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And I saw another sign in heaven. The last time we had this expression was in Revelation 12:1-17., where the history of the war between Satan and the Church was begun. Once more we have a new departure, the seer again, as it were, returning to the beginning? in order to trace the course of the punishments inflicted on men for their worship of the devil. Revelation 15:1-8. gives a short summary of this, which is expanded in Revelation 16:1-21.; and it is introduced, as usual, by a vision of the saints in glory, in order to comfort and support the Christian in his warfare (cf. Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:2; Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1-5, Revelation 14:13). The "sign" is what is described in the following account. "In heaven" probably merely means in a conspicuous position (cf. Revelation 12:1). Great and marvellous. On account of the terrible nature of the events depicted. Seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God; seven angels having seven plagues, the last [ones], because in them is finished the wrath of God. The seer describes what he sees subsequently, as if all the actors were present at one moment. In reality, he sees the actions of the "seven angels" in succession. The number seven denotes the universal, all-extending nature of the plagues (see on Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1, etc.). They are the last plagues, because they lead on to the description of the final fall of the power of the devil in its various forms, and to the account of the last judgment of God and the eternal bliss of the saints in glory.
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire. "And I saw" indicates a new phase of the vision (cf. Revelation 14:6, Revelation 14:14, etc.). The sea was like glass, either because of its pure transparent appearance, or on account of its consistency; the saints being subsequently described as standing on it. (For a full discussion of the meaning, see on Revelation 4:6.) The sea, the elders, and the triumphal hymns of praise are all characteristic of the vision in Revelation 4:1-11. Mingled with fire. In Revelation 4:1-11. it was described as "like unto crystal." The fire is an emblem of purity; the same idea is also conveyed by the "crystal." Fire is also a symbol of judgment, which is the theme of the song of the saints (Revelation 4:4). And them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God; and them that come victorious from the beast and from his image, and from the number, etc. Omit "and over his mark," according to all the best authorities. Standing by (or, on), having harps. (On "the beast" and "his image," etc., see on Revelation 13:1-18.) These victorious ones stand by (such, probably, is the force of ἐπί) the sea (see above and on Revelation 4:6). The "harps" are characteristic of the heavenly melodies (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 14:2). This multitude has been before described in Revelation 7:9. From his image; that is, from the temptation to worship the image.
And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. Most probably the song of deliverance after the passage of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1-27.), to which this bears a general resemblance. Moses is called the "servant of God" in Exodus 14:31 and elsewhere. The song of Moses is also the song of the Lamb; the Old Testament and the New Testament Churches are one. Saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty (cf. Exodus 15:7, "And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them;" also Psalms 111:2; Psalms 139:14). This song, like that in Revelation 4:8, is addressed to the "Lord God Almighty." Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. The reading of the Textus Receptus, ἁγίων, "of saints," is certainly incorrect. It does not appear in any Greek manuscripts, but was inserted by Erasmus to represent the sanctorum of his Vulgate, which word, however, is itself a corruption of saeculorum, the true Vulgate reading representing αἰώνων. Ἐθνῶν, "of nations," is read in א, A, B, P, 1, 7, 8, 14. etc., An-dress, Primasius; while αἰώνον, "of ages," is the reading of א, C, 95, Vulgate, etc. It has been conjectured that ΑΙΘΝΩΝ (by itacism for ἐθνῶν) has been confused with ΑΙΩΝΩΝ. a parallel to the reading, " King of nations" is found in Jeremiah 10:7, Hebrew text and Theodotion, but not LXX.: "Who would not fear thee, O King of nations?" which is very like the succeeding clause in Jeremiah 10:5, especially in connection with the "nations" there mentioned. The title "King of the ages," or "eternal King," is applied to God in 1 Timothy 1:17, and in the Book of Tobit twice (13:6 and 10), but seems unknown to the Old Testament.
Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy Name? Omit "thee." The latter part is from Jeremiah 10:7 (see on Jeremiah 10:3). The former part contains the same idea as Jeremiah 10:6, "Thy Name is great in might." Compare the similar ascription of praise to the beast in Revelation 13:4. The following three clauses supply the reasons for thus fearing and glorifying God. For thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest; for thy righteous acts have been made manifest (Revised Version). "Holy" is ὅσιος, not ἅγιος. It is a word which is applied more particularly to human acts. Perhaps it is used here in connection with the manifest justice of God's acts before all nations; cf. the song of Moses (Exodus 15:11), "Who is like thee, glorious in holiness," etc.? The three clauses supply the reason for fearing and glorifying God, as mentioned in the first part of the verse.
(1) He himself is in his nature holy;
(2) his sway extends over all nations;
(3) the righteousness of his acts is now visible to all.
Afford adds, "Thy deeds of righteousness acted out towards the nations, both in the publication of the gospel and in the destruction of thine enemies."
And after that I looked, and, behold; and after these things 1 saw. The characteristic commencement of a new vision or portion of a vision (see on Revelation 4:1, etc.). The temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened. The tabernacle had its counterpart in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). In Exodus 25:16, Exodus 25:21 we have the reason of the title "tabernacle of the testimony"—a name which is common in the Bible (see Exodus 38:21; Numbers 1:50, Numbers 1:53; Numbers 9:15; Numbers 10:11). The "temple" is the ναός, the inner shrine, the holy of holies which contained the ark of the testimony, which in Revelation 11:1.Revelation 11:9 is seen in connection with the judgments of God. Thence now proceed the angels bearing the plagues for men.
And the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues; there came out the seven angels that had, etc. These angels are distinguished from the other angels only by the fact that they bore the seven plagues. These they have not yet, but they receive them directly after. The phrase is added here to distinguish the angels meant. These angels have once before (Revelation 15:1) been described in the same manner. Clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles. Λίνον, "linen," is found in א, B, P, 7, 14, 97, Andreas, Primasius. Λίθον, [precious] "stone," is read in A, C, 38 (margin), 48, 90, Vulgate. It seems more probable that λίθον is the correct word; for in no other place in the New Testament is λίνον found except in Matthew 12:20, where it signifies "flax;" while the ordinary word for linen, viz. βύσσος or βύσσινος, is found in Revelation 18:12, Revelation 18:16, and Revelation 19:8, Revelation 19:14, as well as in Luke 16:19. If λίνον be the correct reading, the image is perhaps suggested by the priestly garments (cf. Exodus 28:42, and vide infra). For the idea of "clothed in precious stone," the LXX. reading of Ezekiel 28:13 is usually quoted. We may refer also to the stones of the high priest's breastplate, and to the description in Revelation 17:4. And having their breasts girded with golden girdles (cf. the vision of our Lord in Revelation 1:13, and the priestly attire described in Exodus 28:8).
And one of the four beasts gave unto the seven angels; four living beings. These, as representing life on the earth (see on Revelation 4:6; Revelation 5:9), are appropriately chosen as the medium for conveying to the angels the plagues about to be inflicted on men. This description is very like what is related of the cherubim—from which the idea of the living beings is evolved (see on Revelation 4:6)—in Ezekiel 10:7, "And one cherub stretched forth his hand from between the cherubims unto the fire that was between the cherubims, and took thereof, and put it into the hands of him that was clothed with linen: who took it, and went out." (On the "seven angels," see on Ezekiel 10:1.) Seven golden vials full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever. Seven; as showing the complete nature of the wrath of God (cf. Ezekiel 10:1," In them is fulfilled," etc.). Golden; the characteristic of the heavenly things and places (cf. Revelation 4:4; Revelation 21:18, etc.), and which is also sometimes used of other things to indicate gorgeousness and unusual splendour (cf. Revelation 18:16). (On "vials," see on Revelation 5:8, and compare with Revelation 14:10, "the cup of his indignation.") Compare the expression, "who liveth forever and ever," with the possible reading of Ezekiel 10:3, "thou King of the ages."
And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power. The "smoke" suggests
(1) the cloud, or Shechiuah, the symbol of God's presence and glory (cf. Exodus 16:10 : Exodus 24:16);
(2) the sign of God's active operation (Exodus 19:18);
(3) the token of judgment and calamity (Isaiah 14:31; Psalms 18:8; Revelation 14:11). All three significations receive their fulfilment in this place. And no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled; should be finished (Revised Version). Just as when God manifested his presence on Sinai the people were not allowed to approach, so here no one is allowed to approach the ναός, the dwelling place of God, while he is manifesting his judgments. The description is intended to convey an impression of the awful sacredness of God's presence. (For the explanation of the parts of this verse, see on previous verses.)
The victors' song.
The visions of this book are drawing to a close. Those immediately before us are meant to indicate the last judgments which must fall on the world, ere out of the ruin and from it there shall emerge the new heavens and the new earth. But another break in the gloom is permitted to us here. The apostle casts his eyes, not downward, but upward. He beholds two groups of beings in the upper realm. The first is composed of seven angels who have seven plagues, which are the last. The second is composed of great multitudes—of those who, while the struggle was going on below, soared out of it, and were victorious. The work of the first group will he noted in subsequent homilies. The song of the second is before us now. If we ask and answer four questions, we shall know as much about the song and the singers as it is possible to do in this state. The four queries are:
(1) Who are singing the song?
(2) At what time?
(3) What are the contents of it?
(4) Where is it being sung?
I. WHO ARE SINGING THE SONG? They "that come victorious from (ἐκ) the beast," etc. (Revelation 15:2). Then it is evident that they are those who once were in the scene of conflict here below; who had to maintain a fight, hard and stern, against a godless world and a corrupt Church; in fact, against all the forces which, led on by "the dragon," are used by the first and the second beasts. We cannot mistake them, any more than we can the glorious company mentioned in the seventh and fourteenth chapters. They once were strugglers and wrestlers here. But their toils are over, and they have gained the victory. They it is who now are singing the song.
II. WHEN? TO WHAT TIME DOES THE APOSTLE POINT US? It may be remarked by some, that inasmuch as the visions of the conflict indicate future troubles, so the brighter visions indicate future glories. True. But we must remember that we are already more than eighteen hundred years onward, and therefore that the struggles of this present time are "future" from the Patmos standpoint. Besides, the song is being sung simultaneously with the raging of the conflict. They sing in one realm who have sped out of (ἐκ) the other. The dragon, the first beast, the second beast, war still. Some have already escaped out of the confusion, have gained the victory, and are singing (ᾄδουσι) the song. A further indication of time is given in Revelation 15:4, "All nations shall come and worship"—future—προοκυνήσουσιν. So that it is evidently before the great work of the world's conversion is completed. Thus we are brought by the time marks in the paragraph to the conclusion to which we have previously come, viz. that the Church of God exists in two realms. One part of it is in the struggle; another has risen beyond it. Their gladness and song have already begun.
III. WHAT OF THE SONG ITSELF?
1. It has a remarkable name. "The song of Moses … and … the Lamb." By the former the deliverance out of Egypt was effected. By the latter a redemption infinitely greater, of which the earlier one was but a faint and feeble type; i.e. the song is a celebration of redeeming love, dud reviews the great redemptive work in all its phases, stages, and ages. £
2. It has joyous accompaniments. "Having the harps of God." Under the Jewish worship, as far back as David's time, the harp was used to aid in sacred song. In a higher realm, where the joy is complete, the "harp" will never be hung on the willows, and will never be out of tune.
3. Its contents are manifold.
(1) It celebrates Divine attributes. "Thou only art holy."
(2) It magnifies the rectitude of the Divine government. "Righteous and true are thy ways."
(3) In it the Divine greatness is extolled. "King of the ages; "The Almighty."
(4) It finds inspiration in the manifestation of the righteous acts of God. To saints above, from their loftier standpoint, the glory of the Divine dealings is far more clear than it can possibly be to us. We "dwell in clouds below."
(5) The certainty of the coming triumph gladdens their hearts. "All nations shall come," etc. (cf. Psalms 86:9; Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 66:23; Zechariah 8:22; Malachi 1:11). Our Saviour's words intimate to us that the progress of the kingdom of God on earth is witnessed by the saints from their blissful seat in Paradise (cf. John 8:56, Greek).
IV. WHERE IS THE SONG BEING SUNG? "I saw … them … standing by the glassy sea" Here, as indeed throughout the chapter, there is an allusion to the ransomed host of Israel when they stood by the shores of the Red Sea and sang, "Sing ye to the Lord," etc. That sight furnishes the material for the imagery here. And the underlying thought which that imagery conveys is this—they stand now in the realm of victory, like as Israel of old when they saw their enemies dead upon the seashore. They are in "the land of triumph," "There are no foes to encounter there." Here is the fighting; there, is the rest. Here, the cross; there, the crown. Here, the sigh; there, the song. Here, the foreboding fear; there, all fear is forever done away.
In view of all this, let us note:
1. It is not for nought that we are asked to maintain the conflict with evil, in the Name and on behalf of our Lord. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." In the day of victory, his triumph will be ours. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I wilt give thee a crown of life."
2. However much perplexity and distress the mystery of the Divine ways may occasion us now, we may rest assured that when God's judgments are made manifest, they will be the theme of adoring praise. There will be seen to be a unity about them which as yet we can scarcely discern; a steadfast advance through age after age which in the present brief span of our earthly life we cannot trace; and we cannot doubt that the ultimate issue will reveal a grandeur, a vastness, and a completeness in redemption's plan, which only the Infinite Eye can now discern. Therefore observe:
3. Meanwhile it is an infinite comfort and stay to our souls amid this troubled scene, to have had sketched beforehand for us the tribulations through which we must enter the kingdom, and the glories of the kingdom in which we shall triumph when the tribulation is over.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
"The wrath of God."
Such is the subject of this and the following chapters.
I. WHAT IS IT? "The wrath of God" is simply that will of God which forever has linked together sin and suffering; that will by which woe follows wickedness everywhere and always. It is calm, not passionate; inexorable, not capricious; ever just, as man's wrath too often is not; and never selfish, is ours too often is.
II. IS TERRIBLE TO EVIL DOERS. See the several symbols of it as they are given one by one in the account of the outpouring of the seven vials. And, separate from all symbol, see how everywhere and always and evermore, suffering, like a sleuth hound, tracks the steps of sin, and sooner or later fastens its fangs in the sinful man or sinful people. So sure is this, that that shrewd, wise, observant man who wrote the Book of Proverbs declared it as the testimony of all experience that they are "fools" who "make a mock at sin."
III. WILL HAVE AN END. Not that the will of God, without which he could neither be the God of holiness nor the God of love; that ordains the everlasting union of sin with suffering—not that that will can ever end or change, but that, the purpose of his will being accomplished by the extirpation of sin, there shall no longer be occasion for suffering. Hence we say the wrath of God will have an end. And accordingly these very plagues are called "the seven last plagues." It would be dreadful to think that the moral condition of men should ever be as it is, and has been during all the past. But it will not. The day will dawn when there will no longer be need for any more plagues, and when the last of them, they all having done their work, shall pass away forevermore (verse 1).
IV. IS CONSENTED TO BY ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN. The saints, they celebrate its manifestation by their song. The living ones (verse 7) consign to the charge of the seven angels the seven vials of the wrath of God. Angels, who come forth from the inmost shrine of the temple of God, and are vested as his priests, undertake this awful work; the holy, the blessed, the glorified, the redeemed, those saved by the mercy of God, all alike consent. It is a fearful, but a most solemn and salutary fact, to remember that there will not be found a solitary individual amongst the holy and the good who will intercede against or do aught but consent to God's judgments against sin. Even he who is the Lamb of God, the Friend and Saviour of sinners, consents; yea, more than this, for it is his song that his saints sing in celebration of these judgments of God. Left utterly alone with his sin—without one friend—will he be who now refuses to give up his sin and submit to Christ.
V. EVIDENCES THE HOLINESS OF GOD. (Verses 3, 4.) The conviction constrains the confession, "Thou only art holy; Righteous and true are thy ways"—so sing they who sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb. What worth is any government, what worth especially would be the government of God, if it were as the sceptic cynic in Ecclesiastes says it is, that "there is one end to the righteous and to the wicked"? There would be no need of a hell by and by, for earth would be hell already. Blessed forever be his Name, who makes "the way of transgressors hard."
VI. WILL BE FOLLOWED BY THE COMING "OF ALL NATIONS TO WORSHIP BEFORE" GOD. (Verse 4.) This most precious truth explains the song that the saints sing. How could they sing if sin and suffering were to go on forever; if evil were to be eternal, or if the woes of the world meant the destruction of the world? But knowing and seeing clearly, as they do, how all these judgments of God conduce to the glory of God; and that as the cloud of his majesty filled the temple (verse 8), so shall that glory fill all the earth; therefore they can, not merely with calmness, but with joy, contemplate the pouring out of the vials, even of the wrath of God. But for the faith of this how could thoughtful men endure to live?
VII. WARNS US TO FLEE FROM THE WICKEDNESS THAT AROUSES IT TO THE LOUD JESUS CHRIST. For he it is in whom we are sheltered from the wrath due to sin of the past, and from the power of sin present and future.—S.C.
Revelation 15:3, Revelation 15:4
The prelude of the plagues—the beginning of the end.
It seemed as if all was ended with the harvest and the vintage, of which we are told in the close of the previous chapter. What can come after the ingathering of the saints and the final judgment? And, indeed, nothing can. But what is here given in the chapters that follow is the more detailed setting forth of the Divine judgments upon the Church's three great enemies—the dragon and the two beasts; or, in other words, the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. The overthrow of Satan is, however, related last of all. Ere the Divine judgments on these enemies of the people of God begin, we have the song of the redeemed—the song, as it is termed, "of Moses the servant of God and of the Lamb." An objection may be felt by some that the saints of God should be represented, as they are here, as exulting over the awful woes which had come upon their enemies. Is such triumph over a fallen foe in harmony with the Spirit of Christ, and with the perfectly sanctified nature of the inhabitants of heaven? In reply, we may say that what is right anywhere is right everywhere; and if it were right for Israel to exult over the dead Egyptians and the utter destruction of Pharaoh and his hosts—as surely it was—then like exultation over far worse foes cannot be wrong. We are scarcely able to comprehend either Israel's or St. John's condition of mind. We have so long dwelt at ease, in the enjoyment of full liberty, none daring to make us afraid, that the intense feeling aroused by hideous murder, bloody cruelty, monstrous injustice, and relentless oppression, threatening, not one or two, but a whole people, and enacted under our own eyes, and felt in our own persons—what all this would arouse in men's minds we do not know, and can scarce imagine. One present amid the Sepoy massacres in the Indian Mutiny tells with what fresh understanding he and his fellow worshippers listened in church to the lessons which fell then to be read out of the Book of Joshua. Burning indignation against wrong can never be wrong. It was in Christ, and should be in us. Exultation, therefore, over its downfall is not only natural, but right. The coupling together of the song of Moses and of the Lamb teaches that in the first we are to find the pattern of the second. Note, therefore—
I. THE SCENE. Our thoughts are sent back to the thrilling story of Israel in Egypt. The pouring out of the vials is called by the same name—"plagues"—as were God's judgments in Egypt. And the scene of this song alludes plainly to Israel at the Red Sea. We are standing before a sea of glass, as we read in Revelation 4:1-11. But that sea now seems "mingled with fire." On its margin stand the throngs of the redeemed. That sea so lustrous, so still, so smooth, so firm, like as the Red Sea seemed in comparison with the fearful storm of the night of the Exodus. But it had been a sea of judgment to their foes. In its depths lay horse and rider, chariot and horseman, Pharaoh and his army. Fitly did the fire, mingled with this sea of glass, tell of that. And the rejoicing Israelites were the type of which the redeemed Church of Christ, safe in glory, is the antitype. This scene is another reminder, out of many more, that in the story of Israel may be read, in symbol, the story of the Christian Church. The comfort, the counsel, and the warning—for all are there—of the one are for the other also.
II. THE SONG.
1. It is a song, not a speech. Sung, not said. Music, the vehicle of song, is the language of thoughts that lie too deep for words. Words are not adequate to tell of the heart's feelings. The flush of shame; the flash of the angry eye—as his, whose "eyes were as a flame of fire;" the tears of sorrow; the sigh of distress. More than words is wanted, and music is one of the many means, more expressive far than words, whereby the deeper feelings and thoughts of the heart are uttered. Music is especially animated with joy, and the fact that the heavenly company "sing." tells of their "joy of heart."
2. It is a song wherein all the glory is given to God. Moses does not say one word of himself, but bids the people "sing unto the Lord." So was it, so will it be.
3. It lingers on the terribleness of their enemies. It tells of their proud boast, their cruel intent, their formidable power. Thus the "wrath of man" praised God. And in the future review, when we think of our adversaries, the seemingly insuperable difficulties—these will be, as the like were, part of our song.
4. It tells of the enemies' complete overthrow.
5. The future consequences of this victory. Moses celebrates that. How "the dukes of Edom, the people of Palestina," will be moved with fear. And so in the song of the Lamb, "Who shall not fear," etc.? (Revelation 4:4). The redeemed distinctly contemplate further triumphs for the Lord over those as yet not yielded to him. The "firstfruits," "the Church of the Firstborn," "the elect of God"—and it is these, and their glorious salvation, which is portrayed here—are, as their prototypes were, for the blessing of others, many others; "all the nations of the earth" are to be blessed in Christ and in his seed. And the elect are to be the instruments. And the mighty lever that shall overturn the mass of error and sin shall be God's marvellous mercy to them. Oh to be numbered amongst "the sacramental host of God's elect"! For they are—
III. THE SINGERS OF THIS SONG. They were and are such as:
1. Once were bond- men.
2. Had been in sore peril of being re-enslaved.
3. Their preservation due to the fact that they had been "kept by the power of God." It was his restraining hand had held back the waves, that but for this would have overwhelmed them.
4. They are a "blood-besprinkled band." On the lintel and doorposts of every house of Israel the blood of the Paschal lamb had been sprinkled, and so had they and theirs been saved alive. Never were they to think that it was for their own worthiness they were saved. To crush such thought the Passover sacrifice was ordained. And the singers of this song owe their all to the fact that for them Christ's blood was shed. In virtue of that they are what and where they are. Do any ask—How is this? We answer -
"I cannot tell the woe
Which thou wast pleased to bear,
O Lamb of God; but this I know—
That all my sins were there."
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The song of the redeemed.
A further vision is permitted—"another sign"—with which the faithful but tried ones are to be cheered. The vision, as a whole, is "great and marvellous." It reaches to the end of the eighteenth chapter. "Seven angels" have "seven plagues"—"the last, for in them is finished the wrath of God." With these solemn words the announcement of the coming judgments—the final ones—is prefaced. As before, the hearts of the faithful are comforted and assured by a vision of their glorious lot, before the revelation of the judgments upon the earth is made. So are they encouraged to fidelity, and prepared for the terrible scenes which are about to be presented. It is needless to search for an explanation of every detail of the symbol. The vision is of the holy ones, who sing a psalm of praise to God for his manifested judgments. "Thy righteous acts have been made manifest." It has its hidden assertion. Thy judgments hitherto, thy judgments ever, those which have been, those which are, and those which shall be, are true and righteous altogether. This ascription is thrown into the form of a song, which is—
I. A SONG OF PRAISE. Praise to God for the greatness and marvellous character of his works, and for the righteousness and truthfulness of his ways.
II. A SONG OF TRIUMPH. Like the several songs of the Revelation, it anticipates the final issue of the struggle between good and evil. "All the nations shall come and worship before thee."
III. A SONG FROM A FAITHFUL AND REDEEMED HOST. "Them that come victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name." Only the redeemed who have been faithful in their struggle against evil can rejoice in the final overthrow of that evil.
IV. A JUBILANT SONG. They who sing stand "by the glassy sea, having the harps of God." It is a song of salvation and deliverance: "the song of Moses"—the triumphant exultation of the redeemed host when they, having crossed the flood, saw their enemies engulfed. "The song of the Lamb," when the whole work of the Lamb has been effected, when the redemption from sin is complete, and the overthrow of whatever opposes the Name of the Lamb is utterly crushed and destroyed. Then truly shall it be said, "Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy Name? for thou only art holy; for all the nations shall come and worship before thee." Thus is anticipated in song what is about to be portrayed.—R.G.
The praise of the Divine works.
It is most meet that all should praise the works of God—those works which themselves do praise him. But the Church of God is especially called upon to view the works of God in the world. There the Almighty Rruler displays his power and wisdom and goodness. There the thoughtful may learn of him; for the righteousness and the truthfulness of his ways are a revelation of the righteousness and truth of his Name.
I. PRAISE IS THE CREATURE'S BECOMING ASCRIPTION TO ALMIGHTY GOD. His supremacy and government, his wisdom and power, his goodness and beneficence—every attribute which the human mind may be able, even dimly, to trace, it is the duty of the human heart to praise. It is little that can be offered by a creature to the Creditor. His best service is his true, lowly, reverent, sincere praise. "He that offereth praise glorifieth God; ... Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Zion."
II. PRAISE APPROPRIATELY ASSUMES THE FORM OF AN INSPIRITING SONG OF FAITH. Faith has its one foundation in God. Whatever lifts man upward to God stimulates to faith in the Divine Name. Without the knowledge of God there can be no faith in him; but as the glory of the Divine Name shines upon the human soul, that soul grows up into filial, obedient confidence in God. The song of praise stirs the sleepy spirit as the battle cry the warrior. To praise God for the goodness and greatness of his works is sure to inspirit the faith that is in him.
III. PRAISE RECOGNIZING THE MIGHT AND MAJESTY OF GOD ASSURES THE HEART OF A FINAL CONQUEST OVER THE FEEBLENESS OF EVIL. This is the subject of the song in these words: "Who shall not fear, O Lord, and glorify thy Name? for thou only art holy."
IV. PRAISE CALMLY ANTICIPATES THE ULTIMATE HAPPY AND PEACEFUL SUBMISSION OF ALL TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF "THE LORD GOD, THE ALMIGHTY." "All the nations shall come and worship before thee."
V. THIS PRAISE HAS FOR ITS SUBJECT THE HOLY NAME AND RIGHTEOUS WAY OF GOD.—R.G.
Final judgments proclaimed.
From this point commences the final delineation of the overthrow of the kingdom of evil. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to interpret the symbolical language in detail into realistic descriptions. Probably such interpretation is misleading. But the great ideas stand out prominently, and afford matter for contemplation, and, without puzzling the lowly reader, will help him to a knowledge of the "ways" and "judgments" of God. The complete vision of the destruction of "Babylon" reaches to the end of the eighteenth chapter. The portion named above is preliminary. A glance through the whole is sufficient to assure us that it represents a widespread struggle—a struggle of the utmost intensity and severity, and a final one. Within it occur the significant, prophetic words, "It is done!" Let this first glance, starting at the first words and reaching to the last, embrace the whole in a preliminary view, and we shall be instantly arrested—
I. BY THE SEVERITY OF THE JUDGMENT THREATENED. The vision is one of judgment, not of warfare. It is only incidentally that the idea of war is introduced (Revelation 16:14, Revelation 16:16; Revelation 17:14). Judgment is the burden of the vision. The severity of the judgments is seen in the terms used. There are seven vials, or bowls. The first becomes "a noisome and grievous sore," etc. (Revelation 15:2); the second a cause of death—"every living soul died;" the third turns "the rivers and fountains of the waters" into "blood ;" the fourth, "men were scorched with great beat;" the fifth, "they gnawed their tongues for pain;" the sixth prepares the way for the coming of (antagonistic) kings (this requires a subsequent interpretation); the seventh brings "lightnings and voices and thunders" and "a great earthquake, such as was not since there were men upon the earth." Thus is set forth ideally the utmost painfulness and severity of judgments. Much of the imagery carries us back to Egypt's plagues.
II. We are further arrested by the UNIVERSALITY OF THE JUDGMENT. There is no reference to portions of the earth, as earlier (Revelation 8:7-11).
III. BY THE FINALITY OF THE JUDGMENTS. "In them is finished the wrath of God." It is the judgment of "Babylon the great," "the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters." "Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots, and of the abominations of the earth," whose flesh they shall eat, and "shall burn her utterly with fire." Thus by outward materialistic judgments are we to see a spiritual conquest and destruction and judgment ideally represented. Blessed are they who are not included in "the judgment of the great harlot"!—R. G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Divine severity and human heroism.
"And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up the wrath of God. And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast," etc. This fragment of John's vision, or dream, brings under our attention and serves to illustrate two subjects:
(1) Divine severity; and
(2) human heroism.
I. DIVINE SEVERITY. "And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvellous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; for in them is filled up [finished] the wrath of God" (verse 1). Undoubtedly in the government of this world there is the stormy as well as the mild, the gloomy as well as the pleasant. The government under which we live on this earth often assumes aspects of terrible severity. Its manifold ministers or angels bear to us manifold "plagues "—afflictions, which our sin-stricken consciences refer to Divine indignation or wrath.
1. The principle of severity is seen in material nature. In the inorganic realms all things do not seem mild and pleasant. We have tornadoes sweeping destruction over sea and land, we have earthquakes that engulf cities, sounds are heard and sights are witnessed that overwhelm with terror and alarm.
2. This principle of severity is seen in the plantal realm. In gardens and orchards, as well as in the fields and woods, the open commons and the wild prairies, there is heard the moaning groan and felt the blasting breath of severity shivering the fruit, scattering the blossoms like hoar frost, freezing the very roots of life.
3. This principle of severity is seen in the sentient domain. From the behemoths that prowl in the forests, and the leviathans that sport in oceans, to the tiniest microbes in the microscopic world, there are aspects of severity, pains of birth and death, of hunger and thirst, and of predatorial ravages and tortures. There is an undertone of sadness heard throughout. "The whole creation groaneth," etc.
4. This principle of severity is seen in human history. Bodily diseases, secular indigence, social annoyances, heart bereavements, physical dissolution,—in all these there is often the ghastly appearance of Divine severity. The "seven angels," with their "seven plagues," appear in all directions. I am far enough from averring that the ministry of pain is a malignant ministry, but, otherwise, it is benign Will the ministry of pain ever continue? Will the "seven angels" be ever on the wing, bearing the "plagues"? Cowper says—
"The groans of nature in this nether world,
Which Heaven has heard for ages, have an end."
Will they have an end? Heaven grant they may!
II. HUMAN HEROISM. "And I saw as it were a sea of glass [a glassy sea] mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over [that come victorious from] the beast, and over [from] his image, and over his mark, and over [from] the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass [standing by the glassy sea], having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses," etc. (verses 2, 3). The heroes here suggested are:
1. Those who have conquered the wrong. They are those "who have gotten the victory over the beast." And what is the beast? Moral wrong in all its elements and forms. Sin is a hideous, ravenous, iniquitous "beast," served and worshipped by unredeemed men the world over. The foe against which the true hero fights is sin, and sin only. He who destroys life and tramples on human rights is no hero, but a mercenary murderer. From no character do I recoil with such horror as from him who sells his time, his body, his all, to slaughter his fellow men. Nor do I feel scarcely a greater abhorrence for such a character than for those who, professing to be the ministers of Christ, rhetorically extol such as heroes, and subscribe to monuments to perpetuate their infamous history. I wonder greatly that the reports of the horrors of that war lately going on in the Soudan, inaugurated and supported, alas! by what has been rightly denominated the shuffling, starving, slaughtering Parliament of the time, do not rouse all England to arms against the Governments and the Churches that can tolerate for an instant such stupendous crimes.
2. Those who ascribe their victory to God. Observe:
(1) Their posture. "They stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God" (verse 2). It is suggested that their position is one of safety. The sea does not surge about them; it is beneath them, hard as ice. It is a position of splendour. The crystal sea on which they stand is made brilliant by fire. There is no posture of soul so sublime and safe as the true posture of worship. The Shechinah beams around them as their glory and defence.
(2) Their anthem. "They sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb" (verse 3).
(a) Their anthem breathes triumphant praise. They recognize in their triumphs the "great and marvellous works" of God, and the truth and rectitude of his ways. God is righteous. "Just [righteous] and true are thy ways, thou King of saints [the ages]" (verse 3). Notice:
(α) The demands of his Law attest the truth of this testimony. The heavenly Teacher has reduced all the demands which the eternal Governor makes upon us to a twofold command.
(i.) "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart." His demand is our supreme love. Is this demand just? This depends upon three things:
(a) Whether we have the power of loving any one supremely.
(b) Whether God has attributes adapted to awaken this love within us.
(c) Whether these attributes are revealed with sufficient clearness to our minds.
The affirmative to these things must be admitted by all. All men do love some object supremely. The Eternal has attributes in every variety of aspect and attraction. The heavenly Teacher has reduced the demands to another command.
(ii.) "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them." Not "whatsoever men do unto you"—that might be sinful; but "whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you." Would you have them false, dishonest, unkind, tyrannic, towards you? Whatsoever ye would that they should be, be so to them. Can anything be more just?
(β) The intuitions of his moral creatures attest the truth of this testimony. In all moral intelligences there is:
(i.) An intuitive sense of the right. All have an inbred sentiment of right and wrong. This sentiment implies a moral standard; and what is this standard but God?
(ii.) An intuitive love of right. All moral souls love the right in the abstract; they are bound to do it. "I delight in the Law of God after the inward man." All consciences go with God.
(iii.) An intuitive remorse. Misery springs up in the soul from a conscious departure from the right. Cain, Belshazzar, Judas, are examples.
(iv.) An intuitive appeal to God under the wrong as the Friend of the right. Oppressed humanity involuntarily looks to God as Judge of all the earth. Deep in the soul of the moral creation is the feeling that God's ways are just and right. No argument can destroy this consciousness.
(γ) The mediation of his Son attests the truth of this testimony. Christ came to establish judgment—rectitude in the earth. "What the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh."
(i.) His life was the development of Divine righteousness. He was incarnate judgment. "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth."
(ii.) His death was the highest homage to Divine rectitude. He could have escaped death. It was the inner sense of right that urged him on.
(iii.) His system is the promoter of Divine righteousness. His truth inculcates it. His Spirit promotes it. His Spirit comes to convince the world of sin, of righteousness, etc.
(δ) The retributions of his government attest the truth of this testimony. Look at the expulsion of Adam, the Deluge, the burning of Sodom, the extermination of the Canaanites, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews.
(b) Their anthem breathes philanthropic devotion. "Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy Name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments [righteous acts] are made manifest" (verse 4). The words may be regarded as expressing a desire that all men, all the nations, should worship God. Genuine piety is always philanthropic. He who loves the Father will love his children, and will desire all the brethren to worship the Father "in spirit and in truth." Genuine piety and genuine philanthropy are convertible expressions, modifications of the same sovereign principle—love.—D.T.
Genuine discipline of soul.
"And after that I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened: and the seven angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen," etc. I do not know that 1 can turn these words to a more legitimate and practical use than by using them as an illustration of genuine soul discipline. In this light they suggest to us the source, the ministers, and the indispensability of genuine soul discipline.
I. THE SOURCE OF GENUINE SOUL DISCIPLINE. "After that [these things] I looked [saw], and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened" (Revelation 15:5). The discipline, as we have seen, was of a painful character. It involved "seven angels" with "seven plagues." Whence did it proceed? Not from secondary instrumentalities, fortuitous circumstances, or a heartless, rigorous fatality, but direct from the presence of the Infinite. The language here points to the inner compartment of the old Jewish tabernacle, known as the "holy of holies." There the Jew regarded Jehovah as especially revealing himself to them, and as communicating to them his ideas and plans. To a genuinely disciplined soul all influences from heaven tending to purify and ennoble are regarded as coming direct from the presence of the great Father. Its inner eye, so to speak, is so opened and quickened that it glances into the very shrine of the Almighty. It feels that "every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights," etc. It is a characteristic, or rather a law, of true religiousness that it bears the soul away through nature, churches, and chapels, right up into the very presence of God, to the very fontal Source of all good, the mighty Mainspring that works the universe. God is its all in all. It can truly say, "I looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened" (Revelation 15:5). The grand difference between a spurious and a genuine religiousness of soul is this—the one busies itself about the fussy doings and foggy dogmas of little sects, and the other is so absorbed with the Supreme Good, that it feels with the old Hebrew, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and whom on earth do I desire but thee?"
II. THE MINISTERS OF GENUINE SOUL DISCIPLINE. "And the seven angels came out of the temple, having [that had] the seven plagues" (Revelation 15:6). The great Father who makes his children "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light," carries on his sublime educational work by angels or ministers. Concerning those ministers, observe:
1. They are complete in number and qualification. "Seven angels" and "seven plagues."
2. They go forth direct from his presence. "Came out of the temple," etc.
3. They are divinely marked and attired as God's priests. "Clothed [arrayed] in pure and white linen [precious stones pure and bright], and having their breasts girded [girt about the breasts] with golden girdles" (Revelation 15:6).
4. They have a commission of severity. "And one of the four beasts [living creatures] gave unto the seven angels seven golden vials [bowls] full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever" (Revelation 15:7). (The wrath of God is his antagonism to sin.) In the great moral school of humanity there has always been, as in all schools, not a little severity. True soul education involves pain. The very severity is a blessing. "What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" "Our light afflictions, which are but for a moment," etc. Whilst the majority of men regard this life as a market, or a banquet, or a playground, he who regards it as a great moral school has the only true idea—as a school in which every object is a lesson, every agent a teacher, and every teacher coming forth directly from God.
III. THE INDISPENSABILITY OF GENUINE SOUL DISCIPLINE. "No man [no one] was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled [should be finished]" (Revelation 15:8). The idea suggested is that no man could enter into the shrine or into the immediate presence of God until the discipline had been fully accomplished. Here is a commentary on this: "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart, who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity." Cleanness in hands and heart means having conduct void of offence towards God and man. Freedom from vanity means moral reality. These two things, moral cleanness and moral reality, are the qualifications for ascending to the "holy hill," or fellowship with God. "It is not," says Luther, "he who sings so well or so many psalms, nor he who fasts or watches so many days, nor he who divides his own among the poor, nor he who preaches to others, nor he who lives quietly, kindly, and friendly, nor, in fine, is it he who knows all sciences and languages, nor he who works all virtuous and all good works that ever any man spoke or read of; but it is he alone who is pure within and without."—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 15". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26