And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven; after [omitting "and"]… coming down, etc. The usual form of introduction to a new vision (cf. Revelation 4:1; Revelation 7:1, etc.). The "mystery" of the beast and the harlot having been declared, the angel now describes the doom in store for them. The angel is from heaven, as carrying the news of the judgment which is sent from heaven (cf. Revelation 10:1; Revelation 19:6, Revelation 19:15, Revelation 19:17; Revelation 15:1, etc.). Having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. The great "authority" refers to the judgment which follows, which, however, is not acted out before the seer, but only described. The last clause records the visible manifestation of the great power (cf. the description in Ezekiel 43:2).
And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying; and he cried with a strong voice, saying. This "strong voice" is characteristic of the heavenly utterances (cf. Revelation 7:2; Revelation 14:7, etc.). Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. The event, though future, is described as past, being predetermined in the counsels of God. The words here are a reproduction of Isaiah 21:9. And is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird; a habitation … a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird. "Devils" (Greek, δαιμόνια), inferior evil spirits. The three phrases express the same idea, viz. the loathsome and hateful state to which Babylon is reduced. The language is derived from the prophets (cf. Isaiah 13:21, Isaiah 13:22; Isaiah 34:11-15; Jeremiah 1:1-19 :39; Jeremiah 51:37). A hold (Greek, φυλακή, "a strong place"); the natural and fitting stronghold of the devils, rather than a place to which they are involuntarily confined.
For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. "The wine" is omitted in A, C, but it is inserted in א, B, and retained in the Revised Version. "The wrath" is omitted (cf. the expression in Revelation 14:8 and Revelation 17:2). And the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her. (On the figure employed, as well as the identical language, see Revelation 17:2.) And the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. The "abundance" (Greek, δύναμις, which Vitringa renders by copia, referring to Job 31:25; Ezekiel 28:4, LXX.). "Delicacies." (Greek, στρῆνος, occurs in the New Testament only here, and as a verb in Revelation 18:7, Revelation 18:9, and (compounded) in 1 Timothy 5:11. It signifies overweening pride and insolence and wantonness, arising from superfluity of wealth and gifts. Cf. the warning to the Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:17).
And I heard another voice from heaven, saying. Probably the voice of another angel in succession to the one mentioned in Revelation 18:1. Another angel takes up the theme, because the message is now directly addressed to Christians. Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. The angel says, "my people," because he is representing God. These words, resembling Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:1-15 :l; Jeremiah 1:8; and especially Jeremiah 51:6 (cf. also Jeremiah 51:8), 45, recall also the warning of our Lord in Matthew 24:16 (cf. also Genesis 19:22, "I cannot do anything till thou be come thither"). Since the harlot, who is identical with Babylon, is representative of the faithless part of the Church of God, these words form a direct warning to Christians. The departure which is commanded is not necessarily a literal, visible one; but the command implies a dissociation from, and condemnation of, the works of Babylon. Lot's wife literally departed from Sodom, but was overtaken with punishment, because her heart was not dissevered from the wickedness of the city.
For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. That is, the accumulation of sin is so great as to reach up to the heaven. Exactly the description of the judgment of Babylon given in Jeremiah 51:9, "Forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country; for her judgment reacheth unto heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies." The last part of the verse is a repetition of Revelation 16:19.
Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. "You" is omitted in all the best manuscripts. The second "unto her," though supported by P, Syriac, Coptic, is omitted in א, A, B, C, etc.: Render to her as she also rendered, and double the doubled things according to her works, etc. The description of God's judgment is still founded on the denunciations against Babylon in Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 1:5 -29; Jeremiah 51:24; Jeremiah 16:18; cf. also Isaiah 61:7; Zechariah 9:12; and the legal retribution ordered in Exodus 22:4-7). The cup which she hath filled is that containing "the wine of her fornication (cf. verse 3); she is now to receive a double measure of the cup of God's wrath (cf. verse 3).
How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her. (For "lived deliciously," see on "delicacies," Revelation 18:3.) The words are a re-echo and expansion of those in Revelation 18:6 (cf. Luke 16:25). For she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow; because she saith, etc.; and contact with the succeeding verse. The prophetical writers still supply the imagery (cf. Isaiah 47:8, "I shall not sit as a widow;" see also Lamentations 1:1).
Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine. This is the retribution for her boasting in Revelation 18:7 (cf. Isaiah 47:9, "These two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day," etc.). Alford says, "death, for her scorn of the prospect of widowhood; mourning, for her inordinate revelling; famine, for her abundance" (cf. Revelation 18:3). The description is not to be taken literally, but is typical of a sudden and overwhelming reverse, viz. that which will occur at the last judgment day (cf. the words of our Lord in Matthew 24:37-42). Some writers see here an allusion to the second, third, and fourth seals (see Revelation 6:1-17.). And she shall he utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. Who judged her; κρίνας is found in א, A, B, C, P, and others. This is the fulfilment of the predicted punishment of the harlot (Revelation 17:16). The last clause replies, as it were, to the boast in Revelation 18:7, "I sit as a queen," etc.
And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning; and the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and revelled with her, shall weep and wait over her, when they see, etc. It is noteworthy that this sentence is in the future tense; that in Revelation 18:11 in the present; that in Revelation 18:17, Revelation 18:18 in the past. (On "committed fornication," see Revelation 18:3; Revelation 14:4,Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:14; Revelation 17:2. On "lived deliciously," see Revelation 17:3, Revelation 17:7.) "Lament'' is the same word used in Revelation 1:7, "All kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him." Cf. the description of the fall of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:16). (On "smoke," see on Revelation 9:2.)
Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying. Unconsciously acting upon the command in Revelation 18:4, "Come out of her ... that ye receive not of her plagues." Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come; Woe, woe, the great city. In one hour (cf. Revelation 18:8). Some writers understand the "one hour" to refer to the space of time during which the kings rule (see Revelation 17:12); but a comparison with Revelation 18:8 leads to the conclusion that the meaning is "suddenly;" the contrast in a short time between the two positions of Babylon enhancing the fearfulness of the visitation.
And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her. Weep and mourn; the historical present (see on Revelation 18:9). The kings have been mentioned; the merchants and next the seamen are referred to, showing the wide distribution of "Babylon," and forbidding the application to a single state or city. The description which follows is analogous to that in Ezekiel 27:1-36.; Isaiah 23:1-18. For no man buyeth their merchandise any more; their cargo. We are naturally reminded of the action of the second beast in forbidding to buy and sell (Revelation 13:17). Alford here recognizes the difficulty in applying the prophecy to Rome, either pagan or papal, and adds, "I leave this difficulty unsolved ... The details of this mercantile lamentation far more nearly suit London than Rome." (See the interpretation given of the harlot and Babylon on Revelation 17:1.)
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet. (On "precious stone" and" linen," see on Revelation 15:6.) Such was the attire of the harlot (Revelation 17:4). Writers have endeavoured to classify in various ways the articles mentioned, in order to obtain some signification from the numbers used. Thus Hengstenberg sees four hard and then four soft articles mentioned, and he reminds us that the number four is symbolical of the world: but this does not carry him beyond Revelation 18:12. The articles enumerated seem naturally to fall into six classes (from which we can gather no information, unless we look upon six as typifying the world, as in Revelation 13:18). First, articles of personal adornment; second, articles used for furniture, etc.; third, objects of sensual gratification—smell, etc.; fourth, articles of food; fifth, animate possessions; sixth, souls of men. These certainly seem to be arranged in a kind of progressive order of importance. All the articles mentioned in the text above were of the highest value. Purple and scarlet (see Revelation 17:3) were the prerogative of kings; silk was so scarce, that its use was forbidden in the reign of Tiberius. And all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble; and every ivory vessel, and every vessel, etc. Thyine wood is "that of the Thuya articulata, Desfont., the Callitris quadrivalvis of present botanists. This tree was much prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans, on account of the beauty of its wood for various ornamental purposes. By the Romans the tree was called citrus, the wood citrum. It is a native of Barbary, and grows to the height of fifteen to twenty-five feet" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible '). In this passage the accusative case is used; the preceding nouns are in the genitive.
And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense; and cinnamon, and amomon, and incense, and ointment, and frankincense. These constitute the third class (see on Revelation 18:12). Cinnamon, an Indian tree, was in use in the Levitical ritual (Exodus 30:23). It is referred to as a perfume in Proverbs 7:17. Amomon, which is omitted in the Textus Receptus, is found in א, A, C. P, etc. It is rendered in the Revised Version by "spice." Its use was similar to that of cinnamon. Its seeds are used under the name "cardamoms." And wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat. These form the fourth class (see on Proverbs 7:12; cf. Le Proverbs 2:1, Proverbs 2:2). And beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves; and cattle, etc. The word rendered "slaves" is σωμάτων, "bodies," i.e. slaves. At the word "horses" the nouns are again placed in the genitive (see on Proverbs 7:12). These form the fifth class (see on Proverbs 7:12). "Chariots," δέδη, is not the word used in Revelation 9:9. It is a word probably of Gaulish origin. And souls of men. The accusative again. Not in the ordinary acceptation of the word "souls," but rather "lives of men," as the Revised Version margin; that is, "living men." It is probable that the two expressions, "bodies" (vide supra) and "souls of men," refer to two classes of slaves.
And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all; all things that were dainty and splendid are perished from thee, and [men] shall find, etc. The Textus Receptus reads ἀπῆλθεν, "are gone," as in 1; ἀπώλοντο is found in א, 7, and about twelve other cursives; ἀπώλετο is supported by A, R, C, P, and others, besides many versions and Fathers. This verse, containing a direct address to Babylon. has been thought by Vitringa and others to be misplaced; but this is unnecessary (cf. the similar circumstance in Revelation 18:21-24).
The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her (cf. Revelation 18:11), shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment. The future tense is now used (see on Revelation 18:9); cf. Revelation 18:10, where the same thing is related of' the kings. Weeping and wailing (cf. Revelation 18:9, where, however, we have κόψονται, "wail," instead of, as here, πενθοῦντες, "mourn:" cf. also Revelation 18:11).
And saying, Alas, alas that great city! Most authorities omit "and." Woe, woe, the great city! (nominative case); exactly as in Revelation 18:10. That was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls. She that was clothed, etc. Decked; "gilded," as in the Revised Version margin, as in Revelation 17:4. The identity of description of the woman and Babylon is another proof of the essentially identical nature of the two (see on Revelation 17:1; cf. also Revelation 17:12).
For in one hour so great riches is come to nought; because ( ὅτι) in one hour was made desolate that so great wealth. This is given as the reason of the "Woe, woe!" of Revelation 18:16, and is to be connected with the preceding clauses. (On "one hour," see Revelation 18:10, where the same reason is given as in this verse.) And every shipmaster; pilot; found only here and in Acts 27:11. And all the company in ships; and every one who saileth to a place. Such is probably the correct text, though there are several small variations. The Authorized Version has little support. The Revised Version renders, And every one that saileth anywhither. And sailors, and as many as trade by sea; as many as work the sea; i.e. gain their living by means of the sea. Thus are enumerated all who are connected with the sea in any capacity (cf. Ezekiel 27:27). Stood afar off. Like the kings (Acts 27:10) and the merchants (Acts 27:15), and doubtless for the same reason; viz. to avoid being overwhelmed in the destruction of the city.
And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying. The same description as in Revelation 18:9 (which see). What city is like unto this great city! (cf. Ezekiel 27:32, "And lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea?").
And they cast dust on their heads. This continues the description as given in Ezekiel 27:30, "Shall cast up dust upon their heads." And cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city! Weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe! etc.; an exact repetition of Ezekiel 27:15, Ezekiel 27:16. Wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness. Like the merchants, the men here described regret the loss of their wealth (cf. Ezekiel 27:11, Ezekiel 27:15, Ezekiel 27:16). So in Ezekiel 27:33, "When thy wares went forth out of the seas, thou filledst many people; thou didst enrich the kings of the earth with the multitude of thy riches and of thy merchandise." For in one hour is she made desolate. Exactly as in Ezekiel 27:17; and similarly to Ezekiel 27:10.
Rejoice over her, thou heaven. These words are best understood as being uttered by the writer, as in Revelation 12:12 (see on Revelation 12:10). And ye holy apostles and prophets; and ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets, is read in א, A, B, P, etc., and adopted by the Revisers. The Authorized Version reading is found in C, 1, 17. Not only the heavenly inhabitants are to rejoice, but also those on earth who have been persecuted by her, as mentioned in verse 24. The time is again described which has been already referred to in former parts of the book, and especially in Revelation 11:18. Some authors have held this verse to prove that the writer of the Apocalypse was not the Apostle John; either because
There is no ground for either presumption:
By the "prophets "are primarily intended, perhaps, the Christian prophets (cf. Ephesians 3:5); but if Babylon is typical of the hostile world power, and the harlot of the faithless, worldly portion of God's Church, as we have seen them to be, the words are applicable to the Church of God in all ages. For God hath avenged you on her; for God hath judged your judgment on her. The answer to the prayer of the martyrs in Revelation 6:10. The words, "your judgment," probably mean "that judgment which is her due for her treatment of you," as in the Authorized Version. Hengstenberg gives "the doom which she pronounced upon you." Wordsworth, laying stress upon ἐξ, "out of," makes the words mean, "He has taken your cause out of her hands into his own."
And a mighty angel took up a stone like a groat millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying; add one strong angel (cf. the "mighty voice" in Revelation 18:2; also Revelation 10:1, and elsewhere). The adjective, of course, refers to the mightiness of the deed wrought (cf. Jeremiah 51:61-64, "Thou shall bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates; and thou shall say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise," etc.). The sea may be typical of the nations of the earth (see Revelation 13:1). Thus with violence shall that groat city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all; Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be cast down, etc. (Revised Version). Alford translates "with a rush;" ὅρμημα is peculiar to this passage. The complete nature of this extinction is indicated by the frequency of the words, "no more at all," in Revelation 18:21-23.
And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; harpers and minstrels and flute players, etc. (Revised Version). Cf. the description of the desolation of Tyre in Ezekiel 26:13 and Isaiah 24:8. And no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee. "Every craft" is omitted in א, A. (On the last phrase, see on Isaiah 24:21.) And the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee. This passage, together with the following verse, is founded on Jeremiah 25:10.
And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee; of a lamp (cf. Jeremiah 25:10, "I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle"). For thy merchants were the great men of the earth; were the princes. The cause of this overthrow is thus again stated. It is a repetition of the idea in Revelation 18:7, Revelation 18:15, Revelation 18:19, "I sit a queen;" "The merchants which were made rich by her;" "That great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea" (cf. Isaiah 23:8, "Whose merchants were princes;" also Ezekiel 27:20-22). For by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. The judgment is the result of the non-repentance of Revelation 9:21.
And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth. At first sight it seems difficult to understand that these words are spoken not only of Babylon, but of the faithless portion of the Church, symbolized by the harlot. But we must remember
Here is concluded the pronouncement of the judgment of Babylon; which may be said to answer the prayer in Revelation 6:10; and which forms the conclusion of the revelation commencing at Revelation 17:1-18.
Lamentations over the fall of Babylon.
In our previous study of "Babylon the great," we had occasion to remark that there were three forms under which a great Babylon might be recognized.
1. In that worldwide spirit of alienation from God which has corrupted every form of human life everywhere.
2. In any Church which, allying itself with the world power, fornicates therewith, and puts itself on the throne instead of God.
3. Most manifestly of all in the papal Church, where every form of spiritual harlotry is seen at its very worst. Mr. Porter remarks, £ "Zion is the place where God dwells with men; great Babylon, the place where the priest sits in the seat of God." We would rather say, "Zion is where God dwells with men; Babylon the great is where any x, any unclean spirit, commercial or religious, sets aside the will of God, and so comes between men and their Maker." This harlot is seated on seven mountains—which are seven kings or kingdoms—which are seven heads of the beast. The world's might and energy are "beheld concentrated under this mystic number seven—in the one symbol of the beast; and this, it is important to bear in mind, is not merely Rome, nor the Roman empire, but a general symbol of secular anti-Christian power." If we thus see spirit rather than form referred to under this varied symbolism, we shall perceive at once the reason why some parts of these chapters apply rather to a huge commercial power and other parts to a huge ecclesiastical one; and hence the difficulty which is so frankly and clearly stated by Dean Alford £ will no longer be felt. As the writer in the 'Speaker's Commentary' remarks, "The whole passage points not to any single city, at any one single period, but, to the world city throughout all time;" and, we would add, not only to a religious but to a commercial harlotry; to any and every attraction by which the spirit of man is seduced from allegiance to God.
I. THE SAME SPIRIT OF ALIENATION FROM GOD, WHICH ASSUMES A RELIGIOUS FORM, ALSO PRESENTS ITSELF IN A COMMERCIAL ASPECT, ALL THE WORLD OVER. It is just as possible to put "business" between man and God as it is to put a priest between man and God. So far as we can read this Apocalyptic word, the commercial will survive the downfall of the papal Babylon. For (Revelation 17:17) we are told that when the kings of the earth have ceases their amours with the papacy, they will "give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled;" as if there would be even a more determined manifestation of carnal world force after the death or, at any rate, during the decline of the papacy. Certainly it is that these are the two lines along which history is moving at this hour. The papacy as a whole is on the decline. The world is opening up more and more to commercial interchange; and it is just as clear that the commerce of the world, in the godlessness which so largely pervades it, is Babylon the great on the secular side, as that papal Rome is Babylon the great on its ecclesiastical side. And just as easily as we could draw out a ground plan in outline of a papal Babylon from the details in Revelation 17:1-18., so can we draw out a ground plan of the commercial Babylon from the details supplied in Revelation 18:1-24. £ Ten features.
1. Seated on many waters.
2. A dominant power: "ruling over the kings of the earth."
3. Proud and boastful: "I sit as a queen."
4. Serenely secure: "I shall see no mourning."
5. Self-sufficient: "I am no widow."
6. Luxurious living in "wantonness."
7. Intoxicated, and intoxicating others, with her splendour.
8. Carrying on an international merchandise.
9. Engaged in shipping.
10. Exporting or importing in sevenfold variety:
Could there be a more precise description of the commercial world spirit, which is at work among all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues—a spirit of which this England of ours in her world wide transactions is the chief manifestation at this moment? So that, as Dean Alford ominously remarks, some parts of the description rather suit London than Rome. Commercially, indeed, we have done with any avowed traffic in the bodies of men. But that in the sight of God many of the accepted maxims of some men of business involve a fearful trifling with consciences and souls, is not open to question. It is well known that almost every variety of export and import named here is ours. Our shipping interests are far larger than those of any other nation on the face of the earth. Our gross tonnage through the Suez Canal alone shows this. Our merchandise touches every shore. The splendour and renown of our name and fame intoxicates many and many a merchant. Luxury, self sufficiency, pride, godlessness,—these are to a grievous extent our bane and our poison. And who would venture to dispute the fact that, from sheer love of greed and gold, thousands on thousands will play fast and loose with truth and principle, and the right and God, and will say, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us"? And the fearful fact ought to be recognized and acknowledged, that even the hatred which some entertain of the priestly yoke arises from a refusal to wear any yoke at all. "Our tongues are our own; who is Lord over us?" So men speak. This evil is certainly so huge that it is nothing less than a "Babylon the great."
II. THIS BABYLON IS DOOMED. The means and methods of Babylon's fall have been indicated in the preceding homily (q.v.). They are fourfold.
1. Divine overruling.
2. Human desertion.
3. Heavy judgments.
4. Retribution and desolation.
III. THE FALL OF BABYLON WILL CALL FROM MANY A BITTER LAMENTATION. There are three sources from which the lament will come.
1. From kings, as they see the great city which was the glory of their empire reduced and brought low.
2. From merchants, whose sources of wealth are dried up, so that "no one buyeth their merchandise any more." £
3. From men of the sea, who gained their living by trading from port to port, because there is no longer any principal mart with which to trade. And clearly this is such a lamentation as godless men would make. We read in Revelation 16:21 that when the destruction came men blasphemed God because of the hail. In strict accordance therewith is the spirit of the wail over Babylon's fall It is not that God has not been glorified. It is not that her busy life has been used for purposes most utterly selfish and often vile, for the lamentation over the ruin is just as selfish as their commerce itself has been (Revelation 16:11). Their cargoes no one buys any more! Surely, nothing could bespeak the degradation of man when in apostasy from God, more than such a lamentation as this. It all centres in self. They have made their commerce their god. Ah! earthly souls will be earthly still, even under the ruin of all they hold most dear. Here we see sketched before us men—men made for God, to enjoy him, to love him, and to obey him—clad in sackcloth; and why? Because they have not honoured their God? Ah, no! But because no one buys their cargo.! It is as if an orphan child should centre all his grief on a lost farthing, and think nothing of his disobedience to his lost parents. Nor can we fail to detect in this lament a note of bitterness against God. They see that the great Power they have been ignoring is working against them, and that they are bankrupt for eternity. Terrible beyond expression must it be for a man who has lived for earth, to find the world for which he lived departing forever. How bare and forlorn and desolate must he feel! The harpers, and singers, and pipers, and trumpeters are forever still; the sound of hammer and anvil is heard no more; the whirl of the mill has ceased; the sheen of the silver, the glitter of the gold, the light of the lamp, have vanished away; the voice of gladness, and of the bridegroom and the bride, are hushed; and the man is left alone. His gods are gone, and he is confronted with the God whom he neglected, to find—alas! too late—that his whole life has been a mistake. He has loved and served the creature more than the Creator, and now, instead of finding his joy in God when every earthly joy is gone, his only look out is a vista of bankruptcy and of irreparable woe. All his dignity has disappeared, and is reduced to a moan and groan that no one buys his cargo!
IV. THIS PICTURE OF GODLESS AND HOPELESS LAMENTATION OUGHT NOT TO BE STUDIED IN VAIN.
1. We should first of all learn that the hold of God on all that we have and are is absolute. We are but tenants at will. The proud and conceited talk as if the world were ours—"My river is my own, and I have made it for myself"—is an abomination to the Lord. God has never waived his rights in entrusting to us his loans. Let merchants, stockbrokers, bankers, bondholders, traders, learn this lesson. In our great city it is too often forgotten. At any moment God may bring all our possessions to nought; and he will do that at his own time, not waiting for ours.
2. It may well yield us matter for lamentation that the use of so much earthly capital is a perverted one. Many of God's gifts are put in alliance with overreaching, corruption, and fraud. In themselves they are not to be despised. "Every creature of God is good," etc. But when things of wealth and beauty become the instruments of apostasy, it is sad indeed. And the more so when we add to all this the thought that Divine gifts misused do, in so being misused, deceive and ruin the souls of men, and in proportion to the joy which their right and proper use would have brought is the treasured up woe which their abuse will certainly ensure.
3. Let us learn to look at whatever is beautiful and costly and artistic as precious in the truest sense, only as it is allied to or in harmony with righteousness. Beauty and wealth are only of genuine value when employed in accordance with God's will and Word.
4. Let us take care that, so far as we are concerned, we have no share in this heart apostasy of Babylon the great, even in the commercial world. The voice cries now, "Come out of her, my people" (cf. Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 51:6, Jeremiah 51:45; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). If we would not share her plagues, we must not share her sins. "Come ye out from," etc. For in this London of ours Babylon the great and the New Jerusalem are side by side. There are those who are in Babylon the great, the slaves of godless gain or godless pleasure. There are those who belong to the new and eternal city, the New Jerusalem, who grave on the bells of the horses, "Holiness to the Lord," and whose daily toil is being sanctified for him. And oh! it is worth a struggle to be living even now in that city of God, into which no foe can enter and which no convulsion can for a moment disturb. It may cost something to renounce all fellowship with Babylon. But it is worth infinitely more than it costs. Yea, to be right is so transcendently great, that the question of cost should scarce be deemed worth a thought. Better die with Christ than reign with Caesar. Let us dare to be singular. By the gewgaws of this Babylonian harlotry many are attracted. So be it not with us. A nobler aim be ours, even to "seek the things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God;" and when our communion with this earth is sundered, we shall find our home in the New Jerusalem. Hence we may "go forth of Babylon … with a voice of singing," and may "utter it even to the ends of the earth The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob."
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The overthrow of wickedness.
This, in symbolic form, is the real subject of this chapter. Wickedness shall be utterly and forever destroyed.
I. A GLORIOUS ANGEL PROCLAIMS THIS. (Cf. Revelation 18:1 as to this angel.) Then such overthrow must be:
Had it been possible for men to affect this, it would have been done long since.
II. GOD'S PEOPLE RECEIVE COMMAND.
1. To separate themselves from sin. From which we learn:
2. To avenge themselves upon it. Resentment and wrath are passions given us by God. Our peril and propensity is lest we turn them in a wrong direction. We do so when we use them for private revenge. This is what our Lord forbids. But against the forces of sin they may, they should, be used. This the command here.
III. THE FRIENDS OF WICKEDNESS LAMENT.
1. Wickedness has friends. Those who find delight in it, who "live deliciously" in it (Revelation 18:9). Those who make profit out of it. The merchants, etc. (Revelation 18:11). And:
2. Their lament is loud and long. They weep, mourn, wail; say, "Alas, alas!" cast dust on their heads, etc. (Revelation 18:11, Revelation 18:15, Revelation 18:16, Revelation 18:19).
3. But the lament is utterly selfish. They mourn not because of the wickedness; that does not trouble them. Nor even for Babylon's sufferings. But because the hope of their gain is gone (Revelation 18:19).
4. And they do not go to her help (Revelation 18:15). They stand afar off for the fear of her torment. Look well at these friends, for such are they that sin and sinners call friends. "There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother," but such Babylon never gets.
IV. ALL HEAVEN, ANGELS AND SAINTS, REJOICE. When we read over the subject of their joy, we find that:
1. It is not because in this Babylon there was noticing innocent or good. There was much. Revelation 18:22, Revelation 18:23 tell of what was lawful and right in any community. In the worst of men there is good. None are utterly bad. But:
2. That the main characteristic of her life was evil. And, therefore, her destruction was a matter of joy. She deceived all nations. She slew God's saints. Thus:
3. Justice was done. And:
4. It was completely done. See the symbol of the angel with the millstone (Revelation 18:21). Nothing like this has ever been accomplished yet, but this prophecy is a sure promise that it will be. "Who shall live when the Lord doeth this?" Amongst whom shall we be found? Let us now "come out of her, that we be not," etc. (Revelation 18:4).—S.C.
The fall of Babylon.
"Come out of her, my people." This is not the sole similar warning which Scripture contains. Cf. the warning to Lot to come out of Sodom; the warning to Israel to come away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, etc.; the warning to God's people (Jeremiah 51:45) to come away from Babylon, the old literal Babylon: "My people, go ye out of her, and deliver ye every man his soul." And now we have the same warning concerning the Babylon told of in this chapter. Inquire, therefore—
I. WHAT CITY OR COMMUNITY IS MEANT? And we reply:
1. Not ancient Babylon. For we have here not history, but prophecy, Nor did the ancient Babylon answer in all respects to the description here given. It was never a mercantile city.
2. Nor, exclusively, the Rome of St. John's day. For, again, the resemblance is lacking in many important particulars, though unquestionably present in others. And although there was a destruction of Rome, more than one such, during the awful days of Nero and the wild anarchy of his immediate successors—and, no doubt, these facts formed the groundwork of the description here given—still, what happened then does by no means fill up the language used here. And the large space given to the mercantile and maritime greatness of this city has never been applicable to Rome.
3. Nor the Rome destroyed by the Goths. When she fell she had long ceased to be "drunk with the blood of God's saints." Nor was she then the great city of the world. Constantinople had taken that place.
4. Nor papal Rome. She oftentimes in her history presents a hideous resemblance to the city told of here. This feature and that are frightfully like. But nothing but the blindest bigotry can assert that St. John would have drawn the picture he has if papal Rome had been in his mind.
5. Nor is it London; though, if there be any city in the world that answers to the Babylon of St. John, London is, far and away, that city. For where, more than in London, will you find a city that doth more glorify itself (verse 7); or spends more in wanton luxury; or that is more self confident, thinking, if not saying, "I am a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow"? Or where is there a city that has wider connections with the whole world, so that all the merchants of the earth look to her; for she it is who more than any other is the buyer of their goods? And what city has a vaster multitude of bodies and souls (verse 13) given up and enslaved to minister to her luxury, her lust, her wealth? Is she not "clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls," because she is possessed of "so great riches"? And see the forest of masts in her river and docks; and the throng of shipmasters and sailors and them that trade by sea. And if "the beast" meant, as it did, the ungodly world spirit, embodied now here, now there, but which always and everywhere, though in varied form, "makes war with the Lamb," and is essentially antichristian,—if such beast sustained the Babylon of this chapter, what else sustains the metropolis of our land? But though all this may well cause much searching of heart to ourselves, we do not for a moment think that Babylon is London. No; that Babylon is:
6. Every nation, city, community, or person who shall become in God's sight what Babylon, was. Be like Babylon, and you are Babylon. Her doom is yours, and her final fate yours also. For the law of God is, "Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the vultures," etc. (Matthew 24:28). For this is—
II. THE LAW THAT THEY EXEMPLIFY. Our Lord had been telling of Divine judgments coming, and his disciples had wanted to know to whom he referred, and when, and where. And our Lord's answer is the declaration of this law. And, like so many of our Lord's sayings, it is vividly symbolic in form. It appeals to the imagination and uses it that the mind may be more impressed. Often had his hearers seen such incident as that told of in this law. "For in the lands of the East, when a wild beast falls in the desert, or a beast of burden on the highway, there is for a time no stir in the heavens. But far above human ken the vulture is floating, poised on his wings and looking downward. His eye soon detects the motionless thing, for he hunts by an eyesight unequalled in power among all living things, and like a stone he drops through miles of air. Others floating in the same upper region see their brother's descent, and know its meaning. One dark speck after another grows swiftly upon the horizon, and in a few moments fifty vultures are around the carrion. Now, this illustrates, and with astonishing point and sharpness, the suddenness, the usefulness, and the necessity, of judgment. There is no delay if utter corruption has set in. Inevitable, swift, unerring, as the vultures' descent on the carcase, is the judgment coming of the Son of man to corrupt communities and to corrupt men" (S. Brooke). Given the body, the bird will not be far off. The city told of here was such a carcase, and the vulture swoop is what the chapter describes. And there have been, are, and will be, many fulfilments of this law. Sodom and Gomorrah; the Canaanites; the first fall of Jerusalem; Babylon; Persia; Jerusalem's second and last fall; Rome by the Goths; papal Rome at the Reformation; the French Revolution; etc.;—all these and many others reveal the working of the same law. But no doubt Rome was most of all in St. John's mind, and of her fall his thoughts were full.
"Rome shall perish—write that word
In the blood that she hath spilt;
Perish, hopeless and abhorred,
Deep in ruin as in guilt."
And it is as true of individuals as of communities. See that blear-eyed, ragged, shivering, and every way disreputable looking wretch, that is reeling out of the ginshop, and as he staggers along poisoning the air with his foul breath and yet fouler words—what a wreck the man is! Health gone and character; home, and friends, and livelihood, and all that made life worth having; and life itself going likewise. The vultures of judgment have plucked him well nigh bare, and they are at their deadly work still. Go into the wards of hospitals, the cells of prisons, the asylums for lunatics, in convict yards, or mounting the steps of the scaffold on which they are to die,—in all such places you may see wretched men and women in whom is fulfilled the law, of the operation of which this chapter tells. Note, therefore—
III. THE NATURE AND NECESSITY OF THE "COMING OUT" HERE COMMANDED. And:
1. As to the first of these, how may we come out, etc.?
2. And this is needful. How little we fear the judgments of God on sin! We do not see the vultures, and therefore think the carcase will be let alone. If it be some present, seen, peril that, threatens the lives of men, how eager then are we to warn and save! A short while ago the Marjelen See, that is formed by the melting of one part of the great Aletsch Glacier, suddenly burst through its icy barriers. The whole volume of waters began pouring down beneath the glacier, along the rapid descent of its sloping floor, towards the edge of the gorge over which they would plunge in leap after leap down to the Rhone valley far beneath. A village lies at the foot of the gorge where the glacier stream pours itself into the Rhone. That village was now in awful peril. The people who lived near the See telegraphed instantly—for the hotel hard by had a telegraph station—to the village the tidings of what had occurred, that they might, if possible, escape. Happily the Rhone was very low and shallow at the time, and so the immense rush of waters that suddenly poured in was able to get away without much damage accruing to the people on its banks. That peril was believed in, and endeavour made to save those exposed to it. But the judgment of God against sinful nations and people—who realizes or fully believes that? Who flees from the wrath to come? And yet, if there be one atom of truth in God's Word, and in all history, that wrath will come on every sinful soul. God give us to really believe this!—S.C.
Six times over does this word recur, and always concerning the same fact. That fact, therefore, must be notable, and is intended to be noticed by us. Of what, then, is it thus repeatedly said, it is "no more"? A glance at this chapter shows that "the great city Babylon" is spoken of, and that accursed city meant heathen Rome to the mind of St. John. But full well we know that even when Rome pagan gave way to Rome papal, evil and sin, bloody persecution and cruel wrong, did not disappear. Therefore we take Babylon to mean far more than any Rome, or any city that is or has been on the face of the earth; we take it as telling of the whole kingdom of evil—that mighty empire, that hoary sinner against God and man. Though St. John meant Rome, his words tell of far more than Rome. And we, coming so far further down in the world's history, are able and glad to read in them this fuller meaning which we believe to have been in the Divine mind, though not in that of his servant. Let Babylon stand, then, for the city where Satan's seat is—the whole kingdom and dominion of the devil, and let us listen to the six times repeated stroke of the word "no more," which in our text and two following verses may be heard. The city is to be "no more," and her music "no more," and her trade "no more," and her food supplies "no more," and her lamp lit feasts "no more," and her marriage festivals "no more." Thus, by the utter desolation of a great city, such as that which came on Babylon, is set forth the fact of the final and complete overthrow of that kingdom of evil of which Babylon was the ancient type, and Rome, in St. John's day, the embodiment. Such utter overthrow is—
I. SIGNIFIED BY SYMBOL. See the mighty angel lifting aloft the huge and ponderous millstone and then hurling it, with all his force, into the depths of the sea. There, buried out of sight, sunk down into the bed of ocean, it shall never more be seen. Such is the symbol. One that seemed little likely of fulfilment when it was given, and even now, oftentimes, seems as if it never would be fulfilled.
II. VERIFIED BY FACT. Babylon had fallen, in spite of all its greatness, and heathen Rome was hastening to her fall. And other such Babylons have risen, and wrought their evil, and rioted in their sin, and, like her, have fallen. Therefore we may he assured that the last and greatest of them all will also one day be "no more."
III. LONGED FOR BY THE OPPRESSED. "How long, O Lord, how long, dost thou not avenge?"—such has been the cry of the oppressed for weary ages. "Thy kingdom come," is the cry we put up day by day.
IV. PROMISED IN THE GOSPEL. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me," said Jesus, "because he hath anointed me to preach glad tidings to the poor," etc. (Luke 4:1-44.). And this is the gospel, that the kingdom of evil shall be "no more." It is present with us now, we know, in all its forms. But it is not always so to be. Ere the glad tidings were proclaimed, good men, sore perplexed and troubled, pondered much and sadly over the mystery of evil. They could not understand how God could let it be. Nor do we fully understand even now. But this much we know, that it is but for a time. And faith is able to grasp the promise of the gospel, and to "rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him."
V. REJOICED IN BY SAINTS. The joy of all heaven because of this overthrow of evil is told of in the next chapter. Their Alleluias ascend unceasingly, for that God hath judged the accursed city and established his own reign.
VI. CREDIBLE TO REASON. The evidence for the Divine existence and the Divine character—as holy, just, wise, and good—becomes more convincing the more it is considered, notwithstanding the existence of a kingdom of evil. Doubtless that kingdom is a great stumbling block to both reason and faith, but it is not an insurmountable one. But were it not for the truth we are considering now, that all this accursed rule of evil shall one day be "no more," we do not see how faith in God could live. For that faith necessitates as its corollary that evil should terminate and be "no more." Reason reiterates her conviction that if God be, evil must one day be "no more."
VII. ACCOMPLISHED BY CHRIST. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested." "I saw," he says, "Satan as lightning fall from heaven." "The prince of this world is judged." There was that, however imperfectly we may understand it, in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which effected the virtual overthrow of evil. Satan received his death stroke; he is no longer what he was. We know and confess that in some aspects of life it seems very hard to believe this. But when we consider what the power of our blessed Lord and Master has already done; how the might of his meekness, the love of his sacrifice, the attraction of his cross, have already subdued so many hearts and triumphed over so many foes,—then faith revives, and we can believe that, as he said, "the prince of this world is judged." Lord, we believe; but help our unbelief.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The fall of corrupt society.
"And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven," etc. Regarding, as I do, this book as a record of visions which its author had in Patmos, at a period when the most stupendous events were occurring around him, the only practical use that can be made of them is to illustrate and impress those moral principles that are trite to man as man, the world over and the ages through. It appears absurd and useless, and an utter waste of labour, to attempt (which most expositors have done and are doing) an interpretation of a dream containing, as it generally does, objects that are grotesque, unnatural, and monstrous. Albeit it is most rational and practically valuable to employ it to set forth and impress the eternal realities of the spirit world. Our subject is the final fall of corrupt society. "Babylon is fallen, is fallen" (Revelation 18:2). Babylon here represents society. it is a city. It is not the private residence of an individual, isolated from all others, but congeries of houses for the dwelling of a community. Because man is a gregarious animal and sympathetic, he lives, for the most part, in communities. A community may be as small as a family, as vast as a city, or as wide as an empire. It may be barbaric or civilized, civil or religious, or a combination of both. But Babylon not only represents society, but corrupt society. The moral character of the population was an outrage on all the laws of true morality and genuine religion. Human society was not only corrupt in Babylon, but it is corrupt in all its sections throughout the world. What an old Hebrew writer says of the Jewish nation, is true, more or less, of all society. "From the sole of the foot to the crown of the head there is no soundness... but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores." Morally, all society is Babylonianized. In this Babylon—this corrupt society even as it exists here in Christendom—we have all the evils and the vices that were found in pagan Rome. The distinction between pagan Rome and papal Rome is purely fictitious. What cardinal sins find you in the former that were not embodied in the history of the latter? "Is fallen, is fallen:" what in the history of Divine truth will be in fact and form millions of ages hence is now in spirit and reality. Hence "Babylon is fallen." The following remarks are suggested concerning the fall of Babylon, this fall of corrupt society.
I. IT IS DIVINELY PROCLAIMED. Who proclaims it? A Divine angel, a minister from the Eternal. "After these things I saw another angel come [coming] down from [out of] heaven, having great power [authority]; and the earth was lightened with his glory" (Revelation 18:1). "After these things." After the stupendous events recorded in former visions, this mighty angel, clad with authority and corruscating in splendour, comes down from the eternal heavens of reality, and proclaims with a loud voice this fall of moral Babylon. The ultimate fall of all that is morally corrupt in human communities is not a matter of speculation and mere probability; it is absolutely inevitable. Wrong cannot stand forever; though, like the colossal image in Daniel, it may be constructed of gold, and silver, and brass, and iron, and be associated with the splendours of empire, yet its "feet are of clay," and it must sooner or later tumble to pieces. Head of gold, but feet of clay! It is not a fixed star in the immeasurable expanse of space, but a mere meteor, brilliant and swift for a moment, then black and still forever. As there is a law of disintegration in the material universe, that so separates the hugest mountains that they ultimately disappear, so there is in the moral a law of retribution, which will ultimately break into pieces the world of corrupt society. Babylon must fail.
II. IT IS MANIFESTLY DESERVED. The description here given reveals such a condition of moral foulness and wickedness as not only to merit but to demand this doom. "Is become the [a] habitation of devils, and the [a] hold of every foul [unclean] spirit, and a cage [a hold] of every unclean and hateful bird (verse 2). As in the ruins of old cities, the cormorant, the screech owl, the vulture, and other hideous creatures are found, so in this moral Babylon are found the most horrible and detestable of all existences. The utter extermination, or rather extinction, of such objects is urgently required. But this is not all. Mark its appalling wickedness. "For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication [For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen], and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through [by] the abundance [power] of her delicacies [wantonness]" (verse 3). "Reference here is not," says an expositor, "made to earthly but to spiritual wares—indulgences, idolatries, superstitions, and worldly compromises." Does not such a corrupt society, such a moral Babylon, justly deserve this miserable ending? "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." The seeds of ruin lie in every evil principle, and are found in the moral heart of men. These seeds must break into fruits of rankling poison sooner or later.
III. IT IS A REASON FOR QUITTING IT. "And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people [Come forth, my people, out of her], that ye be not partakers [have no fellowship] of [with] her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (verse 4). As the house is falling, let the tenants quit and save their lives; the city is about breaking into flames, therefore escape to the mountains. This voice from heaven suggests:
1. The possibility of good men, living in this corrupt society—this moral Babylon. "Come out of her, my people." Good men are found living and working in the midst of a "wicked and perverse generation." There were a few men in corrupt Sardis who "walked with God." The depravities of our contemporaries and neighbours are no justification for our defects. They should rather warn us against the wrong, and stimulate us to the right.
2. That good men, unless they quit this corrupt society, will be involved in its guilt and fate. "That ye be not partakers of her sins." The exodus here demanded is not, of course, bodily, but spiritual; not from places, but from principles; not from persons, but from characters; from the corrupt spirit of places and persons. "Come out from among them, anti be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you." Unless you do so you will be tainted with their impurity and afflicted with their plagues.
IV. IT IS A DEVELOPMENT OF RETRIBUTION. "For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities, Reward her [render unto her] even as she rewarded you [rendered], and double unto her double [the double] according to her works" (verses 5, 6). "The idea is of a great heap firmly fastened, and towering, like another Babel, as far as heaven. The idea is more than that of the cry of sin reaching heaven, as in the case of Sodom (Genesis 18:20, Genesis 18:21); the sins themselves, many and imperial, have touched the face of heaven. God hath remembered her. Sometimes the oppressed have thought that God hath forgotten the voice of the enemy; but the long suffering of the Lord is salvation. The same voice which bids the people of God come forth summons the agents of vengeance. Many Old Testament parallels will suggest themselves (Jeremiah 51:18; Psalms 79:12; Psalms 137:8; Isaiah 40:2). The 'double' must not be taken to mean 'double her sins.' Her sins are themselves called double, and her judgment is according to her sins. She is double stained in wickedness, and the law of retribution fiercely works in her. The cup of her luxuriousness becomes the cup of vengeance. The flowery path has led to the broad gate and the great fire (Bishop of Ripen). The ruin comes, then, not as a casual event, nor as a positive infliction, but as the result of the eternal law of retribution: a law silent in its operations, resistless in its force, and inevitable in its issues. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This law of moral causation links sin to misery as indissolubly as attraction links planets to the sun. "As you stood some stormy day upon a sea cliff, and marked the giant billow rise from the deep to rush on with foaming crest, and throw itself thundering on the trembling shore, did you ever fancy that you could stay its course, and hurl it back to the depths of ocean? Did you ever stand beneath the leaden, lowering cloud, and mark the lightning's leap as it shot and flashed, dazzling athwart the gloom, and think that you could grasp the bolt, and change its path? Still more foolish and vain his thought, who fancies that he can arrest or turn aside the purpose of God, saying, 'What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?' 'Let us break his bands asunder, and cast away his cords from us.' Break his bands asunder! How he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh!"
V. IT INVOLVES AN OVERWHELMING CATASTROPHE. "Therefore shall her plagues come in one day [in one day shall her plagues], death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth [which judged] her" (verse 8). "She thought herself strong," says a modern expositor. "She forgot the strength of the Almighty. Her plagues were fourfold, as though from every quarter her trouble came. Death, for her scorn of the prospect of widowhood; mourning, for her inordinate revelling; famine, for her abundance; and fire, the punishment of her fornication." When full judgment comes upon a corrupt community, the horrors involved not only transcend description, but even imagination. What is lost? Friendship gives way to fiendish battlings; peace gives way to furious storms; hope gives way to black despair and terrible apprehensions; liberty gives way to a crushing thraldom, in which every faculty of the soul is bound in chains of darkness. All the lights of the soul are quenched, and the whole heavens are mantled in a starless midnight.
CONCLUSION. Mark well, brother, and study deeply the final fall of corrupt society. Every corrupt soul is in truth a moral Babylon that "is fallen, is fallen." "Fallen" from whither? From some local height? From some Himalayan apex to a fathomless dungeon, or from some worldly pinnacle? From a mansion to a cot, from a princeling to a pauper? Such falls are not vital. Change of place does not necessarily affect the highest interests of the soul. "The mind is its own place." Nor change of circumstances. In truth, a descension from the highest affluence to the lowest indigence may conduce to its true elevation. The fall is from virtue to vice, from truth to error, from liberty to thraldom, from sunshine to midnight, from the Divine to the devilish. What more terrible sentence can be pronounced on a soul than "It is fallen, it is fallen"? Will it continue to fall forever? Is there no hand to arrest the descent, and to lift it to the heights from whence it has fallen? "The hand of mercy is not shortened, that it cannot save." On the pages of ecclesiastical history, of sacred biography, and of our own memory, we read of souls that have fallen low, but have been raised again. They have been able to appropriate the language of an old Hebrew writer, and say, "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings."
"Thy mercy, Lord, is like the morning sun,
Whose beams undo what sable night hath done;
Or, like a stream, the current of whose course,
Restrained awhile, runs with a swifter three.
Oh! let me glow beneath those sacred beams,
And bathe me in those silver streams.
To thee alone my sorrows shall appeal—
Hath earth a wound too hard for Heaven to heal?
The rule of retribution
"How much … so much," etc. The subject here suggested is man's future retribution ruled by his present condition. "How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much... sorrow give her." This, stripped of all historical and metaphorical allusions, means the present circumstances of the sinner shall rule his future suffering. I offer three remarks on this subject.
I. THIS RULE COMMENDS ITSELF TO OUR SENSE OF JUSTICE. That those of the wicked who in this world live in affluence, and have more than heart can wish, possess abundant opportunities for intellectual and moral improvement and means of doing good, should in future retribution fare alike with those who have none of these blessings or advantages, would be an outrage on our sense of right. Justice requires a balancing of human affairs—a kind of compensation for existing discrepancies, and this mankind will have in the great retributive future.
II. THIS RULE ANSWERS TO BIBLICAL TEACHING. Throughout the whole Scripture record it is taught that sinners, after they have passed through their probationary period, will be dealt with according to the mercies they have abused, the opportunities they have neglected, and the advantages they have wasted. "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not," etc.; "Son, remember thou in thy lifetime didst receive," etc.
III. THIS RULE AGREES WITH UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE, Conscious contrast between a propitious past and a distressing present is, and must ever be, an element in mental suffering. There are two paupers equal, I will suppose, in age, capacity, sensibility, and character. The hovels they live in and the means of their sustenance are also equal; but the one is intensely wretched, and the other is comparatively happy. Why this? The wretched man has come down into that hovel from the home of opulence and luxury, and the other has never had a better home. Thus the contrast gives a misery to the one which the other cannot experience. So it must be in the future; the sinner who goes into retribution from mansions, colleges, and churches will, by the law of contrast, find a more terrible hell than the poor creature who has fallen into it from ignorance and pauperism. Far more terrible, methinks, will be the hell of the aristocracy than the hell of the struggling and starving millions. "How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her." Worldly advantages are not always transitory, but often permanently injurious. "Though the sinner's excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish forever."—D.T.
The fall of the corrupt in human life.
"And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her," etc. All along through my remarks on the Apocalyptic visions of this book I have not only discarded any attempt at a literal interpretation, but have affirmed that, as a rule, such interpretations of dreams or visions can seldom, if ever, from the nature of the case, be correct; and more especially so with the visions and dreams recorded in this book. The objects seen, the voices heard, the acts performed, are so incongruous with the course of nature and the concurrent experience of mankind, that the attempt at a literal exposition would seem to be the height of absurdity. Anyhow, though it has been tried a thousand times, and is still being tried, all the results are utterly unsatisfactory to the unprejudiced and unsophisticated intellect and conscience of mankind. Common sense repudiates all such interpretations. Using, however, such visions and dreams as the great redeeming Teacher of mankind used the blooming lily, the fruitful vine, the toiling fishermen, the flowing river, the booming sea, and the beaming heavens—viz. to suggest and illustrate the eternal realities of the supersensuous realm—is to use them not only legitimately, but usefully in the highest degree. Still proceeding on this principle, we may perhaps get out of the strange scenes here recorded some things that may quicken our intellect, encourage our conscience, and inspire our hope. The subject here is—The fall of the corrupt in human life. The corrupt thing is here symbolized by Babylon. "Babylon is fallen." If Babylon here be understood to mean the old cry of whose infamous history we have all read, the language used is historically true, for it had fallen to ruins five hundred years before this, and had become "the habitation of devils, and every foul thing." If, as some say, it means pagan Rome, it is not true, for that is as strong and numerically influential—if not more so—now as it ever has been. Take Babylon as standing for wrong everywhere throughout society, and the expression is not true. Moral Babylon in the aggregate still lives and works on this planet. Albeit, regarding it as an event perpetually occurring, it is true enough. Wrong, including all that is morally evil in human thought, feeling, and action, is constantly failing. It has been falling from Adam to Christ, and from Christ to this hour. Such stupendous events were occurring in connection with it in the days of John, that he might well have dreamt that he heard some angel say, "Babylon is fallen." The false and the wrong everywhere are constantly falling, and must continue to do so. Do not, then, understand that the whole of corrupt society on this earth will in some distant day in the mighty aggregate be at once clearly swept from the face of the earth. There is no reason to believe this. The idea is contrary to the analogy of nature, where all things move gradually. Wrong has a very slow death. If we use the word "falling" for "is fallen," it will give us a universal truth—viz, that moral Babylon, the corrupt in society, is falling. I stand upon the brow of some firm and lofty mountain, and I say, "This mountain is falling;" and I say truly, for there is not a moment in its existence when it is not crumbling into the atoms that made it up, for the great physical law of disintegration will never cease operating upon it, until it shall "become a plain." "The mountains falling cometh to nought," etc. Or I stand by the trunk of some huge tree, and I say, "This tree is falling." And I speak truth, for the great law of vegetable decay is working in it, and will one day bring it down into the dust. So with the wrong thing in human life. Though it stand as a huge mountain filling the horizon of humanity, it will, by the eternal law of moral disintegration, be one day brought down. Or though it stand as some huge tree whose branches spread over the race, and under whose shadows mighty populations live, the invincible and unalterable law of moral retribution will rot it clean away. The record here given of this highly symbolic vision suggests its influence upon two classes of mind. It excites—
I. THE LAMENTATION OF THE BAD Who are the men who feel distressed at the fall of the wrong thing—the moral Babylon? We find at least two classes in these verses.
1. The ruling class. "And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously [wantonly] with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her [weep and wail over her], when they shall see [look upon] the smoke of her burning" (verse 9). Throughout the human race the world over, we find a class of men who are the chiefs, the masters, the kings, who control and determine the destinies of others.
2. The mercantile class. "And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn," etc. (verses 11-17). The mercantile principle is an instinct Divine and beneficent. Its operations are not limited to shops, storerooms, markets, exchanges, or land; it extends to the ocean. "And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors [every one that saileth anywhither, and mariners]," etc. (verse 17). The ships of commerce are found ploughing every sea and lying in every port. The principle is found working among savage hordes as well as amongst civilized men. But whilst the principle is right enough, and transcendently beneficent when rightly directed, it has, like all other instincts of our nature, been sadly perverted. It is perverted when it is directed not to the good of the commonwealth, but to the gratification and aggrandizement of self. Hence the enormous private fortunes on the one hand, and the starving destitution of millions on the other. Now, this morally wrong thing, this every man for himself, is a principle that has been so much criticized, not only by political and moral philosophers, but by the thinking men in all conditions of life, that it is getting weak, beginning to fall, and must ultimately be destroyed. When the grand altruistic truth of Christly socialism becomes realized by the masses, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth," then this every-man-for-himself principle will fall, and with its fall what will become of the enormous possessions which they have obtained merely by working for themselves? No wonder they are distressed at the prospect. Every day this wrong thing is gradually falling, and the best men everywhere are becoming altruistic. "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you." How they struggle to arrest this wrong principle in its fall, to buttress it up; but it is the fiat of eternal justice that it should fall and rise no more.
II. THE JUBILATION OF THE GOOD. "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets," etc. (verse 20). Whilst those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of the wrong thing—whose pomp, and wealth, and luxurious sensualities, and gilded pageantries would have never existed but for the Babylonian spirit that permeates social life—howl in anguish at the fall of wrong, there are others transported with rapture as they see it giving way. Who are these? Unfallen angels, saints, and holy intelligences throughout the empire of God. "Thou heaven, and ye holy apostles [ye saints] and prophets." Heaven knows what is going on on earth, and is thrilled with delight at the sight of even "one sinner that repenteth." The change of governments, the fluctuation of markets, the revolution of empires—such things as these awaken the deepest concern of the ignorant and erring sons of men. But they wake no ripple on the deep translucent river of celestial minds. Whereas every fraction of wrong which they see falling into ruin from this huge Babylon gives them a new thrill of delight. Why should these peers in the spiritual universe thus exult at the fail of wrong?
1. Because the fall is just. Evil has no right to exist; it is an abnormal thing. The father of lies is a usurper in the universe. All the wrong systems, theoretical and practical, in every department of human life, political, commercial, ecclesiastic, he has built up on falsehood and deception; and their destruction is an act of eternal justice. God speed the right! This is the instinctive prayer of all consciences.
2. Because the fall is beneficent. The giving way of the wrong thing in society is as the breaking up of the dense cloud that darkens the whole heavens of man, the bringing down of fertilizing showers on the earth, and brightening the sky into sunny azure. It is the uprooting of those thorns and thistles and noxious weeds that have turned the paradise of our being into a howling wilderness. What benevolent nature could fail to exult in such an event as this? "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets."
3. Because the fall is complete. "And a mighty [strong] angel took up a stone like a [as it were a] great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence [a mighty fall] shall that great city Babylon [Babylon the great city] be thrown [cast] down, and shall be found no more at all," etc. (verses 21-23). All this imposing symbolical description suggests the enormous curses associated with moral Babylonianism, and the strong reason for jubilation at its final fall. The fall of moral evil, even in part or whole, in the individual soul, in small or large communities, is not a temporary event. Destroyed once, it is destroyed forever. "It shall be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." It is "cast into the sea." What does the mighty "millstone" suggest? What was the "little stone" in Daniel's vision cut out of the rock without hands, and which became a great mountain? This, I trow—the gospel, which is the "power of God,"—this is the only instrument that can hurl Babylon into the depths of the sea.—D.T.
Moral evil symbolized.
"And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea," etc. In these words we have a symbolization of moral evil.
I. A SYMBOLIZATION OF ITS NATURE. Babylon is a symbol. Not unfrequently is moral evil in the aggregate represented by some one object. Sometimes by the "old man," that is, the unrenewed, depraved man; he is the embodiment of all the elements of sin. Sometimes by the "world," that is, the moral evil embodied in the world. "He that loveth the world," etc., that is, the moral evil embodied in the world. In Nebuchadnezzar's dream it is represented as a colossal image, representing the wealth and power of empire, the pride of the idolatry, the wickedness of all kingdoms. Here in these words it is represented by the great city Babylon. Babylon stands here as the grand symbol of moral evil. If you want to see sin, or moral evil, in all its hideous aspects, in all its infernal operations, in all its damning consequences, study the great city of Babylon. In this city you will find not only the evils of the Roman Catholic Church, but of all Churches, of all institutions, of all countries and climes, ay, of all human hearts. The great city Babylon is in every unreserved soul. Here is—
II. A SYMBOLIZATION OF ITS OVERTHROW. "And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." The moral evil of the world is to be destroyed; it is not to exist forever. The various figures used to symbolize it are set forth as objects for utter destruction. The world is to be "overcome," as Christ overcame it. The old man, which is corrupt, is to be "crucified with his affections and lusts." The great image is to be shivered to pieces by the "stone," the symbol of Divine truth; and here the great city Babylon is represented as being thrown like a great millstone "into the sea." Two remarks are suggested concerning its overthrow.
1. It is to be overthrown by superhuman agency. "A mighty angel," a messenger from heaven. Was not Christ a mighty Messenger sent from heaven for this purpose? Yes; he came to "destroy the works of the devil." It is said that good alone can overcome evil. True, but it must be good in a supernatural form; and in this form the gospel brings us the good.
2. It is to be overthrown in such a way as never to appear again. Babylon is thrown like a great millstone into the sea. "And shall be found no more at all." As Pharaoh sank like lead in the mighty waters, and rose no more to life, so shall moral evil like a mighty millstone fall into the fathomless abysses of eternal ruin. "Shall be found no more at all." No less than six times are these words repeated. Some one has said that they toll like a funeral knell. I would rather say that they chime like a triumphant peal. Thank God, mighty and wide as is the dominion of evil in the world, I am prone to believe that it will not endure forever. All the holy prayers in the universe cry for its ruin. All holy agencies work for it, and omnipotence is pledged to its overthrow.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 18". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany