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I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth.
Moral evil in the universe
I. It is exposable (Revelation 9:1). Moral evil, in its incipient state, so stupefies the faculties and blinds the conscience that the subject only becomes aware of it by the advent of s messenger from heaven--an angel from heaven uncovers it, makes it bare to the soul.
II. It is fathomless. “Bottomless pit.” Who can fathom its--
III. It is burning. “A great furnace.” Like all fire, it exists in two states--latent or active. Where it becomes active it is consuming and transmuting: it consumers the good, and transmutes its embers into evil, and in all it inflicts agony on the soul--the agony of moral regrets for the past, and terrible forebodings for the future.
IV. It is obscuring.
1. How benighted men are on the eternal question of right!
2. How blinded men are to the eternal conditions of well-being!
V. It is alarming (Revelation 9:3). What hellish squadrons, to terrify and destroy the soul, issue from the fathomless abysses of moral evil! Terrible armies come in the memories of the past and in the apprehensions of the mysterious future. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The fallen stars
A star falling from heaven may be interpreted as something bright that leaps from its proper place, or may be used as the symbol of many things that are out of their true position, and as the type of many persons who are wandering, or who have wandered, or who will wander from their proper locality. It stands for broken plans, broken character, for virtue turned upside down, and for a world filled with riot, confusion, and shame.
1. As we study history, we find, in each age, a large number of prominent men who for a long season gave a brilliant light, and then all at once became eclipsed by their sins, being struck from the celestial skies. Is there any sight more sad than this? It is opportunity clipped, virtue smothered, consummate grandeur scorched, and a posterity robbed of examples that might have been splendidly luminous beyond all human estimate. Such men have struck a blow at humanity, and they stand unenvied, in the niche of fame, as traitors to their race, aliens from God, and bad specimens of a discrowned morality; and such is the penalty of a high position misused, of a great trust betrayed, and of a grand possibility disgraced.
2. Again, great cities and countries that have become extinct are fallen stars--Babylon, Nineveh, and Tyre, and others of like nature, which once led the world in beauty, culture, commerce, and force, but which now are lost in the ashes that serve as their mausoleum. No one could have foreseen their fate, because so stately, so magnificent, and so glorious did they appear, and right royal in their beauty.
3. In each one’s personal history we discover that bright luminaries have fallen from their place; for no one can look back upon a past life without detecting various periods when awful slips were made. How innocent we once were! What bright dreams of goodness flitted athwart the brain, crowned the soul, and illuminated a possible future! Ah! “the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak.” We meant to do that which was right, but temptation came, then we turned aside to the evil way; and probably there is not a person in the world at the age of twenty-one who has not lost somewhat of the freshness of early life, and we all moan over some good thing that we have too easily let go. Are we as truthful as we once were? as honest? as pure? Ah! the firmament of our souls has become strangely darkened, and many of the brilliant lights that once studded it appear to have died out. Only here and there twinkles one little star, very lonely, sad, obscure. Clouds and darkness are round about us, while a thick vapour has thrown its fearful shroud over our original beauty. Yet, all this we can remedy; and these choice constellations of early days, now so disguised, can be made to shine with renewed glory, can once more proclaim their power, and can yet again blaze with gorgeous splendour. And Jesus came on purpose to tell us how to keep these starlike virtues in their orbit, how to call them back when they have wandered, and how to summon up their original splendour. He did not wish us to be freed from all temptation, that, merely by the absence of exposure, our innocence might be eternally fortified, and that our goodness might be iron-clad--no, not that; but He endeavoured to show us how to meet temptation, how to conquer it, how to take our innocence and to push it into virtue, and how to change a mere passive goodness into a decided, active, and glorious nobleness of character. (Caleb D. Bradlee.)
Why should God permit this star to fall
Could not He who made the heavens have kept the constellations in their place, and have saved from extinction those brilliant lights? If Be could only make them, but could never control them after they were born, where was His omnipotence? If He could only make them, and yet not know that they would rebel, where was His omniscience? Or, in other words, why did God ever allow sin to attack the children of men? that old question that is ever new, and that will ever come up to trouble us; for it has puzzled the human heart ever since the human heart was made, yet is not the answer really very plain? Without free will we should be machines; but with it there must be the possibility of our going astray. God can, and does, prevent sin from injuring the world ultimately; but He cannot, consistently with the freedom of the human mind, stop a human being from going astray if that human being so desires. And if the star will fall from heaven, why it must fall; but God will prevent it from scorching the world, while God, perhaps, in time will so inflame it with His blessed love, pity, and grace that it will find again its place, regain its power, and shine once more in splendour. (Caleb D. Bradlee.)
The evil effects of degeneracy: the fallen star
The evil effects are--
II. Destructively injurious.
III. Bitterly afflictive.
1. To him who falls.
2. To them whom he drags down with him.
3. To them whose sympathies being only with goodness are afflicted by anything that tends to degeneracy of manners, to feebleness of faith, or to the lowering of the tone and felicity of human life.
4. To the widespread, outlying multitudes, amongst whom the spread of goodness is retarded by any act of unfaithfulness and any instance of defection. (R. Green.)
Abuse of the best things
The best things, when abused, become the worst; there is no devil like a fallen angel, no enemy to the gospel like an apostate Christian, no hate like the “theological hate,” no war like a religious war, and no corruption like religious corruption. The reasons are not far to seek. The best things are the strongest; they can therefore do evil when used in an evil way. (A. J. Morris.)
Shall men seek death, and shall not find Jr.--
The extremity of anguish
I. A state of misery in which death is sought.
1. Death is universally regarded amongst men as the greatest evil. The ravenous beast, the furious storm, the destructive pestilence, the engulfing earthquake, are only terrible because death is terrible.
2. The relief which men generally seek in this world in their sufferings is from death. The mariner will forsake his ship with valuable cargo, the king will resign his kingdom, the wounded will suffer amputation of every limb, if thought needful, to avoid death.
II. A state of misery in which death is sought as a relief in vain. It is miserable to seek relief in the most deeply felt evil, but to seek it in such an evil in vain adds wondrously to the misery of the case. Fatigue, disappointment, the consciousness of lost energy, add to the anguish. Earth runs from death; hell runs after it, and runs in vain.
III. Concluding inferences:
1. The fact that men are exposed to such a state of being implies that some sad catastrophe has befallen our nature.
2. There is something in the universe to be dreaded by man more than death, and this is sin.
3. Christianity should be hailed as the only means to deliver us from this extremity of anguish. It destroys sin; it “condemns sin in the flesh.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
As it were crowns like gold.--
The fictions of sin
These mystical locusts personify the lusts and passions which destroy the soul, and which, destroying the soul, destroy all things. Our text suggests that sin affects great things, it promises great things, and it never gives what it promises. “On their heads were as it were crowns of gold.” It is not a real, solid, golden crown, but “as it were.” Sin always acts by an infernal magic; it is full of illusion, imposition, and mockery. There is indeed a Mephistophelean element in all sin; it saves its word whilst it lies, it gives a spurious gift, it is ironical, scornful, and derisive. It is the supreme sophistry; the supreme satire.
1. There is no reality in the greatness that sin promises. Sin promises distinction, glory, fame. The devil is quite flush of crowns. But men always find at last that selfish greatness, soiled greatness, unrighteous greatness is false greatness, and that it only mocks those who have made such immense sacrifices on its behalf. Take a conqueror, of whom Napoleon is the type. He was himself a locust, with a crown upon his head. And just as the locusts strip the trees and leave rich and smiling landscapes desolate, so did this imperial locust and his legions strip kingdoms and leave a track of blood and ruin. But how empty was all his glory, and how little it came to! An exile at St. Helena, you feel he got the crown, “as it were.” And to-day how utterly discredited he is, and how beggared all his greatness! The world knows him as a colossal brigand. Take a poet, and let Byron be our typical instance. How much of greatness and fame did he seem to acquire, and yet his career was based on egotism, sensuality, godlessness; and how poor he looks now! Take a politician. I have been reading the biography of a notorious statesman. He was a brilliant man and he loved brilliance. All his letters are about splendid events, gorgeous pageantries, eloquent speeches. He breakfasts with wits, takes tea with duchesses, dines with the queen. You read about literature, diplomacy, rank, but the great words of righteousness and humanitarianism are hardly breathed. How poor it all looks now! How theatrical it looks, how theatrical it was! How differently we look upon Wilberforce, who brought men liberty; upon Cobden, who gave us bread; upon Shaftesbury, who made mercy to distil upon waste places as the gentle rains drop upon the plains, beneath. Their crowns are solid, they glow as they age; but as for my dramatic statesman, ms diadem was dust before he was. It is always so. Wherever glory is built on egotism, violence, unrighteousness, it possesses only an apparitional crown. “The burglar seizes property, but in his hands it is no longer property, but pillage.” The sensual man seizes love, but beautiful love thus seized instantly dies and becomes a ghastly corpse--that we call lust. The ambitious man seizes greatness, but the moment that he touches it in the spirit of egotism and pride the splendid crown becomes tinsel. “The coveted thing, whatever it be, loses its essence when the lawless lust has got it.” If you want greatness and glory seek for it in another and truer pathway. You young men, be sure that you seek it in the ways of truth and wisdom and purity. “Wisdom is the principal thing.” “She shall bring thee to honour.” You professional men. You justly contemplate promotion and distinction in your calling, lawyer, physician, artist. Be sure you make no compromise. Be ready to go without a crown that you may get one. You municipal men. You political aspirants. Bring the religious and moral into your life or some day you will be mocked by knowing the crown for which you struggled is only a miserable counterfeit. And then we all hope for a larger glory and honour still. It is astonishing what a faith we have in the possibilities of our nature; what an instinct for greatness; what an appetite for glory! Years ago I remember a poor woman dying; she was a very poor woman, and was carried to the grave from a lowly cottage. But her children put this verse on her funeral card: “And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” They felt she was great enough to have the sun for her robe, the moon for a footstool, and Orion, Venus, Sirius, Arcturus, Aldebaran, for the stars of her forehead. And they were right. The most magnificent things of the Apocalypse do not startle us. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” But let us aim at true greatness--not mock greatness. We do not want the crowns of the locusts--we want one of those other crowns, such as the elders wore, as the angels wore, as the saints wore. The true crown is a crown of righteousness, it fadeth not away.
II. There is no reality in the wealth that sin promises. Wealth without morality, without humanity, without spirituality, is in an extraordinary degree unreal and tantalising. On the Stock Exchange is what is known as “phantom gold.” Certain transactions in gold are known by this name. It is gold that exists only on paper, and it is dealt in as a pure speculation. But how much of the wealth of society is “phantom gold”! It is on paper only; it is truly a visionary, speculative thing. There is no real solid joy in it. Look at illegitimate wealth--wealth gotten by immoral means. Men sometimes get it, and then they are detected and they are deprived of it. There are rogues in prison to-day who have been deprived of their ill-gotten wealth. You have seen a mouse in a trap--it gets the cheese “as it were.” And if they do not go to prison, wealth that comes badly has a trick of melting away swiftly. They put it into a bag with holes, they get it and are poor, they never have anything. Fairy gold turns to withered leaves and dust. And sometimes conscience will not let them enjoy it. Look at Judas! He got the thirty pieces of silver “as it were.” And there is much the same deception and disappointment with all selfish, godless, unspiritual wealth. Men have it, and yet they have it not, they get the golden prize, and then harndling it find it “as it were.” They have it, and it is a phantom. It is like a man promising you money, and then showing you a five-pound note in a looking-glass. Balzac, the French writer, built himself a splendid mansion, but when he had finished it he had exhausted his resources, and so he proceeded to furnish it in imagination, Here a ticket announced a great picture, there a cabinet, conch, table, etc. The realities were not there, only labels. And it is often much the same with the selfish unspiritual rich, their outward life overbrims with riches, lint their soul is empty. They have certificates, title-deeds, parchments declaring that they have wealth and power and happiness, but the realities are utterly wanting in their deepest, truest life. They can’t translate it into the true riches of brain and heart, of character, experience, and hope. A friend of mine in London is a jeweller for the theatres, and he was showing me the other day the jewels of the stage. What a size those jewels are! Mammoth gems, mountains of light, stars of the first magnitude. What colours those jewels have! Rich, burning, gorgeous hues. And what a quantity! Pearls by the peck. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, abound. Crowns, mitres, diadems, necklaces on every side. The crown-jewels in the Tower look mean and shabby compared with this treasury of gems. And yet one crown jewel would far more than have bought them all. Clever, ingenious, plausible--they were still Brummagem. One simple, small, modest gem of royalty outweighs all the gay and garish gems of the mimic kings and queens of the gaslight. And it is much the same with Vanity Fair, with all unspiritual glory, and fashion, and luxury. The rich and gay are but actors, their purple brings them no self-respect, their gold no gladness, their splendour no satisfaction of soul. Have no unrighteous wealth. It will only deceive and curse you. Do not hold your wealth in the spirit of selfishness. Be the steward of God, using for His glory, for high and generous purposes, whatever He gives you. And be sure of this, that no wealth is truly yours until it is realised in the spiritual and godly. “The gold of this land is good.”
III. There is no reality in the pleasure that sin promises. Pleasure that is not moral; pleasure that is selfish; pleasure that has no thought of God in it is always fictitious. It is imagination, illusion, falsehood. I remember a picture of the Prodigal Son, and there was one fine touch in it. The poor fellow had come to the feeding of the swine, and the painter had put in one of those poetic touches which mean so much a few poppies gave bits of colour to the dismal picture. Yes, one deep lesson of the parable was there--the prodigal had been under the power of opium, he had been the victim of illusion. And this illusion had betrayed him to the far country, the swine, the hunger, the brink of despair. It is always thus--the poppy plays the grand part. The devil makes men to see wondrous delights in sensual, selfish, godless pleasures. But they prove sooner or later as the podigal son did that it is illusion, that unrighteous and unspiritual enjoyment is a miserable cheat. The African saw blocks of silver on the other side of the river, but when he crossed the river they turned into black stones. He never gives you a crown of roses but “as it were.” Brethren, seek for a real crown--greatness, wealth, pleasure. Make for this. Don’t be deceived. And there is One who can give it. It is in the truth and grace and power of Christ that you shall realise all the grand and beautiful and enduring satisfactions of the heart. There is no “as it were” in Jesus Christ. It is reality; it satisfies, abides. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Stings in their tails.--
The tail of a habit
“A beast escaped with a halter,” says Thomas Manton, “is easily caught again; so a lust indulged will bring us into our old bondage.” Nothing is harder to bury than the tail of a habit; but unless we do bury it, tail and all, the viper will wriggle out of its grave. A clear, clean, and complete escape is the only true deliverance from an evil practice which has long been indulged. A drunkard is not safe from the drink while he takes his occasional glass with a friend. A man who allows himself any one sin will be sure to allow another; where one dog comes into the room another may follow. A fish is not free for his life while a hook is in his mouth, and a line holds him to the rod. However thin the connecting medium, it will be the death of the fish, if it holds; and, however slight the bond which links a man to evil, it will be his sure ruin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
There come two woes more.--
Woes to come
To my own apprehension, while reading this in private, it seemed just such an utterance as the angel of God might address to the soul of the ungodly when he leaves the body. “Death is over,” saith the angel. “One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.” Thou hast passed through the woes of death, but behold there comes a judgment, and then comes a second death: “One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.”
1. The woe which is supposed to be passed is the woe of death. Death to the righteous has lost its sting, but to the wicked death has all its terrors. Its horrors are not diminished by anything that Christ hath done; yea, rather, death gathers more cause of dismay; for the very Cross itself may fill the obdurate heart with consternation. When the sinner dies impenitent, having rejected the mercy of Christ, death is woe indeed. One of my predecessors, Mr. Benjamin Keach, has left on record an account of a man that had been a trouble to his Church--for he had backslidden--and his cries, shrieks, and tears, at the very prospect of death, were enough to make one’s hair turn white and stand upon end. The poor wretched man seems to have had a foretaste of perdition before he entered into its fire; and so it is ofttimes with the wicked: thou hast had thy harvest; thy summer is ended; but thou art not saved; thou hast been warned, but thou shalt not be warned again, and all the while conscience says this is just--I knew my duty and I did it not; I knew it was my duty to repent, but I steeled my heart against God, and I would not forsake my sins; I turned my back upon the Cross to dance in a merry circle downwards to the pit. This shall make death woeful indeed, when it shall be hurled into the mind; thou knewest thy duty, but thou didst it not:
2. Of the two woes that loom in the future, I would now briefly but solemnly speak.
(1) The first woe of the man who dies in his sins is the woe of judgment; that is terrible indeed. Scarce can a prisoner stand in the docks to be tried for his life by his fellow-man without trembling; at least, it is a wonder if it should be so. But conceive the great assize--the graves are opened! What horrors shall seize hold upon the wicked at that moment!
(2) After the woe of judgment there comes the woe of hell. Oh, what a woe is that in which all the woes of the lost are condensed! You cannot compare the pains of this life with the agonies to be endured hereafter. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Loose the four angels which are bound.
The sixth trumpet
I. The state of society at the time.
II. The nature of this visitation.
1. It is evoked by a cry out of the four horns of the altar. It comes from the immediate presence of God, and therefore with the sanction of God. The call itself is the common voice of all four of the horns of the altar, indicating the energy and the universality of the demand for vengeance, and of that vengeance itself. The implication is that God’s appointed way of forgiveness has been set aside; that the Divine system of gracious atonement and salvation has been rejected, and that the wickedness of earth has risen so high, especially in point of antagonism to the Cross, that even the altar itself, which otherwise cries only for mercy, is forced into a cry for vengeance.
2. The command issues to the angel who sounds this trumpet. The command itself is the command of the contemned Saviour. But it is addressed to the angel. He obeys it as his Divine commission, and thus presides over the administration ushered in by his trumpet. He looses the imprisoned forces, and sets them free for action.
3. Other angels are the more direct executors of the woe. Some have taken these to be good angels. I do not so regard them. Good angels are free, not bound. Good angels would not destroy men, except by special command of God; but these had only to be loosed, and they at once rushed forth for slaughter, impelled to the dreadful business by their own malicious nature. They were bound in mercy to our race, and here they are let loose in judgment. Their number also indicates the universality of their operations.
4. The moment the four bound angels are released from their constraint, hosts of death-dealing cavalry overrun the earth. As there are infernal locusts, so there are infernal horses; and as the former were let forth to overrun the world with their torments under the fifth trumpet, so the latter are let forth to overrun the world with still more terrible inflictions under the sixth.
5. Fearful havoc of human life is made by these infernal horses. To say nothing of the dread and horror which their presence inspires, and the confusion which their advent strikes into every department of society, it is here written, that, by these horses, one out of every three of the whole human family is killed, destroyed from the face of the earth.
6. The continuance of this plague is equally extraordinary.
7. The object of this woe is partly retributive and partly reformatory. It belongs to the judicial administrations of the great day. It is God’s terrific judgment upon the world, which has disowned allegiance to Him, and rejected the mediation of His Son. It is the righteous indignation of outraged justice which can no longer endure the superlative wickednesses of men. And yet, in wrath God remembers mercy. He suffers on]y one-third of the race to fall a prey to this tremendous woe. He delighteth not in the death of the wicked, but would rather that they should turn from their evil ways and live. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The rest … repented not.--
So it was in the beginning, so it will be to the end. All outward plagues, all outbursts of moral evils, all apostasies in Divine societies, were and are trumpets of God; those who acknowledge His goodness and truth will tremble and rejoice that He is speaking to them; that He is calling them to repent; that He is preparing the way for a manifestation of Himself. But these trumpets, let them sound as loud and long as they may, seldom stir s man who disbelieves in a living and good God to confess Him. The terror which is in them stupefies rather than quickens. The slumberer is half roused out of his dream; is bewildered; takes a fresh opiate; flies to the gods that neither see, nor hear, nor walk; flies from Him whom he has only recognised in thunderings and lightnings. The sentence is everlastingly true that not the fire, nor the earthquake, nor the blast rending the mountains, but only the still small voice reaches the heart, and compels it to bow. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Man’s stubborn will
I. All men need repentance.
II. God pleads with men to bring them to repentance. These judgments of which we read are not God’s primary dealings with men. He does not begin in this manner. God has pleaded with men by His Spirit in their consciences. By His goodness, giving them all manner of providential mercies. Then, more especially by His Word.
III. But these milder methods often fail.
IV. Sterner methods are then tried.
V. But even these, at times, and for long time, fail. This is the declaration of our text (also Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 8:6; Romans 2:4-5). So was it with Pharaoh, when the plagues one after another, which in many respects resembled these trumpet-plagues, came upon him.
VI. What is the reason of this? The answer is manifold, as, for example:
1. Those that are spared argue from that fact that they need not repent.
2. Sin deadens belief in God. It makes men practical atheists.
3. God’s judgments are put down to secondary causes.
4. “Perfect love casteth out fear.” This is true in a sense the apostle never meant. Let the heart love sin, as it is so prone to do, and that love will utterly cast out the fear of God.
5. The law of habit. You may bend the sapling, but not the tree.
VII. How intensely serious are the teachings of this fact! Is it true that, though God sends judgment after judgment upon men, they will yet not repent? Then:
1. More judgments and worse will come.
2. How we need to watch and pray lest we be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin!
3. What imperative need there is of the power of the Holy Spirit! (S. Conway, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28