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And he showed me a pure river. Omit "pure." "And" connects this part of the vision with what precedes (Revelation 21:9-27). It would have been better, perhaps, if the twenty-first chapter had included the first five verses of the twenty-second, so as to take in the whole of the description of the heavenly Jerusalem. But there is a break at this point, as is indicated by the repetition of "And he showed me," which points to a new phase or section of the vision. In the previous section (Revelation 21:9-27) the angel had showed St. John the city and its wails with their gates and foundations; in this section he shows him the river of the water of life, and the tree of life. The latter part of each section is occupied with the evangelist's own observations (Revelation 21:22-27; Revelation 22:3-5), for we cannot suppose that the phrase, "these words," in verse 6, is intended to apply specially to anything in these particular sections. He is the angel mentioned in verse 9, and again referred to in verses 10, 15, 16, 17. Most probably the pronoun "he" in verse 6 does not refer to the same angel as this one. River. The source of this stream, its course or channel, and its fertile banks, are mentioned or implied in what follows; but there is no reference to any estuary or mouth: eternity is the ocean in which this river is lost. Of water of life. Ὕδωρ ζωῆς is perhaps identical in meaning with "living water," ὕδωρ ζῶν, but is properly distinguished from it in translation. The two expressions are peculiar to St. John's writings in the New Testament; the genitival form, which is the more Hebraizing, only occurs in this book in Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:6; Revelation 22:1, Revelation 22:17; whereas the participial and more classical form is confined to the Gospel (John 4:10; John 7:38). "Living water," in its simplest literalness, means such water as is pure, flowing, clear, fresh, and wholesome; not stagnant, or turbid, or salt. Hence it is a proper term for the water of a beautiful and fertilizing river. Here, however, the genitival form reminds us of the familiar expression, similarly moulded, "the tree of life," which inclines us to think that" water of life" signifies water possessing life giving powers, water which restores, refreshes, supports life, and is therefore to be compared with "living water" taken in its spiritual sense. Of this whosoever drinketh shall never thirst again; when it has been once received within the soul, it becomes a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4:14). Clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb; clear, or transparent. We seldom use the rendering of the Revised Version, bright, as an epithet of water. As crystal (see note on Revelation 4:6, the only other place in the New Testament where the word occurs). The source of the river was in the Divine throne, the seat of the Triune God and the crucified Saviour. All eternal life is derived from our heavenly Father by the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Redeemer.
In the midst of the street of it. This sentence appears to belong to the preceding verse, as in the Revised Version. For
(1) the καί, "and," which follows, seems the beginning of the fresh feature of the description (cf. Revelation 22:1); and
(2) the account here given is evidently derived from Ezekiel 47:1-23., where the river is connected with trees, but no such mention is made of streets. And on either side of the river, was there the tree of life; and on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life. The beginning of the new sentence (vide supra). The singular "tree" seems intended to be understood generically of the whole of that class of trees. For this reason probably the LXX. renders the Hebrew of Ezekiel 47:7 by the plural "trees." We may see in this bountiful supply of the trees of life an image of the abundance of grace and life in store for the redeemed (cf. the description in Ezekiel 47:1-23.). Which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; rather, twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; i.e. one crop m each month. The number twelve signifies completeness (see on Revelation 4:9; Revelation 7:4-9, etc.). This fruit is yielded twelve times as often as ordinary fruit. The signification, therefore, is that there is an ever present supply. The fruit is not of twelve different kinds; the tree of life bears but one kind (cf. Ezekiel 47:12. "And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months"). And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (cf. Ezekiel 47:12, quoted above, "And the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine"). "The nations" are not the heathen, but the multitude of the redeemed, gathered out of every nation (see on Revelation 21:24). It is, of course, not implied that there is, in the new Jerusalem, any disease which needs healing, but the tree of life is put forward as the means by which the perpetual health and life and general well being of the inhabitants are sustained.
And there shall be no more curse; and there shall be no accursed thing any more. Nothing accursed exists in that city, because there is no sin there. The narrative here passes into the future tense (cf. Revelation 20:7). But the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him; and the throne, etc. This is the consequence of there being no accursed thing (cf. Joshua 7:12, Joshua 7:13, "Neither will I be with you any more ... There is an accursed thing in the midst of thee, O Israel"). God dwells in the city because all is holy. The throne of God and of the Lamb is one—God and the Lamb are one. Again, his servants, the servants of God and the Lamb (cf. John 10:30). They "serve him," as described in Revelation 19:1-7 and elsewhere.
And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. Another consequence of there being no accursed thing—no sin (see on Revelation 22:3). All are pure it, heart, and therefore they see God. The same promise is made in 1 John 3:2. The last clause connects this chapter with Revelation 3:12, and shows that these who are here described are those who have overcome (cf. also Revelation 7:1-17.; Revelation 14:1).
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light; and there shall be night no more; and they need no light of lamp, neither light of sun: for the Lord God shall shine upon them. A repetition of Revelation 21:23, Revelation 21:25 (which see). In Revelation 21:23 we are told "the Lamb is the Light thereof;" here, "the Lord God shineth upon them." Again an assertion of the Divinity of the Son (cf. Revelation 21:3). And they shall reign forever and ever. This prediction and promise ends the Revelation, as such. It is the reward placed before those who strive, in order to induce them to "overcome" (see on verse 5 above, and Revelation 3:12).
And he said unto me. Probably the angel who has exhibited the vision of the holy city (Revelation 21:9); perhaps the angel of Revelation 1:1. The concluding portion of the book is now entered upon; it contains a brief summary of (or rather reference to) the chief events which have been narrated, and enforces the lesson which is intended to be taught, viz. that Christians should persevere in well doing amid all persecutions, for their reward is certain, and that the punishment due to the wicked will surely overtake them at last. The angel asserts the veracity of what is contained in the book (Revelation 1:6; cf. Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:2; Revelation 3:14); the time in which to prepare is brief (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 1:7, Revelation 1:12; cf. Revelation 1:3, Revelation 1:7); the prophecy is to be communicated to others (Revelation 1:10; cf. Revelation 1:1-3); God is eternal (Revelation 1:13; cf. Revelation 1:8); the just are rewarded (Revelation 1:14, Revelation 1:17; cf. Revelation 1:3); the wicked are punished (Revelation 1:15; cf. Revelation 1:7); the prophecy is to be faithfully handed on (Revelation 1:18, Revelation 1:19; cf. Revelation 1:2). These sayings are faithful and true. That is, all that has been conveyed to the seer (cf. the following verses). This is a repetition of Revelation 21:5; Revelation 19:9; Revelation 3:14; so also Daniel 8:26. And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to show unto his servants the things which must shortly be done; and the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets ... the things which must shortly come to pass. That spiritual part of the nature of the prophets, by which they are made to discern and to communicate God's will. The expression is used here in connection with the "prophecy" mentioned in the following verse. The greater part of this verse is worded exactly as Revelation 1:1. His servants; cf. the address to the seven Churches (Revelation 1:3., especially Revelation 1:11).
Behold, I come quickly (cf. Revelation 22:12, Revelation 22:20; Revelation 3:11). The narration passes into the words of Christ himself, just as in Revelation 22:12 and Revelation 11:3. Blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. Because they are "faithful and true" (Revelation 11:6). The command given in Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:19 is now supposed to have been carried out (cf. the same words in Revelation 1:3).
And I John saw these things, and heard them; literally, and I John [am] the [one] hearing and seeing these things. The absence of the verb (the present participle being used alone) indicates the person to whom the revelation is made, without assigning any specific period as the particular time when the revelation took place. The same statement is made in Revelation 1:1 (which see). "These things" are all that have been related in the book. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things; and when I heard and saw, etc. The tense here becomes aorist (vide supra). St. John has once before fallen into the same error, viz. that of paying undue homage to the angel (see on Revelation 19:10). The beatific vision overwhelms him with awe, and he is bowed down with his own humility.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God; and he saith, etc. (cf. the words of Revelation 19:10). Here we have "the prophets;" in the former passage we have the "spirit of prophecy," in much the same sense; here, again, we have "them which keep the sayings of this book," in place of "that have the testimony of Jesus," in Revelation 19:10. In the latter case, also, there is little difference of meaning, since the "sayings of this book" are exhortations to a faithful bearing of "the testimony of Jesus;" those, therefore, "who keep" (that is, carry out) "the sayings" are those who "hold the testimony of Jesus." "The prophets" need not be restricted in meaning to either Old or New Testament prophets, but may include both. The direct inspiration of the message which St. John has to deliver is here asserted. In unison with the teaching of the Mosaic covenant, the angel commands to worship God alone (cf. Exodus 34:14, etc.).
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. The visions being now complete, St. John is commanded to communicate them to the world (cf. Revelation 10:4, where a contrary direction is given). The last sentence is again a repetition of the assertion of the shortness of this our time of preparation (cf. on verse 7). The revelation deals not with events far distant in the future, but with those immediately present; for this reason the message is to be communicated (cf. Daniel 8:26, where the reason given for "shutting up the vision" is that the visions "belong to many days to come," Revised Version).
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still; he that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still, etc. (Revised Version). These words seem to be used ironically, as was sometimes the case with the prophets (cf. Ezekiel 3:27; Ezekiel 20:39). The intention seems to be to stir men up to a realization of the nature of their conduct in continuing to reject the warnings of God. Note that the words immediately succeeding, as well as those immediately preceding, are connected with the judgment.
And, behold, I come quickly. Omit "and" (cf. Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:10, etc.; see also on Revelation 22:11). Note also that once more the words are spoken as by Christ himself (cf. Revelation 22:7). And my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be; as his work is, according to the best authorities. This is one of the fundamental truths enforced throughout the book; cf. the epistles to the seven Churches (Revelation 2:5, Revelation 2:10, Revelation 2:16, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:22, Revelation 2:26, etc.). Similar language is found in Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 62:11. The infinitive phrase seems to be explanatory of the idea contained in the word μισθός, "reward;" the double nature of the reward being thus indicated.
I am Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last; the Alpha, etc. Reverse the position of the two last phrases. These words, which appropriately open and close the book (cf. Revelation 1:8), occur (like those in Revelation 22:11 above) continually in Isaiah (see Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12). All three titles are here combined, as if to finally gather up into one impressive assertion the titles hitherto used separately (cf. Revelation 1:8, Revelation 1:17; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 21:6). "The first title is symbolical; the second is borrowed from the Old Testament; the third is philosophical "('Speaker's Commentary').
Blessed are they that do his commandments. The Revised Version adopts the reading, οἱ πλύνοντες τὰς στολὰς αὐτῶν, "they that wash their robes," which is found in א, A, 1, 33, Vulgate, AEthiopic, Armenian, Primasius, and which is probably correct. The reading of the Textus Receptus, ποιοῦντες τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ, "they that do his commandments," is found in B, Syriac, Coptic, etc. The Vulgate adds, "in the blood of the Lamb," as in Revelation 7:14, which is, of course, the full meaning. The free will of man is implied in the active form of the participle. That they may have right to the tree of life; in order that they may have authority over the tree of life; i.e. the right to partake of it. Ebrard makes this clause dependent (as a consequence) upon "do:" "They do them in order that they may have," etc. Others attach this clause to "blessed: They are blessed because they may have the right," etc. Both significations may well be implied. "The tree of life" is that described in Revelation 7:2, and promised "to him that overcometh" in Revelation 2:7. And may enter in through the gates into the city; by the portals; that is, in the natural way of people who have a right to enter.
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie; without (omit "for") are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicaters, etc. The article renders each term general in its signification (see on Revelation 4:11). "The dogs" are those who are described in Revelation 22:11 as "the filthy;" the term is proverbial amongst Eastern nations as an expression for what is most degraded. The epithets in this verse occur (with others) in Revelation 21:8. A contrast is forcibly presented between these wicked ones here indicated, and those who have (in the preceding verse) the right to enter the city, owing to their purity obtained by washing their robes.
I Jesus have sent mine angel. Here our Lord himself asserts what was at the very beginning set forth (Revelation 1:1). The revelation proper being now ended, the epistolary form in which the book opens is now resumed. Either our Lord himself is here the speaker, or the angel speaks in his name (cf. Revelation 22:9, Revelation 22:10, Revelation 22:12, etc.). To testify unto you these things in the Churches (ἐπὶ ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις). The Revised Version translates, for [margin. or over] the Churches (cf. the expression in Matthew 24:33). Probably this preposition is used as expressing the idea of motion towards, especially from above, which is contained in the fact that the message is from heaven to the Churches. Dusterdieck, Hengstenberg, and others would translate, "concerning the Churches." Ἐν, "in," is found in A and some other manuscripts. Some cursives omit the preposition entirely. This gives another possible reading: "to testify these things unto you, the Churches." I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the Bright and Morning Star. Omit the second "and." (On "Root," see on Revelation 5:5; for "Morning Star," cf. Revelation 2:28.) At the word "David," the manuscript 1, from which Erasmus compiled the Textus Receptus, ends. In order to supply the remainder, which is deficient, Erasmus retranslated the Vulgate Version into Greek. The Greek, therefore, of the Textus Receptus from this point onwards is the Greek of Erasmus.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. These words are best understood as uttered by the writer. The Holy Spirit working in the Church, through whom she is bound to Christ as his bride, and the Church herself, eagerly welcome the fulfilment of Christ's promise made in Revelation 22:12. (On "come," cf. Revelation 6:1.) And let him that heareth say, Come. The Church in her corporate capacity welcomes her Lord; so, also, let each member in his individual capacity, who hears this "testimony" (Revelation 22:16), be desirous of the advent of his Master. And let him that is athirst come; athirst for the water of life (cf. Revelation 21:6). And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. Omit "and." Again the active participle indicates the voluntary nature of the action; though the living water be freely given without money and without price, it is not enforced upon any.
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book. Omit "for." The pronoun "I" is emphatic. Here is the solemn appendix or seal of the veracity of the book, somewhat similar to the prefatory words in Revelation 1:1-3. This is the fulfilment of the duty laid upon St. John in Revelation 1:1, not an announcement of our Lord himself (cf. the wording of Revelation 1:3). If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; cf. the command in Deuteronomy 4:2, "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it" (Revised Version). "The plagues that are written in this book" are those of the seals, the trumpets, the vials, the doom of Babylon, etc.; cf. the command of St. Paul to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:13), and cf. also what is said in 2 Timothy 2:16-18 concerning the heretical teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus.
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book; from the tree of life; i.e. that mentioned in Revelation 22:2 and in Revelation 22:14, where also the city is mentioned. Even from the things written in this book seems to be the real meaning of the last clause; not merely the tree and city which are written, etc. Just as the evils set forth in the Apocalypse are declared in Revelation 22:18 to be the portion of those who add to the book, so those who take from the book are deprived of those blessings which have been constantly referred to in the book.
He which testifieth these things saith—viz, the Lord Jesus, as in Revelation 22:16—Surely I come quickly; yea, I come quickly. As the book opens, so it closes with this promise. This is the anchor and stay of the faithful, the sound of an alarm and a warning cry to the wicked. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Omit "even so." Thus in calm and patient hope the apostle answers his Lord. So the writer who delivers the message is the first to proclaim his belief in what is herein contained.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen; the grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen. So the delivery of the message was commenced (cf Revelation 1:4; cf. the form in 1 Thessalonians 5:28). Bearing in mind that the theme of the book is the conflict between good and evil, we may well conclude our study of it by joining in the prayer of the author, that the help of the Lord Jesus may be on the side of his saints to enable them to overcome, and then receive their reward.
(See preceding homily.)
Revelation 22:6, Revelation 22:7, Revelation 22:16
(See homily on Revelation 1:1-3.)
Revelation 22:10, Revelation 22:11
(See homily on Revelation 20:11-15.)
(See homily on Revelation 1:7.)
(See homily on Revelation 1:8.)
(Revised Version).—(See homily on Revelation 7:1 l—17.)
(See homily on Revelation 20:11-15.)
Closing words of invitation: "Come."
We have closed our exposition of the plan of the book, so far as its Apocalyptic unfoldings of scenes yet to come are concerned. But we should deem our work incomplete if we did not, ere we lay down our pen, indicate in outline four homiletic studies suggested by the last six verses of this chapter, giving us as they do, a closing invitation, a closing warning, a closing aspiration, and a final benediction. First in order of these four comes the invitation. So far as the first "Come" is concerned, the word might be supposed to be the call of the Church to our Lord, entreating him to come and rule in righteousness. And so, in fact, some do regard it. But the wording of the second phrase seems to us to put such an interpretation on one side. For to him that heareth, it is said, "Catch up the sound and pass it on—'Come'!" So that it is evident that the first "Come" is addressed to the individual who is here exhorted to pass on the sound. For this reason we deem ourselves shut up to the specific interpretation we have here adopted. We, therefore, regard the verse as an invitation to every one to come and partake of those joys which are made over by Christ to all who will take them.
I. THERE ARE JOYS IN THE HOLY CITY WHICH ARE INFINITELY WORTHY OF ACCEPTANCE. The word "Come" naturally suggests the question, "To what?" or" To whom?" And if the clause stood alone, the answer would not unnaturally be, "To the Saviour," for he is the one Object to whom men are expected to come. But if we look at the close of this verse, we find it said, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely;" and when we read, "Let him that is athirst come," we find additional reason for supposing that the meaning of the word is, "Come to the water of life." And, so far, there is no reason for doubting the correctness of this. But, then, the next query is, "Where is this water of life?" And if we turn to Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:6, Revelation 21:7; Revelation 22:1, we find that in heaven the blessed are seen beside the fountains of the water of life; so that, although it is true that even here Christ gives us the living water, that even here there is a river, the streams of which make glad the city of God, yet no one can study this book without seeing that there is in it a "tendency forward;" that there is a finger beckoning and a voice urging us onward to a holy city, "the New Jerusalem," of which it is said "the throne of God" is there, from which the living water is seen to flow, a pure, a crystal stream. All those who reach that city will drink thereof. And it is unquestionably with all this in view that the invitation is given. Yonder, at the end of the pilgrimage of the saints, is a land no foe can enter; there is this refreshing stream. Thousands have already reached that land, and thousands more are on the way; and the Holy Ghost, having thus set the land Beulah before our vision, will not let the apostolic seer close the book until, in the name of the Lord of the land, he has summoned our attention to it, and until, through him, "the Spirit and the bride" have said, "Come to that heavenly land, drink its living stream, and thus share its eternal joy."
II. THE JOYS OF THE HOLY CITY ARE FOR THOSE WHO WILL COME TO THEM. No one will get to heaven by chance. Nor is it by merely idling life away that we shall find ourselves there. For although the act of coming is all that is required, there must be that. This truth is one which, if analyzed into its several parts, may be put thus:
1. The eye of the soul must be fixed on this as the true goal of life. It wilt not do to have an aimless life. Life without aim is life without power. But what aim can be compared to this, of knowing God and enjoying him forever?
2. We must learn the rules by which life is to be regulated. These are two:
(1) Repentance towards God.
(2) Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ
These are to be, not occasional acts, but the habits of a life. It is not by a rush and a leap, uncalculating and blind, that this heavenly home is to be attained, but by humbly and lovingly accepting all that Jesus says, and in his strength setting the face towards Zion.
3. This involves, evidently, coming to Jesus, who is the Lord and Leader of every pilgrim. This is imperative. The last step implies the first, and all that intervene. And whosoever comes to Jesus will at that moment take his first sip of the living water.
"Rivers of endless joys above,
And rills of comfort here below."
III. TO THESE HEAVENLY JOYS IN CHRIST WE ARE INVITED. The whole verse is an invitation. It is, indeed, a royal command. But whereas the commands of an earthly sovereign may be obeyed literally, yet with reluctance, here there are no unwilling responses. "Whosoever will, let him come." The form of invitation, however, takes for granted two things.
1. That the object to be ensured is one that is sufficiently attractive to make an invitation appropriate. And who can call this in question? Not even the stoutest unbelievers deny the attraction of the heavenly city and of the privileges of its citizens. The invitation assumes:
2. That, manifold as are the charms of the place, with its fountains of living water, God is willing to make over to the invited ones all its blessedness, wealth, and glory; provided always that men will come penitently, believingly, and lovingly, and accept all as a free gift from the heart of Infinite Love, out of the storehouse of his exhaustless wealth.
IV. THIS INVITATION IS THROWN INTO VARIED FORMS. These are four.
1. The Spirit saith, "Come." In three ways.
(1) In the visions of glory which are designed to attract.
(2) In the clear statements of those for whom the glory is designed.
(3) In the fact of his inspiring the apostle to pen these words, the Holy Ghost has recorded for all time an imperishable invitation to the thirsty ones to come to the waters of life.
2. The bride saith, "Come." The bride is the Church.
(1) The Church on earth, in all her services, her ordinances, her teaching, is saying, "Come." If she indulges in terrorism rather than in invitation, she mistakes her mission.
(2) The Church of the redeemed above—the great cloud of witnesses—beckons to us to come.
3. Every one who heareth is to say," Come." Not one voice is to be mute. From the earliest to the latest, all who have responded to the call are to hand it on to others: "Come! come! come!" The student of the original will see an untranslated force in the verb "say"—even—"The Spirit and the bride are saying." The air is ringing with their voice, and every one who hears the sound is to add his voice to theirs. Then:
4. Jesus is the Leader of the mighty choir. This is seen when Revelation 22:16, Revelation 22:17 are put together. "I Jesus have sent mine angel," etc. Yea, it is as if a grandly perfect peal of bells were hung aloft, and as if our Saviour would have their chimes ever filling the air with the music, "Come! come! come!"
V. THE INVITATION IS SPECIFIC IN ITS FORM. "Let him that is athirst come" (cf. Isaiah 55:1). Thirsting spirits may be divided into two classes.
1. There are those who thirst, but know not for what. This was long the experience of Augustine. So it is of many now.
2. Some thirst, and do know for what. Even as David (Psalms 42:1).
(1) Some are just convinced of sin, and are thirsting for pardon and purity.
(2) Some who have tasted of the river of the water of life thirst for more of it. We never want more than Christ; we often want more of Christ.
(3) Some are aged Christians; they find that the older they get, the more they want of God and of his love. And truly blessed is it for them, though their ears may be getting
2. Every day the believer has to come afresh, to receive new life, freely; new strength, freely; more of God, freely. How great is the blessedness of thus living on "the water of life" day by day, getting it fresh every hour from One whose fulness no giving can diminish, whose giving no receiving can tire.
3. Thus living on free mercy while on earth, the like living on free mercy above will be heaven. The next state will be the continuity of this. Ah! we might live with music—the music of heaven—in our ears, if we were not so dulled with the sounds of earth. Every morning when we wake there is the Father ready to give us new blessing, freely. Every day, for the demands which new toil will make upon us, we may have new strength, freely. And so on till the last. And then—heaven, freely! Having lived on free grace below, we shall be well content and pleased, living on free grace, to take our place in heaven.
In conclusion? who would not respond at once to an invitation so rich, so large, and so divinely free? Would that, in our urging this, we could adequately represent the tenderness and love of our God! Let not our coldness repel thee, O thirsty one! Come now, and taste for yourself the sweetness of the living stream! What will your response be? We have given the invitation in Heaven's Name; and to him in whose Name we have spoken, you must reply.
Revelation 22:18, Revelation 22:19
Closing words of warning.
It would be deemed an unpardonable offence for an ambassador to add words to, or to subtract them from, any royal mandate which he was commissioned to deliverse And if any one in dispensing a physician's prescription, when the life or death of a patient trembled in the balance, were wantonly to tamper with it, what condemnation could be too severe? Yet we fear that the tendency of many in our day is to treat a message in this book far more lightly than they would any important official human document; and instead of sympathizing with the words before us, and adding their reverent "Amen," they would in all probability either condemn the severity of these words, or else pass them by as out of date and altogether effete. On this account we deem it needful, in approaching the close of our expositions, to look into these verses with special care. We will first inquire what additions to the book or subtractions from it we may suppose men to make, from what we know of human treatment of the Word of God. We propose then to see what is the threatening here denounced against such. Having done this, we will endeavour to ascertain reasons for a sentence so severe. Then we shall be prepared to see how this passage may help us in the formation of religious thought, and how it may bear practically on the life.
I. JUDGING FROM WHAT WE KNOW OF THE FACTS OF HISTORY, IN WHAT WAY MAY MEN BE SUPPOSED TO ADD TO OR TO SUBTRACT FROM THIS BOOK? The words of the text evidently embrace any kind of treatment of this Book of the Apocalypse which seemed to assume that a man was at liberty to take the book into his own hands, and to deal with it as he thought fit. Men do this:
1. If they put any merely human production alongside of it as if it were on a level therewith.
2. If they distort the book at pleasure to make it fit in with a preconceived theory about it; e.g. a preconceived and extreme theory of evolution is even now leading some to treat the old book most unfairly.
3. If they summarily reject the account which the book gives of itself, out of dislike to the supernatural, or from hostility to the principle of authority in religion.
4. If they make a human interpretation of the book of equal dignity or authority with the book itself.
5. If they deny and disown any of those great doctrines which are inwrought into the very texture of the book; e.g. the glory of Christ's Person; the meaning of his work; the reality of his administration; the freeness of his grace; the certainty of his victory. These and cognate doctrines pervade the entire Apocalypse, and to omit, ignore, deny, or condemn them, from wilful refusal to submit to Divine authority, would be to commit the sin which is here exposed to view. The words of the Apocalypse as a whole, and of these two verses in particular, are not human; they are Divine. We should hear a voice saying, "Take thy shoes from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
II. WHAT IS THE THREATENING HERE UTTERED AGAINST THOSE WHO TAMPER WITH THE ROOK? The threatening assumes a positive or negative form according to the positive or negative form of the sin. In the one case it affirms that any actual and wilful ill treatment of, or adding to this book, will bring down the curse of God upon the guilty one's head. In the other case, it declares that any rebellious rejection of the divinely revealed doctrines of this book will incur rejection from God.
III. CAN WE DISCOVER REASONS FOR A SENTENCE SO SEVERE? Certainly we can: seven.
1. The book is Divine in its origin; it is, therefore, too sacred for human hands to mar. (For treatment of the question of the origin of this book, see our first homily in this section.) In Revelation 22:16 we have the explicit statement, "I Jesus have set mine angel," etc. In Revelation 22:18 we have the emphatic Μαρτυρῶ ἐγὼ £ beginning the verse. It is not absolutely clear whether the speaker in the second ease is Jesus himself or his angel. If the latter, the angel testifies for Jesus. If the former, Jesus speaks for himself. Either way the testimony is divinely authorized, and therefore must ever be too sacred for the trifier's touch.
2. The book is a Divine manifesto to the Churches; therefore no others can have any right to touch it. It was given at first to those who loved our Lord, that they might keep and shield it. And any one professing to be an ambassador for God, who wilfully tampers with it, is false to his commission from the throne. What nation would bear with its sovereign's legate, if he were known to add, alter, or delete a word issued from the throne? He would be visited, and rightly, with penalties of terrible severity. Is God's sanction to be less stern?
3. The book is a disclosure of the future; and no one can possibly be competent to alter a single word of his who sees the end from the beginning. To disclose in a succession of parabolic or symbolic settings the future scenes which are to appear, and that in their order, is a task to which none but God himself can possibly be equal. Therefore the visions must remain untouched.
4. The book is a declaration of doctrine—of doctrines on which souls live and grow and thrive; and therefore it is a very serious thing to meddle therewith. By contrary teaching, men may be led astray and ruined for time and for eternity. If there be a reservoir which supplies a town with water, or a well springing up in a barren land, the only one from which a traveller could drink, what curses would be—yea, ought to be—pronounced against him who should poison either the one or the other? Is it a less serious thing to poison the wells from whence the living water is drawn?
5. The book abounds in words of consolation; of the supports of which men may not be deprived. Few books in the Word of God are richer in consolation than this closing one; and who can estimate the guilt of depriving millions of souls of the words of solace uttered from the eternal throne? To strike a thousand men at once with paralysis would be nothing to such a crime as this!
6. The attempt to substitute human words for the Divine is unspeakably rash. For our part, we have ever felt that it would be a sheer impertinence if we were to take it upon ourselves to guide men through this life to the life to come, if we had not a "Thus saith the Lord" forevery direction we gave. But if, when the Lord has spoken, any man deliberately substitutes words of his own, this is an action which no words of ours can adequately characterize.
7. There is desperate wickedness in that disloyalty and rebellion which would play fast and loose with the words of this book. We may not lose sight of the fact that this censure is here pronounced, not merely because of an evil act, but on account of the wickedness of heart which can consent to an act so evil. Any one who can deliberately handle the Word of God deceitfully commits a crime in sacred things, which society would absolutely refuse to tolerate in the common affairs of life. What place could such a one possibly find in the holy city? So far, then, from thinking the sentence even seemingly severe, we deem it one of the clearest proofs of Divine kindness and care that he has thrown the guard of so solemn a sanction around words which are meant for our guidance through this life to that which is to come. For the fact is that God's severity to the trifler is the outcome of his care for us all.
IV. LET US SEE WHAT BEARING THIS PASSAGE HAS ON THE FORMATION OF THOUGHT AND ON THE DIRECTION OF LIFE.
1. It should lead us to admire the wonderful concern of God for our guidance and safety in thus guarding for us his own message of love. We ought not for a moment to forget that for our sakes these words were written; for our sakes they have been preserved till now through fire and flood, and all the vicissitudes of earth. We can quite imagine a man under the influence of unbelief or hostility, taking fire at such a passage as this, deeming it a flash of fiery wrath directed against himself. But in so doing he would totally misapprehend the words. They are fraught with terror only to those who wilfully pervert them. And we have no hesitation in saying that menace to such is mercy to the rest. Is it no safeguard to the people to be told that the enemy shall not be permitted with impunity to poison the wells of living water? Whoever robs a people of their dearest treasure will have to smart for it. God's goodness to us ensures that.
2. The words should lead us to admire and adore the far seeingness of the great Inspirer in inditing such words as these. For who does not know that one "Church," at any rate, has heaped words on words, and added them to the faith, to be accepted under pain and penalty of "anathema sit"?
And not content with this, but as if in order to prevent the discovery of her own fraud, she debars the people at large from free access to the book which would expose it, which is at once the charter of the people's freedom from man, and defines the extent and the limits of the "true sayings of God."
3. The words which are so stern a guard around the Book of the Apocalypse do also apply with equal force to whatsoever writings stand on an equal footing of Divine authority (cf. Deuteronomy 4:1-24; Jeremiah 18:16, ad fin.; Galatians 1:6-9; Matthew 15:9). Hence we should learn
(1) to deal with most conscientious care with whatever comes to us with the weight and sanction of Divine authority;
(2) to remember that there is not anything outside the pages of the Word of God that does or can present such binding authority;
(3) to deal with all that is so outside the book as the word of man, and not as the Word of God (see Act 17:11; 2 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:5). Our faith must not stand "in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."
4. The words before us show how an expositor of the holy book is to treat it in his teachings to the people. His task is at once grand in its simplicity, yet awful in its responsibility. He has, by every possible means,
(1) to find out exactly what the Spirit of God says; and
(2) to impress that, and that only, on the heart and conscience of the people.
5. We here see also how the people are to regard an expositor of God's Word, viz. as one whose work is to teach them, not his own thoughts, but the thoughts of God; and they are ever at liberty to appeal from the human speaker to the book. They must not be pulpit Christians, but Bible Christians.
6. Finally, we learn with what state of mind we ought to study the book in which is contained what the Lord hath spoken. There should be humility, readiness of mind to hear what God the Lord will speak, and also unswerving loyalty to the God of truth in every point in which we see the truth of God (1 Peter 2:1, 1 Peter 2:2). And in practical obedience to what the Lord teaches us in his Word, we shall come to know its glory as our truest guide, and our glory in having such a guide.
The closing aspiration: "Come, Lord Jesus."
In the homilies on Revelation 1:7 and Revelation 20:11-15, compared with Revelation 22:12, we have touched on the second coming of Christ. But in each case we have done so in direct pursuance of our aim of giving a homiletic exposition of the plan of the Apocalypse. Hence in one case we dealt with it as the one clue threading the entire Scripture; in another case we looked at it as bringing about the consummation of all things. In the passage before us now there is presented to us yet a third point of view from which it is to be regarded, even as the object of the believer's hope, longing, and prayer. "Come, Lord Jesus." Three inquiries will come up before us, replies to which may throw light on a most important aspect of the Christian faith and expectation.
I. WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THIS ONE HOPE OF THE CHURCH? The glorious appearing of the great God, even our Saviour Jesus Christ, is, without doubt, the "blessed hope." The Church is longing for the personal presence of her Saviour. Love cannot be fully satisfied while its fondest Object remains unseen. Still, the expectation of the coming of the Lord is one which includes a great deal more than the hope of his personal presence. For that of itself, without very much more, would not by any means secure all that believers desire. In fact, even as it is, we are better off than the disciples were when Jesus was on earth. "It is expedient for you that I go away," etc. It is not, then, as if we were here weeping and mourning, without a Christ, that we long to see him, but because of the glory which shall be ushered in at his coming. It may be well for us, at this stage of exposition, to locate the personal advent of Christ according to New Testament eschatology. £ Increasing, repeated studies of the Word drive us further and further away from the pre-millennial hypothesis. We do not look for the personal reappearing of Jesus as near at hand, in point of time, as yet. It is not at the commencement of an era of blessedness that Scripture warrants us in placing it, but at the consummation thereof. Looking, however, at his coming as taking place at the restitution of all things, we must needs include in our aspirations after that glorious goal of human progress every step on the way thither. These steps towards the final blessedness are shown in the New Testament in the following order:
1. The advance of truth and the proclamation of the gospel among all nations must take place before the end.
2. The promise of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost is very far from complete fulfilment. Our Lord lives and reigns to bestow this gracious baptism. The Holy Ghost will both train the Church and convict the world.
3. Through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit Israel is to be restored (Ezekiel 35-37).
4. The effect of Israel's restoration will be "as life from the dead," and will be followed by the inbringing of the fulness of the Gentiles (Romans 9:11).
5. Then will follow a long period of millennial rest, during which righteousness, though not absolutely universal, will be in the ascendant; while at the same time the tares as well as the wheat will be ripening for harvest; (Isaiah 60:1-22; Matthew 13:1-58.).
6. After this, for reasons known only to the great Disposer, the evil one, having long been bound, will be "loosed again," but only for a season. He will go forth to deceive. This will be his last effort, which will issue in his destruction. The enemies of God and of his Church will one by one be overthrown.
7. Then will come the appearing of our Lord; the general resurrection; £ the gathering of the nations; the judgment; the award—for the wicked, the second death; for the righteous—
8. The inbringing of the new heavens and the new earth, wherein righteousness wilt dwell. It is for this we long. For this believers are waiting, anxiously watching every step in the process which is to bring about that halcyon calm. Yea, in our eagerness for it, we sometimes wish to push forward the wheels of time. We ask impatiently, "Why is his chariot so long in coming?" We cannot rest while wickedness rides high, nor while tares so much abound. Hence our prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Come and complete thy reign. Overturn, and overturn, and overturn. Throw down the wrong; bring in the right, and let the groaning and travailing of the creation cease because of the manifestation of the sons of God!"
II. WHY IS THIS IN SUCH AN ABSORBING DEGREE THE HOPE OF THE CHURCH? We are not careful to disguise the fact that in this respect the Church's outlook is very different from that of some who devote themselves to science, philosophy, and literature. There are, indeed, men of highest literary and scientific standing who join heartily in the prayer, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus." At the same time, there is no doubt that while men generally deem it wise and right to seek and to expect human progress, there is a great divergence among them in their opinions as to what such progress means, and how it is to be secured. The hope of some is that, through the advance of science, the race will reach its goal; that as law comes to be more definitely understood, nature will be brought more thoroughly under control, etc. In distinction from any or all of these, stands out the Christian hope. If we be asked a reason for it, we are prepared to give it in a series of considerations which, we cannot but think, are too frequently overlooked. Accordingly, we now give in outline the reasons which Christians have for the conviction that nothing less than the inbringing of the Christian hope will meet the cravings of our hearts. These reasons are so given as to be taken cumulatively.
1. We cannot but recognize the superiority of moral considerations to those which are merely physical. Doubtless, neglect of sanitary laws may prove a serious obstruction to men. But that neglect is itself a wrong moral act. And the immorality of the neglect must be done away ere the physical ill can be cut off. In a word, the moral and mental rule the physical.
2. We recognize also the immense importance of men over things, or over any combination of things. There is more worth in one human spirit than in all the material atoms in the universe of God. Nothing can content us that fails to renovate spirit.
3. The true moral and spiritual advance of men depends on what they are, rather than on what they know. Loyalty of heart is more than the furniture of the intellect. And when men talk about science being the regenerator, we ask—Which science? We ask—How is it, then, that the most accomplished men are sometimes the greatest rogues, and that some who are masters in knowledge are slaves to sin? Man is made for God, and only as he becomes God like is his weal secured.
4. It is impossible to secure the world's peace while sin reigns in man's nature. Sin is the great mar-plot of the world. But:
5. With all sin put away, what a change would be brought about! If men were all righteous, if they were like him who went about doing good, our race would forthwith have Paradise again!
6. Now, as a matter of fact, no founder of a religion has ever set on foot a scheme of truth or an apparatus of power with the express purpose of putting down wrong and of bringing in righteousness, but the Lord Jesus Christ. He only has recognized fully the needs of our spiritual nature. But he has. And he is "mighty to save." He has saved millions, and is doing so now. But he alone.
7. This being so, we look to him who is the Author of our faith to be its Finisher too. And he who by his Spirit now quickens men so that they are alive unto God, is effecting a work which is bringing in the issue for which we long. Of this, evolution gives no account, and can give none.
8. The Lord Jesus Christ has left us the direct and. positive assurance that "he will make all things new." And if it be said. to us, "Do not the terrible disorders of earth shake your faith?" we reply—Not for a moment. Why should they? Nothing worse has happened yet than the seven seals, trumpets, and vials have indicated. And the end is beyond all these! How far beyond in point of time none can say.
9. Already, in the millions of souls ingathered, we have had many an earnest and pledge of the glorious harvest day. History is opening up strictly according to the lines of the holy book, and it will! "He who hath begun the good work will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ."
10. And the riper we get in grace, the more intense our love for our Lord, the more eagerly and passionately do we long for him to "complete the number of his elect," and to manifest her power and glory. And this desire, which by Christ has been created, by Christ himself shall be ultimately fulfilled. Surely these ten reasons, separately and fairly estimated, and then put together in cumulative force, do furnish an ample reason why believers in Jesus should regard the progress of their race and the glory of their Lord as leagued together in an everlasting bond. Reason enough is there here for the cry, "Come, Lord Jesus: come quickly!"
III. IN WHAT LIGHT DO ALL THESE CONSIDERATIONS SET THE ASPIRATION OF THE TEXT?
1. They account for the text being the prayer of the Church, for they show that it expresses the longing that the redemption already enjoyed by believers may be manifested in our race.
2. This petition, "Come, Lord Jesus: come quickly!" is a constant revealer of the unity of the true Church. The words go up from all Christian hearts. Romanist, Anglican, Protestant, Conformist and Nonconformist, all unite here.
3. The acceptance of the hope indicated in the prayer of the text is a test of the accuracy of a man's mental science and philosophic insight. That is no true science, that is no true philosophy, in which there is no room for this blessed hope. Its value can be denied only where plain and palpable facts of human nature, which ought to be taken into account, are ignored.
4. The text becomes a test of character. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Similarly, as a man longeth in his heart, so is he. Let a man toll us for what he most wishes, and we will tell him what he is. He will thereby show us:
(1) The direction of his life. Every man hopes most for that to which his soul is most akin. And
(2) the intensity with which he is moving in that direction. Hence:
5. The text becomes a criterion of safety. If a man is among those who are looking for Christ, he is among those to whom Christ's coming will bring in the salvation yet to be revealed. If a man is among those who care not for these things, he is one to whom the second coming will bring weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless." And should any urge that "he prophesieth of the times afar off," let such remember that, however distant the consummation may be, the previous preparation is in all cases a continuous process, which is going on now. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation."
The closing benediction.
The Revised Version reads, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints." Pleasant is it to find the seer of Patmos, ere he lays down his pen, breathing out to the saints this pious and holy wish. No conclusion to the holy volume could be more suitable in itself or more grateful to the feelings of the believer. It will form an appropriate close to our homiletic expositions if we look at this final benediction from a triple point of view—the historic, the dogmatic, the practical.
I. THE BENEDICTION HAS A RICH HISTORIC INTEREST. We may regard it either as being an apostolic wish in his own name, or in the name of all believers. Supposing it to be the former (and, anyway, it is certainly that), it has all the weight and worth that an apostolic utterance can carry with it. Supposing it to be also the latter, then it is a new, a Christian form of brotherly well wishing, which within about sixty years before the time that the apostle wrote, had been newly created. It was, in fact, a totally new expression of sacred friendship; it was a new birth; it was an indication of a new love uniting believers in one Being, whom before his advent earth had never known. The old formula, "Peace be with you," is now supplemented by "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you." This is an historic fact of no small interest and importance. It is one of those "evidences of Christianity" which can never be questioned by those who understand the matter, showing us that a new tidal wave of love swept over mankind when Jesus came. It is well known that Christian tourists in Rome can discern in the differences between the epitaphs and epithets on pagan and Christian tombstones, the evidences of a new life and love in the latter marking them off from the former. So here, in the indication which these words furnish of a newly living friendship and brotherhood in Christ, is a proof of the new fraternity in himself which he alone created, and which, apart from him, had never been. Historically, the benediction before us serves another purpose. It was written by the Apostle John. Even unbelief allows this, albeit it makes the allowance with a questionable purpose. £ Still, it is allowed, and we have no need to argue it. The Apostle John wrote these words when he was an exile in Patmos, under Domitian, about the year A.D. 96. This brings the writing of the text well within the lines of the first century, and also as written by one who had held and taught the same faith about Jesus Christ for more than half a century. What that faith was we have yet to see. It is enough just now to observe only how far we get historically in the survey of this parting blessing. Even thus far—that we know, as a matter of historic fact, that within the first century, faith in Jesus Christ was so far rooted, established, and ramified, as to have produced a brotherhood welded together in him, on which the invocation of his grace and blessing was felt to be a suitable and adequate outpouring of the wishes of the Christian heart. Now, it is of some moment to remember this, and to inform others of it. For there are not wanting those—albeit they are not found in the circles of the ripest and devoutest scholars—who have maintained, and do maintain, that nothing certain can be laid hold of about Jesus Christ till from sixty, seventy, or even a hundred and twenty years after his death. £ This benediction alone refutes that assertion; and whoever makes it is either dishonest or incompetent—which, we do not care to decide.
II. THE BENEDICTION HAS AN EQUAL DOCTRINAL VALUE. If we come closely to examine it, we shall perhaps be surprised to find how much can be gathered from it. It is said that if a bone be put into the hands of a skilled anatomist, he can judge therefrom what was the form of the entire bodily framework of which it was a part. So, give this text to a Christian theologian, and he can construct therefrom the outlines of a fairly complete theology. Let us, then, see what the words involve.
1. Certainly they assume the actual existence of the Lord Jesus Christ, although at the time they were written, some sixty years had passed since his ascension. The Lord Jesus is evidently regarded as still living, as having overcome "the sharpness of death." For surely the "grace" of a dead Christ is altogether inconceivable.
2. The words assume the existence of "grace" in Jesus Christ; i.e. of mercy, favour, and of the fulness thereof in him. It is the same term as is applied to God. "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared," etc. So the like term is applied to Christ in a sense in which it never can be applied to any mere creature. Our Lord said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for thee." As "grace" resides in him, it is virtue, power; as it comes to us it is blessing, various as the need; coming to us as sinful beings it is mercy, pity. And, as such, the words assume its existence in our Lord Jesus Christ.
3. They also imply the close relationship between the Lord Jesus in heaven and his saints on earth, and the communicableness of the grace which is in him to them. Otherwise the words are unintelligible. If he could not communicate his grace, it could not be with us.
4. They involve also the truth that the disposal of this grace is according to the will of the Saviour. They assume that he will be as ready to grant it, as believers are to wish it for each other.
5. The words are such as would be uttered by one who felt it to be appropriate to breathe out a pious wish, mentioning only the Lord Jesus Christ, without specifying either the Father or the Spirit. £ As if it were felt that his grace is from the Father, and that he gives it by the bestowment of the Spirit. It is even so. Thus invoking the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is to invoke that of the Holy and Blessed Three in One. It is no fragmentary or broken wish, it is no half prayer that is breathed, when we say, "The grace of Christ be with you." It is equivalent to saying, "May you be filled up to all the fulness of God."
6. Yea, more, we gather also that for an apostle or for a Church to wish for believers that the grace of Christ might be with them was deemed an adequate expression of their feelings of yearning desire. For consider the wide range over which the expression, "the saints," extends; think of the diversity of condition and requirement which it comprehends; think of the long vista of time into which it peers; and when we fairly weigh each one of these three considerations, we shall begin to feel what a conviction of infinite variety and adaptedness in the Saviour's grace these words imply. Yet more:
7. They involve the truth of the omnipresence of the Saviour. Surely the words did not contemplate the grace of Christ being now here and now there, filling some while others were pining, enriching the saints at Ephesus and leaving those at Smyrna to starve! We may be quite sure of this. But, then, this benediction involves a faith in and conviction of the glory of an omniscient, an omnipresent, an ever living Saviour, who can supply all saints with all grace, through all time, even to the end of the age. Thus we can gather, from this holy breathing of Christian love, what was the believer's faith in our Lord Jesus within the first century; yea, from the time of his ascension to heaven. The Church had a book before it had a human creed; it had a faith even before it had the New Testament. Just as millions chivy the light by the action of life, who have never defined it by an intellectual formula, so the believers of old. rejoiced in and lived on their living Lord from the first. Their formulation of the faith was not till long afterwards. We see, moreover, that it is only the evangelical faith in the Divine glory of our Lord that harmonizes with this first faith of the Church. Yea, here, in this faith in him, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, are one. We know that our Lord has grace enough for rich and poor; for the prisoners in the dungeon and the martyrs at the stake. When we are weary, we have rest; when hungry, food; when thirsty, living water; when in darkness, light; when in weakness, strength; when dying, life;—and all in him! Such a Saviour is to us no less than the true God and eternal life.
III. THIS BENEDICTION SHOULD HAVE GREAT PRACTICAL POWER. For it indicates lines of life equally with those of doctrine. It shows us:
1. That Christian, love has its root in Christian faith. The wishes and prayers of the saints for each other have their peculiar direction and intensity because of their living faith in that Saviour in whom they are one. Many can admire a tree and pure Christian love. Few would wish it weakened in its firmness or fervour. But it may be, sometimes is, forgotten, that true Christian love is nothing less than one of the fruits of the Spirit. It is a growth from life in Christ. That life is through faith in him. Weaken the faith, and you cool the love. Let the one cease, the other will pine away from the lack of nutriment. But this benediction shows us also:
2. That Christian faith is a living growth which blossoms into love. As there can be no love without faith as its root, so there is no genuine faith without love as its fruit. When men are "in Christ," they have a bond of undying attachment for each other, in a fellowship which can never be destroyed, but which is destined to ripen until in the Father's house it shall be perfected.
3. What an unspeakable comfort it is that Christians can express their most fervid longings for each other's weal in one petition that covers all possible ground of every need of every believer for all time! We know very little of each other's wants. Owing to distance, differences of clime, of custom, of modes of thought and life, variations in constitution and circumstances, no one can even approximately guess the wants of the rest. But when we say, "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with them"—that meets every case. It is, indeed, a prayer sent up for them to heaven—a prayer which will be answered, not according to our imperfect knowledge and thinking, but according "to the riches of his grace."
4. Hence it is an infinite privilege to be numbered among "the saints," so as to have a perpetual interest in their prayers. For let us consider over what a vast extent the prayer of our text now doth spread. It goes up from millions on millions of hearts the wide world over; from private and family altars, from many a Church and congregation. Surely it is a privilege of no mean order to have a share in petitions which span the globe, speed to heaven, and find their way to the heart of Jesus.
5. For, although it may be and is impossible for us to say along what lines such and such an answer may come to such and such a prayer, yet we are perfectly sure that he who has taught his own thus to pray for each other, has done so in fulfilment of his own law and in the working out of his own plan; and that, however eagerly any believers may send up the prayer, with far more eagerness does Jesus send down the answer. Certainly, believers owe much of their now advancing unity to the fulfilment of each other's prayers. Finally, this fervent wish with which the apostle closes the canon of inspiration is surely not an unsuitable one for believers at any moment. Nor can the writer refrain, in writing his last words for this commentary, from saying, "Grace be with all the saints!" not forgetting those into whose hand this book may fall. May his grace be with those who shall study this book in private devotion, and with those who shall read it to gain help in speaking to others! May his grace be with all the saints, of every name, of every land, under every circumstance of life, through every age, until we all meet in the Father's house, having washed our robes, and having entered in through the gates into the city!
"Now unto him that is able to keep us from. falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen."
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
"The tree of life."
There was, there is, there shall be, this life giving tree. Consider—
I. THE PRIMEVAL TREE. What was it?
1. Not a mere symbol. This has been affirmed by many, from Origen downwards. It has been compared to the visions of the Apocalypse. But those are said to be visions; the early chapters of Genesis are not. This tree, therefore, is as real as any other of the trees of the garden.
2. It perpetuated not bodily life, for the life of the body was sustained by other food. The body lived when access to this tree was denied. Moreover, on such earth as ours bodily life could not be perpetual.
3. Nor spiritual life. For spiritual life is far more than immortality; it is life holy and like God, and had this tree been capable of imparting such life, access to it would not have been forbidden.
4. But for soul life. Where is a distinction between body, soul, and spirit. St. Paul prays that "the whole body, soul, and spirit may be preserved blameless," etc. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we read of the "Word of God … dividing asunder the soul and spirit." Cf. also 1 Corinthians 2:15; also 1 Corinthians 15:1-58., where the contrast between the nature which belongs to the soul and that which is of the spirit is drawn out at length. "Sown a natural body," i.e. a body whose chief principle is the soul; "raised a spiritual body," i.e. a body whose chief principle is the spirit. We have no one English word which exactly answers to the Greek word, which is rendered sometimes "natural," sometimes, as in St. James and St. Jude, "sensual." But it is in nearly all cases spoken of as in sharp contrast to the spirit. But though the Scripture draws so clear a distinction, we, in our common speech, scarce make any. Now, the soul seems to include the animal life. Genesis 1:30, "wherein there is life," is really, "wherein there is a living soul." So, again, Genesis 1:24, "Let the earth bring forth the living soul." So in Le Genesis 17:11, "The soul of the flesh is in the blood." And it is the basis both of the reason and conscience; for men who have not had spirit (cf. St. Jude) have yet had these. And it is "born of the flesh;" souls are said to be begotten by or born to parents. But it outlives the flesh; for mental existence, which is independent of the body, belongs to the soul. Reason as well as Scripture seem to teach this. And, unlike the spirit, it is not immortal. With the body, it can be destroyed. But the spirit is heaven born; is superior to the soul; is immortal, and supersedes the soul as the basis of all other life, and is nurtured only by what is akin to itself. No "tree," therefore, could furnish food for the spirit. But for the soul life it might; and hence man was forbidden access to the tree, lest he should "eat, and live forever." For the soul, as distinct from the body and the spirit, the first tree of life ministered.
II. THE PRESENT. For still there is a tree of life. Christ is such; for faith in him gives eternal life—the life in the spirit. Life is in Christ, who is "the Life." Thus the soul, which otherwise would have perished, has what in itself it cannot have—eternal life. Apart from Christ there is no eternal life; but because in him there is this life, he is for us today "the Tree of Life."
III. THE PROMISED. That told of in the text. It may be literal, or at least as much so as was the primeval tree, and may minister to the life of the spiritual body. But "our knowledge of that life is small;" all that we do know is, that whatever will further our life, our joy, our every good, will be forthcoming. Wrapped up in this promise is all that we can desire. The lost tree of life is more than restored; "where sin did abound, grace does much more abound." That is all we can say, and, thank God, we can say this.—S.C.
"The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." In ancient times the leaves of certain trees were used for medicinal purposes (see the old herbalists, etc.). And increasingly it is being discovered how God has placed healing power in the varied forms of plant life. The proportion of the physician's pharmacopoeia occupied by leaves and such like plant products is no slight one. The old story of Marsh, and the healing of the bitter waters there by the tree cast into them, has its antitype in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and its repetition in the healing properties which the leaves and other parts of many trees possess. Now, concerning the tree of life told of in our text, and its leaves, and the nations that are healed by them, many questions may be asked which it is not easy to answer. But, nevertheless, it is neither improper nor unprofitable to follow oat the suggestions which the words of our text supply. Taking, then, the tree of life as telling of Christ, whether seen in his gospel, or in his Church, or in the lives of individual believers, the leaves of the tree mean much. Take them as representing—
I. SCATTERED MEMBERS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. Missionaries, Christian emigrants, soldiers, merchants, sailors. All these are like the leaves which are scattered hither and thither as they are torn off by the wind. What do not heathen lands owe to such scattered ones as these leaves tell or? Any of us may, by the wind of God's providence, be carried far away into heathen lands. If so, God grant that we may be as one of these leaves of the tree of life.
II. THE HUMBLEST AND MOST ORDINARY MEMBERS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. As the leaves are individually but insignificant parts of the tree, they seem to represent those members of Christ who are like them. And yet what force and efficacy are attributed to them! In every leaf the whole tree—so botanists say—is discernible; its image can be clearly traced. And this is why each leaf can do so much. God often chooses things that are foolish and least and despised (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:1-31., etc.) for the accomplishment of his ends.
III. THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. We speak of the leaves of a book. Whether that common phrase refer to the leaves of a tree or no, it is certain that the leaves of the Bible may be called leaves of the tree of life. For where those leaves have gone, what have they not done? The indebtedness of the world to the Bible has long been a favourite theme of Christian advocates. They have been for the healing of the nations, and are so still. And they who circulate religious tracts and leaflets, as they term them, do so in the belief that the truth of Christ which is in them will have, as it often has had, healing power.
IV. CHRISTIAN CONDUCT. The leaves are the portion of the tree which is visible, prominent, and seen by all. They may, therefore, stand as the symbol of all that outward life of the Christian which appears before men. All the characteristics of the leaves suggest similar ones in conduct. The leaves are the conspicuous parts of the tree; by their elevation, their colour, their number, their sound, their movements, their beauty, their shadow, and much else. So that everybody notices the leaves. For the most part it is all they can see, and always the most marked feature of the tree. Now, such is the outward life, the conduct, the ten thousand common actions, the innumerable everyday doings and sayings, multitudinous as leaves and as visible, of Christian men. And such leaves have healing power. It was so at the first. Rome was converted from paganism to Christ by the silent but mighty force of the pure, beautiful, blameless, and spiritually elevated lives of the Christians. The heathen gazed with wonder, and an ever increasing number of them came to desire such life for themselves. And there is no healing force anywhere like such leaves. But though, in the blessed future condition of the Church, the lives of all her members wilt be of so salutary a sort, it is very far otherwise now. Too many Christians are upas trees rather than trees of life, and their leaves are deadly rather than healing. Who does not know this? And such sad fact should lead to the question—What is the influence of my life? are its leaves healing leaves or the reverse? And no more fervent prayer should we pray than that we, each one, may become ourselves trees of life.
V. THE SECONDARY RESULTS OF CHRISTIANITY. Leaves are not the purpose of a tree. To have nothing but leaves is condemnation, not praise. Fruit is the end of a tree. "I have ordained you," said our Lord, "that ye should go and bring forth much fruit" (cf. John 15:2, "Every branch that beareth not fruit," etc.). Leaves, therefore, are but the accidents, the subordinate purpose, the secondary results, of the wee. And our Lord came that we might bring forth fruit unto God. Still, along with this, the tree has borne precious leaves. See the influence of Christianity upon art, law, society, commerce—indeed, on all departments of life. What does not art—music, painting, sculpture, architecture—owe to the faith of Christ? This was not the main purpose of Christ. That was to create holy souls; to redeem men from all iniquity. But in the accomplishment of this, in bringing forth this most precious fruit, the tree has yielded leaves also, such as these, and yet others. Shall we, then, listen to speculations and arguments, the aim and too frequent effect of which is to destroy the faith of Christ in men's minds? Shall we knowingly cut down a tree the very leaves of which have healing power?—S.C.
The beatific vision.
"They shall see his face." We often think, and think truly, that it must have been a great joy to see our Lord as he was here on earth. What would we not give could we now see him as his apostles did? Everything associated with him has gained sacredness and sanctity by that association. The land where he lived—
"Those holy fields,
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which, many hundred years ago, were nailed,
For our redemption, to the cruel cross,"
—that land we call the Holy Land. The particular places most closely connected with his life on earth we call the holy places. The men whom he chose to minister to and for him we call holy ones, or saints. The day on which he rose from the dead we observe as a holy day. All this is but the result of that mighty influence which he exercised over those who came under the spelt of his wondrous personality. Hence one would like to have known him as he was—in his childhood, as he "grew in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man;" in the midst of his ministry, as he toiled and taught for thankless men; as he hung upon the cross; as he rose from the dead. But such vision is impossible to us now. All the more, therefore, do we hail with joy the promise of our text. Let us try and tell a little of what is contained in it.
I. THAT WE SHALL SEE THE LORD JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF. No doubt that in that blessed future world:
1. There is very much besides that is blessed. The scene, how glorious! See St. John's descriptions. The inhabitants, how illustrious, how glorious, how holy, how blessed! And some of them beloved ones of our own; how blessed will be the sight of them! But, after all:
2. The chief joy will be our seeing him For think what seeing Jesus, even in our present poor and imperfect way, has done for men. At the beginning of their life as his disciples, when filled with fear because they had seen somewhat of the iniquity of their sin, the seeing of Jesus allayed that fear and gave them peace. During the progress of that life, when sin has reasserted its cruel power, and they have been heart crushed in consequence; when the cares of this world have well nigh overwhelmed them; when sorrow has saddened their very souls; when temptation has drawn near in its most deadly, because in its most enticing, form;—at all such times the seeing of Jesus, by the quickened eye of faith, has given hope and help, strength and deliverance, according as the need has been. And in the hour of death the seeing him has soothed the sufferings of that last time, and snatched victory from the last enemy, death, and given it to the dying saint whose succour and salvation the sight of Jesus has then secured. If, then, our poor vision here has been so full of blessing, what shall not our perfect vision yonder be?
II. AND IT WILL BE A SEEING HIM. Not a mere hearing concerning him.
1. Hearing is a great blessing. What do we not owe to the gospel story that we have heard read or preached, so many times? "Faith"—the faith that saves—"cometh by hearing."
2. But seeing is far better. Word pictures describing some fair landscape are often interesting, and sometimes so well done that they help us much to realize what the scene described must be. But how the best of such descriptions fails before the seeing Of the landscape itself! And even the gospel story of Jesus will be as nothing to the seeing him—seeing his face.
III. AND HIS GLORIFICATION WILL BE NO BAR TO OUR JOY. For we have not to say of him now that he is a spirit. If he were that, if his glorification had transformed him into an entirely spiritual being, then our Lord would be lost to us, for we could form no idea, no clear conception, of him. But it is not so. He wears his humanity; he has glorified that, and still he is the Son of man. The pierced hands and feet, the brow that was crowned with thorns, the side that was riven by the spear, he has taken with him into heaven. Therefore we shall see his face—the very face that sweat great drops of blood, and that was marred more than any man's. Literally our text is true.
IV. AND WE SHALL KNOW HIM. Not merely recognize him, but know him as here we have never done. His people will read his heart, will understand him as now they cannot. Much there is here which hinders our understanding, our true knowledge of him. Sin, sorrow, worldly pursuits, earthly mindedness of all kinds, serve to hide him from our hearts, and so hinder our knowledge of him. But there these things shall not be.
V. AND IT WILL BE "A LASTING SIGHT." It will not be a mere glimpse—a fitful, fleeting vision, which is all that we now enjoy. But our "joy shall remain."
VI. AND IT IMPLIES MUCH THAT IS VERY BLESSED. For example:
1. That we are really his. Were we not, the sight of that face would be unendurable. The wicked cannot bear it. And yet they must behold it. Ah! would that all such would think of this, and. now be reconciled to God! But the fact that we rejoice to see his face is "an evident token of salvation."
2. That we shall not see our sins. Whether or no we shall remember our sins in heaven, and if so, whether that memory will sadden heaven for us, is a question that has often been asked. That we can actually and entirely forget them is impossible; but that the "remembrance of them" will be "grievous to us, and the burden of them intolerable," as here we confess they are, we cannot think. For, on a bright starry night, what is it that we notice, that arrests our attention, as we delightedly gaze and gaze upon the magnificent scene? Is it the black stretches of cloud through which the stars shine down upon us? Certainly not, but the stars themselves. And so "his face," as compared to our sins, will be as those stars to the clouds. In that beatific vision the darker memories will be swallowed up and, as it were, unseen.
3. That we shall be like him. For seeing assimilates. "We shall be like him," says St. John; "for we shall see him as he is."
CONCLUSION. Are we of the number who shall enjoy this beatific vision? How can we tell? St. John supplies the answer. "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself" - that is the test. Are we thus striving after Christ-like purity? - S.C.
Permanency of character: a sermon for the closing year.
These very solemn words have been used again and again to illustrate and enforce the lessons of this great truth of permanency of character—the fact that after a while character becomes fixed, stereotyped as it were, and therefore unalterable; so that he that is unrighteous remains unrighteous still, and, thank God, he that is holy remains holy still. But this is not their true meaning, though by their form and sound they seem to teach this. But their purport is to exhort and encourage the faithful, by bidding them yet hold on, yet persevere; for the time of recompense, the Lord's coming, is at hand. Let the unrighteous, since they are so determined, be unrighteous still; and let the foul, since they love to be so, be foul still; let them, if they will have it so, if men will be wicked they must; but let you righteous and holy ones be righteous and holy still; your trial wilt soon be over, and your day of reward have come. The parallel passage in Daniel 12:9 confirms this interpretation, and seems to have been in St. John's mind when he wrote our text (cf. also Ezekiel 3:27). But because what a man wills to be he eventually and increasingly comes permanently to be, therefore we may yet use our text as teaching that tendency of character to become permanent, let the character be what it may. He that is righteous will go on doing righteousness; whilst he that is filthy will go on making himself yet more foul. Both will have it so, and it comes to be so, blessed as is the fact for the righteous, terrible as it is for the unrighteous, Now, this is a subject appropriate to the closing year. For at such times we are wont to look back along the way we have come, and to ascertain where we stand. We do so in regard to our business, our health, our position in society, our attainments in know ledge, etc. And such review is right. Look back, then, on the paths along which we have gone during the past year. There have been some in which we have made too little progress, in which we have halted too often, and at times turned back—the paths of prayer, of trust, of obedience, of love to God and man, of service, of charity, and the like. And there have been others in which it would have been well if we had not gone at all, or had halted in them, and come away from them—paths sinful, foolish, injurious to ourselves and others. Halt now, if any be in such paths, and forsake them at once. But there are others in which we cannot halt. This dying year tells of one such—the path that leads to death and eternity.
"Our hearts, like muffled drums, keep beating
Funeral marches to the grave."
Along that path, whether we will or no, we must go, without halt or pause; and here we are, a long stretch of that way left behind us in this past year. And another of these paths along which we are ever proceeding is that one which leads to fixity of character, the permanent bent and bias of the will. It is to this that our text specially summons our thought. We are ever engaged in gathering together the materials which go to the formation and fixing of character, no matter whether it be good or ill. All our pursuits, pleasures, companionships, books, work; all our thoughts, words, and deeds are busy, like a very colony of ants, all at work, and all tending to that ultimate result in character which binds us down to be ever still the same. Each day finds that work nearer done, and a year must make, does make, a great difference. The walls of the building may have risen hardly above the foundation a year ago, but now, at the year's end, they are a good way up; and a year hence, if we be spared so long, the whole structure will be much nearer completion. What inquiry, then, can be more important than this, as to the direction which our character is taking? It would not matter so much, though even then it would be serious enough, if our varied, separate acts were isolated and independent, without linking on the one to the other; and not, as they are, all tending to fix and stereotype character in one direction or the other, for good or for evil. It would not matter if at any time we could, as we say, "turn over a new leaf;" if it were "never too late to mend." But there comes a time when that new leaf will not be turned over, and it is too late to mend. A time when, like Esau, we find no place of repentance, though we seek it carefully with tears, as he did (cf. Proverbs 1:24-32). When the great suspension bridge over the Niagara Falls was built, first of all a slender wire was carried over by a kite to the other side; that drew over a stronger one; that a chain; and that, one heavier; and so by degrees the bridge was put together and completed. So is it with our characters. Some slight, insignificant action, as we deem it, draws after it some others which are not so insignificant; and these draw others more important still; and so at length the whole structure of our completed character, whatever it be, is brought together and remains permanently fixed. There are harbours round our coast within whose shelter large and numerous ships were wont to gather, so that important towns grew up on their banks, and much trade was done. But rivers that flowed into those harbours brought down with them, year after year, such amount of sandy deposit, though only a very little each year, that after a while the accumulation became so great that a huge bar began to stretch across the harbour mouth; and this increased until at length the port was blocked and all its prosperity at an end. That result was brought about by the sum of small and trifling additions, each one but little in itself, but together accomplishing so much. And so with the myriad minute acts that go to make habits, and habits form character. Well, then, looking back over the year, what does the retrospect declare? How is it with our souls? The year cannot but have done much in regard to them. Is it leaving us nearer God, more in sympathy with his will, more desiring to be, and more actually, what he would have us be? With some, no doubt, it is so, and let such give thanks; for, indeed, they have cause so to do. Others may have mournfully to confess that they are further off, that they have gone back, have lost much of their religion, its joy, strength, and peace. Let such cry unto the Lord and turn unto him with all their hearts; for they have need so to do, lest they fall further away still. "I remember, some time ago, hearing a remarkable circumstance related by a public speaker to whom I was listening. It happened that a ship was being towed across the Niagara river, in America, some little distance above the well known falls. Just as she got into the middle of the stream the hawser parted, and the unfortunate ship began to drift down the river, stern foremost. Efforts were made to save her from impending ruin, but every effort failed, and the unfortunate ship kept drifting further and further down the stream towards the terrible abyss below. The news of the disaster spread along the banks of the river, and in a very short time there were. hundreds of people, and they soon swelled to thousands, looking on in breathless anxiety to see what was to become of this unfortunate crew. There is a point that stretches into the river, which bears the name of 'Past Redemption Point,' and it is believed in the neighbourhood that nothing that passes that point can escape destruction. The current there becomes so strong, the influence so fatal, that whatever goes by Past Redemption Point is inevitably lost. The excited multitude upon the banks of the river watched the helpless ship drifting down farther and further, till she was within a few hundred yards of the fatal point. One after another were efforts made, but of no avail; still she drifted on. Only a few moments, and she passed the point. There was a kind of sigh of horror from the vast multitude as they saw that she had passed, for they knew she was lost. But just as they rounded the point the captain felt a strong breeze smite upon his cheek. Quick as thought, he shouted at the top of his voice, 'All sails set!' and in almost less time than it takes to tell, every stitch of canvas on board the ship was stretched to catch the favouring gale. A cheer broke from the multitude on shore as they witnessed this last effort for salvation. But would it succeed? The ship was still drifting, though the wind was blowing against it, and she was still moving downwards, stern foremost, though the wind was bulging out all her sails. It was a battle between the wind and the current. With breathless anxiety they watched the result. She slacks! Another moment—they scarcely dare whisper it—she stands! Yes, that terrible, downward course was actually stopped. There she was, still as a log upon the water. Another moment, and inch by inch she began to forge her way up the stream, until the motion was perceptible to those on shore, and one great shout of victory burst forth from a thousand voices, 'Thank God, she is saved! Thank God, she is saved!' In a few moments more, with considerable headway upon her, she swept right up the stream, by Past Redemption Point, right into the still water, saved from what appeared to be inevitable destruction, just because in the very moment of moments she caught the favouring breeze" (Aitken). Now, if any have, like this all but lost ship, drifted ruinwards and away from God during this past year—and, doubtless, some have—and if conscience be now rebuking and the Holy Spirit pleading with you by quickening in you desires after a truer, better life, do not delay, but at once take advantage of the favouring breath of the Spirit of God, and let him waft you away from where you are to where you fain would be. "On your knees fall down and pray," lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.—S.C.
The day of recompense.
"My reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." It is related of Daniel Webster, the regality of whose moral endowment no one disputes, that when once asked what was the greatest thought that had ever occupied his mind, he replied, "The fact of my personal accountability to God." And yet this thought is one not frequently present in men's minds, because it is one that is but little welcome. The very phraseology of the text, its several words, seem to point at one and another of the hindrances to the reception! of this thought. As, for example—
I. IS DIFFERENCE. HOW many minds are wrapped up in this! They feel no concern; they are spiritually asleep, as was Jonah literally, though the ship and all in it were nigh to perishing; and though the great day of Christ's award is hastening on. Now, to arouse such as these, the text begins with the startling word, "Behold!" Thus does it "cry aloud."
II. PROCRASTINATION. Many, Felix like, put off to "a more convenient season" the consideration of a fact like this. It was this very fact that Paul reasoned about and at which Felix trembled; but, nevertheless, the consideration of which be, as thousands are ever doing, put off. Now, as if to protest against and to prevent such conduct, Christ says, "Behold, I come quickly." There is no time for delay; "now is the day of salvation."
III. MOTIONS AND IDEAS OF PRIVILEGE. There were, there are, those who counted themselves God's favourites. The Jews did, and, in a very real sense, so they were; but not in such sense as would suffer them to be indifferent to the moral demands of God. They, however, flattered themselves that God would not judge them as he did others. And there are those who have persuaded themselves that they are God's elect, but who pervert the doctrine of God's election to allowance of themselves in evil. Now, as if to meet these, the Lord here makes no difference, but says, "I will give every man according," etc.
IV. ABUSE OF DOCTRINE OF FAITH. The doctrine of justification by faith has come in many minds to mean little more than a mere mental reference to the atonement of Christ. They think that a passport to eternal life. Such people say, "Oh, we believe, we trust in Jesus," and with this their faith ends. But Christ here declares, not only the rewardableness of works, but also that his reward will be according to each man's work. No profession of faith only, Or talking of "casting deadly doing down"—see the well known but mischievous mission hymn—will avail where the question of what our "work" is will be the all important, all decisive one.
V. RELIANCE ON PAST EXPERIENCES. It is said of Cromwell that on his death bed he asked one of his chaplains, "If a man were once in grace, would he be always so?" And his chaplain answered, "Yes, certainly." "Well, then," said Cromwell, "it is well with me, for I know I was once in grace." We presume not to judge him or any man, but these words of the Lord do not countenance any such reliance on the past. For his reward is "according as his work shall be." Not according as it once was, but as it is when the Lord comes. Thus does he beat down these "refuges of lies," and take away "these battlements which are not the Lord's" But our real refuge is to awake now and turn unto the Lord as they who have no hope but in him, and at once to manifest the reality of our repentance and faith by doing those works which he has commanded.—S.C.
"The First and the Last."
So is Christ. The text is one of those clear, strong statements which compel the mind of him who accepts the authority of Scripture to assign to the Lord Jesus Christ that position of Divine dignity and rank which the Church has ever ascribed to him. He is the First and the Last. Like as some vast mountain, towering aloft into the clouds, is the first object that catches the eye of the voyager on board a ship approaching the land, and, when again she sails, is the last that lingers in his view; so the Lord Jesus Christ, when we approach the study of God's revelations of himself, is the first Object that arrests our view, as he will be the last when we look back from the ocean of eternity. And as in our illustration, so in him to whom we have ventured to apply the illustration. Not only first and last, but in all the interval between. As the mountain dominates the whole landscape, and is seen from all points, go where we will, so the Lord Jesus Christ occupies and fills up the chief place in our study, no matter from what side we contemplate the ways and works of God. We behold "him first, him midst, him last, him without end." So is it—
I. IN THE UNIVERSE OF GOD. For:
1. He is first in time. "In the beginning was the Word." Ere ever aught was he was.
2. In position and rank. None so great as he. Let all the angels of God worship him."
3. As being the Object of all. Creation is to show forth his glory. Man, to subserve his will. Events, to further his purpose.
4. And he is the Last also. Omega as well as Alpha. When man and the universe, as we now know them, shall have passed away, "his years shall have no end." "They shall perish, but thou remainest."
II. IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. In their opening statement we read, "In the beginning Elohim created," etc.—the plural form suggesting; if it does not declare, the then existence of the Son of God. He is "the Seed of the woman," the promise of whom lights up the first prophecy. The first sacrifice, the first death, speak of him. And from these earliest teachings concerning him right down to the last utterance of the Word of God, in what book, chapter, or page is he absent? Patriarchs saw his day; types told of him; laws led to him; psalmists sung of him; prophets prophesied of him; princes and rulers, and the events which the sacred history records, prepared the way for him; and the New Testament is all of him. He it is who gives unity to the Scriptures, which otherwise would be a mere collection of ancient writings, having no point, or aim, or plan. He is the Keystone of the arch, without which it would have neither symmetry nor strength.
III. IN THE LIFE OF THE BELIEVER. He is "the Author and Perfecter of our faith." He begins the work, having made it possible by his death, his resurrection, and the gift of his Spirit. "All things" thus being "ready," he gives regenerating grace, whereby we are grafted into him as our second Adam; then converting grace, leading us to believe; then sanctifying grace; and, finally, grace for the hour of death, grace to meeten us for the Divine presence; and at last glorifying grace. Think, then, all these things being so, what:
1. Must he not be in himself?
2. Ought he not to be to us?
3. Will he be to us if "we will not have him to reign over us"?—S.C.
The blessed ones.
In the Revised Version and the Authorized Version there is a notable difference of reading. In the former the text reads, "Blessed are they that wash their robes;" in the latter it is, "Blessed are they that do his commandments." But there is no real contradiction; for they that wash are they that will therefore obey, and they that obey are those who by their obedience show that they "wash their robes." For note—
I. WHAT IS IT TO THUS "WASH"? What does the expression mean? Some copies add on what is found in Revelation 7:1-17., "in the blood of the Lamb," and no doubt such washing is meant. But what does it all mean? Let it be remembered that by "Christ's blood is meant the spirit of his whole life—his love poured forth in sacrifice for men, his self devotion unto death for truth and righteousness' sake, all concentrated, fulfilled, and brought to the point when, on the cross, he bowed his head and died. Drink in that spirit, and you possess, not only hereafter, but now, eternal life. It is life, and it alone. Bathe your heart and intelligence, imagination and spirit, in the spirit of that life and death, till all it was and means flows through your whole nature and life as blood through your veins; wash all your outward life, your habits, your manners, your doings at home and abroad, all the robes of your life, in the spirit which made Jesus pour forth his blood upon the cross, and make them white and pure thereby. Then you will understand—no, not understand, but know—forever, and live forever by the truth that 'the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.'" In short, the possession of, and yet more the being possessed by, the mind and spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ when he shed his blood for us, is to be washed in his blood, and to have our robes made white therein. This, surely, is the meaning of this much misunderstood but precious word. Then note—
II. WHO THEY ARE THAT THUS WASH.
1. They were such as needed cleansing. The blessed were not always holy, but sin defiled as are we all.
2. They sought this cleansing. It does not come unsought. If we have no love for the cleansing it brings, we shall Bet have it. It cannot be hurried up in a moment at the last extremity of life, as too many think it can, and so leave seeking it till then.
3. And have obtained it. For it is said "they wash," that is, they come to him whose it is to impart this cleansing, and they gain it.
4. And this they continue to do. It is not an act done once for all. It is not true that "there is life for a look at the Crucified One;" there is the beginning of life in such look if it be genuine and real, but if the life is to continue and grow and develop, and become eternal life, we must be ever "looking unto Jesus;" it must be the habitual posture of the soul. Such are the blessed.
III. WHEREIN THEIR BLESSEDNESS CONSISTS.
1. "They have right to the tree of life."
(1) To its fruit, which in some mysterious way nurtures and preserves the life of the spiritual body as did the original tree of life, told of in Genesis, the life of the natural body. After man had sinned the perpetuation forever of that life would have been a fearful calamity, and therefore man was driven forth from the place where that tree stood, for the express purpose, so we are told, "lest he should put forth his hand, and take of the fruit, and eat, and live forever." But now that man, as seen in our text, is restored, because washed in the blood of Christ, perpetuated life may be given him, and it is given him. All that he lost by the first Adam is given back to him through the second. Paradise is more than regained. How can he, then, be otherwise than blessed?
(2) And to the leaves; those leaves which are said to be "for the healing of the heathen." They are without the city; for it is they who are told of, by their common characteristics, in the next verse. Without the city is not the same as the lake of fire, but within reach of the light that radiates and streams forth from the city. They yet need healing, and to minister to that shall, it is probable, be part of the blessed employ of the blessed in the holy city.
2. Their entry "through the gates into the city." As in triumphal procession, not in any concealed or forbidden way. But through the gates of pearl—the new and living way, which is Christ. Theirs is the greater salvation—salvation in fulness; an entrance "administered abundantly" into the kingdom of the Lord. For others there may be, there seems to be, a lesser salvation, a place without the city; a walking in its light, though not admitted within as its citizens. Thus is the living God in Christ the "Saviour of all men, but especially of them that believe." In other parts of this book, and of this and the foregoing chapter, many of the elements of the joy that belongs to the citizens of the holy Jerusalem are set forth; the ills that are here, but are not there; the blessings that are not here, but are there. Shall we be of these blessed ones? Have we come to Christ, and do we keep coming? That is to wash our robes, as is here said. God help us so to do!—S.C.
The Root, the Branch, and the Star.
We are perpetually bidden in God's Word to look to Christ. All manner of means are employed to lead us so to do. Amongst others, the vast variety of names that are given to our Lord serve this purpose. There axe some two hundred of these, and they cannot but arrest attention, excite inquiry, and impress the mind, of any thoughtful reader. Here we have three of them.
I. THE ROOT OF DAVID. So is Christ named here, or rather so does he name himself. What is the meaning of this name? The reference is to Isaiah 11:1-16., where we read, "Behold, there shall come forth a shoot from the stock of Jesse, and a scion shall spring forth from his roots;… and in that day there shall be a root of Jesse." Hence the meaning is:
1. Not that our Lord was the Author, the Source of the family of David, as well as its Offspring. It does not mean that before David was, Christ was, as he said concerning Abraham. Many, however, have so understood these words as if they were equivalent to what we mean when we call our Lord "the second Adam;" as St. Paul does. No doubt Christ is, in this sense, the Root of David, as he is of us all. Unless we believe matter to be eternal, man must have sprung from some spiritual root. We are told that God by Christ "created the heavens and the earth," and that "the things which are made were not made of things which do appear." We and all men and things are the product of his Divine essence. No doubt these words are beyond our comprehension. It is "by faith" we accept them. Therefore, in this sense, Christ was the Root of David. But it is not the truth taught here. That truth is:
2. Christ is as a stem springing from the root of David. Oftentimes there may be seen springing up from the roots of a tree which has been cut down or broken off, and which has disappeared all but its roots, a vigorous but slender stem, which may grow up to be itself a stalwart tree. Now it was when the house of David had fallen low, its glory all gone, that as a stem out of the ancient root Christ appeared. True, he was of the house and lineage of David, but the fortunes of that house were at their lowest when Jesus was born. The crown of Judah had left the line of David, and had passed into the Asmonean, and then into the Maccabean, and then into the Herodian dynasties. And now when the noble tree had fallen, and nothing but the roots were left, and these hidden, buried, altogether unnoticed by men, lo! there springs up a stem, a shoot, out of that ancient root, small and insignificant to the eye, but destined to be great indeed. And in a spiritual sense Christ is the Root, not only of David, lint of many others also. How often, when all men's earthly pride and greatness have been taken away, the tender plant of grace springs up, and Christ becomes in and to them "the Hope of glory"! What an encouragement this fact is! Nothing seemed less likely than that the house of David should flourish once more. But in Christ it does so still. Yes, out of the roots, when all else is gone, this new, blessed, and Divine growth may spring.
II. THE OFFSPRING OF DAVID. That Christ was so is shown:
1. By many Scriptures. Continually is he called the "Son of David."
2. By the silence of his enemies. Could they have shown that he was not descended from David, they would have gained a great advantage against him. But they tacitly admitted it because they could not disprove it.
3. By the genealogies given in Matthew 1:1-25. and in Luke. The former gives our Lord's legal descent, the latter his natural descent. Jesus being adopted by Joseph, whose descent St. Matthew gives, took the place of his son, and was reckoned legally as such. But St. Luke gives the descent of Mary from the elder branch of the house of David. God had promised that it should be so, that Christ should be born of his house, and when it seemed as if the promise had failed, lo! it was abundantly fulfilled. Learn: "He is faithful that promised,"
III. THE BRIGHT AND MORNING STAR, This august name declares our Lord to be: The Brightness of the Father's glory. Stars have been chosen by all nations as fit symbols of majesty, and especially by the nations of the East, where the stars shine out with a glory of which we in our cloudy climates little know. Hence they were regarded as symbols of kingly rule (cf. Numbers 24:1-25., "A star shall rise, and a sceptre," etc.). And their majestic appearance led to their worship (cf. the Magi). The kingly glory of Christ, the brightness of the Father's glory, is there meant. "Thou art the King of glory, O Christ."
2. The Pledge and Bringer in of the perfect day. Not only is he the Star, but the Bright and Morning Star. The Star which foretold the day dawn; the "Day Star," as he is elsewhere called. And Christ is this. The shadows of night rest on man and his dwelling place; but Christ has come, and what treasure store of hope is there not in him for us all?—S. C.
The good will of God to man.
It is all important, would we win men's hearts for God, that we represent him as having good will towards them. If we let men think of him as hard, unloving, indifferent, or unjust, not all the threatenings in the world will win them. Man can only love that which he conceives as lovable. Now, this well known and most precious verso renders great service in this direction. Were a man to pick it up from off the streets, he would gather this much at any rate, even supposing he knew nothing of its writer or meaning, that whoever wrote it was in earnest for the good of those for whom it was written. And studying it attentively, with the added light of other Scriptures, the evidence of this good will becomes full and clear indeed. For note—
I. THE GIFT OFFERED. "The water of life." It is the constant symbol of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. That grace which:
1. As water, cleanses. It is a river of water of life; no mere circumscribed shallow pool or tiny rill, but a river, full, flowing, in which a man may "wash and be clean." Now, the putting away of our sin, our spiritual defilement, is through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. "We have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of our sins."
2. As water, revives and strengthens. In hot Eastern lands, where water was so much more precious than with us, because they had so little whilst we have so much, this emblem of water had more force of meaning than it has to us. The wearied traveller, faint and ready to perish, "drank of the brook by the way," and "lifted up his head" (cf. Hagar and Ishmael). And the meaning, therefore, of this word is that Christ's grace, as water revives, strengthens the soul.
3. And, as a river of living water, abides. A pool, a shallow stream, dries up, but a river goes on forever. The permanence, therefore, of the grace of Christ is thus set forth.
4. And this gift is the very one man needs. A gift may be ever so valuable, but if I do not want it I do not feel the love which offers it. But if I do need it, if it be the very gift of all others which I need, then he who comes to me with just that does show his good will. And thus is it with this gift. It is no mere temporary and temporal gift, but one eternal and spiritual, suited to me as an immortal being destined to dwell in the presence of God. Seeing what a shred of my entire existence is my life here, would it have been a token of real love for me if, instead of that which is given, I had been granted all manner of mere earthly good? But "God commendeth his love towards us," not only in the gift he offers, but in—
II. THE MANNER OF THE OFFERING. For:
1. The invitation is repeatedly given. The Spirit, the bride, and every one who hears, is to say, "Come." An immense significance lies in the manner of an invitation. One can learn much as to the sincerity of him who gives it by noting how he gives it. It, then, he repeat it; again and again, as this invitation is repeated, I cannot doubt as to the real desire that it should be accepted. And this is seen:
2. In the messengers who are entrusted to give this invitation. They are so well qualified to give it effectually.
(1) The Spirit. He is in full sympathy with the Giver of it. He is the Holy Spirit of God. A messenger may nullify the effect of a message if he have no sympathy with him who sends it; but if he have such sympathy, is, as the giver, deeply desirous that it should be accepted, then with what force will he urge it! And so it is here. Does he not urge it on us, plead with us to accept it? We know he does. And he has skill and tact to urge it wisely and effectually. Ah! what clumsy messengers we often are who have to give this message! What mistakes we make! How faultily and imperfectly we do our work! But he, the blessed Spirit of God, makes no such mistake. He knows when, where, and how to best urge on us this message of God's great love. And he has, too, knowledge of our character and circumstances. He will not address one character in a way suited only to another, as we often do. lie will not come at a most unfit time, but will choose the best time. And he has constant access to us. When the doors of the church are closed, the Sunday over, and the sacred services have come to an end; when the preacher and those to whom he speaks have separated—he shut off from them and they from him; then the Spirit of God can come to us, does come oftentimes, in the silence of the night, in the intervals of business, in lonely, quiet hours when none but he can come. Thus qualified is one of these messengers who are sent. Does not the sending of such a messenger prove the sincerity of him who sends the message? Then:
(2) The bride. She also is to say, "Come." And who is the bride, but the company of Christ's redeemed, they who know by actual experience the preciousness and the power of this "water of life "? He who hath taken of this water knows its life giving power. They can tell what Christ has done for them. It was the healed ones who, when our Lord was here on earth, sent multitudes more to him. And they are bidden do the like now. They are to say to the yet unhealed, "Come." And they are prompted to do this by mighty motives—gratitude, compassion, desire for Christ's approval, which depends upon their fidelity to this commission.
(3) And him that heareth is to repeat the message. If this direction had but been obeyed, heathendom would not now be so vast as it is, nor will it long continue so if we now will but obey this word. What more could he, whose message it is, have done to secure its promulgation and its acceptance?
3. The form of the message. It is "Come," not "Go" It means that they who deliver it are first to go themselves, and then bid others come likewise. Many are perpetually saying to others, "Go;" but if they do not come themselves, those others are not likely to heed their word. The Scotch mother, in the well known engraving, wanting her child to cross the brawling stream, goes first herself, and shows her where to put her trembling feet, now on this stone and now on that and that, and so the timid little one, seeing her mother go first, comes after her. Parents, so must it be with you and your children if you want them to be brought to Christ. You must go first, and say, "Come," and then they will follow.
III. THE WAY IN WHICH HINDRANCES TO ITS BEING ACCEPTED ARE MET AND PROVIDED AGAINST. Such hindrances are:
1. Doubts as to who are invited. But such doubts are met by "Whosoever will." None can shut themselves out of that "whosoever." But it is added, "and let him that is athirst." Such are very often the last to believe that the water of life is for them. Their very need and longing make them think such an offer as this is "too good to be true." And by this special reference to them this doubt is tact; cf. the angel's word on Easter Day, "Go tell his disciples and Peter," He was the one who most of all needed and longed to know that he had not lost utterly his Lord's love; and the Lord knew that, and so sent a special message to him. And so it is here; the "athirst" are specially called.
2. Requirement of qualifications. Were such demanded, many could not come, but everybody can take a gift. Hence it is said, let him take "freely."
3. Doubt as to motives. How many distress themselves by scrutinizing the motives which lead them to desire the Lord's grace! "Have I repented enough, prayed enough, felt the evil of sin enough," etc.? But no question will be asked as to motives. It is "whosoever will." No matter how you came to will, to desire, the water of life, whether it were hope or fear, or you know not what, all that is needed is that you should desire it, and there it is for you.
1. Does not God by all this commend his love to us?
2. Shall we not come at once?
3. If we never come, whose fault will it be?—S. C.
Longing for Christ's advent.
As to the expression "quickly," it is to be understood either on the principle
(1) that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years; or
(2) that there are many advents of Christ besides that last glorious one of which the New Testament says so much.
In support of this it is to be noted that the prophecies of this book, as other prophecies, refer to classes of events, and not exclusively to any one event. Hence, wherever there is like conduct, whether good or evil, there will be like recompense. Persecuting governments, and religions upholding them, will bring down on themselves Divine judgments. Such conditions of things were present when St. John wrote, and the punishment of them was speeding on to its fulfilment. So we prefer to understand the words of our text. Now, of the comings of Christ there are four, though not to all of them can the "quickly" of the text be applied, except on the principle first named above, and which St. Peter teaches us.
I. TO PUNISH NOTORIOUS WRONG. The destruction of Jerusalem was then, when St. John wrote, nigh at hand. The overthrow of the persecuting, pagan Roman empire was not far off; and, again and again, in the judgments that have befallen nations and wicked rulers and Churches, of which the records of history tell so much, may be seen fulfilments of this word. And without any vindictive spirit, from pure love of truth and righteousness, and from concern for human well being, the faithful Church has responded, and will respond, to the announcement of Christ's advent for this end: "Amen. Even so," etc. What a solemn reminder does this give to those who, in daring, presumptuous way, sin against God! In the midst of their proud defiance of the Lord, he may—it is likely that he will—come and judge them for their sins.
II. TO REIGN ON EARTH. That he will thus come the Scripture statements plainly declare. And these statements are very numerous. This coming of the Lord is perpetually referred to in the New Testament, and is predicted likewise in the Old Testament. No doubt the apostles believed it would be in their time. The Lord had not said it would not, and hoping that it might—their wish becoming father to their thought—they spoke and wrote as if it would. We are distinctly forbidden to look to them for information as to the date of this advent, for the Lord said to them, "It is not for you to know." Therefore any words of theirs that seem to imply, as they do, the speedy coming of Christ, are to be read with this remembrance, that it was not given to them to speak authoritatively on this matter. And in the later Epistles it is evident that their earlier thoughts had become modified, and they had learnt to contemplate as probable the fact that the Lord's advent would not be in their time; and hence they give directions for the ordering of the Church after they are gone (cf. Second Epistle to Timothy, etc.). And the declarations concerning our Lord's advent to reign on earth are to be understood literally. Many, no doubt, affirm that they are to be all interpreted of a spiritual reign, and to be explained as figures, metaphors, and the like. But we have a principle of interpretation laid down for us in the predictions concerning our Lord's first advent. What was there said of him literally came to pass. A large part of the gospel history may be compiled from those ancient prophecies which told of what literally came true in the life and death of our Lord. The Scriptures were fulfilled in him in no figurative, but in a literal sense. So was it, and, therefore, we believe, so will it be. And when we think of what is involved in the coming of our Lord to reign—of glory to God, of good to man—how can the Church do otherwise than say, "Amen. Even so," etc.?
III. TO RECEIVE US UNTO HIMSELF. For death is for us practically a coming of the Lord. We go to be with him; he comes to receive us. And this, at the furthest, will be "quickly." "Brief life is here our portion." Few and evil are the days of our pilgrimage. And to this coming the believer assents. Not from any fretful longing to have done with this life—such longing is always more or less morbid, though explicable and excusable under the distressing circumstances in which it is felt and uttered—but to Christians, as to others, life is and should be sweet, precious, clung to. But his "Amen" here is that of submission, of cheerful assent and acquiescence to the Lord's will. For him death has no terrors, but is the entrance on eternal joy. Nevertheless, the ties of earth, the claims and needs of those we love, are many and strong, and therefore for their sake life is precious. Otherwise death has no sting.
IV. TO JUDGE THE WORLD. This is not the same as his coming to reign. Then he shall come for his saints, but in this last advent he shall come with them. Then shall the great white throne be set up, then shall be gathered all nations, and then the final judgment take place. And this, too, for each one of us, comes "quickly." For after death it virtually takes place. We each go to our "own place." But can we each one say concerning this coming of the Lord, "Amen. Even so," etc.?—S.C.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The Lord's ministry on earth ended with benediction. It is fitting that this revelation, which he gave by his servant St. John, should end in like manner.
I. THE MEANING OF THESE WORDS.
1. To the careless they are but as the playground bell to the schoolboy, which tells him that he may cease from his drudgery and go to his games again. So, because these words generally form part of the sacred formula with which our Christian worship is wont to end, they are to the careless who may be present scarce any more than the welcome signal that at last the dreary service is all done. and they may go back to the world again.
2. To the many amongst Christian worshippers. These have no precise, definite meaning attached to the constantly heard words, but they know they mean blessing, and blessing from the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore they delight in them and their heart answers "Amen" to them.
3. Their real meaning. No doubt they have primary reference to that "grace of God which," through the Lord Jesus Christ, "bringeth salvation" to us and to all men. But this is not their exclusive meaning. Yet they tell of blessing in which all can share, which may be asked for and pronounced upon all. Hence, blessings which only some need, such as temporal relief from poverty, perplexity, persecution, and the like; or even spiritual good, such as conversion, or deliverance from some special temptation, or the bestowment of some particular form of Christian excellence and character,—not even these, or any one good of any kind, are what is comprised in this much meaning word "grace." But if we go back to the root meaning of the word, we find it denotes that which causes joy; that is grace. All the uses and forms of the word spring from this root. Therefore "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" is that gift from him, whatever it be, that will minister joy to us. Hence it may be one thing to one person, and another to another, and something still different to yet others. Therefore note—
II. ITS APPLICATION. Consider this:
1. In reference to those to whom St. John wrote, the Churches of Christ in Asia. Amongst them there were those who needed temporal relief because of their poverty; others, to be thoroughly converted to Christ; others, to be endued with a holy courage; all, a higher degree of Christian life. Now, according to the need of each would be the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to them.
2. To ourselves. Varied are our wants, none needing exactly the same gift, none finding the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in what is so to another. Whether it be Christ's ministry to our present temporal need, or to our spiritual condition. One needs one thing, another another. And this benediction is for each according to the want of each. That from Christ which will truly gladden and give joy to each one is the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to that one.
III. ITS APPARENT CONTRADICTIONS. For though "grace" means that which brings joy, it does not always appear so. At the time it may seem not at all "joyous, but grievous." It is often disguised so that we do not know it. Christ's grace in the form of earthly good comes to us frequently by strange ways, and in strange and often repelling aspect. And yet more in regard to spiritual good. Newton, in one of his hymns, say—
"I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace;
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
"I hoped that in some favoured hour,
At once he'd answer my request.
"Instead of this, he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part
'Lord, why is this?' I trembling cried.
"Tis in this way,' the Lord replied,
'I answer prayer for grace and faith.'"
As from the miry, foul soil the fairest flowers spring; as the mother's travail precedes her joy; as our Lord's own bitter sorrows and death went before, and were needful to, "the joy set before him,"—so is it that grace must often come out of, pass through, and for a time assume the form of, grief.
IV. ITS BENEDICTION. The blessed Scriptures, and the holy apostle who wrote this closing book, bid us farewell with this blessing pronounced upon us. Are we willing to receive it? Do we not need it: you, yet unsaved; you, weak, feeble, halting in the Christian way; you, tempted and sore beset; you, drawing near to death; you, weighed down with sorrow and care? Yes, you do need it; nothing can compensate for it, though the world and sin and the wicked one are busy with their suggestions that you can do without it. And it waits for you. The apostles who first uttered it invoke it on us now. Let our hearts respond, "Amen."—S.C.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
Christianity a transcendental system.
"And he showed me," etc. Philosophers have their transcendental theories, but Christianity transcends their highest speculations. Taking these words as a symbolic representation of it, we make two remarks.
I. IT IS TRANSCENDENTAL IN ITS VALUE. It is "water." What on earth, what throughout the whole material universe, so far as we know, is of such worth as water? So impressed were some of the greatest sages of antiquity with its value, that they regarded it as the first principle, the fontal source of all things. But what is the character of this water?
1. It is a "river." It is not a stagnant pool, a sleeping lake, or a purling brook; but a river, profound in depth, majestic in volume, resistless in movement.
2. It is a "pure" river. No impurities have been drained into it. Its channels are clean; it is fresh and pure from the holy heavens. How pure is Christianity! How holy its morals, how morally perfect its leading character, Christ!
3. It is a "pure" river of life. It not only diffuses life through all the regions through which it rolls its waters, but goes up into the air, forms clouds, sails through the heavens, and discharges itself upon the barren bills, thus giving life to the world. Christianity is a quickening system; it quickens intellect, conscience, heart.
4. It is a "pure" river of life that is transparent. "Clear as crystal." This river, like a perfect looking glass, mirrors the bright heavens above, and all the objects around it. How transparent is Christianity! It can be seen through and through. What character was ever so transparent as the character of Christ? You see with a glance the one ruling principle that worked all his faculties and explained his life—love. Here there is a transcendental system that roils in the moral domain of earth like some mighty Amazon in the material. What would man's moral world be without it? At, what?
II. IT IS TRANSCENDENTAL IS ITS ORIGIN. Whence does this river take its rise? Where is the fountain head? Not on earth, not from any particular province of the universe, but from the "throne of God and of the Lamb."
1. It proceeds from the "throne." It comes from the centre of universal authority. Christianity is a system of authority. It is a code rather than a creed; it is more regulative than speculative.
2. It proceeds from the throne of "God." There are many thrones. We read of thrones and principalities, etc. But this is the throne from which all other thrones derive their authority, to which all are amenable—the throne of God. Christianity is a Divine system; its congruity with all collateral history, with our moral intuitions, with all our a priori notions of a God, proves its Divinity.
3. It proceeds from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Christ has to do with it. It contains his life, it mirrors his character, it bears on its majestic bosom his provision for the world.
Such is the gospel. Value this river. What are other books compared to the gospel? Mere puddled pools to the Mississippi. Kind Heaven, speed the course of this river! May it penetrate every region of the world, and roll its waves of life through every heart!—D.T.
Divine love a river
"He showed me a river." "There is a river," says the psalmist, "the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God." Divine love is indeed a river.
I. EXHAUSTLESS. It rises from the infinitude of the Divine nature—a source unfathomed and unfathomable.
II. UNIVERSAL. This river rolls everywhere. It rolls under the universe, and all things float on its waves. It refreshes and beautifies all. The ancient sages considered water ἡ ἀρχή. We scarcely wonder at this when they saw water everywhere in the material world. But water is but the symbol of love. Love is indeed ἡ ἀρχή.
III. EVER FLOWING. The inexhaustible fountain is always acting—outpouring itself. Creation is a work never finished, for the river of Divine love is overflowing.
IV. RESTORATIVE. This river to human souls is restorative. It at once resuscitates and cleanses; it quenches thirst and removes defilement. Christ is the channel through which flows this soul restorative love.
"Flow down, thou stream of life Divine,
Thy quickening streams deliver;
Oh, flow throughout this soul of mine
Forever and forever!
"Flow down, and cause this heart to glow
With love to God the Giver—
That love in which all virtues grow
Forever and forever.
"Flow down, as flow the ray and rain,
In vital work together,
Refreshing roots and quickening grain
Forever and forever.
"Flow down, as flows the living sun
Upon the sparkling river,
Which, chanting to the boundless, run
Forever and forever.
"Flow down, revive this famished soul,
And bear away all error;
And I will praise thee, God of all,
Forever and forever."
Subjective Christianity: 1. A river.
"And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear [bright] as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." All along this book of gorgeous imagery and symbol we have been looking at Christianity as a subjective reality. Objective Christianity is simply a speculation; a thing of criticism, imagination, and logic; a thing for men to quarrel about, and even to fight about at times. It is a creed—nothing more. But subjective Christianity is a life; it is the creed eaten, digested, and transmitted into the blood and fibre of the soul. In this verse this life appears in three aspects.
I. AS FLOWING. It is a "river," not a stagnant lake, confined within certain banks, without any progressive motion, but a river flowing on, winding its way through every faculty of the soul, and giving to all new freshness and vigour.
II. AS TRANSLUCENT. "Pure river of water of life, clear as crystal." What object in nature is more sublimely beautiful than a deep flowing river, so pure as to mirror all the pearls and shells and living creatures that lie fathomed below, and all the shifting clouds and brilliant orbs that circle above? Vital Christianity is essentially clear and cleansing; it flows through the soul, and leaves no "spot" or "wrinkle," or any such thing.
III. AS IMPERIAL. "Proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb." It does not spring from any human fountain. It is from the primal force of all life—God and the Lamb. It is a river, "the streams whereof make glad the city of God." "The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."—D. T.
Subjective Christianity: 2. A tree.
"In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Here is organized life—"a tree." Here are the various elements and gases brought into an organic whole—a tree; the product and provision of vital force. Look at this tree in three aspects.
I. AS CENTRALLY ROOTED. "In the midst of the street of it." Between the street and the river on each side there grows this majestic tree, well fed and well protected, in the very midst of the holy metropolis. Between the water and the street the whole side is lined with the tree of life. Christianity is a life well rooted and well guarded. It is an incorruptible seed, that "liveth and abideth forever." "The sun will not smite it by day, nor the moon by night."
II. IT IS ESSENTIALLY VITAL. It is the "tree of life." It is not the mere form of life, or the product of life; it is life itself. Life of all kinds, even vegetable and animal, is, say men of science, inextinguishable. It is a spark that can never be put out, that will burn through the ages. This is true of this spiritual life, this life of Christianity in the soul. There is no indivisible atom nor any unquenchable life.
III. IT IS MARVELLOUSLY FRUITFUL. "Which bare twelve manner of fruits." It has twelve fruit seasons; that is, it yields twelve crops instead of one. How abundantly fertile is living Christianity in the soul! What new thoughts, affections, resolves, are constantly evolved, one growing out of the other in rapid succession and endless variety, grain coming out of grain, and boundless harvests sleeping in their shells!
IV. IT IS ALWAYS SEASONABLE. "Yielding her fruit every month." All life everywhere has its seasons, and in all seasons its particular fruits—spring, summer, autumn, winter. The fruits of living Christianity in the soul are always seasonable. "Be not weary in well doing: for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not."
V. IT IS UNIVERSALLY HEALING. "The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." Even the leaves of this tree are salutary to all. All the nations of the earth are morally diseased. Their disease is a leprosy—the leprosy of sin. Living Christianity in the soul is the antidote.—D.T.
Subjective Christianity: 3. An empire.
"There shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him," etc. Here is a state, not a mere life, but a state in which that life is found—an empire. "The kingdom of God is within you." The words lead us to look at this inner kingdom in three aspects.
I. AS ENTIRE FREEDOM FROM MALEDICTION. "There shall be no more curse." The soul that comes under the living reign of Christianity is freed entirely from the curse—the curse of guilt, corruption, and bondage. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God."
II. AS CONSCIOUS REALIZATION OF THE DIVINE. In this blessed state God is all in all. It is all God. He is:
1. Their Sovereign. "The throne of God and of the Lamb." His authority everywhere recognized and his servants rendering him homage. He fills the horizon of their being. All is seen through him, and all is done for him.
2. Their Image. "They shall see his face." Everywhere he is mirrored before their eyes. As to his Name, his character, it is engraved on their foreheads. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of God," etc.; "Changed into the same image," etc.
3. Their Light. "There shall he no night there," etc. Their state is a bright one; no clouds roll over their sky; no secondary orbs convey to them the light. Neither the radiance of the sun nor the beams of candle are there required; "for the Lord God giveth them light."
CONCLUSION. Thus I have given three phases of subjective Christianity; a Christianity which, being a matter of consciousness and experience, is intelligible, and which gives to us a somewhat rational view of all these gorgeous symbols, of which some of our most distinguished expositors and pulpiteers make arrant nonsense, and sometimes impious blasphemy. Perhaps some may think I have spoken of objective Christianity as utterly worthless and unnecessary; but this I would not do. Christ himself is the pure Bread of life, and this must be eaten and rightly digested, in order to get and sustain this subjective Christianity. When, indeed, the loaf of objective Christianity is corrupted, as is, alas! generally the case, the eating of it, and the digesting of it, if indeed it can be digested, only generates a subjective life, that is full of evil passions and wickedness; it makes men fiends rather than angels, and fits them more for Pandemonimns than for Paradises.—D.T.
Glimpses through the barrier. God's communications to humanity.
"And he said unto me, These words are faithful and true," etc.
I. GOD STEAKS TO INDIVIDUAL MAN. "He said unto me [John]." Jehovah, the "God of the spirits of the prophets," is not a Being that sits mute in his universe. He speaks, and speaks to individual men. He speaks in nature. His voice is gone out through all the earth, and he speaks to human souls through nature and also through the written Word. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake … by the prophets," etc. To every individual man he communicates his eternal ideas.
II. GOD SPEAKS OF THE ABSOLUTELY CREDIBLE. "These words are faithful and true." His words agree with unalterable facts and unchangeable principles. They are the revelations of things that have been, things that are, and things that might be. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one "jot or tittle" of his Word shall perish.
III. GOD SPEAKS THE THINGS THAT MUST BE SHORTLY REALIZED. "The things which must shortly come to pass." His ideas are practical, and must ever take their actual embodiment and form in human life.—D.T.
Glimpses through the barrier: the moral advent and mission of Christ.
"Behold, I come quickly," etc.
I. THE MORAL ADVENT OF CHRIST. "I come quickly," or, "I am coming quickly." There are four advents of Christ.
1. His incarnation. God was manifest in the flesh.
2. His dispensation in human history. The destruction of Jerusalem, as well as the death of individual man, are spoken of as the coming of Christ. In fact, every event in human life is a Divine advent.
3. To his spiritual influence on the human mind. He says, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you," etc. He comes to convince the world of "sin, righteousness, and judgment;" comes to establish his reign over human souls.
4. The final day of retribution. There is every reason to believe there is to be a grand crisis in human history—a crisis that shall usher in the ultimate, the permanent reign of universal retribution. All these advents are going on in every department of human life, and going on quickly. There is no suspense, no delay.
II. HIS MORAL MISSION. "Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book." "Prophecy" does not, of course, mean prognostications or idle fables, the inventions of imposture, but didactic truth, veritable facts and principles. The testimony of Christ is to eternal facts and absolute principles. Hence he himself is the Truth. He himself is the Word of God.
CONCLUSION. Brothers, let us profoundly ponder the constant comings of Christ to us. Indeed, his constant visitation preserves our existence every moment. Let us mark well that in all, in each event, he has a moral mission, some mighty testimony to the immutable realities of human life, duty, and destiny.—D.T.
Glimpses through the barrier: revelation.
"And I John am he that heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship," etc. These verses bring under our notice two or three very suggestive circumstances, which we shall merely state in the briefest; manner.
I. ETERNAL REALITIES BROUGHT TO THE CONSCIENCE OF INDIVIDUAL MAN. "And I John am he that heard and saw these things," etc. "I John," the beloved disciple of Christ. "I myself heard and saw these things." How did he hear them? And how did he see them? Was it with the outward ear or with the outward eye? I trow not; for have we not read, the whole was a vision, a kind of dream—a long, grotesque, terribly suggestive dream? In truth, all outward Vision and sight are but emblems of the mental faculties of sight and sound which are within us, and which are ever active, voluntarily and involuntarily. What are the creations of poetry, the inventions of romance, and the revellings and riotings of our visions in the night, but sights and sounds? In visions John saw this, as I have elsewhere indicated.
II. THE INSTINCT OF WORSHIP WRONGLY DIRECTED. Psychology, as well as the history of our race, show that deep in the centre of our nature is the hunger for worship. Man must have a God, whatever else he may lack. He has been called a worshipping animal. The wonderful things which came within the mind of John seem to have aroused this religious instinct to a passion. "He fell down to worship before the feet of the messenger." Superstition has ever been, and still is, one of the regnant curses of the race.
III. THE RECOIL OF GENUINE SAINTS FROM FLATTERY. "See thou do it not," etc. This angel, or messenger, a man, was superior to that vanity which will do everything, almost, to attract attention, to win a cheer or receive an empty compliment. What does he say? "See thou do it not: I am a fellow servant with thee and with thy brethren the prophets, and with them which keep the words of this book: worship God." This genuine saint, whilst he repudiated the idea of being a God, humbly identified himself with truly good men of every order, sphere, and time.
IV. THE PRACTICAL ALLEGIANCE OF CHRISTLY MEN TO ONE GOD. "Worship God." What a name! The Cause, Means, and End of all things in the universe—but sin. God! The Supreme, not only in might and wisdom, but in all goodness and truth; the one Being in the universe around whom all thoughts and sympathies should revolve in all reverence and devotion.
CONCLUSION. Here, then, are subjects for thought most quickening, elevating, and devout.—D.T.
Moral character becoming unalterable.
"He which is filthy, let him be filthy still." Detaching these words from the context, they suggest the dawning of a crisis in human history when moral character becomes unalterable. Notice—
I. THAT THE MORAL CHARACTER OF MAN SOMETIMES BECOMES UNALTERABLE BEFORE DEATH. There is reason to believe that this crisis occurs in this world. We find in the Bible, for example, such expressions as, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man;" "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone;" "If thou hadst known … the things that belonged to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes;" of men having their conscience "seared with a hot iron;" of souls being "twice dead, and plucked up by the roots." If these passages mean anything, they mean that in this life a corrupt character may become unalterable. The alteration of character requires deep thought and earnest resolve. It requires effort of the most strenuous and determined kind.
II. THAT IF IT IS NOT ALTERED BEFORE DEATH, IT IS NOT LIKELY TO BE ALTERED AT DEATH. There is no opportunity afforded at death for such a work as this. The character that has been built up by a lifetime cannot be altered in a few hours or days at most, and that in most cases amidst physical agony and moral forebodings. True, death does effect great changes in men. The greatest change is the breaking up of the bodily organization, reducing it to its primitive elements; but there is no power in this to alter character. There is no tendency in bodily changes to effect a positive reformation. Such changes in the body are constantly going on here. Once in every seven years every man receives a new body, and. yet the moral character remains unaltered. Wrong moral principles and habits do not pass away from us as the particles of our body depart day after day, and year after year. Death, therefore, seems to us powerless to effect any change in moral character.
III. THAT IF IT IS NOT ALTERED BEFORE DEATH, IT IS NOT LIKELY TO BE ALTERED AFTER DEATH.
1. A change in moral character can only be effected by the force of moral truth. Truth alone can expel errors, and generate true motives and impulses of action.
2. We cannot conceive of moral truth in a mightier form than we have it here. Truth in example is truth in its mightiest form, and the gospel is truth in the highest example; hence it is "the power of God unto salvation." Christ says, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets," etc.
3. The longer the force of truth is resisted, the less likely is it to succeed. If truth does not succeed with souls who come into the world free from all prejudices and tenderly susceptible of impressions, its probability of success in this life, we know, weakens as habits are formed and the heart grows harder. Supposing that a soul who has passed unrenovated through all the influences of moral truth in this life enters eternity, and comes under a system of truth even as powerful as the one that has worked on him here, its chances of failure on him are perhaps greater there than here. Now is the time for moral reformation. Earth is the scene for regenerating corrupt souls.—D.T.
Three facts in the moral empire of God.
"Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is," etc. These words suggest to our notice three supreme facts in the moral condition of mankind—the requital, the beatified, and the execrable.
I. THE REQUITAL. "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to each man according as his work is." "When the light of the world shines fully forth, then will each man be found to have the thing for which he has toiled. 'The wages of sin,' 'the gift of God'—each will be received in its fulness. We are continually fancying there will be some reversal of that law—that somehow we shall not reap what we have sown" (Maurice). But the fact is, the law of a requital goes on inviolably from the dawn of our moral life through all the years and ages of our existence; the sowing and the reaping are settled facts in our biographies. "With what measure we mete, it is measured to us again." Every voluntary action vibrates and reverberates through all the hills and valleys of our conscious life. Three remarks are here suggested concerning this law of requital.
1. Its action is prompt. "I come quickly." No sooner do you discharge the act than the retribution is at hand. There is not a moment's delay. "Sin lieth at the door." No sooner is the blow struck than its vibration is felt.
2. Its action, is first. "Each man according as his work is." It is with every man individually; not man in the mass, but man in the unit.
3. Its action is immutable. "Alpha and Omega." He who originated and who every instant administered this law, is the "same yesterday, today, and forever." The Beginning, the Means, and End of all things but sin. Thus, brothers, none of us can extricate ourselves from our deeds, or break our shackles of responsibilities. Nemesis is always at our heels. Though it walks with woollen feet unheard, it approaches "quickly," without a pause.
II. THE BEATIFIED. "Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have the right to come to the tree of life, and may enter in by the gates into the city." Wherein does the true blessedness of man consist? Not in his professions, or theories, or ceremonies, but in his "deeds." "Show me thy faith by thy works." Who are the men that are going constantly into eternal life? Those that do the works of the Father. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these," etc. The "deeds" of a man are not formal or occasional accidents, but the fruit of his life—the exudation and fruition of his whole life. Herein, then, is the beatification of our whole nature—keeping the commandments. Mark this beatifying—keeping the commandments. Working out the will of God involves our moral cleansing ("was their robes"); the high, moral right to the highest life as a right to come to the tree of life and to enter into the gates. "Blessed are they who do his commandments"—the commandments of Christ—that the authority may hereafter be continuously over the "tree of life, that they may have the right given them to eat forever the tree of life, and that they who have entered in may, once for all, enter in by means of the gate towers; that is, openly and without challenge, not surreptitiously or by climbing up some other way into the city. Not all shall possess this knowledge" (Vaughan).
III. THE EXECRABLE. "Without are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and every one that loveth and maketh a lie." All souls who are outside this truly beatified state—this state of practical obedience to the Divine will—are truly execrable. For outside that blessed realm of experience are "dogs"—the unclean and ravenous appendages of Eastern cities, types of all that is rapacious in human nature. And "sorcerers"—those who practise imposture in arts and religions, and trade on the credulity of ignorant men. And "fornicators"—the dissolute and immoral. And "murderers"—private assassins, hireling soldiers, and malignant spirits. And "idolaters"—those who bow down before the empty fashions of vanity, the parade of wealth, and all the pomp and glitter of titled fools. Whatsoever in the human mind rules the soul is idolatry. There is but one true God and one true worship. The true God is the one supreme Object of worship. Oh, the awful world that lies outside the realm of the good!—D.T.
The self declared titles of our Lord Jesus.
"I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the Churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright, the Morning Star." Homiletically, we employ these words in fastening attention upon two subjects of thought.
I. HE CALLS HIMSELF THE "ROOT AND OFFSPRING OF DAVID." What does this mean? Is it to be taken in a lineal sense? We are told that he came from the line of David. He was the "Son of David." He came from the same ancestral line (Luke 2:4; Luke 3:31). He was the "Son of David." Or is it to be taken in an official sense? David by the permission of Jehovah became a king. We are told that he was a "man after God's own heart." A misunderstood passage, I trow, meaning only that he was so from Divine permission. In kingly office Christ may be said to have sprung from David. But whilst lineally and officially Christ may be represented as the "Root and Offspring of David," the supposition that he sprang from him morally, or in respect to character, is an idea that must be repudiated with abhorrence. Morally, David was confessedly a very corrupt man. Christ was holy and Divine, and "separate from sinners."
II. HE CALLS HIMSELF THE "BRIGHT AND MORNING STAR." This is the "light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world," reflecting all the rays of him who is the Light, and in whom is no darkness at all. This is a Star whose orbit encircles the moral universe, whose revolutions are without pause or cessation, and whose beams no clouds can obscure, no time can quench. "Christ was the Brightness of his Father's glory."—D.T.
God's mercy towards a soul thirsting world.
"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come," etc. Men's souls everywhere burn with a thirst for a good they have not. "Who will show us any good?" God has attended to the cry, and in doing so we discover his wonderful mercy—
I. IN THE PROVISION lie HAS MADE FOR IT. "The water of life."
1. The provision is exquisitely suitable. What can quench the thirst like water? What water is to the thirsty body, the gospel is to the ever craving soul, exquisitely fitted to meet the ease.
2. The provision is absolutely free. It is free to us all. "Whosoever will." All tribes and classes of men are included in this "whosoever." It is flee, without payment, "without money and without price." The provision is as free as the air we breathe.
II. IN THE PRESSING INVITATION TO THE PROVISION.
1. The Divine Spirit says, "Come." He is constantly wooing souls to this water of life.
2. The Christian Church says, "Come." The Church takes up the invitation of the Spirit, repeats, and spreads it.
3. The mere hearer is commanded to say," Come." He on whose ear the distant echo of the word "Come" may fall, should take it up and voice it on. Thus infinite mercy has not only made such a provision, but sounds the invitation through the Spirit, through the Church, through all that hear. Come! come! come! He speaks to the world through a thousand voices.—D.T.
Revelation 22:18, Revelation 22:19
The possibility and penalty of a great crime.
"I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man," etc. In these very remarkable words we have two things—the possibility and the penalty of a great crime. The great crime is adding to and taking from the Word.
I. THE POSSIBILITY OF A GREAT CRIME. What is the possible crime so solemnly addressed to all who peruse this Apocalypse—this Apocalypse of unseen and eternal truths?
1. There is a sense in which things can be added to this book. By giving interpretation which misrepresent it. There is a sense in which things cannot be added to or taken from this book. What are those things? The absolute truth, the immutable love, the eternal rectitude, and the moral excellence of God. You cannot add to these. They are the spirit, the essence of all—the all pervading and indestructible element of the whole book. Who can destroy or add to the rudimental elements of the material universe—the elements that build up and remove mountains, that create rivers and oceans, that spread out the landscapes, plant the forest, and cause the atmosphere, the waters, and the earth itself to teem with untold millions of living things, the forms of all we see in the heavens above, and around, and beneath us? Were they all to vanish away, the rudimental element that produced all will remain indestructible—remain to produce all these objects, and ten thousand more. So in the moral domain of truth, rectitude, and love. You cannot add anything to them, nor can you take anything from them—"not one jot or tittle."
II. THE PENALTY OF A GREAT CRIME. "If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book," etc. What does he put upon this book? Vain and fanciful glosses; makes it speak of things trifling, or, still worse, makes it speak things untrue to fact; or yet worse still, makes it curse those whom God has not cursed, those whom prejudice and party spirit alone have wilfully and uncharitably set up as foes. Does he not add to the words of the prophecy? And what, again, does he who closes his Bible at the Epistle of St. Jude, and never studies or ponders the solemn or momentous pages which follow? Does he not practically take away from the words of the prophecy, and forget, at least, the blessing of those who keep and love it? From these, and all such errors, on the right hand and on the left, may God of his great mercy preserve us all! (Dr. Vaughan).—D.T.
Man hailing the judgment.
"Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." There are four states of mind amongst men in relation to the last day. Some are indifferent to it, as were the antediluvians in relation to the Deluge; some scornfully deny it, as did the infidels in the days of Peter; some are horror stricken at it, as were the demoniacs in the time of Christ; and some welcome it, as John did now. Three things are implied in this last state of mind.
I. A CONVICTION THAT SUCH A DAY WILL DAWN.
II. A CONVICTION OF A PREPAREDNESS TO ENTER ON THE TRIAL.
III. A CONVICTION THAT THE RESULTS OF THAT DAY WILL BE FRAUGHT WITH PERSONAL GOOD.—D. T.
"The grace of our Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen." What an inexpressible blessing is here anxiously desired for all mankind! A higher wish for the whole human race cannot be imagined.
I. THE CHIEF GOOD. It is "grace." Maurice takes the expression to mean "gracefulness of character—gracefulness of Jesus Christ." This means, I think, something more than favour. Even the favour of God conferred on one who lacks a graceful disposition is not likely to be rightly received or appreciated. However valuable in itself, the gift bestowed, if it is not bestowed freely and unrestrained, can never be appreciated. But a graciousness of nature or character is in itself a boon. Great favours are often bestowed in an ungracious manner; therefore, if received at all, it is with reluctance and pain. The grace of a Christly character is delicately and tenderly alive to all that is beautiful in form, and tender and courteous in our intercourse with men. Indeed, all nature is graceful. How graceful are the movements of every form of life, etc.! And all art struggles to shape itself into the gracious.
II. THE CHIEF GOOD FROM THE HIGHEST. From all beings that have ever entered this circle of humanity, Christ in goodness transcends them all. "He is our Lord" our Master, "King of kings, and Lord of lords," exalted above all principalities and powers, etc. He is Jesus, "Lord Jesus," Saviour of mankind, Christ anointed of the Father, consecrated to the highest functions under God, having in all things the preeminence.
III. THE CHIEF GOOD FROM THE HIGHEST TO ALL. "Be with you all." Not only all the Churches in Asia Minor, but all mankind everywhere. He is good to all, and "his tender mercies are over all the works of his hand." St. Paul told the savages of Lycaonia that God was sending the rain from heaven for a fruitful season. Real gracefulness is not artificial, but natural. Take trees of the same order—let it be the oak, the elm, or any other. From the one the vital sap has departed and life is extinct. It is cut into artistic forms, stained with beautiful hues; to the eye it has a charm of special beauty. The other tree, of precisely the same order, grows on the same soil from which its young roots sprang up at first. It has reached maturity; the vital sap streams through all its veins, its green and leafy branches bow down in circling forms to the mother soil. It shivers in the strong breeze, but gently moves in the zephyr. It is perpetually changing in shade, shape, and size. And then a delicious aroma pervades the whole, and scents the air with fragrance. Which of these trees, say you, is the more graceful? Not the former, however exquisitely artistic. From year to year it stands, bearing the same aspect. It wakens within you no fresh inspiration. But the latter is all gracefulness; it is graceful in all its lines, curves, and shades; graceful in all its motions, whether it bends violently to the hurricane or poses peacefully on the silent air. It is somewhat thus with men. This is the made gentleman, shaped according to all the niceties of conventional etiquette, like the aesthetic timber, without heart; and there is the true gentleman, born of all that is truly graceful in sentiment and sympathy. The snobs and flunkeys are at best but highly ornamental furniture, utterly destitute of that inner graciousness which touches all unsophisticated natures into a blessed kindredship of heart.
CONCLUSION. What can we desire more than this gracefulness of Christ? This gracefulness of Christly character pervades his whole history, character, life, and death. His spirit is the quintessence of the gospel.—D.T.
In conclusion, I would heartily recommend readers carefully to peruse the Bishop of Ripon's Excursus on the whole of this book as given below.
EXCURSUS A.—The angels of the Churches. The most usual interpretation regards the angels of the Churches as the chief ministers or presiding elders of the congregation. This interpretation is so very widely adopted that it has been mentioned in the notes; but the reader will have perceived that it is not a view which can be considered altogether satisfactory. In the first place, whatever date we accept for the Apocalypse, it is at least strange to find the titles "elders" or "bishops," which were in common use, exchanged for the doubtful one of "angel." A common explanation is that the term is derived from the synagogue staff, where the messenger, or "angel of the synagogue,'' was a recognized officer; but the transference of such a title to any office in the Christian Church is at least doubtful, and as the officer so styled was only a subordinate in the synagogue, a "clerk" or "precentor" to conduct the devotions of the worshippers, it becomes very improbable that such a term or title would have been employed to describe the presiding cider of a Christian Church. Turning to the Old Testament, it is true that the word "angel" is used in a higher sense (Haggai 1:13; Malachi 2:7), being employed to describe the messengers of God; but the usage here is different. "It is conceivable, indeed, that a bishop or chief pastor should be called an angel, or messenger of God, or of Christ, but he would hardly be styled an angel of the Church over which he presides". Thus the interpretation under consideration appears scarcely satisfactory. Others have thought the word "angel" is not to be applied to the individual presiding elder, but to the whole ministry of the Church treated as one. This view, though in some senses approaching nearer to the truth, can hardly be sustained without considerable modification. Others, again, fall back upon Jewish authorities, and see in the angels the guardian angels of the Churches. "In Daniel every nation has its ruling angel; and, according to the rabbins, an angel is placed over every people." The angel, then, would be a literal real angel, who has the guardianship of the Church in question. In popular thought, then, the angel would be one of the good angelic beings whose special duty it was to bear up the Church under its trials, by such providential ministries as were needed and ordered. There are some difficulties in accepting this interpretation. In particular, the language of rebuke which is addressed directly to the angel himself—the threatening to remove his candlestick, for example—sounds meaningless. But here it is that we may inquire whether the angel of a particular community, nation, or people is to be understood always of a good and powerful being sent forth by the Almighty to love and watch over it. It is believed that this view does not satisfy the case. It is certain that Daniel represents the guardian angels of nations as opposed to each other, and not cooperating always for the same great and good end. "The prince [guardian angel] of the kingdom of Persia withstood me," is the language addressed to Daniel by him whose face was like lightning (Daniel 10:13). Such passages seem to suggest that the "angels" are the powers in the spiritual sphere corresponding to the peoples or communities in the earthly. If the Church at Ephesus has left its first love, the angel is spoken of as sharing the same fault. The influences seen on the spiritual side correspond with those at work in the actual earthly community. The angel of the Church or of the individual thus becomes their manifestation in the heavenly sphere. For all our life is thus double; our actions have an earthly meaning, and also a heavenly; what they touch of worldly interests gives them their earthly meaning, what they touch of spiritual welfare is their heavenly meaning. Like the planets, we lie half in shadow and half in light. From the earthly side the world meaning of our actions lies in the light, and their spiritual value or force is only dimly seen as it lies in at least partial shadow; but, seen from the heavenly side, the position is reversed, the worldly significance of human action is cast into comparative shade, the actual spiritual influences of them are brought into clear light, and it is the spiritual significance of our actions which reveals what we arc; in this is concentrated the true force which we are exerting. Seen from the heavenly side, the angel of our life mingles in the great spiritual war, and takes its part as a combatant there; while on the earthly side we are seen carrying on our daily occupations. Measured on the earthly side, the balance is not struck; there is inconsistency in us; we are partly good and partly bad, sometimes helping, sometimes hindering the work of God on earth, as we judge; but the actual resultant of these inconsistent powers is seen in the heavenly sphere, either helping or thwarting the cause of good. Thus we are double combatants—in the world, for our livelihood, for our ease, for our advancement; in the heavenly, for good or for evil. And it is on the spiritual side that we lie open to spiritual influences; here, where our true self is seen more clearly than anywhere else, are the appeals to our better nature, as we say, most powerful; here he who holds the stars in his right hand makes his voice to be heard when he addresses, not merely the Church or the individual, but the angel of the Church; here he calls them to see that there is a war in heaven, in which all are combatants, but in which he is the Captain of our salvation. Here too, on the heavenly side, are the wounds of the spiritual and better nature more plainly seen; the offence or blow given to the little one of Christ is not noticed on the earthly side, but the inner nature is wounded, and the wound is seen in its real dimensions in the presence of God, for the angel nature beholds God's face. It is this thought which gives force and solemnity to our Lord's warning (Matthew 18:10). The angel of the Church, then, would be the spiritual personification of the Church; but it must not be concluded from this, as Lillig does, that these angels are in "the mind of the poet himself nothing more than imaginary existences," or reduce the angel "to be just the community or Church itself." It is no more the Church itself than the "star" is the same as the candlestick. "The star is the suprasensual counterpart, the heavenly representative; the lamp, the earthly realization, the outward embodiment." The angel is the Church seen in its heavenly representative, and seen, therefore, in the light of those splendid possibilities which are hers if she holds fast by him who holds fast the seven stars. Space forbids any treatment of the wider questions on the ministry of angels, or the nature of angelic beings. That such are recognized in Scripture there can be no doubt, and nothing written above is designed to militate against such a belief; but it seems well to remember that where we are dealing with a symbolical book it is more in harmony with its character to treat symbols as symbols. The forces of nature are God's messengers, and we may regard them as truly such, and feel that the expressions, "the angel of the waters," "the angel of fire," "the angel of the abyss," and so forth, are designed to remind us that all things serve him, and are the ministers of him, to do his pleasure; we may even believe that the various forces of nature, so little really understood by us, are under the guardianship of special personal messengers of God; but there is nothing in the imagery of the book which necessarily demands such a belief. It is, moreover, surely not inappropriate in our own day to reassert with some pertinacity the lofty thoughts of ancient belief, that winds and storms, ocean and fire, do in truth belong to him round whom are the clouds and darkness, whose is the sea, and whose hands prepared the dry land.
On the literature of this subject, see Godet's 'Studies on the New Testament;' Schaff, 'History of the Apostolic Church;' Lightfoot's article on "The Christian Ministry," in the 'Epistle to the Philippians,' pp. 193-199; Hengstenberg's lengthy note on Revelation 1:20; Professor Milligan's article, "The Candlestick and the Star," in the Expositor of September, 1878; Gebhardt, 'Der Lehrbegriff der Apokalypse,' article "Die Engel," p. 37, or p. 36 in the English translation ('The Doctrine of the Apocalypse'), published by Messrs. Clark, in the Foreign Theological Library. Also "Excursus on Angelology" in the 'Speaker's Commentary' on Daniel, p. 348; article "Angel," in Smith's 'Bible Dictionary.'
EXCURSUS B.—The wild beast. It is to be noticed that the interpretation of the whole Apocalypse is coloured by the interpretation given to the wild beast. The book, as we have seen (see 'Introduction'), is one of hope, but it is also one of warning; not without a struggle would the foe be driven from the earth where he had usurped power for so long. The devil is cast down; in the higher, the heavenly sphere, he is regarded as a fallen and defeated enemy; but this conflict has its counterpart on the arena of the world. The Apocalypse gives us in symbol some features of this conflict. It shows four powers of evil—the dragon, the first and second wild beasts, and Babylon the harlot. It is with the beast that we are now concerned, but one or two remarks on this family of evil will not be out of place.
I. THE FAMILY OF EVIL.
1. The four antagonists of good are related to one another. The resemblance between the dragon and the wild beast (comp. Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3, Revelation 17:7, Revelation 17:10) is too obvious to be passed over; it seems designed to show us that the same principle and spirit of evil is at work in both. Again, the way in which the first wild beast gives place to the second wild beast, or false prophet (comp. Revelation 13:11, Revelation 13:12; Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10), and yet retains its ascendency (comp. Revelation 13:14-17), makes plain the close connection between them; and lastly, the appearance of the harlot, riding on the scarlet-coloured beast (Revelation 17:3), completes the chain of association between them. The same principles and spirit of evil make themselves manifest in different spheres.
2. The four antagonists of good are arrayed to meet the four corresponding manifestations of good. Forevery power of good we have the three Persons of the blessed Trinity—the Throned One, the Lamb, and the Holy Spirit—besides the Church, the bride, the Lamb's wife, the heavenly Jerusalem; we have on the side of evil, the dragon, the beast, the false prophet, as a sort of trinity of evil, besides the harlot Babylon. The dragon being a kind of anti-God, the wild beast an anti-Christ, the false prophet an anti-Spirit, the Babylon an anti-Church. The minor features in the same way correspond; the true Christ died and rose again; the anti-Christ, the wild beast, was wounded unto death, but his deadly wound was healed. The crucified Christ was exalted to be Prince and Saviour, and the outpoured Spirit upon the Church glorified him by taking of the things of Christ and showing them to the disciples, and by convincing the world of sin because Christ went to the Father; the second beast, or false prophet, works wonders, causes an image of the first wild beast to be made and worshipped. The followers of the Lamb are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; the worshippers of the wild beast receive from the false prophet the mark of the beast (see Revelation 13:1-18. throughout). It is desirable to keep those lines of parody and correspondent antagonism in mind.
II. THE WILD BEAST, OR ANTI-CHRIST. It is with the wild beast that we are concerned in this Excursus; but we cannot altogether dissociate the first beast from the second, though their work is diverse.
1. The first wild beast is clearly to be connected with the vision of Daniel 7:2-7. The identification of the beast described by Daniel with four great empires is unquestionable; it is hardly our purpose to inquire whether the four empires are Babylonia, Medo-Persia, Macedonia, and Rome; or Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. The former, which is the more ancient opinion, appears the more probable; but it is enough to remember that these four beasts represent four great world powers. St. John saw rising out of the sea (comp. Daniel 7:2) not seven diverse beasts, but one seven-headed beast. Now, it is perfectly true that to the early Christians pagan and imperial Rome was the one great world power whose shadow darkened the earth, and that a seven-headed monster might well depict this pagan Rome, as a four-headed beast had represented to Daniel an earlier empire (Greece or Persia); and the wild beast of Revelation 13:1-18. from one aspect undoubtedly represents this great tyrant power; but it seems to the present writer that the genius of the Apocalypse is concentration—that which to earlier prophets was seen in detail is to the Christian seer grouped. Daniel saw four beasts rising one after another; St. John saw one wild beast uniting in himself all the early, present, and future manifestations of that world empire which has ever been hostile to the spiritual kingdom. Two reasons may be noticed—one from the Book of Daniel, and the other from Revelation. This concentration of different world powers into one representative body was not foreign to the thought of the earlier prophet. Daniel relates the vision in which the diverse monarchies of the world were represented as one huge human figure cast out of gold, silver, brass, and iron (Daniel 2:31-49); the diverse rowers were thus seen as one, and the little stone, which represented the true spiritual kingdom, in smiting upon one, caused the whole image to fall. The world kingdoms were thus seen in prophetic vision as one great age long world power, which must be smitten by Christ's kingdom. The Book of Revelation also gives us a hint that the sevenfold aspect of the wild beast must not be given too limited or too local an interpretation. The wild beast, with seven heads and ten crowns, is in these features reproducing the appearance of the red dragon, who is also represented as having seven heads and ten crowns (comp. Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1). Now, the dragon is surely the type of the great arch enemy, the devil, the anti-God; the seven heads and ten crowns denote that he is the prince of this world, who has more or less animated the successive great world powers by hostility to righteousness; the empires of the world have been his in so far as they have been founded on force or fraud, oppression or unholiness. When, then, the seven-headed wild beast rises from the sea, must we not see in the seven heads the counterpart of those which the dragon bore? The dragon carries those seven heads, as he is the great spiritual prince of this world, the one who is practically worshipped in all mere world made empires. The wild beast carries these seven heads because he is the great representative of all these world powers them selves; and what may give almost certainty to this interpretation is the fact that the wild beast unites in himself the appearances of leopard, bear, and lion, which were the emblems employed by Daniel to represent earlier monarchies. Actually at the moment St. John saw the vision, the wild beast was to him Rome, because through Rome the great world empire was then working. The seven heads might also look like types of successive emperors; but the more important, because age long, reading of the vision sets before us the concentration in one great monstrous wild beast of all these powers. Powers which were diverse and even politically hostile were yet ethically one power opposed to the fundamental principles of righteousness and peace, of purity and true ,godliness. The first wild beast, then, becomes the symbol of confederated and age long world powers.
2. The second wild beast as allied with the first. His origin is not of God; he is of the earth. He is more peaceable in his appearance than the first beast, but his speech bewrays him; the dragon voice is his, and he revives the worship of the first wild beast. In him, therefore, are combined the powers of the dragon and the first wild beast. Yet he yields homage to existing order; unlike the first wild boast, which rises out of our ocean of disorder and tumult, he springs out of the earth. He assumes in part, also, a Christian appearance; he is as a lamb. These features would lead us to expect a power not wholly irreligious—indeed, in some features Christian, yet practically pagan; observing order, yet arrogant; a second power resembling the first, yet possessing a more specious appearance to mankind. It is on this second wild beast that the seer bids us fasten our marked attention. It is this second wild beast who deceives by false wonders and false worship, and introduces a great and grinding tyranny. It is this second wild beast to whom is attributed the mysterious number 666. It is well now to turn back to earlier writings. In Daniel 7:1-28. we read of a "little horn," and in the description there we find much that is parallel with the description here (comp. Daniel 7:8 with Revelation 13:5; Daniel 7:21 with Revelation 13:7). This "little horn" of Daniel has been identified (comp. 'Excursus on Interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12') with the "man of sin" spoken of by St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Some think that the little horn of Daniel 7:1-28. is identical with the horn of Revelation 8:1-13. Into this question we not have space to enter; it will be enough here to keep in mind that St. Paul looked for the manifestation of an antichrist, a man of sin, whose type in all likelihood he found in the little horn of Daniel 7:1-28.; and that the picture of the antichrist painted by St. Paul is that of a power not professedly irreligious, but yet claiming from mankind the homage due to God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). This seems quite in harmony with the characteristics of the second wild beast, who, it is to be remembered, is described (Revelation 16:13; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10) as the "false prophet." We may, then, take the second wild beast as the picture of a power, cultured, quasi-religious, borrowing much from Christianity, yet built upon anti-Christian principles, and animated by an anti-Christian spirit.
3. The identification of the wild beast, false prophet, or antichrist. "Ye have heard that antichrist shall come" (1 John 2:18). This is St. John's acknowledgment of the widespread belief that a great falling away shall precede the second coming of Christ. Here he is at one with St. Paul, but it is consistent with the spirit of St. John's thought that he should remind his hearers that the spirit of antichrist was abroad already, and that in a present antagonism to this spirit lay true Christian duty; accordingly he indicates in more than one place what were some features of the antichristian spirit (1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:1-3). It is also significant that he uses the phrase, "false prophet," reminding us of the Apocalypse, which identifies, as we have seen, the wild beast, or antichrist, with the false prophet. St. John thus appears to regard the spirits and false prophets abroad in his day as at least anticipations of the great future antichrist and false prophet. Actually there were antichrists then in the world; but the prophetic ideal of all these was as one great antichrist. In the Apocalyptic vision the scattered spirits grew into one great representative opponent—the wild beast, the false prophet. Is there, then, no personal antichrist? It has been ably argued (see 'Excursus on Prophecy of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17.') that the man of sin must be an individual. There are certain expressions which seem to point to a single person, notably the remarkable use of the masculine gender when the wild beast is referred to (see Revelation 13:5); but it seems more consonant with the symbolism of the Apocalypse to regard the wild beast as the figurative embodiment of the false, seductive, anti-Christian principle and spirit, which belongs to more ages than one, which reveals itself in diverse aspects, and yet always manifests the same hostility to the Divine Spirit. It must not, however, be supposed that this view denies a personal antichrist. On the contrary, it is perfectly in harmony with this view to note that the wild beast spirit has often culminated in an individual; the typical forecasts of antichrist have often been individuals. Antiochus Epiphanes, Herod, Nero, might fairly be regarded as the incarnation of the ungodly spirit. Similarly, in later ages, it is not to be wondered at that holy, Christ taught men, groaning for the sorrows of the world and the corruptions of Christianity, saw in many who occupied the papal chair the very representatives of the false prophet, the antichrist. Not more need it surprise us to find the same thought passing through men's minds when pretensions which would be ridiculous if they were not blasphemous have been advanced on behalf of the Roman pontiff, till the Church becomes a parody rather than a witness of Divine truths. It follows that the view here maintained does not exclude the possibility of a future personal antichrist, in whom the typical features shall yet find clearer and fuller manifestation than in any previous age. But though all this may be, and though godly men tell us that all these things must be, it appears to the writer infinitely more important to notice the principles which may constitute the antichrist in every age—the denial of the Father and the Son (1 John 2:22); the denial of the Mediator and incarnate God (1 John 4:2, 1 John 4:3); the arrogant claim of Divine honours, the specious resemblance to him who is the Lamb of God, the disregard of sacred ties (2 Thessalonians 2:10; 1 Timothy 4:3); the possession of wonderful power and culture (Revelation 13:11-14). The spirit which is depicted is one which might well develop one of the elements around us. It would not be impossible to imagine the rankest materialism allying itself with a gorgeous ritual, to see the high priests of science acquiescing in the most elaborate of ecclesiasticisms, and the agnostic in creed becoming so ceremonialist in worship, till the satire should be only too sadly true, "I found plenty of worshippers, but no God." We should then have every element in human nature allowed its nutriment—for the mind, science; for the emotions, worship; for the conduct, direction. The tripartite nature of man would be thus provided for; but the unity of his manhood would be at an end, for the worship would be unintelligent, the moral tone lifeless, because deprived of the vital sense of personal responsibility, and the intellect uninspired, because godless. Such an age would be the reign of that climax of antichristian spirit which is the perfection of man's powers without God, foreshadowed by the mysterious number 666, which is seeming exaltation of all human powers, but which is, in truth, their degradation and their discord.
III. THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST. It would serve but little purpose to recapitulate the various solutions of the number of the beast. An account of them will be found in Elliott (vol. 3.). The most ancient, and perhaps most general, solution sees in the number the equivalent of Latenios. Others see in it the numerical equivalent of one of the Roman emperors. Nero, advocated by Renan; Otho, advocated by an Italian writer, who accounts for the reading "616" instead of "666" by the alteration made by the copyist to suit the name of another emperor, Caligula; Γαίος Καισάρ, 616. None of these numerical solutions appears to the writer adequate to the whole depth of the seer's meaning, though they may be included in the significance of the symbol.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 22". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany