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And after these things. Μετὰ τοῦτο, or, as some cursives read, μετὰ ταῦτα, is generally regarded as denoting the close of the sixth seal and the commencement of a new subject, interjected by way of episode between the sixth and seventh seals. But, even if not looked upon as an integral part of the revelations made under the sixth seal, the connection is so close that the two must be regarded practically as one. The incidents of the seventh chapter are evidently the complement of those narrated in the closing verses of the sixth. They take up the question with which that chapter closes, "Who is able to stand?" and afford comfort and help to those suffering Christians who were so sorely in need of a renewed assurance of the certainty of their final reward. It seems better, therefore, on the whole, to consider the sixth seal to extend to the end of Revelation 7:1-17. Vitringa takes this view, which appears to be supported also by Wordsworth. Alford, while separating Revelation 7:1-17 from Revelation 6:1-17, as "two episodes," remarks, "The great day of the Lord's judgment is not described; it is all but brought before us under the sixth seal, and is actually going on in the first of these episodes." I saw four angels. Of the nature of these angels we are told nothing. They are evidently ministers of God's will, and the mention of them following immediately upon the preceding description seems to connect the whole account more closely with Matthew 24:29, Matthew 24:30, where the angels gather the elect from the four winds. It does not seem probable that "evil angels" are meant as understood by some writers, since what they do is apparently done at the command of God. Standing on the four corners of the earth. That is, standing in the four opposite directions, and thus controlling all the earth (cf. Isaiah 11:12; Revelation 20:8). The number four is the symbol of universality and of creation (see on Revelation 5:9). Holding the four winds of the earth (cf. Jeremiah 49:36; Daniel 7:2; Matthew 24:31). The angels may have been the "angels of the winds," just as in Revelation 14:18 an angel has power over fire, and in Revelation 16:5 we read of the "angel of the waters." The winds have been interpreted in two ways, neither of which seems strictly correct. The first is to give a literal meaning (as Dusterdieck) to the winds, and to understand literal windstorms as part of the judgment upon the earth. The second method interprets the winds as symbols of the judgments of the first six seals, which are held in suspension, while the elect are sealed. The truth probably is that the winds, like the earthquake, the rolling up of the heaven as a scroll, etc., are part of the figurative description of the destruction of the world at the judgment day; which destruction, like that of Sodom, is delayed for the preservation of God's elect. That the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. Πᾶν δένδρον, "every tree," is read in א, P, l, 36, Andreas, etc. The earth, the sea, the trees, are mentioned as things likely to be affected by the action of the winds; the two former, of course, embracing those things situated upon them, and the last being specially mentioned, perhaps, as a class of things which are peculiarly liable to destruction from wind. Wordsworth and others, interpreting symbolically, consider that the blasts of wind on the earth typify earthly powers, opposed to those of heaven, while the sea is emblematic of nations in a state of agitation against God, and the trees represent the great ones of this world. This interpretation, therefore, regards the objects mentioned as the enemies of God, which, by his command, are preserved from destruction and allowed to flourish in ease and apparent security, until the time of the sealing of God's servants has been accomplished. But it seems better to regard the winds as forming part of the general description by which God's judgment is foreshadowed. It is not unusual in the Bible for the wind to be mentioned in connection With destruction and judgment (cf. 1 Kings 19:11; Job 1:19; Job 21:18; Job 30:15; Psalms 1:4; Psalms 147:18; Isaiah 11:15; Isaiah 27:8; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 41:16; Jeremiah 22:22 : Daniel 2:35; Daniel 7:2).
And I saw another angel ascending from the east; from the rising of the sun. Again no individual angel is particularized, though an archangel may be intended, as he has authority over the first four. He proceeds from that quarter whence comes light; and, like the Sun of Righteousness, he rises with healing in his wings; for his mission is to render secure the servants of God. Wordsworth thinks Christ, or a messenger from Christ, is meant—a view shared by Hengstenberg; Vitringa says the Holy Ghost; Victorinus, the Prophet Elijah. That this angel was of like nature with the first four appears probable from the words in Revelation 7:3, "till we have sealed the servants of our God." Having the seal of the living God. The sealing instrument with which they seal God's servants. Of its nature we are told nothing beyond what is contained in Revelation 7:3. He is specially referred to as "the living God," since, by this sealing, life is imparted. We have here the shorter expression, "the living God," not, as in all ether places of the Apocalypse, "him that liveth forever and ever" (see Revelation 4:9; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 10:6; Revelation 15:7). And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels (cf. Revelation 1:10; Revelation 5:2; Revelation 6:10) to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea; that is, by letting loose the winds, as shown by Revelation 7:1 and Revelation 7:3. Bengel and Rinck, looking only at the immediate context, thought that the hurt was done by preventing the winds from blowing on the earth and cooling it in the scorching plagues which follow (Revelation 8:7). The trees are not mentioned, being included in the earth; and this appears to indicate that the expression, "the earth, the sea, and the trees" (Revelation 7:1 and Revelation 7:3), signifies the world in general, without being intended to represent individual parts, as the great men, etc. (see on Revelation 5:1).
Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees. Hurt not, by loosing the four winds, as stated on Revelation 7:2. The destruction prepared for the guilty world is not allowed to fall until God's elect have been gathered in, and preserved free from danger (cf. Matthew 24:31, where immediately after the appearance of the Son of man, his elect are gathered from the four winds). (For the signification of the earth, the sea, and the trees, see on Revelation 7:1 and Revelation 7:2.) Till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. The angel associates himself with the first four, as being on an equality with them in this work, although he alone is stated to possess the seal (Revelation 7:2). Of the nature of the sealing nothing more is indicated. The forehead is naturally mentioned as being the most conspicuous part of man, as well as that which we are accustomed to regard as the noblest and most vital part. The idea may be compared with that in Ezekiel 9:4, Ezekiel 9:6. It is remarkable, too, that the word in Ezekiel rendered "mark" is the name of the Hebrew letter tau, of which the ancient form was a cross (cf. the sign of the cross in baptism; also Revelation 3:12, "I will write upon him the Name of my God... and my new Name;" and Revelation 14:1, "Having his Father s Name written in their foreheads"). "The servants of our God," says Bengel, is a title which especially belongs to holy men in Israel (cf. Genesis 1:17; Deuteronomy 32:36; Isaiah 61:6). Those who hold the preterist view believe that the Christians who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem are indicated by this expression. The sealed are probably these referred to by our Lord in Matthew 24:22, Matthew 24:24, Matthew 24:31, as "the elect."
And I heard the number of them which were sealed. The description of the actual operation of sealing is omitted (cf. Ezekiel 9:1-11., where it is also omitted). And there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand. Omit "and there were." This number—the square of 12 multiplied by 1000—is typical of a large and perfect number. No one has ever said that the number should be taken literally; and there are evident reasons why it could not be so intended. We have, therefore, to inquire what is its symbolical signification. The number 12 is always typical, in the Apocalypse and elsewhere, of a complete and perfect number. It is formed of 4 multiplied by 3. Four is generally representative of the created universe, and 3 of the Godhead (see Revelation 5:9). 4 plus 3, that Isaiah 7:0; and 4 multiplied by 3, that Isaiah 12:0, indicate a perfect number—a number which includes and embraces everything. And thus 12 multiplied by 12 denotes the most exhaustive and perfect completion. The number 1000 is generally used to denote a large and complete, but somewhat uncertain, number (cf. Revelation 14:1; Revelation 20:2; Revelation 21:16, etc.). Thus the square of 12 multiplied by 1000 has the signification of a large number not definitely fixed, but nevertheless perfect; that is to say, not omitting a single one of those who should be included in the number. We are therefore taught that at the judgment day, before the destruction of the world is allowed to take place, a large number, consisting of those who have proved themselves to be God's servants, will be preserved and set apart; and that, although the number may be large, yet it will be perfect, not one of those who are worthy to be selected being overlooked or forgotten. This number subsequently is increased, being included in the "great multitude which no man could number" of Revelation 7:9, and which is formed by the whole company of the redeemed. Of all the tribes of the children of Israel. The Authorized Version here appears to give the correct sense of πᾶς, "every." The number is made up not necessarily by an equal number from each tribe, but by a number from the twelve tribes viewed as a whole. As explained above, the number one thousand, though signifying "completeness," is not a definite number. Here, as elsewhere, it is the spiritual Israel which is signified. In support of this view, we may remark:
(1) The constant use in the Apocalypse of the terms" Israel," "Jew," "Jerusalem," etc., in the spiritual sense; and it seems scarcely credible that the writer of the book, who throughout insists on the fulfilment in the Christian religion of all things Jewish, should in this place, for no apparent reason, deliberately make a distinction between Jew and Gentile. The terms are constantly used to denote the spiritual Israel, the spiritual Jerusalem, etc., except where allusion is made to some historical fact, as in Revelation 2:14; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 22:16; Revelation 15:3 (cf. Jews, Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9; Israel, Revelation 21:12; Jerusalem, Revelation 3:12 and Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:10; Babylon, Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 18:2, Revelation 18:10, Revelation 18:21; Sodom and Egypt, Revelation 11:8; Euphrates, Revelation 9:14; Revelation 16:12; Sion, Revelation 14:1; Jezebel, Revelation 2:20; David, Revelation 3:7; Gentiles, Revelation 11:2).
(2) The improbability of the omission of the tribe of Dan, if the literal Israel were meant.
(3) The general testimony of ancient commentators, which is the view of those who appointed this passage for use in the Liturgy on All Saints' Day. Some, however, have considered that the hundred and forty-four thousand are distinct from, and not included in, the multitude of verse 9. They believe the former indicates the converted from among the Jews, and the latter those saved from the Gentiles. Thus Bengel, Dusterdieck, Ebrard, Grotius, etc. But it may be remembered that in Revelation 14:3, Revelation 14:4, the hundred and forty-four thousand redeemed from the earth and from among men is not confined to Jews. By other commentators the number has been thought to denote converts in the age of Constantine, etc.
Of the tribe of Juda were sealed twelve thousand. There are various lists of the tribes in the Old Testament, no two of which present the same names in the same order. It does not seem probable that any special design underlies the selection and arrangement here. First, with regard to the selection, we observe that Dan and Ephraim are omitted, the number being completed by inserting Levi, Joseph, and Manasseh. Although Ephraim and Manasseh are sometimes inserted instead of Joseph and Levi, and sometimes omitted, there seems only one example of a list in which any one of the others is omitted, viz. that in Deuteronomy 33:1-29., where no mention is made of Simeon. It has been thought that Simeon was purposely passed over by Moses on account of his ill conduct (see Genesis 34:1-31.)—conduct for which, unlike Levi, he afterwards made no sufficient atonement. This has led many commentators (Hengstenberg, Wordsworth, etc.) to conclude that Dan finds no place here because of the idolatrous worship of the tribe (Judges 18:1-31.). Many ancient writers (Bede, Andreas, etc.) account, somewhat similarly, for the omission by supposing that, in accordance with a very commonly received opinion, antichrist would arise from this tribe—an opinion probably originated by a comparison of the "serpent" of Genesis 49:17 with Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2. A third group, amongst whom are Ebrard, Dusterdieck, De Wette, Grotius, referring to an ancient Jewish tradition that the tribe of Dan had become extinct, and relying on the omission of this tribe in 1 Chronicles 4-7.—though Hushim (1 Chronicles 7:12) may be the sons of Dan (see Genesis 46:23)—believe that the children of Dan no longer existed, and were therefore omitted. In the insertion of the name Manasseh (i.e. "Forgetting") Bengel sees an intended allusion to the omission of Dan, who is, he thinks, omitted for some mysterious reason. Ewald believes that St. John wrote ΔΑΝ, and that MAN., the abbreviated form of "Manasses," was substituted by error; and he appeals to manuscripts 9, 13, which, however, have "Dan" in place of "Gad." Moreover, Irenaeus, Origen, Arethas, have "Manasseh," and state plainly that Dan was omitted. It is certainly curious in connection with this conjecture that, if it were true, that is to say, if "Dan" should be read in place of "Manasseh," we should have a more intelligible order of arrangement. In that case, speaking generally, the elder sons would come first, the younger last; all the pairs of brothers are kept together (only that, in the case of the six brothers, there is a division into two lots); Judah naturally is placed first before Reuben, owing to the prominent place held by him in the Apocalypse in connection with our Lord. The order would then be—
Sons of Leah.—Juda, Reuben Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zabulon
Sons of Zilpah.—Gad, Aser
Sons of Bilhah.—Nepthalim, [Dan,]
Sons of Rachel.—Joseph, Benjamin
Of the tribe of Reuben were sealed twelve thousand. As remarked above, Judah probably precedes Reuben from the greater importance he would possess in the mind of the writer of the Apocalypse, who continually exalts Christ, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5). Of the tribe of Gad were sealed twelve thousand.
Of the tribe of Aser were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Nepthalim were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Manasses were sealed twelve thousand. (For the insertion of Manasses and the omission of Dan, as well as the order of the names of the tribes, see on Revelation 7:5)
Of the tribe of Simeon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Levi were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Issachar were sealed twelve thousand. Though Levi was excluded in the partition of the earthly Canaan, he is included among the partakers of the heavenly Canaan.
Of the tribe of Zabulon were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Joseph were sealed twelve thousand. Of the tribe of Benjamin were sealed twelve thousand, Ephraim is omitted, while Manasses is inserted. Wordsworth considers that this is on account of the rebellions character of the tribe of Ephraim (see 1 Kings 12:25; Isaiah 7:9, Isaiah 7:17; Hosea 5:1-15., etc.). But Ephraim is sometimes identical with Joseph (cf. Psalms 78:67; Ezekiel 37:16), who here finds a place among the twelve.
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number; after these things, I saw, and behold a great multitude, etc. Here, as in Revelation 7:1, a fresh phase of the vision occurs. indicated by μετὰ ταῦτα, "after these things;" but not, perhaps, commencing (as so many writers think) an entirely new and disconnected vision. It is the immediate prelude to the opening of the seventh seal (see on Revelation 8:1). Revelation 6:1-17. recounts the terrors of God's judgments on the wicked, and especially those of the final judgment; but lest the godly should be dismayed and ask, "Who is able to stand" (Revelation 6:17) on that great day? it is revealed that the faithful are first selected and preserved. This occupies the first eight verses of Revelation 7:1-17. But all is not yet quite ready for the opening of the seventh and last seal. There is, besides those sealed on the last day, an innumerable company with whom the former are joined in one body; and a glimpse is afforded of their conjoint adoration and of that supreme bliss which is entered upon, but not described, under the seventh seal. The "great multitude which no man could number" includes, therefore, the hundred and forty-four thousand of Revelation 7:4. They have escaped the terror of the final judgment of the world (see Revelation 7:3), but have formerly experienced tribulation (see Revelation 7:14). Of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues; out of every nation and [all] tribes and peoples and tongues. The classification, as in Revelation 5:9, is fourfold, symbolical of completeness in matters of creation (see on Revelation 5:9; Revelation 4:6, etc.). Stood before the throne, and before the Lamb; standing before, etc. We are carried back to the description given in Revelation 4:1-4 and Revelation 5:6-11. Clothed with white robes; arrayed in (Revised Version). See on Revelation 4:4 and Revelation 6:2 for white—the emblem of victory and righteousness. And palms in their hands. Φοίνιξ, "palm," occurs in the New Testament only in this place and in John 12:13. Trench states that no symbol of heathen origin is used in the Apocalypse; and he connects the palm-bearing multitude with the celebration of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Wordsworth and Hengstenberg take the same view; and there is much to be said in favour of it, though Alford and others connect the image rather with the Greek and Roman sign of victory. In the first place, the word is used by St. John in John 12:13, where doubtless it is connected with the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. Secondly, the use of such an image would more naturally occur to one so familiar with Jewish customs and ritual as the writer of the Apocalypse; and, moreover, the idea commemorated by this feast—that of the enjoyment of rest and plenty, the possession of the promised Canaan after toil and delay—is peculiarly applicable to the condition of those here described. Thirdly, the idea seems carried on in the mind of the writer, and referred to in John 12:15 in the words, "shall spread his tabernacle over them" (see Revised Version).
And cried with a loud voice; and they cry, etc. The present tense expresses the unceasing nature of their occupation (Alford). Saying, Salvation to our God; that is, "The praise and honour due for our salvation belongs to God, since he is the Cause of our salvation." Note the similarity to the "Hosanna" of the palm-bearing multitude of the Feast of Tabernacles (see John 12:13; John 2:0 Macc. 10:6, 7; Psalms 118:25). Which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. To the Triune God, and to the Lamb (see on Revelation 4:2; cf. Revelation 5:13; Revelation 12:10).
And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts; were standing … the four living beings. (For a consideration of the positions here indicated, see on Revelation 5:11.) The throne in the centre with the four living beings was surrounded by the elders, having the Lamb in the midst, between the throne and the elders. Forming a circle round the whole were the angels. (On the elders as representing the Church, and the four living creatures as symbolical of creation, see on Revelation 4:4, Revelation 4:6.) And fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God. As in Revelation 5:14 and Revelation 11:16, Revelation 11:17, praise is accompanied by adoration and worship.
Saying, Amen. In Revelation 5:14 the four living creatures respond "Amen" to the praises uttered by the angels; here, in response to the praise offered by the redeemed in Revelation 5:10, the angels utter "Amen," preparatory to joining in the universal adoration. Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen. The blessing, etc.; that is, "all blessing," etc. (see on Revelation 4:11). The terms of the ascription are the same as those in Revelation 5:12, except that we have here εὐχαριστία, "thanksgiving," substituted for πλοῦτος, "riches" (see on Revelation 5:12). The sevenfold character of the ascription of praise denotes its universal and all-embracing character (see on Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1).
And one of the elders answered. The elder speaks because he is typical of the Church, concerning which the exposition which he delivers is to be made (see on Revelation 4:4). Where an explanation is made of visions which refer to the Church, the active part is taken by the elders, while angels introduce visions of which the signification is unexplained (cf. Revelation 5:2; Revelation 7:1, Revelation 7:2; Revelation 8:1-13.; Revelation 10:1, Revelation 10:3, etc.; and Revelation 5:5). Saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? The elder questions that he may teach (Bede).
And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest; and I say unto him, My lord (Revised Version). The expression denotes the utmost respect and reverence, which afterwards induce the seer to worship the angel (see Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8). The structure of this part of the vision recalls Ezekiel 37:3, "And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest" (cf. Zechariah 4:2, Zechariah 4:4, Zechariah 4:5; John 12:21). And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation; which come out of the great tribulation (Revised Version). The repeated article is especially emphatic. The question arises What is "the great tribulation" referred to? Probably all the tribulation which has been passed through by the redeemed, all that which pertained to the life though which they have passed. This tribulation is now completed and past, and is therefore referred to as "the great tribulation." "These are they which have passed through the great tribulation of their life on earth." This is the view taken by Alford. Dusterdieck refers the expression to the last great trial of the saints before the coming of the Lord. Some point to particular persecutions as the reference intended, and others consider that "the last great trial to be expected under the seventh seal" is meant. And have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; and they washed, etc. That is, during their past life, while they were experiencing the great tribulation, they washed their robes (cf. Revelation 3:4, Revelation 3:5, where those who have "not defiled their garments" and those "that overcome" are to be clothed in white). Those that overcome and are undefiled, therefore, are those who have washed themselves in the blood of the Lamb, through which only their victory is possible or effective. Arethas, Bede, De Lyra, consider that the robes are washed of those who have endured martyrdom, and that they are washed in the blood of the Lamb, because it is the blood of his members.
Therefore are they before the throne of God. That is, because they have been washed, and have their robes made white, they are before the throne (cf. Ephesians 5:25-27, "Christ loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it,… that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle," etc.). And serve him day and night in his temple. As described in Revelation 4:8, Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:8-14; Revelation 7:12; Revelation 11:15, etc. Temple (ναός) is here, as in Revelation 3:12, the "dwelling place, the shrine, of God, i.e. heaven. Thus are the redeemed made "pillars" in his temple (Revelation 3:12). And he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them; shall spread his tabernacle over them (Revised Version). The same verb that occurs in John 1:14; Revelation 12:12; Revelation 13:6; Revelation 21:3. The allusion (not an uncommon one with St. John) is to the Shechinah which overshadowed the mercy seat. God's presence among them, co-dwelling with them, is the happiness of his people (of. John 17:24, "Father, I will that they also be with me," etc.; 1 John 3:2, "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is ").
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat; shall the sun strike upon them (Revised Version). The passage is evidently founded upon Isaiah 49:10 (cf. the punishment of the fourth vial, Revelation 16:8).
For the Lamb which is in the midst-of the throne shall feed them; shall be their Shepherd. Compare the description of the position of the Lamb given in Revelation 5:6. The position here indicated is the same as that there described. The Lamb is between the throne and those surrounding it, towards the middle of the throne. Christ is set forth in the character of Shepherd, as in John 10:11 and John 21:16. And shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and shall guide them unto fountains of waters of life (Revised Version). "Of life" is an addition to the passage as found in Isaiah (cf. John 7:37-39, where the expression is used of the Holy Spirit). And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. A reference to the tribulation of verse 14.
The Church on earth, sealed in the great tribulation.
The visions of this chapter are set between the sixth and seventh seals. The great tribulation, to which the opening of the sixth seal is the prelude, is not that of the final day of wrath, for we are but at the sixth seal, and not the seventh. Nor can this great tribulation be any merely local calamity, for according to Revelation 7:9-14 those coming out of it are of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues. It is so widespread and terrible as almost to force upon us the question, "Who shall live when God doeth this? What will become of the Church?" To such an inquiry this chapter is our answer. It shows us the Church in two divisions. The first division is on earth, sealed in the great tribulation; the second division is in heaven, caught up out of the great tribulation. In this homily we deal with the first division. By the first three verses of the chapter we are clearly taught that the work of destructive convulsion is held in suspense, until the work of the sealing is done. Four angels are "holding the four winds of the earth;" another, coming from the sunrising, has the seal of the living God. Until every one of the servants of God are marked off from the rest, no judgment is to fall. This sealing is impressed on the hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel. Here we have the figures of the old covenant brought forward to illustrate the blessedness of those under the new, yet surely the restrictions of the old covenant are not to be retained. These sealed servants of God are not the natural, but the spiritual Israel, even "the Israel of God." Hence our theme is—The servants of God preserved in great tribulation; or, good men kept in bad times. £
I. THERE ARE, IN THE WORD OF GOD, INTIMATIONS OF DARK AND HEAVY STORMS BURSTING OVER THE EARTH. The tribulation, during which these sealed ones are guarded, is plainly the one referred to immediately before, indicated also in Revelation 7:14 of this chapter, as "the tribulation, the great one." That we must regard this as indicative of manifold upheavings in different lands and ages is evident, not only from the considerations specified in preceding homilies, but also from the fact that those who are seen by the apostle as "coming" out of it are from all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues. Again and again wars, famine, pestilences, persecutions, revolutions, will desolate the earth, recurring again and again, ere the end shall come, at divers places and at divers times. There is, moreover, some great mystery of lawlessness which is yet to break forth. And again and again may the Church have to recall her Saviour's words, "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." No judgment from the hand of God is or can be so perilous for the world as these outbreaks of human sin. We know how they will end. The Lord will "consume them by the Spirit of his mouth, and destroy them with the brightness of his coming." But meanwhile, many will depart from the faith, but not all. For—
II. AMID THE SEVEREST TRIBULATIONS THERE WILL BE SOME WHO ARE THE SERVANTS OF GOD. It seems to us unquestionable that we are to regard the "Israel" here, not as the Jewish, but the Christian commonwealth, although here, as so often throughout the book, Jewish imagery is employed. But according to the text, it is not the whole of each tribe that are marked as the servants of God, only a number out of them. "They are not all Israel that are of Israel." "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly." "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven." They who are really with Christ are "called, and chosen, and faithful." They "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." And when the sorest and severest trials come, there will certainly be many who are the true Israel of God.
III. ON EVERY SERVANT OF GOD THERE IS A GRACIOUS EYE. In the midst of a world's sin and unbelief they are recognized individually as bearing a distinct and separate character. Each one is known. No one is confounded with another. "The eye of the Lord is on them that fear him." Every one is known who sighs and cries over the abominations of Jerusalem. "They that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard it." Every infant voice that prays is heard amid the roar of the elements and the crash of worlds. Every household altar, every family circle bending before the throne, every group of friends holding converse on the things of God,—all, all are known on high. Each one is the object of loving and of infinite regard. Not one is left outside the holy thought and care of our redeeming God. He watches over all. He singles out each.
IV. CONSEQUENTLY, ON EVERY SERVANT OF GOD THERE IS A SPECIAL SEAL. When the Israelites were to be marked off from the Egyptians, there was the sign on their door posts—the blood of the slain lamb. When, in Ezekiel's vision, the angel of destruction goes forth, the cry is heard, "Go not near the men on whom is my mark." Again and again in the New Testament is there mention of a Divine "seal" on believers. The symbol is reproduced here. The seal is
(1) a token of redemption;
(2) a mark of possession;
(3) an indication of resemblance;
(4) a badge of service;
(5) a pledge of security.
The mark is, indeed, visible to no human eye. It is graven by no human hand. The writing is by the finger of God, and it cannot be obliterated. Whatever the trouble may be that sweeps over the world, the sealed one will never be lost in the crowd.
V. ON ALL WHO BEAR THIS SEAL, DIVINE PROTECTION SHALL REST. So runs the text. "Hurt not … until." Divine judgments are represented as actually being kept back for their sakes. We get the same thought in the Book of Genesis: "I cannot do anything till thou be come thither." We have its equivalent in the Lord's own words, "But there shall not a hair of your head perish." And if it were necessary for the safety of one servant of God, the lightning should be held in check, and the thunders forbear to roll, till that one had escaped out of danger. Nor must we lose sight of the Divine purpose in this. It is that there may be a living seed of virtue and piety left on earth whatever judgments may befall. How that may yet be secured we cannot say. We can but gather from what God has already done. We know:
1. That God has wondrously guarded the life of believers in times of peril: Daniel; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; Ezra; Rafaravavy; Luther.
2. That they have been kept alive in famine: Elijah. Again and again is it proved here, "They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing." Amid the darkest and the hardest times, when perils have abounded, when doctrine has been corrupted and even disowned, then has God kept for himself "a holy seed," and has enabled his witnesses to put on an "armour of light," from which foul error glanced off in the twinkling of an eye! This is the history of the past. This is the fact of the present. This is the forecast for the future. The same faithful care of which many can even now bear witness shall be continued till the last believer is safely gathered home.
VI. THE DOCTRINES TAUGHT IN THIS SECTION ARE FULL OF BLESSED TEACHING.
1. The fact that there is a Divine recognition of every true and pure one, even in the worst of times, should inspire every struggler for the right with a holy courage. Some may, in severe struggles, be so disheartened that they are ready to say, "It is of no use. I cannot breast the storm. I'll give up. The conflict is too severe." No, no. Let them pause ere coming to such a conclusion. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect towards him." If they are clinging to the Lord, his seal is on them. He sees them. He cares for them, and he will bring them through.
2. This fact should lead to the fresh exercise of holy trust. The representation of our text is a revelation to faith. It would be valuable, even though it were but the reasonable tenet of a philosopher; but it is priceless as the revelation of our God. In the former light it would be attainable by the few; in the latter it is addressed to all. It is a Divine assurance in which faith may find infinite repose. "God is my Salvation: I will trust, and not be afraid."
3. This fact is also of great service as an illustration of the Divine method of securing the triumph of righteousness and truth, viz. by preserving in the world men who are right and true. There is no other way. But there is this. It is God's way, and it is one the carrying out of which he alone can ensure. God will shake the heavens and the earth, but only with the view of ensuring that "things which cannot be shaken may remain." God will let nothing be lost which is worth keeping. "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." But all that is good and pure and God-like will live through every storm.
4. This fact shows us what infinite joy and wisdom attach to the service of God. "In peaceful times, when matters go well," says one, "and there is a fair wind, one is not so deeply sensible of this ... But when times of tribulation and chastisement arise, then does the Divine election form a blessed feature in the condition of those who are under the protection of the Almighty." Whatever the storm carries off, that which belongs to God must remain unharmed. Then it is no vain thing to serve the Lord. It is worth while to be faithful even in the most troublous times.
5. This fact shows up most strikingly the old truth that "the Lord doth put a difference" between those who are his and those who are not. Always the difference is infinite. But it is not always manifest. It will be some day. "Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not." When "every mountain and island are moved out of their places," and every refuge of lies shames those who have hidden therein, all who are on the "Rock of ages" shall be eternally secure!
The Church above, caught up out of the great tribulation.
We have before called attention to the fact that in this chapter we have, first, a part of the Church on earth, sealed in the tribulation; second, a part of the Church in heaven caught up out of it. £ The first and most natural inquiry concerning the second part of this chapter is, "At what point of time are we to fix the occurring of the glorious realities set forth in this vision?" And from the structure of the chapter the reply which is necessitated thereby is as obvious as the question itself is natural. It is evidently while the tribulation, the great one, is raging below that the blessed ones are seen in perfect calm. For this part of the vision comes, like the former part, not at the close of all things, but between the sixth and the seventh seals. Nor is this the only clue we have. In Revelation 7:14 we read, "These are they which are coming out of the tribulation, the great one;" not, "These are they which came," as if all were past; nor yet," These are they which will come," as if all were future; but, "These are they which are coming." There is a continuous pouring in of them from the world of care to the realm of peace; and this will go on till all be gathered home. At the same time, it will be well for us to observe that this passage is not necessarily a picture of the glorified state, for that will not be ushered in until the second coming of the Son of God. However true it may be that there is as real a continuity between it and the state here described as there is between the latter and their earthly life, still we need not confound the two stages of the development of being. Very much harm has been done to the revealed doctrine of the blessedness of the righteous after death by so speaking of it as to leave no apparent room for the distinction between it and the state of glory which will begin at the reappearing. As yet, however, the unfoldings of this book have not brought us so far on. We are still only at the sixth seal. The new heavens and the new earth are not yet in view. The great tribulation is not yet over. The Church of God is still a divided one, part on earth, and part in heaven. The first part shielded while in the midst of evil; the second part raised above it, caught up, while the tribulation is yet raging here, to the perfect calm that abides there. Hence the title of our present theme may be made even more specific, viz.—A look at our friends who are already in heaven. The paragraph before us suggests seven questions.
I. WHERE ARE THEY SEEN? Revelation 7:9, "Before the throne, and before the Lamb." These words give us no clue to the locality of heaven. This we do not need. Any part of "the Father's house" is home to his children. But they give us what is of far greater interest and moment. They represent rather a state than a place. "Before the throne." More conscious than when clad in fleshly garments here of the immediate, all-surrounding, and all-pervading presence of God. "Before the Lamb." More directly in view of that Saviour whom having not seen they loved. The veil of sense and the limitations of earth no longer obstruct their sight or cripple their service. They are forever with their God, where they have wished and longed to be.
II. WHAT IS THEIR APPEARANCE? They are seen "standing." This word is not redundant. It is no pleonasm. They stand, in token of subjection and of service to him that sitteth upon the throne. They have "white robes." "The fine linen is the righteousness of saints." They are "without fault" before the throne of God. They have "palms in their hands"—tokens these at once of honour and of victory. The struggle is over. The conflict ended. The victory won.
III. WHENCE CAME THEY? "Out of every nation;" they are "of all tribes and peoples and tongues." The separation brought about by the sin and confusion of earth is done away in Christ. In heaven its effects disappear. There the barrier caused by diversity of tongues will cease. And the final union of all tongues and tribes in the heavenly state will present the true solution of the long-vexed question of the unity of the human race. Every land will yield its tribute of souls to Jesus, and will thus prove, in the common destiny of men, that God made of one blood all nations of men. In the immediate presence of God and the Lamb, "life's poor distinctions" wilt disappear forever. It will be seen that Jew and Greek, bond and free, are all one in Christ Jesus.
IV. HOW CAME THEY THERE? The answer to this question is twofold.
1. They came through the pathway of a common experience. "Out of the great tribulation." One and all have had tribulation in some form or other. But they have left it all behind. They are freed from it now. [Note: The fact indicated here, that "the great tribulation" was one which touched "all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues," is of itself subversive of any theory which would limit it to a merely partial or local sorrow. The terms of the verse require us to regard the tribulation as widely extended both as to space and time.] However great the differences which mark the lot of men on earth, all who reach heaven will do so through "many tribulations."
2. They reach heaven on the ground of a common redemption. The atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus availed for them all. The cleansing virtue of a Saviour's grace purified them all. "They washed their robes;" i.e. in their earthly life they experienced this sanctifying grace. [Note: Here is suggested a mighty theme for the preacher in connection with the death of Christ, viz.:
(1) That the death of Christ has a worldwide meaning.
(2) That it will have a worldwide efficacy as long as the race shall last.
(3) That it not only saves out of condemnation, but ensures a purifying power
(4) That therefore it will be the theme of universal song.] In that glorious world no impurity is seen.
V. WHAT DO THEY MISS? (Revelation 7:16.)
1. "They shall hunger no more," etc. They have no more the incumbrance of a bodily frame like this, demanding incessant attention. How often, when in this state, is the activity of the spiritual life interrupted by the demands of the fleshly life! In this respect, as well as others, the flesh lusteth against the spirit. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. But on high, such clogs burden the blessed ones no more.
2. They are free from unfavourable influences from without. Neither shall the sun smite them with its scorching blaze, nor any heat—the quotation is from Isaiah 49:10, where the Greek word means the sirocco, or scorching blast, and the Hebrew word, the mirage. We may include both. They are subject to no influences to lower spiritual vitality; no illusion of a hollow and deceitful world will again appear to lure them away.
3. No tear shall be shed. God shall wipe every tear away. "Perhaps this," said a great preacher, "is the tenderest little sentence in the whole Bible (one of the greatest geniuses born in these islands said. he could never read it without a tear in his eye), 'God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.'" £ No more shall the mingled scenes of life and death agitate the soul. All dying shall be over. All sorrow have passed away. Blessed state, even if known mainly by such negatives as these!
VI. WHAT DO THEY ENJOY?
1. The real presence of God. Isaiah 49:15," He … shall dwell among them." It is not possible to give the sense of these glorious words except by a paraphrase. They include
(1) the thought of a tent over them, and
(2) that of an abiding presence with them (cf. Exodus 40:34; Numbers 9:15; Le Numbers 26:11; Isaiah 4:5, Isaiah 4:6; Ezekiel 37:27).
2. The Lamb … shall be their Shepherd. He who is in relation to God the sacrificial Lamb, will be in relation to his people their tender Shepherd. "He that hath mercy on them shall lead them."
3. They stroll be led by "fountains of the water of life." Here they had droppings from the stream; there they have the fulness of the fountain. Here the water of life reached them through earthen channels; there they shall be at the fountainhead! Entire satisfaction. Perfect security and repose.
VII. How ARE THEY OCCUPIED? But one aspect of their occupation is given here. "They serve him day and night in his temple." The details of this service we must die to understand. Here we have presented to us the service of praise. Their song is to God and the Lamb. Their theme, "the salvation." And all the glory of it is ascribed equally to the Father and to the Son! We gather, indeed, one feature of this service—it is unwearied: "day and night." Probably each believer has his favourite thoughts about the heavenly state. "My favourite conception of heaven," says one, "is rest." "Mine," says another, "is work." "Mine," says a third, "is love." "Mine," says a fourth, "is praise." What a mercy that they will all be realized; yea, all be infinitely surpassed!
We may gather up, in conclusion, several inferences from these glorious disclosures of the heavenly state.
1. For the doctrine of continuity in its grandest form and in its highest application we must come to the Word. of God. The life in God, begun here, is destined to live on without a break, and to know nothing but eternal advance! The life above is the continuation of one which was redeemed and renovated below.
2. Here, too, the true law of human progress is seen. It is not that the race shall advance while individuals become extinct, but that there shall be advance of the race by reason of and in the fact of the salvation of the individual.
3. Let us be supremely thankful to our Lord Jesus Christ that we are permitted to believe, not only in the progress of humanity, but also in our own.
4. It surely should be a great comfort to us to think of the blessed ones who are gone before, being thus caught up to this glorious life.
5. Let us magnify the grace of God in putting such honour on this little globe of ours, as to make it his nursery ground on which he rears iris plants for heaven. Here, here, the great work is going on of training characters which are to thrive forever in more genial climes. The state of blessedness which is to ripen in another world is one which is began here; and, the thought of attaining to such blessedness may well have elevating power.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Revelation 7:2, Revelation 7:3
The sealed of God.
This chapter tells of a time of suspended judgment. All things were ready. The awful calamities told of when the sixth seal was broken are on the point of descending upon the earth. "But a whole chapter intervenes. Might it not be apprehended that amidst convulsions so terrific the Church itself might founder? Who shall secure Christ's servants against being involved in that catastrophe? Such is the misgiving to which the particular revelation now before us would minister." A season of suspense is commanded; destruction is to be delayed until the servants of God be sealed. The command comes from that quarter whence Christ himself, the Day spring from on high, the Morning Star, came on his mission of mercy and of hope. The four winds are the symbols of God's judgments (cf. Jeremiah 49:36, Jeremiah 49:37). The angels who are about to let them loose are bidden pause. Like as, ere the last judgment came upon Egypt, there was time given to enable the people of God to sprinkle the lintel and door posts of their houses with the blood of the Paschal lamb, which was God's seal of preservation for them. And like, too, to that remarkable parallel, from which, indeed, the imagery of our text is derived, which we find in Ezekiel 9:2-6, Ezekiel 9:11. As was the object of the sealing there, so it is here. Now, whether we take the primary reference of the impending judgments, which for a while were delayed in their execution, to be those, as we think, which were then about to fall upon Jerusalem and the apostate Church of Israel; or those which at the time of Constantine, through the threatened overwhelming of the empire, were imminent on her frontiers; or those which corruption, venality, and hypocrisy, engendered by Constantine's having made Christianity the court religion, were about to bring upon the Church; or—which is probably the most correct way to understand St. John—we include all these, and all other similar ones, not omitting the last great judgment of all, which at any time may have hung or shall hang over nations, Churches, and communities—however we interpret this revelation, it is as true as the judgments them selves that the merciful Lord does grant seasons of suspense, his judgments are delayed until his servants are marked, proclaimed as his own, and secured from real evil by his own sovereign and sacred seal. For historical illustrations of this sealing we may wisely turn to the pages of Josephus and of Gibbon, the historians of the Jewish war and of the fall of Rome. And so exact are oftentimes the correspondences between authentic history and these visions of St. John, that we can hardly be surprised that not a few have declared that what is called the historical interpretation of the hook is the only true, reasonable, and reliable one. It certainly is fascinating for its interest, but as for its reliableness, that may he admitted when its advocates can show anything like near agreement amongst themselves. It is better, therefore, to take the broader view, which admits all these correspondences, and the applicability thereto of these various visions, but which refuses to limit their meaning and application to anything less than all like correspondences which have occurred since St. John wrote, and which shall occur to the end of time. Now, to a thoughtful observer, it can hardly be a question but what our own days are days of suspended judgment, and days also in which the sealing of the servants of God is going on. For man's sin, as ever, clamours for judgment from God, and righteousness wronged and slain upon the earth cries, like the blood of Abel, unto God that he should avenge it. And the judgment will one day come. The history of nations and Churches is scattered over with the records of such judgments, and will be so again, until men learn wisdom and turn unto the Lord. But our security, whenever they come, is in the seal of God, told of here. Let us think, then, of this seal, the sealed, and the sealing. And—
I. THE SEAL.
1. What is it? With the Scriptures in our hand, we can have no doubt that the Holy Spirit of God is meant (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:21, 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30). The work that he does in and upon his people is the sure sign and seal that they are his. "The Holy Spirit is God's seal. Where he is there is safety. Where he is God sees his mark, his own possession, one who belongs to him, one over whom he watches, one whom he will keep in that 'hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.'"
2. And this seal is the holy character which the Spirit of God creates in and impresses upon a man. The Spirit does other and blessed work upon us besides this. It is by him we are led to put our trust in Christ; by him we are assured that we are Christ's, and that he is ours, that we are pardoned, accepted, saved; by him also we are comforted and sustained under trial, and made possessors of the peace of God which passeth all understanding; and by him, hope, the blessed hope of eternal life, the onlook to things eternal, which is so full of joy, is created and preserved and strengthened more and more. But all this is within the man; the seal is that which is impressed on him, is that which we call the man's character. And it is a holy character, such as the Holy Spirit would of necessity produce.
3. And it is the seal of the living God. It belongs to him, his sign and mark. There is none other like it, nor has been, nor can be. Holy character can come but from the grace of God alone, from the operation of the Holy Spirit given by God in response to earnest desire. We cannot produce it in ourselves by any mere act of will, by any moral discipline, by any rules or regulations we may devise or adopt. Except a man be born of the Spirit he cannot become a member of the kingdom of God. Holy character—that which shone pre-eminently in the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as none other, was "holy, harmless, and undefiled," who "knew no sin"—is the result of the grace of God, is the impress of the seal of the living God, which is the Holy Spirit of God.
4. And it is a visible thing. The seal being "on their foreheads" is meant to teach this fact. And holy character is a visible thing. If invisible it assuredly does not exist. Men may prate forever about their experiences and their feelings, but if there be no manifest holy character, then the seal of the living God is not there. Have we this seal? Is it plain and conspicuous as would be the impress of a seat upon our forehead? It is fatal to be without it; for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." Therefore to quicken our own self inquiry in this matter, let us consider—
II. THE SEALED. And we observe concerning them:
1. They are not numerous. But twelve thousand out of each tribe—a very few compared with those left unsealed. A mere handful, but a "remnant saved."
2. And they are out of, not coextensive with, the professing Church of God. Not all Israel are of Israel (Romans 9:6). They all professed loudly to be of the seed of Abraham, but their entire history shows how little they, as a people, possessed the Spirit. To be a professed member of the Church may be quite another thing from being one of the sealed of God.
3. And they are from no one part of the Church. Twelve tribes are told of, not any one or two. "Nulla salus extra Ecclesiam," by which Rome means her Church and none other, for other she would affirm there is none. And the like sectarian exclusiveness is chargeable against not Rome alone. But wherever it is found, the fact told of here, that the sealed come from all sections of the Church, plainly condemns it. We ought to rejoice that in all Churches the sealed ones are to be found, and are limited to none. Indeed, those tribes which loomed largest in the eyes of men, such as Ephraim and Judah, furnished no more of these sealed ones than did those who were least, such as "little Benjamin," and other like smaller tribes. Many who were first should be last, and the last first. And it often is so still.
4. Portions of the Church may become so corrupt as to furnish none of the sealed. The tribe of Dan is left out. It first fell into idolatry, and was for centuries one of the headquarters of that calf worship whereby "Jeroboam made Israel to sin." This may account for its omission in this list of the tribes, and if so suggests the reason wherefore none of the chosen of God were found amongst its people. And there may be Churches and congregations now without one earnest godly person amongst them. Let us ask how is it with the Church or congregation to which we belong.
5. They do not suffer from not belonging to any specially privileged portion of the Church. If any tribe was specially privileged it was that of Levi. They were regarded as the Lord's portion; the priesthood belonged to them. They were deemed too sacred to be classed with the other more secular tribes. But here they have no advantage; they are with the rest, and no more of God's chosen come from them than from any other tribe. We might have thought it would have been otherwise; but it is not so, and it suggests the truth that the working of God's Spirit in and upon men is independent of what we call privilege. It is good and blessed to have means of grace, aids to worship and faith; but, if the soul will yield itself up to God, he wilt not let it suffer loss for the lack of these things when, as is often the case, they may not be had.
6. The Lord knoweth them all. "The foundation of the Lord standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." In keeping with this we find the number of the sealed that which denotes fixedness and completeness. They are all there, all delivered, not from earthly trials, but from Divine judgments; not one of them is lost. Blessed are they on whom this seal of the living God is found. For note—
III. THE SEALING. What was its purpose and intents? These were various according to those whom it was designed should he affected by it. The sealed ones themselves.
(1) The sealing should assure them that God would ever keep a people for his Name in the midst of the earth. As they saw the seal of God upon here one and there another, and as they remembered how it had ever been so, they would be saved from the despair which fell upon Elijah, who thought he alone was left to stand up for God. But God showed him the seven thousand sealed ones, and so comforted him. And as we behold them now we are assured that such shall never be wanting.
(2) It would mutually encourage them. It would show them that they were not alone; the joy and strength which come from the communion of saints would be theirs.
(3) It would be full of help to themselves; for as a seal attests validity and genuineness in that to which it is attached, so this seal would prove that their title to be called children of God and heirs of eternal life was valid and true. And as a seal is a mark of ownership—like our government broad arrow on all its property—so this seal was God's declaration they were his; and blessed is that soul that is assured of this. And as a seal secures and guards, as the tomb of our Lord was sealed, so this seal is the guarantee of deliverance and safety amid all possible ill. It was this seal which made Paul break forth into that paean of exultant praise with which the eighth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans concludes. And similar gladness shall it give to all upon whom this seal is found. But:
2. To the unsealed this sealing has intent and purpose. To lead them to confess the beauty of holiness. This has ever been the mighty converting force. The holy character wrought by the Spirit of God has made such impression upon the minds of ungodly men that they have been constrained to gaze at it, to admire, to confess its excellence and goodness, and to feel the wretched contrast of their own lives, and to long after the like seal of God for themselves. And so it has won many to inquire, to repent, to believe, and to be saved. "Let your light so shine," etc. (Matthew 5:16).
3. To the ministers of his judgments. That they might spare the sealed ones. They do. The retreat of the Christians to Pella ere Jerusalem fell, the protection granted to the Church at Rome—Augustine tells of it—in the midst of the havoc that Alaric and his Huns wrought upon the rest of Rome, are illustrations. The passing over of the houses of Israel has been repeated again and again in like circumstances, and will be repeated whensoever such circumstances recur. As the badge of the white cross secures immunity in the midst of war to those who wear it, for it is known that they are ministers of mercy, go where they will, so the seal of the living God, the holy, beautiful, Christ-like lives of his people, have often made men love and honour them, prize and preserve them amid horrors of battle, or of famine, or of pestilence, or aught beside. And at the last great judgment day, when the angels of wrath see the seal of the living God, they will pass over those on whom it is found. What urgency, then, does all this lead to St. Paul's well-known words, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption!"—S.C.
The wrath-restraining power of righteousness.
"Hurt not the.., till we have sealed," etc. These words send back our thoughts to like words addressed to Lot at Sodom, by the angel who was urging him to flee therefrom. "Haste thee," said he, "escape thither [to Zoar]; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither" (Genesis 19:1-38.). Sodom's ruin was suspended till Lot was safe. The wrath of God was ready to burst forth on the wicked cities of the plain, but it was restrained until the one righteous man in them was removed out of danger. "Until then," so the destroying angel said, "I cannot do anything." That incident is one out of many more, and our text tells of one of the chiefest of them, by which it is shown that goodness has greater power than wickedness. And this is a very instructive fact, and has parallels innumerable. God's recognition of the wrath-restraining might of righteousness is clearly shown in the prayer which Abraham offered for those sinful cities (Genesis 18:1-33.). Abraham believed in it to so great an extent that he pleaded that if there were fifty, or forty-five, or forty, or thirty, or twenty, or even ten righteous found in those cities, the Lord would spare them for their sake. And the Lord promised in each case, even were there only ten, that he would. And how often guilty Israel was spared the vengeance due to their sins for the sake of Moses who interceded for them! And the covenant made with their fathers—how often that is given as the reason why God's gracious dealing was continued to them! And once and again we read of forbearance and goodness shown to miserably guilty monarchs, such as Rehoboam, Manasseh, and others, because of the favour God bore towards David, their great and godly ancestor. In the prophecy of Ezekiel (9.) there is given the vision of the man with the ink horn by his side, who, ere Jerusalem could be given over to vengeance, was commanded to set a mark on those who sighed and cried for the abominations done in her. That mark was as the blood of the Paschal lamb on the lintel and door-posts of the houses of Israel, which secured that household on whose dwelling it was found; and so, until this marking had taken place, the guilty Jerusalem could not be touched. And so here St. John sees an angel, having "the seal of the living God," who cries with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." Terrible judgments were about to break forth on the earth, but not until the servants of God were sealed could these judgments begin. An historic fact wonderfully corresponds to inspired vision. Before the actual blockade of Jerusalem by Titus, the Christians at Jerusalem, warned, as one ancient Father says, "by a certain oracle given to their leaders by revelation," or, as another says, "by an angel," took refuge across the Jordan, in the Peraean town of Pella. Thus from the horrors of that final siege, and from the fearful slaughter that went on in Jerusalem when at last the city was taken, these servants of God were delivered. And so also, we are told in Matthew 24:1-51., that ere the last judgment of the world takes place, the elect shall be gathered together from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. They shall be taken to be with their Lord, where the vengeance coming on his foes cannot harm them. But what in all these instances we would chiefly note is, not so much the blessed security of the righteous themselves when the evil day comes on sinful men, as the restraining power their presence has on the coming of that evil day; how it delays it, holds it back, sometimes altogether turns it aside, or when it comes shortens it; as our Saviour said, "For the elects' sake those days shall be shortened." Verily his disciples are "the salt of the earth"—that preserving force which hinders the world from becoming one mass of corruption. Without such salt human life would become putrescent, and must at once be buried out of sight. Everywhere and always the tares are of the wheat amid which they have been planted by the enemy. Unskilful servants crave permission to go and pull them up forthwith, but are forbidden by the Lord, "lest," he says, "in pulling up the tares ye pull up the wheat also." Because of the "few names in Sardis" which had not defiled their garments, that Church which had nothing but the name of a living Church was nevertheless spared; had she been altogether dead, she would not have been. It is everywhere true that, like as it is with the body, whilst the principle of life lingers, the process of corruption cannot do anything against it; but when life departs, then soon it returns "dust to dust, ashes to ashes," and our loveliest and dearest ones have to be buried out of our sight. So, too, is it in the moral relations of man to God. Where there is some good thing in man towards God, this spiritual life, faint though it be, acts as a mighty conservative force in the individual and in society at large. It is this which keeps earth from being as hell. Sometimes, in some places and in some respects, we almost feel that it is like hell, for life then and there seems so horrible; but more commonly there are scattered amongst society those persons, principles, and habits which still make life worth living, which are its preserving salt, which stay moral corruption, and hold back the Divine judgments against man's evil, and give hope of there being one day a realm in which "the people shall be all righteous,' a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. And what is true in the broader aspects of human life is true also in individual and in more limited senses. Have we not read of that beloved queen who interceded for the doomed citizens of Calais, and won from her stern husband the pardon which, but for the love he bore her, would never have been granted? Have we not known, also, instances—do we not perpetually see them?—in which former good conduct, righteous deeds done in days gone by, have tempered the severity with which otherwise failures in present conduct would be visited? How we grieve when some soldier hero has deserved punishment! how we all feel that his past heroism should tell, as it does tell, in mitigation of his sentence! And have we not known many an instance in which, for the sake of some beloved and honoured one, whose name is ever dear to us, we show kindness to those they loved, though such may be utterly unworthy of kindness, and, but for the name they bear or the relationship in which they stand to those so dear to us, they would have been dealt with in far other way? These are but common instances in common life of that great law which underlies Scripture facts, such as that told of in our text. But the supreme example of all others of the wrath-restraining power of righteousness is seen in the effects of our Saviour's work, which we every one are advantaged by. Death was threatened against our first parents if they ate of the forbidden fruit. But why did not that death, which had been so solemnly declared, and so fearfully apprehended and shrunk from by the guilty parents of our race—why was not that death inflicted? In the day that the forbidden fruit was eaten, the eaters thereof did not die, but were spared. Why? The answer is the same as that which must be given if it be asked why we are spared, notwithstanding our sin and manifold ill desert. It is because Christ was and is the Propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Beneath the broad shelter of God's love in him, man's Mediator and Redeemer, we are sheltered, protected, saved. We are underneath the shadow of the Almighty; and so, likewise, were the first transgressors. Therefore their threatened doom was not executed. And still it is he who comes between us and the eternal consequences of our sins. The burden of their guilt, the terror of their condemnation, the sting of their remorse, the doom they merit,—all these and yet other consequences of our sin are by Christ warded off from every believer. They can do nothing against us whilst Christ has place in our hearts. He is the great High Priest, with censer full of the fragrant incense of his all-availing intercessions, who stands between the living and the dead, and so the plague is stayed. He is our City of Refuge, within which the avenger of blood can do us no harm; the one Propitiation, by whom our trangressions are covered over and done away. Blessed forever be his Name! And if we ask—Why is it that righteousness has this wrath-restraining power, which in so many instances, and in this supreme instance especially, we have seen it has? the answer will be that given in the well-known words, "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." Yes; he loveth it, and hence wherever it is found he showeth favour towards it, and for the sake of it will do and forbear to do much. As David for Jonathan's sake was willing to show kindness to any of the rival house of Saul, notwithstanding their disloyalty, so, for the sake of righteousness, all that belong to it, even though the relation be remote, are blessed because of it. It is dear to the heart of God; he has embodied it in his own nature; he has made it the foundation of his throne; it is the household law of his eternal home; he has written it upon the conscience of man; he has made obedience to it fruitful of reward, and disobedience of sorrow; in Christ he has manifested it to the world, and for the sake of it Christ was content to die. In every way conceivable God has shown his love for it, and hence we can understand wherefore it is that he invests it with such power that its presence in a community or family lays its hand even on his own hand, and restrains the vengeance that sin deserves. Yes; it is dear to the heart of God; "the righteous Lord loveth" it; only those who possess it stand in his presence or can be permitted to crone there. And he has endowed it with an overcoming power, so that not only shall light have no counsel with darkness, but wherever it comes it immediately gives the signal for the darkness to flee away. So does righteousness, wherever it is, begin to make war with sin, and ultimately the victory shall be seen to be altogether its own. Though often beaten back and down, buffeted and trampled upon, yet it rises again and renews the conflict, and will carry it on until the righteous cause is triumphant and the evil overthrown. No wonder, therefore, that the righteous Lord loveth it, and for its sake does so many, so wonderful, and so gracious things. But now let us ask—What is this all-important truth to teach us? Surely it should arouse in our minds some such questions as these—Am I in the Righteous One? We have seen how he is the supreme example of righteousness restraining wrath. Ah! what shelter have we, or can we have, when the storm of the Divine displeasure shall fall and beat upon us? Who then will be our refuge and strength, if Christ be not? "Behold, O God our Shield, and look on the face of thine anointed!" When we pray this prayer, who can we think of but the Lord Jesus Christ? He is our Shield, our Champion, our Defender. Are we, then, in him? "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" And are we like that Righteous One? If we be truly in him, we shall be in some measure like him; and if so, shall belong to that blessed company of whom Christ said, "Ye are the salt of the earth." What are we? Of those on whose account favour and grace are shown to a hind, and life is made peaceful and wholesome; or of those who help to swell that torrent of iniquity which not only degrades, but destroys? Oh, how we ought to value the presence of righteous men in our midst! They are the true safeguards of our national well being. It is upon the character of a people, more than on anything else, the general good depends. No favourable outward circumstances, no wise organization, no well-ordered political constitution, can long uphold any community if the character of its members be godless and depraved. Sore calamity must come upon them, as it ever has, ere long time elapse. Of what amazing folly and sin, then, are they guilty who persecute the godly; who do their bad best to detach them from the faith, and to make them deny their Lord? It is an undermining of the very foundations of the house in which we live; a destruction of that upon which our all depends. Oh, let us be afraid, even if we be not servants of Christ ourselves, to do anything which would injure them or lessen their influence and power. Remember God hath said, "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye." But, by surrender of yourself to Christ, come amongst them; be of their number; help forward their cause. Times of judgment are coming; the great judgment of all draws nigh. But "who shall stand in that day?" The reply is not, "No one shall be able to stand," for some, many, shall. All shall who have on them the mark of God, the sealing of the servants of God—that seal of the Holy Spirit "whereby we are sealed unto the day of redemption." Oh that that mark may be more and more manifest on us now! So shall our Lord be glorified; so shall our fellow men be blessed through us, whether they confess it or no; and so at last, when the consequences of ill doing have to be borne, and the harvest of sin is reaped, then shall judgment be restrained until we are gathered where harm can never come.—S.C.
What "Amen," means.
"Saying, Amen." There is probably no more dishonoured word in the Bible than this. It has come to mean, in the minds of many, a mere signal for leaving off—the beneficent word that announces that the time of weariness and restraint is over, and that they may go back to what is of far more interest to them than God's Word or worship can ever be. They look upon it as meaning no more than the word "Finis" at the end of a book, which tells them that there is no more to come. But when we remember that the word was one which was perpetually on our Saviour's lips, and that it is one of the august names which he claims for himself, we can at once see that to regard it as a mere mechanical symbol, as a mere note of termination, like a period or full stop, is terribly to degrade it, and such as it could never have been intended for. And we are all of us in danger of forgetting, in our frequent use of the word, what it really means. But its mere interest demands more respectful and reverent usage of it. It is almost a universal word. It is told of two strangers meeting on board ship in Eastern seas, and ignorant of each other's language, that they at length discovered that they had two words in common. One was "Hallelujah," and the other "Amen." You will hear this sacred word in Mohammedan mosques from Calcutta to Morocco, in all the liturgies of Greek, Roman, and Anglican Christians, and there is no sect of Christians anywhere that does not use it. And it is a most ancient word. It has come down to us from the ancient Jewish people, and was heard amidst the rocks of Sinai in those far off days of old. It has been likened to one of those granite boulders which we sometimes find in the midst of a flat plain, and which has been borne along by old world glaciers and torrents, and carried far away from its native home. So this word has been borne down by the stream of time till it has reached our shores and this our day. But its importance lies in the great spiritual truths it teaches us. As—
I. GOD'S DESIRE FOR OUR RESPONSE. The word is associated perpetually with the utterance of prayer and the declaration of Divine truth. Now, God desires such response:
1. In worship. "Let all the people say, Amen." It is the people's word; was so not alone in the Jewish Church, but in the Christian as well. Hence St. Paul pleads for the use of plain language in worship, so that the unlearned may be able to say "Amen" at the giving of thanks. And in the early Church the acts of the presiding minister were not deemed complete without the assent of the people in their loudly expressed "Amen." Especially was this so in thanksgiving at the Lord's Supper. The whole congregation so said "Amen" that it was as a shout or cheer, and was heard far off, and like a peal of thunder reverberating through the spacious church. But it is the inward assent and response that is craved; the outward goes for very little if this be lacking. And how can it be present when we allow ourselves—as so many do—in listlessness and inattention and indifference? But if it be present, how precious, how uplifting, how full of help, that worship becomes to those who unite in it! Let us hold down our minds, and as Abraham drove away the birds which sought to devour his sacrifice, so let us drive away those flitting, wandering thoughts which are ever on the wing, and which destroy our sacrifice of prayer or praise. But in order to this inward assent and response, there must be like faith. If I do not believe in God as the heavenly Father, as my Father, how can I say "Amen" to prayer addressed to him? If I regard the Lord Jesus as no more than a noble hearted and saintly Jew, how can I prostrate myself in worship at his feet? But the chief hindrances to this inward response are not those of the intellect, but of the heart. It is not because we come to the house of God with our minds cobwebbed and confused with doubt, but rather because we come with hearts absorbed with worldly things, that the "Amen" God desires is not forthcoming, though our lips may loudly say, "Amen." What a falsehood the word becomes when our hearts are not in it!
2. In regard to the declaration of truth. It is given when the word comes with power. As when Chrysostom preached, the multitudes who thronged the vast church could not restrain themselves from shouts and cries and tears, so greatly were they moved. And the preaching of even false doctrine, as in the mosque at Mecca—so it has been related—yet when the people heartily believe, they are greatly moved by it, and break forth into loud cries of "Amen, amen!" under the spell of the preacher's voice, and by the power over them of the doctrines he and they alike believe. But God desires this response in regard to his truth; and again and again it has been given. At Pentecost; at Philippi, where the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, and then of the jailor; at Corinth, where Paul tells how unbelieving men came into the assembly, and, under the prophetic word, were convinced, and fell down and confessed the presence of God in their midst. But oh for much more of such response! As worship is no good without it, so neither is preaching, and nothing can compensate for it or be put in its place.
II. SINCERITY IS ESSENTIAL IN ALL OUR APPROACHES TO GOD. The word "Amen" comes from one which signifies "that which is reliable, that which can be trusted," as the massive foundation stone, the strong pillar, or other such sure support. Our Lord declares of himself, "I am the Truth;" and St. John tells of him as "the Amen," which means the same. And St. Paul tells how all God's promises are "Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus." And before his most weighty words our Lord was wont to utter his "Amen, amen," which in our versions is rendered "Verily, verily." At the end of the books of the Bible it is generally found, and everywhere it is the attestation of the truth of what has been or is to be said. And at the end of our prayers, it is as if we protested, "Lord God, I mean this." Formerly men headed their wills with the words, "In the name of God, Amen." But the meaning is ever the same—a declaration of truth and sincerity in regard to that which it precedes or follows. And hence our being commanded to say "Amen" shows God's demand for sincerity. They who worship him must worship him in truth. It is like signing our name—a thing we are very careful about in our secular affairs, knowing the responsibility it involves. Would that we were similarly thoughtful when we utter, as we often do, this solemn word "Amen"!
III. CHRIST IS THE ALONE GUARANTEE AND PLEDGE OF SUCCESS. For "Amen" is one of Christ's own names. The word was ever on his lips, and he is "the Amen." And his love and power lie underneath and behind it wherever it is sincerely uttered. It is a virtual calling upon him for his help—a call he will not disdain. If he be "the Amen" of our prayer and service, then he will make that real which we can only ask may be so. It is his endorsement of our petition. And when at length life's pilgrimage is
. What must the holy mirth be now? and what shall it not be?
3. A miscellaneous multitude. "Out of every kindred and nation," etc. How greatly, then, do they err who think and teach that only those nations who here on earth have heard the joyful sound of Christ's holy gospel can furnish contingents to that redeemed throng upon whom St. John delightedly gazed! What did our Lord go to "the spirits in prison" for, as St. Peter tells us he did, if not to bring them there the joyful tidings which here on earth they had not heard? How little we yet comprehend of "the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the love of Christ! Surely this vision should help us to a larger understanding of that infinite love.
4. To them all life had been full of trouble. They had all of them "come out of great tribulation." Whilst we may not omit the final tribulation of which our Lord tells in Matthew 24:1-51., and to which the opening of the sixth seal refers, we cannot limit it to that. "Man is born to trouble;" he is "of few days, and full of misery." "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain until now." To how few would life be worth living were it not for he hope of a better one! But we are placed here as at a school, and the trials of life are the appointed methods of instruction whereby we unlearn evil and learn good. The poor often envy the rich; but if all were known, the lot in life, or rather ere eternal life be gained, of us all is much alike. "The rich and the poor meet together," and share in their common inheritance of trouble. But from all this they have now "come out," and are "before the throne of God and the Lamb."
5. They had all been lost but for Christ. For they had all sinned. None of them had kept their garments undefiled. But he who came "to seek and to save them that were lost" found them; by his Spirit drew them to himself; by his blood washed their sin-stained robes, and made them white; and now, all of them, not one excepted, are in heaven full of adoring gratitude to him who redeemed and saved them by his own blood. None are there on any other ground, nor can any ever be. On what, then, are we relying for the hope we all cherish of one day being where they are?
II. WHAT THEY DO THERE,
1. They celebrate the heavenly harvest home. They carry "palms in their hands," branches of the palm. No reference is here to heathen uses of the palm as symbol of victory and the like. But far sweeter and holier reminiscence is awakened. The scene before us is the antitype of the most joyous and inspiriting of all the observances of Israel—that of the Feast of Tabernacles. It was held at the close of the year's outdoor labours; with it the season of rest began. "All was safely gathered in." It commemorated God's care of them in the old wilderness days, and afterwards his continual care of them by the gifts of his providence. The feast was a most joyous one. The Jews said that he did not know joy who knew not the Feast of Tabernacles. One chief feature of the feast was the universal carrying of palm branches (cf. Nehemiah 8:14-17). Such is the scene from which the imagery of St. John here is drawn. It told of the troubles of the wilderness ended; the harvest home of the Church come. It speaks of everlasting joy.
2. They serve. Day and night in God's temple is this service rendered. But in another place St. John says, "I saw no temple therein;" and hence we must understand by the temple all heaven and earth, for all, as was the ancient temple, are to be filled with his glory. And as to the service, who can describe, who can limit, who can sufficiently set forth, its beneficence, its joy, its glory?
3. They show forth the praises of God and the Lamb. (Verse 10.) Festal joy, service, worship, the worship which consists in heartfelt praise,—such are the occupations of heaven.
III. THEIR EXCEEDING BLESSEDNESS.
1. They want not. They neither hunger nor thirst.
2. They weary not, as in the travel and toil of the wilderness they had done, when the fierce heat of the sun smote them; and as in the hard toil of life.
3. They weep not. The poet Burns used to say he could never read this without tears. And when we think of what life is now—a place of tears—and that there there shall be none, one's heart may well rejoice. But there are also the unspeakable joys that come from:
4. The realized presence and love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He shall be as a Tent to cover them, as a Shepherd to feed them, as a Guide to lead them to fountains of living water.
CONCLUSION. Have we those we love in heaven? Rejoice concerning them. Are we on the way there ourselves?—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The Church's security assured.
Although the vision of judgment has been granted to the seer, an arrest is put upon its execution, and an entirely new series of representations is given. It is illustrative of the entire character of the book. It is one long illustration of the going forth conquering and to conquer by him that sitteth on the white horse. But there is no chronology. The truth here illustrated is ever repeated. Not only in the final acts of judgment will the faithful people be secure, but when God sends his judgments upon the ungodly the Church has always his comforting assurance of protection. By this vision the heart of the Church is comforted. "Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked." Whatever judgments befall the earth, the righteous people are secure in the guardian love of their Lord. This is declared to the tried ones by the vision of the sealing. A vision which is—
I. A TOKEN OF THE DIVINE RECOGNITION OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER. Each is sealed on his forehead. "The Lord knoweth them that are his."
II. IT IS A PLEDGE OF PERSONAL SECURITY. In the general judgments many even of the faithful suffer. This is inevitable. But the anomalous words of our Lord shall be fulfilled, "Ye shall be delivered up by parents … put to death, hated of all men; and not a hair of your head shall perish." In all judgments the lowly believer may rest in the assurance of personal safety. All shall be well in the end if the Lord's seal is upon the forehead.
III. THE VISION IS A GRACIOUS REVELATION OF GOD. It is of his goodness that he has thus shown beforehand his careful defence of his own in times of judgment and fear. "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."
IV. THE VISION AFFORDS GROUND FOR THE UTMOST ENCOURAGEMENT TO FAITH AND HOPE. It is a spring of pure consolation. The Divine warrant of safety each believer may ever carry with him. The cruelties of men may bring him suffering, but not the judgments of God. Ever may the disciples know that when the Lord proceeds to judgment he will first seal his own.—R.G.
The Church triumphant.
The comfort of the former vision is heightened by a subsequent one. The host of God is sealed. Safety amidst judgment, is pledged. But greater things are reserved. The holy seer is permitted to witness the Church in its final triumph.
I. THE FINAL TRIUMPHANT HOST IS INNUMERABLE. The former vision was limited, definite. It prepared the way for a larger view. The "little flock" has grown into an innumerable company. This is the true answer to the question, hitherto unanswered, "Lord, are there few that be saved?" To a Church in its incipient condition a small and feeble folk in the midst of ungodly thousands, the vision of a final host beyond count is of the utmost comfort. It has ever been so.
II. THE FINALLY TRIUMPHANT CHURCH IS REPRESENTED IN ITS WIDE COMPREHENSION. It is "out of every nation." This is the true vision to be held before the eyes of the Church in her missionary labours. All tribes and all peoples and all tongues shall be finally found amongst the faithful and elect children.
III. THE TRIUMPHANT CHURCH IS EXALTED TO THE UTMOST HONOUR. They stand "before the throne and before the Lamb." Thus is indicated their individual recognition; thus is fulfilled the word of their Lord's promise.
IV. THE CHURCH IS REPRESENTED IN ITS FINAL SANCTITY—"arrayed in white robes"—AND INVESTED WITH THE SYMBOLS OF TRIUMPHANT EXALTATION—" palms in their hands."
V. THE VISION REVEALS THE REDEEMED HOST ASCRIBING ITS REDEMPTION TO GOD AND THE LAMB. It is the becoming burden of the eternal song. All is "of him."
VI. THE CHURCH OF EARTH IS FOUND IN ALLIANCE WITH THE ANGELIC HOST OF HEAVEN. "All the angels were standing round about the throne."
VII. THE UNITED CHOIRS OF EARTH AND HEAVEN ASCRIBE TOGETHER ALL GLORY, HONOUR, MIGHT, MAJESTY, AND DOMINION UNTO GOD FOREVER AND EVER. Nothing more likely to comfort and uphold the Church struggling in the waves of bitter cruel persecution than this gracious vision. To the Church in all ages this has been the lofty reach of joyful anticipation.—R.G.
The eternal blessedness.
The vision is yet heightened. A further brightness overspreads the scene, The comfort of hope is yet expanded. Arrested by one of the elders, the seer lowlily refrains from declaring who constitute the triumphant host, and receives the consoling assurance that they are from the fields of earthly suffering, toil, and danger. They are now exalted far above all worldly power. The final blessedness of the righteous is—
I. BLESSEDNESS FOR WHICH THEY ARE PREPARED BY EARTHLY TRIBULATION. Even the rugged ways of earthly obedience lead to heaven's gates. But all toil and tribulation are o'er.
II. The final blessedness is BASED ON AN ATTAINED SANCTITY. "They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
III. This blessedness INCLUDES:
1. Recognition. They are "before the throne of God."
2. Perpetual service. They serve God "day and night in his temple."
3. They enjoy the perfect protection of the Divine presence.
"He that sitteth on the throne shall spread his tabernacle over them."
IV. IT SECURES THEM EXEMPTION FROM THE SORROWS OF THE EARTHLY LIFE. "They hunger no more, neither thirst any more," nor shall the sun or any heat strike upon them.
V. THE FINAL BLESSEDNESS OF THE RIGHTEOUS HAS ITS FRUITION IN A GRACIOUS ALLIANCE WITH THE ETERNAL The Lamb "shall be their Shepherd," and shall guide them to the perpetual fountains of life and felicity; and God shall himself exempt them from all further sorrow or suffering. He "shall wipe away every tear from their eyes." Thus every trace of the tribulation of earth shall be removed; and blessedness of the highest possible character shall be the final lot of them who now endure for truth's sake. Thus in the midst of the earthly raging power is the persecuted Church of God assured, in all ages, of a final, a certain, and an ample recompense.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
A sketch of an impending judgment.
"And after these things," etc. The text points to a judgment that is overhanging the world, entrusted to angels for its execution, and who are restrained in their work by a special messenger from heaven on account of the godly tenants of the earth. This is a view of the passage which scarcely admits of any data for a different opinion. From the words we see—
I. THE WORLD EXPOSED TO JUDGMENT. It is represented as exposed to "the four winds of the earth." Winds are the symbols of judgment. Thus in Jeremiah 49:36, Jeremiah 49:37 we read, "And upon Elam will I bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, and will scatter them toward all those winds; and there shall be no nation whither the outcasts of Elam shall not come. For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies, and before them that seek their life: and I will bring evil upon them, even my fierce anger, saith the Lord; and I will send the sword after them, till I have consumed them." And in the prophecy of Daniel 7:2 we have these words, "I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea." The four winds indicate the universality of the judgment. They were to come from the four points of the compass—north, south, east, west. Whether this universal judgment refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, or some other judicial event that is passed, or points to some future period of retribution in the history of the world, I stay not to inquire. One thing is certain, that there is a universal judgment impending over this earth. It hangs over "every corner of the earth." Its winds will rush in fearful tornadoes from all the points of the compass. Conscience, providence, and the Bible all point to this universal judgment.
II. THE JUDGMENT ENTRUSTED TO ANGELS. The words speak of "four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea." Angels are the ministers of God. He employs them to execute his judgments.
1. They appeared amidst the terrors of Mount Sinai. Deuteronomy 33:2, "The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; he shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of saints: from his right hand went a fiery Law for them." Again in Psalms 68:17 we read, "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place."
2. They appeared with our Saviour in the destruction of Jerusalem. (Matthew 24:30, Matthew 24:31.)
3. Angels have been frequently engaged in executing Divine judgment on this earth. They acted in connection with the destruction of Sodom, and an angel dealt out judgment to the Egyptians in the destruction of their firstborn (Exodus 12:22). An angel wreaked vengeance on the people of Jerusalem on account of the sin of David (2 Samuel 24:16, 2 Samuel 24:17). An angel destroyed the mighty army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35).
4. Angels are represented as active in the final day of retribution. (Matthew 13:39-41; Matthew 25:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9.)
III. THE ANGELS RESTRAINED BY A MEDIATOR. "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." Observe:
1. The glorious origin of this angel. He ascended "from the east;" from the fountain of glory—the east, whence the stars appear, and the glorious sun comes forth to flood the world with light.
2. The Divine credentials of this angel. "Having the seal of the living God."
3. The great earnestness of this angel. "Cried with a loud voice." Who is this angel? Who is represented in this particular case I know not. But I know that the great angel of the covenant answers well this description. He came from the orient depths of glory with Divine credentials and with great earnestness, in order to stay the angels of retribution from executing their terrible commission. Our great Redeemer holds back the hand of the destroying angel, and the burden of his intercession is, "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea." To Christ we owe the postponement of the judgment.
IV. THE MEDIATOR RESTRAINING BECAUSE HIS WORK IS UNFINISHED. Why does this intercessory angel, rising from the glorious east, interpose to prevent the judicial angels from discharging their dread commission? Because there was a work to be done. The servants of God were to be "sealed in their foreheads." The image of the sealing is derived from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 9:2-6, Ezekiel 9:11). Its object was to mark out certain persons as belonging to God, and thus to save them from the miseries of the impending judgment. The effect of the seal visible in the forehead would be like that of the blood on the door posts of the Israelites in the last terrible plague of the Egyptians. "When he seeth it he will pass over the door, and will not suffer the destroyer to come in unto your houses to smite you." Two thoughts are suggested.
1. That there are men who are yet to receive the seal of God. Thousands in ages gone by have had his likeness impressed upon them, and thousands are being impressed in this age, but there are millions more to be sealed in future times. There are men from unborn generations who are to be sealed.
2. That the judgment is delayed until the number of the sealed ones is complete. "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed," etc. Thus our blessed Mediator is keeping up the world until all his disciples are gathered into his fold, and his purposes of mercy realized. In the majesty of infinite mercy he stands as it were in the midst of the universe. He sees the storm of judgment brooding in the heavens. He sees the angels of justice quartered in every part of the firmament, ready to execute their terrible commission. He waves his hand, and bids them halt. "Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." Let not even such a breath of judgment pass from your hand as shall wake a ripple on the "sea," or stir a leaf on the "trees." Let mercy reign supreme until my work is finished. Then, when all my redeemed ones are sealed with the seal of God "on their foreheads" and made secure, then let loose your awful winds. Let them rush with their tornadoes of fire, and roar with their thunders of retribution, and destroy this earth; for the mystery of God will be finished.
"Accuse not Heaven's delay; if loth to strike,
Its judgments, like the thunder-gather'd storm,
Are but the greater."
The Divine management of the world.
"And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth," etc. The subject of these verses is the Divine management of the world, and they suggest two facts concerning it.
I. THAT GOD EMPLOYS THE HIGHEST ORDER OF CELESTIAL INTELLIGENCES IN THE CONDUCT OF HIS GOVERNMENT. "After these things [after this] I saw four angels standing on [at] the four corners of the earth." The existence of intelligences in the universe, varying in capacity and degree, but all loyal to Heaven and transcending immeasurably man's attributes of wisdom, power, and speed, is suggested by analogy and abundantly taught in the Scriptures, both the Old and the New. Now, these creatures are here represented as occupying all parts of nature, "standing on the four corners of the earth," and thus controlling the winds of the world—the east, the west, the south, and the north. They are endowed with power to turn the winds to any point of the compass, and to regulate them to any degree of power or temperature, raising them to a fury that will shake the earth, and reducing them to a calmness hushing the world to sleep. Is there anything absurd in this? Assuredly not. It is natural, rational, and consistent with every part of nature. Everywhere through the universe God acts by mediation. Nowhere throughout immensity does be appear to act directly, matter on matter, and mind on all. The principle is enunciated in the Old Testament. "It shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel" (Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22). The mere scientist accounts for the various objects and phenomena of the material world by what he calls blind forces or natural laws; I prefer ascribing all under God to the "angels standing on the four corners of the earth, and holding the four winds." A wonderful view of the universe, truly, we have here. True, a telescope opens to my vision world upon world and system upon system, until imagination reels at the prospect, and my spirit seems crushed with a sense of its own insignificance; but in these words I have a telescope by which I see the wide fields of the air, the rolling planets, the minute and the vast, the proximate and the remote, peopled and working, reaching in regular gradation from my little being up to the ineffable throne, and all under God.
II. THAT GOD, IN EMPLOYING THESE AGENCIES, ENJOINS ON THEM A SPECIAL REGARD FOR THE INTERESTS OF REDEEMED MEN IN THE WORLD. "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God," etc. Why not "hurt the earth"? Why not reduce all nature to a wreck? There is a grand, benevolent reason: "till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads." "Of the tribe of Judah were sealed," etc. (Revelation 7:5-8). The Jewish mind regarded Israel as especially the elect of God, and all the tribes in their esteem were specially Divine. This, of course, was a fiction of national vanity. But take them here as a symbolical representation of all the truly good men upon the earth, and we have the idea that God requires all his intelligent ministries to regard the interests of such. The seal must be regarded as implying security. Here is an angel rising as it were from "the door of the dawn," from the east, with a seal in order to effect the security of the good. Angels, we are taught, are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to those who shall be the heirs of salvation." Numerous are the instances recorded in the Bible in which we see them render assistance to man. They rescued Lot from Sodom, and guarded Daniel in the lion's den; they directed Joseph and Mary into Egypt, and liberated the apostles from prison; they directed Cornelius to Peter, and wafted the spirit of Lazarus to the skies. They rejoice over the conversion of sinners; they have a charge over the righteous, they encamp round about them, they bear them up in their hands. Their ministry implies:
1. That there is some method by which they can aid man.
2. That man's salvation is of paramount importance.
3. That service to the lowest is consonant with the highest greatness.
4. That man's obligation is to seek the spiritual good of his fellows.—D.T.
The human population in heaven (No. 1).
"After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations," etc. There is one book, and only one, that presents to us humanity in heaven, and that is the Bible. This passage gives us a vision of unnumbered multitudes of men who once traversed this earthly scene of sin and sorrow, now in the bright world of the good. Of this human population in heaven four things are suggested.
I. ITS NUMBERS ARE TOO GREAT FOR CALCULATION. "After this I beheld, and, lo, [those things I saw, and behold] a great multitude, which no man could number." The vastness of the population may be looked upon in four aspects. Here is:
1. A reproof to all sectarianism. Religious sects, which, alas! abound, even in Christendom, and which are a calumny on the gospel, nourish in the minds of their votaries the idea that heaven will be peopled mainly, if not entirely, by those within their own pale. Genuine religion knows nothing of sects. Men went to heaven by millions before churches or chapels existed.
2. An encouragement to all Christly work. The best men on earth are the men employed in a Christly spirit to make men Christly. They find the opposition so strong, the wicked so numerous, and their efforts apparently so unsuccessful, that they often lose heart. But let them realize that the human population of heaven, even in the days of John, was so vast that no arithmetic could calculate; that population has been increasing from that date to this, and will increase in future ages so that it may be that no human being will be found in the universe without a Christly heart. Hell is only a little cloud upon the azure of immensity, and that cloud may one day be blotted out; it is only one discordant note in the harmonies of God's great empire, and that note will ultimately be hushed in eternal silence.
3. A response to all philanthropic desires. In every human soul, I presume, there is an instinctive desire for the well being of the race. True, this Divine instinct, like all others, is not only universally perverted, but dormant and submerged in depraved passions; but it is there, and awaits a resurrection. Here is the response to such an instinct.
4. An attestation of benevolent Creatorship. There is atheology popular, even in England in these days, which propounds the belief that the millions of mankind are doomed to bondage and blackness and darkness forever. Such a damnable doctrine reveals the Creator as malevolent, and spreads a gloom of ghastly horror over all created things. No; love is the fontal source of all things.
II. ITS VARIETY INCLUDES ALL THE RACES OF MANKIND. "Of all nations [out of every nation], and kindreds [of all tribes], and people, and tongues." All the men of this earth have their own little theatres of life and action. They are divided by space, by time, by physical relationship, by culture, by national distinctions, and thus become barbarians one to another. Now, from all these scenes and departments of life the human population in heaven is made up. The human population in heaven is not known as Britons, or Frenchmen, or Germans, etc., nor as those of noble or ignoble blood, nor as those speaking this language or that, but as one grand confederation and brotherhood, in which all distinctions are lost. Learn here:
1. That our highest aim should be to become true men. We should struggle out of social castes, religious denominationalisms, and national distinctions, and become true men, for these men alone populate heaven.
2. That our highest love should be for men. Not love for lords or ladies, or nobles, or even for sages and poets, nor even for country, but for men; reverence man everywhere, in whatever land we find him, in whatever condition; respect him because he is a man. A true man is the grandeur creature under the heavens. Let us all become such, and respect such, and such only.
III. ITS GLORIOUSNESS TRANSCENDS ALL DESCRIPTION. "Stood [standing] before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with [arrayed in] white robes, and palms in their hands." Mark:
1. Their position. "Stood [standing] before the throne." This is an emblematic description of the highest dignity. Moral goodness, and that alone, is Divine dignity. The Divine throne is not material, it is spiritual; it is perfect moral excellence.
2. Their attire. "Clothed with [arrayed in] white robes." Life everywhere has its robes, its forms; robes which it makes for itself, which grow out of itself as foliage out of the vital sap. Souls have their robes, and holy souls have robes white with purity. All their manifestations are pure.
3. Their blessed rest. "Palms in their hands." The palms, Archbishop Trench considers, represents here not emblems of victory, but are emblems of rest. £
IV. ITS ENGAGEMENTS ARE RAPTUROUS IN DEVOTION. "And cried [they cry] with a loud [great] voice, saying, Salvation to [unto] our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb," etc. No doubt the engagements of this vast human population in heaven are very varied, according to their personal idiosyncrasies, capacities, and proclivities. But in every department there is worship, the Supreme is adored—adored not formally or perfunctorily, but earnestly; they cry with a loud voice, "Salvation!" Restoration from their former earthly condition is the master theme. Ah! what is included in this salvation? It is restoration from ignorance to true knowledge, from impurity to holiness, from bondage to soul liberty, from selfishness to benevolence, from materialism to genuine spirituality, from the reign of wrong to the reign of right. This is the supreme theme of the saved in all worlds and forever, and ascribed to God and none other in heaven or earth.—D.T.
The human population in heaven (No. 2).
"And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?" etc. Here is an illustration of three facts in connection with the human population in heaven.
I. THEIR EARTHLY LIFE WAS MARKED BY GREAT TRIAL. "And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? [these which are arrayed in the white robes, who are they?] and whence came they? And I said [say] unto him, Sir [my lord], thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came [come] out of [the] great tribulation." An elder in those realms—struck, it may be, with certain peculiarities in their appearance and worship—puts to John the interrogatory what they were, and whence they came, and the reply he receives is that they had come out of "great tribulation." Tribulation is the common lot of humanity, and ever the discipline of the good.
1. This should teach us contentment under our trials. "No temptation hath happened," etc.
2. This should inspire us with magnanimity under our trials. The tribulations are useful. Like the gales of the mariner, they bear us away from scenes on which our heart is set. The darkest thunder cloud terrifies but for an hour; it soon passes away, and leaves the air clearer and the heavens brighter than before.
II. THEIR CELESTIAL CIRCUMSTANCES ARE PRE-EMINENTLY GLORIOUS. "Have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Look at:
1. Their appearance. In white robes, emblems of purity and conquest.
2. Their position. "They are before the throne." A throne is the emblem of regal authority, and before this throne we are always appearing in this life, but we are not conscious of it. Their employment. "Serve him day and night;" indicating the entire consecration of their time and powers. They serve him in every department of action. Serve him lovingly, wholly, and constantly.
4. Their companionship. "He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among [spread his tabernacle over] them." They enjoy intimate communion with the Sovereign of all.
5. Their blessedness. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; .. and God shall wipe away all tears." They are freed from evil, and brought into the full enjoyment of all blessedness.
III. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY CONDITION IS ATTRIBUTABLE TO CHRIST. "They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne." Three things are implied:
1. That they were originally polluted.
2. That the self-sacrificing love of Christ has a purifying influence.
3. That their cleansing by this influence had taken place when on earth.
CONCLUSION. Mark well the "therefore" of the text. Why are men so different in heaven to what they are on earth—in character, circumstances, spirit, different? Not because of the priestly services Of any sect, nor because of their own intellectual attainments, but because they have had their "robes washed in the blood of the Lamb;" it is because of Christ they are in heaven.—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent