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The Lamb opened one of the seals.
The development of good and evil in human history
I. The development of good in human history.
1. The good is embodied in a personal life. “He that sat,” etc. “Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” He was the Right--incarnate, living, acting; and this, not only during His corporeal life here, but in all His disciples through all times.
2. The good embodied in a personal life is aggressive in its action. “He went forth,” etc. Wherever the sunbeams break, darkness departs; so with the right, it is always conquering. In its aggressiveness it moves--
(1) Righteously. The “horse” is the instrument it employs to bear it on to victory. The good is not only pure in its nature and aims, but pure in its methods.
(2) Triumphantly. The “bow” carries the arrow, and the arrow penetrates the foe.
(3) Royally. “There was given unto Him a crown.” Right is royal, the only royal thing in the universe, and the more perfectly it is embodied the more brilliant the diadem. Hence Christ is crowned with glory and honour, “exalted above all principalities and powers,” etc.
II. The development of evil in human history.
1. War (Revelation 6:4). The spirit of murder burns throughout the race. The “red horse” is ever on the gallop.
2. Indigence (Revelation 6:5). Famine generally follows the sword.
3. Mortality (Revelation 6:8). With every breath we draw some one falls.
4. Martyrdom (Revelation 6:9-11).
(1) A martyr is one who dies for the truth.
(2) He is one who in heaven remembers the injustice of His persecutors.
(3) He is one who in the heavenly world is more than compensated for all the wrongs received on earth. In heaven they have--
(c) Social hopes.
5. Physical convulsion (Revelation 6:12-17).
(1) Our earth is constantly subject to great physical convulsions.
(2) These are always terribly alarming to ungodly men.
(3) The alarm of ungodly men is heightened by a dread of God. “The wrath of the Lamb.” A more terrific idea I cannot get. It is an ocean of oil in flames. ( D. Thomas, D. D.)
A white horse.
The going forth of the gospel
1. That the preaching of the gospel cometh not by guess amongst a people, but is sent and ordered as other dispensations are, and hath a particular commission. It is one of the horses He sendeth here. So, Acts 16:1-40., the Spirit putteth them to one place, and suffereth them not to go to another place. There is not a sermon cometh without a commission.
2. That the success of the gospel goeth not by guess. The gospel hath its end as well as its commission (Isaiah 55:10; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
3. The gospel is most mighty to conquer when Christ armeth it with a commission and doth concur therewith (2 Corinthians 10:4).
4. From this description of the horse and his rider and his employment, observe that the great end of the gospel, where it cometh, is to subdue souls. Thai is the end of a ministry, to bring souls in subjection to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). And it hath its end when Christ’s arrows are made powerful to pierce hearts (Ephesians 4:8; Psalms 68:18).
5. The gospel conquereth more or less wherever it cometh. When Christ is mounted He is going to conquer, if it were but to take one fort or one soul from Satan.
6. Taking this conquest and flourishing estate of the gospel to relate to the first times thereof when it came into the world. Observe that most frequently the gospel at its first coming amongst a people prevaileth most, and hath more sensible success than at any other time. So was it when it came first to the world, its victories were swift and speedy, increasing more for a few years at that time than afterwards in many generations. (James Durham.)
Conquering, and to Conquer.--
The Redeemer’s conquests
I. The adversaries of our redeemer.
1. The powers of darkness.
2. All men in an unrenewed and unconverted state.
3. False systems of religion, which, although perhaps assuming the name of Christianity, are hostile to its spirit and design.
II. The instruments which our Redeemer employs.
1. The publication of His Word.
2. The agency of His Spirit.
III. The victories of our Redeemer.
1. They are founded upon His right to universal domain.
2. They are continuous, and widely extended.
3. They are essentially connected with the diffusion of pure and perfect happiness.
In conclusion: how important it is--
1. That you should yourselves surrender your hearts in personal subjection to the Redeemer’s power.
2. That you devote your energies to the further extension of His empire. (J. Parsons.)
The future triumph of our King
I. The illustrious personage described.
1. His spotless charchter. “A white horse.”
2. His warfare. “A bow.”
3. His exaltation to regal dignity. “A crown.”
4. His gradual conquest. “Conquering and to conquer.”
II. Sentiments and reflections suitable to the subject.
1. We should cultivate and cherish the most exalted estimate of the person of Jesus Christ.
2. The imminent peril in which those are placed who continue among the adversaries of Jesus Christ.
3. Are you among His true and faithful subjects?
4. Strive, by every means in your power, to advance the extent and glory of His dominion. (J. Clayton, M. A.)
Behold the combat beyond all others important, the combat between Christ and Satan for the human soul.
I. The cause of strife--the soul. A colony of heaven had been taken by the powers of hell, and the effort to restore it to allegiance was the main cause of this celestial war. The domination of Satan over the human soul is despotic, degrading, and destructive.
II. The battle. The Divine Saviour stronger than the strong man armed as our champion. The first grapple seems to have been the temptation in the wilderness, the next in the performance of miracles, the next the death grapple, the last the rising from the dead and ascension into heaven.
III. The victory. It was complete, it was benevolent, it was unchanging. The attack which the Saviour made upon the enemy was such as to tear away the very source and energies of his power. In the time of the Lord’s victory we do not see traces of carnage, nor hear orphans wailing the dead; but a voice breathes the comfortable word, “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain.” The triumphs of the Saviour brighten with the lapse of time. Time cannot tarnish their lustre, nor death itself destroy. (W. M. Punshon, D. D.)
Another horse that was red;… to take peace from the earth.
The cry of the world in selfishness
The red colour is the emblem of bloodshed, the destruction of life. It recalls the vision of Isaiah concerning the traveller from Edom, “with dyed garments of Bozrah,” or that later vision of St. John concerning the King of kings, who leads the armies of heaven, His “vesture dipped in blood.” “There went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another.” It is every man for himself--the spirit of selfishness. Let me draw for you a picture of yourself. You are a person with certain wants, natural and material--wants, that is to say, of those things which are needful for the support and well-being of your bodily life. You are a person with certain tastes, natural and intellectual, at least as necessary to the prosperity of your mind as food is to the prosperity of your body. You have also certain desires and aspirations which we may call natural and spiritual. Then, your life is surrounded by certain circumstances, which you may modify, but cannot possibly do away with. Amongst these circumstances are your fellow men and women. And these have wants and tastes and desires of their own; the wants may be identical with yours, in which case your neighbour’s possession of the things wanted may well interfere with your own possession of them. You are in each other’s way. Or your tastes and desires may be dissimilar, in which case you are liable to be irritated and outraged by contradiction. In any case you cannot go through life without having your path traversed every day by others, going their own way, regardless of you. Let us go further. You are supremely important to yourself, and you have been so from your childhood. See how a child thinks his own affairs the first, and at all moments thrusts upon your notice the thing which happens to be especially interesting to himself. And certainly in this we, grown men and women, cannot say that we have “put away childish things.” But this self-importance is a reasoning spirit. I am always present to myself, you say; I cannot get away from pain and discomfort and disappointment and the hundred ills that my flesh is heir to. I move through life, the centre of my own little world; it all concerns my happiness or misery; how, then, can I say that I am not supremely important to myself? I may stop at the requirements of my earthly life, or I may go further. I may be a religious sort of person. But is this realisation a cure for my selfishness? Alas, that one must answer, No! For the possible selfishness of the religious person is quite the strongest and most terrible form that selfishness assumes. Now, it is my own soul, my own eternal happiness, my own personal salvation. Look at your own life, at your own heart, and say, Is there nothing of this spirit in me? For, after all, this selfishness seems so natural. How can one help it, in the lower interests of the body--far, far less in the higher interests of the soul? How can one help it? The one thing to be sure of in this world of crossing interests is oneself. Surely St. John’s terrible vision is overdrawn. What has it to do with me, that blood-stained figure, with the great sword? Surely my harmless, natural, inevitable egotism does not look like that in heaven? But stay, and ask yourself, Why not? I am not alone in the world. A thousand million others are engaged in this strange dance of life, equally with me. Each one may be supreme unto himself. Each one has his own place; to him I am as he to me. And if this be so, what must result from it but one vast scene of conflict, world-wide and age-long? How shalt not peace be taken from the earth? How shall not men kill one another? How shall not the spirit of conflict, the dazzling horseman, with the bow and with the crown, go forth “conquering and to conquer”? It is the spirit of Jesus which is wanted here. And what is that? Go back to the thought of the great renunciation of the Son of God. Surely it is the everlasting condemnation of selfishness. Not the terrible vision of St. John, not the extremest picture of horror that man’s mind can conceive, can ever delineate too fearfully the spirit which is set in such antagonism to the spirit of Jesus Christ. (A. H. Simms, M. A.)
The spirit of war
This vision of the blood-red horse corrects the idea which we might have entertained from the fact that the Prince of Peace had begun His reign. We should have supposed that the progress and triumphs of the gospel would at least have assured to the earth a deliverance from the miseries of war, but it is not so. Since the time of the first preaching of the gospel to the present moment, there have not been twenty years of continued peace amongst the nations and people with which, as we suppose, the various visions in this Book have to do. And this history of war is not occupied with the wars of Christians against heathen, but with the wars of professing Christians against one another. Before the Reformation, when all the Christians of Europe professed to belong to one Church, there was a constant state of warfare amongst them. Since then the state of war has been quite as continuous--not Protestants with Papists only, but Protestants among themselves. Thus in this country, on the murder of Charles I., an ultra-Protestant republic was established, and the very first thing it did was to go to war with the only Protestant republic then existing--the Dutch. In our own time also we have seen the most powerful republic in the world, a republic more Protestant or Evangelical than any other, engaged in a long and sanguinary civil war. So that we have before us this most remarkable fact, that for 1,800 years the Gospel of Christ and the Demon of War have ridden side by side. For the rider on the red horse does not himself war or fight. He is apparently engaged in stirring up strife in which he personally takes no part. He is no human tyrant or general, but, as it were, the embodiment of the Spirit of War, who has power given to him to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
A black horse;… a pair of balances.
The cry of the world in want
It is a vision of scarcity, of insufficiency, not of absolute famine. The world does not seem to contain enough for all, and there happens a continual struggle for the bare necessaries of bodily life. Every year this is becoming more evident. Most present-day problems have their roots in it, and these problems press with such terrible force upon us that, I suppose, St. John’s vision can never have seemed more picturesquely true than it seems to-day. With our constantly growing popula-ion, the difficulty increases by leaps and bounds. The effect of it is an absorbing anxiety, a restless elaboration of contrivance--How can these present difficulties be overcome? and what new ones will start into sight when the old ones have disappeared?--till a large part of life seems taken up by the problem of how to live. Is any precept of Christ harder than this, “Take no thought for your life,” etc. Perhaps if we were alone, with nothing but our own personal salvation to think about, it would be easier. But you are not alone. Others depend on you. Husband, think of your wife; think of the children whose future depends so much on you. And if we go down in social life to the lowest depths of poverty, the struggle for existence becomes piteous. It is terrible to face it, but it is well to face it sometimes. In this abyss, insufficiency has become destitution; the struggle has lost all that it seemed to have of manliness and force; it has deformed life into a chaos of brute instincts; it has become parent of crime, disease, and death. Such is the vision of human want. And from the living creatures before God’s throne the appeal is made to Jesus Christ, “Come!” What is it, this appeal to the “Lamb as it had been slain”? It is for manifestation of the higher life, the true life, the eternal life which is the knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ. Sometimes the least spiritually impressionable person is forced to see that there is indeed a higher life. The pressure of earthly things relaxes its hold upon you for a moment; above the ceaseless clamour of the world’s voices the voice of Jesus makes its way to your heart, never lessening its claim upon your life, never taking from the promise its consolation, “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Yes, there is indeed a higher life. But it seems so hard of attainment in the life that I am living now. I am in the shadow of the black horseman; I am a sharer in the great struggle for existence. The thought of the higher life is wearisome; the life of prayer, of hourly communion with a Divine Friend, the life of the love of God, of joy in the knowledge of His presence and love, the life of glad obedience, of patient endurance. It all seems so hopeless. We cannot think of higher things. Is not this true of you? The struggle for existence makes us slaves in spirit. Surely the appeal from the living creatures to Christ is wanted for us to-day: Come, with Thy knowledge of the Father’s will. Come, with Thy strong rejoicing in the Father’s love. Come, with Thy unfaltering obedience. Come, with Thy victorious endurance. Let Thine be the Spirit which takes possession of a world in want, O Thou Lamb of God! (A. H. Simms, M. A.)
Scarcity in Gospel times
This vision has been explained in two ways, naturally and spiritually, and either yields a tolerably good signification. Both explanations are consonant with what we gather from the rest of the seals, which is, that much in the time of the Messiah’s triumphal progress is not such as we should have expected.
1. We should have expected that the times of the Gospel would have been times of almost universal prosperity. So it had been prophesied (Ezekiel 36:30; Hosea 2:22; Joel 2:19). And we should the rather have expected this, because the preaching of the gospel does much to discourage many vices which occasion distress and ruin in this world, such as intemperance, drunkenness, wastefulness, gambling, immorality, etc. But it has not been so. From the first preaching of the gospel there has been just the same hard struggle for sustenance as there was before. Of course there have been countries in which the poor have not suffered from comparative scarcity, as in newly-planted colonies, but the tendency of things has been always to bring about, sooner or later, the universal struggle for a bare subsistence.
2. But the riding of this horse-rider has been interpreted spiritually to mean this, that in the day of Christ’s power there has not been, nor will be, that plentiful supply of the wholesome and nourishing Word of God which we should have expected. The more thoroughly we examine the history of religion, I do not mean of the Church, but of individual religion, the more we shall discover the truth of this. For well nigh 1,500 years the Word of God has been altogether out of the reach of the vast majority of Christians. Till the invention of printing each copy had to be written fully and fairly out. And look also at the comparative fewness of those who if by chance they possessed a copy could read it. But we must not for a moment limit this scarcity of the wholesome nourishing Word to the scarcity of Bibles. The nourishment of the vast body of the Church is through teaching and preaching, and there may be a vast circulation of Bibles, and yet these Bibles unread and their contents undigested. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)
Price lists made in heaven
People do not generally suppose that God has much to do with price-lists. They go up and down, and millions higgle over them every day, but no one thinks of anything Divine connected with them. But whether men realise it or not, price-lists are made in heaven. John hears the rates of corn and bread announced by the same heavenly powers by which these mystic horses are called into action. Whatever the weather, the crops, the quantities of money in the country, the extent of speculation in the market, or other subordinate causes may have to do with it, the prime and all-controlling cause is the decree of the throne. It is God from whom we have our daily bread, and it is by His will that it is plentiful and cheap, or scarce and costly. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
A pale horse:…Death, and hell
Death on the pale horse
This horse and his rider set out after us as soon as we were born; they are perpetually gaining ground on us, and therefore sooner or later they must overtake us.
II. It is awfully uncertain when he will overtake us.
III. It is equally certain, that when he does overtake us he will strike his blow, and nothing can prevent it. There is a great deal said at this day about the march of intellect. Yes; but intellect with all its march, never out-marches Death. He marches faster than intellect, and he will soon overtake. Nor can the greatest peace, holiness, and usefulness prevent it.
IV. Who then are the characters that, when death strikes the blow, will drop into hell, in the literal sense of the word?
1. Those who have never broken off their sins by true repentance.
2. Those who have not a personal interest in Jesus Christ by faith.
3. Those who have not experienced the regenerating influence of God; die as you are, without being born again, and you will be lost.
4. Those who did once run well, but who have now ceased to run well. (W. Dawson.)
The life of faith in death
But what now are we come out to see?
I. Behold the seal opened. Seals we use commonly to confirm and conceal, to make things sure, and to keep things secret. And thus death, as all God’s judgments, is said to be sealed (Job 3:3), and that with a firmer seal than of the Medes and Persians. In a word, men die not by chance, course of nature, influence of stars, but then and therefore, because it is appointed. That Christian who believes this, though he may desire David’s arithmetic to number his days aright, yet will he never study the black and senseless art of calculating his birth and death. None but fools are curious and inquisitive to know that which is under God’s privy signet. We are all as soldiers sent to sea with commission under seal, not to be opened till we come to such and such a point. Some deaths, indeed (as some clocks), give warning before they strike, with symptoms and signs infallible; but generally God hath seen this the best for us, that it should be for the general most certain, for the particular most uncertain, to him sealed, to us concealed; of which he would have us make these uses.
1. First, for our bodily health, not to be too careful, nor too careless.
2. Secondly, for our soul’s provision, not to do as most that have set days of truce and peace, and in which they hang up their armour a-rusting, and their beacons unwatched; but as people that live in perpetual hazard of war have all things in a daily readiness for service upon the least alarm.
3. Whenever this horse conies to fetch away us, or any of ours, children, or friends, a believer stamps not, and rages not, murmurs not, repines not, as the wild Irishmen without hope; expostulates not with destiny, but with Aaron, lays his hand on his heart and mouth for his sons’ sudden death, knowing what God hath sealed shall be and must be.
II. The seal being thus opened, “come and see” the creature that issues forth. Behold an horse, a fierce, a strong, a warlike, a speedy creature, so described by God Himself (Job 39:1-30.). Look, as the sturdy steed dashes out the little whappet’s brains, so easily doth Death with the least kick and spurn of his heel the stoutest constitution, triumphing like an emperor over all sorts of people, treading on the necks of kings and princes, as Joshua over them in the cave. What, then, is the course the Christian takes? He neither foolishly thinks to resist or escape, nor yet cravenly yields; but addresseth himself for the encounter.
III. Behold also the colour of this horse, the colour of the withering leaf, pale and wan, symbolising and noting the effect he hath first upon the living, whom he appals. See we not often prisoners at the bar wane away, and dye as white as a cloth at the sentence of death pronounced on them. A second effect of this pale horse is after death, bereaving the bodies of all blood and colour, making them lifeless, till the fashion of them he utterly altered, the beauty consumed, and shape turned into rottenness. Oh, how grievous is this to such Absaloms, Jezebels, and Rosamonds, who have set much by their painted sheaths and pampered carcases. Dust they were, and to dust they must return. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vanity.
IV. Well, then, behold also, even hell, the page and follower of death, attending him wherever he goes among the wicked sort. Whence it is that they are so often coupled in this book, death and hell. Look as the foxes wait upon lions, carrion crows upon armies, gaolers upon sergeants for a prey, so diligently does the devil on Death for a booty. No fowler does more cunningly stalk behind the horse, or creep behind hedges, to get his aim at the shy fowls. No sergeant hides his mace, no angler his hook more warily, knowing that else hell should never swallow so many. In this consists the devil’s chiefest policy and our grossest simplicity, and even this is the cause of our sottish and foolish living and dying. (T. Adams.)
Views of death
I. The description given us of death.
1. Death is under a seal. It has a commission to execute, and cannot go beyond it: limits are fixed to it by the purpose and power of God, and it cannot break through them. Death is inevitable, because the Divine decree is unalterable. We fear death, and we fear hell; but he is more to be feared who has the keys of both. We are immortal till our time is come, and our work is done. The king of terrors, before he can level his dart so as to do any execution, must have a warrant from the King of heaven.
2. It is represented as riding: not creeping, walking, or running, but riding; which intimates that he moves swiftly, and often comes unexpectedly. It may also denote something of state and majesty: for it may be said of him, as of the other horseman, that he goeth forth conquering and to conquer. No wisdom can deliver, no strength can rescue, no wealth can ransom from this victorious enemy.
3. Death rides on a pale horse, and this colour may denote the general appearance of mortality.
4. It is represented in our text as having hell following after it. The page is more dreadful than the master; death would not be so terrible, were it not for that which follows it. Death to a wicked man is but the beginning of sorrows: to make use of it, then, as a remedy for other griefs, is but like leaping out of the smoke into the flame. We may make a mock of sin; but can we make a mock of hell?
II. Our duty with respect to death.
1. That we render the thoughts of death familiar to ourselves.
2. That we exercise faith in the providence and grace of God, both with respect to death and its consequences.
3. That we patiently wait and cheerfully submit to it. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
I. The figurative description here given of death.
II. Our duty respecting it.
1. Come and see the antiquity of death.
2. Come and see the extent of its devastations.
3. Come and see this spoiler conquered.
4. Come and see how death may safely be encountered. (J. Burns, D. D.)
I saw under the altar the souls.
Activity of the souls of the departed
I. St. John, we here read, was allowed to behold the souls of the martyrs, and they were living beneath the altar of the Lord. What, then, is the altar? In answer we say, that it is the place of a glorious and a happy security. It was to the altar that the murderer ran and clasped its horns, when the avenger of blood was in hot pursuit; it was to the altar, with all its beautiful accessories, the laver, the sacrifice, the shew-bread, and the golden candlesticks, that every mourner in Israel looked. Weary-hearted men, oppressed with the load of life, or weighed down by care, or burdened by sin, looked there and found an unfailing asylum. The martyrs are beneath the altar; they are under the security of its holy seal; they are hanging upon its strong horns; the persecutor’s arm cannot reach them; the avenger of blood dare not come near them; they are kept by the power of God. The dust and defilement of earth, the fierce heat of flame, the lion’s tooth, and the serpent’s strangling coil, are all past; there is heaven’s own calm; their souls are under God’s care, and under the seat and the seal of Christ.
II. But what is their state of feeling? Are they in a state of passive rest, or earnest enjoyment, or tranquil or animated hope? “They cried with a loud voice, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” Is it possible that they desire vengeance? Did Jesus pray for His murderers? Did Stephen, the martyr, echo and repeat the prayer? And have not the rest of the glorious band of martyrs learned and used it? It cannot be that the martyrs should be under the altar of the Lamb, and yet have hearts for vengeance. It is the cry of their blood for vengeance, not of their hearts. Just as the blood of Abel cried from the ground against Cain, so does this blood cry for vengeance on that Cain-like satanic power which made them martyrs. But it may be objected that this destroys the very notion of the activity of their spirits. The picture before us is that of altar-covered souls asking for a certain consummation. And no doubt, for a consummation we may truly believe they do both wait and long. But that consummation will be with such vengeance as is here alluded to. And this shows us that while the sin of the persecutors, written in the blood of the martyrs, calls for vengeance, the cry of the martyrs may well be only for the day of Christ, and for the redemption of the bodies of the sons and saints of God. They long for the day of Christ, “because it is the year of His redeemed.” But then it may be also said, and history will bear us out, that there is a certain cry of sympathy in behalf of friends and fellow Christians trodden down and persecuted, which issues by a kind of necessity in a cry of vengeance upon their persecutors. In the persecution which preceded that of Diocletian, we read how St. Cyprian addressed the African proconsul in the following words: “Be assured that whatever we suffer will not remain unrevenged; and the greater the injury of the persecution, the heavier and more just will be the vengeance.” Nay, this very prophetic anticipation of vengeance upon the enemies of the Church of Christ is only a phase of that conformity of the mind of the saint with the will of God, which will form the very essence and perfection of the heavenly state. If God in His justice comes forth for vengeance upon sinners, every saint must give the hearty “amen” of an entire concurrence to the infliction. So it ought to be on earth, and so it must be in heaven.
III. The explanation which we have given of the longing of the blessed departed for the year of Christ’s redeemed shows us, at any rate, the activity of their souls. It tells us that being dead, they do not sleep, or even in a dream; nay, that they are well awake, and full of all that constitutes the life and activity of a living soul. They think of the past, for they refer to it; they refer to the blood that has been shed; it is past, but they have not forgotten it. They know something of the present; for it is because the great consummation lingers, because they know that it does so, because the world still drives on in its wickedness; it is because of all this present continuing iniquity that the souls of the martyrs cry out. Again, they look to the future; their question discovers this; they are conscious that the day of vengeance and the year of redemption must come, and they earnestly inquire when it shall arrive.
IV. Consider further the answer which they received.
1. First, white robes were given them; their dishonoured names are all enshrined in honour; they were dressed as in preparation for the marriage feast of the Lamb; and when thus arrayed, words of peace were spoken to them. They are told to rest, and we may well imagine them sitting in the tranquillity of a blissful hope. They were to walt fill their brethren’s arrival, which was to be through the same stormy straits as they had passed.
2. But then, is it only the martyrs that are thus reserved? Is it only they that wear white, and in that white array await the consummation? Nay, for there is a daily dying, which in many instances is no less precious in the sight of God than the glorious setting of a martyr’s sun. Our beloved friends that have died in faith are thus before Him, they are in His very presence, they have the sunbeams of His radiant countenance shining directly upon their beatified spirits.
3. And they too, like the martyred spirits, are looking forward. They, like them, remember the past, and muse upon the present, and look to the future. And if so, they remember what they did on earth, and more than this, they remember those whom they loved, and whom they have left here. Death and forgetfulness do not affect that which is innocent and sinless.
4. And this thought is a sweet and holy solace. (C. E. Kennnaway, M. A.)
The waiting of the invisible Church
We may gather with all certainty from this wonderful revelation of the inner mysteries of the heavenly court, first, that God has a fixed time for the end of the world. It is also here revealed to us that God has fixed that time according to the measures of the work which He has to finish; even as Christ had a work to finish on earth; so that we read, again and again, that His “hour was not yet come.” In like manner now in heaven, He has a definite foreseen scheme for the administration of His mediatorial kingdom; and according to the accomplishing of this work will be the time of His coming.
1. He has shadowed out to us the nature of the work that He has to do before the end comes; that is, to make up a certain number whom God has foreseen and predestinated to life eternal (Malachi 3:17; Matthew 24:31; Hebrews 11:13; Hebrews 11:40). Whether this secret number be measured by the fall of angels, as some of old were wont to believe; whether the companies of angelic ministers shall be filled up by the redeemed of mankind, we know not, but we know certainly that, until the foreseen number is completed, the course of this turbulent world shall still run on.
2. Again, in this gathering out of the mystical body of His Son, God is carrying on the probation of mankind. In the inscrutable secrets of His providential government, He is so ordering the strife of the seed of the woman with the seed of the serpent, of the Church with the world, as to fulfil the manifold purposes of love and of long-suffering.
(1) And, first, we see that this long-permitted strife is ordained for the perfecting of His saints. By it our patience, meekness, faith, perseverance, boldness and loyalty to Christ are ever tried; and by trial made perfect.
(2) And this mysterious work, as
2. has an aspect of love towards the saints, so it has an aspect of long-suffering towards sinners. It is thus that God gives them a full season for repentance. He gives all things for our salvation--warnings, blessings, chastisements, sorrows, sicknesses, words of fire, and sacraments of love; He stays His hand, and leaves the sinner without excuse, that at the winding up of this weary life, “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.”
3. And now, from all this, we see what ought to be the master-aim of our lives, that is, to make sure of our fellowship in that mystical number. (Archdeacon Manning.)
The cry of the world in oppression
The souls under the altar represent the whole company of the oppressed. The former troubles were general; all the world suffers, whether it knows it or not, from conflict and selfishness and want and mortality; and its suffering is expressed before the throne by the representatives of all the animate creation. Now it is the voice of one part which is heard, the voice of the oppressed. It is not the whole of human life which is involved, as in the opening of the first four seals. “The altar” is an altar of sacrifice, on which victims are offered. The appeal of the souls is not an articulate voice from blessed spirits in Paradise. It is just like that tremendous phrase in Genesis, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.” It is certainly not a vision of the blessed saints cherishing a spirit of common revenge, but a cry to Christ, as in former cases, from the personified life of sufferers on account of right. It is a cry, in oppression, of the Christian world concerning the unchristian, of the believing world concerning the unbelieving. Christ proclaimed it years before: “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” And the unbelieving world’s weapons are very various. Because we have passed the times of persecution by the sword, at least in the civilised world, we cannot say that the force of this vision of St. John is spent. The world claims education. We need not put down the Faith by common violence, if we can destroy it at its foundation in the education children. Are we awakened rightly yet to the reality of this oppression? These are the two chief ways in which, at the moment, the principle of St. John’s vision is being worked out in Christendom. But there are many individual lives that can enter in a wonderful way into the meaning of it. “A man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Many a martyr-spirit is suffering to-day, so that none but God and the holy angels mark the suffering. The souls’ cry for vengeance to the Lamb is of the same order as Christ’s vengeance on St. Paul: that the spirit of the Lamb of God should take possession of the world, that the thoughts and desires of it may be brought, as St. Paul was, “into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Avenge our blood with this glorious vengeance, O Thou Master, upon all them that dwell on the earth! There is, in this case, an immediate answer. “And white robes were given,” etc. (A. H. Simms, M. A.)
I. Thev live in sacred security. “I saw under the altar the souls of them.” The “souls,” not the bodies; the bodies had been destroyed, their ashes were left behind. Souls can exist apart from the body--a wonderful fact this.
II. They live in earnest consciousness. They remember the earth, remember the cruelties they received on the earth, and long, not maliciously, but benevolently, for justice being done to their persecutors. No doubt their desire was that God would strike such a moral conviction into their hearts on account of their wickedness that would lead them to repentance. Souls in heaven do not forget the past.
III. They live in holy grandeur “White robes were given to them.” Or, more properly, a white robe, emblem of purity and conquest. (Homilist.)
How long, O Lord?
Calvin had this speech always in his mouth, breathing out his holy desires in the behalf of the afflicted Churches, with whose sufferings he was more affected than with anything that befell himself. (J. Trapp.)
The life of faith in death
I. John, being in the spirit, could see spirits. Men, indeed, clad in flesh, can hardly imagine how a soul can have existence out of the flesh. Eagles can see that which owls cannot; so is that visible and credible to a spiritual man which to a natural is invisible, incredible. And yet even nature’s dim eyes have been clear enough to see this truth. The soul’s eternity is an inbred instinct in the souls of men.
II. Now if this much revived John to see the soul’s continuance after death, how much more to see their safety and rest under the altar; that is, under Christ’s protection and custody. The phrase alluding to the altar in the tabernacle, which gave the offerings grace and acceptation; and partly to the safety of such as fled from the avenger to the altar.
III. If John had seen souls at rest, though in poor and mean condition, yet were a corner of a house with peace to be preferred to a wide palace with disquiet. But behold, he sees not naked, beggarly, ragged souls, but adorned with white robes; that is, endowed now, and glorified with perfect righteousness, purity, clarity, dignity, and festivity, of all which white apparel hath ever been an emblem and symbol in Divine and human heraldry, a clothing of princes in their great solemnities of coronation, triumphs and ovations. The lilies, and Solomon, in all their royalties, not like unto the meanest of them.
IV. Were heaven nothing else but a haven of rest, we know how welcome the one is to a seasick weather-beaten traveller, and may by that guess how desirable the other should be to a soul that long hath been tossed in the waves of this world, sick of its own sinful imaginations, and tired with external temptations. (T. Adams.)
How long, O Lord,… dost Thou not Judge?--
I. The words as from man to God. Looking up to God, man breathes the deep-drown sigh, “How long?” (Psalms 6:3; Psalms 13:1; Psalms 35:17; Psalms 74:10; Psalms 79:5; Psalms 89:46; Psalms 90:13; Psalms 94:4; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10). These are the chief passages in which the expression occurs. Instead of dwelling on each in succession, let me thus sum up and classify their different meanings. It is the language--
1. Of complaint. The righteous man feels the burden and the sorrow and the evil that have so long prevailed in this present evil world, and he cries, “How long?” Have these not lasted long enough? Would that they were done! In this complaint there is weariness, and sometimes there is sadness--almost despair--when unbelief gets the upper hand. Creation groans. Iniquity overflows. Death reigns. The wicked triumph.
2. Submission. While impatience sometimes rises, yet the cry does not mean this. It is really a cry of submission to a wise and sovereign God. It is the cry of one putting all events, as well as all times and seasons, into His hands.
3. Inquiry. In all the passages there is an implied question. It is not merely, Oh that the time would come! but, When shall it come?
4. Expectation. It is the voice of faith, and hope, and longing desire. The present is dark, the future is bright; God’s Word is sure concerning the coming glory; and so we, looking for and hasting to that glory, and depressed with the evil here, cry out day by day, “How long?”
II. The words as from God to man. I note the following instances (Exodus 10:3; Exodus 16:28; Joshua 18:3; 1 Kings 18:21; Psalms 82:2; Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 6:9; Jeremiah 4:14). Taking up these words of God as spoken to different classes, we would dwell on the following points:
1. Long-suffering. Jeremiah’s words to Jerusalem are the words of a long-suffering God, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
2. Expostulation. How long halt ye between two opinions? How long shall ye be of deciding? How long of trusting Me?
3. Entreaty. How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? God beseeches man; He entreats him to give up his sin, to come and be saved. How long will ye refuse My love?
4. Earnestness. God’s words are all sincere. He means what He says, and says what He means. “Ye will not come to Me!” “How often would I have gathered thy children!” “O that thou hadst known!”
5. Sorrow. Every moment’s continuance in unbelief is vexing and grieving the Spirit.
6. Upbraiding. There is the land, the kingdom, why do ye not go in? The door is open; the way is clear.
7. Warning. How long will ye persist in your unrighteousness and unbelief? The day of grace is ending. The day of wrath is coming. Be warned. Flee from the wrath to come. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The cry for vengeance from souls under the altar
First, the righteous are taken away, and no man regardeth it, as the prophet says (Isaiah 57:1). Their days are cut short by violence and cruelty, and yet their persecutors live and are mighty. What did the heathen say to this, who had good report for their moral conversation? Is there no justice in heaven? Yes, here is the best assurance that can be demanded, a scene, as it were, acted in heaven, wherein is represented that the wrongs of the saints are fresh in memory, and shall never be forgotten. The poor oppressed is more likely to obtain redress against his enemy when he is dead than when he was alive. His soul is then most precious to the Lord, his prayer most fragrant, he is so near to Christ that he is next to the altar; his understanding is so enlightened that he knows what to ask and never fail. Here you have a petition, then, put up to a mighty King by some persons that had sustained injury. First, Consider to whom the supplication is preferred, to one from whom there lies no appeal, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the words are so laid together that the souls under the altar do beseech Him by His three mighty attributes. He is the Lord, therefore they implore Him by that power which can do all things. He is holy, therefore they solicit Him by that goodness which detests oppressions. He is truth, therefore they urge Him by those promises made, which He cannot but accomplish. It is the Lord, holy and true, into His hands they commend their petition. He that makes his address to God, let him begin with His praise, let him commemorate His excellent greatness, let him delight to rehearse His titles of Majesty. No man can speak of the King of heaven according to His due honour, but it will procreate devotion and reverence; no man doth advance the name of God in the preface of his prayer, but it is a tacit confession that he prefers the glory of his Maker before his own necessity. I come to the prayer itself: the souls under the altar cry out unto the Lord to judge and avenge their blood. This is a voice which came not from earth but from heaven, and therefore we must maintain it.
1. First of all, vengeance being not usurped by the hand of a private man, but prosecuted under the shelter of lawful authority, like usque quo Domine. In this place it is not unlawful. It is a stirring up of that part of justice which distributes punishments to them that deserve them, and to demand it in a regular way is in no wise rugged to the law of charity.
2. But it is a second conclusion that the spirits of good men departed may cry out to have judgment pass upon tyrants for the effusion of their blood, because they can ask nothing inordinately; they that are confirmed in grace and cannot sin, they cannot make a petition that is over-balanced with the least grain of rancour or partiality.
3. The third conclusion is so cautious to give no scandal, so circumspect not to open the least window to malice and hatred, that it resents the word revenge in this place to be of improper signification; and that which the souls departed sue for is not revenge, but deliverance. Deliverance? Of what? Not of themselves, who are out of harm’s way, but of their brethren tormented here beneath. As who should say, How long, O Lord, wilt Thou not deliver the blood of our brethren, the poor members of the militant Church, from them that rage upon the earth? So I leave this point with a probable assent, but no more, that the saints desire not the vengeance of the ungodly, but the deliverance of the righteous. The next point is almost of the same piece, and very conjunct with the petition itself, it is the manner of preferring it which, to the greater terror of them that live by wrong hostility, is done with all vehemency and importunity, with a loud voice, and a solicitous iteration. The heathen poets fancied that the souls in the Elysian fields did not utter their mind with audible and vocal sounds, but with a low whispering, as if reeds were shaken with the wind. Sometimes they would strive to speak out, but all in vain. This is fiction, and not philosophy; for separated souls speak not with corporeal organs, but with their wills and affections. Their words which they utter are their desires, which they send forth; and therefore David says, “Thine ear hath heard the desire of their heart.” Oppression and tyrannizing over the poor and helpless make the loudest clamours of any sins in the ears of God. Not the martyrs themselves, but the wrongs which they endured exclaim against their enemies. (Bp. Hackett.)
The recompense of martyrdom
I. The martyr-cry. It is the widow’s cry, “Avenge me of mine adversary.” “How long, O Lord (or, O Master), holy and true, dost Thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth!” This has been that long and bitter cry of the ages. It may seem” narrow,” or worse than narrow--it may be called bigotry, or worse than bigotry--to sympathise with such sentiments; but these words stand. Let modem sentimentalists tell us what they mean, or else boldly proclaim them false and cruel.
II. The martyr-honour. “White robes were given them.” What a contrast to the poverty of their raiment here, as they came out of prison; to the blood-stains and filth upon their earthly apparel!
III. The martyr-rest. They get immediate rest as well as honour. “To you who are troubled,” the apostle says, “God will recompense rest with us” (2 Thessalonians 1:7). The fulness of the rest--the Sabbatism (Hebrews 4:9)--is a reserve for the Lord’s revelation from heaven; but rest, meanwhile, is theirs; rest, how sweet after the torture and toil of earth! It may be that there is peculiar rest for the martyr-band; and yet there is rest for all who are the Lord’s, even though they may not have passed to it through the flames.
IV. The martyr-hope. It is not expressly mentioned here. It is something which shall be given when the whole band is gathered; the whole martyr-band from the beginning. The seven epistles reveal that hope; and the three closing chapters of this book unfold it more fully. It is the hope of the first resurrection; of reigning with Christ; of entry into the celestial city; of the crown of life; of the inheritance of all things. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The cry for vengeance
It is their blood that cries; it is the wrong done to them that demands reparation. In so far as they may be supposed to cry, they have in view, not their enemies as persons, but the evil that is in them, and that manifests itself through them. At first it may seem difficult to draw the distinction; but if we pause over the matter for a little, the difficulty will disappear. Never do we pity the sinner more, or feel for him with a keener sympathy, than when we are most indignant at sin and most earnest in prayer and effort for its destruction. The more anxious we are for the latter, the more must we compassionate the man who is enveloped in sin’s fatal toils. When we long, therefore, for the hour at which sin shall be overtaken by the just judgment of God, we long only for the establishment of that righteous and holy kingdom which is inseparably bound up with the glory of God and the happiness of the world. (W. Milligan, D. D.)
White robes were given unto every one of them.--
I. White robes remind us of innocence. It is a grand thing to be innocent; it is more glorious to be virtuous. Each part of yonder powerful locomotive and of that stupendous tubular bridge has been tried by great pressure, and stood the test. So a man who has been tried by the pressure of temptation, and has stood the test, is virtuous. Never blame any human bridge or broken human engine unless you have been tested with a similar pressure. But what a blessing to know that though a man has fallen, God does not lay him aside as useless! The glory of the gospel is that it offers the white robes of innocence to guilty men and women. The sinner is not only forgiven, but transformed. His second nature is of a higher kind than the first.
II. White robes also remind us of success. It is only the few who seem to succeed in this world. Carlyle speaks of men as being “mostly fools,” while another writer describes the world as being “strewn with human wrecks.” As a rule, a successful man possesses genius and enthusiasm. How seldom one sees a perfect man or a perfect work! How grand to be successful as a man, a father, a brother, a friend! Alas! how few are really successful! You set forth to be a pure and honourable man; as such, have you been a success? Are you a failure? Alas! it is true; the world is strewn with the wrecks of human resolves and aims. But the white robe of success is placed once more within your reach. The Lord will work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure, and you shall be successful as a Christian.
III. White robes also remind us of beauty. (W. Birch.)
Fall on us, and hide us.
The last great prayer meeting
It is generally thought that none but the penitent really pray. And yet the day is coming when even impenitent people will throng together and hold a prayer meeting, and perhaps the most intensely earnest one ever upon record. Notice the time. It is future. It will be after the day of grace has passed, after the privilege for Christian prayer has ceased, and after human probation has been completed. Yes, when the righteous have ceased to pray, and are changing prayers on earth to praises in heaven, the impenitent will begin to pray as if they thought of it for the first time in their lives. It will be when Divine judgments are falling upon the earth. Where? In their homes? No, those prayerless houses will be shaking into ruins by an earthquake. In the churches? The day for churches will be gone. Why did they not hasten to them in the time of mercy? They will meet in the dens and caves, and among the rocks of the mountains. Who will be there? In ages when God’s children were hunted down by foes, chiefly the lowly, the poor, met in such difficult retreats, but to this last prayer meeting kings will run, noblemen will hasten, courtiers and statesmen will speed, rich men and great captains will rush, and all who thought they could trust in the permanence of earthly things. No real Christians will be there. Mere professors and pretenders, deceived in heart or deceiving the very elect, and prayerless in their lives, may be expected; and when there they will contribute their part for the first time to the interest of a meeting, for they will pray voluntarily and with an earnestness they never knew before. What are to be the exercises, the services? No reading of the Word of God. None in that assembly will wish to hear it read or explained. They disowned it once, they dislike it still, for it must expose their sins and neglects. No preaching, because the day for that has passed. No psalms nor spiritual songs. To what will they pray? Not to God. At sea, when the tempest is raging, and all human control of the ship is lost, when the masts are torn away and the next wave that sweeps the deck may bury the company in the deep, the passengers and crew lift their entreaties, not to the storm, not to the waves, but to God, their only resort and refuge. But the prayer at this last meeting is not to God, nor is it to men. In their fears they call upon the mountains. Unwilling to call upon God in the day of prosperity, and disliking to have friends pray for them, their aversion clings to them as a fixed habit, and they are still determined not to cry unto the Lord. Nothing could once persuade them to do it, and now nothing can force them, for the human will is not converted by force, Rather than submit to God’s way, they call upon everything else, idolising the deaf rocks and the dead mountains. These are their gods. Can anything else so portray impenitence and stubbornness of will? And why such a prayer for destruction? There are three reasons here given.
I. Their dread of seeing the face of God. Once that face was radiant with mercy. They might have been forgiven, but they would not seek His pardon. Oh, the lost opportunities, the rejected mercies! All gone for ever. They cannot bear the sight of Him whose offers of grace they so wilfully refused, and they ask the rocks to confer on them a merciless burial.
II. A fear of the justice of Christ. Once He was the Lamb of sacrifice, the atoning Redeemer, the entreating Saviour, ready to save all that would call upon Him for salvation. But they would not call. Their day of redemption is past, and Christ is coming as their Judge. They see punishment awaiting them, and perdition before them as the just desert of their treatment of Christ.
III. The knowledge that they are without excuse. There is for them no apology, no availing plea, no justification, no righteousness, no hope of future grace. (W. M. Blackburn, D. D.)
The last great prayer meeting
The first thing that strikes us about it is that this last great prayer meeting will be attended by a vaster assemblage of human beings than it is even possible for us to conceive. Every grade of society has its representative there--men and women, young and old, the child and the hoary-headed, the lofty and the mean. They have come from every land. In a strange unity of woe the attendants at this last great prayer meeting are to be gathered together into one common centre. Again, this last great prayer meeting is to be, in the fullest and widest sense of the word, a united prayer meeting. There is a unity of sin, as well as a unity of holiness, and the attendants at this last strange audience are all thus bound together. Not that it is a real unity. There seems to be very little of anything like a corporate feeling in this last great gathering. Every man is engaged with his own thoughts, offering his own prayer, yet are they all brought together to one point, and all induced to address a certain particular class of objects, and to offer a certain particular kind of prayer by one vast, common, overwhelming necessity, which spreads its fearful influence over them all. It is a united prayer meeting; and as I contemplate that vast gathering, I find all earthly distinctions have vanished. Social distinctions have passed away. The prince kneels beside the peasant. Again, I observe that all ecclesiastical distinctions have vanished. Yet, again, I notice that in this prayer meeting every man is thoroughly in earnest. I wish I could say as much of the prayer meetings held here on earth in our day. Yet, again, I observe that these men who pray so well and so earnestly are precisely the people who were least given to that pursuit while on earth: the people we very seldom see at prayer meetings here. Yet, again, it is a meeting at which every man prays with a very definite purpose. If I were asked, What is the particular fault of our modern prayer meetings? I should say--Indefiniteness. Yet, again, I notice in this prayer meeting a peculiarity that we do not frequently observe in our gatherings for prayer. I find that every man prays for himself. Now I do not think we ought to confine our prayers to ourselves, but we should pray to a far better purpose if we sometimes prayed out of our own hearts, and asked for the things we ourselves need. People seem rather to aim at employing vague expressions than making their wants known in a spirit of believing supplication to God. And now we come to consider the strangest feature of all. While there are ten thousand times ten thousand voices, it may be, lifted up in supplication, yet we are astonished at observing that of all these prayers that go ringing around a startled world there is not so much as one single petition that is offered to Almighty God--not one. When these praying men were down here on earth they were always flying away from God; they did not want to have anything to do with Him; they could get on very well without Him; they were worshippers of nature; they were believers in second causes--not that they were all such by profession, but they were so practically. These men have made earth their God: they have bowed down before the spirit of this world: they have enthroned that subtle intelligence of evil who has usurped the sovereignty of this fallen world within their hearts. They have practically made him the lord of their will, and submitted their nature to his control; and now, when the last terrible moment comes, and these men are gathered together for their last great prayer meeting, not one of them prays to God. Why? Because the Nemesis of their own sin has come upon them. What is it? Before they would not pray to God, and now they dare not. Where is the answer to come from? These prayers are not addressed to God: they do not reach the place where His honour dwelleth: they dare not hope that they will penetrate into His ears and reach His heart. No: their own consciences forbid such an expectation. Such will be the last prayer meeting. And now I want to ask a question, Are any of you ambitious to bear a part in it? (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Terrified sinners in the last earthly scene
1. We have here a glimpse of the constitution and general condition of society at the time these prodigies befall the world. Suppose that the sixth seal were to be opened to-night, what would it find? Kings and emperors on their thrones; princes, nobles, dukes, and lords securely priding themselves in the prerogatives of their caste and station; rich people wallowing in wealth and luxury; men and women in high places and in low working the wires that fashion events; slaves toiling at their tasks and freedmen just out of their bondage; and evidences everywhere of a depraved and disordered state of things. This is what the judgment would find if it came to-night. And this, John tells us, is what it finds when it does come in reality.
2. There is one thing, however, which shall be very different under the opening of the sixth seal from what it is now. The self-security and composure with which godless people live will then be driven to the winds. Though all the judgments under preceding seals may have failed to appal or arouse them, they will not be able to maintain their equanimity under what this shall bring forth. Self-possession, unshaken courage, dignified composure, philosophic thinking, hopefulness, assurance, and the last remains of the stern intrepidity and statue-like imperturbability which characterise some men now, will then have vanished from humanity. That day will destroy them utterly.
3. We notice also the correct interpretation which mankind will then put upon the terrific disturbances of nature around them. Storms, earthquakes, eclipses, and unusual phenomena in the heavens, are natural symbols of Divine wrath. Modern science calls it superstition. But when the vision of the text comes to be realised, woe to the materialistic, pantheistic, and atheistic philosophies with which men suppose they have rid themselves of the superstitions of antiquity! One flash from the judgment throne will confound them utterly.
4. Nor is it so much the physical prodigies as what they argue that renders the dismay so unsupportable. It is not the shaking, the obscured sun, the falling stars, the recoiling heavens, the moving mountains, so much as the moral truths they flash into the spirit, to wit, that God is on the throne, that sin is a reality, that judgment is come, and that every guilty one must now face an angry Creator. It is not nature’s bewildering commotions, for they would willingly have the falling mountains cover them if that would shelter them from what is much more in their view, and far more dreadful to them. What they speak of is, God upon the throne, the fear of His face, the day of reckoning, and the wrath of the Lamb. These are more than all the horrors of a universe in convulsions.
5. And how pitiable and absurd the expedients to which they are driven! Oh, imbecile people! When prayer would have been availing, they scorned and detested it as mean and useless; and now that it is futile, they go at it with a will. Still more absurd is the direction in which they address their prayers. Once they considered it folly that man should call on the living God; but now they pray to dead rocks! Once they thought it philosophic to deny that He who made the ear could hear prayers, or that He with whom is the Spirit, and whose is the power, could answer them; but now they supplicate the deaf and helpless mountains! And yet weaker and more insane is the import of their prayers and efforts. Omniscience and omnipresence are among the natural attributes of God. The very things before these people’s eyes should have been enough to teach them this. And yet, philosophers as they are, their proposal is to conceal themselves from the Almighty, and so elude His wrath! Often had shelter and peaceful security been offered them in the mercies of the loving Saviour, and as often had they despised and rejected them; but now the silly souls would take the miserable rocks for saviours! Oh, the foolishness of men who think it folly to serve God! (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Presumption running into despair
I. The horror of the reprobates.
1. The persons thus amazed with terror are described in the precedent verse, “The kings of the earth,” etc. The greatness of man, when it comes to encounter with God, is weakness and vanity. Is he great? Be he never so high, there is One “higher than he, and the Highest of all regardeth it” (Ecclesiastes 8:5), and will subject it. Is he rich? Were he the eldest son of Mammon, and sole heir to all the usurers in the world, can his gold save him? Is vengeance afraid to strike his vessel because his sails be of silk and it is ballasted with refined ore? Shall he buy out his damnation with coin? No, heaven will never take bribes. Is he a chief captain? Be his looks never so stern, his speech never so imperious, impetuous, he may command here and go without. “Man is not saved by the multitude of an host.”
2. “They said.” They open their lips to confess the invincible and inevitable power of Christ.
(1) The sense of present misery takes away atheism. The day of judgment, when it comes, shall find no atheist.
(2) The saying that comes from them is desperate; whence note that, in God’s just punishment, desperation is the reward of presumption. They that erst feared too little shall now fear too much. Before they thought not of God’s justice, now they shall not conceive His mercy.
3. These necessary occurrences thus considered, let us pass to their invocation, wherein is exemplified their error. Here we must observe, To what; For what they call.
(1) To what. They are mountains and rocks, unreasonable, yea, insensible creatures.
(a) Negatively, it is clear that they have no acquaintance with God, therefore know not how to direct their prayers unto Him.
(b) Affirmatively, this presents a soul amazed with fear and folly. They call to the mountains that can neither hear nor answer.
(2) For what. The benefit that they would have the rocks and the mountains do them is to fall on them and hide them.
(a) Despair is ever wishing for death, often impatiently snatching at it in this world; but when the last day comes, so greedily longing for it, that to be sure of it, they desire the mountains to dispatch them.
(b) Observe that rocks and mountains are far lighter than sin. Such a weight bore our Saviour that He groaned under it.
(c) Observe that before these wicked were lords of nations and countries; now they would be glad of one hole to hide them. Of all their dominions they beg but the barrenest parcel, a rock or mountain; and that to do them a poor office, to conceal them. How much doth man’s avarice and ambition covet here, how little contents him hereafter! Nothing helps when God will smite; mountains and rocks are no defence when God pursues (Jeremiah 22:15). God hath a hand that can strike through forts, rocks, and bulwarks. The heavens “melt at the presence of the Lord; if He touch the mountains, they smoke” for it.
II. The judge, from whom they desire to be hidden.
1. “From the face.” It was ever the fashion of guiltiness to fly from the presence of God. Adam had no sooner sinned, but he thrusts his head in a bush. Sin’s inevitable effect is shame. “Of Him that sitteth.” Christ now sits in glory. While He was on earth how little rested He! Hast thou laboured? thou shalt have ease: hast thou travelled in the ways of grace? thou shalt sit on the seat of glory. “On the throne.” Christ at this day shall appear in His true majesty.
2. “From the wrath.” The wrath of Christ in His justice. (T. Adams.)
From the wrath of the Lamb.--
The wrath of the Lamb
I. Its unexampled strangeness. Who ever saw a lamb in a rage? The more difficulty you have in exciting wrath, the more terrible it is when it appears.
II. Its infinite purity. “The Lamb” is the emblem of innocence. This wrath of the “Lamb” is not a passion, but a principle. It is not malign, but benevolent. It is not against existence, but against its sins and its crimes. Conclusion: Learn from this that we turn our greatest blessing into the greatest curse. Our optic and auricular organs may become so diseased as to give to the most beautiful objects and melodious sounds in nature a power to convey into us the most poignant anguish, and so our moral nature may become so corrupt as to turn love into wrath, and blessedness into misery. (Homilist.)
The wrath of the lamb
The first thing which strikes us about the expression is its extreme dramatism. There is nothing so dramatic, in my opinion, as the sight of an emotion contrary to the nature. When a man who has always hid his griefs bursts into tears, when a man, like Arnold, who has always veiled his anger, gives way for once to passion, we are impressed with something like a sense of tragedy; it is a bitter day in summer; it is a storm upon a lake. How can we think of the love of God as interrupted even for a moment by a thing called wrath? Can we any more conceive a limit to the love of God than we can conceive a limit to the power of God? The state of mind he is describing is the wrath of a lamb--a particular kind of wrath. He is considering a mode of anger which is not an interruption of love, but itself a phase of love. The wrath of the Lamb is the wrath of love itself. It is no more an interruption to Divine love than the haze is an interruption to the heat of the morning. The wrath clouds the love; the haze clouds the morning; but both the one and the other have grown out of the very thing they obscure. There is an anger which is incompatible with the absence of love, which could not exist unless love existed before it. Here, then, is the subject which rises before us--the difference between the wrath of the Lamb and the wrath of the lion, between the anger of love and the anger of nature. Now, it seems to me that there are three distinct points of difference between them.
1. And first, I would observe that the wrath of the Lamb, or sacrificial spirit, differs from the wrath of the lion in being purely impersonal. The wrath of the lion says, “I, king of the forest, have received an affront; some one has presumed to do an unkindness to me.” The wrath of the Lamb says, “An unkind thing has been done.” It keeps the “me” out of the question altogether. It looks at the deed in itself. It refuses to consider the sense of personal injury as a main feature of the case. You have a son who has defied your authority, spent his substance in riotous living. You are incensed at this act of individual disrespect. You resolve to bring him to his senses; you say, “We shall see whether he or I shall be master here.” Now, that is quite a legitimate mode of anger, and quits a legitimate ground for it; but it is not the wrath of the Lamb. It is neither good nor bad. It is simply an appetite of nature like any other appetite--like hunger. But it is possible for a father in these circumstances to be filled with indignation on a different ground altogether. It is possible for him to see in his son’s delinquency, not an act, but a principle. It is possible for him to feel, not that an insult has been offered to his pride, but that an injury had been done to the universe. It is possible for him to experience, not the sense of a wounded self-love, but an anger from the fact that love itself has been violated. This is the wrath of the Lamb. The Son of Man has reached a splendid impersonality in His judgment of the world. Though Himself at once the greatest and the most wronged of all, He refuses to measure the wrong by His own feeling of pain. He throws Himself into the position of the meanest, the lowliest. I pass to a second point of difference between the wrath of love and the wrath of mere nature.
2. And it is this: The wrath of nature must begin by tearing out pity; the wrath of love is a wrath created by pity. In the former case our indignation is stimulated by hiding the prospective photograph--by shutting our eyes to the possible goodness which the bad man may yet attain. In the latter case the indignation is stimulated by exactly the opposite process--by bringing out the prospective photograph, and considering what the man might be made to become. This brings me to a third point of difference between the two kinds of wrath.
3. They express their feeling in a different formula. The wrath of the lion says, “I must have satisfaction”; the wrath of the Lamb says, “Justice must be satisfied.” There is all the difference in the world between giving me satisfaction in a quarrel and satisfying my justice in a wrong. The wrath of the Lamb is always a redemptive wrath. Its first impulse is to buy back what has been enslaved, to restore what has been wrongfully taken, to set at liberty what has been bruised. The wrath of the lion will be satisfied if the delinquent is dead; the wrath of the Lamb pauses not until it learns that the delinquency itself has been wiped away. And this renders powerfully suggestive that theological epigram which represents Christ as paying the debts of humanity. Nothing in a short compass could more completely describe the facts of the case. (G. Matheson, D. D.)
The wrath of the Lamb
There is something of appalling significance in so paradoxical an expression as this, of the “Wrath of the Lamb.” It makes the wrath trebly potent that it should be wrath, long suppressed, but at length discharged, of a nature essentially and exceptionally meek, patient, long-suffering, easy to be entreated, hard to be angered.
Furor fit laesa sapius patienia, says the Latin proverb: patience, trespassed upon too often, is converted into wrath. And if, O patience, the long-suffering that is in thee becomes wrath, how great is that wrath! Plutarch says of the Roman populace, on the occasion of a certain tumult, “they thought that the wrath of Fabius now provoked, albeit he was naturally so mild and patient, would prove heavy and is “placable”--all the more so, indeed, because of that natural disposition now abused and overstrained. An eminent critic observes, in arguing that all great effects are produced by contrast, that anger is never so noble as when it breaks out of a corn° parative continence of aspect; it is the earthquake bursting from the repose of nature. Charlevoix, in his “Histoire de St. Domingo,” remarks of the sea of the Antilles and neighbouring isles that R is commonly more tranquil than ours; “but, like certain people who are excited with difficulty, and whose transports of passion are as violent as they are rare, so when the sea becomes irritated, it is terrific.” (Francis Jacox, B. A.)
The wrath of the Lamb
The lamb is the most simply innocent of all animals. Historically, also, it had become a name for sacrifice. Under this twofold reason Christ is set forth as the Lamb. The lamb is but the complemental gentleness of God’s judicial vigour. We must have the right to believe in the real Christ, and not that theologic Christ which has so long been praised, as it were, into weakness, by the showing that separates Him from all God’s decisive energies and fires of combustion, and puts Him over against them, to be only a pacifier of them by His suffering goodness. Our Christ must be the real King--Messiah--and no mere victim; He must govern, have His indignations, take the regal way in His salvation. His goodness must have fire and fibre enough to make it Divine. Wrath must be kept as a moral, not merely animal, passion, or it will connect associations of unregulated temper that are wholly unsuitable. We understand by wrath, as applied to God and to Christ, a certain principled heat of resentment towards evil-doing and evil-doers, such as arms the good to inflictions of pain or just retribution upon them. It is not the heat of revenge. It is that holy heat which kindles about order and law, and truth and light, going in, as it were, spontaneously to redress their wrongs, and chastise the injuries they have suffered. Is it, then, a fact that Christ, as the incarnate Word of God, embodies and reveals the wrath principle of God, even as He does the patience, or love-principle, and as much more intensely? On this point we have many distinct evidences.
1. Christ cannot be a true manifestation of God when He comes in half the character of God, to act upon, or qualify, or pacify, the other half. If only God’s affectional nature is represented in Him, then He is but a half manifestation. If the purposes of God, the justice of God, the indignations of God, are not in Him--if anything is shut away, or let down, or covered over--then He is not in God’s proportions, and does not incarnate His character.
2. Christ can be the manifested wrath of God without being any the less tender in His feeling or gentle in His patience. In the history of Jesus we see occasions in which He actually displays the judicial and the tender, most affectingly, together and in the very same scene, as in His denouncing and weeping over Jerusalem.
3. God, without the wrath-principle, never was, and Christ never can be, a complete character. This element belongs inherently to every moral nature. God is no God without it; man is no man without it. It is this principled wrath, in one view, that gives staminal force and majesty to character.
4. It is a conceded principle of justice that wrong-doers are to suffer just according to what they deserve. In Christianity God is not less just or more merciful, but He is more fitly and proportionately expressed.
5. One of the things most needed in the recovery of men to God in this very thing--a more decisive manifestation of the wrath-principle and justice of God. Intimidation is the first means of grace.
6. We can see for ourselves that the more impressive revelation of wrath, which appears to be wanted, is actually made in the person of Christ, as in His driving out the money-changers and denouncing the hypocritical Pharisees.
7. Christ is appointed and publicly undertakes to maintain the wrath-principle officially, as the Judge of the world, even as He maintains the love-principle officially, as the Saviour of the world. He even declares that authority is given Him to execute judgment, because He is the Son of man. But the wrath-principle in Christ is only that judicial impulse that backs Him in the infliction of justice whenever justice requires to be inflicted. And it does not require to be inflicted always; it never ought to be when there is anything better that is possible. Put it down, then, first of all, at the close of this great subject, that the New Testament gives us no new God, or better God, or less just God, than we had before. He is the I AM of all ages, the I AM that was, and is, and is to come; the same that was declared from the beginning “The Lord God, gracious and merciful, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
The great day of His wrath.--
The wrath of God and the Lamb
I. Who are the persons whose aspect and appearance shall then be so dreadful to sinners? It is God, the Father of all, and the Lamb of God.
II. How comes the wrath of that great day to be so terrible?
1. It is wrath that ariseth from the clearest discoveries of the love of God neglected.
2. It is wrath that is awakened by the expensive methods of salvation being slighted (Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 55:1).
3. It is wrath that must avenge the affronts done to the chief messenger of God’s mercy.
4. It is such wrath as ariseth from the patience of God, tired and worn out by the boldest iniquities of men.
5. It is such wrath as shall be executed immediately and eternally.
III. How vain all the refuges and hopes of sinners will be found in that dreadful day, to avoid this wrath and vengeance!
1. Rocks and mountains, whose aid is sought in the last extremity of distress, will be but as spiders’ webs. What folly to call upon creatures to help them against their Creator! (Proverbs 2:21).
2. Rocks and mountains, though places of secrecy and concealment, cannot hide them from the eyes of God (Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 23:24).
3. Rocks and mountains, though bulwarks of defence and places of security, cannot stand before the indignation of the Almighty (Nahum 1:2; Nahum 1:6).
4. Rocks and mountains falling upon us are instruments of sudden death.
1. What a wretched mistake it is to imagine that God is all mercy, and Jesus Christ nothing else but love and salvation!
2. The day of Christ’s patience makes haste to an end (Psalms 2:12).
3. How very different will the thoughts of sinners be in that day! (Isaiah 2:10; Isaiah 2:21).
4. What hideous and everlasting mischief is contained in rejecting the gospel of Christ!
5. Sinners, consider your ways, the danger you are in, and the need you have of a Saviour (Psalms 61:2).
6. You, whose defence is the Rock of Ages, continue in Him (Revelation 2:10). (T. Hannam.)
The wrath of God
And this wrath impends over every impenitent and unforgiven sinner.
I. It is sure to fall upon him in due time. It is not a simple possibility. It is not merely a threat to terrify him. It is as sure in the future as God Almighty’s Word and throne.
1. Eternal and Omnipotent Justice has decreed it.
2. Revelation declares it on almost every page.
3. The providence of God illustrates and confirms His Word.
II. It is sure, in due time, to fall upon the sinner in all the terribleness of its power and severity.
1. Here mercy tempers justice. Here wrath is restrained and grace works. Here the blood and intercession of Jesus Christ, and the tears and prayers of the Church, prevail to mitigate the severity of God’s anger.
2. This is the world of probation, not of final award.
3. The day of reckoning is appointed after death.
4. “The wrath of the Lamb” will not break forth till the great day of assize shall have come. So that all we know and see of the Divine wrath against sin and incorrigible sinners, in this life, is only an “earnest” of that awful tempest that will burst in fury upon the ungodly when “the great day of His wrath” shall have come.
III. This wrath will be justly deserved. It might have been turned aside; voluntary sin, and the persistent refusal of mercy and grace, will have provoked it. It is not simply the wrath of a God of eternal righteousness, hating all iniquity and bound to vindicate outraged justice in the interest of good government; but it is also “the wrath of the Lamb,” kindled by slighted love, by rejected mercy, by the blood of the covenant counted an unholy thing, by all His bloody sweat and agony and intercession despised! (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
The great day and the great question
I. Why it is here called “the great day of wrath.”
1. It may be called the great day of wrath inasmuch as no other preceding day of wrath ever equalled it. If all the tempests that ever roared, and all the vivid flashes of lightning that were ever seen, and all the hoarse thunders that have ever rolled, and all the roaring of the sea and every noise that has taken place, were all united together in one great swell, it would be nothing to the confusion of that great day. “The heaven shall pass away with a great noise.” We are told that if you put one drop of water upon an anvil, and some heated iron over it, and strike the iron, that drop of water will explode, and make a sound equal to that attending the discharge of a musket. If one drop of water will produce such a sound, what will it be when all the watery vapours surcharged with fire shall burst in one mighty and terrible crash?
2. It may be called so if we remember that it will be the last day. The sun will shine, on the morning of that day, for the last time. All the wheels of nature will come to a standstill; all the mysterious and intricate movements of time will cease.
3. But we may call it a great day of wrath, more particularly, if we remember that it will be the judgment day.
4. It will be a great day of wrath if we consider, moreover, the Judge who will preside on that day, and I-Its character. Jesus Christ Himself will be the Judge--very consoling to the believer, because the Judge will be his best Friend; exceedingly annoying to the sinner, for he will have sins revealed that he would not have known for ten thousand worlds. Jesus Himself, who is impartial, who will then be inexorable--He will be the Judge. Ah, now is the time. The Saviour will listen to your cry this night. Therefore, when we consider who is the Judge, that He will be inexorable, and will not be then entreated, we may say that it is a great day of wrath.
II. “who shall be able to stand?” A safe and Scriptural answer to this question is, indeed, very important.
1. “Who shall be able to stand?” Not the swearer: he has asked God to destroy his soul and body, and now all his prayers shall be answered. Not the liar: all liars shall have their part in “the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.” Not the drunkard: he will receive something now more hot than alcohol. Not the hypocrite: the mask will fall off. Not the formalist. Not the backslider. And thus we may go on answering the question in a negative way.
2. I fancy I hear a voice coming from some one in this audience--“Well, I am very glad that you have made an exception of me: I am sure that I do not belong to the bundle of swearers,” etc. Stop, friend, there is one bundle yet; if you are not there, well, then, we must put you aside. Where is that large bundle of gospel hearers--men and women who have heard the Word and have not obeyed it? You are there.
3. Those, and those alone, will stand in the great day of wrath, who are resting entirely upon the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1) They will have their characters publicly vindicated.
(2) They will gather in the fruit of their labours. (J. D. Smith.)
Safety in the day of wrath
I. Whose is the wrath here spoken of? As a Lamb the Saviour stands on Mount Zion, surrounded by a thousand hosts of His redeemed; as a Lamb He appears before the throne, receiving the prostrate adoration of the elders; as a Lamb He appears as a Bridegroom waiting for the New Jerusalem, “adorned as a bride prepared for her husband”; and as a Lamb He is represented as standing in the very midst of the throne, with His wounds all fresh, intimating H us that He is still sustaining to His Church the functions of a prevailing, unchangeable, everlasting priesthood. And this image is manifestly designed to set before us various attributes in the character of our Redeemer. First, no doubt it is designed to endear to us the mild and gentle attributes of His nature; to show to us how patient He is to forgive injuries, how long He will bear with the sinner’s affronts, how hard it is to arouse Him from the serene calm of His holy nature, what a “strange work” it is with Him to punish and destroy. But in the text there is an adjunct to this image, which at first seems to take away from its fitness and propriety; it would seem to suggest to us attributes of an opposite and conflicting kind; for who ever heard of “the wrath” of a lamb? Why is it that, on this occasion, the Saviour appears not under one of His more majestic titles--as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” tearing the seed of the rebellious to pieces? This title is retained even in describing the solemn day of Christ’s appearing as a witness, as a warning, as a setting forth of the aggravated character of man’s disobedience, and the utter exclusiveness of a despised salvation.
II. What it is in that day that will make “the wrath of the Lamb” so terrible.
1. First, it will be because then this “wrath” will be felt to have been deserved. Well may the Lamb say to those who have refused Him on that day, “What more could I have done for you that I have not done? I gave Myself to the insults of men, to the buffetings of Satan, to the piercing of the sword of justice, to the degradation and shame of the Cross.”
2. Again: the “wrath” will be felt to have been deserved on account of the light we enjoy, and the means used by the offended Man to bring us to a knowledge of Himself, and to constrain us to embrace the offers of His love.
3. Then another consideration which will make this wrath so terrible will be its utter implacableness, the awful consciousness that it can never change through the ages of eternity, that the Lamb will never put on those aspects of gentleness, and pity, which were turned towards us in the day of our probation and our hope.
III. Who are they that “shall be able to stand”? Of course the first answer to this is, they are those who are in Christ Jesus. Who are they that shall stand? Why, they are those who feel that they have made Christ their one entire sole dependence: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” “Trust in the Lord; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” “O Lord, our Lord, other gods besides Thee have had dominion over us; but by Thee only will we make mention of Thy name.” Then, once more: there is good hope that we shall be able to stand in the day of Christ if we are of those who are waiting for, and hastening to, and desiring His appearing. (D. Moore, M. A.)
Who shall be able to stand in the last judgment
There will assuredly come a day of judgment. The material universe symbolically prophecies some such a moral crisis in the history of man. The flowing river, the growing plants, the breathing tribes, the planetary systems, all tend to a crisis. The unremitting increase from age to age in the human family, viewed in connection with the limited capacity of this planet to sustain animal existence, irresistibly indicates some such a turning point in human history. The universal and concurrent references of the human conscience through all ages and lands, give a high probability to the dawn of such a moral juncture. The Bible settles the question. The sentence preceding the text calls it a great day. It will be “great,” on account of the number and variety of the moral beings that will be assembled together; great, on account of the results which will then be effected--redemptive providences ended, and the agencies of a righteous retribution brought into full play; great, on account of the thrilling interest it will awake through all the realms of moral existence the universe over; great, on account of the Divine glories that will then be displayed. But our point now is--Who shall be able to stand on that day? In order to illustrate this solemn question I shall suppose a case. What under a legal charge could enable you to look calmly forward to the coming day of trial, feeling that you could stand? We can only conceive of seven things which would answer this purpose.
I. A consciousness of innocence and the power of showing that the charge has no foundation.
II. Assurance that the evidence will be found insufficient to convict. There will be--
1. The omniscient Judge. He knows everything about you.
2. There will be present the persons to whom and through whom you have sinned.
3. Then there will be conscience within you bearing the strongest testimony against you.
III. A feeling that the crime with which you are charged is very insignificant. No. Sin, believe me, is no trifling matter.
1. Think of it in its relation to God. It is a violation of the most righteous laws, for He is your Sovereign. It is a violation of the highest trust; for He is your Proprietor, and you are His stewards. It is a violation of the most wonderful love. He is your loving Father--your merciful Redeemer.
2. Think of it in its bearing on yourself and on the universe. “One sinner destroyeth much good.” This then will not serve you, will not enable you to stand in the judgment. Another thing that might answer the purpose in the supposed case is:--
IV. A felt capability of proving that the crime was committed accidentally, not by purpose.
V. Faith in the sympathy of the whole court in your favour.
VI. An ability to prove that you have rendered signal service to the state.
VII. The assurance that some one has successfully interposed between you and the superior authority. On the pages of the Bible I find written in sunbeams, that in consequence of what Christ has done, and is willing to do, for us as sinners, we may escape the sad consequences of our sins, and stand triumphantly in the Day of Judgment. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29