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And I looked; and I saw, indicating a fresh phase of the vision (cf. Revelation 4:1, etc.). Having described (Revelation 12:1-17. and 13.) the trinity of enemies with which Christ and his people contend, the vision now passes on to depict the blessedness in store for the faithful Christian, and, on the other hand, the final fate of the dragon and his adherents. We are thus once more led to the final judgment. And just as in the former vision, after the assurance of the salvation of the faithful (Revelation 7:1-17.), came the denunciation of woe for the ungodly (Rev 8-11:14), leading once more to a picture of the saved (Revelation 11:15-19), so here we have the assured blessedness of the faithful portrayed (Revelation 14:1-13), followed by the judgments upon the ungodly (Revelation 14:14 - Revelation 18:24), and leading on once more to a picture of the saints in glory (Revelation 19:1-21.). And, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Zion; and behold, the Lamb standing on the Mount Zion, as in the Revised Version. "The Lamb," with the article, referring to "the Lamb" described in Revelation 5:1-14., whom the second beast had attempted to personate. He stands on Mount Zion (cf. Hebrews 12:22, "Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem"). The appropriateness of the position is seen
(1) in its strength (cf. the position of the beast, rising from the sea, perhaps standing on the sand, Revelation 13:1; and cf. Psalms 87:1, Psalms 87:2, "His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob").
(2) Because there is the temple of God, in the midst of which is the Lamb, and there is the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2).
(3) Zion is the new Jerusalem, the opposite extreme to Babylon (Revelation 5:8). And with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's Name written in their foreheads. The reading, τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὸ ὅνομα τοῦ Πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, his Name and his Father's Name, adopted in the Revised Version, is supported by א, A, B, C, with most cursives, versions, and Fathers. Note the similarity to the description in Revelation 7:1-17. Here, as there, the hundred and forty-four thousand are those "redeemed from the earth" (Revelation 7:3). The number denotes a large and perfect number; a multitude of which the total is complete (see on Revelation 7:4). In Revelation 7:1-17. the sealing in the forehead is described. This sign marks out the redeemed in contradistinction to those who have received the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16).
And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder. Evidently the song of the heavenly inhabitants, as described also in Revelation 7:9-11, where we are told they "cried with a loud voice." The greatness of the voice is evidence of the vastness of the number. "Heaven," from which the sounds come, includes the "Mount Zion" of Revelation 7:1, on which the Lamb and his followers stand. And I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps. The Revised Version is better, and the voice which I heard [was] as [the voice] of harpers harping with their harps. This reading is supported by א, A, B, C, and other good authorities. As the voice; that is, in regard to its pleasantness; reminding the hearer of the temple worship. (On the word "harp," see on Revelation 5:8.)
And they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders. They sing; that is to say, the heavenly inhabitants. The four living beings; viz. those of Revelation 4:9, where see an explanation of the positions occupied, and of the nature and signification of the "living beings and the elders." The "new song," which can only be understood by the hundred and forty-four thousand, is (as explained by Revelation 4:4) a song of victory won by those who have been tried in the world and subjected to temptations. And no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth; even they that had been purchased out of the earth (Revised Version). These only can know the song for the reason given above. The joys of heaven and the song of victory are not for those who have succumbed to the world.
These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. There is little doubt that these words are intended in a spiritual sense. In the Old Testament the employment of the figure of adultery and fornication to denote spiritual unfaithfulness is common (cf. 2 Chronicles 21:11; Jeremiah 3:9, etc.). St. John elsewhere in the Apocalypse makes use of the same symbolism (cf. Revelation 2:20," That woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols;" also Revelation 17:5, Revelation 17:6). Similarly, also, St. John pictures the faithful Church as the bride adorned for her Husband the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, Revelation 19:8). So also St. Paul (2 Corinthians 11:2), "I espoused you as a chaste virgin to one Husband, Christ." Παρθένοι, "virgins," is a word equally applicable to men or women. This verse, therefore, seems to describe those who are free from spiritual impurity and unfaithfulness; those who have not worshipped the beast and his image. Alford, however, thinks the words should be understood literally. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These words describe the great source of the bliss of the redeemed, viz. that they are continually in the presence of Christ. This is their reward for following him on earth; but the words must not be taken as referring to the earthly course of the saints (as Bengel, De Wette, Hengstenberg, and others). These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb; these were purchased from among men, the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb. Some have erroneously concluded that a reference is made to a portion of the redeemed to whom special honour is conceded; or to some who attain to glory before the rest. The firstfruits were the best of their kind (Numbers 18:12), selected from the rest, and consecrated to the service of God. So the redeemed are the best of their kind; they who have proved themselves faithful to God, who voluntarily separated themselves from the world, and consecrated themselves to the service of God while in the world, and who are thus afterwards separated by him and consecrated to his service forever.
And in their mouth was found no guile; no lie (Revised Version). They had not suffered themselves by self deceit (the second beast) to be beguiled into worship of the first beast—the world. Alford very appropriately refers to Psalms 15:1, Psalms 15:2, "Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart." For they are without fault before the throne of God; they are without blemish. The following phrase is omitted by nearly every authority. The word ἀμώμος, "without blemish," reminds us of the "Lamb without blemish" (cf. 1 Peter 1:19; Hebrews 9:14). Thus again they receive appropriate reward. While on earth they kept themselves undefiled; now they are, like the Lamb, free from blemish (see on Psalms 15:4).
And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven. "Another" is omitted in some manuscripts, but should probably be inserted. "In mid heaven," as in Revelation 8:13, etc. Having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people; having an eternal gospel … every nation and tribe and tongue and people. Probably (though not certainly) "the gospel" in the ordinary sense, which is the signification of the expression throughout the New Testament, though the word is not found elsewhere in St. John's writings. The idea of this and the following verses is to portray the certainty of coming judgment. As a preliminary to this, the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, in accordance with our Lord's words in Matthew 24:14. The gospel is eternal in its unalterable nature (cf. Galatians 1:9), and in contrast to the power of the beast, which is set for destruction (cf. Revelation 13:7). The fourfold enumeration shows the universal nature of the proclamation of the gospel (cf. Revelation 5:9, etc.) in reference to the world.
Saying with a loud voice. Λέγων, "saying," in nominative, though agreeing with the accusative ἄγγελον," angel." The "great voice" is characteristic of all the heavenly utterances (Revelation 14:2; Revelation 11:12, Revelation 11:15, etc.). Fear God, and give glory to him. Thus the angel proclaims the gospel in opposition to the second beast, who bids those that dwell on the earth to make an image to the first beast (cf. Revelation 13:14). Compare the effect of the coming judgment, described in Revelation 11:13. For the hour of his judgment is come. This is the reason given for the fear mentioned. That it has effect is seen by Revelation 11:13. Is come; that is to say, is at hand. And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters. As remarked above, the angel thus directly opposes the invitation of the second beast to pay homage to the first beast. Again we have the fourfold enumeration of objects of creation, denoting the universal nature of the assertion (cf. on Revelation 11:6).
And there followed another angel, saying; and another, a second angel, followed. That is, of course, the second of the three who here make their appearance in close connection. Each new scene is unfolded by its own special messenger. Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication; fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, which made, etc. The second "is fallen" is omitted in א, C, etc., but is inserted in A, P, some cursives, versions, and Fathers. Omit "city." Babylon is the type of the world power. Like so much of the Apocalypse, the image is supplied by the Book of Daniel. There the kingdom is spoken of as great (Daniel 4:30; cf. also Isaiah 14:1-32.). In its oppression of the Jewish nation, Babylon is a type of the world power which persecutes the Church of God. At the time when St. John wrote, this power was preeminently possessed and wielded by Rome, and that empire may thus be intended as the immediate antitype of Babylon. But the description is also applicable to the persecuting power of the world in all ages, and its denial of and opposition to God. Babylon is representative of the world, as Jerusalem is of the true Church of God. Alford observes, "Two things are mingled:
(1) the wine of her fornication, of which all nations have drunk (Revelation 17:2); and
(2) the wine of the wrath of God, which he shall give her to drink. The latter is the retribution for the former; the former turns into the latter; they are treated as one and the same." The description seems taken from Jeremiah 51:7, Jeremiah 51:8, "Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed." Again is the figure of fornication used to depict idolatry and general unfaithfulness towards God (see on Jeremiah 51:4).
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice; and another, a third angel, etc. (see on Revelation 14:8). (On "loud voice," see on Revelation 14:7.) If any man worship the beast and his image. Here those who worship the beast and those who worship his image are regarded as one class, which they practically are (but see on Revelation 13:14). This is the fornication referred to in Revelation 14:8, the retribution for which follows in Revelation 14:10. And receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand; a mark; but doubtless the mark of the beast alluded to in Revelation 13:16 (which see). In his forehead, etc. (see on Revelation 13:16).
The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; he also … which is mingled unmixed (i.e. undiluted) in the cup of his anger (Revised Version). The warning is given to men while there is yet time; the fall of Babylon, which is prophetically spoken of as having taken place (Revelation 14:8), being yet in the future; that is to say, at the end of the world. The language in which the retribution is couched corresponds to that in which the sin is described (see on Revelation 14:8). The verb κεράννυμι, which originally signified "to mix," gradually came to signify "to pour," from the ancient custom of mixing spices, etc., as well as water, with the wine. The Authorized Version "poured out," therefore, is a correct translation. The pouring is in this case not accompanied by dilution with water; that is, God's wrath will not be tempered, but the wicked will feel the full force of his anger. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb. The figure which is here used to portray the punishment of the wicked is common in the Bible. Isaiah 34:9, Isaiah 34:10, cf. with Genesis 19:28, may supply the origin of the simile. The punishment is in the presence of the angels and of the Lamb; that is, probably, the purity and bliss of heaven is visible to the wicked, and the sight of it, combined with the knowledge of its in- accessibility to themselves, is part of their torment (cf. Luke 16:23). It is part of the wrath of God described in the first part of the verse.
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. Compare the wording of the passages quoted above on Revelation 14:10, especially Isaiah 34:9, Isaiah 34:10, "The smoke thereof shall go up forever." This statement of the eternity of punishment is also in agreement with Luke 16:26 and Mark 9:44. And they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. "No rest," in contrast with the blessed rest of the saints (Mark 9:13). Wordsworth says, "Οἱ προσκυνοῦντες τὸ θηρίον is a stronger expression than 'those who worship the beast;' it means those whose distinguishing characteristic is that they are worshipping the beast, and persist in worshipping him, even to the end. This characteristic is so strongly marked that they are here represented as keeping it even after their death." (On the "mark," see on Revelation 13:16-18.)
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus; here is the patience of the saints, they that keep, etc. The patience of the saints is exhibited in believing in, and waiting for, the due retribution which will overtake the wicked at the last, and in maintaining the conflict against the dragon who goes to war with those "who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 12:17), the testimony which is the outcome of faith (see also on Revelation 13:10).
And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me. It seems most natural to suppose that the voice is that of the angel who directs the visions of St. John (cf. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 19:9, Revelation 19:10), but there is no certainty in the matter. Omit "unto me." with א, A, B, C, P, and others. Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. "Henceforth" should probably stand thus, and not in connection with the following sentence. We have just had mentioned the necessity for patience on the part of the saints; here we have an encouragement and incentive to that patience, inasmuch as they who die in the Lord are henceforward blessed. In what their blessedness consists, the next sentence slates. The full consummation of their bliss may not occur until after the judgment, but the faithful have not to wait until then for peace; their conflict is, after all, only for this life, and thus they may well be content to suffer for so short a period (comp. Revelation 6:11). Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them; that they shall rest … for their works, etc. The first part explains the "blessedness" of the previous passage; in this rest consists their blessedness. The last clause, "for their works," etc., explains why the blessedness consists in rest; they have henceforth no need of labours, for the effects of their former works accompany them and permit them now complete rest. Contrast the opposite fate of the wicked, described in verse 11. St. Paul urges upon Christians the same duty, and proffers the same encouragement: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58).
And I looked, and behold a white cloud; and I saw, introducing a fresh phase of the vision (see on Revelation 14:1, etc.). White; the heavenly colour (see on Revelation 3:18, etc.). Cloud is the symbol of Christ's glory (Acts 1:9, Acts 1:11; cf. Matthew 24:30, "And they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven;" also Revelation 1:7, "Behold, he cometh with the clouds"). And upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man; one sitting. That Christ is here intended is shown by
(1) the cloud (cf. Luke 21:27, "They shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud");
(2) the expression, "Son of man" (cf. John 5:22, "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son;" and John 5:27, "And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man;" and Acts 17:31, "He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom he hath ordained");
(3) the white colour (cf. Revelation 6:2);
(4) the golden crown, which distinguishes him from the other appearances. He who, as Man, redeemed the world, comes as Man to judge the world. He sits, because he comes in judgment. Having on his head a golden crown. The crown, of victory, στέφανος, which he gained as Man (cf. also Revelation 6:2, where the description is similar). And in his hand a sharp sickle. With which the "Lord of the harvest" (Matthew 9:38) reaps the harvest of the world. The figure is found in Joel 3:12, Joel 3:13, "Then will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe" (cf. also John 4:35-38).
And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud; another angel; in addition to those already mentioned, not implying that he who sat on the cloud was an angel. Out of the temple, or shrine (ναός); the inner sanctuary of God (cf. Revelation 7:15). The angel acts as the messenger of the will of God to Christ in his capacity of Son of man, because the command is one concerning the times and seasons which the Father hath kept in his own power (Alford). The characteristic "loud voice" (see on Revelation 14:7, Revelation 14:9, etc.). Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe; send forth thy sickle and reap: for the hour to reap is come; for the harvest of the earth is over ripe (Revised Version). Over ripe, or dried; that is, as Alford explains, perfectly ripe, so that the stalk is dry, the moisture having been lost.
And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped. "Cast his sickle;" not the same verb as that in Revelation 14:15, but which, nevertheless, has the same signification (cf. the use of this verb in John 20:25, John 20:27). There are two gatherings described in this place:
(1) the harvest of the earth by the Son of man;
(2) the gathering of the vintage by the angel.
On the whole, it seems probable that the first refers to the selection by Christ of the faithful at the end of the world, while the secured describes the ingathering of the wicked for punishment immediately afterwards. This agrees with the general tenor of the whole chapter, viz, a portrayal of the opposite fates in store for the faithful and the wicked. The description thus corresponds with the account of the end of the world given in Revelation 7:1-17., with which chapter this one has so much in common (see on the first verses of the present chapter). In Revelation 7:1-17. the saints are first selected and sealed, before the wicked meet their doom. Thus, also, the judgment is described by our Lord in his parables of the wheat and the tares, and the sheep and the goats. This accounts also for the first gathering being presided over by the Son of man, while the second is conducted by an angel. The punishment in connection with the vintage seems to distinguish it from the first harvest. This also corresponds to the announcements of the former angels, who first preach the everlasting gospel, and afterwards denounce those who serve the beast (Revelation 7:6-11).
And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle; from the shrine, or sanctuary (as before, see on Revelation 14:15), the dwelling place of the undivided Trinity, from whence come God's judgments (Alford; cf. Revelation 11:19).
And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over fire. Both in Revelation 6:9 and Revelation 8:3 the altar is connected with judgment. The angel here described is he who is referred to in those places, the fire being the fire of the altar, the fire of judgment (Revelation 8:3), or, less probably; the angel who has power over fire generally (as Revelation 7:1; Revelation 16:5). And cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying. Again the "loud voice," characteristic of the heavenly utterances (cf. verse 15, etc.). Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe; send forth thy sharp, etc. (see on verse 16). The sickle is figurative of the instrument by which the career of those on earth is terminated. The "sickle" and the "wine press" are both alluded to in the passage quoted above (on verse 14) from Joel 3:13. (For the meaning of this gathering of the vintage, as representing the punishment of the wicked, see on Joel 3:16.)
And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth. This angel is described in quite a different manner from "him who sat on the cloud" (Revelation 14:16). And cast it into the great wine press of the wrath of God; into the wine press, the great [winepress], etc. The feminine substantive has agreeing with it a masculine adjective. It is doubtful whether we ought to see in this anything more than a mere slip of grammar. Possibly the word is of either gender. It is connected with the festival of Bacchus. Wordsworth, however, accounts for the masculine form of the adjective by supposing that the writer wishes to give a stronger force to the word, and to emphasize the terrible nature of the wrath of God. We have the same image in Revelation 19:15, and it seems derived from Isaiah 58:1-14, and Lamentations 1:15. Destruction by an enemy is alluded to as the gathering of grapes in Isaiah 17:6 and Jeremiah 49:9. The text itself explains the signification of the figure. There seems also some reference in the language to those who "drink of the wine of the wrath of her [Babylon's] fornication" (Jeremiah 49:8).
And the wine press was trodden without the city. "The city" is Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 14:1), that is, the Church of God; the idea thus being either
(1) that the wicked are punished in a place apart from the just (cf. Revelation 22:15); or
(2) that no unclean thing (e.g. the blood) can enter the city of the saints (cf. Revelation 21:27). And blood came out of the wine press, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs; as far as sixteen hundred stadia. The Greek stadium is rather less than an English furlong, being about six hundred and six English feet; it was the length of the race course at Olympia, and the eighth part of the Roman mile. The "blood," of which the juice of the grape is a type, depicts the punishment inflicted. Horses seem to be mentioned by proleipsis, in anticipation of Revelation 19:14. The description, of course, implies the terrific nature of the punishment—probably nothing more. In the same way the distance mentioned is no doubt intended to denote the extensive nature of the punishment, though why that particular number is chosen is not absolutely clear. Possibly it is derived from the square of 4 multiplied by the square of 10; four being significant of the created world (see on Revelation 4:6), and ten being the sign of completeness (see on Revelation 13:1); the number thus portraying completeness as regards the created world, and the inability of any one to escape God's judgment.
Light gleams in the darkness. "Without fault!"
The apostle in this book never keeps us too long in the shade without a break. Just as, after the terrible convulsions depicted in the sixth chapter, we had the glorious vision of the blest in heaven in that which followed, so it is here. We have watched the working of three of the foes of God and of his Church. Now we are bidden to turn our eye upward, and behold again the hundred and forty-four thousand whose blessedness had been already portrayed. "And I saw"—the formula which introduces a separate vision. "Behold!"—indicating abruptness and surprise. The raging of the dragon and of the two wild beasts is exchanged for the sight of purity and calm. "A Lamb." The Lamb. The Lamb of God. "Standing on Mount Zion." Mount Zion was where the temple stood. The old Jewish figure sets forth new Christian realities. "Ye are come unto Mount Zion," etc. (Hebrews 12:1-29.). "The hundred and forty-four thousand." We have seen them before; we recognize them again. They are not only seen, but heard (Revelation 14:2, Revelation 14:3). "They sing," etc.—are singing. Their melody and harmony ring in the apostle's ear. "As it were a new song." Not actually new. It is the old, old song of redemption which is their theme. But their circumstances are so changed that it is sung with new joy, and through endless ages it will be ever new. Only those can learn this song who are redeemed from the earth. It befits only the Church of God; and not only is their position clearly defined, but their character is definitely given (Revelation 14:4). There are "more to follow." For these whom the apostle saw are but the "firstfruits." In the fifth verse, however, there is one expression concerning them—a very short one, it is true—so significant, that it attracts us more than all the rest; it is one on which we love to linger. It is this: "They are without fault."
I. LET US STUDY THIS CHARACTERISTIC OF THE SAINTS IN HEAVEN. We say, "in heaven," for there need be no fear as to whether we are right in doing so. They are "redeemed from the earth" (Revelation 14:3): this points to what they were. They are with the Lamb on Mount Zion: this tells us where they are. They are the "redeemed:" this tells us how they came to be where and what they are. The assertion that they are "without fault" is much more striking than if it had been made by man. It is a phrase inbreathed by the Spirit of God, telling us that in the sight and light of heaven itself they are "faultless." Shall we try and see what a character without flaw would be? The expression must mean:
1. That there is nothing wrong in them. Not a single sin do they commit. Every word, deed, and thought is pure. Nor is there even any sinfulness of nature out of which aught that is corrupt can arise. Not one inferior motive mars their actions; not one waste by thought intrudes into their devotion. Nor is there the least wish or thought but such as is perfectly in harmony with the will of him who sits upon the throne.
2. There are no infirmities of nature. Those frailties which, though not sinful, yet may be the inlets of sin into a disordered constitution, and may make it more difficult to resist evil, are done away. Here the physiological accidents of our birth are perpetually telling on us, causing each of us to be surrounded by an easily besetting sin, and making it hard to withstand temptation. The eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, yea, any member of the body, may be an occasion or a vehicle of wrong. But in the redeemed on high, all this is forever done away. True, this is only the negative side of their character. Only the negative! Blessed would it be if we could present such a negation! In consequence of this, however—because there is nothing to repress the growth or manifestation of what is Divine—the image of God in them must needs be seen in its perfection. Not that each one will be equally developed. There will be many a flower whose opening has been retarded by chilly winds and adverse weather, and that has been waiting for eternity's sun to shine upon it ere it opened its petals at all. Besides, there must be different stages of growth, etc. "One star differeth," etc. Remembering this, let us glance also at the positive side of their character. Their judgment is sound. Their perceptions are clear. They see light in God's light. Every perception of truth is attended with corresponding emotion, and every recognition of duty is followed by corresponding action. Every determination of the will is "holiness unto the Lord." Their work for God is as perfect as their wills are pure. Their social life is all that it should be. Intense sympathy with each other's joys marks them all. Benevolence moves the heart to kindly willing, and beneficence prompts the hand to kindly action; while the sense of a common obligation to a redeeming Lord causes them to unite in the "new song" with rapturous and transcendent joy. But, ah! what pen can sketch the life of beings so perfectly Divine? All that we can say is poor. We can conceive more than we can say. But the one touch of our text suggests that which surpasses alike word and thought—they are without fault!
II. THE PASSAGE SHOWS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THEIR PRESENT FAULTLESSNESS AND THEIR EARTHLY LIFE. This it does in two ways. It shows us:
1. God's work for and on them.
(1) They were purchased (Revelation 14:3; cf. Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:10; Tit 3:5; 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 7:14).
(2) They were begotten (Revelation 14:3); "purchased to be the firstfruits," etc. (cf. James 1:18).
(3) They were sealed (Revelation 14:1, "his name … written," etc.). This is the triple order of the Divine work in every case (Ephesians 1:13, Ephesians 1:14). The sealing marks them
(a) as God's own,
(b) as the object of God's care,
(c) as having forthwith on their forefront the badge of service.
Their constant motto is, "Whose I am, and whom I serve." There is also indicated:
2. Their work for God.
(1) Acknowledged devotion to God and his cause. The seal on their foreheads, while graven by God, is also a visible and constant pledge of loyalty and fidelity to him. Secret discipleship is not the law of Christian life. Men are to say, "I am the Lord's."
(2) Avoidance of sin. They stand in contrast from those named in Revelation 14:9-11; and are those specified in Revelation 15:2. They have gained the victory over
(b) the first beast, or worldly pomp;
(c) the second beast, or ecclesiastical show;
(d) all filthiness of the flesh and spirit (Revelation 15:4).
(3) "Following the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." These are the men. There is no mistaking them; their marks are plain enough. They stand out from the crowd while on earth, and in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation shine as lights in the world. The Word of God abideth in them, and they overcome the wicked one. Surely it is natural to expect for such a continuity of life. Theirs is just the life which may well give promise of emerging out of the great tribulation to the calmer scenes above. It is by no "sudden strange transition," by no leap from complacent impurity to spotlessness, that they find themselves there. Ah! no. Their being without fault is but the completion of a work which was going on here; it is a receiving the last finishing touch and impress of the Spirit's seal. That last impress stamped out the marks of the last sin.
III. SUCH SCENES AS THESE SHOULD HAVE OVER US AN ELEVATING POWER.
1. The very fact of such an issue being set before us as the rightful goal of the individual life is of itself an ennobling of human existence. There is, it may freely be confessed, something to inspire one in the thought of the race rising to any such greatness after evolution has had time enough to work out to such an issue. But when the deduction has to be made of the extinction of individuals in the race process, the heart is taken out of us the moment our hope sets to work. The redeeming grace of God rescues the individual, and gives him a living hope. And one of the most painful features of the day is to find many, trained and nurtured in, and even saturated with, the beautiful and consoling truths of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, casting away from them the only props on which such a hope can rest. The hope survives a while, but cannot long continue when its support is gone. The only alternative is supernaturalism or despair. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
2. We may well admire the high standard of gospel morality. Some there are who accuse us of a low-toned morality in preaching, "Believe, and be saved." One would think that we stopped with the word "believe," and went no further. But; the fact is, no sinful man can start fairly for holiness until he has a firm standing and a new power. Faith in a living Saviour ensures both these, and faith in him alone.
3. Let us be filled with thankfulness that we are permitted such a fore glance of those who once
"Wrestled hard, as we do now,
With sins, and doubts, and fears."
What they were, we are. What they are, by the grace of God we too may be.
4. Be it ours to imitate those who have gone before. The victory they now enjoy was not won without many a hard struggle. Supposing we had before us now two men: one, a model of faultless social propriety, yet steeped in self complacency; the other, the worst of publicans and sinners. We would gather from the scenes reviewed in this chapter a word of equal appropriateness to both. To the open sinner we would say, "You may be separated from your sins, if you will. Christ will kill them and save you!" To the other we would say, "You must be separated from your pride; for you can no more enter heaven in your spirit of self righteousness than the most openly abandoned sinner." Mercy is free to all. The best need it. The worst may have it. Without it, we must all likewise perish.
5. Let no Christian struggler despair. God is able to keep him from falling, and to present him faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.
The three angels.
The varied scenes in this book are, to us, not so much pictures of events which, when once occurring, exhaust the meaning of the prophecy, but rather representations of what is continuously going on and repeatedly renewing itself—of present day realities, and not merely of passing incident. The passage before us, looked at in this light, is full of most stimulating teaching; full of comfort to those whose faces are set in the right direction, and full of terrific warning to others. We can bear a great deal if we know what the worst wilt be, and that sooner or later it will be over. To see through a trouble is a great relief in it, and, a fortiori, if at the end there is glory. In these sentences will be found the key to a great deal in the book, and, in fact, an indication of its aim. The believer is shown that there is much tribulation awaiting the Church ere the end shall come; but there will be an end to it, and brightness beyond it. It is otherwise with the scene set before the ungodly. In their horizon there is no discernible ray of light. And all the visions of this book thus alternate between the light and the shade. In the paragraph before us for present study we have a vision of three angels flying in the midst of heaven. Their messages are precisely those which are being given throughout the Christian age; they belong as much to this century as to any other; to any other as much as to this. They give three messages which are perpetually true. We wilt study their messages seriatim.
I. THE FIRST ANGEL. (Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:7.)
1. He has something.
(1) What is it? "A gospel"—good tidings. £ We know what these are. Free salvation forevery penitent.
(2) For whom is it? For "every nation," etc. No nation so civilized that it is not needed. No nation so degraded that it will not suffice.
(3) For how long? "An eternal gospel." One that will be suitable, true, and adequate throughout the whole age for which it is intended. To the end of the age there will be no other. No advance in natural knowledge can ever put men beyond the need of it, and no philosophy of man can ever be any substitute for it.
(4) For what purpose? To proclaim it. It is to be heralded far and wide. Not merely as a witness, to condemn the rejectors of it; but mainly as "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." This gospel is the rod of God's strength.
2. He says something. To this gospel (in itself a message) there is also attached a message: "Fear God... the hour of his judgment is come." Κρίσις, not κρίμα—the judging process ever going on; not the issue, or sentence. The way in which man receives the gospel is in itself a test or proof of what he is. "For judgment I am come into this world." This is not the hour of God's final sentence. That is in reserve. But it is a judging hour. Whenever and wherever the gospel is preached—and only there—is the actual trial going on, whether men will turn to the light or turn from it. Men are called on to give glory to him, acknowledging his majesty, confessing their sin, and receiving God's pardon.
II. THE SECOND ANGEL. (Revelation 14:8.) He has to make the proclamation, "Babylon the great," etc. It seems as if this were inserted by anticipation. The fuller detail of riffs is given later on. "Nothing," says Dr. Lee, £ "is more marked than the contrast which is maintained between Babylon as the type of the world, and Jerusalem as the type of the Church. The one is introduced by the foundation of Babel soon after the Deluge; the other by the establishment of the house of David in the city of Zion. Babylon is a scene of confusion. Jerusalem is as a city that is compact together." Babylon breaks up. Jerusalem is the city that emerges out of the ruins. Thus the second angel is a coworker with the first. One is God's messenger to draw men out of the world. The second is one who proclaims the certain downfall of the great world agency which has set up its false attractions and lured men by its harlotry to forsake the Lord. And from the very first the sentence hath gone forth against this great Babylon, that she must fall. The false in life, in religion, in commerce, must go. All wickedness is decaying, and will utterly perish before the Lord. The heathen were wont to say, "The feet of the gods are shod with wool, but their hands are hands of iron."
III. THE THIRD ANGEL. (Revelation 14:9-11, "If any one," etc.) This is a proclamation to the individual. "If (τίς) any one." The judgment on great world powers may be national; that on the individual is personal. The former in this life only; the latter in the next also. "Worshippeth;" present tense, "is worshipping." If any is so found when the Lord cometh to judgment, if he is then drinking of "the wine of the wrath of Babylon's fornication," another cup shall be given him ("him" emphatic). "He also shall drink," etc. Of what? Of the wine of the unmixed wrath of God. Unmixed wrath? What can that be? God grant that we may never know! But may we not say thus much? It will be pure and holy wrath, unmixed with any foreign ingredients. It will not he marred by weakness, nor by excess, nor by defect. It will be a pure and perfect equity dealing with sin. The figurative expressions here—"fire," "brimstone," "smoke"—are terrible ones, drawn from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and only such figures will avail to set forth the destructive and devouring effect of holy wrath upon a guilty soul. What is the effect? "No rest;" "torment." There never can be any rest for a guilty conscience under the sway of Infinite Holiness. To those ill at ease with God there must be torment. The structure of mind and conscience necessitates this. For how long? "Forever and ever" (Authorized Version); in the margin of the Revised Version, "for ages of ages." This is the more nearly exact translation of the original. It does not affirm the absolute endlessness of the punishment. Since the word "age" has a plural, it plainly is not necessarily infinite. For no such word could have a plural. Infinity cannot even be doubled, much less be multiplied indefinitely. Further, no finite multiple of a finite term can possibly reach infinity. So that to affirm the absolute unendingness of this punishment would be to go beyond the text. At the same time, it is equally clear that the words are so terrible that they do not bring in sight any end of it. Nor is there the slightest gleam of light in the horizon for the finally impenitent.
More at length, elsewhere, has the present writer developed this dread theme. £ The position to which we are shut up in Scripture is this: God has not shown us an end to future punishment. We dare not affirm that it never will end; but if any one does that, he does it entirely at his own risk. Objection: "But this phrase is the very strongest which is employed in the Word of God to denote absolute unendingness. We reply, No. It is a fearfully strong expression for an indefinitely prolonged period; but there are stronger expressions; e.g. "Thy kingdom is a kingdom of all the ages" (Psalms 145:13); "To him be glory … through all the generations of the age of the ages" (Ephesians 3:21); "My salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished" (Isaiah 51:6); "Not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an indissoluble life," etc. (Hebrews 7:16). The strongest expressions, which declare absolute unendingness, are reserved in Scripture for the good alone. Even when we grant all this, however, the outlook for the wicked is one of unspeakable gloom; of a night with no revealed morn beyond it. There is, however, one more feature of this penalty. It will be inflicted "in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb." There is a profound interest taken in the destinies of man in the distant places of creation. The angels are supremely concerned for the honour of the Son of God. And they will acknowledge that God's judgments are right. The Son of God, too, who died for us, will himself be the Judge. All things are put into his hand. "God so loved the world that he gave his Son;" but he does not love less that Son whom he gave. And while he will not dishonour that Son by letting any sinner who repents remain unforgiven, so neither will he dishonour him by letting any one who rejects such a Saviour remain unpunished. Finally, we deem it of infinite moment, when a preacher has to handle these awful themes, that he should show with vivid clearness that it is sin which is to be mainly dreaded, rather than its penalty. Sin is the infraction of law. The punishment is God's defence of law. Could we wish for a time to come when existing sin would not be punished? Could we wish that the punishment of sin should be in any other hands than those of a pure and holy God? Could we wish that God should give a law, and never guard its honour? Could we wish that he should give us a gospel, and then let it be rejected with impunity? Could we wish that he should surrender the Son of his love, and then let him be trampled underfoot, and remain unvindicated? "But," it may be said, "while I fully confirm that, still I do long for the time to come when sin will cease altogether." Be it so. If God wills it, so it will be sooner or later; but we cannot find any clear disclosure of that. Three things only remain for us to see to:
(1) To hate sin as God hates it.
(2) To seek his grace to slay it in us.
(3) And then to cooperate with him in putting it down everywhere.
A voice from heaven: the blessed dead.
However deep the gloom in which the description of the future struggles of the Church may plunge us, the Holy Ghost never suffers it to be indefinitely prolonged. We have stood with wondering awe amid the deep recesses of a glacier, and, as if lest the chill should be too severe and the gloom too intense, many a chink overhead let in a light and a glow that revealed wondrous glory above. Even so, as we stand in the midst of the threatening conflicts of the Church, we see light let in from above—a glory shining in the gloom. Thus it is here. We have witnessed the rise and power of the dragon, of the first beast, and of the second beast. We have looked upward and caught a glimpse of the heavenly state. We have heard the voices of the three angels, proclaiming
(1) the everlasting gospel,
(2) the fall of Babylon the great,
(3) the punishment of the ungodly; and again there is a gleam of heavenly brightness shining in upon us.
A voice is heard—whose, we are not told—but it is a commanding voice, under the direction of the Holy Ghost, and that is enough for us. Moreover, it is from heaven, from the realm of light, from the region whence the shadows have fled away. From that higher region the changing scenes of life and death, of struggle and of victory, are beheld; and from the clearer light in which these earthly incidents are viewed, there is an emphatic testimony given to us which is of priceless value. As so much of the book deals with the struggles of earth, it is restful indeed to be permitted to hear something as to how they fare who have passed beyond them.
I. IN THIS DYING WOULD THERE IS A FEATURE WHICH DISTINCTIVELY MARKS SOME DEATHS. "The dead which die in the Lord." The, dead which are dying. The believers in Christ under the present dispensation, who are, one by one, passing away, are evidently intended. "Dying in the Lord" is no vague expression. It defines. It includes. It limits. Otherwise were there no meaning in the phrase. It indicates, indeed, nothing special as to the physical mode of decease; nor as to age; nor as to the accidents of death. The expression, "from henceforth," is ambiguous. (For various interpretations, see expositors.) We incline to the opinion that the "henceforth" here referred to is the time of weariness, in which the faith and patience of the saints wilt be severely tried by the raging of the powers of evil; that it will be blessed to die in Jesus, and pass away to the realm where the weariness (cf. ἐκ τῶν κόπων αὐτῶν) will be known no more. The significance of the expression, "die in the Lord," should be carefully studied. Deaths are not alike any more than lives are. The deaths of Lazarus and Dives were as widely different as their lives. To die "in the Lord" is the natural sequence of living to the Lord. No change of state can affect the relation of believers to their Saviour (1 Thessalonians 5:10; Revelation 1:18). Such a dying as is here referred to must include
—in Christ—all going on in the act of dying, as really as in the act of living. Whether we live or die, we continue to be the Lord's. Once his, we are ever his.
II. THERE ARE MANIFOLD GROUNDS ON WHICH WE KNOW THOSE TO BE BLESSED WHO THUS DIE IN THE LORD. Each phrase in the text is full of meaning.
1. Their blessedness is declared by the Holy Ghost. "Yea, saith the Spirit."
2. It is proclaimed to the apostle by a voice from heaven.
3. There is a command to place it on record for all time.
Each of these three lines of thought is indicated by the words of the verse. Much more is indicated, however, by the doctrine underlying the expression, "in the Lord." This phrase is used to express the unique relation between Christ and the believer. It is constantly recurring. "In Christ." From this the blessedness of those dying in him may be confidently affirmed; e.g.:
1. Our Lord, in his work for men, contemplated the whole duration of their existence.
2. He is the Saviour of man's whole nature—body, soul, and spirit.
3. Our Saviour's work for believers touched every point of their need.
4. He is himself the Lord of life.
5. Being in him is enough for time and eternity. We know whom we have believed.
6. He is guardian of believers as much after death as before it. Hence it must be the case, "Blessed," etc.
III. WE ARE DISTINCTLY TOLD IN WHAT THE BLESSEDNESS CONSISTS. There is no ground in Scripture for asserting the sleep of the soul between death and the resurrection. It is, indeed, only "the body" which "is dead because of sin; the spirit is life because of righteousness." And Jesus expressly declared that whoso keepeth his sayings should never taste of death. "Absent from the body," they are "at home with the Lord." Not, indeed, that the fully glorified state is theirs as yet, nor will be till the resurrection. Not till Christ, our Life, is manifested, shall we be manifested with him in glory. The heavenly life has three stages. The first beginning at regeneration, and closing with the dissolution of the body. The second beginning at death, and ending at the resurrection. The third beginning with the resurrection, and never ending. It is this intermediate stage which is pronounced "blessed." They are blessed in death, and blessed after it. "The having died is gain" (τὸ ἀποθανεῖν). How?
1. Negatively. "They rest from their labours."
(1) From struggles with sin.
(2) From wearying conflict.
(3) From every fault and flaw.
(4) From all the frailties incident to a disordered frame.
2. Positively. Their works follow with them. They not only leave behind them blessed impulses which will follow after their earthly works have ceased, but they take with them their works into another life; i.e. the works of faith and patience and holy activity which were the outwork of their devotion and zeal were a part of themselves; they not only expressed what they were, but they played their part in the growth and perfecting of their characters. And not only so, but the Lord, into whose presence they are ushered at death, sees both them and their works too, as one. As Ewald, "Their works are so far from being lost through their death, that they follow them into eternity" (quoted in 'Speaker's Commentary,' in loc.). The same law works in the case of the righteous as in the case of the wicked. "Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before them to judgment; i.e. a man goes into eternity, plus his works, whether they be good or bad. Blessed, indeed, is it when the works have been those of faith and love, which, though in many cases forgotten by the worker, shall be remembered by the great Saviour Judge.
IV. A COMMAND IS GIVEN TO PUT THIS ON RECORD. The truth contained in this verse is too precious a one to be left to the uncertainty of a merely verbal tradition. We know not to what shreds and patches our glorious gospel might by this time have been reduced, had it been thus left at the mercy of floating reports handed down by word of mouth. It was "safe" to write this. The value of this truth is simply unspeakable.
1. It shows us that death is not a terminus of life, but an incident in living. It is a change of states under the guardian care of a Divine Redeemer, who loves his own too much to let them perish.
2. In the light of such a truth, we should dread death less. Nay, more; we ought not to dread it at all. Our Saviour has passed through the gates of the grave himself, that he might deliver them who through fear of death have been all their lifetime subject to bondage.
3. A right use of this truth will prepare us for enduring with more calmness and bravery the trials and hardships of this life. Persecution. Insult. Martyrdom. What fretfulness under sorrow is often shown by those who abandon the evangelical faith! Life of Carlyle; a man who, though a prodigy of intellectual acquirement, lived a life which was one continuous whine.
4. Let us not grieve unduly over those who are gone. If they have died in the Lord, and if we are living in the Lord, we shall go to them, but they shall not return to us. We can rejoice in the thought of the increasing wealth of our treasure in the heavenly state, as saint after saint is caught upward into light.
5. Let us look forward hopefully and cheerfully to our own future. What work the Master may have appointed for us we cannot foresee, nor do we at all know when we shall be called up to join the "men who are made perfect." But we need not wish to know. It is enough for us that they and we are one.
"The saints on earth and all the dead
But one communion make;
All join in Christ, their living Head,
And of his grace partake."
6. Knowing how well we are cared for in life and in death by our blessed Lord, let us concentrate all our energies on glorifying our Lord. This is the conclusion to which the Apostle Paul himself arrived. Knowing that when we are absent from the body we shall be at home with the Lord, we should make it the object of our supreme ambition to be well pleasing to him. This, indeed, is our one concern. To work, and love, and obey, and wait. And in time our Master will come and fetch us home, and we shall be forever with him.
Any attempt to interpret the visions of this book as if they followed each other chronologically only, will inevitably fail. Sometimes, at any rate, the visions are such that they overleap the near future and glance forward to one far more remote. In fact, speaking generally, the order of them is far more moral than it is temporal, following not so much the order of years as the evolution of principles and the growth of souls. It certainly is so in the paragraph before us, in which we are carried forward in thought and symbol to Heaven's great harvest day—a day of which our Lord had himself spoken, not only in a parable, but in an exposition of that parable (Matthew 13:1-58.), in which terms that were figurative and symbolic are exchanged for such as are plain. It will be a study of no small interest to see how our Lord, in his communication to his apostle from heaven, sets forth the same truth which he had taught to his disciples when on earth. Revelation 14:14, "I saw, and behold, a white cloud." This is the symbol of the Divine presence, so that we are not surprised when we read further, "On the cloud I saw one sitting like unto the Son of man"—emblem of the Lord appearing in his glory—"having on his head a golden crown"—in token of royalty—"and in his hand a sharp sickle"—setting forth the work for which he will come in his glory, viz. to reap "the harvest of the earth." Revelation 14:15, "Another angel … crying … Send forth," etc. That this angel came forth out of the temple speaks his authority as from thence. Nor should it seem strange that thence should come the commission to the Son of man to reap. For as the Son of man, our Lord has his authority and appointment from the Father (John 5:22, John 5:26, John 5:27). Revelation 14:16, "He … cast his sickle upon the earth." The final reaping is under the superintendence of the Son of man. Revelation 14:17, "Another angel … he also having a sharp sickle." The ministry of angels will be employed by our Lord in gathering in the harvest (Matthew 13:1-58.). Revelation 14:18, "Another … he that hath power over fire." Each of our Lord's host has his own department of service. "Her grapes are fully ripe"—have reached the acme of ripeness,—their full growth. Revelation 14:19, "The angel … gathered the vintage of the earth." As believers are branches in Christ, the living Vine, bringing forth good fruit, and only good, so there shall be an earthly product, a mimicry of the heavenly, bringing forth bad fruit, and only bad. "And cast it into the wine press … of the wrath of God." A striking figure drawn from the Old Testament (see Isaiah 63:1-6). As there, so here, the treading of grapes in the wine press represents the defeat of the foes of God and of his Church. Revelation 14:20, "Without the city." The Church is the city of God. All the wicked are outside of it. "There came out blood from the wine press" (cf. Genesis 49:11; Deuteronomy 32:14). The sap of the grape is called the blood of the grape, as being the element of its life. In an actual material conflict actual blood would he shed. Here the whole of the reality is in the spiritual realm, though the figures are drawn from the material. The main, yea, the sole thought is the defeat of the enemies of God. "Blood … even unto the bridles of the horses." It is said in Revelation 19:14, "The armies which were in heaven followed upon white horses," etc. The hosts of God ever have, ever do, ever will, join him in trampling down the foes of righteousness. And it is but the carrying out the figure when the chapter speaks of the blood coming up to the bridles of the horses. "As far as sixteen hundred furlongs." Hengstenberg understands this as equivalent to "a judgment encircling the whole earth." £ What can we learn in so obscure a vision? We reply—The vision is not an obscure one, if we let Scripture be its own interpreter. There are at least six lines of high and holy thought, which, on the basis of it, may be profitably followed up.
I. LONG, LONG BEFORE THE END COMETH, THE SPIRIT OF GOD HAS TOLD US WHAT IT WILL BE. We gather not only from other Scriptures, but from the fact that our Lord spoke in parables when on earth, and thus set forth truth in parable when he spake from heaven, that there is an analogue between the earthly and the spiritual kingdoms. As in the natural world there are tendencies ever at work which move forwards towards development and completion, so is it in the Spiritual. "First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear." So is the kingdom of God. And because the great Creator perfectly understands the tendencies of today, he can with entire certainty forecast the issues of the last day. In fact, the foreknowledge of God is an infinite power of the calculation of chances. As he knows perfectly the meaning of what is today, he clearly sees what will be on any given day. And in his fellowship with men, he has taught them to write the main feature of the end, viz. the harvest time of seed already in the ground, whether good or bad.
II. IT IS A MANIFEST FACT THAT THERE ARE ON EARTH AT THIS MOMENT MEN IN THE TWO WIDELY DIFFERENT CLASSES OF GOOD AND EVIL. No one can deny this unless he ignores plain facts before every one's eyes. There are men who are stainless in their sanctity. There are others who are fiendish in their vileness. And it is not in reference to such widely contrasted lives that men find so much difficulty. Many years ago, an Oxford professor remarked that there were some who had never known anything about repentance towards God or faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and who yet therefore could not be classed among the wheat, yet they were externally so moral and irreproachable they could not be classed among the tares! What was his conclusion? That there must be an intermediate class! There is another and a sounder conclusion. Our Lord declares there are two, and but two. But even if there are some that seem to us to come between, we dare not impeach the verdict of him who searcheth the hearts. The fact is, we can understand only issues. Christ can discern tendencies. He knows them now, and by their fruits we shall know them. Germs. Growth. Development. Manifestation.
III. FOR WISE REASONS, NOT ALL OF WHICH ARE KNOWN TO US, BOTH GOOD AND EVIL ARE TO GROW TOGETHER SIDE BY SIDE. The good have to confront the evil and keep it in check. The evil is permitted to counterplot the good and to retard its spread. But we must not speak only in the abstract. Rather let us say, good men, evil men. For when we bring human nature, with all its powers of willing and combating, into the question, then we can at once see that at least one purpose is gained by this temporary comingling together. Good men are made better, sturdier, and braver for having a conflict to endure. And much of the evil is turned into good through the grace of God. Note: Do not let us fall into the millennarian heresy of supposing that the tares are going to increase prodigiously and the wheat to diminish, until the Lord comes. There is not one Scripture text for that. Scripture only says, both are to get riper—the good, better; the bad, worse.
IV. AT THE TIME FORESEEN BY GOD THIS 'PROCESS WILL, ON BOTH SIDES, BE CONSUMMATED. Do we understand by this that in the spiritual world there comes a time when character cannot possibly advance further either in goodness or in wickedness? We do not so understand it. Analogy is not identity, but only resemblance with some difference. And because there is all the difference between natural growth and spiritual, we must not expect a resemblance on every point. But two points are certainly clear, and a third is possible.
1. A time will come in the development of character when all doubt ceases as to what a man is.
2. Then there can be no question whether his destiny is the garner or the fire.
3. It may be that then no such thing as a change of character is possible. Eternal punishment will only be in the case of eternal sin (Mark 3:29, Revised Version).
V. AT THIS STAGE THE GREAT REAPING TIME WILL COME. Then the commission to consummate all will be fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:41). The angels will be the reaper band. The result will be the complete manifestation—the final division—the great decision. The gathering in of the righteous into the kingdom. The trampling down the grapes in earth's vineyard in the wine press of the wrath of God! Dread words! whose detail no pen of man can sketch; but that towards one end or the other every one is at this moment tending, is one of the most certain of the laws of human nature.
VI. THIS DREAD VISION IS GIVEN US FOR HIGH AND HOLY PURPOSES.
1. It should relieve those whose faith and patience are now being so sorely tried by the growth of error and sin. Both are putting on riper forms than ever. Well, the end will come. "The fire will try every man's work."
2. It should lead us all to estimate the value of this life. The end towards which we all are tending is one of ripeness, either in righteousness or sin.
3. It should lead each one to look solemnly at the fact that, however long it may be before the universal consummation will be,
(1) God will act then on the very same principles on which he worketh now.
(2) Now there are working in us tendencies which shall be developed then. The law of continuity holds in the Divine procedure. The law of growth in human character. Note: There may be in grace, what can never be in nature, the conversion of tares into wheat. If this is to be, it must be before the harvest day.
(3) The sickle may cut down individuals long before its final thrust.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The perfect Church.
How well it is for us, in forming our estimates and in regulating our conduct, to have set before us a true ideal and a faultless standard! To compare ourselves with ourselves, that is, with men like ourselves, is, so St. Paul tells us, not wise. And all experience proves the truth of his word. The low levels of ordinary religious life in the present day all result from our practically, not professedly, putting before ourselves standards which are faulty and inferior, instead of those which would be constantly summoning us to higher and holier attainment. Now, the Word of God is ever furnishing us with such perfect standards. Our Lord again and again bids us turn our gaze heavenward, that we may see there how we ought to judge and what we ought to be. How frequently he speaks of our Father in heaven, that we may beheld in God the true ideal of all fatherhood! And that we may the better understand and act towards our children, he tells us that "in heaven their angels do always behold," etc. And when his opponents murmured, as was their wont, at his receiving sinners and eating with them, he rebuked them by the reminder that in heaven there is not murmuring, but joy, even over "one sinner that repenteth." And here in these verses we who belong to the Church on earth have given to us a vision of the perfect Church—the Church in heaven. And the contemplation of it cannot but be well for us, that we may judge thereby our beliefs, our worship, our selves, and seek more and more to conform them to the heavenly pattern. Observe, then—
I. THAT WE CANNOT LIMIT THE CHURCH TO ANY ONE VISIBLE CORPORATE BODY. The claims of any such Church body here on earth to be exclusively the Church, and the denial of membership therein to all outside that body, are shown to be false by the fact that the notes and characteristics of the true Church are found in many Churches, but exclusively in none. There are, thank God, few Churches, if any, that have not some of them. Out of all of them the Church is gathered, but to no one of them is it confined. The members of the Church are described here as having the name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ "written upon their foreheads." Now, this is a figure of speech to tell of the character of those who form the Church; that that character is:
1. God like. It is the Father's name which is written; hence they who bear it are holy and without blemish, perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect.
2. Visible. It is written on their foreheads. The light shines before men; it cannot be hid. That godliness is much to be questioned which no one can see, or which is hidden away and kept for only certain seasons, places, and surroundings. That which is here said teaches the reverse of such a doubtful thing.
3. And it is permanent. It is "written." "Litera scripta manet." It abides, not being a thing assumed for a time, and like the goodness told of by Hosea, which as the "morning cloud" and "early dew goeth away." It is the habit of the life, the continual characteristic of the man. Such, in general terms, is the distinguishing mark of membership in Christ's true Church. And again we gratefully own that in all Churches it is to be found. Would that it were on all as in all!
II. THE CENTRE OF THE WORSHIP OF THE PERFECT CHURCH IS "THE LAMB." St. John says, "I beheld the Lamb;" not "a Lamb," as the Authorized Version reads. He does not stop to explain. He has so often spoken of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb, that there can be no room for doubt as to his meaning. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, not so much in his more majestic attributes—his might, majesty, and dominion—that we are bidden behold, but in his sacrificial character as "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world." As such he is the Centre of the Church's adoration. He is seen on Mount Zion, that site of Israel's temple being taken continually in Scripture as the symbol of the home of God's redeemed and the scene of their eternal worship. He is surrounded by the Church of the Firstborn—"the firstfruits" unto God, whom he has redeemed by his blood. The number named here, twelve and the multiples of twelve, is ever associated with the Church. And the twelve times twelve tells of the Church's completion, the "accomplishment of the number of the elect." Now, in the midst of that perfect assembly, that Church of which these are the representatives, stands "the Lamb" as the Object of the adoration, the love, and the worship of all. That Church on earth must, then, lack this distinct note of the heavenly Church if in it Christ the Son of God, as the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Sacrifice for the world's sins, be not lifted up as the Object of all trust, love, and obedience, and if he be not so regarded by the members of such Church. Let us ask—What is he to ourselves? How do we look upon him who is thus looked upon by the Church in heaven? In the midst of our Zions, do we see, as the chief, the central, the pre-eminent figure, the Lamb of God? And in the inner temple of our own hearts, is he there enshrined and enthroned as he hath right and ought to be? What is our hope and what our trust? How can we ever hope to be numbered with "the Church of the Firstborn," if the name of him, to which every heart there responds, awakes no echo, no answering thrill, in us? Our lips utter that name often enough, and in all manner of ways; but what do our hearts say? That is the question to which this vision of the Lamb on Mount Zion, surrounded by the adoring Church, should give rise in every one of us. And may God grant that it may meet with a satisfactory answer!
III. THE WORSHIP OF THE PERFECT CHURCH IS A JOYFUL WORSHIP. We are told that "they sung a new song." Joy finds utterance in song; it is its natural expression; and when, therefore, we read of the songs of heaven, it is proof of the joys of that blessed place. The worship of heaven takes this form. Here, prayer and preaching form, and properly form, part of our worship; but there, praise alone is heard. Here, we wail our litanies and pour forth our supplications; but there worship is all song—the voice of glad thanksgiving and joyful praise. How much is told us of the blessed future in that one fact! And of this song we are told many precious things.
1. How full voiced it is! St. John likens it to that "of many waters"—that loud, resonant sound as when the floods lift up their voice, or the sea roars, or where some vast volume of water pours itself from over a great height to some far down depth. What a sound comes up from that boiling caldron of tossing waves! The magnitude of the sound of that song is what St. John seeks to set forth by his similitude of "many waters."
2. And its majesty also is indicated by its comparison to "a great thunder "—the voice of the Lord as they of old regarded it. It is no mean, trivial theme that has inspired that song, but one that wakes up every heart, and opens the lips of all the redeemed, to show forth the praise of him who hath redeemed them. It is a noble song, grand, glorious. How could it be otherwise, telling as it does of deeds of such Divine heroism, of conquests of such moment, and of sacrifice so vast?
3. And how sweet a song is it also! For St. John supplies yet another similitude: its sound was like that "of harpers harping with their harps." So sweet, so soul subduing, so full of heavenly delight, that it brought smiles to the saddest countenance, and wiped away all tears. And is not the song of redemption just such a song as that? Even we know of songs of Zion so unspeakably beautiful, and set to music such as, it seems to us, even angelic choirs might rejoice in. But if earthly song can be so sweet, though coming from lips and hearts so little pure, what must that song have been which is told of here, and which St. John can only compare, for its unutterable beauty, to the strains of the most perfect instruments that the ancient world knew of—the harp, Judah's national symbol, and best beloved accompaniment of praise? But not alone the mingled magnitude, majesty, and sweetness of the sound of this song is set forth here, but also its substance.
4. It was "a new song." There had never been anything like it before. They who sang it had never joined in, or even heard of, such song till they sang it in the presence of. the Lamb on Mount Zion. It could not but be new, for it was inspired by new and glorious revelations of God; sung amid conditions and surroundings that were all new, and by hearts and lips made new by the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit of God. Much there had been in days past for which they had been constrained to praise and give thanks, but till now the half had not been told them, and hence none of their old songs would serve. They must sing a new song; it could not but be new.
5. And it was known by none but those who sang it. "No man could learn that song but," etc. How can he who has never even been to sea know the joy of him who has been saved from shipwreck? Who but the child knows the mother's love? The song told of here is but the result of the experiences through which they who sing it have been led. How, then, can they sing it who have known none of these things? But those represented by the hundred and forty-four thousand know the depths of sin and sorrow from which, and the heights of holiness and joy to which, and the love by which, and the purpose for which, they have have been uplifted. They know the conviction of sin, and the joy of pardon, and the Holy Spirit's grace, and the love of Christ. But what does the unbeliever know of these things? and how, therefore, can he learn this song? The question comes—If such be the worship of the heavenly Church, are our Churches on earth preparing their members to join therein? Churches here should be vestibules for the heavenly Church. Is the Church with which we are associated so to you and me? No one can learn that song unless they be redeemed. Have we the qualification? Have we come to Christ? Are we trusting in him? "We must begin heaven's song here below, or else we shall never sing it above. The choristers of heaven have all rehearsed their song here ere they took their places in the choir of heaven." But only Christ can touch the soul's sin darkened eye, and cause it to see that truth which will make redemption precious, and hence he who is our Saviour must be also our Teacher. So only can we learn the new song of his redeemed.
IV. ITS MEMBERS ARE WITHOUT FAULT. After that the blessed condition of the redeemed has been set forth, we are next shown their character. The general and symbolic expression which tells how they all have the "Father's name written on their foreheads" is expanded and explained by the more definite declarations which we must now notice. It is said "they are without fault," or "blameless," as the Revised Version reads; and the apostle specifies four of the chief temptations to which they had been exposed, and which they had resisted and overcome.
1. And the first he names is that of impurity. In the unusual expression in which this sin is referred to, there is no countenance of any teachings which would give higher place to the single over the married life. If the unmarried alone are amongst the redeemed, it is questionable if one of the apostles of our Lord would be found there. But that which is pointed at is those sins of which it is best not to speak, but which we know full well have their roots in the very centre of our nature, and which it is a lifelong struggle to repress and subdue. But this must be done, and—blessed be he who saves not only from the guilt, but the might of sin!—it may be done, and is being done, even as it was with "these" of whom our text tells.
2. Half heartedness. Great was, and great is, the temptation to follow Christ only along paths not difficult. But to follow him "whithersoever" he went—ah! how many would be and are sore tempted to shrink from that! They would follow their Lord for some way—even at times a long way; but to follow where difficulty, danger, disgrace, death, waited for them—from that how many would shrink! But "these" did not.
3. Conformity to the world. "These" had the holy courage to be singular, to come out "from among men," to go against the stream, to be other than the rest of men. low difficult this is those only know who have tried to do as "these" did. The assimilating power of the society in which we mingle is almost resistless, and often it is full of spiritual peril. It was so to those for whom St. John wrote, and not seldom it is so still. Hence we have to go unto Christ "without the camp, bearing his reproach." "These" did this, and so won the high honour and rich reward told of here.
4. Insincerity. When to confess Christ meant, perhaps, the loss of all things, yea, their very lives; when martyrdom was the guerdon of faithful acknowledgment of their Lord, how tremendous must have been the temptation to tamper with truth, to conceal, to compromise, to evade, to equivocate! But of "these" it is said, "in their mouth was found no guile." He who is the God of truth, yea, who is the Truth, ever lays great stress on this virtue of guilelessness, whilst deceit and lies are declared abominable in his sight.
CONCLUSION. Such was the character of that perfect Church—"the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb." Doubtless there were all other forms of Christ likeness—love, patience, meekness, and the rest—for the varied forms of Christ's grace as seen in character are generally found in clusters. Where you find some you generally find others, yea, in some measure, all of them. But as we read of only what is said here, our heart well nigh despairs, and would altogether were it not that the same source of all goodness is open to us as to them of whom we here read.
"Oh, how can feeble flesh and blood
Burst through the bonds of sin?
The holy kingdom of our God,
What man can enter in?"
And the sad reply would be, "None," were it not that he who summons us to such high attainment ministers all needed grace. Therefore we may and we must be "holy as he is holy."—S. C.
The greater salvation.
"Firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb." From this and the many like expressions which are scattered over the New Testament, we gather that there is a salvation greater and less. For here it is said that these hundred and forty-four thousand are "firstfruits." Therefore we learn—
I. WHAT THESE ARE NOT.
1. They are not all the saved. The very word indicates that there is much more to follow. They are but the beginning. Nor:
2. Are these firstfruits the mass of the saved. True, a large number is named, but what is that compared with the "great multitude that no man can number, out of every," etc.?
II. WHAT THEY ARE. The word "firstfruits" teaches us that these thus named are:
1. The pledge of all the rest. Thus Christ has "become the Firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15:20). He is the pledge and guarantee that in him "all shall be made alive." And so the natural firstfruits of corn guaranteed the rest of the harvest. For the same sun, and all other nurturing forces which had ripened the firstfruits, were there ready to do the same kindly office for all the rest. And so we are told, "The Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies." The same power is present for both the first and after fruits.
2. The pattern and representative of all the rest. Compare the first and after fruits. In the main they were alike; and so in the spiritual world also. But:
3. The firstfruits were pre-eminent over the rest. They were specially presented to God, and held in honour; so was it with the natural grain. But, without question, there is pre-eminence implied in being the firstfruits of the heavenly harvest.
(1) In time. Theirs is "the first resurrection," of which we read in Revelation 20:1-15.—that resurrection of the dead which St. Paul calls "the resurrection," and "the mark" towards which he pressed, if by any means he might attain unto it (Philippians 3:1-21.). "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years," etc. (cf. Revelation 20:1-15.).
(2) In honour. St. Paul called it "the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Now, a prize implies special honour. And our Lord tells us that there is a "first" and "last" in the kingdom of heaven; "a least" and "a greatest." "One star differeth from another star in glory." There is "an entrance administered abundantly," and there is a "being saved so as by fire." As here there is no dead level of reward, so we might believe, and we are taught, that there is none such in heaven. Infinite mischief is done by the belief that all will be equally blessed, equally honoured, equally like God. It is as if we had adopted the creed of Ecclesiastes, where we are told, "One end cometh alike to all," instead of St. Paul's, who tells us, "What a man soweth that"—not something else—"shall he also reap," in quantity and quality too.
(3) In service. That they were pre-eminent here, who that knows their history on earth, or reads even this book, will question?
(4) In character. See how they are described as to their spiritual purity, their unreserved consecration, their separateness from the world, their guilelessness and freedom from all deceit.
(5) In the approval of God. Of them it is written, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:1-15.). How could it be otherwise than that such as they should stand highest upon the steps of the everlasting throne, and nearest God and the Lamb?
4. They are the elect of God. In another part of this book they are spoken of as "the called, and chosen, and faithful." They answer to the description of God's chosen, and so we learn that "whilst all the elect are saved, all the saved are not. elect" (Alford). All are not firstfruits, greatest, first, in the kingdom of heaven. The very words imply order, gradation, rank. But it is for us to take heed as to—
III. WHAT WE SHOULD STRIVE TO BE. There are some who say that they will be content if they can only "get just inside the door of heaven "—such is the phrase. This sounds very humble minded, and if it be so, then those who thus speak are just those who would not be content with any such place. For, and to their credit be it said, they are such as desire to be like their Lord—to resemble him, to possess his Spirit, and to please him in all things. But if they desire, or will be content with, the lowest place in heaven, they must get rid of all these beautiful and blessed qualities. But rather than this they would die. Too often, however, the phrase is but a substitute for diligence and faithful following of Christ. They are content to be but little like their Lord; they do not follow after holiness in the fear of God; they are the worldly hearted, those the least worthy of the Christian name. But who would be content to be as these? Who would not be in full sympathy with St. Paul, who said, "I labour … to be accepted of him" (2 Corinthians 5:9)? Ours, then, is to be not contented with any lowest place—if we be, there is grave doubt whether we ever attain to that—but to "press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus."—S.C.
Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:7
The gospel of judgment.
St. John beholds "another angel flying in mid heaven, having an eternal gospel to proclaim." Concerning this gospel note—
I. IT IS NOT THE GOSPEL. The gospel is that which tells to sinful man that there is eternal life for him in Christ; "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." This is a very different gospel. It is one of judgment. Its message is, "The hour of God's judgment is come." And the message of the second angel (verse 8) points to one scene where that judgment has already fallen; and the message of the third angel (verse 9) is one of awful threatening against the sin which would bring the judgment upon "any man." Very far removed, then, is this gospel from that which we commonly understand by the word "gospel."
II. BUT IT IS A GOSPEL. Any message that announces the destruction of a power that is cursing the human race, and spreading misery and despair on all sides, must be a gospel. Like the news that a ferocious wild beast that has slain many is at last itself slain. There have been men who, from their crimes, their ambition, their unscrupulous cruelty, and the devastations that they have caused, have won for themselves the name of "enemies of the human race." When, then, these cruel oppressors have met their fate and been overthrown, the tidings have justly filled men's hearts with joy. In view of similar facts, the psalms bid us "Sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth … for he cometh to judge the earth." Judgment and joy are joined together as cause and effect. And so here this message from God, that "the hour of his judgment has come," is a joyful message, a gospel. In the New Testament Christ's destructive work, his overthrow of Satan and all the power of hell, is, as is right, gratefully and constantly commemorated. And to the persecuted Church, groaning beneath the oppression of the tiger in human shape, who then ruled the world, and whose thirst for blood no amount of slaughter could slake, must it not have been a gospel for them that this angel proclaimed?
III. AND IT IS AN "ETERNAL" GOSPEL. For not once alone, but throughout all the ages of the world, its message has been sooner or later embodied in deed. The tyrants and oppressors of God's people have been hurled from their place of power which they had so abused, and have had to meet and endure the awful judgment of God. The records are in the Bible, and in all the world beside. It is a fearful fact for him to face who, Pharaoh like, is hardening himself against God, but a blessed fact for those who groan beneath his cruelty. It is the conviction of this eternal gospel which gives patience to men who witness cruelty and outrage inflicted on those who cannot defend themselves. They know that the God of this gospel lives, and in due time will reveal and vindicate himself as the Refuge of the distressed, and the Helper of the helpless.
IV. AND IT IS FOR ALL NATIONS—FOR HUMANITY AT LARGE. As in Revelation 13:7 "the beast" had power given him by the devil "over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations," so now this gospel was to be proclaimed from the mid heavens, where the angel was seen swiftly flying "over [the word, ἐπὶ, is the same] every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people." God forgetteth none; he knows and is touched with the sorrows of all; he is the all Father, the "our Father, which art in heaven." His "chariot wheels" do doubtless oftentime seem "long in coming;" but he will come. Man anxiously scans the heavens, and frequently fails to see the angel that St. John saw; but the rush of his pinions shall one day be heard, and the brightness of his countenance shall one day be seen, and the "great voice" with which he shall give forth his message shall fall upon our listening ears. Let all who hope in God rejoice; let all his foes and ours be in great fear.
V. GOD IS CONCERNED TO MAKE IT KNOWN. The gospel is entrusted to men. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels," said St. Paul, "and he hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." But this gospel of judgment is committed to an angel, who is seen flying swiftly to make proclamation of it far and wide. These facts, that it is an angel to whom it is entrusted, that the angel flies swiftly, that he proclaims his message with "a great voice,"—all seem to point to the Divine urgency and concern that it should be made known. Nor is the reason far to seek. There is nothing so hinders man's belief in the goodness of God as the experience of the cruelty of his fellow man. The children of Israel would "not listen" to Moses, who came to them with the good news of deliverance, "by reason of their bondage." Their fellow man was the highest placed of any being they knew, and he was hard and cruel, and shut out sight and thought and faith of that far other Being, who was their fathers' God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And how many there are who through fear "are all their lifetime subject to bondage"! It is of no use to proclaim to such a scheme of mercy; they ask for justice—justice upon their oppressors, justice for themselves and those who suffer with them. Men can believe in and respect justice without mercy, but they can neither respect nor believe in mercy without justice. Therefore, to the great company of the oppressed, the proclamation of judgment is a gospel, and must precede the message which we specially call the gospel. And therefore the angel is sent, and on speedy wing and with loud voice the gospel of judgment is proclaimed.
VI. WHAT SHOULD BE ITS EFFECTS.
1. The fear of God. (Verse 7.) What other could result from such a message? And a blessed result it would be.
2. The giving of glory to God. From the delivered people, and from those who were filled with salutary fear, there would be this giving of glory. And this for God's revelation of his righteousness; for his deliverance of them from oppression. And on the part of the wicked who had heard and believed God's warning, they would give glory for that they had been spared, and not cut off in their sins, as they well might have been.
3. Worship. This, with fear and the giving of glory, had been demanded for "the beast" by himself, and the demand had been complied with. But it is now demanded for God, who, as the Creator of all things and the Judge of all the earth, alone has right to worship. Oh that wherever there be a hardened heart, the message of judgment may come with such power as that there shall be real repentance, revealing itself in holy fear of God, in giving him glory, and in the worship of his Name!—S.C.
The voice of the second angel: the judgment of Babylon.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY "BABYLON"? There can be scarce any doubt that the name points to:
1. Persecuting Rome. She is spoken of under this pseudonym because it was not safe to write, or in any way openly utter, words which might be construed as treasonable to the empire. There were laws sharp and stern, and accusers only too willing to bring those laws into action, which would involve in ruin and death those who spoke or wrote such open word. Therefore under this disguise, penetrable enough by the Christian Church, the name of Rome, her cruel and relentless persecutor, was concealed. Because also she stood in the like hateful relation to the Church of God as in ages gone by Babylon had stood to the Church of her day. Babylon had been of old, as Rome was now, the ruthless ravager and the bloodthirsty destroyer of God's people. And as the judgment of God was denounced and came upon Babylon because of her crimes against God's Church, so now like judgment had been denounced, and was about to come upon Rome for her crimes against the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as Babylon had been one of the world wide empires, so now Rome occupied the same pre-eminence. None could compare with Babylon, in the days of her greatness, for wealth or power or glory; and so, when St. John wrote this book, none could compare, in any of these respects, with Rome. And there is yet, perhaps, another purpose in this name here given to Rome—the purpose to recall to the mind of the suffering Church the certainty of the coming judgment on Rome, by the fact that such judgment had come on Babylon.
2. All persecutors. The mind of God to such is shown by what he did to Babylon of old. He would have us learn that he will ever do the like to those who sin in like manner. Did ever any persecuting power find that it bad done wisely and well? Let the records of history reply from Egypt down to Spain.
3. And all idolaters. Idol worship was not a merely intellectual preference for one form of religion rather than another; had it been only that it would not have brought down upon it so many awful judgments, nor have been branded with so foul a name. But it was a system of abominations; it was "earthly, sensual, devilish." It was a religion that laid no constraint on the passions, no bridle upon the will; that left man to his likings so only as the ceremonial of idolatry was observed. And every religion that leaves man thus has an idol. A creation of the mind, if not of the hands, instead or God, is idolatry in substance, whatever it may be in name.
II. IN WHAT SENSE COULD BABYLON BE SAID TO HAVE FALLEN?
1. Rome had fallen in a very real way when St. John thus wrote. For there had been a great moral fall. Rome had a noble past. God had raised her up to great power, had endowed her with magnificent qualities, and made her the mother of many noble sons. In the unfolding of the great drama of Divine providence, she had a high and honourable part to fill, and none who know her history can deny that for a long time she fulfilled the wilt of God. But an evil spirit took possession of her, and then she became what is here said. Cruelty and lust, pride and oppression, and whatever was unclean and abominable, found welcome and home in her. "Fallen" was the absolutely true and righteous verdict that could alone be given concerning her. But there was to be an outward fall corresponding to this inward one. And it is spoken of as already come, because:
2. It was already decreed. The sentence had gone forth, and was but awaiting execution.
3. It had begun. An empire that had become the prey and prize of one successful general after another; that might be won and lost any day at the caprice of bribed bands of soldiers, had lost all stability, and was already "as a bowing wall and a tottering fence."
4. But chiefly because it was so soon to be accomplished. To the quickened vision of the seer, the barbarian nations were already plunging over her borders, and wasting and destroying on every hand. Rome was to him as if already in the deadly grip of those fierce hordes who should one day crush out her life. The vision was so vivid to him that he speaks of it as actual, real, and present. And in all these senses the judgment of God is gone out against ungodly men. "Condemned already" is our Lord's word for such; and "is fallen, is fallen," is St. John's. Oh for the quickened vision to make all this real to godly men, that they might labour and pray more in order to "snatch brands from the burning;" and to ungodly men, that they might "flee from the wrath to come"!
III. THE GROUNDS OF THIS AWFUL JUDGMENT. It was no arbitrary sentence, nor one that had been hastily or without righteous reason pronounced. Yea, there had come to be imperative necessity for it, and it would have been unrighteous had it been withheld.
1. Rome had come to be one mass of corruption. St. John adopts the prophetic style, and speaks of the "wine of her fornication," by which he means that she had come to "work," not "all uncleanness" alone, but all manner of godless abomination besides, "with greediness;" as with greedy grip the drunkard grasps the wine cup. Rome had become a "putrefying sore." Let Tacitus tell.
2. And she was the seducer of others. Holding the position she did, she could not but be a fountain of influence for all cities and lands that came under her wide reaching rule. And she had corrupted them all; she had "made all nations drink of the wine," etc. And he who branded forever the name of Jeroboam the son of Nebat because he "made Israel to sin," has here again declared his wrath against all, whether nations or individuals, who do the like. And:
3. The cup of sin becomes the cup of wrath. Such is the Divine law. This is the meaning of the condensed sentence, "the wine of the wrath," etc. The wine of her sin, and the wine of God's wrath upon it, are drunk out of the same cup. "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red … but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them" (Psalms 75:8). "Our pleasant vices," Shakespeare tells us, become our scourge; and life is full of proof that so it is. At the bottom of every cup of sin there is "wrath." Ah! what need have we all to offer continually the prayer, "Give us a heart to love and dread thee, and diligently to live alter thy commandments"!—S.C.
"The most awful threatening the Bible contains"
(Bengel). Undoubtedly it is so. It makes our flesh creep and our heart shudder as we read it. It is to be noted, that these three angels (Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:8, Revelation 14:9), who "excel. in strength" bear messages of increasing severity. The first bids us "fear." The second tells of the dread judgment upon Babylon. This third threatens all men everywhere with like and yet more awful doom, if they "worship the beast" or "receive his mark." Now—
I. WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
1. It seems to mean that the ungodly shall be punished with incessant and unspeakable torments in hell fire, and that forever and ever. This is the doctrine that has been deduced frown this passage again and again. It is one of the buttresses of the popular theology. It is always quoted in support of this doctrine, and is regarded as one of the chief of the proof texts. But if it do teach this, we ask:
(1) Would not the language be more clear? Who certainly knows what the two beasts, the first and second, stand for? Who can do more than guess, with more or less of probability, what St. John meant by them; much less what it was intended we, in our day, should understand by them? And what is "the mark of the beast "? and how do men receive it "in their forehead," or their "hand"? We may think we understand all this. But can any one be sure? But consequences so awful as are threatened here would not be told of in language so ambiguous. If we today be threatened with such doom, the offences that incur it will surely be set forth in words unmistakably plain, and not such as we find here.
(2) May not temporal judgments be so described? May not the same language be used for something quite different from what it is said this means? Yes, for Isaiah thus speaks of Edom (Isaiah 34:8-14): "The smoke thereof shall go up forever." The temporal judgments that came upon Edom are thus described. And so, in Revelation 18:1-24., we have word for word the fulfilment on earth, not in Gehenna, of the threatenings we are now considering (cf. Revelation 18:9, Revelation 18:15, Revelation 18:18). Why, then, may not temporal judgments be what are meant here?
(3) Why, in the closing vision of this book, are death, hell, and the lake of fire, pain, sorrow, death, and all such things, declared to have "passed away" and to be "no more" (cf. Revelation 21:1-27.)? All these things have not been transferred to some other planet, to defile its surface and darken its heavens. They have "passed away," he alone abiding who "doeth the will of God."
(4) Why is the language of the Bible so constantly of such a kind as to lend the strongest colour to the belief that death, destruction, perishing not a never ending existence in suffering—is the doom of the finally impenitent? That this is so can hardly be denied. The passage before us is, probably, the only one which seems to teach everlasting suffering.
(5) And, if it were a Divine doctrine, would it not, like all other Divine doctrines, "commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God"? The truth that St. Paul preached did so commend itself. If this be part of it, why does it not also so commend itself? It is notorious that it does not. Conscience revolts against it, and insistence upon it has generated more unbelief and atheism than, perhaps, any other cause whatsoever. We, therefore, cannot believe that what this passage seems to many minds to mean, it actually does mean. But:
2. We note the following facts.
(1) The occasion of this threatening. Terrible persecution, when it was absolutely necessary to fortify and strengthen the minds of Christians with every consideration that would help them to be faithful under the dreadful trials that beset them.
(2) And in this way this threatening, and others like it (cf. Matthew 10:1-42.), were used, and were no small help to the steadying of the wavering will and the strengthening of the feeble heart. "The ancient Cyprian often strengthened his exhortations to steadfastness under bloody persecutions with this word."
(3) The fulfilment of this word (cf. Revelation 18:1-24, and parallels). Therefore, whilst not limiting it to temporal punishments:
3. We regard it as telling of that "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord," which shall be the doom of all apostates and all who persist in rebellion against the Lord.
II. WHAT DOES IT TEACH? Amongst other lessons these:
1. The retribution of God upon unfaithful and wicked men is an awful reality.
2. That in the midst of temptation the remembrance of this will he a great help.
3. That it is the love of God which tells us the truth.
4. That they are fools and self destroyed who will not "come unto" Christ that they "might have life."—S. C.
The blessed dead.
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth." By such word as this it is that Christ "hath abolished death." True, it is at the side of the open grave and over our dead that we read them, so that the stern, hard fact of death is still with us, and often well nigh crushing our hearts with its load of sorrow. Death yet reigns. But his sovereignty is shorn of its worst power, since words like these felt upon the ears and hearts of men. The Vale, vale, in aeternum vale! of broken hearted paganism is gone, never to return. The broken pillar and the extinguished torch are no longer fit emblems to place over the grave of our loved ones. The pillar rears its fair shaft and lacks not its beautiful coronal, and on the eternal shore the torch burns more brightly than ever, and is by no means gone out, though our dim eyes for a while see it not. And this unspeakably precious gospel, which brings us such glad tidings of great joy, it is which some men want to silence as effete and incredible, that they may substitute for it their own dismal speculations, the only outcome and clear utterance of which is that, in regard to religious faith, there is nothing solid under our feet, nor clear over our heads; all is one great "perhaps;" nothing certain—nothing; neither soul, nor God, nor eternal life. To all such we say, "If we be dreaming, as you affirm, then for God's sake let us dream on, unless you have some better, surer belief to which we may awake." But let us now think awhile of the unspeakably precious truth our text contains. And we note—
I. WHOM IT CONCERNS.
1. Those "in the Lord." "It is obviously of the utmost moment that we rightly understand who are spoken of. Alas! the context has warned as that the blessing here pronounced is not for all. The blessed dead are placed in marked contrast with those who in this life have borne the mark of the beast, which is the world, in their forehead and upon their hand. How glad are we, for ourselves and for those dear to us, when it comes to the last solemn moment, to forget that there is any distinction between the death of the righteous and of the wicked; between the death of one who has loved and served Christ, and of one who has lived 'without him in the world'? It seems so hard to preserve that distinction" (Vaughan, in loc.). But there it is, and may not be overlooked, though, to the unspeakable hurt of men's souls, it too often is. Now, "to die in the Lord," we must first have been "in the Lord." And can any be said to be "in the Lord" if they never think of him, never call upon him, never look to him, and never seek to live to him? "In the Lord" is the constant phrase which tells of a living trust and hope and love towards the Lord; and how can the description be applied where none of these things are? God help us all to remember this!
2. And these when they are dead. Just then, when we want to know something of them; when with streaming tears we yearn
"For the touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still."
II. WHAT IT SAYS OF THEM.
1. That they are "blessed." What unspeakable comfort there is in this assurance for those who are left behind! Not unconscious, for such high epithet as "blessed" belongs not to mere unconsciousness. Not in purgatorial pains, for neither could that be called blessed. Doubtless Christ's transforming, assimilating power, through the energy of the Spirit of God, goes on in the departed believer, as it is necessary that it should. For St. Paul teaches us that "he who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Therefore that good work is going on still; death does not hinder, but accelerate it. But the process is not by those hideous means which mediaeval monks imagined, and which the very word "purgatory" suggests. But they are blessed; that is enough to know, enough to uplift the mourner's heart.
2. And immediately that they quit this life. Such is the meaning of the word "henceforth." "It means substantially even now; not merely in the new Jerusalem which is one day to be set up on the renovated earth, but from the very moment of their departure to heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.).
3. They die to rest. "Yea, saith the Spirit, in order that (ἱνα) they may rest [or, 'that they shall rest'] from their labours." Death, therefore, is for them but the Divine signal that the day's work is done, that the evening hour has come, and that they are now to go home and rest. The wearisome work and toilsome trying task, which has often well nigh worn them out—such is the significance of the word "labours"—all that is over, and death is the Lord's call to them to now lie down and rest.
4. Their works follow with them. Not their labours, the element of distress and pain in their work, but their works. How do they follow? Perhaps:
(1) In that they are carried on still. They were works for the honour of their Lord, for the good of their fellow men—prayers and endeavours to draw others to Christ, intercessions for the Church of God, all manner of beneficent deeds. Are all these to cease? Is there no room for them where the blessed dead now are? Shall the sainted mother who here besought the Lord for her children that they too may be saved—shall she cease that "work"? The Lord forbid that she should; and our text seems to tell us that she, and all they like her, will not, for their works follow them.
(2) For reward. There is the scene, there the day, of recompense. Not here or now. "Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids straight before thee." "Oh how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee!"
(3) In their effects upon their character. We cannot see the soul, we saw only the man, and faulty enough he was, we well knew; but all the while, as the days of his life went on, and this or that work was put upon him to discharge, the soul was, by means thereof, as the marble by the sculptor's chisel, being wrought into a condition of beauty and faultlessness such as from the first had been in the Creator's mind.
(4) As ministers to their joy. The joy of gratitude that they were enabled to undertake and accomplish them. The joy of knowing that as seed they will yield blessed harvest, and, perhaps, of witnessing that harvest. St. Paul spoke always of his converts as his "joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus." Such "works" will be a joy to remember, to look upon in their results and to continue in. They cannot but be, every way, ministers to our joy.
III. THE EMPHASIS THAT IS LAID UPON IT.
1. It is declared by "a voice from heaven." This voice "may well be conceived to be that of one of 'the just made perfect,' testifying from his own experience what the true members of the militant Church on earth have to expect in heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). When we remember that the attestations to our Lord's Divine Sonship were made in similar manner by a voice from heaven, this declaration is thereby lifted up to a like high level of authority and importance.
2. It was commanded to be written. "This command to 'write' is repeated twelve times in the Revelation, to indicate that all the things it refers to are matters of importance, which must not be forgotten by the Church of Christ."
3. It is confirmed solemnly by the Holy Spirit. "Yea, saith the Spirit." With such solemn sanctions are these words so inestimably precious to the Church, introduced to our notice and commended to our reverent heed.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF ITS PROCLAMATION.
1. It was a truth most necessary for the time when it was given. See the circumstances of the faithful Church, how fearful their trial, how dire their need of all and everything that would fortify their minds amid such awful temptations to be unfaithful to their Lord. And what truth could be more helpful than such as this?
2. And it is needed still.
(1) To comfort us concerning our departed brethren in Christ.
(2) To strengthen us in view of our own departure.
(3) To cheer us amid work that often seems thankless and unfruitful, although it be the "work of the Lord."
With our hope we ought never to be weary in such work. Noble work has often been done by men who had no such hope. Think of the three hundred at Thermopylae. Think of the holy men of old to whom the grave seemed to end all, to be the place where they should be "no more," and yet who became heroes of the faith (cf. Hebrews 11:1-40.).
(4) To every way ennoble and elevate our lives.
(5) To draw forth our love and devotion to him "who having overcome the sharpness of death, hath opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Are these purposes fulfilled in us?—S.C.
The harvest and the vintage.
It is held by many that both these refer to the same fact of God's judgment against sin and sinners. And no doubt, at times, the "harvest," does mean such judgment (cf. Joel 3:13; Jeremiah 51:33). In Matthew 13:1-58. both harvests—that of good and evil alike—are told of "Let both grow together until," etc. Still more commonly the figure stands for the people of God and their ingathering into his blessed presence. And we think that here, whilst there can be no doubt as to what the vintage means, the "harvest" does not mean the same, but that gathering of "the wheat into his garner" which shall one day most surely be accomplished. For see the preface (Matthew 13:13) to this vision. It speaks of the blessed dead and their rest. And but for the plain pointing out that the vintage did not refer to them, that also would have been so understood. And the Lord Jesus Christ—for he is meant—is himself the Reaper (Matthew 13:14), himself thrusts in the sickle (Matthew 13:16), whilst the vintage of judgment is assigned to an angel (Matthew 13:17), indicating that it is a different work from the other. And the figure itself, the harvest, the precious corn fully ripe, belongs generally and appropriately to that which is also precious and an object of delight, as is the company of his people to the Lord whose they are. It is not the time of the harvest, but the corn of the harvest, which is spoken of here, and this is ever the type of good, and not evil. Thus understood, let us note—
I. THE HARVEST. "The harvest of the earth." This tells of:
1. The multitude of God's people. Who can count the ears of corn even in one harvest field? how much less in the harvest of the whole earth?
2. The preciousness of them. What do we not owe to, what could we do without, the literal harvest of the earth? Our all, humanly speaking, depends upon it.
3. The joy of God in them. Cf. "They shall joy before thee with the joy of harvest."
4. The care that has been needed and given.
5. The "long patience" that has been exercised. Who but God could be so patient? We often cry, "How long, O Lord, how long?" But he waits—and we must learn the like lesson—for the harvest of the earth, for that which is being ripened in our own soul. Harvest comes only so.
6. The evidence of ripeness. We know of the natural harvest that it is ripe by the grain assuming its golden hue. "Knowest thou what it is that gives that bright yellow tinge of maturity to that which erst was green and growing? What imparts that golden hue to the wheat? How do you suppose the husbandman judges when it is time to thrust in the sickle? I will tell you. All the time the corn was growing, those hollow stems served as ducts that drew up nourishment from the soil. At length the process of vegetation is fulfilled. The fibres of the plant become rigid; they cease their office; down below there has been a failure of the vital power, which is the precursor of death. Henceforth the heavenly powers work quick and marvellous changes: the sun paints his superscription on the ears of grain. They have reached the last stage; having fed on the riches of the soil long enough, they are now only influenced from above" (Spurgeon). And when it is thus with the people of God, when the golden light of the Sun of Righteousness shines on them and they are transformed thereby, then the evidence of ripeness is seen, and the season for the sickle has come.
7. God will certainly gather in his people. "Harvest shall not fail"—such was the primeval promise, and it has never failed; nor shall this harvest either. "Look up, lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
II. THE VINTAGE. Under the altar on which was "the fire," over which the angel told of in Matthew 13:18 "had power," were the souls of them that had been slain for the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 6:9). They had asked, "How long, O Lord,… dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" And now the answer is given. The vintage of vengeance has begun. For the "grapes" of the "vine of the earth" are fully ripe. It is the judgment of the whole earth, when "all nations" shall be gathered (Matthew 25:1-46.) before the Son of man. The square of four—four ever the symbol of the earth—amplified by hundreds, the "one thousand and six hundred furlongs" of Matthew 13:20, likewise point to the universality of this awful judgment. Minor fulfilments—presages, predictions, and patterns of the final judgment—of these there have been many and will be many; but in this vintage of vengeance upon the world's sin all are summed up and fulfilled. But will there be any such event at all? Will Christ "come again to judge the quick and the dead," as the Creed declares? or is it all a myth and imagination, a nightmare, which the sooner the world shakes off and awakes from the better? Many affirm that it is this; many more would like to think so. But what is the truth?
1. Men have ever felt that there ought to be such judgment. See in the Old Testament, m the Psalms, Job, in the prophets, what distress of soul God's people were in, because they feared for the faith of a just God. So many wrongs were perpetrated, and no one called to account. Wicked men in great prosperity, "flourishing like a green bay tree," and all the while godly, innocent men trampled in the very dust by these wicked, well off ones. And many saints of God were heartbroken under the pressure of indubitable facts like these, asking for, and not finding any, redress. Men who were not saints, as they could not find any law of judgment, took the law into their own hands. And hence they added torture to death. For merely to kill a man was no punishment at all. Who would care for that? Death rids a man of all trouble. Make him suffer, therefore, whilst he is alive. So they thought and acted, and hence the whole system of tortures, from the imagery of which some of the most dread emblems of this book are drawn. But the tears of good men, in view of this problem of righteousness unrewarded and persecuted, whilst unrighteousness went not only unpunished, but held high festival; and the tortures inflicted by cruel men when they got a criminal into their hands;—both are testimonies to the conviction that a Divine and perfect judgment ought to be.
2. And now it is declared that such judgment shall be. Conscience assents to it. What endorsements of God's Word the guilty conscience gives. Read 'Macbeth' for one illustration out of thousands more.
3. Human law and justice strive after right judgment. What consternation there is when some great criminal escapes and baffles all means of discovery, and what joy when such are caught and tried and condemned! It is all confirmation of the truth taught by this "vintage."
4. And the judgments that come now on ungodly nations, communities, and individuals are all in proof. History rightly read reveals the truth in luminous light: "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth." This harvest for God's holy ones, and this vintage of those for whom his holy vengeance awaits, are both to be. When the sharp sickles that gather the one and the other are put in, where shall we be found? That is the question of questions for us all to answer. God, of his mercy, give us no rest until we can answer it aright!—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The triumphant host.
Again amidst the threatenings of danger and trial, words of consolation and assurance mingle. And out of the midst of the contemplation of the most virulent opposition to the truth, the holy seer is called to lift up his eyes on high, and behold the Mount Zion and the host of the pure and faithful surrounding the Lamb. The hundred and forty-four thousand—the Church's symbol of twelve reproduced and multiplied. It is the Church in her triumph. "The elect" whom Satan has not been able to "deceive" are now in presence of the Redeemer—ever "the Lamb" in this book. Their "tribulation" is over; their enemies subdued. They have "kept the faith." Thus is fidelity through trial predicted; thus is it encouraged. There are who will "endure to the end" and "be saved." In viewing this triumphant host we must take notice of—
THE DISTINGUISHING FEATURES OF THEIR CHARACTER AND THE DETAILED ELEMENTS OF THEIR REWARD.
1. These are the pure, the undefiled. They are distinguished as free from the prevalent sinfulness of the hour. Nor could symbolism more strikingly stand allied to realism than by describing the saintly hosts as "virgins."
2. They are the obedient. "They follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." Holiness of life is the invariable adjunct of sanctity of spirit. These "take up the cross and follow him" whom they love, through evil report and good report.
3. They are the truthful. No lie is found in their mouth—neither the lie of error nor of untrue profession; nor are they given to falsity and deceitfulness of life.
4. Then are blameless. "Without blemish." These are the redeemed: "the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb." The great harvest lies beyond in the unnumbered host. Their reward is thus detailed:
(1) They are purchased: the Lamb's own property, "whose own" these sheep are.
(2) They are admitted and received within the heavenly courts: they stand on "Mount Zion."
(3) They bear the symbols of their confession and of their recognition: the holy name is on their foreheads—signifying their devotion to Christ; as they who were the servants of the beast bore his name.
(4) In eternal joyfulness they sing ever new songs of praise to God, their Creator and Redeemer. A song unknown and unlearned by any but the faithful in Christ Jesus. Truly may we hear an undertone of exhortation:
(a) "Wherefore comfort yourselves with these words;" and
(b) "Be thou faithful unto death."—R.G.
Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:7
"The everlasting gospel."
The hearts of the faithful have been strengthened and comforted by the vision of the pure heavenly community whose united voice was as that of "harpers harping with their harps." Now another vision brightens the eye of the holy seer. At present the idea of a gospel universally diffused has not been specially represented. Incidentally we have heard the voices of the elders proclaiming praise to him who had redeemed them from "every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation." And we have heard the word of the angel concerning the little book: "Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." Now, in harmony with the prevalent habit of the book, the vision or teaching is repeated, but in another form. It is a definite assurance to the little Church, in its dispersion, and apparent conquest, when its voice is silenced by the severities of persecuting violence. Fear not; the gospel shall be proclaimed, and proclaimed to all; nor shall it be crushed; it is an everlasting gospel. Inasmuch as he who partakes of the gospel partakes of the spirit of the gospel, it would be his most fervent desire that all should participate in the blessedness and peace of that gospel. To him, therefore, the cheering news of its universal diffusion must bring—what the whole book is designed to bring—the utmost consolation. Of the gospel we learn—
I. THAT IT IS A GOSPEL OF PERPETUAL ENDURANCE. "An eternal gospel." It is ever to be proclaimed as good news. It never ceases to be good news. It may be hindered, and for a time even apparently destroyed; but it still lives. It is eternal.
II. IT IS FOR ALL. The good news is not to be confined to a few, or to favoured races only. It is for "them [i.e. all them] that dwell on the earth," even for "every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people." The universal diffusion of the gospel is a pledge that persecution shall not "stamp it out."
III. IN ITS TEACHING IT URGES:
1. The fear of the Lord—"Fear God"—which is the beginning of all wisdom; and to heathen and idolatrous nations the first truth.
2. The paying to him due honour. "Give him glory."
3. It declares the approach of his judicial rule. "The hour of his judgment is come."
4. It calls to his worship as the true Lord, who "made the heaven, and the earth, and sea, and fountains of waters."—R.G.
A further vision of triumph.
Again "another angel"—a second—follows the first, and with a separate message. It is brief, but pregnant. The earnest desire of the good is satisfied. That which shall sustain the "patience of the saints, they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus," is here. It is an authoritative declaration of the final fall of the antagonistic kingdom, be that whatever it may. "Babylon" ever symbolizes the oppressor of Jerusalem—the antagonistic kingdom that opposes and oppresses the true Israel of God. Babylon is "great;" Babylon has power over "all nations," for she compels their acceptance of her corruption; Babylon makes all nations to join her in her degradation and impurity and unfaithfulness. But she is "fallen"—"fallen is Babylon the great." From this prophetic word the Church, struggling against the oppression of a Babylonish yoke—struggling to free the nations from Babylonish corruption, deceit, and wrath, which is rum—cannot but derive the deepest consolation.
I. IT IS A PLEDGE OF DIVINE COOPERATION. For the puny arm of the feeble flock cannot grapple with the great and mighty nation that can compel obedience. But God is above all.
II. IT IS THE SATISFACTION OF THE CHURCH'S UTMOST DESIRE CONCERNING EVIL. For it is its uttermost destruction. The Church is ever to be comforted by the assured hope of the conquest of all evil.
III. IT IS THE ASSURANCE OF THE CHURCH'S FINAL DELIVERANCE FROM ALL OPPOSING AND OPPRESSING POWER. And as such—
IV. IT IS THE TRUEST ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE CHURCH TO "PATIENCE"—to "keep the commandments of God," and to the maintenance of "the faith of Jesus."—R.G.
The punishment threatened upon the worshippers of "the beast and his image" is represented by imagery of the most truly awful character. What that "beast" is, what is "his image," and what his "worship," are points not to be left in uncertainty; while the terrible denunciations of wrath must stand as an effectual warning against any such homage. "The beast" here must represent the utmost spirit of evil—foul, filthy sin. It stands in opposition to the Lamb, the embodiment of all purity. It is the antagonist, the opposer of all good, whether ideally considered, or as found embodied in Satan—the devil. It is the antithesis of holiness; it is an active opposition also to all holiness; it is an active opposition to God. The "image" may be any form which this essential evil, this anti-righteous spirit, may assume. The "worship" of such a spirit implies submission to it; an affirmation of its supremacy and worthiness and power; a giving honour to the beast—the honour due to God. What a signal of unfaithfulness, of corruption, of sin! As such it is punishable with the utmost punishment. The figures in which this awful punishment is represented indicate the keenest severity of suffering. As the worship of the beast indicates the utmost devotion to sinfulness, so the punishment threatened denotes the utmost suffering. It includes—
I. THE DIREST EXPRESSION OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE. The worshipper shall "drink of the wine of the wrath of God."
II. THE INFLICTION OF DIRECT PERSONAL SUFFERING. "He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone."
III. AN ESPECIAL AGGRAVATION OF THE SUFFERING. It is endured in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.
IV. IT IS A STATE OF CEASELESS DISTURBANCE. "They have no rest day nor night."
V. IT IS UNENDING. "Forever and ever." Let any read this, and say if the consequences of devotion to evil are not in the highest degree dreadful.—R. G.
The blessedness of the departed faithful.
If the threatenings of judgment upon the worshippers of the false are motives to patience and fidelity, how much more is the promise of a blessed reward! Between these two the tried and persecuted Christian disciple is hedged in. This blessedness is
(1) assured by the heavenly proclamation: "a voice from heaven." It is
(2) confirmed by the Spirit's testimony: "Yea, saith the Spirit." It is
(3) promised to them who are spiritual: "in the Lord." It is
(4) the reward of fidelity maintained to the end of life: they "die in the Lord."
The reward is
(1) a state of felicity: "blessed" are they.
(2) It consists in a state of repose after toil, danger, and exposure: "They rest from their labours."
(3) It is exhibited as the consequence of and acknowledgment of their diligent, obedient labour: "Their works follow with them."
Here is the encouragement to
(1) self denial;
(2) patient labour;
(3) undying devotion.—R.G.
Judgment again represented.
In the spirit of the former words, and as a further confirmation of them, the process of judgment is again set forth under fresh images. So is consolation borne to the suffering and afflicted Church, and warning and admonition dealt out to the ungodly. Under the imagery of a harvest and of the gathering of the vintage, the certainties of the threatened judgment and the promised blessedness are set forth. The afflicted, down trodden, despised Church must here see mighty motives urged upon it to maintain a steadfast faith and hope and patience. This vision declares—
I. THE FINAL CESSATION OF THE CHURCH'S SUFFERING. Her warfare may be long continued. Generation after generation of believers may be called upon to suffer, but an end is appointed. It will be proclaimed: "The hour to reap is come." The life of "earth "—ever the symbol of that which stands in opposition to the heavenlies—has been patiently borne through much long suffering. But this is at an end—"the harvest of the earth is over ripe." The command is issued, "Send forth thy sickle, and reap."
II. THE GATHERING OF A HARVEST HAS THE PREVAILING CHARACTER OF GRACIOUSNESS. It is the ingathering of that which sprang from "the seed" which "is the Word;" and, in our view, indicates the gathering for the heavenly garner.
III. THE FIGURE OF THE VINTAGE IS RESERVED FOR THE EXPRESSION OF THE WRATH OF GOD. "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel?... I have trodden the wine press alone." Here it is distinguished as "the great wine press of the wrath of God." No such designation is given to the wheat harvest. In this, then, we are to see the final judgment upon the wicked. Thus are set before us both the ingathering of the holy—the harvest waiting for which "the husbandman" has had "long patience," and the ingathering or crushing of the wicked. "Terrible," indeed, "is he in his doings to the children of men."—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The supersensuous heaven of humanity.
"And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven," etc. May we not regard these verses as a pictorial representation of the supersensuous heaven of humanity? If so, the following facts are suggested concerning the unseen realm of the good or the Christly.
I. IT IS A SCENE IN WHICH CHRIST IS THE CENTRAL FIGURE. "And I looked [saw], and lo [behold], a [the] Lamb stood [standing] on the Mount Zion" (Revelation 14:1). No one acquainted with the Scriptures needs to ask who the Lamb is. Christ is the "Lamb of God." Why is Christ called "the Lamb"? Is it because of his innocence, or because of his moral and sacrificial character, or both? Morally he was innocent as a lamb, "holy, undefiled." "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Or is it on account of his sacrifice? He was, indeed, a sacrifice; his whole being was a sacrifice. There have been those who have answered these questions to their own satisfaction, and there are now those who render replies without hesitation or doubt. I cannot. My eyes are too dim to penetrate into the rationale of Divine operations. What seems clear is that Christ is the central Figure in man's heaven. He stands on the citadel on which all eyes are fastened, and to which all hearts point and all sympathies flow.
II. IT IS A SCENE INTERESTINGLY POPULATED.
1. The population is very numerous. "An hundred forty and four thousand" (Revelation 14:1). This I take to be a definite number used to represent an indefinite multitude—a "multitude which no man could number." The dreamer being a Jew, his visions are, of course, full of Jewish facts and sentiments. Hence he thinks of the Jewish scene of worship, Zion, and the Jewish tribes, incalculably numerous. To us, however, all these are mere illustrations of things higher, more important, and lasting. The human tenants in heaven were in number beyond calculation in the days of John, and they have been multiplying ever since.
2. The population is divinely distinguished. "His Father's name written in their foreheads" (verse 1). Men glory in things that are supposed to distinguish them advantageously from their fellow men—the attractions of physical beauty, the glitter of wealth, the pomp of power; but the greatest of all distinctions, the grandest and highest, is to have the name of the great Father manifest in our lives—written on our very "foreheads."
(1) It is the most beautiful distinction. The face is the beauty of man; there the soul reveals itself sometimes in sunshine and sometimes in clouds. The beauty of the face is not in features, but in expressions, and the more it expresses of purity, intelligence, generosity, tenderness, the more beautiful it is. How beautiful, then, to have God's name radiating in it! God's name is the beauty of the universe.
(2) It is the most conspicuous distinction. "In their foreheads." It is seen wherever you go, fronting every object you look at. Godliness cannot conceal itself. Divine goodness is evermore self revealing. As the face of Moses shone with a mystic radiance when he came down from the mount after holding fellowship with God, so the lives of all godly men are encircled with a Divine halo.
(3) It is the most honourable distinction. A man sometimes feels proud when he is told he is like some great statesman, ruler, thinker, reformer. But how transcendently honourable is it to bear in our face the very image of God! Let us all seek this distinction. With the Father's "name in our foreheads" we shall throw the pageantry of the shahs, the emperors, and all the kings of the earth into contempt.
3. The population is rapturously happy. "And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of [the voice which I heard was the voice of] harpers harping with their harps: and they sang [sing] as it were a new song" (verses 2, 3). All souls yonder run into music! Here is music loud as booming billows, pealing thunders, and melodious as the enrapturing strains of the harp. How mean and unworthy are men's views of religious music. "Let us sing to the glory and praise of God," says the leader of public worship. And forthwith a whole congregation breaks into sound. And if the sound is regulated by the harmonious blending of notes, the production is called a "Service of Song;" and more, alas! is made an article of trade. Large incomes are made by the sale of such music. Can such be the music of heaven? Nay. True music is the harmony of soul—souls moving ever in accord with the Supreme Will. True music consists not in blending of sounds, whether vocal or instrumental, however charming to the senses, but in sentiments unuttered, perhaps unutterable, yet entrancing to conscience and pleasing to God.
4. The population is redemptively trained. "No man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed [purchased] from the earth" (verse 3). Heaven, it has been said by men of old, is a prepared place for a prepared people. It is verily so. Observe:
(1) Man requires training for heaven.
(2) Redemption is the method of training for heaven.
(3) Earth is the scene of this redemptive training.
5. The population is spotlessly pure. "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins" (verse 4). There are those of our race who have never fallen, who have retained their virgin innocence, who required no pardon for their sins, nor regeneration. What millions of the human population die in their infancy, and go on unfolding their faculties and invigorating their strength through indefinite ages, in scenes of absolute holiness and infallible intelligence! They were not "redeemed from the earth;" such redemption they required not. From the dawn of their being they were ushered into the realms of immaculate purity and perfect bliss.
6. The population is absolutely loyal. "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (verse 4). All follow the Lamb, the Christ of God. Two words, "Follow me," embody at once the whole duty and perfect Paradise of souls. "Whithersoever he goeth." He is always moving. "The Father worketh hitherto, and I work." We cannot do exactly what he does, but we can imbibe that spirit which inspires him in all he does. Would I become a great painter? then how shall I proceed? If I copy the exact style and method of one of the greatest masters of the art, I shall only become a mere mechanic in the profession, never an artist. But if I catch the genius of the great master, I may, peradventure, leave him behind, and win a place and a distinction all my own. Let us catch the moral genius of Christ
7. The population is incorruptibly truthful. "In their mouth was found no guile [lie]: for they are without fault before the throne of God [they are without blemish]" (verse 5). No lie! How unlike us! The social atmosphere of our world teems with lies as with microbes. Lies in parliaments, in markets, in Churches. The whole world teems with impostors. What a blessed world must that be where all is truth and reality!—D.T.
Man training for the supersensuous heaven.
"No man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth." The subject of these words is man training for the supersensuous heaven. Notice—
I. HEAVEN REQUIRES HIS TRAINING. "No man could learn that song." Man cannot blend in the happy harmony of the celestial state without previous training. Analogy would suggest this. In the physical system every being is fitted to his position, his organism is suited to his locality. These bodies of ours, as now constituted, could probably live in no other planet than this. In the social system the same principle of fitness is required. The stolid clown could not occupy the professor's chair, nor could he who is reckless concerning law, right, and order occupy the bench of justice. It is just so in relation to heaven. To feel at home in the society of the holy, cheerfully to serve the Creator and his universe, and to be in harmony with all the laws, operations, and beings in the holy empire, we must manifestly be invested with the same character. But what is the training necessary?
1. Not mechanical. Ceremonial religion enjoins this.
2. Not intellectual. Theological training may be conducive, but it is not sufficient.
3. It is moral—the training of the spiritual sympathies, the heart being brought to say, "Thy will be done." No one can "sing the song," blend in the harmonious action of heaven, without this. A man with corrupt sympathies could never sing in heaven; he would shriek. In the midst of happy myriads he would be alone. His darkness would conceal from him the outward sun; his inner flashes of guilt would change for him the God of love into a "consuming fire."
II. REDEMPTION IS THE CONDITION OF HIS TRAINING. "Those who were redeemed from the earth." The redemption here referred to is evidently that procured by the love of Christ. The training requires something more than education; it needs emancipation, the deliverance of the soul from certain feelings and forces incompatible with holiness—a deliverance from the guilt and power of evil. The grand characteristic of Christianity is that it is a power to redeem from all evil. No other system on earth can do this.
III. THE EARTH IS THE SCENE OF HIS TRAINING. "Redeemed from the earth." The brightest fact in the history of the dark world is that it is a redemptive scene. Amidst all the clouds and storms of depravity and sorrow that sweep over our path, this fact rises up before us a bright orb that shall one day dispel all gloom and hush all tumult. Thank God, this is not a retributive, but a redemptive scene. But it should be remembered that it is not only a redemptive scene, but the only redemptive scene. There is no redemptive influence in heaven—it is not required. A wonderful world is this! True, it is but a spark amidst the suns of the universe—a tiny leaf in the mighty forests! Let the light be quenched and the leaf be destroyed, their absence would not be felt. Still it has a moral history the most momentous. Here Christ lived, laboured, died. Here millions of spirits are trained for heaven. What Marathon was to Greece, and Waterloo to Europe, this little earth is to the creation. Here the great battles of the spiritual universe are fought. It is the Thermopylae of the creation.—D.T.
The dissemination of good, and the destruction of evil.
"And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation," etc. In these verses two subjects are suggested—
I. THE DISSEMINATION OF GOOD. The good here is called "the everlasting [eternal] gospel" (Revelation 14:6).
1. The gospel in itself is good. It is at once the mirror and the medium of eternal good. It contains and communicates to man that which reflects the Divine character and constitutes the heaven of souls. "Everlasting"—eternal. Good is eternal. Unlike evil, it never had a commencement, and. will never have an end; it is as old as God himself.
2. The gospel in its ministry is good. "And I saw another angel fly [flying] in the midst of [mid] heaven" (Revelation 14:6). It comes from heaven and is conveyed by heavenly messengers to men. Angels are so interested in this gospel that they speed their flight through mid heaven bearing its blessed message.
3. The gospel in its universality is good. "Having the everlasting [eternal] gospel to preach [proclaim] unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred [tribe], and tongue, and people" (Revelation 14:6). It overleaps all geographical boundaries, all tribal, national, linguistic distinctions, and addresses man as man.
4. The gospel in its purpose is good. "Saying with a loud voice [he saith with a great voice], Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (Revelation 14:7). The supreme aim of the gospel is to induce all men to worship him who made heaven, earth, and sea. Man is made for worship. There is no instinct in the soul deeper, stronger, more operative; there is no service for the soul more worthy, nay, so worthy and so blest, as that of worship. Worship is the Paradise of souls.
II. THE DESTRUCTION OF EVIL. "And there followed another angel [another, a second angel, followed], saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen [fallen, fallen is Babylon], that great city [the great], because she [which hath] made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication" (Revelation 14:8). I take Babylon here as standing, not for the capital of Syria, not for Rome, either pagan or papal, nor for the site, the masonry, the institutions, or the populations of any city that ever has been or ever will be, but as representing the spirit of evil that moulded and mastered the old metropolis of Assyria. Babylon to me stands as the mighty aggregation of all the moral evils at work throughout all society in all the metropolises of the universe. This aggregation of evil is what Paul calls "the world." Two remarks are suggested.
1. This aggregation of evil must fall. Babylon must tumble into dust. The colossal image will not only be smashed into atoms by the "little stone" of truth, but every particle will be borne away by the winds of Divine influence, so that "no place will be found for it." Faith is to overcome the world.
2. This aggregation of evil falls as the good advances. The gospel having been proclaimed to every "nation," and "tongue," and "people," and all brought to worship him that made heaven and earth, Babylon totters, crumbles, and rots. The gospel destroys the spirit of evil, and its forms fall to pieces. You may destroy the forms of evil in the habits and institutions of the world, but unless the spirit is extinguished you have done no good. Burn up Rome, but if its spirit remains it will grow and work, and produce, perchance, forms more hideous and oppressive. No pontiff that ever occupied the papal chair has ever had more popery in his nature than can be found in many a Protestant clergyman, ay, and in many a Nonconformist minister too.
CONCLUSION. Would you have Babylon to fall? Then speed on the gospel; not the gospel of sects or of creeds, but the gospel of the evangelists.—D.T.
An ideal preacher.
"And I saw another angel," etc. It is legitimate, and it may be useful, to look at these words as symbolizing the ideal preacher. Looking at them in this light, we observe concerning the ideal preacher—
I. HIS THESE IS GLORIOUS. "The everlasting gospel." Observe:
1. It is a gospel. That is "good news," or "glad tidings." It is a message, not of Divine partiality or Divine wrath to the world, but of Divine love—the love of the great Father for his fallen children.
2. It is an ever enduring gospel. Everlasting:
(1) Because its elementary truths are absolute. These truths are the existence of God as Maker and Manager of the universe; the obligation of all moral beings to love him supremely because of his supreme goodness, etc. These are mere specimens of the truths that abound in the gospel, and as such they cannot die out, they must continue as the laws of nature. Continue, not only amidst all the revolutions of time, the discoveries of true science, but amidst all the cycles of eternity.
(2) Because its redemptive provisions are complete. Its special mission is to effect man's restoration to the knowledge, image, and enjoyment of his Maker. It has all the elements and the powers for the purpose, Nothing is lacking, nothing can be added to it. It is complete. It is everlasting in the sense that the sun is everlasting, because it contains all that the centre of the planetary system requires to fulfil its purpose. Thus it contains the things that cannot be moved.
3. It is a world wide gospel. "To preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." This means that it is not for a sect or a class, but for humanity. It is for man as man, irrespective of his colour, his country, his character.
(1) It is a necessity to all mankind. It is the supreme necessity of unregenerate mankind the world over and the ages through. If a man is to be happy, he must have it. It is not merely adapted to him, it is essential to him.
(2) It is equal to all mankind. It is not like a feast, prepared for so many and no more; it is more like a perfect piece of music, having in it an exhaustless power—a power as capable of charming all souls as one, pouring its thrilling and inspiring influence over all lands, down through all times with unabated power Such, then, is the theme which the ideal preacher has to propound; not the speculations of the theologists or the crotchets of the sect, not the crudities of his own brain, but the "everlasting gospel." What a sublime mission!
II. THAT HIS MOVEMENTS ARE EXPEDITIOUS. "Fly in the midst of heaven." He is to move, not like the ordinary terrestrial beings on the earth, but rather like the swift fowls of the air—impulses excited, eyes dilated, pinions expanded, darting on their ethereal way. It is characteristic of an ideal preacher that he is expeditious. He is not a drone; he is on fire. lie is "instant in season and out of season," like his great Original; he worketh while it is "called today," knowing "the night cometh when no man can work." Why thus expeditious?
1. The message is urgent. The world is guilty; it bears pardon. The world is diseased, about dying; it bears elements of life. The world is enthralled a captive of the arch enemy of the universe; it bears liberty.
2. The time is short. Short, when compared not merely with a future life, but with the work necessary to be done. There is not a moment to spare. "Today, saith the Spirit." The Spirit knows the urgency of the work, and the time necessary for its fulfilment.
3. Life is uncertain. Uncertain both for the preacher and for his hearers. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Hence the necessity of this expeditious movement.
III. THAT HIS SPHERE IS ELEVATED. "Fly in the midst of heaven," or "in mid heaven." It is the characteristic of all truly regenerated men that they are not of the flesh, but of the Spirit; that they set their "affections on things above;" that though "in the world," they are "not of the world;" that they live in heavenly places. All these representations mean that they live and move on a level high up and distinct from the level on which worldly men live and work. Like Christ, they have "meat to eat" that the world knows nothing of. They are "separate from sinners." This is preeminently the case with the ideal preacher, he moves above the highest; he does not mind earthly things; uninfluenced by worldly motives, despising worldly aims and fashions, towering like an angel above them all. Ah me! how different this ideal to the actual conventional preachers! Do they mow through mid heaven? Do they not rather crawl on the earth, trade even in the gospel, and make gain of godliness"? The great reason why preaching is so ineffective now is because we preachers move not in this elevated sphere, but are down with the common herd in spirit.
CONCLUSION. Such, then, is the ideal preacher, and all Church history shows that the men who have approached nearest to this ideal have achieved the greatest victories for souls—Paul, Augustine, Savonarola, Tanner, Whitefield, Wesley, etc.—D.T.
Soul prostitution and soul loyalty.
"And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God," etc. In this part of John's wonderful mental vision, or dream, on the island of Patmos, we can find illustrations of two great subjects.
I. SOUL PROSTITUTION. "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud [great] voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive [receiveth] his mark in his forehead, and in his hand," etc. (verse 9). The "beast and his image." What meaneth this? Does it mean some king or pope? Or some great wrong institution, civil or religious? No one knows, and it matters not. I take the expression as a symbol of wrong in its spirit and forms. Two things are suggested in connection with this.
1. That the prostitution of the soul to wrong is an alarming crime. Here is a warning. "The angel followed, saying with a loud voice." Amongst the teeming populations of this earth there is nothing more terrible and alarming than to see human souls made in the image of God, rendering a practical devotion of all its spiritual powers to the morally unworthy, "the world, the flesh, and the devil;" because, according to a law of mind, the object of the soul's devotion transfigures it into its own character. Hence the human spirit gets buried in the fleshly, absorbed in the selfish and the worldly. Thus everywhere we find minds that should expand into seraphs sinking into grubs, worshipping the "beast;" sordid sycophants, not soaring saints; the miserable creatures, not the mighty masters of circumstances.
2. That the prostitution of the soul to wrong always incurs lamentable suffering. It is said, "The same [he also] shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture [prepared unmixed] into the cup of his indignation [anger]; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb" (verse 10). The metaphors here are borrowed from the sacred books of the Hebrew people, and they convey the idea of suffering of an alarming kind, suggesting:
(1) A consciousness of Divine antagonism. "Wine of the wrath of God." In the sense of malignant passion there is no wrath in him who is Love. But it is a psychological tact that the man who suffers because he has done another an injury, has a consciousness that the one he has offended is angry with him, and this consciousness is the chief element in his suffering.
(2) A sense of intense agony. "Shall be tormented with fire and brimstone." Brimstone adds intensity to the heat and fury to the flames of fire. "My punishment is greater than I can bear," said Cain. A guilty conscience has its Tartarus or Gehenna within itself.
(3) A state of constant restlessness. "They have no rest day nor [and] night" (verse 11). There is no rest in sin. "The wicked are like the troubled sea." A guilty soul under a sense of sin is like Noah's dove fluttering over tumultuous billows.
II. SOUL LOYALTY. "Here is the patience of the saints" (verse 12). "The meaning here," says Moses Stuart, "is either thus: here then in the dreadful punishment of the wicked every Christian may see of what avail his patience and obedient spirit and faith in Christ are; or here is a disclosure respecting the wicked which is adapted to encourage a patient endurance of the evils of persecution, and a constancy in obedience to the Divine commands and to the Christian faith." What is patience? It is not insensibility. Stone people are lauded for their patience who should be denounced for their stoicism and indifference. Patience implies at least two things.
1. The existence of trials. Where the path of life is all smooth, flowery, and pleasant, where all the winds of life are temperate, bright, and balmy, where all the echoes of life are free from discordant notes, and beating the sweetest melodies, where, in fact, life is entirely free from trial, there is no room for patience. Patience lives only in difficulty and danger, in storms and tempests.
2. The highest mental power. Man's highest power of mind is seen, not in unsurpassed mechanical inventions, or the sublimest productions of art, not in the most baffling and confounding strategies of bloody war, hell's own creation, but in the successful effort to govern all the impulses and master all the boisterous passions of the human soul. "The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power." This is a remarkable expression. It seems as if the Prophet Nahum meant that God is slow to anger because he is great in power; if he had less power he would be less patient. A man may be slow to auger and slow to deal out vengeance because he lacks power to do so. But God is slow to anger because he has abundance of power. His power of self control is infinite. Truly does Solomon say, "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." £ The greater the sinner and the greater the sneak, the better able to take cities; but it requires the greatest man to govern his own soul.
"Be patient, oh be patient! Put your ear against the earth,
Listen there how noiselessly the germ of the seed has birth;
How noiselessly and gently it upheaves its little way,
Till it parts the scarcely broken ground, and the blade stands up in day!
"Be patient, oh be patient! The germs of mighty thought
Must have their silent undergrowth, must underground be wrought.
But as sure as there's a power that makes the grass appear,
Our land shall be green with liberty, the blade time shall be here.
"Be patient, oh be patient! Go and watch the wheat ears grow,
So imperceptibly that ye can mark nor change nor throe,
Day after day, day after day, till the ear is fully grown.
And then again, day after day, till the ripened field is brown.
"Be patient, oh be patient! Though yet your hopes are green,
The harvest fields of freedom shall be crowned with sunny sheen;
Be ripening, be ripening, mature your silent way,
Till the whole bread land is tongued with fire on freedom's harvest day."
(R. C. Trench.)
Heaven's description of the satiated dead.
"And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them." Here is a voice from heaven. Voices from earth are plentiful—they load our air and din our ears. We have voices from the markets and voices from the Parliament, voices from the Church and voices from the college, voices on every subject and in every key. They are contradictory and unsatisfactory; they solve not the deepest problems of the soul. Thank God, there is a voice from heaven—let us listen to it. It comes from infallibility itself; and teaches the most momentous questions of interest and destiny. Notice—
I. HEAVEN'S DESCRIPTION OF THE CHARACTER OF THE SAINTED DEAD. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." Their character was that of vital union with Christ. The Scriptures represent this union by a great variety of figure. It is compared to the union of a building with its foundation stone—its existence depends upon it; to that of the branch and the vine—its strength, foliage, fruit, life, of the one depend upon the sap it derives from the other; to that of the spirit and the body—the former being the source of animation, the impulse of activity, and the guide of the movements of the latter. These figures confessedly indicate a union the most close and the most vital. This union may include two things.
1. Their existence in his affections. We live in the hearts of those who love us. Children do thoroughly live in the affections of their loving parents, that they control their plans and inspire their efforts. Because the child lives in the heart of the affectionate parent, the parent lives and labours for his child. In this sense Christ's disciples live in him; they are in his heart; he thinks upon them, he plans for them, he works for them, he causes "all things to work together for good."
2. Their existence in his character. Without figure, we live in the character of those we admire and love. Arnold's most loyal pupils live in his character now. They see their old master in their books, and hear him in their sermons. Christ is the grand Object of their love, and the chief subject of their thought, and to please him is the grand purpose of their life. As loving children identify themselves with all that pertains to their parents, so they feel a vital interest in all that relates to the cause of Christ. This Paul felt. "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This character implies two things.
(1) A moral change. Men are not born in this state. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The change is so great that the man must be conscious of it.
(2) A judicial change. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." Their sins are pardoned, their iniquities are forgiven; they "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Such is the character of the sainted dead as here described. "They die in the Lord."
II. HEAVEN'S DESCRIPTION OF THE CONDITION OF THE SAINTED DEAD. "Blessed are the dead."
1. Their blessedness is in rest from all trying labour. Not rest from work, for work is the condition of blessedness; but from all trying labour, all anxious toil, all wearying, annoying, irritating, fruitless toil.
(1) Rest from all trying labour pertaining to our physical subsistence. By the sweat of our brow here we have to eat bread. Not so yonder.
(2) Rest from all trying labour pertaining to intellectual culture. How much trying labour is there here to train our faculties and to get knowledge! "Much study is a weariness of the flesh." Not so yonder.
(3) Rest from all trying labour pertaining to our spiritual cultivation. Here we have to wrestle hard against our spiritual foes, and often have to cry out in the struggle, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Not so yonder.
(4) Rest from all trying labour to benefit our fellow men. To do good here is a trying work. The ignorance, the callousness, the ingratitude of men whom we seek to help, often distract and pain the heart. Not so yonder. Rest! What a cheering word! It is the couch of the weary traveller; it is the haven for the storm tossed mariner; it is home for the veteran who, after many a battle, has won the victory.
2. Their blessedness is in the influence of their works. "Their works do follow them." No one act, truly done for Christ and in his spirit will be lost. All good works springing from faith in Christ shall follow the worker into the eternal world—follow him in their blessed influence upon himself, in the happy results they have produced in others, and in the gracious acknowledgment of God. The moment we appear on the other side, we shall hear the voice addressing us, "Call the labourers, and give them their hire." We shall then find that the smallest effort is not lost.
3. Their blessedness began immediately after death. "From henceforth, saith the Spirit." From the moment of death the blessedness begins. This stands opposed to two errors.
(1) That there is an obliviousness of soul until the resurrection; and
(2) that there are purgatorial fires which must follow death. "From henceforth." "Not from the waking of the soul into consciousness after the sleep of centuries; not from the extinction of purgatorial fires; but from death. "Today shalt thou be with me;" "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."
4. Their blessedness is vouched by the Spirit of God. "From henceforth, saith the Spirit." Who declares this blessedness? An erring Church? Not even the highest angel. It is the Spirit. He who knows the present and the future; he who hears the last sigh of every saint on earth, and his first note of triumph. The Spirit saith it. Let us believe it with an unquestioning faith. The Spirit saith it. Let us adore him for his revelation.
This subject speaks:
1. Comfort to the bereaved. Weep not inordinately for the good that are gone. "Sorrow not as those who are without hope." Your loved ones still live: they "rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
2. Courage to the faint. You disciples of the Lord, who feel the journey of life to be trying, the battle to be severe, and feel at all times depressed—take heart; yet a little while all your trials will be over. You shall "rest from your labours; and your works shall follow you." "Go thou thy way until the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."
"I would die my death in Christo;
Breathing in his love, I'm blest;
When this frame to dust returneth,
I shall enter into rest.
In that rest I shall adore him,
In the strains of sacred love,
With the ransomed of all races
Gathered in the heavens above.
Aid me, Lord, to die in Christo
Oh, in Christo let me die!"
(See the 'Biblical Liturgy.')
The moral seasons of humanity.
"And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud One sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle," etc. There are three moral seasons implied in this section of the Apocalyptic vision.
I. THE RIPENING SEASON. "And I looked [saw], and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud One sat like unto the [a] Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle" (Revelation 14:14). This language may be taken as an illustration of that supreme Divinity that presides over all the moral seasons of mankind. He is glorious. He is encircled with a "cloud," dazzling and splendid, he is human. He is "like unto the Son of man." Supreme Divinity is full of humanity, and humanity is full of God. He is royal. He has "upon his head a golden crown." He is "the King of kings, and Lord of lords." He is absolute, he has "in his hand a sharp sickle." He has the power to put an end to the whole system whenever he pleases; he kills and he makes alive. Such is the Being that presides over our histories, our lives, and destinies. Our world is not left to chance or fate, blind force or arbitrary despotism. There is an intelligent Being over it, all glorious, yet human, royal and absolute. He presides over the ripening season. Months before the sickle is thrust in the ripening has been going on. There are two classes of principles, good and evil, which are seeds growing in all human souls. Both are implanted. Neither of them is inbred. The seed of evil is not constitutional; the seeds of good are almost exterminated by the seeds of sin. "A man sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat." The spirit of evil implants the one. "An enemy came and sowed tares." The Son of man implants the other. Both, in all souls, are constantly growing and advancing to ripeness. Although human nature is made for truth and right, it can grow error and wrong. It can develop a false impression or an erroneous sentiment into a upas that shall spread its baneful branches over empires, and poison the heart of ages.
II. THE HARVEST SEASON. "Thrust in [send forth] thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come" (Revelation 14:15). All life culminates in maturity. "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." Growth is but life running into ripeness, the river runs to the ocean. "The harvest of the earth is ripe, the grapes are fully ripe." In connection with this it is suggested that the harvest is under the direction of a supreme intelligence. "And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud" (Revelation 14:15). The angel had no power to snatch the sickle from the Divine hand and employ it. The Divine permission is absolutely necessary; life and death are with him. "There is an appointed time for man upon the earth." No creature or combination of creatures, however mighty, can abbreviate or prolong the appointed period. There are no premature deaths in human history. Angels, it may be, in countless numbers await his behest. They are reads to strike down when he permits. Death is ever on the wing; silently and stealthily he approaches every human being, and strikes the moment he has permission.
III. THE VINTAGE SEASON. "Thrust in [send forth] thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe" (Revelation 14:18). The vintage is a section of the harvest. The vine reaches its maturity and has its harvest, as well as the ears of corn, and the pressing of these grapes is the vintage. Three things are suggested in connection with this vintage.
1. Divine severity. "The great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trod, ten without the city, and blood came out of the wine press" (Revelation 14:19, Revelation 14:20). Grapes in the press were usually trodden by the feet of men (see Isaiah 63:2, Isaiah 63:3; Lamentations 1:15). The idea of severity could scarcely fail to be conveyed to the spectator whose feet trampled on the soft, blooming, beautiful grape, so that the juice like its very blood streamed forth. "The wrath of God." There is no wrath in God but the wrath of love. Divine law is but love speaking in the imperative mood; Divine retribution is but Divine love chastising the child to bring him back to the right and the true.
2. Great abundance. "Blood came out of the wine press, even unto the horse bridles" (Revelation 14:20). That is, the juice flowing like a deep river, rising to the very bridles of the horses. Who shall measure the final issues of the moral seasons of humanity?
3. Extensive range. "A thousand and six hundred furlongs" (Revelation 14:20)—a hundred and fifty miles. A definite number of miles for an indefinite space. The final issue of souls will be as wide as immensity.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany