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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Revelation 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-8

Revelation 18:1-8

Babylon the great is fallen.

The overthrow of wickedness

I. A glorious angel proclaims this (cf. Revelation 18:1 as to this angel). Then such overthrow must be--

1. Righteous.

2. Blessed.

3. Divine. Had it been possible for men to effect this, it would have been done long since.

II. God’s people receive command.

1. To separate themselves from sin. From which we learn--

2. To avenge themselves upon it. Resentment and wrath are passions given us by God. Our peril and propensity is lest we turn them in a wrong direction.

III. The friends of wickedness lament.

1. Wickedness has friends. Those who find delight in it, who “live deliciously” in it (Revelation 18:9). Those who make profit out of it. The merchants, etc. (Revelation 18:11). And--

2. Their lament is loud and long. They weep, mourn, wail; say, “Alas, alas” cast dust on their heads, etc. (Revelation 18:11; Revelation 18:15-16; Revelation 18:19).

3. But the lament is utterly selfish. They mourn not because of the wickedness: that does not trouble them. Nor even for Babylon’s sufferings. But because the hope of their gain is gone (Revelation 18:19).

4. And they do not go to her help (Revelation 18:15). They stand afar off for the fear of her torment. Look well at these friends, for such are they that sin and sinners call friends.

IV. All heaven, angels and saints, rejoice. When we read over the subject of their joy, we find that--

1. It is not because in this Babylon there was nothing innocent or good. There was much. Verses 22, 23 tell of what was lawful and right in any community. In the worst of men there is good. None are utterly bad. But--

2. That the main characteristic of her life was evil. And therefore her destruction was a matter of joy. She deceived all nations. She slew God’s saints. Thus--

3. Justice was done. And--

4. It was completely done. See the symbol of the angel with the millstone (Revelation 18:21). Nothing like this has ever been accomplished yet, but this prophecy is a sure promise that it will be. “Who shall live when the Lord doeth this”? Amongst whom shall we be found? Let us now “some out of her, that we be not,” etc. (Revelation 18:4). (S. Conway, B. A.)

Babylon

I. The description of Babylon.

1. Its corrupt character. As before the prophets were “false” and the spirits were “unclean,” and stood opposed to God; so now harlotry, fornication, drunkenness, blasphemy, abominations, luxury, persecuting, violence, sorcery, submission to the beast, warring against the Lamb, are the terms employed to describe or indicate the excessive foulness and corruption of the faithless city. This is “the woman” having in her hand “a golden cup full of abominations, even the unclean things of her fornication.” This the “Babylon the great,” which is become “a habitation of devils, a hold of every unclean spirit and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird.”

2. Virulent antagonism to the good, even to the loftiest ideals of goodness. “War against the Lamb”; “blasphemed the God of heaven”; “gather together unto the war of the great day of God”; “poured out the blood of saints and prophets”; in such terms is the antipathy to all righteousness declared.

3. Occasion of all evil, seen in the corruption of life, the deceitfulness of iniquity, the loss of the blessings of righteousness, degradation in sin, to which the “peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” are reduced “where the harlot sitteth”; and the judgments and consequent sufferings in which they are involved.

4. The widespread, universal character of the desolation caused. In every aspect this vision is “great and marvellous.” It is “Babylon the great.” The harlot “sitteth upon many waters,” which waters are “peoples and multitudes, and nations and tongues.” “And the woman is the great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth”; “by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen.” “What city is like the great city,” with whose “sorcery were all nations deceived”? “In her was found the blood of all that have been slain upon the earth.” This is the universal kingdom of evil, whose “sins reached unto heaven.” This great kingdom shall come to an end. Such is the ever-recurring promise of this book.

II. Its destruction is complete. The “harlot” is made “desolate and naked”; hated by all over whom she sat as a queen; they shall “eat her flesh, and burn her utterly with fire.” “Woe, woe!” is pronounced against the great city, Babylon; “for in one hour is thy judgment come.” “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.” “In one day shall her plagues come, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God which judgeth her.” “The Lamb shall overcome,” and thus shall they also overcome that are with Him. “And a strong angel took up a stone as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be east down, and shall be found no more at all.” Then shall the kings of the earth that committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth who were made rich by her, and every shipmaster and mariner, and all that were made rich by her, weep and mourn and lament; while to heaven a sweet song of joy and thankfulness shall rise from them who with the Lamb have overcome--who are called, and chosen, and faithful. (R. Green.)

The fall of corrupt society

The fall of corrupt society is--

I. Divinely proclaimed. As there is a law of disintegration in the material universe, that so separates the hugest mountains that they ultimately disappear, so there is in the moral a law of retribution, which will ultimately break into pieces the world of corrupt society.

II. Manifestly deserved. As in the ruins of old cities, the cormorant, the screech-owl, the vulture, and other hideous creatures are found, so in this moral Babylon are found the most horrible and detestable of all existences. The utter extermination, or rather extinction, of such objects is urgently required.

III. A reason for quitting it.

1. The possibility of good men living in this moral Babylon. The depravities of our contemporaries and neighbours are no justification for our defects.

2. Good men, unless they quit this corrupt society, will be involved in its guilt and fate.

IV. A development of retribution. The ruin comes, not as a casual event, nor as a positive infliction, but as the result of the eternal law of retribution: a law silent in its operation, resistless in its force, and inevitable in its issues (Galatians 6:7).

V. An overwhelming catastrophe. When full judgment comes upon a corrupt community the horrors involved not only transcend description, but even imagination. What is lost? Friendship gives way to fiendish battlings; peace gives way to furious storms; hope gives way to black despair and terrible apprehensions: liberty gives way to a crushing thraldom, to which every faculty of the soul is bound in chains of darkness. All the lights of the soul are quenched, and the whole heavens are mantled in a starless midnight. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The habitation of devils.

The habitation of demons

I. Every Babel-like city or system, is doomed to destruction, and will fall into an abyss of fearful degradation. This is the lesson of all history from the beginning of the world. We see it in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, of the Assyrian and Babylonian kingdoms, and of the Greek and Roman Empires. Wherever we find a nation that is supremely devoted to the things of sense, we have Babel-like adolaters, who are destined to a certain fall and degradation. Such is the appointed end of every political or religious system that ignores God and His truth, and seek after material power and prosperity as the chief objects of life. Let a nation lose her faith in God--let her drive truth, virtue, love, and righteousness from her heart and life, and what will she become? Can she become anything else than a habitation of devils? Can she become anything else but the seat and prey of demon-like passions?

II. Observe how diabolical the passions of men may become. “The most terrible physical calamity that can be imagined,” says one, “has no terror to compare with that of fiends let loose from hell and taking possession of human hearts and hands. A ship sinking in a tempest with its hundreds of helpless passengers; a Lisbon overwhelmed by sudden earthquake; a Pompeii buried alive beneath the lava and ashes of Vesuvius are very terrible to hear of, and to think of, but they are nothing to what Paris has lately seen. Her streets have been flooded with the worst passions of which human nature, satanically inspired, is capable. Men, women, and even children, born in the same streets, neighbours all their life long, who have traded and danced and sung together, pursuing each other to death with the ferocity of tigers, and inflicting all manner of dishonour and indignity on the mangled remains of the dead--and all this in the most polished and beautiful city in the world--what can it all mean, except it be an eruption of demons from the bottomless pit?”

III. We see what society has to expect from the apostles of infidelity and atheism. When men have destroyed the idea of a God in their own minds, is it not natural to think that they will enter on a career of destruction in reference to other and smaller things? If they hesitate not to destroy the idea of a God--the fountain of right and wrong--will they shrink from destroying human life or property? If the idea of a God be not a sacred idea to such persons, do you think that the idea of the value of human life or property will be a sacred idea to them? No. Society has everything to lose and nothing to gain from such apostles of atheism and infidelity. Not from them, but from other and higher sources, would we look for the salvation of men.

IV. All men are in danger of falling into a Babel-like spirit and life. For all are only too prone to put faith in the things of sense, and to forget the things that are unseen and eternal. The Babylonian spirit is not dead. Every man to some extent is a little Babel. We have faith in the powers of nature. We have faith in the sun, in the moon, in the star, in the coal, and in the seed that we cast into the ground. Do we believe also in God? Have we a real and lasting faith in Him? Have we such a faith in love, truth, virtue, and righteousness, as in the things that we see with the eye of our body and touch with our hands? (Wm. M’Kay.)

Come out of her.--

The influence of the apostate Babylon

When the great apostate power named Babylon comes, as hero sot forth, to utter destruction, it is seen how wide and how deep its malign influence had been. The whole fabric of the world’s commerce is shattered by its fall; for all human industries and traffic and all the markets of the world had come to be diverted from the service of God, and directed and controlled by the corrupt principles and unhallowed delights of the vast apostasy. Even though the identity of this mystic Babylon be left unfixed, the warning reaches us with no lack of distinctness and urgency. We need not wait until we can precisely define and allocate the form and system of wrong which is here denounced before we determine to hold ourselves clear of all wrong, by doing that only which is right, by acknowledging and serving God alone in all particulars and interests of our daily fife, at home and in the world. (G. S. Rowe.)

In the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.--

The rule of retribution

I. This rule commends itself to our sense of justice. That those of the wicked who in this world live in affluence, and have more than heart can wish, possess abundant opportunities for intellectual and moral improvement, and means of doing good, should in future retribution fare alike with those who have none of these blessings or advantages, would be an outrage on our sense of right. Justice requires a balancing of human affairs, a kind of compensation for existing discrepancies, and this mankind will have in the great retributive future.

II. This rule answers to biblical teaching. Throughout the whole Scripture record it is taught that sinners, after they have passed through their probationary period, will be dealt with according to the mercies they have abused, the opportunities they have neglected, and the advantages they have wasted. “He that knoweth his Master’s will and doeth it not,” etc. “It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah,” etc. “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime didst receive,” etc.

III. This rule agrees with universal experience. Conscious contrast between a propitious past and a distressing present is and must ever be an element in mental suffering. (Homilist.)

She hath glorified herself.--

The degenerate Church

Called to prepare men for the second coming of the Lord, and to teach them to live, not for the present, but the future, she becomes herself the victim of the present. She forgets that, in the absence of the Bridegroom, her days are days of fasting. She fails to realise the fact that until her Lord comes again her state is one of widowhood. And, instead of mourning, she sits as a queen, at ease and satisfied, proud of her pomp and jewellery. (W. Milligan, D D.)

Therefore shall her plagues come.--

National ruin

Our scientific friends find yellow bricks still impressed with the name of Nebuchadnezzar, and they go back to the sarcophagus of a monarchy buried more than two thousand years ago. But is it possible that that is all that remains of Babylon? a city once five times larger than London and twelve times larger than New York? Wall three hundred and seventy-three feet high and ninety-three feet thick. Twenty-five burnished gates on each side, with streets running clear through to corresponding gates on the other side. Six hundred and twenty-five squares. More pomp and wealth and splendour and sins than could be found in any five modern cities combined. A city of palaces and temples. Great capital of the ages! But one night, while honest citizens were asleep, but all the saloons of saturnalia were in full blast, and at the king’s castle they had filled the tankards for the tenth time, and reeling and guffawing and hiccoughing around the state table were the rulers of the land. General Cyrus ordered his besieging army to take shovels and spades, and they diverted the river from its usual channel into another direction, so that the forsaken bed of the river became the path on which the besieging party entered. When the morning dawned the conquerors were inside the city walls. Babylon had fallen. But do nations die? Oh, yes, there is great mortality among monarchies and republics. They are like individuals in the fact that they are born, they have a middle life, they have a decease, they have a cradle and a grave. Some of them are assassinated, some destroyed by their own hand.

1. One evil threatening the destruction of American institutions is the solidifying of the sections against each other. This country cannot exist unless it exists as one body--the national capital, the heart, sending out through all the arteries of communication warmth and life to the very extremities.

2. Another evil threatening the destruction of our American institutions is the low state of public morals. What killed Babylon of my text? What killed Phoenicia? What killed Rome? Their own depravity; and the fraud and the drunkenness, and the immorality which have destroyed other nations will destroy ours, unless a merciful God prevent. (T. De Witt Talmage.)


Verses 1-24

Verses 9-24

Revelation 18:9-24

The merchants of the earth shall bewail her, and lament for her.

The fall of the corrupt in human life

Wrong, including all that is morally evil ill human thought, feeling, and action is constantly falling. Though it has a very slow death, it will by the eternal law of moral disintegration be one day brought down.

I. The lamentation of the bad.

1. The ruling class. True kinghood is the majesty of intellect and goodness.

2. The mercantile class. When the grand altruistic truth of Christian socialism becomes realised by the masses--“Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth”--then the every-man-for-himself principle will fall, and with its fall what will become of the enormous possessions which they have obtained merely by working for themselves?

II. The jubilation of the good.

1. Because the fall is just. Evil has no right to exist.

2. Because the fall is beneficent. It is the uprooting of those thorns and thistles and noxious weeds that have turned the paradise of our being into a howling wilderness.

3. Because the fall is complete. Destroyed once, it is destroyed for ever. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The commercial Babylon

1. We should first of all learn that the hold of God on all that we have and are is absolute. We are but tenants-at-will. The proud and conceited talk as if the world were ours--“My river is my own, and I have made it for myself”--is an abomination to the Lord. God has never waived His rights in entrusting to us His loans. Let merchants, stockbrokers, bankers, bondholders, traders learn this lesson. At any moment God may bring all our possessions to nought; and He will do that at His own time, not waiting for ours.

2. It may well yield us matter for lamentation that the use of so much earthly capital is a perverted one. Many of God’s gifts are put in alliance with overreaching, corruption, and fraud. But when things of wealth and beauty become the instruments of apostacy it is sad indeed.

3. Let us learn to look at whatever is beautiful and costly and artistic as precious in the truest sense only as it is allied to or in harmony with righteousness. Beauty and wealth are only of genuine value when employed in accordance with God’s will and Word.

4. Let us take care that, so far as we are concerned, we have no share in this heart-apostacy of Babylon the great, even in the commercial world. The voice cries now, “Come out of her, my people” (Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 1:8; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17). If we would not share her plagues we must not share her sins. There are those who are in Babylon the great, the slaves of godless gain or godless pleasure. There are those who belong to the new and eternal city, the New Jerusalem, who engrave on the bells of the horses, “Holiness to the Lord,” and whose daily toil is being sanctified for Him. It may cost something to renounce all fellowship with Babylon. But it is worth infinitely more than it costs. Yea, to be right is so transcendently great, that the question of cost should scarce be deemed worth a thought. Better die with Christ than reign with Caesar. (S. Conway, B. A.)


Verses 18-20

Revelation 18:18-20

Souls of men.

The manhood traffic

I. One of the causes of the ruin of this Babylon was her extravagant luxury. The history of the world is full of solemn lessons concerning the enervating influence of luxury. It is scarcely too much to say that luxury was the chief destroyer of all the great empires of antiquity. But human nature is very slow to learn this lesson, though it has been written for us again and again in letters of blood and fire; and, in spite of all, we are constantly discovering a proneness to fall away into the ease-taking and self-pampering which ruined the great empires of ancient Babylon, of Media and Persia, of Greece and Rome. Self-indulgence prepares the heart to be the receptacle of all the errors of anti-Christ. Christ-like self-renunciation is a virtue which cannot grow in the soil of luxurious living. The immense sums which are spent in this country in merely tickling the palate with expensive and often injurious articles of food are simply appalling. A friend recently told me that one gentleman whom he had persuaded to sign the pledge told him that by so doing he had saved him £500 per year. What criminal waste! Yet there are many men in this country whose wine-bill far exceeds this.

II. It is to the two last items in this extraordinary inventory that I wish to call your attention, viz., slaves, and souls of men. As the margin informs us, the literal translation is “bodies and souls of men.” In Greek literature the word “bodies” is often used to describe slaves when regarded as articles of merchandise, and that is why cur translators have rendered it “slaves.” But inasmuch as it is here used in conjunction with the word “souls,” it seems to me manifest that the apostle intended to employ it in its proper and ordinary sense, and to declare that the height of Babylon’s sin is that she throws manhood, body and soul, into the common heap of merchandise in her market, and that she treats what God has redeemed with the most precious thing in the universe as a mere chattel to be bought and sold for money.

1. I very much fear, thanks to the cruel, heartless, atheistic political economy which this country learnt from Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and company, that very much of our commerce is practically a traffic in the blood, and bones, and nerves, and souls of men. The idea that any relationship between one man and another can ever be reduced to one of cash-payment is to be for ever and utterly denounced. All commerce based upon such an idea carries within itself the germs of ruin and desolation. The only true relations between man and man, be they commercial, or political, or what else, are those which are cemented by love.

2. The drink traffic, the opium traffic, and whoremongering are other manifestations of this awful trade in the bodies and souls of men. Surely it is wrong that adultery which by almost all heathen nations has been treated as a criminal offence should in a Christian nation be regarded as only a civil misdemeanour, and it is a crying abomination that there should not be equal laws for men and women on these matters. Our complicity, however, in this traffic in womanhood is most horrible in relation to our Indian Army. It is awful to think that the name of Christ should be blasphemed among the heathen through the diabolical provision deliberately made by the officials of a Christian nation to ruin poor Hindoo women for the gratification of the lusts of our soldiers. We Christian citizens ought to use all the influence we possess to put the speediest possible end to such shameful wickedness. Then in the matter of opium we are engaged in traffic in the bodies and souls of men. Our relation to the trade in China ought to make every Briton bow down before God in shame and confusion of face. At this moment we as a nation are manufacturing this drug not in a form prepared for medicinal purposes, but in a form deliberately prepared for vicious indulgence. And w-hat is the plea for all this? Oh! revenue, revenue! We are told that we cannot govern India without money derived from this shameful manhood traffic. Are we Englishmen going for a moment to tolerate this shameless doctrine, “Let us do evil theft good may come”? In the ramie of righteousness, if we cannot govern India without blood-money, let us give up governing it. Whatever comes we must not commit the crime of destroying men for money. Nay, our work as Christians is not to make merchandise of men but to redeem them, both in their bodies and souls, to redeem them, if need be, by the surrender of ourselves to death. This is the norm of Christian ethics (1 John 3:16, R.V.). If the Church would do her Master’s work she must arise and be the champion of the poor, the enemy of all sweating, the inexorable foe of all manhood traffic. She must minister to the bodies of men, visiting them in prison, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and nursing the sick. She must, above all, care for their souls by doing all in her power to ward them off from vice, and to lead them into a pure, noble, and beautiful life. (G. A. Bennetts, B. A.)

Sold merchants

In the inventory which is given us of the merchandise of Babylon, the last entry is an item that you would legist of all have expected to find mentioned as an article of truffle; and that teaches us with terrible emphasis, how lawless and tyrannous a thing unprincipled commerce is--how it will invade the most spiritual sanctuary of humanity, and lay violent hands upon its sacred things. Having trafficked and made its gain out of everything else, it is here represented as bringing into the market and producing as an article of merchandise the souls of men. And it suggests to us as our appropriate inquiry the way in which modern commerce invades the domain of the spiritual in man; and not only makes its mart in the soul, but brings the soul itself into the mart, and deals with it as an article of merchandise, and estimates it as a thing or capability of profit and loss. Not only does it turn the merchant into a thorough worldling, and quench within him all the yearning energies of his own soul; but it makes of him a trafficker in the souls of others, a soul merchant, unhesitatingly sacrificing the spiritual interests of all around him, if they stand in the way of his bargaining, or impose a limit upon his gain. And we can hardly wonder at this--for if a man be so bent upon gaining the world, as virtually to give for it his own soul, it would be extremely unreasonable to expect that he would be hampered by any scruples about the souls of others. But that we may deal fairly with those whom we have to denounce, we observe--

1. That commercial greatness is not in itself a thing of evil or of moral condemnation: and that we are by no means to be understood as sympathising with the ascetic sentiment, that connects the highest forms of piety with abstinence from secular pursuits, and would drive a man out of this world in Order to purify him for the next. We are no advocates for “a cloistered piety.” A healthy Christianity knows nothing of the pseudo pietism and moral effeminacy that would make a man a hermit, in order to make him a Christian. It is by no means the best way of being kept from moral evil to be taken out of society; on the contrary, it is simply exchanging the perils of social intercourse and activity for the probably greater perils of solitude. Christianity therefore preaches no crusade against so-called secular pursuits; it has no word to say against business activity and commercial prosperity in themselves considered--against the laudable desire to excel in the chosen walk of life, nor against the plying of “the diligent hand that maketh rich.” Man’s life is a whole, and earth and heaven are but the two great scenes of it; and he alone rightly lives who connects both, whose life on earth is the moral beginning of his life in heaven, and whose life in heaven is the proper moral issue of his life on earth. We best therefore prepare for the future, not by turning aside from the present, that we may deliberately anticipate its coming and adjust ourselves to it, but by earnestly engaging in the present and religiously doing the present work. If these principles be true therefore, there is no necessary evil in commercial pursuits.

2. A great deal of the moral evil of our modern commercial life is not to be attributed to commerce as the necessary cause of it. It springs rather from the common corruption of man’s heart, and takes the forms it does, because commerce is the incidental occasion of it. It is just as it is with many other things, the common duties of life are to us as we are to them, spiritual or unspiritual, according to the temper in which we approach and apprehend them; but no man can carry his unsanctified heart into the midst of his business, and then, because he remains without holy feeling, and is guilty, it may be, of unholy doings, attribute it all to the essential secularity of business. It has a deeper root than this: his business, like affliction, would he but permit it to be so, would be a fine school for his virtue and nurse of his piety; but instead of this, it is the occasion of his bad tempers and the embodiment of his sin.

3. While commerce is in itself a lawful thing, and while much of the moral evil associated with it is to be attributed to the moral condition of human nature, that abuses and corrupts whatever it touches, yet we do in fact often see it overpassing its domain, and encroaching upon the province of the spiritual, and seeking ends and making use of methods that are utterly unholy. Within her own proper limits commerce, as the minister of man’s material life, has her proper function always lawful, and possibly religious; but let her once overpass those limits, let her proffer her material good to the spiritual soul of man, or let her, as in the case the text describes, lay hold upon man’s spiritual soul itself, and make it drag its chariot, or grind at its mill, or prostitute itself for gain, and commerce becomes an unqualified and unutterable curse; it is guilty of man’s crowning sacrilege; it perpetrates his crowning folly. Whatever else may be a thing of traffic, the soul may not; its spiritual affections and inspirations may not be given to material things or for them; its spiritual interests are heavenly and supreme. God claims these exclusively for Himself and for moral good; they are beyond the power of any other man to claim, beyond the power of the man himself to surrender; there is an essential morality-and sacredness in the soul that imperatively demands to be preserved inviolate. When I speak of the soul of man, I mean that spiritual part of his complex nature that consists of moral affections and passions, in which the ideas of God and of virtue are implanted, and over which conscience has its proper supremacy; I mean that consciousness of intelligence and of morality which enables him to know the true and to choose the right, to admire the beautiful and to enjoy the good; I mean that consciousness of moral being and relationships, that puts an impassable gulf between man and all other animals, that enables communion with the great and spiritual Father, and that fills us with yearnings for His likeness and love; that consists in a deep and unutterable sympathy, a direct and ineffable intercourse between God and His creatures. And it is into this awful domain that commerce sacrilegiously intrudes; it is upon these mysterious thoughts, and feelings, and aspirations that it lays its irreverent hands; it interposes itself between these spiritual faculties and spiritual things; and it says, “Nay, but ye shall be my servants”; and it makes them its “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” As we have said, a sordid and unspiritual commerce invades the soul in two ways--it takes possession of the soul of the merchant, and it constrains him to sacrifice his own spiritual interests to his gain, and it so far infatuates him that he does not hesitate, whenever he can command them, to sacrifice the souls of others. This latter impiety it perpetrates in two ways.

1. It is a traffic in souls, when a service is demanded by employers inconsistent with the principles of moral rectitude. And here we must, I fear, arraign many of the principles and methods of our modern commerce-the adulterations of manufactures, the methods of purchase and sale, the sophistries and subterfuges, the deceptions and concealments needful for efficiency as a shopman. Is not the false article often labelled as the true, the adulterated as the pure. Now, what is all this but trafficking in souls? first, and chiefly, in your own souls. Are you not bartering for a percentage of profit--your moral integrity, your conscience, your godly simplicity and moral sensitiveness, your purity and your peace? If you do not give your whole soul for the whole world, you give part of the one for as much as you can get of the other; you give its virtue and its peace, its prosperity and its purity. If you do not sell it, assuredly you put it in pledge, and can hope to redeem it only by your after repentance and reformation. But the point for our present emphasis is, that you throw into the bargain the souls of those whom you employ. You make these practices the condition of your employment, and bring to bear upon them a coercion that they may not have strength to resist. We talk of the enormity of dealing in the bodies of men; but it is trivial compared with this traffic in men’s souls. It is worse than suicide for you to destroy the virtue of your own soul, and worse than murder for you to destroy the virtue of others, “when souls perish more than blood is shed.” And yours is the deliberate destruction of these young men’s souls; for the sake of your accursed gain you deliberately trample out every spark of conscience, and every struggle of spiritual life. Your merchandise, in its grossest form and directest sense, is the souls of men.

2. It is a traffic in souls when a service is demanded by employers incompatible with spiritual culture and religious duty. Here, therefore, we most seriously join issue with the present shop-keeping system in our large towns and cities; the protracted hours of business we hold to be not only a physical and social wrong, but one of the most serious religious evils and obstacles that exist amongst us. One of the most important, if not the most important, classes of society, is our young men; and one of the most vital points for the welfare of the Church, and the conversion of the world, is their efficient religious culture. And they are the victims of this social evil. The great mass of them utterly cut off from all means even of intellectual improvement, save during the jaded hours of their reduced and damaged Sabbath. (H. Allan, D. D.)

Alas, alas that great city.

Is England’s greatness on the decline

The area of the earth is covered, we may almost say, with the ruins of extinct empires. The empires which have risen upon those ruins have no more inherent right and title to perpetuity than their predecessors had. The debris of the grandeur of Rome are around us and beneath us, even as we sit here. If the greatness of Rome collapsed and fell, why not England’s? The life of a nation is a wonderful, a most complex, and a most subtle thing. First of all, there is that which is the most obvious and patent of all--its material prosperity, its command of the good things of this life. How high England stands amongst the nations in this respect we all know. There is no question as to her being the wealthiest nation of the world. Now this she might be, and yet the wealth might be so concentrated in a few hands as to add nothing to the welfare and well-being of the nation regarded as a whole. In England, however, at the present moment, this can hardly be said to be the case. The present tendency of things undoubtedly is towards a more equal distribution of the wealth of the community. The general rise of wages has had the effect of diffusing the comforts of life over a much wider area than formerly. And there is nothing as yet to indicate that this tendency has exhausted itself, or is likely in the near future to run in the contrary direction. The words from which we set out suggest a danger of a different kind--a gradual drying-up of the springs of industry through a gradual drying-up of the profits of capital, tending to a transfer of that capital to other countries and other employments. This, however, is still only a possible danger. There is nothing as yet to show that any such dangerous reaction has decisively set in. So far, then, as England’s greatness depends upon her material prosperity there is nothing as yet to show that that greatness is on the decline. But then it must never be forgotten that to say this is not saying very much. “With thy wisdom and with thine understanding,” writes Ezekiel of Tyre, in language which might be transferred without the alteration of a single letter to the case of England, “thou hast gotten thee riches, and hast gotten gold and silver into thy treasuries: by thy great wisdom and by thy traffic hast thou increased thy riches, and thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches.” And what then? Is all this wealth in the prophet’s eye any pledge of permanent greatness, any guarantee against the decline of that greatness? On the contrary, the prophet’s last word, in God’s name, upon Tyre is this: “Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the iniquity of thy traffic; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee; it shall devour thee,” etc. Upon the whole, then, so far as England’s material prosperity--its wealth, in the ordinary sense of the word--is concerned, though there may be cause for anxiety, there seems to be nothing to compel alarm. We may pass, then, now to the discussion of another element of a nation’s life, which I may describe as the intellectual element. In the case of England, very little needs to be said about this; and that little has no right to be unhopeful or discouraging. The education of the masses has advanced of late years, and still continues to advance, with giant strides; and, however it may have been or may still in a measure be, it will certainly not be long before England will cease to be liable to the reproach of being backward amongst the nations in the race of intellectual culture. But what about those moral and religious elements which constitute, far above everything else, the vital forces of a nation’s life? What about these--these, which are indeed that “soul,” by which alone, according to the poet’s most true words, “the nations” can be “great and free”? In that passage which I have already quoted from Ezekiel’s Book there is a phrase which is not, I fear, without its sting for England now, as for Tyre then: “The iniquity of thy traffick.” What the special iniquity of Tyre’s traffic was, it is impossible at this distance of time, and indeed it is not for us, to say. But will any Englishman dare to maintain that there is not, nor has been, any iniquity in the traffic of England? For example, is not that word “business” used to cover a multitude of practices which, if carried beyond the circle of trade and commerce, would be at once stigmatised, in plain English, as false, counterfeit, hypocritical? And will it be urged that a lie is less a lie, and therefore less hurtful and demoralising to him who tells it, if told in the counting-house, or behind the counter, or in the workshop or factory, than if told in the domestic or social circle, or in the common intercourse of daily life? We are discussing, remember, the moral and religious aspects of our English life, with the object of ascertaining whether they indicate the decay of our national greatness, or not. That there are dangerous symptoms no one will deny. We trace them, unmistakably, in things so notorious as the vast dimensions of the liquor traffic--the spread of secularism and unbelief--and a mass of misery and wretchedness, due to improvidence and vice and violation of the sanctities of the home life. But as it is in the natural body, so it is also in the body politick. In both there are forces of decay and dissolution ever at work. And in both there are also forces of life and renovation ever at work until the actual moment of death supervenes. Indeed the life of the natural body has been defined, and very aptly defined, as “the sum of the forces by which we resist death.” When, then, we would forecast the future, and shape an answer to the question, “Is England’s greatness on the decline?” our question really amounts to this, “Which set of forces is at the present moment in the ascendant, those which tend to national decay and dissolution, or those which tend to national life, vigour, and health?” We can only say, “Thou knowest, Lord.” But the difficulty, which is insuperable speculatively, yields at a touch practically. We can, at any rate, one and all, resolve that our lives shall be flung into the scale in which are the forces of national life and strength, and not into the opposite scale. First, by all means cultivate your minds; and not your minds only, but your bodies also. Next, by all means cultivate your citizen-life-your life as members of this great and noble commonwealth of England. Last of all, and above all, cultivate, with the utmost diligence and ardour, your home-life. Do everything that lies in your power for the comfort and welfare and happiness of your wives and children. And into your whole life--as men, as citizens, as husbands and fathers--let me beseech you ever to carry the thought of God, and an earnest desire and a loyal resolve to do His will. (Canon D. J. Vaughan.)


Verses 21-24

Revelation 18:21-24

A mighty angel took up a stone.

A great millstone

Observe here--

1. Babylon’s utter destruction represented by the type and sign of a millstone cast into the sea: like a millstone she had ground and oppressed the Church of God; and now, like a millstone thrown into the sea, she sinks into the pit of destruction. Almighty God, by this symbol, signified to St. John that Babylon’s ruin should be violent, irrecoverable, and irreparable; she falls never to rise more. The casting of a stone into the sea was anciently the emblem of everlasting forgetfulness.

2. The amplification of Babylon’s ruin particularised in several instances.

3. A threefold cause assigned for all this, to wit--

But how can the blood shed by others be laid to her charge?

1. Because the doctrines which caused their blood to be shed were with her.

2. Because her jurisdiction gave commission to slay the saints which were slain in other kingdoms.

3. Because by the influence of her example at home much blood had been shed abroad. God will charge upon others, as he did upon Babylon, not only the sin which they have acted, but all the sins which they have been necessary unto. (W. Burkitt, M. A.)

Moral evil symbolised

I. A symbolisation of its nature. If you want to see sin, or moral evil, in all its hideous aspects, in all its infernal operations, in all its damning consequences, study the great city of Babylon. The great city Babylon is in every unrenewed soul.

II. A symbolisation of its overthrow. The moral evil of the world is to be destroyed; it is not to exist for ever.

1. It is to be overthrown by superhuman agency. “A mighty angel”; a messenger from heaven. Was not Christ a mighty Messenger sent from heaven for this purpose? Yes, He came to “destroy the works of the devil.” It has been said that good alone can overcome evil. True, but it must be good in a supernatural form, and in this form the gospel brings us the good.

2. It is to be overthrown in such a way as never to appear again. Babylon is thrown like a great millstone into the sea. As Pharaoh sank like lead in the mighty waters, and rose no more to life, so shall moral evil, like a “mighty millstone,” fall into the fathomless abysses of eternal ruin. (Homilist.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 18:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/revelation-18.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 14th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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