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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ revelation-10.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 10". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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And I saw. We have here the commencement of what many writers call an episode, or rather two episodes, which intervene between the sixth and seventh trumpets, just as Revelation 7:1-17. occurs between the sixth and seventh seals. But as in the latter place we saw only a greater elaboration in the introduction to the seventh seal, and not a detached relation, so here Revelation 10:1-11. and Revelation 11:1-14 form a gradual transition from the sixth to the seventh trumpet, and supplement what is set forth under those trumpets. The passage is so far a digression, as it is occupied chiefly in setting forth the fate of the Church rather than that of the ungodly; but it only does so to demonstrate the wickedness of the world, and the inevitable nature of the last great punishment. Revelation 9:1-21. ends (almost in a tone of surprise) with the words, "Neither repented they," etc.; therefore the angel now declares that, as all the warnings vouchsafed have brought men as a whole no nearer to God, the last final punishment must now fall. But, as if the measure of God's mercy were not yet fully filled up, it is shown how he has given to the world two witnesses, by which men might be induced to repent. But this, too, only serves to add to the condemnation of the world, which wrests this gift to its own destruction. We thus have the connection. God has sent punishments as warnings. But he not only has done this, he has also given direct instruction by the witness of his Word; man has despised both; therefore the end must come. Although the main object of the trumpet visions is to set forth the woes inflicted upon the wicked, yet the seer, as it were, hesitates to indicate the last dread punishment until he has alluded to the opportunities which God has afforded mankind of escaping that end. Another mighty angel come down from heaven; coming down out of heaven (Revised Version). So in the vision of the seals, at this point the advent of another angel ushers in the following incidents (Revelation 7:2). He is probably another angel as distinguished from the sixth angel (Revelation 9:13). There is not sufficient reason for supposing that Christ is meant. Wherever our Lord is referred to in the Revelation, it is always in a mode which cannot possibly be mistaken (cf. Revelation 1:13; Revelation 5:6, etc.). St. John's position is now upon the earth. In the vision he is either in heaven or on the earth, as required, he thus sees the angel apparently coming down from heaven. Clothed with a cloud. The symbol of majesty (cf. Exodus 16:10; Luke 21:27; Revelation 1:7, etc.). And a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. Omit "was." The description shows the celestial dignity of the messenger. Perhaps there is a reference in the rainbow to the merciful character of this angel's mission, and the faithfulness and patience of God. The two last clauses express the same idea, viz. the bright and glorious appearance of the angel. God's glory is reflected in his messenger, as formerly it was in Moses (Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:30).
And he had in his hand a little book open. Ἔχων, "having," is read in א, A, B, C, P; εἴχεν, "he had," in a few cursives, the Vulgate, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius. The meaning is the same. The word βιβλαρίδιον, "little book," is a diminutive of βιβλίον (Revelation 5:1), which is itself a diminutive of βίβλος. This form of the word is found nowhere else; the corresponding usual form is βιβλιδαρίον. The book is probably little in comparison with that in Revelation 5:1. The latter contained all God's purposes, and the seer was not permitted to read it—only part was indicated to him. This book contains only a small portion of God's methods of dealing with man, and St. John is commanded to receive the whole. The contents are indicated in verse 11 and the following chapter. The book is open, as a sign that what is contained therein is to be revealed. Bede thinks the New Testament is signified by it; Wordsworth sees in it the spiritual power of Rome; Hengstenberg considers that it contains the judgment of the degenerate Church. And he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth. Thus it is indicated that the revelation which is to follow affects the whole world, and is not partial in its operation, as were the judgments set forth under the earlier trumpets. Wordsworth (following Hengstenberg) sees in the earth an emblem of worldly power, and in the sea a symbol of the agitation and turbulence of nations.
And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth; and be cried with a great voice, as a lion roareth (Revised Version). What the angel cried we are apparently not told. Probably the whole incident is intended merely to set forth the powerful and terrible nature of the messenger who is to deliver God's message. The figure is a very common one with the prophetical writers (cf. Isaiah 42:13; Jeremiah 25:30; Hosea 11:10; Joel 3:16; Amos 1:2; Amos 3:8). And when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices; and when he cried, the seven, etc. (Revised Version). This, again, is a repetition of the idea contained in the preceding clause. The Jews were accustomed to call thunder the seven voices, and to regard it as the voice of the Lord (cf. the repetition in Psalms 29:1-11.), in the same way that they regarded lightning as the fire of God (Job 1:16). We have, therefore, most probably, a national idea of the Jews, made use of to express the simple fact of the loud and mighty character of the utterance of the angel (cf. the note on Euphrates in Revelation 9:14). If this be so, it is unnecessary to seek for any more subtle interpretation of the seven thunders, as that they represent the seven crusades (Vitringa), etc.
And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write; and when the seven thunders spoke, I was, etc. It seems that St. John, in his vision, thought himself to be writing down the incidents as they were displayed before him. This he supposed himself to be doing in obedience to the command in Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:19. He accordingly is proceeding to do so here, when he is stopped by the angel. And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me. Omit "unto me," with א, A, B, C, P, all the versions, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius, etc. Throughout the Apocalypse we find frequent mention of a voice, without any definite statement as to the possessor. In Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:12, Revelation 1:13; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 18:4; Revelation 21:5, Revelation 21:15, the voice appears to be that of Christ or God the Father. In Revelation 14:13 it may be that of Christ or an angel; in Revelation 19:9 it seems to be the angel's voice; and in Revelation 6:6 it apparently proceeds from the four living beings; while in Revelation 9:13, although the command appears to be the command of God, the locality from which the voice issues appears to bear reference to the souls of the saints, and their cry for vengeance. Here it seems best to identify the "voice from heaven" with that of Revelation 1:1-20., where it is probably Christ himself (see on Revelation 1:10). Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not (cf. Daniel 12:4, "But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, even to the time of the end;" also Acts 1:7, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power;" also Revelation 22:10, "And he saith unto me. Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand"). As stated in the note on Revelation 1:2, not all God's purposes are revealed. Here we have a positive indication that some truths are withheld. It is useless to speculate on the nature of that which is purposely concealed from us. The probable conclusions which we may deduce are well put by Alford: "From the very character of thunder, that the utterances were of fearful import; from the place which they hold, that they relate to the Church; from the command to conceal them, first, encouragement, that God in his tender mercy to his own does not reveal all his terrors; secondly, godly fear, seeing that the arrows of his quiver are not exhausted, but besides things expressly foretold, there are more behind not revealed to us."
And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven; the right hand (Revised Version) is supported by א, B, C, P, Syriac, Coptic, AEthiopic, Armenian, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius. It is omitted in the Textus Receptus, which follows A, 1, 17, 36, Vulgate; of. Daniel 12:7, a chapter also referred to in the preceding note (vide supra). In Daniel both hands are uplifted, here only one; in the other is the book. The action was customary among the Jews in swearing (see Genesis 14:22; Deuteronomy 32:40). (Upon the signification of "standing upon the sea and upon the earth," see on verse 2.)
And sware by him that liveth forever and ever. The Triune God (cf. Revelation 1:11; Revelation 4:10, etc.; also Deuteronomy 32:40; Psalms 45:6; Hebrews 1:8, etc.). Who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein. Though the balance of authority is in favour of the last clause, yet it is omitted by )*, A, and some cursives (cf. Exodus 20:4). These two characteristics of God—his eternity and his omnipotence—are referred to in order to demonstrate the certainty of the fulfilment of the prophecy which follows. That there should be time no longer (ὅτι χρόνος οὐκέτι ἔσται); that time no longer shall be. This may be rendered:
(1) Time (a finite terminable period, as opposed to eternity) shall no longer exist, but eternity shall be entered upon.
(2) There shall be no more time, in the sense of "there shall be no longer any delay" in the infliction of the last judgment, set forth under the seventh trumpet. The solution seems to be that both meanings are implied. There seems to be a reference to the words of Revelation 6:11, to the ἔτι χρόνον μικρόν, during which the saints were to rest and await the infliction of God's wrath upon the ungodly. The visions of the first six trumpets have shown how, in the period of the world's existence, the ungodly do not escape judicial retribution. But that is not all; the force of the six judgments not having served to reduce the worldly to repentance, there can be no more delay, the last final judgment follows. But the last judgment, which follows quickly upon the other six (Revelation 11:14), is for eternity (Revelation 11:18). The advent of this woe is, therefore, simultaneous with the end of χρόνος, or "time," by which we signify that definite period, cut out of eternity, as it were, which is coeval with the existence of the world, and ceases with its destruction. The expression, therefore, implies, "The measure of God's punishments, viewed as opportunities for repentance, is exhausted; there is a limit to his endurance; the allotted time having been run, and his mercy to a large extent having been spurned, there is no more delay;" then falls the last final blow, which is at the end of "time," and at the beginning (for many) of eternity. Ebrard renders, "A space of time in which to repent"—a meaning compatible with the explanation given above. Others render, "The time of the fulfilment shall not be yet, but it shall be when the seventh trumpet sounds;" but this interpretation makes χρόνος equal καιρός. Others, again, have made χρόνος, a chronus, equal a definite number of years, and have endeavoured to compute the exact equivalent of the period (see Bengel, in loc.).
But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel. The meaning naturally seems to be, "There shall be no longer time; but, on the contrary, in the days of the seventh trumpet, the last judgment shall tall, the end will come, and all things will be made manifest; the mystery of God will be finished." Wordsworth renders, "No delay, save only in the days," etc., and believes that the passage points to a brief respite, during which men may yet repent. When he shall begin to sound; when he is about to sound [his trumpet]. Alford points out the propriety of the expression. "When the seventh angel does sound, the completed time of the fulfilment is simultaneous with his blowing (cf. Revelation 11:18), so that it is properly said that the fulfilment comes in the days when he is about to blow." The mystery of God should be finished; also (or then, as Revised Version) the mystery of God was fulfilled. "The prophetic past" (Wordsworth). "The mystery of God" is all that man does not now understand in connection with God's dealings with man, but of the existence of which he is cognizant, e.g. the existence of evil in the world, and God's modes of dealing with that and all mankind, which we only know in part. God's plans are being steadily and surely worked out, though we are not able to comprehend them. As he hath declared to his servants the prophets; literally, as he evangelized his servants the prophets; or, as in the Revised Version, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets. Thus Amos 3:7, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." The promise of the complete fulfilment of the mystery of God is good news indeed for the fainting Christian, for it tells of the end of his trials and the overthrow of his enemies.
And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said; and the voice which I heard out of heaven, [I heard] again talking with me and saying. The construction is irregular." The voice, viz. that mentioned in Revelation 10:4, which is probably that of Christ himself (see on Revelation 10:4). Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth; (Go, take the book, etc., according to A, C, which is adopted in the Revised Version. Little book, βιβλαρίδιον, as in Revelation 10:2, is found in א, P, Andreas; and βιβλιδαρίον in B, Andress, Arethas. (On the signification of the "little book," see on Revelation 10:2; and also for the meaning of the last clause, see the same place.)
And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book; and I went away to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. Alford understands that the seer goes from his position in heaven to the angel on earth. But he is probably, in his vision, already on the earth (see on Revelation 10:1). And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; he saith. This part of the vision is founded on Ezekiel 2:9-3. The act is no doubt intended to convey the idea that the seer is to carefully receive, to digest thoroughly, as it were, his message in order to deliver it faithfully. Thus in Ezekiel 3:10 the prophet is told, "All my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them," etc. And it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey; cf. the vision of Ezekiel 2:9-27., where the sweetness only is immediately mentioned; but the bitterness is implied later on in Ezekiel 3:14. The sweetness expresses the pleasure and readiness with which St. John receives his commission; the bitterness symbolizes the grief which possesses him when he thoroughly takes in the nature of his message. The pleasure with which he receives the angel's commands may proceed from joy at the thought that the final overthrow of the wicked is the final deliverance of the saints; or it may be that he feels himself honoured at being chosen as the medium for conveying God's message. Compare the readiness of Isaiah 6:8 to fulfil a similar office, and his subsequent fear and hesitation (Isaiah 7:4). The bitterness of the seer follows when he realizes the terrible nature of the judgment he is to announce (cf. Jeremiah 8:21, "For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt"). Various other explanations, more or less allegorical, have been suggested. Thus Andreas explains that the first sweetness of sin is afterwards converted into bitterness. Origen, quoted in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "Very sweet is this the book of Scripture when first perceived, but bitter to the conscience within." Maurice supposes that St. John's joy proceeds from the expectation that the book will announce the fall of the great Babel empire of the world, and his disappointment follows when he discovers that it predicts the fall of Jerusalem. Bede explains that the bitterness in the belly indicates the reception by the seer, but the sweetness in the mouth is the declaration to others.
And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter (see above). The angel, foreseeing the nature of the contents, alludes to the bitterness first; the writer narrates his experiences in the historical order.
And he said unto me. Λὲγουσιν, "they say," is read in א, A, B, and thirty cursives, and is adopted in the Revised Version. λέγει, "he saith," is found in P and seventeen cursives. Λέγουσιν leaves the speakers quite indefinite, amounting, in fact, to no more than" it was said" (Alford); cf. τρέφωσιν in Revelation 12:6; also Daniel 7:5. Daniel 7:13. Thou must prophesy again. Thou retest, because it is laid upon thee by God's command. It is to be done again, because the seer has already to some extent set forth God's will in the earlier part of the book; and he is now required to proceed with the delivery of his message. "Prophesy" (as in Revelation 11:3) has rather its literal than its derived meaning. It is the telling forth of God's purposes, and may refer to past as well as present or future events. The sentence refers to the announcements made in the following part of the Apocalypse (vide infra). Bede and others take it to mean the Gospel of St. John, which was, perhaps, afterwards composed (see Introduction). Victorinus thinks it points to the period of St. John's return from Patmos to Ephesus, where the Apocalypse may have been published. Before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings; concerning many peoples, etc. (ἐπί, with dative). These are the objects of the prophecy, not the audience. This serves to explain the reference in the preceding sentence. The message is not delivered to, but about peoples, etc. The fourfold enumeration seems to point to the breadth of the signification—it embraces the whole of mankind (cf. Revelation 5:9). This is the end of what is called by many writers the first episode; the second follows. The incident is often alluded to as the "new commission" of St. John; but it seems less a new commission than a solemn re-enactment of the command delivered in Revelation 1:1-20.
The mystery of God—finished!
According to some historical interpreters, the close of the ninth chapter sets forth in symbol the inrush of the Turkish power and the downfall of Constantinople. Apparently necessitated by such a view, the angel of the first verse of the tenth chapter is the reality of which the dominant papal power was the mimicry—a messenger of heaven with new light piercing the gloom. His setting one flint on the sea and another on the earth indicates his taking possession of Continental Christendom and insular England. The seven thunders are the anathemas of papal Rome. They may not be uttered, because they are the roarings of man and not the sayings of God. We cannot accept this interpretation, nor anything like it. On the understanding that this book forecasts in symbolic outline the fortunes of the Church of God on her way to the final consummation, it would be somewhat strange if the lines of history and those of prophecy did not present some mutual correspondence. But it by no means follows that any one apparent correspondence is the fulfilment of the prophecy, although it may be partially so. Besides, our text tells us that the great proclamation of the angel who set his feet on sea and land was that in the days of the seventh angel the mystery of God should be finished. Now, nothing is more certain than that, at the time of the Reformation and by its agents, there was no such proclamation made as this. Besides, even now the mystery of God is not finished, nor anything like it; consequently, it is not possible for us to assign the proclamation of this angel to anything that happened three hundred years ago. Repeated studies of the entire Apocalypse do but confirm the conviction of twenty years' standing, that we must give up date fixing entirely; that, while the book forecasts the future, it so does it as to confirm the word that "it is not for us to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power;" that we may expect, at divers times and places, and in divers manners, oft recurring fulfilments of the Apocalyptic word; and that the book contains, for our guidance and help, an indication of Divine principles and methods rather than incident in detail. We shall have a fresh illustration of this if we now study this paragraph, letting the seventh verse be the centre around which our thoughts may turn.
I. HERE IS A STRIKING NAME GIVEN TO THE SCHEME OF PROVIDENCE. "The mystery of God." A "mystery" is
(1) that which is altogether and necessarily a secret in the mind of God;
(2) that which, though revealed as a fact, is beyond our understanding as to mode;
(3) that which, even when revealed, we know only in part;
(4) that which, disclosed in symbol, will be interpreted by the explanation of the word or the event;
(5) that which, though complete in the Divine mind, is only unrolled, piece by piece, before us;
(6) that which, from its nature, can only be disclosed to those who are in a fit state of mind to receive it, and which, to others, must remain shrouded in concealment. In one or other of these senses Scripture speaks of the mystery of the seven stars (Revelation 1:20), of the kingdom of heaven (Mark 4:11), of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:51), of the gospel (1 Corinthians 2:7), of the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:3), of the union of Christ and his people (Ephesians 5:32), of the final completion of the Church (Ephesians 1:9), of the Person of Christ (1 Timothy 3:16), of the Christian faith (1 Timothy 3:9), of the intricacies of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:7; Revelation 17:5), of the purposes of God (Revelation 10:7). This last is the one referred to in the text. It is something of which there is a complete and perfect plan in the mind of God, but of which we see only a part before our eyes. The future depends on the will of God. And who can discern that? "What man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so, the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." And our finite minds could not take in the entire plans of an infinite mind. A large part must needs be concealed; not merely because the book does not disclose all, but because we could not apprehend all.
II. THE PHRASE WHICH AT FIRST SUGGESTS PAINFUL PERPLEXITY HAS A DESCRIPTIVE TERM ATTACHED TO IT, WHICH AT ONCE RELIEVES AND INSPIRES. Before us is "mystery." But it is God's mystery! To him it stands, forth distinctly and clearly, without a fringe of haze. From him the entire providential plan emanates. With his full knowledge of consequences, sin was permitted to intrude. The entire control of all is ever in his hands. The diadems of royalty never fall from his brow, nor does the sceptre of dominion ever tremble in his hand. "The government is on his shoulder." And though the book speaks of it relatively to us, as his mystery, yet to him it is no mystery at all.
III. THE MAIN FEATURE OF THIS MYSTERY IS THAT IT IS ONE OF GOOD TIDINGS; i.e. it is the gospel mystery (ὡς εὐηγγέλισε). As we remarked before (homily on Revelation 5:1-14.), when the seven-sealed book is opened by the Lamb, it is clear that the unfoldings of providence become the unveilings of grace. Over and above the scheme of moral government, there is set this plan of redeeming love; and the wheels of time are rolling on and speeding forward to work out the great salvation, of which one sentence will sum up the outcome, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound!"
IV. THE MYSTERY WILL UNFOLD ITSELF ON THE LINES LAID DOWN BY THE PROPHETS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS. "According to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets." It has been thus hitherto. History has thus far developed according to the sayings of Moses and the prophets. Moses, in his words to the children of Israel, foretold what would happen to the Jewish people in after ages if they were unfaithful to their God. The twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy is being fulfilled to this day. So also, in the several prophets, there is sketched a ground plan of "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow;" e.g. in the well known fifty-third of Isaiah there is not one single word which we are at a loss to verify, as we put side by side what Old Testament seers foretold and what New Testament evangelists and apostles declare. Further on, we read our Lord's predictions concerning the fall of Jerusalem. They have been fulfilled. History is thus the repeated fulfilment of prophecy. What has been will be again. And with no misgiving we declare that what is yet to be witnessed on earth will correspond with the prophetic words of the apostles and prophets of our Lord and Saviour. We are looking for, "the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of the great God, even our Saviour Jesus Christ."
V. THE TIME OF THE END IS FORESEEN. When the seventh angel is about to sound then the mystery of God would be finished; i.e. as far as the plan of providence is indicated in the book of prophecy, it will be consummated. The "end" will be this: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." But let us not forget the sense in which this word "finished" is, must be, intended. It cannot mean that from that point God will reduce all to a blank, or become inactive, or cause the glory of redemption to be no more. Ah no! We cannot doubt that the advance will be still from glory to glory. But the mystery will be finished, as far as God hath seen fit to tell us in his Word. "Finished, according to the good tidings," etc. These give at once the intent and the limitation of the mystery which is thus to be "finished." Revelation is bounded both ways, back and front. We know nothing prior to that beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. We know nothing later than "the end, when" Christ "shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that God may be all in all."
VI. THIS FORECAST RECEIVES VAST ADDITIONAL WEIGHT FROM THE GLORY OF THE BEING BY WHOM THIS DISCLOSURE IS MADE. He is "a mighty angel." He appears in the name of Heaven; and is invested with the insignia of majesty, pomp, and might. There is a sevenfold symbolism here. He is "arrayed with a cloud"—at once the sign of the Divine presence, and a symbol of the mystery which surrounds the throne. There is "a rainbow upon his head"—the token of the covenant of peace. His face is "as the sun"—pure and bright with the burning blazing light of holiness. His feet are "as pillars of fire;" by his tread he puts down sin; with fire, he burns it up. He has in his hand "a little book open." This is strikingly different from the sealed book which only the Lamb could open. The open book contains the message which the apostle is to declare. He set his right foot upon the sea, etc., standing sublimely in possession of both in the name of Heaven. He cried with a great voice, as a lion roareth. His voice is full of strength. He lifts up his right hand to heaven, and swears by him that liveth forever and ever that there shall be no more delay. £ Long as the time may seem to be during which the world rolls round wearily with its burden of sin, when a certain point of time is reached, "a short work will the Lord make upon the earth." The consummation will be delayed not a moment too long, and the honour, majesty, and might of Heaven are pledges of the fulfilment of the word.
VII. WHEN THE MYSTERY OF GOD IS FINISHED, WHERE SHALL WE BE? Finished it will be. "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." As surely as at the end of one cycle of events the Saviour cried, "It is finished!" so surely when another cycle has run its round will there come another, "It is done!" The Author of our faith is also its Finisher. The Redeemer's cross finished the mystery of the old covenant; his crown shall finish the mystery of the new covenant. Anti when the end cometh we shall be—where? We shall stand in "our lot" at the end of the days. But what will our lot be? With the righteous or with the wicked? For then the distinction will be manifest. No one will then be in doubt as to his own posit[on before God. Surely it is of infinite moment to us that, when the mystery of God is finished, we should be on the right side. There is, indeed, a smaller "mystery of God" which is working out. "Every man's life is a plan of God" (Bushnell). "I girded thee though thou hast not known me." God is working it out according to his gospel. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life," etc. And amid the "wreck of matter and the crash of worlds" we shall want a Friend in whom we can repose amid all the convulsions that shake this globe. There is One—and One only, of whom it is eternally true, "Thou art the same." That One is Jesus. He says to us, "Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out." Here, then, let us cling. He will not let us go, nor let us be harmed, though this earth be burned up. In him is everlasting rest.
"Then let the earth's old pillars shake,
And all the wheels of nature break;
Our steady souls should fear no more
Than solid rocks when billows roar!"
The little book and its mission.
In one of the most interesting chapters in Mr. Elliott's 'Horae Apocalypticae,' the correspondence between this vision of "the little book open" and the bringing forth of the open Bible at the time of the Reformation is indicated at considerable length. According, however, to the plan of exposition which alone seems to us to accord with the aim of the Apocalypse, the production of an open Bible at the Reformation was but one illustration at a particular time of that which this chapter teaches for all time. We shall get far more light from the chapter if we regard it as indicating principles that are eternally true, than as forecasting what, was a passing incident in the course of history. We have before seen how largely the imagery of the Apocalypse is based on that of the Old Testament. The precise analogue of this section will be found in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the second and third chapters, which should be studied side by side with this. The paragraph now under review is literally laden with riches of Divine teaching.
I. THERE IS A WIDE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE BOOK "SEALED WITH SEVEN SEALS" AND "THE LITTLE BOOK OPEN." Obviously, the thought first suggested thereby is that in the one case we have enclosed that which is wrapped in impenetrable secrecy; in the other, that which is meant to be opened to all. This of itself sets us on a clear track of thought. The scaled book contains the secret plans of Providence; the open one the revealed teachings of his will, and the disclosures of his grace. The former is only and wholly in the hands of him who is seen in the midst of the throne—"a Lamb as it had been slain." The latter is meant for the guidance of men on earth, and as such is put into human hands. In the one case "no one in heaven or on earth is found able or worthy to open and to read the book, or even to look thereon." In the other case the book is already open, and the apostle is bidden to take the book out of the angel's hand.
II. THE LITTLE BOOK, OPEN, IS COMMITTED TO THE APOSTLE'S CARE. The charm of this symbolism is that it is so luminous that he who readeth may run. The message of God's revealed will, and the counsels of his redeeming grace, are entrusted first to the "angel," and then by him to the exiled apostle. This is the same process of transmission as is given to us in Revelation 1:1-3. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Supreme Revealer. All the angelic hosts are commissioned by him. They are the immediate instruments by whom the word is handed down to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. Under the new dispensation, as under the old, holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
III. THE APOSTLE, HAVING RECEIVED THE BOOK, HAS TO EAT IT UP. Eating a book? Yes; where is the difficulty? The phrase is familiar enough—"read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest," etc. What is eaten comes to be assimilated, and so to become a portion of one's own flesh and blood. Before the eating, it lies outside us. Until it is eaten, it is only that which would nourish if it were eaten, but by no other process than by our eating it, can it serve its purpose or ours. This is one of God's parables in nature, His words of truth and grace are meant to be the life of human souls, on which they grow and thrive. If the words of God are not so used, they so far miss their aim, and souls miss their support. So long as God's Word is something outside us, it will profit us little. It is to be received by faith as God's own message to us, and on it we may live day by day, esteeming the words of his mouth more than our necessary food. And specially is this spiritual digestion of God's words needed when a man's mission is to give out those words to others for their life. We cannot speak to others of the virtues of heavenly food when we have not fed on it ourselves. Nor can we tell to others the soul thriving power it conveys when we ourselves are spiritually starving. The assimilation by reading, thinking, faith, and prayer is necessary if God's Word is to be the support of our souls. £ None should aim at this more earnestly than those who have a Divine impulse to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
IV. THE LITTLE BOOK, WHEN EATEN, PRESENTED A STRANGE MIXTURE OF SWEETNESS AND BITTERNESS. The words of the Bible, says a late eminent divine, £ "nourish him by their bitter qualities as much as by their pleasant; he needs both and accepts both" "There must be a sweetness unspeakable in the actual living taste of a Divine communication; in the assurance … that the love which lies beneath all law... is showing itself forth in our very selves... But then the sense of this law defied in the world, defied in ourselves?.. Is there no revulsion in that? Does not the book become the bitterer afterwards, in proportion as it was delicious at first?" Even so. Tonics are often bitter. The working out of God's grace in the salvation of those that believe are sweet enough. But the woes which must follow the rejection of grace are bitter indeed, and yet the prophet must be prepared to accept both, to feed on both, and to speak forth both.
V. WHEN THE BOOK IS EATEN, THE WORK OF PROPHESYING IS TO FOLLOW. "Thou must prophesy again over many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" £ (Revelation 1:11).
1. The work of God under the New Testament is to be carried forward by the prophet, not by the priest. There are no official priests now. Those who call themselves such are shams. All believers, indeed, as such, are priests unto God; but there is no order of a priesthood under the Christian dispensation. Even under the old economy God set aside the priest, again and again, so that the prophet might come to the front.
2. Then, too, the prophet can only do his work rightly when God's message has been so digested that it is a part of himself. No one to whom God's Word is merely a something outside of him can ever show the people the way of life.
3. See the breadth over which the Divine Word is to be promulgated. "Many nations and tongues." Every child of man is to hear the Word.
4. See the entire social scale included: "peoples" and "kings." From the lowest to the highest. The Word is as needed by, and as suited for, the palace as the hut. It is a common message for all.
5. There was to be a reissue of the prophetic Word under the Christian economy. Such we take to be the meaning of πάλιν. Of old the prophets had borne witness for God. But now the institution of prophecy is to recommence under Christ, and to be extended over a wider field than ever it had been before.
6. This open book entrusted to the prophet's care is never to be handed to any who would close it up again. Rome forbids the use of the Bible by the common people. Why? Because with her the priest smothers the prophet. Ever let us insist on keeping "the little book open;" and, in letting its contents, sweet or bitter, as they may be, be known to all the people.
The theme of this homily is a most appropriate one as a basis for opening up either the value of a Christian ministry or the essential principle of Protestantism, that "the little book" should ever be kept open, and its contents unfolded to the people. It suggest two queries.
1. What has come out of the principles of this chapter, historically
(1) The demand for a free and open Bible, in the language of the people.
(2) The institution of preaching as an ordinance of God.
(3) The contention for liberty of prophesying according to God's order, apart from the restrictions imposed by man.
(4) The incessant publication and republication of it as the wilt of God—That none should walk in darkness, but should know the Word of light and life.
2. What should come out of them, practically?
(1) A perpetual protest against the closing, withholding, or neglect of "the little book."
(2) The constant prayer that prophets may ever be raised up and qualified to go everywhere, preaching the Word.
(3) Every teacher and preacher should take care to eat the book, and to digest its contents, in order that he may fulfil his function of prophesying.
(4) That which the prophet must digest in order to prophesy, the people themselves must feed upon in order that they may live and grow and thrive. God's Word in the heart is the only certain nutriment of a noble life.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The little book; or, characteristics of revelation.
"He had in his hand a little book open." Like as there was an interval between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, so is there between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpets. The record of this latter interval, and of the events which took place in it, stretches through this tenth chapter down to verse 13 of Revelation 11:1-19. This chapter is occupied with the account of the little book which St. John saw in the hand of "another strong angel coming down out of heaven." The other "strong angel" is spoken of in Revelation 5:2, in connection with the seven-sealed book held in the right hand of "him that sat on the throne, and which only the Lion of the tribe of Judah" was found worthy to take and open. This book told of here is described as "little" as compared with that, and, probably, in contrast with it. Now, although the historical interpreters affirm that this little book means the Bible, as we have it, yet the difficulties that beset this interpretation are so many and so great, that it has been abandoned by all the more reliable expositors of the Apocalypse as inconsistent with its avowed purpose to declare the "things that must shortly come to pass," and the time of which was "at hand;" still, what is here said of this "little book" does suggest to us not a few of the most interesting and important characteristics of the Word of God. For note—
I. THE AMBASSADOR WHO BRINGS IT. Much may be learnt concerning any message that is sent by an earthly monarch from the character and rank and insignia which belong to the messenger. If the business which he has to transact be of great importance, and it be desired to impress its significance upon the minds of those to whom he is sent, he himself will be of such dignity, and accompanied with such tokens of authority and power, as will prepare those to whom he comes rightly to receive the message he brings. So here, he who brings God's message to mankind is one of no mean order, and the tokens of his authority are of the most impressive kind.
1. He comes from heaven. The Bible is not a merely human production. It is inspired by God; it is a message from heaven. It contains what no human mind could have known or invented; it speaks with an authority that they who receive the message realize to be from God. Inspiration cannot be argued and so demonstrated to the intellect, but it speaks to the soul, and is felt to be present in the Scriptures, which therefore are declared to be the Word of God. It wakes up a response in the soul, quickening, informing, strengthening, consoling, uplifting, sanctifying it, as no mere human words have ever done or can do, save as they draw their inspiration from this source.
2. It is mighty in its potter. It was "a strong angel" that St. John saw, suggesting to him and to us the strength of that message which he was commissioned to bring. What trophies of its power has not the Bible won? Where is the age, the country, the rank, the character, the intellectual condition, the circumstances of any kind, amid and over which it has not proved strong to subdue and bless and save?
3. Its truths fill the soul with awe. The angel was "clothed with a cloud "—symbol this of the majesty and mystery that surround and invest the foundation teachings of the Word of God. The soul can only bow in reverence and awe before them, and confess its feebleness in their presence.
4. But they are crowned with blessed promise and grace. "The rainbow was upon his head." Though there be so much that we cannot penetrate or comprehend, nevertheless the predominant characteristic is that of "grace," that of which the rainbow was at the first and is ever the beautiful and blessed symbol. Even those awful judgments of God spoken in verse 7 are there declared to be part of "the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets" (see Revised Version). And when we preach out of the Bible we are said to preach the gospel. This is its main character and intent.
5. They irradiate and illumine all our earthly life. "His face was as it were the sun." "Truly the light is sweet, and pleasant thing it is to behold the sun"—so says Ecclesiastes 11:7. And the confession of this radiant grace, this blessed light which streams forth from the Word of God, is commonplace of all the sacred writers and of all who have rejoiced in that light.
6. And they shall never be driven forth or removed. "His feet as pillars of fire," and Ecclesiastes 11:2, "He planted his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth." His invincible power is signified by "the pillars of fire;" and his having set his feet upon the earth and sea tells of "the immovable steadfastness of the heavenly Conqueror against all the resistance of his enemies." He is come to stay, and he cannot be driven forth. When and where has not the attempt to dislodge the Word. been made? But it has never succeeded. All Church history proves this. In many ages and places it has been death to keep a copy of the sacred writings. Wherever they were found, they were ruthlessly destroyed, and often they also with whom they were found. But every copy of the Bible that we possess today proves how partial and ineffective all such endeavours were. Glory be to God that they were so!
II. THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN OF IT. "A little book open."
1. A book. The Bible is not the revelation itself, but the record of it. But without the record the revelation would not have availed us. Great scorn has been poured on the idea of "a book revelation,'' and an immense deal of poor wit has been expended upon the idea that God should have used such mean materials as books are made of as the vehicle of his revelation of himself. But the Bible is not the revelation, only its record; and it is reason for eternal gratitude that his revelation has been so given that it can be thus recorded. In what other way could the knowledge of God have been so well preserved or spread abroad? (Cf. on this ' The Eclipse of Faith,' by H. Rogers.)
2. Its seeming insignificance. It is "a little book." In these days of gold and guns, when wealth and armies are thought to be the great means of accomplishing everything, the spiritual force that lies hidden in "a little book" counts but for little. But what hath not God wrought by it? And we may be grateful that it is little, and not a ponderous library which it would need a lifetime even to know part of, but one small volume which can be read and reread and carried everywhere as we will. No doubt the littleness of the book here spoken of is intended to be in contrast with that vast volume told of in Revelation 5:1-14., which was written within and without, so complete, so full, was it. This tells of but "part of his ways;" that seems to have been the declaration of all his will. But it suggests the seeming insignificance, both in form and force, of that which we call the book of God, but whose insignificance is, indeed, only seeming, not real.
3. It is to be an open book. St. John saw it "open" in the hand of the angel. There have been and there are those who would have the Word of God closed, if not entirely, yet to large extent. They affirm it is not a book for the common people, but for the priests of the Church; and for centuries it was kept closed, and is even now looked upon with more or less of dislike. But, blessed be God, it is open, not to the eyes alone, but to the mind. For though it contains the profoundest truths that the intellect of man has ever studied, still it contains also those truths—and they are the most numerous and important—which the humblest and least instructed are able to receive and rejoice in. God hath caused the vision to be written and made "plain," so that the unlearned may learn, and the most simple comprehend.
III. THE VOICES FOR AND AGAINST IT. We read that the angel cried with a loud voice, and that the seven thunders uttered their voices. Now:
1. The angelic voice suggests:
(1) The startling effect of the Word of God upon mankind. The angel's voice was "as when a lion roareth." So did the Word of God affect men. See when at the Reformation it was first freely given to Europe. How it roused men's minds, awoke them from their lethargy, nation after nation heard the sound and broke away from the superstition and sins in which they had so long lived! And it is so still. "What must I do to be saved?" is the intense, the sometimes agonized cry, of men whom the lion-like, awful voice of the Word has aroused from their sin. The conviction of sin which the Holy Spirit produces through the Word is, often, to men "as when a lion roareth," arousing them indeed.
(2) The assured persuasion it gives concerning the mystery of this present life. The solemn oath of the angel (verses 5-7) did but represent what the Word of God accomplishes. As he gave, so it gives, solemn assurance that what now is—so much of it so mournful, so full of mystery—is not ever to be, but shall have an end. Life is a mystery now, even in these comparatively calm days of ours; but what must it have appeared to the persecuted outraged Church of St. John's day? And were not we assured that what we now see is but part of God's ways, one link in the chain of his purposes, only a portion of his one great, wise, holy. and loving plan, how could we believe in him as either wise, holy, just, or loving? The mind. would rush to atheism, and the man to suicide; for what better could be done? But the Word of God, like the solemn oath of this strong angel, assures us of God that
"His purposes are ripening fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower."
2. The thunder voice. (Verse 4.) The brutum fulmen, the full-voiced anger of him who uttered it. The question comes—Whence this voice of the seven thunders? It has, we think, been too hastily assumed that St. John is referring to the sevenfold voice of the thunder mentioned in Psalms 29:1-11. And, doubtless, in this book thunders are referred, to as coming forth from the throne of God (cf. Revelation 4:5). But the true interpretation is given, we think, in the strikingly parallel passages in Daniel 8:26 and Daniel 12:4-9, where that which the prophet is commanded to "seal up" is not what God shall do, but what his people's enemies shall do against him and them. And so here, we believe, the thunders tell of the wrathful response, the angry mutterings, of God's enemies against his truth. And thus regarded, they tell of the opposition the Word arouses in the world of the wicked. It has ever been so. In St. John's day; at the era of the Reformation, witness the cursed cruelties which the Roman Catholic Church in those days perpetrated in the Netherlands, in our own land, and wherever also she had power. And still those "dark places of the earth, which are full of the habitations of cruelty," are filled with rage when any real invasion of them is made by the messengers of the Word. Still Christ's Name is as a "sign to be spoken against." And it was fitting that these voices should not be written. The purpose of this book was to console and strengthen the Church, not to distress and alarm. Hence the Divine forces on the side of the Church and against her foes are what this book mainly reveals. It tells us, "The Lord is on our side; we will not fear what man can do unto us."
IV. THE DIRECTIONS CONCERNING IT. As it was with the "little book" so must it be with the Word of God:
1. It must be received as from God. If we look upon the Bible as on "any other book," as on ordinary literature, we shall lack that reverential docile spirit which is necessary in order to receive its truths. The book was to be taken from the hand of the angel (verse 8).
2. It must be taken into the soul This is the meaning of the strange command, "Take it, and eat it up." It is as when Jeremiah said, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them;" as when our Lord said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," etc. (John 6:1-71.). We are to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" its truths; make them part of our very self. So must it be with those who would know the power of God's Word.
3. When so taken, it will produce both sorrow and joy. The first taste will be pleasant. "In thy mouth sweet as honey." And it is so. It is not a joy that we have a revelation from God at all; that we are not left in the dark as to our whence and whither; that we are assured God is "our Father which art in heaven;" that our salvation is "without money and without price," for that Christ died for us? Yes; "sweeter also than honey and the honey comb" are these precious truths. But the after taste will cause distress and pain. Witness the Saviour's tears wept over lost souls, and the like tears shed still by those who know "the fellowship of his sufferings." That men should resist and reject such a Saviour; that we should so long have done so, and do not yet wholly receive him;—yes, this after taste hath pain.
4. When eaten, it qualifies for witness bearing for God. (Verse 11.) This is the real qualification, this deep experimental knowledge of the power of God's Word. All else is as naught compared with this. Only such God ordains to be his prophets. Thus doth this "little book," though it meant not the Bible, tell of the Bible.—S. C.
No more time.
"The angel … sware … that there should be time no longer." This word of the angel is capable of being rendered, and has been rendered, in three different ways. Take it as meaning—
I. THE TIME IS NOT YET COME. It is easy to believe that the persecuted people of St. John's day, as often since, might have thought that the judgments which they witnessed and the distresses they endured could not but be the beginning of the end. Our Lord knew that they would think so, and hence (Matthew 24:1-51.) warned them that they should see and suffer much; but "the end" was "not yet." They had asked what should be the sign of his coming, and of "the end of the age." They were eagerly expecting it. At his ascension they asked the like question again. The apostolic Epistles are full of evidence that the second coming of our Lord was expected as near at hand. St. Paul wrote his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians to dispel this idea, or at any rate to moderate its effects. And when Jerusalem fell, and when the Roman empire fell, it was confidently believed that the end of all things was close at hand. And had we lived in those awful days, it is likely that we should have thought so too. And we know how calculations have been made as to the time of the end. The illustrious Bengel reckoned that it would be in 1836, and his mistake is on record as a warning to all who would make similar rash statements, though even yet the warning is neglected by some. But our Lord has told us that it is not for us "to know the times and the seasons" (Acts 1:1-26.), and all human calculations are therefore foredoomed to error. And it is well for us that we cannot know. "Ignorance is bliss" in regard to such a subject. Could we fix the date, those far off from it would harden themselves in their sin; those near at hand would become as the Thessalonians did, unfitted for their daily duty, and would not, as St. Paul bade them do, "mind their own business." And so in regard to what is to each one of us as the end of all things, the date of our death, we are kept in merciful ignorance of it. And to keep us therein God has so ordered our lives that there is no hour of it in which men may not die, and in which many do not die, and no hour of it in which they certainly know that they must and shall. Hence little children die, and young men and maidens, boys and girls, as well as the old and grey headed. Ruthless and cruel are seemingly not a few of the visitations of death, cutting down youth in the first freshness and bloom of life, often not sparing the bride and mother in the fulness of their joy, forcing the hot tears from the young husband and wife as they mourn hopelessly over the cradle that held the little one whose life was to them dearer than their own. Such things are. And to some they seem horrible and cruel. But it is in order that we all may be delivered from that paralysis of hope and energy which would come upon us, as it comes upon the convicted felon in the condemned cell, if we knew the actual moment when we must die, and could count off every hour that draws us on to the inevitable doom. Therefore is it well that we do not know the time or the season. And in regard to the end of the world, what mercy is there in the fact that the time is not yet, that "the master of the house" has not yet "risen up, and shut to the door"! For now many will enter who then will not be able. We are thankful that Christ has not yet "accomplished the number of his elect." And they who are his, how much they yet have to do to learn and to obtain before they are prepared to meet their Lord! "The bride has" not yet "made herself ready;" but she must and will, and that she may "the Bridegroom" tarries. Therefore, if this be the meaning of the angel's oath, that "the time is not yet," we rejoice in it both for ourselves and for myriads more.
II. THERE SHALL BE NO MORE TIME. And this we believe is the meaning here—that there shall be no longer delay, postponement, no more weary waiting, no longer any lingering of the accomplishment of God's purposes. So regarded, it was for the. Church of St. John's day a blessed sursum corda, a cordial and good cheer, helping them to endure patiently and to hope on more and more. The "mystery of God" shall soon "be finished," so soon that, as we say "we are come" to any city when we see its towers and spires rising before us, although we may yet be some considerable distance from its gates; so, because the time is so short, we may say it is over, the waiting time is past—it exists "no longer." And thus:
1. The Christian may comfort himself. True, the age drags out its weary length, but each individual life is short, and generally long before even that short life is done the recompenses of God, the earnest and pledge of the yet larger recompenses of eternity, are given. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promises"—how often we have gratefully to confess that! Yes; they are so given, even here and now, that the believer is constrained to own, "Goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life." Tares are undoubtedly amongst the wheat, to its sore detriment and harm, but they are not always to be there; it is a mystery that they are there at all; we would like to go and pull them up, but we cannot; but the harvest draws on, and then the trouble will all be over. But:
2. The enemies of God should be afraid. The avenging gods—so the old pagan world believed—have their feet shod with wool. Men hear not their silent approach, and they may be upon them, they often are, in a moment. The sinner never knows how near God's judgment upon his sin may be. Of many the angel hath sworn that there shall be time no longer; the judgment of God shall fall. In a moment, in bright noonday, when the sky is without a cloud, unseen and unheard, the last link that binds the mass of snow and ice to the mountain side is severed, and the avalanche rushes down into the depths below. Do not the events of every day prove, now on this sinner against God's laws, and now on that, that God hath sworn concerning them, "there should be time no longer"?
III. ALL TIME SHALL CEASE. Thus also our text may be understood. "Time" and "duration" are not synonymous terms—the latter includes eternity as well as time; but time and eternity, notwithstanding their common quality of duration, are contrasted in Scripture as being of essentially different natures. Time means the present condition of things; eternity, that condition which belongs to the age to come. "The things that are seen are temporal, but the things which are unseen are eternal." Time is of the age that now is; eternity, of the age that is to come. Thus understood, it is not difficult to believe that time—this age—shall cease. The Bible speaks of "ages." The word is commonly rendered "world," but its true meaning is "age." Thus it speaks of "ages of ages," "this age," "the age to come." And every branch of science tells of different "ages." Geology speaks of them and marks them off one from another by different names. History, biology, philology, all speak in similar way. All tell of ages when the condition of things was altogether different from what we see now, and how one age has succeeded and prepared for another. Therefore that there should be a passing away of the present age to which time belongs, and that it should be followed by one in which time, as we understand it, should be no more, is affirmed, not only by the Bible, but by manifold other evidence beside. And not only shall there be succession, but advance. There have been ages in which we can trace no form of life. These have been succeeded by others which have had life, but only in its lower forms. These again by others possessing higher forms, and at length the highest of all, that of man. And in harmony with all this the Bible bids us look on to an infinitely better condition of things than now we know of, in the age or world to come, whereof the sacred writers speak. Here "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain even until now;" but there "the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption," etc. (Romans 8:1-39.). The inscrutable problem of this present life, "the mystery of God," as it is termed in verse 7, shall "be finished," and there shall be "a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." And the means whereby all this shall be brought about, not only the Bible, but scientific research also, reveal with startling clearness. The Bible says that the angels of God "shall gather out of his kingdom all things that do offend, and them that work iniquity." Science says that in the progress of the ages the fittest alone survive. All that are incapable of the higher life that is to be disappear and perish, and the fit and worthy alone remain. Such is the solemn "Amen" of science to the teachings of the Word of God. And are there not like facts visible even now amidst mankind? Growth and advancement in races, tribes, nations, families, and individuals, the records and observation of human life, are full of such happy facts; but, on the other hand, there are the mournful facts amid the same subjects, of degeneracy, decay, and death. Character determines these things, and the Bible says the same. Oh, how, then, does all this appeal to every soul! For what am I preparing myself? Must I be doomed to die because I am not fit for the better life that is to be when time shall be no longer? or—and God grant it may be so!—am I by virtue of my living union with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself "the Life," destined for glory, honour, and immortality with him in the Eternal? That this may be so is why our pulpits and sermons are forever re-echoing with the appeal, "Come to Christ." The Bible and experience alike attest that it is through living faith, carrying along with it, as such faith ever does, the surrender of the will, the heart, to him, that we become vitally grafted into him, and so in his life—the eternal, the blessed, the glorious—do forever share. For he said, "Because I live, ye shall live also."—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The word of assurance and consolation.
The Book of the Revelation is written for the comfort of the Church in presence of her oppressing foes. It is designed to sustain the faithful people in well doing, when the severities of cruel dealing make their lot hard and almost unendurable. Their patience is often severely tried; sometimes it has yielded under heavy pressure. Here is afforded another word of promise which is calculated to sustain the faint of heart. A vision is granted of" a strong angel" who brings assured promise of a certain and even speedy termination of the time of suffering and of struggle. "The mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets," shall be "finished." This is the encouragement to hope; and to the Church in the early times, under the pressure of her first destructive persecutions, this would be a word of the utmost comfort. It is the re-echo of "Behold, I come quickly." This word of consolation is of great preciousness and help to the suffering Church; for—
I. IT IS GIVEN BY THE LORD HIMSELF. The strong angel "coming down out of heaven, arrayed with a cloud," can be none other than the Lord himself. The surrounding symbols are his, and his alone. "The rainbow was upon his head;" "his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire." It is the reflection of the Divine glory in Christ. When he cries the seven thunders utter their voices, and his great voice was "as a lion roareth." From the word of such a one the Church may always gather the utmost comfort.
II. IT GIVES THE PROSPECT AND PLEDGE OF RELEASE. The suffering Church writhes in its anguish; but a definite limit is put to the days of sorrow. "In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound." This is not indefinite and uncertain: "There shall be time no longer "—there shall be no more delay. Relief is certain and speedy. This is assured by oath, even by the voice of the angel who "sware by him that liveth forever and ever, who created the heaven, and the things that are therein, and the earth, and the things that are therein, and the sea, and the things that are therein." This oath is for truest confirmation.
III. The word of consolation and promise IS GIVEN IN THE MOST SOLEMN AND ASSURING MANNER. This seen in the whole vision—the person, attitude, message, oath, and surrounding testimonies.
IV. IT IS THE TRUEST, THE UTMOST ENCOURAGEMENT TO HOPE. Upon this vision the Church should ever reflect in the time of suffering and fear. It is possible patiently to endure and hold out when a definite and assured prospect and pledge of relief is given. The words, "declared to his servants the prophets," shall have their fulfilment; "the mystery" shall be "finished."—R. G.
The little book; or, the sweetness and bitterness of the prophetic office.
The consolation of an assured end having been given, the holy seer, and in him the Church in all ages, becomes prepared to receive tidings that shall prove "bitter" and painful. The final victory is assured. The word is "sweet as honey" in the mouth of him who receives it, which reception is represented by the figure of "eating the little book." It is sweet, for it is impossible to be an agent of God for any work without a certain pleasurableness. But the sweetness is temporary. So is it a pleasant thing to receive a message from the Lord, but it may be a very painful thing to communicate it to men. The reception of "the little book," whatever that book may mean, is a preparation to prophesying "again concerning many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." The words which follow are mingled words of sadness and comfort—comfort for the Church in her obedience; sadness for the ungodly, rebellious, and opposing nations. In the symbol before us there seems to shine out from the midst of many teachings one respecting the prophetic office itself. For a moment attention is directed to the seer himself and his own states. Thus have we set forth the prophetic office—the honourableness of its calling; the painfulness of its duties. Nothing is said as to the twofold character of the message—"the little book"—but only the twofold effect upon the seer. Our thoughts, then, are upon him.
I. THE HOLY OFFICE OF PROPHET IS THE MOST HONOURABLE AND EXALTED AMONGST MEN. To speak for God, as his agent; to declare his message; to receive the Word from his lips, by his inspiration; to be entrusted with his Word to men—be it a word of condemnation, of warning, of promise, of mercy, or hope—is a most sacred, hallowed burden. To speak to men in God's Name is higher than to speak for kings. The "ambassador for Christ" stands at the head of diplomatic agents. How holy, how awful, how responsible, his office! The calling to such office cannot but have its sweetness to the faithful servant.
II. OF ALL OFFICES THIS, WHEN RIGHTLY COMPREHENDED, IS THE MOST PAINFUL. To deal with words of judgment and threatening; to speak of sin; to warn of punishment; to have close alliance with righteousness amongst men who reject it; to he burdened with spiritual care; to stand in antagonism to prevalent sentiment, and strive to raise men to altitudes of goodness;—cannot but be a burden too heavy to be borne were the prophet unaided. He is in error who views the calling to the prophetic office too lightly; he is also in error who thinks triflingly of the painfulness of its responsibilities.—R. G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"And the voice which I heard from heaven," etc. The "little book," or roll, here might be fairly taken to illustrate God's redemptive truth, or the gospel. The following thoughts are suggested.
I. THIS GOSPEL IS BROUGHT TO MAN FROM HEAVEN. "The voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go, and take the little book." Redemptive truth is a special revelation to man sent by God from heaven, Men could never have reached the redemptive idea by the study of nature or by philosophic research; or, were the human mind to traverse through the whole world of natural science and to search into every part, it would never discover this "little book." The way in which alienated humanity can be brought into a loving sympathy with God transcends human discovery. "Ear hath not heard, eye hath not seen." Divine messengers brought this "little book" to man, and Christ embodied it.
II. THIS GOSPEL IS TO BE APPROPRIATED BY MAN. "And he said, Take it, and eat it up." The object of the gospel is not merely to enlighten the mind, to stimulate inquiry, or to excite emotions, but to be appropriated as food, to satisfy the hunger and to invigorate the faculties of the soul. "The Word must become flesh," it must course through every vein, beat in every pulse, and strengthen every fibre of our being. It is the bread of life that came down from heaven, the fruit of the tree of life. The spirit of this "little book" must become the inspiring and the regnant spirit of our being.
III. THIS GOSPEL HAS A TWOFOLD EFFECT OF MAN. "It shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey." It is both sweet and bitter. In its disclosures of infinite love and promises of future blessedness it is indeed "sweet," but in its convictions of sin, reproofs, and denunciations it is indeed "bitter." It produces in the soul sorrow and joys, sighs and songs, and its bitterness will remain as long as one particle of depravity continues in the heart. The experience of a Christly man is a very mixed experience during his life on earth; yonder it is all sweetness.
IV. THIS GOSPEL, APPROPRIATED, QUALIFIES MAN FOR HIS MISSION. "And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." Prophesying, or indoctrinating men with Divine ideas, is the grand mission of every man; but this mission can only be realized after the teacher himself has appropriated the Divine Word. When he has it in him, not merely as an idea or a theory, but as a living power, then he will be able to "prophesy" with regard to "peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." - D. T.