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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Revelation 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-11

EXPOSITION

This is the commencement of the second great division, which embraces Revelation 4-22:5, that in which the revelation, properly so called, takes place. Revelation 4:1-11. and 5. contain the first of the seven visions, which is itself a prelude to the rest.

Revelation 4:1

After this; or, after these things ( μετὰ ταῦτα). There is no good ground for supposing, as some do, that, after the events narrated in Revelation 3:1-22., an interval occurred in the visions, during which St. John possibly wrote down the matter contained in the first three chapters. Nor is there any justification for assigning what follows to a time after this world. It would be pressing ταῦτα very far to make it apply to these present things of the world; and μετὰ ταῦτα certainly need not mean "the things after this world." The expression is used here in its ordinary, natural sense: "After having seen this, I saw," etc.; introducing some new phase or variety of spectacle. I looked; or, I saw ( εἷδον). No fresh act of looking is signified. I saw in the Spirit, as formerly (Revelation 1:10, Revelation 1:12). And, behold, a door; or, and, behold, a door, and the first voice. Such is the construction of the Greek. Was opened in heaven; or, an open door, in heaven. St. John did not see the action of opening the door, but he saw a door which had been set open, through which he might gaze, and observe what passed within. Alford contrasts Ezekiel 1:1; Matthew 3:16; Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11, where "the heaven was opened;" and supposes that the seer is transported through the open door into heaven, from which position he sees heaven, and views all that happens on the earth. Victorinus aptly compares the open door to the gospel. And the first voice which I heard, as it were, of a trumpet talking with me. Omit the "was" which follows, as well as the colon which precedes, and repeat "a voice," as in the Revised Version: And, behold, an open door in heaven, and the first voice which 1 heard, the voice which was, as it were, of a trumpet. The voice signified is not the first, but the former voice; viz. that already heard and described in Revelation 1:10. The possessor of the voice is not indicated. Stier ('Reden Jesu') attributes the voice to Christ; but it seems rather that of an angel, or at any rate not that of Christ, whose voice in Revelation 1:15 is described as "of many waters, "not as" of a trumpet." Which said. The voice ( φωνή) becomes masculine ( λέγων). Though whose voice is not stated, yet the vividness and reality of the vision causes the writer to speak of the voice as the personal being whom it signifies. Come up hither. That is in the Spirit—for the apostle "immediately was in the Spirit" (Revelation 1:2). He was to receive a yet higher insight into spiritual things (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2, where St. Paul was "caught up into the third heaven"). And I will show thee. It is not necessary, with Stier (see above on Revelation 1:1), to infer that these words are Christ's. Though from him all the revelation comes, he may well use the ministry of angels through whom to signify his will. Things which must be hereafter; or, the things which must happen hereafter. The things which it is right should happen, and which, therefore, must needs happen ( δεῖ). "Hereafter" ( μετὰ ταῦτα); as before in Revelation 1:1, but in a somewhat more general and less definite sense—at some time after this; but when precisely is not stated. The full stop may possibly be better placed before "hereafter;" in which case "hereafter" would introduce the following phrase, exactly as before in this verse. There is no "and;" καὶ, though in the Textus Receptus, is omitted in the best manuscripts.

Revelation 4:2

And immediately I was in the Spirit. Omit "and" (see above), so that the passage may be rendered, After these things, immediately, I was in the Spirit; a new scene was opened out, as before (in Revelation 4:1). St. John was already in the Spirit; but now receives a fresh outpouring of grace, enabling him to see yet more deeply into the mysteries of the kingdom of God. And, behold, a throne was set in heaven; or, a throne was situated ( ἔκειτο). There is no action of placing or setting up. Compare the vision of Ezekiel, "In the firmament that was above the head of the cherubims there appeared over them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne" (Ezekiel 10:1), where the throne appears above the cherubim, in the position of the cloud of glory (cf. also Isaiah 6:1, Isaiah 6:2, where the seraphim are above). And one sat on the throne. Probably the Triune God, to whom the Trisagien in verse 8 is addressed. Some have thought that the Father is indicated, in contradistinction to the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, and that it is from him that the Son takes the book in Revelation 5:8. But as Cornelius a Lapide remarks, "The Son as Man may well be said, especially in a sublime vision like this, to come to God." The Person is not named, because

Revelation 4:3

And he that sat was to look upon like, etc.; or, he that sat like in appearance ( δράσει). The word ὅρασις is found in this verse and in two other places only in the New Testament, viz. in Acts 2:17 (where it is part of a quotation from Joel) and in Revelation 9:17. In the latter place the expression is ἐν τῇ ὁράσει, and the presence of the preposition, together with the article, seems to justify the rendering "in the vision." In the Septuagint ὅρασις is frequently used to signify either "vision" or "appearance" (see 1 Samuel 3:1; Isaiah 1:1; Lamentations 2:9; Ezekiel 7:13; Daniel 1:17 and Daniel 8:1; Obadiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 2:2; and many others, where it is "vision." Also 13:6; Ezekiel 1:5, Ezekiel 1:13, Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 8:15; Nahum 2:4; 1 Samuel 16:12; and many others, where it is "appearance"). In the classics, ὅραμα signifies a "vision;" ὅρασις, "sight," the power of seeing. A jasper and a sardine stone. The jasper was the last, and the sardius the first stone of the high priest's breastplate (Exodus 28:17). The jasper was the first, and the sardius the sixth of the foundations of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19, Revelation 21:20). Much doubt is attached to the whole subject of the precious stones of the Bible. The modern jasper is opaque, while it is evident that the jasper of the Revelation is remarkable for its translucent character (see Revelation 21:11, "jasper stone. clear as crystal;" Revelation 21:18, "The building of the wall of it was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass"). It is evident that the stone was characterized by purity and brilliancy—features which seem to point it out as the modern diamond. The varying colour, which, according to some authorities, the jasper possessed, is not inconsistent with this view. It is curious, too, that in Exodus 28:18, the Hebrew מלַהְיַ, which in the Authorized Version is rendered "diamond," is represented in the LXX. by ἴασπις; while in Exodus 28:20, הפֶשְׂיָ the English "jasper," is ὀνύχιον. The sardius was the carnelian, always red, though somewhat varying in shade. The name has been variously derived from

the term being thus an allusion to the semitransparent nature of the stone. The pure jasper, together with the red sardius, may fitly typify God's purity and mercy together with his justice and judgment. And there was a rainbow round about the throne. The Greek ἶρις, which is used here, is not found in the LXX.? where τόξον is invariably found, probably to avoid reference to a term which was so pre-eminently heathen. The rainbow is here, as always (see Genesis 9:12, Genesis 9:13), a token of God's faithfulness in keeping his promises. It is, therefore, a fit sign of comfort to those persecuted Christians to whom, and for whose edification, this message was sent. In sight like unto an emerald. The σμάραγδος is our modern green emerald. It was highly valued in Roman times. It was one of the stones of the high priest's breastplate, and the fourth foundation of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:19). The description in this verse recalls Ezekiel 1:23, "As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain. so was the appearance of the brightness round about." Some have found a difficulty in the association of a rainbow with its varied colours, and the single green hue of the emerald. But of course it is the form only of the rainbow which is alluded to, not every quality which a rainbow may possess. A circular green appearance was seen round the throne, which perhaps may be described as a green halo. If the purity of the jasper (see above) be allowed to symbolize God's purity and spirituality, and the sardine, man clothed with flesh, the green emerald may fitly represent God's goodness displayed in nature.

Revelation 4:4

And round about the throne were four and twenty seats. Throughout the vision no past tense is used. The vision represents the worship of heaven (so far as it can be presented to human understanding) as it continues eternally. Thrones … seats. Render both by the same English word, as in the Revised Version. Some doubt is attached to the case of the first θρόνοι. θρόνοι, is found in B, P and this makes the construction nominative after ἰδού (cf. Revelation 4:2); but א, A, 34, 35, read θρόνους, which causes εἶδον to be understood. The point is immaterial, as the meaning is the same. And upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting. Omit "I saw" (see above). The number twenty-four, the double of twelve, represents the Churches of both the old and the new covenants. The elders are the heads or representatives of the body to which they belong (see Exodus 19:7; Exodus 24:1, and many others; see also the list of elders in Hebrews 11:1-40.). In the Christian Church the same distinction exists (see Acts 14:23, "ordained them elders;" Acts 20:17, St. Paul sent for the elders of Ephesus; Acts 21:18, "The elders were present"). So hero the elders represent the saints of both the Old and New Testaments. Thus they offer "the prayers of the saints" (Revelation 5:8). Christ, moreover, promised twelve thrones to his disciples (Luke 22:30) though not to the exclusion of the saints of old, for both are conjoined in Revelation 21:12, Revelation 21:14. In Revelation 15:2, Revelation 15:3, the victorious ones sing "the song of Moses and of the Lamb." Other interpretations which have been advanced are

Revelation 4:5

And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thundering and voices. The present tense (see on Revelation 4:4). The whole symbolical of the power and majesty of God, as of old he manifested his presence on Sinai. "There were thunders and lightnings and … the voice of the trumpet" (Exodus 19:16). And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. The Holy Spirit, represented in his sevenfold operation, by lamps, which illumine. The same idea is expressed under another figure in Revelation 5:6, where the searching, enlightening power of the Holy Spirit is typified by seven eyes.

Revelation 4:6

And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal. Sea of glass, or a glassy sea. The quality of "glassiness" may refer to the pure appearance of the sea; or it may mean that the sea was in consistency like unto glass; that is, solid and unyielding, so that there was nothing strange in the fact that it supported weights. In either case, the notion is repeated by parallelism in the next clause, "like unto crystal." But the glassy sea may mean "a glass laver," and bear no reference to what is usually called a sea. The brazen laver is described (1 Kings 7:23) as a "molten sea." St. John may therefore mean that before the throne of God was a laver of the purest material, just as the brazen laver was before the temple. One difficulty here presents itself, viz. that there would be no use for a laver in heaven, where all is pure, and the figure therefore appears a little incongruous. But as it stood before the throne, where all who came would have to pass by, it may fitly typify the waters of Baptism, passed by all Christians; and the figure would be aptly suggested to St. John by the furniture of the temple to which he has such constant allusions. And in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne. This may mean either

(8) The doctors of the Church (Vitringa).

(10) The four orders: pastoral, diaconal, doctoral, contemplative, (Joachim).

(11) The four principal angels (a Lapide).

(12) Four apostolic virtues (Alcasar).

(13) The attributes of divinity: wisdom, power, omniscience, creation (Renan).

Full of eyes before and behind. From Isaiah 6:2, Isaiah 6:3 the idea of six wings is borrowed, and also the "Holy, holy, holy" from Ezekiel 1:5, Ezekiel 1:6; the four figures and four faces; and from Ezekiel 10:12 the body full of eyes. The eyes denote unceasing activity. If the four living beings all faced towards the throne while standing on each side of it, St. John would see them in various positions, and observe the back as well as the front.

Revelation 4:7

And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. (Upon "beast" ( ζῶον), see on Revelation 4:6. For the signification, see also above on Revelation 4:6.) Whether there was any difference in the forms as a whole, or whether the difference consisted chiefly or solely in the thee, cannot be certainly known. Each being is symbolical of some class or some quality of which it is representative. (For the application, see on Revelation 4:6.)

Revelation 4:8

And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within. The stop should probably be after wings: are full of eyes about and within. In Isaiah 6:2 we have "six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly." These actions appear to indicate reverence, humility, obedience. The eyes denote ceaseless activity. And they rest not day and night, saying. In the Authorized Version "day and night" is attached to "rest not." but probably should be taken with "saying," for, if connected with the negative phrase, "nor" would be more likely to occur than "and."

But the point is practically immaterial, since the sense of the passage is the same in both readings. These representatives of life display the characteristics of life in its fullest energy. They have no part in anything which savours of death—no stillness, rest, or sleep. Holy, holy, holy. The thrice-repeated "holy" has very generally been held to indicate the Trinity of the Godhead. Such is evidently the intention of the English Church in ordering this passage to be read in the Epistle for Trinity Sunday. This ascription of praise is often, though wrongly, spoken of as the "Trisagion." £ Lord God Almighty. "Almighty" is παντοκράτωρ, the "All-Ruler," not παντοδύναμος, the "All-Powerful." The former, as Bishop Pearson says, embraces the latter. Which was, and is, and is to come. This phrase is no doubt intended to attribute to God the quality of eternal existence. But it may also symbolize three aspects or departments of God's dealings with mankind: the creation, which has been effected by the Father; the redemption, which is now occurring by the intercession of the Son; and the final perfect sanctification by the Holy Ghost.

Revelation 4:9

And when those beasts give; or, and as often as the living belongs shall give. The expression has a frequentative force, and also points to a continued repetition of the act in the future; perhaps a contrast to the past, since before the redemption the Church, as being of the whole world, could not join in the adoration. Glory and honour and thanks. The Eucharistic hymn recognizes the glory and honour which are the inseparable attributes of God, and renders the thanks due to him from his creation. To him that sat on the throne, who liveth forever and ever; or, to him sitting on the throne. The Triune God (see on Revelation 4:2). "Who liveth forever and ever" declares that attribute which was ascribed to God, in the song of the living beings, by the words, "which was, and is, and is to come" (see on Revelation 4:8).

Revelation 4:10

The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth forever and ever. Shall fall, etc. The tenses are all future except the present "sitteth" and "liveth." The four and twenty elders are the representatives of the universal Church (see on Revelation 4:4). And cast their crowns before the throne, saying. Their crowns of victory, στεφάνους (see on Revelation 2:10 and Revelation 4:4).

Revelation 4:11

Thou art worthy, O Lord; or, thou art worthy, our Lord and our God. In 13, the Syriac, Andreas, Arethas, Theodore-Stud., Arm., and many others, ἅγιος, "the holy one," is added. To receive glory and honour and power ( τήν δόξαν, etc.). The presence of the article either

HOMILETICS

Revelation 4:1

Things which must be hereafter.

However nearly expositors may approximate in their interpretation of the Book of Revelation up to the close of the third chapter, yet, when the "things which must be hereafter" begin to be unfolded, they part company, and diverge into so many different paths and bypaths, that it will not be possible for us to trace out all of them. Nor is it desirable. Our purpose is a purely homiletic one, viz. to unfold the principles of the Divine method and government, so as to help those who minister to the instruction and building up of the people of God. In this section of the Commentary we do not intend to turn aside to discourse on individual texts, however attractive and beautiful they may be, but to open up the plan of God as it is laid down in the Apocalypse; yet not so as to minister to an idle and peering curiosity, but so as to inform the understanding, establish the faith, and animate the hope of believers. It has been our conviction now for twenty years (a conviction deepened by each successive study of this wondrous book) that if men will but note its silence as well as its speech—what it withholds as well as what it unfolds—if they will refrain from filling in chasms that the book leaves, and will aim at seizing the principles involved, rather than at fixing details and dates of events, there is no book in the Word of God that will be found richer in spiritual food, or clearer in its heavenly light! There are several leading schemes of interpretation of the book. There is:

1. The preteritist; which regards the book as indicating events which have passed long ago; which closed with the destruction of the Jewish city, temple, and polity, and with the setting up of the Christian Church—it being "the holy city new Jerusalem."

2. The extreme futurist. Whereas according to the first everything has happened which is here recorded, according to the second nothing has yet occurred. Even the seven Churches are seven Churches of Jews to be formed alter the first resurrection, and all that is in the rest of the book is to follow on from thence. Between these two extremes there are, however, three others; the greater number of interpreters belonging, in fact, to one or other of these three.

3. Some regard the book as virtually a progressive history, dating from the imprisonment of St. John in Patmos under the Emperor Domitian. In their view the seven seals, vials, and trumpets indicate a triple series of events which may be either consecutive or simultaneous. In both cases, however, the interpretation is adopted of "a day for a year."

4. Others, again, regard the book as including a symbolic representation of things occurring on earth at the time of the apostle; and in addition thereto, a symbolic representation of events extending over twelve hundred and sixty days, which will usher in the coming of our Lord.

5. A fifth and rapidly increasing school of expositors adopt what is called (and rightly) the spiritual interpretation of the book; i.e. instead of fixing this or that earthquake, pestilence, or famine as the one specially referred to, they hold £ "that this book of sublimity contains a pictorial representation of events which commenced at the Christian era, and will run on to the end of the world." So also Godet remarks, concerning the six seals, that they represent, each of them, not a particular event, but "the categories of the principal judgments by which God supports, throughout all time, the preaching of the gospel." £ The spiritual interpretation is that to which for many years past we have felt ourselves shut up, and we are glad to find it adopted by Dr. Lee in his exposition. He says, "The imagery of the book describes, in accordance with the whole spirit of prophecy, the various conditions of the kingdom of God on earth, during its successive struggles with the prince of this world;" and again, "The 'spiritual' application is never exhausted, but merely receives additional illustrations as time rolls on, while the 'historical' system assumes that single events, as they come to pass in succession, exhibit the full accomplishment of the different predictions of the Apocalypse." £ Hence, at this stage of our unfolding of the plan of the book, we would lay it down as the basis of our exposition that, without attempting (for reasons yet to be given) to indicate anything like an estimate of the time over which our dispensation has to run, we shall find in this book, from beginning to end, such a disclosure of the principles and methods of God's working, in bringing about the second coming of the Lord, as may well fill us with holy awe, while we are contemplating the character of the scenes through which God's Church must pass on her way to her destined glory! It will spare us much useless labour if we note what God has not said in this book, as well as what he has said; e.g.

I. THERE IS IN THE ROOK A CLEAR GENERAL PLAN. Its keynote is, "Behold, I come quickly." Its disclosures end with the inbringing of the new heavens and the new earth. Its historic starting point is the exile of the beloved apostle. Its conception is that all forces in nature, incidents in history, and movements of providence, are preparing the way of the Lord. The standpoint of the apostle is not earth, nor is it heaven. He is caught up in the Spirit. Looking down, he sees earth in trouble and storm; looking up, he sees heaven in glory and rest. And if we look behind the symbolic drapery of the book, we shall find in each paragraph or section some principle indicated which will give us a clue to the higher spiritual meaning of the whole. Historic incident is among things "seen and temporal;" principles are among things "unseen and eternal." If we can seize hold of these, and thereby get some clearer view of the methods of God's working, we shall look with a far more intelligent gaze on "the ways of God towards man."

II. THE UNFOLDINGS OF THE BOOK AS TO THE CONFLICTS OF EARTH ARE A GREAT STAY TO OUR FAITH. Suppose we were without the Apocalypse: when we look over all the desolations of earth, and think of the slow progress Christianity makes, should we not be often ready to despair? But when the conflict in all its fierceness and wildness is set forth here, we can refer to our chart, and say, "We were told of it beforehand." We understand the Master's words, "Now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe." Without this book "the events of Christian history would be to us shortsighted creatures a very serious and painful obstacle to faith; but by the help of this book these very events confirm our faith." £

III. THE ISSUE OF THE WHOLE IN THE GLORY OF THE NEW JERUSALEM IS A STIMULUS TO OUR HOPE. However dark the passage, the end of it is light and glory. The King shall yet reveal himself as King of kings and Lord of lords. This is emphatically "the blessed hope." It revives our courage by the way.

IV. CERTAINTY AS TO ISSUE, BUT UNCERTAINTY AS TO TIME, IS THE ONLY CONDITION OF OUR LIFE WHICH IS CONSISTENT WITH THE DUE PERFORMANCE OF EVERYDAY DUTY. To know the moment when the stop should be put on all things would paralyze human exertion. Not to know that "all is working for good" would be the death blow to our joy in the Lord. The blended certainty and uncertainty are the very best conditions for us, the most calculated to lead us to watch and pray that we may "be ready," and may not be ashamed before Christ at his coming.

Verse 1-Rev 5:14

The opening vision: heaven; its throne; its inhabitants; its songs.

The fourth and fifth chapters of this book should be read together. They form a fitting introduction to the disclosures which follow. Before we have presented to us the series of visions which unfold to us the struggles of earth through which the Church must pass on her way to the end of the age, we have a glimpse of the heavenly world, its occupants, its songs, together with a sight of" him who is in the midst of the throne." Ere the last great inspired prophecy is to be unrolled, the Apostle John has a glimpse of the seat of power in heaven. Ere he sees those scenes of mingled awe and terror which his pen will have to record, he is permitted to peer within the sacred courts above. He sees their glory, learns their thoughts, and hears their songs, as, from heights far, far above us, they survey the majesty of the great Three in One, and send up their songs of praise to their God, for what he is in the glory of his nature, and for the grandeur of his works in creation and redemption. Among the many noble sculptures of Thorwaldsen at Copenhagen, there is one of the Apostle John. His countenance is suffused with heavenly serenity. He is looking up to heaven. His tablet is before him. His pen is in his hand, but it is not touching the tablet, nor will the apostle venture on a word till it is given him from above. Exquisitely indeed has the sculptor caught the spirit of the beloved apostle as he awaits the revelation from on high. Let us, in arranging our homiletic exposition, follow the leadings of the narrative. We have—

I. A GLIMPSE INTO THE UPPER WORLD. "A door was opened £ in heaven." We need not look on this as if it were bare literalism. Yet, beyond all question, there are objective realities far greater than those which John beheld. From beginning to end of these visions we see heavenly objects set forth in earthly language, that we may be "raised from our dead selves to higher things," and yet may not be bewildered and overwhelmed at the representation of a glory so far above us. Nor should we forget that, although this is the only book of the New Testament in which the heavenly world is set forth with anything of detail, yet the existence of that world is assumed by our Lord and his apostles throughout their teaching. This earth is not the only realm in which holy souls dwell, nor is the continuity of blessed life broken off as, one by one, they "go home." There are, moreover, "angels, principalities, and powers;" and over the two spheres of being, angels and men, our Lord is the Preeminent One. Thus, though the Apostle John gives us some fresh detail, he by no means takes us into an unknown land. It is "the Father's home." A voice is heard. Read, not "the first voice which I heard," but "I heard the first voice" (cf. Dean Alford, in loc.; Revelation 1:10); i.e. the voice of him who is the Alpha and the Omega. From him the word comes, "Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter." To this call the apostle responded. He rose in the Spirit's might, and, with piercing spiritual gaze, looked into heaven. £ In order for a vision to be intelligible, it is necessary that there should be one spot on which the eye can fasten, as a point of repose. Without this its glances would wander in painful unrest. There is a law corresponding to this in the mental constitution. In the study of any science whatever, minor matters have to be set in relation to some leading truth. It is so in theology. If religious truth is looked at as all detail, without anything like a centre, or like a vertebral column from which and to which the varied branchlets of truth diverge and converge, nothing will be rightly understood. So with the spiritual life. It requires its centre-point, which is Christ. If, moreover, in the vision before us, there were only a series of unconnected items, it would distract us. But it is not so. There is a centre. There is a throne, the seat of power and authority, from which all orders proceed, before which all creatures bow. A throne is set in heaven. Under this familiar symbol our God vouchsafes to set before us the truth that there is a point around which the universe revolves. A throne. Isaiah saw it; Ezekiel saw it; John sees it; and, with what is grouped around it, it gives us a glimpse of the glories of the heavenly world and of the dwellers there, and forms the background of the scenes of mingled mercy and judgment which are to be witnessed on earth.

1. There is One upon the throne—the eternal Father, glorious in his majesty.

2. Encircling the throne there is a rainbow—the symbol and sign of a covenant of peace. Majesty and mercy are met together. While in this low region of cloud things often look so dark and lowering that we are tempted to think earth's chariot wheels are running wildly, could we but see things from that higher standpoint that saints and angels take above, we should see that the everlasting throne remained firm and true, and that the rainbow of peace was encircling it around!

3. Round about the throne there are four and twenty minor thrones. On these are four and twenty crowned elders; and from what is said of them in the ninth verse of the fifth chapter, we gather that they are representatives of God's redeemed Church. Why twenty-four? No suggestion so much approves itself to us as the one that they represent the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New. The two Churches of the two economies are one in Christ. "They without us could not be made perfect." These elders are seen clothed in white, in token of their purity; crowned with gold, to indicate their triumph.

4. Out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices. What can these symbolize but the outgoings of Jehovah's power, whereby from his throne forces go forth which cause the earth to tremble; that while before the throne there was the symbol of perpetual calm, yet from thence should come mighty powers that should shake terribly a sinful world. Here we have also seven lamps of fire. These are interpreted for us. "The seven Spirits of God" sent forth into all the earth. Here is the Holy Ghost set forth in all the sublime majesty of his sevenfold energy.

5. Before the throne. What is there? "A sea of glass like unto crystal." All calmness there. "No mighty waves of turbulent roar." "Jehovah sitteth above the waterfloods;" the tossing, angry waves of earthly revolutions affect not the perfect calm of the heavenly world! All is "ethereal purity and majestic repose."

II. THE INHABITANTS OF HEAVEN ARE SEEN.

1. Angels are there (Revelation 5:2, Revelation 5:11).

2. The four and twenty elders are there (Revelation 4:4; Revelation 5:8, Revelation 5:11).

3. Four living ones are there, in the midst of the scene, between the throne and the crystal sea: one like a lion; the second like a calf; the third having the face of a man; the fourth like a flying eagle.

In Ezekiel's vision each one had four faces; here: each has one face, each one has six wings about him. So in Isaiah's vision, with twain they covered their face, in holy awe; with twain they covered their feet, in token of humility; and with twain they flew, in token of obedience. Each one, moreover, is full of eyes before and behind—the symbol of the keen penetration of perfected intelligence. Surely we have, in these unusual forms, representations of the highest advance of creaturely existence; in which the several features of knowledge, excellence, and strength, which here are severed, are there joined in one. They worship before the throne. Worship and work mark the highest orders of created being as well as the lower.

4. Nor are these all. There is an innumerable host: "myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands," representing the vast company in the realm of life, where "they cannot die any more."

5. We have yet to behold One around whom all the heavenly hosts gather in worship; but he comes in view as the Object of adoring song. He is "the Lamb as it had been slain." His glory we shall view as we proceed to study—

III. THE FIVE SONGS. Too seldom is the grand progression of song noticed, as recorded for us by the apostle.

1. First, the Trisagion, or song of praise to the thrice-holy God (verse 8). This song is sung by the four living ones. The higher orders of created existence, with their vast powers of spiritual discernment—" full of eyes "—see infinitely more glory in the great eternal God than we can with our feeble powers and in this land of shadow and of care. They adore him for what he is; the perfection of his holiness is the delight of their souls. A diseased eye dreads the light in which a healthy one rejoices. Sinful men dread God's holiness; perfect beings find in it the inspiration of their praise.

2. Secondly, the song of creation. (Verses 10, 11.) It is not only what God is that fills holy beings with rapture, but also what God does. The work of his hands in creation fills them with delight. And the higher beings rise in the scale, the more delight will they have in aught that reveals God. An angel could see more of God in a blade of grass than an uncultured soul could do in a blazing star. "Thou createdst all things." Whether they know what were the Divine methods of creation, we cannot say. The fact that God did all is that in which they glory; and also the fact that he did all by his own will, and for his own good pleasure. But the grand unfolding of heaven's song is far from complete as yet. The theme is continued in the fifth chapter.

HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY

Revelation 4:1-11

The high court of heaven.

If the portions of this book hitherto considered have had their difficulties, those on which we now enter are far more beset therewith. But the solemn sanctions given to the reading and study of this book send us, in spite of its difficulties, to the earnest examination of its sayings, certain that in them, even in the most mysterious of them, there lies a message from God to our souls. May he be pleased to make that message clear to us. This fourth chapter gives us the first part of the vision of what we have ventured to call "the high court of heaven." The next chapter reveals more. But in this part note—

I. THE VISION ITSELF. St. John begins his account of it with a "Behold." And well may he do so. He repeats this when he sees the "throne" and him that sat upon it. Again in Revelation 5:5, when he sees Jesus, the "Lamb as it had been slain." And if in like manner this vision come to us, we shall be filled, as he was, with wonder, with adoration, and awe. St. John saw:

1. A door set open in heaven. The sky was parted asunder, and in the space between, as through a door, he witnessed what follows.

2. The throne and its Occupant. He could see no form or similitude, any more than Israel could when God came down on Mount Sinai (cf. this vision and that, Exodus 19:1-25.). All that St. John saw was one "like unto a jasper stone and a sardius." The pure, perfect, flashing whiteness, as of a diamond, but with the carnelian redness, the fiery gleams of the sardius (cf. the "sea of glass mingled with fire," Revelation 15:2). Such was the Being who sat upon the throne—that throne, probably, as that which Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6:1-13.), being "high and lifted up," some stately structure befitting so august a court.

3. The rainbow, overarching the throne, the mild and beautiful green, emerald-like rays predominating amid its seven-hued splendour. Then:

4. The assessors of him that sat upon the throne. On either hand of the throne were twelve lesser thrones—twenty-four in all; and upon them were seated twenty-four elders, clad in white robes, and with crowns of gold on their heads.

5. Then in the space before the throne were seen seven burning torches. Not lamps, like those that symbolized the seven Churches, and which were after the manner of the seven-branched lamp which stood in the holy place in the ancient temple; but these were torches rather than lamps, destined to stand the rude blasts of the outer air rather than to gleam in the sheltered seclusion of some sacred edifice.

6. Then further off, beyond that central space, was the "sea of glass," like crystal. Clear, bright, reflecting the lights that shone upon it, but not tempest-tossed and agitated, unstable and ever restless, like that sea which day by day the exile in Patmos beheld barring his intercourse with those he loved, but calm and strong, firm and restful,—such was this sea. Then, also in the central space, or probably hovering, one in front, one on either side, and another at the rear of the throne, were:

7. The four living ones. The "four beasts," as, by the most melancholy of all mistranslations, the Authorized Version renders St. John's words, appear here to occupy the same relation to the throne as did the cherubim which were upon the ark of God in the Jewish temple. Strange, mysterious, unrepresentable, and indescribable forms. As were the cherubim, so are these; their faces, their eyes—with which it is said they "teem," so full of them are they—and their six wings, are all that we are told of; for the lion and ox-like aspect, the human and the eagle, tell of their faces rather than their forms, and do but, little to enable us to gain any true conception of what they were. Such were the mysterious beings whom St. John saw in immediate attendance on him who sat upon the throne; and as such, standing or moving around or hovering over the throne, we cannot certainly say which. And all the while there were heard, as "in Sinai in the holy place," voices, thunderings, and lightnings, proceeding from the throne. Such was that part of the vision with which this chapter is occupied. As we proceed we find the scene is enlarged, and more Divine transactions take place thereon. But now note—

II. THE MEANING OF THIS VISION. And:

1. The door set open in heaven. This tells, as did the vision of the ladder Jacob saw, of a way of communication opened up between earth and heaven.

2. The throne and its occupant. "The whole description is that of a council in the very act of being held. It is not to be taken as a description of the ordinary heavenly state, but of a special assembly gathered for a definite purpose" (cf. 1 Kings 22:19). And this symbol, which mingles reservation with revelation, and conceals as much as it declares, bids us think of God in his majesty, glory, supremacy, and as incomprehensible. "Who by searching can find out God?" It is a vision of the great God—we know that; but of his nature, substance, form, and image it, tells us nothing, nor was it intended that it should. But many precious and important truths concerning him it does tell. Of his awful glory, of his unsullied purity and spotless holiness, of the terror of his vengeance, of his interest in our concerns, of the worship and adoration of which he is worthy, and which he ever receives; of the character, condition, and service of those who dwell in his presence; of the ministers he employs; and much, more.

3. The fail,bow overarching the throne. This is the emblem (cf. Genesis 9:12-16) of God's gracious covenant which he hath established forevermore. And it told to St. John and to Christ's Church everywhere that, awful, glorious, and terrible as our God is, all that he does, of whatsoever kind, is embraced within the mighty span of his all-o'erarching grace. The Church of Christ was to pass through some dreadful experiences, to endure fearful trials, and they are not ceased yet; but she was to look up and see that all God's ways, works, and will were within not without, beneath not beyond, because and not in spite of, his all-embracing love. All were to find shelter, expanse, and explanation there. It was a blessed vision, and, unlike the ordinary rainbow, may it ever be seen by us, and its teaching believed.

4. The four and twenty elder's. These represent the whole Church of the Firstborn, the blessed and holy ones whom God hath made kings and priests unto himself. Their white robes tell of their purity, their victory, their joy, as white robes ever do; and their golden crowns (cf. Exodus 39:30), the peculiar possession of the priest of God, tell of their high and holy functions in the presence of God. The priest's office was to intercede with God for man and with man for God, to he—as was he, the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ—in sympathy alike with man and God, seeking to unite man to God, even as God was willing to unite himself with man. But seeing them there, associated with God, does it not tell that the holiest and most blessed of the saints know and approve of all he does? This is why the saint's are so blessed, because they do so know God. They understand what he does, and why; and hence those dark facts of human life which so bewilder and distress us cause no distress to them; for they, whilst in deep love and sympathy with us who are left sorrowing here below, have come to know, as here they could not, and as we cannot, the loving and holy wisdom and the omnipotent grace which are working in and through all these things. If, then, those who know are of one mind with God in regard to them, surely we may learn therefrom to "trust and not be afraid."

5. The torches of fire. These are said to be "the seven Spirits of God"—the holy and perfect Spirit of God in the varied diversity of his operations (1 Corinthians 12:4). The witness of the Spirit as well as of the Church to the ways of God is shown. He too, as well as they, testify that God is holy in all his ways and righteous in all his works.

6. The sea of glass. If it were merely the sea that was seen here, we should regard it, as many do, as the symbol of the depth and extent of the judgments of God (cf. Psalms 77:19). But it is a sea of glass, like crystal, and its clear calmness, its firm strength, its perfect stillness—for we are told (Revelation 15:2) that the redeemed "stand upon" it—all this reminds us of the results of God's holy rule. "Thou rulest the raging of the sea, the noise of their waves, and the tumults of the people" (Psalms 89:9; Psalms 65:7). Here, then, is another witness for God and his ways—the progress of peace on earth, concord amongst men; the orderly, quiet, and undisturbed life; the security and peace which are amongst the marked results of the progress of the kingdom of God in the world. Let the results of missionary enterprise amid savage peoples now civilized and at peace attest this.

7. The four living ones. The meaning of this part of the vision is not clear or certain. All manner of opinions have been held. We regard them as answering to the cherubim of the Old Testament, and they are apparently the representatives of those who stand nearest to God, and by whom he mainly carries on his work. Hence the chief ministers of the Church of God—prophets, priests, evangelists, and apostles. The ancient Church very generally regarded these "four living ones" as the representatives of the four evangelists, and in many a picture, poem, and sculpture this idea is portrayed. But we prefer to regard them as part of the symbol, and not the whole. And the different creatures which are selected for these four are the chiefs of their several kinds: the lion amongst beasts, the ox amongst cattle, the eagle amongst birds, and man amongst all. And these several creatures tell of the main qualifications for the ministry of God: courage and strength, as of the lion; patient perseverance in toil, as of the ox; soaring aspiration, "to mount up on wings as eagles," heavenly mindedness; and intelligence and sympathy, as of the man. Ministers so qualified God chiefly uses in his great work. Their wings tell of incessant activity; their being "full of eyes," of their continual vigilance and eager outlook on all sides, their careful watch and ward in the Divine service. Such are his ministers. It is said they represent the whole sentient creation of God. But we find them told of here as leaders of worship, as singing the song of the redeemed (Revelation 5:9), with harps and golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." They say, "Thou hast made us kings and priests," etc. Surely all this belongs more to human, redeemed ministries than to vague abstractions, such as "representatives of creation." And if so, then such being the ministers of God is a further reason for the trust, the confidence, and the assured hope of the Church of God in all ages. And titan all are heard as well as seen, and that which we have is the Trisagion, the Ter-Sanctus, the "Holy, holy, holy," which Isaiah heard when in the temple. He also saw the vision of the Lord of hosts. And the uplifting of this holy song serves as the signal for the yet fuller outburst of praise which the twenty-four elders, rising from their seats and reverently placing their crowns of gold at the Lord Jehovah's feet, and prostrating themselves before his throne, render unto him that sitteth upon the throne, saying, "Worthy art thou," etc. (verse 11). The vision is all of a piece. It strikes terror into the hearts of God's adversaries, as—to compare great things with small—do the pomp and paraphernalia of an earthly tribunal strike terror into the heart of the criminal who is brought up to be tried, and probably condemned, at its bar; but fills with holy confidence the hearts of all God's faithful people by the assurance of the holiness, the wisdom, the love, and might of him that ruleth over all, and in whose hands they and all things are.

III. ITS GENERAL INTENT AND PURPOSE. Beyond the immediate needs of the Church of St. John's day, surely it is designed to teach us all:

1. The reality of the heavenly world. The seen and the temporal do not a little dim and often shut out altogether the sight of the unseen and eternal. It is difficult to realize. Hence whatever tends to bring to bear upon us "the powers of the world to come" cannot but be good. And this is one purpose of this vision.

2. Another is to awaken inquiry as to our own relation to the judgment of God. How shall we stand there, abashed and ashamed, or bold through the atoning sacrifice of Christ which we have believed and relied upon? How shall it be?

3. To excite desire and aspiration after participation in its blessedness. Hence the door is set open in heaven, that we may long to enter there, and resolve through Christ that we will. "What must it be to be there?"—that is the aspiration which such a vision as this is intended to awaken, as God grant it may.—S.C.

Revelation 4:6

The cherubim.

"In the midst … were four living ones full of eyes before and behind." There can scarce be a doubt that these mysterious beings are the same as in the Old Testament are called "cherubim." Who and what they were, and what they have to teach us, is an inquiry not without difficulty, but assuredly of much interest and profit. Let us, therefore—

I. REVIEW THE SCRIPTURE NOTICES OF THE CHERUBIM. They are mentioned in connection:

1. With the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. We read, "So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Now, from this passage we learn but little as to the nature of these exalted beings—only that they were deemed worthy to occupy the place where alone perfect righteousness could dwell. But from the word rendered "to place," which signifies rather "to place in a tabernacle," and from expressions which we find in Revelation 14:14-16, it seems as if this "place" wherein God had appointed the cherubim had become a sort of local tabernacle, and was called "the presence of the Lord," from which Cain mourned that he was driven out; and so for a long time it remained, probably until the Deluge. For how else could the idea of the cherubim, so connected with that place, and apparently so familiar to the Jews, have continued in their minds? That it did so is shown by the fact that Bezaleel (Exodus 31:1-18.), when he was bidden make cherubim of gold for the ark of God, knew exactly what he was to do. Here, as at Eden, they were where sinful man could not approach. Then the next mention of them is:

2. In connection with the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:18-20). Such were the commands of him who, but a little while before, amid all the majesty and awe of Sinai, had commanded, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything," etc. (Exodus 20:1-26.). This command was engraven upon stone, and placed within that very ark of the covenant upon which the golden cherubim stood. And Solomon, too, with apparently the full concurrence of David and of the priests of the Lord, substituted for these cherubim, or else added to them, two others of colossal size, whose wings, stretching overhead, filled the most holy place in his new and gorgeous temple (1 Kings 6:23). Besides this, the figures of cherubim were multiplied in the varied forms of gold work and tapestry which were about the temple. Woven into curtains, placed as supports of the priests' laver at the entrance of the sanctuary, they were found on all sides, although they certainly seemed like plain contradiction and disobedience to the law which forbade the making of all such images. But we have no clear idea what they were like. We are told only of their wings, their faces, and their posture—not anything more. And the command against graven images helps us, I think, to understand partly what they were not. For that command contemplates only objects, regarded as sacred, which might be used as idols and for worship. And these cherubim fulfilled the very letter as well as the spirit of the Law. They were unlike "anything in heaven above," etc. If you seek to put together the various descriptions given of them in the Bible, you get an impossible combination, an unnatural union of bodily parts and organs, such as no known creature of God ever possessed. And still less were they designed to represent the supreme God. They were simply symbols divinely appointed, the meaning of which it is ours to discover. Then:

3. Isaiah's and Ezekiel's visions. (Isaiah 6:1-13.; Ezekiel 1:10.) Ezekiel describes certain "living ones" that he saw in vision. In Revelation 10:1-11. he sees again, but now in Jerusalem, these "living ones;" and he says, "This is the living one that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar, and I knew that they were the cherubim." And then he proceeds (Revelation 10:1-11.) to describe them. And:

4. In the vision of St. John. (Cf. Revelation 4:6-9.) With slight modifications, it is evident that we have the same mysterious beings referred to. Therefore inquire—

II. WHOM DO THEY REPRESENT? They are called "living ones," and therefore not the mere elemental forces of nature. This has been argued from Psalms 18:10, where it is written, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind." But the swiftness of movement attributed to these beings, their many wings, so that Ezekiel compares their going to "a flash of lightning," is sufficient to account for what we read in the psalm. But now, gathering together the scattered notices of them which we have reviewed, we learn:

1. They represent servants of God. Every passage that speaks of them shows this. In Eden; in the tabernacle and temple; in Isaiah's vision in the temple, and in Ezekiel's; so, too, in St. John's.

2. Chief ministers of God. See how near they are to him, standing to represent him or in closest attendance upon him.

3. But human, not merely creatural and sentient. From the creature forms, or rather countenances, ascribed to these "living ones," they have been regarded as representations of God's sentient creation (of. homily on verses 1-11). But they worship God; they join in the song, "Worthy is the Lamb;" they are in sympathy with God's servants here on earth, bearing golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." So, then, as they are chosen and chief amongst the servants of God, so also are they human. But:

4. Holy also. These "living ones" represent, not humanity as we see it, but as it shall be in the presence of God by and by. Their position in Eden, where no sin might be, and in the most holy place, and in closest attendance upon the throne and upon him that sat upon it,--all prove how holy, how sinless, they must be. And:

5. Redeemed. They could only be where they are in consequence of redemption. We know that sinful man was not allowed to enter Eden, whence he had been driven out, nor the most holy place, nor the presence of God. Therefore something must have been done, in and upon and for them. Moreover, their song, "Worthy is the Lamb" (Revelation 5:12), and their standing on the mercy seat over the ark of the covenant—that mercy seat which was sprinkled with the blood of atonement—show that it is to redemption they, as we and all the saved, owe their all. And:

6. Perfected. See the creatural symbols, the lion, ox, etc. (cf. former homily), which tell of those qualities which go to make up the perfected character of the saints of God—courage and submission, aspiration and thought. Of such service and servants do the cherubim, these "living ones," tell.

III. THEIR MINISTRY TO MAN NOW. It is full of interest to observe the seasons when the visions of the cherubim were given. These occasions have all one common characteristic—they were when the way man had to take was very dark and drear. As when our first parents went forth from the blessed Eden to the thorns and thistles of the wilderness which was to be their future home. So, too, when "that great and terrible wilderness," amid which the Israel of God had to wearily wander for so many years. And when Isaiah was called to his ministry of sorrow because of his people's sin (Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 6:10). And Ezekiel, when in the sore captivity at Babylon he strove to comfort and cheer the hearts of his countrymen. And St. John saw them in the midst of the tribulations and persecutions which befell the Church of his day. So that the ministry of the cherubim seems to have been, besides all else that it was, a ministry of consolation to troubled and sorrowful men. To tell them what and where one day they should surely be, whatever their hard lot may be now; that they should be redeemed, holy, in the presence of God, serving him day and night in his temple—serving him, too, with perfect service, and he who "dwelt between the cherubim" should dwell among them forevermore. It was as a "Sursum corda" to the dejected, downcast children of God, bidding them be of good cheer and "hope in the Lord." And this is the purpose of this revelation still.—S.C.

HOMILIES BY R. GREEN

Revelation 4:1-6

The Divine government symbolized.

In the forms of earth the formless heavenly things are represented—the Divine government which in our thoughts is so often restricted to the conditions of human government. It is needful to remind ourselves that when we have conceived the most lofty notions of the Divine rule, we are infinitely below the real and actual. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

I. THE THRONE SYMBOLICAL OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. A government by law and authority.

II. THE OCCUPANT OF THE THRONE, whom no man hath seen nor can see, represented as "like a jasper stone and a sardius," symbolical of essential holiness and punitive justice. Symbols have but their limited teaching. Here the two aspects of the Divine Name represented which the circumstances of the Church needed—persecuted, suffering. The detente of the holy ones by the holy God; the punishment of the enemies of truth, who are enemies of all who love the truth. "I will repay, saith the Lord."

III. THE DIVINE THRONE ENCOMPASSED BY SYMBOLS OF COVENANTED MERCY. "The rainbow"—"the symbol of grace returning after wrath."

IV. THE DIVINE THRONE ENCIRCLED BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE CHURCH.

1. The high honour to the Church.

2. Divine recognition of.

3. Utmost glory of: they sit on thrones—fulfilment of many promises.

4. Their character—purity, indicated by "white robes."

5. Their kingly honour: "on their heads crowns of gold."

6. The universality and unity of the Church represented in the "four and twenty ciders"—"the twelve tribes of Israel," "the twelve apostles of the Lamb."

V. THE SYMBOLS OF THREATENED JUDGMENTS PROCEEDING FROM THE THRONE are "lightnings, and voices, and thunders," all effected by the manifold operations of the Holy Spirit of God—"seven lamps of fire."

VI. THE DEPTH AND PURITY OF THE DIVINE ADMINISTRATION SYMBOLIZED in "a glassy sea like unto crystal." Thy judgments are a great deep."

VII. To THE RIGHTEOUSNESS, JUSTICE, WISDOM BENIGNITY, OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT ALL CREATURE LIFE BEARS WITNESS. Thus the four living creatures.—R.G.

Revelation 4:6-8

The song of the living creatures.

Here is represented the praise of the Divine Name by the universal creature life. The highest, the cherubic forms, speak for all. It is a representative song. "All thy works praise thee, O God;" "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord."

I. THE SONG OF THE UNIVERSAL CREATURE-LIFE IS A CEASELESS SONG. "They have no rest day and night" That which is represented is that which should and which shall be. It is the ideal. Wicked man puts himself outside of the otherwise universal chorus; but he shall also be brought to sing. "Thou wilt make the wrath of man to praise thee." Throughout the widespread universal life a never-ending song of praise ascends; angel and archangel, cherubim and seraphim, continually do cry. All creatures in their vast variety, their marvellous structure, their mutual service, praise him who gave them birth.

II. THE CREATURE'S SONG CALLED FOR BY THE HOLINESS OF GOD. This the first, the chiefest attribute of the Divine Name. "His Name is holy." In the creature's elevation the essential holiness of God shall become the central light into the depths of which, with eager if with veiled eye, shall the holy ones seek to inquire. This the essential "beauty of the Lord."

III. THE CREATURE'S SONG CALLED FOR BY THE ETERNITY OF GOD. The Ever-living One is praised by every living one. Each, receiving his life from the Life, shall render back that life in ceaseless songs of praise. The unfathomable depth, the infinite beyond, the eternal past, true matter of praise to the creature: "which was, and is, and is to come."

IV. THE CREATURE'S SONG DEMANDED BY THE OMNIPOTENCE, THE ALL MIGHTINESS, OF GOD. The Lord God is the Almighty. To this high subject the limited, feeble creature rises as more and more he searches into the vast works of the Almighty hand which none can let or hinder.

V. THE SONG OF THE CREATURE, AS IS MOST MEET, IS A SONG OF PRAISE, the true praise being, not the attempted estimate of the Divine Name b v the creature mind, but the simple assertion of the Divine excellence: "Holy, holy, holy," etc.—R.G.

Revelation 4:9-11

The Church's song of praise.

The elders speak for all and appear for all. In them all are present. As is promised again and again, the Church surrounds the throne. It is the sign of the Church's recognition and highest honour.

I. THE SUBJECT OF THE SONG. That of "the living creatures" is "the Lord God," the Almighty, the Ever-living. The subject of the Church's song is the creative power of God, in recognition of which "glory, honour, and power" are ascribed. It is the ground of hope for the final triumph of the Divine kingdom over the opposing kingdom of evil which is so soon to be brought into view.

II. The song is offered by the Church's representatives; it symbolizes THE ENTIRE CHURCH REJOICING IN THE UNIVERSAL SONG OF PRAISE. "When the living creatures shall give glory." The Church's song of praise for redemption wilt presently be heard; but it is preceded, as is most meet, by praise to God "for his excellent greatness and for his mighty acts."

III. The song is presented by the Church IN LOWLY PROSTRATION. Never do the songs of praise from the earth rise higher than when presented in the lowliest humility. Not only do the elders "fall down before him that sitteth on the throne," but in recognition of his absolute supreme authority, they "cast their crowns before the throne." In presence of the one Lord, all authority, all honour, all might, must be ignored.

IV. The matter of the song recognizes THE EXALTED WORTHINESS OF THE MOST HIGH, to whom pertains the highest "glory, honour, and power," illustrated in the creation of all things.

V. The song terminates in AN ADORING ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE FINAL END OF CREATION. "Because of thy will." "He spake, and they were created: he commanded, and they stood fast." The "will" expresses the pleasure of God, and for his pleasure they are, and were created. The end of their being is not to be found in themselves, but in the Divine will. It is worthy. And as by the Divine will all things are, so all things will be made to serve that will, yea, even the rebellious elements in human life, for he will make the wrath of man to praise him.—R.G.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Revelation 4:1

Man's higher sphere of being: (1) Humanly accessible.

"After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be hereafter." Disrobe this chapter of its strange metaphorical costume, brush away all the symbols, and there appears a supermundane world, here called heaven—man's higher sphere of being; a world this, unseen by the outward eye, unheard by the outward ear, untouched by the tactile nerve, lying away altogether from our five senses. That such a world exists is, to say the least, highly probable, if not morally certain. Universal reason conducts to the belief in, and the universal heart yearns for, such a scene. He who is so thoroughly acquainted with the universe as to be incapable of a mistake, so inflexibly sincere as to be incapable of deception, has said, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you." I may observe, in passing, that from the first verse of this chapter to the first verse of the eighth chapter inclusive forms an interesting paragraph of thought for suggestion. Now, this supermundane world, or man's higher sphere of being, we have here presented in two aspects—humanly accessible and spiritually entered. Each of these we shall employ as the germ of a separate homily. In the text it appears as humanely accessible. Notice—

I. THERE IS A DOOR TO ADMIT. "A door was opened in heaven." What is the "door"? Christ says, "I am the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9). He shall enter into this super-mundane world with absolute safety and abundant provision. He is "the Way." Christ's absolute moral excellence makes him the Door of admission to all that is pure, beautiful, and joyous in the universe. "Beholding as in a glass the flee of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory," etc. Two things may be predicated about this door.

1. It is transparent. He who looks into Christ's character looks into heaven. In his spirit we see the light that animates all heaven, and the principles that set all heaven to music. He who knows Christ experimentally knows heaven, and no other.

2. It is ample. Millions have passed through it, and millions more will to the end of time; thousands are passing through it, and all the men of coming generations will find it wide enough.

II. THERE IS A VOICE TO WELCOME. "And the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking [speaking] with me; which said [one saying], Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be [come to pass] hereafter." Whither? Up the heights of the supersensuous universe, lying even beyond the stars. Thither in imagination we may ascend. Who, indeed, in the stillness of the night, has not heard as it were a "trumpet" coming down into his soul from those bright orbs which in teeming legions traverse the infinite fields above?

"Whoever gazed upon their shining, Nor turned to earth without repining, Nor longed for wings to fly away, And meet with them eternal day?"

"Come up hither," they seem to say. Let not your minds be confined to your little, cloudy, stormy, perishing planet. Earth was only intended as the temporary home of your bodies, not the dwelling place of your souls. The great universe is the domain of mind. We roll and shine in our mighty spheres around you to win you away to the serene, the height, and the boundless. "Come up hither," immortal man, wing your flight from orb to orb, system to system; count our multitudes, mark our movements, gauge our dimensions, breathe in our brightness, rise beyond us, scale the wondrous heavens still far away, revel in the Infinite, be lost in God. But the elevation to which we are called is not local, but moral. "Seek those things which are above." What are they? Truth, rectitude, holiness, fellowship with the Infinite. Herein is true soul elevation. To this the "trumpet" bids us. Hear this trumpet from the infinite silences around you, from departing saints above you, from the depths of conscience within you, "come up hither."

CONCLUSION. Are we morally ascending? Then we shall experience three things.

1. Increasing dominion over the world.

2. Constant growth in moral force.

3. Augmented interest in the spiritual domain.—D.T.

Revelation 4:2-11

Man's higher sphere of being: (2) Spiritually entered.

"And immediately I was in the Spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and One sat on the throne," etc. We need not suppose that the supermundane world appeared to John's bodily eye in the forms in which it is here presented. It was a mental vision and nothing more, and a mental vision is often more real, more significant, more impressive, than a material. Commentators of this book have treated these objects as those which were addressed to the senses of the apostle, and have thus turned it into a wilderness of confusion; and preachers have used it to excite the imagination, stir the sensibilities, and stimulate the wildest and idlest speculations concerning a man's higher sphere of being. The whole is a mental vision. We shall take the vision not as a symbolic puzzle, or even a metaphorical representation, but merely as an illustration of two things.

I. THE EXTRAORDINARY CHARACTER of man's higher sphere of being. All things here seem to be of a unique nature and order. An air of the wonderful spreads over all.

1. The general appearances are extraordinary. Observe the social appearances are extraordinary. Royalties abound. "A throne was set in heaven," with one Occupant supreme, as brilliant in aspect as a precious stone. "He that sat was to look upon like a jasper [stone] and a sardine stone [sardius]: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald [to look upon]." Then there were other royalties and dignities seated round the central throne. "And round about the throne were four and twenty seats [thrones]: and upon the seats [thrones] I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed [arrayed] in white raiment [garments]; and they had on their heads crowns of gold." Now, the social appearances of this world are nothing like this. Everywhere there is degradation, not dignity; heads encircled with poverty, sorrow, and care, not "crowns of gold." Indeed, the great bulk of our social world do not even see the throne of the Supreme One in the heavens. They see the motion of the mere material machinery, or a scheme of what they call laws and forces, but not the One central and universal Ruler of all. Man's higher sphere of being, socially, is widely different to this. In the higher one free moral agents are the ruling power, not blind forces. And then over all there is One, and but One over all, on the central throne. Again, the physical phenomena are extraordinary. "And out of the throne proceeded [proceed] lightnings and thunderings [thunders] and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God." True, we have lightnings and thunders here occasionally, but articulate voices in the heavens we hear not, nor do we see torches of fire blazing before the throne. The firmament that spreads over the higher sphere of being will no doubt, in many respects, be very different to the heavens that encircle us. So, also, with the waters. "Before the throne there was [as it were] a sea of glass [a glassy sea] like unto crystal." We have a sea here rolling in majesty round three parts of the globe, but it is not like glass or crystal, ever calm, sparkling, and clear; it is never at rest, often lashed into fury, and black with rage. How calm and clear will be our higher sphere, "a sea of glass," mirroring the peacefulness and the glory of the Infinite! The living creatures also are extraordinary. "Round about the throne were four beasts [living creatures] full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast [creature] was like a lion, and the second beast [creature] like a calf, and the third beast [creature] had a face as [as of] a man, and the fourth beast [creature] was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts [living creatures] had each of them [having each one of them] six wings about him; and they were full [are full] of eyes within [and round about]." Although we have in this earth such beasts and birds and faces of man as here represented, a striking difference is indicated. They had "six wings" and were "full of eyes." Whilst some have the courage of the lion, the patience of the ox, the towering tendency of the eagle, and the sympathy of the man, they are all endowed with transcendent organs of vision and powers of speed—they teem with eyes and wings. It is here suggested, then—I do not say that it is intended to be taught, for I am not gifted with the power to interpret such passages—that man's life in the higher sphere of being differs widely from the present. "Eye hath not seen," etc.

2. The supreme service is extraordinary. What is the supreme service in that higher sphere? Worship. "And they rest not [have no rest] day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God [the] Almighty, which was, and [which] is, and [which] is to come. And when those beasts [the living creatures] give [shall give] glory and honour and thanks to him that sat [sitteth] on the throne, [to him] who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall [shall fall] down before him that sat [sitteth] on the throne, and worship [shall worship] him that liveth forever and ever, and cast [shall cast] their crowns before the throne," etc. The worship there is the one ruling, intense, unremitting service. It is anything but that here; business, pleasure, aggrandizement,—these are the great and constant services of life. Real worship is indeed rare.

II. THE REAL ENTRANCE into man's higher sphere of being. "Immediately [straightway] I was in the Spirit." It is suggested that this higher life, this supermundane world, is entered by the Spirit. "Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." There are two ways by which man can enter the invisible.

1. By the efforts of the imagination. The whole scene before us is evidently the product of the imagination. Extraordinary visions men often have in the stilly watches of the night, in the season of dreams. But imagination can act more accurately, if not more vividly, in the hour of consciousness and intellectual activity. Thus Milton beheld his heavens and his hells, his angels and his devils. We can all, by the force of imagination, penetrate the visible, the material, the tangible, withdraw the sublunary curtain and step into the world of spiritual wonders.

2. By the influx of a new spirit. It is not uncommon for men to come into possession of a new ruling spirit, and with a new spirit comes a new world. When the philosophic spirit enters a man (and it does so in the case of a few in every age and land), the man is ushered into a new world a world of high thoughts, invisible forms, and remedial forces. When the commercial spirit enters the rustic lout, he soon finds himself in a new world—a world of speculations and struggles, of losses and gains. When the parental spirit enters the soul, it is borne into a world before unseen—a world of solicitude, absorbing interests, pains and pleasures, sorrows and joys. When the genuinely religious spirit enters the soul, it enters this higher sphere of human life—the world of brightness and beauty, the world of an "innumerable company of angels, the spirits of just men made Perfect,'' etc: "And immediately [straightway] I was in the Spirit." "Heaven lies about us in our infancy, and we have only to be in this spirit to realize it. The great Teacher taught that no man can see the kingdom of God, unless he comes into the possession of this spirit. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."

CONCLUSION. Search not for an outward heaven, but rather search for that new spirit, that spirit of Christliness, that will let you into the heaven that lies about you and within you. Were the twelve hundred million men that tenant this earth today to come into possession of this spirit, they would arise on the morrow and exclaim, "Behold, a new heaven and a new earth!" Evermore the state of a man's soul determines his universe. The ruling life within him measures out, builds up, and moulds the external.—D.T.

Revelation 4:10

Man in heaven.

"They cast their crowns before the throne." Far am I from pretending to the power of explaining this book. There is ample scope here for the play of imagination. Here is a field which, under the culture of a vivid fancy, is capable of producing theories and speculations suited to every variety of taste, every grade of intellect, and every degree of culture. In this chapter John has a mental, Divine, and symbolical vision of heaven: the "door is opened," and a voice commands him to ascend and enter. By "heaven," of course, I do not mean heaven as a place, but as a state of the Christly soul—the heaven within, a subjective paradise. The text leads us to infer—

I. THAT MAN IN THIS HEAVEN HAS REACHED THE HIGHEST DIGNITY. He has "crowns." We are not to suppose, of course, that there are material crowns in heaven; these, whether formed of gold, or diamonds, or both, are the mere toys of earth; but crowns are used here as the emblem of the highest dignity. The earth has nothing higher to offer man than a crown; men have hazarded their lives and waded through seas of Blood to get a crown. Because of the importance which universal man attaches to a crown, it is employed to represent the dignity of men in heaven. This crown is called in the New Testament "a crown of righteousness." Earthly crowns are often associated with iniquity; their history is one of violence and wrong. But the dignity reached by men in heaven will be "righteous"—it will be in harmony with universal rectitude. There is no Being in the universe that can charge them with having reached their position by unjust means. It is called "a crown of life." The crown which the visitors in the Grecian games obtained soon withered and died; the weaved garlands soon became dust. The crowns which sovereigns wear in more modern times are corruptible, the diamonds will grow dim. and. the gold will wear out; but the crown of man in heaven is "a crown of life." It is not something pat on; it is the expression of his being. The crown is to the man what the blossom is to the tree, what the halo is to the sun—something rising out of the being—the fruit of his life. It is called "a crown of glory." What is glory? Paul says, "There is one glory of the sun and another of the stars; and we may say there is one glory of the earth and one of the heavens. The things to which men attach the idea of glory are puerilities in the estimation of Heaven. Take the most magnificently attired sovereign of the world, surpassing all other monarchs of the earth in the pomp and pageantry of his movements, what is the glory of that poor mortal, on which the empty crowd stares with wonder? It is only the glory of a gaudy actor on the stage, garbed in the tawdry and tinselled robe, put on for the hour for popular effect. But this is a glory altogether different. It is the glory of an intellect in harmony with the truth, the glory of conscience in sympathy with the right, the glory of the soul centred in God. What is there so glorious as a noble soul? If this be the state of man in heaven:

1. Let us have faith in the improvability of our nature. When we look round upon society, and see the gross sensuality, the dishonesty, the profanity of men, we feel disposed to loathe our very species: but when we look to heaven, we feel that the worst are capable of improvement—that "dry bones can live." "Such were some of you," etc.

2. Let us be consoled under the departure by death of the good. "I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;" "These are they which came out of great tribulation;" "Sorrow not as those that are without hope."

3. Let us not judge of providence without taking into account the future as well as the present. "I reckon," says the apostle, "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."

II. THAT MAN IN THIS HEAVEN ASCRIBES THE DIGNITY HE HAS REACHED TO JESUS CHRIST. "They cast their crowns before the throne." This implies:

1. A conviction that they owed all their honorers to Christ. Whence did they obtain their crowns?

2. A readiness to acknowledge their obligation. The greater our natures the more ready to acknowledge our obligation.

2. The surpassing glories of Christ. He is in the midst of the throne, and all ascribe their all to him. Napoleon I., after he had conquered empires, and planted his foot upon the neck of kingdoms, determined to be crowned emperor. To give pageantry and lustre to the occasion, he compelled the Pope of Rome to be present. In the act of coronation, the emperor refused to receive the crown from the pope; his proud spirit told him he had won it himself: he placed it upon his own brow, thus declaring to the spectators and the civilized world the fact that he was indebted to himself only for imperial power. How different this to our Cromwell, who in spirit towered high above all the Napoleons of history! After the crown of England had been offered to him by successive Parliaments, he refused it! Great souls are above crowns. All in this subjective heaven of goodness cast their "crowns" at the feet of Christ, and say, "Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory."—D.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 4:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/revelation-4.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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