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By the new heaven and the new earth here, all understand a new state and face of the church; but some apply it to the state of the church militant here upon earth, and others to the state of the church triumphant in heaven.
Accordingly they take the new heaven and the new earth to be the effect of that great change which shall be made by fire at the universal conflagration; and they are called new, not so much in regard to substance, as in respect of qualities, being now for nature more stable, and for beauty more glorious.
Quest. But what use shall there be of this new heaven and new earth? and who shall dwell therein?
Ans. We cannot tell, but must rest satisfied with what God has told us, that therein shall dwell righteousness; that it shall be a standing monument of God's power and greatness.
It is added, that the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; not by annihilation, but by a qualitative mutation. And no more sea; that is say some, as it was before, turbulent, changeable, subject to corruption and vanity; say others, no more troublesome state of things, which is oft-times signified by the sea. A new and glorious state of things was undoubtedly here designed relating to the church.
Observe next, The character St. John gives of the glorious state of the church triumphant, Revelation 21:2. He compares her,
1. To a beautiful city, for amplitude and largeness, for compact structure, and for commodious habitation; she is called holy, because no unclean thing can enter into her, and because that holiness shall there be perfected which was here begun.
2. To an adorned bride; no spouse on her marriage-day so adorned as she was. The church in heaven is so called, to denote her dignity, and the love which Christ bears to her, and the delight which he takes in her, which is so continual, as if it were always a wedding-day; and she is adorned for him, and adorned by him, with spiritual beauty and glory, and perfection of grace.
Observable is that variety of expressions which the Holy Ghost here makes use of, to set forth the excellency of the church triumphant by,
1. She is blessed with God's immediate presence and abode, of which the tabernacle was a sign; the Lord manifesting himself in heaven unto his saints in a more immediate way than ever he did unto them here on earth, the Tabernacle of God is with men; and to show the permanency of this privilege, it is added, He shall dwell with them; after an inhabitation here by grace, shall follow a cohabitation hereafter in glory.
Next it is said, They shall be his people and he will be their God; which must not be so understood as if that relation did now begin between them, but the comfort of that relation is now perfectly understood, and they reap the complete advantage of that covenant-promise, whose sweetness they did only taste before.
2. Having described the positive good which the triumphant church shall eternally rest in; St. John next sets forth the primitive evils which they shall everlastingly be freed from.
All sorrow, and all the causes of sorrow, shall be removed; they shall have no outward occasion, nor inward disposition to weep: there shall be no more death, but immortality and eternal life; nor any more pain or sickness, but pleasure for evermore.
Lord! what a sovereign cordial is this against all our present sorrows and sufferings! to consider the time is at hand when all tears shall be wiped from our eyes, all sorrows, and the causes of sorrow, banished from our hearts, and everlasting joys shall possess our souls, and we shall be with our Lord for ever, to obey him with vigour, to praise him with cheerfulness, to love him above measure, to fear him without torment, to serve him without interruption or distraction, and be perfectly like unto him, as well in holiness as in happiness, as well in purity as in immortality!
Note here, 1. How these new heavens and new earth come to be effected and made, namely, by the omnipotent power of Christ, Behold I make all things new; a good argument to encourage us to go unto Christ by prayer for renewing grace. Surely he that makes new heavens can make new hearts, he that renews an old world, can renew us in the spirit of our minds, and make old things pass away, and cause all things to become new.
Next he commands St. John to write, that these words set down here, and throughout this prophecy, are true and faithful. We see then that the holy scriptures were written at the Lord's command, and therefore from him they do derive their authority.
Observe, 2. The word of assurance here uttered by Christ, for the confirmation of what he had before declared and promised, He said unto me, It is done; signifying thereby, that it is as certain as if it was already done; namely, whatever he had promised relating to his church's happiness, and all that he had threatened relating to her enemies' destruction; let not the Church then at any time stagger in her faith.
Observe, 3. The title which Christ is pleased here to resume, which before was given by himself, chap. 1.8. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; to show, that, as he first made the world, so he was now about to put a period to it, and would give to every thirsty or believing soul an everlasting life in the new Jerusalem, which shall no more decay than water, which is an ever-springing fountain, can be dried up.
Observe here, 1. That our design of happiness must be accompanied with endeavours after it, or they will be ineffectual; to thirsting in the former verse, he joins overcoming in this verse: we must not barely wish, but work; not only talk, but fight; and not only fight but overcome our spiritual enemies in fighting, or we are miserable; how strong soever our desires after happiness may be supposed to be, without proportionable endeavours we can have no good ground of hope.
Observe, 2. He that overcometh, that is, he that is overcoming, he that daily maintains the combat, though he has not yet obtained a perfect conquest over his spiritual enemies, yet he keeps the field with sword in hand, resolving never to throw down his weapon, but to die as a conqueror, rather than be taken a prisoner.
Observe, 3. The encouraging promise given to the conqueror, He shall inherit all things.
Where note, The extent and latitude of the promise, the enjoying all things, that is, all blessings and benefits, all joys and comforts, that are requisite to make him perfectly and perpetually happy.
Note also, God's way and manner of dispensing the mercy promised, and that is, by free gift, he shall inherit all things, not merit any thing; an inheritance is gratuitum paterni amoris pignus, an estate freely given by the father to his children.
Observe, 4. A superadded promise, I will be his God, and he shall be my son; that is, I will give him the manifestation of his adoption before angels and men: I am now his God, and he is now my son, but the world knoweth it not; they brand my people for a generation of hypocrites, and sometimes they call in question their own sincerity, and their title to the privilege of adoption; but at the great day I will publicly own them before angels and men, and make it appear that I love them as a father, and they shall live with me as sons for ever and ever: He that overcometh, &c.
After a description given of the celestial happiness of the righteous at the day of judgment, here follows the eternally miserable condition of the wicked; and eight several sorts of sinners are here summed up, who shall be excluded out of heaven, and cast into hell, namely,
the fearful, such as dare not own Christ, or for fear of suffering, have disowned him, or apostatized and revolted from him;
unbelievers, such especially as have sat under the dispensation of the gospel, but have rejected our Lord Jesus Christ, and have refused to come unto him that they might have life;
the abominable, such as live in the practice of sins against nature, sodomy, and such uncleanness as renders them abominable in the sight of God and man, Romans 1:26;
murders, such as destroy either the soul, body, or good name, of their neighbours, especially persecutors; the whore and her followers, who are drunk with the blood of the saints;
whoremongers of all sorts, both spiritual and corporal, particularly such as are guilty of uncleanness in a conjugal state;
sorcerers, such as exercise witchcraft, consult with the devil, and trade with familiar spirits;
idolators of all sorts and kinds, such as worship false gods, or the true God after a false manner; covetous persons, who make the world their god; and sensual persons, who make their belly their god; lastly,
all liars, those which lie with the lip, and talk falsely; those that lie in their lives, as all hypocrites do, whose practice gives their profession the lie; those who are the inventors of the doctrine of lies, which is no better than the doctrine of devils;
these, all these, shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, that is, in exquisite torments, and everlasting.
From the whole note, 1. How the timorous and fearful stand in the front of all those vile sinners, whose ways lead down to the chambers of death and hell.
Behold here! God's martial law executed upon cowards and renegadoes, whose fear makes them revolt from Christ in time of danger. Think of this, all you timorous and faint-hearted professors! who cannot bear the thought of lying in a nasty dungeon for owning Christ, how will you endure to lie in a lake of fire and brimstone for disowning of him! Is not the little finger of an angry God heavier than the loins of all the tyrants and persecutors in the world?
Note, 2. That although eight sorts of sinners only are here reckoned up, yet all others who live and die impenitently in any known sin, besides these, of what kind soever, are certainly included, and their damnation implied also, as well as these: for whoever lives in the habitual practice of any known sin, without converting from from it unto God, is certainly in a state of damnation.
Note lastly, That the sins here mentioned must not be understood copulatively, but disjunctively; we must not suppose that such as are guilty of all the before-mentioned sins, are the persons threatened with hell-fire; but such as are with allowance guilty of any one of these, or of any other besides these, and continuing impenitently in them.
St. John having delivered, before a general account of the saints' happiness in heaven, descends here to a more particular description of it. Heaven, called the New Jerusalem, is represented by a city, with magnificent gates and walls; and the church, the collective body of glorified saints, is here called the Lamb's wife, espoused before, but the marriage solemnized now.
Note here, That as the earthly Jerusalem was a type of the church militant, so the church triumphant is called the New Jerusalem, and compared to a great city for the multitude of its members, and styled holy, because sanctity is the special qualification of those who are the inhabitants of it.
Note, 2. The light which is found in this city; it is not compared to the light of the sun, for that is attended with scorching heat, nor to the light of the moon, which is variable and uncertain, but to the light of precious stones, which is clear and pure, and has nothing annoying in it.
Note, 3. The great safety and security of this city, and of all the citizens inhabiting therein: here is a wall great and high; walls are for defence, (called maenia a muniendo, and the higher the wall the greater the defence: God's omnipotency is as a wall, and will be an invincible bulwark about his saints in heaven: nothing shall endanger them, nothing shall offend them.
Note, 4. Here are twelve gates for conveniency of entrance into this city on all sides, and to give free and easy access from all parts, east, west, north, and south; to signify that the church in heaven will be made up of persons coming from all parts, as Christ foretold, Matthew 8:11 ; Luke 13:29 They shall come from the east, &c. and shall sit down with Abraham. The triumphant church is a collective body of believers of all nations, kindreds, and people, tongues and languages.
Note lastly, That as the names of workmen are sometimes set upon foundation stones, by which it is well known in after-ages who were the builders; in like manner it is here intimated, that as the ancient Jewish church was founded in twelve patriarchs, so the latter Christian church in and by twelve apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, or the foundation of both; he being fundamentum fundans, they fundamenta fundata; teaching us that our faith must be built upon the doctrine of Christ and his apostles, and upon no other doctrine whatsoever, though it has a pretended stamp of infallibility upon it.
Still St. John proceeds in the description of the heavenly state, and the church triumphant in it; this is called a city, in respect of its magnificent building, comely order, and invincible strength; a great city, in regard of its largeness and capaciousness, being full of glorified saints and angels; and Jerusalem, because of that everlasting peace which is there enjoyed, as the Hebrew word signifies; and here an account is given of the measuring of this great city: we read of its measuring before, chap 9, but differently from its measuring now; then it was measured by a man, now by an angel; then by an ordinary reed, now by a golden reed; intimating the transcendency of the state of the church now to what it was before, and representing the firmness, perfection, and greatness, of the new Jerusalem.
Here note, An observable difference in the measuring of the church militant and of the church triumphant: the church militant, upon a just measure by the reed of the word is found unequal in its parts, some parts of it are purer and better than others, but in the New Jerusalem all parts are equal in perfection and purity; the length is as large as the breadth, and the height equal to either: the church of Christ in heaven shall be exceeding large and great, perfect and complete, nothing shall be found irregular in it, all things can there endure the measuring reed, and abide the exactest trial.
Some will have all this to signify and represent the purest state of the church here upon earth; but if there shall be any state on this side eternity which answereth this glorious representation, how much more will the perfect glorious church in heaven fully answer it; What was said of Jerusalem of old may be truly spoken of the New Jerusalem above, Very excellent things are spoken of thee thou city of God, Psalms 87:3: her pavement of gold, her gates of pearl, her walls of precious stones, denoting the durableness and permanency of the saints' happiness, the delight and satisfaction that accompany it, and the resplendent glory of it; as gold excels all metals, and is not subject to corruption, as precious stones are full of splendour and glory, in like manner will the mansions of heaven be most glorious, the conversation there pure and incorrupt, affording saints such an entire satisfaction as entirely exceeds all that the most rich and glorious things of this world can afford for the gratification of the outward senses.
Observe here, 1. St. John declares that the new Jerusalem shall not want either those spiritual supplies or natural advantages which Jerusalem below stood in need of; no need of any temple there for external worship and ordinances which it is our duty to wait upon God in here: What need of an house of prayer for them that want nothing to pray for? What need of ministers and ordinances, to teach them whose knowledge is perfected? What need of sacraments to remember Christ in and by, when they shall always see Christ face to face?
Again, what need of the natural light of the sun and moon, where the sun of righteousness for ever shineth, and where God is all in all? Happy they that enjoy him, for they enjoy all good in him and by him, he being the fountain of all goodness!
Observe, 2. Having thus described the city, St. John next declares who shall be the citizens, namely, the nations that are saved, all believing Jews and converted Gentiles, called elsewhere the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are a great multitude; these shall be admitted into it, and partake of the glory and happiness of it; and whereas it is added, that kings do bring their glory and honour into it, this is not to be so understood as if there would be a distinction in heaven between kings and subjects; no, all the saints there are kings and priests unto God; neither is it meant that kings shall carry their earthly glory and honour with them into heaven; but that kings who shall be so happy as to go thither, shall see all their honour and glory swallowed up in the glory and happiness of that place and state, and shall confess that all their crowns are infinitely short of the corwn of glory, and that their thrones are dunghills compared with the dignity of this throne.
Observe, 3. It is declared what perfect security and peace the saints enjoy in the New Jerusalem, together with their glory, riches, and happiness; this is signified, Revelation 21:25 The gates shall not be shut at all by day, and there is no night to shut them in; the gates shall be open, to show their peaceable state and secure tranquility, without fear of any hostile invasion or entry of enemies, either by force or fraud; it is added, there shall be no night there, either in a literal or a metaphorical sense, no darkness, no interruption of happiness, nor fear of danger, nothing that can either disturb or disquiet.
Observe, 4. Who the persons are that shall be everlastingly debarred the enjoyment of this happiness--all that have defiled themselves by lust and uncleanness, every person that hath not by holiness of heart and life separated himself from sin and wickedness, and dedicated himself to God and his service; nothing that defileth, nothing that worketh abomination; no open scandalous sinner, or he that maketh a lie, shall be admitted; to tell a lie is bad, but to make a lie is much worse, this is the devil's sin in a special manner, it is his by temptation, it is his by approbation, it is his by practice, he is a liar, and the father of lies and liars; it were well if our customary liars would consider it. The sum of all is, "That without grace and holiness here, there can be no expectation of glory and happiness hereafter; this fits at once for the employment of heaven, and the enjoyments of heaven, it makes meet for the inheritance in light: and if we have not our present fruit unto holiness, our end can never be everlasting life. "
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 21". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany