will be done away; and when He shall be manifested “we also shall be manifested with Him in glory.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
On the happiness of heaven., as it consists in a conformity to God and the Lamb
I. Show what seems to be hinted in this scripture, concerning the happiness of the saints in heaven, as it is a likeness to God and the Lamb.
1. The saints in heaven have the name of God upon them; that is, they shall have upon them a likeness unto, and resemblance of these glorious perfections, whereby God hath manifested and made Himself known unto us, called His Name in Scripture.
2. The saints in heaven have the Lamb’s name upon them.
3. The name of God and the Lamb is in their foreheads; that is,
4. His name shall be in their foreheads intimateth to us that the glory, given unto the saints, manifesteth the glorious perfections of God and the Lamb; it manifests the name of God, that is, the glory of God and the Lamb.
II. Some considerations from whence it will appear what a considerable part of the happiness of the saints in heaven this likeness to God and the Lamb is.
1. If no more should be said but this, that it is a likeness to the blessed God and the glorious Mediator, to the utmost of our capacity it expresseth a happiness great above our present comprehension.
2. It must be an inconceivable happiness, seeing it is the final result and issue of the eternal wisdom and counsel, project and purpose of God, to give unto His people a happiness worthy of Himself to bestow, and such as should never make Him ashamed to be called their God.
3. The greatness of this happiness appeareth from the consideration of the stupendous means made use of to accomplish it. It is an end brought about, by no less a mean than the incarnation and whole mediation of the Son of God.
4. This is the end of all the wishes, endeavours and expectations of the people of God.
1. If, upon reflection, you find or suspect yourselves to be wholly unsuitable to this blessedness, apply yourselves to speedy, diligent and incessant endeavours to get the temper and disposition of your spirits changed and fitted thereto, by a begun likeness to God and the Lamb in holiness and purity. Strive to get His image and likeness deeply engraven upon your souls, by a work of regeneration and sanctification.
2. Labour not only after a likeness to God and the Lamb; but to let the world see it in your lives, and to scatter the beams of it in your conversations, for the enlightening a dark world; or, in the terms of our text, labour to have as much of the name of God and of the Lamb on your foreheads now, as can be.
There shall be no night there.
The light of the blessed
This declaration would be no good news to us in our present state. Night brings rest and refreshment to wearied bodies, and often over-laden minds. Yet who of us all remembers to give thanks, because daylight does not invite us unceasingly to toil and anxiety? But, if we think upon the subject, we shall see that the blessings of the night are all connected with a state of trouble, labour, and imperfection. Hence we may understand there being in heaven no time of sleep and darkness. For centuries we have been trying to light up a dark world, and trying in vain. There is indeed a light come into the world, but it shineth in a dark place. It is pleasant news to many that Christ died to save sinners, but when told that all thin was to bring them nearer to God, to enable them “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts,” then the greater number turn from the light and plunge back into the darkness. Some there are who do humbly and thankfully accept that light. Their path shineth more and more; yet even with them it is very far from being “perfect day.” They have light, but it is to guide them through darkness, for life here is, and must be, “this night” to the Christian, though he sees afar off the rising of the dawn. He is here in much ignorance of God’s character, works, and ways. He knows enough to save him, but not enough to satisfy him. God’s dispensations are full of mystery; God’s dealings in his own case are often a trial to his belief. Again, Satan tempts the Christian to doubt the love of God, the truth of God, and the word of God, and to question whether he is really in a state of salvation. At times he feels in much darkness through these temptations; almost lost. “There shall be no night there.” Once more, the Christian’s life on earth is darkened by frequent mourning, and by death. Fears dim his vision, friends pass out of his reach, he beholds them no more! But there are no graves, no funerals, in heaven; for there shall be no more sorrow, nor sighing, nor any night there. (F. J. Scott, M. A.)
We may safely say that those who muse much on heaven are often privileged with such foretastes of what God hath prepared for His people, as serve, like the clusters of Eshcol, to teach them practically the richness of Canaan. With them it is not altogether matter of report that the inheritance of the saints is transcendently glorious. They have waited upon the Lord, until, according to the promise of Isaiah, they have been enabled to “mount up with wings as eagles.”
I. With our present constitution there would be nothing cheering in an arrangement which took away night from our globe. The alternation of day and night, the two always making up the same period of twenty-four hours, is among the most beautiful of the many proofs that God fitted the earth for man, and man for the earth. We know that other planets revolve in very different times on their axis, so that their days and nights are of very different lengths from our own. We could not live on one of those planets. We could not, at least, conform ourselves to the divisions of time: for we require a period of repose in every twenty-four hours, and could not subsist, if there were only to come such a period in every hundred, or in every thousand. And besides this, it is very easy to speak of night as the season of dreariness and gloom, as the representative of ignorance and error--but what should we be without night? Where is there so eloquent an instructor as night? What reveals so much of the workmanship of the ever-living God? So that there is not necessarily anything very desirable in the absence of night: it would be the reverse of a blessing to us in our present condition, and would imply the diminution rather than the enlargement of knowledge. What then are we to learn from the statement that there shall be no night in heaven? We learn much, whether it be the natural, or the figurative, night, whose total absence is affirmed. Night is now grateful, yea necessary, to us, as bringing quiet and repose to overwrought bodies and minds. But all this arises from the imperfectness of our present condition; we are so constituted that we cannot incessantly pursue either occupation or enjoyment, but must recruit ourselves. And it would evidently be to raise us very greatly in the scale of animated being, to make it no longer needful that we should have intervals of rest; body and soul being incapable of exhaustion, or rather of fatigue. There is no night there, because there we shall need no periods of inactivity; we shall never be sensible of fatigue, and never either wish or want repose. It is given as one characteristic of Deity, that He never slumbers nor sleeps. It is affirmed moreover of the four living creatures which are round about the throne, that they “rest not day and night, saying, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” And, therefore, I read the promise of a splendid exaltation, of an inconceivable enlargement of every faculty and capacity, in the announcement of the absence of night. And though it be true that night now discloses to us the wonders of the universe, so that to take from us night were to take a revelation of the magnificence of creation, whence comes this but from the imperfection of faculties--faculties which only enable us to discern certain bodies, and under certain circumstances, and which probably suffer far more to escape them than they bring to our notice? Be it so, that night is now our choice instructor. I feel that night is to cease because we shall no longer need to be taught through a veil, because we shall be able to read the universe illuminated, and not require as now to have it darkened for our gaze. I shall be adapted in every faculty to an everlasting day. And if from considering night in its more literal, we pass to the considering it in its metaphorical sense, who can fail to be struck with the beauty and fulness of the promise of our text? We take night as the image of ignorance, of perplexity, of sorrow. And to affirm the absence of night from the heavenly state may justly be regarded as the affirming the absence of all which darkness is used to represent. I behold the removal of all mistake, of all misconception; conjectures have given place to certainties; controversies are ended, difficulties are solved, prophecies are completed, parables are interpreted. I behold the hushing up of every grief, the prevention of every sorrow, the communication of every joy. I behold the final banishment of whatsoever has alliance with sinfulness, the splendid reimpressment of every feature of the Divine image upon man, the unlimited diffusion of righteousness, the triumphant admission of the fallen into all the purities of God’s presence, and their unassailable security against fresh apostacy.
II. St. John is not content with affirming the absence of night: he proceeds to assert the absence of those means or instruments to which we are here indebted for the scattering of darkness. “They need no candle, neither light of the sun.” And what then is to make their perpetual day? “The Lord God giveth them light.” The whole apparatus of mirror, and temple, and sun, will be taken away, because we shall be admitted to the beatific vision, to all those immediate manifestations of Deity which are vouchsafed to the angel or the archangel. “The Lord God giveth them light”; is not this to say that the Lord God giveth them Himself? for you will remember what is affirmed by St. John, “This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” And therefore God in some ineffable way is to communicate Himself to the soul. There will probably be a communication of ideas: God will substitute His ideas, great, noble, luminous, for our own, contracted, confused, obscure; and we shall become like Him, in our measure, through participating His knowledge. There will be a communication of excellences: God will so vividly impress His image upon us, that we shall be holy even as He is holy. There will be a communication of happiness: God will cause us to be happy in the very way in which He is happy Himself, making what constitutes His felicity to constitute ours, so that we shall be like Him in the sources or springs of enjoyment. The expression, “the Lord God giveth them light,” seems to indicate that our future state, like our present, will be progressive; there is to be a continued communication of light, or of knowledge, so that the assertion of Solomon, “The path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day,” may be as true hereafter as here. Whatever may be the attainments of the just man whilst on earth, he sees only “through a glass, darkly.” But he has yet to pass into a scene of greater light, and to read, in the opened volume of God’s purposes, the explanation of difficulties, the wisdom of appointments, the nice proportions of truth. Then shall the Divine attributes rise before him, unsearchable indeed and unlimited, but ever discovering more of their stupendousness, their beauty, their harmony. Then shall redemption throw open before him its untravelled amplitude, and allow of his tracing those unnumbered ramifications which the Cross, erected on this globe, may possibly be sending to all the outskirts of immensity. Then shall the several occurrences of his life, the dark things and the bright which chequered his path, appear equally necessary, equally merciful; and doubt give place to adoring reverence, as the problem is cleared up of oppressed righteousness and successful villany. But it shall not be instantaneous; for if the mysteries of time were exhausted, and redemption presented no unexplored district, God would remain infinite as at the first, as sublime in His inscrutableness as though ages had not been given to the searching out His wonders. Thus will the just proceed from strength to strength; knowledge, and love, and holiness, and joy, being always on the increase; and eternity one glorious morning.
III. “and they shall reign for ever and ever”--“they shall be kings for ever and ever.” Wonderful assertion! wonderful, because made of beings apparently insignificant. Yes, of us, who are by nature “children of wrath,” of us, who are “born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards,” even of us is it said, “They shall be kings for ever and ever.” And on what thrones shall we sit in heaven? over whom shall we be invested with dominion? I connect the different parts of the verse; and I read in its last clause, only differently expressed, the same promise, or prophecy, which I find in all the rest. I shall reign over the secrets of nature; all the workmanship of God shall be subject to me, opening to me its recesses, and admitting me into its marvels. I shall reign over the secrets of Providence; my empire shall gather back the past, and anticipate the future; and all the dealings of my Maker shall range themselves in perfect harmony before my view. I shall reign over the secrets of grace; the mediatorial work shall be as a province subject to my rule, containing no spot in all its spreadings which I may not explore. I shall reign over myself: I shall be thorough master of myself: no unruly desires, no undisciplined affections: I shall not be what an earthly king often is, his own base slave: no war between the flesh and the spirit, no rebellion of the will, no struggle of corrupt inclinations; but with all that true royalty, the royalty of perfect holiness, I shall serve God without wavering, and find His service to be sovereignty. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The happiness of heaven, as it is a state of uninterrupted light, proceeding immediately from God
I. Who these happy persons are who shall partake of this happiness.
II. Point out something of the happiness of heaven as expressed therein.
1. The happiness you shall have in heaven is light, and sweet as light.
2. There shall be no intermission of that happy day and light you shall have in heaven, for there shall be no night there.
3. The light the saints have in heaven is not by such means and instruments as they have it here.
4. The Lord God will give you light immediately from Himself. As the sun is seen by its own light, so will God be known by you in heaven. He will communicate Himself immediately unto you for your joy, happiness, and satisfaction, without means, and be instead of all means; for you shall “behold His face, and be satisfied with His likeness.”
5. You shall be made capable in heaven to take in this light from the Lord God to your comfort and satisfaction.
6. Your light of all kinds in heaven shall be full and perfect, your knowledge, your enjoyment, your conformity to His image shall be full and perfect, for it shall be immediately from Himself.
7. Your light from the Lord God in heaven shall be everlasting and endless.
1. Be persuaded, without delay, to enter into that state in which you will get a right to this happiness, be made meet for it, and be actually admitted into it when you die, and at the resurrection of the just.
2. As for you who have a right and title to this happiness, give all diligence to have your right to it made clearer to your knowledge and faith, and kept clear, and to arrive unto the full assurance of the hope of it unto the end. (James Robe, M. A.)
A blessed country
I. Perfect Illumination.
1. Material illumination. “No night.”
2. Individual illumination. “No candle”--a candle lights only one or two persons.
3. Universal illumination. “Light of the sun” illumines the world.
4. Spiritual illumination.
II. Perfect Rest. “The Lord giving them light.”
1. No anxiety.
2. No exertions.
3. No dread.
III. Perfect triumph. “They shall reign.”
1. Over self.
2. Over sin.
3. Over materialism.
4. Over ignorance.
IV. Perfect continuance. “For ever”--unbroken by any shock, or change, or chance. (Thos. Heath.)
The world without a night
I. A realm ever clear in vision.
1. There will be no error in our conception of things there. Far enough am I from believing that we shall ever see all things in heaven. There will always be universes lying beyond the ken of the most penetrating eye. Nor do I believe that different minds will ever have exactly the same view of things, see things in exactly the same light. Our views will necessarily be relative. They will be true to us, but not necessarily true to others. God alone can see the whole of a thing. We only see sections and sides. Not only does it appear impossible, but undesirable. Diversity of view gives a freshness and charm to society. Still, our range of vision, though limited, and our views, though relative, will be clear and accurate.
2. No doubt as to the path of duty. God’s Will, will radiate on everything without, and will express itself in every impulse within.
II. A realm ever pure in character. There are the holy angels whose natures, through the ages of their being, have never been clouded with one impure thought or touched by the thrill of one unholy passion. The redeemed of all ages are there. They have had their robes washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Christ, whose love for purity was so unconquerable, that He gave His life’s blood to cleanse the pollution of the world, is in the midst of its throne. He who is light, and in whom there is no darkness at all, fills with the sunshine of His presence the whole of that blessed scene.
III. A realm ever beautiful in aspect.
1. All natural beauties will be there.
2. All artistic beauties will be there. The very instinct of genius is to invent, imitate, and create, and there genius will flourish in perfection.
3. All moral beauties will be there. The beauty of holiness, the beauty of the Lord, will adorn every spirit. Thus all wilt rejoice in each other, and all rejoice in the Lord whence all their beauty came.
IV. A realm of ever unchecked progress.
1. No check to the advance of life. The vital energies will always be increasing. Sinew and soul, character and conscience, will be ever growing in force. No blight to wither, no shadow to chill there. But all the influences that play around existence there, inspire, invigorate, and uplift.
2. No checking of labour. Our range of action will be unrestrained. We shall be always abounding in the work of the Lord.
V. A realm ever joyous in spirit. A bright day sets the world to music. What happiness, then, must there be in a world where there is no night. (Homilist.)
Light the blessing of heaven
1. There shall be no sin there. The works of darkness are excluded, and all that have fellowship with them. And more than that--the past sins of those who are admitted shall not enter there to haunt them.
2. There shall be no more sorrow there. Heaviness may have endured for the night, but this is the morning-tide, and joy cometh. It is the harvest of joy after the seed-time of tears; and all the light and brief afflictions of the mortal life shall be turned into an exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
3. There shall be no chastisement there. The fatherly correction, which brought them home, shall be no more.
4. There shall be no trial there, and no temptation any more. For they have endured, and are blessed; yea, they have endured unto the end, and they are saved.
5. There shall be no weariness there.
6. There shall be no ignorance there; but they shall all know, even as also they are known.
7. There shall be no decay there, Because there is no corruption, there shall be no more “drawing to an end as soon as we are born.”
8. There shall be no loneliness there. For this also is of the night.
9. There shall be no adversary there--no spiritual wickedness any more to wrestle with in heavenly places--no powers of darkness! The prince of this world is cast out of the next; his engines, his lies, his fury, all are spent.
10. To crown all--There shall be no estrangement from God there; no more darkness of spirit; no more clouds and gloom between our spirits and their Lord. This is blessedness indeed, because it is holiness! But for that very reason, it is not blessedness for all. The night-bird, if it is disturbed at noonday, is only blinded by the sunbeams. And the light of that world will be indeed insufferable to those who in this world have loved darkness rather than light. They have refused to come to the light because their deeds were evil. And now the light has come to them, and made their deeds manifest. They have had their choice. And their place henceforth is in the outer darkness, lighted only by the fire that never shall be quenched. (Dean Scott.)
They shall reign for ever and ever.
On the happiness of heaven as an everlasting kingdom
I. That you, who are the Lamb’s faithful servants now, shall reign when you come to heaven.
1. I give you some of the characters of those to whom heaven is promised as a kingdom.
2. Some Scriptural account of your reign in heaven.
(a) You shall reign there gloriously.
(b) You shall reign in heaven jointly and severally with all the saints.
(c) Your reign in heaven will be quiet and peaceable, calm and undisturbed.
(d) You shall reign in heaven joyfully.
(e) Your reign in heaven shall be just and righteous.
(f) Your reign in heaven shall be very long, longer than the thousand years’ reign of the saints with Jesus Christ upon the earth. It will be for ever and ever.
3. Whence it is that you shall reign in heaven.
II. The happiness of heaven is “for ever and ever.”
1. Your reign and happiness in heaven will be immutable: if it admitted any change, it would not be for ever and ever.
2. Your reign and happiness in heaven will be everlasting and without all end. It is everlasting life, everlasting consolation, an eternal inheritance, an eternal weight of glory, eternal salvation, pleasures for evermore, a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
3. But if you now inquire what the eternity of heaven and the happiness of it is founded upon, I answer, It is founded upon the eternity and unchangeableness of God and His perfections, in covenant with His people through Jesus Christ.
1. Shall your reign and happiness be for ever and ever? Then hence see the inconceivable greatness of the hope and happiness laid up for you in heaven.
2. Then things are valuable and precious here in proportion to the influence they have in bringing us to the enjoyment of an eternity of happiness.
3. The love of God to you who are His people is incomprehensibly great, which hath designed for you a glory not only so great in itself, but also for ever.
4. Learn hence the wisdom and sagacity of the people of God, who renounce a present and temporary happiness, and choose an unseen and future blessedness because it is eternal.
5. Then let me prevail with you to seek after this eternal happiness first and most, with the utmost earnestness, industry, and self-denial.
6. Then let the servants of God and the Lamb comfort themselves and one another with the consideration of the eternity of their reign and happiness in heaven.
7. Let the consideration of the eternity of your happiness in heaven engage and excite you to the duties of holiness and obedience. (James Robe, M. A.)
And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel.
How to bridge the epochs of change in our lives, how to pass from our visions to our tasks, from our apocalypses to the light of common days, for which they are to prepare us, carrying the best results of the one into the other, and bringing the former to true effect in the latter; this, surely, is something we need to know. These transitions are among the things to be counted upon, if our life have any sweep and movement at all. We ought to, but do not always, pass through them well. The heavenly gales which should have wafted us on to ports of power and usefulness leave us with strained masts and torn sails. How to pass through these epochs of transition without dimming the glory of the exalted mood is a question worthy of our most earnest consideration. The words we have made our text have bearing on this subject. They report the immediate sequel to the sublimest mood of spiritual exaltation. Yet that sequel was a sad blunder, involving both sacrilege and sin. Beginning the ethical application of this incident on the lowest plane, it shows us, first, that great men may make great mistakes and eminent saints fall into grievous sins. This should make us careful, humble, and charitable. We are apt to ask for a perfection in others which we know does not obtain in ourselves, and to deem our own virtue proof against the temptations to which others have succumbed. Perhaps the worst about this is that it militates against our reverence and appreciation of good men, and the influence and inspiration of their real worth, when we discover these defects. We ask for perfection in heroes, prophets, and saints; when we discover the fault, which mars the perfection but not the essential worth, the effect of the work, teaching, and life is impaired, and perhaps the hero, prophet, or saint, exists for us no more. The truth is, God has given us naught that is perfect save Himself, and what flows directly from Himself; and He has no perfect representative on earth save Him who came forth from the bosom of the Father and was one with Him. But one life in which God is partially revealed in any mode is supplemented, corrected, and completed by others may take many heroes to fitly exemplify the power of God working in humanity; it may take many prophets to adequately set forth the truth of God so as to constitute a full, saving revelation, and it may take many saints to worthily illustrate the principle of a Divine holiness in human life, and there is a completeness and adequacy, not to say perfection, in the aggregate not to be found in the individual or section. But, more specifically, the text underscores a point of special peril in moral life. That point is the vanishing point of some special privilege, exalted mood, rich and radiant experience, or larger and intenser flow of life in any mode. We should learn to translate vision and transport into purpose and power. We experience the spiritual, intellectual, or emotional effects of sermon or prayer. Then, awakening from our ecstasy, we straightway fall down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed us these things. We praise the sermon, the service, the song, and magnify those who have ministered therein. All the subtle idolatries of sermon and service, church and creed, so prevalent in this time, are repetitions of the apostle’s error in falling to worship before the feet of the revelation angel. Other heavens than those of faith are opened to us, and other apocalypses than those of spiritual vision are accorded us--heavens of domestic felicity and apocalypses of human beauty, tenderness, and worth. Angels walk by our side and show us these things, transfiguring earth’s dull and prosy scenes, revealing to us the heavens of love, opening seals of affection and fellowship. But these visions fade, for they are not the perfect day, that abides; they are but prophetic gleams of a coming dawn. The scene closes. The ministering spirit is summoned from our side. Our danger, then, is of falling into idolatry of the departing angel. The house must be kept just as they left it. The clothes, and everything the loved one cherished, must be preserved as sacred mementoes, and the scenes of love’s vision become the shrine of love’s memorial and glorifying devotion. (J. W. Earnshaw.)
The temptation to creature worship
This incident is very decisive against anything approaching to saint or angel worship, but it yields a still deeper lesson suited to our times, which is this, that the most devout, the holiest of men, may be betrayed into thus falling. When we consider the state of things in the modern Church of Rome, two things strike us with astonishment. The first of these is the length to which this Church goes in encouraging the invocation of angels and departed saints. This is an increasing evil. It is greater now than ever it has been before. In Romish countries the worship of the Virgin in the way of Invocation far exceeds the worship paid to any Person in the Ever-Blessed Trinity. Theologians, it is true, make a distinction between the worship paid to the Virgin and saints and that paid to the Persons in the Adorable Trinity, but the vast mass of worshippers know of no such distinction. This, then, is the first thing; but another matter which fills us with astonishment, and some even with misgiving, is this, that notwithstanding this idolatry, so many devout minds have been won to this corrupt Church, and have themselves gone very far in this direction. How can it be, we ask, that men who know Scripture, and who unquestionably have their souls alive to the things of God and of Christ, can yet pay this idolatrous worship? This is staggering to some, but not if we read aright this very place of Scripture. For here we have an apostle, full of the Holy Ghost, called and taught by Christ Himself, one of those who had drunk in His profoundest teaching, twice needing the reproof, “See thou do it not; worship God.” Now, how could this be? I suppose none of you have ever been tempted to do such a thing as worship an angel, or a saint, or the Blessed Virgin? It is the very last temptation you are likely to be troubled with. How, then, was it possible that this temptation should assail an apostle? Because, I answer, he had a revelation granted to him such as you or I are not likely to have, because we are utterly unworthy of it. It is not for us who have never been so favoured, who, perhaps, some of us, have never believed in an angel at all--who have never realised or tried to realise our companionship with angels, or how God works by them--it is not for us to judge this apostle; but it may be well for us to learn somewhat from ]aim. How grand, then, beyond expression, must these visions of the New Jerusalem and its inhabitants have been if they could so affect an apostle who had lain in the bosom of Jesus Himself! (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
The theme contained in this one word “worship” is much larger and profounder than any of us assume. We, all of us are likely to take it for granted that we know what “worship” is. Our simplest idea of it identifies it with the public services of the Church and with family and private devotions. The word “worship” necessarily associates itself with these. But these do not by any means exhaust its meaning. Let us inquire, then, more in detail what worship is; then we may possibly be able to see how necessary it is to the lifting all our faculties into a receptive attitude towards that Divine life out of which our life continually comes.
1. Worship implies some sort of knowledge. Agnosticism cannot worship. It may not be intellectualised knowledge, and yet it must be of the nature of knowledge. Many an unschooled man is intuitively a more knowing man than is many a schooled man. His insight, judgment, wisdom, are more trustworthy. I believe, however, that every man, in being a man, constitutionally that is, has knowledge enough of God to create in him worshipful tendencies and aspirations. In order to a fulness of knowledge there must be a fulness of humanity, and there has never been but one in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
2. Let us say, then, that worship is the effort of the soul to realise the Divine presence and to partake of the Divine life. When the soul is perpetually as conscious of the Divine presence as of the presence of an external world, and partakes of the Divine life as really and as consciously as we partake now of each other’s life, then worship becomes no longer an act to which we compel ourselves, but a state--the constant state of the soul before God--as real, as natural, as unforced, as genial, as sufficing, as gently reciprocal as that of two souls who, together in the same place and under the same conditions live one life. “Beholding” the glory of the Lord, ever doing it, constantly doing it, sitting with eyes fixed like an artist student before a great masterpiece, until the work becomes so real and living that it speaks quietly, silently, with unsyllabled speech to the soul of the man beholding, until his feeling is changed and his ideas are changed. The old ignorant self is no longer there--into the image of the great master he is changed, and the change keeps going on from state to state, each an advance upon the other, and all by the Spirit of the Great Master entering into him and subduing him.
3. There must also be, as has been suggested by the greatest of living English statesmen, a sufficient self-knowledge. This is the first indispensable condition for s right attitude towards the Eternal. Then, too, there must be a suitable frame of the affections--that humility and aspiration which self-knowledge ought to bring; and, again, sustained mental effort, in which each worshipper recognises that he is a priest unto God; to carry our whole selves, as it were, with our own hands into that nearer presence of God, putting aside every distraction of the outward sense, so that the feeling I am a living soul in the presence of the living God may be the controlling thought. Is it not Ruskin who says, “There is only one place in the human soul that God can occupy--the first place”? To offer Him the second place is to offer Him no place at all. How much of our public presentation of ourselves in Church services fails of being worship I need hardly suggest. Formal worship ceases to be worship. There is no worship when the heart is not in it, and yet worship is a Divine command, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.”
4. There must be some imperious necessity in our nature why we should worship, or such a command would not be recorded. There are some faculties which have the telescopic power to draw the distant near: to make that visible which, in the non-exercise of them, remains invisible. On its upper side, the faith faculty has this use. Does not the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews speak of it in this wise: “Now, faith is the giving substance to things hoped for--the proving of things not seen”? Doubt refuses to act, but faith acts, and so gets its proofs of things not seen. The imagination, again, is the right royal faculty of the soul. Without it we should have no poets and no prophets--many painters we might have, mere copyists, but no artists; no great masters in any department of things. We say such men have “genius”--the Bible says “vision.” They see, while we reason as to whether we can see or not. Faith, imagination, vision, these are the wings of the soul--its faculties which help it to soar, to bring the distant near” to worship. If we were doomed to a prosy, mathematical, legal, commercial life, there would be no need of them. When God gave them He said to man in the giving, “Thou shalt worship.” We are living in the midst of a spiritual world, whose presence, if we are living rightly, i.e., according to God’s laws for life, will be as real to us as is the presence of the material world. This spiritual world contains facts which we cannot deny, such as these--intellect, conscience, reason, imagination, affection, will--none of these are material facts. No chemist, however minute and thorough his analysis, can find them in matter. They do not belong to the material. They must inhere in some substance not material. Is it not reasonable to infer that we are here not to develop the material world, except as a secondary object, but to develop ourselves, these mental and spiritual powers in us? That if we fail in developing these our failure is complete? And in order to do it we must worship that which is above us. There is no other way. The highest response we are capable of giving to the spiritual world around us is the act we call worship. It is an attitude of soul, yet an act with an infinite variety in it. They who stand and wait before God in speechless expectancy, their face ever God-ward, even when making no verbal prayer, offering no syllabled request, yet hoping ever in God, are true worshippers. Wherever there is a soul delighting in God, rejoicing in God, there is worship. The perfected, glorified humanity will be one in which the worship of God is an instinct; a state of habit, an attitude of soul unforced and universal. (R. Thomas.)
The great invitation
This invitation is--
I. Very blessed--“Worship God.” Not man, nor angels, nor self.
1. By studying His book--“Seal not the sayings,” etc.
2. By believing His truth.
3. By proclaiming His gospel whether it be pleasant or unpleasant to the carnal mind (Revelation 22:11). This invitation is--
II. Very urgent. For--
1. The time is short (Revelation 22:10). “Behold, I come quickly.”
2. The reward is dependent upon conduct--blessings to the obedient, disgrace to those who continue without.
3. The promise is only limited. The invitation is--
III. Very dignified.
1. In consequence of its Author--Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, etc. Not a doctrine or an invitation but comes from Him in His own voice.
2. In consequence of its importance. God is the Highest Being in the universe, and to worship Him is the noblest employment.
3. In consequence of the Assistant. The Saviour speaks and all things re-echo His words. “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.” (Homilist.)
Christ, the object of worship
There are two propositions-laid together in these words: the one negative--you must “worship” nothing that is not “God”; and the second positive--whatever is “God,” “worship.” Therefore at once, if Christ is God, He is to be “worshipped.” And it needs only to be quite sure of His Godhead, to be certain also that not only we may, but that we ought to pray to Him “Worship God.” Suffice it, then, just to remind you of one or two passages, which are the simplest upon that subject. In prophecy--“His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God.” In praise--“Unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” In teaching--“Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh.” In argument “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”--the whole force and sequency of the thought lying in Christ being God. In Christ’s own testimony--“I and My Father are one”--“he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” But let us see more distinctly what actual Scriptural example and sanction there is for paying this adoration, and addressing our petitions to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is certain that when He was upon earth many did come and make supplication to Him with every external demonstration of worship--kneeling, bowing, falling to the ground. And Christ never, in a single instance, put away the worship, or reproved the worshipper, or denied the prayer. It is matter of fact, too, that Christ told us that “all men were to honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.” And a part, a great part of the Father’s honour, is the prayer and the praise which His creatures offer Him. And we have the same truth, stated often in the New Testament, upon a wider range. For it is a name several times given to Christians--those who call upon the name of Christ. And not to multiply more, it is beyond all question, that in that world, which is the copy of us all--not the angels only, but the saints, do all, with one accord, direct their loftiest strains and their devoutest worship to Jesus Christ. We do not wonder, then, that resting itself upon this authority of Scripture, it has been the habit of the Church always to pray to Christ. In the whole, both of the Eastern and Western Churches, the custom has been universal, and never questioned, to pray to Christ. Alas! for that man or that Church which would ever forbid us, in song or in supplication, to worship Him, “the only wise God our Saviour,” who, blending so comfortably the wonders of His majesty with the tenderness of His brotherhood and the humiliations of His sufferings, has said freely to the whole world, “Come unto Me, all that travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still … and he that is holy, let him be holy still--
The misery of the unjust and impure, and the happiness of the righteous and the holy
Our first remark on this passage is, how very palpably and how very nearly it connects time with eternity. The character wherewith we sink into the grave at death, is the very character with which we shall reappear on the day of resurrection. The moral lineaments which be graven on the tablet of the inner man, and which every day of an unconverted life makes deeper and more indelible than before, will retain the impress they have received unaltered by the transition to the future state of our existence. Our second remark suggested by this Scripture is, that there be many analogies of nature and experience which even death itself does not interrupt. There is nought more familiar to our daily observation than the power and inveteracy of habits, insomuch that any decided propensity is strengthened by every new act of indulgence; any virtuous principle is more firmly established than before by every new act of resolute obedience to its dictates. The law which connects our actings of boyhood or of youth with the character of manhood, is the identical Jaw which connects our actings in time with our character in eternity. Be he a saint or a sinner, he shall be followed with his own ways, so that when fixed in his own place of everlasting destiny, the one shall rejoice in eternity in the pure, elements of goodness which here he loved and aspired after; the other, the helpless and degraded victim o! those passions which lorded over him in life, shall be irrevocably doomed to the worst of all torments--the torments of his own accursed nature, the inexorable tyranny of evil. Our third remark suggested by this Scripture is, that it affords no very dubious prospective of the future hell and future heaven of the New Testament. It is indeed be true that the moral rather than the material be the main ingredient, whether of the coming torment or the coming ecstacy, then the hell of the wicked may be said to be already begun, and the heaven of the virtuous may be said to be already begun in the breast of the good man. The one, in the bitterness of an unhinged and dissatisfied spirit, has a foretaste of the wretchedness before him; the other, in the peace, and triumph, and complacency of an approving conscience, has a foretaste of the happiness before him. Each is ripening for his own everlasting doom, and, whether in the depravities of the one or in the graces of the other, we see materials enough either for a worm that dieth not, or for the pleasures that are for evermore. But, again, it may be asked, will spiritual elements alone suffice to make up either the intense and intolerable wretchedness of a hell, or the intense beatitudes of a heaven? In answer to this question, let us go in detail over the different clauses of the verse now submitted to your consideration, and let us first turn your attention to the former of these receptacles; and we ask you to think of the state of that heart, in respect of sensation, which is the seat of a concentrated and all-absorbing selfishness, which feels for no other interest than its own, and holds no fellowship of truth, or honesty, or confidence with the fellow-beings around it. The man of cunning and concealment, however dexterous or triumphant in his wretched policy, is not at his ease. The stoop, the downcast regard, the dark and sinister expression of him who cannot lift up his head among his fellow-men, or look his companions in the face, are the sensible proof that he who knows himself to be dishonest feels himself to be degraded; and the inward sense of dishonour which haunts and humbles him here, is but the commencement of that shame and everlasting contempt to which he shall awake hereafter. Now, this is purely a moral chastisement, and, apart altogether from the infliction of violence or pain on his sentient economy, is enough to overwhelm the spirit that is exercised by it. Let him, then, that is unjust now, be unjust still--and in stepping from time to eternity he carries in his own distempered bosom the materials of his coming vengeance along with him. Character itself will be the executioner of his own condemnation; and instead of each suffering apart, the unrighteous are congregated together as in the parable of the tares, where, instead of each plant being separately destroyed, the order is given to bind them up in bundles and burn them. But there is another moral ingredient in the future sufferings of the wicked, besides the one we have now spoken of, suggested by the second clause of our text, and from which we learn that not only will the unjust man carry his fraud and falsehood along with him to the place of condemnation, but that also the voluptuary will carry his unsanctified habits and unhallowed passions thitherward. “And he who is filthy, let him be filthy still.” The loathing, the remorse, the felt and conscious degradation, the dreariness of heart, each following in the train of guilty indulgence here--these form but the beginning of his sorrows, and are but the presages and precursors of that deeper wretchedness which, by an unrepealed law of our moral nature, the same character entails on its possessor in another state of existence. They are but the penalties of vice in embryo, and may give at least the conception of what these penalties are in full. It will add inconceivably to the darkness and disorder of that moral chaos in which the impenitent shall spend their eternity, when the uproar of the bacchanalian and licentious passion is thus superadded to the selfish and malignant passions of our nature, and when the frenzy of unsated desire, followed up by the languor and compunction of its worthless indulgence, shall make up the sad history of many an unhappy spirit. Before quitting this part of the subject, we have just one remark to offer. It may be felt as if we had overstated the force of mere character to beget a wretchedness at all approaching the wretchedness of hell, seeing that that character is often realised in this world, without bringing along with it intolerable discomfort or distress. Neither the unjust nor the licentious man is seen to be so unhappy here as to justify the imagination, that there these characteristics will have the power to effect such anguish and disorder of spirit as we have now been representing. But it is forgotten, first, that this world presents in its business, its amusements, and its various gratifications, a refuge from the mental agonies of reflection and remorse; and, secondly, that the governments of the world offer a restraint against those outbreakings of violence which would keep up a perpetual anarchy in the species. But we now change this appalling picture for a delightful contemplation. The next clause of the verse suggests to us the moral character of heaven. We learn from it, on the universal principle, that as they that are unjust shall be unjust still, so also the righteous now shall be righteous still. Just imagine, for a moment, that honour, and integrity, and benevolence, were perfect in the world; that each held the property, the rights, the reputation of his neighbour to be dear to him as his own; that the suspicions, and the jealousies, and the heart-burnings, whether of hostile violence or envious competition, were altogether banished from human society; that the emotions, at all times delightful, of good-will on one side were ever and anon calling the emotion, no less delightful, of gratitude back again; that truth and tenderness held their secure abode in every family; and, in stepping forth among the wider companionship of life, that each could confidently rejoice in every one he met with as a brother and a friend, we ask of you if, by this simple change--a change, you will observe, in nothing else than the morale of humanity--though winter should repeat its storms as heretofore, and every element of nature were to abide unaltered, yet, in virtue of a process and revolution altogether moral, would not our millennium be begun, and a heaven on earth be realised? Now, let this contemplation be borne aloft, as it were, to the upper sanctuary, where, we are told, “there are the spirits of just men made perfect; where those who were once the righteous on earth are righteous still.” Let it be remembered that nothing is admitted there which worketh wickedness or worketh a lie; and that, therefore, with every virulence of evil, detached and dissevered from the mass, there is nought in heaven but the pure, the transparent element of goodness. Think of its unbounded love, its tried and unalterable faithfulness, its confiding sincerity; think of the expressive designation given it in the Bible: “The land of uprightness.” Above all, think of the revealed and invisible glory of the righteous God, who loveth righteousness, there sitting upon His throne in the midst of a rejoicing family, Himself rejoicing over them, because formed in His own likeness; they love what He loves; they rejoice at what He rejoices in. The last clause of the verse is, “Let him that is holy be holy still.” The two clauses descriptive of the character and the place of celestial blessedness are counterparts of the two clauses descriptive of the character and the place of eternal woe. He that is righteous in the one stands compared with him that is unjust in the other; he that is holy in the one stands contrasted with him that is licentious in the other. But I would have you to attend to the full extent and significance of the term holy. It is not abstinence from outward deeds of profligacy alone; it is not a mere recoil from impurity in action. It is a recoil from impurity in thought; it is that quick and sensitive delicacy to which even the very conception of evil is offensive; it is a virtue which has its residence within, which takes guardianship of the heart, as of a citadel or inviolated sanctuary, in which no wrong or worthless imagination is permitted to dwell. It is not purity of action that is ell we contend for; it is exalted purity of heart--the ethereal purity of the third heaven; and
II. it is once settled in the heart, it brings the peace, and the triumph, and the untroubled serenity of heaven along with it. In the maintenance of this, there is a conscious elevation; there is the complacency, I had almost said the pride, of a great moral victory over the infirmities of an earthly and accursed nature; there is a health and a harmony in the soul, a beauty of holiness which, though it effloresces in the countenance and the manner and outward path, is itself so thoroughly internal as to make purity of heart the most distinctive evidence of a work of grace in time--the most distinctive evidence of a character that is ripening and expanding for the glories of eternity. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Only one probation
What is your life? A question of solemn import to every one of us. Viewed simply as to its brevity, the present life is a vapour, a dream, a tale told; but viewed in its relation to eternity and man’s everlasting destiny, it assumes an awful amount of importance. The most solemn aspect of the present life is, that, brief and transitory as it is, it is the only period in which our depraved and guilty nature may experience a moral and spiritual renewal. Viewed in this light, it is impossible to overestimate the awful significance of the life that now is. Whatever be your character when you sink into the grave will be your character when you rise on the resurrection morn.
I. That there is but one probation. The whole Bible is written on this supposition. In admonitions, warnings, entreaties, threatenings, and promises all presuppose that there is only one probation. The vast agencies put into operation for reclaiming erring man imply that this is his only chance. The infinite pains and toils of the Holy Spirit and His agencies; the persistent efforts of Satan and his agents indicate that the final issue of the battle is to be decided here.
1. This truth is confirmed by the universal consciousness of men. Somehow or other man everywhere feels that if he fails here, he fails for ever. The idea, more or less, haunts him through life. Hence his dread of futurity. Wherever the notion of futurity obtains, the mind generally associates with it the idea of fixedness, changelessness. There are two perversions of this truth among men. In some heathen lands the doctrine of the transmigration of souls obtains. But this is a perversion wilfully adopted because more congenial to the depraved heart than an inexorable destiny. Popery has also perverted this truth, so deeply fixed in the human soul, by teaching its vassals to pray and pay for the souls of the departed, that, by the intercessions of the priesthood, they may be delivered from purgatory or have their sufferings mitigated. It cannot be denied that there is in the deepest heart of humanity an intuitive sense that the world to come is one of fixedness. This is true not only of Bible lands, but of heathen countries; of the barbarous as well as of the civilised. Pagan men, by their costly ceremonials, their pilgrimages and penance, are seeking to set themselves right with their gods; but is there not underlying all these cruel rites the conviction that this life is the only period in which such a reconciliation may be effected? Moreover, we think it a wise and gracious provision that there should be but one probation.
2. The prospect of a second probation would tend to counteract upon the mind of man the influences of the first. If you knew to a certainty that you were going to have a second probation, the inevitable tendency of a depraved heart would be to say, “I may safely resist any good influences that come upon me during my earthly life,” since I am certain of having them again, or similar ones, in another state of being.
3. The knowledge of a second probation would furnish an inducement to delay. The procrastinating principle would be strengthened. Even now, with the know]edge that there is but one probation, untold numbers delay until it is too late, and utter ruin overtakes them.
4. Man would enter upon his second probation with hardened sensibilities and confirmed habits. Frequent resistance of truth would render him less susceptible. The probability of conversion would be less.
5. And then, in case he passed the second without repentance, his condemnation would be so much greater. Surely it is hell enough for you to endure the penalties of resisting the moral agencies of one probation, without incurring the more awful condemnation resulting from resisting the additional agencies of a second probation.
II. When probation is over, character is unalterably fixed. Men wedded to their lusts, and unwilling to abandon the wretched connection, entertain the vague notion that there is some inherent power in death to change the moral character, as if the soul must necessarily-undergo some process of change for the better in its passage between this world and the next. This delusion holds many captive by its spell. There is not a syllable breathed in the inspired volume to suggest such a theory. Death is nowhere represented as a moral renovator. It is true it changes the aspect of the body. By severing it from the soul, death subjects the body to decay, corruption, and decomposition. But death touches not the soul. It affects not the character; it leads the soul through no purifying stream, nor bathes it in any cleansing fountain. Death is a disrobing, but it is a disrobing of the body and not of character. You cannot place your sins and habits in the grave with your body, there to moulder and decay. Your friends cannot do this for you. No. Every pollution uncleansed by atoning blood the soul must carry with it into the dread future. Christ alone is the Purifier. Besides, if your hope be well founded, if death must necessarily, by some mysterious process, change your character, why do you fear death? If it can and will remove evil from your nature, and fit you for a higher world, it will be your benefactor, your friend. Why therefore stand in awe of death? The agencies which regenerate are brought to bear upon man only in the present state of being. The only power that can change the human soul from a state of sin to a state of holiness is the power of the Holy Ghost. The world we now occupy is the only theatre of the Divine Spirit’s operations, the only land through which the streams of salvation flow. Probation is not so much a test of character as a test of the effects of God’s truth on character.
III. That character will constitute our weal or woe in the coming world. The text implies that your retribution, if wicked, will consist in your being wicked for ever; if filthy, in being filthy, morally polluted, for ever. Even on the supposition--a supposition which we do not admit that there will be in the future world no elements of retribution without us, yet it is certain that we shall find them within us, if unforgiven and unholy. These elements are stored up in every guilty man’s bosom. They are not now in full play. In this world of mercy they are under restraint. They sometimes haunt and harass the transgressor here. In the world to come, these materials of vengeance will be let loose upon him without check or hindrance of any kind. It is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive fully the difference between your feelings when revelling in mirth and sin, and your feelings afterwards when you come to reflect upon your conduct. Presently, however, you are cast on a bed of sickness, where you lie languishing and miserable. Companions are gone. The light of enjoyment has fled. Memory is busy recounting the past, looking back on the scene so gladsome. Oh, what a different aspect does it wear in the retrospect! Reflection turns it into agony. Your body may be racked with pain, but there is a keener, deeper, intenser anguish--anguish of mind. So intolerable does this become in some men that refuge is sought in self-destruction. If, then, by the united action of memory and conscience all this anguish and agony may be produced here in a world where there are so many restraints and alleviations, where mercy lifts her banner to allure the guiltiest, and where the hope of salvation sheds its radiance upon the most depraved, how much more terrific will these engines of torture become in a world where there are no restraints, no alleviations! By every transgression you are treasuring up wrath. Your own guilty hand has already gathered an awful store, and yet you go on accumulating. God in His mercy holds it from falling. It is suspended by the gracious interposition of the Mediator. But when the border line is crossed, when probation is over and the reign of mercy closed, voices shall be heard ringing through the universe, the voice of violated law, the voice of abused mercy, the voice of despised love, “In the name of the Holy Trinity cut all loose.” Then the storehouse of memory and conscience will be thrown open. The pent-up vengeance, the accumulations of your guilty life, will fall upon you and overwhelm you. Then there is the idea of being associated with those who are actuated by the same passions, and that for ever. There are neighbourhoods known to be so notoriously bad, so infested with base and dangerous characters, that you would not dare to enter them alone even in the day-time. If there be so much dread of approaching such characters here, with all the vigilance of police and the restraints of law, what must it be in a world where all the wicked in the universe are gathered together, without any of the restraints of conscience, or of the Holy Spirit, or of law, where they shall know no law but their own guilty passions, and when these passions, finding no means of gratification, must prey upon themselves and upon each other? Guilty men will need no demon tormentors in the world of retribution. Man will there be his own tormentor. His own bosom will contain materials of wrath which eternity cannot exhaust. The gloomy atmosphere of the world of retribution will thus be thronged with the visible and awful forms of your sins. You will have to live with them. They will constitute the furies that shall hunt, harass, and torment you. Escape them you cannot. The same principle applies to the reward of the good. “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still.” It is confirmed by your own experience that your happiness depends not on what you possess, not on circumstances, not on locality, not on friendships, not on surroundings, not so much on what you have as on what you are. The elements of my happiness are not without me but within me. It is what I am that makes me miserable or happy. Make me holy, and you make me happy. Leave me in my guilt and sin, and you leave me miserable. The redeemed will rejoice in a holy character and in the certainty that it will never more be tainted. Here you are agitated with a thousand fears lest, in a moment of weakness and unwatchfulness, the enemy should gain the advantage over you, and you should forfeit your righteousness: but there you will be for ever redeemed from all such fears by the gracious declaration of your Lord, “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still: he that is holy, let him be holy still.” You have seen the dewdrop trembling on the blade of grass, and glittering with varied hues in the morning light. The sun rises and kisses it away. It seems lost and irrecoverable. Not so. That dewdrop has disappeared, but it is not destroyed. It is in safe keeping. It is held in trust by the faithful atmosphere, and will descend in dew again upon the earth when and where most needed. So God treasures up every good thing that you have done, or said, or felt, or thought for Him and His great Name. You have sown purity and you shall reap it. God will reward you according to what you have done in the body. Now, what more shall we say unto you? If it be true that you are at this moment occupying the only world where character may be changed and where regenerating forces are in operation, how important that you should come to a right decision at once, this very moment. (Richard Roberts.)
Moral character becoming unalterable
I. If it is not altered before death it is not likely to be altered at death. There is no opportunity afforded at death for such a work as this.
II. If it is not altered before death it is not likely to be altered by death. There is no tendency in bodily changes to effect spiritual reformation. Such changes in the body are constantly going on here. Wrong moral principles and habits do not pass away from us as the particles of our body depart day after day and year after year.
III. If it is not altered before death it is not likely to be altered after death.
1. A change in moral character can only be effected by the force of moral truth.
2. We cannot conceive of moral truth in a mightier form than we have it here.
3. The longer the force of truth is resisted the less likely is it to succeed. (Homilist.)
Permanence of character
These words are usually applied to the future state, and properly so. They also refer to this present life, as seen in the fact that character is permanent; that along the same lines we have hitherto progressed we shall in all human probability continue to go.
1. Notice, ‘in confirmation of this statement, the small number of reformations from evil practices. Where one does return multitudes never leave the husks of sin and come to their Father’s house.
2. Notice how few enter an evil course late in life. Prison reports show the inmates to begin their crooked ways between ten and fifteen years of age. One criminal traced his career of sin back to childhood when he pilfered a few pennies.
3. The conservatism of age is another. The moral character which one has attained at thirty-five is a trustworthy index of what he will be to the end. Every year you delay becoming a Christian helps to fix you in indifference, and render conversion less and less probable.
4. Certain duties grow out of these facts.
You must meet them. If you shirk them they remain for ever neglected, and at your peril. To doubt is disloyal, to falter is to sin. (C. F. Thwing.)
The sunward side of habit
One of our quaint earlier English poets sings--
“We are but farmers of ourselves, yet may
If we can stock ourselves and thrive, uplay
Much good treasure for the great rent-day.”
It is a great thing to have mighty forces working for you instead of against you, so enabling you “to aplay much good treasure for the great rent-day.” Mr. Emerson puts the matter well: “The water drowns ship and sailor like a grain of dust; but trim your bark, and the wave which drowned it will be cloven by it, and carry it like its own foam, a plume and a power.” But there are certain vast moral forces at work within every one of us, which make life if they be working for us; which make death if they work against us. Habit is such a moral force. Think of the laws controlling habit.
1. “Habit diminishes feeling and increases activity”--e.g., the empire of a musician over an instrument. At first all sorts of feelings against--dislike of practice, inability to deftly use the fingers, etc.; and also only slow and laboured activity both of mind and body. But when the empire has been established, all these hindering feelings have been overcome, and activity has become so easy as to be almost spontaneous.
2. “Habit tends to become permanent and to exclude the formation of other habits.”
Truth and its results on character
The direct bearing of this statement is that of an argument for the writing and publishing of these revelations, and the holding of them up to the view of all men, over against the non-effect or ill-effect they may have upon the wicked and unbelieving, or upon the Antichrist and his adherents, who is emphatically the unjust and unclean one. Though “wicked men and seducers shall wax worse and worse,” and even wrest what is herein predicted of them as if it were a license for their wickedness or a fixing of it by an irresistible necessity, and so are only the more encouraged and urged on in their injustice and abominations; still, this is not to prevent the freest and fullest proclamation of the whole truth. Let the unjust one be the more confirmed in his unbelief and wickedness--let the filthy one go on in his idolatries and moral defilement with all the greater hardihood and blasphemy--that is not to restrain the making known of what shall come to pass. If it accelerates the antichristian development, and the wicked are only the more indurated in their wickedness, let it so be. Though the sun breed pestilence and death in the morasses, and only hasten putrefaction in what is lifeless and rotten, it must not therefore be blotted from the heavens, or hindered from shining into our world. There is another side to the question. If it is an ill thing to what is ill, the life of what is living requires it. Believers must be forewarned and forearmed, or they too will be deceived and perish. And if the wicked are made the wickeder, the righteous and holy will be the holier, and without it cannot be defended and kept as they need to be. Therefore, let not this holy book be sealed up, nor its grand prophecies shut off from the fullest record and the most unreserved proclamation. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The stereotyping of human character
There comes a time--there will come a time to each one of us--when, whatever we are, that we shall be; when the seal of permanence will be set upon the spiritual condition; when the unjust man shall be unjust for ever, and the righteous man shall be for ever righteous. I know of nothing more serious, in itself more alarming, than this reflection. There is no one now living in sin who does not intend at some future time to turn from it and be saved. And we all have great reliance upon the power of the human will. We all think that what we are we are because we choose so to be; and, at all events, that what we wish to be in the future we can be and we shall be. And we know from God’s Word that we are to a great extent dealt with on this supposition (Psalms 95:7-8; Ezekiel 18:32). And we know that in early years there is a great susceptibility of impressions. A death in a family, a sin discovered and punished, nay, a single sermon, has often, in God’s hands, changed the course of a young life from evil to good. And it is so both ways. A particular companionship, casual in its origin, has led a young person into folly or worse than folly: the companionship is broken off as casually as it was formed; the snare is broken with it, and the young life delivered. And we observe a wonderful versatility and changeableness in that part of life. From year to year, almost from week to week, we have seen a vicissitude and an alteration. One week thoughtful, diligent, exemplary; the next week trifling, idle, troublesome. One month an attentive hearer, a reverent worshipper; the next month uninterested in the things of God; a listless and languid listener; a careless, indifferent, almost profane, member of the congregation. Thus the experience of one part of life seems almost to encourage the hope that the unjust man may not be unjust for ever; almost to suggest the fear that the righteous man may not be for ever righteous. And we cling to that hope, for others and for ourselves. I may spend, we say, forty or fifty years in sin and ungodliness, and yet have twenty or thirty years for faith and calling upon God. And the Christian minister, and the Christian man knows, indeed, no such thing as a limit or a terminus of God’s mercy and of God’s grace. But we feel that there is also a truth, and a very solemn and needful truth, on the side of the text which speaks of the permanence, of the unchangeableness, of human character. Yes, for one man who changes, a thousand change not. They pass on through life, and they end it even as they began. He who in childhood was a spoilt and wayward child, he who in boyhood was an idle and self-willed boy, he who in youth was a passionate and a dissolute young man, he who in manhood was a self-seeking and a worldly man, will probably be in old age an avaricious or an irreligious old man, and in the end one who has had his portion in this life, has received his good things here, and must look only for evil things hereafter. The experience of life as a whole does not encourage the hope of many sudden changes, of many reversals of character, of many bad beginnings and good endings. As a general rule, the unjust man will be unjust still, and the righteous and holy will be holy and righteous still. But, at all events, this will be true at a certain point, after a certain time. The connection of the words before us shows that it will be so as the end draws on; when Christ’s coming is instant there will be no change in human character. When the last conflict once sets in there will be no room and no time for changing sides. When the armies are once marshalled for their final encounter, there will be no fresh desertions and no new enlistments. (Dean Vaughan.)
What a man takes into the other world
If we look at it truly, his past life is just the one thing that a man does take with him when he dies. He takes himself. And that self is the product of all his past experience and action. As an oak bears in itself the results of every shower that through long years has freshened it, of every gale that has toughened it or stripped its boughs, of the sunshine that has fed it, and the drought that has parched it; so a man, when he stands at the end of life, is what he has been made by all his joys and sufferings and actions. That is what he takes into the other world his own character. (H. W. Beecher.)
Christian character not gained in sickness
“One should think,” said a friend to the celebrated Dr. Samuel Johnson, “that sickness and the view of death would make men more religious.” “Sir,” replied Johnson, “they do not know how to go to work about it. A man who has never had religion before no more grows religious when he is sick than a man who has never learned figures can count when he has need of calculation.”
Character and crises
Conduct is always reaching crises and entering upon its consequences. It may be cumulative in degree, and reach crises more and more marked; it may at last reach a special crisis which shall be the judgment when the soul shall turn to the right or left of eternal destiny. (T. T. Munger, D. D.)
Finality in character
When the future life begins every man will see Christ as He is, and the sight of Him may of itself bring a finality to his character and destiny, as it discovers each man fully to himself. (President Porter.)
Deeds and destiny
Sow an act and you will reap a habit; sow a habit and you will reap a character; sow a character and you will reap a destiny. (W. M. Thackeray.)
Death fixes character
The hour of death may be fitly likened to that celebrated picture in the National Gallery, of Perseus holding up the head of Medusa. That head turned all persons into stone who looked upon it. There is a warrior represented with a dart in his hand; he stands stiffened, turned into stone, with the javelin in his fist. There is another with a poignard beneath his robe, about to stab; he is now the statue of an assassin, motionless and cold. Another is creeping along stealthily, like a man in ambuscade, and there he stands a consolidated rock; he has looked only upon that head, and he is frozen into stone. Such is death. What I am when death is held before me, that I must be for ever. When my spirit departs, if God finds me hymning His praise, I shall hymn it in heaven; if He finds me breathing out oaths, I shall follow up those oaths in hell. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I come quickly; and My reward is with Me.--
The coming of Christ
1. That the notices of our Lord’s coming are usually, in Scripture, ushered in with great solemnity, with a mark of attention and observation. “Behold!” (Jude 1:7).
2. That the special distribution of rewards and punishments is reserved till the second coming and appearance of Jesus Christ; “My reward is with Me, to give to every man according to his work.”
3. That it is our wisdom and duty to represent, by actual and solemn thoughts, the certain and speedy coming of Christ to the righteous judgment of the world. (W. Burkitt M. A.)
To give every man according as his work shall be.
Work appointed and rewarded by Christ
“The modern majesty,” says Carlyle, “consists in work. What a man can do is his greatest ornament, and he always consults his dignity by doing it.”
I. Christ appoints every Christian’s work.
1. Each has his own work to do for Christ.
2. Each must receive the appointment from Christ Himself.
3. Each one, therefore, is responsible to Christ alone.
II. Christ, returning, brings with Him every man’s reward. “Behold!” A call to attention, energy, and eager expectation. The startling character of this announcement--“Behold, I come quickly.” When Christ comes He will bring every man’s reward or recompense. His clear knowledge of the life and work of each of the vast multitude. The reward will be in proportion to the work done. (Samuel B. Stribling.)
Man meeting his actions again
In the province of Amherst, in Burmah, the foresters cut down the teak wood far up the country, then cast their logs into the river and let them float down the stream. In some instances they will float two hundred miles, when they are caught by a cable stretched across the river. They are then brought ashore and stored. When the foresters come down, every man knows his logs by his own private mark. Such are all our labours and actions. They are so many logs cast upon the stream of time and floated on to eternity. When we reach the judgment seat of Christ we shall find them each presenting the characteristic mark we have stamped upon it. (Chas. Graham.)
I am Alpha and Omega.--
Alpha and Omega
I. Bring certain truths to the text.
1. Our Lord may well be described as the Alpha and Omega in the sense of rank. He is Alpha, the first, the chief, the foremost, the first-born of every creature, the eternal God. But though our blessed Lord is thus Alpha--the first--He was once in His condescension made Omega, the last. Marshal the creatures of God in their order, in the dread day when Jesus hangs upon the Cross, and you must put Him for misery, for weakness, for shame as the last, the Omega.
2. Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega in the book of Holy Scripture.
3. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega of the great law of God. The law of God finds not a single letter in human nature to meet its demands. You and I are neither Alpha nor Omega to the law, for we have broken it altogether. We have not even learned its first letter--“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” and certain I am we know but very little of the next--“thy neighbour as thyself.” But if you would see the law fulfilled, look to the person of our blessed Lord and Master.
II. Now we will take the text itself, and show what are the truths which we assuredly believe to be in it.
1. Our Lord Jesus is Alpha and Omega in the great alphabet of being. Reckon existences in their order, and you begin--“In the beginning was the Word.” Proceed to the conclusion. What then? What is the Omega? Why assuredly Jesus Christ would still be “God over all, blessed for ever. Amen.”
2. Jesus Christ is Alpha and Omega in the alphabet of creating operations. Who was it that began to make? Not an angel, for the angel must first be made. Did matter create itself? Was there an effect without a cause? It is contrary to our experience and our reason to believe any such thing. The first cause stands first, and the first cause is God in the Divine Trinity, the Son being one Person of that Trinity. He is Alpha because His hand first of all winged angelic spirit, and made His ministers a flame of fire. As He alone began, so His power maintains the fabric of creation; all things consist by Him. If this world shall be rolled up like a worn-out vesture, He shall roll it up; if the stars shall wither, it shall be at Jesu’s bidding. He shall do it all, even until the end shall come, for He is Omega as well as Alpha.
3. Christ is Alpha and Omega in all covenant transactions. Everywhere the Lord Jesus is to be considered not as the friend of a day, or our Saviour only in His life on earth, but as the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, the anointed Mediator set up from everlasting days.
4. Jesus Christ is certainly Alpha and Omega in all salvation work as it becomes apparent in act and deed. If you have been led to know your own emptiness--if you have received from His Spirit a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness, go not to the law; look not within; but come to the Alpha, drink and be satisfied. If, on the other hand, life is near its close; if you have been preserved in holiness; if you have been kept in righteousness, remember still to trust in the Omega; for these words follow--“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son.”
III. A few things which flow out of the text.
1. Sinner, saint, let Jesus be Alpha and Omega to thee to-day in thy trust.
2. If you have trusted Him, let Him be Alpha and Omega in your love.
3. Surely He should be the Alpha and Omega of our life’s end and aim. What is there worth living for but Christ?
4. He should be the Alpha and Omega of all our preaching and teaching. If you leave out Christ, you have left the sun out of the day, and the moon out of the night; you have left the waters out of the sea, and the floods out of the river; you have left the harvest out of the year, the soul out of the body; you have left joy out of heaven, yea, you have robbed all of its all. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ the Alpha and Omega
This declaration is made of Jesus Christ. It is oft-repeated in this book to give it emphasis. It indicates the supremacy and absolute government of the Redeemer God. All creatures, all things, all relations and dispensations have their source in Him, and will find their end in Him.
I. Jesus Christ is the real, alpha and omega of the present order of things. He is over it all, and in it all, and the life of it all, and the genius of it all, and the substance and end of it all. By right of office the headship and kingship of it belong to Him. Before any creature or world existed, the eternal “Alpha” was. He is the “Everlasting Father,” as Isaiah styles Him--the Father of all the angels in heaven, as well as of all mankind. Creative power begins with and ends in Him. Providence is the executor of His will. Redemption underlies all the arrangements, counsels, and purposes of God. Here is our confidence. The Gospel promise cannot fail, for it is the word of Him who abideth for ever, the will of Him who is supreme over all, and the work of Him who made the earth and the stars.
II. Jesus Christ is the alpha and omega of all the Divine manifestations made to the creatures of God. We have in the material universe a most wonderful manifestation of God. All His natural attributes are thereby brought to light, and we are confronted with Deity. But the light of nature affords but an imperfect and uncertain idea of God. His moral perfections are His chief glory, and nature reveals nothing of these. It is the plan and work of human redemption which most clearly and signally makes God known to man, and even to angels. This work has Christ’s mediation for its basis, Christ’s atonement for its grand expression, and the Holy Spirit as its efficient agent. To accomplish it all power has been given to Christ, and all creatures, and all things in heaven and on earth are made subservient to Him. Not that Christ is a mere manifestation of God. He is as distinctly a person as the Father. But it is in Christ only that God speaks, shines forth, acts. The glory of the Godhead shines for us only in the face of Jesus Christ. We see in Him God’s moral perfections as well as His natural attributes. The goodness and mercy and holiness and justice of God find fearful expression in the person and work of the incarnated One.
III. Christ is the alpha and omega of the holy scriptures. He is the central character, the life, the essence, the burden, and the substance of them. To set forth Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, is their chief end. He is the first promise of mercy made to man, and equally the last. His office, work, and history are blended and interwoven with the whole structure of revelation.
IV. Christ is the alpha and omega of man’s salvation. Christ is the finisher of our salvation as well as its author. He completes whatsoever He begins. He never leaves or forsakes one who has felt His pardoning mercy, until he is safe in heaven. He will wash out the last stain of guilt from the soul, conquer the last enemy, and present us faultless before His Father’s throne with exceeding glory.
V. Christ is the alpha and omega of the life of God in the soul of the believer. By nature we are dead in sin, and no will or power of man can give us life. Christ is our life. He only has power to raise us up from the death of sin; to keep us alive; to cause us to grow in grace, and assimilate us to the character of God.
VI. Christ is the alpha and omega of the saints’ final glory. Heaven is the culmination of Christ’s power and of Gospel blessedness. Then will it be made manifest that Jesus Christ is indeed “the Alpha and Omega” of God’s eternal government; the head of all creatures; the end of all manifestations; the substance of all things; the glory of all economies; the fountain of all being.
1. We infer from this subject that Jesus Christ is an indispensable necessity to every one of us. For it is only in Him that we attain to the real end of our being.
2. How real and how fearful is the sin of living away life and probation aside from the service and glory of Jesus Christ. (J. M. Sherwood.)
Christ, the Alpha and Omega
That it is Christ who here speaks, no one can doubt. The words that immediately precede separate the speaker from every created angel: “Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” These words involve a claim to Deity. This is given in the Old Testament as a title of Jehovah, distinguishing Him from the idols of paganism (Isaiah 44:6)! Christ is the Alpha and Omega in relation to creation and providence. Christianity is at this day the great upholder of Theism in the world. It has unspeakably distanced Judaism. But Christianity is more than the witness of simple Theism. There is a trinity in its unity, and this gives it a richness, a grandeur, an adaptability to the fallen state of man of which mere Theism is incapable. Hence the Son shines in the Christian firmament as the true God, along with the Father and the Holy Ghost; and thus the Divine works of Creation and Providence are connected with His name. “And thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of Thy hands.” There is a grandeur in the Scripture doctrine of Creation to which even science and philosophy, however reason also teach it, find it hard to rise. Much of the professed Theism of our day runs into Pantheism by lifting up the Creation to something like the Divine level, or losing itself in some ascending series without a true summit. But Scripture gives to God the glory of this truly Divine work, without either lifting the creature too far in the scale, or separating the divinity unduly from it. And thus, while it guards true Theism by the doctrine of Creation, it further guards it by making God create all things by Jesus Christ. But while we ever thus claim, and even reclaim Creation for Christ, not less Providence also; for the one involves the other. The system of things, though by law and order it makes a system, cannot be left without the special control of its Author; and thus we are told of the Saviour, that He “upholdeth all things by the word of His power,”--and that “in Him all things consist.” He who is the Creator and Upholder must also be the Last End of all things, the Omega as well as the Alpha, though nothing greater is said of our Lord in the whole Bible; and thus the whole from first to last hangs together.
II. I am thus led to speak of Christ as the Alpha and Omega in relation to redemption. We feel at first as if there were a contraction of horizon when we turn from the vast realm of Creation and Providence to that of Redemption. But this impression is soon corrected. Rather Creation and Providence are liker the stage on which the great events of sacred history, which is the centre of all histories, are to be transacted.
1. I remark then that Christ is the Alpha and Omega in regard to Redemption as a Divine saving plan. We cannot ascend to the origin of this plan; for it is from eternity. But as far as we can rise, Christ is seen to be its fountain-head, and with His purpose of devotement it is bound up. “Lo, I come! In the volume of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Thy will, O My God; Thy law is within my heart.” This is a starting-point, where Christ comes forth as the Alpha in His Divine purpose. He was the author of the patriarchal dispensation. Its scattered promises, then few and far between, were presented like early stars by His hand. Its humble altars and simple sacrifices rose at His word, and He appeared in person to Enoch and to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Mosaic dispensation was also full of Him. Moses and all the prophets spoke as they were moved by His Spirit dwelling in them. All the types and shadows that foretold His saving work had Himself for their author. And as He was thus the Alpha of this Old Testament dispensation that stretched in successive forms through thousands of years, so was He bound to be its Omega. What would it all have signified without Him? Its prophecies would have remained fruitless divinations; its types a heap of riddles. But it became Him to fulfil it; and when the fulness of the time was come, He appeared as the Omega of the Old Testament economy; and at the same time the Alpha of the New. “Let us look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.” Let us rejoice with joy unspeakable, that He who was the Alpha of our redemption became the Omega too. Now He is beyond, and we are beyond, that awful darkness. “It is finished!” Let us not lower His work and misunderstand it, while at the same time we unduly exalt our own by speaking as if Christ’s sacrifice belonged to the same category with ours. Then had He died not to end sacrifice, but to begin it, and stand at the head of a long line of sufferers taking away sin out of the world by essentially the same endurance with His. But He is alone! “His blood shed,” as ours never can be, “for remission of sins unto many.”
2. I remark that Christ is the Alpha and Omega of Redemption as a personal Christian experience. When is it that one of us becomes a Christian? Is it not when Christ Himself draws near, and talks with us, as with the disciples on the way? We have no experimental Christianity apart from Him. He is the Alpha of our personal religious history. We may seem to ourselves to have begun this work; but Christ has begun it before us. For this opening of hearts, what is it but the result of His unlocking of them? But with Christ all originates. If we are pardoned, it is because we have redemption through His blood--even the forgiveness of sins; if we are restored to God’s family, it is because that to as many as receive Him He gives the privilege of becoming the sons of God. If we are washed and sanctified as well as justified, it is in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. We can trace no part of it back to ourselves, or to any other benefactor; for we see and feel that, like bread of life, it comes from heaven. This is the deepest spirit of all Christian experience. Our theologies may be somewhat different, but our doxologies are one. Thus is it with the first grand experience of converting and saving grace; but not less does Christ blend and mingle with all the succeeding experiences of the Christian’s history. He gently smooths the steps of every pilgrim in the ways of holiness. He suffers not the smoking flax to be quenched, or the bruised reed to be broken. In temptation Christ is a defence to the Christian, in darkness a light. What is Christian experience but this secret history of the affections of the soul towards an ever-present Saviour? He outgrows his childhood and youth, forgetting many things as things behind. He forsakes the books which once he loved, the studies from which he was inseparable. But time itself cannot antiquate his attachment to his Saviour. We know the Alpha of our earthly friendships, but we do not know their Omega. We bless God for our good hope that they will stand and comfort us in the last extremity. But in regard to Christ we have more than probability; we have persuasion. “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,” etc.
3. I remark that Christ is the Alpha and Omega of Redemption as a collective spiritual history. Christianity was never intended to be a solitary experience, or a multitude of single experiences. It was to be a society--a Church. Was it not a great thing in Christ to be the Alpha of such a society; to build it upon a foundation already laid, and yet to make it far more spiritual, energetic, and wide-embracing; to enlarge its statute-book by adding a New Testament to the Old. Christ stands forth as the Alpha of this new creation, such as had never been seen in the world before--visible in doctrine, discipline, worship, and government, and yet invisible, because having its deepest seat in the hidden man of the heart, with more of its members in heaven than on earth, and more in the future than now alive. He was the seed-corn, falling into the ground and dying, which brought forth all this fruit. As we read the Acts of the Apostles, the sequel to the Gospels is evident to all--the same Christ in a new sphere, His name working signs and wonders on the souls, and still also on the bodies, of men, living virtue going out of Him--the bread blessed and feeding thousands--the “great multitude obedient to the faith.” The earthly leaders visibly do not lead. They point to One above--and their dying charge renews the battle, “Remember Jesus Christ.” Thus will Christ be the Alpha of His Church till He becomes the Omega. It is a work “never ending, still beginning.” Christ has to cope with the multiplication of the human race, born in sin, and needing fresh grace. He has to cope with backsliding and apostasy;--with superstition, heresy, and infidelity; with all the devices and depths of Satan.
4. I remark in the last place, that Christ is the Alpha and Omega of Redemption, considered as an endless development. When we speak of eternity we feel that we are dealing with a quantity which, whether as applied to man’s natural endowment or destiny in Christ, overtasks all our powers alike of conception and description. He is thus the Alpha of the everlasting ages, the morning star that leads in the endless day I Specially to the ransomed themselves is Christ the Alpha of the Christian heaven, lie has prepared the place; He has provided the company; He has measured out alike the rest and the activity; He has diffused the love. A blessedness like this, inaugurated by Christ, and quickened by His presence, can only begin, but never end. And thus Christ may be said to be the Omega of the heavenly world, as He is its Alpha. He has united its beginning and its ending as in a golden circle. He has so gloriously consummated the being of the redeemed, that it can endure for ever without exhaustion or decay, without change or reconstruction. He has so wondrously built the celestial system, that it can supply themes of endless interest and ever-increasing joy. And in Himself He has so concentrated all that makes heaven blissful and ennobling, that its riches must remain for ever riches that are “unsearchable,” and its glory, a glory “to be revealed.” Who is there that would resist the attraction of the person, work, and saving grace of that great Being, whose glories I have feebly endeavoured to shadow forth? Before you reject this Saviour think how you will face eternity without Him! Oh, rather embrace His favour while the day of mercy lasts! There Christ shall become the Alpha of your salvation; and the depths of your never-ending existence shall not witness the day that He shall withdraw His love. (J. Cairns, D. D.)
The place of Christ in Christianity
If our religion is to come from the New Testament, Christ must have a place in it which no other can share. God’s forgiveness does not come to us independent of Christ, past Him, over His head, so that we can count Him as one of those who best knew and most fully proclaimed an unimaginable mercy, which would have been all that it is even had He never lived; it comes only in Him, and through His death for our sins. That this is the distinctively Christian position is clearly seen by those who have been brought up in other religions. An interesting illustration of this was given some time ago in India. A Hindu Society was formed which had for its object to appropriate all that was good in Christianity without burdening itself with the rest. Among other things which it appropriated, with the omission of only two words, was the answer given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism to the question, “What is repentance unto life?” Here is the answer: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience.” The words the Hindus left out were “in Christ”; instead of “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ,” they read simply “apprehension of the mercy of God.” But they knew that this was not compromising. They were acute enough to see that in the words they left out the whole Christianity of the definition lay; they felt that here was the barb of the hook, and as they had no intention of being caught, they broke it off. (J. Denny, D. D.)
Christ the Omega
Christ is the close and climax of history. Christ is, we believe, the innermost word that God will speak. Christianity must always claim finality for the revelation that comes through Him. (H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
Blessed are they that do His commandments.--
The blessedness of keeping the commandments
The commandments of God are the laws of happiness. They are the rules of health both for soul and body. There can be no well-being on earth, and no heaven without them. We have too long been in the habit of thinking that goodness is only good because God has commanded it, and evil would be good, or at least very pleasant, if it had not been forbidden. We have not regarded goodness as the indispensable means of happiness, just as much as breath is to life, labour to success, or water to steam. The commandments are the laws of goodness. They are summed up by our Lord into two (Matthew 22:36-40). Here are the essential laws of happiness. Society constituted upon them must be happy. Let love to God fill the heart, inspire the intellect, and pervade every thought, and we walk as the friends of the Lord. We exult in our heavenly Father’s goodness (Isaiah 48:18). The Lord is to the soul like the sun to the solar system. From Him come the warmth, the brightness, and the fertility which beautify and bless the soul. It is as vain to expect a bright or a happy mind where love to God is not, as to expect bright or a cheerful world without the sun. And hence, the Divine command is not an arbitrary decree. It is the condition of our well-being. Nothing can dispense with it (Deuteronomy 32:46-47). Let us consider a little in detail the commandments in relation to God. But first let us notice that they are addressed to those who have come out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. When the soul, wearied with the tyranny of sin, receives the help offered by its Saviour, He proclaims liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison-house to them that were bound. He strikes the fetters from the slave of his sins, and gives to His delivered servant the glorious liberty of the children of light. None but these can keep the commandments, or desire to do so. Hence, they are addressed to such. He is the First and the Last. He who comes to Him will find rest unto his soul. Ambition is a fearful idol. We watch its worshipper giving himself to its absorbing anxieties, to engross all his faculties, that he may achieve success. The merchant has become a millionaire, and is insane. Such is the result of worshipping the likeness of things on the earth. It is the same when we bow down to and serve an image or likeness of anything in the waters under the earth. Spiritual fish are those appetites for science which delight in the waters of knowledge. The world of thought is a wide sea. The thoughts of the worldly are as a vast troubled sea (Isaiah 57:20). Only where the glorious river and streams of Divine truth flow can the sanctified sciences, the true fish of the soul, really live. Not a small history would that be which detailed the sorrows of scientific men when their science has not been made sober and sacred by being subordinated to heavenly wisdom. One eminent man, after waiting in vain for a king’s smile, in France, went and died of chagrin. Another committed suicide because the British Association had not awarded him sufficient honour for his chemical discoveries. And what a world of suffering does such a termination disclose! To make life a circle of blessing it must begin and end with God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To form this first indispensable element for happiness, the Lord, from His infinite love to us, is a jealous God. He requires our worship not for His sake, but ours. He needs nothing of ours, but we need Him. He watches, with unutterable tenderness, to preserve us from the hell of existence in the wild chaos of being in which He is not the supreme centre and the supreme law. He is jealous with an infinite and holy jealousy, to preserve each child from danger and from ruin. But He warns us, also, that ruin to one generation involves danger to the next. In His wisdom He has connected the race together like the links of a chain, so that the progress of one generation may transmit better qualities to another, and thus the race be ever advancing to a higher degree of talent, of order, and happiness. The wealth, mental as well as physical, is thus transmitted to the future generations of mankind. This law, however, when perverted, works in the opposite direction. The iniquity of the father is visited upon the son. It must be so. The order of nature is not suspended. It works inversely, because man will have it so, but it exists. He, therefore, who would know the extent of the wrong he does when he sins, should reflect, not only on its consequences to himself, but on the hereditary evil he transmits to his children. They are, it is true, not punished for it, but it gives them a proneness to actual evils for which they will be punished. The first three commandments are the head and essence of the whole. They fill the rest with spiritual life. Without them the rest are dead and unavailing. The first three relate to spiritual life, the next five to the conduct of man in civil society, and the remaining two to his moral life and motives. Here permit me to draw your attention to the interesting circumstances recorded in the Gospel, respecting the young man who came to inquire of the Lord what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Saviour supplied what the young man was lacking--the essence of the first three commandments, which he had in reality not done. Here, again, we see the blessedness of keeping the Divine laws. The young man, though rich, and in many respects estimable; though in the sight of the world worthy of admiration, and to some an object of envy, was unhappy. He felt there was a void within, which no outward possessions, or even the moral law alone, could fill. God must be enthroned there: He must be the tree of life in the centre of the garden, or there will be no paradise. No one can have that confidence which is essential to happiness who is not resting on the Rock of Ages; no one has a right to have it; no one has a right to enjoy himself in the universe who does not render homage to its Great Proprietor. But when a man devotes himself to the Lord, a peace inexpressible takes possession of his soul--a bright dawn, like that of a morning in spring, breaks in upon him, and all things laugh and sing. It is the kingdom of heaven come nigh unto him: it is heaven begun. We will now notice the commandments which relate to civil life, that is, in the letter, for in the spiritual sense we must ever bear in mind they all relate to operations in the soul, and to our supreme obedience to the Lord, and the rejection of internal evils as sins against Him; in this sense the commandments are exceedingly broad (Psalms 119:96). We need scarcely remark how miserable are the homes where the parents are not respected; what insolences, what contempt, what slightings of parental counsel, what jealousies of the rest of the family, take away satisfaction from the children, and make a perpetual source of discomfort to the parents. But, on the contrary, how blessed is the home where father and mother are honoured! Confidence in their loving hearts is felt. Mutual kindness weaves continually garlands of spiritual roses. Let us take another commandment: “Thou shalt not commit murder.” Who could possibly be happy while violating this? Even in the lighter form, in which the act is not committed, but, as the Lord teaches in the gospel, a person hates another, there is no possibility of happiness. Hate takes away peace from the heart where it dwells; it forms a brood of viperous tempers, which not only strive to injure the person hated, but also prey upon one another. The same result will follow the consideration of every other commandment. No happiness can exist except in proportion as it is from the heart obeyed. Again and again we say, How could a heaven exist where these perfect laws do not exist, or how can a breach of them result in anything but sorrow? It is the same with bearing false witness against the neighbour. An atmosphere of lies must be fraught with curses. Even the last two commandments, though externally not appearing to relate to evils so formidable to society, in reality do so most completely. Where all are covetous must be misery indeed; to feel that you were surrounded by those who envied you every comfort, who greedily watched and waited for every opportunity to despoil you. The hell of the covetous must be a real chamber of horrors, overflowing with envy and gall. On the contrary, as this spirit is shunned or subdued, a delight in imparting takes its place, a rejoicing over another’s joy. A cheerful generous outpouring of blessed influences, an intense satisfaction in the well-being of others; a watchfulness in seizing every opportunity to promote the general joy; these principles and states unlock the very portals of bliss, and give us the reason for the Divine words (Isaiah 48:18). Let it not be said, that in the New Testament these Divine laws are repealed, for the very reverse is the case. The Lord came to give us new power to keep the essential laws of our happiness (Matthew 5:17; Matthew 5:19-20). Did the Lord’s coming, death, glorification, and resurrection, give no power to follow Him in the regeneration, and to keep His commandments? Is keeping the commandments such a difficult thing that the Holy Spirit cannot enable us to do it? The apostle said, “I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me,” and why cannot you? It is not the power you want, it is the will. Keeping the commandments does not make difficulties; it is not keeping them. Awake to righteousness, and sin not. Rouse yourself to the determination to vanquish evil, and with the Lord and His angels assisting you, the victory will be sure. (J. Bailey, Ph. D.)
I. Obedience must be sincere, flowing from a renewed heart, sprinkled from an evil conscience.
1. This obedience proceeds from faith: this is the main principle of the Christian life.
2. This obedience to the commands of God, flows also from love to Him (1 John 5:3).
II. Right obedience to the commandments of God is impartial and without reserve.
III. The evangelical keeping the commandments of God, is habitual, constant, persevering.
IV. Doing the commandments of God according to the covenant of grace, is directed to his glory. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The reward of debt and the reward of grace
I. The work: “Blessed are they that do His commandments.” The obedience intended is that which is the fruit and offspring of a renewed nature, the obedience of the penitent believer. Every man truly turned to God echoes the sentiment, “Oh, how love I Thy law!” “I delight in the law of God, after the inward man.” He aspires to and labours after entire conformity to that law, as being that which constitutes the perfection of His being.
II. The reward: “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life.” (D. Kelly, M. A.)
The blessedness of the obedient
I. The character of the persons here declared to be blessed. They do the commandments of Christ. The commandments of Christ are the revelation of the will of God. This revelation consists partly of doctrines or truths to be believed, and partly of duties to be performed.
II. The connection between doing the commandments of Christ and having a right to eat of the tree of life. And here, at the very first, it is necessary to state that we must beware of imagining that by doing the commandments we procure for ourselves a title to eternal life. The work of our salvation is, in the Word of God, ascribed to Christ, from its commencement to its close. As He suffered in our stead, so He fulfilled for us all righteousness, and left us nothing to perform--nothing, I say, to perform in the way of recommending ourselves to the favour of God; although we have unquestionably much to perform on other grounds. The persons in the text have the right, because God has declared and promised in His Word, which can never be broken, that they who possess that character which manifests itself in aiming at a holy and constant obedience to His law, shall have the right, or more properly the privilege of eating of the tree of life, and of entering in hereafter through the gates into the city. To the fulfilment of this promise it is by no means necessary that obedience and right should be connected together as cause and effect. It is at the same time perfectly true, for it is asserted repeatedly in the Bible, that the good works of the saints are rewarded by God, but then this is entirely owing to their union with Christ by faith. God may also be said to confer rewards upon us for our holy and benevolent actions, inasmuch as these actions are signs and evidences of our union with Christ, and in so doing we may consider Him as promising the reward, not on account of signs or evidences themselves, but solely on account of the thing which they signify.
III. Wherein consists the happiness of those who, by doing the commandments of Christ, ascertain their right to eat of the tree of life, and to enter in through the gates into the city. The expression, “tree of life,” is most probably figurative; but figurative though it be, it unquestionably intimates that the heavenly happiness shall be of perpetual duration, and it conveys to us this truth in a most significant and forcible manner.’ We shall eat of the tree of life. Think only of how much alarm and misery death is the cause in this world, and then you will be enabled, in some measure, to conceive the felicity of that other and better world in which there shall be no more death. But further, they who do the commandments of Christ shall enter in through the gates into the city, they shall be openly received and welcomed into the city of the heavenly Jerusalem, through the regular and lawful entrance, as citizens of a place have the right and privilege of admission. A city conveys the idea of security, and comfort, and society. By its walls it protects from the assaults of enemies; by its gates it excludes whatever might hurt, or offend, or incommode; and by the number of those who live within it, united together by sameness of interests, laws, language, religion, and manners, it puts us in possession of all the gratifications which flow from society and friendly intercourse. As the happiness of the redeemed shall be endless in duration, so also shall it be uninterrupted and without diminution. (A. Bullock, M.A.)
That they may have right to the tree of life.--
The tree of life
(with Genesis 3:24):--
I. The tree of life in the garden of innocence. This picture supplies us with two important facts. One is that primitive man was not at all handicapped in his first moral struggle by any circumstances arising out of the manner of his creation. There does not seem to be any reason in the nature of things, or in the nature of man as he was originally constituted, why he should of necessity have disaster and defeat as pre-conditions of ultimate victory. The tree of life was there in the garden within possible reach, and if man had conquered instead of being conquered, no cherubim could have prevented his tasting of this ambrosial fruit and so entering into life. It is true that conflict is necessary in passing from innocence to virtue, but conflict is not necessarily defeat. There is the nobler alternative of victory, which was exemplified by the second Adam, the Son of Man, who fought over again the battle of humanity, and won it from first to last. So we are led to another fact that man’s first moral action constituted a real failure, that there occurred in the beginning of human history a veritable moral “fall.” The tree of life in the garden of innocence is no meaningless figure. It reveals what might have been if man had been victorious in Eden. The splendid prize here forfeited serves already to show the exceeding sinfulness of sin.
II. The tree of life in the garden of guilt. How, then, are we to translate the symbolic picture of the cherubim guarding with the sword of flame the tree of life from the approach of guilty man into every-day prose? It is simply the symbolic representation of the fulfilment of the law--“The soul that sinneth it shall die.” The fact of guilt has shut man off from the life that had lain before him in his state of innocence as a glorious possibility. This once more emphasises the fact that sin was a real, and in itself an unmitigated disaster. The symbolic picture of the tree surrounded by strong cherubim reveals man’s impotence to regain unaided what he had lost. No sin-defiled soul can challenge the dread cherubim, or tempt the blazing stroke of the awful sword, and live. Yet already the promise was given of One who, on behalf of poor humanity, should cleave His way through the fiery guard of righteousness to the tree of life, and lead thither many of earth’s baffled children, who should be victors in His victory, and strong in His strength.
III. The tree of life in the city of redemption: “Blessed are they that wash their robes.” The kingdom of Life revealed in John’s Revelation is a kingdom of Redemption, of which a Lamb as it had been slain, that is, the fact and power of a great all-availing sacrifice, is the centre. So we find that the new way to the tree of life is through the sacrifice of Christ, it is trodden by those that have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. The operation here indicated is twofold. The “washing of the robes” indicates on the one hand, the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Christ. Here is one side of the curse removed; the guilty are forgiven for the sake of the Beloved. But there is also another side. The sacrifice of Christ was also a victory. This supreme sacrifice for sin involved the destruction of sin. He that died all the more gloriously lived, and became the fount of eternal life to those that trust in Him. Hence in this book we are told that the saints overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb. So their robes are made white, not only by the forgiving love of God which is made possible by the great Sacrifice, but also by the spiritual power that comes through the crucified Christ. So in very deed their sins are washed away, and at length they are able to “ stand in the eternal Light through the eternal Love.” The tree of life meets us first in a “ garden,” but at last in a glorious “ city.” So God moves on in spite of sin, and leads the world through Christ to greater glory. It is not Eden regained that God gives us. Eden was but a garden, primitive, narrow, and circumscribed, suited for a life of simple innocence with little expansion or development of capacity and power. But redemption introduces us to a noble city with its complicated claims, its vast possibilities, and its myriad grandeurs. Leaving metaphor aside, God in Christ is calling us to a life full of large and noble and varied activity. Christian life should fill every sphere, be foremost in all true service for God and man, and reveal all the activities of life at their best. (John Thomas, M. A.)
Right to the tree of life
I. Now, it is hardly possible to study the Scripture accounts without leaning to the opinion that “the tree of life,” and “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” were strictly sacramental--in other words, that as symbolical trees they did what they could never do as material. “The tree of life,” whatever were its foliage and fruit, was clearly not one of those trees which the earth had been appointed naturally to produce. Placed in the centre of the brilliant scenery of Eden, it answered purposes peculiar to itself. It is not classed among the trees good for food; and if therefore all those trees, as affording nourish-meat by their fruit, were trees of life, it must have been in some far different sense that this single tree was emphatically styled “the tree of life.” Besides, it should be remembered that when man had sinned by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God gave as a reason for expelling him from Eden--“Lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever.” So that, in some way or other, immortality was to have been consequent on the eating of this tree. Indeed, there are various passages in which, as well as in our text, mention is made of “the tree of life”; and we suppose that what is intended by the figure in these later instances must have been typified by “the tree in the midst of the garden.” But when Solomon speaks of the eternal wisdom as “a tree of life”--when Christ declares to the Church of Ephesus, “To him that over-cometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”--or when, as in our text, a blessing is pronounced on those who do God’s commandments, as having “right to the tree of life,” there can be nothing clearer than that by taking of “the tree of life” is meant a participation of that eternal life with God in heaven which Christ Jesus has merited for His followers. Therefore we seem justified in concluding that “the tree of life” in Paradise was nothing less than an instructive symbol of that Second Person in the Trinity, who in every age has been the life of the world.
II. And now, assuming, as we think we may, that Christ, as represented to us in Scripture, is “the tree of life,” we pass on to consider the blessing pronounced on those who do God’s commandments--“that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” Now, the persons whom the text pronounces blessed are those that do God’s commandments. The terms on which they partake of the tree of life are those of absolute right: “that they may have right to the tree of life.” Right presupposes debt, and a debt can never coexist with gift. We think, then, that we must carry with us your ready assent when we argue that forasmuch as the doing of God’s commandments which is mentioned in the text puts man into the position of having “right to the tree of life,” the supposed obedience must be something more than a mere creature obedience, even though that obedience were wrought up to an unspotted perfection. We are required, then, to search for a doing of the commandments which shall be productive of right; for if none such be discovered the pronounced blessing will have none on whom to descend. The moral law exists no longer as a covenant. It can hardly, therefore, be to obedience to the commandments of this law that the blessings are annexed. But there is a commandment peculiar to the gospel which we may obey, and obedience to which shall procure for us right. “This is His commandment,” saith St. John, “that we believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ”; and there is the most exact agreement between this statement and the answer of Jesus to the Jews. When they asked Him, “What shall we do to work the works of God?” Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” So that the great commandment under the gospel dispensation--a commandment which distinguishes the dispensation from the legal--is simply the commandment to believe on the Saviour. This commandment, we, though weak and insufficient, may thoroughly do--not indeed in our own strength, for “this is the work of God,” but through the power of the quickening Spirit which stirs us from the lethargy of our nature, and enables us to put faith in the sacrifice and righteousness of Christ. But if a man thus strengthened by supernatural assistance do the commandment which belongs especially to the gospel, he will certainly “have right to the tree of life.” Yes, “have right”--for the commandment requires faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and what is it which faith effects for him who is enabled to exercise it, if it be not that it incorporates him into the mystical body of the Saviour, and so causes him to appear in the sight of God as having suffered and obeyed in Christ? And thus we vindicate, as we hope, the truth that a believer, though in himself he can deserve nothing but utter condemnation, yet in Christ may have right to all that is magnificent and glorious. He passes into the saint’s rest,, a conqueror, yea, more than a conqueror, through Him that loved him,” angels chanting his welcome, and God Himself approving his credentials of victory. He enters, as you observe it stated in the last clause of our text, “through the gates into the city.” He is not admitted, as it were, by stealth, whilst the sentinels sleep; he is not admitted by bribery, the keepers consenting to overlook the deficiencies of his passport; he is not admitted surreptitiously, through some neglected breach, or by a secret subterranean passage; but amid the blazings of Deity, and with thousand times ten thousand spirits gazing on his march as a mighty one, going forward to his right, he “enters in through the gates into the city.” Who will not confess that Christ much. Oh, for a faith in Christ, that we may obtain the blessedness of those who do God’s commandments. This is the thing wanted, the thing to be prayed for with earnestness and sincerity. Then, when we feel that we have right, how glorious will the Saviour appear! (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Right to the tree of life
I. Moral obedience. Obedience is the moral perfection of an intelligent and responsible agent. Obedience to law was the condition of continuance in Paradise, and it is the condition of its being regained. But there are important differences in the cases. A redemptive law is essential. A redemptive provision has been made and introduced, and a propitiation made. God shows mercy in a way of righteousness; and the law of faith is related directly to that scheme and the Being who embodies it. Spiritually blessed are they who obey the law of Faith.
II. The rights of man. There are political, social, and legal rights. These are not in question here. The text refers to spiritual rights arising out of the Divine redemptive bestowments, or what is called grace. There are two great desires throbbing in the human breast--the desire for immortality, and that for a redeeming and renewing grave and love. The gospel meets both--it confers a “right to the tree of life.”
III. The celestial home of the obedient believer. The home-coming of the pilgrims, and the developed, matured, perfected society to which they are introduced; their stores of knowledge, modes of intercourse, and methods of beneficent and blessed combination. The perfect worship of the city whose temple is the Lord God and the Lamb. (John Stoughton, D. D.)
The tree of life and the entering into the city
The Christian life has many features and many characteristics. This is one of them--it is a perpetual washing of the robes. No spot or stain must be suffered to remain upon them. It is a most dangerous thing to fall into the habit of letting any committed sin pass sub silentio, as it were, between man and his soul. Scripture, indeed, counsels no morbid self-scrutiny. The man does not wash perhaps each separate spot and stain, but it is because he washes the whole robe and them with it. In one way the tablets of memory, and the tablets of conscience, and the tablets of the life, must be sponged clean every evening; and in only one way: by what Scripture calls the Blood of the Lamb, that is, the atonement made once for all, for all sin, and applied, in earnest faith, to the individual man’s heart and soul in the sight of God. Carelessness about washing the robes for pardon runs on into carelessness about washing the robes for purity. It is easy to see, for every man’s experience shows it, the connection between the washing of the robes and the access to the tree of life. Let a man recall a day on which he let his sins alone in the way of notice, and in the way of sorrow, and in the way of confession, and in the way of prayer for pardon, and in the way of supplication for grace--he will recall, also, a day on which he was a stranger to God as to all peaceful communion and as to all comforting hope. This explains for all practical purposes why it should be true also, as the net result of the life, that it is they who have habitually, in this world, washed their robes, who shall have the right, in that world, of access to the tree of life. There remains yet one clause of the text, and one remarkable feature of the saints’ rest and glory--“And that they may enter in through the gates into the city.” All are struck, I suppose, by this thought. “Paradise Lost” was a garden, “Paradise Regained” is a city. Paradise lost was symbolised by a garden, destitute of all the disciplinary influences of the life of contradicting wills and conflicting interests. God was there; but it was as the God of Nature and Providence, not as the God of Compassion, the God of Revelation, or the God of Grace. Paradise regained is a city, even though it still has its river and its foliage, its spacious expanse, and its beautiful scenery; it is the Great City, the Holy City. This last book of the Bible, and one other book--the Epistle to the Hebrews--have the privilege of so designating it; but the idea is in all the Epistles and in all the Gospels. Heaven is no place of luxurious repose--no state of delicious communing with a God who knows only the self-man, and the spirit that is within him. Heaven is a society, a community, and a polity. Its life is two-sided--it is a life Godward, and it is a life manward; it is a life of direct access, and it is a life of boundless love. Into that city they who have here constantly, and at last perfectly, washed their robes shall find themselves, entering by no narrow or secret postern, but, as it is here written, by the gates, through those wide and splendid portals, as the Greek expression has it, opening of their own accord to receive them, of which it is written in the earlier part of this record that at each one stands a ministering angel; and again, that the gates shall not be shut at all by day, and day only need be spoken of, for “There shall be no night there.” (Dean Vaughan.)
The last beatitude of the ascended Christ
The Revised Version reads: “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life.” There can be no doubt whatever that this reading is the correct one. “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they might have right to the tree of life,” carries us back to the old law, and has no more hopeful a sound in it than the thunders of Sinai. “Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the tree of life,” has the clear ring of the New Testament music about it, and is in full accord with the whole type of doctrine that runs through this book; and is not unworthy to be almost the last word that the lips of the Incarnate Wisdom spoke to men from heaven.
I. If we are clean it is because we have been made so. The first benediction that Jesus Christ spoke from the mountain was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The last benediction that He speaks from heaven is, “Blessed are they that wash their robes.” And the act commended in the last is but the outcome of the spirit extolled in the first. For they who are poor in spirit are such as know themselves to be sinful men; and those who know themselves to be sinful men are they who will cleanse their robes in the blood of Jesus Christ.
II. These cleansed ones, and by implication these only, have unrestrained access to the source of life. The tree of life stands as the symbol here of an external source. I take “life” to be used here in what I believe to be its predominant New Testament meaning, not bare continuance in existence, but a full ideal perfection and activity of all the faculties and possibilities of the man, which this very apostle himself identifies with the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. And that life, says Jn, has an external source in heaven as on earth. And the source is “the tree of life.” They that wash their robes have the right of unrestrained access to Him in whose presence, in that loftier state, no impurity can live. The tree of life, according to some of the old Rabbinical legends, the tree of life lifted its branches, by an indwelling motion, high above impure hands that were stretched to touch them, and until our hands are cleansed through faith in Jesus Christ, its richest fruit hangs unreachable, golden, above our heads. Oh, the fulness of the life of heaven is only granted to them who, drawing near Jesus Christ by faith on earth, have thereby cleansed themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
III. Those who are cleansed, and they only, have the entrance into the society of the city. The city is the emblem of security and of permanence. No more shall life be as a desert march, with changes which only bring sorrow, and yet a dreary monotony amidst them all. We shall dwell amid abiding realities, ourselves fixed in unchanging but ever-growing completeness and peace. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
And may enter in through the gates into the city.--
Heaven-gate; or, the passage to Paradise
I. The motion. “Enter in.” They are blessed that enter in. Perseverance only makes happy. Some came into the vineyard in the morning, some at noon, others later; none received the penny but they that stayed till night. Indeed, this grace perfects all graces. We believe in vain if our faith hold not out to the end. We love in vain if our charity grow cold at last. We pray in vain if our zeal grows faint. We strive in vain at the strait gate if not till we enter. Man is naturally like a horse that loveth short journeys; and there are few that hold out. Whence it comes that the last are often first, and the first last. But he that at every step looks at every stop, and numbers his perils with his paces, either turns aside faintly, or turns back cowardly. Thou walkest every day little or much. Continue this walk forward thy way, and a few days shall bring thee to Olympus. Every day every man takes some pains; let him bestow that measure of pains in travelling to heaven; and the further he goes the more heart he gets, till at last he “enter through the gates into the city.”
II. The manner. “Through the gates.” Not singularly a gate, but gates. For Revelation 21:12 the city is said to have twelve gates. “On the east three gates,” etc. To declare that men shall come from all the corners of the world: “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.” These gates are not literally to be understood, but mystically, for the manner of entrance. The gates are those passages whereby we must enter this city. Heaven is often said to have a gate (Matthew 7:13; Psalms 24:7; Genesis 28:17). There must be gates to a city. Doing the commandments is the way to have right in the tree of life. Obedience and sanctification is the gate to this city of salutation. The temple had a gate called Beautiful (Acts 3:1-26.). But of poor beauty in regard of this gate. Of the gates of the sanctuary spake David in diverse Psalms, with love and joy. “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.” These are holy gates; let every one pray with that royal prophet, “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.” In brief, we may distinguish the gates leading to this city into two--Adoption and Sanctification. Both these meet in Christ, who is the only Gate or Door whereby we enter heaven.
III. The city.
1. The situation. “ It is placed above” (Galatians 4:26). “Heaven is in excelsis” (Psalms 87:1).
2. The society. The King that rules there is one Almighty God in three distinct persons. He made this city for Himself (Psalms 16:11). And we have three happy privileges of citizens.
3. The glory. Heaven shall make them that enter it like itself--glorious. As the air by the sun’s brightness is transformed bright. How great is that blessedness, where shall be no evil present, no good absent! This is a blessed city. (T. Adams.)
The way to the city of God
What is the deepest thought in every bosom? Money? No. Rising in the world? No. Pleasure? No. Ease and comfort? No. Health? No. Long life? No. It is that they may at last “enter in through the gates into the city.”
I. The condition of entering the heavenly city. The doing His--Christ’s--commandments. Is salvation earned, then, by our works? Thank God, no. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done,” etc. Yet it is expressly said here that those who “do His commandments have a right,” etc. The key to this is found in St. James. A man is justified “by works and not by faith only.” Faith is another word for love. It means in Scripture as in common life--trust, confidence--and this trust and confidence are, in religion, the outcome of love. But what will not love do for its loved one? Love is the surrender of the whole man to its object--the will, heart, life. Works are the evidences of it; its necessary results. Works do not save us, but we cannot be saved without them.
II. The security of those who fulfil that condition. They have a right.
1. By the merit of their works? Nay, verily. Best men most conscious of shortcoming. As the morning star is black when it passes over the disk of the sun, so the holiness of the best of men is only darkness when seen in the splendour of the holiness of God.
2. But as a proof of their sincerity. That shown, the perfect merits of Christ are theirs. The right is that of Christ, transferred to them, as His. “We are made the righteousness of God in Him.”
III. Some reflections and cautions.
1. Twelve gates, facing all sides. Christianity is a religion for all mankind. The gates of heaven face us wherever we may be.
2. I must enter through the gate. No other name but the name of Christ.
3. Those who do so are “blessed.”
4. To enter, we must hold out to the end.
The rightful entrance into the city of God
I. It is almost impossible to read this emphatic description of the passage of the saints through the gates of the New Jerusalem without going back to the same imagery as employed by Christ with regard to Himself (John 10:1-2). In both places the general idea is the same--that of an open and free entrance, as opposed to a stealing in unlawfully, unobserved, and unwarranted. In both cases there may be a reference to Christ as the Door, it being through Him that admission is gained into the ministry of God here, and through Him alone entrance is won into the city of God hereafter; the leading impression, however, conveyed by the words is that of an unopposed entrance, like that of citizens possessed of undoubted rights, into the high places of the town. False religions make man the anxious suppliant of a Supreme Being with whom he has no affinity; Christianity represents him as in covenant with and allied to the Hearer of his prayers, the Object of his worship. “Through the gates into the city.” There may be and will be the constant sense of duties left undone, of sins committed unworthy of a son of God, of feeble essays after holiness, falling short--ah, how short!--of what might be; but if only the conscience witness to an earnest desire to do God’s will, there will still be the high heart of one who, in covenant with God, sees already his own nature on God’s throne, and his own passage open, when his work is done, through the opened gates into the very citadel of the eternal city.
II. He who would enter heaven must enter in through the door. There is a certain fixed and definite means of access. By this and no other we look for admission. Now, here again we arrive at a special characteristic of Christianity. From the very beginning it manifested itself a thing of order, rule, system. Now there is in this both an argument and a lesson. In the quiet, unperturbed, self-restraining order in which it commenced, the gospel vindicates to itself a Divine origin. Herein it shows itself to be, not the offspring of man’s enthusiasm, but of that same Divine mind which, in the silence of eternity, laid the foundations of the round world, and set the waters their bound which they should not pass. The visible universe and the faith of Christ are equal exemplifications of order and law. And there is a lesson also here. If we would be Christians indeed, if we would attain the holiness here and happiness hereafter which are the heritage of Christ’s followers, then must we be content to go on patiently, as they went of old, through the round of religious discipline and religious ordinances. (Bp. Woodford.)
Without are dogs.--
There are four kinds of dogs. There is first the cynic. The cynic, whose very name means “dog,” snarls out his sneer at the brave man who risks his life for another, and says he only wanted to be praised in the newspapers or get the Humane Society’s medal. For he has no belief in generosity, or enthusiasm, or unselfishness, or truth, or honour, and only scoffs at the earnest souls that have. The second dog is the puppy. This is the dog that can neither talk nor think of anybody or anything but himself, who dresses flashily and curls his hair. He is called a puppy because he is blind, and because he pushes himself into places where he has no right to be. The puppy is more dangerous than you would expect, for he can snarl when he has a smaller dog to deal with, and even bite when no one is looking. The third is the jolly dog. The jolly dog is good-natured, with a loud, cheery voice, and offhand, pleasant manner. He is called “good company,” but he is somewhat low company. He is seen sometimes coming out of the public-house, and that grows more frequent. Then he loses his respectability and his good-nature together, and the true heart of him, which is hollow and hard, begins to appear. Beware of the jolly dog. The last dog is the sly dog. The jolly dog likes to be called a sly dog, now and then, but he is not the genuine article. He is too easy for that. The sly dog will put himself to any amount of inconvenience, and bide his time with the greatest patience, that he may overreach you and gain his end at the last. He is always plotting. He has his own ends to serve always. Untrustworthy himself, he is always mistrustful of others. He is a cynic without showing it, as heartless and much more clever and cruel. What do people mean when they say of a lad, that he “has gone to the dogs”? They mean that he has become the lawful prey of one or more of these. (Prof. Shuttleworth.)
Whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.--
“There is no vice,” writes Lord Bacon in his celebrated essay, “Of Truth,” “that doth so cover a man with shame, as to be found false, and perfidious. And therefore Mountaigny saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much as to say, that he is brave towards God, and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man.” Lying is thus a kind of atheistical bravery; the practical acting up to the disbelief that God either hears, or will punish, the falsities of men on the earth. But there are other causes of lying besides spiritual cowardice and practical disbelief in God. There is, as Lord Bacon also says, “the natural love of lies.” These abandoned liars, who make lies because they love them, are the basest and most corrupt of their species. But there are many other species of liars, base enough indeed, yet not so base and lost as these. The liar who makes a lie because he loves it will lie without the incentive of temptation, whereas temptation is necessary to induce less corrupt persons to lie. Such temptations come, I imagine, at one time or another, in the course of every human life. Probably every human life when it reaches the stage of moral consciousness is, sooner or later, tempted to be false; false either in word or action.
1. Dread is a very common cause of untruthfulness. When children, e.g., tell a lie, either surprise or fear is frequently the cause. Parents are often responsible for the falsehoods of their children. Terror and subjugation are essentially hostile to truth. Slaves are nearly always liars; and children nursed in terror are like slaves in this respect--their minds grow shrewd, but they grow shifty also; and shiftiness is destructive of veracity. Terror of wrong-doing is healthy; but personal terror is poisonous. The dread, however, which is prolific of falsehood is not always a personal dread; it is equally often a dread of consequences. A lie rarely stands alone, singly, by itself. The first lie engenders fear, and as a result of fear, other lies are told; and as the process is repeated, the conscience grows accustomed to a deadening familiarity with falsehood; the power to resist temptation is enfeebled; dread is added to dread; and under the accumulations of dread the sense of truth at length entirely disappears. Dread, too, sometimes arises not from the commission of our own past transgressions, but from the danger of compromising others, or of incurring serious loss. You are (let us say) suddenly asked some question about another. If you answer truthfully it will be to the damage of the other. If you do not answer at all you know that suspicion (suspicion worse, perhaps, than the actual truth) will be inflamed in the mind of the inquirer. What are you to do? The case is a hard one. You have to make choice between evils. In this way, I believe, inquisitiveness is indirectly responsible for, and guilty of, s great deal of lying. The case is otherwise when the dread is, not of injuring others, but of incurring loss oneself. Falsehood in protecting others is at least generous falsehood but falsehood in protecting ourselves is cowardly. Whatever, therefore, be the inconvenience, or even the loss, arising from the habit of severe and precise truthfulness; yet out of regard for the god-like inviolability of truth, and through a righteous shrinking from the very appearance of falsehood, we ought to guard against any deviation, however slight, from the strictness of truth ourselves; and much more against imposing upon others any such deviations in our behalf.
2. We now pass to a second common cause of untruthfulness, viz., the vanity or the desire to appear well in the eyes of others. This desire often springs from a very pure and noble source. For that man is either callous or degraded who is indifferent to the opinions of his fellow-men. The desire to stand well in the sight of others is one of the strongest and highest incentives to do well ourselves; and on the other hand, the dread of the loss of the esteem of our fellow-men is a noble dread, which often keeps us from doing wrong; and when we have done wrong the penalty of the loss of human esteem is one among the keenest penalties which sensitive souls are called upon to endure. When, therefore, we speak of the desire to appear well in the eyes of others as a common cause of untruthfulness, we speak of the corruption of a desire which, in its original essence, is noble and inspiring. Yet how general and widespread this corruption is! So widespread and general, indeed, that it is very rare to hear any one give an account of a transaction in which themselves have been engaged with perfect fidelity to truth. If the transaction is unworthy, or has not succeeded, they minish, or pass lightly over, their own share in it. If the transaction has been successful, or merits praise, immediately their own share in it grows eminently conspicuous.
3. There remains a third common cause of untruthfulness, viz., the desire for advantage or gain. Of this sordid class are all trading and commercial untruths; all concealing of defects, all misrepresentations and misleadings, all false measures and false weights, all unjust prices and balances. Of this sordid class also are all political untruths; untruths told to injure a political antagonist or to advance a political cause. It is sometimes contended that tricks are necessary in trade; and that politics have no indissoluble connection with morals. Such a contention is the abnegation of all Christian ideals; of all practical belief in a God of superintending righteousness and truth. And every untruth, whether in word or act, is a nail in the coffin of life, eternal life. Let us now pass to the consideration of the remarkable circumstance that persons greatly differ in regard to truthfulness; some being very strong and others very weak in this respect. This difference appears to be mainly attributable to two principal causes:
In the interests of veracity, nothing can be more important than to make hard the way of the liar, and to make easy the way of the truth-teller. If you, e.g., have children, pass lightly over misfortunes and accidents, such as the breaking of cups and the tearing of clothes; but spare not the rod when a lie has been told; only make the punishment easier in proportion to the readiness with which the lie is confessed. For next to truthfulness, in the order of virtue, comes the confession of untruthfulness. The brave confession of a fault is the best of all safeguards against the repetition of the fault. (Canon Diggle.)
I, Jesus, have sent Mine angel
Our Lord’s angel
Would our Lord I say this of any angel of the Lord, because” all things that the Father hath are His”?
Or has our Lord, as man, an angel of His own in the same way that His saints have? St. Luke 22:43 seems as if He needed and had, in the days of His flesh, such angelic guardianship as is implied in St. Matthew 18:10; and this passage is at least consistent with the view that His angel appears in His form, as St. Peter’s was supposed to do (Acts 12:15). It is very ably argued by St. Augustine (de Cura pro Mortuis) that if any apparitions after death or at the moment of death are really objective and supernatural they must be ascribed to angels, not to the spirits of the dead. But we must remember that our Lord’s state is not the same as that of His departed servants. He is already in the body of the resurrection, and so conceivably visible. And there can be no doubt that He appeared in His own risen body to St. Paul, and probably to St. Stephen. It may be, therefore, that He now appears personally to St. John, at once superseding and authenticating the previous ministry of the angel. (W. H. Simcox, M. A.)
I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
The Root and Offspring of David
I. This title implies the entire identification of Christ with humanity. The certainty of final triumph for humanity rests on the fact of its vital union with Christ.
II. The title connects Him with the stream of human history. A mysterious consciousness belonged to many of the members of His house and line. Some of them were prophets, and from them sounded out on the youth of the world sayings pregnant with distant meaning. They themselves were types, signs, representatives of Christ, until He Himself should appear.
III. The title establishes a unity in the history of the Jewish nation. Since, in the Divine counsels, it had been determined that the Redeemer should arise out of the bosom of humanity, some line must be necessarily selected as that of His descent. The line is that of the royal David, and this is the clue by which to traverse the maze of the world’s history until the incarnation.
IV. The title embodies a reference to the kingly office of Christ. The favourite representation of the prophets is that of the King, whose reign shall be in peace, in truth, in equity, in righteousness for ever and ever (Psalms 122:1-9; Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 42:1-4; Isaiah 52:13-16; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14; Micah 5:1-4).
V. The title alludes to the vigorous growth and surpassing greatness of the kingdom of Christ. The word “root” evidently refers to the prophecy in Isaiah 1:1-10 (see also Isaiah 4:2; Jeremiah 23:5; Zechariah 3:8; Zechariah 6:12). Not the actual root of the tree is meant, but the scion or sucker, which sprouts from the decaying root. At the advent of the Saviour the kingdom of David was indeed like the fallen trunk of a noble tree. A foreign people treads on Judea’s soil, and bows a once powerful nation beneath its yoke. Yet behold the vigorous sprout which comes forth out of this decayed root! (E. Johnson, B. A.)
The bright and morning star.--
The bright and morning star
Stars shine in the darkness. When there is no other light their brightness and beauty cheer us. The stars have always been recognised to be among the loveliest of nature’s beauties. When men have sought for the fairest ornaments to adorn the brows of queens and stately ladies, they have tried to make for them stars of gold or gleaming diamonds. And by their steady laws, their regulated movements, the stars act as our guides. Have you ever thought, moreover, how wonderful is the revelation given to us by the stars? If the cloud had never cleared, if men had never seen those lights shining in the far-away distance, how narrow would our ideas have remained! So as we watch the morning star in the pale eastern sky there comes over us a sense of gladness in its beauty, of wonder and awe at the magnificent stellar system to which it belongs, and at the same time a sense of joyful hope in its prophecy that the darkness is passing and the day about to dawn. And “I am,” says the Saviour of the world--“I am the Bright and Morning Star.”
I. We might think of the precious knowledge diffused by Christ’s gospel through the world; we might think of the ideal of life presented by the life of Christ--the ideal of a life meek and lowly, loving and tender, gentle and self-sacrificing, and yet brave with unflinching courage, generous with noble self-sacrifice. But as our thoughts at Christmas rather turn to our homes, we may try to see how Christ is there “the Bright and Morning Star.” The Christ-light in the home alone can make it happy. The Christ-light, the Lord Himself honoured, the influence of His wishes felt, the restraining power of His teaching moulding the character; tempers subdued for His sake, self-will controlled, self-conceit kept down with a strong hand, angry and harsh-judging words silenced, mutual bearing and forbearing, kindness, courtesy, consideration for others, proceeding from thought of Christ and wish to do His will; these are the things that make the home bright. Even one person in a household, thoroughly influenced by the love of Christ, and walking in the light of His presence, will bring wonderful brightness to a whole family. They hardly know what makes home so pleasant. What is it? It is the light from “the Bright and Morning Star.” It glistens in the kind eyes and pleasant countenance of a humble follower of Jesus; and sullenness, gloom, and ill-humour flee before it like shadows before the breaking day. But homes are sometimes darkened by causes over which we seem to have less control--by poverty, sickness, anxiety, sorrow. And the greeting of “Happy Christmas” sometimes comes with a bitter sense of unreality to those who know that food is scanty, or the hearth dark and lonely. Still, there is a power that brings cheer to the poor man’s board, and comfort to the mourner’s sorrow. When “the Morning Star” shines in the heart, those words are often thought of, “I was hungry, and ye fed Me; thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; sick and in prison, and ye visited Me.” And so Christian charity, Christian kindness, Christian sympathy, passes on the light of Christ from home to home.
II. And then our second thought of heavenly Joy applies here. If there is a sorrow too deep to be reached by human kindness, it is not too deep to be reached by the light of the “Morning Star.” The revelation of the great unseen realities--is not this the true Light for a shadowed home? A Father in heaven who cares and loves, a Saviour acquainted with grief, a kind Providence which will make all work together for good--is not this revelation like the opening of the shutters of a darkened chamber, so that there streams in the light of the Morning Star--the harbinger of day?
III. And this brings us to our last thought, the “Morning Star” is a star of heavenly hope. There are many young and happy hearts at Christmastide. But among them all there are few that have not felt the chill of disappointment, the shadow of doubt and uncertainty from the mystery of life, the solemn darkness of self-reproach and an accusing conscience. The soul is getting farther away from God. Ideas have been entertained, habits have been allowed to grow that have made the gap wider and wider between daily life and the aspirations after goodness that were once felt. The soul is in darkness. Yes, say what we will, the soul must be dark if it is without God. Show me a man who does not know God, who does not care for God, who does not trust and honour the infinite Lord, and I can tell you that whatever be his outward circumstances, his spirit is in awful darkness. On Christmas Day, let any such listen to the words of Jesus--“I am the Bright and Morning Star.” Let that Day Star from on high arise and shine in your heart. Christ loves you, and came into the world and lived and died for you. Let His glory enlighten your soul. (Bp. Wynne.)
Christ the morning star
The Lord speaks here in a manner that is all His own. Nothing is more profoundly characteristic in His words, from first to last, than His witness to Himself. He, the sacred exemplar of all self-denial, yet always and immoveably presents Himself in terms of self-assertion, and such self-assertion as must mean either Deity, however in disguise, or a delusion moral as well as mental, of infinite depth. “I am the Truth; I am the Life; I am the Bread of Life; I am the True Vine; I am the Good Shepherd.” We have but this same tone, perfectly retained, when here the same Voice speaks from amidst the realities of the unseen. The imagery, indeed, is lifted to the scenery of the firmament; He who is the genial Vine and the laborious Shepherd, now also reveals Himself as the Star of Stars in a spiritual sky. “I am the Star.” For the moment we will take the text in this briefest form, for it will suggest to us, in part at least, the reason of the use of the starry metaphor at all. “I am the Star”; why the Star? We may be perfectly sure that the word, with all its radiant beauty, is no mere flight of fancy. Prophecy, not poetry, underlies these last oracles of the Bible. Balaam had heard, among “the words of God,” of a mysterious Person, or at least of a mysterious Power, strong to destroy and save; figured to his soul in vision as a star, destined in other days to appear out of Israel; and the belief of the Jewish Church, in the lifetime of Jesus, certainly was that the Star of that prediction was the King Messiah. The word indicated, probably, the royal dignity, touched and glorified with the light of Deity, or of Divinity at least. As such the Lord here takes it up. He claims here to be the spiritual and immortal King, the Conqueror, beating down His adversaries and possessing His redeemed. This is what appears in special fulness, in other forms, in earlier passages of the Apocalypse; “the Lamb” is “in the midst of the throne”; the throne is “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” But now look further into the text. The voice at Patmos not only claims the primeval prophecy for Jesus, as the King of the new Israel. It expands that prophecy, and discloses truth within truth treasured there. For the Lord does not only assert Himself to be the star, the bright star; as of course His brightness must be surpassing if He is in any sense at all a star. His own presentation of the metaphor has something in it new and special--“I am the Morning Star.” Why was not the word “Star” left alone in the utterance? In pointing to Messiah as the Star, were not the ideas of brilliancy, and elevation, and all that is ethereal, sufficient? No; it was not to be so. Messiah Himself so qualifies the word by this one bright epithet as to show Himself as not the King merely, but the King of Morning; around whom gathered, and should gather for ever, all that is real in tenderest hope and youngest vigour, and most cheerful aspiration, and such beginnings, as shall eternally develope and never contract into fixity and decline. It reminds the disciple that his blessed Lord is no mere name of tender recollection, no dear relic of a perished past, to be drawn sometimes in silence from its casket and clasped with the aching fondness and sprinkled with the hot tears, of hopeless memory. He is not Hesperus that sets, but Phosphorus that rises, springing into the sky through the earliest dawn; the pledge of reviving life, and growing light, and all the energies and all the pleasures of the happy day. And the word speaks of a kind of joy for which the open day would not be so true a simile. It indicates the delights of hope along with those of fruition; a happiness in which one of the deep elements is always the thought of something yet to be revealed; light with more light to follow, joy to develope into further joy, as the dawn passes into the morning and then into the day.
1. First, then, we are reminded here that as “His commandments are not grievous,” so the principles He gives to animate His follower to obedience are not melancholy. The life eternal, the annihilation of the second death, is the knowledge of Himself; and to know Him is to live in light indeed. It is to touch a sympathy boundless alike in its tenderness and its power; it is to deal perpetually and everywhere with One who is not poetic legend but the central rock of History; One who has proved Himself in the fields of fact to be a reality for ever, and who is exercising at this hour in human experience a multiplicity of personal influence too vast and too peculiar to be accounted for by any mere memory of departed power. He being such, and such being the knowledge of Him, what in brief are His sacred principles for the soul that seeks Him? Simply these in their essence:--first to trust Him, then, to follow Him.
2. And again, this glorious epithet of the Star of salvation--this morning-word--reminds us that not for a part only but for the whole of the earthly course, early as well as late, and late as well as early, Jesus Christ is the true Light to light every man. Not for the sick-man’s room only and the dying bed is His faith good. Let us thank God often that it is good there. But this same religion is not only the last light for dying eyes. It is the star of the morning of even this lower life. There is that in it (or rather in Him who is His own religion), which is of all things fittest to enter with harmonious power into all the confiding joy of childhood, and all the strongest aspirations of youthful thought and will. One condition does the Lord propose to the young soul, as to all others--the condition of submission to Himself. And where that condition is, through grace, in its true sense, accepted, there will there be found to develop within the life an influence essentially of strength and gladness; an assurance of a companionship most tender because Divine; of a sympathy meeting every true need of grief or of happiness; of a wisdom which concerns itself with every detail of every day; of an affection to which the best endearments of earth can but point as to their glorious archetype; and, above all this and with it all, the power of the presence of an invisible but awful purity, and the spoken promise, in connection with that presence, of a final life of endless joy.
3. In a few short years there may, there must, come over you the sense of approaching maturity and fixity as to earthly conditions of life and action. You must find, soon or late, as to the world, that your rate of movement in vigour and enjoyment is no longer, in itself, what once it was. But if Christ dwells in your heart by faith, there will be a charm there which will not only console you under the change, but will glorify it to you. As eternity approaches, you will more distinctly see the connection between it and time. The appointed task, even under the burthen of the slow failure of outward power, will be met by you as those only can meet it who know that these things are links in the indissoluble will of an eternal Friend, and that the veil is already parting which shuts out for a season the open view of the perfection and acceptability of all that will.
4. May we not, in conclusion, move a step further in our meditation, and find here a promise which is concerned also with the immortal world itself? We remember, of course, that He who is here called the Star is elsewhere called the Sun; and we might think, therefore, that He here speaks as, in a certain sense, His own forerunner; the Firstborn of the dead, whose own resurrection is the herald of His own final triumph. But it seems truer to the analogy of His other metaphoric titles to view this title as belonging to no passing phrase of His majesty, if such could be, but to its essence for ever. What elsewhere he claims to be, He is in perpetuity. On the throne as truly as on the Cross, He is the Lamb. In the fields of heaven He is still the Shepherd, “leading His flock to the living fountains of waters.” And surely in the upper sky He will be for ever the Star of Morning, so far as He will be the eternal pledge and joy of a life that will be for ever young, of energies that will accumulate without end, of a service before the throne that will always deepen in its ardour and its triumph, of discoveries in the knowledge of the Eternal which will carry the experience of the blessed from glory to glory in a succession that cannot close. (H. C. G. Moule, M. A.)
The bright and morning star
I. Because, by His coming in the flesh, He introduces into our world the light of gospel day. What was the state of the world when the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among men? In the emphatic language of holy writ, “darkness covered the earth, and thick darkness the people.” Survey the state of the heathen at this eventful crisis of the world’s history. How dark and how confused were the notions of Deity entertained by the shrewdest of their philosophers! Their religious rites were full of lust and cruelty, and were so far from having a tendency to promote virtue, that they excited them to every species of crime and wickedness. Truly they sat in darkness, and in the shadow of death. And what was the state of the Jews at this eventful period? Theirs, doubtless, was a less deplorable condition. They had the oracles of God, and some faint glimmerings of light, by means of figures, and prophecies, and sacrifices; still theirs was s, dispensation of types and of shadows. And at the time when God was manifested in the flesh, the Scribes and the Pharisees had spread a mist over the Mosaic observances; the elders, by their vain traditions had rendered its shadows tenfold more obscure, and the whole Jewish system was enveloped in gloom and darkness. But the fulness of time arrived when the bright and morning star appeared above the earth’s horizon, scattering the shadows of the Jewish Economy, and pouring a flood of light upon the darkness of Pagan delusions. This light of the world came, and gave to mankind a clear and a full revelation of the nature and perfections of the Deity, made known the way of reconciliation with an offended God, taught man his duty, and unfolded to him the bliss and the glory of heaven.
II. Because, by His rising in the heart, He introduces the day of salvation into the soul of sinner. The soul of man, in its native and unrenewed state, is full of disorder and darkness. He cannot see himself, or God, or Christ, or the way to heaven, in their true light. He may, indeed, give his assent to statements which he hears made upon these subjects, but he cannot have an experimental or abiding sense, even of the most obvious spiritual truths, till his mind is enlightened by the grace of God’s Son; till then, even the light that is in him, is darkness. But when the morning star arises in the heart of a sinful being, it produces change at once great and glorious. Before its rays, the darkness of the mind is dispelled, the understanding is illumined, and the whole soul is renewed in knowledge, as well as in righteousness and true holiness. How vast, for instance, was the change from darkness to light in the case of Saul and Tarsus.
III. Because, by His rising at the time appointed in prophecy, He will introduce into our world the glory of millennial day.
IV. Because, by His rising at the end of time, He will usher in the bliss and the light of eternal day. (John McGregor.)
The bright and morning star
I. The title declares the brilliance of His lustre. Amongst the Orientals, the morning star is the favourite emblem of great ruler, a martial leader, or a wise teacher. Christ claims this epithet on the ground of possessing the truest glory; that of being the Witness for the Truth, of being the truth itself, and thus of bringing minds under His sway. Compare this title which Christ gives of Himself in the vision of St. John, with that He gives of Himself in the gospel: “I am the Light of the World.” In that Light alone can the solution of the great world problems be found. His lustre cannot now be withdrawn, nor can men refuse to open their eyes to its presence. He is the Morning Star of all humanity, the brightest light that has ever dawned upon the world--that guides it onwards to the eternal day.
II. It implies the power of His attraction. Man can be moved and drawn only by man. Hence the wisdom of “God manifest in the flesh.”
III. It implies the fixity of His office. Amidst the progress and the changes of human thought, the revolutions of opinion, the advances or the retrogressions of moral and spiritual life, He abides a steady, ever-shining light. All others are flickering torches, throwing a momentary and misleading glare, then waning and dying out.
IV. It is emblematic of the hope of humanity. The morning star is the herald of the dawn. So our hope of a morning for humanity is in Christ. Our only hope is in Him. He is one with us; He has come to His own, and knows its wants, its weakness, its sorrow, and its sin. He shines down upon us now, with powerful and influential brilliance; and He will be associated with all our future struggles as He has been with all our past. Therefore, as Christians, we are confident and hopeful. (E. Johnson, B. A.)
The bright and morning star
I. The promise of Messiah was the Morning Star to the ancient believer. When first introduced to the faith of the sinning pair in the garden of Eden, it became their “Morning Star”; all besides was dark! They had lost the favour of God.
II. The advent of Jesus was the Morning Star of a more perfect economy.
III. Christ preached, is the Morning Star of any people to whom He is proclaimed.
IV. Christ is the Morning Star to all who believe on Him. (H. Wilkes, D. D.)
Christ the morning star
The morning star is one of the most beautiful objects in the sky. “Last in the train of night,” it yet sheds the brightest radiance. Too faint by far to penetrate the recesses of ocean, or the deep places of the forest, it slumbers on the surface of the wave, it trembles through the cottage window, or “tips with silver every mountain’s head.” It rivals not the strong sunlight, nor doth it vie with even that holier day which the moon casts abroad; nevertheless, in the heaven, doth it form a beauteous beacon; nor is the eye satisfied with gazing, when the fierce monarch of the skies arises and chases it away.
1. Apt and beautiful emblem this, of the gentle but glorious light, which Jesus has darted upon the souls of His people! Previous to the coming of Christ, the character of God was, in a great measure, unknown. The adversary had trampled on the shrine of the Lord of Hosts; it was as if that name had ceased to be manifested; it was as if the fire by which he was wont to maintain it, had been quenched. But the Morning Star at length arose: and an uncreated glory, streaming from the revealed attitude of a God at once just and the justifier of the ungodly, flowed with it. But had nothing more than the true character of God been included in this revelation, it had been made in vain. What cares man for the character of God? Were he, indeed, a being much better than he is, we could conceive him, in this case, entertaining such a care; starting up perhaps suddenly, and shivering with fear, at the bare idea of his God being charged with cruelty or injustice. But man as he is, sensual, selfish, unthinking, diseased, deluded, or despairing, entertains not one anxiety about the character of his Maker. But for his own destiny he must care; and he will ask eagerly, “What sort of light has the Morning Star brought, concerning this? What am I told about my future state?” Open the volume and see; start not at the apparent darkness; gaze steadily, and you will be richly rewarded. There are, indeed, no minute views of the future state. The Bible communicates only a few great facts, and leading features of the eternal world. But Christ has cast a light also upon the duty of man. This Moses had, in a great measure, done; but he had not taught man to answer the question fully, “What shall I do to be saved?” Christ came at once to prompt the question, and to provide the reply. Here is no list of austerities; no staggering invitation to swallow down absurdities, to believe what is impossible or revolting; no requirement of an ideal perfection from a child of clay; all is plain and easy, yet leadeth to heaven. Oh, then, will ye not bless the Morning Star, which has risen to guide you along this path to glory? and will you not walk on in its tender light, trusting that it will shine on more and more unto the perfect day?
2. Christ further resembles the morning star, as He is a giver of joy. The sun-rising is, in truth, a summons to rejoice; and it is obeyed and echoed in a thousand voices of gladness. The moon-beam also communicates its own pensive pleasures, and quieter harmonies to those who can baptize their spirits in its beauty. Nor is the morning star destitute of joy-giving influence. How does it cheer the labourer as he goes forth to his toil, amid the dews of the dawn! How does it soothe the soul of the mariner who gazes at it, till quiet tears bedim his eyelids! How is it the “sun of the sleepless,” especially of those who are awake through sorrow! Count up the raptures of earth, and you will find the rarest of them coming from Christ. Consult your own bosoms, and you will find your purest pleasure coming from Him. Sum up the ecstasies of the departed saints, and you will find all of them coming from Him.
3. Again, Christ resembles the morning star, as He is the precursor of a brighter revelation. The morning star is a pledge in the sky that the day is dawning, and at length it “melts away into the light of heaven.” So the light we have is comparatively dim; but there is a day behind it.
4. This Morning Star is a precursor of the day of Millennial brightness. There is no change in the outward aspect of the world; the same alternation of hill and valley, of waste and woodland, is presented to the view. But the shadow of sin has passed away. Man has become a nobler being; he is holler and happier. His land is not heaven; but it is no longer accursed in the anger of God. It is a land redeemed, though not glorified. On all its landscapes is written, “Holiness to the Lord.” (G. Gilfillan.)
The stellar beauty of Christ
The meaning of my text is this: as the morning star precedes and promises the coming of the day, so Christ heralds the natural and spiritual dawn.
1. Christ heralded the coming of the creation. Oh, it is an interesting thought to me to know that Christ had something to do with the creation! I see now why it was so easy for Him to change our water into wine; He first created the water. I see now why it was so easy for Him to cure the maniac; He first created the intellect. I see now why it was so easy for Him to hush the tempest; He sank Genessaret. I see now why it was so easy for Him to give sight to the blind man; He created the optic nerve. I see now why it was so easy for Him to raise Lazarus from the dead; He created the body of Lazarus, and the rock that shut him in. Hail! Lord Jesus, Morning Star of the first creation.
2. Christ heralds the dawn of comfort in a Christian soul. You are building up some great enterprise. You have built the foundation--the wail--you are just about to put on the capstone, when everything is demolished. Instead of the quick feet in the hall, the heavy tread of those who march to the grave. Oh! what are people to do amid all these sorrows? Some know not which way to turn. But not so the Christian man. He looks up toward the heavens. He sees a bright appearance in the heavens. Can it be only a flashing meteor? Can it be only a failing star? Nay, nay. The longer he looks the more distinct it becomes, until, after a while, he cries out: “A star! a morning star! a star of comfort! a star of grace! a star of peace! The star of the Redeemer!” “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Peace, troubled soul! I put the balm on your wounded heart to-night. The morning star, the morning star of the Redeemer.
3. Christ heralds the dawn of Millennial glory. It is night in China, night in India, night in Siberia, night for the vast majority of the world’s population. But it seems to me there are some intimations of the morning. The Hottentot will come out of his mud hovel to look at the dawn; the Chinaman will come up on the granite cliffs, the Norwegian will get up on the rocks, and all the beach of heaven will be crowded with celestial inhabitants come out to see the sun rise over the ocean of the world’s agony. They shall come from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God.
4. Christ heralds the dawn of heaven upon every Christian’s dying pillow. All other lights will fail--the light that falls from the scroll of fame, the light that flashes from the gem in the beautiful apparel, the light that flames from the burning lamps of a banquet--but this light burns on and burns on. No other star ever pointed a mariner into so safe a harbour. No other star ever sunk its silvered anchor so deep into the waters. No other star ever pierced such accumulated cloud, or beckoned with such a holy lustre. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The morning star
Throughout the Bible the star is made a symbol of dominion, glory, and triumph.
1. What figure more exquisite, more apt in illustrating the relation of the Lord Jesus Christ to His kingdom and to the destinies of humanity! The star appears small up yonder, and yet it is a very vast planet; so Christ appears small to the bystanders at His coming--a mere humble man like ourselves. How little did they know what was in Him! The star is small, but how wide-spreading is its light! And so, in reference to the breadth of Christ’s kingdom and its extent, is the figure exquisite and applicable.
2. In a time of gloom the star appeared. The Roman Empire was apparently in its pride and strength; but, as we all know now, it was bloom outside and worm within. All the hopes of the Jews, one after another, had disappeared. The desires for the coming of a Deliverer, which had been cherished and expressed here and there and yonder--not merely in Judea, but in all other countries, by the foremost minds, whether inspired or uninspired--had failed, and it was an era of desolateness, vice, and darkness, of intellectual pride, along with intellectual weakness when Christ came upon earth. It was what the Apostle calls the fulness of time. It is fitting that this manifestation of Christ at such a time should be called the dawning of the day-star.
3. The birds of night cannot stand before the coming dawn when Venus shines in her lustre in the sky. When Christ appeared upon the earth, the very first scintillation of the day-star was to warn all the old systems of wrong and outrage, oppression and darkness, that their time had come. (Christian Age.)
The bright and morning star
All the stars are very beautiful to look at. But if we get up before daylight, in the morning, and look out towards the east, where “the bright and morning star” is shining, we shall see that this is more beautiful than the others. How clearly it stands out in the dark sky! With what soft and silvery light it shines! And, as we stand gazing at it, we cannot help thinking how well it may remind us of Jesus.
I. Guidance. Our sailors understand this better than any other people. And there is nothing that we need so much as guidance. We know not how to steer our vessel so as to be able to reach that blessed harbour. And one reason why Jesus is called “the bright and morning star” is because He shows us the way to heaven, and guides us in that way. There are rocks and shoals in the sailor’s way, and he needs guidance to enable him to steer clear of them, and keep from being wrecked. And, in trying to make our way to heaven, the sins and temptations around us are the rocks and shoals we meet with; and if we look to Jesus, as our star, He will guide us, so that we can steer clear of these dangers. It is mainly through the Bible that Jesus, our bright and Morning Star, gives us the guidance that we need. If we read it carefully and follow its teachings, it will help us to escape a great many dangers, and keep us safe from a great many troubles
II. Hope. The morning star is very beautiful to look at. It does not give a great deal of light. You cannot see to read by that star. But, as you look at it, it tells you that the night is almost gone. You know that the sun will soon rise and shine, and then there will be light enough for everything. You will be able to see the fields and the woods, and the beautiful flowers, and all the glorious things that God has made. That morning star gives us the hope that the darkness will soon be gone, and the light of day be shining all about us. And Jesus may well be compared to such a star, because when He rises and shines on our hearts He fills them with the sweet hope that the darkness of this world will soon pass away, and the bright, clear light of heaven will be shining around us. And this hope is a bright and beautiful thing. It is able to make us happy, when nothing else in the world can do so.
III. Joy. One of our great poets has said: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.” The meaning of this is, that it always makes people glad, or gives them joy, to see a beautiful thing. And this is true. Now a star is a beautiful thing. And “the bright and morning star” is very beautiful. Whenever I think of this star I am reminded of my first visit to Switzerland a good many years ago. We went up from Geneva to the valley of Chamouni, to see Mont Blanc. It was Saturday evening when we arrived there. I wanted very much to see how that great mountain would look when the sun was rising on it, So, on the next morning, I got up between three and four o’clock to be in good time to see the sun rise. I dressed myself, and, all alone, walked quietly down the valley, that I might be ready to catch the first sight of the beams of the sun, as they began to shine upon the snowy summit of the mountain, and gild it with golden beauty. It was a beautifully clear night, or rather morning, though it was still quite dark. There was no mist around the mountain, and not a cloud in the sky. The summit of Mont Blanc is a great, rounded dome of snow. This was lifted far up into the clear, dark sky. And right over the top of the mountain I saw the morning star. How calm it seemed there! How soft and silvery was the light it shed! How brightly and beautifully it was shining down on the snowy summit of that great mountain. It was one of the most lovely sights I ever saw. I thought it was worth while to go all the way to Switzerland, if there had been nothing else to see there but just that beautiful sight of the morning star above the summit of Mont Blanc. As I walked slowly down the valley, looking at that beautiful star, I thought of these sweet words of Jesus: “I am the bright and morning star.” The sight of that star made me glad. It gave me joy then, while I was looking at it. And it gives me joy now, whenever I think about it. But all the stars in the world put together are not half so beautiful as Jesus is. And when we see Him, and know Him, as our “bright and Morning Star,” there is no joy to be found in anything so great as that which He gives. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The Spirit and the bride say, Come.
And let him that heareth say, Come.
Christ’s coming to the world, and men’s coming to Christ
The two halves of the verse do not refer to the same persons, or the same “coming.” The first portion is an invocation or a prayer; the second portion is an invitation or an offer. The one is addressed to Christ, the other to men. The commentary upon the former is the last words of the Book, where we find the seer answering the promise of his Master--“Behold! I come quickly!” with the sigh of longing: “Even so: Come! Lord Jesus.” And in precisely a similar fashion the bride here, longing for the presence of the bridegroom, answers His promise--“Behold I come quickly,” which occurs a verse or two before--with the petition which all who hear it are bidden to swell till it rolls in a great wave of supplication to His feet. And then with that coming, another “coming” is connected. The one is the coming of Christ to the world at last; the other is the coming of men to Christ now. The double office of the Church is represented here, the voice that rose in petition to heaven has to sound upon earth in proclamation. And the double relation of Christ to His Church is implied here. He is absent, therefore He is prayed to come; but He is in such a fashion present as that any who will can come to Him.
I. The invocation, or the coming of Christ to the world. Christ has come, Christ will come. These are the two great facts from which, as from two golden hooks, the whole chain of human history hangs in a mighty curve. Memory should feed upon the one, hope should leap up to grasp the other. Christ “comes,” though He is always present in human history, comes to our apprehensions in eras of rapid change, in revolutionary times when some ancient iniquity is smitten down, and some new fair form emerges from the chaos. The electricity is long in gathering during the fervid summer heat, in the slow-moving and changing clouds, but when it is gathered there comes the flash. The snow is long in collecting on the precipitous face of the Alp, but when the weight has become sufficient down it rushes, the white death of the avalanche. For fifty-nine (silent) minutes and fifty-nine (silent) seconds the hand moves round the dial, and at the sixtieth it strikes. So, at long intervals in the history of nations, a crash comes, and men say: “Behold the Lord! He cometh to judge the world.” Surely, surely it needs no words to enforce the thought that all who love Him, and all who love truth and righteousness, which are His, and all who desire that the world’s sorrows should be alleviated and the world’s evils should be chastised and smitten, must lift up the old, old cry: “Even so! Come! Lord Jesus.”
II. The invitation, or the coming of men to Christ. What is it to come? Listen to His own explanation: “He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger,” etc. Then “coming,” and “taking,” and “drinking,” are all but various forms of representing the one act of believing in Him. We come to Him when we trust Him. To come to Christ is faith. Who is it that are asked to come? “He that thirsteth” and “he that willeth.” The one phrase expresses the universal condition, the other only the limitation necessary in the very nature of things. “He that thirsteth.” Who does not? Your heart is parched for love; your mind, whether you know it or not, is restless and athirst for truth that you can cleave to in all circumstances. Your will longs for a loving authority that shall subdue and tame it. Your conscience is calling out for cleansing, for pacifying, for purity. Your whole being is one great want and emptiness. “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God,” it is only He that can slake the thirst, that can satisfy the hunger. “Whosoever will.” A wish is enough, but a wish is indispensable. How strange, and yet how common it is, that the thirsty man is not the willing man. Further, what is offered? “The water of life.” What is that? Not a thing, but a person--Christ Himself; even as He said: “If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.” And what are the conditions?” “Let Him take the water of life for nothing;” as the word might have been tendered, “For nothing.” He says to us, “I will not sell it to you, I will give it to you.” And too many of us say to Him, “We had rather buy it, or at any rate pay something towards it.” No effort, no righteousness, no sacrifice, no anything is wanted. “Without money and without price.” You have only got to give up yourselves.
III. The connection between these two comings. There is a twofold connection that I would point out to you. Christ does not yet come in order that men may come to Him. He delays His drawing near, in His longsuffering mercy, in order that over all the earth the glad news may flash, and to every spirit the invitation may come. Christ tarries that you may hear, and repent, and come to Him. That is the first phase of the connection between these two things. The other is--because Christ will come to the world, therefore let us come to Him now. Joyful as the spring after the winter, and as the sunshine after the darkness, as that coming of His ought to be to all; and though it be the object or desire to all hearts that love Him and the healing for the miseries and sorrows of the world, do not forget it has a very solemn and a very terrible side. He comes, when He does come, to judge. He comes, not as of old, in lowliness, to heal and to succour and to save, but He comes to heal and to succour and to save all them that love His appearing, and them only, and He comes to judge all men whether they love His appearing or no. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The two “comes”
I. Our text begins with the heavenward cry of prayer. Surely the sense requires us to regard this cry of “come” as addressed to our Lord Jesus, who in a previous verse had been saying, “Behold I come quickly, and My reward is with Me.”
1. The matter of this cry--it is the coming of Christ. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” This is and always has been the universal cry of the Church of Jesus Christ.
2. Next observe the persons crying. The Spirit is first mentioned--“The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” And why does the Holy Ghost desire the coming of the Lord Jesus? At present the Spirit is, so to speak, the vicegerent of this dispensation upon earth. How much He is provoked all the world over it is not possible for us to know! The ungodly vex Him, they reject His testimony, and resist His operations. And, alas, the saints grieve Him too; and so He desireth the end of this evil estate, and saith to our Lord Jesus, “Come.” Beside, the Spirit’s great desire is to glorify Christ. Now, as the coming of Christ will be the full manifestation of the Redeemer’s glory, the Spirit therefore desireth that He may come and take to Himself His great power, and reign. Our text next tells us that, “the bride saith, Come.” Now, a bride is one whose marriage is near, either as having just happened or as close at hand. So is the Church very nearly arrived at the grand hour, when it shall be said “the marriage of the Lamb is come and His bride hath made herself ready”; and because of that she is full of joy at the prospect of hearing the cry, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh.” Who marvelleth that it is so? The next clause of the text indicates that each separate believer should breathe the same desire, “Let him that heareth say, Come.” This will be the index of your belonging to the bride, the token of your sharing in the one Spirit, if you unite with the Spirit and the bride in saying, “Come.” For no ungodly man truly desireth Christ’s coming; but on the contrary he desireth to get away from Him, and forget His very existence. To delight in drawing near unto the Lord Jesus Christ; to long to see Him manifested in fulness of glory is the ensign of a true soldier of the Cross. Do you feel this?
3. Now a word upon the tense in which the cry is put. It is in the present tease. The Spirit and the bride are anxious that Christ should come at once, and he that knoweth Christ and loveth Him desireth also that He should not tarry. Is it not time as far as our poor judgments go that Jesus should come?
II. The earthward cry of invitation to men. I cannot quite tell you how it is that the sense in my text glides away from the coming of Christ to the earth into the coming of sinners to Christ, but it does. Like colours which blend, or strains of music which melt into each other, so the first sense slides into the second. This almost insensible transition seems to me to have been occasioned by the memory of the fact that the coming of Christ is not desirable to all mankind. He lets the prayer flow towards Himself, but yet directs its flow towards poor sinners also. He Himself seems to say, “Ye bid Me come, but I, as the Saviour of men, look at your brothers and your sisters who are yet in the far country, the other sheep which are not yet of the fold, whom also I must bring in, and in answer to your cry to Me to come I speak to those wandering ones, and say, ‘Let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’“ Is not that the way in which the sense glides from its first direction? Now,- from whom does this cry arise?
1. It first comes from Jesus. It is He who says, “Let Him that is athirst come.”
2. But next, it is the call of the Spirit of God. The Spirit says, “Come.” This Book which He has written, on every page says to men, “Come! Come to Jesus.” And those secret motions of power upon the conscience, those times when the heart grows calm even amid dissipation, and thought is forced upon the mind, those are the movements of the Spirit of God by which He is showing man His danger and revealing to him his refuge, and so is saying, “Come.”
3. And this is the speech of the Church too in conjunction with the Spirit, for the Spirit speaks with the bride and the bride speaks by the Spirit. The Church is always saying “Come.”
4. The next giver of the invitation is spoken of as “him that heareth.” If you have had an ear to hear, and have heard the gospel to your own salvation, the very next thing you have to do is to say to those around you, “Come.” Give your Master’s invitation, distribute the testimony of His loving will, and bid poor sinners come to Jesus.
III. The connection between these two comings.
1. There is this relation, first, they are both suggested in this passage by the closing of the scriptural canon. It is because the Book was about to receive its finis that the Spirit and the bride unitedly cried to the sinners to come at once. No fresh gospel is to be expected, therefore let them come at once
2. I think I perceive another connection, namely, that those people who in very truth love Christ enough to cry to Him continually to come are sure to love sinners also, and to say to them also, “Come.”
3. There is this connection also, that before Christ comes a certain number of His elect must be ingathered. Oh, then, it is ours to labour that the wanderers may come home, for so we are, as far as lieth in us, hastening the time when our Beloved Himself shall come.
4. Once more, there is a sort of coming of Christ which, though it be not the first meaning here, may be included in it, for it touches the centre of the sinner’s coming to Christ. Because when we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” if He shall answer us by giving us of His Spirit more fully, so that He comes to us spiritually, then penitent souls will assuredly be brought to His feet.
IV. Well, then, lastly, what are the responses? We sent up a cry to heaven, and said, “Come.” The response is, “Behold, I come quickly.” That is eminently satisfactory. Christ will descend to earth as surely as He ascended to heaven, and when He cometh there will be victory to the right and to the true, and His saints shall reign with Him. And now concerning this other cry of “Come.” We ask sinners to come. We have asked them in a fourfold voice: Jesus, the Spirit, the bride, and him that heareth, they have all said, “Come.” Will they come? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The double “come”
We have open before us the last page of the Word of God. How shall the book finish? Shall it close with a promise? It is well that it should, and there is the cheering word for the righteous, “Blessed are they that do His commandments,” etc. Shall it close with a threatening to the wicked? Here it is: “without are dogs,” etc. Shall the last sentence be full of tender invitation and earnest entreaty to the sinner, bidding him come to Christ and live? Yes, let it be so; and yet shall we forget the Lord Himself while we are thinking of the sinner? He has told us that He will come--should not the very last word of Scripture have a reference to Him and to His glorious advent? Should not the Spirit at the last, as well as at the first, bear witness to Jesus? Shall not the last word that shall linger in the reader’s ear speak of the approaching glory of the Lord? Yes, let it be so: but it would be best of all if we could have a word that would combine the four: a promise to the righteous, a threatening to the wicked, an invitation to the poor and needy, and a welcome to the coming one. Who could devise such a verse? The Holy Ghost is equal to the emergency. He can dictate such a verse: He has dictated it. Here it is in the words of our text.
I. First, then, let us consider, the twofold ministry.
1. There is in the text a cry for the coming of the Lord. Let every one that hears the prophecy of our Lord’s assured coming join in the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.”
2. But there is a second ministry of the Church, which is the cry for the coming of sinners to Christ. In this respect “the Spirit and the Bride say, Come.” The world should ring with “Come to Jesus!”
3. This, then, is the double ministry, and I want you to notice that the first call is not opposed to the second. The fact that Christ is coming ought never to make us any the less diligent in pressing sinners to come to Christ.
4. Again, take heed that the second call never obscures the first. Be taken up with evangelical work; let it fill your heart; but, at the same time, watch for that sudden appearing which, to many, will be as unwelcome as a thief in the night.
5. Let the two “comes” leap at the same moment from your heart, for they are linked together. Christ will not come until He hath gathered unto Himself an elect company; therefore, when you and I go forth and say to sinners, “Come,” and God blesses us to the bringing of them in, we are doing the best we can to hasten the advent of the Son of man.
II. This twofold ministry is secured. According to our text, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.” They always do say it, and always will say it till Jesus comes.
1. The Spirit says it. What a cry must this be which comes up from the Spirit of God Himself! Given at Pentecost, He has never returned or left the Church, but He dwells in chosen hearts, as in a temple, even to this day. He is always moving men to pray that Christ may come, and moving men to come to Christ.
2. This also is certainly fulfilled by the Church wherever she is a true Church.
III. The way in which this twofold ministry is increased. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” The hearing man is to say, “Come,” but the unconverted man is not bidden so to do. No, he cannot say “Come” till he has first come for himself. You that are not saved cannot invite others. How can you? Yet all of you who have really heard the gospel with opened ear, and received the truth of God by faith into your souls, are called upon to cry, “Come.”
1. See how this perpetuates the cry. As in the old Greek games the athletes ran with torches, and one handed the light to another, and thus it passed along the line, so is it with us. Each man runneth his race, but he passeth the torch on to another that the light may never go out from generation to generation. Let the fathers teach the children, and the children their children, and so while the sun and the moon endure let the voice that crieth, “Come” to Christ, go up to heaven, and let the voice that crieth, “Come” to sinners, be heard in the chief places of concourse.
2. This precept secures the swelling of the volume of the cry; for if every man that hears the gospel is to cry, “Come,” then there will be more voices, and yet more. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
On the invitations of the gospel
I. What is implied in this invitation? And what is comprehended in coming to Him? Simply obeying His word! Even now the chief of sinners is invited to return to God, with the promise of free forgiveness, and the prospect of everlasting felicity held out to him.
II. Such is the invitation before us. Is it, in what it requires us to do, aught else than what our own consciences have often and again urged us to do? Has the still small voice within us never told us that while we are at a distance from God, we never can be happy? But we have also to remember that the calls to return to God, which have been addressed to us through the instrumentality of conscience, were in reality the dictates of that Spirit of all grace and goodness, who is represented in the text as inviting us to a Saviour. Though we cannot explain His operations, nor distinguish them usually from what we call those of our own minds, yet we know that the Spirit of God suggests and excites to all good, that it is He who restrains us from utter reprobation. But we have also to observe, that the invitations of the Spirit are addressed to us in the written word of God; and oh, how frequently are the entreaties, the warnings, and the calls of that word read, without the slightest remembrance that it actually is the Word of God to the reader! Surely it is not a question to be dismissed without concern, whether your Maker has called on you to return to His service and favour, and you are exposed to the fearful penalty of shutting your ears to His call, and despising His reproof. The Bride saith, “Come!” The Church of Christ is meant by this expression. That Church consists not only of those Christians who are now on earth, but of those also who have gone before us, on the path Which leads to God, and now live in His presence in heaven. We are not only, through the mercy of the Almighty, called on to consider the things which belong to our peace, through the instrumentality of Christian institutions around us, but we should also remember that they too call upon us, who now enjoy the reward of their toils and have entered on their rest, to follow in their footsteps and emulate their example. The affections of nature add their entreaty to the command of Divine authority; and every holy example of departed saints, in the record of your own memory, or in that of Scripture, as well as all the invitations addressed to you through the instituted means of grace, form but, as it were, the united voice of the Church in heaven and the Church on earth--“Come!” Come to participate in the privileges of those who were the truly honourable of the earth, and to an eternal reunion with the great and good, in unmingled happiness and perfection. One observation on the words, “Let him that heareth say, Come”--him who has already heard and obeyed the call. We are bound, as far as in us lies, to make known the gospel of our hopes to others, and endeavour to induce them to believe and obey; and, may we not add, that this should be felt by Christians as the impulse of affection, not merely as the obligation of duty. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” Opportunities, both public and private, are abundant, for this joint exercise of Christian love and Christian obedience. And are there not abundant motives to it? It is to be a fellow-worker with Christ. It is to be an honoured means in God’s hand of accomplishing greater good than lies within the attainment of earthly power or wisdom.
III. Who are they to whom the invitation is so especially addressed, under the descriptions, “Him that is athirst,” and “Whosoever will”? The metaphor employed in our text directs us intelligibly in pointing out the first of the classes referred to. Let him that is athirst take of the water of life freely. That is, him who thirsts for that water! Come to Christ, and take of the water of life freely; intrust yourself unreservedly into His hands, and to His disposal, as your Teacher, your Master, and your Saviour; and while you do this you will experience that the more your knowledge of Him increases, the more your peace and your hope will increase also. It is, in truth, the inquirer’s unwillingness to submit himself to Christ in all his offices, which usually stands in the way of his own peace. We believe there are exceptions, but not so numerous as to disprove the general assertion. A sense of sin leads us to distrust the Redeemer, or a love of some sin renders us indisposed to renounce it. To meet these obstacles the gospel is, on the one hand, abundant in its assurances that none ever did or shall trust in God in vain; and, on the other, most peremptory in its demands that all sin shall be renounced in coming unto Christ. “And whosoever will!” Whosoever is sincerely desirous to partake in the benefits of salvation, whether his feelings are characterized or not by the excitement of those just referred to, let him too come! The description is just made more general in these words for the purpose of displaying more forcibly and persuasively the Divine goodwill towards all; nor can we conceive a limitation to the comprehensiveness of this description, which would authorise us in refusing to any the hopes and invitations of the gospel. (John Park.)
God’s mercy towards a soul-thirsting world
I. In the provision He has made for it.
1. The provision is exquisitely suitable.
2. The provision is absolutely free.
II. In the pressing invitation to the provision.
1. The Divine Spirit says “Come.”
2. The Christian Church says “Come.”
3. The mere hearer, is commanded to say “Come.” (Homilist.)
Come, oh Saviour! Come, oh sinner!
I. The cry for Christ’s advent. It is this advent that is the great theme of the Apocalypse, and the central objects of its scenes. It opens with, “Behold, He cometh”; it goes on with, “Behold, I come as a thief”; and it ends with, “Behold, I come quickly.” All the predictions throughout the book bear upon this event, and carry forward the Church’s hopes to this great goal. But there are three parties here represented as uttering this prayer.
1. The Spirit. He cries, “Come.” What so interests the Spirit in the advent?
2. The Bride--the Lamb’s wife, the whole Church as a body, as a virgin betrothed, looking for the marriage day.
3. He that heareth. “Blessed is he that heareth.” Not as if the hearer was not part of the Bride; but the word thus singles out each one on whose ears the message is falling. The moment you hear it, you should cry, “Come, Come, Lord Jesus!” For then our sins and sorrows are ended; then our victory is won; then this vile body is changed; then we meet and unite forever with the loved and lost; then shall the ransomed of the Lord return, and come to Zion with songs.
II. The invitation to the sinner.
1. The inviter--Christ Himself; the same who said, “Come unto Me.” He invited once on earth: He now invites from heaven with the same urgency and love.
2. The persons invited. Do you want to be happy? Joy is here for you, whoever and whatever you are.
3. The blessings invited to--the water of life. “Water,” that which will thoroughly refresh you and quench your thirst; “water of life,” living and life-giving; a quickening well; a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. Not a shower, nor a stream, but a well--a fountain (Revelation 21:6).
4. The price--Freely! Free to each one as He is; though the chief of sinners, the emptiest, wickedest, thirstiest of the sons of men.
5. The time--the invitation comes forth at the close of that book which sums up all revelation. It contains Christ’s last words, meant specially for the last days of a weary, thirsty world; when men, having tried every pleasure, vanity, lust, folly, and found nothing, having exhausted every cup and broken every cistern, will be found more thoroughly weary and thirsty than before. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The bride’s twofold cry
I. That when the Church cries most earnestly for the Master, she will strive most earnestly for the world. Her prayer to Christ, and her invitation to the perishing, will go forth from the self-same lips, and at the self-same time. Her advent song will have a good gospel refrain. There are times when it can hardly be said that the Church does long for the nearer and fuller manifestation of her Lord--when she has settled down into a state of apathy and indifference. And it is just at these times that she grows lax in her evangelistic work, and becomes careless about the world which lieth in wickedness. On the other hand, there are times when the Church is stirred to her deepest, inmost heart for a fuller and nearer manifestation of her Master’s presence. And it is just at these times that she pleads most earnestly and powerfully with sinners, and that her invitations to the world go forth most freely. Calling earnestly for the Lord, she calls most beseechingly to the world. She finds the banquet so rich and full that she cannot but invite the perishing to partake of it.
II. If the Church would hear the Lord’s voice and enjoy the Lord’s presence, she must make His voice heard by the unconverted. “Let him that heareth say, Come.” That is--let him that hearkeneth, that hath his ears open for the Master’s voice, and wishes to enjoy the Master’s presence, let him make known the Master’s promises and the Master’s invitations to the unbelieving world. Or to put it in one brief, simple sentence. The highest Christian life can only be enjoyed by those who are wrestling with the world, and calling the unbelieving to the Saviour’s feet. The higher Christian life is not possible to those who coddle and nurse their own souls, and spend all their strength in hunting for spiritual joy and securing their own salvation. Just in proportion to our anxiety about the salvation of others will complete salvation be attained by ourselves. Christ will speak most graciously to our souls when our mouths are open to declare His word. You have heard of the old mystics, the Christian mystics of the middle ages. They were men who thought that Christ would appear to them in some material form--or at least some visible form--if they watched and waited for Him long and patiently enough. And they shut themselves in their lonely cells, far away from the world, its cares, and sorrows. But the vision came not. The weird creations of their own mad dreams came to mock their endeavours--nothing more. No face of Christ appeared; there was no realisation of the Divine presence. These men were seeking to save their own souls, and only that, and Christ would not answer them. There is something akin to this old mysticism in the present day. Men who have no desire for evangelisation work, no concern for the sinning, dying world, are expecting to receive of Christ all the power and joy of faith. They are sitting down with open ear but closed lips at the Master’s feet; they would gain all for themselves and nothing for the world; and Christ withholds the vision now as He did in days of old. You shall not have the fulness of power, He says, unless you will use it in the work of conversion. I will not show you the glory of My face unless you will make known that glory to others. “Let him that heareth say, Come.”
III. Those who long for the Master’s presence have most faith in the Master’s power. It is this longing and expectant bride who is praying for the second advent--panting, groaning for her Lord’s presence. It is this bride who utters the closing invitations of our text. It is because she has felt His power--felt it throbbing through all her being--that she longs for more of it. It is because she has tasted the water of life, and knows its sweetness, and its gladness, and its healing virtues, that she prays for a fuller draught. Ah, she has great faith in her Master and in the provisions of His love. The first and last and always present sign of an apathetic and listless Church is a loss of faith in the power of the gospel. The Church which has enjoyed little of Christ is still generally audacious and unbelieving enough to think that it has enjoyed all. It thinks it has received all, or nearly all, that He can give, and proved the sum total of His power. But to a Church which rejoices in Christ, which has drunk largely of His Spirit, and is crying day and night for more of it, the gospel is all the power and sweetness of God to every one that it touches. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The gracious invitation of Christ to sinners
I. What is implied the thirsting here spoken of.
1. Do any make the things of this world the chief object of their thirst? Our Lord tells them how they should regulate their desires, and which way they ought to turn them (Psalms 4:6).
2. If any thirst after righteousness--either the righteousness of justification or sanctification--they must apply to Jesus Christ in order to obtain the necessary mercies (1 Corinthians 1:30).
3. If any thirst after Jesus Christ and His grace; such are called in the text. This thirst is a fruit of spiritual life: for how can a soul thirst after Jesus unless the soul knows Him, and, in some measure, the need it stands in of an interest in Him; and His suitableness to the wants of the soul?
4. If any thirst after happiness--though this thirsting may be found where there is nothing but common convictions, no desire after holiness, but only a desire to be saved from misery, not from sin--yet Jesus calls such to come to Him for that happiness which they desire. Would you be happy hereafter? Then you must begin with Christ now; He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
II. The Lord Jesus Christ invites every thirsty soul to come to Him.
1. What this coming is. It is believing in Jesus Christ (John 6:35). Not an act of the body, but of the soul. The consent of the will. Receiving and resting upon Christ alone for salvation. We first come to Christ by faith, and then to God by Him.
2. To whom convinced sinners should come for relief. To Jesus Christ. He is very God; and, as Mediator between God and man, He has an all-fulness in Him.
3. Who are the persons that Jesus calls to come to Him.
III. How are we to understand the expression “whosoever will.”
IV. The Lord Jesus Christ will abundantly satisfy every thirsty soul that comes to him. This is evident--
1. By the frequent repetition of His calls and invitations to sinners to return and come to Him for His benefits.
2. From the many instances of those that came to Jesus Christ, in the days of His ministry upon earth, for some bodily favour, either for themselves or friends or relations.
3. By the experience of every true believer.
V. What do needy souls find in Jesus Christ upon their coming to Him?
1. He that has natural thirst is willing to be at any reasonable cost for something to satisfy his thirst: for he knows that if he has not timely relief he is in danger of his life. So the soul that thirsts after Jesus Christ and His grace is willing to part with all for Him; for he knows that Christ has enough in Him to satisfy all his spiritual desires.
2. That which satisfies natural thirst will be highly esteemed (Job 23:12; Jeremiah 15:16; Psalms 119:97).
3. If the soul is truly athirst after Jesus Christ and His grace, nothing short of Christ will satisfy it.
4. A thirsty man will be glad of, and thankful for, seasonable relief.
5. The thirsty man’s desires are not satisfied once for all, but he must have new supplies (John 6:34; 1 Peter 2:3-4).
6. A thirsty man will be willing to take any pains to obtain his desires. Such will come to the fountain, and sit at the pool, and wait at the posts of wisdom’s gates; they will honour the ordinances of Jesus Christ by a careful attendance on them, or rather on God in them, in order to obtain the mercies that their souls want. To such as have experienced this thirsting after Jesus Christ and His benefits, and have been made willing to come to Him, and look for salvation from Him upon His own terms. Be very thankful to God for what He has discovered to you, and wrought in and for you. Give thanks to God for the fulness of Jesus Christ as Mediator, prepared for the supply of needy souls; and then for His showing you, by the gospel, the fulness of grace that is in Christ. Give thanks to God for drawing you. Take care to exert and lay out for the honour and glory of God and for the exaltation of Jesus Christ, for the service of His kingdom and the good of souls whatsoever you have received from Him. Oh let Him have the honour of His grace. (W. Notcutt.)
Come and welcome
The cry of the Christian religion is the simple word “come.” The Jewish law said, “Go, and take heed unto thy steps as to the path in which thou shalt walk. Go, and break the commandments, and thou shalt perish; go, and keep them, and thou shalt live.” The law repels; the gospel attracts.
I. There is a “water of life.” Man is utterly ruined and undone. He is lost in a wild waste wilderness. The skin bottle of his righteousness is all dried up, and there is not so much as a drop of water in it. Must he perish? He looks aloft, beneath, around, and he discovers no means of escape. Must thirst devour him? No; for the text declares there is a fountain of life. Ordained in old eternity by God in solemn covenant, this fountain, this Divine well, takes its spring from the deep foundations of God’s decrees. This sacred fountain, established according to God’s good will and pleasure in the covenant, opened by Christ when He died upon the Cross, floweth this day to give life and health and joy and peace to poor sinners dead in sin and ruined by the fall. There is a “water of life.” By this water of life is intended God’s free grace, God’s love for men, so that if you come and drink, you shall find this to be life indeed to your soul, for in drinking of God’s grace you inherit God’s love, you are reconciled to God, God stands in a fatherly relation to you, He loves you, and His great infinite heart yearns towards you. Again, it is living water not simply because it is love, and that is life, but it saves from impending death. Come hither then, ye sin-doomed; this water can wash away your sins, and when your sins are washed away, then shall ye live; for the innocent must not be punished. Here is water that can make you whiter than driven snow. “But,” saith the poor convicted soul, “this is not all I want, for if all the sins I have ever committed were blotted out, in one ten minutes I should commit many more. If I were now completely pardoned, it would not be many seconds before I should destroy my soul and sink helplessly again.” Ay! but see here, this is living water, it can quench thy thirst of sin; entering into thy soul it shall overcome and cover with its floods thy propensities to evil. This is life indeed, for here is favour, here is pardon, here is sanctity, the renewing of the soul by the washing of water through the Word. “But,” saith one, “I have a longing within me which I cannot satisfy. I feel sure that if I be pardoned yet there is something which I want--which nothing I have ever heard of, or have ever seen or handled, can satisfy. I have within me an aching void which the world can never fill.” But hearken! thou that art wretched and miserable, here is living water that can quench thy thirst. Come hither and drink, and thou shalt be satisfied; for he that is a believer in Christ finds enough for him in Christ now, and enough for ever. You shall never thirst again, except it be that you shall long for deeper draughts of this living fountain. And, moreover, he who drinketh of this living water shall never die. His body shall see corruption for a little while, but his soul, mounting aloft, shall dwell with Jesus. Yea! and his very body, when it has passed through the purifying process, shall rise again more glorious than when it was sown in weakness. It shall rise in glory, in honour, in power, in majesty, and united with the soul, it shall everlastingly inherit the joys which Christ has prepared for them that love Him.
II. The invitation is very wide--“whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’’ The one question I have to ask is, art thou willing? if so, Christ bids thee take the water of life. Art thou willing? if so, be pardoned, be sanctified, be made whole. For if thou art willing Christ is willing too, and thou art freely invited to come and welcome to the fountain of life and grace. Now mark, the question has to do with the will. “Oh,” says one, “I am so foolish I cannot understand the plan of salvation, therefore I may not come and drink.” But my question has nothing to do with your understanding, it has to do with your will. You may be as big a fool as you will, but if you are willing to come to Christ you are freely invited. “Oh,” says one, “I can understand the plan of salvation, but I cannot repent as I would. Sir, my heart is so hard I cannot bring the tear to my eye. I cannot feel my sins as I would desire.” Ay, but this text has nothing to do with your heart; it is with your will. Are you willing? Then be your heart hard as the nether millstone, if thou art willing to be saved I am bidden to invite thee. “Whosoever will,” not “whosoever feels,” but “whosoever will, let him come and take the water of life freely.” “Yes,” says one, “I can honestly say I am willing, but my heart will not soften. I wish that grace would change me. I can say I wish that Christ would soften my heart. I am willing.” Well, then, the text is for thee, “Whosoever will, let him come.” If thou art willing thou art freely invited to Christ. “No,” saith one, “but I am such a great sinner. I have been a drunkard; I have been a lascivious man; I have gone far astray from the paths of rectitude. I would not have all my sins known to my fellow creatures. How can God accept of such a wretch as I am, such a foul creature as I have been?” Mark thee, man! There is no reference made here to thy past life. It simply says, “whosoever will.” Art thou willing? “Ah!” saith one, “God knows I am willing, but still I do not think I am worthy.” No, I know you are not, but what is that to do with it? It is not, “whosoever is worthy,” but “whosoever will, let him come.” “Well,” says one, “I believe that whosoever will may come, but not me, for I am the vilest sinner out of hell.” But hark thee, sinner, it says, “whosoever.” What a big word that is! Whosoever! There is no standard-height here. It is of any height and any size.
III. How clear the path is, “whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” That word “let” is a very curious word, because it signifies two opposite things. “Let” is an old-fashioned word which sometimes signifies “hinder.” “He that letteth shall be taken away”--that is, “He that hindereth.” But here, in our text, it means the removing of all hindrance. “Let him come”--methinks I hear Jehovah speaking this. Here is the fountain of love and mercy. But you are too unworthy, you are too vile. Hear Jehovah! He cries, “Let him come, he is willing. Stand back! doubts and fears; away with you, let him come; make a straight road; let him come if he be but willing.” Then the devil himself comes forward, and striding across the way, he says to the poor trembling soul, “I will spill thy blood; thou shalt never have mercy. I defy thee; thou shalt never believe in Christ, and never be saved.” But Christ says, “Let him come”; and Satan, strong though he be, quails beneath Jehovah’s voice, and Jesus drives him away, and the path stands clear, nor can sin, nor death, nor hell, block up the way when Jehovah Jesus says, “Let him come.” Standing one day in the court-house, some witness was required, I forget his name; it may have been Brown, for instance, in one moment the name was announced, “Brown, Samuel Brown”; by and by twenty others take up the cry, “Samuel Brown, Samuel Brown.” There was seen a man pushing his way through; “Make room,” said he, “make room, his honour calls me,” and though there were many in his path they gave way, because his being called was a sufficient command to them, not to hinder him, but to let him come. And now, soul, if thou be a willing sinner, though thy name is not mentioned--if thou be a willing sinner, thou art as truly called as though thou wert called by name, and therefore, push through thy fears. Make elbow room, and come; they that would stop thee are craven cowards. He has said, “Let him come,” and they cannot keep you back; Jehovah has said, “Let him come,” and it is yours now to say, “I will come.
IV. The condition which is the death of all conditions--let him take it freely. Methinks I see one here who is saying, “I would be saved and I will do what I can to be worthy of it.” The fountain is free, and he comes with his halfpenny in his hand, and that a bad one, and he says, “Here, sir, give me a cup of this living water to drink; I am well worthy of it, for see the price is in my hand.” Why, man, if thou could’st bring the wealth of Potosi, or all the diamonds of Galconda, and all the pearls of Ormuz, you could not buy this most costly thing. Put up your money, you could not have it for gold or silver. The man brings his merit: but heaven is not to be sold to meritmongers. Or perhaps you say, “I will go to church regularly, I will give to the poor, I will attend my meeting-house, I will take a sitting, I will be baptized, I will do this and the other, and then no doubt I shall have the water of life.” Back, miserable herd, bring not your rags and rubbish to God, He wants them not. Stand back, you insult the Almighty when you tender anything as payment. Back with ye; He invites not such as you to come. He says come freely. He wants nothing to recommend you. He needs no recommendation. You want no good works. Do not bring any. But you have no good feelings. Nevertheless you are willing, therefore come. He wants no good feelings of you. You have no belief and no repentance, yet nevertheless you are willing. Do not try to get them yourself--come to Him, and He will give them to you. Come just as you are; it is “freely,” “without money and without price.” “Whosoever will, let him come.” Let him bring nothing to recommend him. Let him not imagine he can give any payment to God, or any ransom for his soul; for the one condition that excludes all conditions is, “Let him come and take the water of life freely.” There is a man of God here who has drank of the river of the water of life many times; but he says, “ I want to know more of Christ, I want to have nearer fellowship with Him; I want to enter more closely into the mystery of His sacrifice; I want to understand more and more of the fellowship of His sufferings, and to be made conformable unto His death.” Well, believer, drink freely. You have filled your bowl of faith once, and you drank the draught off; fill it again, drink again, and keep on drinking. Put your mouth to the fountain if you will drink right on. As good Rutherford says in one of his letters, “I have been sinking my bucket down into the well full often, but now my thirst after Christ has become so insatiable that I long to put the well itself to my lips and drain it all, and drink right on.” Well, take it freely as much as ever you can. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Let him that heareth say, Come.--
The great commission
It is midnight in the crowded city. A million of people, weary with the cares and burdens of the day, have sought relief in sleep. In thousands of houses the lights are extinguished, and nothing breaks the silence of healthy repose. From an upper window, unseen of any, came a puff of smoke and curled upward into the night air. The watchman passed the building, and, to his observation, all was safe. He turned the corner of his beat, but a steady column of smoke was rising in place of the single puff. Ere he returns to point of view a fiery wave is rolling up to heaven. The heated air has waked a current, and the fire-fiends are in glee as through the thin partitions of the blocks the greedy flames make their way. Who shall arouse the sleeping city? Who shall save the dwellers in yonder house, already lighted with the reflected beams a though the devils were dancing on its rafters in glee at its speedy destruction? Must we wait for the city’s appointment, the mayor’s seal, the official’s paper? Let him that seeth cry, “Fire!” Let him that heareth cry, “Fire!” and roll the cry in deafening thunders on till every soul is stirred, every family safe. The possession of a tongue is the evidence of heaven’s commission--the roaring flame is the voice of authority commanding to immediate alarm, to instant toil, and none may find excuse from blame who withhold their cries as they stand beside the charred, disfigured bodies of the unalarmed. Here is the ground for universal Christian labour. The dangerous exposure of man voices the Divine commission to each. Let us try again: The clouds refused their moisture, and the hot sun poured incessantly upon the dry and parching earth. The seed lost its power of reproduction; fruit juices dried in the vine and tree; grass withered in the field, and when the winds of autumn blew not a barn held any treasure, not a home had any provision. The days of famine came; children cried for food their parents could not give; infants died upon the famished breasts of their mothers; strong men crept about in the helplessness of infancy; the flocks were destroyed; weeping and wailing were on every side. The dreadful news was sent to distant lands, and the cry for bread burdened every breeze. The eager watchers sat upon the mountains and gazed upon the far-off sea. At length, slow rising on the distant edge, a sail appears; with beating hearts they watch; nearer it comes, sailing to their relief. The shore is reached; it is the relief-ship, crammed with bread and fruits of life. The busy hands roll the cargo out and spread it on the shore and welcome all. The starving are at home. The dying want only a crust of bread to bring them back to life again. And now in rich abundance plenty for all is heaped upon the land. The few upon the border satisfy their wants; the multitudes beyond the hill that skirts the beach are ignorant of any provision, and as the minutes pass their lives go out. Who shall proclaim that plenty waits their coming? Who shall carry the glad news over the hills into the inland cities that the suffering is at an end and there is enough for all? Let him that has a voice cry, “Bread upon the shore!” and him that heareth cry, “Bread upon the shore!” till the echo rings through the whole famished land and has fallen upon every ear and the multitudes are flocking to satisfy their wants. What shall be said of him who, knowing the destitution and made acquainted with the supply, coolly declares, “Let them find it out for themselves. I have eaten.” Or who is content to let only the appointed herald make proclamation once for all? What shall be said of him who sees a starving family, notes the faltering steps, the hollow cheeks, the tear-dimmed eye, the haggard look, and ventures no information that the food has come? Again, we have found a call for universal Christian toil emphasised by supply as well as need. Heaven cries to each through teeming bounty for all. “O that the Christian world would wake to faithfulness, and when the Spirit and the Bride has said, ‘Come,’ even he that heareth would say, ‘Come.’“ The great realities of the Christian faith demand individual effort for their promulgation.
I. The danger of the soul calls for the alarm cry of each. If the flames of a burning city call to each to give alarm, how much more the flames that throw their glare upon the living soul? We need not cross the borders of this world, nor travel out of the circle of personal acquaintance, to find consuming men, burning with a heat that stirs the pity which they treat with scorn. Think of the pitiful crowds of women out of whose being all trace of mother-love is burned, all tender affections gone--sweetness, kindness, virtue--the very ashes of all nobleness blown away, and the bestial fires still glowing in their souls; yet they were fair, favoured, honoured as any till the torch was applied, the conflagration started, and no soul sought to quench it. There is no soul in all the world to which the fiery torch of sin has not been placed. The peril of each is imminent. The watchman passes by but does not see the smouldering passion, the heated imagination. The inflamed soul is careless of others. But there are those who have been dashed with the waters of life and see and know the increasing danger; there are those who have themselves been plucked as brands from the burning. They note the first puff that indicates in their friend, in a passer-by, the kindled fire; they see the glare in the eye, on the cheek, in the spirit; that detects the glow that heralds the blazing city of the soul; honour, honesty, obedience to God, regard for human rights, child-love, wife-love, even self-love, are wrapped in smoke and flame, and yet the cry of alarm is withheld. Seize the child with blazing garments and wrap her in a rug, no matter who she is, no matter where she stands; it shall save a life. Raise the cry for instant help. Summon the ambulance. This is the voice of humanity. How much louder then should be the call, how much more vigorous the effort to relieve the endangered soul! Begin in your own home to-day where the danger is truly personal. Is it enough that you talk of all matters but the soul’s escape from sin? Is it enough that the preacher cries out in trumpet-tones, “Let him that heareth say, Come?” Assail each ear with the cry that God has put upon your lips.
II. The provision for saving the soul calls for individual proclamation. If the sea-side watchers, failing to inform the famine land of plenty, deserve the detestation of mankind, what is the righteous judgment on him who fails to inform of the spiritual supply for endangered and perishing souls? “Let him that heareth say, Come.” It is not the results of his own investigations that man is sent to proclaim. It is of the glorious provision of God. Not the subtleties of abstruse metaphysical reasoning, nor the teachings of learned scientists, but pardon for the guilty, a Saviour for the lost, he is to shout and whisper into every ear, that the dying may hear it and never die, that the living may catch its meaning and live for ever. ‘Tis not a call for the investigation of provision, but for its distribution. Its summons is not to the trained scholars of the land alone, to the skilful reasoners, to the eloquent lips, but to hearers of every class. The sacred privilege, the solemn duty, opens before every one who hears to proclaim the mercy and the grace of God toward men to give hope to the hopeless, courage to the faint, a Saviour to all. The commission bears no time limitation. Not once a week, when Sabbath bells ring, but every day and every time a needy soul is met may the word be spoken, “Come to the open fountain! Come to the bread of life!” I have read that during a heavy storm off the coast of Spain a dismantled merchantman was observed by a British frigate drifting before the gale. Every eye and glass were on her, and a canvas shelter on the deck almost level with the sea suggested the idea that there yet might be life on board. Instantly the order sounded to put the ship about, and a boat puts off with instructions to bear down upon the wreck and rescue life if aught remained. Away after that drifting hulk go the gallant men, risking their own lives on the mountain billows of the roaring sea. Reaching it they cry aloud, and from the canvas screen creeps out what proved to be the body of a man so shrivelled and wasted as to be easily lifted on board. In tender pity the rough men rub the chilled and wasted body. About to pull away, the saved man moves and moans and whispers, and as they listen they can catch the muttered words, “There is another man.” The saved would save his friend, though almost in the hands of death. It is the lesson for us all. While another man treads the globe unsaved by the blood of Christ, he, brethren to the rescue! Not in the feebleness of your own strength, but in obedience to Him who sends the thrilling message to all whose ears have been touched with the heavenly music, saying, “Let him that heareth say, Come.” (S. H. Virgin, D. D.)
Let him that heareth say, Come
1. Notice the party addressed: “Him that heareth.” There is no reference here to age, or position, or gifts, or learning.
2. Observe the terms in which this duty is prescribed. He that heareth is to “say, Come.” The terms here used are very general, and in many respects indefinite. If you cannot “say, Come,” in the church, you can say it in the shop, or at the fireside, or on the roads. The Sabbath, for example, is a most suitable time to say, “Come,” when the minds of men are less occupied with worldly cares and business; or a time of affliction, when the heart is likely to be somewhat softened.
I. Show how the truth of the text is confirmed and exemplified by other passages in the Word of God (Psalms 66:16; Isaiah 2:3; Zechariah 8:21; John 1:41; John 1:45-46; John 4:29, etc.). It is no new commandment, but one which has been from the beginning, that they who have accepted the invitation of the gospel should straightway invite others to the feast.
II. The motives that should stimulate us to carry out this exhortation.
1. For Christ’s sake we ought to say, Come. How then can we pretend to love Christ if we are habitually neglecting to say, Come? Does it not evince base ingratitude if we are not working for Him who did and suffered so much for us?
2. The condition of Christless souls may well excite our pity, and prompt us to active exertion on their behalf.
3. For our own sake we ought to say, Come. However difficult a duty is, it is never for our interest to neglect it. And think what a noble service this is! It makes us partakers with Christ in His work. Christian activity, like mercy, is twice blessed. In watering others our own souls are also watered. “A traveller was crossing mountain heights alone over almost untrodden snows. Warning had been given him that if slumber pressed down his weary eyelids they would inevitably be sealed in death. For a time he went bravely along his dreary path. But with the deepening shade and freezing blast of night there fell a weight upon his brain and eyes which seemed to be irresistible. In vain he tried to reason with himself; in vain he strained his utmost energies to shake off that fatal heaviness. At this crisis of his fate his foot struck against a heap that lay across his path. No stone was that, although no stone could be colder or more lifeless. He stooped to touch it, and found a human body half buried beneath a fresh drift of snow. The next moment the traveller had taken a brother in his arms, and was chafing his chest, and hands, and brow, breathing upon the stiff, cold lips the warm breath of his living soul, pressing the silent heart to the beating pulses of his own generous bosom. The effort to save another had brought back to himself life, warmth, and energy. He saved his brother and was saved himself. Go thou and do likewise.” Earnest efforts for the salvation of others will save us many a bitter regret.
III. Directions as to how you are “to say, Come.”
1. Humbly. Beware of cherishing high thoughts of yourselves, as if through any merit or efforts of your own you had attained your present position. Beware of despising any to whom you say Come, as if you had all your lives been immensely superior to them.
2. Earnestly. Such awful realities as the soul, sin, Christ, death, judgment, eternity, are not matters to be lightly or coldly spoken of.
3. Believingly and prayerfully. Have confidence in the power of God’s truth when it is accompanied with the demonstration of the Spirit. And, having this faith, let your prayer ascend to God on behalf of your unconverted friends, and on your own behalf, that you may be rightly guided in saying Come to them.
4. Perseveringly. Be not discouraged by even many rebuffs and refusals. Give none up in despair. Remember how long-suffering the Lord was to you, and be you as long-suffering towards others. (J. G. Dalgliesh.)
The duty of missionary enterprise
Let me give you one or two reasons why missions are especially incumbent upon this nation.
1. First, because we owe to them immeasurable benefits. I throw in without estimate all that missions have done for the cause of science, though there is scarcely one single science that does not owe to them an immense advance. I throw in without estimate all they have done to the cause of civilisation, though no less a witness than Charles Darwin said that the lesson of the missionary was the enchanter’s wand. I throw in without estimate all that they have done for the diminution of human misery, the suppression of war, the spread of commerce, the abolition of execrable cruelties. “It is Christ,” says Chunder Sen--and you could have no more unprejudiced witness--“it is Christ, and not the British Government, that rules India.” “Our hearts,” he says, speaking for his countrymen, “our hearts have been conquered, not by armies, not by your gleaming bayonets, and your fiery cannon, but by a higher and different power, and that power is Christ,” and “it is for Jesus,” he adds, “and for Jesus only, that we will give up the precious diadem of India.” Without missions the sagacity of Lawrence and the heroic courage of Havelock would have been in vain.
2. Because to us of this British race God has undoubtedly assigned the whole future of the world. Before a century is over the English-speaking people will be one-third of the whole human race. From this little island have sprung the millions of America, of Australasia, of colonies which are empires on which the sun never sets. Why is it that God has thus enlarged Japhet? Was it for the benefit of brewers and gin distillers? Was it that the coffers of our merchants might burst with their accumulated hoards?
3. Because, if our numbers have increased fivefold, our wealth at the same time has increased sevenfold. For what cause did God pour this river of gold into the coffers of our people? Was it that we should settle on our lees and live in ease on the earth? Or was it rather that we should send forth that great angel who has the everlasting gospel in his hands?
4. Because we have taken with us all over the world a ruinous and a clinging curse, the curse of drink. It is not the only wrong we have done by any means. The diseases we have inflicted have been bad enough, but our drink is worst of all; and as yet the conscience of this nation is as hard as the nether millstone to the fact of our guilt. Let the shameful truth be spoken, that mainly because of drink our footsteps amongst savage races have again and again been footsteps dyed in blood. We have cursed all India with our drink and our drunkenness; and at this moment, after so short an occupation, we are cursing Egypt with it too. We have poured upon these nations the vials of this plague of ours--are we not bound to give them the antidote?
5. I might dwell on many more reasons, above all the truly apostolical succession of heroic personalities inspired by the immediate Spirit of God whom missions have called forth, of men who, even in this nineteenth century, have won the purple crown of martyrdom, and shown us that there may be something higher and more heroic in religion than the quotidian arguing of our religious squabbles and our ceremonial routine. But this only I will add, whenever a cause is noble, and is necessary, and calls for self-denial, it always evokes a mushroom crop of stale epigrams expressing the wit of prudential selfishness and the excuse of closefisted greed. Do not, then, be misled by the plausible devil’s plea that we have too much heathenism at home to trouble ourselves with heathenism abroad. We have heathenism enough at home, God knows, but when long ago a member of the Massachusetts legislature said, “We have not religion enough at home, and cannot afford to send any abroad,” a wiser and sincerer man than he answered, “The religion of Christ is such that the more you send abroad the more you have at home.” (Dean Farrar.)
Babes in grace can say, “Come”
There is your qualification; you have proved the truth of God in your own soul, and so can speak experimentally; you have found Christ; you have drunk the living water, and you can say, “Come.” I wanted a drink one day in a thirsty place in Italy, and by the coachman’s help I asked at a house for water. The owner of the house was busy and did not come to show me where the water could be found; but he sent a girl with me; she was very little, but she was quite big enough, for she led the way to a well, and I was soon refreshed. She had not to make a well, but only to point it out, and therefore her youth was no disadvantage. We have not to invent salvation, but to tell of it; and therefore you who are but babes in grace can perform the work. You have heard the voice of Jesus say, “Stoop down, and drink, and live”: go forth and echo that voice till thousands quench their thirst. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Bring another brother
During the exhibition of 1867 in Paris, a minister met with an instance of direct labour for souls, which he states he can never forget. In conversation with an engineer employed on one of the pleasure-boats which ply on the Seine, the discovery was made that the man was a Christian, and on the inquiry being put, by what means he was converted, he replied: “My mate is a Christian, and continually he told me of the great love of Jesus Christ, and His readiness to save, and he never rested until I was a changed man. For it is a rule in our church that when a brother is converted, he must go and bring another brother; and when a sister is converted, she must go and bring another sister; and so more than a hundred of us have been recovered to the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus.” This is the way in which the gospel is to spread through the whole world. By the silent force of a consistent life, by the prevalence of importunate prayer, by the seasonable testimony of our lips in converse with our fellow-men, let us love to make Jesus known.
Spreading the tidings
An English Presbyterian missionary relates an interesting incident which occurred as he was halting for refreshments under a great tree on the boundaries of the Fukien province. He chanced to overhear a Chinaman speaking with an unusually pleasant and impressive voice, and giving to the bystanders an account of the Christian religion. He did this as if uttering the deepest convictions of his own heart. The missionary afterwards learned that this man had been a patient in one of the hospitals, and though not well he was travelling towards his home, and on his way was preaching the gospel which he had himself heard. How many such cases there may be we do not know, but it is interesting to find that at least some of those who are casually reached are becoming earnest promulgators of the truth they have heard.
Taking good news home
A New Zealand girl, who was brought over to England to be educated, in the course of time became a true Christian. When the time came for her to return to her own country, some of her playmates endeavoured to dissuade her. They said, “Why do you want to go back to New Zealand? You have become accustomed to England. You love its shady lanes and clover-fields. Besides, yon may be shipwrecked on the return voyage. And if you should get back safe your own people may kill you and eat you. Everybody there has forgotten you.” “What,” she said, “do you think that I could keep the Good News to myself? Do you think that I could be content with having got pardon, and peace, and eternal life for myself, and not go and tell my dear father and mother how they may get it too? I would go if I had to swim there!”
And let him that is athirst come.
Christ’s last invitation from the throne
I. Now, first let me suggest the question--to whom Christ from the throne thus calls? The persons addressed are designated by two descriptions: they that are “athirst,” and those that “will.” In one aspect of the former designation it is universal; in another aspect it is by no means so. There are many men that thirst; and, strange as it seems, will not to be satisfied. The first qualification is need, and the sense of need. These two things, alas! do not go together. There is s universal need stamped upon men, by the very make of their spirits, which declares that they must have something or some one external to themselves, on whom they can rest, and from whom they can be satisfied. The heart yearns for another’s love; the mind is restless till it grasps reality and truth. No man is at rest unless he is living in conscious amity with, and in possession of, the Father’s heart and the Father’s strength. But half of you do not know what ails you. You recognise the gnawing discontent. There is such a thing as misinterpreting the cry of the Spirit, and that misinterpretation is the crime and the misery of millions of men. That they shall stifle their true need under a pile of worldly things, that they shall direct their longings to what can never satisfy them, is indeed the state and the misery of many of us. Perverted tastes are by no means confined to certain forms of disease of the body. There is the same perversion of taste in regard of higher things. You and I are made to feed upon God, and we feed upon ourselves, and one another, and the world, and all the trash, in comparison to our immortal desires and capacities, which we find around us. Do you interpret aright the immortal thirst of your soul? Now, I daresay there are many of my hearers who are not aware of this thirst of the soul. No I you have crushed it out, and for a time you are quite satisfied with worldly success, or with the various objects on which you have set your hearts. It will not last! So far as the sense of need goes this text may not appeal to you. So far as the reality of the need goes it certainly does. Then, look at the other designation of the persons to whom Christ’s merciful summons comes: “Whosoever will let him take.” There is nothing sadder, there is nothing more certain, than that we poor little creatures can assert our will in the presence of the Divine lovingkindness, and can thwart, so far as we are concerned, the counsel of God against ourselves. “How often would I have gathered,” etc. I do not enter now upon the various reasons or excuses which men offer for this disinclination to accept the Divine mercy, but I do venture to say that unwillingness to be saved upon Christ’s conditions underlies a vast deal--not all, but a vast deal--of the supposed intellectual difficulties of men in regard to the gospel. The will bribes the understanding in a great many regions. But for the most of you who stand apart from Jesus Christ this is the truth, that your attitude is a merely negative one. It is not that you will not to have Him but that you do not will to have Him. You know the old proverb: One man can take a horse to the water, ten cannot make him drink. We can bring you to the water, or the water to you, but neither Christ nor His servants can put the refreshing, life-giving liquid into your mouth if you lock your lips so tight that a bristle could not go in between them. Wishing is one thing; willing is quite another. Wishing to be delivered from the gnawing restlessness of a hungry heart, and to be satisfied, is one thing; willing to accept the satisfaction which Christ gives on the terms which Christ lays down is, alas! quite another.
II. That brings me, secondly, to say a word about what Christ from heaven thus offers to us all. The water of life is not merely living water, in the sense that it flashes and sparkles and flows; but it is water which communicates life. “Life” here is to be taken in that deep, pregnant, comprehensive sense in which the Apostle John uses it in all his writings. The first thought that emerges from this “water of life,” considered as being the sum of all that Christ communicates to humanity is--then, where it does not run or is not received, there is death. Ah, the true death is separation from God, and the true separation from God is not brought about because He is in heaven, and we are upon earth; or because He is infinite and incomprehensible, and we are poor creatures of an hour, but because we depart from Him in heart and mind, and, as another apostle says, are dead in trespasses and sins. Death in life, a living death, is far more dreadful than when the poor body is laid quiet upon the bed, and the spirit has left the pale cheeks. And that death is upon us, unless it has been banished from us by a draught of the water of life. But, then, besides all these thoughts, there come others, on which I need not dwell, that in that great emblem of the water that gives life is included the satisfaction of all desires, meeting and over-answering all expectations, filling up every empty place in the heart, in the hopes, in the whole inward nature of man, and lavishing upon him all the blessings which go to make up true gladness, true nobleness, and dignity. Nor does the eternal life cease when physical death comes. The river--if I might somewhat modify the figure with which I am dealing, and regard the man himself in his Christian experience as the river--flows through a narrow, dark gorge, like one of the canons on American streams, and down to its profoundest depths no sunlight can travel.
III. Lastly, what Christ from heaven calls us to do. “He that is athirst let him come; and whosoever will let him take!” The two things, coming and taking, as it seems to me, cover substantially the same ground. So let us put away the metaphors of “coming” and “taking” and lay hold of the Christ-given interpretation of them, and say the one thing that Christ asks me to do is to trust my poor, sinful self wholly and confidently and constantly and obediently to Him. That is all. Ah! All! And that is just where the pinch comes. “My father! my father!” remonstrated Naaman’s servants, when he was in a towering passion because he was told to go wash in the Jordan; “if the prophet had bidden thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then when he saith to thee, wash and be clean.” I do believe that great multitudes of people would rather, like the Hindoos, stick hooks in the muscles of their backs, and swing at the end of a rope if that would get heaven for them, than simply be content to come in forma pauperis, and owe everything to Christ’s grace, and nothing to their own works. “Let him take.” Well, that being translated, too, is but the exercise of lowly trust in Him. Faith is the hand that, being put out, grasps this great gift. You must make the universal blessing your own. Are you athirst? I know you are. Do you know it? Are you willing to take Christ’s salvation on Christ’s terms, and to live by faith in Him, communion with, and obedience to Him? If you are, then earth may yield or deny you its waters, but you will not be dependent on them. When all the land is parched and baked, and every surface well run dry, you will have a spring that fails not, and the water that Christ “will give you will be in you a fountain of water leaping up into everlasting life.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Whosoever will let him take the water of life freely.--
The Bible invitation turns on the human will. It invites every man that chooses, but there it stops. The Bible rests on the assumption that every man, if he enters into life, must enter into it by his own free choice. Jesus Christ comes with invitations, but they are only invitations. He opens the door, but He allows men to come in or stay out, as they choose. He offers help, but He only offers it. If salvation were what a great many people even in our day seem to imagine it to be, God might give it to men whether they wanted it or not. If it were getting into a beautiful city, with domes and palaces and pearly gates and golden streets, God could take the man and put him there and lock the gates and shut him in. If it were getting into a certain outward circumstance, God could put a man there whether he chose or not. Virtue is the free choice of the will. There is, therefore, no way by which God Almighty can make a man virtuous against his will. Is not God omnipotent? What do you mean by omnipotence? Do you mean, Cannot God make a man virtuous whether he wills to be virtuous or not? No! because virtuous is willing to be virtuous. That is virtue. If God could make a man virtuous despite himself, he would not be virtuous when he was made. Virtue is the free choice of righteousness, and the free revolt from that which is unrighteous. God can confer a certain measure of happiness; God can surround a man with certain conditions that will help him to virtue; God can bring influences about him that will take him away from vice; but in the last analysis every man must choose for himself what shall be his life, because life is choice and choice is life. Have you a wish, a purpose to be a nobler, a truer man? Then there is help for you. If not, then there is nothing to do except to wait until you do have such a purpose. Let me take this simple proposition to classify men, measuring them by this one simple standard, First, then, in the moral scale, is the Pharisee. He may be in the Church, he may be outside the Church; for the Pharisee is a man who is contented with himself. He has no moral ideals; he has no dissatisfaction with the past; he has no aspiration for a nobler future; he lives from hand to mouth; he lives from day to day. If he has any question to ask of the Christian, the question is, “How will it help me? If I am a Christian man, will God help me in my business? If I am a Christian man, shall I get more honour, more pleasure, more satisfaction out of life?” Above this Pharisee is the man who has some dissatisfaction for the past and some aspiration for the future, and does want to be a better man. Perhaps some minister has touched some chord in his heart, and his soul has responded. Perhaps some sudden sin has shaken him out of his self-satisfaction. Perhaps he has broken down just where he thought he was strong, yielded to some sudden temptation, and found he was weak when he did not know that he was weak. In some such way he has come into a dissatisfaction with himself and a desire for something better and nobler. The man who has been in the gutter and is ashamed of the smell of the gutter, the man who has any desire toward a better life or any hate of the life that is past, goes into the kingdom of God before the man who is satisfied with himself. But aspiration is not enough; dreaming is not doing, dreaming is not even wishing. The man has dreamed something better, the man has had some dissatisfaction with his past; and now out of this dissatisfaction and out of this dream there comes a wish. He wishes to be a better man; perhaps he even prays to be a better man; perhaps he even goes to a minister or friend and says, “What can I do to be a better man?” The life that now is awakened in him is more than an aspiration; it is a definite desire. But desiring is not enough. “Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” Aye, if he will. If he is dissatisfied with the past, if he is desirous of something better in the future, and so desirous that he chooses it, and chooses it now, the doors are open to him. (L. Abbott, D. D.)
The last invitation in the Bible
I. The greatness of the blessing offered.
II. The simplicity of the terms on which the offer is made. We have but to come and take. We are at a distance naturally, and alienated by wicked works; therefore we must turn and “come.”
III. The character of those to whom the blessing is offered.
IV. The unanimity of those who offer the blessing. There are four voices; and none of them are discordant, or “without significance.” Four witnesses to the greatness and freeness of the gospel; four who call us away to the Water of Life. (Alex. Warrack.)
The gospel invitation
I. The blessings offered. These are represented to us under the image of “water.”
1. Water is an element absolutely necessary, in the present constitution of things, to the preservation and continuance of life.
2. Water is an element productive of purity.
3. Water is an element which refreshes the weary, and invigorates the weak.
II. The persons to whom these blessings are offered.
III. The terms upon which these blessings are offered. Why are they free?
1. One reason is, that they are above all price, and though they had been much less worth than they are, we had nothing to give. We must have them freely or not at all. The best of God’s temporal gifts are free, the air that we breathe is free, the light of heaven is free, the sun descends upon the just and the unjust.
2. But, again, these blessings are offered freely to us, because the price of them has already been paid by another. (James Clason.)
The last message of God to men
I. “The spirit saith come, and take the water of life freely.” To the Holy Spirit in an especial manner, are to be ascribed, from first to last, the conversion, the regeneration, the sanctification, and the ultimate salvation, of every sinner. But even if you do not belong to the number of those to whom the invitation of the text has been brought home with saving power, yet it is no less certain that the Spirit of God is in many different ways still addressing you with the invitation to come and take of the water of life freely. You cannot deny that, in the course of Divine Providence, you have had the Bible, which the Spirit dictated concerning Christ, put into your hands in a language which you could both read and understand; that you have been familiar, even from your youth up, with the great truths which it proclaims of your own lost condition by nature, and of the method of recovery through a Saviour; and that these truths have been pressed home upon your attention so often and in so many ways as to leave you without excuse, if still careless or unmindful of them. Nay, is it not possible for you to recollect certain seasons in your past history, when Divine things were more peculiarly brought home to your hearts; a season of affliction perhaps, when you were clearly taught the unsatisfactory nature of present enjoyments; a season of personal danger or family bereavement, when the thought of death and eternity overawed your soul; a season of conviction, when such views of your own character as sinners, and such impressions of your own danger as rebels before God, were awakened, as almost forced you to cry out in terror, What must I do to be saved? You must be constrained to admit that every such event was sent by Him for the purposes of your spiritual awakening and conversion. They were so many distinct demands upon you on His part to consider your ways, and to repent and be saved.
II. “the bride saith, come, and take the water of life freely.” If we view the Church generally, as a community of believers separated from the world around them by the possession of the peculiar faith and privileges and hopes of Christ, or if we view the Church more especially in reference to the office-bearers whom Christ has appointed, and the ordinances He has established in the midst of it; in either case it must be apparent that one of its grand purposes is to hold forth a witness in behalf of the gospel among men, and to make provision for the pressing of its invitations and its claims upon all. The very fact of the continued existence for eighteen hundred years of a visible community of saints, divided from the rest of mankind, and united together by the belief and practice of the gospel, notwithstanding of the enmity and persecution of a hostile world, is the strongest of all historical testimonies to the Divine and saving power of that faith which they profess. Every saint within that Church has been a witness on behalf of the truth to the men of the age and the place where he lived. His faith, his hope, his holy life, his triumphant death, have each been a testimony to others that was neither silent nor unseen. And when we consider the provision that has been made in the ordinance of a stated ministry, and of the administration of the sacraments, for the preservation and furtherance of the gospel in the world, we cannot fail to perceive the force and propriety of the statement of the text, that “the Bride,” or the Church, joins with the Spirit of God in the invitation to sinners to take of the water of life freely.
III. “let him that heareth say, come, and take of the water of life freely.” There is no man, of whatever character, that either lives or dies for himself alone (Romans 14:7); he must be the means of spreading either a salutary or a pernicious influence around him. If a man is still under the bondage of sin, and cherishes in his bosom a principle of ungodliness, he will become the centre, so far as his influence extends, whence moral evil is diffused about him. If, on the contrary, he has been himself converted, and regenerated, his life and character will bear testimony to the truths which he has believed; and he must, from the very nature of the thing, become a witness for God and the gospel in the sight of all with whom he associates. And how much more will this be the case, when the Christian sees in the common ruin in which all men are by nature involved, the equal necessity which all have for some method of recovery and salvation; and when he recognises in the gospel, which he himself has believed, a provision made for reaching the case and ministering to the wants of all. Having tasted of the waters of salvation himself, he will be anxious to unseal the living fountain to his fellowmen. And even did he bear no testimony to the Saviour, but that which his faith and holiness and heavenly peace and joy afforded, yet these alone would speak in a language which could not be misunderstood, and would proclaim to all the grace and blessedness of the gospel. It is thus that not only the Church in its collective character, but every individual believer that is gathered within its pale, becomes a missionary of the faith to press its claims and its importance upon the attention and the consciences of his fellowmen; and while the Spirit is striving with the hearts of sinners in secret, and the Bride is openly proclaiming the tidings of salvation to all, the man whose ears have been opened to hear and receive the truth, will find in that fact both the warrant and the will to join in the united invitation to others to “come, and take of the waters of life freely.”
IV. “let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” The expression, “whosoever will,” is evidently applicable to the case of every human being without exception; and is plainly demonstrative of the freeness with which the gospel invitation is addressed to all, without reference to character, or circumstance, or condition. The expression, “he that is athirst,” is no less universally applicable to all mankind, inasmuch as it is descriptive of the condition of every human being who is not in possession of happiness up to the full measure of his desires, and who still longs after the experience of a peace and blessedness which may be permanent and satisfying. Every son of man who feels in his heart one unsatisfied desire, one disappointed hope, one bereaved affection, one yearning after happiness which he does not yet enjoy; in short, any human being that knows the existence of human feeling within his bosom, comes under the description of “he that is athirst.” The two expressions, then, are virtually the same; they embrace essentially the same description of persons; and they prove that the invitation of the text is not confined to any particular class or character of individuals, but is equally and unreservedly addressed to all. Have you never felt the hopelessness of those efforts by which you have sought to work out a justifying righteousness for yourselves, and earn, as it were your own acceptance with God? Then unto you is this salvation offered, freely and without price. (James Bannerman, D. D.)
I. What is a will? It is that faculty of the soul which is governed by the understanding, but which is itself the governor of the actions.
II. What can the will of the natural man perform? Anything consistent with the strength of body and mind which the person may possess; for instance, a man may have a will to walk forty miles in a day, and yet his strength may only be sufficient for half that distance; he may have a will to be a great scholar, and his mind be incapable of containing what he desires to know--it may perform any external act, may cause him to take medicine, but cannot insure health; may make him a good husband, attend to all relative duties, and even external acts of religion, but nothing whatever of a spiritual nature.
III. How do any possess the will mentioned in my text? Not by compulsion--the will cannot be forced, for then it would cease to be a will; but by being changed by the supernatural power and agency of the Holy Ghost, as the terms conversion and regeneration used to mark this change plainly prove. (A. Hewlett, M. A.)
If any man shall add unto these things.
The Divine Word, and the doom of its defacers
I. The perfection of God’s Word. Man may not intermeddle with it, either to add or to take away. Can man improve the works of God?--the mountains, rivers, flowers?--the blue sky, the stars, the sun? Even so is the Word of God too perfect for him to touch.
II. The honour God puts on it. He has magnified it, even above His works; so that he who disparages the Word of God is more guilty than he who disparages the works of God. It is the fullest expression of His mind, the completest revelation of His character.
III. Our responsibilities in regard to it. It is not given us for mere speculation or gratification; but for something far higher. We are responsible for the way we treat it, study it, profit by it. Its perfection makes our responsibility very great, and appeals to our consciences most powerfully.
IV. The sin of tampering with it. Every low thought about the Bible is sin. Every attempt to touch it, either in the way of addition or subtraction, is sin.
V. The danger of meddling with it. The danger is exceeding great; and the punishment awarded to the intermeddlers is the declaration of the danger. God will not be mocked in this thing. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
He which testifieth these things, saith, surely I come quickly.
On the coming of Christ
I. Some of the great events which will most unquestionably take place at our Saviour’s second appearance.
1. He will come again with inexpressible dignity and grandeur.
2. The resurrection of the dead is another glorious result of our Saviour’s second appearance.
3. The dissolution of this globe will be the awful consequence, also, of our Saviour’s reappearance.
II. For what purpose these great events will take place on our Saviour’s reappearance.
1. Jesus will come again to vindicate the honour of the Divine administration, and to evince the admirable wisdom and justice with which it has been administered.
2. The eternal separation of the virtuous from the wicked.
3. The equitable and unerring distribution of eternal rewards and punishments which will then take place.
1. The consideration of our Saviour’s second coming to reward every one according to his works, should have a permanent influence on our present temper and conduct.
2. The appointment of our Saviour to be our Judge is a merciful condescension to the weakness and imperfection of our natures, which would be overwhelmed by the infinite splendour of that Almighty Being, in whose presence the angels cover their faces with their wings, which would be otherwise dazzled with such immensity of glory. (A. Stirling, LL. D.)
Even so come, Lord Jesus.
Man hailing the judgment
There are four states of mind amongst men in relation to the last day. Some are indifferent to it, as were the antediluvians in relation to the Deluge; some scornfully deny it, as did the infidels in the days of Peter; some are horror-stricken at it, as were the demoniacs in the time of Christ; and some welcome it, as John did now. Three things are implied in this last state of mind--
I. A conviction that such a day will dawn.
II. A conviction of preparedness to enter on the trial.
III. A conviction that the results of that day will be fraught with personal good. (Homilist.)
Yearning for Christ
A state of expectation tries faith and feeds it too. The veil which hides, suggests. A doubtful bestowment, to be able to raise it before the time! Hope nurses energy. Energy is trained in mingled knowledge and ignorance.
I. The effacing of our souls for the fulness of fellowship with Christ. The life we live is a longing. There is discord which only Jesus can resolve. There is possibility which in the light of His presence will see this out into fact. Gloom, in which we wait with our eyes towards the east, waiting for the sun-rising. We are children crying for the Comforter.
II. The purpose of our hearts to be prepared for the higher service. Come and give us our place in Thy kingdom. Come and take up the fruits of our life into Thy garner, and make them the seed-corn of the everlasting future. The response of the lips will be the key-note; the fullest most varied existence will never lose it; on that the music will rest and melt into the praise of Heaven. (R. Redford, LL. B.)
The primary reference in the words may be, and probably is, to His coming for the initiation of those august procedures in history which are prophetically recorded in the Book of Revelation; but also there may be an underlying reference in them to His appearing at death to the individual disciple. The death of the believer is always, in a true sense, the coming of Christ to him. Applying the words in this way, then, as having a possible personal relation to ourselves, the question naturally occurs: Can we take up and repeat this reply of the apostle, “Amen. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus?” John evidently spoke thus in all sincerity and solemn earnestness. But we may not feel, perhaps, that John was a type for us, since he surpassed us in so many things. He was “the beloved disciple.” He had been admitted to a peculiar personal intimacy with Christ. Especially, perhaps, we think he could say this when he may have been at this time--it is not certain--in the decline of life, or already advanced in years; when, at any rate, he was dwelling in a world unfriendly to him and to his faith, without companions, without a home, a lonely exile upon the rock of Patmos. It was then only natural and proper, we may think, that he should utter this prayer to Christ. But we may not so freely repeat it after him. There is a certain tremor of hesitation, natural to the heart, in echoing the words. We have no right to offer such a prayer. Even John did not offer it until the Master had manifested to him His purpose of coming quickly, and then he simply responded to the declared will of the Lord. We may do that, I think, with equal cheerfulness and gladness. When the Master forewarns us that His coming is to be sudden and speedy, we may take up without hesitation, if we are His followers, the words of the apostle: “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” The example of John justifies us in this. He was an eminent disciple; he had had peculiar intimacy of relation with the Master. But he was still a man who needed forgiveness, even as you and I do. He was a man only sanctified in part, as you and I are. Yet he spoke these words, because he knew the Master fully. He had known Him on earth, and he had now seen Him in heaven. He knew the sovereignty of the Lord, but he knew as well His spirit of self-sacrifice; he knew how He had died on the Cross when He need not have done so unless He had chosen, for the salvation of sinners. Therefore, knowing His tenderness as well as His holiness, His infinite sympathy as well as His sovereign and unlimited power, he could say: “Even so, I am not timid before Thy coming; Thy word does-not smite me with fear. Come, Lord Jesus. If we are, then, in fellowship with John, through a similar faith in the Divine Master, we also may take up and echo his words. Consider also why Christ comes at death to His disciple; what things He comes to accomplish.
1. He comes for the recognition of character in His beloved. For this, in part, His approach and death are made.
2. He comes also for the consummation of character in the disciple; not only to recognise it, but to bring it to its completeness. Every Christian grace has its vital root in faith, that is, in loyal and undoubting confidence toward the Son of God. And precisely as this faith becomes clear and firm, in that proportion the graces which spring from it are multiplied and enriched, are raised to a sweeter and mightier supremacy. When, then, at last faith culminates in vision, and we see the Lord--not merely in the evangelical records, not merely in the worship of the Church, or its manifesting sacraments, but “face to face”--then every grace which has been within us, in element and germ, shall rise to sudden superlative completeness, and to the fulness of perfect exhibition.
3. He comes, too, for the coronation of character, as well as for its recognition and its supreme consummation. Character, rooted in faith towards Himself, is the one thing precious on earth to Christ. The production of it in the human soul was the very purpose of His coming in the incarnation. His whole life on earth bore evidently upon this result. Every miracle said, “Believe in Me.” Every gracious word of promise attracted to such belief in Him. And when this faith is ready to be transferred to the skies, Christ comes at death to consummate and to crown it. That is the fulfilment of His purpose in Redemption. He must crown the spirit which He seeks and loves. Therefore it was that John could say, “Amen. Even so, Lord, come quickly.” And so we need not, either of us, fear, if we are in the faith and fellowship of John, to take upon our lips the same sublime and solemn words.
4. I think that here is suggested a fair preliminary test of experience in us. Suppose that Christ were to come to us at this moment, that for us the earth swung suddenly away into darkness and silence, that unto us the heavens were opened” would He find in us that which He at this instant would accept and approve? Should we be able to welcome Him now at that swift coming?
5. If we can meet this test we need no more to be afraid of sudden death. Within ourselves is that which Christ Himself hath wrought, in which He has gladness. Then we shall share, when we die, in the glory of the transfigured Lord; not seeing it merely, as silently and suddenly it came to the Apostles, but ourselves being participants in it. And that will be all that death is to the disciple. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all
The grace of Jesus Christ
It is the last text in the Bible and it fits well the last day of the year.
It is well we should take a blessing to ourselves, or at least try to fancy that it may be ours, for we need it sorely on this day. Dwell as we will on the brighter side of things, life is very hard, and men and women are hard on one another, and we ourselves are growing hard, and that is the worst of all. We need something to soften, in no enfeebling way, the hardness of life, and of men, and of our own heart. And most of the blessings we seek of our own will, weaken our souls, and in the weakening make us harder in the future. But the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, if we could win it and take it, softens all things by making us stronger towards goodness and truth and righteousness and love. What is it? What is His grace? Whatever it is, it does not come from one who is ignorant of all we need. He has known to the full the weight of human suffering, and the blessing of His grace that is with us is brought home to us by that knowledge. Christ can give inspiration, can bless, and give of His power because He mastered the evil forces of life. None have ever done that so completely, but many can do it in His spirit. And those who do, can help and bless their fellows in proportion to their victory. Remember that this day, you who are in warfare with pain or guilt. You will be able to bring grace and blessing to others in the future, whatever your pain be now, if you conquer it. And, in order to conquer, win His grace who has conquered, and who will give it to you. That grace is, first, kindness, the goodwill of love. It is the showing forth of all those sweet and beautiful qualities which make home and social life so dear, and the showing forth of them in perfection. It is the filial tenderness which laid down the consciousness of genius and all its impulses for thirty years at the feet of His mother in a quiet and silent life and which won her pondering and passionate love. It is the penetrating love which saw into the character of His friends and made them believe in their own capacity for greatness, which led men like Peter and John and James to find out and love one another, which bound His followers together in a love that outlasted death. It is the tender insight which saw into the publican’s heart, which when the sinner drew near in tears, believed in her repentance and exalted her into a saint, which had compassion on the multitude and on the weariness of a few, which wept over Jerusalem, which in all human life and the movement of its passions and hopes and faiths did, said, and thought the loving and just thing at the right moment, without doing or saying the weak thing. Think of it all, you who know the story, and an image of the grace of Christ as loving-kindness will grow before your soul. And it will be strange if you do not, ravished with the sight, say, “Let that blessed power be mine in life. May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with me.” But there is more in it than this. Human love, left alone, spends itself only on those near to us, or on those that love us in return, and, in its form of kindness and pity, on those whom we compassionate. Kept within a narrow circle, it tends to have family or a social selfishness. Given only to those who suffer, it tends to become self-satisfied. To be perfect, it ought to reach, through frank forgiveness, those who injure us; through interest in the interests, ideas, and movements of human progress, those who are beyond our own circle, in our nation, nay, even in the world; and finally all men, those even who are our bitterest foes, through desire that they should have good and be good. It was the very glory of the grace of Christ, as love, that it rose into this wonderful height and universality. All men were infinitely precious and divine in Christ’s sight, for He saw them all consciously and unconsciously going into the outstretched arms of God. Therefore He could not help loving them all. That is the grace of Christ--the loving-kindness of Jesus--the human love raised into the Divine without losing one touch of its humanity, save only as light is lost in greater light. I pray that this grace of Christ be with you all; the grace of natural love lifted into Divine and universal love through faith in the Fatherhood of God. It is Christ’s to give because He had it, and when we have it we can give it also. Gain it and give it, and you will be blessed and a blessing. Secondly, grace has another meaning other than loving-kindness. It means the kind of beauty we express by the word charm; and in this sense we may translate the text, “The beautiful charm of Christ be with you all.” Do you remember how, when the world-worn Pharisee expressed his scorn of the sinful woman, Christ felt her boundless love, and said, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much”; how, when Mary sat at His feet and was blamed by Martha, He alone saw love and rightness of choice in her silence; how, when the rude utilitarian saw waste in the extravagant love which lavished on Him the precious spikenard, He accepted it, not for its extravagance, but for its passion; how when Peter had sinned by a threefold treachery, He believed in the repentance, and only gave one look of sore and loving reproach; how, when He was dying, He provided for His friend a mother, and for His mother a son? What charm, what grace in them all! And their beauty could not stand alone. That kind of exquisite sensitiveness flowered through the whole of His life with men. It was His grace, and all felt its charm. Nor is it less seen in His speech than in His act. In directness, in temperance, in a certain sweet wisdom and ordered humanity, and in the beauty that results from these, there is nothing in the loveliest Greek work which matches the parables of Christ, or such sayings as “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin; and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these”; or “Come unto me, all ye that labour,” etc. In thinking of Him as the Man of Sorrows, in having imposed on us by the ascetic that He had no form or comeliness, we forget what must have been His irresistible charm. In the reaction which Christendom felt from that heathen worship of beauty which ended in moral deformity, nay, linked beauty to sensualism, the loveliness of Christ was too long hidden from us; we lost the sense of His grace in the meaning which the nobler Greek would have given to the term. Do not you forget it. Seek the blessing of the charm that comes of sensitiveness to the feelings of others, of sensitiveness to all that is beautiful, of an inward harmony of nature, and of the expression of that harmony in beautiful act and speech. Say to yourselves in this sense also, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with me and all.” And if we are worthy of it and see it, He will give it to us. It is given, indeed, through our seeing it. The moment we see loveliness we cannot help desiring it, and the moment we desire it we begin our effort after it. It is by being beautiful that Christ gives us of His beauty, and makes us into His image. It is in quite a natural, and not a supernatural manner that we are “changed into the same image from glory to glory.” Once more, His grace and His love of doing and being the Beautiful was not apart from, or greater than, His love of, and doing of moral things, but coincident with them. Nothing which was false or impure or unjust was, in itself, beautiful to Christ, and the first glory of His grace and charm was its harmony with righteousness. We look at it, then, not only with tenderness, such as we feel for loving-kindness, not only with delight, such as we feel for beauty, but also with all that earnest approval and grave enthusiasm which we give to things and persons who are good. Christ’s charm has its root in love, and is identical with truth and justice and purity and courage. It grasps the hand of the Platonist and the Stoic alike, without the vagueness of the one and the rigour of the other. And while it holds to the Epicurean so far as the early Epicureans said that pleasure was the highest good because goodness was identical with pleasure, it turns aside from the later Epicureans and from those of our day who put pleasure in beauty first, to the loss or lessening of moral goodness. Guarded thus on all sides, yet taking in all that is noble in all efforts to find the highest good, it was in truth grace in its sense of beauty that Christ possessed. That grace, so guarded, so complete, pray that it may be with you all in the year. It will bless your lives and it will make of you a blessing. It will make you at one with all that is tender, pitiful, dear, and sweet in human loving-kindness. It will make you at one with all that is sensitive and delicate and graceful in manner and speech, and create in you an harmonious soul. Men will think your life beautiful, and inspiration and effort will flow from it. It will make you at one with moral good, just and true and pure. And it will take all that is loving in humanity, and all that is fair, and all that is moral, and link them to and complete them by uniting them to the love of God, and to God’s love for all men; so that to human love and moral love and imaginative love will be added the spiritual love which gathers them all into perfection. (S. A. Brooke, M. A.)
The last words of the Old and New Testaments
(see Matthew 4:6):--Just as Christ, in His ascension, was taken from them whilst His hands were lifted up in the act of blessing, so it is fitting that the revelation of which He is the centre and the theme should part from us as He did, shedding with its final words the dew of benediction on our upturned heads.
I. The apparent contrast and the real harmony and unity of these two texts. “Lest I come and smite the land with a curse.” If instead of the word “curse” we were to substitute the word “destruction,” we should get the true idea of the passage. And the thought that I want to insist upon is this, that here we have distinctly gathered up the whole spirit of milleniums of Divine revelation, all of which declare this one thing, that as certainly as there is a God, every transgression and disobedience receives, and must receive, its just recompense of reward. That is the spirit of law, for law has nothing to say, except, “Do this, and thou shalt live; do not this, and thou shalt die.” And then turn to the other. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” What has become of the thunder? All melted into dewy rain of love and pity and compassion. Grace is love that stoops; grace is love that foregoes its claims, and forgives sins against itself. Grace is love that imparts, and this grace, thus stooping, thus pardoning, thus bestowing, is a universal gift. So there is a very real and significant contrast. “I come and smite the earth with a curse” sounds strangely unlike “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” So I want you to notice that beneath this apparent contrast there is a real harmony, and that these two utterances, though they seem to be so diverse, are quite consistent at bottom, and must both be taken into account if we would grasp the whole truth. For, as a matter of fact, nowhere are there more tender utterances and sweeter revelations of a Divine mercy than in that ancient law with its attendant prophets. And, as a matter of fact, nowhere, through all the thunderings and lightnings of Sinai, are there such solemn words of retribution as dropped from the lips of the Incarnate Love. There is nothing anywhere so dreadful as Christ’s own words about what comes, and must come, to sinful men.
II. The relation of the grace to the punishment. Is it not love which proclaims judgment? Are not the words of my first text, if you take them all, merciful, however they wear a surface of threatening? “Lest I come.” Then He speaks that He may not come, and declares the issue of sin in order that that issue may never need to be experienced by us that listen to Him. It is love that threatens; it is mercy to tell us that the wrath will come. And just as one relation between the grace and the retribution is that the proclamation of the retribution is the work of the grace, so there is another relation--the grace is manifested in bearing the punishment, and in bearing it away by bearing it. He has come between every one of us, if we will, and that certain incidence of retribution for our evil, taking upon Himself the whole burden of our sin and of our guilt, and bearing that awful death which consists not in the mere dissolution of the tie between soul and body, but in the separation of the conscious spirit from God, in order that we may stand peaceful, serene, untouched, when the hail and the fire of the Divine judgment are falling from the heavens and running along the earth. The grace depends for all our conceptions of its glory, its tenderness, and its depth on our estimate of the wrath from which it delivers.
III. The alternative which these texts open for us. You must have either the destruction or the grace. And, more wonderful still, the same coming of the same Lord will be to one man the destruction, and to another the manifestation and reception of His perfect grace. As it was in the Lord’s first coming, “He is set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel.” The same heat softens some substances and bakes others into hardness. The same gospel is “a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death,” by the giving forth of the same influences killing the one and reviving the other; the same Christ is a Stone to build upon or a Stone of stumbling; and when He cometh at the last, Prince, King, Judge, to you and me, His coming shall be prepared as the morning; and ye “shall have a song as in the night as when one cometh with a pipe to the mountain of the Lord”; or else it shall be a day of darkness and not of light. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
These are the last words of the second volume of God to man. The last word that God has to give to man in His holy book is a blessing upon man. Could any one wish you more or better than that the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be yours, be mine”? Now, look first at what the grace of the Lord Jesus is. The word “grace” is used in the New Testament in two distinct senses:--First, it is the grace that belongs to Christ Himself; the grace or graces of Christ. Second, it is the grace, or great grace, or great gift that Christ gives to men. Now, look, first, at the grace of Christ--the personal grace. Christ seemingly was the most attractive of men in His personality. He exercised over the men and women of His time a strong personal fascination. It is rather strange that there is no real portrait or picture of Christ in His human form. But I think it is a great advantage rather than otherwise that we have no picture of His person. For myself, I always picture the Lord Jesus as a man of great attractiveness personally, of winning demeanour, and His whole personality one such as to attract and win to Himself. I will give you three simple reasons for this. Notice, first, that Christ was come of a kingly race--of the house of David. Now, David himself was a man famed for his physical beauty; so were his sons--two, at least--men of great physical beauty and attractiveness; and, if there is one great lesson that modern science has taught us, it is the lesson of heredity; and I do not press it too far if I say that Christ had the grace and beauty of His predecessors. In the second place, if you will study Christ’s life, you will find there are particular occasions when the majesty of His person impressed all around Him, and especially His disciples. Third, He seems to have had a great attraction for children. Now, no one who is not attractive in his personality, and has not sweetness of countenance, has that subtle attraction for children which will draw them to him. It is well to strive to have the graces of Christ. Let us strive, each according to our endowments from the Most High, to exercise this sweet attractiveness of personality--to become not only good and strong men as Christians, but to become attractive and winning; I would venture to say, have the winsomeness of Christ. This seems to me to he the first great personal grace of Christ, winsomeness; but there are deeper and richer graces than this that Christ had, and which we may all have. I would ask you to notice three great graces in addition to His personality--the graces of character, the great root graces. He had that most beautiful of graces--the grace of humility. I have noticed in life that the greater a man’s position is, the greater is his power; the higher his position, mentally or worldly, the more he is admired, if he be a humble man; that seemingly the admiration for his humility increases in the ratio of his worldly greatness. Now this is just the wonderful quality about Christ. We speak of the good ones and the great ones of the earth, but there is no one who can compare in the least with Christ, the Son of God, for greatness, power, might, intellect: for every quality that man recognises as great. Christ is the great revelation of God--not merely man but God Himself of very God. And the great and wonderful thing about His humility is that He emptied Himself, as Paul says, of this Divine majesty and power, and came down to this world, became of no repute, humble as the humblest, born in a manger, living and working at the carpenter’s bench. That is somewhat of the humility of Christ. It is a great virtue. It is a temptation for us all at times, not to feel humble, but to become self-confident. Having put before you the infinite grace and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ, I pray for you and for myself that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ--the grace of Divine humility--may he yours, may be mine. His humility was His second great grace; and His third was His unselfishness. Christ, I think, is most wonderful of all for His unselfishness. Christ, the Son of God, endowed with every quality that would make a man a success in the world--endowed with the richest intellectual and spiritual gifts--laid them all aside, or only used them for the sake of others. Pray that the grace of the unselfishness of our Lord Jesus Christ may be ours. And then just a few words upon another grace. I have spoken of His personal attractiveness, His humility, His unselfishness; greater than these gifts and graces is the last--love, love. The measure of a man’s greatness, whether he be great in the world or little, the true measure of a man’s greatness is his power for love. That is the greatest power for men and women--their capacity for love, Divine love, human love. In Christ you have the most perfect example of it, His Divine love for God His Father, was absolutely perfect. What shall I say of His love to man? We cannot grasp it; a finite mind like yours and mine cannot adequately realise the greatness of the love of God: we can only adore it. Love that led Him to live, to die, to sacrifice everything for men and women like you and me. Above all the graces you can have, get love--love that brightens, love that deepens, love that purifies men’s natures. These were simply some of Christ’s own graces or gifts. What is the great grace or gift that He has to give to men? It is simply the forgiveness of our sins. Is that a little thing? Men seem to think that it is. If you would take a deeper view of yourself and human nature, you would see what a great thing it really is. Sin that caused the death of God’s Son is a dreadful thing; it ruins, and mars, and corrupts your nature and mine. The greatest gift that could be made to men, is the forgiveness of their sins. I have tried to show you the graces of Christ’s person, His attractiveness, His unselfishness, His humility, and His love; all these gifts are in vain unless you get the great gift of forgiveness of sins from Christ, the foundation of every grace and virtue possible to man. This gift may be had by all here, young and old. It is a gift that is not limited to the young, to little children, to men in the prime of their days, or to old men. It is a great gift for all. If you and I could get first the grace of forgiveness, then those of personal attractiveness, humility, unselfishness, and greatest of all graces and gifts, the love of Christ--love like Christ’s--earth were heaven now. Men speak of a golden age that shall come; saints and sages have spoken of it; there is an instinctive craving of the human heart after a golden age that shall dawn; could the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ really be with you and me, now were the golden age, not in the time to come, but now, in this daffy “life” of ours. One day we shall not have to say “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, but we shall say the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with us all. (Wm. Souper, M. A.)
The free love of Christ
Thus the Bible closes with blessing. In this prayer we have the summing-up of all the blessings which the Word of God has uttered. Man is simply the receiver and the enjoyer of a love as boundless as it is unbought.
I. What is this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? Free love! Divine favour, unbought, unsolicited, and undeserved! Return to your Father’s house, and be blest! Come, and be forgiven! Look, and be saved! Touch, and be healed! Ask, and it shall be given!
II. How it has been shown. In many ways, but chiefly in the Cross. The words of Christ were grace; the doings of Christ were grace; but at the Cross it came forth most fully. The “it is finished” of Golgotha was the throwing down of the barriers that stood between the sinner and the grace. The grace itself was uncreated and eternal; it did not originate in the purpose, but in the nature of God. Still its outflow to sinners was hemmed in by righteousness; and until this was satisfied at the Cross the grace was like forbidden fruit to man. Divine displeasure against sin and Divine love of holiness found their complete satisfaction at the altar, where the “consuming fire” devoured the great burnt-offering, and gave full vent to the pent-up stores of grace.
III. How we get it. Simply by taking it as it is, and as we are; by letting it flow into us; by believing God’s testimony con-earning it. Grace supposes no preparation whatsoever in him who receives it, save that of worthlessness and guilt, whether these be felt or unfelt. The dryness of the ground is that which fits it for the rain; the poverty of the beggar is that which fits him for the aims; so the sin of the sinner is that which fits him for the grace of Christ. If anything else were needed, grace would be no more grace, but would become work or merit. Where sin abounds there it is that grace much more abounds.
IV. What it does for us.
1. It pardons.
2. It pacifies.
3. It liberates.
4. It enlightens.
5. It strengthens.
6. It purifies.
V. How long it lasts: For ever. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
Till we meet again
This is an expression suitable to the most gracious heart, a prayer wherewith the believer may vent his best wishes and express his most devout desires.
I. Consider this benediction.
1. What is this which John desires? The word is “charis.” It has for its root “joy.” There is joy at the bottom of charis, or grace. It also signifieth favour, kindliness, and especially love. Jesus Christ Himself is generally mentioned in our benedictions as having grace, and the Father as having love; and our usual benediction begins with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God. Is that the proper order? The order is correct to our experience, and in an instructive benediction the Holy Spirit intendeth this for our learning. The Father’s love is, as it were, the secret, mysterious germ of everything. That same love in Jesus Christ is grace; His is love in its active form, love descending to earth, love wearing human nature, love paying the great ransom price, love ascending, love sitting and waiting, love pleading, love soon to come with power and glory. This grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is therefore the grace of a Divine person. We wish you, as we for ourselves, the grace of God Himself, rich, boundless, unfathomable, immutable, Divine; no temporary grace such as some speak of, which keepeth not its own, but suffereth even the sheep of its own pasture to go astray and perish; but the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it is written, “Having loved His Own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end”; that grace most potent which said, “None shall pluck them out of My hand.” This is no small treasure--this grace of a Divine Person. Yet is our Lord Jesus also human, as truly human as He is Divine, and, believing in Him, you have the grace of Jesus Christ the Man to be with you all. May you feel His tenderness, His brotherliness, His grace. He is your Kinsman, and He graciously favours His own kinsfolk. Read the text again, and pause a while in the middle to enjoy “The grace of our Lord.” The grace that cometh from His Majesty, the grace that cometh from His Headship, the grace that cometh from His Divinely human supremacy over His Church, which is His body--this is the grace which we desire for you all. Read the next word: “The grace of our Lord Jesus.” May that be with you; that is to say, the grace of our Saviour, for that is the meaning of the word “Jesus.” All His saving grace, all that which redeems from guilt, from sin, from trouble, all that which saves us with an everlasting salvation--may that be yours to the full. Then comes the other word, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you”; may He, as the Anointed One, visit you. May you have that anointing from the Holy One which shall make you know all things.
2. Our next division is, How? “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” What meaneth this? Our first answer is the wish that the grace of our Lord may rest upon you as a matter of fact--that He may love you truly and intensely; love you, not only as He loves the world, but as He loved His own which were in the world. Next, may you believe that grace, may you trust that grace, may it be with you because your faith has closed in with it, and you are relying upon it. Still further, may His grace be with you as the object of faith, so that your belief comes to be full assurance, till you know the love which Christ hath towards you, and no more doubt it than you doubt the love of the dearest friend you have on earth. And may His grace be with you, next, as to the favours which flow out of it. May you enjoy all the blessings which the grace of Christ can yield, the grace of a peaceful conscience, the grace of a cleansed walk, the grace of access to God, the grace of fervent love, the grace of holy expectancy, the grace of self-denial, the grace of perfect consecration, and the grace of final perseverance. And may grace be with us, next, so as to produce constant communion between us and Christ, His favour flowing into our heart, and our hearts returning their gratitude. Oh, to come to this pass, that our Well-beloved is with us, and we enjoy sweet mutual intercourse: this is to have the love, or grace, of Jesus with us. May our Lord Jesus Christ thus in His grace be with us, and may He work for us all that He can work. What better benediction could John Himself utter?
3. But, now, the third part of our discourse comes under the head of “to whom.” “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” Every now and then you come across a book written by one who is a long way off from understanding all the truth, yet he knows Jesus Christ, and as you read the sweet words that come from His pen concerning the Master you feel your heart knit to Him. If a man knows Christ he knows the most important of matters, and is possessed of secret quite as precious as any in our own keeping, for what know we more than Christ, and what hope have we but in Christ? There is a life which is the same in all that have it, however diverse they may happen to be upon opinion or outward ceremony. There is a life eternal, and that life is Christ Jesus, and to all that have that life we do with intensity of heart say, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.”
II. The position of this benediction. First, I draw what I have to say from the fact that it is the last word of Scripture. I regard it, therefore, as being the apostle’s last and highest wish. We cannot do with less than this, and we do not want more than this. If we get grace from Jesus we shall have glory with Jesus, but without it we are without hope. Standing at the end of the Book of Revelation as this does, I next regard its position as indicating what we shall want till the end comes; that is, from now till the descent of our Lord in His second advent. This is the one thing we require, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” May it be with us daily, hourly! May it be with us, instructing us as to our behaviour in each generation! Placed as this blessing is at the end of the book there is but this one more thought--this is what we shall wish for when the end cometh. We shall come to the end of life, as we come to the end of our Bibles. And oh, aged friend, may thy failing eyes be cheered with the sight of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the last page of life, as thou wilt find it on the last page of thy well-thumbed Bible. Peradventure some of you may come to the last page of life before you get grace: I pray that there you may find it. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Or, suppose we should not die; suppose the Lord should suddenly come in His temple. Oh, then may we have grace to meet Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A faithful minister’s parting blessing
First, His restraining grace. Why, if it were not for this, God’s people would be just as weak and wicked as other folks are. Secondly, there is convicting grace, which from the Lord Jesus Christ acts every day and hour. A man may speak to the ear, but it is the Spirit of God alone can speak to the heart. What does Jesus Christ do in temptations, trials, and afflictions? He fetches His people home, and convinces them that they have done amiss. Thirdly, there is the converting grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is a most excellent prayer in our commination office, “Turn us, O good Lord, and we shall be turned.” We can no more turn our hearts than we can turn the world upside down; it is the Redeemer, by His Spirit, must take away the heart of stone, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit give us a heart of flesh. Then there is establishing grace. David prays, “Create in me a new heart, and renew a right spirit within me.” In the margin it is “constant spirit”; and you hear of some that are rooted and grounded in the love of God, and the apostle prays that they may always abound in the work of the Lord. Again, it is good to have the heart established with grace. There is a good many people have some religion in them, but they are not established. Hence they are mere weather-cocks, turned about by every wind of doctrine. What think you of the Redeemer’s comforting grace? Oh, what can you do without it? “In the multitude of my thoughts within me,” says the psalmist, “Thy comforts have refreshed my soul.” And there are so many afflictions and trials, that if it were not for the Lord Jesus Christ’s comfortings, no flesh could bear them. In a word, what think you of the quickening grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Remember David says, “Quicken me according to Thy word, quicken me in Thy way, quicken me in Thy righteousness.” God’s people want quickening every day; this is trimming our lamps, girding up the loins of our minds, stirring up the gift of God that is in us. It is just with a soul as it is with the plants and trees; how would it be with them if the Lord did not command quickening life to them after the winter? The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is with His people in prayer. Who can pray without grace? The grace of God is with His people in His providence. “Oh,” says Bishop Hall, “a little aid is not enough for me.” My going on the waters puts me in mind of what I have seen many times. If the sailors perceive a storm coming, they do not choose to speak to the passengers for fear of frightening them; they will go quietly on deck, and give orders for proper care to be taken; and if a sailor can tell of storms approaching by the clouds, why cannot God’s people tell why God does so and so with them? The people of God eye Him in His providence; the very hairs of their heads are all numbered, and the grace of God is with them in the common business of life. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is with His people when sick and when dying. Oh, what shall we do when death comes? What a mercy it is that we have got a good Master to carry us through that time! (G. Whitefield, M. A.)
The Church’s Amen
I. The last testimony. The whole Bible is the testimony; for in it Christ is both the Teacher and the Lesson, the Witness and the Testimony. But the Revelation is His last testimony; and the marvellous words of the latter part of this chapter are more especially so. Let the Church listen; let the world give heed.
II. The last prophecy. “Surely I come quickly.” Brief but distinct is this announcement; and it comes from His own lips. He heralds Himself and His kingdom. He puts the trumpet to His own mouth to sound abroad this last message, “I come!” I who came, and departed, am coming again. “I come quickly.” Here is something more. He will lose no time; nor delay a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. He will not be slack concerning His promise (2 Peter 3:9); He will come and not tarry (Hebrews 10:37). “Surely I come quickly.” Appearances may indicate no such thing; the world’s sky may be cloudless, and its sea smooth; men may have assured themselves of prosperous days, and be saying, “Peace and safety”; yet surely He cometh! As a snare, as a thief, as lightning, He cometh. He, the very Christ, the risen Saviour, Jesus of Nazareth--He cometh! In His own glory, in His Father’s glory, with His mighty angels, in the clouds of heaven, King and Judge, Conqueror and Avenger, Redresser of wrongs, Opener of prison-doors, Binder of Satan, Renewer of creation, Bridegroom of His Church, Star of Jacob, Sun of Righteousness, Owner of the golden sceptre, Wielder of the iron rod, Wearer of the crowns of earth--He cometh!
III. The last prayer--“Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus”; or more literally, “Yes, surely, come, Lord Jesus”; for the words the apostle here uses, in his response, are the same as those used by Christ in His announcement; as if he caught up the Master’s words and echoed them. Thus gladly and fervently does the Church respond to the promise; as one who felt the blank created by the Lord’s absence, and welcomed with her whole heart the intimation of His return. This is the summing-up of her petitions, as was the seventy-second Psalm the filling up of all David’s prayers (Psalms 72:20). Are our hearts, like hers, thus beating toward the Beloved One? Is this the burden of our prayers?
IV. The last blessing. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.” Earthly, human love, is of all things here the most fitted to gladden; how much more, then, that which is heavenly and Divine!
V. The last amen. This is not an amen to this chapter only, or this book only; but to the whole Bible, of which the burden, from Genesis to Revelation, is Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman. It is an amen to the prayer for the grace of Christ; it is an amen to the sigh for the Lord’s appearing. It is an amen to the prophetic announcement of all the glorious and all the terrible things written in this book. It is the concentrated utterance of the Church’s longings; her glad response to all that God has spoken; the subscription of her name to her belief in all that the Holy Spirit has written; the summing-up of her unutterable groan. How much does this amen comprise! Faith, hope, and love are in it; and, with these, such a boundless satisfaction of spirit as can only get vent to itself in that one brief word, which sums up all the aspirations of its joy, “Amen and amen!” (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The last amen
Amen is a Hebrew word, signifying truth and certainty in the first place; and then our affirmation of something as a certainty, or our desire that it should be so. It comes also to signify faithfulness and stedfastness in a person, so that that person is himself regarded as truth personified--the truth, the Amen. Hence it is that Christ takes to Himself the designation of the Truth, and the Amen--the faithful and true Witness. Further, it has come to signify faith and confidence--specially faith and confidence in God. It is the word used in reference to Abraham, “He believed God,” and to Israel, “They believed the Lord.” But it is with the common use of it that we have now to do--that use of it which we make daily when we conclude even our shortest prayer. Amen; that is, so let it be; let it be according to our request, and according to Thy promise. Used in this way it means much. There are, however, different ways of using it; different feelings with which it is uttered: and it is to these that we would now attend.
I. There is the amen of ignorance. Simple and common as the word is, thousands use it without knowing what it means, or what they themselves intend. It is to them a word, no more; a concluding word or sound, where the voice ceases, and after which the eyes are opened, and the hands unclasped! Are your Amens of this kind? or are they uttered with the understanding--the full realisation of the large and solemn meaning which they contain?
II. The amen of habit. All are not ignorant of its significance. Ask many what they intend by affixing it to their prayers, and at once they will tell you. Yet mark them, and you will find the word slipping from their tongue without any corresponding thought as to its sense. Are your Amens those of habit--pieces of ornament, the useless appendages of useless devotion--or is your soul thrown into them? Are they the essence of your previous petitions-the concentration and summing-up of all your desires?
III. The amen of unbelief. It seems strange that a word like this should ever be uttered in unbelief; yet such is the case. Nay, sometimes it would seem as if the most unbelieving part of our prayer is that which should be the most believing--the Amen. We may well wonder how it should be so. It seems almost incredible that a word like this, meant to be associated with faithfulness, and truth, and certainty, should be connected with unbelief, nay, should be the utterance of unbelief--the frequent, the daily utterance of unbelief; yet so it is. Our unbelieving Amens are about the most melancholy parts of our prayers--the worst indications of distrust in- God.
IV. The amen of faith. This is the true Amen; the Amen of souls who have heard the gracious words of Him who cannot lie, and who act upon these. But why should Amen be thus linked with faith? Because that which calls it forth is not simply a desirable thing, but a truth and a certainty. It has to do with such things as the following:
1. The free love of God. In every prayer we keep our eye on this; for without the recognition of this grace, this abundant grace, what would prayer be?
2. The truthfulness of God. God is true--truthful, faithful; we will not make Him a liar in any one thing, in any of our communications with Him-least of all in our prayers.
3. The power of God. What He has promised He is able also to perform. He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly, above all we ask. In addition to these things, to which the faith of our Amens attaches itself, we would only further say that it specially leans upon the Cross of Christ in connection with these three. It is round that Cross that this faith flings its arms; if is here that it sits down in quiet satisfaction.
V. The amen of hope. We say, “Hallowed be Thy name,” and we add the Amen of hope; “Thy kingdom come,” and we add the Amen of hope; “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” and we add the Amen of hope. We hear the Lord’s own voice from heaven saying, “Surely I come quickly,” and we add with the apostle: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen!” Each time we utter the Amen in connection with these blessed futurities, does our hope kindle up anew--the hope calling up the Amen, and the Amen making the hope to shine out with fresh brightness? In anticipating such a future, how can we utter a cold, heartless, passive, or despairing Amen?
VI. The amen of joy. It is the joy of conscious pardon; the joy of friendship with God; the joy of adoption and heirship; the joy of our whole new created being; the joy because of the blessedness in prospect. Past, present, and future--all furnish us with materials for joy. And in our thanksgivings for the past, we breathe out an Amen of joy; in our consciousness of present peace and heavenly favour, we repeat our Amen of joy; in our pleadings for larger blessing to ourselves and to our world, we say Amen with gladness; and in our pressing forward to the mark for the prize of our high calling, looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of God, we say Amen and Amen with ever-deepening joy of heart. (H. Bonar, D. D.)