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And I saw an angel come down from heaven; coming down out of heaven. The usual mode of introducing a new vision (cf. Revelation 4:1, etc.). On account of Revelation 1:18, some have considered this angel to be Christ himself; but this is incorrect. As in Revelation 12:7-9, an angel is the immediate agent in this expulsion of Satan (vide infra).
Having the key of the bottomless pit; the abyss; as in Revelation 9:1, Revelation 9:2, Revelation 9:11; Revelation 11:7; Revelation 17:8. In all these places the word signifies the present abode of Satan and his angels, whence they direct their operations in hostility to God, not the place of their final punishment (see Revelation 17:10). In Luke 8:31 the word has exactly the same meaning; while in the only remaining place where it is used in the New Testament, viz. Romans 10:7, it stands for the place of abode of the souls of the dead. Having the key of the abyss therefore informs us that power is given to this angel over Satan during the time of this world's existence. And a great chain in his hand; literally, upon his hand, as if lying on it and hanging from it; the chain evidently symbolizing the power of the angel over the inhabitants of the abyss, and the purpose with which he now comes, viz. to restrain the power of Satan.
Revelation 20:2, Revelation 20:3
And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan. These titles are an exact repetition of Revelation 12:9 (which see). And bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit. The abyss, as we have seen (on Revelation 12:1), is the present abode of Satan; the act of binding, therefore, is now over. This fact opposes the interpretation which makes "the thousand years" yet in the future. When, then, did this binding take place? Only one answer can be given. It was when Christ bruised the serpent's head by his act of redemption. Thus, "Christ was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8); "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out." (John 12:31); "The prince of this world hath been judged" (John 16:11). Satan is the strong man bound (Matthew 12:26, Matthew 12:29). Next, what is meant by "for a thousand years"? The best interpretation seems to be that this phrase expresses a quality, and does not express a period of time. That such a method of employing numbers is usual in the Apocalypse we have frequently seen (see on Revelation 1:4, "seven;" Revelation 13:1, "ten," etc.). Here, therefore, as in Revelation 7:4, "one thousand" signifies "completeness." Satan is bound "for a thousand years;" that is, Satan is completely bound. In Ezekiel (from which the following part of the vision is certainly derived) a similar use is made of the terms "seven years" (Ezekiel 39:9) and "seven months" (Ezekiel 39:12). But, again, in what sense can Satan be said to have been "completely" bound by our Lord's work of redemption? The answer is—In relation to the godly. The purpose of this sentence is that which is one great purpose of the whole book, viz. to encourage the struggling Christian. Thus this sentence assures Christians that, for them, Satan has been completely bound, and they need not despair nor fear his might £ (cf. "loosed," infra). The chapter thus describes, not a millennium of the saints, but the overthrow of Satan. Before the picture of the war and the overthrow, the saints are invited to behold the complete security of those who have not worshipped the beast nor his image; just as the vision of Christ victorious introduced the seal visions. And shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and shut [it] and sealed [it] over him, etc. It is possible that there is here a reference to the death and burial of Christ (Matthew 27:66). Satan "met in reality that fate which he was able, in a shadowy and temporary form, to inflict on Jesus—he was bound and shut up in the abyss, and the abyss was sealed over him" (Milligan. Cf. also the word "abyss," supra). Satan was thus bound "that he might deceive the nations no more," etc.; that is, Satan, in his character of the deceiver (cf. Revelation 12:9) of the world, is thus limited in his power by the binding which has been described. The nations; in the sense of the world, not the ungodly world. And after that he must be loosed a little season. Omit "and." "A little time" (μικρὸν χροόνον) is the exact phrase used in Revelation 6:11, where it certainly means the period of this world's existence. Such also is its meaning here. "He must be loosed" signifies that Satan is, in regard to the ungodly, allowed to work his will during this period. The thousand years' binding, and the loosing for a little time, describe two events which occur contemporaneously. While the godly need have no fear, because even in this world Satan's power as regards them is completely limited by Christ's act of redemption, yet in another sense, as regards the ungodly, Satan is loosed and obtains power over them. The chief difficulty in this interpretation lies in the words, "after this." But it must be remembered that the "thousand years" do not express a period of time, but the quality of completeness. Therefore the loosing of Satan must not be supposed to take place in a period subsequent to the period of the binding. The seer wishes to describe the devil in a twofold character, subordinating the second to the first. He thus says, "By Christ's redeeming work Satan is bound and fettered in regard to you faithful Christians; but there is also a second subordinate fact to remember, that at the same time he is powerful in his natural sphere, among his own adherents." The binding of Satan in one direction being immediately followed by a display of power in another, and the former fact being expressed by the chronological symbolism of being bound for a thousand years, it is part of this chronological symbolism to express the second fact as taking place after the first, though a subordination of the secondary to the primary effect is really what is intended to be conveyed (see Milligan, quoted above).
And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them. This describes the position of Christians in this life. They sit upon thrones; that is, they reign with Christ. Judgment is given unto them; that is, by their conduct in the world the world is judged and condemned. St. John continually thus describes the Christian's position; and such a picture is specially applicable for his purpose here, which is to portray the glory of the Christian calling, and the certainty of the Christian's hope. The redeemed have been made kings, and reign (Revelation 5:10). So also St. Paul says we are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Ephesians 1:2). And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands. This is a special reference to the martyrs made with the object mentioned above, viz. that of encouraging Christians in their warfare. The class here described forms part of the whole body of Christians alluded to in the first part of the verse (cf. Revelation 6:10; Revelation 1:9; Revelation 12:17; Revelation 19:10; also Revelation 13:1-18.; Revelation 15:2). In the same way the souls referred to in Revelation 6:9 are those existing during the period of this world, which we have here understood to be denoted indirectly by the "thousand years." And they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. "The thousand years" adopted in the Textus Receptus, is found in B and others, but omitted in א, A, and others. "They lived and reigned with Christ" in complete and perfect assurance, as in Revelation 6:2, and for the reason given in Revelation 6:2, viz. that, Satan was bound completely. This living and reigning must not be limited to the period after the death of the martyrs (though it is doubtless true in this sense also), notwithstanding the fact that St. John sees them here after their death. It is as though he would say, "You Christians sit upon thrones and reign with Christ; yea, even those who suffered shameful deaths shared this perfect safety and exaltation, though to the eyes of the world they were so afflicted and degraded." They lived is described in verse 5 as the "first resurrection." This can only be referred to that first awakening from sin to the glorious life of the gospel, which St. John elsewhere describes in a similar manner. "He that heareth my Word … hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24); "We have passed from death unto life" (1 John 3:14).
But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished; should be finished. Omit "but;" omit "again." It is important to notice the omission of "again;" the rest of the dead lived not until, etc. The best explanation of these words seems to be that the "rest of the dead" refers to those Old Testament saints and others (such as godly heathens) who were in the world before Christ's act of atonement—"the thousand years" (see on Revelation 20:2, above)—had been accomplished. They could not be said to have lived, in the high sense in which St. John uses the word, not having known Christ; for "in him was life" (John 1:4; John 5:40, etc.). But by Christ's redeeming work, these were placed on a level with Christians (cf. Luke 7:28, "John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he;" also Hebrews 11:39, Hebrews 11:40, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect"). This is the first resurrection. These words refer both to the reigning of those mentioned in verse 4, and to the living of those in verse 5 (vide supra). This "first resurrection" is the spiritual rising with Christ, which is a consequence of his redeeming work. It is to be noticed that St. John nowhere makes use of the phrase, "second resurrection," though he does use the words, "second death." Both the "first resurrection" and the "second death" are spiritual operations.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years; over these the second death hath no authority. The first words describe the state of those who have part in the spiritual resurrection with Christ (see on Revelation 20:5). The second clause gives to the oppressed Christian the culminating reason for patience and perseverance. The "second death" is the spiritual death of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Priests of God, etc. (cf. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10). A thousand years; in complete and everlasting security (see on Revelation 20:2, et seq.). We may in this place briefly indicate some of the other interpretations which have been given to this reign of. the saints for a thousand years, or, as it is generally styled, the millennium.
(1) The literal interpretation of a future reign on earth of Christ with his saints for a thousand years. According to this view, there is to be a first resurrection of the dead (either of the holy dead or of all the dead), then the period of a thousand years, during which Satan will be bound, and the saints will reign; then finally the ultimate punishment of Satan—the casting into the lake of fire. Some limit the locality of this reign to a particular spot on the earth (e.g. Jerusalem), beyond which live the ungodly. The objections to this theory are:
(a) Amongst its advocates almost every detail is a matter of dispute. Some place the millennium in the future, others in the past. Of these latter some specify the first thousand years of the Christian age, others the thousand years from the time of Constantine. "The length of the period, the number and class of the believers who shall be partakers of its glory, the condition in which they are to live, the work in which they are to be engaged, the relation in which the exalted Redeemer is to stand to them," are all subjects for disagreement.
(b) The carnal nature of such a resurrection is at variance with the general teaching of the Bible, and unlike the spiritual nature which our Lord himself assumed after his resurrection.
(c) If the saints receive a glorified body for that period, it is impossible to conceive of them as living in the world in its present state, and a large part of which is inhabited by the ungodly.
(d) It is impossible satisfactorily to conceive what relations could exist between the saints in such a case and the ungodly. If Satan is bound during this period so that he can deceive the nations no more, whence comes the evil which exists among the ungodly portion of the world?
(e) There is no other example of a literal use of numbers in the whole of the Apocalypse.
(f) The teaching of the Bible elsewhere not only negatively fails to support this view, but is in positive opposition to it, in such points as a continuance of evil after Christ's second coming; the existence of an interval between his coming and the judgment instead of a sudden coming to judgment (comp. John 6:40, "I will raise him up at the last day").
(2) The spiritual interpretation, which makes the thousand years expressive of the whole Christian age. This seems to a certain extent true, since what the thousand years signifies does have its effect during this time in the reign of the saints. But it seems inexact, since it makes the thousand years symbolical of a length of time, instead of a quality attached to an action. What is meant is not that Christ bound Satan during the period of the Christian age (though, as we have seen, there is a sense in which he is so bound as regards believers), for, on the contrary, he goes about like a roaring lion; but that he bound and overthrew him completely for all Christians by his redeeming work.
And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison; are finished; that is, the power of the devil having been in principle completely overthrown by our Lord (see on preceding verses), Satan is still permitted to wage war and exercise sway on the earth. "His prison" is the "abyss" of Revelation 20:1, Revelation 20:3 (cf. also Revelation 20:3).
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog; four corners. The signification of "Gog and Magog" (vide infra) shows in what sense "the nations" is used. It is in the limited sense of the ungodly of the world, not in the wider sense in which the expression is used (without any qualifying clause) in Revelation 20:3. Magog in Genesis 10:2 is mentioned among the sons of Japheth who were the ancestors of the northern nations (cf. Ezekiel 38:15 and Ezekiel 39:2). Hence the name Magog is used to denote the northern tribes, whose invasion of Palestine and adjoining parts took place about B.C. 630-600. From Ezekiel 39:1-29, it seems that Gog was originally a leader among these tribes; and from Ezekiel 38:17 it seems that Ezekiel took these names to be symbolical of all the foes of the people of God. Jewish tradition makes use of these names to indicate those nations who were expected to war against Jerusalem in the last days, and to be overthrown by the Messiah. Hence the employment of the terms hero by St. John as denoting the ungodly people of the world, amongst whom Satan still exercises his power, though that power is limited to these, and he is completely bound as regards true believers. To gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea; to the war; the article points definitely to the war of Revelation 19:19 and Revelation 16:14. It is a prolonged war, not a battle, because lasting throughout life. The vastness of the hosts of Gog and Magog is alluded to in Ezekiel 38:9, Ezekiel 38:16. This is in conformity with our Lord's teaching: "Many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14; cf. also Matthew 7:14).
And they went up on the breadth cf the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city; over the breadth. "They went up" as an army to attack the enemy (cf. Judges 1:1). Either we must render the camp … even the beloved city, or else we must understand the camp as a defensive outpost placed around or near the city. In Acts 21:34 the same word is rendered "castle." "The beloved city" is evidently Jerusalem (of Psalms 78:68), that is, the Church of God, of which it is always a type in the Apocalypse (cf. Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:10). The description plainly portrays the Church militant here on earth. And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. "From God" is omitted in A, a few cursives, and Primasius, but appears in א, B, P, l, 7, and most cursives and versions; but these authorities vary in the position of the added clause. So in Revelation 11:1-19. fire devours the enemies of the two witnesses. This sentence is introduced in connection with the description of Gog and Magog, following the account of Ezekiel, where the same punishment is foretold (see Ezekiel 38:22; Ezekiel 39:6). It is probable, therefore, that nothing more definite is intended than to convey the general idea that God aids and protects his Church even while on earth. He, as it were, gives the enemies of his people a foretaste, while here on earth, of their future punishment of the lake of fire (see also on the seal visions).
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever; and they shall be tormented. The last clause shows that this is the final judgment and punishment of the devil. Thus at this verse is completed the whole series of visions commencing at Revelation 12:1-17., in which arc set forth the origin and progress of the influence of evil, and the final termination of the conflict between God and his Church on the one hand, and the devil and his adherents on the other. It remains now only to shadow forth the surpassing glory of the saints in their everlasting home, and thus to bring the book to a conclusion. This, therefore, is the theme of the remaining chapters. Shall be tormented (cf. Matthew 8:29, "Art thou come hither to torment us before the time?").
And I saw a great white throne. And I saw; introducing a new phase of the vision (el. Revelation 20:1, etc.). A throne is seen as in Revelation 4:1-11.Revelation 4:2; it is great, perhaps, by comparison with those mentioned in Revelation 4:4; white, because this is the colour of purity and all heavenly virtues (cf. Revelation 1:14; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:4, etc.). And him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. The true reading, "before the throne," in the following verse makes it clear that God the Judge is here intended. Perhaps from Matthew 25:31 and John 5:22 we must infer that God the Son is meant. The destruction of the world is complete—"no place is found for them;" they are annihilated. Such an event is nearly always portrayed in the description of the last judgment in the Apocalypse and in the New Testament generally (cf. Revelation 16:20).
And I saw (see on Revelation 20:11) the dead, small and great, stand before God; the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. All the dead, good and bad, as in Matthew 25:31-33. This is the general resurrection; what St. John might have called the second resurrection, with regard to the godly, who have once before risen to a life with Christ (see on verse 5). Now, those who would not voluntarily share in the first resurrection are compelled to share in the second. And the books were opened. Omit the article (cf. the description in Daniel 7:10). And another book was opened, which is the book of life. This book has been frequently referred to (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8). The idea is not uncommon throughout the Bible (cf. Psalms 69:28; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20). And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. Both the godly and the ungodly. "The books" show fully why certain names are selected and inscribed in the "book of life." Here is enforced again the lesson with which the Apocalypse opens in the epistles to the seven Churches, viz. that the reward will follow according to the works (cf. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:15, etc.).
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it. It is difficult to decide upon the exact signification of this clause.
(1) It may be inserted in order to show the universal nature of this resurrection, although it may not, in conjunction with the next part of the verse, constitute a strictly logical classification of the dead.
(2) The sea being a type of the ungodly nations, the sentence may mean those spiritually dead, but living on the earth at the time of the judgment. The next clause seems to support this view. And death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; death and Hades (see Revelation 1:18; Revelation 6:8). As in Revelation 6:8, the two—really one—are mentioned separately, the latter being looked upon as the guard house of those whom the former has seized. This clause, taken in conjunction with the preceding one, may mean—From the ungodly nations, those physically living but spiritually dead were called up for judgment, and also those who were actually dead, having been seized by death and Hades. And they were judged every man according to their works. A solemn repetition of Revelation 6:12 (which see).
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire; death and Hades (see on Revelation 20:13). Lake of fire (see on Revelation 20:10). This is described in accordance with St. Paul's teaching. "The last enemy that shall be abolished is death" (1 Corinthians 15:26, Revised Version). Death and Hades, though in reality abstractions, are here personified. This is the second death. Add [even] the lake of fire. St. John has not used the phrase, "the first death," but he has alluded to the fact. The first death is the actual death of the body, and which is the natural result of that spiritually dead state into which, since the Fall, man is horn, and which is therefore, as it were, his normal state. In a similar manner, the first resurrection is the risen spiritual life of conversion; while the second resurrection is the resurrection of all men, and the bestowal of eternal life upon the just.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was east into the lake of fire; and if any was not, etc. This is practically a reiteration of what has been twice before solemnly asserted (see Revelation 20:12, Revelation 20:13).
Satan bound for a thousand years.
God sees the end from the beginning. If he pleases, he can disclose the future to others, although even then, by reason of the limitation of creature faculties, the unfolding of the future must be limited too. There is, moreover, one feature of that limit which cannot be too clearly recognized, viz. that inasmuch as man has no strictly creative power, and can only weave new patterns by putting together in different forms the materials ready to his hand, so also he can conceive of the new life of the ages to come only by means of some varied setting of the scenes of the ages that are past. Hence our God graciously stoops to our capacity, and puts his revealings of the forthcoming years under the form of the facts which have marked those that are past. Thus the events which are to mark the consummation of this age are set forth in two forms, viz.
