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THE TITLE. The simplest form of this, as of other books of the New Testament, is the oldest: 'The Revelation of John' (Αποκάλυψις Ιωάννου). Other forms worth noting are: 'The Revelation of John the Apostle and Evangelist;' 'The Revelation of the holy and most glorious Apostle and Evangelist, the virgin, the beloved, that leaned on the breast, John the Divine.' 'The divine' as a title for St. John, which is retained here in both the Authorized Version and the Revised Version, is certainly as old as Eusebius ('Praep. Evan.,' 11.18). Recent discoveries at Ephesus have shown that "divines" (θεολόγοι) was a title of the chief priests in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It is possible, but hardly probable, that this suggested the title for St. John. It probably points to his witness to the Divinity of the Logos or Word. Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' III. 24.13) remarks that John omitted the human genealogy of the Saviour, and began with his Divinity δὲ θεολογίας ἀπάρξασθαι
THE INTRODUCTION. Most writers agree that the first three chapters are introductory. They may be thus subdivided:
Revelation 1:1-3, the superscription;
Revelation 1:4-8, the address and greeting;
Revelation 1:9-20, the introductory vision;
Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22, the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia.
The earliest systematic commentator on the Apocalypse in the Greek Church, Andreas of Caesarea, in Cappadocia (A.D). 450-500), divides it into twenty-four λόγοι, or narratives, to correspond with the twenty-four elders; and each of these into three κεφάλαια, or chapters, to correspond with body, soul, and spirit, making seventy-two chapters in all.
The superscription. This consists of a brief description of the contents and origin of the book, and a commendation of it to the reader and hearer.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ. This phrase occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in 1Pe 1:7, 1 Peter 1:13. It means the revelation which Jesus Christ makes, not that which reveals him. John is the writer, Jesus Christ the Author, of the book. Revelation (απόκαλυψις) is a word reserved for the gospel; no Old Testament prophecy is called a revelation (contrast 1 Samuel 20:30). It means the unveiling of Divine mysteries (Ephesians 3:3), and from this it easily slips into meaning the mystery unveiled. Christ is both the Mystery and the Revealer of it. He comes to reveal himself, and in himself the Father, whose Image he is. Thus in its opening words the book takes us beyond itself. What is revealed is not secrets about the future, but a Person. And the Revealer is not man, but God; not John, but the Divine Son, commissioned by the Father. For even the unincarnate Word receives from the Father that which he reveals. Which God gave unto him. This is remarkably in harmony with the Christology of the Fourth Gospel. The simple infinitive to express a purpose after "give" is common to Gospel and Apocalypse (Revelation 3:21; Revelation 7:2; Revelation 13:14; John 4:7, John 4:10; John 6:52). His servants. All Christians, not exclusively seers like St. John. "Even the things which" (Revised Version) makes "things which" in apposition with "the Revelation," which is probably right. Must (δεῖ); because God has so decreed. This Divine "must" is frequent in the Gospel (John 3:14, John 3:30; John 9:4; John 10:16; John 12:34; John 20:9). Shortly. The meaning of ἐν τάχει is much disputed. But, like "firstborn" in the question about the brethren of the Lord, "shortly" ought not to be pressed in determining the scope of the Apocalypse. Calling Jesus the firstborn Son of Mary tells us nothing as to her having other children. Saying that the Apocalypse shows things which must shortly come to pass tells us nothing as to its referring to events near St. John's own day. Probably it refers to them and to much else in the Christian dispensation. In the language of the seer, past, present, and future are interwoven together as seen by God, and more truth is contained than the seer himself knows. "The whole book ought to be received as a single word uttered in a single moment" (Bengel). It does not follow, because St. John had events near to his own day in his mind, that his words are limited to those events for us. Signified. Jesus Christ signified, i.e. made known by symbol and figure, the things which must come to pass. "Signify" (σημαίνειν) is characteristic of St. John, to whom wonders are "signs" (σημεῖα) of Divine truths. "This he said, signifying [by means of an allegory] by what manner of death he should die" (John 12:33; comp. John 18:32; John 21:19). By his angel; literally, by means of his angel (διὰ τοῦ ἀγγέλου). "Angel" here probably has its, common meaning of a spiritual messenger from the unseen world; but it is the fact of his being Christ's messenger, rather than his heavenly character, that is specially indicated. Whether one and the same angel is employed throughout the Revelation is not clear. He does not come into the foreground of the narrative until Revelation 17:1, Revelation 17:7, Revelation 17:15 (comp. Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:6, Revelation 22:9). The Revelation is begun (verses 17-20) and ended (Revelation 22:16) by Christ himself; but the main portion is conducted "by means of his angel." Thus St. Paul says of the Law that it was "administered by means of angels in the hand of a mediator," i.e. Moses (Galatians 3:19). In this case the mediator is John, a "servant" specially selected for this work (Isaiah 49:5; Amos 3:7). Thus we have four gradations—the primary Agent, the Father; the secondary Agent, Jesus Christ; the instrument, his angel; the recipient, John.
Who bare record. "To bear witness" (μαρτυρεῖν) and "witness," or "testimony'' (μαρτυρία), are characteristic of St. John's writings, and serve to connect together his Gospel, the First Epistle, and the Apocalypse. Such words should be carefully noted, and, so far as possible, uniformly translated, in order to mark their frequency in the English Version. The Authorized Version rings the changes on "bear witness," "bear record," "give record," and "testify," for μαρτυρεῖν; and on "witness," "record," and "testimony," for μαρτυρία. The Revised Version has here made great improvements. To bear witness to the truth and the Word of God was St. John's special function throughout his long life, and to this fact he calls attention in all his chief writings (see Haupt on 1 John 5:6). The testimony of Jesus Christ, like "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" (verse 1), means that which he gave, not that which tells about him. And of all things that he saw; better, as in the Revised Version, even of all things that he saw, taking δσα εἵδεν in apposition with what precedes. The seer is here speaking of the visions of the Apocalypse, not of the events in Christ's life. The aorists, ἐμαρτύρησεν and εἵδεν, are rightly compared to the συνέγραψε of Thucydides (1.1; 6.7, 93).
He that readeth this book publicly in the church, and they that hear the book read, are equally blessed. There is grace promised to both minister and congregation who live up to the spirit of the Scriptures. St. John here suggests that a usage common in the Jewish Church (Luke 4:16; Acts 15:21; 2 Corinthians 3:15) may be adopted in the Christian Church. Probably this verse is the earliest authority for the public reading of the New Testament Scripture. It is very precarious to argue that "the Apocalypse, which points to this custom, cannot have been composed in the year 68," because this Christian custom is of later origin than 68. The official communications of apostles were sure to be read publicly in the churches (see Lightfoot on Colossians 4:16). Until the new lectionary came into use, the blessing hero promised to the liturgical use of the Apocalypse was sadly neglected in the English Church. One might almost have supposed that a blessing had been pronounced on those who do not read and do not hear the prophecy. The words of this prophecy; literally, of the prophecy; i.e. "the prophecy of this book" (Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:18). That which is a revelation in reference to Christ is a prophecy in reference to John. "Prophecy" must not be narrowed down to the vulgar meaning of foretelling future events; it is the forthtelling of the mind of God. Prophecy, in the narrow sense of prediction, cannot well be kept. It is God's call to repentance, obedience, steadfastness, and prayer that must be kept by both reader and hearers in order to bring a blessing. And if the words are to be kept, they can be understood. We have no right to set aside the Revelation as an insoluble puzzle (comp. Luke 11:28, where, however, we have φυλάσσειν, not τηρεῖν). The time is at hand. The appointed time, the season foreordained of God (καιρός, not χρόνος), is near. We may ask, with F.D. Maurice, "Did not the original writer use words in their simple, natural sense? If he told the hearers and readers of his day that the time was at hand, did he not mean them to understand that it was at hand?" No doubt. But that does not preclude us from interpreting the inspired words as referring, not only to events near St. John's time, but also to other events of which they were the foretastes and figures. To us the meaning is that the type of the end has been foretold and has come, and the end itself, which has been equally foretold, must be watched for in all seriousness.
The address and greeting. Of this section only Revelation 1:4-6 are, strictly speaking, the salutation; Revelation 1:7, Revelation 1:8 constitute a kind of summary, or prelude—Revelation 1:7 being more closely connected with what precedes, Revelation 1:8 with what follows. The salutation proper (Revelation 1:4-6) should be compared with the salutations in St. Paul's Epistles.
John. Evidently some well-known John, otherwise some designation would be necessary. Would any but the apostle have thus written to the Churches of Asia? St. Paul had some need to insist upon his being an apostle; St. John lind none. To the seven Churches. From the earliest times it has been pointed out that the number seven here is not exact, but symbolical; it does exclude other Churches, but symbolizes all. Thus the Muratorian Fragment: "John in the Apocalypse, though he wrote to the seven Churches, yet speaks to all." Augustine: "By the seven is signified the perfection of the universal Church, and by writing to seven he shows the fulness of the one." So also Bede: "Through these seven Churches he writes to every Church; for by the number seven is denoted universality, as the whole period of the world revolves on seven days;" and he points out that St. Paul also wrote to seven Churches. Compare the seven pillars of the house of wisdom (Proverbs 9:1), the seven deacons (Acts 6:3), the seven gifts of the Spirit. The number seven appears repeatedly in the Apocalypse; and that it is arbitrary and symbolical is shown by the fact that there were other Churches besides these seven—Colossae, Hierapolis, Tralles, Magnesia, Miletus. The repeated formula, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches," proves that the praise and blame distributed among the seven are of universal application. Asia means the Roman proconsular province of Asia, i.e. the western part of Asia Minor. Grace be unto you, and peace. This combination occurs in the salutations of St. Peter and St. Paul. It unites Greek and Hebrew elements, and gives both a Christian fulness of meaning. From him which is. Why should not we be as bold as St. John, and disregard grammar for the sake of keeping the Divine Name intact? St. John writes, ἀπὸ δ ὧν, κ.τ.λ. not ἀπὸ τοῦ ὅντος, κ.τ.λ. "If in Exodus 3:14 the words may run, 'I AM hath sent me unto you,' may we not also be allowed to read here, 'from HE THAT IS, AND THAT WAS, AND THAT IS TO COME'?". Note the ὁ ἧν to represent the nominative of the past participle of εἶναι, which does not exist, and with the whole expression compare "The same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Here every clause applies to the Father, not one to each Person; the three Persons are marked by the three prepositions, "from … and from … and from." It is a mistake to interpret ὁ ἐρχόμενος either of the mission of the Comforter or of the second advent. The seven Spirits. The Holy Spirit, sevenfold in his operations (Revelation 5:6). They are before his throne, ever ready for a mission from him (comp. Revelation 7:15). The number seven once more symbolizes universality, plenitude, and perfection; that unity amidst variety which marks the work of the Spirit and the sphere of it, the Church.
The faithful Witness. This was his function—"to bear witness unto the truth" (John 18:37). The rainbow is called "the faithful witness" (Psalms 89:37). The Firstborn of the dead. Christ was the first who was born to eternal life after the death which ends this life (see Lightfoot on Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:18; and comp. Psalms 89:27). "The ruler of this world" offered Jesus the glory of the kingdoms of the world, if he would worship him. He won a higher glory by dying to conquer him, and thus the crucified Peasant became the Lord of Roman emperors, "the Ruler of the kings of the earth." The grammar of this verse is irregular; "the faithful Witness," etc., in the nominative being in apposition with "Jesus Christ" in the genitive (comp. Revelation 2:20; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 9:14; Revelation 14:12). Unto him that loved us. The true reading gives "that loveth us" unceasingly. The supreme act of dying for us did not exhaust his love. In what follows it is difficult to decide between "washed" (λούσαντι) and "loosed" (λύσαντι), both readings being very well supported; but we should certainly omit "own" before "blood." The blood of Jesus Christ cleansing us from all sin is a frequent thought with the apostle who witnessed the piercing of the side (Revelation 7:13, Revelation 7:14; Revelation 1:0 John 7; 1 John 5:6-8).
And hath made us kings and priests; rather, as in the Revised Version, and he made us (to be) a kingdom, (to be) priests. "Made us" is not coordinate with "loosed us;" the sentence makes a fresh start. "Kingdom," not "kings," is the right reading. Christians are nowhere said to be kings. Collectively they are a kingdom—"a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), or, as St. Peter, following the LXX., gives it, "a royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). Each member of Christ shares in his eternal priesthood. Unto God and his Father; more probably we should render, with the Revised Version, unto his God and Father (comp. John 20:17; Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Ephesians 1:3). Alford objects that when St. John wishes a possessive genitive to apply to more than one substantive, he commonly repeats the genitive; and he quotes John 2:12; John 6:11; John 9:21. But in these passages he repeats not only the genitive, but the article. Here the article is not repeated, and τῷ Θεῷ καὶ Πατρὶ αὐτοῦ must be taken as one phrase. To him be the glory. The construction returns to that of the opening clause, "Unto him that loveth us." St. John's doxologies increase in volume as he progresses—twofold here, threefold in Revelation 4:11, fourfold in Revelation 5:13, sevenfold in Revelation 7:12. In each case all the substantives have the article—"the glory," "the honour," "the power," etc. Forever and ever; literally, unto the ages of the ages (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, in saecula saeculorum). It occurs twelve times in the Apocalypse, besides once without the articles (Revelation 14:12). In his Gospel and Epistles St. John uses the simpler formula, "forever," literally, "unto the age" (εἰς τὸν αἰῶγα). (See Appendix E. to St. John, in the 'Cambridge Greek Testament.') An indefinite period of immense duration is meant (comp. Galatians 1:5 and Ephesians 2:2, Ephesians 2:7, where the countless ages of the world to come seem to be contrasted with the transitory age of this world; see also Hebrews 13:21 and 1 Peter 4:11).
Revelation 1:7, Revelation 1:8
It is difficult to determine the exact connexion of these verses with one another, and with what precedes and follows. It seems best to make Revelation 1:7 a kind of appendix to the salutation, and Revelation 1:8 a kind of prelude to the whole book. They each give us one of the fundamental thoughts of the Apocalypse; Revelation 1:7, Christ's certain return to judgment; Revelation 1:8, his perfect Divinity.
He cometh. He who loveth us and cleansed us and made us to be a kingdom will assuredly come. While interpreting the verse of the second advent, we need not exclude the coming to "those who pierced him" in the destruction of Jerusalem, and to "the tribes of the earth" in the breakup of the Roman empire. With the clouds. This probably refers to Mark 14:62, "Ye shall see the Son of man … coming with the clouds of heaven" (comp. Daniel 7:13, "Behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven"). Aquinas and other writers make the clouds symbolize the saints, "who rain by preaching, glisten by working miracles, are lifted up by refusing earthly things, fly by lofty contemplation." And they also; better, and all they who (οἵτινες) pierced him. This is strong evidence of common authorship between the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse.
(1) St. John alone mentions the piercing.
(2) Here and in John 19:37 the writer, in quoting Zechariah 12:10, deserts the LXX. and follows the Masoretic Hebrew text. The LXX. softens down "pierced" into "insulted" (κάτωρχήσατο), "piercing" appearing a violent expression to use respecting men's treatment of Jehovah.
(3) Here and in John 19:37 the writer, in translating from the Hebrew, uses the uncommon Greek word ἐκκεντᾷν. The reference here is to all those who "crucify the Son of God afresh," not merely to the Jews. In what follows the Revised Version is to be preferred: "and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him? The wording is similar to Matthew 24:30 and the LXX. of Zechariah 12:10. The mourning is that of beating the breast, not wailing, and it is "over him" (ἐπ ̓ αὐτόν). Even so, Amen. Ναί Ἀμήν, like "Abba, Father" (Mark 4:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), combines a Hebrew word with its Greek equivalent.
A prelude to the book. In the simple majesty of its solemn language it reminds us of the opening of St. John's Gospel and of his First Epistle. "I am the Alpha and the Omega" is here not followed by "the Beginning and the End," which the Vulgate and some other authorities insert from Revelation 21:6 and Revelation 22:13. Who is "the Lord," that utters these words? Surely the Christ, as seems clear from Revelation 22:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 22:13. To attribute them to the Father robs the words of their special appropriateness in this context, where they form a prelude to "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" as God and as the Almighty "Ruler of the kings of the earth." Yet the fact that similar language is also used of the Father (Revelation 6:6; Revelation 21:6) shows how clearly St. John teaches that Jesus Christ is "equal to the Father as touching his Godhead." These sublime attributes are applicable to each. Like the doxology (see on verse 6), the statement of these Divine attributes increases in fulness as the writing proceeds. Here "the Alpha and the Omega;" verse 17 and Revelation 2:8, "the First and the Last;" in Revelation 21:6, "the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End;" in Revelation 22:13, "the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End." Of these four, the second and fourth certainly apply to the Son, and the third certainly to the Father, the first probably to the Son. The Almighty. With the exception of 2 Corinthians 6:18, where it occurs in a quotation, this expression (ὁ Παντοκράτωρ) is in the New Testament peculiar to the Apocalypse, where it occurs nine times. In the LXX. it represents more than one Hebrew expression; e.g. Jeremiah 3:19; Job 5:17.
The introductory vision. This section is introductory, not merely to the epistles to the Churches, but to the whole book. In it the seer narrates how he received his commission; and with it should be compared Isaiah 6:1-13; Jeremiah 1:1-10; Ezekiel 1:1-3; Daniel 10:1-21, especially Daniel 10:2, Daniel 10:7, where "I Daniel" is exactly parallel to "I John" here. The Revised Version is again much to be preferred to the Authorized Version.
In the tribulation and kingdom and patience. The order of the words is surprising; we should have expected "kingdom" to have come first or last. But "and patience" seems to be added epexegetically, to show how the tribulation leads to the kingdom (comp. Revelation 2:2, Revelation 2:3,Revelation 2:19; Revelation 3:10; Revelation 13:10; Revelation 14:12). "In your patience ye shall win your souls" (Luke 21:19). "Tribulation worketh patience" (Romans 5:3); and "through many tribulations, we must enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). Bengel notes that it is in tribulation that believers specially love this book. The Church of Asia, particularly after the prosperous time of Constantine, had a low opinion of the Apocalypse; while the African Church, which was more subject to persecution, highly esteemed it. "Everything tends to show that the Apocalypse was acknowledged in Africa from the earliest times as canonical Scripture". Was in the isle. Here and in Revelation 1:10 "was" is literally "came to be" (ἐγενόμην), implying that such was not his ordinary condition; comp. γενόμενος ἐν Ρώμη (2 Timothy 1:17). That is called Patmos. St. John does not assume that his readers know so insignificant a place. He does not say simply "in Patmos," as St. Luke says "to Rhodes" or "to Cyprus," but "in the isle that is called Patmos." Now Patmo or Patino, but in the Middle Ages Palmosa. Its small size and rugged character made it a suitable place for penal transportation. Banishment to a small island (deportatio in insulam or insulae vinculum) was common. "Aude aliquid brevibus Gyaris et carcere dignum" (Juv., Luke 1:73). Compare the cases of Agrippa Postumus (Tac., 'Ann.,' 1.3) and of Julia (4.71). For a full account of the island, see Gudrin's 'Description de File de Patmos,' Paris: 1856. For the circumstances of St. John's banishment, see Introduction. It was in exile that Jacob saw God at Bethel; in exile that Moses saw God at the burning bush; in exile that Elijah heard the "still small voice;" in exile that Ezekiel saw "the likeness of the glory of the Lord" by the river Chebar; in exile that Daniel saw "the Ancient of days." For the Word of God, and the testimony of Jesus. No doubt the Greek (διὰ τὸν λόγον) might mean that he was in Patmos for the sake of receiving the word; but Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 20:4 are decisive against this (comp. διὰ τὸ ὄνομά μου in John 16:21). These passages and "partaker in the tribulation" here prove that St. John's "coming to be in Patmos" was caused by suffering for the Word of God. The testimony of Jesus. This, as in verse 2, probably means the testimony that he bore, rather than the testimony about him. "Christ" is a corrupt addition to the text in both places in this verse.
I was in the Spirit. I came to be (see on Revelation 1:9) in a state of ecstasy capable of receiving revelations; like γενέσθαι με ἐν ἐκστάσει (Acts 22:17; comp. Acts 10:10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). On the Lord's day. The expression occurs here only in the New Testament, and beyond all reasonable doubt it means "on Sunday." This is, therefore, the earliest use of the phrase in this sense. That it means Easter Day or Pentecost is baseless conjecture. The phrase had not yet become common in A.D. 57, as is shown from St. Paul writing, "on the first of the week" (1 Corinthians 16:2), the usual expression in the Gospels and Acts. But from Ignatius onwards, we have a complete chain of evidence that ἡ Κυριακή became the regular Christian name for the first day of the week; and Κυριακή is still the name of Sunday in the Levant. "No longer observing sabbaths, but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day" (Ign., 'Magn.,' 9.). Melito, Bishop of Sardis, wrote a treatise περί Κυριακῆς (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' IV. 26:2). Dionysius of Corinth, in an epistle to the Romans, mentions that the Church of Corinth is that day keeping the Lord's holy day (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' IV. 23.11). Comp. also Clem. Alex., 'Strom.,' VII. 12.98; Tertull., 'De Con.,' 3. and 'De Idol.,' 14., where Dominicus dies is obviously a translation of Κυριακὴ ἡμέρα; and fragment 7 of the lost works of Irenaeus. That "the Lord's day" (ἡ Κυριακὴ ἡμέρα) in this place is the same as "the day of the Lord" (ἡ ἡμέρα τοῦ Κυίου) is not at all probable. The context is quite against any such meaning as that St. John is spiritually transported to the day of judgment. Contrast Revelation 6:17; Rev 16:14; 1 John 4:17; John 6:39, John 6:40, John 6:44, John 6:54; John 11:24; John 12:48. Whereas, seeing that the visions which follow are grouped in sevens (the seven candlesticks, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven vials), the fact that they begin on the first day of the seven is eminently appropriate. Great voice. The voice is evidently Christ's; but throughout the Apocalypse the speaker is frequently not named. By a construction common in Hebrew, "saying" agrees with "trumpet," the nearest substantive, instead of with "voice" (comp. Ezekiel 3:12; Matthew 24:31). "Therefore it is from behind, for all the symbols and references are to be sought for in the Old Testament" (I. Williams); comp. Isaiah 30:21.
On ample evidence (א, A, C, and all versions), "I am Alpha … the Last; and" must be omitted; also "which are in Asia." Write in a book; literally, into a book (εἰς βιβλίον). Over and over again, twelve times in all, St. John reminds us that he writes this book by Divine command (verse 19; Revelation 2:1, Revelation 2:8, Revelation 2:12,Revelation 2:18; Revelation 3:1, Revelation 3:7, Revelation 3:14; Revelation 14:13; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 21:5; comp. Revelation 10:4). The seven Churches. The order is not haphazard. It is precisely that which would be natural to a person writing in Patmos or travelling from Ephesus. Ephesus comes first as metropolis; then the city on the coast, Smyrna; then the inland cities in order, working round towards Ephesus again. In short, it is just the order in which St. John would visit the Churches in making an apostolic circuit as metropolitan. With the exception of what is told us in these chapters, the history of the Churches of Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis in the apostolic or sub-apostolic age is quite unknown. It was an ancient objection to the Apocalypse that in Thyatira there was no Church (see on Revelation 2:18).
To see the voice. As in Genesis 3:8, "the voice" is put for the speaker. This is the right method in studying the Revelation; we must, like St. John, "turn to see the voice." We must look, not to the events about which it seems to us to speak, but to him who utters it. The book is "the Revelation," not of the secrets of history, but "of Jesus Christ." Seven golden candlesticks. The word λυχνία occurs in Matthew 5:15; Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33; Hebrews 9:2; and seven times in this book. In Exodus 20:1-26:37 we have seven λύχνοι on one λυχνία, seven lamps on one lamp stand. So also in Zechariah 4:2. It is by no means certain that a similar figure is not meant here; the seven-branched candlestick familiar to all who know the Arch of Titus. If the Christ stood "in the midst of the candlesticks," his form would appear as that which united the seven branches. But it is perhaps more natural to understand seven separate lamp stands, each with its own lamp; and these, in contrast with the seven-branched stand of the temple, may represent the elastic multiplicity of the Christian Churches throughout the world in contrast with the rigid unity of the Jewish Church of Jerusalem.
In the midst of the candlesticks. "For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them". Like unto the Son of man. Here and in Revelation 14:14 we have simply υἱὸς ἀνθωώπου, as also in John 5:27 and Daniel 7:13; not ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, as in Acts 7:56 and everywhere else in all four Gospels. It is not certain that the absence of the articles forbids us to render the phrase, "the Son of man;" but it is safer to render, "a son of man." The glorified Messiah still wears that human form by which the beloved disciple had known him before the Ascension (John 21:7). With the exception of Acts 7:56, the full form, "the Son of man," is used only by the Christ of himself. A garment down to the feet. The word ποδηρής, sc. χιτών (vestis talaris), though frequent in the LXX. (Ezekiel 9:2, Ezekiel 9:3, Ezekiel 9:11; Zechariah 3:4, etc.), occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. The robe is an official one. The Rhemish renders it "a priestly garment down to the foote." Compare Joseph's "coat of many colours," which literally means a "coat reaching to the extremities." In Exodus 28:31 "the robe of the ephod" of the high priest is ὑποδύτης ποδήρης. The angel in Daniel 10:5, Daniel 10:6 is described in similar language: "whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz" (comp. Isaiah 22:21, "I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand"). "Enough is said to indicate that the Son of man claims and fulfils the office which was assigned to the children of Aaron; that he blesses the people in God's Name; that he stands as their Representative before his Father" (F.D. Maurice).
His head. From the garments of the great High Priest, St. John passes on to himself. What he had seen as a momentary foretaste of glory at the Transfiguration, he sees now as the abiding condition of the Christ. In Daniel 7:9 "the Ancient of days" has "the hair of his head like pure wool." This snowy whiteness is partly the brightness of heavenly glory, partly the majesty of the hoary head. The Christ appears to St. John as a son of man, but also as a "Divine Person invested with the attributes of eternity." As a flame of fire. "The Lord thy God is a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24). "I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins" (Jeremiah 17:10). The flame purifies the conscience and kindles the affections.
Fine brass. This may stand as a translation of χαλκολίβανος, a word which occurs here and in Revelation 2:18 only, and the second half of which has never been satisfactorily explained. It may have been a local technical term in use among the metalworkers of Ephesus (Acts 19:24; 2 Timothy 4:14). The Rhemish Version renders it "latten." In what follows, the Revised Version is to be preferred: "as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters." It is tempting to think that "the roar of the sea is in the ears of the lonely man in Patmos;" but the image seems rather to be that of the sound of many cataracts (comp. Ezekiel 1:24; Ezekiel 43:2; Daniel 10:6). There is singularly little of the scenery of Patmos in the Apocalypse.
He holds the Churches in his hand as a precious possession, which he sustains as a glory to himself. These Churches are as planets, which shine, not with their own light, but that of the sun; which shine most brightly in the night of "tribulation," which (like him who holds them in his right hand) are a guide to the wanderer, and are ever moving, yet ever at rest. Out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword. This metaphor runs through both Old and New Testaments. It is frequent in this book (Revelation 2:12, Revelation 2:16; Revelation 19:15, Revelation 19:21; comp. Luke 2:35; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Psalms 45:3; Psalms 57:4; Psalms 59:7; Psalms 64:3; Psalms 149:6; Proverbs 12:18; Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 49:2, etc.). The sharp words of men and the searching words of God are both spoken of under this figure of the sword. Tertullian and Richard of St. Victor explain the two edges as the Law and the Gospel. Other still more fanciful explanations have been given. "Two-edged" (δίστομος) is literally "two-mouthed," and perhaps expresses no more than the thorough efficiency of the sword. It occurs in Revelation 2:12 and Hebrews 4:12; also in classical Greek as equivalent to the more common ἀμφήκης. If a double meaning be insisted on, it may be found in the double character of God's Word, which not only smites the wicked, but searches the good; which cuts sometimes to punish, sometimes to heal. Thus in these very epistles to the Churches, penetrating words both of blessing and condemnation are uttered. The word for "sword" (ῥομφαία) occurs six times in Revelation; elsewhere in the New Testament only Luke 2:35. In classical Greek it is the heavy Thracian broadsword. In the LXX. it is used of the "flaming sword" of the cherubim which kept the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:24); also of the sword of Goliath (1Ki 17:1-24 :25). His countenance was as the sun shineth. It is the "Sun of Righteousness" and "the Light of the world." The exceptional glory of the Transfiguration has become constant now.
I fell at his feet as dead; literally, as one dead—as a dead man. St. Peter had fallen at Jesus' feet when he became conscious of the ineffable difference between sinlessness and sinfulness (Luke 5:8). How much more, therefore, would consciousness of the glorified Christ overwhelm St. John! Long years of contemplation of the incarnate Son would not prevent that. In like manner, Joshua (Joshua 5:14), Daniel (Daniel 7:17, Daniel 7:27), and St. Paul (Acts 9:4) are affected by the Divine presence. Fear not. Thus Christ encouraged the terrified apostles on the lake (John 6:20) and at the Transfiguration. So also the angel cheered Daniel (Daniel 10:12), Zacharias (Luke 1:13), Mary (Luke 1:30), the shepherds (Luke 2:10), and the women at the sepulchre (Matthew 28:5).
I am he that liveth. This should be joined with what precedes. "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I became dead, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." "Became" or "came to be" (ἐγενόμην), as in Revelation 1:9 and Revelation 1:10, indicates an exceptional condition. The "Amen" has been improperly inserted after "forevermore" (see on "forever and ever," in Revelation 1:6) from liturgical usage. Most English versions omit it. The keys, as so often, are the sign of authority (Revelation 3:7; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 20:1; Matthew 16:19). Christ, as the absolutely Living One, who "has life in himself" and is the Source of life in others, has control, not merely over the passage from this world to the other, but over the other world itself. He can recall departed souls from their resting place. The error of rendering Αιδης "hell" has often been pointed out; it is not a place of punishment, but the temporary home of the departed, who are awaiting the day of judgment. "Death," in all the best manuscripts and versions precedes "Hades;" and this is the logical order.
Write the things. The true reading and most English Versions give, "write therefore the things;" i.e. because thou hast seen me and received thy commission from me. The omission of "therefore" comes from the Genevan Version. The threefold division of things probably refers to past, present, and future visions, not to the past, present, and future in history. But it is possible that "the things which thou sawest" refers to the visions, and "the things which are," etc., to the realities symbolized in the visions.
The mystery. In construction this is the accusative after "write." A mystery is the opposite of a revealed truth; it is a sacred truth kept secret, the inner meaning of something which is perceived, but not generally understood. The angels of the seven Churches. The meaning of these "angels" has been very much disputed. The common explanation that they are the bishops of the Churches is attractive on account of its simplicity. But it has very grave difficulties, especially for those who assign the Apocalypse to the earlier date of A.D. 68. It is highly improbable that at that very early time the seven Churches were already so fully organized as each to possess its own bishop. And granting that they were, and that the bishops might fitly be called "angels" or "messengers," would they not be called messengers of God or of Christ, rather than messengers of the Churches"? And would not the primitive Church have preserved this title as a synonym for "bishop"? "St. John's own language gives the true key to the symbolism. 'The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches, and the seven candlesticks are the seven Churches.' This contrast between the heavenly and the earthly fires—the star shining steadily by its own inherent eternal light, and the lamp flickering and uncertain, requiring to be fed with fuel and tended with care—cannot be devoid of meaning. The star is the suprasensual counterpart, the heavenly representative; the lamp, the earthly realization, the outward embodiment. Whether the angel is here conceived as an actual person, the celestial guardian, or only as a personification, the idea or spirit of the Church, it is unnecessary for my present purpose to consider. But whatever may be the exact conception, he is identified with and made responsible for the Church to a degree wholly unsuited to any human officer. Nothing is predicated of him which may not be predicated of it. To him are imputed all its hopes, its fears, its graces, its shortcomings, he is punished with it, and he is rewarded with it … Nor is this mode of representation new. The 'princes' in Daniel (Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:20, Daniel 10:21) present a very near if not an exact parallel to the angels of the Revelation". The identification of the angel of each Church with the Church itself is shown in a marked way by the fact that, although each epistle is addressed to the angel, yet the constantly recurring refrain is, "Hear what the Spirit saith to the Churches," not "to the angels of the Churches." The angel and the Church are the same under different aspects: the one is its spiritual character personified; the other is the congregation of believers who collectively possess this character.
Introduction: the purport of the book.
In commencing a series of sketches which shall furnish in outline a homiletic exposition of such a book as this, the writer may well feel borne down with a sense of the responsibility of the task he has undertaken. And yet such responsibility, great as it is, is prevented from being overwhelming through the infinite joy and comfort he has himself derived from a repeated study of it—a study extending over some fifteen or twenty years, and now renewed for the special purpose of giving utterance to convictions of its value and glory, which deepen with each succeeding examination of its contents. Into the detailed opinions of the varied expositors as to whether the preterist, futurist, or historical interpretations are the most correct, it will neither be in his province nor to his taste to enter. There is another order of exposition—the spiritual—which, accepting whatever can be verified in the other three, sees rather throughout the Apocalypse an unfolding of the principles on which the great Head of the Church will carry forward his own work, and a parabolic setting of the fortunes of his Church as she moves forward to the final consummation of all things. As Dr. Lee remarks, £ "the historical system assumes that single events, as they come to pass in succession, exhibit the full accomplishment of the different predictions of the Apocalypse," while "the 'spiritual' application is never exhausted, but merely receives additional illustrations as time rolls on." Hengstenberg's remarks are worthy of being remembered: £ "That the Christian may remain steadfast and fearless where he is, even though it should be in the midst of a falling world, this book is fitted to render for such a purpose a most important service. It has thus proved a blessing even to many who have very imperfectly understood it. For it is wonderful how the edifying power that resides in the book forces its way even through the most imperfect understanding of its contents, if only the soul that applies to it is hungry and thirsty, weary and heavy laden, if it only stands in living faith on the Divinity of Scripture and the glorious consummation of the kingdom of Christ." In full accord with the convictions of the value of the Apocalypse, thus admirably expressed by the great evangelical German divine, do we now commence for homiletic purposes to unfold its plan. Our first sketch must needs be like the first three verses—introductory. Introductory, however, though the verses are, they are amazingly full of holy and blessed teaching. We have here—
I. THE NAME GIVEN TO THE BOOK. "The Revelation (ἀποκαλύψις £)" (verse 1). At the forefront of the book this is its avowal. It declares itself to be nothing less than the disclosure of what was behind a veil, and so invisible to mortal sight, until the veil was drawn aside and unseen things were thereby disclosed. That there are other realms than our globe, peopled with moral and spiritual beings, is again and again declared in Scripture; that there are mysterious forces of good and of evil in the distant places of creation is also told us. That there is many a contest over man in these far-off realms; that there is a Divine Being who watches over the conflict, and who will "bring forth judgment unto victory;" that the theatre on which the issue is to be fought out is this globe; and that at the consummation the direst enemies of the world and of man will be put to an utter shame;—all this could no philosophy forecast, nor any science teach; all this lies behind an impenetrable veil. If we are to know these things, they must be revealed to us, and this can be done only by our God! Note: As this is declared at the outset concerning this book, as such it must be regarded; until its claims be disproved, they should be reverently accepted.
II. THE METHOD OF THE REVELATION. The several steps are shown us—the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem. We have:
1. Its origin. "God"—God the Father. If God be the Father of all men, that he should let them know something about himself is most reasonable. To suppose that he cannot, is to suppose that a father would build a house for his children, of such a kind that they could never find out where their father was!
2. Its channel. "Jesus Christ." God gave it to him. HE is the Medium, the Mediator between God and man; and the clearest disclosures of God and his purposes come to us through the everlasting Son.
3. Its agents.
(1) "He sent … by his angel." Angelic ministry is one of the steps by which the revelation is brought to us. The existence and ministry of angels are very clearly shown to us.
(2) "To his servant John." The beloved apostle, in his old age and exile, received the revelation from angelic hands.
4. Its mode. "He signified it." The word means "to signify by symbols."
5. For whom? "To show unto his servants," etc. The Word of God is committed as a trust to those who love and serve him. The faith was "once [for all] delivered to the saints." Why to these? (cf. Matthew 13:10, Matthew 13:11). Note: Here in outline is a wondrous sketch of how God reveals his truth.
III. THE CONTENTS OF THE REVELATION. £
1. Events. "Things which must shortly come to pass."
2. Such events as are necessarily involved in the bringing about of the Divine purposes. "Must" (verse 1).
3. Events which, in the prophetic forecast, are near at hand. "Shortly," i.e. in the reckoning of Heaven (cf. 2 Peter 3:8). The next great crisis of the world is the second coming of the Son of God. He is on the way. But at what point of time the Son of man will be revealed it is not given to man to know. The series of events that prepare the way for the second coming began immediately after the first and are going on now. Not a moment is lost. Heaven's great harvest day is coming on.
IV. THE USE TO BE MADE OF THIS REVELATION. (Verse 3.) Reading, hearing, doing.
1. It was to be read in the Churches. "He that readeth," equivalent to "he that reads it in the assemblies of the saints." The Word of God is not to be hid in a corner, but publicly read. It is not the preserve of the few, but the charter for the many.
2. The people are to hear. God's truth was to be set before men through the ear. The doctrine that it is more effective when set before the eye, finds in such a passage as this no support.
3. The hearers must keep the things written therein. Note: If the book is so obscure that no one can understand it, it is hard to say how men can keep the things that are herein written. The blessing pronounced on those who do keep them implies that they are sufficiently plain for that purpose. How, then, are we to "keep" these things?
(1) Seize the principles of the book, and abide in them.
(2) Study its prophecies, and wait for them.
(3) Learn its promises, and lean on them.
(4) Ponder its precepts, and obey them. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them."
V. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THOSE WHO RIGHTLY USE THIS REVELATION. "Blessed is he," etc. (verse 3). It is not difficult to see in what this blessedness consists.
1. Such will have a good understanding; for they will know the meaning and plan of the world's course and destiny.
2. They will have a sure resting place in the absolute certainty of the final triumph of truth and righteousness.
3. They will have a good hope. "Looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life."
Salutation and song.
The writer of the book again gives us his name: "John." It is extremely unlikely, as the name John was by no means uncommon, that any other John than the apostle would have given his name thus briefly and without a word of explanation. £ Those to whom the book was addressed are "the seven Churches which are in Asia." It does not lie within our province here to inquire whether these seven Churches are selected from others," to symbolize the whole Church of God." We rather regard them as indicating the circle over which the influence of the Apostle John was chiefly felt, from his home at Ephesus. They range over about one third of the district of Asia, called Asia Minor, not far from its western seaboard. £ There is a separate letter for each of the Churches, which are distinct in their formation, responsibility, danger, duty, and fault. But what precedes these letters, and also what follows them, is for the whole of them, that they may read, hear, keep, and transmit to those that should follow after. We have in these three verses—
I. A SALUTATION. Here is evidently an outbreathing of holy love. But in what light are we to regard it? Is it the aged apostle himself expressing his own fervent desires that grace and peace may rest upon the seven Churches? or does he pen these words by commission of the Holy Ghost, as Heaven's own benediction? Exegetically, either view is tenable. Doctrinally, both would undoubtedly be included, since the actual difference between the two resolves itself into this: if the words were suggested to him, it would be the Holy Ghost that commissioned him thus to write; if they were prompted by his own apostolic fervour, it would be the Holy Ghost who stirred in him thus to feel; either way, therefore, the outbreathing is the result of a Divine inbreathing. This greeting to believers resolves itself into two parts.
1. Here are great blessings specified. They are two.
(1) Grace. It is one of the most interesting historical features of early Christianity, and one of the most striking evidences that with it a new life dawned in the world, that from the very beginning of the Christian era there are both new epitaphs over the pious dead, and new benedictions for these who are living. This is an illustration. The word "grace," though a translation of a word that was common enough in the Greek language (χάρις), yet puts on a vastly grander meaning as soon as ever it is applied in distinctively Christian thought. The writings of the Apostle Paul had given it a sublimity before unknown. The word is used a hundred times in his Epistles, but only six times by John. Yet, in his use of it, it conveys a world of meaning (John 1:14, John 1:16, John 1:17; 2 John 1:3; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 22:21).
(2) Peace. Another word which, as light from Christ and his cross shines upon it, has a beauty not its own (John 14:27; John 16:33; John 20:19, John 20:21, John 20:26; cf. also Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20; Philippians 4:7). There is a peace
(c) imparted and sustained—peace with God; peace in God; peace of conscience; peace in hope.
2. The Divine origin of these blessings is here named. They come from the Trinity in Unity. The doctrine of the Trinity is never taught in Scripture as an ontological abstraction, but a glorious reality for faith to accept and life to receive. £
(1) From the Father. "From him which is, and which was, and who is coming." The great I AM—eternally self-existent, and yet who is, as it were, ever moving forward, unrolling on the page of history his unfinished and unfinishable Name.
(2) From the Holy Ghost: represented here in his sevenfold majesty, as the Source of the manifold energy which streams from the eternal throne.
(3) From the Lord Jesus, as
(a) a Testifier of the truth from heaven,
(b) the Beginner of the new realm of life,
(c) the King of kings.
Here are truth, life, power. The sovereignty of the world is Christ's. In him only are the temporal and spiritual authority rightly and effectively joined. How rich and full is this salutation!
If such blessings come from such a Source, then they are
(5) beyond the reach of alien forces.
Thus we are brought within sight of another theme for meditation, though it is not possible for us here to enlarge thereon; viz. the real endowment and large wealth of the Church of God.
II. A SONG OF PRAISE. The apostle, ere he launches forth on the disclosures which have been made to him, seems to give relief to his overburdened soul in the rapturous words of the fifth verse. He would have all believers join with him in one united chorus of gladsome thanksgiving. In expounding this song, let us first examine the basis of it, and then its contents.
1. The basis of the song. Again and again do prophet and psalmist invite us to "sing unto the Lord." Apostles oft bid us "rejoice in the Lord." But People will not, cannot sing joyously, unless there be something to make them glad, and thus to inspire the song. The basis of this song is twofold:
(1) There has been a great work effected. A double work.
(a) Evil removed. "Loosed us from our sins (so Revised Version). The burden of sin and guilt once rested heavily. The guilt is cancelled by a forgiving word, the sin cleansed by purifying grace. And this has been done at no less a cost than the sacrifice of himself—"by his blood." Blood. Not the material fluid. Even the Levitical Law should raise our thoughts above that. "The blood thereof, which is the life thereof" (Le John 17:11, John 17:14). The blood of Christ is so precious because of the life in laying down which it was shed. He came and stood in our place, and, by bearing our burdens and atoning for our guilt, acquired a perfect right to loose the Penitent forever from his load.
(b) Privilege bestowed. "He made us to be a kingdom." The pardoned and renewed souls form a new creation of redeeming grace—the kingdom of heaven upon earth. "Priests." Every believer is a priest unto God. He stands, as it were, between a world that knows not God, and him whom to know is life; that so he may point the way, yea, lead the wanderer home; that he may plead with him for God, and plead with God for him;—thus fulfilling the truly priestly function of helping man Godward.
(2) There is a love constantly vouchsafed. "Unto him that loveth us (τῷ ἀγαπῶντι)" (Revised Version). The work effected is complete. The love which resteth on believers abideth evermore. To be perpetually an object of redeeming love may well move the heart to joy, and tune the lips to song! But what will the song be? Let us notice:
2. The contents of the song. We see at once that it is a song of praise to the Lord Jesus Christ. As the blessings descend from him and through him, so shall the praises of believers rise to him.
(1) The honour of achieving all this good is attributed to him. "To him be the glory"—all the glory.
"Nothing brought him from above,
Nothing but redeeming love."
He could, as Creator, have blotted man out of being for his transgressions, and have brought nobler souls into life. But no; he rushed to our rescue, and gave up his life to ensure our own. He did all the work, and of it he shall bear the glory.
(2) The everlasting royalty is ascribed to him. "And the dominion (τὸ κράτος)." The word means one or more of three things—strength, sway, victory. Here all three are included. Infinite might is his, who spoiled principalities and powers, and triumphed over them in himself. The sway of souls is his. He who died for them—and he alone—is worthy to rule them. To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord. And the ultimate victory shall be his. "He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet." It seems as if this song were the gladsome echo of the words, "the Ruler of the kings of the earth." For to this royalty of the Son of God the believer responds in triumphant jubilation. The will of the saved one is not only in entire acquiescence therewith, but he could not endure the thought of the world's sovereignty being anywhere else than in the hands of the Son of God. Yea, more, it is the thought of this sovereignty of Christ that makes his heart swell with noblest joy. For only those pierced hands can be trusted to guide earth's chariot wheels. Only he who died for man shall by man be owned as Lord. Only this will be his fitting recompense for Calvary's woes, that the royal diadem encircling his brow shall be there amid the hallelujahs and praise of those whom he has redeemed, pardoned, sanctified, and glorified! How vast will the "gathering of the people be"! How ecstatic their cry, "Crown him, crown him, King of kings and Lord of lords"!
The outlook: the second coming of our Lord.
There are one or two more introductory themes presented to us, before we are fairly launched on the exposition of the visions and scenery of this book. In this verse we have a summing up of its specific outlook. The apostolic seer beholds the Son of man enthroned in heaven, and unfolds, in symbol, the movements on earth till the Lord returns again. Hence the view which bounds the scene is this—"he cometh." We propose in this homily to set forth the place which the New Testament assigns to the second coming of Christ, in its relation to the Divine dispensations, to the faith and life of the Church, and to the outlook of the world. We hope, in doing so, to avoid some evils which have given us much concern, and which seriously impede the preparation of the Church for her Lord's return. We must not, in thinking of our Saviour's coming again, be led to think of him as now absent from his Church in such sense as to leave her lonely, helpless, and forlorn. He is not only near his Church, but in it—the Holy Ghost is her Comforter. She is not desolate—the real presence is in the heart of every believer, in the assemblies of the saints, and at the feast of the Holy Communion. Nor must we let our attention be taken off from the responsibilities our Lord has entrusted to us, by any of the interminable and profitless disputes as to the day or the hour of his appearing. It may be questioned whether the evil one ever used a more powerful engine for perplexing and injuring the Church, than by dragging her into disputes of days and years, and so far taking off her attention from the words, "Be ye ready." Nor will it accord with the demands of our Lord on our fidelity if we allow ourselves to drift into the notion that the world is getting worse and worse, that the gospel is meant to be a failure, that the great work of winning the globe for Christ will never be done by any missionary effort, but will be brought about by the reappearing of our Lord. We have no scriptural warrant for any such conclusion, and we regard it as a most lamentably successful temptation of the devil to lure the Church of God away from throwing all her energy to the task of preaching the gospel to every creature. We may not think of the coming of Christ as if it were to effect the new creation of God's grace, or to build the temple of the Lord. That is being done now. Christ will come because the harvest of earth is ripe, and when it is ripe. His work will be that of judgment. He will come, not to assume his sovereignty, but to reveal it to an unbelieving world and to an exultant and victorious Church. There are nine views which we may take of the reappearing of our Lord.
I. THE SECOND COMING IS THE NEXT GREAT EVENT IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE DIVINE DISPENSATIONS. There are three points on which Old and New Testament prophecy bids us fix our gaze, all gathering round the word "coming:" the Redeemer is "the Coming One"—"coming in weakness to suffer;" "coming in the energy of his Spirit to create and build up and consummate the Church;" "coming in sublime manifestation to judge the world." All is, however, in the scriptural view, an unbroken unity—the working out of a Divine plan, not an evolution of blind force. Our Lord, in the discourse to his disciples recorded in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, speaks of two events then in view—one, the destruction of Jerusalem; another, the end of the world. Of the former he says, "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled." Of the latter, "Of that day and hour knoweth no man," etc. And the latter is "the end of the age." When Peter spake on the Day of Pentecost, he declared that the outpouring of the Holy Ghost began on that day, as spoken of by Joel, ushering in, as it were, a period which was bounded in the far distance by "the day of the Lord." And so throughout the Epistles, "the day of Christ," "that day," "the day of the Lord," is uniformly the far point beyond which none can peer, and for which all things are waiting (cf. Acts 1:11; Philippians 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:12)—"looking for," "hasting unto," "waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God."
II. IT IS AN EVENT WHICH IS EVEN NOW ON THE WAY. He is coming (ἔρχεται). He is, as it were, moving towards us every moment. Not as if nothing were being done now, nor as if there were even a pause for a while. Not as if it were indifferent to us until certain signs meet our eye which tell that the end is close upon us. Not so—not so is the meaning of the text. He is coming. He is actually on the way. The train of events which will bring him to us has long ago begun to move; and only, only as we recognize this do we understand the meaning of the dispensation under which we live. Of old, whether men knew it or not, every event was made subservient to the first appearing; and now every event is being so guided and controlled as to prepare the way for the second. Not a moment is being lost.
III. THOUGH CERTAIN AS TO FACT, IT IS UNKNOWN AS TO TIME—AND UNKNOWABLE. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man;" "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." Ever since the beginning of the Christian age there have been ever and anon men who have professed, by calculations of prophetic time, to assign dates for this or that; but again and again have their systems failed. When even such a one as Dr. Cumming £ was obliged to own that if he could tell when the twelve hundred and sixty years began, he could tell when they would end, but that he must confess that the former was a mere conjecture, who does not see the futility of thus wasting time in the attempt to reveal what our Lord meant to conceal? There are manifestly high and holy ends to be served in this concealment. Did we know the precise moment when all things are to come to a stand, such knowledge would bring them to confusion. Besides, the texts in Mark 13:35 and Matthew 24:36-44 are decisive on this point.
IV. THERE WILL BE SIGNS WHICH WILL PRECEDE THE COMING OF THE LORD. From those convulsions of nations, etc., of which many make so much, we gather no light, since they are to mark the entire duration of this dispensation, and hence neither of them can be taken as a sign of its immediate close. Nor will there be any change in the daily movements of men, any more than there was in the days of Noah, "until the flood came, and took them all away." True, "the heavens and the earth which are now, are reserved unto fire," etc.; but that fire will be one of the accompaniments of the second coming, not a sign to precede it. The sign which will indicate the approaching end will be the ripening alike of tares and wheat—bad and good. The bad will get worse, and the good will get better. Both will ripen. Then the end. The angel will thrust in the sickle because the harvest is ripe.
V. WHEN THE LORD COMES, HE WILL APPEAR IN HIS GLORY. (Matthew 25:31; 1 John 3:1-3; Colossians 3:4, "As he is;" cf. also Hebrews 9:28, "Without sin.") Not as a "weary man and full of woes," but in majesty and might, "with great power and glory."
VI. THE SECOND COMING WILL CLOSE THE PROBATION OF THE RACE. £ This present time is "the day of salvation" (Isaiah 49:8; 2 Corinthians 6:2), during which "whosoever shall call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved" (Acts 2:21). Ere it closes, we cannot doubt that, in some state of being or other, every soul will have been brought into direct contact with the Saviour for acceptance or rejection, so that when the Saviour comes men will give account to One who has all things in readiness for judging the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5, 1 Peter 4:6). And as has been the soul's attitude towards Christ, according thereto will be the sentence from him. How can it be otherwise (cf. Matthew 7:1-29.)?
VII. THE SECOND COMING WILL BE FOR JUDGMENT. This word "judgment" means very much: and the judgment period may be as long as "the day of salvation;" and we have long thought that in these two positions is the clue to the solution of the difficulties of the millenarian controversy. For the righteous it will mean manifestation, vindication, glorification. For the wicked it will mean manifestation, condemnation, shame. Both are included in Paul's description in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. Hence the earth will "wail because of him."
VIII. THE SECOND COMING IS CONSEQUENTLY THE "BLESSED HOPE" OF THE CHURCH, AND THE DREAD OF THE GUILTY. (Titus 2:13.) This is emphatically "the hope" which is so repeatedly referred to in the New Testament; it is the distinctive feature of the Christian's faith (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18). But guilt dreads it.
IX. THE SECOND COMING OF OUR LORD FOR AWARD OR PUNISHMENT casts a hue all its own on the meaning and outlook of our daily life (Matthew 25:1-30; 1 John 2:28; 2Pe 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:9-12; Matthew 7:21-27; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15). This—this is the intensely practical end which the disclosures of our Lord's reappearing are intended to serve. Not that we may dispute with one another who has the most exact calculation as to the day, the hour, the how; but that our only rivalry may be, who shall be most faithful in doing the work of the day in the day, and thereby best prove himself to be ready, ever ready, let the Lord come whenever he may! Of little worth will it be to any to know the moment, unless at the moment they are ready to go in unto the King. Only as we are ready can we say from the heart, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
The August Speaker declaring his Name from the throne.
One theme alone remains before we enter on the visions of this book. Ere we are told what is said, we have once more to be assured—Who says it? An all-important question, on the answer to which the value of what follows entirely depends, inasmuch as the Speaker declares himself, as if it were from him that the revelation proceeds, and as if it were from his lips that the words went forth. This being the case, since, according to the first verse, the Lord Jesus Christ is he who receives the revelation, and who, as the Mediator between God and man, is the channel through which it reaches us, we seem shut up to the conclusion that the words in the eighth verse are those of the Almighty Father himself (see Alford, in loc.). As such we now propose to study them. They set him before us in four aspects.
I. IN HIS SUBLIME SELF-EXISTENCE. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God." The Α and the Ω. These letters, being the first and last of the Greek alphabet, enclose, as it were, all the rest. These words should be compared with Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:6. Note also the ἐγώ εἰμι, the pronoun declaring the personality of the Speaker; and the verb being that which indicates being, not becoming. The precision of the Apostle John in the distinctive use of these two verbs is remarkable (see John 1:1-14). There is no "coming to be" in the Divine nature. He only "is." The I AM THAT I AM. Note: In these words is the standing and sufficient answer to the charge of anthropomorphism in Bible representations of God. But it will not be adequately profitable for us merely to admire the sublimity of the words; we must also set forth their vastness of meaning. What, then, do they import? The Most High is the Α and the Ω, enclosing all. Then:
1. All space is enclosed in his infinite presence. (Psalms 139:1-24.)
2. All time is included in his endless age. With him is no passing away. He but is. Events, as they move on, pass beneath his eye.
"All thou dost make lies like a lake
Beneath thine infinite eye.
Years on years, and all appears
Save God, to die."
3. All events are encompassed by his changeless, boundless Being. The
(1) origin, the
(2) progress, the
(3) issue of each one, are perfectly known to him.
4. All created beings are supported in the holdings of his power. The "hollow of his hand" contains them.
5. All history, from the beginning of creation to the consummation of all things, is encircled by his Spirit. Scripture speaks of a beginning (Genesis 1:1). It also speaks of an end (1 Corinthians 15:24). With God is neither beginning nor end. The beginning and the ending which are enclosed within the limits of Divine revelation do but occupy, as it were, one instant of Jehovah's being! At a glance he surveys the whole.
II. IS HIS SUBLIME SELF-MANIFESTATION. "Which is to come." Here, it must be noted, is a verb, not of becoming, but of movement. Who is the Coming One? The Lord Jesus is, in both the Old and New Testaments, "he that cometh," and in the entire scope of Revelation his coming is regarded as a unity—a five-fold one: by the angel of his presence, to the patriarchs; by his Spirit, to the prophets; by his incarnation, to suffer; by Pentecostal gifts, to inaugurate his kingdom; and by his indwelling with the Church, to complete it; and hereafter by his reappearing, to consummate it. Yet in the text the Almighty Father speaks of himself as "the Coming One." It is even so. The Father is perpetually carrying on the process of a self-revelation to the world; and it is by the Lord Jesus Christ and his work that the Father is revealed. There is a ceaseless outgoing of the infinite energy. "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." In this the Father is:
1. Always moving and energizing.
2. Always advancing.
3. Always controlling events so as to ensure determined issues.
4. Always revealing himself more and more.
5. Always bringing things out to light; judging, administering, all in equity.
This—this is the sublime outlook for this and every age. Each as it rolls on will open up some new phase of the mysteries of Providence, and in so doing will disclose some new letter in the unfinished and unfinishable Name!
III. AS HE WHO IS NOW SPEAKING TO MAN. "Saith the Lord God (λέγει)." This is one of those utterances which compel us to form some theory of the origin and authority of this Book of Revelation. An utterance of some well-known and self-evident truth, which is known to be true, whoever may say it, will allow of almost any theory of authorship without vitally affecting the value of the words themselves. But it is not so here. The words of this verse are distinctly declared to be Divine. And as such they must be regarded, until adequate reason to the contrary is shown. The claim they make cannot be too reverently treated, if it be valid; nor too sternly rejected, if it be otherwise. We are not left in uncertainty. The high and holy elevation of the words is utterly inconsistent with invalidity of claim. Their grandeur is like that of the words of the Lord Jesus, which create the faith they require, and sustain the faith they create. The words are of God. Then they are authoritative. The question of authority in religion is much disputed nowadays. But there are three kinds of authority which will be admitted—must be—as long as the world stands.
1. The authority of intrinsic and self-evident truth.
2. The authority of superior knowledge.
3. The authority of rightful supremacy.
It is the third kind which exists here. £ The Lord God speaks: then the words must be authoritative, beyond dispute.
IV. AS HE WHO, BY ANNOUNCING HIMSELF AS THE SPEAKER, CALLS FOR OUR ATTENTION. This attention and reverent regard should be shown in:
3. Obeying precept.
4. Trusting promise,
finding in the attribute of almightiness a Divine and infinite pledge that not one thing will fail of all that the Lord hath spoken. With a sense of holy awe, let us now await the visions which are to be opened up to us, and hearken to the words which the heavenly Speaker will address to the Churches.
The Saviour's revelation of himself.
We may divide our Saviour's teaching about himself into three parts, in chronological order. There are
(1) the words which he uttered in the days of his flesh, before his Passion;
(2) those which he spake during the forty days after his resurrection, and
(3) those which came from heaven to the aged apostle when in exile at Patmos.
As stage succeeded stage, the words became richer in glory. During the forty days after the Resurrection, the teachings concerning himself were in advance of those which preceded it (cf. Luke 24:46, Luke 24:47). And those on "the Lord's day" to the exile were greater than all the rest. What a Lord's day that was for the prisoner! Many would gladly share John's banishment if then heaven were brought so near. Let us reverently study the paragraph before us. In it we have a vision, a touch, a word:
I. A VISION. "I saw … one like unto the Son of man." Where? "In the midst of the seven candlesticks." In accordance with Old Testament symbolism, and the use of the figure here, the meaning is "that the Saviour was beheld in the midst of the Churches." His countenance was familiar, although it gleamed with a splendour which was concealed on earth, save when to the favoured three he was transfigured on the mount. His face did shine as the sun (verse 16). He had about the breasts a golden girdle—the mark of royal state, and the emblem of dignified repose. His head and his hairs were white as white wool, signifying his prerogatives of majesty and glory. His eyes were as a flame of fire, piercing men through and through, burning up all hypocritical pretence. His feet like unto burnished brass, symbolizing firmness, might, and splendour. His voice was of unutterable majesty, as the sound of many waters. In his right hand seven stars, holding those who have the place of responsibility in his Church, in the place of security, honour, and renown. The overseers of the Churches are Christ's special care. Out of his mouth went a sharp sword. The sword of the living Word, which, with its diacritic power, is two-edged. It would not accord with the reverence due to our glorified Lord to attempt to transfer to canvas the symbols here employed. Rather is it for us to apprehend, spiritually, the meaning of each, and transfer that to our heart and conscience. And if this be done wisely and reverently, our eyes will see "the King in his beauty."
II. A TOUCH. Although there is no reason to suppose that the Lord appeared in the fulness of his glory to John, yet the vision was more than he could bear. "I fell at his feet as one dead." It is in mercy to us that so much of the glory of the Saviour is concealed from us. We could no more bear to see it in its fulness than our eyes could bear to gaze on the splendours of the noonday sun. Hence it is a necessity for us that as yet we should see only as through a glass, darkly. But in the case of the apostle, the fact of his being so overpowered by the disclosure was the occasion for a fresh display of Divine tenderness in a touch of love. "He laid his right hand upon me," etc. There was in this touch an assurance of Divine regard, in spite of the apostle's sense of his own unworthiness. There was an expression of love. There was an impartation of power, which revived and recruited the drooping and exhausted frame. If Jesus is apart from us, we are soon overpowered. But if he comes with a vivifying touch, making us feel how truly we belong to him, and how closely we are bound up with the dearest interests of his heart,—this revives us. We live again. We can look up anew, and wait joyfully for the sound of his voice.
III. A WORD. This is twofold.
1. Of commission. (Verses 11, 19.) For remarks on the seven Churches, see homilies on Revelation 2:1-29. and 3.
2. Of revelation. This is a marvellously comprehensive revealing of the glory of our Lord. It includes five disclosures.
(1) What he was from eternity. "I am the First." Here the Lord Jesus identifies himself with the living God who spake by the prophets. There cannot be two firsts! He who is the First is Jehovah, Lord of hosts. Jesus is the First. Therefore Jesus is the one living and true God. Ere suns or stars were made, ere the angel bands were created, ever, ever had the Son of God existed in the eternal recesses of the infinite age! We are here taught:
(2) What he became in time. "I was dead;" Greek, "I became dead." Into this new experience he entered by means of his incarnation in human form. As man, he died. The infinitely strange experience of dying became his, by reason of the humiliation to which he stooped and of the sorrows beneath which he groaned.
(3) What he was when John saw him. "The Living One." He was no more in the hold of death. He had come out victoriously on the other side, and had left death behind him forever and forever. The life of the Lord Jesus cannot be derived, or he would not be "the First." He lives and gives life. "He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever." "I am alive forevermore."
(4) What office he holds. "I have the keys of Hades and of death." £ The word "Hades" means the realm of departed spirits. "Death" is the passage thereto. Over both Christ has supreme control. He has the "keys." "The spacious world unseen is his." All the departed dead are under the sway of the Lord Jesus. His mediatorial kingdom is far more there than here. At his own time Hades and death will both cease to be. And, note:
(5) The Saviour discloses what he will be at "the end." "I am the Last." "He shall give up the kingdom to God, even the Father," and thus close his mediatorial work; yet then, then, he still will be the everlasting Son of the Father!
3. Of cheer. "Fear not." Christ demands reverence; but he would not have us dread him. He would not terrify us. But that sublime and transcendent greatness which would crush us if wielded by power alone, becomes, in the sway of his tender love, a refuge and pavilion in which we can hide! What can we not entrust to such a Redeemer? We can run no risk when we are in his keeping. We know whom we have believed, and we are persuaded that he is able to keep that which we have committed to him against that day.
The extent of the Saviour's mediatorial dominion.
£As we pursue our studies of the Divine messages to the seven Churches, we shall find that our Lord addresses himself in some one distinctive aspect of his character and work to each Church, in accordance with the main burden of the letter which is to follow. But ere the letters to the separate Churches begin, our Lord makes an announcement respecting his mediatorial glory, which is of equal application to all the Churches, wherever they may be, and whatever may be their spiritual condition. It is this, "I have the keys of Hades and of death." We will inquire—
I. WHAT IS THE PREROGATIVE WHICH OUR LORD HERE DECLARES TO BE HIS? It is evident that there is some office of authority indicated by the word "keys." Keys are the symbol of authority, the token of office (cf. Revelation 3:7). The authority of our Saviour is here said to be over "Hades;" not over "hell," the region of the bad; but over Hades, the realm of the departed, good or bad. Both. The word "Hades" carries with it no moral significance at all, except as the connection in which it is used gives it a moral aspect (Luke 16:23). The authority of our Saviour is over "death" also. This is, as it were, the gate opening to the invisible realm. The meaning of the words is that our Saviour has entire control over human destiny. Death is the last step, the one out of this life. Hades is the realm in which the departed are. All mankind, at death, pass into "the spacious world unseen." They go over "to the majority." To this realm death is the entrance gate. Over the realm itself, and the entrance to it, Christ has the supreme control—the "keys" hang at his girdle. Let us indicate a few of the details of this doctrine.
1. The time of the departure of every individual from this world is under Christ's control. Christ gives us our moments, and withdraws them. And when our time has come, ready or not ready, through the strange avenue of death we must go.
2. The entrance of a spirit into the invisible realm is under Christ's control. In this unknown £ region there are two great moral divisions, even as here. There is no confusion of souls. The believer departs to be "with Christ" (Philippians 1:23); the unbelieving and ungodly, to "torments." £ Their spirit carries with it its own sin and unrest. All are under Christ's sway. He is Lord of the dead and of the living. The state of any spirit in the invisible world will he according to its attitude with reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Every believer will be, in Hades, as much in the guardianship of Christ as when on earth. "Christ died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him."
4. During the entire period until the completion of the mediatorial kingdom, the Redeemer will have sole authority in Hades. To this end he died, and rose, and re-lived.
5. At the time appointed by the Lord Jesus, the gates of both death and Hades shall be reopened. Bodies shall rise, spirits shall put on the new and mysterious vesture. All must stand before the tribunal of Christ, to receive through the body the things done (2 Corinthians 5:10). All this the Lord Jesus will direct and control. Death and Hades will no longer exist (Revelation 20:14). The great separation day shall have come; and as men hear the "Come!" or "Depart!" will heaven or hell be theirs! But at every stage in the advance of souls Christ is Lord of all!
II. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST FITTINGLY HOLDS AN OFFICE SO SUBLIME. £
1. The right to do so is his.
(1) As the eternal Son of God, all creation is his dominion. And by virtue of his supreme and eternal sovereignty over all, he must be the Head of the human race, as well as of every other order of created beings. But if he be the Head of our race, by eternal, native right, he must sustain such relationship to it in every stage of its existence. Be it so that this mysterious invisible realm of departed spirits would not have existed except as the result of the Fall; be it so that it is a part of the mischief which has smitten our race; yet, that such a state does exist is the clear teaching of Scripture, and that Christ is Lord of it is in accord with what we know of his position in the universe; for in all things he has become the Pre-eminent One.
(2) He has also an acquired right as the Son of man, owing to his death struggle on behalf of humanity, in which he spoiled principalities and powers. Who else should sway man in the unseen realms, but he who died for men? How long wilt it be ere believers apprehend the vastness of the mediatorial dominion of the Lord Jesus? He is Lord both of the dead and of the living!
(3) It is an appointment of God the Father, that in all stages of man's being the Lord Jesus should have dominion over him. Who can read John 6:37-40 without seeing that there is a great entrustment made over to our Lord as Mediator? This entrustment, according to John 17:2, is twofold.
(a) He has power over all flesh.
(b) He gives eternal life to those who are made over to him. We know not, indeed, Christ's method of governing souls between death and the resurrection. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. It is enough for us that Christ rules all, and will do, till the end.
2. Those attributes are his that fit him for such sway.
(1) Omniscience. He knows
(a) the Father's plans,
(b) what is in man,
(c) the appointed time for the consummation,
(d) how to bring it about with unfailing certainty.
(2) Omnipotence is his. He is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. He is all-sufficient.
(3) Faithfulness. The great trust which he so perfectly comprehends, and is so able to fulfil, will find his faithfulness equal to his knowledge and power. His own self sacrifice for the Church is guarantee of this.
(4) He is the Living One. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." He has an unchangeable priesthood, and is able to save to the uttermost because he ever liveth.
III. THE DOCTRINE OF THE TEXT IS OF INFINITE VALUE TO US.
1. Let us in faith and love adore him who makes the majestic claim of ruling life and death.
2. We have here a clue to the wondrous mystery of human existence. In a lecture reported to have been delivered in the Senate House, Cambridge, on Wednesday, May 26, 1880, by Dr. Humphry, Professor of Anatomy, on the topic, 'Man, Prehistoric, Present, and Future,' the lecturer closed with the following words: "After all, to the burning questions, whence? and where? whence comest thou, O man, and whither dost thou go? to which it might have been expected, by those who do not fully know their difficulties, that I should make, as regards the body at least, some answer, I am compelled to reply that we find ourselves simply floating on the streams of time. Sufficient for the day must be the knowledge thereof. Whether we peer fore or aft, it is obscurity. We are still—
"'Children crying in the night,
Children crying for the light,
And with no language but a cry.'"
But where science is compelled to leave off, the Saviour begins. And our faith, weaned from those who confess they know nothing, is transferred to him who is the Light of the world.
3. In regard to questions which still remain unanswered, we have perfect rest in Jesus.
4. We have abounding comfort concerning the death of believers, and entire peace as concerns our own. The writer was preaching from this text in the north of London, thirty years ago. A Christian lady was present who had been all her lifetime subject to bondage, through fear of death. The theme led the preacher to dilate on the guardianship of Christ over departed souls. The fearful one heard, was soothed, and on going home said, "Oh! my dread of death is gone. I have no fear now. Whenever my Father calls me, I am ready!" That night she was seized with a fit, and passed away. "Absent from the body, at home with the Lord." Finally, it is in this direction that the great difficulties which confront us as to the ultimate destiny of the great human family receive the only approximate solution. The great Redeemer's sway is over the whole race. But only a minute fraction of the race is on earth at any one moment! Where, where are the countless millions on millions who have gone hence? We can only answer—They are all under Christ's sway. He is guarding all his own with infinite love, and governing all others with absolute equity, getting all things in readiness to judge the living and the dead. This is all we know. It is enough. For fuller disclosures we can wait. As yet we could not bear to know more. Christ is Lord of all.
"Hail to the Prince of life and death,
Who holds the keys of death and hell!
The spacious world unseen is his,
And sovereign power becomes him well."
The seven Churches.
It does not fall to our province to inquire into the reason why seven Churches only are here specified; nor do we enter into the symbolism of the number seven, nor burden ourselves with the inquiry whether these seven Churches are supposed to represent the whole of Christendom. These and other vexatoe questiones we leave for the student to ponder in his study. Hints for earnest pulpit teaching are alone our care. Historically, the seven Churches here specified did exist at the time of the Apostle John; they were not very far from each other, nor any of them at any great distance from the extreme western seaboard of Asia Minor. When studying the several letters to each Church, we shall endeavour to take note of what was peculiar to each. Here we note only some features that were common to them all.
I. THE SEVEN CHURCHES ARE SO MANY CENTRES OF LIGHT. "Seven golden candlesticks." Each Church is a light bearer. The change from the Hebrew symbol of a seven-branched candlestick to the Christian one of seven candlesticks is noteworthy. In the Mosaic dispensation the Jewish Church was but one, with a priesthood at its head. Now there is not merely a Church; there are Churches. As the late Dean Alford remarks, "Their mutual independence is complete. Their only union is in him who stands in the midst of them." £ Each of them, moreover, is a candlestick, or lamp stand. Churches exist as light bearers. Apart from this they have no raison d'etre. They receive their light from Christ the light of truth, that they may teach, guard, and extend it; the light of purity, that they may keep themselves unspotted from the world; the light of love, that they may gladden others therewith. Churches are the only institution in the world that exist solely for this purpose. Hence they are composed of those who are the highest part of God's creation on earth—of those who are "born again," who are "being saved." Note further that they are likened to golden candlesticks. We see by this figure how high a value God sets on the several Churches, which are to be the light bearers in their several localities.
II. THE SEVEN CHURCHES FIND THEIR CENTRE OF UNITY IN HIM WHO IS IN THE MIDST OF THEM. "In the midst of the seven candlesticks, one like unto the Son of man." In him they find their oneness. To him alone are they distinctly and severally responsible. It is quite possible to boast of a counterfeit independence. The independence of isolation, the independence of self will, and so on, have no warrant in the Word of God. There is no Church independence sanctioned by Scripture which means anything less, or anything else, than absolute loyalty to the Son of God, and responsibility to him alone. At the girdle of our great High Priest alone hang the seals of authority and power. On earth he has entrusted the keys of the kingdom to the entire body of believers as a Christian priesthood; and woe be to any Church which allows any earthly ruler to wrest them from its hands! The events of the day are forcing this principle to the front after it has been obscured for ages.
III. EACH CHURCH HAS ITS OWN EXCELLENCE, DEFECT, DANGER, AND DUTY. So we find it with Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. Two only are unrebuked—Smyrna and Philadelphia. Thus the state of things in the entire Church of Christ may be compared to that in a vessel built in watertight compartments, where, though there may be a leakage in one part, the others may be sound. We see this in several Churches even now. One may be loyal to its Lord, and another not so. One may be losing its first love, and another may be all on fire. One may have a great reputation, and yet be dead. Another may be in poverty, and yet be rich in faith. One Church may be fast asleep, another may be abounding in every good work.
IV. THE SAVIOUR, IN THE MIDST OF THE CHURCHES, MANIFESTS HIMSELF TO EACH CHURCH ACCORDING TO ITS OWN SPIRITUAL STATE. To Ephesus, as "he that walketh in the midst"—to survey, to mark, to correct. To Smyrna, as "the Living One"—to give the crown of life. To Pergamos, as "he that hath the sharp sword"—to sever and to smite. To Thyatira, as "he whose eyes are like a flame of fire"—to see through and through, and to burn up evil. To Sardis, as "he that hath the seven Spirits of God"—to quicken the Church from death. To Philadelphia, as "he that hath the key of David"—to open to the faithful the temple of God. To Laodicea, as "the Faithful and True Witness"—to undeceive them in their sluggish conceit. Thus our Lord will be to his Churches according to what they are. And if there be a nominal Church which is not doing its Lord's work, it will certainly not have its existence prolonged for the sake of its own.
V. WHATEVER MAY BE A CHURCH'S DIFFICULTIES, OUR LORD EXPECTS IT TO OVERCOME. Not one of the letters to the seven Churches gives us the slightest reason to suppose that the adverse force might be so strong that any Church whatever would be justified in succumbing to it. There is abundance of power, of love, and of faithfulness in Christ to sustain any Church under any trial whatsoever.
VI. ACCORDING TO A CHURCH'S FIDELITY OR OTHERWISE, SO WILL BE ITS DESTINY. If unfaithful, the Church will be judged, chastised, and possibly swept away. If faithful, her Lord will set before her an open door, and no one can shut it. Note:
1. Churches have nothing to fear except from their own sluggishness and inaptness to meet the demands of their age. No artificial help can, in the long run, perpetuate a dead Church; no artificial aid is needed for a living and faithful one.
2. There must not only be an overcoming on the part of a Church if it is to be continued, but also a personal overcoming on the part of each individual, if he is ultimately to share his Lord's victory. Let us not forget that just as a Church may be dead though a few in it are alive, so individual souls may be dead even where, as a whole, the Church is alive. The Lord is coming. Every one of us shall give account of himself. Every man shall bear his own burden.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him." The very word belongs to the Holy Scriptures, and is peculiar to them. None of the Greek writers use it in the sacred sense which we always associate with it. And this is not to be wondered at, for they had naught to tell with any authority on those profound questions with which it is the province of revelation to deal, and upon which the mind of man yearns for light. But when that light first flashed upon men, no wonder that they spoke of its manifestation as an unveiling, as an apocalypse, as a revelation. And the record of that revelation is our Bible. The word has become so familiar to us that we are apt to forget that the unveiling implies a previous veiling, and that both the one and the other fact suggest questions, not merely of great interest, but of much and practical importance to every one of us. Therefore let us consider—
I. THE VEILING IN THE PAST. The writer of the Book of Proverbs affirms that "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing;" and undoubtedly God did see fit for long ages to hide from the knowledge of men not a little of that which he afterwards was pleased to reveal. So that those dark days of old St. Paul called "the times of ignorance," and adds the too much forgotten and most blessed fact that "God winked at" those times; i.e. he did not hold men accountable for them, and would not bring men into judgment because of them.
1. This ignorance hung like a pall over vast regions of human thought.
(1) God. Some denied his existence altogether. Yet more, forced to believe that the universe and themselves could not have come into being by chance, multiplied gods many and lords many, and invested them, not with the noblest, but the basest characteristics of humanity, so that they worshipped devils rather than gods—monsters of might and maligmity, of lust and lies. So was it with the mass of men.
(2) Man. They knew not themselves more than the true God. They knew that they were miserable, but how or why, or how to remedy their condition, they knew not. Of sin as the virulent venom that poisoned all the veins and arteries of their life they were ignorant, and of holiness as the alone road to happiness they knew still less; the very idea of holiness had not dawned upon them.
(3) And of immortality, the life eternal, they knew nothing, Nothing could be more dim or vague, more uncertain or unsatisfying, than their views as to what awaited them when this life was done. They beheld the sun and stars set and rise, but they bitterly complained that for man there was the setting, but no rising again. Over all these topics and those related to them the veil of ignorance hung down, and no light penetrated through its thick folds.
2. But why was all this? is the question that irresistibly rises in our minds as we contemplate this most mournful fact. A complete answer no man can give; we can only suggest some considerations supplied to us from the Word of God, and from our observation of God's methods of dealing with men.
(1) Man's own sin was, doubtless, one chief force that drew down this veil. This is St. Paul's contention in the opening chapters of the Epistle to the Romans. And the universal experience, so terrible but so true, that let a man will to be ignorant of God's truth, ere long it will come to pass that he is so, whether he will or no. Furthermore
(2) such times of limited knowledge serve as tests of character. The faith of the good is tried, and thereby exercised and developed. Such faith shines out radiant on the dark background of the ignorance and sin that stretch all around. Hence Abraham became the father of the faithful and the friend of God. But the evil of evil, working in surroundings congenial to it, mounts to such a height, and becomes so glaring and abominable, that the justice of God in judging it is seen and confessed by all. And yet again
(3) such times cannot be done away until the instruments and conditions requisite for the bringing in of better times have been prepared. Hence the advent of Christ was so long delayed. A people cosmopolitan—the Jews; a language universal—the Greek; an arena large, compact, organized, with free intercommunication—the Roman empire; a period when the strife and din of war were hushed, and the different nations of the world had become welded into one—the period of the Roman peace;—not till these all and yet others were had the fulness of time arrived. Till then the veil must yet hang down, and darkness cover the land,
(4) The futility of all other means of uplifting and raising mankind needed to be made manifest. Hence one after another, military force, statecraft, commerce, philosophy, art, religion, had successively or simultaneously striven to show what they could do in this great enterprise. Scope of space and time had to be given them, and not till each had been compelled to confess, "It is not in me," was the way clear for "the bringing in of the better hope." Man had to be "shut up" to God's way, or nothing could keep him from believing that he could find, or from attempting to find, some better way of his own. It has always been so; it is so still. We will not turn to God until we are made to see that it is the best and the only thing to be done. And man takes a long time to see that. Some light is surely shed on this protracted ignorance, this long-continued veiling, by such considerations as these, and we may well wait, therefore, for the larger light in which we shall rejoice hereafter.
II. THE UNVEILING—the revelation that has been given to us. Note:
1. Its nature. It has shown to us God. In Christ he is made known to us. Atonement, how to obtain acceptance with him; regeneration, how to be made like unto him; immortality, our destined dwelling with him;—all this has been unveiled for us on whom the true light has now shined.
2. Its necessity. The darkness of which we have told above on all these great questions so momentous to our present and eternal well being.
3. Its probability. God having constituted us as he has, with religious capacities and yearnings, and being himself what he is, it was likely that he would interpose for our good, and not let the whole race of man die in darkness and despair. Granted that God is, and that he is what the nature he has given us leads us to believe he is, so far from there being any antecedent objection to the idea that he should have interposed to save us out of our sin and misery, the great probability is that he would do just that which we believe he has done, and give us such revelation of himself and his will as we possess in his Word. He who has planted in us the instincts of mercy and compassion, who has given us yearnings after a purer and nobler life, who prompts us to rescue and to save whenever we have opportunity,—is it likely that in him there would be nothing akin to all this? The probability is all the other way, so that a revelation from him whereby our evil condition may be remedied and man may be saved, comes to us with this claim on our acceptance, that it is in keeping with his nature and what that nature leads us to expect.
4. And when we examine the revelation itself, it is commended to us by the fact that we find in it the full setting forth of those truths which men had been for long ages feeling after, but had never yet found. Take these three amongst the chief of them.
(1) The Incarnation. Man has never been content that the gulf between him and God should remain unbridged and impassable, and hence, in all manner of ways, he has striven to link together his own nature and the Divine (cf. on this subject Archbishop Trench's Hulsean Lectures, 'The Unconscious Prophecies of Heathendom'). Reason cannot discover the doctrine of the Incarnation, but the history of man's efforts after a religion give ample proof that this is a felt necessity of the human spirit; "For where is the religion of human device, where mythology, that has not sought to bridge over the awful chasm between the finite and the Infinite, between man and God, by the supposition of a union of some sort between the human and Divine? Sometimes by supposing God to be a Spirit dwelling in men as in the material universe; sometimes by filling heaven with deities possessed of bodies, and having passions little differing from our own; sometimes by supposing actual descents of the Deity in human form upon the earth; and sometimes by celebrating the rise of great heroes and eminent men by an apotheosis unto gods, the heathen have sought to alleviate the difficulty which men must ever feel in seeking to have intercourse and relations with the Infinite and Eternal. How can the weak and sinful come nigh to the All Perfect? How can the finite enter into relations with the Infinite? He cries out for a living, a personal, an incarnate God;" and this his great need is met by the revelation of God in Christ, and because so met the revelation is thereby commended powerfully both to our hearts and minds.
(2) The atonement. This, too, has been a felt necessity of the human spirit. To answer the question—How can man be just with God? what have not men done? what do they not do even now? Scoffers think to make an easy conquest over the gospel by calling its doctrine of atonement "the religion of the shambles;" and by that sneer to dismiss the whole question of the truth of revelation to the region of ridicule and contempt. But at once there confronts them the whole force of human conviction as to the necessity and craving for atonement, which has found and yet finds expression in ten thousand forms, some of them, without doubt, horrible enough. No religion has ever found acceptance amongst any people in any age that ventured to ignore, much more to scoff at, this ineradicable demand of the human heart. "Be the origin of sacrifice what it may, its universal prevalence amongst men, and its perpetuation amongst peoples the most widely separated from each other, and in spite of changes of manners and customs and usages, in other respects of the most radical kinds, incontestably show that it has a firm root in man's deepest convictions, and lies embedded in his religious consciousness, to be parted with only as he ceases" to care for religion at all. Our revelation, therefore, coming to us as it does with blessed light on this great theme, and showing us how God in Christ has provided the perfect Sacrifice, of which all others were but vain attempts or dim types, commends itself thereby to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
(3) And so, too, with the doctrine of immortality. "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die," has been the practical outcome for the mass of mankind of the darkness in which they dwelt in regard to this great truth. "Without God, and without, hope:" what blessedness above that of the mere sensual life was possible to them? What can keep men, taken as a whole, from living like the brutes if you tell them that they are to perish like the brutes? Down to that dread level they have gravitated more and more, and must. But a revelation which "brings life and immortality to light cannot but be welcome to the hearts of men, uplifting, strengthening, regenerating them, so that if any man embrace it he shall, he must, become "a new creature." Thus does the revelation given us of God draw us to itself and to him; and our duty and delight should be to receive, believe, and commend it to all men everywhere, that they, too, may become partakers of the like precious faith. If in virtue of this revelation we can any of us say, and do say of the Lord, "He is my Refuge and my Fortress; my God, in whom I will trust," our next duty surely is to turn to our brother, who as yet knows not what we know, and say to him, "Surely he will deliver thee."—S.C.
The benediction on ministers and people who observe the sayings of this book.
"Blessed is he that readeth," etc. By the readers are meant those who, in the congregation, should read this book; and by the hearers, the congregations themselves; but neither readers nor hearers, ministers nor people, win this benediction unless, in addition to the reading and the hearing, they keep its saying. But, notwithstanding the solemn commendation of this book, it is known to all students of God's Word that for a while it was not regarded as a constituent portion of the sacred Scriptures. Doubts were entertained concerning it by many writers of the fourth century, and some of them of much eminence in the Greek Church especially; but it has outlived all their objections and others of more modern days, and it was never more accepted as a genuine part of Holy Scripture than it is at this day. As one says, "We have seen its rise, as of a pure fountain, from the sacred rock of the apostolical Church. We have traced it through the first century of its passage, flowing from one fair field to another, identified through them all, and everywhere the same. As it proceeded lower, we have seen attempts to obscure its sacred origin, to arrest or divert its course, to lose it in the sands of antiquity, or bury it in the rubbish of the dark ages. We have seen these attempts repeated in our own times. But it has at length arrived to us such as it flowed forth from the beginning." The book is, therefore, all the more worthy of our reverent regard because of the ordeal through which it has had to pass, and its benediction on those who hear and obey it may be all the more confidently expected. Nor is that blessing barred by the unquestionable fact that very much in this book is difficult, obscure, and hard to be understood. No doubt it is so. But "even in the darkest parts there is already a glimmering light. Already we can see a clear testimony running through it to the holiness of God, to the power of Christ, to the providence which is working in or overruling all things, to the Divine purpose which all things and all men are willingly or unwillingly subserving, and to that final triumph of good over evil, of Christ over antichrist, of God over Satan, which will be the last and most decisive justification of the ways of God to men. All this lies on the surface of the book. And I know not that a more profitable occupation could be found for men of the world—men of business, men of activity, men of intelligence and influence—than the repeated perusal of a part of God's Word which says to them, even in its most obscure and mysterious disclosures, 'God is at work, God has a purpose, God will at length manifest his reign, in this world which you treat too much for the present as if it were all your own.' Take heed that you be not disregarding, that you be not 'even fighting against God,' and destined, therefore, to be overthrown when he triumphs. I know not that there is one chapter of the Bible which does not enforce upon us this great lesson (Vaughan). But if it be asked, as it will and should be asked—wherein does the blessedness consist of which this text tells? we reply, in the beautiful words of the Litany, that they who read, hear, and keep the sayings of this book will find that these sayings do, by God's grace, "strengthen such as do stand, comfort and help the weak hearted, raise up them that fall, and finally beat down Satan under our feet."
I. THEY "STRENGTHEN SUCH AS DO STAND."
1. Those to whom St. John wrote—for he it was, we feel persuaded, who wrote this book; he, the "son of thunder," who was so prompt to desire that fire might fall from heaven on the Samaritans who received not his Master, he would find in the denunciations of the dread judgments of which this book tells, a theme not altogether uncongenial; but those to whom he wrote—sorely needed to be strengthened. Whether the fiery trial which was to try them—" the great tribulation" as it is called in the seventh chapter—was the persecution under Nero or that under Domitian we cannot certainly say, but only that it was very terrible. The fear of it, falling on them with its frightful force, might well bear them off their feet and down into the depths of apostasy and denial of their Lord; and doubtless, but for the strength imparted through the sayings of the prophecy of this book, it would have done so.
2. But these sayings gave them strength still to stand, and to stand firm.
(1) For these sayings showed them Christ in the midst of his Church. St. John saw him, not now as the despised and rejected of men, but in might and majesty; and saw him, too, walking amidst the seven lamps of gold, and holding in his hand the circlet of the seven stars, symbol of the angels of the Churches, as the lamps of gold were of the Churches themselves. So then they were not left forlorn and helpless; not left like a tempest-tossed ship bereft of her skilful helmsman, and for whom, therefore, no other fate than to be driven on the rocks or otherwise completely shipwrecked was possible. No; it was not so with them; for there in the midst of his suffering Church, walking amid the several congregations of the faithful, with eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like brass, there was their Lord; and what, then, need they fear the worst that their enemies could do? Yes; they were shown this by these sayings. And we of today are shown the like amid "all our troubles and adversities, whensoever they oppress us." "Lo, I am with you alway," was said, and this glorious vision of the Lord in the midst of the seven lamps of gold was given, not for believers of the primitive Church alone, but for us also on whom the ends of the world are come. Shall we not, must we not, therefore, be blamed if we read and hear, and keep not these sayings?
(2) Furthermore, they showed the Lord actually using these very trials to accomplish his own gracious purposes towards his Church. For by them he was drawing the faithful closer to himself; compelling them, by the very stress of the storm that was beating on them, to come, as he would have them do, yet more closely within the sure shelter of his love. And was he not also by these terrible trials fulfilling the word spoken by his forerunner and herald, who said of him, "his fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire"? Yes; he was in this terrible way winnowing out the chaff, sifting the wheat, ridding the Churches of those elements which were false and hurtful, and making it undefiled and pure. The army of the Lord would thus be delivered from those who would only bring defeat and disgrace upon it, and those only would be left in it who could be depended upon to fight manfully the good fight of faith. And this testing would be also a revealing time, as all such times are, to every individual amongst them. It would find out their weak places, and make every one of them, who was really Christ's servant, take to himself afresh the whole armour of God. And was he not establishing a testimony through their fidelity, by which future ages should be enabled more manfully to confess, and more steadfastly to endure, for his sake, as they, by like testimony of those who had gone before them, had themselves been enabled? The blood of the martyrs has ever been the seed of the Church, and even if they did "go forth weeping, bearing this precious seed," doubtless they should "come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them," "The noble army of martyrs praise thee." So we delight to sing; but how more mightily do they or could they praise him than by bearing testimony, as they have done and do, that the grace of Christ can sustain, and the love of Christ inspire, and the approval of Christ compensate, for all that here on earth man may inflict or our weak flesh endure?
(3) And these sayings showed them also the end of all that was then befalling them. For the vision of St. John pierced the gloomy clouds of this lower world, and penetrated into the very presence chamber of God. And there—what was it that was shown to them? What but the sure triumph of Christ, the utter downfall and doom of all his foes; and the glorious recompense of reward which awaited his faithful ones when they shall have come out of the great tribulation, and God shall have wiped away all tears from their eyes? If, then, these sayings were not only read and heard, but also kept, how could they do otherwise than impart strength of spirit, of heart, and mind?
II. And so also would they "COMFORT AND HELP THE WEAK HEARTED." No doubt there were many such, as how could there but be, amongst those to whom St. John wrote? What fear and misgiving would throng many hearts in those dreadful days! What an agony of inward conflict would they have to go through ere ever they could take their stand firmly for their Lord! How would dear life, and ease, and the entreaties of beloved friends, and the many ties which bound them to life,—how would they all plead against the martyr spirit and endeavour to overcome it, and to persuade the soul threatened with persecution for Christ's sake to some easy compliance, some plausible compromise, whereby the awful fate of those who refused obedience to the persecuting power might be escaped! What wavering of the will there must have been in instances not a few! what making and unmaking of resolution! How would timidity and weakness clamour and weep and break the heart of the terrified one! And whence was their help to come? Whence but in the promised presence of their Lord, that presence which the sayings of this book showed to them, realized in their hearts? Then, as troops dismayed and ready to retreat are rallied and recalled to resolute action by their leader coming to them and placing himself at their head, and encouraging them by word and look and deed, so would the weak hearted to whom St. John wrote find comfort and help as they saw their Lord with them, at their head, beckoning and encouraging them on, and holding out to them the glorious promise of his reward. "To him that overcometh;" seven times over are these heart-stirring words addressed to the Churches; and at the hearing of them, as the soldier at the hearing of the trumpet call, so would the faint and faltering follower of Christ recognize and respond to the summons to follow on, though his heart had been faint enough heretofore.
III. Blessed, too, would he be who rightly received the sayings of this book; for they would do not a little to LIFT UP THE FALLEN.
1. And there were fallen ones amongst them. Those who like the recreant Church at Laodicea, had gone utterly astray from Christ, and to whom no solitary word of praise could be addressed, but only loud call to repentance and solemn warning against their sin.
2. But these sayings of this book, how they would reveal their Lord whom they had so forsaken coming to them both in anger and in love! He could say to them, "I know thy works;" and to the hardened and impenitent his eyes flashed as a flame of fire, but to those who confessed and would forsake their sins these same sayings would show him as standing at the door and knocking for admittance, and promising that all should be forgotten and forgiven as in the fellowship of love they sat together at the same board, he with them and they with him. These sayings would be like the firm strengthening grasp of the Lord's hand to his sinking apostle, who but for that had perished amid the waves upon which he had ventured to walk. So would many a one who had stumbled and fallen find their feet again uplifted and upborne by the exceeding great and precious promises made to the repentant in these same sayings of this book.
IV. And so will the other great necessity of the Christian man—THAT HE SHOULD BEAT DOWN SATAN UNDER HIS FEET—be greatly aided if he hear and keep these sayings. For that vanquishment of Satan is no sudden act, no victory gained all in a moment, but is the result of long-continued Christian habit against which the assaults of our great adversary rage in vain. No rush of holy emotion, no mere giving up of ourselves to devout meditation, will ensure our victory. But it is the daily practice of Christian obedience in avoiding evil and following after that which is good, which makes it more and more hopeless for the tempter; he is compelled to give up the attack, and by his withdrawal from the contest confesses his defeat. So is he beaten down under our feet. The experience of every faithful Christian man confirms all this. He is not tempted as other men are, for it would be of no avail to try and seduce such as he. The habits of his life, the principles of his conduct, are far too settled in the opposite direction to that in which the tempter would lead him; he has so long resisted the devil that the promise has been fulfilled for him, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." But the great service which the sayings of this book, when they are heard and kept, render to such is that they foster and cherish those habits the result of which is the victory desired. The realization of Christ's presence, the dread of his displeasure, the longing for his approval, the love which he has enkindled,—how do all these, how must they, steady the wavering will, holding it back from what would displease Christ, and urging it on to that which he would approve? Fear, love, hope,—these mighty motives are ever at work, and all in the same direction of holy habit and obedience, until that which was painful and difficult at first has by long practice become easy, and that from which at first he shrank back he now goes forward to with cheerful alacrity and undaunted courage. It is the love of Christ, that love of which the sayings of this book so frequently tell, that love which carries along with it both hope and fear, it is this which constrains him, and by means of it he comes off more than conqueror in this holy war.
CONCLUSION. And for them and for us in all like circumstances of trial the force of these sayings of this book is greatly increased by the recollection that "the time is at hand." If a man deem that he may procrastinate and delay, if repentance and obedience be resolved on only for some future time, he will miss the benediction promised here. But if, on the other band, he live day by day in view of his Lord's coming—and the coming of the Lord is for us practically the day of our death—if he feel that the time when all that the Lord has said shall be fulfilled is indeed at hand, then will all that this holy book has urged on him be listened to with yet greater attention, and the obedience rendered will be yet more prompt and eager. When he realizes, as God grant we all may, that the opportunity for winning the blessing promised is but short-lived, and that lost now it is lost forever, how will, how must this spur us on, and make us diligent indeed to make our calling and election sure? We shall "give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip," or "drift away from them," as the truer rendering is. The shortness of time, the nearness of Christ's judgment, will lend fresh force to the assurance, "Blessed is he that readeth," etc.—S.C.
Revelation 1:5, Revelation 1:6
Doxology; or, the upspringing of praise.
"Unto him that loved us," etc. It has been remarked that the writer of the Revelation had hardly set himself down to his work ere he felt that he must lift up his heart in joyful doxology. The very mention of the name of the Lord Jesus, by whose Spirit he was writing, starts him off in this heart song of praise. He could not go on until he had given utterance to the irrepressible love for his Lord with which his soul was filled to overflowing. And this is his way. How many are the outbreaks of praise which we find in this book! It is a land full of fountains and springs and wells, out of which flow this river which makes glad the city of God. And St. John does not stand alone in this respect. All those holy men of old who were so privileged as to come into blessed contact with the Lord caught the contagion of praise. St. Paul is continually breaking forth into doxologies. "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding," etc. (Ephesians 3:20; and cf. Romans 16:25; Romans 11:36; 1 Timothy 1:17; Hebrews 13:20). And so St. Peter (1 Epistles John 4:11; John 5:11). And so St. Jude (Jude 1:24), etc. Thus is it with all the sacred writers. Truly might it have been said concerning them all, "They will be still praising thee." And blessed are they whose hearts are thus attuned, ever ready to give forth praise, sweet, clear, strong, full, whenever the spirit of Christ's love touches them. Like as in those great concerts where royalty is expected to be present, the whole vast orchestra stand ready the moment the royal personages enter to begin the National Anthem: so should "praise wait" for God in all our hearts. And it has been pointed out how these doxologies grow in volume and emphasis as this book goes on. Here in these verses we read, "To him be glory and dominion forever and ever." But in the fourth chapter (Jude 1:9) we read of there being rendered "glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne;" and in Jude 1:11 we read the same, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power." The doxology has grown from two to three notes of praise in each of these verses. But in Revelation 5:13 we read, "And every creature … heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him," etc. Here we have four of these notes. But by the time we get to Revelation 7:12 we have reached the number of perfection, and may not ask for more: "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen." If you begin praising God, you are bound to go on; like a river which at its outset is but a tiny rill, yet increases more and more as it flows along. But what waked up this heart song of praise which we have here? There had been various and most blessed thoughts of Christ in St. John's mind. In this very verse he tells how Christ is "the Faithful Witness," i.e. the Witness which told to men the perfect truth as to God and the life eternal. And here he is "the First Begotten from the dead," i.e. the pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of all the dead, as were the firstfruits of the harvest of the rest of the harvest (1 Corinthians 15:21). Oh, blessed revelation this! Then was he not "Prince of the kings of the earth," i.e. supreme Lord and Master of them and of all that they do? In his hands they all are, and it is by his permission alone they rule. It was blessed and heart inspiring to know all this, but the fount of St. John's praise was opened when his thought turned to those truths of which our text tells. When he thought of the Lord Jesus and of his great love, then he could contain himself no longer, but burst forth in this beautiful song of praise, "Unto him that loved us … Amen." Let us look a little at these words of praise, and try and discover the springs from which such praise flows forth. And they seem to me to be mainly three.
I. THE VIVID REALIZATION OF CHRIST HIMSELF. "Unto him, unto him," the apostle repeats, and it is evident that before the eyes of his soul the Lord Jesus Christ was evidently set forth. He seems to see him—his looks, his movements, his Person; to hear his words, and to catch the accents of his voice. Christ is to him as real as any of his fellow men. And this is most important to the enkindling of love within our own souls. For the mere contemplation of love in the abstract will not stir them. You may tell me ever so much about maternal love, for example, but whilst it is contemplated in a merely general way, as that which belongs to many, it will not move me much. But tell me something about my own mother, and of her love to me, and that will be quite another matter. The most hardened and depraved have often been broken down and subdued to better things by memories of their mothers' love. But it was because it was their mothers' that it moved them so. And it is the same in regard to the love told of in our text. Had it been apart from a living person, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, only a vague quality moving in the midst of men, however much it may have benefited them, it would never have aroused their gratitude or stirred their hearts. For that you must have such love centred in a person whom you can know and understand; and better still if you have already known him and he you. And if we have not known Christ, if his Name be to us a mere word, if he be to us shadowy and unreal, scarce a person at all, we cannot enter into or sympathize with such enthusiasm as his disciple here expresses. Is it not a constant and just reproach against our poor laws that their administration of relief elicits no gratitude on the part of those relieved? It benefits neither giver nor receiver. But let a benevolent person go himself or herself to those who need relief, and come into living personal contact with them, so that they may feel the good will for them that beats in their benefactor's heart, and how different the result will be then! Conduct like that will wake up a response in almost the most insensate hearts, and the relief itself will be more prized for the sake of him or her who gives it than for itself. And so, did even Christ's love come to us apart from him; did we not know and see him in it all; were we forgiven and saved we knew not how, or why, or by whom;—we should feel no more gratitude on account of it than we do to the air we breathe or the water we drink. But when we see that it is Christ who loves us, Christ who washed us from our sins in his own blood, Christ who made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, then all is changed, and gratitude wakes up and praise bursts forth, and with Christ's apostle we also say, "Unto him that," etc. Oh, my brethren, try to get this personal realization of Christ. It was the sense of its importance that first led to the use of pictures, crosses, crucifixes, and the like aids to such realization of Christ. They have been so much abused that many fear to use them at all; and they are by no means the only or the best way to attain to the result which is so much to be desired. But by the devout reading of the Gospels and the Word of God generally, by much meditation thereupon, by frequent and fervent prayer, the image of Christ, now so faint and dim in many hearts, will come out clear and vivid, distinct and permanent, to your great joy and abiding good. You know how the picture on the photographer's plate is at first almost undiscernible, but he plunges it into the bath he has prepared for it, and then every line and form and feature become visible, and the picture is complete. Plunge your souls, my brethren, into the blessed bath of God's Word and thought and prayer, and then to you, as to St. John, Christ will become visible, and he will be realized by you as he has never been before. And the result will be that prayer will become to you delightful, as is converse with a dear friend; and faith will keep her foothold firmly as ofttimes now she fails to do; and love will come and stay and grow towards Christ in our hearts; and heaven will have begun below. Such realization of Christ was one mainspring of this outburst of praise.
II. ANOTHER WAS ST. JOHN'S DEEP SENSE OF THE GREATNESS OF CHRIST'S LOVE. He tells of four great facts.
1. Its compassion. "Unto him that loved us." Before the apostle's mind there seems to rise up the vision of what he and his fellow believers had once been—so foul and unclean, not with mere outward defilement, but with that inward foulness of the heart which to the Holy and Undefiled One could not but have been repulsive in the highest degree. And yet the Lord loved him. We can understand his pitying men so miserable, even whilst he condemned their sin; and we can understand how, on their repentance, he might pardon them. But to take them into his favour, to make them the objects of his love, that is wonderful indeed. And thus has he dealt with all of us. And his love is not a fitful passing thing—a love that has been, but is not. The real reading of our text is in the present, the abiding sense: "Unto him that loveth us." Christ always loves his people. "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end." And it is so wonderful and unique a thing, that to mention it is description enough whereby it may be known that Christ is meant. For John does not mention our Lord's name, but just as the expression, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," was sufficient to identify John, so "him that loved us" is sufficient to identify our Lord. For none such as he was ever loved such as we were, or loved us in such a way. But for such love, when realized and felt as St. John felt it, how could he do other than render praise?
2. The costly cleansing. "Hath washed us from our sins in his own blood." There is many a distressful condition into which a man may fall, and grateful will he be to him who saves him therefrom, as from sickness, poverty, affliction, disgrace, death; but there is no condition so truly terrible as that of sin. That is the root evil, the fons et origo of all else. Let that not be, and the rest change their nature directly, and can easily be borne; but where sin is there they all become charged with a sting and venom which but for this they could not have. Therefore to be delivered from all other evil and not from sin would be no deliverance worthy of the name; but to be delivered from sin is deliverance, salvation indeed, bringing along with it deliverance from all other evil whatsoever. And St. John felt this. He had heard how the Lord had said to the poor palsied one who had been let down through the roof into his presence, that he might be healed, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee? That word told the man himself, and all mankind beside, that our sins are our greatest enemies. There is no evil that can befall a man comparable with that. But it is from this sum of all evils that Christ cleanses. And at what cost? Nothing less than "his own blood." All manner of questions may be asked as to the relationship between the blood of Christ and our cleansing, and all manner of answers have been given, some more, some less satisfactory. But that is not now our concern. Only the fact that "without shedding of blood there is no remission," and that it is "the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanseth from all sin." And he was content to suffer death that so we might be saved. St. John had stood beneath the cross of his Lord, had been with him in Gethsemane, and he knew what this "washing us from our sins in his own blood" meant, what infinite love alone could have submitted to such a death. What wonder that his heart should overflow with praise?
3. And then there was also the coronation. He "hath made us kings." Surely none could look less like kings than the shivering crowd of persecuted people to whom St. John addressed his book. In what sense, then, could it be that Christ had made them kings.? Only, for the present, in the lordship he had given them over themselves, and over all the power of their adversaries. They could compel, by the force of the regal will with which their Lord had invested them, their trembling flesh, their wavering purpose, their crowd of earthly affections, to a steadfastness and courage which of themselves they had never known. And when thus equipped, strengthened with all might, crowned as kings, by God's Spirit in the inner man, they could meet and defy, endure and vanquish, all their persecutors' power. It gave way to them, not they to it. Thus had the Lord made them kings.
4. And finally, the consecration. He "hath made us priests." True, no mitre decked their brow, no sacerdotal vestments hung from their shoulders; they belonged to no separate order, they claimed no ecclesiastical rank. But yet Christ had consecrated them. They were by him dedicated to God, they were holy unto the Lord, and in their prayers and supplications and manifold charities they offered, as priests should, "gifts and sacrifices for men." To hearts inflamed with the love of Christ this power of blessing and helping men, appertaining as it ever does to the priestly office, could not but be a further cause of gratitude and praise. Yes; the compassionate love, the costly cleansing, the coronation as kings, and the consecration as priests unto God,—these did, as they well might, call forth this fervent praise. But there was yet a third cause, and it was—
III. His CERTAINTY THAT THESE BLESSINGS WERE REALLY HIS. If he had doubted, he would have been dumb. Zacharias became so because he doubted, but his glorious song of praise burst forth when doubt and dumbness were together gone. And so will it be with ourselves. If we only hope and trust that we are Christ's, and Christ is ours; if we have not "the full assurance of the hope" which God's Word is ever urging us to strive after; but are often saying and singing—
"'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought:
Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his or am I not?"
until a better and brighter condition of mind be ours,—we cannot praise Christ as St. John did. He was certain, that Christ loved him, that Christ had washed him from his sins, that Christ had made him king and priest unto God; he had no doubt of it whatsoever. Oh for like precious faith!
CONCLUSION. If we do truly desire such faith, it is proof that some measure of it is in us already. If, then, we do know what Christ has done for us, let us join in this "unto him," and render to him: Glory—the glory which our renewed trust, our faithful witnessing for him, may bring to him. Dominion—over our own hearts chief of all, keeping back no faculty or power, no feeling or desire, no purpose or will, but surrendering all to him. And this "forever and ever." Not a surrender made today and recalled tomorrow, but one to which, by his grace, we will forever stand. Oh that we may! Give, then, your heartfelt "Amen" to all this. As we read this verse, let us join in the "Amen," let it be our praise also. Amen and Amen.—S.C.
The mourning at the coming of the Lord.
"Behold, he cometh with clouds," etc. For the parallels and explanations of this mourning, we must turn to Zechariah 12:10, and to our Lord's words in Matthew 24:30. These show that the mourning will be of very varied kind. There will be that contrasted sorrow of which St. Paul tells when he speaks of the "godly sorrow" and "the sorrow of the world." The former, that which will be the result of the outpouring of "the Spirit of grace and supplication" of which Zechariah tells; and the latter, that which has no element of hope or goodness in it, but tendeth only to death. Let each one of us ask—Which shall mine be? Consider—
I. THE COMING OF THE LORD. "Behold, he cometh with clouds." This tells:
1. Of the manner of his coming. In majesty (cf. the cloud of glory at Transfiguration). See the frequent gorgeous magnificence of the clouds; fit and apt symbol are they of the august majesty of the Lord. Mystery. "Clouds and darkness are round about him." "Who by searching can find out God?" How incomprehensible by us are his movements and ways! Might. How the clouds rush along! with what speed, volume, force! They blot out the radiance of sun, moon, and stars; they darken the face of the earth. So will he come with great power. Mercy. The clouds herald "the times of refreshing" (cf. Acts 2:1-47). So will he come to all them that love his appearing. Hence the Church's cry, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus: come quickly."
2. This coming is to be understood literally. If the words of Scripture have any meaning, they affirm this. Why should it not be? So was it at Sinai; so, in forecast, at the Transfiguration. Announcing it a short time previously (Matthew 16:28), our Lord spoke of it as "the Son of man coming in his kingdom." It is evident that the apostles and first followers of Christ understood his coming in a literal sense, and it is difficult to see how they could have understood it otherwise. True, their wish was father to their thought when they spoke of it, as they so often did, as close at hand, as likely to happen in their own lifetime. But they were not taught by Christ to affirm this; rather the reverse. For he said, "It is not for you to know the times," etc. (Acts 1:1-26.). But they were right in believing the nearness of Christ's spiritual advents. For:
3. Christ's coming is to be understood in a spiritual sense as well as literally. All advents of Christ, though he be personally unseen, to judgment are real comings of the Lord. What else were the destruction of Jerusalem, the downfall of pagan Rome, the Reformation, the French Revolution, and yet other such events? And to every man at death (cf. Hebrews 9:27). "After death, judgment." Therefore it is ever true that he comes quickly. The Lord is at hand. He shall suddenly come; in an hour when ye look not for him; as a thief in the night. And in the sudden and marked manifestations of the Lord's displeasure which come now and again upon ungodly men; and as the direct consequences of their sin;—in these also should be seen the coming of the Lord. This truth, therefore, of Christ's coming should not be relegated to the region of speculative, mysterious, and unpractical truths, but should be, as God grant it may be by us all, held fast as of most momentous present and practical import to bear upon and influence all our daily life and thought and conduct. But St. John, in our text, has undoubtedly in view the literal coming of the Lord, and he tells of—
II. THE MOURNING THAT SHALL ATTEND IT. "All … shall mourn because of him." So then:
1. None will be indifferent. Many are so now. Try we ever so much to arouse them to religious thought and action, we cannot do so. The world and its concerns baffle all our efforts. But at the Lord's coming, the one thought of all will be concerning their relation to him. In the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-46.) we are told that "all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps." The foolish had been careless about this hitherto, but now all were aroused and eager, though for them it was all too late. And so at our Lord's coming, "every eye shall see him," and all "shall mourn because of him." But:
2. The mourning will be of different kinds.
(1) There will be that which belongs to hatred—the mourning of vexation, rage, terror. Thus will it be with those who shall be found impenitent at the last—the hardened, the reprobate, who persist in saying, "We will not have this Man to reign over us." Such is the deceitfulness of sin, that no truth, though none be more sure, is more commonly disbelieved. Ministers of Christ know too well, by experience gained at many death beds, that "there shall be mourning at the last." What frantic efforts to hurry up the work of salvation that has been neglected all the life long! what vain looking to outside help there is when none such can avail! The writer has scenes of this sad kind vividly in remembrance, when the dying ones, do what he would, would in their fear persist in looking to him to, help them. Such facts force one to believe that there will be mourning of this hopeless sort at the coming of the Lord. Yes, it is "a fearful thing" for an unforgiven man "to fall into the hands of the living God."
(2) But there will be other mourning than this—the mourning of love. Love that grieves for good left undone or but imperfectly done, and for evil done. Of such mourning not a little will be found in those spoken of or suggested in our text, as:
(a) Mankind generally. "Every eye shall see him," etc. And this looking upon Christ shall be the look of faith and love. Zechariah, in the parallel passage, teaches this—even of those who have "pierced him." James, the unbelieving brother of the Lord, seems to have been converted by the Lord's appearing to him. Saul the persecutor became Paul the apostle by the same means. And so, doubtless, not a few amidst the masses of mankind, who have known and felt how little their heathenism and varied misbeliefs could do for them, will, when they behold the Lord, exclaim, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him." And they will mourn their long estrangement, and the darkening of their hearts that their own sin has caused.
(b) Israel. Special mention is made of them here and in Zechariah 12:1-14. It was they "who pierced him." But it is told how they shall bitterly mourn when they see him, as if they mourned "for an only son." And it shall be a godly sorrow, though, as it should be, it will be heartfelt and deep. How could it be otherwise when they remembered how they ought to have received Jesus as the Christ! "He came to his own"—and they were "his own"—"and," etc. They rejected him, rejected him cruelly, persistently, generation after generation, age after age, and yet the Lord bore with them all this time; and now they see him—him, coming to help and save them. Yes; though they pierced him, hung him up and crucified him, yet, behold, he cometh, and not to destroy, but to save; and the sight of that breaks them down, as well it may. Ah! what tears of penitence will flow then! Yes; Israel shall mourn.
(c) The spiritual Israel—the Church. The ancient prophet plainly has them in view as well as the literal Israel. And will not the Church of God mourn at her Lord's coming when she thinks what she might have done, and should have done, but did not do? It is the one sorrow that we shall take into the presence of the Lord, that we so ill served him who did all for us. Then the Church will see, as now oftentimes she is slow to see, that she is but an unprofitable servant, even when she has done her all. How will the Church think then of her apathy and indifference in regard to the masses of the ungodly outside her borders; of the half-hearted service she too commonly renders, her members spending more on their own luxury and ease than they surrender for Christ during a whole lifetime; of the strange things that have been done in the name of Christianity, and of the dishonour many so-called Christians have brought upon the holy name they bear? The Church, when she beholds her Lord, will mourn for these things. Would it not be well if she mourned more now, and so set herself to alter and amend her ways?
(d) Families are spoken of as sharing in this mourning—those whom St. John speaks of as "all the tribes of the earth," and Zechariah tells of as "all the families of the land." And he specially dwells on this family, household, mourning, naming a number of these families as representative of all the rest. How suggestive this is to us all! For whatever else we may not be, we are all members of some family or other. And this divinely appointed institution of the family, how immensely powerful it ever has been and must always be for good or ill. What the families are the nation will be. And amid the families there will be mourning when the Lord comes. Godly parents, cannot you understand this? Do you not now, or would it not be much better if you did, mourn over your many failures in duty as regards the position God has placed you in? How intent you are on your children's secular good! and so you ought to be; but how little solicitude you display that their young hearts may be yielded up to the Lord! And how much more was thought of what the world and society would say, than of what would please Christ, in regard to the business, social, or marriage relationships into which you allowed or caused your children to enter! And if they have lost their love for Christ and his blessed service, whose fault is it? Oh, how will these things look in the presence of your Lord? Then let them be so to you now, and so is there less likelihood of your being "ashamed before him" at his coming.
(e) Individuals are not omitted in this enumeration. "Every eye" means every individual person. There will be matter for the mourning of each one, one by one, separate and apart. Yes; that we were so late and laggard in coming to him; that when we did come, too often, for all the service we rendered him, we might almost as well have stayed away; that our conversion is so imperfect; that sin lurks and lingers in us, and often breaks out and overpowers us even now. The language of many a heart will be then—
"Oh, how I fear thee, living God,
With deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with humble hope,
And penitential tears!"
Well will it be for us often to review our own personal lives in the light of the coming of the Lord. For it will send us swiftly to that "fountain opened for all sin and uncleanness," which Zechariah tells of in connection with this mourning—that most precious fountain of the Saviour's blood. And it will lead us to pray with greater fervour and frequency, "Search me, O Lord, and know my heart; prove me," etc. (Psalms 139:23).—S.C.
The vision of the Lord.
That St. John should have been favoured with this glorious vision is but in keeping with what was often granted to the prophets of the Lord—to Moses, at the burning bush; to Isaiah, in the temple; to Jeremiah, at his consecration to his prophetic office, and likewise to Ezekiel; and to the three chief apostles, SS. Peter, James, and John, at the Transfiguration; St. John, at Patmos; and St. Paul, at Damascus and when caught up to heaven. All these visions were designed the better to fit and qualify them to speak for Christ to his people, and they teach us that those who are successfully to speak for Christ must have exalted ideas concerning him. In some form or other they must see his glory, or they will have but little to say, and that little they will not say as they should. "I beseech thee show me thy glory" may well be the prayer of all those who are to speak in the Lord's name. Such was—
I. THE PURPOSE OF THIS VISION as regarded St. John himself. But it had a far more general one—to bless the Church of God. They were dark days for the Church, days of fierce persecution, whether by command of Nero, or Domitian, who followed him twenty-five years after, we cannot say. But in those days, whichever they were, Christianity had not become a religio licita, and, therefore, was not as other religions, under the protection of the laws. It was looked upon as a branch of Judaism, which of all religions was the most hateful to the paganism of the day. And Christianity, in the popular estimation, was the most hateful form of Judaism. It would be certain, therefore, that if the chief authorities at Rome set the example of persecuting the Christians, the pagans of the provinces would not be long in copying it. Hence we can well understand what a fiery trial was now afflicting the Church of Christ. They were suffering, and needed consolation; fearful and fainting, and needed courage; in some cases, sad and shameful heresies had sprung up, and they needed to be rooted out; and in others, so-called Christians were leading careless, impure, and ungodly lives, and they needed solemn warning of Christ's displeasure. Now, this vision, the letters that follow, and this entire book, were all designed to meet their great necessities. What need have the people of God ever known but what he has made provision to meet it, and has met it abundantly? And this, let us be well assured, he ever will do.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE VISION. We are told:
1. Of the beholder. John. There may be doubt as to what John, and it does not much matter, for we know that we have here the Word of God, and that it was written by one of the most honoured servants of God. See how humble his tone. He does not "lord it over God's heritage," but speaks of himself as "your brother and companion in tribulation." He was so at that very hour. And "in the kingdom of Jesus Christ." For that he and they were to look forward with eager hope and confident expectation. And "in patience." This was the posture of the believer at such a time, the mind he needed to possess. We can bear tribulation if, as St. John was, we are cheered by the hope of the kingdom of our Lord, and are enabled to be patient unto the coming of the Lord.
2. Where he was. In Patmos; a dismal rock, lonely, barren, almost uninhabited save by the miserable exiles that were doomed to wear out their lives there. But there John had this glorious vision, and it teaches us that dreary places may become as heaven to us if we are given to see the glory of Christ.
3. When he saw this. "On the Lord's day." There can be little doubt but that "the first day of the week," the Christian Sunday, is meant, and what we are told of here as having taken place on this Sunday is but an early instance of what in substance and reality has taken place for many faithful worshippers in all parts of Christ's Church on every Sunday since. What wonder that the Sunday is precious to Christian hearts, and that all attempts to secularize it or in any ways lessen its sanctity are both resented and resisted by those who know what a priceless boon for heart, for home, for health, for heaven, the Lord's day is?
4. He tells us the frame of mind in which he was. "I was in the Spirit." His heart was much uplifted towards God; there had been a rush of holy feeling amounting to religious rapture and ecstasy, and then it was that this glorious vision burst upon him. Neither holy days nor holy places will avail us unless our hearts be in harmony with both day and place. But if they be, then the Lord often "brings all heaven before our eyes." What might not our Sundays be to us if our hearts, instead of being so earthbound, as they too often are, were in the mood for drawing near unto God?
5. Next he tells how his attention was called to the vision. "I heard a great voice as of a trumpet" (verse 10). The trumpet was an especially sacred instrument. It was associated with the giving of the Law (Exodus 19:6), with the inauguration of festivals (Numbers 10:10), with the ascension of the Lord: "God is gone up with a noise, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet" (Psalms 47:5). And so shall it be at the coming of the Lord and the resurrection of the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:52). The voice he heard was, therefore, not alone loud, clear, startling, like a trumpet, but also admonitory of the sacredness and importance of what he was about to hear and see.
6. What the voice said. "I am Alpha," etc. (verse 11). Many manuscripts omit this sublime statement, but it seems in keeping with the trumpet voice, and with what comes both before and after. The "great voice," simply commanding the apostle to write in a book what he saw, appears incongruous, but not with the august announcement, "I am Alpha," etc. The Church had believed this of "the Almighty" (verse 8), but now it was to be thrilled with the assurance that this was true of their Lord. He, too, was Alpha, etc. (cf. for meaning, homily on verse 11). Then, as Moses (Exodus 3:3), turning to see whence the voice came, he beheld—
III. THE VISION ITSELF. He saw:
1. The whole Church of Christ represented by the seven lamps of gold. Seven, the specially sacred number, the number of completeness. These seven are mentioned because their names were familiar to those to whom he was writing.
2. He beheld the Lord Jesus Christ. These verses tell:
(1) The form of his appearance. "I saw One like unto the Son of man." He of whom Ezekiel and Daniel had told in those prophecies of theirs, which this so often and so much resembles. But it was a vision of awe and terror to any mortal eye. Like so many Hebrew symbols, it is unrepresentable in art. The form is one which is almost inconceivable, and were any to seek, as some have done, to make a pictorial representation of it, the result would be grotesque, monstrous, and impossible. But the Hebrew mind cared nothing for art, only for spiritual truth; the external form was nothing, the inward truth everything. Art is careful to portray only the external, and it has attained to wondrous perfection in this respect; but the Hebrew desired to represent the inner nature—the mind, the heart, the soul. Hence it fastened upon whatsoever would best serve this purpose, and joined them together, utterly regardless of congruity, symmetry, or any other mere artistic law. Therefore we must look beneath the often strange symbols which we have in this vision would we know what it meant and said to the beholder. The golden-girdled garment told of royal majesty and authority; the hoary hair, of venerable age and profound wisdom; the eyes like fire flame, of searching intelligence and of fierce wrath; the feet like molten brass, of resistless strength, which should trample down and crush all that stood in its way; the voice like the sound of the sonorous sea waves, which are heard over all other tumults and noises whatsoever, subduing and stilling them, tell of that word of "all-commanding might" which once was heard hushing into silence the noise of many waters on the tempest-tossed lake of Galilee, and which, wherever heard, every tumult subsides and all at once obey. The seven stars grasped in the right hand told of power and purpose to defend them or dispose of them as he willed; the two-edged sword proceeding out of his mouth, of that awful soul-penetrating Word by which the secrets of all hearts should be made known, and by which all adversaries of the Lord should be slain; the countenance radiant like the sun, of the Divine majesty, so dazzling, so confounding, so intolerable, to all unhallowed and unpermitted gaze of man.
(2) And this awful form was seen surrounded by the seven lamps of gold, as the dwellings of the vassals of a chieftain are clustered round his castle and stronghold, which rises proudly in their midst as if proclaiming its lordship and its protection over them.
(3) And that this vision was designed to meet the manifold needs of those varied characters and conditions in the several Churches is evident from the fact that allusion to one or other part of it is made at the beginning of each of the letters which St. John was commanded to write and send; and that part is chosen which would most minister to the need of the Church to whom the letter was written. But it was as the invincible Champion of his Church that Christ came forth, and to persuade their fainting hearts of this he appeared in this wondrous form. And the vision is for all time, and every anxious heart should steadily look upon it, and strive to learn the comforting truths which it was designed to teach.
(4) But the effect of the vision was at first overpowering. "I fell at his feet as dead." Well might it have been so.
"O God of mercy, God of might,
How should weak sinners bear the sight,
If, as thy power is surely here,
Thine open glory should appear?"
St. Peter cried out, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" though there was nothing in the appearance of Jesus to alarm and terrify. How much more when such a vision as this was seen, and such a voice was heard! "Fear was far more in the ascendant than holy joy. I will not say that John was unhappy, but certainly it was not delight which prostrated him at the Saviour's feet. And I gather from this that if we, in our present embodied state, were favoured with an unveiled vision of Christ, it would not make a heaven for us; we may think it would, but we know not what spirit we are of. Such new wine, if put into these old bottles, would cause them to burst." But
(5) we are told how the Lord restored his prostrate disciple. By his touch of sympathy: he laid his hand upon him. He was wont to do this for the many that he healed when here on earth. And there was the touch of power. It was his right hand. Then came the Lord's "Fear not;" and when we hear him say that to us, our fears, as—
"The cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And silently steal away."
And this was not all. He gave him most comforting instruction. He told him who he was—the incarnate Jehovah; the Saviour "who became dead," not who merely died, but, as the word denotes, "voluntarily underwent death." Surely John knew him, and would not be afraid of him. But now he was alive forevermore—he, the same in heart and will, though not in form. And possessed of universal authority. He had the keys, the insignia of authority, over the unseen world. Therefore, should any of them be hurried thither by their persecutors' rage, he would be there, and Lord there, so they need not fear. But he had the keys of death also. Hence none could open its gates unless he pleased; and none could be put to death whom he chose to keep alive. He "openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth, and no man openeth." Entrance there was governed, not by the will of man, but by his will. And finally, he explains part of the vision, and directs it to be written and sent to the seven Churches. The stars, they are, such as St. John himself was, the angels, the chief pastors of the Churches; and see, Christ has hold of them, grasped in his right hand, and who shall be able to pluck them thence, or separate them from his love? What comfort this for the fearful but faithful heart of the minister of Christ! And see again, he is in the midst of the seven lamps which represent the seven Churches. He is there as their sure Defence. Christ is in the midst of his Churches chiefly to protect, but also to rule and to inspect, and if needs be to judge and to punish. Even now he is walking amid his Churches. Let us remember this, and consider "what manner of persons we ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness." The voice of this vision says to us all, "Be of good comfort, but watch and pray."—S.C.
The eternity and unchangeableness of Christ.
"I am Alpha and … Last." The vision St. John had just seen showed him indisputably that all the low and inadequate ideas which, during his Lord's life on earth, and during the times of trial, he and others had cherished concerning his Person were altogether wrong. And, though we cannot but believe that in the apostles' mind there must have been a great advance in their thoughts concerning their Lord, even yet it was needful, and now and in the terrible times before them it was more than ever needful, that they should rightly regard him. They would lose much, as we ever do, by wrong thoughts about Christ, and all thoughts that fell short of his true dignity and nature were wrong thoughts. Now, to bring the Church generally to true knowledge and understanding on this great matter, not only was the vision vouchsafed which St. John had then before him, but also the trumpet-like voice of the Lord himself was heard declaring who and what he was. And the importance of this declaration is seen by the prominence that is given to it, and its frequent repetition in more or less full form. We meet with it again and again. Its meaning and teaching are similar to that word in Hebrews 13:8, "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday," etc. It asserts—
I. THE ETERNITY OF THE SON OF GOD. In the eighth verse it is spoken of the Almighty God himself. Here, and continually in other places, it is asserted of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the face of Scriptures like these, and they are very many, how can the honest believer in their authority assent to the popular modern hypothesis which would place and keep our Lord on the level of humanity, even though it be humanity at its highest level? If he were no more than man, how could words such as these be spoken and written concerning him? Now, if it had been desired to show that he was God incarnate, could language more clearly asserting it have been devised? Reject the Scriptures, the testimony of the Church from the beginning, the experience of believers, and the confirmation of the truth which we find in religions outside our own, and then we may reject the Church's faith; but assuredly it cannot else be done. But the text teaches also—
II. THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. It was needful that the former truth should be deeply impressed on the minds of the persecuted Church. It was the remembrance of the Eternal One that had steadied the minds and encouraged the hearts of their fathers in the days of old. On the plains of Dura, in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar and of Darius, that blest memory and faith had given invincible courage in the face of the fiery furnace and the fangs of fiercest beasts. And therefore it was reasserted here when like perils would have to be met and endured and overcome. But this further truth of the unchangeableness of Christ was no less needed to abide in memory and heart if they were to be found faithful even unto death. For:
1. There would be great temptation to tamper with his commands. Might not their stringency be relaxed? would not many of them admit of compromise, or of delay, or of some other departure from their literal and strict import? Under the pressure of fear, or worldly conformity, or the lurking love of sin, would there not be, is there not now, this temptation perpetually assailing? And therefore was it and is it ever well to remember that such setting aside of the Lord's commands cannot be suffered. They change not any more than himself. They were not lowered or relaxed for the tried and troubled ones of former ages, even when they had far less of sustaining truth to cheer them than had the apostolic Church, and still less than we have now. The Lord has cancelled no command, nor does he claim from us any less than he demanded at the first. He accepts half-hearted service no more now than when he said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." But there were not a few to whom St. John wrote, and there are as many and more now, who from various motives would try to explain away this command and that which the Lord had laid upon them. For them the reminder of his unchangeableness, which is given in this his Name, was indeed necessary.
2. And their fidelity would be helped by the remembrance that he was the same in his love. What had he done for the most faithful of his servants that he had not done for them? Did he die for the martyrs more than for them? Were they not included when it was said, "He loved us, and gave himself for us"? Were not the unsearchable riches of Christ as open to them as to any believers? Did they owe less to Christ? or were they under less obligation to him than others? He had come from heaven to earth; he had lived, and suffered, and died, and risen again for them as for those whose hearts had most truly responded to all this love. Yes; as unchanged in his love toward them as in what he asked for from them, in what he deserved as in what he demanded. How well for them to remember this!
3. And in the grace he would bestow. They were not and could not be straitened in him. The treasury of his grace was not exhausted. He would supply all their need, as he had supplied that of all his servants. No good thing would he withhold from them more than from the saints and martyrs who by his grace had obtained so good report. "I am the Lord, I change not;" such was one chief meaning of his word, "I am Alpha," etc. And that immutability concerned his nature and his character, and there was no class amongst them in these days of trial but would find help in this sure truth. And let us remember it likewise.—S. C.
Revelation 1:17, Revelation 1:18
The Living One: an Easter Sunday sermon.
"Fear not," etc.
1. It is good to say words of good cheer. The cheerful word, the pleasant smile, the encouraging shake of the hand,—all these are good and helpful. As when with ringing cheers we send our troops off to battle.
2. But it is better still to be able, along with such words of good cheer, to show reason for them, and the solid ground you have for bidding your brother be of good cheer, and that he has for being so. If we can do this, how much more helpful our words are! Now, this is what our Saviour does here for St. John, and through him for all Christians always and everywhere. And if, as is possible, from the use of the expression, "the Lord's day," and St. John's naming it in close connection with our Lord's death, the day was not merely the first day of the week, but an Easter Sunday, and so especially "the Lord's day," then all the more may we well consider those reasons wherefore our Lord bade his apostle and all of us "Fear not." Now, our Lord declares in these verses four great facts, every one of which says, "Fear not" to him who believes it.
I. His ETERNAL EXISTENCE. He says:
1. "I am the First"—the First Begotten (cf. Psalms 40:1-17.; John the Baptist's, "He was before me;" also our Lord's words, "Before Abraham was, I am;" and John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word").
2. "The Last." (Cf. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet;" "Then cometh the end," 1 Corinthians 15:1-58.)
3. "The Living One;" equivalent to "I am he that liveth"—Jehovah. The claim is no less than this. Great, august, but intolerable if not true. But because true, it justifies our adoration and worship, and that to him every knee should bow. But it also says to us, "Fear not;" for it assures us that what he has been to his people he will be to them always (cf. homily on verse 11). He had been everything to his disciples. "Lord, to whom shall we go?" said Peter in the name of them all: "thou hast the words of eternal life." Hence to lose him was to lose all. But this Divine title which he claims assured them that they should not lack any good thing. What he had been to them, he would be. And so to us.
II. HIS PERFECT BROTHERHOOD He shares in all our sorrows, even the greatest of them. "I became dead;" this is a better rendering of verse 18, than "I was dead." It does not say merely, "I died," or "I was dead;" that might be said of any saint in heaven, and will be said of all of us one day; but "I became dead"—it was his own voluntary act (of. St. Paul: "He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross"). Now, our Lord's declaring this fact tells no doubt:
1. Of his sacrifice and atonement. That he was "the Lamb of God, which taketh away," etc. But I think the chief reason for its declaration here is to assert:
2. His perfect brotherhood and sympathy with us. That he was our very Brother-Man, who has been in all points tried as we are. Hence, however low any of us may have to go, he has been lower still. As Baxter sings -
"Christ leads us through no darker room
Than he went through before."
It was as if he would say to all to whom this book should come, "I know, my brethren, you have to bear trouble, perhaps to endure cruel death, but I know all about it; I became dead, I have been through it all, I have sounded the lowest depths of sorrow; and go, my beloved ones, where you will, underneath you shall find my everlasting arms. So fear not." And on Easter Day the joy of it is that the Lord comes to us, not merely as triumphant, but as One who has suffered, and to us who are suffering. And the message of the day is—
"As surely as I overcame,
And triumphed once for you,
So surely you who know my Name
Shall through me triumph too."
III. HIS VICTORY. "Behold, I am alive forevermore." Note that word "behold." It means that, in spite of all that death and hell could do, he is nevertheless alive forevermore. They sought to destroy him, but in vain. And the message of all this to those to whom it was sent was, "Fear not them which kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do." Your enemies can do you no real harm. And this is his word to us today. He points to himself, and says, "Behold" me; "I am alive forevermore." Therefore "Fear not.".
IV. HIS LORDSHIP OVER THE UNSEEN. "I have the keys of death and of hell." The "key" means authority, power, possession; "death," him who had the power of death, or the state of death; "hell," the unseen world, the place of departed spirits; also the forces and strength of Satan (cf. "The gates of hell"). Now, Christ declares that he has authority over all this. Therefore, he having the keys:
1. The door of death and the grave can only be opened by him. Therefore their lives were unassailable, invulnerable, unless he gave permission. "Men of the world," their persecutors, were but his "hand."
2. He can enter there when he pleases. If, then, any of them should be put to death, he would not be debarred from them nor they from him (cf. "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod," etc., Psalms 23:1-6.). Death and the unseen world are his absolute possession.
3. He can shut their gates when he pleases. Therefore death and hell have power only so long as he pleases. If he lets them loose for a season, he can restrain them again. And he will finally shut the door upon them forever. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death;" "He came to destroy the works of the devil." He shall shut the gates of hell, and when he shuts, no man openeth. Therefore "Fear not." Such is the message of Easter Day.—S.C.
The "Fear nots" of Christ.
"Fear not." This is a characteristic word of the Bible, but especially of the Gospel, and chief of all, of our blessed Lord. For he not only, as in our text, spoke the word many times, but his whole message and mission to mankind was to banish the bondslave fear which had haunted them so long from their minds. "'Fear not' is a plant that grows very plentifully in God's garden. If you look through the flower beds of Scripture, you will continually find by the side of other flowers the sweet 'Fear nots' peering out from among doctrines and precepts, even as violets look up from their hiding places of green leaves." Take any concordance, and count the number of times and note the occasions where the heart-cheering word or its equivalent occurs, and it will be seen that it is indeed a characteristic word of God to man. From Genesis to Revelation, from earliest patriarch to latest apostle, the sweet echo and reverberation of this word is clearly audible. Dr. Watts' Catechism says, in its answer to the question, "Who was Isaiah?" "He was the prophet that spoke more of Jesus Christ than all the rest." And this is so, and for this very reason he is richest in comfort to the people of God, and you will see more of these "Fear nots" in his writings than anywhere else. "They grow like the kingcups and the daisies, and other sweet flowers of the meadows, among which the little children in the springtime delight themselves, and the bank that is the fullest of these beautiful flowers is that which Isaiah has cast up." But let us listen now to those blessed words spoken by Christ himself, rather than by his Spirit through his prophets.
I. And first this one in our text which DRIVES AWAY DREAD AND DISMAY IN PRESENCE OF THE DIVINE GLORY. Not but what there is good reason for such dread at the thought of God. For how stands the case as between our souls and God? We have sinned—there is no doubt about that. And then there rises up before the soul the awful vision of God's majesty and might and of his wrath against sin. And the dread which this vision causes is deepened as we hear the accusations of conscience, as we listen to the reasonings founded on the necessity of penalty following sin. "Plato, Plato," said Socrates, "I cannot see how God can forgive sin." As we observe the reign of law, and note how therein every "transgression receives its just recompense of reward" (Hebrews 2:2), all this fills the awakened soul with dread, as indeed it cannot but do. But to such soul Christ comes and says, "Fear not." In many ways he says this; but chief of all by his cross and sacrifice, whereby he shows to us how without dishonour done to the Divine law, but rather with all honour rendered to it, God can "be just and yet the Justifier," etc. To him, our Redeemer and Saviour, let the soul convinced of sir and in dread on account thereof, at once turn, and soon shall be heard, in spite of all accusing, condemning voices, the blessed word of Christ that silences them all, and says to the soul that trusts in him, "Fear not." This same word—
II. MEETS THE RENEWED CONSCIOUSNESS OF SIN WHICH THE SENSE OF GOD'S GOODNESS OFTEN PRODUCES. "Fear not," said our Lord to Peter; "from henceforth thou shalt catch men" (Luke 5:10). Peter was overwhelmed at the magnitude of the blessing bestowed on him. "He was astonished at the draught of fishes which they had taken." Had the number been but small, he would not have been astonished, but being what it was, he could only cast himself down before the Lord and cry, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" He had known and seen much of Christ before this; he had heard John say of him, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh," etc.; and he had believed and followed him. But never before, that we know of, had there been wakened up in him such sense of his own unworthiness as he gives utterance to now. What led to it? Not the quickened belief that Jesus was the Christ; not the sight of a miracle only, for he had seen other miracles before this—that at Cana, for example; but it was the sense of the Lord's goodness to him, not in this great haul of fish merely or chiefly, but in his condescension that he should make such as he was his friend, companion, and apostle. And such sense of the Lord's great goodness does have this humbling effect.
"The more thy glories strike mine eye,
The humbler I shall lie."
Where there is borne in upon our minds the great love of God to usward, the light of that love makes us see more clearly our own unworthiness of it. It will not puff any man up with pride, or make him thank God that he is not as other men are, but will work in him such humility and lowliness of heart as, whilst it qualifies him the better to do Christ's work, will need, and will have, Christ's "Fear not" to prevent it becoming over diffident and doubtful as to whether he can serve Christ at all. They who have been most honoured, as Peter was, "to catch men for life," as the Lord promised him he should, know how the sense of such unmerited goodness prostrates them before God in deepest self abasement and in "penitential tears." And it is to this mood of mind—so blessed every way—that the Lord speaks his "Fear not." Let each one of us, would we know more of the Lord's goodness, especially in regard to success in all spiritual work, ask ourselves—What effect does that goodness have upon me? If it makes us proud and self sufficient, that will be the signal for its coming to an end; but if, as it should, it humble us and make us feel more than ever how unworthy, because how sinful we are, then that will be the token that there is for us more blessing yet in store.
III. FORBIDS THE GIVING UP OF HOPE EVEN IN SEEMINGLY HOPELESS CASES. This is the lesson of the "Fear not" of our Lord's which is given in Luke 8:50. If ever there was a seemingly hopeless case, it was that of the recovery of the little daughter of Jairus, after the messengers had come and told him, "Thy daughter is dead." No doubt he had fretted and fumed inwardly at the, as he would think it, deplorable interruption and delay which had occurred owing to the poor woman's coming and touching the hem of the Lord's garment, and so being healed, all which led to her discovery and confession, but likewise to much loss of time. But when the word came to Jairus that his dear child was dead, his distress and anguish must have been terrible, and were clearly visible to the Lord, who at once meets it with this "Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole." Now, this is a typical instance and a never-to-be-forgotten lesson for us all. Where Christ is concerned, or rather concerns himself for us, we need never, we may never, despair.
1. We may apply this lesson largely to temporal events, though not universally, because oftentimes his will plainly is not to deliver us from the temporal trouble which we fear. But even then we should not fear, for though not in form, yet in substance, he will give deliverance and help. He will always do what is best, though that best be in some other form than that which we have desired.
2. But the lesson is of universal application in regard to spiritual blessings which we seek at his hands. Many a dear one lies spiritually at the point of death, and if we have gone to Christ with the entreaty that he will come and heal, we are not to despair of our prayer being answered. We may not see the answer in this world—God's providence may have rendered that impossible, but still we are never to give up hope. "It is told of a woman who prayed long for her husband, how she used to attend a certain meeting house in the north of England; but her husband never went with her. He was a drinking, swearing man, and she had much anguish of heart about him. She never ceased to pray, and yet she never saw any result. She went to the meeting house quite alone, with this exception, that a dog always went with her, and this faithful animal would curl himself up under the seat, and lie quiet during the service. When she was dead, her husband was still unsaved, but doggie went to the meeting house. His master wondered whatever the faithful animal did at the service. Curiosity made him follow the good creature. The dog led him down the aisle to his dear old mistress's seat. The man sat on the seat, and the dog curled himself up as usual. God guided the minister that day; the Word came with power, and that man wept till he found the Saviour" (Spurgeon). That instance is but one out of many more, all of which go to confirm the blessed lesson of this "Fear not." Let ministers and teachers, parents, and all who have those dear to them as yet unsaved, be encouraged to persevere in fervent prayer and believing endeavour on their behalf. "Fear not: believe only, and" thy beloved one "shall be made whole." And we may each one substitute our own selves for the daughter of Jairus, and read, "thy own soul" shall be made whole. For not seldom we are prone to despair about ourselves and to give up the contest. Old sins break out again, old habits reassert themselves, and we seem delivered over to them, and all our prayer and effort to be of no avail. "Fear not," says the Lord to all such. Another of these "Fear nots"—
IV. DEFIES PERSECUTION. Matthew 10:28, "Fear not them which kill the body." That entire chapter is an armoury of weapons wherewith the war with the world may be successfully waged. Not much of open and violent persecution exists in our day. The serpent has had its fangs drawn, and the mouths of the lions have been shut; but still the enemies of Christ know well enough how to inflict much of pain on those who will not take their side, but are faithful to the Lord. Many a working man and working woman who have to mingle in their daily employ with large numbers of others in warehouses, workshops, factories, and the like, can bear witness to the truth of this; and many a boy at school likewise. To all such this "Fear not" of Christ's specially comes. To be despised by men may be hard, but will it not be worse to be rejected of the Lord if you give in to the fear of man? And is not the glad welcome and "Well done" of Christ worth winning, even at the cost of a sharp, though short-lived persecution now? Surely it is. And think how little they can do. They cannot touch you. They may mangle and murder your poor body, though they are not likely to go so far as that; but that is not you. And when they have done that, they have no more that they can do. And how utter has been their failure in the past! One would have thought that the Church of Christ must have been exterminated long ago, considering what a ceaseless storm of hell's artillery has been beating upon her devoted head. But lo! here the Church of Christ is, invincible in him who himself is invincible. Satan, the prompter of all persecution, soon tires when he finds that failure follows all he does. "Fear not," therefore; be bold for Christ. Confess him, and he will confess you. This word—
V. DISPELS ANXIETY ABOUT THE SUPPLY OF EARTHLY WANTS. In Luke 12:32 Christ says, "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." He had been warning them against troubled, distracting thoughts about temporal provision, bidding them seek first the kingdom of God, and all needful things should be added. And, to uplift them far above such anxiety, he bids them fear not, for the kingdom is to be theirs. And in confirmation of this word, does not observation attest that, as a rule—there are, no doubt, exceptions—the wants of the servants of Christ are, somehow or other, supplied? A good man has written against that verse in the psalms which says, "I have been young, and now am old; yet … nor his seed begging bread"—against this he has written, "Then, David, I have." Well, once and again he may have; but the rule is, "all these things" are added unto them. How it is done, whence it comes, or how much, is often a great puzzle. The cupboard may be very bare sometimes, and the cruse very dry; but supply comes as mysteriously but as surely as the ravens brought to the prophet his daffy food. Yes; Christ makes good his word, and he will, brother, to thee. "Fear not," therefore. And let this blessed word serve us as it served St. Paul; for it—
VI. SUSTAINS UNDER APPARENT FAILURE. "Fear not," said the Lord to St. Paul; "lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee" (Acts 27:24). It was the time of Paul's shipwreck. There seemed but a step betwixt him and death. The ship was going to pieces; there seemed no hope nor help. And this was to be the end, apparently, of his apostolic career—Rome not seen, his work incomplete. But then, by his angel, the Lord sent to him this "Fear not." Let us be assured all things—all events, circumstances—must work; they do; they can never be quiet. And they must work together. They seem at times to pull different ways and to lead far apart from one another. But no; they are interlinked and connected one with the other by all manner of associations, so that they must work together, whether they will or no. And they must work together for good, and not evil, to them that love God. When the warp and the woof of the fabric are complete, good shall be seen to be the outcome of it all. So was it with all Paul's life and, not least, with this very shipwreck. And this "Fear not" was sent to tell him that it would be so. Oh, how constantly God is better to us than all our fears! Our worst troubles are those that never come at all, but which we are afraid will come. We often think we are brought to a dead halt, but, lo! as in many a lake and fiord you come up to a promontory or what seems like a wall of rock, and lo! there is an opening through which you glide, and there you are with more room than ever. Then "Fear not;" but cast thy care on God, and he will sustain thee. Apparent failure is not real, and out of the darkest perplexity he can bring forth light.—S.C.
The seven Churches: their common characteristics.
Seven times is heard the solemn charge, given at the close of each of the letters addressed to these Churches, "He that hath an ear," etc. And we would obey this word so far as we may, and, ere considering these letters one by one, would glance at their common characteristics. To the most superficial reader it is evident that in arrangement and plan they are all alike. The "angel of the Church" is addressed in each; then comes the title of the Lord, setting forth that aspect of his character which it was especially well for the Church addressed to take heed to. Then follows the Lord's solemn, "I know thy works," meaning that he had perfectly seen and so perfectly knew all they had done and suffered, all that they were or might be. Then, where, as in most cases, there was aught of good to commemorate, it is named first, before accusation of failure or faithlessness is made. Then follows the earnest warning, and finally comes the promise to all that overcome, and the exhortation to hear and heed what has been said. This is the order of thought in them all, and the aim and purpose of all are one. But, looking at these letters as a whole, the teachings that they convey may be summed up under these three heads.
I. ECCLESIASTICAL. For we may gain from these epistles some clear outlines and learn some of the fundamental principles of the primitive Churches. The picture may not be complete, the portraiture only a sketch; but what it does tell is distinct as well as important. We learn concerning the Churches:
1. Their spread and increase.
(1) We are not told why these seven are mentioned and not others. It was not
(a) because they were all, or for the most part, chief cities. Outside these there were, of course, many far more important—Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome, etc. And even near to these seven there were others greater than they, as Miletus, Colossae, Hierapolis, and probably others. Some that are mentioned are quite insignificant. But perhaps,
(b) being near one to the other, and all not far from Ephesus, St. John knew more of them. They all lay within the area of two ordinary English counties, and, following the order of their names, they formed a complete circle, starting from and returning to Ephesus. And
(c) yet more, because in them the character and conduct told of were conspicuous.
(2) Nor are we told why these seven only are named. Why not less or more? But the reason probably was to show, by the use of the symbolic number, seven, that what was said concerning these Churches was of world-wide and world-enduring importance. For "seven" is the sacred number, and indicates Divine selection, and so enforces the charge that those who hear what the Spirit saith should give all heed thereto.
(3) But these being mentioned, the spread of the Church of Christ is shown. For if in places so obscure as some of these were the faith of Christ was found, how much more in larger places? We know the tide has come in when we see that the little inland creeks are filled. We have no doubt then that the whole stretch of the seashore which, when the tide was out, was left uncovered, is now bright and sparkling with waves. So if to Thyatira and such places the gospel had spread, much more might we be assured that in more populous places it would also be found.
2. Their fundamental principle. That the Church should consist of true believers in Christ, whose faith worked by love and produced holiness of life. For when and wherever praise is given,—and large and blessed promises are held out—it is ever to those who are faithful followers of the Lord. On the other hand, censure and threatening, warning and expostulation, are addressed only to those who are found unfaithful, or are in peril of becoming so. It is, therefore, evident that the place of any in the Church was due to their being regarded as sincere and true believers. If it was not expected of them to be this, wherefore such terrible blame and threats pronounced against them for not being so? It is plain that purity and holiness are regarded as their proper character; that as holy they were called into and continued in the Church, and that on no other ground had they a right there. No nationality and no religious rite could make men living members of the Church; only they were so who so believed in Christ that they became renewed in heart and life. And it is so still; God help us to remember it!
3. Their form. From the mention of these several Churches it is surely evident that at the first there was no idea that the Church of Christ was to be one visible organized body coextensive with the whole world. We believe in "one holy Catholic Church," but we dispute the right of any one organization to claim so august a title. Christ's prayer, "That they all may be one," is heard, and its answer is seen in the fact of the identity in love, faith, and character of all who are really his. And it is these in their totality, visible and known only to him, found in all sections of the Church, but confined none, who make up the "holy Catholic Church." But, so far as visible form is concerned, we read not of "the Church," but of "Churches." Nor were these Churches national or provincial—one Church for a nation or province. All these seven Churches were in one province. Nor was their form presbyterian, for they were not welded together into one, but remained distinct and apart. Nor were they congregational—the Church consisting only of those worshipping in one building. For so there might have been, as there were not, many such Churches in any one of these seven cities. But their form seems to have been municipal rather than aught beside. The believers in one town or city might meet in several congregations, and probably in large cities did so; but we read of only one Church at such places; as the Church at Philippi, Corinth, Antioch, Rome, etc.; not "the Churches," but "the Church." But for the several congregations there were bishops and deacons, as many as might be needed. Hence we read of "the Church, with its bishops and deacons" (Philippians 1:1). Each congregation seems to have had its presiding officer and assistants, but such congregation, with these, did not form a separate Church; the Church consisted of all the believers in the city or town to which they belonged. And, surely, it was an "excellent way." But what matter the form in which the Church or Churches may be organized? It is the life within, the Divine life, begotten of the Spirit of God, that is the all important thing. Without that the best form is no better than the worst; and with that the worst form serves almost as well as the best.
4. Their ministry.
(1) The Churches were presided over by pastors. For by "the angel of the Church" we seem obliged to understand its chief pastor. No doubt it looks mere simple and reasonable to regard the word "angel" as meaning an angel in the ordinary sense of the word. And those who say we should so understand it refer us to the fourth chapter of this book, where we read of "the angel of the waters;" and also to the words of our Lord, who speaks of the "angels" of little children ("Their angels do always behold," etc.); and it is urged that, as we must understand these passages as telling of angels who presided over, had charge of, "the waters" (as in Revelation 4:1-11.) and of "children" (as in the Gospels), so here we must understand, by "the angel of the Church," the angel who had the charge of the Church, and was, therefore, its representative before God. And it is also urged that Michael is in Daniel represented as the guardian of Israel. And the Jews believed in such angels. "It is his angel"—so said those gathered at Mary's house when Peter, whom they thought to be in prison, knocked at the door. But in reply to all this there is one conclusive answer—How could John write a letter to an angel and send it to him? He could write and send to the Churches and their pastors; but to an angel! Hence we regard the chief pastor as meant by the angel. In Haggai and Malachi, prophets are called "messengers," or angels; and such, we believe, are meant here. But what a view of the pastoral office and its solemn responsibility we get when we thus understand this word! They are addressed as representing and responsible for the Churches over whom they preside. Well might St. Paul cry—and well may we—"Brethren, pray for us."
(2) And there seems to have been a modified episcopate; for the chief pastor had others with him (cf. Acts 20:1-38, "Elders of the Church"). Evidently there were several. But the angel seems to have been chief over the rest, as he is held responsible for the faith and practice of the Church. But this need not hurt any one's conscience. Means are not ends. We cannot follow exactly the scriptural pattern in all details. Were we to do so, it would hinder, probably, rather than help forward the end the Church seeks. And our divergences of practice should teach mutual charity and striving after oneness of heart even where there is not oneness of form.
II. DOCTRINAL. Note the sublime titles given to our Lord. They are all drawn from the vision told of in this chapter. But how plainly they teach the Divine glory that belongs to our Lord! As we read them over one by one, can we doubt, whilst we regard this book as inspired, as to who and what our Lord was? Here are titles that no creature, of however high an order of intelligence, or sanctity, or power, could dare to assume to himself or permit others to ascribe to him. There is but one conclusion, that he to whom these titles are given, and by whom they are claimed, is in truth one with the Almighty, the uncreated, the supreme God. Therefore let all the angels of God, and every creature of God, and, above all, every soul of man, worship him.
III. RELIGIOUS. For they show, concerning the Christian life:
1. Its solemnity. We are under the eye of him who says as none other can, "I know thy works." Thus he speaks to us all. Others do not, cannot, know us as he does. Who, then, will dare to disobey?
"Arm me with jealous care,
As in thy sight to live;
And oh, thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give."
2. Its nature.
(1) It is a battle. All have to wage a warfare. None are exempt. Not poor Sardis and Laodicea alone, the weakest and worst of the Churches, have this warfare to wage, but Smyrna and Philadelphia also, the strongest and best. Every one is spoken to and of as engaged in a conflict in which, if he do not overcome, he will be overcome. We cannot "sit and sing ourselves away to everlasting bliss." But a battle has to be fought, and only to those who overcome will the prize be given.
(2) This battle has tremendous issues. Which excel in intensity, the promises to the faithful or the threatenings to the unfaithful, it is hard to say. But they are thus vividly contrasted in each letter, that we may the more readily see and deeply feel that this is no holiday pastime, no child's play, to which we are all inexorably called, but a serious, stern, and awful war. True, today, our foes are spiritual rather than tangible and visible; not cruel and bloody men who hunt our lives to destroy them, but the unseen forces of hell which are within and all around us, and are the more mighty for that they are unseen. We have need to watch and we have need to pray. But there are
(3) vast encouragements; for
(a) it is assured that all may overcome. We are not mocked. Even to Laodicea this was said, thereby implying that even for them, poor fallen miserable ones that they were, victory was possible, even they might overcome. And so now; they who most of all are "tied and bound by the chain of their sins" (and some are dreadfully so), yet even they, "through the might of Christ their Lord," may conquer in the fight.
(b) And we are told how. For the titles of the Lord in these several letters show him to be an all-sufficient Saviour. However many and varied are the wants of his Church, he meets them and ministers to their needs. Are they in peril? He is their Guardian, holding them fast in his right hand. Are they beset by the powers of hell? He is their eternal, their glorified Saviour, possessed of all power. Are they troubled by fierce persecutors or by false friends? He who hath the sharp two-edged sword will avenge them. Are they wandering in heart and life, gone and yet going astray? He whose eyes are as a flame of fire sees them and will follow them, and will surely and, if needs be, sternly correct them. Are they almost worn out with toil and trial? He will uphold them, for has he not the seven Spirits of God? Does he bid them set out in arduous service, telling them that there is an open door before them? He encourages and cheers them, in that he hath the key of David, and that when he opens, no man shuts. Does he tear off the false coverings by which their true and evil state is hidden? As he does so he reminds them that he is their faithful Friend and Counsellor. Surely here, then, is the general lesson to be learnt from these varied letters of the Lord—that there can be no stress or strait in which his servants may be, whether by their own folly and fault or by the malice and might of others, but what he has grace sufficient for all, and his grace shall supply all their need. Finally
(c) observe the heart-cheering promise with which these letters all end. Imagery of the most sublime and exalted description is employed to set forth the glorious reward which now to some extent is given, but in the future far more fully shall be given to the faithful Christian. He is to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God; the second death is to have no power over him; he is to be invested with kingly authority over the nations, like to that which Christ possesses; he is to be arrayed in triumphant and beautiful vestments, with white raiment is he to be clothed, and his name is to be confessed by the glorified Redeemer before all heaven; he is to become a pillar in the temple of God, and on him is to be written the Name of God, and the name of the city of God, from which he is to go no more out; he is to sit with Christ on his throne, as Christ is set down with the Father on his throne; he is to eat of the hidden manna, and to receive the white stone on which a new name is written, a name which no man knoweth, saving he who receiveth it. How great then are the encouragements held out to us all to cheer us on in our warfare; so that, if the battle be stern and the issues tremendous, we are not left to wage it at our own charges, but are daily helped by the grace of our Lord now, and animated by the sure prospect of that prize which shall be given hereafter to all who truly strive for it.
Such are some of the teachings common to all these letters. Others of a more special and particular kind they doubtless have, but these alone justify and enforce the sevenfold word, "He that hath an ear, let him hear," etc.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The interpretation of the Book of Revelation confessedly difficult, some portions in particular; hence many differing views. But the book designed for practical purposes; throughout it a rich vein of practical instruction. The homily seizes upon the practical truth—that truth which can be worked up into the practice of daily life.
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE REVELATION—GOD. It is the revelation "which God gave." Fountain of all truth; stamps its high character; to be received with becoming reverence, thankfulness, and obedience.
II. THE PROCESS OF THE REVELATION. Gradation of thought. "God gave" the revelation to "his servants" by Jesus Christ, "the Word of God," who "sent and signified it by his angel," who made it known unto the "servant John," who bare witness of "all things that he saw" unto all the "servants" of Jesus Christ. It is a word for the faithful bondservants, the true disciples of the Lord Jesus in all lands and in all ages.
III. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE REVELATION. It is "the Word of God," the out breathing of the Divine thought, the Divine will and purpose. Of this Word of God, Jesus is the Medium of testimony. This "Word," testified by Jesus Christ, was made to appear to John; all things that he saw. It was a holy vision.
IV. THE BLESSING PRONOUNCED UPON THE FAITHFUL RECEPTION OF THE REVELATION.
1. To "him that readeth."
2. To "them that hear."
3. To "them that keep the things that are written."
4. For its fulfilment is near; "The time is at hand." It brings the blessing:
(1) Of present comfort, light, and peace.
(2) Of confidence in the Divine government of the world.
(3) Of daily advancing preparation for the future kingdom of heaven to which it leads.
(4) It is impossible to receive, hear, and keep any Divine word without therein receiving blessing.—R.G.
The apostolic salutation.
The servant John, by no other name known, in fulfilment of his duty as the one by whom the great revelation was "sent and signified," hurries to pronounce his salutation to "the seven Churches which are in Asia"—typical examples of the one Church in its sevenfold, universal experience.
I. The salutation INVOKES BLESSINGS:
1. Of the highest character: "grace and peace." The entire revelation is, for the Church, a revelation of "grace and peace." It begins in grace; it terminates in peace. These the alpha and omega of gospel blessings, the origin and end. All is of God's grace; all tends to peace in man—to peace universal.
2. From the Source of all good, the Triune Source of all blessing. From the Eternal—"him which is, and which was, and which is to come"—the I AM—Jehovah; from the sevenfold Spirit; and from Jesus Christ, "the faithful Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, the Ruler of the kings of the earth." These ascriptions have special reference to the condition and necessities of the Church, whose living Head is "all in all." Christ, the Revelation of the Father, becomes prominent.
II. The salutation, therefore, ASCRIBES GLORY AND UNENDING DOMINION unto him; declaring
(1) his love;
(2) his redeeming work, fruit of that love; and
(3) his constitution of his Church as a priestly kingdom
—a kingdom of which he is the supreme Sovereign; a kingdom of priests, to offer up spiritual sacrifice continually, acceptable unto God.
III. The salutation further PROCLAIMS THE SECOND COMING of that Lord Jesus Christ who is the central theme of all the following revelation.
1. The fact of it.
2. Accompanying circumstances of it: "with the clouds."
3. In view of all: "Every eye shall see him."
4. Special reference to offenders: "And they which pierced him."
5. Consequence—universal mourning: "All the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him."
Our hearts echo the cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen."—R.G.
The vision of the Son of man.
The vision granted for the comfort of the suffering Church was made:
1. To a "brother and partaker" in all "the tribulation and kingdom and patience," sharing at the very hour, "in the isle that is called Patmos," the consequences of faithfully proclaiming the Word of God and bearing his testimony to Jesus.
2. He was in an exalted spiritual state: "in the Spirit"—under the control of the Spirit; sensitively alive to the teachings of the Spirit; filled with the Spirit.
3. On the Lord's day.
4. A great voice arrests his attention, and commands him to write and proclaim to the seven named Churches the vision which should be granted to him. The vision embraced—
I. A SYMBOLICAL VIEW OF THE CHURCH. "Seven golden candlesticks." A single seven-branched lamp stand, representing the Church in its essential unity and sevenfold diversity. "And the seven candlesticks are seven Churches." The purity and glory of the Church may be symbolized in its being "golden."
II. A VIEW OF THE LORD DWELLING IN AND RULING OVER THE CHURCHES.
1. The presence of the Lord in the midst of the Churches is the one essential and abiding source of consolation to all believers, especially in the times of danger, persecution, and sorrow. The attention of the seer now confined to the vision of him who, though like a Son of man, is "the First and the Last, and the Living One."
2. Testimony to the Divine nature of our Lord. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God;" "I am the First and the Last," saith the "one like unto a son of man." Truly God was manifested in the flesh! The descriptive view of the Lord is not to be imagined or delineated as a picture. It is grotesque; its symbolical meaning only to be regarded.
3. The dress indicates his high priestly office; the head, hair, eyes, feet, and voice are symbolical representations.
4. The Lord's care and control over the messengers of the Churches symbolized by, "And he had in his right hard seven stars;" "The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches."
5. The Lord the Source of truth, and the truth the one weapon of the Lord's might: "Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword."
6. The human humble awe in presence of the Divine Lord: "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead."
7. The consolation of the Divine Lord to his affrighted, humble servant: "Fear not;" confirmed by the glorious assurance, "I am the First and the Last, and the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and have the keys of death and of Hades." From this, the manifested Lord, the sacred seer receives command to "write the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter."—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Aspects of human history.
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ," etc. Human history seems to be presented here as
(1) a revelation,
(2) a record, and
(3) a study.
I. AS A REVELATION. "The Revelation of Jesus Christ" (verse 1). Ἀποκαλύψις Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ. To "reveal" means to uncover, to disclose. A revelation is an unveiling of the hidden. Whatever has not appeared, whether things or persons, is hidden or concealed from view. There are universes hidden from us as yet, that in the future may appear. There is only One Being in immensity that can reveal such things because he sees them, and that is God. Hence all that is known of "things which must shortly come to pass," or, indeed, things that will ever come to pass, is "the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him." Observe that the revelation is Divine. Who can reveal the unseen and unknown but God? Christ was once unknown. He revealed him. His advent to earth was a revelation of himself to mankind. No one can reveal God but Christ, and no one can reveal Christ but God. But the object to which the revelation here refers is not any particular person, Divine or human, but the future history of mankind. This is hidden. "We know not what shall be on the morrow." "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." He reveals the future history of mankind in two ways.
1. By disclosing its essential principles. All the events of human conduct are caused and controlled by two principles—good and evil. All human actions are traceable to one of these, and they are in constant conflict. The colossal image and the little stone, grace and truth, are ever here on this planet battling in human souls throughout the race. These principles Christ hath revealed, not merely in his teachings, but in his agony and bloody sweat. They shone out in lightning, and broke out in thunder on the ghastly heights of Golgotha. He who understands these opposing principles can foretell all human history. He who thoroughly knows the laws of material nature can tell to the hour when a comet will sweep the heavens, when the tide will overstep its boundaries, when celestial eclipses will occur; even so he who duly appreciates the force and tendency of these opposing moral principles will not greatly mistake in his auguries of the future of the race. "That which hath been is now, and that which is will be."
2. By the dispensations of Providence. Christ is the Maker and Manager of all human events. He is in all events; they are his comings to men, his advents. And present events are types and prophecies of the future. In this age the future can be seen, as in the buds and blossoms of this Spring you may see the buds and blossoms of all the springs that are to be.
II. AS A RECORD.
1. Here is a commission from heaven to record certain things. "He sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: who bare record of the Word of God" (verse 2). "'Messenger' is the literal translation of ἀγγέλου, and makes sense everywhere, which 'angel' does not, for the 'thorn in the flesh' was not an angel." No one can tell who the angel or messenger was; probably Christ himself. A "revelation" is one thing, a "record" another. What we call the Bible is not a "revelation," but the "record" of a "revelation." The things to be revealed are "things which must shortly come to pass." What we call providence is never at rest; its wheels are ever in motion. In the case of every man, family, community, nation, there are things that "must shortly come to pass." Those things continue from period to period and from aeon to aeon, and however differing in form, are identical in spirit. These all deserve "record." They are all streams from an inexhaustible fountain of life, branches from an eternal root of being. Things of the future grow out of the present by the eternal law of evolution. Countless generations will come and go; new revelations will have to be recorded. And thus the Bibles of the race will multiply through all time.
2. Here is a commission from heaven to reveal certain things, addressed to a man. "His servant John." He is a man. Men, not angels, are to be the chroniclers of the Divine for man. John is here the commissioned chronicler. He was in all likelihood the same disciple whom Jesus loved, the author of the Gospel bearing his name, and he to whom the Saviour, on the cross, entrusted his beloved mother.
3. Here is a commission from heaven to record certain things, addressed to a man of the highest moral class. He is here called his "servant," the servant of God—his willing, loving, loyal servant. In his Gospel he had borne "record of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw." Heaven commissions men to record the things that are "coming to pass," and the men to do it are men in thorough sympathy with the true, the beautiful, and the good. Moral goodness is an essential qualification of a true historian.
III. AS A STUDY. The "revelation" is given, the "record" is made, and now comes study. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein" (verse 3). Observe:
1. That historic events are of moral significance. There is a Divine meaning in everything that is either produced or permitted by the All-wise and the All-good. There is not a circumstance that transpires in our individual life that does not say to us, "Thus saith the Lord."
2. That the moral significance involves a Divine law. Apart from its element to excite feeling, rouse the imagination, and stimulate speculative thought, it contains law. Hence it is not only said here, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words," but they that "keep those things that are written therein." The moral lessons which historic events teach are Divine laws, and come on the subject of them with binding force.
3. That in practical obedience to this Divine law there is true happiness. "Blessed is he." "We then," says an able expositor, "as living actors in the world, have not only to read and hear, but to keep—keep in mind and action those principles which preside over the development of all human history." "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only." "Blessed are they that hear the Word of God, and keep it." He, and he only, who incarnates the great moral principles of history brings sunshine and music into his soul.—D.T.
Revelation 1:4, Revelation 1:5 (first part)
Man divinely dignified.
"John to the seven Churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you," etc. These words lead us to look on man as divinely dignified. Morally, men are degraded creatures; they have degraded themselves and they degrade one another. Man may and should honour his brother, but he cannot dignify him; if he is to be dignified at all he must dignify himself, and this he can only do as God wills and helps him. In these words he appears as divinely dignified in two respects.
I. MAN IS DIVINELY DIGNIFIED AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DIVINE. John is here employed to represent Divine things "to the seven Churches which are in Asia" (verse 4). The men who are employed by worldly kings—though they may be in a moral sense contemptible beings—esteem it a great honour to be their representatives in foreign courts. But how infinite the honour of him who is employed by the King "eternal, immortal, invisible"!
1. He represents Divine good. "Grace be unto you, and peace." Divine favour and Divine bliss, the sum total these of the highest good in all worlds and times.
2. He represents the Divine Being. He represents him:
(1) In his absolute existence. "From him which is, and which was, and which is to come" (verse 4). This is a periphrasis for the incommunicable name of Jehovah, the "I AM," the Unnamable and the Nameless, who is without beginning, without change, without succession, without end. Such a Being exists, and all men instinctively feel after him and forge for him names of great variety, but none appropriate—the Unknown and the Unknowable.
(2) In his spiritual influence. "From the seven Spirits which are before his throne" (verse 4). Does the seven mean the totality, or variety in unity, the one essence multiform in influence? The One Eternal wields endless influences through every part of his universe—material, intellectual, and moral. The well has many streams, the sun unnumbered beams.
(3) In his transcendent Messiah. "And from Jesus Christ"—Christ the Anointed, the Messiah of God. This divinely anointed One is here set forth in three aspects.
(a) In relation to truth. "Who is the Faithful Witness." What is truth? Reality. Christ came to bear witness of the reality of realities. As a Witness of God, Christ was a competent Witness. He was intellectually competent. He knew God. "No man hath seen God at any time; the Only Begotten of the Father," he alone knew the Absolute. He was morally competent. He had no motive to misrepresent him. He alone had the moral qualifications fully to represent him. You must be pure to represent purity, just to represent justice, loving to represent love.
(b) In relation to immortality. The "First Begotten of the dead" (verse 5). How was he the First Begotten of the dead; for did not Lazarus rise from the grave? Not in time, but in importance. He arose by his own power. No one else ever did. He arose as the Representative of risen saints. "Our vile body shall be fashioned and made like unto his glorious body."
(c) In relation to empire. "The Prince of the kings of the earth." All power is given unto him. "He is exalted far above all heavens." Thrones, principalities, dominions, all are subject to him.
II. MAN IS DIVINELY DIGNIFIED AS A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DIVINE TO MAN. "John to the seven Churches which are in Asia" (verse 4). "The enumeration which presently follows," says Dr. Vaughan, "of the Churches designed, shows that Asia is here used in its narrowest sense: not of the quarter of the globe so denominated, not even of Asia Minor, but of one province on the western side of that country, expressly distinguished in two well-known passages of the Acts of the Apostles, from Cappadocia and Pontus, from Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Galatia, Mysia, and Bithynia." Not only is he divinely dignified who is employed as the Messenger of the Divine, but he to whom the Divine is sent. The seven congregations in Asia Minor were highly honoured of God as the objects of his redemptive message. How dignified of God is the man who is made at once the Recipient and the Messenger of Divine thoughts!—D.T.
Christ and the soul
"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory," etc. These words suggest a few thoughts concerning Christ and the soul.
I. CHRIST IS THE LOVER OF THE SOUL. "Unto him that loved us" (Revelation 1:5). Other beings may love the human soul—angels may, saints may—but no one has loved it as Christ has.
1. He loved it with an absolutely disinterested love. Alas! we know but little of disinterested affection. With all our love for each other, there is generally a mixture of selfishness. But Christ had nothing to gain from the human spirit; its damnation would not diminish his blessedness; its salvation would not add to his ineffable bliss. He loved the soul for its own sake, as the offspring of God, endowed with wonderful capabilities, possessing in itself a fountain of influence that would spread indefinitely through all time and space.
2. He loved it with a practically self-sacrificing love. It was not a love that existed merely as an emotion, or that even wrought occasional services; it was a love that led to the sacrifice of himself. "He loved us, and gave himself for us. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life."
3. He loved it with an earnestly forgiving love. "When we were enemies Christ died for the ungodly." He loved those who were not only out of sympathy with him, but who were in malignant hostility to him; and his love was not only such as to incline him to listen to petitions for pardon, but as inspired him with an intense longing to forgive his enemies. "Herein is love." Who ever loved like this? Here is a love whose height, depth, length, breadth, passeth all knowledge.
II. CHRIST IS THE CLEANSER OF THE SOUL. "And washed ['loosed'] us from our sins in his own blood" (Revelation 1:5). The moral restoration of the soul to the knowledge, image, and enjoyment of God is represented in a variety of figures in the Bible, which is a highly figurative book. When the lost state of the soul is represented as a state of condemnation, then its restoration is represented as forgiveness or justification; when its lost state is represented as enmity to God, then its restoration is set forth under the metaphor of reconciliation; when its lest state is represented as a state of death or sleep, then its restoration is set forth as a quickening and awakening; when its lost state is represented as a bondage, then its restoration is set forth as an enfranchisement; when its lost state is represented as a state of pollution or uncleanness, then its restoration is represented as a washing or a cleansing. All these figurative expressions represent one thing—the moral restoration of the soul; and this is spoken of in the text as wrought by Christ. "Washed us from our sins in his own blood." To be washed in blood is an expression that sounds incongruous and somewhat offensive; but it does not mean material blood, as the vulgar and the sensuous understand, but the spiritual blood, which is his moral life, his self-sacrificing love. The cleansing influence which is here applied to the blood is elsewhere applied to the "Name of Christ." Now "ye are clean through the word I have spoken;" again, "Sanctified through thy truth." Then to the "water of the Word," "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word." The "Name," the "Word," the "Spirit," the "Truth," which are represented in such passages as cleansing the soul, must of course be regarded as meaning essentially the same thing as "blood" here, which stands for the moral spirit of Christ, which is the same thing as Christ himself. He it is who cleanseth the soul—cleanseth it by his life. The figurative language here is purely Judaic, taken from the old temple ceremonies; for "almost all things were purified by the Law through blood." The grand mission and work of Christ are to put away sin from the soul. Sin is the guilt, sin is the curse, sin is the ruin of human nature. Sin is not so engrained, so wrought into the texture of the human soul that it cannot be removed; it can be washed out, it is separable from it, it can be detached.
III. CHRIST IS THE ENNOBLER OF THE SOUL. "Hath made us kings and priests unto God" (Revelation 1:6).
1. Christ makes souls "kings." "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me." Souls in their unregenerate state are paupers, prisoners, slaves; they are the mere creatures of internal passions and external circumstances. Christ enthrones the soul, gives it the sceptre of self control, and enables it to make all things subservient to its own moral advancement.
2. Christ makes souls "priests." True priests are in some respects greater than kings. Kings have to do with creatures, priests with God. Christ, then, is the Ennobler of souls. Worldly sovereigns may and do bestow titles of greatness on men. The wonder is that they should have the audacity to attempt to ennoble by bestowing titles. They cannot bestow greatness itself. Christ bestows true greatness—greatness of thought, heart, sympathy, aim, nature. He alone is great whom Christ makes great; all others are in the bonds of corruption.
IV. CHRIST IS THE DEITY OF THE SOUL. "To him be glory and dominion forever and ever." The souls whom Christ has loved, cleansed, and ennobled feel that he is their God, and render to him the willing and everlasting homage of their nature. "Unto him that loved us, and washed [loosed] us from our sins in [by] his own blood." God in Christ is the grand object of human worship, and those whom Christ has thus restored cannot but worship him. Worship with them is not a service, but a spirit; is not obedience to a law, but the irrepressible instinct of a life.
V. CHRIST IS THE HOPE OF THE SOUL. "Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him" (Revelation 1:7). The high probability is that this is a prophetic description of Christ as he came in his providence to the destruction of Jerusalem. Between his final advent and this there are so many striking resemblances that the description of the one is remarkably applicable to the other. Applying the words to the final advent, we have four facts concerning it.
1. Christ will come. Reason and conscience, as well as the Bible, teach this. Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of it; Job knew that he would stand again upon the earth. Christ and his apostles frequently and unequivocally taught it (Luke 9:26).
2. His coming will be terribly grand. "On the clouds of heaven." The grandest objects to mortal eyes are the heavens that encircle us. Their vast expanse and immeasurable height, all radiant with rolling orbs in boundless variety, seem to bear us into the awful depths of infinitude. Anything strange on the face of those heavens has always a power to strike terror on human souls. Christ is represented as coming on the clouds. Daniel, in a vision, beheld him thus (Daniel 7:13). Christ himself declared that thus he would come (Mark 24:30; 26:64). Angels have declared the same (Acts 1:11). John beheld him on a "great white throne," so effulgent that the material universe melted away before it. How unlike the despised Galilaean!
3. His coming will be universally observed. "Every eye shall see him" (verse 7). It is an event in which all are interested. Men in all ages and lands, from Adam "to the last of woman born." Men of all social grades and mental types are all vitally concerned in this stupendous event. Hence all shall see him.
(1) All shall see him immediately. Now we see him representatively by his words, ordinances, and ministers. But then we shall see him.
(2) All shall see him fully. Not one shall have a partial view, a mere passing aspect, but a full, complete vision. His full Person will fall complete on every eyeball.
(3) All shall see him impressively. The universe had never had such an impressive sight of him before.
4. His coming will be differently regarded.
(1) To some it will be a scene of poignant distress. "They also which pierced him: and all kindreds [the tribes] of the earth shall wail because of him [mourn over him]" (verse 7). What inexpressible and inconceivable anguish will the rejecters of Christ experience then!
(2) To others it will be welcomed with delight. "Even so, Amen." The good, in all ages, have said, "Come, Lord Jesus." To his true disciples it will be a period in which all difficulties will be explained, all imperfections removed, all evils ended forever. But it is not in an outward or objective sense that this appearance of Christ is to be practically regarded. £ It is a subjective appearance. The heaven on which he is to appear is the individual soul, and the "clouds of heaven" are the clouds of thought and feeling that roll within us.—D.T.
The work of works.
"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood!" Washing in blood is an incongruity. The word translated "washed" should be "loosened," and the general idea undoubtedly is, "Unto him that loosed us from our sins by his own life [or, 'by himself'] be glory." The words refer to the work of works.
I. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL WORKS. Loosing a soul from sin. Sin is a chain of darkness, a chain that enslaves, not the mere body, but all the faculties of the soul, and confines it in the cell of moral ignorance and corruption. Fallen angels are represented as manacled in this chain of darkness. What a chain is this! It is
(3) strong, and
(4) becomes stronger with the commission of every sin.
II. THIS THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL WORKS, IS EFFECTED BY CHRIST, AND BY HIM ONLY. He is here represented as doing it by his own "blood." Sometimes the work is ascribed to "water," to the "Word," to "truth," to "grace," and to the "Spirit." The word is here used as a symbol of his self-sacrificing ministry. This is the work to which Christ gives his life. There is no other being in the universe that can break this chain save Christ. He came into the world to open the prison doors, and to set the captives free. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free."
III. That for this, the most important of all works, CHRIST RECEIVES THE PRAISES OF ETERNITY. "Unto him that loved us." True gratitude implies a belief in three things.
1. A belief in the value of the service rendered. Where the service is trivial, and of no importance, gratitude will not be very stirring or strong.
2. A belief in the kindness of the motive which inspired the service. If a man renders us a service, and we feel that his motive was sordid and selfish, we could scarcely feel gratitude, however greatly he benefited us.
3. A belief in the undeservedness of the service on our part. If we feel that the service rendered was merited by us, and that the author was bound in justice to render it, we could feel but little if any gratitude. Now, for these three reasons gratitude to Christ must rise to the highest point—a greater service could not be rendered; a kinder motive could not be imagined; a more undeserved benediction could not be conferred. "Unto him that loved us," etc.!—D.T.
Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:9
A transcendent Being, and a remarkable character.
"I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending," etc. Hero we have two objects arresting our attention and demanding thought.
I. A BEING WHOSE EXISTENCE IS TRANSCENDENT. "I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the Ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come." Although these words are considered of doubtful authority, and probably an interpolation, they are a representation of the Infinite One. They not only agree with other declarations of him in sacred Writ, but they are repeated elsewhere. Here is:
1. Eternity. "I am Alpha and Omega."
(1) Eternity in relation to all the past. "I am Alpha" that is, the First, the Beginning. There is not a creature throughout immensity that had not a "beginning;" but there is no point in the past in which he was not. Go back through all the million ages and through all the million millennia, and you reach no point in which he did not exist. He occupied the boundlessness of immensity alone. No one thought or felt or moved but he. It was with him to determine as to whether there should be any other existence besides his own. The universes that have been, that are, and that are yet to be, were all in his eternal mind, in archetype and possibility.
(2) Eternity also in relation to the future. "The Beginning and the Ending." All that have had a beginning will peradventure have an end; yea, certainly so, unless he determines otherwise. Both the commencement and continuance of all things hang on his will; but he will never have an end. All life may be extinguished, the whole universe go back to chaos and be lost in the abysses of nonentity; but he will be.
"Even as darkness, self-impregned, brings forth
Creative light and silence, speech; so beams,
Known through all ages, hope and help of man,
One God omnific, sole, original,
Wise, wonder-working wielder of the whole,
Infinite, inconceivable, immense,
The Midst without beginning, and the First
From the beginning, and of all being Last."
2. Omnipotence. "The Almighty." There is nothing impossible for him to do but wrong. "It is impossible for God to lie," to deceive, or defraud. This moral weakness is his glory. "God is truth, and light is shadow," says Plato. "The Lord is great in power: … he hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein."
II. A MAN WHOSE CHARACTER IS REMARKABLE. Here is:
1. A character of distinguished excellence described. "I, John, who also am your brother, and companion [partaker] in tribulation." John describes himself:
(1) As a "brother." His heart glows with a Christly fraternity for the good of all the Churches throughout all the world.
(2) As a sufferer. He is "in tribulation." The best men on earth are subject to suffering. He was a member of the kingdom of Christ, a loving, faithful, loyal subject of his spiritual empire. "The kingdom and patience of [which are in] Jesus Christ." In that kingdom he was a companion with all who suffered, a fellow partaker of their tribulations. There has always been suffering in connection with the kingdom of Christ, and all the sufferers feel a blessed companionship. During the first hundred years, persecutions in this kingdom were very sanguinary and severe.
2. A character of distinguished excellence banished by bloody persecutors. "In the isle that is called Patmos." This was the scene of his banishment: a rocky island in the Mediterranean, about fifteen miles in circumference—a most wild, barren spot; a convict settlement, whither the Romans banished all criminal wretches they deemed unfit for liberty. On this desolate island, amidst the greatest villains of the age, this great character was banished. Strange that the providence of Heaven should have allowed one of the most Christly men on the earth at that time to live for an hour in such a scene. But Patmos to John and Patmos to the other residents was a different place. To John it was a theatre of sublimest revelations, the very gate of heaven. He was not alone there; he felt himself surrounded by a great "multitude which no man could number," with countless thousands of angels; and there he wrote a book to bless humanity through every coming age.
3. A character of distinguished excellence banished by bloody persecutors for the cause of Christ. "For the Word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." He was there, not because he had perpetrated any crime, but because he had rendered the highest service to his age. He bore "testimony of Jesus," and preached the "Word of God." "John had now," says Dr. Vaughan, "reached a late point in his long pilgrimage. The storm of persecution had broken upon him in his gentle and steadfast ministry at Ephesus, and had driven him to the little island of Patmos for the testimony of the truth. In that solitude, however, he was not alone. Shut out as he was now from all Christian converse, he was only the more fitted for converse with Christ. Debarred by no fault of his own from all Christian ordinances, expelled from that congregation in which for so long, day after day, he had uttered the message of truth and the call of love, he was admitted now to worship m the very sanctuary above, and to receive, if he might no longer give, instruction from the lips of the Divine Master himself."—D.T.
Voices and visions from eternity.
"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day," etc. Concerning this vision, and, indeed, nearly all the visions recorded in this Apocalypse, there are three facts to be predicated at the outset.
1. It is mental. What is here reported as heard and seen by John was not seen by his bodily eye or heard by his bodily ear. It was, I consider, a purely mental vision. It is one of the characteristic attributes and distinctions of man that he can see and hear objects that come not within the range of his senses. Though the eagle is reported to have a keen and far-reaching eye, and has borne its pinions into the region of sunny azure, it has no glimpse of the spirit domain; whereas a man who may be even sightless and deaf has the power of seeing wonderful things and hearing wonderful things. The sightless bard of England lived in a bright world; his genius bore him aloft into regions where there was no cloud. These mental visions are of two classes—the voluntary and the involuntary. The former are the productions of creative genius, the latter are those dreams of the night when deep sleep falls on man. Mental visions are not necessarily illusions. They are often more real than those of the physical; they come further into the depths of our being, and convey to us impressions of things of which material phenomena are but the effects and expressions.
2. It is credible. Had it been reported that John saw with the outward eye, and heard with the outward ear, the things here reported, the report could not have been believed. The objects are so unique, so incongruous with all that is natural, so grotesque, and, we may say, so monstrous and unaesthetic, that we could not believe a man who said he saw them with his outward eye or heard them with his outward ear. A Being "clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." Who could believe a man who said he beheld these with his bodily eye? But as a mental vision it is credible enough. What grotesque shapes appear to us in dreams! What strange monstrosities rise to our mental eye! The deities that arose out of the imagination of Nineveh, Greece, and India, and throughout the whole domain of heathendom, were as unnatural and incoherent in their forms as the aspects of the Son of man before us. The reports of mental visions, however extraordinary, are credible; men believe in them.
3. It is symbolic. It has a deep spiritual meaning, it adumbrates mighty lessons, it is a picture of eternal realities. What are the great truths here symbolized? That a wonderful voice from eternity comes to man; a wonderful personage from eternity appears to man; and wonderful impressions from eternity are made upon man. Notice—
I. THAT A WONDERFUL VOICE FROM ETERNITY COMES TO MAN. "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet." We are told also that the voice that came to John was "as the sound of many waters." The spiritual condition of John when the voice came is worthy of note. He was "in the Spirit." This means, I trow, something more than being in the spirit in a moral sense—in the spirit of heavenly loyalty and devotion. In this condition all true men are; they are led by the Spirit; they walk by the Spirit. It is being in an elevated state of mind, a kind of ecstasy in which a man is lifted out of himself, in which, like Paul, he is taken up to heaven, and sees and hears things unutterable. He was in such a condition as this at a certain period here called "the Lord's day." All men who are in the Spirit in the moral sense—in the sense of vital godliness—feel and regard all days as "the Lord's day." But the days of spiritual ecstasies and transports are ever special. Perhaps the first day of the week is here referred to—the day of our Saviour's resurrection from the dead. Probably the association of that wonderful day served to raise his soul into this ecstatic state. Concerning the voice that came to him when in this state, it was marked by two things.
1. The voice was marked by clearness. "A great voice, as of a trumpet." The voice was clear, loud, strong, as a trumpet. It was a voice to which he could not close his ears if he wished to; its clarion notes rang into him.
2. The voice was marked by fulness. "As the sound of many waters." "Daniel described the voice of the Ancient of Days as the voice of a multitude (Daniel 10:6); but the voice of the multitude was in earlier Hebrew writings compared to the sound of the waves of the sea, which the voice of the Lord could alone subdue (Psalms 65:7; Psalms 93:4). This image the evangelist adopts to describe the voice of Christ, strong and majestic amid the Babel sounds of earth. That voice whose word stilled the sea sounds as the waves of the sea which St. John heard him rebuke." Is there any voice in nature equal to the voice of the old ocean—majestic, full, continuous, drowning all other sounds? The clamour and the din of a thousand armies on the shore are lost amidst the roar of the incoming waves. Such was the voice that came to John from eternity, and such a voice comes to all men in every condition and in every age, clear and full, bearing messages to the soul from the great Father of spirits. True, clear, full, and continuous though that voice be, it is only heard by those who, like John, are "in the Spirit"—whose spirits are alive and elevated with the real and the Divine.
II. THAT A WONDERFUL PERSONAGE FROM ETERNITY APPEARS TO MAN. "Like unto the Son of man." Christ was indeed the Son of man, not the son of a tribe or of a class, but the Son of humanity, free from all national peculiarities, tribal idiosyncrasies, or ecclesiastical predilections. Observe here two things.
1. The scene of the appearance. "In the midst of the seven candlesticks." The seven Churches, viz. those of "Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea," are here represented as "golden candlesticks;" they are precious lights, they bear and diffuse the light of God. Why these seven Churches are here selected and addressed rather than other Churches, of which there were several, some more important than these, such as the Church at Corinth, Thessalonica, etc., I know not. It might have been because they had in their combination all those excellences and defects, needs and duties, which together represent the universal Church, the Church of all times and lands. It was in these Churches, these "candlesticks," that the "Son of man" now appeared to John. He who would see Christ must look for him in true Churches, the communions of holy men.
2. The characteristics of the appearance. Mark the description. He was "clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle"—a long, ample robe of regal authority. "His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow." Does the white hair indicate decay? It frequently does so with us. Snowy locks are at once the sign and consequence of declining strength. Not so with him. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." "Fire," says Trench, "at its highest intensity is white; the red in fire is of the earth, earthy; it implies something which the fire has not yet thoroughly subdued, while the pure flame is absolutely white. This must be kept in mind whenever we read of white as the colour and livery of heaven." "His eyes were as a flame of fire"—eyes that penetrate into the deepest depth of the soul, discern moral distinctions, and burn with a holy indignation at the wrong. "His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace." This indicates strength at once enduring and resistless. "He had in his right hand seven stars." These seven stars represent, it is supposed, the chief pastors of the seven Churches. An ideal pastor is a moral star, catching and reflecting the light of the Sun of Righteousness. "Out of his mouth went [proceeded] a sharp two-edged sword." This is the Word of the truth, elsewhere called the "sword of the Spirit," quick and powerful, etc. The sword by which Christ fights his moral battles and wins his moral conquests is not the sword of steel, but the sword of truth. "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." "Of the angel by the vacant tomb it is said his countenance was like lightning (Matthew 28:3); here the countenance of the Lord is compared to the sun at its brightest and clearest, in the splendour of the highest noon, no veil, no mist, no cloud obscuring its brightness." Here, then, is the wonderful Personage which has appeared to us, the children of men, from eternity. Though he is "the Son of man," thoroughly human, he has an attitude and aspect that are superhuman. His voice clear as a "trumpet" and full as an ocean, his regal robes girt with a "golden girdle," his "hair white as snow," radiating effulgent purity, his feet strong as "brass," his hand clasping "seven stars," his mouth flashing out a "two-edged sword" and his countenance luminous as the "sun in his strength." What manner of man is this? The symbolical representation here indicates:
(1) Royalty. He is robed as a king—"clothed with a garment down to the foot." Christ was a royal Man in the truest and highest sense—royal in thought, sympathy, aim, character.
(2) Purity. His brow encircled with locks white as snow. "His head and his hairs were white like wool." The only morally spotless man the race has ever known.
(3) Penetration. His eyes pierced into the deepest depths of human thought; they were "as a flame of fire."
(4) Firmness. There was no vacillation of purpose, but inflexible and invincible. "His feet like unto fine brass."
(5) Dominion. Having the brightest and purest intelligences in his possession and at his command. "He had in his right hand seven stars."
(6) Victory. His victories are bloodless. He conquers mind; he slays not existence, but its curses and its wrongs. "Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword."
(7) Brightness. No dark thoughts clouding his brow, indicating anger or sadness, but bright looks withal. "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." This Man was the greatest gift of Heaven to the race. In him dwelleth not only all the fulness of what is purest and grandest in human nature, but all "the fulness of the Godhead bodily."
III. THAT A WONDERFUL IMPRESSION FROM ETERNITY IS MADE UPON MAN. "And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as [one] dead." It is a physiological fact that a sudden rush of strong emotions will stop the heart and arrest the current of life in its flow. What were John's emotions? Was there amazement? Was he amazed at seeing One whom he loved above all others, and with whom he had parted, some few years before, on the Mount of Olives, when a cloud received him out of sight, now in form sublimely unique and overwhelmingly majestic? Was it dread? Was he terror struck at the marvellous apparition? Was it remorse? Did the effulgence of its purity quicken within him such a sense of guilt as filled him with self loathing and horror? I know not. Perhaps all these emotions blended in a tidal rush that physically paralyzed him for a while. When Isaiah, in the temple, saw the Lord on high and lifted up, he exclaimed, "Woe is me! for I am undone." When Job heard the voice speaking out of the whirlwind, he exclaimed, "I abhor myself in dust and ashes." When Christ appeared to Peter, he cried out, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." When the Roman ruffians, in the garden of Gethsemane, saw the moral majesty on his brow, and heard his words, such emotions rushed up within them as stopped their hearts, and they "went backward and fell to the ground." Eternity is constantly making solemn impressions upon man. In most cases, perhaps, the impressions are superficial and fugitive, but frequently in certain seasons and conditions of life they are terrible beyond description. There are but few men who have not felt at times something of the moral terrors of Eliphaz: "In thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones to shake." No impressions, however, from eternity are so deep and salutary as those conveyed to the heart by profound meditations on the doctrines, the history, and the character of Christ. Such impressions are the means by which the all-loving Father renews the moral character of his children and makes them meet for his everlasting fellowship and service.—D.T.
Revelation 1:17, Revelation 1:18
Christ's ministry on earth, and his existence in heaven.
"And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the First and the Last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." These verses lead us to consider two subjects—the ministry of Christ on earth, and his existence in heaven.
I. CHRIST'S MINISTRY ON EARTH. "And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not." John's vision of Christ struck him to the ground with fear. The remarks of Trench on these words cannot be overlooked: "The unholy, and all flesh is such that it cannot endure immediate contact with the holy, the human with the Divine. Heathen legend, so far as its testimony may be accepted, consents here with Christian truth. Semele must perish if Jupiter reveals himself to her in his glory, being consumed in the brightness of that glory. 'Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live' (Exodus 33:20). Forevery man it is a dreadful thing to stand face to face with God. The beloved disciple who had handled the Word of life, lain in his Lord's bosom in the days of his flesh, can as little as any other endure the revelation of his majesty, or do without that 'Fear not' with which the Lord reassures him here. This same 'Fear not' is uttered on similar occasions to Isaiah (Isaiah 6:7), to Daniel (Daniel 10:12), to Peter (Luke 5:1), to the three at the Transfiguration, of whom John himself was one (Matthew 17:7). Nor is this reassurance confined to words only; the Lord at the same time lays his hand upon him—something parallel to which goes along with the 'Fear not' of three among the instances just referred to; and from the touch of that hand the seer receives strength again, and is set, no doubt, upon his feet once more (Ezekiel 1:28; Ezekiel 2:1, Ezekiel 2:2). The 'right hand' being ever contemplated in Scripture as the hand of power alike for God (Deuteronomy 33:2; Isaiah 48:13; Acts 7:55) and for man (Genesis 48:14; Zechariah 3:1; Matthew 5:30), it is only fit that with the right hand of the Lord he should be thus strengthened and revived." The point here to be observed is that Christ's ministry on earth is to remove fear. Of all the passions that take possession of the soul there are none more unvirtuous in nature and pernicious in influence than fear. It implies a lack of trust in the personal, loving care of the great Father. It is hostile to all heroism and moral nobility of soul. Now, Christ's ministry is to remove this. He says to man, "It is I: be not afraid."
(1) He removes fear of poverty. By unfolding the Fatherly providence of God.
(2) He removes fear of punishment. By proclaiming the forgiveness of sins.
(3) He removes fear of death. By unveiling a heaven beyond the grave. "In my Father's house are many mansions."
II. CHRIST'S EXISTENCE IN HEAVEN. "I am the First and the Last: I am he that liveth [the Living One], and was dead [and I was dead]; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [death] and of death [Hades]." One might have thought that, after Christ had received such malignant treatment on this earth, his departure from it would be an everlasting termination of all his communications with it; that his last word on earth to men would be his last word to them until the day of doom; that on his ascension to heaven he would withdraw himself with a righteous indignation from this corrupt planet, turn away from it, and speak only to intelligences who would devoutly hail his every utterance. Not so, however. Here, after a few years of personal absence from this earth, with unabated love for our fallen race, he breaks the silence of eternity, and makes such communications to John, on the isle of Patmos, as would be for the good of all coming generations. The words lead us to consider now his existence in heaven. Notice:
1. His life in heaven is a life that succeeds an extraordinary death. "I am he that liveth, and was dead." Life after death is a life in itself truly wonderful. Such a life we have never seen. But the life of Christ in heaven is a life succeeding a death that has no parallel in the history of the universe. There are at least three circumstances that mark off his death at an infinite distance from that of any other being that ever died.
(1) Absolute spontaneity. No being ever died but Christ who had the feeling that he need never die—that death could be forever escaped. Christ had it. "He had power to lay down his life."
(2) Entire relativeness. Every other man that ever died, died for himself, died because he was a sinner and the seed of death was sown in his nature. Not so with Christ; he died for others.
(3) Universal influence. The death of the most important man that ever lived has an influence of a comparatively limited degree. It extends but over a contracted circle. Only a few of the age feel it; future ages feel it not; it is nothing to the universe. But Christ's death had an influence that admits of no measurement. It extended over all the past of humanity. It was the great event anticipated by the ages that preceded it. This is the great event that will be looked back to by all coming men. It thrills the heavens of God. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain," is the song of eternity. Christ's death fell on the universe as the pebble on the centre of a lake, widening in circles of influence on to its utmost boundary.
2. His life in heaven is a life of endless duration. "I am alive forevermore."
(1) His endless duration is a necessity of his nature. "I am he that liveth." There are moral intelligences, we amongst them, that may live forever; but not by necessity of nature. We live because the Infinite supports us; let him withdraw his sustaining agency, and we cease to breathe. Not so with Christ. His life is absolutely independent of the universe. He is the "I AM."
(2) His endless duration is the glory of the good. "Amen." When Christ says, "I am alive forevermore," the unfallen and redeemed universe may well exclaim, "Amen." Whatever other friends die, the great Friend lives on.
3. His life in heaven is a life of absolute dominion over the destinies often. "I have the keys of hell [death] and of death [Hades]." He has dominion over the bodies and souls of men as well when they are separated from each other as previous to their dissolution. "He is the Lord of the dead and of the living." From his absolute dominion over the destinies of men four things may be inferred.
(1) There is nothing accidental in human history. He has the key of death. No grave is opened but by his hand.
(2) Departed men are still in existence. He has the key of Hades as well as of the grave. They live therefore.
(3) Death is not the introduction to a new moral kingdom. The same Lord is here as there. What is right here, therefore, is right there, and the reverse.
(4) We may anticipate the day when death shall be swallowed up in victory.—D.T.
Revelation 1:19, Revelation 1:20
Christ enjoining the record of his revelation to man and explaining its meaning.
"Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter," etc. These words suggest two general remarks concerning Christ.
I. THAT HE REQUIRES MEN TO RECORD THE REVELATIONS HE MAKES TO THEM. He is the great Revealer of God to humanity, and his revelations are ever recurring and constant. And here we are taught that they are not only to be taught and studied, but to be recorded. The revelations here referred to are of three classes.
1. Those which had been experienced. "The things which thou hast seen." What things John had already seen! How manifold, wonderful, significant! What man of any reflection or conscience has not seen things from God?
2. Those things which were now present. "The things which are." Things that were at hand, that came within his observation and consciousness. There are eternal principles that underlie and shape all human history. These principles are as present as the air we breathe, although the majority of the race are unconscious of them. There are some which reveal themselves in vivid consciousness—these shall be recorded, their images shall be photographed on the heart.
3. Those which were approaching. "The things which shall be hereafter." With that inspiration of him who sees the end from the beginning, the human soul may catch a glimpse of all future times. The divinely inspired genius becomes to some extent independent of all space and time, overleaps all boundaries, geographic and chronologic. It seems to have been so with John on this occasion. In his visions the future ages of the world appeared down to the final trump of doom. John seems to have
"Dipt into the future, far as human eye could see;
Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be."
Now, these three classes of things John had to write down—those that had unfolded themselves, those that were unfolding themselves, and those that would be to the end of time. Whatever maul has seen or will see of the Divine, he is bound to record. "Write." Literature, though sadly corrupted and the source of enormous mischief, is a Divine institution. Rightly employed, it is one of the grandest forces in human life. Truth orally communicated is inexpressibly important and immeasurably influential. He who speaks truth rationally, faithfully, earnestly, devoutly, touches the deepest springs in the great world of mind. What bloodless and brilliant victories the truth has won in all ages! Albeit truth written has some advantages over truth spoken, for man seems to multiply himself by the book he has written. His book is a kind of second incarnation, in which he may live and work ages after the fingers that held his pen are mouldered into dust. Thank God for books, our best companions, always ready with their counsel and their comfort. They are arks that have borne down to us, over the floods of centuries, the vital germs of departed ages. Let men write them, but let their subjects be not the trashy things of time and sensual pleasure, the visions of a wild fancy or the speculations of a reckless intellect, but the revelations that Christ has made.
II. THAT HE EXPLAINS TO MEN THE MEANING OF THE REVELATION HE MAKES TO THEM. "The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks." There are two kinds of mystery, the knowable and unknowable.
(1) The unknown of the knowable. It is conceivable that the whole created universe is knowable, even to the intellect of finite man. Yet what the most enlightened man knows is but a fraction of what to him is still unknown—a mystery. Hence every step in the advance of an earnest inquirer is turning the mystery of today into an intelligible fact of tomorrow. What is mystery to one man is not so to another; and what is mystery to a man today is no mystery tomorrow. The other kind of mystery is
(2) the unknown of the Unknowable. He whom we call God is the great Mystery, the absolutely Unknowable—whom no man "hath seen or can see." Now, in the former sense the meaning of the word "mystery" is here employed, £ In Christ's explanation here we have two things worth note.
1. The ideal Christian pastor. "The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches." Who the angels were is a matter of speculation. Every settled Christian community, whether religious or not, has some leading person or persons amongst them. In these Christian congregations in Asia Minor there seems to have been some leading man. He was, no doubt, like Timothy in Ephesus—the pastor. Every true Christian minister or angel is a "star." His light is borrowed, but borrowed from the primal source—the "Sun of Righteousness." His orbit is Divine. Faithful teachers are stars that shall shine forever (Daniel 12:3); false teachers are wandering stars (Jud John 1:13), or stars which fall from heaven (Revelation 8:10; Revelation 6:13; Revelation 12:4).
2. The ideal Christian Church. "The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven Churches." Observe:
(1) Christian congregations are lights. "Candlesticks."
(2) They are precious lights. They are "golden." They throw the best kind of information upon an ignorant world.
(3) They are imperfect lights. A lamp is a composite and requires constant care. No finite power can make the sun brighter or larger. Not so with the lamp. The lamp may grow dim and go out—the "golden candlestick" may be there, but no light issues therefrom. "It was thought by the ancients that if ever the fires which burned on the altar of Vesta became extinct, they could not be rekindled unless by being brought in contact with the sun."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26