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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 4

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

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Verses 1-11

Revelation 4:1-11

Behold, a door was opened in heaven.

The open door

The open door.

1. The place where the open door was seen: “In heaven.” This implies several important things.

(1) The changed sphere of operation.

(a) The “golden lampstands” represented Churches, not in heaven, but on earth.

(b) The “seven stars” represented the pastors of those Churches.

(c) Now the seer’s attention is called from the condition of things on earth to a condition of things in heaven. This is fruitful of suggestion.

(2) That the door is represented as “open” is noticeable.

(a) That now, for the first time, heaven is to be laid open to saints on earth.

(b) That now these heavenly things, as here revealed, should be prayerfully pondered: an open door, ever inviting entrance.

(3) Though this is a vision of the heavenly world, the objects seen are symbols; the things symbolised are as real as heaven itself is real.

The invitation: “Come up hither.”

1. The authoritative character of the invitation. The speaker is no less than the risen Lord.

2. The distinguished honour of the invitation.

3. The gracious purpose of the invitation.

(1) These “things” contain the substance of the Divine purposes concerning the destiny both of the people and the enemies of God.

(2) These purposes had never been disclosed till now.

(3) They are purposes in which all God’s people should take a lively interest.

The seer’s transformation.

1. Its suddenness.

2. Its significance.

The sublime vision. Practical lessons:

1. The great importance of the study of the laws of “prophetic symbols.”

2. The symbols of this chapter are not only interesting as throwing light on the place this chapter occupies in the prophetic scheme of this book, but they are also full of practical value.

(1) They should impress us profoundly with the-awe-inspiring presentation of the majesty, sovereignty, and holiness of God, whose name we should revere.

(2) They should deeply impress us with the Divine activity, and the multiplicity of Divine agents in the bringing about the Divine purposes concerning the children of men.

(3) They should impress us with the faithfulness of God, and the sure reward of those who love and serve Him on earth. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)

A door opened in heaven

A door of intercourse between God and man. A door of intercourse was virtually opened in the covenant of grace, when the sacred persons of the Divine Trinity entered into solemn compact that the chosen should be redeemed, that an offering should be presented by which sin should be atoned for and God’s broken law should be vindicated. In that covenant council chamber where the sacred Three combined to plan the salvation, a door was virtually opened in heaven, and it was through that door that the saints who lived and died before the coming of Christ passed into their rest. But the door was actually and evidently opened when our Lord Jesus came down to the sons of men to sojourn in their flesh. There is no little comfort in the belief that heaven’s gates are opened, because then our prayers, broken-winged as they are, shall enter there. The ports of the glory-land are not blockaded; we have access by Jesus Christ unto the Father; and there is free trade with heaven for poor broken-hearted sinners.

A door of observation.

1. A door is opened in heaven whenever we are elevated by the help of God’s Spirit to high thoughts of the glory of God. Sometimes by investigating the works of nature we obtain a glimpse of the infinite. More often by beholding the grace and mercy revealed in Jesus Christ our hearts are warmed towards that blessed One who made us, who sustains us, who redeemed us, to whom we owe all things.

2. A door is opened in heaven whenever the meditative spirit is able to perceive Christ Jesus with some degree of clearness.

3. We sometimes get a door opened in heaven when we enjoy the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls.

4. A door is often opened in heaven in the joys of Christian worship. Yes, but if it be sweet to-day to mingle now with Christians in their praise and prayer, when we are so soon to separate and go our way, how passing sweet that place must be where the saints meet in eternal session of worship, the King ever with them, etc.

5. Another door is opened in heaven in the fellowship which we enjoy with the saints on earth.

6. A door has often been opened in heaven to us at the communion table. Astronomers select the best spots for observatories; they like elevated places which are free from traffic, so that their instruments may not quiver with the rumbling of wheels; they prefer also to be away from the smoke of manufacturing towns, that they may discern the orbs of heaven more clearly. Surely if any one place is fitter to be an observatory for a heaven-mind than another, it is the table of communion.

7. Another door that is opened in heaven is the delights of knowledge. The philosopher rejoices as he tracks some recondite law of nature to its source; but to hunt out a gospel truth, to track the real meaning of a text of Scripture, to get some fresh light upon one of the offices of the Redeemer, to see a precious type stand out with a fresh meaning, to get to know Him and the power of His resurrection experimentally; oh! this is happiness.

8. Another door of heaven may be found in the sweets of victory. I mean not the world’s victory, where there are garments rolled in blood, but I refer to victory over sin, self, and Satan.

A door of entrance. Christian, the message will soon come to thee, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee.” Soon, I say, that door will open; surely you do not want to postpone the day. What is there amiss between you and your Husband that you wish to tarry away from Him? (C. H. Spurgeon.)

A door in heaven

The nearness of the heavenly world. We are at its “door.” Heaven is simply that which is heaved up. An uplifted life. We are always on the threshold of the pure, the noble, the blessed.

The possible revelation of heaven. It is not merely near and closed against us. It is near, and may be known. A door into it may be opened.

1. The Bible is such a door.

2. The death of good men is such a door.

3. The life of Christ is such a door.

4. Our own best experience is such a door. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Heaven near, though hidden

This passage derives intense interest from its position as well as from its terms; for it occurs at the close of one group of scenes and at the beginning of another. My text, then, forms the transition between the earthly and the heavenly pictures. There is something striking, surely, in this sudden contrast, for the former chapters contain the most emphatic references to this present life of conflict and of sadness. They speak to those whose dwelling is “where Satan’s seat is”; they speak of their labour and their patience, their tribulation and their poverty. “Watch, repent, hold fast, overcome,” are the solemn, stirring words urged repeatedly on those addressed. How well we can understand their position, for it is our own I Instructed by the glorified Son of Man, the apostle saw and wrote those things. But “after this,” he says, “I looked, and behold, a door was opened in heaven,” and through that open door he saw a sight how different. In place of the strife and tears and guilty stains which he saw before there was perfect splendour, sanctity, and bliss. He saw God’s throne with its rainbow emblem of mercy, etc. How complete the contrast between that world above and this world below, described before. I propose now to regard this transition passage as suggesting some relations between these two separated worlds.

The division between earth and heaven.

1. The fact that heaven and earth are divided by so wide a gulf seems to me cue of the strangest facts in our experience, though long habit prevents the strangeness from striking us so much. We should have expected the very opposite. Comparatively few cross the Atlantic to America, yet, though we may never see it, we require no act of faith to realise its existence and condition. But the world of heaven is so far removed beyond the range of our knowledge that we have need of faith to be convinced even that it exists. The material universe has been called the garment of God, and so far it reveals Him; but it hides Him too. Little can be said in explanation of our exclusion from all direct knowledge of the unseen world and God; but that little springs out of the very things which make it strange. If heaven were not invisible, if God sometimes appeared, the chief trial of our present life would be removed, and we should have perfect assurance instead of wavering faith. Our life, in fact, would cease to be the discipline which it is at present. His wisdom appoints that we walk by faith, not by sight; no wonder, then, that all the arrangements of our life are in keeping with this purpose. Moreover, to this separation of earth from heaven we may observe several analogies, e.g., as a thoughtful writer has pointed out, the material universe might have been one great plain allowing of the freest intercourse between its countless inhabitants, instead of which it is broken up into myriads of globes, divided from each other by abysses of space impassable to those who inhabit them. We are separated from the dwellers in Jupiter or Sirius (if such there are) as completely as we are separated from the dwellers in heaven. And note how the same policy is carried out even on earth. Two-thirds of the surface of our globe is water; vast oceans separate us from the inhabitants of America or Japan almost as entirely as if they lived on another planet. Nay, the majority of even English people are and will remain perfect strangers to us. Moreover, the periods of time contribute to this end as well as the expanse of space, for how entirely we are cut off from intercourse with those who lived in the past, and we are still more completely divided from future generations, and we come into contact with only a few of the people who are now living. Now these facts show that it is God’s will to break up His vast family into little groups, in order, perhaps, that each individual may, in comparative seclusion, be tried by the mystery of existence, instead of finding many of its problems solved by the combined experiences of all. All this is in keeping with the strange division between heaven and earth.

The connection between earth and heaven. One point of connection between the two, which at least helps to make heaven seem nearer to us, is that life in heaven, just as much as our life here, is proceeding now. We cannot see, indeed, that bright and holy world for which we yearn, as we should like to do, but there are those who do see it, who do enjoy it now. Their bliss is a present feeling arising from the presence of God now. Their endless life runs along a parallel course to our transient life. The present, which we call time, they call eternity. We cannot see them or hear of them, for there is a great division between earth and heaven, but there is a real connection, too, since those we love are present with the Lord, and are now receiving and returning the love of Christ, whom they “see as He is.” But there is a deeper lying connection between the two than this. We mourn over God’s absence from our earth, but what would earth be without Him? “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.” And the angels from whom we are so divided, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation?” So far from being independent of and forgotten by God, it is true rather that all we see and all we are was made and is upheld by God’s ever present power, and the ministrations of His angels. And if nature’s laws are God’s will, it may be said also that human history is the evolution of His providence. Individuals and nations, with all their wild and reckless freedom, do but accomplish what God’s hand and God’s counsel determined before to be done. We may trace this on the large scale when we note, in the Bible history, how God’s purposes have been wrought out by men, though we often cannot trace it in the narrow region of our own observations. But if God is present in the great, we may be sure He is present in the little, of which the great is made up. In history and in nature, too, we see effects, an endless tangled chain of them, but causes we do not see and cannot find out. Causes, forces, are beyond our reach, for there is a great division between earth and heaven. Ours is a God who hides Himself. But as we must believe that without these indiscoverable forces the universe would cease to be, so we believe that all depends upon the unseen God. Earth and heaven, then, are divided by a gulf we cannot pass, but the connection between the two is nothing short of complete dependence.

The door is set open between earth and heaven. The division is maintained between the two in order that our discipline may not cease. But sometimes the door is opened that our faith may not fail. That has happened “at those sundry times and in divers manners when God spake unto the fathers by the prophets.” And in later days there was a still more wonderful exception. The door was opened wider, and, attended by a train of angels singing “glory in the highest,” the Son of God passed through, and dwelt among us, and men beheld His glory. And whenever a Christian pilgrim reaches his journey’s end, then, too, it may be said that the door between earth and heaven is set open to let the wanderer pass into his home. How close, then, heaven is to earth in spite of the separation, for at any moment the transit may be made. In yet another sense we may say that to us on earth a door is opened in heaven, and that is when we worship. The prayers and praises to which we give utterance on earth pass that strange division between earth and heaven which we cannot cross, and mingle with the nobler worship of the temple above, making us one with friends already there. (T. M. Herbert, M. A.)

The heavenly vision of the soul

The soul has the ability to perceive heavenly visions.

1. Man has the ability to look into the world around him--in nature, in society, in the nation.

2. Man has the ability to look into the world within him. It would be well for the moral life of men if they would enter more frequently into the chamber of the heart, and inspect the sentiments and energies reigning there.

3. Man has the ability to look into the world before him. This is his noblest ability. It brings into requisition the keen eye of a Divinely-enlightened soul. This vision is sublime, captivating, inspiring, elevating.

The soul has the opportunity to perceive heavenly visions. God allows man to gaze into the mysteries of the life above. Kings do not often give men free access to their presence-chamber. Here we see the love of God, in that: He reveals the unseen to the race; His wisdom in that He casts a little light upon the problems of futurity. This opportunity is the most frequently given:

1. To men in lonely sorrow (Revelation 1:9, Ezekiel 1:1). Men can see a long way through tears.

2. To men in humble duty (Matthew 3:16).

3. To men in dying circumstances (Acts 7:55).

The soul is called by many voices to rise to heavenly vision.

1. It is called by the voice of God as heard in Scripture; by the voice of Christ, whose earthly life was one continued gaze into heaven; by the Holy Spirit, who purifies the life of the soul that it may be capable of celestial vision.

2. The soul must ascend to heavenly vision. Elevated above flesh, above the world, above reason, even to faith.

The soul obtains its truest knowledge of future destinies from its heavenly vision.

1. From the heavenly vision men learn that all human events are under the wise providence of God.

2. From the heavenly vision men learn wisely to estimate the passing events of life.

3. From the heavenly vision men learn calmly to wait the destinies of the future. Lessons:

(1) Learn in all things to look heavenward.

(2) Seek to rise morally to the level of heavenly vision.

(3) Learn to read history in the light of clear prophecy. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Heaven near

1. The reality of a heavenly world, and of its concern and connection with this. That world has its inhabitants, its plans and its purposes, its presences and its agencies, even like this. The subjects of its chief deliberations are the interests and the fortunes, the events and the destinies, of this lower world.

2. What an astonishment would it be to any one of us, to see that door into heaven suddenly opened! Oh, what a marvel, what a confusion, what a discomfiture, must it be to a worldly man or to a sinner to find at the moment of death that this thing which we have so long seen and handled, in which we have so long lived and moved, was not, after all, the whole or the chief part of that which is!

3. To Christian persons, to those, that is, who mourn for sin, and renounce and forsake it, and trust in Christ only, and pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to make them and keep them His, it ought to be and will be a real comfort to remember that just inside that door there is a heaven, and a throne set, and a God seated thereon, and a holy and loving council gathered, and plans under preparation for purposes of good to the poor struggling and suffering people below; and that round the throne is the covenant bow, promising evermore a clear shining after rain, and pledging the very faithfulness of God to their final rescue and deliverance.

4. Life and death, things present as well as things to come, accident and disease, want and age; yes, things more outward still, the bread and the water, the fire and the covering, the judgments of sword and famine and pestilence, the mercies of dew and rain and fruitful seasons; all are God’s, all are Christ’s; and if God’s, if Christ’s, then the Christian’s too (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). Oh, what an antidote to life’s cares, for those who can use it l It springs from the fact that creation itself, in all its parts, rational and irrational, has its representatives before the throne in heaven, and ascribes the glory, the honour, and the strength to Him who sits upon the throne.

5. But if the thought of the four living beings which typify creation has something of comfort for us in reference to the world above, how much more that of men of our own flesh and likeness, who are already clad in the robes of priesthood, and admitted to the sight of God and to the ministrations of the heavenly temple! That world is not all peopled with strange and unknown forms.

6. Are our faces and our feet set heavenwards? (Dean Vaughan.)


1. After the first vision, John gets a second, which shows that God continues and multiplies His favours on the godly, who make a good use thereof, and are desirous of more.

2. He looked, and was not disappointed; neither shall any be who looks up to God for grace, or growth of heavenly knowledge.

3. He could not see till a door was open to him; neither will we ever see heavenly mysteries till the Lord opens the door of our mind and heart (Luke 24:45; Acts 16:14).

4. This and the other visions were seen in heaven; which shows that all that falls out on earth is first decreed in heaven, and the future to us is ever present to God.

5. The first voice that talked with John was as a trumpet; and so is the trumpet of the law the first voice that talks with a sinner for his conversion (Isaiah 58:1).

6. John is bidden come up thither; to show that the knowledge of heavenly things requires a heavenly and elevated mind.

7. This also shows that we should have God’s warrant for all our doings, and be bidden do what we do.

8. God only is able to foretell all future things, because He is omniscient, and determines the event thereof, which is a great comfort to His own elect; therefore it is said here, “I will show thee,” etc.

9. This also is for their warning, that trials and troubles must be; and also for the comfort, that their delivery must be, and shall be in like manner. (Wm. Guild, D. D.)

The vision of the throne

The time, and manner, in which this second vision was given to John.

1. The time. “After this I looked.” He looks up for a vision. He is prepared and looking for a further revelation. Those who have seen heavenly things once will look twice. Oh, how much nearer than we commonly imagine, faith borders upon sight, and the spiritual upon the heavenly state!

2. The manner in which the vision was brought under the notice of John.

(1) He saw a door open in heaven. He says not an open door merely, but a door that had been opened. It had not been always open. It had been once closed. A door opened in heaven signified to John that more of the counsels of heaven were about to be revealed. The door of the Church was closed against him, the door of ministerial usefulness was closed, the door of liberty, and every door of human hospitality, but a door was opened in heaven. In proportion as the people of God are precluded from the world, they have intercourse with heaven. They find readiness of access above, when hemmed in around; as water pressed on all sides rises in a fountain. To Isaiah visions were given in affliction, to Jeremiah in prison, to Ezekiel in captivity, to John in exile. This appearance to John may have been emblematical, in some degree, of renewed supplies of the Spirit of prophecy. In allusion to the manna which descended round the camp of the Israelites, God is said to have “opened the doors of heaven.” In Malachi you have these words: “Prove hie now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing.” Compare this with “the heavens opened, and the Spirit descending” upon Christ at His baptism, and the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles and.the primitive. Churches.

(2) John informs us of what he heard. The tones of this voice were encouraging to John, and expressive at once of its design.

(3) John tells us what he felt on this occasion. Heaven is first opened by God to sinful man. It is opened by His mercy, not by our prayers. We love Him because He first loved us. Having opened a door He invites us to come, and promises rich manifestations of His wisdom and grace to our souls. But how can we come to Him? How rise to the door of heaven? By the power that invites us. The invitation guarantees the ability to act, and the promise ensures success.

The first two objects in this vision. (G. Rogers.)

The vision of the throne

The opening of the scene.

The Divine throne.

1. The nature of the throne. There is a manifold throne attributed to God: there is a throne of grace and mercy, of glory and majesty, of dominion and sovereignty.

2. The properties of the throne. These are great and manifold. It is a throne high and lifted up; it is Divine, supreme, and universal; it is infinite, eternal, and immutable; it is from everlasting to everlasting; it is eternal in its date, and endless in duration; it has neither beginning nor end, succession nor change.

3. The position of the throne. It is “set in heaven.” The throne of judgment, the great white throne, is placed in the clouds; the throne of grace is erected in the Church; the throne of glory is placed within the vail; the throne of the universe is placed in the heavens (Isaiah 66:1).

4. The stability of the throne. It is “established in the heavens.” It is ordered and arranged, guarded and disposed by infinite wisdom and unerring skill. It is firmly fixed, stable, and immutable.

The possessor of the throne: “One sat upon the throne.” He sits on the throne, in a state of deep repose, undisturbed felicity, and eternal blessedness.

The majesty of the throne. This is represented by two sacred emblems--sitting and similitude. He sat upon the throne, and He was to look upon like three sacred stones.

1. Here we behold the fulness of the Divine perfections. He is possessed of infinite, eternal, and immutable excellence--He is the source, the centre, and the sum of all worth and glory.

2. Here we behold the variety of Divine perfections: “I am the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering,” etc.

3. Here we behold the unity of Divine perfection. All these perfections are displayed in Immanuel, who is the image of the invisible God.

The mercy of the throne.

1. The history of the rainbow is very remarkable. We first find it in the clouds; then established in the heavens, as the faithful witness of God’s eternal truth (Psalms 89:39). It forms the glorious diadem of the angel of the covenant (Revelation 10:1.); and in the verse before us it forms the gracious canopy of God the Father’s throne.

2. The rainbow round the throne was the blessed symbol of God’s glory and perfections; it was the token of His love, the emblem of His mercy, and the pledge of His faithfulness, His counsel and His covenant.

3. The position of the rainbow: “The rainbow was round about the throne.” It surrounds the seat of Divine majesty, above, below, and on every side. The majesty of Deity, the glories of the Godhead, and the splendours of the Trinity all beam benignantly through the rainbow of the covenant.

4. The likeness of the rainbow: “It was in sight like unto an emerald.” Amid the varied hues blended in the rainbow, green is the prevailing; and the colour of the emerald is a deep, living green.

(1) The comparison implies the beauty of the covenant. God beholds His people enrobed in all the beauties of the rainbow, and the deep, living loveliness of the glowing emerald.

(2) It also implies the riches of the covenant.

(3) It likewise supposes the perpetuity of the covenant. The rainbow, like the emerald, is ever fresh and green.

(4) The comparison teaches the unity and variety of the blessings of the covenant.

The attendants on the throne.

1. Their names. They are called “elders.” This is the sign of their age, their honourable office, and dignified condition; their wisdom, experience, and venerable character.

2. The number of the elders: “They are four and twenty.” There is an enlargement of the Church implied in the number. He was then the God of Israel, but He is now the God of the whole earth.

3. Their posture and position: “There were four and twenty seats.” The saints sometimes stand; but here the elders sit, the emblem of dignity and undisturbed felicity, dominion and authority, rest and holy happiness, and their great reward.

4. Their glorious clothing: “They were clothed in white raiment.” White robes are beautiful, they are Zion’s loveliest garments--white robes are excellent, they form the best robe--white raiment is resplendent, it is both white and shining.

5. Their golden crowns: “They had on their heads crowns of gold.”

The terrors of the throne. (James Young.)

The first voice … as it were of a trumpet.

Trumpet voices talking with us

Revelations are made to us of great and solemn realities. What a world this would be if there were no voices from heaven, no Divine utterances, no spiritual revelations, to meet our needs and our questionings! We have a gospel not of figures but of facts, a gospel symbolised by the priest blowing the trumpet over the sacrifice, by the blast of the trumpet through the length and breadth of the land, ushering in the year of jubilee, by the great trumpet which was blown, that men in exile and ready to perish might return to their own land.

The revelations made to us are present and personal We hear a voice talking with us (Hebrews 1:1-2). The voice of Christ is reproduced in every believing and loving heart. His words do not die, they are still spirit and life. Revelation is not a dead, imprisoned truth, but a living fountain, the streams are as bright and pure as they were yesterday.

The revelations to which we listen are often trumpet-toned. Those voices have been trumpet-toned that have uttered great truths in this world; truths that yet live in it, speak in it, rule in it. Those voices have been trumpet-toned that have uttered the watchwords of liberty, that have raised the war-cry round which men have rallied, and which have stirred their souls like the blast of a trumpet. The voices that come to us in revelation are trumpet-toned, in their earnestness, in their importance. In our personal history there have been dispensations of Providence, that have been “as the voice of a trumpet talking with us.” How clear and distinct the voice that came to us in the season of sickness, in the hour of temptation, when death entered our home, etc. There is a sense in which we find it true, that the “first voice” we hear is “as of a trumpet talking with us.” We hear the awful words of the Divine law in the depths of our souls, and are convinced of our sinfulness and become conscious of our unrighteousness.

These revelations conduce to our spirituality. “Immediately I was in the Spirit.” A man must be in the Spirit to see the glory that streams through the opened door in heaven, to see the throne and Him that sits on it, to see the sign of the covenant of peace, etc. If the windows of our hearts are opened towards Jerusalem, we shall sometimes see the light and glory of that golden city. The design of the sanctuary, of the Sabbath, of ordinances and sacraments, is our spirituality. (H. J. Bevis.)

Come up hither.--

An invitation to glory

The place to which we are invited--“hither.” Geographers, geologists, and travellers have described the earth, its islands, continents, mountains, rivers, plains, and products; but heaven is a domain beyond all merely scientific research. What we know of it is from revelation alone.

1. It will be a place exempt from ignorance. Seated there, we shall know as we are known; our views of things will not be as “through a glass, darkly,” “but face to face,” and in the highest sense we shall have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things.

2. It will be free from all kinds of evil.

(1) No slavery will be there. All its sons, of whatever clime, are freeborn. All are without shackle, brand, or chain. All walk at liberty.

(2) No sin will be there. The imagination will never conceive an unholy thought, the lips never utter a corrupt speech, nor the judgment, the conscience, the will stoop to an unholy action.

(3) No famine will be there. The bread is enough and to spare. The supply of fruit from the tree of life is constant and abundant.

(4) No tears, sorrows, pains, or death will be there.

3. Then there is nothing wanting to complete its happiness.

(1) There are great possessions.

(2) The society there is most blessed.

(3) The joys there are lasting.

(4) The life there is everlasting.

The invitation itself--“come up hither.”

1. There is a way to reach this place.

(1) What road to heaven is wrong?

(a) Sin is the wrong road.

(b) Self-righteousness is the wrong road.

(2) What road is right? In Virginia, in South America, and other parts, there are natural bridges of solid rock, whose stupendous arches join mountains together, and make a path firm and safe over the rolling rivers and dashing torrents beneath them. But there is no natural bridge to heaven. There was once, but man broke it down by sin. But there is still a path for man, formed by the Son of God--a path formed by His blood and righteousness. Along this path our pious fathers travelled and never found it give way, nor shall we. It is the path that leads from guilt to mercy, depravity to holiness, earth to glory.

2. Then the invitation also implies you cannot reach the place unless it be obeyed. Heaven in the gospel is set before men as an open door. It is not Christ that closes it, but unbelief. Let this be gone. (S. Fisher.)

Element of the ideal

The standpoint from which God views everything is vastly different from that which men commonly regard as their standpoint. God is for quality, clearness of vision and fundamental principles; man too often for mere quantity, haphazard vision, superficial estimates. God is ever seeking to draw man up to His level, man thinks to reduce the things of God to his convenient level, from which he hopes, without much trouble, or even thinking, to form some opinion or gain some knowledge of that which, in the deeper moments of his nature, he knows to be of vital and eternal importance. The higher the standards are the more must energy strive to reach them. It is a vastly different thing to brave the Matterhorn or Mont Blanc, or those gigantic mountains which rear their heads heavenward and lose their summits in the clouds. Climbing them means the hardest kind of toil and steadfast courage. Our standards determine the height of our aspirations, our aspirations press us on in the climbing and furnish the impetus to the outreach of our faith and courage, hut they must be fed by God, who leads us to His own standard and bids us look up and beyond, even beyond the material, into the realms of the spiritual, with a faith that does not shrink from the lessons such leadings bring. The question of questions is, Do we see, do we behold these high level truths of God? or have we so little interest in beholding that we skim them over, as we do the pages of a book that has proved uninteresting? John says, “After this I looked and, behold.” God can never do anything for a man who is blind, unless open his eyes; but God will not do anything for a man who wants to be blind. Looking shows desire. Beholding suggests power. John saw, and behold a door was opened in heaven and the first voice which he heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with him, which said, “Come up hither and I will show thee things which must be hereafter.” That seems to us to be a beautiful but exceptional sight. Picture John’s lonely exile life on Patmos. There did not seem to be much for him to live for, shut out and away from the busy work of life, and perhaps we have a theory that God was very gracious to him for that very reason. But such visions always come to souls that can see--long to see--and needing the blessing of such a vision. Whatever the outward life, the inner life is the condition of beholding. Lives need to be broadened and exalted. Heaven is not only to make life more tolerable, but life is to determine heaven. The vision came not to the place, but the soul, and was determined not by the meagreness of the surrounding, but by the condition of the heart-life of him who beheld. By every analysis we are to know, then, that life is not in itself either omnipotent, or satisfying, or self-sufficient, nor has it any high standard, nor is it enough to be merely practical--doing without seeing, deeds without visions. God gives us to see what we are, in order that we may see by the aid of this revelation what we may become. Ignorance is simply fatal to all progress and enlightenment. “And immediately I was in the spirit,” John says. The thought for us is this: the power that exalts life is of God and comes from above. Look above, then, though you walk the earth. Open your heart and mind and soul to the unseen realities of the eternal. Higher and higher we must go and grow, like the vine upon the trellis, abiding in the branch, lifting its myriad shoots towards the summer shining and the clear, pure air. From His standpoint, God will give us to see what must be hereafter. Our privilege is to hear God’s blessed invitation, “Come up hither, higher, to higher altitudes, with waiting, expectant attitude.” God help us to break the spell that keeps us down; God help us to unlock the bolts that shut us in; God help us to fling aside the shutters that keep us in the dimness; God help us to be as free as His truth makes us, and then, when we truly behold, how beautiful everything will grow. Just as the little child, long blind, having at last her sight restored, said to her mother, as she looked for the first time upon the beauty of nature, “How beautiful! Why didn’t you tell me how beautiful everything was!” The element of the ideal must occupy a large place in our practical life if we are to grow at all strong, buoyant, and symmetrical. Visions are not mere air castles. Some one has said, “All men who have shown our race how great things are possible have had their inspiration in dreaming of the impossible.” The vision changes and goes on changing, adapting itself to our need and our life, but the reality always remains. Visions, therefore, are the wings which bear us upward and aloft. You do not have to teach a bird how to fly. The soul, saved by the power of the Divine Christ, rises because it can; it ascends because it has within it the irresistible yearning to do so, and faith and hope give impetus. This is the revelation which is constantly coming to your life, to my life. God help us, above all, to be “in the Spirit,” as in meditative quietness of life we steadfastly watch for and behold the visions that come to us. The cross and visions of the Christ are the inspiring themes of the Christian life. Life is truly potent, as we see its lines shaped according to the Cross of the Lord Jesus, as the symbol of our salvation and the standard of our service. Look and live, then live and look, is the whole of the Christian life. Let us not be satisfied with plodding, but let us be climbing. Let our lives take on daily newer beauty, the beauty of holiness, which is the adornment of righteousness. (C. E. Eberman.)

Soul elevation

Of course it was not the bodily senses of John that were thus addressed--not the body that was commanded to ascend. His outward eye saw not the material heavens open. Elevation of soul, then, is our subject. What is it? First, is it the elevation of sensuous excitement? The souls of all men have great variation of mood. Sometimes they are buoyant and sometimes sluggish. Such souls often soar aloft on the pinions of an excited imagination, but in their own fancy they indulge in a hind of spiritual reverie, and find a heaven for the hour upon the mountain heights of their own creation. But this is not what we mean by elevation of soul. Secondly, is it elevation of intellect? “Is it the elevation which arises from study and culture? This is important, this is essential to soul elevation; but this is not it. Some of the greatest and most cultured intellects have often been found in alliance with souls deeply sunk in passion, depravity, and vice. It may be represented as consisting in three things:

1. An uplifting sense of the Divine favour.

2. An uplifting sense of moral right.

3. An uplifting sense of the spiritual world.

That soul elevation is attainable. The apostle saw “a door open in heaven.” Christ is this “door.” By His teaching, His death, and His ascension, He has opened the new and living way for man into the “holy of holies.”

1. He is the exclusive door for man’s spiritual elevation.

2. He is the door for man’s spiritual elevation, and man’s only.

3. He is the door for man’s spiritual elevation available only for him on earth.

That soul elevation is obligatory. “Come up hither.”

1. I hear this Divine command sounding in the starry firmament. The great universe is the domain of mind. “Come up hither,” immortal man, wing your flight from orb to orb, system to system; count our multitudes, mark our movements, gauge our dimensions, bathe in our brightness, rise beyond us, scale the wondrous heavens still far away, revel in the Infinite, be lost in God!

2. I hear the Divine command sounding through the biography of the sainted dead. Our nature speaks from heaven. There are the voices of the goodly fellowship of prophets and apostles, of the glorious army of martyrs and confessors, etc. There are the voices of our favourite authors, the sacred poet, the holy sage and the learned divine.

3. I hear this Divine command sounding through the gospel of Christ.

4. I hear this Divine command sounding in the depths of our higher nature. Reason and conscience unite in urging us to ascend, etc.

That soul elevation is desirable.

1. Man’s happiness is greatly dependent upon bright prospects of the future.

2. Those bright prospects are secured by soul elevation. (Homilist.)

The upward call

Suppose that I had gone away from here for years, and came back to find my daughter living in some low, obscure place, bound out to hard labour. Suppose my son were in another place, half-clothed, half-fed, and suffering all manner of ill-treatment. And thus with all my children. What should I be likely to do? Should I not at once set about lifting them out of such situations, and getting them up where I was? I should say to them, “Come up, my children; you were not born to live down there. Your place is where I am. Come up here to me; here is where you belong.” Well, this is what God is doing to men. He has a few, a very few, children living in the high places of spiritual life--those regions of hope and love where He Himself dwells. “Come up hither--come up into the region of warmth and love, where your Father dwells. You were not made to live down there. This is where you belong. Come up hither.” (H. W. Beecher.)

Heaven our home

It is said of Anaxagoras, the philosopher, that one night when in the act of studying the stars, his countrymen came to confer upon him an inheritance, in token of their appreciation of his genius. His reply was, “I wish it not--these heavens are my country.” Can we say the same in a grander, Diviner sense?

Verses 2-5

Revelation 4:2-5

A throne was set in heaven.

The majestic government of the great God

The majestic government of the great God has heaven for the chief scene of its administration.

1. When a good man is privileged to look into heaven, the first thing that attracts his attention is the majestic government of God.

2. Earth does not contain the supreme power of law, but is under the government of heaven.

3. The government of God is in sublime contrast to that which obtains amongst men.

(1) Firm in stability.

(2) Great in majesty.

(3) Constant in exercise.

(4) Calm in triumph.

The majestic government of the great God is conducted on the principles of purity, equity, and mercy.

1. It is pure in its administration. The aim of His rule is to subdue moral evil, and to permeate life with laws, the observance of which will sanctify it. This cannot be predicated of all human governments, which are often gained by the sword, and upheld by terror.

2. It is righteous in its administration. Under it the poor and the oppressed may take welcome refuge.

3. It is merciful in its administration.

The majestic government of the great God is approved by all redeemed and glorified intelligences.

1. In exalted station.

2. In peaceful posture.

3. Of unsullied purity.

The majestic government of the great God is sometimes associated with terrific agencies. The judgments of God are as--

1. The crash of thunder.

2. The blaze of forked lightning.

3. Not only thunderings and lightnings, but voices proceeded out of the throne; the meanings of Divine judgments are partially unfolded; all judgment is vocal to the soul of man.


1. That God rules all things by the word of His power.

2. That the Church is safe under the Divine rule.

3. That men must not provoke the terrible agencies of the government of God. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

The throne of God

The throne of God is the throne of universal nature and providence.

1. He superintends all the affairs of His creatures.

2. He governs all by the sceptre of His power.

The throne of God is the throne of mercy and grace.

1. His throne of grace has its foundation in justice and holiness.

2. The throne of grace is accessible to all.

The throne of God is the throne of justice and judgment.

1. God deals justly with impenitent sinners in this world.

2. God will eventually appear in general judgment on all mankind.

The throne of God is the throne of glory and of blessedness.

1. It is a throne of glory. God is the King of glory (Psalms 24:10). His throne is a throne of glory (Jeremiah 14:21); a “glorious high throne, the throne of our God” (Jeremiah 17:12).

2. It is a throne of bliss. There the wondrous assembly are beyond every evil, and above every imperfection; they enjoy without any interruption the beatific vision of God, manifested in the person of Christ. (Pulpit Studies.)

The Triune God

The throne.

1. Above all the strife and discord and confusion of this world, above those thrones and dominions which caricature royalty and pervert justice, above the Neros and Domitians and all their brood of lesser tyrants, there is a dominion, an authority, a throne which is supreme. The world is not without a Ruler; it is not rolling on from age to age, like a ship without a pilot; it has a Guide, a King, whose eternal throne is established on high.

2. The majestic repose and ethereal majesty of the throne of God. But before the throne of God is “a sea of glass”--image of calmness and repose; a sea whose smooth surface is never ruffled, whose transparent depths are never disturbed.

The monarch.

The hymns of praise. (R. H. McKim, D. D.)

The throne in heaven and its surroundings

It is a curious fact that the last book of the Bible is, upon the whole, the most mysterious. It has been said that John Calvin evinced his wisdom by declining to write an exposition of this book. To a great extent the book is prophetical; but other parts are doctrinal, and these it is our privilege to endeavour to understand.

The throne itself. “Behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat upon it.” St. John’s vision in Patmos reminds us of the vision of Micaiah in the reign of Jehoshaphat. “I saw the Lord,” says he, “sitting on His throne and all the host of heaven standing by Him, on His right hand and on His left.” This part of the chapter may be considered as bringing before us the sovereignty of the Lord God Almighty. God is no epicurean, taking no interest in the welfare of His creatures: God is King of all the earth. His sceptre is a sceptre of righteousness. To acknowledge the existence of a God is, in point of fact, to acknowledge the supremacy of His reign. Having created all things He governs all things.

1. The sovereignty of God is universal in its extent. “His kingdom ruleth over all”--over angels, men, and devils, over the good and the bad, over birds and beasts anal creeping things, over mountains and mole-hills, storms and sunshine, peace and war, plague and pestilence, abundance and famine, great events and little ones. All are subservient to His governance and submissive to His power.

2. The sovereignty of God is not only universal in its extent, but is also independent and absolute. “As He receives His essence from none so He derives His dominion from none,” says old Stephen Charnock. His right to reign has not been won by war, or obtained by bribery: it is not the bequest of some predecessor or the gift of some superior. He is not a King by the votes of the vassals whom He governs, but by His own eternal excellence and by His own omnific acts. As a sovereign whose dominion is absolute you see Him continuously sustaining creation when He might, in an instant, suffer it to relapse into its primeval nothingness. You see Him redeeming men, promulgating laws, instituting rites, and appointing conditions, without the observance of which sinners cannot be saved. “He doeth according to His will.”

3. Let me add that whilst the government of God is universal and absolute, it is not tyrannical, but wise and pure and just and good. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him” often, but at all times “righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne.” His throne is a throne of holiness. We may often be puzzled by His proceedings: we ought never to murmur and malign. I would remind you of the fearful position of the man who dares to rebel against such a King. Of all the creatures in God Almighty’s wide creation, except the lost in hell, man is the only one in whose heart lurks rebellion. Woe to the man that strives against his Maker! Pharaoh ventured to do that until Pharaoh and his legions sank in helplessness just at the moment when they were anticipating victory. Nebuchadnezzar set himself against God, the result being that Nebuchadnezzar became a wild and wandering maniac. Man cannot sin against such a sovereign as this with impunity, without his sin entailing punishment sooner or later. Do not forget that you are not your own and, therefore, you have no right to live for your own aggrandisement and gratification. God governs the universe. Yes, and let us not forget that God our Governor is infinite in greatness and also in goodness, and if so, then in our direst emergencies we may venture safely to repose trust in Him. We may be mean and miserable, but do not forget that God’s sovereignty takes cognisance of everything God’s power has made. If there is nothing too little for God to make, there is nothing too little for God to govern.

Leaving the throne itself, look at the rainbow which spans it. “There was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” The rainbow round about the throne naturally leads us to contemplate God as entering into a covenant engagement with man. Glorious is the fact that God not only rules as a sovereign, but in infinite condescension He has made covenants with His creatures which He cannot break. “I will make a covenant of peace with thee,” says God by the prophet Ezekiel, “and it shall be an everlasting covenant.” Oh, how infinite is condescension like this l God the uncreated, the infinite, the all-perfect Being exercising universal sovereignty, binds Himself by promises to bless. Man makes leagues and covenants, and then snaps them asunder at his pleasure. God’s covenants and compacts, like Himself, are unchangeable. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills shall be removed; but My kindness shall not depart from thee, nor the covenant of My peace be broken.” Oh, for faith in these compacts which God has made with man! After daily trusting in consonants made by mortals like yourselves, will you dare to call in question the truthfulness of compacts God has made? God promises me a pardon through Jesus Christ if I seek it in penitence and faith. Shall I question God’s readiness to fulfil that promise? God promises finally a mansion, a throne; and shall I doubt His readiness and His ability to fulfil His covenant? Did He fail me when I came to Him a burdened penitent for the pardon of my sins? Patriarchs, prophets, and others believed the covenant not because they had seen it verified, but simply because God’s own living lips had uttered it; and, if so, shall I, with the experience of six thousand years before me, dare to doubt it? God forbid!

Leaving the rainbow which spans the throne, let us go, in the third place, to the lightnings and thunderings and voices coming out of it (verse 3). The lightnings and thunderings and voices coming out of the throne bring us a step farther in the history of the Divine Being, and leads us to contemplate Him as a great Lawgiver--a Lawgiver issuing precepts for the guidance and discipline of man’s probationary being. This part of the chapter reminds us of the scene which was witnessed on Mount Sinai, as you will find if you turn to the 19th chapter of Exodus, beginning at the 16th verse. Oh, that we could make you unconverted sinners to feel in the presence of this legislative God as these Hebrews did! Let me say that in order to be saved you must first of all, to some extent at least, have an experience like that to which I am now adverting. Do not imagine that you are in a fit frame of mind to come and ask God for pardon until you feel the terrors of that God whose laws were published on Mount Sinai in sounds and voices so terrific. Issuing from the legislative mount, thunders and voices and flashing lightning scare them, and they are made willing to be saved on any terms, at any sacrifice.

I pass to the fourth point, namely, the sea of glass and the seven lamps of fire before the throne (verses 5, 6). I will simply say that by the sea of glass we are reminded of a text in the Book of Exodus--the 38th chapter, beginning at the 17th verse: “The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thou shalt also make a laver of brass,” etc. Accordingly, we are told in the 8th verse of the 38th chapter of Exodus, that Moses made a laver of brass of the brazen looking-glasses presented by the women. Then, again, you will remember that when Solomon built his temple, he also made a similar laver capable of containing twenty-two thousand gallons, and he designated that laver a molten sea. It is intended to typify the provision that has been made for the sanctification of sinners in the sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ. Then as respects the seven lamps of fire which are the seven spirits of God, I have as little doubt that that is symbolical language intended to signify the sanctifying agency of the Holy Ghost. I will just remind you that the word “seven” in the Scriptures is a sacred number, and is often used in the same sense as the word “perfection.” The word “horn” is often used to signify authority, power; the word “eye” to signify intelligence, wisdom, light. Now blend all these things together, and then you learn from these symbolical texts that the Spirit of Christ is possessed of perfect wisdom and perfect power, and is sent forth into all the earth. Apply all that to the Holy Ghost, and you will find it strictly true. The Holy Ghost is an all-perfect Spirit. He is the Spirit of the Son as well as of the Father, and He is sent forth into all the earth, for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. We have just now been reminded, by the lightnings and thunderings and voices coming out of the throne, of the law which God published in the days of Moses, and of our transgression of that law, and of our need of a Mediator to obtain for us pardon and purity. And here, in the sea of glass and in the seven lamps of fire, our necessities are fully met. In the blood of the Mediator atonement is made for our transgressions, and in the agency of the Holy Ghost provision is made for the removal of our darkness and depravity and sin. As a sinner exposed to the wrath of God--“Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?” How shall I gain access to His mercy-seat? How shall I enter the tabernacle in which He dwells? Before Moses and Aaron were allowed to avail themselves of bliss like this they had to wash in the brazen sea; and I also must wash in the sea of glass, or, in other words, in that fountain which has been opened in the House of David for sin and for uncleanness. Without the blood there is no admission into heaven, just as without the molten sea there was no admission into the temple’s tartest holy place; and without the Spirit we are without the wish to wash in the cleansing blood, and, in point of fact, despise it.

And now, as a result of the whole, let us look at the holy ones by which the throne, set and established in the heavens, is surrounded. “And round about the throne were four-and-twenty seats; and upon the seats I saw four-and-twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.” Good old James Kershaw, one of John Wesley’s itinerant preachers, lays it down with authority that these elders--these grand seniors of heaven, as he calls them, mean the four-and-twenty elders or presbyters from the patriarchal age, from Adam to Jacob, and including Job and Melchizedek. I am not going to controvert it, but there are one or two other kindred interpretations, perhaps, equally to be commended; for instance, some of you are well aware that king David divided the Jewish priests into twenty-four divisions, and at the head of each division placed a prince or chief priest; and some think that when the text speaks of four-and-twenty elders, there is a reference to these twenty-four priests or princes of the priests belonging to the Jewish Church. Another interpretation says that the four-and-twenty elders are intended to signify the heads of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and that these twenty-four constitute the elders of the Jewish and Christian Churches united. Any one of them will serve my present purpose, namely, to show that as a consequence of God’s care of His creatures, and of His sovereignty, and of His covenant engagements, and of His legislative acts, and of His redeeming mercy--as a consequence of this, I find men in heaven--men who were once sinners. All this has a tendency to strengthen our confidence and our faith in God--in His ability and willingness to bring us safe to the realms of blessedness and peace. (Luke Tyerman.)

A rainbow round about the throne.--

The circle rainbow

A semi-circle rainbow is all that presents itself to our vision, and that is often a very imperfect half. We see things in this world only by halves. Imperfection characterises all our powers, and limitation all surrounding objects, and incompleteness all our pleasures. “The things that shall be hereafter” shall be in circles, complete and perfect.

The circle of promise.

The circle of truth. The ancient philosophers perplexed themselves in their search after truth. They failed to see that while truth is a perfect circle, it is not visible as a whole to mortals. “We know in part, and prophesy in part.” In other words, we know but a small part of truth, and can teach only the part we know. What shall be said when we ascend to the higher plane of truth? If such the earthy, what of the heavenly? But we shall yet know in full. Hereafter the whole circle shall be unfolded. Then our knowledge shall be perfected.

The circle of providence. The wisdom of God is best judged of by the view of the harmony of providence. The single threads may seem very weak, or knotty and uneven, and seem to administer just occasion of censure; but will it not as much raise the admiration to see them all woven into a curious piece of branched work? (A London Minister.)

The rainbow round about the throne

Let us view the nature, and scriptural history, of the rainbow.

The rainbow is presented to our notice as connected with the most splendid representations of the Divine glory. There are three instances of this in the Scriptures.

1. The first is Ezekiel 1:28. Here is an evident reference to Jehovah, as governing all things in the person of His Son, of which mention is made in verse 26 as having the appearance of a man. And it is in and through Christ that Jehovah treats with mankind, and by whom He directs and upholds all things both in heaven and earth.

2. The second instance is our text, where the Godhead, high and lifted up on His holy throne, and surrounded by the worshipping hosts, is represented as encircled with a rainbow, in sight like unto an emerald.” This evidently intimates the gracious connection subsisting between God and man; and that however elevated and glorious He may be, yet His grandeur and majesty are made to act in blessed concert with the arrangements of grace.

3. The last representation of the rainbow is Revelation 10:1, where we are taught that however Jehovah may step forth, arrayed in garments of terror, or however black the dispensations of His providence may appear, yet that His head is ever adorned with the rainbow of grace, and that as such He will ever be recognised by all those who love and put their trust in Him; that while He is the destroyer of His impenitent enemies, He is the unchanging friend and consolation of His people.

A striking symbol of God’s gracious regards to our fallen world.

1. The rainbow is turned up towards heaven--is unstrung--and without arrows. And here we have a representation, or symbol, of God’s being in a state of perfect reconciliation to our world.

2. In the rainbow is exhibited the union of the various prismatic colours. A beautiful symbol of the harmony of the Divine perfections in the economy of Divine grace.

3. The rainbow appears to reach the heavens. Symbolical of the origin of all the blessings of grace.

4. The rainbow seems to unite both heaven and earth. And this union is truly effected in the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.

5. The rainbow is all God’s work. Man has no part in making it. So with respect to our salvation; all is of God from first to last.

6. This rainbow is said to be “round about the throne” of God, indicating that all His attributes and perfections are under its influence.

7. This rainbow is likened to an “emerald.” The meaning of which is, that the beautiful green colour of the emerald was the leading appearance it presented. So when the awakened sinner beholds the rigour of Divine justice in its most awful form, even at this moment the Divine compassion is most apparent, and demands the most implicit confidence.

8. The unmerited freeness of Divine mercy. So salvation is not of debt but of grace.

9. The unspeakable delight which the sight of this rainbow excited.

10. Look upon the rainbow, and praise Him that made it.

11. Let the mourning penitent look at the bow, and be encouraged.

12. Let the troubled soul look and be comforted. (R. Simpson, M. A.)

The rainbow of the covenant

It is only by the covenant of grace and peace, revealed to us in the holy scriptures, that we can contemplate, with calm serenity, the attributes and perfections of God.

It is only by the covenant of grace and peace, revealed in the gospel, that we can contemplate with satisfaction and comfort the dispensations of providence.

It is, in all probability, only through the medium of the covenant, by which we are saved from perdition, that we shall behold and adore the glory of God, in the mansions of celestial bliss.

1. Consider the perfections of God, as they shine in the person and work of Christ, the Mediator and Redeemer.

2. Consider the dispensations of Providence in their connection with the covenant of grace and peace.

3. Consider the glory which shall be disclosed to you in a future, eternal world. (Essex Remembrancer.)

The rainbow

Is the rainbow a reflection of the rays of the sun upon a thin watery cloud? The covenant of grace owes all its excellences to Jesus Christ, the “Sun of righteousness.”

Are our minds struck with the diversified colours of this beautiful phenomenon in nature? Let them remind us of the numerous blessings which are treasured up in the everlasting covenant.

Was the rainbow an emblem of peace between God and man after the flood? The covenant of grace declares reconciliation, and secures the redeemed for ever from the deep waters of affliction, which had often before overwhelmed them.

Is the rainbow said to be round about the throne of God? The covenant of grace includes in it, and glorifies all the Persons in the Trinity, and is ever in their sight and remembrance.

Are we informed that the rainbow was in sight “like unto an emerald,” green, beautiful, and durable? How delightful to contemplate and enjoy the blessings of the covenant of grace! It is always new, and lasting as the throne which it surrounds. (T. Spencer.)

The throne and the rainbow

First, let us look up at this wonderful throne. Of course, we understand such a thing to be the symbol of government--of the Divine government in the universe--for that Being in the seat of royalty is God. But what do the other emblems mean?

1. Observe that the exalted Monarch is said to be “like a jasper and a sardine stone.” See the supreme advantage we have in knowing that we are under a splendid and sufficient government in this world of ours, where all appears so confused and independent. I confess my mind grows restful and glad when I look up and seem to see this dazzling diamond of infinite perfection subduing itself to my weak comprehension till it looks like a carnelian, which I gaze upon constantly and yet live.

2. Then, next to this, observe in like manner the attendants which are represented as forming the King’s retinue: “And round about the throne were four and twenty thrones,” etc. Here again is a disclosure upon which it will cheer the Christian’s heart to dwell. This is more than a splendid government; it must be amazingly potent and irresistibly strong. The very nobles are crowned, and wear royal raiment: their ordinary seats are thrones.

3. But does God know what Him wicked and wilful creatures are doing so far away from His presence? That leads us forward another step in the vision, and we observe that this must be a very watchful government; the language is quite peculiar: there was “before the throne, as it were a glassy sea like unto crystal,” etc. We cannot delay to examine in turn every one of these interesting symbols. It must be enough to say that the lion is the chief of wild beasts, as the ox is the chief of those tamed and domestic; the eagle is the king of the air, and man is the monarch among created things; each is sovereign and supreme of his kind, for the Lord God could receive no less into Him court for His servants. But the main particular to notice in this description is the suggestion--here twice made--that they were all “full of eyes,” and the floor beneath the throne was of glass as transparent as crystal. “And thou sayest, hove doth God know? can He judge through the dark cloud?” But now this vision teaches that earth can always and everywhere be seen from heaven.

4. Observe, once more, that this is an unimpeachable government. These living creatures are worshipping while watching: “they have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy,” etc. No one can know better than those nearest to a monarch how pure he is. This King in the throne never broke one of His promises, never deceived one of His subjects, never forgot one of His creatures in its time of possible need.

Thus much does this first symbol in the vision teach. Now we come to study the second; the “rainbow, in sight like unto an emerald.” This represents a covenant, as the other represented a rule.

1. Observe first, that the ancient covenant of reaction has in it the promise of the covenant of grace. This is Noah’s bow repeated with fresh and better engagements for John.

2. Notice again, that its appearance just here in John’s vision is welcomed more for its graciousness than for its antiquity. No one can read the Bible without noticing more and more ]plainly that the God of nature desires to transfer the allegiance of His creatures so that they may fully recognise Him as the God of grace.

3. Once more: observe how well this vision teaches us that God’s covenant is completed. A perfect circle is the finest figure we could imagine of the covenant of God’s love fully complete.

4. The symbols here employed seem to teach that this is an abiding covenant: it will stand for ever. In oriental countries green is the emblem of unchangeableness. It signifies fidelity, incorruptible and for ever to be trusted.

5. This covenant is to each of us individual and personal. Each beholder is the master and owner of his particular arch in the heavens. Thus it comes to pass that we are sure no two persons ever see the same iris even on the clouds of the same storm, though they are almost side by side in their outlook; for there are different drops which fall into the angle of range, and different sunbeams to touch them. Do not waste this conception in admiration of the beautiful phenomenon of nature. God’s covenant is made with a generous distribution of grace, but to each reception and bestowment of favour there are only two parties, Himself and a single believer.

Thus we reach the last point for our consideration; namely, the collocation of the two symbols. “The rainbow was round about the throne.”

1. God’s promise surrounds God’s majesty. The ancient Rabbins used to render the verse in Genesis concerning the rainbow thus: “It shall be a sign between My word and all the earth.” So now we look up at this vision of John, and we learn to rest in our Creator. We are not left to vague considerations of Jehovah’s consistency with His own character, or, as we sometimes phrase it, “His name”; we dwell upon His recorded language of blessing, “Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name.” The word is “round about” the name, the rainbow is round about the throne.

2. God’s grace surrounds God’s justice. We lift our eyes, and see this rainbow as really the most conspicuous thing in the vision. Its vast emerald arch shines all around the supreme tribunal on the floor of crystal. The suggestion is immediately clear, it is a comfort that we are now under the New Testament.

3. God’s love surrounds God’s power. Love is symbolised in the rainbow, and power in the throne; and the rainbow is round about the throne.

4. God’s glory surrounds God’s children. For just look up and see the position and collocation of these two objects; the emerald ring is all around the sapphire seat of royalty. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

Rainbow and throne

There is a rainbow round about the throne in the works of creation. In the threefold kingdom of nature the throne is conspicuously manifest, for authority and power are everywhere obvious. Law reigns permanent and supreme, and sometimes asserts itself with apparent severity and sternness. But there is a rainbow encircling the throne-for the storms that terrify produce in their train fertility and health. Processes that seem to produce death give birth to new life. Floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, tempest, etc., work upon the whole for the good of man.

There is a rainbow round about the throne in the providential government of God. In all God’s dealings with man there have been blended mercy with judgment, forgiveness with chastisement. This is true of nations as well as of individuals.

There is a rainbow about the throne in the scene that was enacted at calvary. In the death of Christ--the sinless One--the throne of authority and righteousness is unveiled; but the rainbow encircled the head of the suffering Redeemer; on the Cross mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other.

There is a rainbow round about the throne in the preaching of the gospel of the glory of God. The glad tidings of salvation proclaim God’s righteous indignation against sin, and to some become “a savour of death unto death.” The rainbow of the covenant of grace, full of exceeding great and precious promises, encircles that throne of authority, so that whosoever will may come and obtain pardon and peace.

There is a rainbow round about the throne in the predictions of the day of judgement. This vision of John gives us a guarantee:

1. Of the perpetuation of the evolution of the seasons in the world of nature.

2. Of the fulfilment of the promises contained in the covenant of grace.

3. Of the absolute safety of all who cling with deathless tenacity to the enthroned Redeemer.

4. Of the final accomplishment of God’s gracious purposes in relation to our race. (F. W. Brown.)

The rainbow round the throne

The picture introduces us into the midst of the heavenly world, and shows to us its enthroned Sovereign spanned with an arch of iridescent light, ineffable majesty blossoming out in forms of tender beauty, the beauty brightening the majesty, the majesty solemnising the beauty, Divine and eternal, and yet raying out into lines of genial and affectionate colour such as the eye can delight in, and the face and heart grow bright and cheerful under. There is the throne and there is the rainbow, the solemnity of the throne qualifies the rainbow and the rainbow qualifies the throne, and they make not two pictures, but one picture; the two features that customary thought divorces, the imagery marries in solid wedlock, and righteousness and peace are shown to have kissed each other. That is a wonderful answer that stands in the Westminster Assembly Shorter Catechism in response to the question, “What is God?” “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” That is a wonderful answer, but then it is not my God any more than putting arms, legs, trunk, and head alongside of one another compose my father. Considered as a schedule of detail, as a bill of Divine particulars, that answer cannot be surpassed, but it will have to yield instant precedence to the imagery of our verse when the object sought is not a God dissected in the interests of philosophy, but God whole, and entire, in the interests of love and worship. What I feel that I need for myself in my religious character and relations, is to be able to come to God in the entireness of His personality--come to Him, in that respect, in the same way in which a boy comes to his father. True personal approach combines into indistinguishable unity all those ingredients that to pure speculation stand separate and distinct. Now, that is the charm and the truth of the Apocalyptic picture in our text. It brings the solemn sovereignty of God and the sweet, accessible beauty and loveliness of God so into relation with each other, and so draws them through one another, that each quality is felt to inhere in the other, and one indivisible God to be the issue of it, all whose majesty is sweet, and all whose sweetness is majestic. You behold the rainbow about the throne, and you behold the throne by the light of the rainbow. The world is going to grow better by coming to know God better. What St. Paul said at Athens still holds, “Whom ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you.” To help people to feel God as He is, is the one only comprehensive service that we can render them; and if the peculiar glimpse of God afforded us by this imagery of St. John once becomes an appreciated and a conscious truth with us, it will easily, not to say necessarily, work practical results in our theology and in our hearts and lives. Once let us feel, as John’s picture suggests, that God all belongs together, that violence is done Him whenever any one of His attributes is plucked from its coherency with His other attributes, and we shall be saved from what has been the bane of all theology--namely, founding on some individual attribute which has been rudely dislocated from its companion attributes, taking the amputated member and electing it to be the vitals of a living system. Now, that makes theology easy, but it makes it a lie. The throne is a lie without the rainbow, and the rainbow is a lie without the throne. Now, that conducts directly to two schools of theologic thought. One starts with the solemnities of God, and the other starts with the amenities; they both make bad start, and consequently they both make a bad finish. One begins with the majesty of God, and gets along as best it can with His love; the other starts with the love of God, and gets along as well as it can with His majesty. One gives us a solemn despot, and the other gives us a doting old grandfather. One is just as good as the other, and neither is good for anything so far as being a just statement of the truth is concerned. We often conceive of God as acting at one instant out of His pure mercy, as if His justice had for a time been put in a dark closet or gone off on a vacation, and that His mercy was the only attribute that had remained at home and that was doing all the work. Then, after mercy has worked until it is tired, we think of Him as putting that to sleep and letting everything for a time be managed at the arbitrament of unassisted justice. I venture to say that there is not among us the conception that, when God acts, He acts in the entireness of His being always, as He always does, and always will; that His justice and His mercy, for example, have no existence apart from each other; that He never surrenders Himself to a single impulse, has no pet attribute, but that all of Him is in everything that He does. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

The rainbow a pledge of mercy

The circumstances under which the rainbow was given as a sign to men.

1. The Most High had proved His hatred of sin by the consuming wrath with which it had been punished.

2. The Lord had also recently accepted the sacrifice of Noah.

3. The rainbow appeared in heaven at the very time when the patriarch’s fears must have been renewed.

The character of the covenant of which the rainbow was the appointed pledge.

1. The unmerited freeness of Divine mercy.

2. The faithfulness of God.

3. The infinite compassion of the Lord.

4. The universality of Divine mercy.

5. The perpetuity of redeeming mercy. (R. P. Buddicom, M. A.)

The rainbow round the throne

This emblem.

1. It tells us that God is in covenant with man. Such was the meaning of the rainbow in the time of Noah. The world, which had been taught so solemnly the terror of God’s wrath, was now to learn the “riches of His goodness.” But the covenant which God makes now is more gracious still--as much more, as the soul is more precious than the body, and things eternal more important than things temporal. And with whom is this covenant made? With all who will accept it: that is to say, with all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is the acceptance of the covenant. What a covenant!--well called “the covenant of grace.” It includes, first, forgiveness; then, renewal of heart; then, preservation from sin; and finally, the eternal joy of the souls of believers.

2. Again, this covenant shows all the attributes of God together. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” How safe then the shelter of those who have an interest in this covenant: they are protected by the combined attributes of the eternal God!

3. By this covenant God binds Himself. Where is the rainbow? “Round about the throne.” Majestic as He is, and just and holy, He is content to be bound--bound by His own word, His sure promise, His unchangeable covenant.

Some confirmation of this truth. The doctrine of God’s covenant of grace is not only clearly revealed in Scripture; it is also not opposed to reason.

1. There is nothing in it unworthy of Him. It is not a covenant of unjust severity--nor is it one of unjust mercy. Mercy there is in it--conspicuous mercy; but it is in harmonious alliance with holiness and equity and truth. What, then, is to hinder Him from carrying out the covenant of grace? Nothing! His sovereignty is free.

2. It is a covenant that promotes His glory. Practical lessons from the covenant of grace:

1. Here is joy for the believer.

2. Here, too, is encouragement for the inquirer. (F. Tucker, B. A.)

An emerald rainbow

The rainbow.

1. Let us see in what respects the rainbow serves as an illustration of the covenant, and first--the rainbow is the child of the cloud and the sun. No sooner did man fall, and consequently the cloud gather, than the light which had been shining from before all time flew apace, and darting through the gloom, kissed with its golden rays the threatening cloud. In a moment there was a heavenly transformation, a belt of light encircled the cloud in the shape of that sweet promise given to our parents, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.”

2. Mercy met misery, and the result was the covenant of grace. Man’s depravity forms the dark background that throws up in glorious contrast the brightness of God’s grace, but the covenant rests on other foundations. It is founded on the purposes of God, and although his sweet engagements are for man, they rest not on man; it is a covenant of “I will” and “thou shalt.”

3. Again, the rainbow is an emblem of reconciliation and security. It was so to Noah. God has said, “I will look upon the bow”; well, then, do you look upon it too, for in that you are reconciled to Him with a reconciliation that He has declared shall never be broken.

4. The rainbow was God’s handiwork. “I do set My bow in the cloud.” So with the everlasting covenant of grace, from first to last it is God’s.

(1) It is His in conception.

(2) It is His in provision. All that was necessary for its accomplishment has been provided by the same One who sketched the marvellous plan.

(3) It is His also in execution. The power that convinces--the grace that draws--the faith that accepts--the peace that follows--the security that abides, are all, all of God.

5. This rainbow never melts.

Its position. Round about the throne.

1. May not the fact of the rainbow being all round the throne teach that God in all His persons is included in the covenant of grace? It is a blessed truth that it is so. The covenant embraces the whole Trinity--not one of the Persons is omitted. The bow encircles the whole throne. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost all have their glorious part in the salvation of man by grace.

2. Being round the throne, it was always in view. I speak with reverence, but it was impossible for Him who sat upon the throne not to behold the rainbow--it was around Him on every side; its emerald hue would be ever attracting attention. John only saw Him who was like jasper through the bow, and He only looked upon John through the same hallowed medium. God only looks upon His people as they are in covenant relationship with himself.

3. As the rainbow was all round the throne, it follows that there is no coming unto God but through it. Sinner, wouldst thou be saved? Then thou must be saved by grace. (A. G. Brown.)

The rainbow round about the throne

The rainbow.

1. It reclaimed the fact of the Divine reconciliation. What! is the rainbow in the cloud the symbol of the God of peace? And can the rainbow round about the throne be the symbol of the God of wrath, the God of war? Nay, it bears the same import in both the one case and the other; and how, then, like the elders before the throne, should the new song be ever so much upon our lips at the sight, and even at the very thought, of it.

2. And then, in virtue of the Divine reconciliation, the rainbow further intimated that providence is administered under the reign of grace.

3. After all, the grand purpose of the rainbow was to seal or ratify the covenant of God. It is certain there cannot be a flood in presence of a rainbow.

The position of the rainbow. The rainbow is round about the throne--not above, as dominating, or upon, as occupying, but round about, as encompassing the throne; and in this regard its position is as significantly instructive as it is itself.

1. It evidently carries us up to the Divine origin of the covenant. This covenant is most certainly of Divine authorship. It is an exclusively Divine product. The rainbow is made up of various intermediate elements, the eye, the sunshine, and the rain. But not the covenant. It is all God Himself.

2. This further intimates that the Divine majesty rules in the covenant throughout. Let us never suppose that God has abdicated His throne when He dispenses mercy, that He has laid aside His majesty when He exercises grace.

3. Once more, by the position of the rainbow, we are assured that the covenant will never pass from the Divine remembrance.

The aspect of the rainbow. The natural rainbow is of varied hue; but green is the prevailing colour in the rainbow round about the throne--here said to be “in sight like unto an emerald.” Now, let us observe why this rainbow has so much in it, not of heaven’s, but of earth’s colour, not sky-blue, but emerald-green.

1. It indicates that there is a refreshing beauty in the covenant which is never wearisome to look at. Some colours, even heaven’s own azure-blue, soon dazzle or fatigue the vision. The earth’s soft emerald-green never does. Hence the prevailing colour of this rainbow. To look at the throne, and Him who sits on it, in the fire-light resplendence of His holiness, “like a jasper and a sardine stone,” how can we do so without having our eyes, as it were, burned out? But with this emerald-green of covenant love and grace all round, how the sight of that very glory becomes a beatific vision. We see God and live.

2. And again, this emerald-green of the rainbow may be held to intimate that there is an essential unity in the covenant, whatever variety may circumstantially distinguish it. There is no rainbow without the sevenfold variety of the prismatic colours, yet these colours are all harmoniously blended together in its arch of beauty; at least, they are so blended together by the prevailing green of the rainbow round about the throne. And yet, again, the symbol is in this regard significant. There is a manifold variety of Divine promises and blessings which at sundry times and in divers manners have been given in sovereign manifestation from the throne; but they are all suffused with the one ever-permeating tint of grace, new covenant grace.

3. Yet, once again, the everlasting duration of the covenant may be said to be shadowed forth in the emerald aspect of “the rainbow round about the throne.” (E. A. Thomson.)

The rainbow round the throne

The obvious idea connected with a “throne” is that of power or dominion. It is the known public seat of legislation, government, and judgment, surrounded with all the pomp and circumstance of state ceremony and outward splendour. Before it the loyal are proud to bow in token of their homage. At its footstool the rebel is eager to fall prostrate, that he may sue for mercy. And from it the traitor hastens to flee lest his sentence of condemnation should be pronounced by the sovereign. Now let us carry these simple ideas to the interpretation of the symbol employed in the text. Conceive for a moment that the vision vouchsafed to the apostle were granted to you. How inconceivably exalted would your views of the Divine glory become! You would feel that power belongeth unto God! Let us consider how it is exalted by His other perfections. Omnipotence alone, if it were not guided by omniscience, would only he the source of unmeasured and inconceivable confusion and mercy. But “blessed,” says the prophet, “be the name of our God for ever and ever, for wisdom and might are His.” Again, even this combination of attributes would not afford sufficient security for the happiness of His subjects, unless it were hallowed by the most perfect purity. But He is emphatically “the Holy One of Israel.”

A second emblem connected with the former, which, whilst it detracts nothing from its glory, softens its splendours, and mitigates its terrors. “And there was a rainbow,” it is said, “round about the throne.” This is the symbol of mercy; and independently of its being God’s own instituted type, it has a native significance which it is delightful to notice. The most striking feature in the natural rainbow is the skill in which its beauteous variety of colours is blended together. Have we not here a most exquisite emblem of the way in which the Divine attributes all harmonise together, whilst mercy, so to speak, is the emerald grace, and presents the prevailing and refreshing hue? What, to the sinner, is power without mercy but a sure pledge of his destruction. Infinite wisdom only closes the door against the possibility of escaping detection. Holiness banishes him for ever from the presence of Him who is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity,” whilst justice records the sentence of His condemnation in characters of flame. But how blessed the change when “mercy and truth meet together--righteousness and peace kiss each other.” The eternal wisdom is engaged to plan, almighty power to execute, the scheme of redemption--justice is appeased in the person of the sinner’s surety--all guilt is removed, and perfect righteousness imputed through faith in the blood of atonement; and holiness itself is satisfied through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. But the most precious and important feature of the emblem is still unnoticed. It not merely tells of mercy, but covenant mercy; and was instituted as God’s own sign for this very purpose. And blessed indeed are the provisions of that covenant! It tells no more of works of righteousness to be done by the sinner as the condition of his eternal salvation. “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord. I will put My laws into their mind,” etc. (C. F. Childe, M. A.)

Verse 4

Revelation 4:4

Upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting.

The elders before the throne

The state and enjoyments of the spirits before the throne.

1. Mark, first, that the saints in heaven are represented as “elders,” which we take to refer not merely to the office of the eldership as it is exercised among us, but rather to the fulness of growth of believers before the throne. The elders in the Church are those who by reason of years have had their senses exercised; they are not the saplings of the forest, but the well-rooted trees; they are not the blades of corn up-springing, but the full corn in the ear awaiting the reaper’s sickle. As to the number--twenty-four. I think, as there were twenty-four courses of Levites, who were porters at the gate of the temple, and twenty-four courses of priests who offered sacrifice, so the number twenty-four is made use of to show that the service of God in His temple is complete, that every part of the Divine service will be taken up, and around that altar which smokes before God eternally there shall be a full complement of those who shall bow before Him, and do Him homage.

2. These elders are said to be around the throne. We suppose, as near as we can catch the thought of John, sitting in a semi-circle, as the Jewish Sanhedrin did around the Prince of Israel. “There is an equality among the saints.” There shall not be some near the centre, and others far away on the verge of the wide circumference; but they shall all be near to Christ, all equally His favourites and His friends.

3. The elders are “clothed in white raiment.” In this they are an example to us. Perfection we must not hope to see here; but oh, we must aim after it.

4. These elders exercised a priesthood. Indeed, their being clothed in white garments, while it is an emblem of their purity, also represents them as being priests unto God. “Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests.” They exercise the office of priesthood, as you perceive, by the double offering of prayer and praise. Let us look up to them as the priests of God, and then ask ourselves, are we celebrating His worship too?

5. They had on their heads crowns of gold. Now let us imitate them in this. “Oh!” say you, “but I cannot wear a crown as they do.” Nevertheless, you are a king; for they who are Christ’s are kings. Reign over thy sins. Reign over thy passions. Be as a king in the midst of all that would lead thee astray. In the world at large act a king’s part. Let your Liberality of spirit be right royal. Let your actions never be mean, sneaking, cowardly, dastardly

The occupation and spirit of these glorified ones, as they should be imitated by us below. Notice their occupation.

1. First of all it is one of humility. “They fall down before Him” (verse 10). The more holy, the more humble.

2. But as they fall before the throne in humility, you will note that they express their gratitude. It is said they cast their crowns before the throne. They know where they got them from, and they know to whom to ascribe the praise.

3. These elders spent their time in joyous song. “Thou art worthy to take the book.”

4. These saints not only offered praise, but prayer.

5. I must not forget, however, here, that these elders before the throne were ready not only for prayer and praise, but for all kinds of service. You remember there was one of them, when John wept, who said, “Weep not.” Then there was another of the elders who said to John, for his instruction, “Who are these?” etc. Now those before the throne are willing to comfort the weeper or to instruct the ignorant. Let us do the same I and may it be ours to wipe the tear from many an eye, to chase the darkness of ignorance from many a young heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Verse 6

Revelation 4:6

A sea of glass like unto crystal.

The spiritual navigator bound for the holy land

“And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.” I find hereof seven several expositions.

1. Some expound this glassy and crystal-like sea, of contemplative men.

2. Some conceive it to be an abundant understanding of the truth, a happy and excellent knowledge given to the saints, and that in a wonderful plenitude.

3. Some understand by this glassy sea like crystal, the fulness of all those gifts and graces which the Church derives from Christ.

4. Some intend this glassy sea like to crystal to signify the crystalline heaven, where the eternal God keeps His court and sits in His throne.

5. Some expositions give this sea for the gospel. And their opinion is probably deduced from the two attributes, glassy and crystalline.

(1) The first expresseth a bright and clear matter. Which sets a difference betwixt that legal and this evangelical sea. That was duskish and shadowy matter, not penetrable to the sight. This is a sea of glass, more clear and transparent.

(2) Crystalline is the other attribute. Now as the other attribute takes from the gospel all obscurity, so this takes from it all impurity.

6. Some by this glassy and crystal sea conceived to be meant baptism, prefigured by that Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-31.). The accordance of the type and antitype stands thus: as none of the children of Israel entered the terrestrial Caanan but by passing the Red Sea, so, ordinarily, no Christian enters the celestial Caanan but through this glassy sea. The laver of regeneration is that sea, wherein we must all wash.

7. Lastly, others affirm that by this glassy sea is meant the world. This being the most general and most probable opinion, on it I purpose to build my subsequent discourse. A special reason to induce me I derive from Revelation 15:2, where the saints, having passed the dangers of the glassy sea--all the perils of this slippery world--and now setting their triumphant feet on the shores of happiness, they sing a victorious song. Now for further confirmation of this opinion, in the third verse, the exultation which they sing is called the song of Moses the servant of God. So that it seems directly to answer in a sweet allusion to the delivery of Israel from the Egyptians. Our adversaries like theirs, our dangers like theirs, our warfare like theirs; but the country we sail to far transcends that earthly Caanan.

Against this construction it is objected--

(1) This sea is before the throne; how can the world be so said? Properly, to show that all things in the world are not subject to fortune, but governed by Him that sits on the throne.

(2) The world is rather thick and muddy; how can it be called crystal? Fitly, not in regard of its own nature, for so it is polluted; but in regard of God that beholds it, who sees all things done in it so clearly as in crystal.

A sea.

1. The sea is an unquiet element, which none but the Maker’s hand can bridle (Matthew 8:27). The world is in full measure as unruly. The Psalmist matcheth roaring waves and roaring men; the raging of the sea with the madness of the world. And yet God is able to still them both (Psalms 65:7). The prophet calls the sea a raging creature, and therein yokes it with the wicked (Isaiah 57:20). The world is full o| molesting vexations no less than the sea.

(1) Sometimes it swells with pride, as the sea with waves.

(2) Vain-glory is the wind that raiseth up the billows of this sea.

(3) The world, like the sea, is blue with envy, livid with malice.

(4) Sometimes it boils with wrath: and herein the world and the sea are very similar.

(5) The sea is not more deep than the world. A bottomless subtilty is in men’s hearts, and an honest man wants a plummet to sound it.

(6) There is foaming luxury in this sea; a corrupt and stinking froth, which the world casts up. The steam of lust fumes perpetually.

(7) The world, as the sea, is a swallowing gulf. There are four great devourers in the world, luxury, pride, gluttony, covetousness.

2. The sea is bitter. The waters thereof are salt and brinish. All demonstrates the world to have an unsavoury relish. So it bath truly, whether we respect the works or the pleasures of it. But how bitter, saltish, and unsavoury soever the sea is, yet the fishes that swim in it exceedingly like it. The world is not so distasteful to the heavenly palate as it is sweet to the wicked.

3. The sea is no place to continue in. No man sails there to sail there; but as he propounds to his purpose a voyage, so to his hopes a return. The world in like sort is no place to dwell in for ever. Self-flattering fools that so esteem it (Psalms 49:11).

4. The sea is full of dangers.

A sea of glass.

1. There is a glassy colour congruent to the sea. All the beauty of glass consists in the colour; and what in the world, that is of the world, is commendable besides the colour? A cottage would serve to sleep in as well as sumptuous palace, but for the colour. Russets be as warm as silks, but for the glistering colour.

2. Glass is a slippery metal. The wisest Solomon, the strongest Samson, have been fetched up by this wrestler, and measured their lengths on the ground. How dangerous, then, is it to run fast on this sea, where men are scarce able to stand.

3. This glass denotes brittleness. A fit attribute to express the nature of worldly things; for glass is not more fragile. “The world passeth away and the lust thereof,” saith St. John. Man himself is but brittle stuff, and he is the noblest part of the world (Job 14:1). Now, since the world is a sea, and so brittle, a sea of glass, let us seek to pass over well, but especially to land well. A ship under sail is a good sight; but it is better to see her well moored in the haven. Be desirous of good life, not of long life; the shortest cut to our haven is the happiest voyage. Who would be long on the sea?

Thus far we have surveyed this glassy sea, the world, in regard of itself. The other two attributes concern almighty God’s holding and beholding.

1. That God may most clearly view all things being and done in this world; it is said to be in His sight as clear as crystal. As in crystal there is nothing so little but it may be seen; so there is nothing on earth, said or done, so slight or small, that it may escape His all-seeing providence (Hebrews 4:13). God beholds, as in a clear mirror of crystal, all our impurities, impieties, our contempt of sermons, neglect of sacraments, dishallowing His sabbaths. Well, as God sees all things so clearly, so I would to God we would behold somewhat. Let us open our eyes and view in this crystal glass our own works.

2. Lastly, this glassy sea is not only as crystal for the transparent brightness that the Almighty’s eye may see all things done in it, but it lies for situation before His throne; generally for the whole, and particularly for every member, subject to His judgment and governance. His throne signifies that impartial government which He exerciseth over the world (Psalms 9:7-8). (T. Adams.)

Four beasts full of eyes before and behind.--

The ideal of intelligent creatureship

It stands in immediate contact with the presence and government of god.

1. It is the ideal of intelligent creatureship to live in the immediate presence of God.

2. It is the ideal of intelligent creatureship to serve in connection with the celestial government of all things.

It has numerous inlets of knowledge which aid in a vigilant conduct of life.

1. They have a power to understand history: eyes behind.

2. They have a power to comprehend prophecy: eyes before.

3. They have power to interpret self: eyes within.

It is gifted with a combination of varied and well-balanced abilities.

1. Great courage.

2. Enduring industry.

3. True intelligence.

4. Sublime aspiration.

5. Swift service.

It is ever ascribing devout praise to the great God. Lessons:

1. There are in the unseen universe intelligent creatures vastly superior to man.

2. As these creatures find the highest joy in the service of God, so should man.

3. Man should seek to enter into the vigour of an ideal creatureship. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Full of eyes within.

Spiritual introspection

A few thoughts respecting these awful intelligences of whom we read in the text. Every manifestation of the glory of God has usually been accompanied with the presence of these living creatures. In the column of fire at the gate of Eden were seen the mystic forms and evolutions of these wondrous beings. In after times, God was addressed as dwelling between the cherubim. In the holiest of all, there was the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. The symbol of the Divine presence seems associated with them. It is to be remembered that the Oriental court was framed on the principle that it was the pattern of the Divine. The monarch was the visible representative of God. His laws, like those of God, were immutable. No one without permission could see his face and live; and the highest princes of the realm stood in his presence. In the court of our sovereign the most exalted personages--the highest in title, rank, and wealth--minister to royalty. Their very greatness is necessary to qualify them for service, and thus they manifest the glory of the monarch. Those created beings who stand before God in an official character are represented as possessing all possible perfections. They are the highest order of created intelligences; they are the ministers of the great King--and yet between them and God how great, how inconceivable the distance! The impropriety of terming these living creatures “beasts” has been admitted by every writer--the term is utterly at variance with their character and perfections. They are evidently official personages. All their acts are official. That these living creatures possess the highest capacities may be presumed from their dignified station. Their penetrating and comprehensive knowledge is intimated by their being “full of eyes, before and behind.” They see the past as well as the present; they can look all ways and see all things. They have, in its perfection, the faculty of introspection, for they have “eyes within.” This singular statement is but the symbol of their knowledge of themselves, as well as of outward things.

A few suggestions relative to the faculty of introspection. Man is related to the outward and to the spiritual world to the things that are seen and to the things that are unseen--to the things that are temporal and to the things that are eternal. He has an outward and an inward life--the sense of sight and the faculty of introspection. Man is “fearfully and wonderfully made”; he has the faculty of introspection, but through disuse it becomes dimmed, or paralysed, and dead. Christ comes., that men may see. “He opens blind eyes.” The regenerated men is the spiritual man, with the full use of spiritual powers, with the faculty of spiritual discernment. But more particularly--

1. Man does not recognise his own spiritual nature. He does not know how awful and mysterious that nature is. His outward life overshadows his inner life. His body is the prison-house of his soul. The spiritual man has “eyes within.” He communes with his own heart; he listens to the utterances of his spirit; he is familiar with the sorrows and joys of his soul. We may well pray, each for himself, Open Thou my eyes that I may see myself.

2. Man does not study the phenomena of his own mind. He thinks, but he thinks about his calling, about his trade; his thoughts are like his tools, his implements, he does not employ the powers of his mind on spiritual realities, or make his thoughts the chariot in which he can ascend to God. If we had eyes within we should see that there is nothing more wonderful than thought. We should see “that as a man thinketh in his heart so is he”; that if he thinks worldly thoughts, he is worldly; that if he thinks sensual thoughts, he is sensual; that if he thinks spiritual thoughts, he is spiritual; that thoughts are of moment and of the utmost importance.

3. Men do not know their own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” There is only one Being who knows it. If our eyes were opened, we should cry out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”

4. Men do not form a correct estimate of their own capabilities. “Man,” says Pascal, “is the scorn and the glory of the universe.” You have a nature that can only find its completeness in God, and therefore you can only find your satisfaction in Him. You have capabilities that you do not conceive of, for joy or for misery. You can become a partaker of a Divine nature, or you can sink into the most fearful degradation and infamy. (H. J. Bevis.)

The seeing eye

Full of eyes they are, these living creatures, not only before and behind, but within and without. Within every living creature perceives itself, scrutinises its own inner mysteries, and knows its own instincts and feelings and passions and ambition and hope and purpose. All these it has eyes to see in their manifold combinations even as it moves on and acts. And eyes without, not absorbed in introspection, but rather, and at the same moment at which it searches the deep things of the spirit, and by the same act it has eyes without, eyes that see so far away into the heart of things, eyes that gaze upon all the amazing scenery of the world about it, eyes that look upon the face of the eternal God. Full of eyes! What a surprising characteristic of nature for us! Our modern feeling about nature, derived from unphilosophic popularised science of the day, pronounced that nature is eyeless, that it works in the dark, that its laws are blind to its issues and action. Nature crushes and ruins the distinction between good and bad and right and wrong, and knows not what it does. Rivers run blindly down in their grooved channels; the seas beat blindly against blind rocks; the winds moan in blindness round the blind walls of the hills. The whole earth is blind. The heavens are vacant of any vision; they tell us we have put out their eyes. And this has happened, we know, because we have dropped God and His Christ out of their own creation. We have tried to look at it as if they were not there. We are compelled, in order to accomplish certain analytical issues essential to scientific investigation, to omit the spiritual factors of the universe from our immediate calculations. But then this abstraction is confessedly only for a purpose that is partial and incomplete in itself, and the danger lies in this, that when once this partial purpose of science is satisfied we forget to restore what our abstraction had eliminated. And then we look up and out and are appalled--for lo, God has vanished out of the natural scene! It is all empty of His presence of His will! It is purposeless, it is mechanical, it is blind--so we cry in our dismay! How could God be expected to appear in the shape of a material phenomenon, and yet only so could our scientific methods of research come upon Him. So it is that the world is blind, is godless to this pseudo-science. Look at nature with the eyes of a spirit, according to the rules and methods of spiritual vision; bring into play the organs that belong to a spiritual world, and lo! it is no longer sightless and meaningless and dark; it has become full of eyes within and without. In every portion of it there is a light, a purpose, a hope. The soul of man becomes conscious of a spirit that is abroad and about him on every side, and which fills his earthly house with the presence of Him he knows and who knows him. On all sides of him in this natural life here on earth he dimly perceives by the inspiration of a fellow feeling the living creatures full of eyes within and without, who unite with him in uttering the one phrase, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! Full of eyes within and without. Our common humanity--that too should become full of eyes. Every faculty, every capacity in us which before had passed under Christ’s sway while it was of the earth earthy was always blundering into the dark, should discover that the quickening power of the Spirit has brought out one great boon--the gift of eyes--the capacity to see. That is the triumph of grace--that it enables this natural gift of man, his reason, to see where before he could not see. Grace gives it eyes, and reason henceforward can join in the hymn of adoration. It looks within and it looks without, and everywhere it now recognises the triple law of the spiritual life, the triple evidence of the threefold God! And thus made full of eyes to see, it, too, sings its song, Holy, holy, holy! And not reason only, but conscience gains eyes; the natural conscience lifted and transfigured perceives what it had never seen hitherto. It sees, for instance, the higher possibility of purity to which it had been wholly dark; it sees that purity holds the secret of true growth, for man and for woman all alike and both equally, which was never suggested to it until Christ opened its eyes. It detects the powers inherent in humiliation, in self-sacrifice, and in brotherly service. Therefore, where before it expected only weakness, it now perceives strength; the glories that lay concealed in virtues that it deemed passive and petty and effeminate are now disclosed to it. The darkness should always be turning into light as the fulness of grace spreads throughout the dim surface of human life, and touches it all with glory. Full of eyes! A question appropriate to Trinity Sunday for each one of us is, Do we use our human capacities with better precision than we did? Do we use them over the larger surface of life? Do we see more than we used to of God’s counsels for us here, of man’s obligations, of our own possibilities and calls and duties? Grace should be for ever raising our ordinary capacities to a higher power, enriching their insight, fertilising their judgment. Is it so? Ask yourselves. Your imagination, for instance, is it more full of eyes than before? Does your imagination bring the sorrow of the world before you as if it were your own case, as a bitter sorrow, as a personal disgrace, for which you abhor yourself in dust and ashes? And your sympathies, are they more alert, quicker than once they were? Ah, the sins! They, too, stand out, now that you have eyes to see them, with a worse ugliness and a more rooted, stubborn repugnance. You had not thought yourself so bad, so base, so selfish, but now the light is thrown on you. You have eyes to see all the black wrong. (Canon Scott Holland.)

They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy.--

Labour and rest

God has affixed certain peculiarities to our present state of being. It can be shown that there are portions even of the visible creation in which there can be no succession of day and night such as there is on earth--regions far removed in space from us, where clusters of suns must of necessity make perpetual sunshine. And we know from Scripture that the peculiar relation between rest and labour which is characteristic of earth, at all events as it is, is local, or temporary, or both; and that in another state of things the words of our text take the place of it, and “they rest not day and night.”

In Eden there was rest without labour. Eden in its innocence gave no trouble to its inhabitants. They trimmed its roses, and trod its velvet lawns, and ate its fruits, and drank its transparent rivers, and enjoyed the tranquillity of unbroken rest. And this is the reason why, though man now cannot be really happy without employment, he naturally turns in imagination to such a state as one of perfect enjoyment. It was his primary condition before sin entered into the world.

We turn to labour and rest--the relation which exists on earth as it is. That in this state of things there should be labour is expressly declared after the fall. “In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread.” That there must be rest is expressly taught: “Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening.” And we know, in practice, that within certain limits there may be a change in the relation subsisting between the two, but that if these limits are exceeded either way, the result is ruin to man’s moral and physical constitution. It degrades him to be without labour; it destroys him to be without rest. There is but one who has lived in this ruined world without sin. Christ, as man, is the model of what man ought to be in a world which is as it ought not to be. In Christ’s example we see what ought to be man’s state in the present world, as it respects labour and rest: that the two should interchange--that because it is paradise no longer there must be toil, and because it is still earth there must be rest--rest for bodily refreshment, rest for the friendly intercourse of one with another, rest for communion with Him whose presence alone can give the soul of man true rest.

There is another solution of the problem of the relation between labour and rest--labour without rest. And this is only to be found in hell. Satan himself is always represented as a being of restless activity: “going about,” “walking up and down.” There is a faint reflection of hell in the bosom of each unconverted man; and of such we read (Isaiah 57:20). And let me say that whatever makes earth approximate to a state of restlessness, so far makes it approach to a resemblance to the place of everlasting misery.

We come to the last and best relation between rest and labour, that which exists in heaven, where they “rest not day and night,” because they rest in labour. In heaven employment is unceasing--for those who are there are freed from the weariness of the flesh. Free from all infirmity, they rest not day and night. And employment is unceasing in heaven--for the employments of heaven are restoring instead of exhausting. They have life in them. (S. Garratt, B. A.)

True worship a foretaste of heaven

Now, what are the characteristic features, so to call them, of the perfect worship of heaven, which are touched on in the text?

1. It will be a continuous service. There will be no break or intermission on the part of those who join in it. The now that is there is always.

2. It will be united worship--all join and all join alike.

3. The character of the worship will be one and the same.

4. The worship will be “before the throne,” i.e., in the conscious immediate presence of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with all the surroundings of visible glory.

5. The worship will be all-absorbing in contemplation of the Divine glory and perfections. No thought of personal doings or deservings can find place there. There is only the acknowledgment that all are His gifts--all has come from Him--and there is the humble tendering back of everything. “The crowns are cast before the throne” in adoring thankfulness to Him who is the Giver of them all. Worship, as distinct from prayer and praise and thanksgiving, is the conscious lifting up of the soul to God in contemplation of Him, in His Being and acts, whether towards ourselves in particular, or towards our whole race, or in all His works, according to our knowledge of them. We cannot really worship without knowledge--we cannot worship a blank; we must have knowledge of Him to whom we pay homage; and that knowledge must be received into ourselves from without. Thus worship is both a taking in and a giving out: taking in, i.e., receiving, and following out, and expanding, and setting forth before ourselves, who that great Being is with whom we have to do, whose works encompass us, and to whom we desire to draw near, to know better and to hold communion with; and then giving back, as it were, this knowledge at which we have arrived, in acts of adoration and praise, expressed in different ways according to the subject matter as regards Almighty God, in which we may be engaged. The two must go hand in hand: you cannot rightly worship except you have acquaintance with Him whom you worship, and you cannot have this acquaintance without worship. You cannot come at a right knowledge of Almighty God, much less of Almighty God as revealed under the Christian dispensation, except the knowledge acquired and the spirit in which that knowledge is dwelt on and followed up, be with a mind of adoration and worship. And the two (the knowledge and the worship) grow and advance together. Increased knowledge of God carries us on in worship, and fuller worship leads up to fuller knowledge. What is set before us in the text is the type of the perfect worship of heaven, and it is toward this that our life on earth should lead. For man’s eternal joy will be in praising God. The power of fully appreciating the love of God towards us will prompt the unceasing praise, and in that unceasing praise will be the joy of heaven. The Divine love, which receives the praises of that innumerable blessed company, will ever fresh inspire their song, will pour into it new depth and richness, and will receive it into the fulness of the Divine life. There is no intermission, there is no end; for God’s glory cannot be known in its eternity except by the gift of an eternal power of contemplation and of union with Him. People talk a great deal about places of worship and forms of worship. But do they consider what worship means? They think perhaps of edification by sermons, or of instruction out of God’s Holy Scriptures, or of joining in prayers and hymns, or of the good they may feel, or of the things they need to ask, but these are not worship. In all these we look for something for ourselves, something to get. But worship does not mean getting anything, but it means giving something. And what? Money, costly offerings, such things as come by birth, high station, or intellect? Not so; not so, in the truest sense of giving. For these things are not our own. It is of them that the man after God’s own heart said, “Of Thine own have we given Thee.” Wherein, then, consists that offering which we may more truly call our own than all such things without, though in a sense, and for a time at least, they do belong to us? Something there is, more nearly and more truly our own, which we are to give. That more costly offering, that in which God has delight, is ourselves. We make an offering of our mind, when we withdraw our thoughts from the business of the world, from those things which engross our thoughts and make any lengthened devotion wearisome and distasteful; when we calmly and resolutely set ourselves to mediate on God and things of God; when we try to shut out the distractions of things, and to fix our thoughts upon God, and upon God only, for the time. Again, we make an offering of our heart, which is the seat of the affections, in earnestness of devotion, calling up before us His goodness, His love, His bounties towards us, as well in respect of His gifts in this life as still more for all His gracious and abundant promises for the life to come. Again, as God made the mind, He requires an offering of that; and as He made the heart, He demands an offering of that also; so, too, as He made the body, He requires that the body shall bear part in worshipping Him. This we do by outward acts of worship, bowing, kneeling, singing, and joining in the services of His house. Thus the whole man, body and soul, may take part in worship; after this manner here below preparing for the perfect worship of heaven. And He who invites us thus to worship here will be with us, and make that worship approach little by little towards the perfect worship of heaven. (R. F. Wilson.)

Celestial worship

The worship of heaven will engage the activities of all celestial creatureship.

1. Universal.

2. Ceaseless.

3. Perfect.

The worship of heaven will be inspired by clear views of the divine character.

1. Holy.

2. Omnipotent.

3. Eternal.

The worship of heaven is rendered with the greatest humility of soul.

1. This humility is inspired by a true sense of the Divine majesty.

2. This humility is awakened by a due estimate of the unworthiness of self.

3. This humility is manifested by the external attitudes of worship. The crown of an adoring soul gains its worth and brightness by being cast before the throne of God.

The worship of heaven is celebrative of the creative pleasure of God.

1. Celestial worship ascribes the plan of creation to the creative power of God.

2. Celestial worship recognises the creative power of God as calling for the highest worship of intelligent creatures.

They ascribe to God--

1. Glory.

2. Honour.

3. Power.


1. It is the privilege and duty of all intelligent creatures to worship God.

2. In praise we should seek to have clear views of the Divine character.

3. We should endeavour to approach God with a becoming sense of unworthiness. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)

Earnest devotion

In the apostle’s vision of heaven, he is struck with the glowing devotion of the spirits before the throne. It is pure, fervent, and exalted; it is subject to no changes of rising and falling emotions; it is always as great as the perfections of the Infinite require, and as the nature of the hearts from which it proceeds permits it to be. Do you ask, “How can it be sustained at such a height, when all human devotion is so easily brought down--how can their minds be kept fixed on the object of their adoration when human thoughts so readily wander away?” The explanation is found in the words, “They rest not day and night”; their hearts are always engaged in the service; the night suspends it not, for there is no night there. It is because they are thus devoted--in a word, it is because they rest not--that their devotion maintains itself so fervent, and towers so high. This, then, illustrates the great truth which ought to be impressed on every heart; religious improvement, the chief object of existence, requires the steady devotion of all our powers to secure it. In proportion as man rests from that labour does he surrender the hope and power of ever securing that prize. Consider the effect of inaction upon the physical nature. The frame which is regularly exercised, if not urged beyond its strength, grows in firmness and energy, and expands in full and fair proportion. But let the frame be given over to rest, let the man have no steady employment that requires interest and exertion, and it is not long before disease begins to spread through the system. Consider the effect of inaction upon the mind of man. There is a strong analogy between the wants of the body and the mind; exertion is indispensable to the health of each; and though one who lives without exercising either may not yet perceive the injury he is doing to himself, it is not less certain that the day of recompense and sorrow must come. Disease is as sure to follow the inactive mind as the inactive body. Its effects are not open to the eye, or rather they are not noticed by careless observers, though they may be seen in the incapacity for serious reflection, in the depraved intellectual taste which can relish only miscellaneous novelty or intoxicating fiction. When the body dies, its pains and sorrows are over; not so, not so with the mind, which dieth not; when coldness wraps the suffering clay, the mind still lives and must live for ever. Consider the effect of inaction on the spiritual nature of man. It is common to meet with those who neither look forward to eternity nor up to God; and the consequence is, not only that their devotion, if they ever had any, dies, but also that they lose the power of devotion. They lose all power of spiritual discernment, so that the great realities of another world have no presence nor life to the soul. This is the darkest and most fearful thought that can be presented to the human mind--the death and ruin of the soul. There is a time when “ye cannot do the things that ye would.” The same is true of love to men, that other great duty which God so intimately associated with devotion. This feeling can be strengthened into a principle by the common sympathy of life--that sympathy which is never so strong and sure as when sanctified by religious feeling. But if our benevolent impulses are not followed, we lose not only the opportunity of the moment, but we lose the power of exertion. They are like the wayfarer in the polar regions; after suffering awhile with the cold, he feels a sleep stealing over him; it comes without pain, it gives no warning of danger; unable to resist the persuasive influence, he sinks into slumber, from which he never wakes in this world again. It is in the same way that hearts are frozen; they feel no danger, they suspect not that the sleep which is stealing over them is the sleep of death. Having thus endeavoured to show what law we are under, let us take a more practical view of the subject. Love to God and love to man are the great elements of that character which we are sent into this world to form, and it is practising on these principles which gives them power and increases their power within us. It is because the seraphs rest not day and night that their hearts become living flames in the service of their God. We are to remember, then, that God has so arranged the present life that all things favour the growth of love to man in those who really determine to possess it, while all things seem to hinder it in those who hold it in slight regard. Whenever an opportunity of benevolence is offered--whenever God’s providence makes an appeal, as it often does, to our kind feeling--we should feel that to resist it or reject it is wrong. It is so much done to injure and destroy the principles and affections which form the only treasures of heaven; they are all the wealth we can carry from this world into another, and without them we shall be poor indeed. So, if we have the least desire to possess the spirit of devotion, we shall take advantage of every time and every service that can awaken the spirit of devotion. (W. B. O. Peabody, D. D.)

The celebration of the Trinity

In the understanding of this place, what, or who these four creatures are, there is difficulty. And so we shall well do if we interpret these four creatures to be first and principally the four evangelists, and then enlarge it to all the ministers of the gospel. So, then, the action being an open and a continual profession of the whole Christian religion, in the celebration of the Trinity, which is the distinctive character of the Christian, the persons that do this are all they that constitute the hierarchy and order of the Church. And before we come to their qualification in the text, first, as they are said to have six wings, and then as they are said to be full of eyes, we look upon them as they are formed and designed to us in the verse immediately before the text, where the first of these four creatures hath the face of a lion, the second of a calf, or an ex, the third of a man, the fourth of an eagle. Now, says St. Ambrose, these four creatures are the preachers of the gospel; that we had established afore, but then we add with St. Ambrose, all these four creatures make up but one creature; all their qualities concur to the qualification of a minister; every minister of God is to have all that all four had--the courage of a lion, the laboriousness of an ox, the perspicuity and clear sight of the eagle, and the humanity, the discourse, the reason, the affability, the appliableness of a man. All must have all, or else all is disordered--zeal, labour, knowledge, gentleness. Now besides these general qualifications, laid down as the foundation of the text, in the verse before it, in the text itself these four creatures have also wings added unto them; wings, first for their own behoof and benefit, and then, wings for the benefit and behoof of others. They have wings to raise themselves from the earth, that they do not entangle themselves in the business of this world; but still to keep themselves upon the wing in a heavenly conversation, ever remembering that they have another element than sea or land, as men whom Christ Jesus hath set apart, and in some measure made mediators between Him and other men as His instruments of their salvation. And then as for themselves, so have they wings for others too, that they may be always ready to succour all in all their spiritual necessities. And then, their wings are numbered in our text: they have six wings. For by the consent of most expositors, those whom St. John presents in the figure of these four creatures here, and those whom the prophet Isaiah calls seraphim, are the same persons. The Holy Ghost sometimes presents the ministers of the gospel as seraphim in glory, that they might be known to be the ministers and dispensers of the mysteries and secrets of God, and to come from His council, His cabinet. And then on the other side, theft you might know that the dispensation of these mysteries of your salvation is by the hand and means of men, taken from amongst yourselves, and that therefore you are not to look for revelations, nor ecstasies, nor visions, nor transportations, but to rest in God’s ordinary means, He brings those persons down again from that glorious representation as the seraphim to creatures of an inferior, of an earthly nature. These winged persons, then have eyes as well as wings; they fly, but they know whither they fly. God gives them wings, that is, means to do their office; but eyes too, that is, discretion and religious wisdom how to do it. And this is that which they seem to need most, for their wings are limited, but their eyes are not; six wings, but full of eyes, says our text. But then, especially, says our text, they were full of eyes within. All my wings shall do me no good, all mine eyes before and behind shall do me no good, if I have no prospect inward, no eyes within, no care of my particular and personal safety. If the Lord open thy lips, let it be to show forth His praise. That they speak, declare the glory of God. For this is that ingenuity, that alacrity, which constitutes our first branch. And then the second is the assiduity, the constancy, the incessantness, “They rest not day nor night.” But have the saints of God no vacation? Do they never cease? Nay, as the word imports, they have no rest. God Himself rested not till the seventh day; be thou content to stay for thy sabbath till thou mayst have an eternal one. If we understand this of rest merely, of bodily rest, the saints of God are least likely to have it in this life; for this life is a business, a warfare, a voyage, and a tempestuous voyage. If we understand this rest to be cessation, intermission, the saints of heaven have none of that in this service. It is a labour that never wearies, to serve God there. To conclude all, this eternally of our God is expressed here in a phrase which designs and presents the last judgment, that is, “Which was, and is, and is to come.” And, therefore, let us reverently embrace such provisions, and such assistances as the Church of God hath ordained, for retaining and celebrating the Trinity, in this particular contemplation, as they are to come to judgment. And let us at least provide so far, to stand upright in that judgment, as not to deny, nor to dispute the power, or the persons of those judges. (John Donne, D. D.)

Verses 9-11

Revelation 4:9-11

The four and twenty elders fall down … and cast their crowns before the throne.

Royal homage

The saints in heaven are all crowned. How is this?

1. They are all kings, Dei gratia. There is not a king in heaven that has his crown on any other terms than this, “by the sovereign grace of God.”

2. But, though it may seem astonishing, they are all kings by hereditary descent. They have been born again, and it is in their new nature that they are before the throne of God.

3. They are also kings by marriage alliance. There is many a crowned head that would not have been so by descent, but has come to be so by being given in wedlock to a royal consort.

4. They are kings by right of conquest and of victory. A crown should signify, and did signify in the olden times, battling and contending. They are kings, then, because they have fought with sin and with temptation. Yea, the brightest of them have had to bear the brunt of fiercest persecutions.

5. Then the crowned heads in heaven have their crowns, and their crowns befit them well, because of the nobility of their character. They are sanctified, delivered from every taint of corruption, and now they are like their Lord Himself in holiness of character. Well should they be crowned whose character has thus been made glorious by the work of the Spirit of God within them!

6. And, once more, they have another right to their crowns, because those crowns represent real possessions. All things are theirs--the gift of God--and God is theirs and Christ is theirs. They are clothed with honour and majesty--not outwardly only but inwardly--and they have all the concomitants that should go with royal dignity.

They all cast their crowns before the throne.

1. Solemn reverence. They see more of God than we do, therefore are they more filled with awe and thrilled with admiration. Our reverence will always make us feel in the lowliest state of self-abasement at the foot of the throne!

2. Moreover, they are no doubt actuated by sincere humility. Reverence to God always brings a humble opinion of one’s own self.

3. Doubtless, also, they do this for another reason, namely, because of their profound gratitude. They bless God that they are where they are, and what they are.

4. Above all, they are actuated by intense affection. They love their Lord, and loving their Lord they do anything to adore Him. They are glad to fling their richest goods, their choicest trophy, their most cherished treasure, at His feet: they love Him so.

Practical lessons.

1. By this text we can know whether we are on the way to heaven or not; because no man goes to heaven to learn for the first time heavenly things.

2. The next lesson is a lesson of unanimity. Our text says that all cast their crowns before the throne. There are no divided opinions in heaven, no sects and parties, no schisms there.

3. Once again, these redeemed ones in heaven teach us the true way of happiness. They set before us what perfect bliss is. There is no happiness beneath the clouds like the happiness of unselfishness. Strip yourself, and you clothe yourself. Throw, money away, and you grow rich--I mean in a spiritual sense. Happiness, again, consists in adoration, for these blessed spirits find it to be their happiness to adore God. The happiest days you ever spent are those in which you worshipped God most. But then they were not merely happy because they were self-denying and adoring, but because they were practical. They took off their crowns and laid them before the throne. And our joy on earth must lie in practically carrying out our principles. Cast your ability to do and to suffer, as well as the crown of your labour and patience, at the foot of your God; serve Him with all your heart and wisdom and strength, and thus, your self-denial and adoration being mixed therewith, you shall realise on earth as much as possible a foretaste of what the joy of heaven may be. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The feelings of saints in heaven

The import of the action. It is necessary to recollect that all the rewards which await the righteous in heaven are often summed up in the comprehensive expression of a kingdom. Casting these crowns at the foot of the throne was, therefore, the same as casting their kingdom, with all its dignity, glory, and honour, at the feet of God and the Lamb.

1. It was an acknowledgment of what God is, and of what He deserves from His creatures.

2. It implied a more particular acknowledgment that to Him all the glory of their salvation belonged.

The feelings which prompted it, and of which it was an expression.

1. It was prompted by, it was an expression of, perfect humility.

2. It expressed, and was prompted by perfect love to God and the Redeemer.

3. It was prompted by, and expressed perfect gratitude.

4. It expresses the most profound reverence. (E. Payson, D. D.)

The crown

If we except the ever-blessed Cross, there is no such symbol as the crown. It speaks of honour and exaltation, and of the care which attends them. The crown denotes power, dominion, victory, and possession: it indicates, not less evidently, anxiety, responsibility, uneasiness, and toils of once. Beyond all these, It gives the idea of completeness; of such completeness as belongs to any creature, any estate, or any condition. That which perfects and finishes a joy or a sorrow is called its crown; the crown of happiness, the crown of misery, are set upon them by some event after which they cannot be enhanced. The Lord Protector Cromwell was wont to speak of a certain decisive battle as his “crowning mercy”; and the first of living poets says that “a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.” So full of meaning is the word that there seems no end to what it can express. Those four-and-twenty are examples of such as enter into the rest of God; who have obtained the crown of righteousness, because they were counted worthy of it, and give proof of their merit in the perfection of their self-renunciation. What may be done by way of experiment to become true, sincere, and simple-hearted followers of the servants of God? Material for practice abounds. God hath made us kings and priests unto Himself: and even before this, in his natural estate, man is the head and lord of all the works of our Father’s hand. We wear as men the crown of dominion over inferior orders of animals; as redeemed men, we wear the crown of a royal estate of sons of God by adoption and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. Here are the crown of nature and the crown of grace both associated with our life in this world. These, moreover, denote privilege, power, and duty; and first a man should ask himself whether he be doing his duty in that state unto which it has pleased Almighty God to call him: for if not, the sign of his native dignity and superadded honour, even already, ere life be spent, is tarnishing around his temples, and looking as though presently it might crack asunder and fall into the dust. But this is merely the beginning; these things are common to us all. Over and above what pertains to our state as men, and what is generally necessary to our salvation, comes that which stamps the individual as distinct from his fellows. There be as many crowns as heads to wear them. God, who sees all, sees something in each life which makes that life’s crown. It may be a crown of happiness, or a hard ring of sorrow; a crown of mercy and blessing in basket and store, in goods and lands, in home and household, or a crown of poverty, affliction, and grief. Whatsoever it be, each life has its crown, to distinguish it from all the rest. These we must wear, each in the order of his lot: and, knowing that ye all have them, let me ask you whether you are offering, each his own crown, of joy, or pain, or care, as the case may be, to God? Some of you have the lot of toil: your crown is an iron band clasped around the head by the fingers of necessity: are you, in spirit, casting that before the throne, and offering your work and daily tasks to God? Some of you have been born to wealth, or have acquired it: your crowns are precious, and worth much money; are you, in spirit, offering them to God, and saying as you do mercy and give aims, Thine, O Lord, are these, and of Thine own do we offer to Thee? Some of you are very happy, in domestic relations, in social position, as life runs on smoothly and successfully; your crowns are crowns of mercies; are you daily offering them at the foot of the throne, acknowledging their Author and pouring out the tribute of your thanks? (Morgan Dix, D. D.)

Rightful homage

England was perhaps never more humiliated than when John took off his crown and placed it in the hands of Pandulph, the Pope’s legate, and then received it from him as from the Pope. It was mean in John so to abase himself, especially after he had boasted that “no Italian priest shall tithe or toll in our dominion.” It would have been less disgraceful in him to have hurled his crown among the reeds beside the Thames, than to have put it in the hands of Pandulph. But the royal people in heaven are right in doing homage for their crowns before the throne of God. By that act they confess their indebtedness to God for their crowns. (J. Marrat.)

Man in heaven

Man in heaven has reached the highest dignity. He has “crowns.”

1. Have faith in the improvability of our nature.

2. Let us be consoled under the departure by death of the good.

3. Let us not judge of providence without taking into account the future as well as the present.

Man in heaven ascribes the dignity he has reached to Jesus Christ. “They cast their crowns,” etc.

1. A conviction that they owed all their honours to Christ.

2. A readiness to acknowledge their obligation. The greater our nature the more ready to acknowledge our obligation.

3. The surpassing glories of Christ,. He is in the midst of the throne, and all ascribe their all to Him. Napoleon the First, after he had conquered empires, and planted his foot upon the neck of kingdoms, determined to be crowned Emperor. To give pageantry and lustre to the occasion, he compelled the Pope of Rome to be present. In the act of coronation, the emperor refused to receive the crown from the Pope; his proud spirit told him he had won it himself: he placed it upon his own brow, thus declaring to the spectators and the civilised world the fact that he was indebted to himself only for imperial power. There is nothing of this spirit in heaven; they all cast their crowns at the feet of Christ, and say, “Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.” (Homilist.)

Glory to the glorious One

Jesus, Messiah, the Lamb that was slain, the King on the throne, Creator of the universe, Head of all things, is He who is worthy to receive the glory! And why?

Because of His person. As having in Himself all the perfections of the Creator and of the creature; as very God and very man; the Word made flesh--He is “worthy to receive glory.” Godhead and manhood, united in one wondrous person, make Him infinitely glorious.

Because of His work. The excellency of His propitiation is infinite. It is--

1. Excellent in itself.

2. In its revelation of Divine wisdom.

3. In its manifestation of Divine love.

4. In its reconciliation of grace with righteousness.

5. In its everlasting results. Because of such a work it is said, “Thou art worthy to receive glory.”

Because of His life on earth. His whole earthly life was marvellous. There has been nothing like it, neither shall be. It was absolute perfection in every part: the perfection of a human life.

Because of the redemption of His church.

Because of what He is now in heaven. He has triumphed over His enemies; He has abolished death; He has emptied the grave; He has risen; He has ascended on high; He ever lives to intercede; He is the head of principalities and powers; He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.

Because of what He is to be and to do when He comes again.

1. Let us appreciate His excellency.

2. Let us thoroughly trust and love Him.

3. Let us make use of His fulness.

4. Let us bow before Him.

5. Let us sing the song of praise. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

God glorified in heaven for tits works of creation and providence

The heavenly Church acknowledge that God created all things.

That all things are and were created for God’s pleasure or will.

That all intelligent beings are bound to glorify God for His works of creation and providence.

1. These works should lead us to the knowledge and contemplation of their great and glorious Author.

2. We should glorify God in His works, by improving them to awaken in our souls pious affections to Him.

3. The works of God should invite us to Him in the humble exercises of devotion.

4. We are to glorify God for our own existence.

5. If creation deserves our praise, redemption deserves it still more, for this is our hope. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)

Give God the glory

After the battle of Agincourt it is said of Henry V. that, desiring to acknowledge the Divine interposition, he ordered the chaplain to read a Psalm of David, and, when he came to these words, “Not unto us--not unto us, O Lord! but unto Thy name give glory and praise,” the king dismounted, his officers dismounted--the cavalry all dismounted, great hosts of officers and men fell on their faces in reverence to their Great Deliverer. When we contemplate what great victories we have attained over sin, through Christ, how fitting to fall before God in thanksgiving and praise, crying, “Not unto us, but unto Thy name be the praise.” (A. J. Gordon, D. D.)

For Thy pleasure they are and were created.--

Creation the consequence of love

Remember what is involved in the notion of “creation.” It is not the bringing order out of disorder, beauty out of shapelessness and confusion. To create is to make out of nothing. But the truth that God created out of nothing, whilst it exalts immeasurably our conception of His Majesty, makes the question yet more urgent: “Why did He create?” We reply, that it seems to follow from the very nature of God, that He should create. God we believe to be all Good, the Fountain of Love, yea, Love itself. Must not a Being thus gracious, and thus in Himself an inexhaustible source of happiness, desire to communicate of His fulness unto others? Must not He, who is both wise and beneficent, desire to dispense wisdom? Must not He who has all power, if He be liberal, seek to give power? Throned in the light inaccessible, alone, and all-sufficient, He dwells in the plenitude of His own glory, lacking nothing, dependent upon none--a universe to Himself, to Himself all in all. Myriads of angels growing up around Him would add nought to His happiness. And not therefore for any selfish ends (as we term them) did God become a Creator. And yet was it for Himself? Yea, for Himself, we read throughout Scripture, God made the worlds. “Of Him are all things, and for Him are all things,” writes the apostle. Even so. God’s nature urged Him, nay, if we may dare so speak, compelled Him to create. Abounding in love, His love would not let Him dwell alone. The air and the water, the very dust of the ground teem, you know, with living things. Life meets us everywhere. We can detect no end answered by millions of creatures which swarm around us. It may be they do answer no end. But the love of God constrains Him to create, ay, if it be but to give to the tiny animalculae in the drop of water a moment’s taste of the pleasure of existence. And thus we seem to apprehend, in a measure at any rate, why God is to be rejoiced in as a Creator; ay, why the heavenly inhabitants should praise Him as having created all things for His pleasure. Creation is the most overwhelming demonstration that “God is Love”; creation is the “Ocean of Divine love,” overflowing its banks, and pouring itself forth beyond all bounds.

Has the act of creation been, on the whole, productive of more happiness or misery? What if, where God’s love is manifested, God’s justice must also be revealed; is this a reason why His love should be restrained? Nay; we still find in that love the cause of the authorship of our being; we recognise in that love the source of creation, though love could not have free course without giving scope for vengeance also; and we marvel not that the eternal dwellers should unweariedly say, “Worthy art Thou to receive glory,” etc. (Bp. Woodford.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/revelation-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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