(1) by a representation of the good we already enjoy as wrought up to a higher degree of perfection; and
(2) by setting forth the evil over which we mourn as brought to extinction, or as restricted within narrower bounds. Now, under this last-mentioned form, a prolonged period is here set forth, spoken of as a thousand years, as one during which the evil one shall be bound and pent up within his own place. Many questions naturally start up as we study this passage—a passage which is not specially easy, under any circumstances, but which we cannot help thinking has been made to appear vastly more difficult than it is in itself, by reason of the enormous incubus of fanciful theories by which it has been all but smothered. We venture to think that even although, owing to lack of data, there are some queries the full answer to which must yet be left in abeyance, yet there is quite enough in the verses before us that is sufficiently clear to make the heart leap with delight, to stimulate our hopes, and to excite our prayers. Who is the angel? What is the period of a thousand years? What is the binding? When does it begin? These are the queries which seem to need a reply before we can appreciate and appropriate the disclosures which the paragraph contains.
1. Who is the angel? Some say the Lord Jesus Christ, because he alone controls Satan's power. It is quite true that Jesus alone controls the evil one, but it is also true that he does so at times by the instrumentality of others. So far as the symbolism of the text goes, there is no reason for thinking the angel to be other than a created one. Still, if any see reason for thinking otherwise, even then the main sense of the passage is the same. Our Lord Jesus may bind the evil one directly or mediately.
2. What is the period specified? There are four hypotheses respecting the thousand years. One that it is to be taken literally; a second, that on the "day for a year" principle it is equivalent to 365,000 years; a third, that it is an indication of completeness, but not of time; a fourth, that it is a definite expression for a period indefinitely prolonged. The first of these is the one most commonly adopted; although why, if twelve hundred and sixty days mean twelve hundred and sixty years, the "thousand years" should be less than that by two hundred and sixty days is to the writer extremely puzzling. The second and third views have few defenders. It seems to us to be much safer to look at the expression as indicating an indefinite period of time, of immense duration—a time of peace and freedom from ill, which will vastly exceed the period of trial and sorrow during which the Church's wilderness life will have lasted.
3. What is the binding? At present it may suffice to say that it certainly denotes such a restriction upon Satan, his doings and rovings, that during this period he will not be able to "go about seeking whom he may devour "to the extent he would desire.
4. When does the binding begin? According to some, it is past.
(1) According to Hengstenberg, the thousand years began
According to many, and among them the most thoughtful and devout expositors, the binding of Satan began when Jesus came. Our Lord's casting out devils proved that a check was put on Satan's power; this restraint was increased when Jesus died, and is continued in the perpetual advance of the kingdom of Christ. They refer to such passages as Matthew 12:29; Hebrews 2:14, Heb 2:15; 1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:15; Luke 10:18. But
(a) the symbolism of the text seems to indicate a more effectual restraint on evil than the earth as yet has known; and
(b) since the binding of Satan is placed so nearly to the consummation of all things, since the kingdom of Christ had actually been in progress for some thirty years when the book was written, and since the prophecies were declared to be of "things which should be hereafter," it seems much more consonant with the date, the aim, and the plan of the book to think of the binding of Satan as that which was yet to come in the revolutions of the ages. At the same time, it is quite possible to combine this second view with another,
(3) according to which, even if the binding of Satan did commence with the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, the results of that binding would take ages to work out, and would, in the long run, bring about more of calm and of rest than earth has yet been permitted to see. Even the expositors who adopt the second view do in many cases combine it with the third, and regard the binding here specified as something so much more effective than any hitherto known, as to be virtually new. It is to this conclusion that we find ourselves shut up: that this period which is spoken of as a thousand years is one of a blessed calm yet to be realized, surpassing all that earth has known; that though the causes are already at work to bring it about, and though the train of events is laid which is to usher it in, yet that the passage refers to the blessed issue in days to come, when evil shall be kept under more effective restraint than before. This period is what is generally thought of as "the millennium." From the passage before us it is perfectly clear that the millennium is not a period of the extinction of evil, but only of its restraint. Neither sin nor death nor the curse will cease till the new heavens and the new earth are brought in, and they are not yet. While, however, the righteous on earth will enjoy a period of delightful calm, the faithful ones who shall have gone hence will be living and reigning with Christ all that while. They will be enjoying "the first resurrection" (see next homily). Let as now, after these few preliminary explanations, look at our present theme, "the binding of Satan," in the light of the entire Scripture teaching, that we may learn what is to be the state of the world during this period of halcyon calm, and how it is to be brought about by forces and agencies already in operation. We shall approach our subject cautiously and gradually. May we in God's light see light!
I. THERE IS IN THE WORLD A MIGHTY FORCE OF EVIL. AS set forth in these Apocalyptic visions, we have seen:
1. That old serpent, called the devil.
2. The first beast, or worldly power opposed to God, having its power from the dragon.
3. The second beast, or false prophet, having his power from the first.
4. The harlot, Babylon the great, or apostasy, whether in the ecclesiastical or commercial sphere. We have seen No. 4 destroyed; Nos. 3 and 2 cast into the lake of fire; still No. 1 remains. We are to watch what becomes of him. His power in the world is too well known.
II. MIGHTIER FORCES OF GOOD, ALTHOUGH UNSEEN, ARE IN THE BACKGROUND. As we read this book, we can but note that evil is surveyed from above; held in check by God; allowed to work for a time—known to the year, the month, the day, and the hour. And as we have seen the downfall of three of the forms of evil, we here watch with deepest interest a new check upon the first.
III. THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE MIGHTIER AGAINST THE MIGHTY HAS BEEN MATTER OF ANCIENT PROMISE. No sooner had the tempter marred Eden's bowers than the promise was given (Genesis 3:15). The serpent might bruise the seed of the woman, but he would do so at a fatal cost to himself. Dim promise! needing the evolution of ages to interpret it, but yet containing that which is the basis of our hope when in agony over the tempter's power.
IV. THE STRONGER FORCE OF GOOD HAS EVER BEEN AT WORK. This world has never been given up to the evil one. He has never roamed unchecked. He has gone about only so far as the Lord of souls has permitted. When Jesus hung on the cross, his power was grappled with; when he died, "the prince of this world" was "cast out." Through death our Lord means to destroy him that has the power of death, even the devil, and to deliver them who through fear of death are all their lifetime subject to bondage. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." And when the Prince of life resigned his breath, crying, "It is finished!" then did the empire of darkness receive a fatal blow, and the death knell of sin was sounded in the hearing of heaven, earth, and hell (cf. Genesis 3:15; John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:15; Colossians 2:15; Matthew 12:29; Acts 26:18).
V. WHEREVER THE GOSPEL HAS BEEN PREACHED THERE A BINDING OF SATAN HAS BEEN AND IS BEING EFFECTED. Probably no one supposes that the phrase "binding" is to be taken literally. One way in which an effect would be wrought which would most naturally and impressively be described as a binding of Satan, would be that of transferring his subjects to another power, and so despoiling his kingdom. When Satan is rendered powerless to retain his prey, and more powerless still when he has lost them, surely he is bound. Now, we know not only that in and on the cross our Lord spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, but also that Paul and others were sent forth to turn men from the power of Satan unto God, and that the great apostle praised God that the Colossians were snatched from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of the Son of God. Even so. Satan is no match for the Saviour's cross and the Spirit's sword. He has ever moved in chains, but never were his chains so heavy or so fast as since Jesus died.
VI. NEVERTHELESS, THE PASSAGE BEFORE US LEADS US TO EXPECT A MUCH GREATER RESTRAINT ON SATAN'S ACTIVITY THAN HAS AS YET BEEN KNOWN. Peter refers to him as "going about," etc. Paul said, "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." So that we are already prepared to expect a time when Satan's power on the earth shall be curtailed more and more. The verb here used (ἐκράτησε) gives the impression of some very strong, decided, and perhaps sudden arrest. What will be the means by which this will be carried out we are not here told. In the absence of aught to the contrary, we have a right to expect that the "Word of truth and the power of God" will suffice to bring about the whole, when the Spirit of God "convicts the world of sin" (John 16:8). No one can show that these "weapons of the holy war" are inadequate, nor that the power of the Holy Ghost is to be supplanted by aught more effective for the subjugation of evil. Let but the Divine power which has subdued our hearts be universally diffused, and it is enough. For surely Satan will be effectually bound when hearts refuse to give him room.
VII. WHEN THE BINDING OF SATAN IS COMPLETELY EFFECTED, THERE MUST NEEDS BE A PERIOD OF REST, SUCH AS NEITHER THE WORLD NOR THE CHURCH HAS ENJOYED SINCE "SIN ENTERED INTO THE WORLD, AND DEATH BY SIN." We are more and more drawn towards the conviction that our Lord himself commenced this binding of the evil when he began his public ministry; and that as the power of the gospel advances, the binding becomes more and more stringent. The duration of time intended by a thousand years we cannot define. Some, as Professor Milligan, £ regard it as giving no temporal indication at all, but as expressive of completeness. But if the binding of Satan has been going on ever since our Lord was on earth, the thousand years begun then are going on now, and are moving forward to their completion. Well may we pray, "O Lord, hasten that day when Satan shall be so completely bound that he will be unable to retain a single captive in his hold!" How will an emancipated world rejoice! The rebuke of God's people will be taken away from off all the earth. The reign of peace and righteousness shall set in, and the time be come when on the bells of the horses shall be graven, "Holiness to the Lord." Why it should be that after this effectual binding there should be allowed another onrush of evil, we cannot tell; but the holy seer bids us look to the end even of that, and to luxuriate in the blessed vision of complete and endless rest.
1. Let our faith embrace all that is in the Word, and we shall then find nothing in the fiercest conflicts of the age to shock or disturb it.
2. Let us thank God for the restraint which we know is even now put upon Satan. He worries, but he cannot devour. Christ prays for us, that Satan may not sift us as wheat.
3. Let us be stimulated by the fact that, through the energy of the Spirit of God, the power of evil is being subdued within us and around us.
4. Let us, with renewed faith, energy, prayer, and hope, be found doing our part towards bringing about earth's time of rest. Let no disbelief, either in the efficacy of the gospel or in the power of the Spirit, be allowed to paralyze our movements by lessening our hope. The grace which has conquered millions on millions of hearts is adequate still to go forth conquering and to conquer.
The blessed dead living and reigning with Christ during the thousand years.
We are compelled to differ more widely from the great bulk of expositors in regard to this than in regard to almost any other passage in the entire Apocalypse. It seems to us that, in order to piece out a tolerably complete theory, many interpreters do very frequently assume some matters of great magnitude for which there is no warrant either in the text or the context. It is well known that this passage is the one which is supposed, above all others, to teach the doctrine of the personal reign of Christ upon the earth during the millennium. It is supposed that Jerusalem will be his central seat of authority and power; that the righteous dead will then be raised in such bodies as are to be immortal; that the saints will be Christ's attendants, and will participate with Jesus in the government of the world; that this will last through a period of a thousand years; that during this period the world will be subdued and converted, not by such means as are now used, but by those peculiar to the new dispensation to be ushered in by Christ's personal reign; that at the close of this period all the dead will be judged, and the affairs of this earth consummated. Some who do not fully adopt this view regard the first resurrection as one taking place on earth. According to some, it is a resurrection of bodies; according to others, it is a resurrection of principles; according to a third group, it is a resurrection of the Christian party; according to a fourth, it is one or memories and names. Others, again, regard it as a resurrection from earth, not on it; and here also we have to divide expositors into two groups—some looking at this first resurrection as a resurrection to heaven of the martyrs only; and others, as of all the blessed dead. Amid such a confused Babel, let us, as Ridley used to say, "give ourselves up to the text, and let it lead us by the hand." We see that the statement before us stands in connection with that period of a thousand years during which Satan is said to be bound. During this period in which the earth is released to a great extent from the power of the evil one, the apostle sees a vision of some who during that thousand years were living and reigning with Christ. On this statement, let us ask—When? who? where? how? May be, on comparing Scripture with Scripture, we shall find more light thrown on this theme than we are prepared to expect.
1. When? "They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years." Whoever and wherever they were, it was apparently during the thousand years in which Satan was bound that they were living and reigning.
2. Who are they? Our text speaks of two classes. First, of the martyrs; second, of those who had refused to succumb to the spirit of evil. These two put together make up all the faithful ones. So that we may call them the blessed dead, whether they quietly fell on sleep after serving their generation, or whether they were hurried off to their home in a chariot of fire.
3. Where are they seen? On earth, say the great bulk of interpreters. "With Christ," says the text. It does not indeed specify whether in heaven or on earth, but simply that they are "with Christ." Is not that clear enough? The text indicates not that Christ came down to earth to live with them, but that they had soared upward to live and reign with Christ. The expression is akin to many more in the New Testament. "Today thou shalt be with me;" "Absent from the body, at home with the Lord." Thus much, and this is all that is said. Oh! the refreshing invigoration which we get when we drink pure water from this crystal spring! "With Christ!" Enough! £ And this blessedness is theirs during a thousand years. Probably, though not necessarily, the same thousand years as those during which Satan was bound.
4. In what state are they seen? Εἷδον … τὰς ψυχὰς—"the souls." Not in their bodily forms, as if on earth, but in the disembodied state. In this state they are with Christ, realizing more fully than they could do here their priesthood and kingship with God. For they are seated on thrones, sharing with their Lord the government of the world. Here they resisted even unto blood (when needed), striving against sin; they would neither worship the beast nor his image, and now, far from this world, they are living with Christ. This is the first resurrection. £Having attempted to clear the way by offering these preliminary remarks, we may now pass on to expound more fully the doctrine thus taught, in its bearing on and harmony with the rest of the Word of God.
I. HERE IS A VISION OF MEN FROM EARTH—not of men on it. "The souls." So in Revelation 6:11. That the expression refers here to men in what is called the disembodied state, scarcely admits of question. Not that we are taught in Scripture that the blessed dead are altogether "unclothed." For the Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:1-21., seems to teach that immediately following on death the soul puts on another vestiture, awaiting the resurrection, when it will put on over that the house which is from heaven. Whatever may be, however, their "clothing," it is enough for us here to note that they are "with Christ." This is just what we are taught in repeated Scriptures. Oar Lord Jesus "died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." Thus we are taught that during that long interval which must elapse ere "the sea shall give up its dead," those who are "absent from the body" are "at home with the Lord." As one has well put it, "Here is no reference whatever to a visible manifestation of Christ, nor to a new kingdom on earth; nor is there any separation between one class of Christians and another, nor of the rising of the saints from their graves, nor of their living upon earth." Letting the words of the text speak for themselves, we find them far removed from the amazing obscurity with which the incubus of interpreters has invested them. They are clear and distinct words, fitting in with other statements of God's Word, teaching us that the souls of the blessed dead have already passed into a higher life: that there is no lapse in their blessed relationship to Jesus.
II. THE BLESSED SAINTS ARE SEEN IN A MORE ELEVATED SPHERE OF HOLY SERVICE. They are "living and reigning with Christ." They share with him the government of the world. Here they were "kings and priests" unto God. But in the higher state of being the meaning of these names, and the glorious dignity they include, become far more manifest than when here below. They were priests even here, in leading men to God and in pleading with God for men. They were kings too, ruling men for Jesus; influencing the world's thought by the presentation of truth; swaying men's conscience by insisting on righteousness; and winning men's hearts by the philanthropies of love. It was no merely empty title with which they were honoured. They had the dignity of a royal priesthood below. But they know more fully now its deep meaning. The Syriac Version significantly and suggestively reads, "They shall be, [nay] are, priests of God and of his Messiah, and they will reign with him the thousand years."
III. THEIR PASSING UPWARD, IN DEATH, TO THIS HIGHER STATE IS CALLED THE FIRST RESURRECTION. And most intelligibly so. "Surely," says the Rev. F. D. Maurice, "if one takes the words as they stand, they do not describe a descent of Christ to earth, but an ascent of the 'saints' to reign with him." The thought of a real resurrection without a bodily rising from the grave ought to be no difficulty to those accustomed to scriptural phraseology. If, when a man passes from death to life, the phrase, "risen with Christ," is not inappropriate, neither can it be so when he makes the transition from earth to heaven to be "at home" with Jesus. And when we find the apostle saying, "I saw the souls … this is the first resurrection," we do not feel at liberty to maintain that it is a resurrection of the body which is referred to. The first resurrection is the rising of the saint at death to a higher life in Christ, which will be consummated at the general resurrection when the thousand years have expired. To quit the body—to be with Jesus? Is it hard to see why this is called the first resurrection? Nay, verily. You saw that friend of yours, breathing his last. He passed away. Your heart said, "He is not here; he is risen." He is a priest and king to God, and he is gone upward to reign with Jesus.
IV. BLESSED EVEN IN THIS FIRST RESURRECTION, THE SAINTS AWAIT IN HOPE THE CONSUMMATION OF THEIR BLISS. The blessedness indicated here extends over the thousand years. While the Church on earth is enjoying its millennial calm, believers above are reigning in life with Jesus Christ. Knowing the blessedness of their first resurrection, they can look forward with joyful hope to their second. There is no reason to doubt that from their heavenly rest they watch the progress of the kingdom of Christ on earth (cf. John 8:56, Greek). They see Satan restrained, the saints possessing the kingdom, the wicked subdued, and righteousness advancing. They await with calm delight the revolutions of ages, for on them the second death will have no power; cycles on cycles of years can only bring new blessedness to them. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in this first resurrection."
V. THEIR GLORY WILL BE CONSUMMATED AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY. For this, as the ultimate outlook, the apostle says, believers are waiting (Romans 8:23). The first resurrection is that to a higher state of spiritual being. The second will be to the completed state of glorified life of both body and spirit. Then "all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." Then there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. "Then, when the Son of God shall be manifested, will his saints also be manifested with him in glory." This will be the fulness of their bliss.
VI. FOR THE WICKED THERE IS NO SUCH FIRST RESURRECTION. "The rest of the dead lived not again (ἀνέζησαν) till the thousand years were expired." For the wicked, death brings nothing which can be called a resurrection at all. "The wicked is driven away in his wickedness." After death they are not extinct. They exist. They are in Hades. But their life in the invisible realm is no "resurrection." No such reward is theirs. They chose the paths of sin and selfishness, and they can but reap as they have sown. The statement of the text is, however, only negative. "They lived not again till," etc. What their state is, positively, we are not told. And where Scripture is silent, so must we be. But at the far end of the thousand years the outlook is gloomy enough. When we are told that on those who know the first resurrection "the second death hath no power," we see at a glance that just in proportion to the brightness of the light on one side is the depth of the shade on the other. They who are the Lord's rise twice, and die but once. They who are not the Lord's rise but once, and die twice.
1. We have reason for abundant joy over those friends in Christ who have passed onward and upward to be with the Saviour. What glorious accumulations of life are being garnered for us ready for the great harvest day! The true continuity of spiritual being is only manifested to us in revelation.
2. How loud should our praise be to the great Son of God, that through his resurrection we have ours! If it had not been for his, then "those who have fallen asleep in Christ would have perished." But those who know him, and share his life, know also "the power of his resurrection."
3. How immeasurably does the issue of a godly life repay any amount of suffering that fidelity has incurred! Those whom the apostle saw had, in some cases, been "beheaded for the Word of God." But when the beheaded ones passed away "to reign with Christ," what a change! Though "counted as sheep for the slaughter," they were "more than conquerors."
4. How awful the penalty of ungodliness, even if reckoned only by its loss! "They lived not," etc. No. There is and can be in the unseen state nothing like "life" or "resurrection" to those who are godless. Being "without God," they are also "without hope." How completely the symbolism of the Apostle John accords with all the rest of Scripture as to the state of the dead!
Satan loosed from his prison after the thousand years.
During the millennial period on earth, while the departed saints are living and reigning with Christ, evil will be subdued and restrained, but by no means will it be extinct. Had it been extinct it could not have broken out again, nor would there be any need for the παρεμβολή of the saints. The godless ones dispersed abroad, who will at the close of the thousand years break out afresh, are mentioned here under the peculiar names "Gog and Magog." £ If any one will examine the account of the dispersion of the nations in Genesis 10:1-32., he will find that one of Japheth's sons was named Magog. "Magog," says Josephus, "founded those that are after him called Magogites, but the Greeks call them Scythians." There is little or nothing more to call attention to these people till we come to the Book of Ezekiel, where the name Magog is again used, but not in the sense of a people so much as of a land, the syllable Ma- being equivalent to land or district. Since, then, Magog is the land of Gog, Gog is the name of a prince supposed to rule over that territory; obviously, ideally so, since he is commander over a group of peoples covering a much greater space of ground than the Scythians, and also peoples who were at a great distance from each other, viz. the Scythian hordes, the Persians, the Ethiopians and Libyans of Africa, Gomer or the Cimmerians; Togarmah or the Armenians,. and the multitude that peopled the regions beyond them. Now, in Ezekiel we have a prophecy that, after the restoration of Israel, this Gog, with all his bands, shall come against that people, and that his onset shall only issue in his own destruction. We have so often seen and observed how largely the symbolism of the Apocalypse is based on the facts and symbols of the Old Testament, that it can be no surprise to us to find that it is so when we are approaching the theme of the Divine treatment of sin in its final onset on God's people. Even the names Gog and Magog turn up again, not, however, as the names of a prince and his land, but as "the nations which are in the four corners of the earth," who, after the millennium, wilt emerge from their retreat, and come in full force against "the camp of the saints." The new uprising of evil after the thousand years' rest is certainly not what we should expect or desire. But doubtless there is a Divine reason for permitting it so to be, or it would not be. Let us look at this matter closely in the light of God's Word, and maybe we shall find more to instruct us on this theme than at first sight appears probable.
I. WE GATHER FROM THIS PASSAGE SOME HINTS AS TO THE STATE OF THE CHURCH ON EARTH DURING THE MILLENNIAL PERIOD.
1. There is no reason to doubt that the millennium, owing to the effective restraint then put upon evil through the Word of truth and the power of God, will be a period of very great blessedness. Seeing that Satan is the active agent in so much evil, it is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that, when he is bound, a large proportion of evil will cease to exist, and a far more rapid diffusion of good will be the blessed result. During, or possibly even before this period, we may expect the restoration of the Jews, and, consequent upon that, the bringing in of the fulness of the Gentiles, and the fulfilment of the glowing vision of the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah.
2. There is no reason whatever to suppose, from any of the teaching of Scripture, that our Lord Jesus Christ will then be present on the earth in any other way than in the power of his Spirit. The chapter before us, which is supposed to teach the reign of Christ with his risen saints on earth, teaches only, as we have already seen, that the departed saints are seen living and reigning with Christ.
3. It is equally clear that the millennium will not be a period of unmixed good, nor will it be a time when the saints can dispense with the παρεμβολή. Compared with things as they are now, the earth will be still and at rest; there will be a sabbatic calm, but it will not be heaven. Evil will be subdued, but far from extinct. The possibility of an outbreak will exist still.
4. There will also still be death in the world. The deathless state enters not in till the new heavens and the new earth appear, and Paradise is regained. Not till then will there be "no more curse."
5. The Church will still have to be prepared for war. Obviously, if the state of things on earth during the millennium were one of universal righteousness, there would be no nations to be deceived. Still less can we suppose that, after the resurrection from the dead, the glorified saints are to go about, sword in band, to the holy war. It is a trial to our faith to read of an inrush of evil after a prolonged period of comparative calm. Scripture puts no such strain upon us, however, as that which is involved in the pre-millennial theory, viz. that, even after Paradise is regained, Satan will rush in and lead on in person the hosts of evil to a final attack. £
II. WHAT DO WE GATHER FROM SCRIPTURE CONCERNING THIS ONSET OF ILL AFTER THE MILLENNIUM?
1. It is necessary. There is a little word in the third verse of this chapter of which we are too apt to lose sight. It is the word "must." "After that, he must be loosed a little season." Must! Why? We are not told. But we ought to take note of the word "must" for all that. What this hidden necessity in the government of God may be for the permission of such a disaster, is all dark to us. But we believe it, because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
2. It will be a fierce onset. It will be after the old kind, by "deception" (verse 8). What will be the special form of deceit he will use we are not told, and conjecture is useless. But it will be so successful that, with a strange unanimity, a great host will band together, and attack the saints of God. We do not dream of a material struggle, but one resembling that which we are waging every day with principalities, with powers, with the world-rulers of this darkness.
3. It will be a restricted struggle. Satan will be bound by time even when loosed as to space. The same Hand that bound retains its power even when the evil one is loosed. Not even at the worst of times is the world given over to the devil, No! nor ever will be. Even when the water floods are at their height, and the billows are angry, Jehovah rides upon the storm.
4. It will be for a little season. Not only restricted, but within very narrow limits. The conflict may be sharp, but it will be short.
5. It will be suicidal. Satan will overshoot the mark, and fall into his own snare. He aims at deceiving the nations, and succeeds in leading them on to a guilty war; and lo! when engaged therein, we read that "fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them."
6. The struggle will be even serviceable to the Church; for not only will it reveal more and more the majesty of God in defending his own cause, but it will end in the hurling of Satan to a lower depth than before. In Revelation 12:9 we read that the devil was cast down to earth. In Revelation 20:3 he is cast into the abyss. But in Revelation 20:10 he is cast into the lake of fire. This would seem to mean extinction, if such a conclusion were not forbidden by the closing phrase of the tenth verse. What it means we dare not presume to say, except that it certainly conveys the impression that his power for evil over mankind is brought to an end. Hence:
7. The struggle will be—the last. If the reader has followed the plan of the book and our exposition of it, he will have noted how one after another of the foes of God and man are destroyed. There were four.
(1) The dragon—Satan.
(2) The beast.
(3) The false prophet.
(4) Babylon the great.
We have noted the fall of the fourth, the third, the second. Only the first was left, and now he is thrown into the lake of fire. After this, no foe is seen outside of man. Only men have now to be dealt with, and these have, whether they be good or bad. "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love thee be as the sun when he cometh forth in his might!"
III. WHAT ARE THE RELATED TRUTHS TO WHICH THIS PASSAGE POINTS US?
1. In the light of the views of the millennium and of what is to follow, two sets of apparently conflicting passages fall into place. There is one set which indicates that, as the result of the first coming of Christ, all the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; there is another set which indicates that there will be a fierce outbreak of evil before our Lord shall come. It is no small confirmation of the correctness of an interpretation of this passage if thereby apparently conflicting statements fall in place. The binding of Satan, which was and is effected through our Lord Jesus Christ, has become more and more stringent as souls are plucked from his grasp; and we are to see a time of peace and calm when he will be even more completely bound than he is now. But after that there is to be the new onrush of evil, so that before our Lord shall come a fiercer conflict than has ever been known will be fought, ere the great struggle shall be completely at an end, and then the Lord shall come. So that we can at once look forward to the fulfilment of the seventy-second psalm as the result of the forces already at work; and yet see the harmony of that with words that declare that "that day shall not come, except there be a falling away first; .. and then shall that wicked one be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and destroy with the brightness of his coming."
2. We see that there are two ways in which evil is being dealt with. That of removal, when souls are being renewed; and that of restraint, when evil beings are kept within prescribed limits. And both these ways of working are going on now, and will do during this millennial age. If it were not for these renewals of souls, no such time of calm could ever come in; and if it were not that there is much evil slumbering, as it were, that is only restrained, obviously it could not rush forth again. However much we may wonder at evil breaking out once more, even on the post-millennial view of our Lord's coming, yet on the pre-millennial view it would be impossible, since there would be none. And so severe is the pressure of this upon pre-millennialists, that one of them ventures on the supposition that God wilt create some wicked men for the purpose out of the slime and the mire!
3. Be it ours to take heart as we get a fresh glimpse of the Divine plan, viz. that however oft the conflict with evil and the evil one may be renewed, yet in every case the issue is that of the defeat of evil, and its banishment to a lower depth of disgrace than before. "Who hath ever hardened himself against God and prospered?" "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!"
4. Finally, what God will ultimately do with evil and the evil one, no one can positively say. We do not find the possibility of extinction shut out. At the same time, it is by no means so clear that such will be the issue that we feel warranted in saying it will be so. In our homily on the after state of the ungodly, we deal with this question as concerns man. Here we have to do with it as regards Satan. We think that no one can help seeing that his fate is here set forth as that of utter, hopeless, final defeat. But we demur to the phrase, "eternal torment," as so applied—yea, more, we eschew it, on two grounds:
(1) That our English word "eternal," as now understood, goes far ahead of the expression, "to ages of ages." The English word means an infinite duration; the Scripture phrase points to indefinite duration. In the former case an ending is negatived; in the latter no end is disclosed.
(2) The word "torment" has a gross, material, carnal significance. It is used in the narrative of Dives and Lazarus, and in the symbolism of this book. It is a material figure to indicate spiritual issues. Where there is rebellion and final impenitence, there must be defeat; and where there is detent, there must be "weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth." There will be nothing contrary to perfect equity in the fate of the evil one; we may be quite sure of that. And we are such inadequate judges of the guilt of any—yea, even of our own—and of what a righteous penalty requires, that it is far better for us that we should leave the matter in the hands of God, knowing that he will do only what is right, than that we should know beforehand what the precise issue will be. Surely it is not without reason that we say—We can rest more completely in uncertainty than in a certainty, when we rest absolutely in God. He will do what is right.
Revelation 20:11-15 (compared with Revelation 22:12)
"The day of the Lord."
The several enemies of the Church—Satan, the first beast, the second beast, and the harlot—have one by one passed away from view. Now only men remain to be dealt with, both good and bad. It is necessary for us to avoid a confused blending of themes, as well as too frequent reiteration. We shall, therefore, pursue the following plan (which, indeed, is that required by the Apocalypse itself): We shall first deal with three themes common to all: the day of the Lord; the resurrection; the judgment. Then we shall see what light Scripture throws on the destiny of each; studying first the doom of the ungodly, and then the glory of the new heaven and the new earth. The topic of our present homily is—The day of the Lord. Inasmuch as our exposition of this and kindred themes can be valid only as it accords with the general tenor of the Word of God, we must ensure a wider basis on which to rest our unfolding of this stupendous theme than can possibly be found in this symbolic passage alone. If we group three other passages with it, our course will be clearer. The first is one which follows very shortly on our present one, and is in the twelfth verse of the last chapter of the Apocalypse. The second is that declaration of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:17-21, The third is the passage of the Prophet Joel, on which the apostle based his declarations concerning the "great and terrible day of the Lord." In combining the three we shall therefore be locating the second advent just where it is set in this book, and indicating its purposes in harmony with the whole tenor of Scripture.
I. ALL PARTS OF SCRIPTURE CARRY FORWARD OUR THOUGHTS TO A GREAT DAY. The Apocalyptic word, in Revelation 22:12, is but the final setting of a truth which pervades the whole of Scripture. "That day," "the great day," "the day of the Lord," "the great and terrible day of the Lord," "the day when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven," "the last day," "the harvest,"—these and many other such phrases are found. Enoch prophesied, "Behold, the Lord cometh," etc. Job declared, "He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." Asaph sang, "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence." The preacher said, "God shall bring every work into judgment." The prophets cast their glances forward far beyond the first appearing of our Lord. Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, and the rest. Our Lord, in the three several stages of his teaching, declares the same. When in the flesh, he spake of the time when he should come in his glory. He inspired Peter, Paul, and John to write of his reappearing. And all but his last word in the Apocalyptic unfoldings is, as it were, the final seal upon all this: "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be."
II. THE TIME IS FIXED FOR THE COMMENCEMENT OF THAT DAY. "I come quickly." This was said eighteen hundred years ago, and our Lord is not come yet. But "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years," etc. Time is not counted only by the ticks of a dial, but by the growth of men. The second coming is, according to the Apostle Peter, the event which is at once to consummate and close this aeon. Paul tells us, "Now is the day of salvation;" and "He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world," etc. The Prophet Joel tells us, "In those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will also gather all nations." So we find in the New Testament that the receiving of Israel once more shall be followed by the Bringing in of the fulness of the Gentiles. These two great issues are to be witnessed before the end cometh. As the world is not moving on blindly without any definite end at all, so neither is it moving on without a Divine foresight and purpose as to when or how the end shall come. "The spirit of the living creature is in the wheels; The wheels are full of eyes." Towards this momentous point all things are tending. To the last the world will seem indifferent thereto. "As it was in the days of Noah … so shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed."
III. STARTLING SIGNS WILL HERALD THE APPROACH OF THAT DAY. Our Lord and his apostles were very clear on this matter (Matthew 24:1-51.; Acts 2:1-47.). Nor was the Prophet Joel, among others, less so (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:15; comp. also Haggai 2:1-23. with Hebrews 12:1-29.). There is room for wide differences of opinion here as to whether all these expressions signify extraordinary and marvellous natural phenomena, or rather great convulsions in the ecclesiastical and political spheres. Possibly both are intended, Moral and physical crises and epochs have often coincided, and may again. In Humboldt's 'Kosmos' £ no fewer than seventeen instances are given of remarkable natural phenomena similar to those described in Scripture, some of which occurred at great crises in national life or in the world's history.
IV. A VAST ASSEMBLAGE WILL BE GATHERED ON THAT DAY. What a vision before the mind's eye when we look at the Apocalyptic words! "To give every man;" "Every eye shall see him; ... We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." See also the Prophet Joel's words, "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision;' where the term "decision" is from a word that denotes a threshing instrument, by which the wheat is separated from the chaff; and the word "multitudes" is from one that signifies "a hum," and brings vividly before the mind the confused noise of a vast crowd. Crowds on crowds! One living, surging sea of human souls. A threshing process is being carried on, and "He shall separate them one from another!"
V. THE LIFE WORK OF MEN WILL BE FINISHED ON THAT DAY. "To give every man according as his work shall be." Not his works, as if they were isolated details; but work, as if it were a definite whole. Even so. The work is as the man is. On the side of good or of evil, as he has taken his stand, there will his work be ranged. "Ye did it unto me," "Ye did it not unto me," are phrases so comprehensive as to include and to classify all moral acts whatsoever. And however doubtful it may have seemed at life's earlier stages, on which side any one might be ranged, no doubt will be possible when wheat and tares alike are ripe at the great harvest day. As we have shown in an earlier homily, we can know men by their fruits. God knows them by their tendencies. And when tendencies have developed to issues, the righteousness of God in judging accordingly will be made manifest. For—
VI. A RIGHTEOUS RECOMPENSE WILL BE AWARDED ON THAT DAY. "To give every man according as his work shall be." Here we have the distinct statement of the meaning and object of our Lord's second advent—a meaning and an object so momentous, that we cannot dislocate this reappearing without seriously affecting our conception of the whole plan of redemption. If we look at our Lord as coming to bring in a regeneration which the gospel has—designedly—failed to achieve, our views of our duty and of the glorious gospel will be very seriously lowered. But it is not thus that Scripture locates the great day. It is the decisive day, the day of ripeness, the day of separation, the day of final award (cf. Revelation 22:12). Then God will judge the secrets of men. We shall all be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ.
VII. RESULTS WILL CONTRAST AS WIDELY AS CHARACTERS ON THAT DAY. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Every man will receive in his body the things done, whether good or bad. "The heavens and the earth shall shake, but the Lord shall be the Hope of his people, and the Strength of the children of Israel." On one side we read that the wicked "shall be punished with everlasting destruction," etc. On the other, "He shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe." So that it is easy to see the reason why, on the one hand, the second coming of our Lord is "the blessed hope," while on the other it is "the great and terrible day." It will be to a man glorious or terrible according to the attitude of the man towards his God and Saviour. There is a day coming that shall burn as an oven, when men will "return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."
VIII. THESE RESULTS ARE FINAL. So far as the disclosures of the Word of God are made, £ the horizon is bounded by these two issues—glory to the righteous, condemnation to the wicked. On the question—What do these severally mean? we treat afterwards. £ But the dread aspect of finality which characterizes the varied passages of the Word of God which speak of the doom of the wicked, precludes us from asking—What lies beyond these disclosures? Where Scripture bounds its testimony, we must end our thinkings, for the one and sufficient reason that thought has no further basis on which to act. For our part, we can affirm neither the endlessness of future punishment, nor annihilation, nor restoration. "But," it may be demurred, "the ultimate issue must be one or the other." Possibly so. But even if it be so, it does not follow that we can tell any individual soul how it will be with him. If we be asked again, "Why can you not affirm either?" we reply—We cannot affirm restoration, because many passages seem to us to preclude it. We cannot affirm annihilation, because it loses sight of the fact that, according to the usus loquendi of Scripture, there may be existence in a state of death. We cannot affirm the endlessness of punishment, because:
(1) That would be affirming the tremendous doctrine that sin will last as long as God lasts.
(2) The assertion would go beyond the necessary meaning of the phrases used to imply duration, which only—so far as evil is concerned—indicate indefinite rather than endless duration.
(3) It would also ignore the fact that the strongest phrases in the Word of God for duration, and those which involve endlessness, are all on the side of good. £
But while we refrain from asserting the absolute endlessness of future punishment, we do affirm:
(1) That God has not shown us an end to it.
(2) That every moment a sinner continues to harden his heart against God, he is doing what he can to make repentance an impossibility.
(3) That if a man resists Divine love here, no one can show what is to make him more yielding hereafter.
(4) That every man will be dealt with by God in absolute and unswerving equity. Whatever may be any individual theory, all these four last-named positions are absolutely certain. Objection: But how about the heathen world? What will be the condition of the men who have lived in pagan darkness? Will they necessarily be lost because they have had less light than others?
(1) No; not necessarily. The Scripture again and again teaches that men's salvation does not depend on the measure of light God saw fit to send them, but on the use which they shall have made of the light they had.
(2) We have no doubt whatever that before this great decisive day comes, every child of man will have been brought into direct contact with the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ, for acceptance or rejection; and that no soul ever reaches the crucial point of its probation till such is the case (cf. 1 Peter 4:6). How could there be a common basis of judgment if some had never heard of Jesus? Our Lord will not come till he has all things in readiness to judge the living and the dead.
IX. Finally, IT BEHOVES EVERY MAN TO PREPARE FOR THAT DAY. Whatever may be obscure as to the time or place in which these tremendous scenes will be enacted, there is quite enough of clearly revealed truth respecting it to give men urgent reasons for preparing to meet their God; and to make pastors and teachers passionately earnest in setting before their hearers the solemnity of the destinies which loom before every man. Just as each atom of matter is related to every other, so has each moment of our time a bearing upon the last, the supreme, the decisive day. Every day we are piling up thoughts, words, deeds, which take their place for good or evil in the fabric of character; and as is character at last, so will be the award.
"Oh, to be ready, ready for that day,
Who would not fling earth's fairest toys away?"
The resurrection from the dead.
This paragraph is an amazingly compressed eschatology. We have already studied the Scripture teaching on "the day of the Lord" which it opens up to us. We have now to look at the dread incidents which will mark that day. One of these is indicated by the words, "I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne … And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them." We will, with these words as our center point, survey the doctrine in the light of the general tenor of Scripture.
1. AT THE COMING OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THERE WILL BE A GENERAL RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD. There is nothing in Scripture to lead to the conclusion that there will be two bodily resurrections. Those which are mainly supposed to teach it do not. Others teach precisely the contrary.
1. There are two passages which are among the principal ones that are adduced for the doctrine of two bodily resurrections, one of the saints, and afterwards of the wicked.
(1) The first is Revelation 20:3. This we have dealt with in the homily on Revelation 20:4.
(2) The other is 1 Thessalonians 4:16, which is looked at by some as if it taught that the dead in Christ should rise first, and the dead out of Christ afterwards. But the antithesis is not between the dead in Christ and other dead, but between the dead in Christ and those who are living at the coming of the Lord. First, the dead; then we who are alive.
2. Other passages leave distinctly on the mind the impression of one resurrection, not of two; e.g. John 5:28; Matthew 25:41; Acts 24:15; Daniel 12:2. We are pointed to one day or time, whether Scripture speaks of the righteous, or of the wicked, or of both.
(1) Of the righteous (2 Thessalonians 1:10; Heb 9:28; 1 John 2:28, 1 John 2:29; 1 John 4:17; Philippians 1:10; Philippians 3:20, Philippians 3:21).
(2) Of the wicked (Romans 2:6; 2 Peter 3:7, 2 Peter 3:13).
(3) Of both (Matthew 7:21-23; Matthew 10:32, Matthew 10:33; Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 13:43; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:1-46.; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:6, Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10). It is scarcely too much to say that it is impossible to explain all these passages except on the supposition that there is to be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust. There is, however, another passage, which, if possible, is more decisive still, viz. John 6:39, John 6:40, John 6:44, John 6:54. Here it is four times stated that the resurrection of the believers shall take place at the last day, which could not be if that of the wicked were separated from it and appointed for a later period. There will be one resurrection from the dead.
II. WHAT WILL THE RESURRECTION BE? Granted that it will be of all the dead (John 5:28): what is meant by it? We reply—It will be a resurrection of bodies.
1. The bodies of the righteous will rise (Php 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Romans 8:11, Romans 8:23).
2. The bodies of the wicked will rise. The dead will rise with bodies which will be according to character, and which will contain within themselves provision for joy or woe. Query: Have we any clue in Scripture as to the relation which exists between the body that is laid in the grave and that which will rise from it? We reply—Not any direct clue; but we have a very clear statement of an apostle in 1 Corinthians 15:36-38, concerning four well-known principles and methods of God in the natural world; and if we apply these, as he would have us do, to the doctrine in hand, we shall find many difficulties cleared out of the way. The four facts are these.
(1) There can be no rising without a previous sowing and decay.
(2) The body that is sown is not the body that shall be.
(3) Yet to every seed there is its own body.
(4) The relation between the two is a secret in the mind of God.
"God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him." If these are borne in mind and carried out to their legitimate issue, they will leave us no difficulty in the matter save the one, that we do not know the whole of anything.
III. How WILL THE RESURRECTION BE EFFECTED?
1. By the power of God (Matthew 22:29).
2. By the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:28, John 5:29; Philippians 3:21).
3. By the energy of the Holy Ghost (Romans 8:11).
4. Angels will be the attendants and instruments (Matthew 13:39-41; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
If we here do little more than quote Scripture, it is because that is all that we can do. We know nothing more about the resurrection than we are told by our Lord and his apostles. We cannot forget that the Redeemer, in his memorable reply to the Sadducces, in which he showed them that their blundering over the doctrine arose from ignorance of Scripture, also pointed out in what the real glory of the resurrection consists, viz. not in the reproducing of like flesh and blood, nor in the repetition of an earthly life, but in the raising of the entire man to a life of nobler energy, in which it would be possible for him to realize the full meaning of the words, "I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." He who was their God would be to them all that a God could be, and would raise them up and present them to himself in all the perfection of a complete and glorified manhood.
IV. ON WHAT GROUND MAY OUR BELIEF IN THE RESURRECTION SECURELY REST? There is one ground which is sufficient in itself, viz. the testimony of Jesus Christ and his apostles. Well aware are we that this is an age of revolt from authority. Or, rather, it is supposed to be so. And men think that they require clear proof from actual experiment before they believe. But a little close examination will dispose of this self laudatory theory. For first, if the proof of x be direct and personal, based on his own trial, to him the issue is knowledge, not faith. And second, unless his own proof can be repeated or actually is repeated by others, they must accept another's finding on faith in him. And so it is in the entire scientific realm. There is no man of science that does not owe to the experiments of others ninety-nine hundredths of all his knowledge. In other words, the great bulk of scientific knowledge rests on the authority of others. There are three kinds of authority which will stand as long as the race lasts.
(1) That of personal proprietorship.
(2) That of adequate knowledge.
(3) That of intrinsic and self-evident truth or worth.
With regard to the resurrection. The Lord Jesus Christ, as Lord of all, has authority of the first-named order. His apostles, as taught by the Holy Ghost, have authority of the second order. Hence the question between faith and unbelief regarding the resurrection ceases to be one of the surrender of authority as a ground of faith, and becomes merely one of the transfer of authority. Are men prepared to accept as authorities on this matter men who ask them to disbelieve the resurrection, because science can give them no information respecting it? We, for our part, challenge men to produce more trustworthy testimony on any matter, than that of our Lord and his apostles concerning the resurrection. If asked, then, for the ground on which we believe it, we would reply:
1. The Lord has assured us of it (John 11:23)
2. He regards it as a part of the trust committed to him (John 6:39, John 6:40).
3. He has led the way by his own resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17).
4. He has declared his will that his people shall follow him to glory (John 17:24).
5. The completion of his own mediatorial work demands it (l Corinthians 1Co 15:29 -82; 1 Thessalonians 2:19; Colossians 1:28; Jude 1:24).
V. WHAT WILL FOLLOW FROM THE RESURRECTION? (1 Corinthians 15:14, "Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.") The bodies of men before the resurrection were, so to speak, held in the grasp of death. The spirits of men were in Hades, i.e. in the invisible realm—those of the blessed in a state of happy rest and honour in and with Christ; those of the ungodly and unbelieving under the guard of Christ, with a view to the great, the decisive day, ushered in by the resurrection. When the mighty voice of the Son of God shall wake the dead, then Death shall resign his hold of the bodies, and the invisible world must open its gates for all its occupants to quit those mysterious realms. Thus Death will be dead. And the invisible realm will be vacant. Both will have served a purpose in the development of the Divine plans, but they will be no longer. They will be "cast into the lake of fire."
VI. WHAT USES HAVE BEEN MADE OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE RESURRECTION? Perhaps few doctrines have suffered so much as this from the meddling and muddling of man. And in part, at any rate, it is owing to this that it has been so misused. Yet not altogether to this cause must we attribute such abuse. For the doctrine is confessedly so mysterious, that the proud heart scorns it. It is so fraught with terrors to the ungodly that the wicked tremble at it. (See Sir Samuel Baker's conversation with an African youth on the resurrection; Dr. Moffat's with an African chief upon it.) It is very remarkable that we have in Scripture illustrations of no fewer than seven ways of treating this doctrine.
1. Some denied it altogether (1 Corinthians 15:12).
2. Some declared that it was past already (2 Timothy 2:18).
3. Some made it a plea for putting forth curious questions (Matthew 22:28).
4. Some mocked (Acts 17:32).
5. Some postponed the consideration of the matter (Acts 17:32).
6. Some believed (1 Peter 1:3-5).
7. One, at least, with a touching blending of faith, fear, and. common sense, was unable to formulate the doctrine, but reposed implicitly in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. John 11:26, John 11:27, "Believest thou this?" etc.). We admire the answer of Martha, in which she seems to say, "Yea, Lord, I believe it, because I believe thee, though I scarcely understand what it means!" Happy they who, with extreme difficulty in formulating the doctrine in detail, can fall back in loving faith in him in whom it centres, and who "will make it plain." As that excellent man, Dr. Clerk Maxwell, said, shortly before death, "It is but a very little of pure truth that we can reach; but what a mercy to be able to say, 'We know whom we have believed!'"
VII. BELIEVING THE DOCTRINE, WHAT OUGHT TO BE ITS PRACTICAL POWER?
1. It has a gladsome side. Herein:
(1) Let the believer rejoice (Colossians 3:3, Colossians 3:4).
(2) Let the Christian worker gather from it a holy stimulus, and keep it in view in all his teaching of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:28, Col 1:29; 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 1 Thessalonians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:58).
(3) With this great crisis in view, let the hearer of the gospel remember his responsibilities (Hebrews 13:17).
(4) Let all Christian people see to it that they abound in the work of holy living (1 John 2:28; 2 Peter 3:14).
2. It has, moreover, an aspect of unspeakable solemnity. (Revelation 1:7; John 5:28, John 5:29.) To rise from the dead to confront the Judge of all, in an unprepared and unpardoned state, how terrible!
The Lord grant that we may find mercy of the Lord in that day!
Judgment; or, the opening of the books.£
Following on the resurrection is the judgment. In connection with this, we read that before the face of him that sat upon the throne the heavens and the earth fled away. This may include the final conflagration. But what the phrase actually means, no man is in a position adequately to judge. Such passages as Psalms 102:26, Psalms 102:27; Matthew 24:35; Matthew 19:28; Hebrews 1:12-14; 2 Peter 3:7, 2Pe 3:10-12; 1 John 2:17, prepare us to expect vast changes. "If there is any analogy between what has been and what is to be, there may yet be another catastrophe on the surface of the earth by virtue of which present forms of life will cease to be, and give place to others of a higher order than ever earth has known." Now, the Bible presents to us a moral development. Science shows us physical development. And we are led, by comparing both together, to the conclusion which we have before expressed, that as in the past so in the future, moral and physical events will synchronize, and that when the earth is ripe for geologic change it will also be ripe for a moral one. Planting our feet firmly on the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth, we say—There cometh a great decisive day, as tremendous in its moral and spiritual revelations and issues as it will be august in its physical changes. We recognize Divine disclosures concerning the latter as well as concerning the former. There are Divine disclosures to reason in the stone book of nature, and Divine declarations to faith in the written revelation. Where science ends revelation carries us forward, and while the former forecasts the re-preparation of the stage for further action, the other reveals the action which is to take place on that stage. Science brings to view natural law; revelation, a series of laws equally firm and sure; even those of a moral government superadded to physical control, and of a redemptive work inserted into a moral administration. There is a day coming when the working of these varied sets of laws will culminate. In the "economy of the filling up of the seasons" things are kept in store against that day. It is very remarkable to find such vast events indicated in so few words as we find here. But the fact is that all physical charges arc but subordinate to the supreme moral and spiritual issues which are pending. On these we at once proceed to dwell.
I. "THE GREAT DAY" WILL PROVE AT ONCE A CLIMAX OF HISTORY AND A REVELATION OF CHARACTER. Its bearing on the human race is indicated by the words, "day of judgment;" in which term there are included:
1. The appearing of mankind before God.
2. The manifestation of character.
3. Approval or disapproval.
4. Recompense or penalty.
"It has for a long time been disputed whether the judgment of the world will be an external, visible, formal transaction, or whether the mere decision respecting the destiny of man; the actual taking effect of retribution is represented under the image of a judicial proceeding, like what is common among men." £ The latter opinion would have more on its side if it were only in such a symbolic book as this that the latter is suggested. But the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments combine in presenting the judgment as a vast solemn last assize.
II. THE ENTIRE ADMINISTRATION OF JUDGMENT IS IN THE HANDS OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. (John 5:22, John 5:27; Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 2:11.) He is the Head of the human race, both by his original position as Son of God, and by his assumed position as Son of man. He "both died, and rose, and re-lived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."
III. SCRIPTURE TELLS US WHO WILL BE CONCERNED IN THE TRANSACTIONS OF THE JUDGMENT DAY. Devils (Jud 1 John 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Matthew 8:28). Men (Romans 2:4-11), including pagans, Jews, Christians, nominal and real. All (Romans 14:10). None will elude the judgment of God (Romans 2:3). "Every one shall give account of himself" (Romans 14:12).
IV. WE ARE ALSO TOLD WHAT WILL BE JUDGED.
1. Deeds (2 Corinthians 5:10).
2. Words (Matthew 12:36, Matthew 12:37).
3. Thoughts (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
4. Secret things (Romans 2:16).
5. "Every secret thing" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
"There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known."
V. MEN WILL BE JUDGED ACCORDING TO THE LIGHT THEY HAD; i.e. according to the use they made of the light God had granted them (Romans 2:11-15; Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:21-24; Luke 11:31, Luke 11:32; Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48; Acts 10:34, Acts 10:35). The principles here laid down are those of most manifest equity, and we are quite sure that there will be nothing contrary thereto in the sentence of God. The late Dr. Lawson, of Selkirk, was once asked by a flippant young man how he could think that any, such as Plato and Socrates, would be lost because they had not heard of Jesus Christ. He replied, "If it please God in his mercy, and through faith in his Son, to take you and me to heaven, and that we shall find there Socrates and Plato, I am sure we shall be glad indeed to meet them; but if we shall not find them in heaven, I am also sure that the Judge of all the earth will be able to assign a good reason for their absence, and that none in heaven will be either able or willing to dispute either the justice or the wisdom of his sovereign arrangements." £ We may also add that Scripture not obscurely intimates that every soul will, before the dread day comes, be brought into contact with the Lord Jesus lot acceptance or rejection; and those who followed conscientiously the dimmer light will surely accept joyfully the clearer. Certainly the Judge of all the earth will do right.
VI. WHERE IS THE RECORD OF THE ACTS, WORDS, AND THOUGHTS WHICH WILL BE DISCLOSED AT JUDGMENT? In "the books." What are these? Who can tell? We would reverently suggest:
1. There is that unerring record—the memory of God. To the Divine mind everything is present (Psalms 139:1-24.). By him nothing is forgotten. All the manifold and complicated currents of human thought, the varied fluctuations of human wills and impulses, the maze of human design and plan, past, present, and future, are all laid.open to his searching glance. Not one passing thought eludes his notice or escapes from his memory. In his mind is a complete and permanent photograph of every soul.
2. Then there is our own memory. Judging from the collection of facts from which Science essays to draw her conclusions, nothing ever drops completely from man's memory. A word, a look, a sound, a song, a feature, a locket, a hair, may recall deeds and thoughts of a generation past. Let but the barriers which imprison memory be removed, as they seem to have been in the case of many persons near death, and the whole of one's life may rush back in an instant, and reveal the man to himself in a way that shall either make him dumb with horror or inspire him with joy.
3. If this be so, then the memory of others must be a permanent record of a large part of our lives. For if our memory records the impulses we give, it would seem also, by parity of reasoning, to be a record of the impulses we receive. Thus the power exerted by us over others, and by others over us, creates indelible impressions on their minds and ours, so that their "books" and ours mutually supplement and confirm each other. "You cannot meet a stranger in the streets, nor utter a word in your remotest solitude, nor think a thought in your inmost heart, but lo! this recording angel has noted it down upon the tablets of your soul forever" (Macleod).
4. Science itself suggests wondrous disclosures in this direction. The great mathematician Babbage, in his Bridgewater Treatise, remarks, "The whole atmosphere is one vast library, on whose pages are recorded all that man has ever said or woman whispered." The air, the light, are ever the bearers of our deeds and words. "It is probable," says Coleridge, "judging from the facts presented in medical records, that all thoughts are in themselves imperishable; and that if the intelligent faculty should be rendered more comprehensive, it would require only a different and apportioned organization—the body celestial instead of the body terrestrial—to bring before every human soul the collective experience of its whole past existence. And this—this, perchance, is the dread book of judgment, in the mysterious hieroglyphics of which every idle word is recorded." £
5. And then there will be another record—in the countenance of the man. The spirit forms the face. Even here, "it is not in words explicable with what Divine lines and lights the exercise of godliness and charity will mould and gild the hardest and coldest countenances, nether to what darkness their departure will consign even the loveliest. For there is not any virtue the exercise of which even momentarily will not impress a new fairness upon the tortures; neither on them only, but on the whole body." £ The work of grace reforms the countenance. The work of sin deforms it. To a sufficiently keen observer, a man's face is a living book in which his character may be read. Yea, it is even so. "Books" in abundance are every moment having entries made therein from which the character and desert of each can be clearly read at last. So much so is this the case, that it is far easier to see how ruin impends than how salvation is possible, with such a long catalogue of sins as must attach to every man's life. Knowing as we do that in the physical world there is no forgiveness of sins, it is impossible, without Bible teaching, to see how salvation ever can be inserted into the condition of a sinful man. This naturally leads us to another inquiry—
VII. WHAT WILL BE THE ISSUES OF THE JUDGMENT? These will be twofold.
1. Eternal life. (Comp. Matthew 25:31-40; Romans 8:33, Rom 8:34; 1 John 4:17; 2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5.) Scripture is very clear as to the issues of the judgment in the case of the blessed. There is, in fact, one sentence in the paragraph before us which indicates the joyous aspect of the judgment to them. "Another book was opened, which is the book of life" (cf. Isaiah 4:3; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Philippians 3:20). This book of life includes all the saved. Every one of them is written there. The Father's name is written on their foreheads. Their names are written in the Father's book. And this is emphatically a book of grace. Without the redemptive scheme of Divine love, there never would have been any such book at all. Nor should it be left unnoticed that it is called in Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 21:27 the Lamb's book of life. The names recorded there are of those who have been redeemed by his blood, and who are his purchased possession. These shall be welcomed by him to the everlasting kingdom "prepared from the foundation of the world."
Difficulty (1): Difficulties may here occur to the minds of many; such as these: It it be a matter of revealed truth that acts, words, and thoughts shall be brought forth to light, and if the sins of the believer in Christ are thus brought to view and exposed before all, will not that interfere very materially with the joy of the saved? Reply:
(a) It is not surprising if, when we attempt detail, we soon get beyond our reach in dealing with themes so vast.
(b) In this case, however, whatever sin comes out to light, does so as that which is repented of on the one side, and forgiven on the other. So that
(c) even thus the testimony would be borne more vividly to the renewing and forgiving grace of God.
Difficulty (2): We read in John 5:24 that he that believeth shall not come into judgment; and yet we read elsewhere, "We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ:" how is this? Reply: Believers, with others, will be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; but their manifestation will be that of pardoned and of sanctified men, whose guilt is cancelled and whose sin is removed. Surely, when this is taken into account, the difficulty ceases. There will be no such judgment as involves condemnation.
2. On the other side, the issue will be condemnation. The terrible word "Depart!" sums up all hell. What further remarks we have to offer on the after state of the ungodly we reserve for the next homily, observing here only that κατακρίμα cannot mean anything less than "an adverse verdict;" and what that may involve, as a final sentence from the lips of the King of kings, we pray God we may never know!
Note: That scenes so solemn as the one put before us in this paragraph are meant to tell mightily upon us, and that they ought to do so, we cannot question, however incapable we may be of realizing all the details thereof. Any one or more of the following applications may well be earnestly pressed on the conscience by pastors and teachers.
1. Let every believer keep in view the judgment day, with anxious desire then to be approved of the Judge (1 John 2:28).
2. Let us endeavour more fully to realize the fact that we are perpetually under the scrutinizing gaze of him "with whom we have to do."
3. Let us regard every action as a laying up of treasure or of wrath against the great revealing day (Romans 2:5; 1 Timothy 6:19).
4. How intensely momentous does a pastor's or a teacher's work appear in view of that day (Hebrews 13:17) It is not to be wondered at if at times the weight of responsibility is more than he knows how to bear.
5. The responsibility of those who hear the Word is obviously correspondingly great. It also is implied in Hebrews 13:17.
6. None should forget that there is a Divine, a gracious meaning, in the prolonging of the "day of salvation." The promise and the menace are not forgotten. God is not weak. Neither is he indifferent. He is "long suffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." With a view to this his goodness is drawing men now. He waits to be gracious. But we have no reason for thinking that he will wait always.
The second death: the lake of fire.
"This is the second death, the lake of fire." Few of our readers, if any, are likely here to lose sight of the symbolic style of the Apocalypse—a style which, indeed, so largely pervades it, that if there were not other passages bearing on like themes and couched in different phraseology, its interpretation would be impossible. And even with the aid of the plainer words, the theme before us is so vast, so dread, so fraught with terror, that for our part we scarcely know how to write upon it or even to approach it. Nor even now can we pretend to do more within the space at our command than to lay down some seven distinctly revealed lines of Divine teaching concerning the future state of the ungodly. When these seven lines are put together they will be found to include all the main teachings of the Word containing so dread a theme. We regard it as needless to do more at this stage of the exposition than to remind the reader of the point we have reached in the grand unfoldings of this book. The resurrection is past, the judgment has been set, men have been adjudged each one according to his works. And it is from this revealed point of time that we now start. May the writer's pen be guided, and his heart inspired in a holy and a trembling awe, as he now essays to point out the results of the Judge's solemn word, "Depart!"
I. AT THIS POINT THE REVEALED PERIOD OF PROBATION FOR THE RACE CLOSES. It is very clear, from the apostolic explanation in 2 Corinthians 6:2 of the phrase, "a day of salvation," that the present gospel day is thereby intended. This is the day of salvation, in which mercy may be obtained. To this day there is a limit. "After that thou shalt cut it down." The vine dresser could not ask for any further postponement of the act when fruitlessness was decisive and final. We are not in a position to look at the meaning of the great decisive day in relation to the government of God until we understand the Scripture doctrine of human probation. We know that nations, empires, and cities have a day of probation. So have Churches. So have individuals. Their probation may close even before their natural life ends. It was so with Judas. The line, however, which marks the close of probation is not a temporal one, but a moral one. The close of probation is reached when the state of fixedness in sin is reached. Hence we have but to expand the conception of that of individuality to that of universality to see how completely this accords with the frequent reference in Scripture of "the harvest day." Whoever lives in the habit of resisting God is hardening himself into a state of fixed unfruitfulness. And the last day will be the decisive day of treatment, because it is the consummation day of character.
II. "THE DAY OF SALVATION" WILL BE FOLLOWED BY "THE DAY OF JUDGMENT." The latter may be a period as prolonged as the former. During "the day of salvation" grace reigns. In "the day of judgment" absolute and unswerving equity will mark the Divine procedure in every case (Romans 2:6-16). And, as we understand the meaning of that, in its bearing on our present theme, we would express it thus: Whosoever refused grace, when it was freely offered him in the day of salvation, will be dealt with according to equity when that day is over. There will be nothing of vindictiveness, harshness, or excess. Nothing in degree or duration which will not be known by the individual conscience, to be absolutely right.
III. AT THIS DAY OF JUDGMENT THE RIGHTEOUS WILL NO MORE BE MINGLED WITH THE WICKED. The two solemn words, "Come!" "Depart!" will mark a difference in lot corresponding to difference of character, and also a separation of the one from the other. And it may well be made a theme of prolonged study to inquire into the meaning of the several words which express the character of those "without." There are no fewer than thirteen terms by which they are indicated. "Dogs," "sorcerers," "whoremongers," "liars," "the fearful," "unbelieving, ... idolaters," "murderers," "fornicators," "abominable," "those who worship the beast," "those who worshipped the dragon," "those who are not in the Lamb's book of life." Such is the terrible list. On earth they met with the righteous, but were never confounded with them; in the next they shall neither mix nor meet (cf. Matthew 7:23; Hebrews 12:14). We know that such characters may be met with on earth now; what they will be is but the continuation of what they are (see Revelation 22:11).
IV. FOR SUCH THE JUDGMENT DAY WILL INVOLVE A LOT WHICH IS THE TENFOLD ANTITHESIS OF LIFE. Let the student reverently compare the several terms which are set over against the word "life":
1. Life and punishment (Matthew 25:46).
2. Life and judgment (John 5:29).
3. Life and wrath (John 3:36).
4. Life and the second death (Revelation 20:14, Revelation 20:15).
5. Life and destruction (Matt, 2 Corinthians 7:13, 2 Corinthians 7:14).
6. Life and the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
7. Life and hell fire (Matthew 18:9 ).
8. Life and everlasting fire (Matthew 25:41).
9. Life and the unquenchable fire (Mark 9:48).
10. Life and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).
What a burden for men to unfold to their fellow men—"the terrors of the Lord"! Yet this must be done. Who can gauge the contents of these phrases?
V. THIS RENDERING TO EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS WILL BRING APPALLING SUFFERING. It is very common for those who wish to prejudice their hearers or readers against the doctrine of future punishment, to use more frequently than any other phrase the words "eternal torment." This is exceedingly unwise—and worse, as an examination of the use of the word in the New Testament will show. Twice is this word, however, used in the symbolic language of this book. What was its intention? It is used to denote the tormenting process inflicted on accused ones, to extort from them the confession of the truth. May there not be herein a deep truth indicated, that even the perishing ones will clearly see, yea, and confess, that God is righteous? But if we are asked the question—In what will the sufferings of the lost consist? we reply:
1. We earnestly trust we may never know.
2. So far as Scripture teachings guide us, we cannot avoid seeing that six features will mark them.
(1) There will be the unrest of spirit under the just wrath of God.
(2) There will be a sense of defeat.
(3) Of loss.
(4) Of exclusion
(5) Or remorse.
(6) Of hopeless and unavailing regret at the thought of what might have been (cf. John 3:36; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Matthew 25:28; Luke 13:28; Matthew 27:4; Matthew 25:10; Luke 13:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 7:23; Hebrews 10:26, Hebrews 10:27).
VI. THERE IS A DREAD CONSENSUS OF CONVICTION AMONG EVANGELICAL PREACHERS AND TEACHERS ON THESE STUPENDOUS THEMES. Startling as such an assertion may be, when the controversies on future punishment are borne in mind, it is one which we venture to make, and one which we deem of infinite importance. We are well aware of the different theories on this subject. £ There is what is called the "orthodox" theory—that the punishment of the wicked will be endless. There is the annihilation theory. There is the future restoration theory. There is the theory of the relativeness of revelation with regard to time. It is no part of our purpose here to defend or to criticize either. Our space will not permit of it. The books mentioned in the footnote will furnish the needed material for this. Our aim is rather to indicate how much common ground there is for evangelical preachers and teachers to occupy in proclaiming "the terrors of the Lord." The following statements will show how far earnest representative men in the several leading divisions of eschatolegical thought travel together on similar lines. They teach:
1. That when the Son of God comes as the Judge of all mankind, the time of probation for the human race will have closed.
2. That then every eye shall see him, and that all things will be in readiness for a righteous administration of judgment.
3. That all men will then appear before the tribunal of the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. That every man will, ere then, know of his own personal relation to the Lord Jesus, and that he is to be the Judge of all mankind.
5. That the final state of every soul will depend on its attitude to the Lord. Jesus Christ.
6. That men will be sentenced, not according to the light God saw fit to send them, but according to the use they have made of the light granted to them.
7. That the Lord Jesus Christ, as an omniscient and unerring Judge, will sentence every man; that this sentence will be according to truth; and that it will be the outworking of moral laws that are in operation now, which are like their Author, "the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
8. That the measure of punishment will be according to the measure of guilt.
9. That for the righteous there will be joy and honour unspeakable, which will never end.
10. That for the wicked there will be irremediable loss, unutterable woe, for a duration of which no man can gauge the extent, accompanied with a depth of remorse that no tongue nor pen can describe.
11. That for those who reject Jesus Christ in this life there will be no such thing as makng up lost time, and that they will never attain to the blessedness they would have reached if they had received Christ in this, the accepted time. Their time once lost is lost forever, and the corresponding loss of blessedness will never be retrieved.
Surely here is enough, and more than enough, for focussed power in the pulpit in the presentation of the revealed truth of God on the future destiny of the ungodly. And when we see what a dread aspect of finality there is in such words as "The door was shut;" when we remember how repeatedly the trumpet call Now is sounded; when we know that these are spoken of as the last days, and that the day of judgment is "the last day;" when there is no hint of an offer of mercy in the next life to those who have rejected Jesus Christ in this; when we know that, by continued sin, men are getting into a state of hardness in which no means known to us can possibly reach their consciences;—to shrink from the presentation to them of their risks would be gross unfaithfulness. There is no need to indulge in the excessive statement that sin will last as long as God lasts; there is no need to indulge in flaming descriptions of material fire and of bodily torture; there is no reason for so setting things as to make one's moral nature and conscience revolt therefrom; in fact, there is every reason for not doing anything of the kind. For, within the lines indicated of a widely spread agreement among men of diverse conclusions as to the ultimate issue, the facts of life are so real, the drift of evil is so manifest, the penalties on sin are so stern, the Word of God is so clear, the commission to the Christian teacher is so direct, and the importance of commending ourselves to every man's conscience is so vast, that with the most careful accuracy, measured statement, calm reasoning, pungent appeal, impassioned fervour, we are bound—even weeping—to plead with men in Christ's stead, to "be reconciled to God," reminding them that
"'Tis not the whole of life to live,
Nor all of death to die."
There is—there is—the second death, even the lake of fire.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
"The first resurrection."
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection." It is a common remark that we are to learn much concerning the Divine administration in the kingdom of heaven by observing the laws of his administration amongst men now, in this present life. And there can be no question that God deals with men here by a system of special rewards. He holds before us, as we enter life, prizes of greater or less value, that we may be stimulated to diligence in the road along which these prizes lie. But it has been too commonly thought that in the kingdom of heaven there is nothing of this kind. That there one reward awaits all alike, and one penalty all to whom penalty is appointed. And the effect has been to make imperfect, unspiritual, and self-indulgent Christians all too content with themselves and their condition before God. They have what they are pleased to call faith, which in them is only a lazy reliance upon what the Lord Jesus Christ has done; and as they believe, certainly, in justification by faith, they deem themselves justified, and on the way to be glorified; and what can any one need more? But the subject which our text brings before us, and the whole teaching of God's Word, is utterly subversive of this popular and plausible but pernicious belief. It teaches that there is a "prize" of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus; a being, if faithful, first in the kingdom of heaven, or, if unfaithful, last; a being greatest or least; a crown of life; a recompense of ten cities as well as of five; and much also of the same kind. Especially is this doctrine of special reward to the faithful confirmed by this truth of the first resurrection. Let us inquire—
I. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Surely that which it seems to say—that the faithful servants of Christ, of whom those who had been beheaded for his sake are named as representing all the rest, shall rise from the dead, and live and reign with Christ for a vast period, here called a thousand years, whilst all the rest of the dead shall have no resurrection until this period be past. Therefore there is a first resurrection for the saints of God, and another, inferior and later one, for all the rest of the dead. So this Scripture seems to teach. But many have affirmed that, however much it may seem to teach this, in reality it does not. For, it is affirmed:
1. That there is nothing else like it in all the rest of Scripture. It stands all alone. But if it be really taught here, our failing to find it elsewhere will not excuse us from accepting it. We accept other doctrines even if declared but once. Take 1 Corinthians 15:1-58. Where but there shall we find not a few of the truths it teaches? And there are other instances beside. But we do not admit that it stands alone, not by any means (cf. infra).
2. That it is all metaphor, like the rest of the book. But all is not metaphor, and what is and what is not can be readily distinguished. The resurrection is not a metaphor.
3. That it means baptism. We read that Christians have "risen with Christ in baptism" (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). Here, then, it is said, is the first resurrection. But St. John, in our text and its context, is speaking of men who have died, have been beheaded for Christ; the death is a literal one, so therefore must the resurrection be. If it were a spiritual death that were told of, then the resurrection might be spiritual also. And the living with Christ comes after death. How, then, can it be baptism?
4. Others, many, say that it tells of the thousand years or more which stretch from the fourth century to the fourteenth. At the beginning of the fourth, persecution by heathen Rome ceased, Rome herself adopting the Christian faith. For a thousand years after, her ministers and Churches, it might be said, lived and reigned. But then came the capture of Constantinople, and the establishment of the Turkish empire, and the dominance over so large a portion of the once Christian world of the Mohammedan imposture. Well, if Satan was "bound" during all that period whenever—so one would ask—was there a time when he seemed more free? If that thousand years were the millennium, or like it, then may we be delivered from such another one!
5. The entire present dispensation. Reference is made to our Lord's word as to the "fall" of Satan "from heaven;" as to his being "judged" and "cast out;" and it is said that this is Satan's condition now—fallen, judged, cast out, bound, shut up in the abyss, reserved for condemnation—and has been so ever since our Lord was here on earth; and that during all this period the faithful have lived and reigned with Christ. Again, we say, such interpretation makes a mockery of the millennium, and empties St. John's words of well nigh all their meaning. Therefore, on the sound principle of interpretation that, when a literal meaning will stand in any Scripture, the meaning furthest from that is generally the worst, we accept that literal meaning, and the more so that the question—
II. WHERE IS THE PROOF OF IT? is one that can be satisfactorily answered.
1. In the Old Testament there were many Scriptures which had led the Jews to the belief that for faithful Israel there was to be a special resurrection. Such texts were Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:1; Ezekiel 37:1-28.; Daniel 12:1-13. And this belief of their resurrection when Messiah came was what St. Paul called "the hope of Israel." And this general belief our Lord never contradicted, which he who said, "If it were not so I would have told you," would assuredly have done. But:
2. The New Testament must, of course, furnish the larger proof. Our Lord perpetually speaks of the resurrection of the good and of the evil as of separate things. He tells (John 5:29) of "the resurrection of life" and of "the resurrection of judgment;" and in verse 24 he has said that believers "shall not come into judgment." Here, then, is a resurrection with which believers can have nothing to do, and another which is specially theirs. Then cf. John 6:39, John 6:40, "I will raise him up at the last day." This is several times repeated. But why, if every one is to be raised up at the last day—if that be the general resurrection, why is there this mark of distinction for "him" if there be none? We conclude there is a distinction. Another and a more glorious resurrection awaits "him" than awaits others. Then (Luke 14:14) the Lord speaks of "the resurrection of the just." Why does he not speak of the general resurrection if there be nothing special for "the just"? He teaches us that there is. Again (Luke 20:35), he speaks of a resurrection for the children of God, who shall be equal to the angels, which is a resurrection "from among the dead" (ἐκ), and for which they who shared in it needed to be "counted worthy." But this is not the case with the general resurrection; therefore we gather that this is a special one. Then 1 Corinthians 15:22-24, where the order of the resurrection is given—"every man in his own order: Christ … afterward they that are Christ's at his coming;" and then, after the great work of subjugating all things is accomplished—"then cometh the end." But with this we know is associated that resurrection of "the rest of the dead" of which we read in this chapter (1 Corinthians 15:12). See, too, in Matthew 24:31. The gathering together of the elect is told of, and then afterwards—we know not how long—the judgment of the heathen, the nations, of which we are told at the close of Matthew 25:1-46. See, too, Philippians 3:14. Now, "the resurrection from the dead" which St. Paul there speaks of as "the prize of his high calling," and after which he strove, if "by any means he might attain unto it"—for as yet he had not attained to it, and therefore he still pressed, as an eager racer, towards the goal—this resurrection could not be the general one, for he knew that he would rise again; nor either does it mean simply being saved, for he knew that he was saved already. It must mean, therefore, a special resurrection—this of which our text tells; a prize—the prize, indeed. And we read of "a better resurrection" after which the saints of old strove. And Christians are called "firstfruits," and "the Church of the Firstborn"—expressions which denote priority and privilege such as the first resurrection declares. We hold it, therefore, to be no vain and unauthorized imagination which believes that in these remarkable verses St. John does teach what his words so evidently seem to affirm.
III. WHAT IS THE INFLUENCE IT SHOULD HAVE UPON US? St. John's purpose, or rather the Holy Spirit's purpose through him, was by this glorious revelation to do in an especial manner that which was the great design of the whole book—to comfort, strengthen, and inspire with holy courage the persecuted Church. And we can hardly imagine that it failed to do this. The imagery is taken from facts within their own experience—the constitution of the empire, in which the varied kings who ruled over the provinces each contributed to the power and glory of the whole; and the priestly service in the temple with which they had long been familiar. The book is full of Jewish imagery throughout. The vision, therefore, assured to them that the lot of their faithful brethren the martyrs, and all of like mind with them, should speedily and wondrously be changed. Poor, persecuted, down trodden, the offscouring of all things now, they should be as kings; their dungeons they should exchange for thrones; their dreadful death for life—life eternal, life with Christ. Vast capacity for ministering to the glory of the reign of Christ should be theirs, for they should be kings under him, their Lord. Constant access to his presence and the ministry of intercession for their brethren—these, too, should be theirs, for they were also to be his priests. 'Twas worth living for, worth suffering for, worth dying for, let the death come in what dreadful form it might. So would they feel and speak and act, and this was what was intended. "Strong consolation" they needed, and "strong consolation they had," as God's people ever have had and will have when placed in like circumstances. And for ourselves—for the vision is for all Christ's faithful ones as well as for the martyrs—what should be the influence of this doctrine of the first resurrection upon us? Surely we should "have respect unto the recompense of the reward." If Christ have put this reward before us, we should have respect to it. Is it fitting, some may ask, that Christ's servants should serve him with their eyes on the reward? Was it fitting that any reward which Christ promised to bestow should be without appreciation? Think what this promise is. It is not merely blessedness—it could not but be that—but it means kingship and priesthood. That is to say, dropping the metaphors, it means infinitely increased capacity for serving Christ and furthering his glory; it means, as his priest, constant access to his presence, and the duty and privilege of intercession for his people. Yes, the faithful now with Christ are serving him as they never could before. It is no indolent case in which they abide, but one of service as well as honour, in forms which as yet we cannot know. The kingdom of Christ is the better for what they do. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister?" Nor can we doubt that the great functions which are involved in the idea of priesthood are theirs also—to draw near to God and to intercede for the people. They who on earth were so fervent in prayer are they all at once stricken dumb there? No; they arc priests of Christ, and by virtue of that office they are intercessors. Is this a recompense of reward for which we need have no respect? Should it not rouse our energies and call forth our most strenuous endeavours? Holiness, conformity to the mind and will of God, is the condition of this blessedness. The rewards of Christ are not mere external things, but inward and spiritual possessions. Therefore to say that we shall be content with the lowest place in heaven, as many do say, may sound like humility and Christian meekness; but it means being content with less of likeness to Christ, less of his spirit, less of his love. Priority and privilege in heaven, the share in this first resurrection, are according to these things; and how can we be content with but little of them? It is not humility, it is not self denial, it is wrong to Christ himself, to be indifferent to this reward. Whilst low in the dust as regards yourself, have a lofty ambition in regard to this. Oh, then, seek, strive, pray, for this holiness of heart and life, that you may be of those blessed ones who have part in the first resurrection!—S.C.
The final judgment.
Stripped of its imagery, this most solemn Scripture declares to us the truth which is found in records manifold. Those of the Bible. The confirmatory passages are everywhere throughout its pages, and especially in those which record the very words of Christ. The most dreadful things in the Bible fell from his lips. Those of the traditions of ancient and heathen peoples. Everywhere we find, as especially in Egypt, creeds which declare a final and awful judgment. Those of conscience. They tell of "a fearful looking for of judgment." Read 'Macbeth,' and wherever any great writers have drawn true portraitures of men, the witness of conscience may be heard in them all. The imagery here is taken from the tribunals, and the procedure in them, with which the age of St. John was familiar—the august and awe inspiring paraphernalia of justice, the magnificent and elevated throne of the judge, the giving of the evidence, and the sentence. But underlying all this metaphor are such truths as these—
I. THAT DEATH DOES NOT END ALL. This great transaction takes place when life is over, when this world is done with. Men, therefore, live on after death, or else they could not appear at this judgment bar. And that men do thus continue to live in their true real self, there is much evidence, beside that of Scripture, to show. The ancient Greeks disputed whether the relation of the soul to the body was that of harmony to the harp, or that of the rower to the boat. If the former, then, if you destroy the harp, you destroy the harmony it gave forth; and so, if you destroy the body, you destroy the soul too, and death does end all. But if the second, then the boat may sink or go to pieces, but the rower lives on still. And so is it with the soul. The body—its boat—may sink into the depths of the grave, but the soul sinks not with it. Professor Huxley has affirmed that "life is the cause of organization, and not organization the cause of life;" and Tyndall has shown that dead matter cannot produce life. Life, therefore, must exist prior to and independent of matter, and therefore can exist after the material organization which it for a while animated has decayed. We are the same self conscious beings in old age as we were when in childhood, though our bodies have changed over and over again meanwhile. Death, then, does not end all; we live on, and so one demand of the doctrine of final judgment is met.
II. THAT THERE SHOULD BE RECORDS UPON WHICH THE JUDGMENT SHALL PROCEED. They are spoken of in this Scripture (verse 12) as "books." "And another book, which is the book of life." The books contain biographies, and therefore are voluminous. The "other book" contains but names, and therefore is but one. No biography is needed; nought but the fact that they believed in Jesus. But what is meant by the "books"? Simply that there are records of the soul's life, which will be opened and read in the great judgment day. They are found:
1. In the souls of others. In the character we have helped to impress upon them. There is no one but what has written down evidence about himself on the souls of others. If we have helped them heavenward, that is there; if we have urged them hellward, that is there.
2. But chiefly in our own souls. We are always writing such record, and it may be read even now in the body, in the countenance, in the very way we bear ourselves before our fellow men. Character can be read now. It comes out at the eyes, in the look, the aspect, is heard in the tone of voice. But much more helps to conceal it. The restraints of society, the regard to the opinion of others, make men reticent and reserved and full of concealment of their real selves. But in the spiritual body it is altogether probable that the essence of the man will be far more visible—may, in fact, be, as many have thought, the creator of its body, so that "every seed" shall have "its own body." But on the soul itself its record will be read. Many a man can trace yet the scar of a wound, and that not a severe one, which he received thirty, forty, fifty, years and more ago. The ever changing body will so hold its record. And there are scars of the soul. Wounds inflicted on it will abide and be visible so long as the soul lasts. Like the undeveloped plate of the photographer, a mere blurred surface until he plunges it into the bath, and then the image comes out clearly; so our souls are now illegible and their record indistinct, but when plunged into the bath of eternity, then what has been impressed thereon will be distinct and clear. Then the image of "the deeds done in the body" will come out with startling but unerring accuracy. If man can find out means, as he has found, so to register the words and tones of a speaker that they can be reproduced years after, and whenever it is desired, is there not in that discovery of science a solemn suggestion that all our "idle" and worse "words" may be recorded somewhere, and be heard again when we thought they were forgotten forever? Yes, there are records. And—
III. A JUDGMENT. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment." "And they were judged every man," etc. (verse 13). What do these Scriptures mean? Now, the Greek word for "judgment" is "crisis;" that is the Greek word, simply, in English letters. But what is more is that our word "crisis" does more accurately set forth the meaning of "judgment" than what is commonly understood thereby. When we speak of a "crisis," we mean a turning point, a decisive settling as to the course which affairs will take. That is a crisis. But when we speak of "judgment," the imagery of these verses rise up before our minds, and we think of an external judge, and a sentence that he passes upon us. Judgment, however, often takes place. How common it is to hear it said of a man who has passed through some great experience, "He has never been the same man since"! Great trials, disappointments, distresses of any kind, and great successes and wealth also, act as crises, turning points, judgments, to a man. They act like the watershed of a district, which determines which way the streams shall flow; so these great crises of a man's life turn this way or that the moral and spiritual dispositions which dwell in him. They do much to settle him in a fixed habit of character, for good or ill, as the case may be. How much more, then, after "death" must there be "judgment"! Then, freed from all the restraints of life, from all that hindered the manifestation of what he really was, his nature now gravitates towards that side of spiritual character to which it has long been leaning, but from which it has hitherto been held back. It takes up its position according to its nature. If evil, with the evil; if good, with the good—for in this case his name is found "written in the book of life." It is ill for us to put off the idea of judgment until some far distant day, amid some unwonted scenes. God's judgments are continually taking place, and every thought, act, and word is helping to determine to which side, whether to the right hand or to the left, our souls shall go.
IV. THE SENTENCE. It has been said that this judgment told of here is of the ungodly only, and that the book of life is mentioned only for the sake of showing "that their names are not there." We cannot think this. Nothing is said about the sentence of any, only the final fate of the ungodly. "The lake of fire," the "oven of fire" (Matthew 13:1-58.), and similar expressions, are metaphors taken from the barbarous punishments of that age. To east men alive into fire was a fearful but not unusual punishment. Hence it is taken because of its fearfulness as a figure of the final fate of the ungodly. Evil character such as that into which they have settled is like a raging fire, and the blindness of heart and mind which attends such character is like "the blackness of darkness" itself. We may see men in hell today when filled with the fury of rage and passion; and, blessed be God, we may see others in heaven because filled with the peace of God. Heaven or hell is, in great degree, in a man ere ever he enters either the one or the other. They are in us before we are in them, and the judgment is but each man's going to his own place. What solemn confirmation, then, do such Scriptures as that before us receive from observed facts and experiences of men in this life! What urgency, therefore, do they lend to the exhortation, "Commit thy way unto the Lord"! And how prompt should be our resolve to entrust the keeping of our souls unto Christ, so that in the great judgment after death they may go with Christ and his saints into eternal life! "Jesus, by thy wounds we pray, help now that our names may be written in the book of life" (Hengstenberg).—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The restraint upon evil.
Following most appropriately upon the foregoing description of a conflict, and the conquest by the truth and the power of righteousness, is a representation, in most significant imagery, of the restraint that is put upon evil by the prevalence of righteousness—the chaining back the clouds of night by the rising sun. The spirit of evil, "the dragon, the old serpent," "the devil and Satan," is "laid hold" by "an angel coming down out of heaven," and bound with "a great chain," and cast "into the abyss," which is shut and sealed. This is to be for "a thousand years;" after that "he must be loosed for a little season." With as great distinctness as could well be employed herein is set forth—
I. THE EFFECTUAL RESTRAINT OF THE POWER OF EVIL. It is here pictured as a single act. But we must read the history of the strife which is ever proceeding—the gradual leavening of the entire life of humanity by the principles and the power of the holy gospel. Whatever may be the oscillations between the probabilities of success and the danger of defeat, this picture must be held to declare the ultimate happy triumph of the true and good over the false and the evil. Satan is held in chains; his power is restricted. The heavenly holds back the earthly and the hellish. It is the comfortable encouragement to the patient, suffering toiler that the agency employed of God is effective. That binding and restraining every faithful servant must see to be now going on.
II. THE DURATION OF THIS RESTRAINT. The millennium—"a thousand years"—a long but definite period, now reigns; yet must we not forget the symbolical character even of the definite words of this book. No time must be affixed. It is a period of blessing, of rest, of rejoicing. The toils of the Church, and the patience of the suffering faithful ones, have, by Divine grace, become fruitful. Now in the world, permeated by the pure and lofty principles of Christianity, peace, truth, righteousness, reign; and by how much they prevail, by so much evil is restrained. In their supremacy is to be seen the complete chaining of the evil agents of an evil kingdom.
III. THIS PERIOD IS MARKED AS ONE OF TRIUMPH AND REJOICING on behalf of the faithful Church of Christ. Thrones are set, the faithful reign with Christ, and judgment over human conduct is given to them—a significant indication that principles of righteousness are predominant, and that by them human life is adjudged. These are "blessed and holy;" they have priestly functions, they approach, they mediate, they are channels of blessing, they live to reign; they escape that second death which is the penalty of sin, from which they have been raised—they partake in a first resurrection which presages another.
IV. To this happy period of the universal prevalence of Christian truth there succeeds A TEMPORARY RELAPSE. Like all human blessedness, even this has the signature of imperfectness upon it. It is historical, not imposed. But this is only temporary, "for a little time," and issues in a final destruction of all tempting and evil power—even "forever and ever."
In this the Church is to find
(1) encouragement to faith;
(2) motive for diligent labour;
(3) the most cheering assurances in times of discouragement and fear.
The truth shall ultimately prevail; the false, the foul, the vile, shall be restrained.—R.G.
The final judgment upon evil conduct.
The scenes of the Book of Revelation are now approaching completion, and they present more definitely the characteristics of "the end." Judgment proceeds on human conduct daily, but there is a final judgment, "the judgment of the great day," when "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God." That dread day is now present to the mind of the seer, and before that inner eye, by a spiritual illumination, the solemn scene is depicted. It is pictorial, and, like the Lord's own picture of the separating of the sheep from the goats, though it lacks the completeness of this teaching, it has aspects of the most awful grandeur. In the symbolical presentation the following dreadful features are prominent—
I. THE AUTHORITY, SANCTITY, AND DREAD TERRIBLENESS OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. The symbol of the authoritative character of the judgment is represented in "a great throne;" its sanctity in the ever-present symbol of purity—it is a "white" throne, "we know that his judgment is according to truth;" while the terribleness of the holy judgment is indicated in the assertion that the very "earth and the heaven fled away" from "the face" of him that sat on the throne.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE JUDGMENT. The symbol here approaches a terrible realism. The seer beheld "the dead, the great and the small, stand before the throne," and "the sea" and "death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged." The judgment is upon the "dead," and it transplants our thoughts to the final issues of human history.
III. The judgment which is universal is also MINUTE AND INDIVIDUAL. "They were judged every man." None escape or pass by. Every servant to whom the Lord has entrusted goods must give account of the same.
IV. The judgment proceeds UPON THE CONDUCT OF THE EARTHLY LIFE. "They were judged every man according to their works." Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, "Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."
V. THE FINAL, TERRIBLE AWARD OF EVIL DOING. "If any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." That this represents the termination of the present order of things is indicated by the destruction of death and Hades; the present, the temporary, is swallowed up in the final. One side only of the judgment is represented—that of the wicked.
Truly these awful scenes are not for the eye, but for the heart. No picture is permissible of any part of these unspeakable things. Men must take the terrible intimations, and ponder them in their hearts; and "blessed" is the man that so "reads" and so "understands the words of the prophecy of this book," that he turns in lowly meekness to him who is the one and only Saviour of men, and seeks by his grace to walk "in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Revelation 20:1, Revelation 20:2
The first scene in the moral history of redeemed humanity: the scene of moral struggle.
"And I saw an angel come down from heaven," etc. No inspired book presents a greater scope for visionary and idle speculation than this Apocalypse. Here every imagination has the widest sweep for its wildest evolutions. Hence we have almost as many interpretations of its contents as we have expositors. One can scarcely pursue a more easy or certain path to popularity than by propounding some ingenious exegesis of this book. I intend going through the whole of this chapter and the first four verses of the succeeding one, in five analyses of homilies; because I think I discover there what seems admirably adapted for deep and practical moral impression. The nineteen verses may be fairly taken as an illustration of the moral history of humanity. They disclose no less than five moral scenes through which the redeemed portion of our race is to pass; namely:
(1) The scene of moral struggle;
(2) the scene of moral triumph;
(3) the scene of moral reaction;
(4) the scene of an awful retribution; and
(5) the scene of the final destiny of the good.
The first—the scene of moral struggle—is the one unfolded in these verses. This scene shows us two things.
I. THAT REDEEMED HUMANITY HAS A TEARFUL ANTAGONIST TO CONTEND WITH. This enemy is called "dragon," "serpent," "devil," "Satan." This highly symbolic language, applied to the great antagonist of the good, implies three things.
1. The actual existence of such an enemy. The names "dragon," "serpent," etc., must stand for something. They are the names of real beings, and cannot be supposed as used to designate the mere phantoms of the imagination. Most conclusive arguments for the existence of some mighty agent of evil, whose influence is world wide, may be drawn from three considerations.
(1) The universal belief of humanity.
(2) The opposite classes of moral phenomena. In the world we have error, selfishness, infidelity, and misery; and truth, benevolence, religion, and happiness. Can these be branches from the same root? or streams from the same fount?
(3) The general teaching of the Bible.
2. The personality of such an enemy. These are names of creatures having individual existence and attributes. The Bible always speaks of this evil existent as a person. It is far too great a demand upon our credulity to believe that the various inspired writers, from Moses to John, extending over a period of more than two thousand years, possessing various idiosyncrasies and attainments, and living under different economies, governments, and circumstances, could all fall into the common habit of speaking of evil as a person if it were only a principle. This, I say, is too much for our faith. Moreover, an evil principle implies an evil person. Sin is not some mysterious entity, separate from moral existence. Is sin an act? Then it must have an agent, Is it a motive? Motive implies thought, and thought implies a thinker.
3. The characteristics of such an enemy. "Dragon" stands as the emblem of power. Probably the leviathan described in Job 41:1-34. is of the same class: "Shall not one be cast down, even at the sight of him?" "Serpent" stands as the emblem of cunning and venom. "Devil" means accuser. "Satan" signifies opposer. This adversary of redeemed humanity, then, is mighty, crafty, and virulent. The New Testament is full of the doctrine that this being is the determined foe of humanity.
II. THAT HEAVEN HAS VOUCHSAFED AN AGENCY WHICH IS DESTINED TO MASTER THE ADVERSARY. "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit [abyss]." Who is this angel that descends from heaven? The word "angel" both in Hebrew and Greek, means messenger. It is applied to impersonal as well as personal agents; and it is applied to evil, as well as good, personal agents. It is evidently used here to designate some good personal agent, for he descends from heaven, and descends from heaven to do battle with evil. The language applies preeminently to Christ, but refers also to every true religious teacher. Let the word "angel," here, then, stand forevery true religious teacher—including Christ and all his true servants; and we shall get a most clear and practical meaning from the passage. We have here two things about this true teacher—this angel.
1. His authority. He has the "key" of the bottomless pit. A key is the emblem of authority. Christ is said to have the keys of death and hell (Hades) at his girdle; and to his servant Peter he gave the "keys" of the kingdom—the authority to open the kingdom of truth, by true preaching, to Jew and Gentile. Every man who has the true spirit and power of a teacher, has the "key" or the authority to teach. He has a right to do battle with the enemy wherever he is found; whether in literature or commerce, Churches or governments, theories or practices. A true man has Heaven's key in his hand for this work.
2. His instrumentality. What is the instrument employed? "A chain." What is the chain? Iron, brass, adamant? No, no! These cannot fetter intellect—these cannot manacle soul. Nothing can curb or restrain the influence of Satan but Christian truth. What is meant by binding Satan? It does not mean the binding of his being or faculties, but the binding of his influence. He is to be bound, in the sense of limiting his sway, by closing up human hearts against him. As liberty binds the influence of slavery, intelligence the influence of ignorance, and religion the influence of infidelity, so Christian truth is to bind the influence of Satan. Every truth is a link in that mighty chain. The chain of Christian teaching is far too weak and short at present to restrain the force or measure the dimensions of Satanic influence.
This is the scene through which we are passing. All is battle now. For the subjugation of the common foe, let each forge some holy thought link for the all-enfettering chain.—D.T.
The second scene in the history of redeemed humanity: the age of moral triumph.
"And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him," etc. The first scene in the history of redeemed humanity—namely, the scene of moral struggle—occupied our attention in the last homily. The passage before us is a very glorious, though highly symbolic, view of the scene which will succeed it—the scene of moral triumph. This scene is, probably, many long centuries in the future; for as yet the great enemy of souls is the "prince of this world." But prophecy, the tendency of Christianity, the victories which the gospel has already achieved, and the unequivocal assurances of God's Word in general, all show that, however far off, the bright era will dawn on the world when the "will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven." Stripping the words before us of their highly figurative garb, I discover four great features which will distinguish this glorious age.
I. THE ENTIRE OVERTHROW OF MORAL EVIL. Satan, the great adversary, is said to be cast into "the bottomless pit." This figurative language suggests two thoughts.
1. That the great enemy will have lost his stand place in the world. His throne will have lost its foundation; he will not have a resting place for his foot in this period. What had been his stand place in the world? Error, prejudice, selfishness, evil passions, etc.; but these will have gone. He will have no fulcrum for his lever.
2. That the fall of the great enemy will be complete for a time. "Bottomless pit." He will be sinking for ages. The more humanity progresses in intelligence, rectitude, and holiness, the more hopeless his condition becomes. As humanity rises, he must sink.
II. THE UNIVERSAL SOVEREIGNTY OF CHRIST. Christ is here spoken of as reigning for a "thousand years" (Revelation 20:2). There are many who judge this passage "after the flesh," give it a carnal and Judaic interpretation. They infer from it a personal manifestation of Christ, with all the appendages of a temporal dominion. I disclaim this, for two reasons.
1. The only true sovereignty is spiritual. Who have been the greatest sovereigns of the world? The men who have sat on thrones of gold, and ruled with the sceptre of force? No! it is not your Pharaoh, Ceasar, Alexander; but your Aristotle, Bacon, Milton, and Bunyan. Men who direct the thoughts of humanity are the real rulers. Christ is the greatest spiritual Sovereign, and his sovereignty is destined to increase.
2. A religious spiritual sovereignty over man is the great want of the race. He who rules the human mind, directs its faculties, energies, and feelings rightly, is man's greatest benefactor. This Christ does in the highest and most perfect manner. Let every philanthropist, therefore, pray that his kingdom may come—that he may become the moral Monarch of all souls.
III. THE GENERAL ASCENDANCY OF GREAT SOULS. The world, hitherto, has been under the dominion of weak and wicked men. Its kings and heroes have generally been as small as their hearts have been corrupt. In this scene the great soul will be "on thrones," and reign with Christ. The words suggest three things about the men who will then be in power.
1. They will be men who have passed through a spiritual resurrections. They had a part in the "first resurrection" (Revelation 20:6). That a spiritual resurrection is here referred to is obvious, from three considerations.
(1) The idea harmonizes with the symbolical character of the whole book.
(2) The passage specially mentions "souls," and not bodies.
(3) The New Testament represents the awakening of a new spiritual life in man as a resurrection (John 5:24-29; Colossians 3:1, etc.).
Indeed, the resurrection of the body is but a type of the resurrection of the soul; the resurrection of the soul is the true resurrection. That of the body is but figurative. Two ideas are implied in the resurrection:
(1) The resuscitation of an old moral life in man—Divine love.
(2) The resuscitation of an old moral life by God himself. It is God's work alone to raise the dead.
2. They wilt be men of martyr mould. "The souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands" (Revelation 20:4). The idea unquestionably is, not that the "souls" of the old martyrs who have long since departed will be brought back to this earth, but souls like theirs will exist in this age. Souls marked by invincible attachment to truth, by the most generous sentiments; Divine aspirations, and noble daring; feeling truth to be ever more precious than existence itself. This interpretation agrees with the interpretation which one is bound to give such scriptural language as that which speaks of the ministry of John, the ministry of Elijah, and the conversion of the Jews, as a "life from the dead."
3. They will be men possessing exclusive ascendancy. "But the rest of the dead lived not again" (verse 5). In this glorious age there is no reproduction of those little and corrupt men who, in every age, have played the despot, both in Church and state. Your Herods and Caiaphases, your Henrys and your Lauds, will have no representatives in this glorious age. "The rest of the dead lived not again."
4. They will be men raised forever beyond the reach of all future evil. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power" (verse 6). Such men are delivered forever from all the influences and all the fears of Hades. What an age is this! Would it had dawned!
IV. THE EXTENSIVE DURATION OF THE WHOLE. "And shall reign with him a thousand years" (verse 6). If you suppose that this is literal, that ten centuries are meant, it is a long period for the continuation of one moral scene in man's history. How short was the scene of primeval innocence! The scene of wickedness, too, is never long without being broken. Conscience is everlastingly breaking in upon, and disturbing, wickedness here. Ten centuries of unbroken holiness and peace for the world are a long period! But I am disposed to regard the period referred to here as much longer than ten centuries. A little interpretation would not agree either with the general structure of the book or with this passage. Nor would it fully meet the nature of the case. I therefore regard the period either as meaning three hundred and sixty-five thousand years, or some vast indefinite period of time. The Jews and other nations were in the habit of using the expression, "a thousand years," to denote a period of immense duration.
1. This long period of holiness is a glorious set off against all the preceding ages of depravity and sin. When we think of the past ages of corruption, the millions who, from period to period, have passed away without a knowledge of the gospel, we are sometimes confounded. But all this may appear but as a few vibrations of a pendulum, when compared with the long ages of universal purity and peace. The lost, perhaps, will be as units to millions, compared with the saved.
2. This long period of holiness serves wonderfully to heighten our ideas of the grandeur of Christ's work. Although the influence of Christianity as yet is confessedly limited compared with the widespread districts lying on all hands beyond its present reach, still no one who honestly looks at its past history will be disposed to deny that its conquests over the minds, systems, and institutions of humanity are unparalleled in the history of religions, and far out measure the appreciative faculty of the world's greatest intellects. But, in the view of the effulgent ages before us, its past most brilliant achievements pale their fires. Hitherto its rays have only fallen in twilight dimness upon the summit of an isolated mountain here and there; but in the glorious time coming it shall flood the world in warm, cloudless, and life imparting light. Oh! let me learn, then, to estimate the greatness of Christ's work, not by what he has done or is doing, but by those glorious achievements of his which prophecy has foretold. Let me not judge in this respect before the time. Shall I judge the husbandman just as he commences the cultivation of one of the hundred acres committed to his care? or the architect just as the scaffolding is reared and a few stones are brought together? Still less will I dare pronounce upon the work of Christ until in the great eternity I shall behold redemption finished.—D.T.
Martyrdom a testimony.
"I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God." Martyrdom is the subject of these words. The words suggest four facts.
I. MARTYRS ARE SOMETIMES MURDERED MEN. John saw the souls of those who were "beheaded." All murders are not martyrdoms; all martyrdoms are murders. There has often been martyrdom, and still is, where there is no killing. There are sufferings inflicted on men on account of their conscientious convictions that are often as bad, if not worse, than death itself. There is slander, contumely, the loss of freedom, the destruction of rights. For a man to spend his life amidst social scorn, civil disabilities, and religious intolerance on account of his conscientious beliefs, is a martyrdom; his life is a protracted and painful dying. But thousands have been murdered, and that by every variety of method which Satanic cruelty could invent. Paul summarizes some of the tortures of ancient martyrdom. "Some had trials of cruel mocking," etc.
II. MARTYRS ARE ALWAYS WITNESSING MEN. "Beheaded for the witness." Indeed, the word means a witness. All witnesses are not martyrs, but all martyrs are witnesses. The man who dies on account of conscientious beliefs, whether they are right or wrong, hears witness to several things.
1. To the invincibility of the human will. The ablest metaphysical works cannot give you anything like the impression of the freedom and the force of that power in man which we call will, as one martyrdom. The martyr rises up against the powers of the world, and dares it to do the utmost.
2. To the force of the religious element. When religious convictions get hold of a man's soul, whether the convictions be right or wrong, they invest him with an unconquerable power. The stake, the faggot, the fire, have no power to crush or to subdue him.
3. To the power of the soul over the body. Men who have had their souls filled with religious feeling become physically insensible to all the tortures and fires of martyrdom; they have sung in the flames. I say that a martyr, whether his religious convictions are right or not, is a mighty witness to these things.
III. MARTYRS ARE OFTEN CHRISTLY MEN. Those whom John saw were those who were "witnesses of Jesus, and for the Word of God." I say often Christly men, for false religions as well as the true have had their martyrs. Who but God can tell the number of men that have been put to death on account of their fidelity to Jesus and the Word of God? In the first ages under Nero, Domitian, and Trajan, Christians were slain by thousands, and who but God knows the number of those whose blood in Christian Europe has been shed on account of their attachment to Christianity? These Christian martyrs were witnesses of something more than the invincibility of the human will, the force of the religious element, and the power of the soul over the body.
1. They bore witness to the sustaining grace of Christ. In the midst of their torturing agonies they gloried in their attachment to him. Their grim persecutors, when endeavouring to extort from them recantation of their faith, were answered in the same spirit as that expressed by the ancient martyr, "Sanctus Christianus sum." They all "gloried in tribulation," etc. They endured "joyfully the spoiling of their goods," etc.
2. They bore witness against the lukewarmness of living Christians. The martyrs were earnest men.
IV. MARTYRS WHO ARE CHRISTIANS ENTER HEAVEN. John now saw the souls of "those who were beheaded" raised to immortality, and invested with imperishable dignities. Men whom the world considered unworthy to live, but of whom the world is not worthy, are welcomed into the Paradise of God. This fact should act:
1. As an encouragement to the persecuted Christian.
2. As a warning to persecutors. How much greater was Stephen than all the members of the persecuting Sanhedrin! How angelic his countanance, how calm his spirit, how peacefully he passed away into the serene heavens of love!—D.T.
The third scene in the history of redeemed humanity: the age of moral reaction.
"And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison," etc. The long ages of earth's millennial glory described arc run out. The harmony which had reigned through indefinite centuries is broken into tumult; the sun of absolute truth and blessedness, under whose genial and unclouded beams unnumbered generations had come and gone, getting new vigour and catching new inspiration in every successive step of their mortal life, is veiled in clouds again; the arch foe of humanity has burst his moral chains—is "loosed out of his prison," and is once more deceiving the nations "which are in the four quarters of the earth." There is a tremendous reaction. This age is here presented under a veil of imagery, if possible, more variously coloured and thickly folded than either of the preceding epochs already noticed. My work is not to describe the veil, but gently to draw it aside, in order to discover the great facts which lie beneath. Disrobing this passage of its highly symbolic garb, I discover three facts which mark this age of moral reaction.
I. THE REACTION IS BROUGHT ABOUT IN THE MANNER IN WHICH MANKIND HAVE EVER DEGENERATED. Let us mark the process.
1. Here is deception. "The nations" are deceived (Revelation 20:8). Certain ideas, directly opposed to the eternal principle of truth, the settled conditions of virtue, and means of true blessedness, but at the same time most plausible to the reason, prompting to the lusts, and gratifying to the selfhood of the human heart, are put into circulation; men receive, follow them, and fall. Sin came first into the world through deception, and it has been propagated and nourished by it ever since. Men fall by error, and rise by truth. Hence the seducer and the Saviour alike deal with the judgments of men. Hell and heaven are acting on our world through thoughts; the one through the false and the other through the true.
2. Here is deception employed by Satan. "Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out [come forth] to deceive the nations" (Revelation 20:7, Revelation 20:8). Christ, who knows his entire history, has declared that he "abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him;" and that "he is a liar, and the father of lies." He has filled the world with lies—charged our atmosphere with lies—political, social, moral, and religions. "Every man walketh in a vain show." Who can "fathom the depths of Satan"? He "beguiled" our first parents; he prompted Ananias "to lie to the Holy Ghost." He "hath blinded the minds" of men.
3. Here is deception employed by Satan, first, upon those who are most assailable, and afterwards through them upon others. "He goes out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters [corners] of the earth, Gog and Magog," etc. (Revelation 20:8, Revelation 20:9). No one has been able to determine with certainty who Gog and Magog are. I am inclined to believe, with Bloomfield, "that no particular nations are meant, but that these are only names designating bodies of men inimical to the gospel." Probably, through all the ages of the millennial period, there had always continued some disaffected towards Christ, some who loved darkness rather than light, some "Gog and Magog." Upon these Satan now acted. By his suggestions he evoked their latent depravity, kindled into a flame the long-smouldering fires of their rebellion against heaven. The more evil there is in a man, the more accessible that man is to Satan, and the more susceptible to his influence. The more virtue in the heart, the stronger its safeguard. Hence he ever begins his work with the most assailable—with those who are morally the most remote from Christianity, who dwell "in the four quarters of the earth." And through them he goes on to propagate his cause. From Eve he proceeds to Adam; from Gog and Magog he proceeds to the very "camp of the saints" (Revelation 20:9).
II. THE REACTION IS OF A CHARACTER THE MOST THREATENING. There are two things in the passage which suggest this.
1. The vast number of its agents. Those whom Satan enlists in his cause from the "four quarters of the earth"—these moral tribes, called Gog and Magog, constitute a great multitude, "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea" (Revelation 20:8)—a figurative expression indicating their numerousness. It is not necessary to suppose that these unbelievers had been numerous through all the centuries of the millennial times. Nor is it necessary to suppose that any genuine Christians had really and finally been tempted to renounce their principles. It seems to me highly improbable that a man whose nature has been thoroughly Christianized will ever finally degenerate into a life of sin. We may suppose that for many ages there were but few whose spirits did not flow with the clear and majestic stream of Christian truth and practice. If, however, at one time there were only a dozen, or even fewer, sinners among the teeming millions of saints, it is easy to see how they could multiply in the course of time, without causing any of the really good to apostatize. These twelve, we will suppose, become parents; their children, on the principle of filial love and dependence, will catch their spirit and be moulded by their example; they, in their turn, become parents; and thus, according to the common law of generation, in a few years these few may multiply to thousands. Amongst the angels, who do not probably derive their existence from each other, between whom there is not this relation of parent and child, there is not this character—propagating power.
2. The anti-Christian aim of its agents. "And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city" (Revelation 20:9). The idea, symbolized, I take to be this—they made efforts to assault the most central and vital part of religion. They sought, perhaps, to argue away the being of God, the doctrine of human responsibility, the necessity of mediation, and the existence of a future life of rewards and punishments. There are minor attacks which unbelievers make upon Christianity, but the attempt to disprove these fundamentals is a blow aimed at the most vital part—it is to compass "the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city."
III. THE REACTION TERMINATES IN- THE EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION OF ALL ITS AGENTS. "And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire," etc. (Revelation 20:9, Revelation 20:10). From this language we learn the following truths:
1. That there is in the universe of God a distinct local scene, where the wicked of all classes are to receive their righteous retribution. This is implied in the expression, "lake of fire." There are other scriptural expressions which imply it; such as "Gehenna," "furnace of fire," etc. Reason would also suggest this.
(1) All existence implies place. You may think of space apart from being, but you cannot think of being apart from space. You think of an infinite being in connection with infinite space, and finite being in connection with limited locality.
(2) A wicked existence implies a miserable scene. Antecedently, we should infer that the outer scene of a moral being's existence would resemble his moral character and mood. This world was made for innocence, and it is beautiful, etc. It seems fitting that a dark, inharmonious, deformed spirit should have a sunless, tumultuous, and horrid world as its residence.
(3) Moral beings, of directly opposite sympathies, habits, and aims, as are sinners and saints, imply separate local homes. There is a mutual repugnance to each other's society here, and it is natural to suppose that, when retribution comes, they shall have their "own place." We know not where this place is, whether in the depths of the earth or in regions far beyond this planet. There may be, perhaps, in some district of the creation, a scene without a streak of beauty, a gleam of light, or a drop of goodness, on which justice frowns and thunders.
2. That the retribution which the wicked will endure in this scene will be of a most terrible description. "Fire and brimstone" (Revelation 20:10). The allusion here is most likely to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-28); fire is the emblem of suffering (Zechariah 13:9; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 1 Peter 1:7); brimstone is the emblem of desolation (Job 18:15). Nothing will grow on any soil that is covered with sulphur. The Bible employs other figures equally terrible, such as "outer darkness," "blackness of darkness,'' "prison," etc. Here, then, is the end of the enemies of Christ. Redeemed humanity, henceforth, will be freed from "Gog and Magog," from the beast and the false prophet, and from the devil, the prince of darkness, forever and ever. Glorious day! Though countless ages in the future, this faint glimpse of thee adds energy to our faith and brightness to our hope! But how long will this reaction continue? We have an answer to this in the third verse of the chapter, "And after that he must be loosed for a little season." Its duration will be short compared with either of the two following periods:
(1) Compared with the preceding period of almost universal holiness. The period of millennial holiness continued for a thousand years—i.e. either three hundred and sixty-five thousand years, or some immense period of duration. This period of reaction is called a "little season" in relation to that.
(2) Compared with the succeeding period of perfect holiness to be enjoyed by the redeemed in the heavenly world. In the twenty-second chapter of this book it is said of the state and residence of the redeemed that "there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign forever and ever." "Forever and ever." What arithmetic can compute the ages contained in this "ever and ever"? All the preceding periods in the world's history are but as "little season" compared with this "ever and ever;" less than an hour to the geological cycles that are gone; less than a spark to the central fires that light and warm the unnumbered worlds of space.—D. T.
The fourth scene in the history of humanity: the age of retribution.
"And I saw a great white throne," etc. There was one fact common to all the preceding epochs through which redeemed humanity had passed—they were all probationary, all connected with the overtures of mercy to the guilty, and the means of spiritual purity, blessedness, and elevation for the polluted, unhappy, and degraded. But the probationary element, which had run on through all dispensations from Adam to Christ, and through all revolutions from Christ to the consummation of the world, is now closed; its last ray has fallen, its sun has gone down to rise no more. Hence on, every man shall be treated according to his past works, and shall reap the fruit of his own doings. The morning of retribution has broken. The magnificent passage before us points to the period designated in Scripture "the day of God," "the judgment of the great day," "the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," "the eternal judgment." It may be well to premise at the outset, in order to guard against the tendency of associating too much of what is merely material and human with the circumstances and transactions of this period, that this retribution will literally involve the judiciary circumstances here portrayed. I have heard and read discourses on this subject, which impress the mind more with a kind of Old Bailey scene, than with the great moral facts which distinguish that period from all preceding times. It is true that we have here the mention of the "throne" and "books" common to human courts; but it should be remembered that inspired writers, in accommodation to our ordinary habits—ay, and laws of thought—reveal to us the unknown through the medium of the known. What mind, in sooth, can receive any new idea without comparing it with the old? We judge of the unseen by the seen; we learn what the testimony of others unfolds to us through the medium of what we have already beheld. Thus "the day of judgment' is set forth under the figure of ancient courts of judicature, which in general features agree with all the modern courts in the civilized world. There is the judge on his seat or throne; there is the prisoner arraigned; there is the investigation carried on through "books" or documents; and there is justice administered. Now, there is quite sufficient resemblance between these courts of human justice and the judicial transactions of God at the last day, to warrant the former being employed as illustrations of the latter, without supposing a "throne" or a "book" whatever. For example:
1. There is the bringing of the Judge and the accused into conscious contact.
2. There is the final settling of the question of guiltiness or non-guiltiness, according to recognized law.
3. There is the administration of an award to which the accused is bound to submit. Let us now proceed to notice a few facts in relation to this retributive period.
I. THIS RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL DAWN WITH OVERPOWERING SPLENDOUR UPON THE WORLD. Observe:
1. The character of this manifestation. He comes on a throne. A "throne" is an emblem of glory. It is generally valuable in itself. That of Solomon consisted wholly of gold and ivory; but its glory mainly consists of its being the seat of supremacy. Hence ambition points to nothing higher. The people have ever looked up with a species of adoration to the throne. But what a throne is this! "His throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire." It is a "white throne." Human thrones have often, perhaps generally, been stained by sensuality, injustice, and tyranny. The throne has sometimes become so loathsome that the people, roused into indignation, have seized and burnt it in the streets. But this is a "white throne." There is not a single stain upon it. He who has ever occupied it "is light, and in him is no darkness at all." It is a great "white throne." Great in its occupant: "He filleth all in all." Great in its influence. Toward it the eyes of all intelligences are directed; to it all beings are amenable; from it all laws that determine the character and regulate the destiny of all creatures proceed.
2. The effect of this manifestation. Before its refulgence this material universe could not stand; it melted—it vanished away. "No more place was found for them" (Revelation 20:11). It will pass away, perhaps, as the orbs of night pass away in the high noontide of the sun: they are still in being, still in their orbits, and still move on as ever; but they are lost to us by reason of a "glory that excelleth." What a contrast between Christ now as the Judge, and Christ of old as the despised Nazarene!
II. THIS RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL WITNESS THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, AND THE CONSEQUENT DESTRUCTION OF HADES AND THE GRAVE. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Hades] delivered up the dead which were in them" (Revelation 20:13). The words suggest two thoughts on this subject.
1. That in the resurrection there will be a connection between man's raised and man's mortal body. A resurrection of the material relics is a traditional dogma of the stupid, not a conviction of the studious. It is evidently implied that the resurrection-body is a something that has come out of the body, deposited either in the grave or the sea. What is the connection? Is it meant that men will come up with exactly the same bodies as they had during the probationary state? This, probably, is the vulgar idea, and this is the idea against which infidels level their objections. The question is now, as of old, "With what body do they come?" And assuming that they come in the same body, they commence their antagonistic reasonings and their sneers. But this is not the Scripture doctrine. "That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be." If it be said—Is there no identity, no sameness? I ask—What do you mean by "sameness "? If you say sameness, in the sense of particles, bulk, or capacity, I answer—No! The sameness between the old body and the resurrection body is not the sameness between the seed you deposit in the soil and the wheat which in autumn is produced by it. The one grows out of the other, has the form of the other; the resurrection body is not the same as the old probationary body, in the same sense as the body of any given individual is the same in its man-state as it was in its child-state. Take the case of a man in two different periods of life—say, ten years of age and sixty. In the intervening periods his body has passed through several radical changes; yet at sixty he feels that he has the same body which he had at ten. It is not until your science comes that he questions it; and where the science has been the most convincing, it has never destroyed this underlying consciousness of physical identity. How can you account for this consciousness of sameness?
(1) Not because he knows the particles to be the same. He cannot know that, for it is contrary to fact; the particles of his body, when a child, having gone off long ago, and mixed themselves, perhaps, with a hundred different bodies.
(2) Not because he knows the amount is the same. He may know that there are ten times the quantity in the one body state as in the other.
(3) Not because he knows the capability is the same. In its childish stage it was weak, incapable of much labour or endurance; but in its man-state it is vigorous—its physical powers have increased manifold. How, then, can you account for this consciousness? Consciousness must have some truth as a foundation.
(a) Because he knows the one has risen out of the other. It has been an evolution. The casual connection has been preserved. The one was the outcome of the other.
(b) Because he knows the one has retained the same plan, or outline as the other. If the body, in the man-state, had taken a form different to that of its child-state, the consciousness of identity might have been lost. If it passed, for instance, from the human form to the lion, eagle, or any other form, though the particles might have been all retained, and bulk and capacity continued as ever, the sense of identity would have been lost.
(c) Because he knows the one fulfils the same functions as the other. The body, in the child-state, was the inlet and outlet of himself. Through it, in all cases, he derived and imparted his feelings and ideas. It was the great medium between his spirit and the material universe. Now, for these three reasons, man may feel that his resurrection body is the same as the one in which he spent his probationary life. It grows out of the buried. There is in the body that went down to the grave a something, I know not what, which the man, the spiritual self, takes into his immortal frame. The resurrection body may retain its present form or outline; it may be moulded after the same archetype. It may also fulfil many of the same functions. Ever will it be the medium between the material and the spiritual. I know, then, of no objection that you can urge against the fact of a man having a resurrection body which he may feel to be identical with his probationary body, that could not antecedently be urged against a fact in the present experience of every adult—the fact of an individual having a man body which he feels to be the same as his child body.
2. That the resurrection will be coextensive with the mortality of mankind. "The sea gave up its dead." What a vast cemetery is the sea! Here mighty navies slumber; millions of the industrious, the enterprising, and the brave, lie beneath its restless waves. But all must now come forth. All that have perished—whether in the barques of scientific expedition, or the ships of commerce, or the fleets of conquered nations, must come forth in this dread day. "Death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them" (Revelation 20:13). This is the grave. "All that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth." What a voice is that! It would reverberate over sea and land, from island to island, from continent to continent; roll its thunders through the deepest vaults and catacombs; and soon the mouldering skeletons and the scattered dust would feel the stir of life, and spring to immortality. Martyrs, who had no grave to shelter them from the storm of ages, whose dust was consumed in the flames, and left at the mercy of the wild elements, would appear again; as the field of battle, where mighty armies struggled in demon fury, would start to life on the plains where, in hellish rage, they fell. "And hell gave up its dead." Hell here means, not the place of punishment, but the universe of disembodied spirits, both good and bad. This Hades of the Greeks, and Sheol of the Hebrews, sends forth all the myriads of human souls that it has ever received, from Abel to the last man that grappled with the" king of terrors." "The small and great." Not an infant too young, not a patriarch too old. Tyrants and their slaves, sages and their pupils, ministers and their people—all will appear.
III. This RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL BRING HUMANITY INTO CONSCIOUS CONTACT WITH GOD. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God" (Revelation 20:12). They stand before God; they confront him, as it were, eye to eye, being to being. Each feels God to be the All to him now. The idea of God fills every soul as a burning flame. They stand before him, feeling his presence, and awaiting his doom fixing word. This is a distinguishing feature of the retributive period. In every preceding period of human history, with the exception of the millennial ages, the vast majorities of all generations had no conscious contact with God. Some denied his very being, whilst others desired not a knowledge of his ways. But hence on, forever and ever, all the good and the bad will "stand before God"—will be in conscious contact with him. His felt presence will be the heaven of the good, and his felt presence will be the hell of the ceil.
1. There will be no atheism after this. How will the atheist teachers of the past ages feel now? Lucretius, Democritus, and Strabo among the ancients; Diderot, Lagrange, D'Alembert, Mirabeau, and Hobbes amongst the moderns, will feel now, and evermore, that the greatest reality in the universe was the Being whose existence they impiously ignored or denied.
2. There will be no deism after this. The men who taught, through preceding ages, the doctrine that God had no immediate connection with his creatures; that he governed the universe through an inflexible system of laws; that he took no Cognizance of individuals, and felt no interest in them, will know now that no being in the universe had been in such close contact with every particle and period of their existence as God. All the objects that intervened between God and the soul will be withdrawn now; the veil of sense and matter will be rent asunder, to unite no more.
3. There will be no indifferentism after this. God's Being, presence, and claims will no longer be subjects of no importance. They will be everything to all. God's presence will fill the conscious life of all, as midday sun without a cloud the day.
IV. THIS RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL SETTLE FOREVER THE QUESTION OF EVERY MAN'S CHARACTER AND DESTINY. "And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works," etc. (Revelation 20:12, Revelation 20:13). Here observe three things.
1. That the worth of a man's character will be determined by his works. "According to their works." Not by religious position, or creed, or profession, or office; but by "works." "What has a man done?" will be the question.
2. That a man's works will be determined by recognized authorities. "Books" will be opened. God's moral and remedial laws are books, and these books will now be opened—opened to memory, to conscience, and the universe. This will be a day of moral conviction.
3. That according to the correspondence, or noncorrespondence, of man's works with these recognized authorities will be his final destiny. "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). "The book of life"—the remedial law or scheme of salvation—the gospel. Whoever was not found vitally interested in this was cast into the lake of fire.
What a scene is this that has passed under review! In its light how mean do man's highest dignities and honours appear! How ineffably paltry the pageantry of courts! how empty the pretensions of sovereigns! How solemn is life, in all its stages, relations, and aspects! God help us to live in the light of "that day"!—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34