And when. καὶ ὅταν, instead of καὶ ὅτε (as in the other seals), is read in A, C, and gives a certain indefiniteness which does not belong to any of the rest (Alford). ὅτε is, however, found in א, B, P, Andreas. He had opened the seventh seal; he opened. As in the case of the other seals, the silence accompanies the opening (see on Revelation 6:1, Revelation 6:3, Revelation 6:5, etc.). This completes the number, and sets the roll free (Revelation 5:1). The contents of the roll do not, however, become visible, nor are they portrayed otherwise than by the silence of half an hour (see on Revelation 5:1). There was silence in heaven; there followed a silence (Revised Version); a silence became; i.e. where there had not been silence previously, owing to the praises set forth at the close of Revelation 7:1-17. This image may have been suggested by the silence kept by the congregation without, while the priest offered incense within, the temple (cf. Luke 1:10). This thought, too, may have led to the following vision, in which the angel offers incense (Revelation 7:3), and in this souse the vision of the trumpets may be said to have grown out of the seventh seal, though a similar act precedes the visions of the seals (see Revelation 5:8). But in no other way is there any connection between the two visions; the events narrated under the vision of the trumpets are not an exposition of the seventh seal, but a separate vision, supplementing what has been set forth by the seven seals. The silence is typical of the eternal peace of heaven, the ineffable bliss of which it is impossible for mortals to comprehend, and which is, therefore, symbolized by silence. In the same way the new name is left unexplained, as something beyond the knowledge of man in this life, and reserved for the life in heaven (see on Revelation 3:12). It is the sabbath of the Church's history, into the full comprehension of which man cannot now enter. The interpretation of this seal varies with different writers, according to the view taken of the vision as a whole. Bede, Primasius, Victorinus, Wordsworth, agree in considering that it denotes the beginning of eternal peace. Those who take the preterist view variously assign the silence to
Vitringa thinks it relates to the time when the Church will be triumphant on earth; Hengstenberg, the astonishment of Christ's enemies; Ebrard, the silence of creation in awe at the catastrophes about to happen; and Dusterdieck, similarly, the silence of those in heaven, waiting for the same events. About the space of half an hour. Most writers are agreed that the half hour represents a short time. But if (as we have indicated above) the silence is typical of the eternal rest of heaven, how can it be short? Possibly the answer is that the shortness refers to the time during which the seer was contemplating this aspect of the vision. He had now arrived at the end; the fate of the Church had been in some measure foreshadowed, and the final assurance is peace in heaven. That part of the fate in store for the Church cannot be expounded by the seer. He is permitted, as it were, to visit the threshold for an instant, and then he is called away. His message is not yet complete; he is summoned to receive yet further revelations. But may not the half hour signify "a long time"? The seer, in his vision, after beholding a succession of events, experiences a pause—complete silence for the space of half an hour. This time would appear almost interminable in such circumstances; and the phrase may therefore be intended to express "an exceedingly lengthened period," such as a stillness of such a length in the midst of numbers would appear to St. John. Here, then, closes the vision of the seals. The first four, prefaced by the assurance of final victory, deal with events more immediately connected with this life, and explain to the suffering Christian of all ages that it is part of God's eternal purpose that he should be exposed to persecution, trial, and temptation while in the world, and that such suffering is not the result of God's forgetfulness or heedlessness. The last three seats refer to three sets of events connected with the life hereafter. The fifth shows the security of those who have departed this life; the sixth portrays the safe gathering of God's own, and the fear and condemnation of the unjust at the judgment day; the seventh affords a prospect rather than a sight of the eternal sabbath of heaven, undescribed because indescribable. The whole is thus completed; the seer is called away to review the ages once more—to behold new visions, which shall impress more fully, and supplement, the truths which the visions of the seals have, in a measure, revealed.
Form a preface to the vision of the trumpets, and serve both to connect this vision with what has gone before, and to indicate the cause of this further revelation. The series of mysteries embraced under the seals is completed, and has so far accomplished its purpose, which is to fortify the patience of the saints by the assurance of God's providence and their ultimate victory and reward. But this is only one part of the seer's mission; there is not only a message of encouragement to the faithful, but a warning for the worldly and apostate. No doubt the same ground is covered to some extent by both announcements; since what is encouragement and hope for the righteous is judgment for the wicked. But whereas, in the vision of the seals, the punishment of the wicked holds a subsidiary place, being only introduced for the purpose of demonstrating God's protection of the just, in the vision of the trumpets the destruction of the ungodly is the main theme, being intended, like the denunciations of the prophets of old, for a warning to those in sin, if haply any may yet be saved. It may, indeed, be said to be an answer to the cry in Revelation 6:10, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" The same lout suffering delay of vengeance tempts the "foolish body" to say in his heart, "There is no God." While by the vision of the seals God is careful not to break the bruised reed, in the vision of the trumpets he vouchsafes a call to those who are less deserving of his consideration and mercy.
(a) They may be divided into groups of four and three. In both visions the first group of four deals more immediately with the natural world, the last group of three has more connection with the spiritual life.
(b) They terminate in a similar way, in the victory of the redeemed, who sing the praises of God.
(c) In both, greater elaboration or episode occurs after the sixth revelation.
(d) The nature of the seventh seal is undisclosed, and this is to a certain extent paralleled in the trumpets by the silence concerning the third and last woe.
(e) In consonance with the general purpose of the trumpets, there is no preliminary assurance of victory as with the first seal; this is reserved to the end.
(a) It was the instrument in use among the Israelites for assembling people, either for warlike or peaceful purposes (cf. Numbers 10:1, Numbers 10:9, Numbers 10:10).
(b) It was thus intimately connected with solemn proclamations or the delivery of God's messages of judgment or warning, and is thus used in the New Testament in describing the judgment day (cf. Le 25:9; Amos 3:6; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).
(c) The use of trumpets on seven days at the destruction of Jericho, the type of all that is worldly, may have suggested the form of the vision here, in the announcement of the judgment and destruction of the world.
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets; which stand (Revised Version). "And I saw" introduces the new vision, as in Revelation 5:1; Revelation 6:1, etc. Probably not during the silence (as Alford), but subsequent to it. "The seven angels" probably refers to a particular order of angels, or rather to those with a special mission; though, with our limited knowledge, it is impossible to determine exactly who they are or what their mission is. The passage in Tobit 12:15 is so similar as to be at once suggested: "I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints." But here the seven do not present the prayers of the saints, but another angel does so (verse 3). De Wette and others think the seven are archangels (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16, "With the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God"). Arethas, Ewald, etc., identify them with "the seven Spirits of God" (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 5:6). Others incline to the opinion that the seven are only distinguished from the other angels by being the seven who sound the trumpets, just as four others are alluded to in Revelation 7:1. (On the use of the number seven, see above; also on Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1, etc.)
And another angel came. No particular angel is specified. Some writers, unable to accept the passage as meaning that the Church's prayers are offered by means of an angel, prefer to believe that Christ himself is indicated. (Thus Bede, Elliott, Primasius, Vitringa.) But, besides that the difficulty has no real existence, the same expression occurs in Revelation 7:2, where there is no doubt of its meaning. Moreover, in no passage of the book is our Lord represented under the form of an angel. With regard to the office of the angels, Alford remarks (while supporting the view that the word here bears the ordinary signification), "They are simply λειτουργικὰ ππνεύματα, and the action here described is a portion of that their ministry. Through whom the prayers are offered, we all know. He is our only Mediator and channel of grace." So also Wordsworth, "The angel is not here represented as giving efficacy to the prayers of all saints, but as taking part in them. There is a communication of prayer between all saints (namely, the saints departed, and the saints on earth), and the holy angels in heaven." And stood at the altar. The Revisers, accepting the reading of א, B, C, Andreas, adopt over the altar. The Authorized reading follows A, P, 1, 17, 36. Alford remarks, " ἐπί with genitive, not simply juxta, not ante, but super; so that his form appeared above it." The altar has been already mentioned (Revelation 6:9). If the view there taken be correct, and the brazen altar of sacrifice intended, the two altars mentioned in this verse are not identical; the second represents the golden altar of incense which stood before the veil (Exodus 30:6), but which now stands before the throne of God, the veil having disappeared. This view seems to be the correct one. The second altar is distinguished from the first by the addition of the qualification, "which was before the throne," as well as by the epithet "golden"—facts which are not mentioned in connection with the throne alluded to in Revelation 6:9. The order of events followed here, though not given in minute detail, resembles the ceremony of the Jewish worship. In the temple, the priest took burning coals from off the brazen altar, and proceeded to the altar of incense, on which to burn incense (Le Revelation 16:12, Revelation 16:13). There appears to be a kind of progression in the insight which the seer affords us of the heavenly worship. In Revelation 4:1 a door is opened, and St. John sees into heaven; he is, as it were, without the sanctuary. In this place he is permitted to advance in his vision within the sanctuary, and to observe the golden altar. In Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 15:5 the most holy place is disclosed, and the ark of the covenant is seen. Alford and Dusterdieck believe only one altar is here mentioned, and identify it with that of Revelation 6:9. De Wette, Hengstenberg, Wordsworth, think one altar only is intended, and that it is the altar of incense. Bengel, Ebrard, Vitringa, support the view given above. Bossuct says the altar is Christ, to whom the angel brings incense, that is, the prayers of the saints. Having a golden censer. The word λιβανωτός is found only here and in 1 Chronicles 9:29 (LXX.). In the latter place it is rightly rendered "frankincense;" but the meaning here evidently requires "censer." It is described as of gold, in the same way that all the furniture of the heavenly realms is described in the Apocalypse. And there was given unto him much incense. Apparently following the analogy of the temple service, the first angel brings in his golden censer fire from the brazen altar of sacrifice, and now there is "given unto him," by another angel, incense to burn at the golden altar of incense. (For incense, see on Revelation 5:8.) That he should offer it with the prayers of all saints; add it unto the prayers of all the saints (Revised Version). The prayers are to be incensed, so as to (typically) render them pure and acceptable to God. Upon the golden altar which was before the throne. That is, probably, the altar of incense, distinct from the altar mentioned earlier in this verse (see above).
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand; and the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the saints went up, etc. (Revised Version). The prayers, accompanied by the incense, and typically purified by it, are received by God. He hears the prayers; and the judgments against the wicked, which follow in the trumpet visions, constitute the answer to them. This makes more probable the view that the following visions are judgments against the world, and not (like the seals) trials to the Church.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth; taketh the censer, and he filled it with the fire of the altar, and cast it upon the earth (Revised Version). The angel now returns to the altar of burnt offering, whence he takes fire, which he casts upon the earth. This action denotes that God's judgments are about to descend on the earth, and it therefore forms the visible token of God's acceptance of the prayers of the saints, and his answer to them. And there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake; and there followed thunders, and voices, etc. (Revised Version). The manifestation of God's presence or of his judgments is continually accompanied by awe-striking phenomena, such as are here described (see on Revelation 6:12).
And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound. This verse takes up and continues the narrative of Revelation 8:2; the intervening passage serves to indicate the immediate cause of the judgments now about to descend, viz. the "prayers of the saints" (Revelation 8:4). (On the number seven, as signifying a complete number, see Revelation 1:4; Revelation 5:1, etc.) Cf. the sounding of the trumpets at Jericho, and the other passages quoted in the comment on Revelation 8:2.
The first angel sounded; and the first sounded (Revised Version). The word "angel" should be omitted here, though found in the other trumpets. The first four are marked off from the last three (as in the case of the seals) by distinctive features. The first four refer to the natural life, while the last three are connected more closely with the spiritual life of man. The first four are connected and interdependent; the last three are distinct and more detached. The last three are specially marked off by the announcement of the angel in Revelation 8:13. And there followed hail and fire mingled with blood; mingled in blood. The English Version is ambiguous, but the Greek makes it clear that it is the bail and the fire that are mingled, and that both together are sent in blood. There is an evident likeness between the judgments of the trumpets and the plagues of Egypt. The resemblance is only general, but it serves to corroborate the belief that the trumpets declare God's judgments on the world, not the trials of the Church. The Church is the true Israel which exists uninjured by these manifestations of God's wrath in the midst of the world of Egyptian wickedness. The question next naturally arises—What are the judgments referred to, which are thus to afflict the ungodly while leaving the righteous unhurt; and when and how they are to take place? The answer evidently is—All troubles of the wicked, which are the consequence of misdoing, whether these troubles overtake them in this life or in the life to come. In the words of Alford, "These punishments are not merely direct inflictions of plagues, but consist in great part of that judicial retribution on them that know not God, which arises from their own depravity, and in which their own sins are made to punish themselves." This seems to follow from the view which we haw taken of the trumpet visions. They depict God's judgments on the wicked in all ages. Just as the seal visions were found to relate to the trials of God's people in all time, and the fulfilment is not completed by any one event or series of events, so now the seer is called upon to return, as it were, to his former starting point, and follow out a new path, where he would find displayed the troubles which have afflicted or shall afflict the ungodly. It is very doubtful how much of the imagery used in this series of visions is to be interpreted as applying to some definite event, and how much is to be considered merely as the accessories of the picture, necessitated by the employment of the symbol, and not needing particular interpretation. It is possible that the seer intended first to set forth the judgments which were to descend on those powers which, at the time of the vision, were pressing so heavily upon Christians, and among which the Roman empire held the prominent place. But it also seems probable that the woes symbolized are general types of the judgments in store for the wicked of all ages, perhaps in this life, certainly at the last day. The blood is not found in Exodus. It is mentioned in close connection with hailstones and fire in Ezekiel 38:22, and a similar thought occurs in Joel 2:30. The passage may describe the ruin wrought by war; the consequences of fire and sword. Wordsworth sees the fulfilment in the Gothic invasion of Rome, which descended from the north, here typified by the hailstorm (but see on Revelation 16:21). The vision would thus answer to that of the second seal, though with this difference, that under the seal war was permitted as a trial to the Church; here it is sent as God's vengeance against the persecutors. And they were cast upon the earth. "That is," says Wordsworth, "on the earthly power, opposed to Christ and his Church, which is the kingdom of heaven." But the words seem rather to describe the destruction of inanimate creation, as in the seventh plague of Egypt. The punishment would undoubtedly fall upon mankind eventually, though immediately upon the earth and its productions. Vitringa says the earth denotes the Roman empire; the sea, the barbarous races. And the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. Insert and the third part of the earth was burnt up, as in the Revised Version. "A third of all the trees, etc., on the earth," rather than "all the trees, etc., on a specified third part of the earth." The third part is almost unanimously considered to represent "a large part, but such that the greater part was still uninjured." We are reminded again of the seventh plague, where "the flax and the barley were smitten: but the wheat and the rie were not smitten" (Exodus 9:31, Exodus 9:32). Wordsworth interprets the trees to mean the "princes'' of the Roman empire; the grass, the common people. So also Hengstenberg. Elliott thinks "the third part of the earth" denotes the western part of the Roman empire, the eastern and central parts at first escaping the visitation. Bengel sees here a type of the wars of Trajan and Hadrian. Vitringa considers that the famine under Gallus is signified. Renan points to the storms of A.D. 63-68 as the fulfilment.
Revelation 8:8, Revelation 8:9
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea. Jeremiah 2:25 contains a somewhat similar description, with, however, a different meaning. There the mountain is the heathen power; here it is the instrument of the punishment of the ungodly world. Alford objects to calling the mountain a volcano, though that, or something of the same nature, seems obviously to be meant. The contiguity of such appearances to St. John in the Isle of Patmos may have suggested the idea. The judgments appear to increase in severity as we go on. The first affects vegetation, thus causing trouble, but not destruction to men; the second begins to affect animal life; the third causes many men to die; and the following ones affect men as direct punishments. The vision may be said generally to typify great trouble and commotion. The figure is used in other places to denote something remarkable and awe inspiring (cf. Matthew 21:21; 1 Corinthians 13:2; Job 9:5; Job 28:9; 5:5; 1 Kings 19:11; Psalms 46:2; Isaiah 34:3; Isaiah 54:10; Ezekiel 38:20; Micah 1:4; Nahum 1:5). It is also the symbol of a great power. In Isaiah 2:2 it signifies the Church; in Amos 4:1 an earthly power; in Isaiah 41:15 the enemies of Israel. We may therefore conclude that a judgment of great magnitude and force is foretold; and though it is possible to point to particular events (such as the overthrow of Rome by the Gothic power) as a fulfilment of the prophecy, yet we must remember that the complete fulfilment will not he accomplished until "all enemies are put under his feet." And the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed; even they that had life (Revised Version). (On the "third part," see on Isaiah 41:7.) Whether one third part of the sea, separated in some way from the rest, and all the creatures in that third part, or whether a third part diffused over the whole extent, is meant, it is impossible to say. The whole is a vision, and not subject to natural laws. The meaning is evident. As before, a large part, but not the largest, is signified and this time the judgment is directed against another portion of creation. The sea, as well as the productions of the earth, can be used by God as his agent by which to punish and warn mankind. The attempt to press the vision into a particular application has led to a variety of interpretations. Wordsworth and Elliott both think that the destruction of Roman ships is foretold; the former pointing to the ships as the instruments of commerce and luxury, the latter referring to the destruction of the Roman navy. Bengel, Grotius, Vitringa, see here a vision of war'. Hengstenberg believes the sea to typify this world; the living creatures, mankind; and the ships, villages and towns. Those who place the fulfilment of the vision in time subsequent to the sealing of Revelation 7:1-17. fail to see that the trumpets do not follow the seals in chronological order, but that both are being fulfilled side by side in the same epoch; viz. that of the existence of man.
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp. In the Old Testament trouble is foretold under the symbol of darkened stars (cf. Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10). In Matthew 24:29 the falling of stars is part of the general picture of the coming of the judgment day. The description here may therefore symbolize an act of judgment—one more of the troubles inflicted by God upon the guilty world. The frequent use of the symbol, star, as a type of one in an exalted position, has led most commentators to interpret the star of individual rulers, especially of those who poisoned the waters of Divine truth by heresy. But it seems more likely that the event here portrayed carries one step further the description of God's vengeance on the wicked, which has been already partially set forth. At first vegetation, then the sea, now the land waters, are smitten. The star, as the means employed by God, is typical of the awe striking nature of the punishment, and is indicative of the fact that the judgment is the act of God, and proceeds directly from heaven, and is not to be attributed to merely natural circumstances. And it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. Not upon a third part of the fountains, but upon all fountains, just as in Matthew 24:7 "all green grass" is visited with the plague. As stated above, another part of creation (and therefore another portion, of mankind) is afflicted. It is, of course, Impossible to point out the complete fulfilment of this judgment, Which is yet being fulfilled, but we may mention as illustrations the trouble caused to man by means of land waters, by floods, by drought, by pestilence. As before, only part suffers from this visitation; the greater part is spared.
And the name of the star is called Wormwood. The plant known to us under the name of wormwood is doubtless identical with the αψινθος of this passage. The present English word is a corruption of wer-mod (equivalent to ware-mood), which may be rendered "mind-preserver," a name given to the plant by the Saxons, on account of its fancied virtues; for it was believed to be a protection against madness. Such properties were formerly frequently ascribed to plants possessing bitter and nauseous tastes, such as that of the wormwood. Varieties of the plant are common in Palestine, and are widely distributed in the world. Among the ancients it was typical of bitter sorrow. Thus Lamentations 3:19, "Remembering my misery, the wormwood and the gall;" Jeremiah 9:15, "I will feed them with wormwood." Here, therefore, the name indicates the effect of the star, viz. to cause intense trouble and sorrow. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; that is, became bitter as wormwood, that is, charged with sorrow and disaster. The general effect of the incident is described in the name given to the chief actor, as in the case of the fourth seal (see Revelation 6:8). And many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter; many of the men. Possibly (though not necessarily) of the men dwelling near the waters. For the first time mention is made of the death of men, though, doubtless, it is implied in the preceding judgments. We may notice the contrast in the miracles of Moses, who sweetened the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:1-27.), and of Elisha (2 Kings 2:22).
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars. Still the created universe is the direct object of these visitations. The planets were smitten, but we are not told with what instrument. As Alford points out, this may teach us not to lay too great stress upon that part of the visions which describes the means. Our attention is to be fixed upon the effect, the stroke, not upon the mountain or the star by whose means the result is attained. (For the signification of the third part, vide supra.) In the Bible, frequent use is made of this figure to express trouble and commotion (see Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 24:23; Jeremiah 15:9; Ezekiel 32:7; Amos 8:9; Matthew 24:29). The sun, etc., are also looked upon as examples of stability. Thus Psalms 72:5, "As long as the sun and moon endure" (see also Psalms 72:17; Psalms 89:36). The vision may therefore be suggestive of God's power over things the most permanent and stable, and thus demonstrate to Christians his ability to punish "the ungodly who prosper in the world." Thus Job 9:7 attributes omnipotence to God, "which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and scaleth up the stars" (see also Psalms 136:8; Jeremiah 31:35). Thus, then, God can turn even the benign influences of the sun and planets into means for the destruction of man. In the countless evils which have their origin in the excess or defect of the power of the sun, we may see an illustration of the fulfilment of this judgment. We may point out that the very existence of such visitations as are here portrayed preclude the possibility of the fulfilment of the trumpet visions being subsequent in time to those of the seals. So as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise; that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in like manner. Probably, total darkness for a third part of the day and night is meant; not a third of the usual amount of light during the whole day and night (as Bengel and others). Renan, as a preterist, sees the fulfilment in the eclipses of A.D. 68. De Lyra, Wordsworth, and others see in this judgment a symbol of the infidelity, heresies, apostasies, and confusions in the world in the seventh century and at other times. Vitringa, adopting the historical view, refers the fulfilment to particular periods of the Roman empire.
And I beheld, and heard an angel. "An eagle" (Revised Version) is read in א, A, B, Vulgate, Syriac, Coptic, etc., while "angel" is found in P, 1, 16, 34, 47, etc. One manuscript (13) has ἀγγέλου ὡς ἀετοῦ. St. John sees one eagle, the symbol of what is swift and unerring in swooping upon its prey. Thus Job 9:26, "The eagle that hasteth to the prey" (see also Habakkuk 1:8; 2 Samuel 1:23). This is the meaning of the appearance of the eagle, which announces the swiftness and certainty of the coming woes. De Wette and others unnecessarily understand "an angel in the form of an eagle." De Lyra interprets it as St. John himself. Wordsworth, relying chiefly on the force of εἶς, believes that Christ is signified; but it is extremely doubtful whether the force of the numeral can be pressed so far. Others see a reference to the Roman legions, etc. The figure may have been suggested by Matthew 24:28. Flying through the midst of heaven; flying in mid heaven (Revised Version). Not "midway between earth and heaven," but "in the direct line of the sun." The word is found only here and in Revelation 14:6 and Revelation 19:17. In the former it is rendered as in this place, in the latter it is translated "in the sun." The eagle is thus plainly visible to all. Saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth! "Woe" is followed by "inhabiters" in the accusative case, according to א, B though the dative is read in A, P, and some cursives. "The inhabiters of the earth" are the ungodly, the worldly, those on whom God's wrath had been invoked by the saints at rest (Revelation 6:10), whose prayer is now answered The triple denunciation renders the threatened judgments more emphatic and terrible. By reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound; Greek, out of the other voices (denoting front whence the woe proceeds) who are yet to sound. "Trumpet," in the singular, because taken distributively—"of each trumpet." The three woes are described in
They perhaps refer to spiritual troubles. instead of being concerned (as in the case of the first four trumpets) with temporal judgments.
Silence in heaven.
"Silence in heaven"? and that for "about the space of half an hour"? £ What can this mean, or how can it furnish an expositor with material for instructive teaching? The question is a natural one, and it is capable of being answered. This verse is neither to be dismissed as if unintelligible, nor slighted as if unimportant. It is full of most intense significance, and will be found to illustrate the truth that some of the most obscure and unpromising verses of the Word of God do yield to the devout and careful student the most stimulating and helpful teaching. It will be remembered that the sixth chapter closed amid representations of gloom and tribulation; in which the alarm was so great that many would think the great day of God's wrath was come. Yet in this supposition they would be wrong; for the seventh seal had yet to be opened. At the same time, so great was the trouble there depicted as to suggest the question—Who shall live when God doeth this? As a relief to the anxious one, the Apostle John bids us see the security of the Church of God—a part being on earth, sealed in the tribulation, and a part in heaven, caught up out of it. This cheering scene having been witnessed, the apostle beholds the opening of the seals resumed—an indication of the coming of severer woes than any which have been yet recorded. At this stage, however, of the exposition it seems best to lay down the following principle: Whatever judgments come down upon the region below, they are seen by the apostle to be the consequences of activities in the region above. No stroke falls on earth that is not directed from heaven. The two worlds move in concert. The time accomplishments of one world correspond to the time appointments of another. Hence, if there should be a pause in the activities of the higher realm, that would bring about a pause in the movements of the lower. Such a pause in heaven John observes. This would indicate some intervening period of comparative quietude on earth. But what space of time in the revolution of earth's ages those thirty minutes indicated, or what specific epoch of tranquillity upon earth was thereby set forth, it is not possible for us to say. We know only that, while the apostle notes silence above, there is a calm below; and that this calm is but the prelude to a more intense activity than ever. And thus we have set before us, in unmistakable symbolism, this truth—That in the developments of God's plans in providence, there are times of comparative quietude, during which it seems as if the progress of things was stayed awhile. Respecting this, we will ask three questions, which we will endeavour also to answer.
I. WHAT IS INTENDED WHEN WE SPEAK OF PROGRESS BEING APPARENTLY STAYED? There are in the Word of God great promises and prophecies which open up a glorious vision for the future days. There have been also great events which have excited in the Church of God the strongest hopes, and which ever and anon form a restful background. In the retrospect of mighty wonders in days gone by, God's people take heart and hope for the days to come (Isaiah 51:9-11). To such periods there succeed long years in which either no appreciable advance is made towards the inbringing of the new heavens and the new earth; or if in one direction some progress appears, in another the cause of righteousness seems checked afresh by new developments of error, folly, and sin. Years on years roll by, our towns and cities grow with accelerating rapidity, and a larger area of dense population becomes an area, so much the larger, of religious indifference. The prophets of God are crying, "Flee from the wrath to come." They long for some manifestation of Divine power to startle man. But no. Man goes on sinning. And our God seems a God that "does nothing" (Carlyle). The thunder is rolled up. The lightning is sheathed. There is a prolonged lull. There is "silence in heaven." The sceptic makes use of the quietude to ask, "Where is the promise of his coming?" The careless one settles down at his ease, and cries, "The vision that he seeth is for many days to come." Hollow professors desert in crowds, and go over to the ranks of the enemy. Some faint hearted ones, if they do not hoist the white flag and capitulate, think perhaps their message is over weighted, and cast some of it away. Others, more loyal, continue to give out the message in its fulness, yet are beginning to tremble. Others, again, make the silence a plea for mightier prayer. They cry, "It is time for thee, Lord, to work;" "Arise, O Lord, plead thine own cause." And still—still there is "silence in heaven." No voice is heard from the invisible realms to break in upon the steady course of this earth's affairs, or to arouse and convict a slumbering world!
II. WHAT DOES THIS SILENCE MEAN? This "silence" is liable to be misinterpreted. Perhaps this is the one fact which is a sorer strain on the faith of believers than any other. As Faber plaintively moans—
"He hides himself so wondrously
As if there were no God;
He is least seen when all the powers
Of ill are most abroad."
What does it mean?
2. Positively. It is intended that we should learn positive lessons from "silence in heaven."
III. WHAT SHOULD THIS SILENCE TEACH US? AND WHAT EFFECT UPON US SHOULD IT HAVE?
1. Let us learn anew to exercise faith in the spiritual power which God wields by his Spirit, rather than in the material energy which shakes a globe. The greatest work of God is that which is the most still. Newspapers chronicle incident; but who could write an editorial on the growth of a spirit? "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation."
2. Let us use Heaven's time of keeping silence as a time for breaking ours (Isaiah 62:1, Isaiah 62:6, Isaiah 62:7).
3. Let the ungodly make use of the space given for repentance, by turning to the Lord with full purpose of heart. Let them not wait for terrors to alarm. Ice may be shivered into fragments, but it is ice still. Better to let the warm beams of God's love melt the icy soul.
4. Let us lay to heart the certain fact, that, although judgment is delayed, come it will. We know not when. We know not how. But "we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ."
Prayer and fire.
For some time there had been "silence in heaven." During this time there was a corresponding period of calm on earth. Then the prayers of the saints were rising to heaven, fragrant with the incense which mingled with them. As the sequel to these prayers, and as the answer to them, the angel takes fire in the censer and casts it on the earth. From that point a new series of activities unfolds. On these we shall touch in the next homily. Meanwhile we are detained by the thought of the connection between the prayers of the saints and the fire cast on the earth. As far back as the times of the Hebrew psalmist, the Church of God used such words as these: "By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation" (Psalms 65:5). Our Lord himself declared, "I am come to send fire on the earth" (Luke 12:49, Luke 12:50). He yearned for the conflict to take place, which must inevitably come—albeit that, ere it should come, he would have to undergo a terrible baptism of suffering and of blood. So that we get revealed to us a wondrous unison of thought, as regards the Lord, and as regards his Church under the Old and New Testaments—That "terrible things" on earth will mark the advance of God's kingdom upon it, as the result of a Saviour's sufferings and a Church's prayers. £
I. THE AFFAIRS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD TOUCH THIS EARTH AT EVERY POINT OF ITS CONCERNS. There are two common defects among Christian people in reflecting on the things of God. Some concern themselves almost exclusively with the outward development of God's kingdom in national life. Others, again, are almost equally absorbed with the aspect of God's work which concerns the salvation of the individual. Both should be included in one view. Each one may begin with himself in his religious concern, but no one may end there. We may, indeed, be thankful that, in the great affairs of worlds, God does not forget our small concerns; at the same time, we should often lose the thought of our own interests in our anxious care for the honour and glory of our Lord and for the growth of his kingdom. The pith of all the concentrated prayers of the saints is, "Thy kingdom come." Earthly thrones, political parties, Church politics, are only of service as they are helping to fulfil the will of God. And never will Christian people attain to the glory of their grand confession till they have public spirit enough to lead them to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
II. IN THE DEVELOPMENTS OF GOD'S KINGDOM THE UNFOLDINGS OF EARTH ARE AFFECTED BY AGENCIES ABOVE AND BEYOND IT. The main theme of our text presents us with the glorious and inspiring truth of an angelic ministry. That there should be one bond of moral sympathy uniting holy men and angels is not surprising when both are creatures of God. God uses us. He uses them. They are all ministering spirits. Among them there is no discord. They move in perfect accord with the will of him who sitteth upon the throne, wondering oft, perchance, as they look down upon earth, that it should harbour any treasonable revolt against the throne of God!
III. UPON THIS EARTH A CLAIM HAS BEEN MADE BY ONE IN HUMAN FORM, TO SUPREME SOVEREIGNTY OVER IT—a claim that, as things are, produces violent disturbance. It is true he came "not to judge the world but to save the world;" yet, from the nature of the case, even that saving process involves "sending fire on the earth." Satan is wrought up to fury when his subjects leave his bondage to serve freely their rightful Lord. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace, but when," etc. Kings have risen in revolt against the doctrine that there is another King, one Jesus. Priests are indignant when told that the priesthood of believers renders official priests a sham. Mammon's worshippers are wroth against the claims of Jesus. And, as the result of long, long ages of sin, huge ecclesiastical establishments, despotisms, international confederacies, vast hierarchies, great commercial concerns based on selfishness rather than righteousness, have taken usurped possession. And they must all be overthrown before perfect peace can be brought in. But how it is all to be done the great Lord alone can tell.
IV. THERE ARE TWO POTENT FORCES AT WORK WHICH ARE TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD THE PLEDGE THAT ALL THESE CONFEDERACIES OF EVIL WILL SOONER OR LATER BE BROKEN UP. One of these is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, followed as it is by his reigning power. In thinking of all these forces which are set forth in the chapter before us, it would be strange indeed if we lost sight of "him who is in the midst of the throne" to direct and inspire the whole. Our Lord's baptism of blood was but the earnest of his after-administrative sway. At his death the prince of this world was (potentially) cast out. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies beneath his feet." And while there is this regal force working earthward from heaven, there is another force working heavenward from earth—even the prayers of the saints. Our Lord himself has revealed the law that prayer is one of the hinges on which the world's movements turn. "Ask, and it shall be given you." And, more than all, he has not only told us to pray, but he has set us a-praying by the energies of his Spirit. Pray we must; pray we will. We cannot help it. Nor will the prayer be lost. God has not vainly said to the seed of Jacob, "Seek ye me."
V. IT IS THE DIVINE APPOINTMENT THAT, AS THE OUTCOME OF THIS DOUBLE FORCE, THERE SHOULD BE A DOUBLE SET OF RESPONSIVE PHENOMENA.
1. There is a new creating force of the Holy Spirit, slowly it may be, but surely, building up the new heavens and the new earth, which will emerge when all that must be shaken and overthrown is put away. This work is essentially and exclusively constructive.
2. There is another kind of agency—the providential—which is largely destructive, which clears the ground for a new advance. It is this overturning force which we have yet to see in action. The Jewish temple and nation had to be overthrown to prepare the way for a new step in advance. Struggle and bloodshed in Italy prepared the way for the downfall of the pope's temporal power. The war in America proved the destruction of slavery. Thus, as we look back on them, we see how destructive action hastens the progress of the world. So it has been. So it will be.
VI. IT IS DISCLOSED TO US IN THIS BOOK THAT MANY OF THE MOST FIERCELY DESTRUCTIVE EVENTS BY WHICH THE ILL IS TO BE OVERTHROWN, are the Divine method of answering his people's prayers. It is in response to prayer that the angel casts fire on the earth. Prayers sent up in calm are answered in storm.
"When we stand with Christ on high,
Looking o'er life's history,"
then—then shall we see more clearly than it is possible to do now, that the most "terrible things" have but prepared the way of the Lord. Difficulty: A difficulty may here suggest itself to some. The question may be asked—But are we to understand that God's saints are expected to pray for, or even that it is right for them to pray for, terrible judgments? We reply—Not so do we understand the matter; but thus: believers pray, "Arise, O God, plead thine own cause;" and then they leave it in the hands of God to answer the prayer in the way which seems best to him. Note: Do not let us be alarmed if, when God rises up, some tremendous shaking occurs. Such shakings must come. Empires, monarchies, kings, tyrannies, priesthoods, visible Churches, hierarchies, creeds, must be shaken. But why? "That those things which cannot be shaken may remain." Let Christians hold fast, watch, pray, wait, in perfect calm. Finally, let all preachers and hearers summon each other out from the prayerless crowd, and gather in among the praying ones. History gives us many an instructive parable. There was once a little company in an upper room—not more than a hundred and twenty—praying. At that very time there sat on his royal seat a Roman emperor, surrounded with all the pomp and power of the world. In the little company in the upper room there was a seed of life and progress that has been fruitful ever since, and is more so now than ever. In the court of Rome there was a worm of corruption silently and surely gnawing all the splendour, and bringing it to utter ruin. If we court the world's smiles and wealth and applause, we may make a show, but only for a time. If ours is the breath of prayer, we shall reign when the pomp of earth has vanished forever away!
Verse 7-Rev 9:21
The first six trumpets.
The eighth and ninth chapters are confessedly the most intricate part of the book. Yet they are full of Divine teaching which we could ill afford to lose—teaching thrown into a form altogether peculiar to this Apocalyptic book, which will amply repay the closest attention which we can give to it. Here we have the sounding of the first six trumpets under the seventh seal. According to historical interpreters of the two main schools, their fulfilment was accomplished, at least in part, in the events indicated in the following table:—(Fulfilment according to Archdeacon Farrar £; Fulfilment according to Rev. E.B. Elliott £)
Hail and fire mingled with blood are cast upon the earth, and one third part of earth and trees and all green grass is burnt up.
Farrar—Years of burning drought, rains of blood, disastrous conflagrations and earthquake, as those in Lyons, Rome, Jerusalem, Naples, etc..
Elliott—The invasion of the Roman empire by Alaric, King of the Goths.
A great mountain is cast into the sea: one third part of the sea, of the creatures therein, and of the ships, is smitten.
Farrar—Great calamities connected with the sea and ships such as those of which the time of Nero furnished abundant instances.
Elliott—The invasion of the Roman empire by Genseric, King of the Vandals.
A star falls from heaven: one third part of the rivers and fountains is smitten, and the waters are made bitter.
Farrar—The overthrow of Nero, the ominous failure of the Julian line, and the bitterness occasioned thereby.
Elliott—The invasion of the Roman empire by Attila, King of the Huns (A.D). 433 to A.D. 453).
A third part of the sun, moon, and stars is smitten.
Farrar—Ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain, of the Roman empire, and of the Jewish nation, died by murder or suicide.
Elliott—Final conquest of Rome and the Western empire by Odoacer, King of the Heruli.
A star falls from heaven: a great swarm of locusts from the abyss.
Farrar—The star = Nero. The host of locusts = demons. Stier is quoted as saying, "In the period between the Resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish nation acted as if possessed by seven thousand demons."
Elliott—The star=Satan. The locusts = the sudden rise of Mohammedanism. The five months = a hundred and fifty years. In 612 Mahomet commenced his prophetic mission. In 762 Christendom was delivered from the terror and persecution of the Saracens.
The army of the horsemen is seen, numbering two hundred millions, with fire-breathing horses.
Farrar—"The swarms of Orientals who gathered to the destruction of Jerusalem in the train of Titus, and the overwhelming Parthian host which was expected to avenge the ruin of Nero."
Elliott—The Turks from the Euphratean frontier, subverting the empire of Eastern Christendom, and taking Constantinople. The ensign of one, two, or three horsetails marks distinctively the dignity and power of the Turkish pacha. From the loosing the four angels to the slaying the third part of men was an hour, a day, a month, and a year; i.e. 396 years, 118 days, which is just the time from the loosing of the united Turco-Moslem power from the Euphrates to the fall of Constantinople.
That there is, in both the earlier and later series of events given in the above table, a remarkable correspondence between the symbolic pictures in the text and the recorded facts of history, no one who has studied the whole matter can question. Nevertheless, we cannot but agree with a remark of Archdeacon Farrar himself, who, after pointing out the incidents given in the centre column as a fulfilment of the Apocalyptic visions, says," These vaticinations do not belong in the least to the essence or heart of the Apocalypse. They are but passing illustrations of the great principles—the hopes and warnings—which it was meant to inculcate. £ So, also, it is remarked by another singularly able and luminous writer on this book, £ "The predictions of these two chapters are manifold, not single, in their fulfilment. Wherever war has been employed, under God's overruling providence, to humble pride and to break up overgrown and overbearing powers, there have these chapters had an accomplishment again and again, and each separate accomplishment has been in its turn a prediction of the prognostication of the greatest accomplishment and of the last. Those hordes of invading barbarians which broke up the monster empire of Rome, and out of whose conquests modern Europe eventually grew, were one fulfilment—they were not the only fulfilment of these prophecies. Never were the figures of the locust swarms, with their teeth as of lions and their hair as of women, more strikingly exemplified than in those irruptions. But they did not exhaust the prophecies before us. When the mighty power of the French empire at the beginning of this century was broken up by a coalition as of God's hosts mustering for the battle against human pride and human ambition, then was there a new fulfilment, itself prophetic of another and another, till the last of all. The words of God are manifold in their application, just because they deal, not with instances only, but with principles." It is also obvious that since there are given in the tabular form above at least two distinct series of events, illustrating and confirming the prophecy, it is not possible, in the face of such well-known historic facts, to regard the prophecy as fulfilled completely in either. We have deemed it needful, at least once, more fully than is our wont, to draw this out and set it before the eye, that the student may see that in the fact of several fulfilments being already accomplished, there is a distinct proof of the main thesis on which our homiletic exposition of the Apocalypse is based—that we have before us a series of pictures and parables designed to set forth the principles and methods of the Divine government, and the varied fortunes through which God's Church must pass on her way to the consummation of all things. These principles are indicated in the chapters before us, and we will now endeavour to set them forth.
I. THE WORLD IS HERE LOOKED AT AS BEARING A GREAT BURDEN OF SIN. (Revelation 9:20, Revelation 9:21.) And to such a height is sin seen to rise that it is as if the Most High were practically excluded from his own world. Two classes of evils are specified here—one in which that which is no god is worshipped; another in which the commands of God for the regulation of life are entirely ignored. And these are precisely the two forms in which in every age the claims, of God have been set at nought. That which we call idolatry is such whether man worships idols of wood and stone, or whether he regards matter and force as potentially adequate to all things. Yea, if there be a difference, the idolatry of the heathen is preferable to that of the materialist. For in pagan idolatries the worship is paid to that which is fashioned by the hand of man—or to that which is brought into being by a Supreme Power, as representing the Power which is at the back of all. But in materialism there is no Being of any kind, no Power to which worship is paid. The Maker of all is ignored. Paganism worships that which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk, as representing that which can. But materialism knows no object of worship at all, and is chargeable with the supreme absurdity of attributing the evolution of sight, hearing, thinking, loving, from that which can neither love, think, hear, nor see! It is not, however, the absurdity of this which is noted in the text, but its sin. It is a robbery of God. "If I be a Father, where is my fear? If I be a Master, where is mine honour?" The second form of evil is immorality—murders, sorceries, fornication, thefts—sufficiently suggestive of all the violations of the laws of morals under which this earth groans. And these two evils—irreligion or false religion, and immorality—are the sum of all ill in the world. Could we but see the whole mass of sin in its combination, it would be to us most amazing that the Most High God did not sweep away at once all these abominations. God's patience is the most wonderful of all his attributes. "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me."
II. THE PERIODS OF QUIETUDE WHICH EARTH MAY WITNESS WILL NOT ALWAYS CONTINUE. (Revelation 8:5, Revelation 8:6.) We had occasion to observe in a previous homily that there are apparent lulls in the Divine procedure. God "keeps silence." There may, for a while, be no "taste of thunder in the air," nor any threatening sign of gathering hosts. Men may be reckoning, as in 1851, that a time of unusual peace is near. And to this conclusion they may come hastily, through forgetting that universal peace never can be assured till there is universal righteousness. Following in rapid succession on the apparent auguries of peace in 1851 were the Crimean, the American, and the Franco-German wars. The time will come when war shall cease unto the ends of the earth. But it is not yet.
III. THERE ARE PENT UP DESTRUCTIVE FORCES ONLY WAITING TO BE LET LOOSE. (Revelation 9:1, Revelation 9:14.) The "abyss" was full of "locusts;" the "four angels" were bound in the great river Euphrates. In both cases these were tremendous destructive forces, "shut up" or "bound" for a while. But they could only exert their power under Divine permission. Not till the command is given to loose them can they show themselves. No seal can be opened nor any trumpet sounded save under the direction of him who is in the midst of the throne. "The Lord reigneth," and foresees all with exact precision, to the year, the month, the day, the hour.
IV. WHEN SUCH FORCES ARE LET LOOSE, THE EFFECT WILL BE STARTLING AS THE BLAST OF A TRUMPET. (Revelation 8:2.) The imagery of the Apocalypse is gathered in the main from the Old Testament. Of old, trumpets were sounded, mainly, for one or other of two purposes—they marked an epoch for the Church; they proclaimed war upon the world. And we cannot but be struck with the variety of symbolism under which the effect of the trumpet sounding is set. But however great the variety in each case, there is indicated the smiting, even to its overthrow, of some great world power. By the first trumpet, destruction sweeping over the earth is shown. By the second, the downfall of some nation or empire. By the third, the overthrow of some sovereign. By the fourth, a widespread storm. By the fifth, a tremendous rush of evil, as if organized by the very devil himself. By the sixth, a succession of destructive plagues. And who can read history and not know that precisely such events are ever recurring again and again?
V. WHEN IN THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD SUCH DESTRUCTIVE FORCES ARE LET LOOSE, THEN THE MAIN FACTORS ON WHICH NATIONAL WEALTH DEPENDS INSTANTLY FAIL. (Revelation 8:9.) How much is indicated in that symbolic expression, "a third part of the ships were destroyed"! If anything like this were to occur to British ships, a large portion of our material defences, and even of our supplies of food, would be in a moment withdrawn! Yes; we are absolutely in God's hands. We hold the common blessings of life most entirely at his disposal. The world is governed for God's purposes, and not for ours.
VI. HOWEVER ACTIVE THESE DESTRUCTIVE AGENCIES MAY BE, THEY HAVE THEIR LIMIT. (Revelation 9:4, Revelation 9:5.) Neither nature nor man can be injured beyond God's permissive line. To the men who have not the seal of God on their foreheads, there should be distress and torment; but even their lives should not be at the mercy of others, but should be guarded by a higher Power. Albeit in some cases so great should be the distress that men should seek death and should not find it. But the text implies that to those men who have the seal of God on their foreheads no harm of any kind should come. In the worst of times there should be round them a special guard. Nothing will be lost or hurt that is God's. The mightiest agents of destruction, though apparently uncurbed, yet have their curb. God girds them, though they do not know him. We have seen in the appalling wildness and savage grandeur of a mountain pass, when the wild winds were howling as if they would rend the very rocks in pieces, a tiny flower sheltered in its little nook, safe in its little bed of earth, turfed as richly as though on it God had spent special care; and the same wind that rent in pieces the rocks before the Lord, blew to that little flower the tiny morsel of soil that was wanted to nourish its roots, and the little drop of spray from the roaring cascade beneath that was needed to refresh its petals. Wild winds were roaring, torrents were rolling, dashing, and foaming, yet the little flower bloomed up on high, safe, serene, and calm. So shall it be in "the great tribulation" with those who have the seal of God in their foreheads. As Paul Gerhardt sings, in respect of the Thirty Years' War, "As faithful mothers in severe storms on earth anxiously keep and guard their little ones, so also does God, when tribulation and distress arise, press his children to his bosom" (cf. Hengstenberg, in loc.).
VII. IT IS THE FUNCTION OF THESE WILD DESTRUCTIVE AGENCIES TO CLEAR THE WAY OF THE LORD. That is implied in the whole series of trumpets. In every case there is very much that is swept out of the way. As settlers in regions of forests have first to clear the ground, so is it with these overturning providences. "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence … a fire shall devour before him." "I will overturn, and overturn, and overturn, till he shall come whose right it is." £ This is the meaning of the whole.
VIII. THERE IS ONE EFFECT WHICH THEY WILL NOT ACCOMPLISH. (Revelation 9:20, Revelation 9:21.) They will not bring men to repentance. It is not by such judgments of terror that men will be converted. A thunder peal may alarm, but it does not cure disease. The earthquake may shake a house, but will not repair or cleanse. So the judgments of God may make the heart tremble, and yet not subdue it. Men who have resisted the gentler calls of God's grace will steel themselves against the smart of his rod. Pharaoh's plagues terrified him, but yet hardened him. We are often tempted even now to say, "Oh, if God would but break the awful stillness, or if he would show us in letters of flame that he is—men would hear!" No, they would not. They would begin to try to account for the sound and the flame By attributing them to some purely physical cause. "Lord, when thine hand is lifted up, they will not see." "If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
These truths, so clear amidst all the difficulty of detail, should lead us to ponder such thoughts as these:
1. If now, with us, it is a time of comparative calm, do not let us think God unobservant, nor reckon securely on a continuance of ease and quiet. Your home is peaceful just now, perhaps; you may be comparatively free from care. And because of this you may be at ease in Zion. But it will not always be a time of ease with you. The day of cloud and care will come.
2. Let us regard every common providential mercy as the voice of God. There is a sacredness surrounding us always. God is in the gentle light and dew, as well as in the lightning and the tornado. "Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord."
3. Let us bless God that he speaks to us ever in the mild and gentle voice of the gospel. This is his sweetest, clearest voice.
4. It is by the Word of his grace that he will do his constructive work, and by the energy of his Spirit. The throwing down of obstructions may he effected by providential events. The building up of the new heavens and the new earth will be secured by his conquering love. "The Lord will send forth the rod of his strength out of Zion." "The sword of the. Spirit is the Word of God."
5. Then do not let us wait for God to thunder ere we listen to his voice. "One thing hath God spoken, yea, two things are there which I have heard: that power belongeth unto God; and that unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy; for thou renderest to every man according to his work" (Psalms 62:10, Psalms 62:11). If he repent, mercy will forgive. If he finally rebel, justice must condemn.
6. Seeing we know not when any of these trumpets may again be sounded, let us learn to hold everything we have at the Divine disposal, and to say," If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that."
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
"There was silence … half an hour." No one certainly knows what these words mean. Every one can see that they tell of a pause, an interval between the opening of the seventh seal and the sounding of the first of those trumpets of which this eighth chapter mainly speaks. It may be—as one great expositor suggests—that during that Lord's day in which St. John was in the Spirit, and during which he saw in stately procession the series of magnificent visions, or heard, one following the other, the varied voices which spoke—it may have been that for about half an hour of that thrice holy day no voice, whether from the throne, or from the living ones, or from the holy angels, or from the multitude of the redeemed, or from the distracted and despairing enemies of God, was heard. All was still, still as is often the half hour before the thunderstorm bursts. As before the rattling peal, and the lightning flash, and the tornado of rain and wind, there is a hush, the air all but motionless, no movement anywhere, not even the rustling of a leaf or the swaying of the corn, a solemn pause as if the elements were gathering up their strength preparatory to the rush and rage of the tempest that is so soon to break; so here, all that had preceded, the visions and voices of which the former chapters tell, so awful and soul subduing as many of them were, seem to have said to all the inhabitants of heaven, "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth." Angel and the four cherubim, martyred saint and redeemed multitude,—all are still. "There was silence in heaven." We venture not to affirm what exact events in the history of the Church, or of the world as it affected the Church, are pointed at by this silence; conjectures, several most ingenious and interesting, have been made by this interpreter and that, but who out of them all is right? or if any of them be so, who can say? The key to the complete unlocking of the symbols of this book seems either to have been host, or at any rate put aside for the present. But we can readily see that there was good reason for the silence spoken of. As the judgments of God went on, blow after blow falling upon the cruel enemies of the Church; as the righteous wrath of God arose and overwhelmed the persecutors of his people;—must not they who beheld all this have felt that in the presence of such manifestations of God speech and all utterance were out of place? What could they do but "be silent before the Lord, for he was raised up out of his holy habitation"? And besides this solemn awe, what wonder and amazement there must have been at the overthrow of their seemingly invincible toes! Think of the power of Rome only at this period. Her laws were administered from Britain to the Euphrates, from the Baltic to the equator. She was the incarnation of earthly power. And there would be also the silence of adoring, worshipful love. That amid all that wild fury of bloodshed and destruction God had known how to deliver and preserve his own. And there would be the silence of expectation, of eager intent, gazing forward to see what next would be revealed. As men hold their breath, and their hearts almost stand still, and their lips utter no word, in presence of some near anticipated terror, so here—there was silence like to that. And though we cannot explain it, yet is this silence in heaven very suggestive to us here on earth. Once and again, when our Lord marked some glaring fault in those about him, he would rebuke it by holding up the contrast which was presented in heaven. When, for example, the scribes and Pharisees murmured at his receiving sinners, our Lord told them that in heaven there was joy over one sinner repenting. And so amid the din and clatter of this noisy age, and men loving to have it so, it is well to be reminded that in heaven there became silence for a while. For that which had place in heaven has much need to have place here. We sing—
"In sacred silence of the mind,
My heaven, and there my God, I find."
But it is to be questioned if many believe this. Therefore they seldom cease what Carlyle calls "that chaotic hubbub, in which their souls run to waste." "Out of silence," he adds, "comes thy strength. Speech is silvern, silence is golden; speech is human, silence is Divine." The absence of it causes much mischief. Therefore we plead for the following of the heavenly example here told of—for intervals of quiet, for times of silence, for seasons of meditation, reflection, thought. It is well there should be the "Selah"—the pause, which we so often are directed to in the psalms. Our Lord sets us the example. He was wont to secure such seasons by his retirement to mountains and groves, where all night he would commune with God. For lack of such silences moral fibre is weakened. If a locomotive is to do its work, it must cease its noisy letting off steam. Great talkers are rarely great doers. Words waste strength. How often our Lord strictly charged those whom he had healed not to go and talk about it! The temptation to do so would be great, but if yielded to all the spiritual blessing would be lost. Hence he so "straitly charged them." Little good—so the 'Pilgrim's Progress' tells us—was got out of the Mr. Talkative of whom the book tells. But silence stores up strength. And the Spirit's work is hindered. How often the birds, which our Saviour said snatched away the good seed which had been sown—how often they take the form of idle foolish talk, which, entered into at the very doors of the sanctuary, render hopeless all prospect of holy impression being retained or good purpose fulfilled! The Lord was wont to take people aside when he would bless them. It is so now. And when men would resist the Spirit they shun these silent seasons. The accusers of the woman taken in adultery could not endure the Lord's silence, his answering them not a word, and hence they heap their questions upon him, and demand an answer; for any answer would be less terrible than that dread silence. Would we grow in grace, such silences are essential. The habit of retreat, of quiet before God, must be cultivated. All growth is silent. Who hears the springing of the corn, the unfolding of the flower, the increase of the body in stature? And so is it with the growth of the soul. Like the noiseless building of Solomon's temple, of which Heber sings—
"No hammer fell, no ponderous axes rung;
Like some tall palm the mystic fabric sprung."
And so in the building up of spiritual character, in growth in grace, silence, stillness, must be secured. Spiritual worship is silent in its essence, though not in expression. Submission is silent. "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it" (Psalms 39:1-13.). So was it with Aaron, "the saint of the Lord;" when in one awful judgment stroke he saw his two ungodly sons smitten dead, it is told that he uttered not a word. Knowledge of God demands silence. "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." We must be still would we know God to be God. He is not in the earthquake, nor the fire, but in the still small voice. O blessed silence, O grace and might of holy quietness, sweet stillness of the soul, in which the footfall of God is heard, and his voice speaks joy, and the angels of patience and hope visit us, and Faith renews her strength!
"Silent Spirit, dwell with me;
I myself would silent be."
And to encourage us to seek these quiet hours, how often does God take us apart from the noise and rush, the everlasting din and bustle, of our common life! Seasons of sickness are designed to be such times of silent retreat, when we may "commune with" our "own heart upon our bed, and be still," and so have leisure to attend to the life within. Sabbaths, these days of the Lord in which we should be, as St. John was, "in the Spirit," are they not God's messengers to us, saying, "Rest; be silent from thy common speech, thy common work; meditate on things eternal; let there be pause in the activities of thy daily life; imitate as best thou canst the season of silence of the saints in heaven"? And the unseen world, the place of the departed, that intermediate condition in which till the resurrection the souls of believers rest, this also is merely another divinely given retreat for the soul—a going down into silence, as the psalm calls it. White robes are theirs (see Revelation 5:1-14.), which tell of the love of God to them, and that they are cleansed in the blood of Christ, and rest, quiet, calm, in the presence of the Lord. Sleep for all the bodily powers, but not for the soul. That—now that the once busy hands and feet are at rest, and the heart throbs no more, and the tongue utters no word, none, though often we here long
"For the touch of a vanished hand,
For the sound of a voice that is still"
—that now lives unto God, where "he hath hid his beloved in his pavilion from the strife of tongues." There, the Martha-like activity over, we may, like Mary, sit at the Master's feet and share in that "good part," as here on earth was but rarely possible for us. So great is the value of these silences, of one of which our text tells, and to which it has turned our thoughts, and not unprofitably, we trust, but so that it has been good for us to muse on the "silence" there was "in heaven for half an hour."—S.C.
The ministry of angels.
"And I saw the seven angels." These holy beings are continually spoken of in Scripture, and in no book of the Bible more frequently or emphatically than in this. From their first mention in connection with the touching story of Hagar and her child, which we read of in Genesis, down to their constant ministry, now of mercy, now of terror, which we read of in these closing pages of the Bible, we are continually meeting with references to them. It, therefore, cannot but be important to us to understand what we may on this most interesting but most mysterious subject. For we cannot think that their work and ministry are finished, and that now they have nothing to do with us, nor we with them. We feel sure that the reverse is the truth. True, there has been much of mere imagination in the representations that have been given of angels by poets and painters both. They have been the makers of men's common ideas concerning angels, and have caused not a little misunderstanding and misreading of the Scriptures on this theme. Jewish fables and legends of various kinds have been mingled with the plain teaching of God's Word, and hence the whole subject has come to be wrapped in a haze of difficulty and doubt, leading, in many cases, to complete denial of the existence of angels at all. But a careful study of the Scriptures will show that the truth as to the angels is one full of consolation and of sacred impulse; of solemn warning also; in short, that it is part of that truth which is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof," etc. Consider—
I. THE REALITY OF THE ANGELIC WORLD. And there can be no doubt but that
1. The Scriptures plainly assert it. They are spoken of there in clear and positive manner as to their high dignity, their sanctity, their power, their blessedness, their heavenly home, their employments, their vast numbers, and their immortality. All this is told of the holy angels. But there are evil angels likewise, who are represented as serving under their prince Satan, as the holy angels serve under God. They are evil and wretched, and full of all malignity and wickedness.
2. And all this is not mere accommodation, on the part of the Scriptures, to popular ideas and beliefs. This has been long and loudly asserted. No doubt there were all manner of strange beliefs on the subject of the spirit world. The ancients peopled the universe around with all kinds of strange inhabitants, and the Jews were only less credulous on these matters than the heathen around. Hence it is said that our Lord and his apostles accommodated themselves to these ideas, and represented the various facts of nature and providence as if angels or demons were employed about them, but not teaching that such actually was the case. But this theory has only to be stated for its untenableness immediately to appear. And the plain teaching of Scripture would have been more readily received had not poets and painters—those mighty manufacturers of so much, and manifold, and often mischievous mistake—persisted in always representing angels in one way—beautiful youths with wings. Milton is very great upon their wings. But the result of this has been to relegate the whole doctrine of angels to the region of myth and imagination, and to rob the Church of the comfort and help the real truth as it is given in the Bible would afford. The fancies and fables of heathendom were but one more out of the many instances in which, as St. Paul describes them, they were feeling after the truth.
3. And why should there be any doubt as to the reality of angels? Is not all life, from the lowest zoophyte up to the most gifted of the sons of men, one continual ascent? But why should the progression halt with us? why should there not be an ascent beyond, as there is up to, ourselves? All analogy leads us to think there is, and to be on the look out and expectation for orders of beings that may span the vast distance which must forever separate us and God. The Bible and analogy confirm one another. But a more important and difficult inquiry relates to—
II. THEIR NATURE, ORIGIN, AND HISTORY. Who and what are they?
1. Much has been assumed concerning them, but resting on very slender foundations; as:
"... to be avenged,
And to repair his numbers thus impaired,
Whether such virtue, spent of old, now failed
More angels to create (if they at least
Are his created) or to spite us more,
Determined to advance into our room
A creature formed of earth, and him endue
With heavenly spoils (our spoils)."
But may it not be that:
2. Angels are perfected men—" the spirits of the just made perfect"? Young, the author of the 'Night Thoughts,' thus sets forth this belief—
"Why doubt we, then, the glorious truth to sing?
Angels are men of a superior kind;
Angels are men in lighter habit clad,
High o'er celestial mountains winged in flight,
And men are angels loaded for an hour,
Who wade this miry vale and climb with pain
And slippery step, the bottom of the steep."
But on such a theme as this we want Scripture, and not poetry, to tell us what we are to believe; and from Scripture we gather:
3. And all this is not set aside by the statements in 2 Peter and in the Epistle of Jude. In both these Epistles it is said that God "spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down into hell." It is on these statements, amplified and enlarged by Milton and others, that the popular belief is based. But it is to be noted that the two statements in these Epistles are but copies one of another or of some common document. Place the passages side by side, and this will be evident, the writer of 2 Peter probably copying from Jude. And it is not to be forgotten that the canonical authority of these two Epistles is the least and lowest of all the Scriptures. But even were it not so, the source whence their statements on this question are taken is well known. They are a quotation from the apocryphal Book of Enoch—a book of no authority and little worth, but which was familiar to those to whom these Epistles were written; and, hence, illustrations drawn from it, whether true or not, would serve the writers' purpose, and are therefore made use of. It therefore cannot be allowed that these two isolated statements—though they are one rather than two, and of such doubtful authority—should set aside what Scripture and reason alike teach on this most interesting theme.
CONCLUSION. See some of the consequences of this understanding concerning the angels.
1. The future life becomes far more real to us. For now that we have identified the angels, as we think has been done, with "the spirits of just men made perfect," we are delivered from that vagueness of idea as to those who have gone away from us through their having died in the Lord. They are no longer formless, incorporeal, unimaginable beings, mist and cloud-like rather than human, but we know that it is as the disciples believed—the angel, the spirit of their Master resembled him. His resurrection body did resemble his former material body so that he could be recognized as we know he was.
2. And we know some of the occupations of that heavenly state. So long as we regarded angels as a different order of beings from redeemed men, we could not regard their work as that which one day shall be ours. But looking upon them as ourselves as "we shall be," we can see what vast store of holy employ and sacred service awaits us. See their manifold service as shown in this chapter only. Heaven is not an everlasting sitting on "green and flowery mounts," an "eternity of the tabor," as one has described it, but a life of holy and blessed service for God and for man.—S.C.
"To them were given seven trumpets." Many instruments of music are mentioned in the Bible, but the trumpet is the one that stands out prominent amidst them all. There are stringed instruments, of which the chief is the harp; and there are those whose sound is produced by striking the stretched skin of which they are made, as the cymbals; but none are named so frequently as the trumpet. In Numbers 10:1-10 there are given express commands for their construction, and throughout the Bible, from the giving of the Law at Sinai down to the sounding of the last trump, and this vision of the seven trumpets, we continually meet with them. We are, therefore, justified in attaching significance to them and regarding them as symbolizing truths God would have us learn. For he commanded both their making and their use. They played a prominent part in connection with the divinely ordained worship both of the tabernacle and the temple, and the whole land of Israel echoed at divinely appointed seasons with their spirit-stirring notes. A glance at a concordance will show bow constantly and on what occasions they were used. What, therefore, may we learn from them? They teach—
I. GOD HAS A MESSAGE FOR US. Had they been a merely man-devised instrument, we could not have said this; but when we find that they were adopted by God in his service, we cannot err in regarding their clear, loud notes as telling of his message and will. And, in fact, they were used to indicate to Israel the advent of seasons of worship—the new year, the new moon, the jubilee, and other occasions when God commanded his people to render special service. And these special messages remind us of God's great message to mankind, which he has given to us in his Word. He has not left us unthought of, uncared for, uninformed. It was not likely that he would. He has made known to us his will.
II. THE MANNER OF THAT MESSAGE. Such truths as these are suggested by this trumpet-symbol.
1. How urgent! The trumpet blast was startling, arousing; its clear, loud note penetrated the dullest ear, and reached those afar off, and forced all to listen. And such message of urgency God's Word brings to us. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead!"—so it speaks to us. "How shall we escape if we neglect," etc.? It is no mere matter of indifference, but life and death hang upon it. And:
2. How warlike! The trumpet note was emphatically the music of war. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 42:14) represents as a blessed condition not then attainable, and a land all unlike his own, "where we shall hear no sound of trumpet." And in this vision of the seven trumpets war is their most prominent meaning. And thus we are reminded of our Lord's words, "I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword." God's Word is a battle summons, a call to "fight the good fight of faith." It is what we do not like, but which we must accept, would we share those rewards which are given "to him that overcometh."
3. How terrible! The hosts of Midian fled in dismay when the blast of Gideon's trumpet burst on their startled ears. Terror seized on them and made them an easy prey. And in this chapter it is the terribleness of the judgments of God upon his enemies which the seven trumpets tell of. And God's Word is terrible to those who know him not. The Bible is a dreadful book to the impenitent man when awakened, as one day he will be, to his real condition before God. It is like the prophet's scroll to him, written within and without, of sorrow, lamentation, and woe. To the froward it shows itself froward. But:
4. How animating to the hearts of the people of God! The trumpet, like the loud cheering of troops as they dash forward in the fight, heartens them; and the trumpet sound was designed to do this. And God's Word is full of heart-cheering truth to all them that trust in him. And:
5. How joyful was the sound when it proclaimed, as so often the trumpet did, the advent of some glad festival, some "acceptable year of the Lord," the jubilee especially! And in the Feast of Tabernacles the general hilarity was heightened by the frequent sounding of the silver trumpets by the priests. "Blessed are the people that hear the joyful sound"—this is said of God's message of grace, and such joyful sound is the characteristic note of the gospel. And:
6. Flow irresistible is the trumpet sound! The lofty massive walls of Jericho fell down fiat before the trumpet blast. The dead, so insensible to all else, shall hear that call; "for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised." "All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." And so today where God's Word comes in power, dead hearts are roused and sleepers awake. O blessed power of God's Word, that it will, it must, have obedience rendered to it! "He speaks, and it is done; he commands, and it stands fast." But if resisted now—as too often it is—the obedience that will have to be rendered at the last will be to the word, "Depart, ye cursed!" But now it bids us "come." Let us hear that.—S.C.
The vision of the opening of the seven seals is completed. We are not told what took place when the seventh seal was opened, only that then there was a solemn pause—" silence in heaven for half an hour." Alter the opening of the sixth seal the progress of events was interrupted, that the mark and impress of God might be put upon the Israel of God—those out of the Jewish nation who were to be delivered out of the impending judgments. Then was shown, also, the beatific vision of the great multitude of the saved out of all nations. Then comes the opening of the seventh seal (Revelation 8:1); but of its contents we have no record; perhaps in this world we never shall have. We are told only of the "silence" that ensued. That silence may point to the blessed calm of heaven, where God hides his people "in his pavilion from the strife of tongues." And also to the amazement and fear which had fallen on the foes of the Church, a little while before so loud and fierce, now so still in awful fear. And now begins a new series of visions, not succeeding the former in order of time, but parallel and simultaneous, and running up to the same issue. This new series is that of the seven trumpets. Seven angels are seen to whom the trumpets are given, but ere they sound there is seen that of which these verses (3-6) tell—the angel at the golden altar, the altar of incense which stood before the throne. To this angel is given much incense, which he mingles with that which is already on the altar. This vision is not alone mysterious, but full of interest and instruction. It teaches us much concerning prayer.
I. THAT IT IS CHARACTERISTIC OF ALL SAINTS. God's holy ones, his saints, all of them pray. Their prayers are represented as being on the altar before the throne. There are none of the holy ones whose prayers are not there. Prayer is common to them all. "Behold, he prayeth," was the Lord's unanswerable argument to Ananias, that Saul the persecutor was really converted. And it is ever a sign that a man belongs to the company of the "holy ones," the saints.
II. THEY ALL PRAY IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Their prayers are on the altar. The altar sacrifice ever tells of Christ and of his perfect sacrifice, the ground of all our hopes, the source of all our salvation, and the basis of all our prayers. And hence the prayers of all saints are represented as resting on the altar, as the incense, type of all such prayers (Revelation 8:8), rests thereon. The name of Christ may not be uttered in word, but when any appeal to God as he is made known to us only in Christ, and especially in Christ on the cross, and when they pray in the spirit—the lowly, meek, trusting spirit—of Christ, then, though his blessed name may not be mentioned, their prayers are really in his name, and find acceptance thereby. The Lord's prayer does not name Christ, but assuredly it is a prayer in his name. And thus all true prayer is in him, and rests on the altar of his sacrifice.
III. THAT THE BLESSED ONES IN HEAVEN JOIN THEIR PRAYERS WITH OURS. There is a communion of saints. Great question has arisen as to who the angel was that is seen in this vision, standing at the altar with much incense. Some, as Hengstenberg, affirm that he represents no one; that he is to be regarded as having no symbolical significance, but as only belonging to the form, not the substance, of the vision. Others, the Church of Rome, that he is one of the angel intercessors; and hence is deduced that Church's doctrine of the worship of angels and saints. Others again, Protestants, in order to avoid this doctrine, say the angel is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ; that he is here interceding for his people as he is wont to do. But in this book the Lord Jesus Christ is never called an angel, nor represented as taking the place or form of an angel. Further, the "much incense" is said to be "given to" the angel, just as the trumpets were given to the seven angels. But the Lord Jesus Christ intercedes for us, not on the ground of any excellence that is given to him, but on the ground of his own inherent worth, and what he himself has done and suffered on our behalf. He has redeemed us by "his own blood." Furthermore, it is to be noted that that which the angel brings to the altar is the same as that which is already there. Incense is "the prayers of saints," and their prayers are incense. That, therefore, which the angel brings is not something different from what is on the altar, but merely an addition of the same kind. But that which Christ gives to our prayers is a worthiness and acceptableness such as they have not of themselves, and cannot have until given by him. It is by no means the same, but far other as the angel's was not. And the angel brings his incense to the altar, as do the saints themselves; his prayers and theirs are accepted on the same ground. Hence, for these reasons, we cannot regard the angel spoken of here as being the Lord Jesus Christ. But we regard the angel as one of the blessed in the presence of God, one eminent in prayer, one to whom the spirit of grace and supplication had been given in large measure, and so he had "much incense." And he joins on his prayers, unites them with the prayers of all saints. No doubt he had often done so when on earth, and now he does so in heaven. There he had with them besought God to bless and keep his Church in sore peril and distress, and this prayer he continues. Why should this not be? We know the angels sympathize with the people of God on earth. There is joy amongst them over every sinner that repenteth. They, therefore, must know what transpires here, and how can they do otherwise than be in fullest sympathy with the "prayers of all saints"? Can we think that they cease to care for those they loved on earth now that they themselves are in heaven? The mother in heaven for her children left here? Do those who loved on earth lose that love yonder? God forbid! Hence we look on this "angel" as one of the blessed ones who is uniting his much prayer together with that of all saints, and together their prayers, as the streaming cloud of fragrant incense, a sweet odour of acceptableness, rise up before God.
"The saints on earth and all the dead
But one communion make,
All join in Christ their living Head,
And of his grace partake."
IV. SUCH PRAYERS MOVE THE HAND THAT RULES ALL THINGS. The answer of these prayers comes in the form of command—for we must assume such command—to sprinkle the enkindled incense on the earth. Hence the angel takes the golden censer and "fills it with the fire of the altar, and casts it upon the earth." And then at once are heard voices and thunders, and the lightning flash, and earthquakes are seen—signs similar to those with which God came down upon Mount Sinai. So now he is about to interpose in response to the prayers which have been presented to him. And the seven angels prepare themselves to sound, lift their trumpets to their lips, and are about to peal forth their terrible blasts. It is all a vivid picture of the prevalence of the prayers of the people of God. Mighty things are these prayers, weapons of resistless force, fearful for the ungodly when their answer involves the sinner's doom, but blessed always for those who pray. Why do we not avail ourselves far more than we do of this Divine force? This vision bids us pray, pray perseveringly and unitedly, pray in Christ's name; and it shows us the holy ones in heaven praying with us, and how our prayers prevail. Who, then, would not pray?—S.C.
Revelation 8:6-13; Revelation 9:1-21.; Revelation 11:14-18
The war trumpets.
I. ALL THESE TRUMPETS TELL OF WAR. The first six are proclamations of war, and the symbols that follow on their sounding set forth varied aspects of war. The last proclaims war ended and victory won.
II. BUT WHAT WAR? There can be little doubt that, as in all prophetical writings, facts within the immediate or near horizon of the writer form the basis of his predictions, and furnish the groundwork of the great moral and spiritual truths, and of the future historic facts to which, by way of resemblance, they direct our thought. Therefore:
1. The wars of the period in which the writer lived and wrote must be looked to—"the things which are and which are about to happen" (Revelation 1:19)—for the primary explanation of the vivid, mysterious, and manifestly applicable symbols which the visions connected with these seven trumpets present to us. Let Josephus be consulted, and in his pages will be found more than enough to furnish material for all the awful images which we find here. The dread drama of the Jewish war was in full action. The massacres and desolation, the poisoning of the very springs of life, the torture, the inroads of locust-like hordes of Arab, Idumaean, and other armies,—all the appalling horrors which St. John speaks of, were all there; his imagery was ready to hand, and, as an intense Jew, the calamities that befell his people could not but have roused in him deepest sympathy, and made his words burn, and his thoughts glow, as they do in this wonderful book. That he was far removed from the immediate scene of these events would make no difference. And besides the Jewish war, there were the civil wars which were distracting the Roman empire: rebellions and revolts; this general and the other determined to mount the imperial throne, let the cost in bloodshed and the risk be what it might;—such were the surroundings of St. John's life, and to them we primarily look for the explanation of what he says. But we cannot doubt, either, that:
2. The wars which led to the fall of the empire find their foreshadowing here. The historic expositors affirm that these alone are what St. John meant, and that the successive invasions under Alaric, Genseric, Attila, and Odoacer, and, after them, of the Saracens and Turks, are what is here portrayed. They ask of those who doubt their interpretation, "Now, if it had been intended to predict these events, could they have been more clearly and accurately described?" Certainly the correspondences are close, and the examination of them is so interesting that more sober conclusions are apt to be abandoned. But remembering the purpose of this book, the comforting and strengthening of the persecuted Church of his own day; and the method of all prophetical writings, to lay hold on present and near facts;—we cannot think that, however much foreshadowed these then distant facts might have been, they were in the mind of the apostle when he wrote. For not to these wars only do these symbols apply, but to:
3. All war. If a deterrent from war be needed, as it often is, then the study of these vast canvases on which the Divine artist has painted successive pictures of the horrors of war cannot but be advantageous. The first shows the devastation it causes; the trees and the growing grass and corn destroyed by the wild war storm which is likened to hail and fire mingled with blood. The second, the destruction of commerce. A great mountain, symbol of some vast earthly power—burning, set on fire with rage and lust of conquest—is cast into the sea, the highway of commerce. The waves are dyed red with blood, the fish die, the ships perish. The third, the overthrow of cities and civilization generally. On the banks of rivers the chief cities of the world have for the most part been placed. The historic interpreters point out how as Genseric, with his Vandals, made the shores of the Mediterranean his chief battleground, so, as this third picture represents, Attila fell—swiftly like a stone, burning like a torch, with fury—upon the riverside cities and populations which lay at the bases of the mountains, the springs of the great rivers, and made their life bitter to them. Yes, it was so; and it is what all war does and has done. Cities and civilization suffer irreparably, must do so. The fourth, political overthrow. The sun, moon, and stars—symbols of government, of kings and the chief rulers of men—these cease to rule and fall from their high places when the fortune of war goes against them. It was so amongst Jews and Romans alike. The fifth—a more dreadful picture than any and more completely drawn (Revelation 9:1-21.)—tells of the intolerable tortures which war—child of hell and the pit and the devil that it is—inflicts upon the miserable people amid and upon whom it is waged. They are not exterminated but tortured, as if with the stings of scorpions. They would fain die, but may not; they live on and suffer. The invading armies, like locusts for number, power, and destructiveness, waste and ruin and oppress them day by day. What a picture of war is here! And the sixth,—this tells of the destruction of human life and the deterioration of human character which war causes. One third part of the human race perishes, and the rest, instead of repenting themselves of their sins, become hardened. Whatever special war it was that St. John had in his mind when, with such seeming particularity of place and time and circumstance, he wrote concerning this sixth trumpet blast, it is certain that the effects told of are the common accompaniments of war. If the career of the Turks and their conquests be, as is asserted, the wars here meant, and which extended from A.D. 1055 for nearly four hundred years, and which, according to the year-day theory, is just the period which the one year and month and day and hour spoken of would signify, then the resemblance is doubtless striking, even to the identification of the "brimstone, fire, and smoke" with the gunpowder which was first used in the siege of Constantinople. But there is no need to limit the reference of the vision to those circumstances, as it will apply to many similar ones. But all these visions are descriptions of war—those "wars and rumours of war" which our Saviour foretold should be ere the end come; and the comfort for God's troubled people is in that which the seventh trumpet declares, that through and by, amid and in spite of them, the kingdoms of this world fall to Christ. There is comfort in this—just that comfort which the Church in the apostolic age and many times since has sorely needed. Were it not for this final declaration, how wearyingly, how despairingly, should we look on all the turmoil and disasters which have resulted from the ever-recurring wars which men have waged! We could see no reason or end in them. But when the seventh angel sounds his trumpet the outcome of all is seen, and the result recompenses for all that has gone before. But yet more should we see in these visions the setting forth of:
4. God's war with the ungodly. This is what we most of all should learn from them.
CONCLUSION. But wherefore will man wage this war at all? God desires it not, but has sent the message and the ministry of reconciliation. We, then, as "ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."—S.C.
The body and the bird.
"And I saw, and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven,… Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth!" The true reading of the text is given in the Revised Version. It was not "an angel flying," but a solitary eagle or vulture, that St. John saw. Hovering high overhead, a mere speck in the sky, and its harsh cry sounding as if it uttered over and over again the ominous words, "Woe, woe, woe!" Now in vision, but often in reality, he had doubtless seen such hovering bird, and heard its bitter cry. And when we think of this vision, and remember who they were on whom the judgments of God were coming, we are reminded of our Lord's words, "Wheresoever the carcase is, there shall the eagles be gathered together" (Matthew 24:28). For he and his apostle had the same scenes in view, the same sinful people, and the same dread judgments of God. Both beheld both the body and the bird—the eagle of judgment and the corruption that it would seize upon. When our Lord spoke, and yet more when his apostle wrote, the ill-omened bird was clearly visible, and its woeful cry could be distinctly heard. What the Lord said St. John saw. "For in the lands of the East, when a wild beast falls in the desert, or a horse or camel on the highway, there is for a time no stir in heaven. But far above human ken the vulture is floating poised on his wings and looking downward. His eye soon distinguishes the motionless thing, for he hunts by an eyesight unequalled in power among all living things, and like a stone he drops through miles of air. Others floating in the same upper region see their brother's descent, and know its meaning. One dark speck after another grows swiftly upon the horizon, and in a few moments fifty vultures are around the carrion. Now, thus inevitable, swift, unerring, as the vultures' descent on the carcase, is the judgment coming of the Son of man to corrupt communities and corrupt men" (Stopford Brooke). Given the body, the bird will not be far off; where the carcase, there the vulture. In God's government it has ever been so, is now, and will be in all ages, in all lands, and under all circumstances.
I. THIS EAGLE HAS OFTEN BEEN SEEN. It has long hovered over and at last descended upon:
1. Corrupt communities. As the inhabitants of the earth in Noah's day, on whom "the Flood came and swept them all away;" the cities of the plain ere the fire storm felt; the Canaanitish nations whose judgment was long delayed "until the iniquity of the Amorites was full." It hung over Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah, over Babylon in the old age of Daniel, and over the Jewish nation when St. John beheld it "in mid heaven." And over Rome the eagles of judgment were indeed gathering. For she had become so corrupt and hateful to God and man that there was nothing for it but to let the long delayed sentence be executed, and in the pages of this Book of the Revelation, and in those of the secular historian, he who will may read of, perhaps, the most tremendous fulfilment the worm has as yet ever seen of the inexorable law that "wheresoever the carcase is, there," etc.
"Rome shall perish—write that word
In the blood that she hath spilt;
Perish hopeless and abhorred,
Deep in ruin as in guilt."
Yet further illustrations. The Reformation, which was the judgment of the Catholic Church; the French Revolution, etc.
2. Corrupt men. "The mills of God," says the poet," grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." Many imagine that the great laws of God will be, no doubt, fulfilled amid nations and Churches and other bodies of men, but they will not take note of individuals. That, however, is not true, though many think it is. Look over the lives of the many bad men and women of whom the Bible tells; but where amid them all can the sinner find any encouragement to go on in his sin? Are they not all of them illustrations of God's law of judgment? And so universally is this law recognized that no poorest novelist will write his wretchedest story, and no tawdry theatre dare represent on its stage a drama which ignores or fails to pay homage to this law. They all know and confess that over the vile and bad the vulture of judgment hovers, and will swoop down on them ere long. And today this law is at work. See that blear eyed, ragged, shivering, and every way disreputable looking wretch who is reeling out of the gin shop, and, as he staggers along, poisoning the air with his foul breath and yet fouler words—what a wreck the man is! Health gone; and character, and home, and friends, and livelihood, and all that made life worth having, gone; and life itself going likewise. The vultures of judgment have plucked him bare of all, and they are at their awful work still. Go into the wards of our hospitals, and amid many whom misfortunes and not sin have brought there, you will yet see not a few dying a miserable death, horrible to look at, to listen to, to speak or even think of. Go to the cells of our prisons, to lunatic asylums, to convict yards, or where mounting the steps of the gallows on which they are to suffer the last penalty of the law,—in all such places, and amid all such scenes, and branded as it were on the brow of all such transgressors you may read the eternal law, "Wheresoever the carcase is, there," etc. That eagle St. John saw, and—
II. IT IS GOOD THAT IT SHOULD BE SEEN. In the physical world, if there were no scavengers, no agents whereby what is corrupt and corrupting could be rendered harmless, life could not go on. And so in the moral world, floods and sulphur fires, and Joshua-led armies, hosts from Babylon or from Rome, French Revolutions and the like,—it is awful, terrible, but still beneficent and essential work that they do upon the moral and spiritual corruptions against whom they have been sent. But blessed is that sinful community and that sinful man who sees the eagle in mid heaven, and fears and turns from his wickedness and so lives.
III. MEN SOMETIMES THINK THEY SEE IT WHEN THEY DO NOT. Poor Job—his friends, his comforters, would have it that his dreadful sufferings were judgments of God upon him. It was the common and cruel, though baseless, belief of their day. "Lord, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was horn blind?" There we find the same notion yet living on, even in our Lord's day. And it is not dead yet. But, thank God, there are many sorrows and distresses which are not judgments at all, any more than the hard lesson which a master may set his pupil to learn is a sign of his displeasure. It is not so, but a means of discipline and improvement and honour to the pupil; therefore, and for no other reason, is it given. And so with not a few of the sorrows God sends to us, as he sent such to Job.
IV. AND OFTEN FAIL TO SEE IT WHEN THEY MIGHT AND SHOULD. Job, and many another since, failed to see it. He asserts that there are villains—godless, cruel, all that is bad—and yet they prosper wonderfully. "They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men. There are no bands in their death, and their strength is firm:" so said another perplexed one. There seems to be the corrupt and corrupting carcase, but no vulture descends upon it. The body there, that is certain, but not the bird. But let such perplexed ones remember:
1. The bird may be invisible. It may be so far up in the sky, so far away, that our limited eyesight cannot travel so far, it is out of our range. That may be. Or:
2. It may be restrained. God is "long suffering, not willing that any should perish." Or:
3. It may have already descended, and be doing its work, and you not know it. Conscience may rend and tear like a vulture, and the man may carry a very hell within him—thousands do—that makes all outward prosperity a mockery, and powerless to relieve. There is not one drop of water in it all wherewith he can cool his tongue, so tormented in this fire is he. Read 'Macbeth.' And:
4. If it come not now it will fasten on him the moment he reaches the next world's shore. Ah, yes; if a man have made his soul carrion like, the eagle of judgment will find him sooner or later in trouble; from without or within, here or yonder—there is no escape. Remember, then:
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The purpose of revealing judgment.
The process of the conquest of evil is varied. It is now by severity of judgment, now by the gentleness of mild rebuke or moderated chastisement. Again the voice of the teacher arrests attention, and the appeals of truth stimulate to righteousness. Hidden behind all is the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit of the Lord, working all things according to the counsel of his holy will. His hand is unseen, and the revelation is needed to show and assure men that there is a Divine power at work, though it be hidden. The revelation of the Divine judgments against evil has thus its high purpose apart from the purposes answered by those judgments themselves. Throughout the whole the cry may well arise, "The Lord reigneth; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof." The purposes contemplated by the pictorial representations congregate mainly, if not exclusively, around the Church—the smitten, suffering, enduring Church. The earthly powers, waging their warfare under the leadership of the prince of evil, Apollyon the Destroyer, do not read the holy books. They are truly sealed books to them. And the imagery is only to be interpreted by the Church when she is driven by the persecuting oppressive power of the world to seek consolation. The purpose then concerns the Church mainly, if not exclusively; and we may conceive that purpose to be achieved—
I. IN THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE CHURCH TO PATIENT ENDURANCE. For the Name of the great Lord the believing people suffered much. They were weak in presence of their so great foes. Only the assurance of a final triumph could embolden them to endure patiently.
II. IN THE SUPPORT OF THE CHURCH IN ITS HOLY WARFARE AGAINST THE OPPOSING EARTHLY SPIRIT. Fierce indeed was the conflict, and again and again it is so; but throughout the whole shines the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. His eye is open upon the sufferers, and his aid is pledged for their defence.
III. IN WARNING THE FAITHFUL AGAINST THE EVILS OF APOSTASY. Great are the subtle powers which seek to undermine and sap the fidelity of the godly. Only by many means, of which this is one, can the obedient host be stimulated to faithfulness.
IV. The end is further reached IN THE DEEP AND ABIDING COMFORT OF THE SORROWFUL BELIEVERS in all their antagonism to evil and to the worldly power which is set against them.—R.G.
The effectual prayer.
A new series—another—opens upon the view of the holy seer. These are scenes in which is symbolically represented the method by which the Divine providence will execute those sovereign purposes which are specially contemplated in the redemption of the persecuted Church in its struggle with the various developments of evil in the world. Not always does evil present itself as an antagonistic power. It is soft, subtle, and alluring, drawing the feet of the unwary believer into ruinous paths by "the baits of pleasing ill." This aspect comes into prominence in the course of the revelation. But, as the book is an unfolding of the methods of conquest in all the conditions of danger, so now those which relate to the progressive triumph of the truth of the providential chastisements, are set in order. The space over which the sounding of the trumpets reaches is great; the seventh in Revelation 11:1-19. declaring, as in other places, the final triumph, and so completely rounding another setting forth of the one idea of the book—the triumph of Messiah, "conquering, and to conquer." Another series of "seven" is before us—"seven angels," having "seven trumpets;" but "another angel" is first and intermediately present, having a golden censer, with the incense of which mingles "the prayers of the saints." Afterwards, from the same censer, coals of fire are taken and cast on the earth, and "thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake" follow. They are represented to us in vast cosmical changes, the disturbances of the affairs of men in answer to the cry for judgment. But the judgement of the Lord need not always be of severity—certainly the end of the Lord is to be very pitiful. Mercy, redemption, recovery, salvation, blessing, are the ultimate ends in view. Thus must all be interpreted. The lesson taught is the certain Divine response to humble prayer. Here the Church finds—
I. ENCOURAGEMENT TO PERSEVERING INTERCESSION on behalf of the ungodly and unsubdued world.
II. A MOTIVE TO PATIENT ENDURANCE of the antagonism which evilness always suggests. Evil is at enmity against righteousness, even though it be not violent in its methods.
III. A HELP TO FAITH. Faith has respect to the promise of God, and beholds its fulfilment. Here the setting forth of the Divine response to prayer becomes the cheering encouragement to perseverance.
IV. A STIMULUS TO UNWEARIED LABOUR. If the certainty of success is not the ground of faith, it is its appropriate stimulus. Thus is the Church in all ages to be cheered.—R.G.
In wrath the Lord ever remembers mercy. In the sounding of four of the seven angels this idea is most prominent. Afflictions of various kinds are seen to rest upon the earth, but they are confined in each case to one third. It is not a final overthrow, nor is it a vision of destruction. In the disturbance of the material world is portrayed the upheaving in the spiritual, and the gentle threat of the Divine displeasure. The avenging his own elect is a call to men to forsake evil, while it is an encouragement to the faithful to endure. By the disturbance in all the world, or material sphere, men are warned against placing their confidence in these things which may be so shaken. The judgments are chastisements—a part suffers for the good of the whole. The eye is plucked out to save the whole body. Here a portion—a third part—suffers that the whole perish not. These restricted judgments or chastisements of the Lord have their great use—
I. IN AWAKENING THE ATTENTION OF MEN TO THEIR SPIRITUAL CONDITION. Truly a voice as of a trumpet! In the carelessness of spiritual slumber great evils may silently lurk beneath the surface. The sharp probe of pain awakens the slumbering spirit, and leads to inquiry and self examination.
II. IN STIMULATING TO REPENTANCE. He also finds the way of disobedience to bring pain to him; and will be urged thereby to turn from the evil path and to seek the ways of obedience, wherein are rest and peace.
III. IN THE PREVENTION OF FURTHER SINFULNESS. They are the hedge of fire, warning off from forbidden paths. No vindictiveness or harsh severity prompts him who with fatherly hand chastises his erring and mistaken children.
IV. These chastisements have their final use as disciplinary processes IN ADVANCING RIGHTEOUSNESS. The clear declarations of Scripture in the classical passages on chastisement declare the end to be "that we may be partakers of his holiness." Sharp is the piercing pain, keen the edge of suffering; but the good features of the character called into play in bearing up under sorrow are developed thereby: and the spirit, checked from walking in the wrong path, is stimulated to choose the right and the good. That which applies to the individual life applies also to the life of tribes and nations of men. To these the present passage relates. Judgments on "the third part" are designed to he corrective and admonitory to the whole.—R.G.
The bitter consequences of iniquity.
Before the fifth angel sounds his trumpet, a vision is granted of a flying eagle, which, with "a great voice," declared "Woe for them that dwell upon the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are yet to sound!" Corrective judgments have already been manifested, but the full fruits of evil, in themselves judgments and designed for correction and restraint, have not been developed. The voice of the great eagle anticipates them, and prepares for their delineation. The general principle, therefore, claims thought at present—woe follows from the working of evil.
I. THE INEVITABLE CONSEQUENCE OF WRONG DOING IS SUFFERING.
1. The laws of righteousness are absolutely and only good.
2. They describe the true path of the human life.
3. In the observance of the true laws of life—the laws of righteousness—conditions of blessedness are secured; for it cannot but be that life held according to the laws of life is only good.
4. Any departure from the laws of life—righteousness—must bring a proportionate disturbance, pain and sorrow.
II. THE DIVINE WISDOM AND BENIGNITY SHOWN IN MAKING THE CONSEQUENCES OF WRONG DOING PAINFUL. By this means men are warned away from wrong. The sharp pain of burning is a merciful provision. The hand incautiously laid in the fire might be consumed for want of the sharp twinge of pain to apprise of danger. It is well that the way of transgressors is hard. The prickly hedge guards the path of life, lest men straying from it should fall into untold evils.
III. THE PAINFULNESS OF WRONG DOING A JUST WARNING AGAINST TRANSGRESSION. Although virtue that is founded on a mere escape from the evils of disobedience is a low form of virtue, it is nevertheless a worthy motive for avoiding that its consequences are painful.
IV. THE NATURAL CONSEQUENCES OF WRONG DOING AN ADMONITORY INDICATION OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE, and a worthy expression of it. It is a testimony on the level of the human heart. Higher testimonies to be given. But the cold and thoughtless arrested by these means.
V. IN PUNISHMENTS BY PAIN LIES THE PLEDGE AND FIRST ELEMENT OF MORAL CORRECTION. The punishment and bitterness of evil not a final end. High moral purposes are graciously contemplated. "Woe, woe, woe!" is the sad prediction of the ever coming bitterness of all wrong doing.—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour," etc. This portion of the dream of John, like other portions, has Jewish elements of thought brought into strange and grotesque combinations. In dreams there are no new objects or elements of thought or emotion, but old ones brought into unique forms by an ungoverned imagination. Whilst they are evermore difficult, if not impossible to interpret, they are at all times available for the illustrating and impressing of truth. The words may be fairly taken to illustrate soul silence. "There was [followed] silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." That is, silence for a time. It is suggested—
I. THAT SOUL SILENCE OFTEN FOLLOWS GREAT EXCITEMENT. The opening of the seals, the unfolding of the wonderful dispensations of the Divine government up to the close of the world's history, must have excited the feelings and strained the faculties of the spectators to an unusual intensity. The soul lake was no longer without a ripple; it was heaved into swelling surges. It is ever so in soul life; after great tumult there comes a calm. This is always and pre-eminently the case with the genuinely faithful and holy. From the storms of remorse, secular anxieties, and social bereavements, the soul of the genuinely Christly rises into a "peace that passeth all understanding." In truth, in the case of all regenerate souls, great excitement is often the condition of peace and tranquillity. It is not until the storms of moral conviction become so terrible that the spirit cries out, "Lord, save, or I perish!" that the omnific voice, "Peace, be still!" will take effect, and there comes a "great calm." Blessed silence this! How grand is such a silence! It is the highest gift of man, nay, Divinity itself.
"How grand is Silence! In her tranquil deeps
What mighty things are born! Thought, Beauty, Faith,
All good;—bright Thought, which springeth forth at once,
Like sudden sunrise; Faith, the angel eyed,
Who takes her rest beside the heart of man,
Serene and still; eternal Beauty, crown'd
With flowers, that with the changing seasons change;
And good of all kinds. Whilst the babbling verse
Of the vain poet frets its restless way,
In stately strength the sage's mind flows on,
Making no noise:—and so, when clamorous crowds
Rush forth, or tedious wits waken the senate-house,
Or some fierce actor stamps upon his stage,
With what a gentle foot doth silent Time
Steal on his everlasting journey!"
II. THAT SOUL SILENCE IS OFTEN FOUND ABSORBING WORSHIP. "And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets," etc. Here begins a new series of visions. The seven trumpets follow the seven seals, and this series extends to the close of the eleventh chapter. The "seven trumpets" are given to the seven angels or ministers that stand in the presence of God. But it is not with these seven angels or messengers that we have now to do; they will engage our attention further on. Our concern at present is with the angel connected with the altar—"the angel that stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer [add] it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne." This symbolical representation of worship is derived from the Jewish temple, and it may illustrate to us the fact:
1. That the prayers of saints on earth are of great practical interest in the spiritual universe.
2. That the prayers of saints on earth exert an influence on the things of time. We are told, "the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were [followed] voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake." The prayers have gone up, and the sprinkling of the ashes earthward symbolize their effects on the earth. What convulsions, what revolutions, the prayers of the saints have effected on this earth ere now! and what they effect now they wilt continue to do. Now, in the midst of all this devotion there would seem to be a period of silence. The profoundest hush, the deepest silence of the soul, are found in worship. Here all its faculties work harmoniously, and all its sympathies flow as a deep river without a ripple on its surface. "The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him." The realization of the Divine Presence can never fail to hush the soul into profound tranquillity, and in this tranquillity its grandest possibilities germinate and grow. "Silence," says an illustrious thinker, "is the element in which great things fashion themselves together, that at length they may emerge full formed and majestic into the daylight of life which they are thenceforward to rule."
III. THAT SOUL SILENCE OFTEN SPRINGS FROM HIGH EXPECTANCY. "And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound." And as the angels raised their trumpets to their mouths ready to blow, a breathless expectancy would be excited. In earnest waiting there is generally silence—waiting for the last breath of a friend, waiting for the verdict of a jury which decides the deliverance or the destruction of a human life. Holy souls that now witnessed the scene of the trumpets about to utter a blast felt that great things were coming, that stupendous events were rolling up on the wheels of Providence, and there was "silence in heaven about the space of half an hour." What wonderful things are before us all! Were we all earnestly waiting for these things, waiting for the "manifestation of the sons of God," waiting the advent of him who is to wind up the affairs of the world, how silent should we be!—D.T.
Revelation 8:7-13; Revelation 9:1-21. and 10
The "seven trumpets:" the revolutions of matter and mind.
"The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up," etc. We take these verses, extending from the seventh verse of the eighth chapter to the end of the tenth chapter, together, because they all refer to the "trumpets," and are records of a portion of John's most wonderful dream. A dream can be recalled, narrated, but seldom, if ever, rightly interpreted. It is generally, perhaps, uninterpretable. Pietistic simpletons and speculative pedants have propounded their interpretations and are still doing so; and what literary rubbish is the result! But though a dream may be incapable of interpretation, it can generally and usefully be used as an illustration of great truths. Thus we endeavour to use all these mysterious and multifarious visions that John had in Patmos. This vision serves to illustrate—
I. SOME OF THE WONDERFUL REVOLUTIONS THROUGH WHICH OUR WORLD IS CONSTANTLY PASSING. After the sounding of each of the seven trumpets, what a series of marvels was evolved! There are two classes of marvel here.
1. Those in the material sphere. As the first four seals were introduced by the cry of "Come," it has been observed that the first four trumpets are followed by judgments on natural objects—the earth, the sea, the rivers, the lights of heaven. What followed the blast of the first trumpet? "There followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up." "Trumpets," says Moses Stuart, "the usual emblems of war and bloodshed, are chosen as emblems of the series of judgments now to be inflicted." Does the language here literally refer to some physical events that will befall this earth? From the character of the whole book, which is metaphorical, this is not likely. But events of an astounding character are suggested as occurring on this earth. After this the second trumpet sounded, "and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood." The words suggest the idea of some volcanic mountain discolouring the ocean so that it appears as blood, destroying a great portion of the creatures that lived in its depth and that floated on its waves. Then, with the sounding of the third trumpet, another terrible event occurs: "And there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters," etc. The greater part of the rivers that roll over the earth, and the wells that spring from beneath, were embittered and poisoned, and many of the human race expire. When the fourth trumpet sounded the heavens are terribly affected. "The third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was [should be] darkened," etc. But all the terrible events that followed the blasts of these four trumpets seem only preparatory for some more terrible judgments that were to follow. "And I beheld [saw], and heard an angel [eagle] flying through the midst of [in mid] heaven, saying with a loud [great] voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of [for them that dwell on] the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which [who] are yet to sound!" Whatever particular revolutions the blasts of the four trumpets here refer to—if any—one thing is certain, that great changes are taking place constantly in those regions of matter mentioned here—the earth, the waters, the heavens. Geology shows this. What our earth is today, its mountains, its valleys, its rivers, and its oceans, as well as its animal and vegetable productions, is the outcome of changes that have been going on through countless ages. Nature is constantly building up and pulling down. "The mountains failing come to nought," etc. Astronomy shows this. The telescope discovers shattered planets, stars that, perhaps, shone brightly once in our heavens, also new orbs and comets. All things are in a state of flux and reflux. According to Peter, all the changes that have been only tend to a greater change. "The day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt," etc. £ What is the practical lesson to be drawn from all these tremendous revolutions? "Trust in him who liveth forever,"
"There's nought on earth that does not change;
All things are shifting on the stream;
Whatever comes within our range
Seems just as fleeting as a dream.
There is no rest but in thy Word,
No settled hope but in thy Name;
Root then our souls in thee, O Lord,
For thou art evermore the same."
2. Those in the spiritual sphere. There are three more trumpets sounded which have been designated woe trumpets, and their blasts seem to introduce wonderful things in the spiritual domain. That there is a spirit world is too universally admitted to require proof. It comes to our credence, not merely as a matter of philosophic reasoning, but as a matter of consciousness. This spirit world, of which each human being is a member, as well as the higher order of intelligences in the universe, though invisible and impalpable, is ever active and all influential, the spring and sovereign even of all material forces and phenomena. What is matter but the creature and servant, the effect and evidence, of spirit? Great and mysterious changes in the spirit world seem to follow the sounding of the fifth trumpet. Moral evil appears:
(a) It is fathomless. No one can explain its origin and its countless intricate ramifications; it is the "mystery of iniquity."
(b) It is consuming. It is like a "great furnace." In whatever spirit moral evil exists, it burns, it gives pain, and works destruction.
(c) It is obscuring. "The sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit." The passions and thoughts which sin generates in the spirit mantle the moral heavens in gloom. How often is this bottomless pit covered up in the soul, hid alike from self and society! Thank God, Heaven sends a messenger, like a star, from heaven to open it and to enlighten it. Do not let us took for this bottomless pit beneath us, or anywhere external; it is within us, if sin be in us.
(a) All in connection with the "bottomless pit." They were, so to speak, bred in the depths of that moral pit, and became the servants of that pit. Whatever inflicts pain on humanity is forged in the depth of that bottomless pit. "Whence come wars?" etc.
(b) They tended to make life intolerable to man. "In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die." Death is universally regarded as the greatest evil, but such is the state of misery here that it is sought as a relief. How often is the life of a man rendered intolerable because of his sins, and he has recourse to the razor, the rope, the river, or the poison! From the "bottomless pit" of our own sins rise those tormenting fiends that render life intolerable.
(c) They were under the direction of a controlling agent. "And they had a king over them [they have over them a king], which is the angel of the bottomless pit [the angel of the abyss]," etc. The meaning of the words "Abaddon" and "Apollyon," both in Hebrew and Greek, is "destruction." All these locusts—in other words, all the forces that torment humanity—are inspired and directed by one great spirit, the spirit of destruction, which goes to and fro through the earth like a lion, seeking whom it may devour. Greater and more terrible changes in the spirit world seem to follow the sounding of the sixth trumpet. In this second "woe" the spirit of destruction takes a wider sweep. It goes forth from the four parts of the earth, it increases the number and the terror of its messengers. "Two hundred thousand thousand," a countless number, and they appeared as horses with heads of lions, panoplied with fire, and breathing smoke and flame. By this greater destruction is wrought amongst men—it strikes down a third part of the race. Thus ever the agencies of torture and ruin that visit man, working in connection with the "bottomless pit" of sin, multiplying in numbers and magnifying their malignant proportions. The trial that gives pain to the sinner today, may be only as an insect compared with the trial that, like a lion, may torture him tomorrow. So long as the "bottomless pit" remains within, torturing fiends will increase in number, and augment in malignant passion and strength. More strange changes in the spirit world we find following the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Before the blast of this seventh trumpet, however, there is the advent of another wonderful messenger from heaven. This messenger is robed in a mystic cloud, a rainbow encircling his brow, his face bright as the sun, his feet like pillars of fire, having in his hand a "little book." He seems to take possession of the whole world, plants one foot on the sea and the other on the earth, breaks forth with the voice of a lion, and his utterances were followed by seven thunders, from which a voice out of heaven sounded, saying, "Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not." Again this wonderful angel or messenger from heaven, surrounded with all this mystic grandeur, whilst standing on the earth, lifts up his hand to the heavens, and swears "that there should be time no longer." After this the seventh trumpet sounds, proclaiming that the mystery of God was finished. In the tenth chapter three things are powerfully struck upon our attention.
II. THE SPIRITUAL PERSONALITIES BY WHICH, UNDER GOD, THESE REVOLUTIONS ARE EFFECTED. Here are "seven angels" with their "seven trumpets." That there are, in the great universe of God, countless spiritual existences, varying endlessly in faculty, position, force, and occupation, admits of no question by those who believe in the Divinity of the Scriptures. It is here suggested that to these may be ascribed all the changes that take place in the history of our world. Is it not more rational to trace all these changes to the agency of such spiritual personalities than to what scientists call the laws and forces of nature? The "force of motion" is in the spirit, not in matter. Matter is inert; it has no self moving energy. Or, further, is there anything more unreasonable that a high order of spiritual existences should work all the changes we see in earth and sea and sky than the fact that all the products of civilization are the results of the agency of man? Is it not the human spirit, acting through its physical organization, that has covered the earth with architectural buildings, not only piled up the huge cathedrals, castles, palaces, and countless public edifices, but also innumerable residences of every size and shape? Was it not the spirit in man that constructed the bridges, that spanned broad rivers; tunnelled through huge mountains a way for mighty oceans to meet and mingle; covered every sea with the fleets of nations; transformed wildernesses and deserts into fertile meadows, vineyards, and gardens; constructed engines to hear men over sea and land almost with lightning velocity? If the human spirit has worked and is working such wonders as these, is there anything unreasonable in supposing that a higher class of spirits can direct the winds, kindle the lightnings, launch the thunders, roll the planets, and heave the ocean? Manifestly not. The universe teems with spiritual personalities, and matter everywhere is the creature, the symbol, and servant of spirit. The dream suggests two things concerning the work of these spirits.
1. Their work is departmental. Each had his own trumpet, and each produced his own results. The same trumpet was not used by all. This seems to be the Divine plan. Each living creature endowed with activity, from the tiniest to the greatest, has its own sphere and scope for action. One cannot do the work of another. It is so with men. In all temporal enterprises men themselves act upon this principle; the master mind in manufacture and commerce gives to each man his part; and this is the plan of God with us all. To each man he has given a mission, and that mission none can rightly discharge but himself. The higher spiritual existences, it would seem, act in this way. In the material department, it may be, one has to do with the management of the winds and stars and all the inorganic spheres. To another class is given the management of life, vegetable and animal. Thus, too, it may be in the moral realm. "He giveth his angels charge over us"—some to instruct the ignorant, some to console the sorrowful, some to strengthen the wavering, some to encourage the feeble and oppressed.
2. Their work is gradual. All the trumpets do not sound at the same time, and from the first to the last numberless ages might intervene. The great Maker and Manager of the universe works out his great plans by what appears to us slow degrees. He is in no haste; he has plenty of time at command. How gradually this earth progressed from chaos to its present condition! How gradually the human race advances in knowledge, in civilization, and in morality! How unlike our method! If we have a work on hand, the more important we deem it, the more impatient we are to realize its accomplishment. The sense of the brevity and uncertainty of life impels us to this haste. But "one day with him is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Does not this teach us to be concerned more with the moral character of our work than with its results? Our question should be, "Is it right?" not, "What will be the issue?" The results will not appear in our time, not for ages on, it may be. A good act is like an acorn dropped into good soil; it will require countless ages fully to develop itself. In the motive is at once the virtue and the reward of all labor. Does it not also teach us to be patient in well doing, to be hoping ever? Our work, if right, is Divine, and if Divine, it cannot fail. "Be ye steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord."
III. THE GRAND PURPOSE TO WHICH ALL THE REVOLUTIONS ARE DIRECTED. All the revolutions here referred to have a bearing on the minds of men, breaking the monotony of their sinful condition, rousing their fears, so terrifying them as to make their existence so intolerable that they sought death as a relief. And then it is stated that a new revelation from heaven is given them—a "little book" that was to be appropriated. Moreover, it is stated that the grand purpose was the finishing of the "mystery of God." And what is that mystery but the moral restoration of mankind? It is a glorious thought that all the changes that take place in the universe are for the benefit of souls—that all is moral discipline. Nature is a grand school in which the great Father makes his children "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." "Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, to bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living." Evil is not an end. Good is the end, and evil is ever rushing to it like streams and rivers to the ocean world. The evils of this world, like the furious storm that spreads devastation over sea and land, will one day die away in a clear sky and a pure atmosphere, and leave the world all beautiful and blight. (See also the three following homilies.)—D.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany