Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
joy, even over "one sinner that repenteth." And here in these verses we who belong to the Church on earth have given to us a vision of the perfect Church - the Church in heaven. And the contemplation of it cannot but be well for us, that we may judge thereby our beliefs, our worship, our selves, and seek more and more to conform them to the heavenly pattern. Observe, then -
I. THAT WE CANNOT LIMIT THE CHURCH TO ANY ONE VISIBLE CORPORATE BODY. The claims of any such Church body here on earth to be exclusively the Church, and the denial of membership therein to all outside that body, are shown to be false by the fact that the notes and characteristics of the true Church are found in many Churches, but exclusively in none. There are, thank God, few Churches, if any, that have not some of them. Out of all of them the Church is gathered, but to no one of them is it confined. The members of the Church are described here as having the name of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ "written upon their foreheads." Now, this is a figure of speech to tell of the character of those who form the Church; that that character is:
1. God like. It is the Father's name which is written; hence they who bear it are holy and without blemish, perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect.
2. Visible. It is written on their foreheads. The light shines before men; it cannot be hid. That godliness is much to be questioned which no one can see, or which is hidden away and kept for only certain seasons, places, and surroundings. That which is here said teaches the reverse of such a doubtful thing.
3. And it is permanent. It is "written." "Litera scripta manet." It abides, not being a thing assumed for a time, and like the goodness told of by Hosea, which as the "morning cloud" and "early dew goeth away." It is the habit of the life, the continual characteristic of the man. Such, in general terms, is the distinguishing mark of membership in Christ's true Church. And again we gratefully own that in all Churches it is to be found. Would that it were on all as in all!
II. THE CENTRE OF THE WORSHIP OF THE PERFECT CHURCH IS "THE LAMB." St. John says, "I beheld the Lamb;" not "a Lamb," as the Authorized Version reads. He does not stop to explain. He has so often spoken of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Lamb, that there can be no room for doubt as to his meaning. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, not so much in his more majestic attributes - his might, majesty, and dominion - that we are bidden behold, but in his sacrificial character as "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world." As such he is the Centre of the Church's adoration. He is seen on Mount Zion, that site of Israel's temple being taken continually in Scripture as the symbol of the home of God's redeemed and the scene of their eternal worship. He is surrounded by the Church of the Firstborn - "the firstfruits" unto God, whom he has redeemed by his blood. The number named here, twelve and the multiples of twelve, is ever associated with the Church. And the twelve times twelve tells of the Church's completion, the "accomplishment of the number of the elect." Now, in the midst of that perfect assembly, that Church of which these are the representatives, stands "the Lamb" as the Object of the adoration, the love, and the worship of all. That Church on earth must, then, lack this distinct note of the heavenly Church if in it Christ the Son of God, as the Redeemer, the Saviour, the Sacrifice for the world's sins, be not lifted up as the Object of all trust, love, and obedience, and if he be not so regarded by the members of such Church. Let us ask - What is he to ourselves? How do we look upon him who is thus looked upon by the Church in heaven? In the midst of our Zions, do we see, as the chief, the central, the pre-eminent figure, the Lamb of God? And in the inner temple of our own hearts, is he there enshrined and enthroned as he hath right and ought to be? What is our hope and what our trust? How can we ever hope to be numbered with "the Church of the Firstborn," if the name of him, to which every heart there responds, awakes no echo, no answering thrill, in us? Our lips utter that name often enough, and in all manner of ways; but what do our hearts say? That is the question to which this vision of the Lamb on Mount Zion, surrounded by the adoring Church, should give rise in every one of us. And may God grant that it may meet with a satisfactory answer!
III. THE WORSHIP OF THE PERFECT CHURCH IS A JOYFUL WORSHIP. We are told that "they sung a new song." Joy finds utterance in song; it is its natural expression; and when, therefore, we read of the songs of heaven, it is proof of the joys of that blessed place. The worship of heaven takes this form. Here, prayer and preaching form, and properly form, part of our worship; but there, praise alone is heard. Here, we wail our litanies and pour forth our supplications; but there worship is all song - the voice of glad thanksgiving and joyful praise. How much is told us of the blessed future in that one fact! And of this song we are told many precious things.
1. How full voiced it is! St. John likens it to that "of many waters" - that loud, resonant sound as when the floods lift up their voice, or the sea roars, or where some vast volume of water pours itself from over a great height to some far down depth. What a sound comes up from that boiling caldron of tossing waves! The magnitude of the sound of that song is what St. John seeks to set forth by his similitude of "many waters."
2. And its majesty also is indicated by its comparison to "a great thunder " - the voice of the Lord as they of old regarded it. It is no mean, trivial theme that has inspired that song, but one that wakes up every heart, and opens the lips of all the redeemed, to show forth the praise of him who hath redeemed them. It is a noble song, grand, glorious. How could it be otherwise, telling as it does of deeds of such Divine heroism, of conquests of such moment, and of sacrifice so vast?
3. And how sweet a song is it also! For St. John supplies yet another similitude: its sound was like that "of harpers harping with their harps." So sweet, so soul subduing, so full of heavenly delight, that it brought smiles to the saddest countenance, and wiped away all tears. And is not the song of redemption just such a song as that? Even we know of songs of Zion so unspeakably beautiful, and set to music such as, it seems to us, even angelic choirs might rejoice in. But if earthly song can be so sweet, though coming from lips and hearts so little pure, what must that song have been which is told of here, and which St. John can only compare, for its unutterable beauty, to the strains of the most perfect instruments that the ancient world knew of - the harp, Judah's national symbol, and best beloved accompaniment of praise? But not alone the mingled magnitude, majesty, and sweetness of the sound of this song is set forth here, but also its substance.
4. It was "a new song." There had never been anything like it before. They who sang it had never joined in, or even heard of, such song till they sang it in the presence of. the Lamb on Mount Zion. It could not but be new, for it was inspired by new and glorious revelations of God; sung amid conditions and surroundings that were all new, and by hearts and lips made new by the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit of God. Much there had been in days past for which they had been constrained to praise and give thanks, but till now the half had not been told them, and hence none of their old songs would serve. They must sing a new song; it could not but be new.
5. And it was known by none but those who sang it. "No man could learn that song but," etc. How can he who has never even been to sea know the joy of him who has been saved from shipwreck? Who but the child knows the mother's love? The song told of here is but the result of the experiences through which they who sing it have been led. How, then, can they sing it who have known none of these things? But those represented by the hundred and forty-four thousand know the depths of sin and sorrow from which, and the heights of holiness and joy to which, and the love by which, and the purpose for which, they have have been uplifted. They know the conviction of sin, and the joy of pardon, and the Holy Spirit's grace, and the love of Christ. But what does the unbeliever know of these things? and how, therefore, can he learn this song? The question comes - If such be the worship of the heavenly Church, are our Churches on earth preparing their members to join therein? Churches here should be vestibules for the heavenly Church. Is the Church with which we are associated so to you and me? No one can learn that song unless they be redeemed. Have we the qualification? Have we come to Christ? Are we trusting in him? "We must begin heaven's song here below, or else we shall never sing it above. The choristers of heaven have all rehearsed their song here ere they took their places in the choir of heaven." But only Christ can touch the soul's sin darkened eye, and cause it to see that truth which will make redemption precious, and hence he who is our Saviour must be also our Teacher. So only can we learn the new song of his redeemed.
IV. ITS MEMBERS ARE WITHOUT FAULT. After that the blessed condition of the redeemed has been set forth, we are next shown their character. The general and symbolic expression which tells how they all have the "Father's name written on their foreheads" is expanded and explained by the more definite declarations which we must now notice. It is said "they are without fault," or "blameless," as the Revised Version reads; and the apostle specifies four of the chief temptations to which they had been exposed, and which they had resisted and overcome.
1. And the first he names is that of impurity. In the unusual expression in which this sin is referred to, there is no countenance of any teachings which would give higher place to the single over the married life. If the unmarried alone are amongst the redeemed, it is questionable if one of the apostles of our Lord would be found there. But that which is pointed at is those sins of which it is best not to speak, but which we know full well have their roots in the very centre of our nature, and which it is a lifelong struggle to repress and subdue. But this must be done, and - blessed be he who saves not only from the guilt, but the might of sin! - it may be done, and is being done, even as it was with "these" of whom our text tells.
2. Half heartedness. Great was, and great is, the temptation to follow Christ only along paths not difficult. But to follow him "whithersoever" he went - ah! how many would be and are sore tempted to shrink from that! They would follow their Lord for some way - even at times a long way; but to follow where difficulty, danger, disgrace, death, waited for them - from that how many would shrink! But "these" did not.
3. Conformity to the world. "These" had the holy courage to be singular, to come out "from among men," to go against the stream, to be other than the rest of men. low difficult this is those only know who have tried to do as "these" did. The assimilating power of the society in which we mingle is almost resistless, and often it is full of spiritual peril. It was so to those for whom St. John wrote, and not seldom it is so still. Hence we have to go unto Christ "without the camp, bearing his reproach." "These" did this, and so won the high honour and rich reward told of here.
4. Insincerity. When to confess Christ meant, perhaps, the loss of all things, yea, their very lives; when martyrdom was the guerdon of faithful acknowledgment of their Lord, how tremendous must have been the temptation to tamper with truth, to conceal, to compromise, to evade, to equivocate! But of "these" it is said, "in their mouth was found no guile." He who is the God of truth, yea, who is the Truth, ever lays great stress on this virtue of guilelessness, whilst deceit and lies are declared abominable in his sight.
CONCLUSION. Such was the character of that perfect Church - "the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb." Doubtless there were all other forms of Christ likeness - love, patience, meekness, and the rest - for the varied forms of Christ's grace as seen in character are generally found in clusters. Where you find some you generally find others, yea, in some measure, all of them. But as we read of only what is said here, our heart well nigh despairs, and would altogether were it not that the same source of all goodness is open to us as to them of whom we here read.
"Oh, how can feeble flesh and blood
1. These are the pure, the undefiled. They are distinguished as free from the prevalent sinfulness of the hour. Nor could symbolism more strikingly stand allied to realism than by describing the saintly hosts as "virgins."
2. They are the obedient. "They follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." Holiness of life is the invariable adjunct of sanctity of spirit. These "take up the cross and follow him" whom they love, through evil report and good report.
3. They are the truthful. No lie is found in their mouth - neither the lie of error nor of untrue profession; nor are they given to falsity and deceitfulness of life.
4. Then are blameless. "Without blemish." These are the redeemed: "the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb." The great harvest lies beyond in the unnumbered host. Their reward is thus detailed:
(1) They are purchased: the Lamb's own property, "whose own" these sheep are.
(2) They are admitted and received within the heavenly courts: they stand on "Mount Zion."
(3) They bear the symbols of their confession and of their recognition: the holy name is on their foreheads - signifying their devotion to Christ; as they who were the servants of the beast bore his name.
(4) In eternal joyfulness they sing ever new songs of praise to God, their Creator and Redeemer. A song unknown and unlearned by any but the faithful in Christ Jesus. Truly may we hear an undertone of exhortation:
(a) "Wherefore comfort yourselves with these words;" and
(b) "Be thou faithful unto death." - R.G.
supersensuous heaven of humanity? If so, the following facts are suggested concerning the unseen realm of the good or the Christly.
I. IT IS A SCENE IN WHICH CHRIST IS THE CENTRAL FIGURE. "And I looked [saw], and lo [behold], a [the] Lamb stood [standing] on the Mount Zion" (ver. 1). No one acquainted with the Scriptures needs to ask who the Lamb is. Christ is the "Lamb of God." Why is Christ called "the Lamb"? Is it because of his innocence, or because of his moral and sacrificial character, or both? Morally he was innocent as a lamb, "holy, undefiled." "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Or is it on account of his sacrifice? He was, indeed, a sacrifice; his whole being was a sacrifice. There have been those who have answered these questions to their own satisfaction, and there are now those who render replies without hesitation or doubt. I cannot. My eyes are too dim to penetrate into the rationale of Divine operations. What seems clear is that Christ is the central Figure in man's heaven. He stands on the citadel on which all eyes are fastened, and to which all hearts point and all sympathies flow.
II. IT IS A SCENE INTERESTINGLY POPULATED.
1. The population is very numerous. "An hundred forty and four thousand" (ver. 1). This I take to be a definite number used to represent an indefinite multitude - a "multitude which no man could number." The dreamer being a Jew, his visions are, of course, full of Jewish facts and sentiments. Hence he thinks of the Jewish scene of worship, Zion, and the Jewish tribes, incalculably numerous. To us, however, all these are mere illustrations of things higher, more important, and lasting. The human tenants in heaven were in number beyond calculation in the days of John, and they have been multiplying ever since.
2. The population is divinely distinguished. "His Father's name written in their foreheads" (ver. 1). Men glory in things that are supposed to distinguish them advantageously from their fellow men - the attractions of physical beauty, the glitter of wealth, the pomp of power; but the greatest of all distinctions, the grandest and highest, is to have the name of the great Father manifest in our lives - written on our very "foreheads."
(1) It is the most beautiful distinction. The face is the beauty of man; there the soul reveals itself sometimes in sunshine and sometimes in clouds. The beauty of the face is not in features, but in expressions, and the more it expresses of purity, intelligence, generosity, tenderness, the more beautiful it is. How beautiful, then, to have God's name radiating in it! God's name is the beauty of the universe.
(2) It is the most conspicuous distinction. "In their foreheads." It is seen wherever you go, fronting every object you look at. Godliness cannot conceal itself. Divine goodness is evermore self revealing. As the face of Moses shone with a mystic radiance when he came down from the mount after holding fellowship with God, so the lives of all godly men are encircled with a Divine halo.
(3) It is the most honourable distinction. A man sometimes feels proud when he is told he is like some great statesman, ruler, thinker, reformer. But how transcendently honourable is it to bear in our face the very image of God! Let us all seek this distinction. With the Father's "name in our foreheads" we shall throw the pageantry of the shahs, the emperors, and all the kings of the earth into contempt.
3. The population is rapturously happy. "And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of [the voice which I heard was the voice of] harpers harping with their harps: and they sang [sing] as it were a new song" (vers. 2, 3). All souls yonder run into music! Here is music loud as booming billows, pealing thunders, and melodious as the enrapturing strains of the harp. How mean and unworthy are men's views of religious music. "Let us sing to the glory and praise of God," says the leader of public worship. And forthwith a whole congregation breaks into sound. And if the sound is regulated by the harmonious blending of notes, the production is called a "Service of Song;" and more, alas! is made an article of trade. Large incomes are made by the sale of such music. Can such be the music of heaven? Nay. True music is the harmony of soul - souls moving ever in accord with the Supreme Will. True music consists not in blending of sounds, whether vocal or instrumental, however charming to the senses, but in sentiments unuttered, perhaps unutterable, yet entrancing to conscience and pleasing to God.
4. The population is redemptively trained. "No man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed [purchased] from the earth" (ver. 3). Heaven, it has been said by men of old, is a prepared place for a prepared people. It is verily so. Observe:
(1) Man requires training for heaven.
(2) Redemption is the method of training for heaven.
(3) Earth is the scene of this redemptive training.
5. The population is spotlessly pure. "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins" (ver. 4). There are those of our race who have never fallen, who have retained their virgin innocence, who required no pardon for their sins, nor regeneration. What millions of the human population die in their infancy, and go on unfolding their faculties and invigorating their strength through indefinite ages, in scenes of absolute holiness and infallible intelligence! They were not "redeemed from the earth;" such redemption they required not. From the dawn of their being they were ushered into the realms of immaculate purity and perfect bliss.
6. The population is absolutely loyal. "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (ver. 4). All follow the Lamb, the Christ of God. Two words, "Follow me," embody at once the whole duty and perfect Paradise of souls. "Whithersoever he goeth." He is always moving. "The Father worketh hitherto, and I work." We cannot do exactly what he does, but we can imbibe that spirit which inspires him in all he does. Would I become a great painter? then how shall I proceed? If I copy the exact style and method of one of the greatest masters of the art, I shall only become a mere mechanic in the profession, never an artist. But if I catch the genius of the great master, I may, peradventure, leave him behind, and win a place and a distinction all my own. Let us catch the moral genius of Christ
7. The population is incorruptibly truthful. "In their mouth was found no guile [lie]: for they are without fault before the throne of God [they are without blemish]" (ver. 5). No lie! How unlike us! The social atmosphere of our world teems with lies as with microbes. Lies in parliaments, in markets, in Churches. The whole world teems with impostors. What a blessed world must that be where all is truth and reality! - D.T.
man training for the supersensuous heaven. Notice -
I. HEAVEN REQUIRES HIS TRAINING. "No man could learn that song." Man cannot blend in the happy harmony of the celestial state without previous training. Analogy would suggest this. In the physical system every being is fitted to his position, his organism is suited to his locality. These bodies of ours, as now constituted, could probably live in no other planet than this. In the social system the same principle of fitness is required. The stolid clown could not occupy the professor's chair, nor could he who is reckless concerning law, right, and order occupy the bench of justice. It is just so in relation to heaven. To feel at home in the society of the holy, cheerfully to serve the Creator and his universe, and to be in harmony with all the laws, operations, and beings in the holy empire, we must manifestly be invested with the same character. But what is the training necessary?
1. Not mechanical. Ceremonial religion enjoins this.
2. Not intellectual. Theological training may be conducive, but it is not sufficient.
3. It is moral - the training of the spiritual sympathies, the heart being brought to say, "Thy will be done." No one can "sing the song," blend in the harmonious action of heaven, without this. A man with corrupt sympathies could never sing in heaven; he would shriek. In the midst of happy myriads he would be alone. His darkness would conceal from him the outward sun; his inner flashes of guilt would change for him the God of love into a "consuming fire."
II. REDEMPTION IS THE CONDITION OF HIS TRAINING. "Those who were redeemed from the earth." The redemption here referred to is evidently that procured by the love of Christ. The training requires something more than education; it needs emancipation, the deliverance of the soul from certain feelings and forces incompatible with holiness - a deliverance from the guilt and power of evil. The grand characteristic of Christianity is that it is a power to redeem from all evil. No other system on earth can do this.
III. THE EARTH IS THE SCENE OF HIS TRAINING. "Redeemed from the earth." The brightest fact in the history of the dark world is that it is a redemptive scene. Amidst all the clouds and storms of depravity and sorrow that sweep over our path, this fact rises up before us a bright orb that shall one day dispel all gloom and hush all tumult. Thank God, this is not a retributive, but a redemptive scene. But it should be remembered that it is not only a redemptive scene, but the only redemptive scene. There is no redemptive influence in heaven - it is not required. A wonderful world is this! True, it is but a spark amidst the suns of the universe - a tiny leaf in the mighty forests! Let the light be quenched and the leaf be destroyed, their absence would not be felt. Still it has a moral history the most momentous. Here Christ lived, laboured, died. Here millions of spirits are trained for heaven. What Marathon was to Greece, and Waterloo to Europe, this little earth is to the creation. Here the great battles of the spiritual universe are fought. It is the Thermopylae of the creation. - D.T.
I. WHAT THESE ARE NOT.
1. They are not all the saved. The very word indicates that there is much more to follow. They are but the beginning. Nor:
2. Are these firstfruits the mass of the saved. True, a large number is named, but what is that compared with the "great multitude that no man can number, out of every," etc.?
II. WHAT THEY ARE. The word "firstfruits" teaches us that these thus named are:
1. The pledge of all the rest. Thus Christ has "become the Firstfruits of them that slept" (1 Corinthians 15:20). He is the pledge and guarantee that in him "all shall be made alive." And so the natural firstfruits of corn guaranteed the rest of the harvest. For the same sun, and all other nurturing forces which had ripened the firstfruits, were there ready to do the same kindly office for all the rest. And so we are told, "The Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies." The same power is present for both the first and after fruits.
2. The pattern and representative of all the rest. Compare the first and after fruits. In the main they were alike; and so in the spiritual world also. But:
3. The firstfruits were pre-eminent over the rest. They were specially presented to God, and held in honour; so was it with the natural grain. But, without question, there is pre-eminence implied in being the firstfruits of the heavenly harvest.
(1) In time. Theirs is "the first resurrection," of which we read in Revelation 20. - that resurrection of the dead which St. Paul calls "the resurrection," and "the mark" towards which he pressed, if by any means he might attain unto it (Philippians 3.). "The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years," etc. (cf. Revelation 20.).
(2) In honour. St. Paul called it "the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Now, a prize implies special honour. And our Lord tells us that there is a "first" and "last" in the kingdom of heaven; "a least" and "a greatest." "One star differeth from another star in glory." There is "an entrance administered abundantly," and there is a "being saved so as by fire." As here there is no dead level of reward, so we might believe, and we are taught, that there is none such in heaven. Infinite mischief is done by the belief that all will be equally blessed, equally honoured, equally like God. It is as if we had adopted the creed of Ecclesiastes, where we are told, "One end cometh alike to all," instead of St. Paul's, who tells us, "What a man soweth that" - not something else - "shall he also reap," in quantity and quality too.
(3) In service. That they were pre-eminent here, who that knows their history on earth, or reads even this book, will question?
(4) In character. See how they are described as to their spiritual purity, their unreserved consecration, their separateness from the world, their guilelessness and freedom from all deceit.
(5) In the approval of God. Of them it is written, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection" (Revelation 20.). How could it be otherwise than that such as they should stand highest upon the steps of the everlasting throne, and nearest God and the Lamb?
4. They are the elect of God. In another part of this book they are spoken of as "the called, and chosen, and faithful." They answer to the description of God's chosen, and so we learn that "whilst all the elect are saved, all the saved are not. elect" (Alford). All are not firstfruits, greatest, first, in the kingdom of heaven. The very words imply order, gradation, rank. But it is for us to take heed as to -
III. WHAT WE SHOULD STRIVE TO BE. There are some who say that they will be content if they can only "get just inside the door of heaven " - such is the phrase. This sounds very humble minded, and if it be so, then those who thus speak are just those who would not be content with any such place. For, and to their credit be it said, they are such as desire to be like their Lord - to resemble him, to possess his Spirit, and to please him in all things. But if they desire, or will be content with, the lowest place in heaven, they must get rid of all these beautiful and blessed qualities. But rather than this they would die. Too often, however, the phrase is but a substitute for diligence and faithful following of Christ. They are content to be but little like their Lord; they do not follow after holiness in the fear of God; they are the worldly hearted, those the least worthy of the Christian name. But who would be content to be as these? Who would not be in full sympathy with St. Paul, who said, "I labour... to be accepted of him" (2 Corinthians 5:9)? Ours, then, is to be not contented with any lowest place - if we be, there is grave doubt whether we ever attain to that - but to "press toward the mark for the prize of our high calling of God in Christ Jesus." - S.C.
I. IT IS NOT THE GOSPEL. The gospel is that which tells to sinful man that there is eternal life for him in Christ; "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." This is a very different gospel. It is one of judgment. Its message is, "The hour of God's judgment is come." And the message of the second angel (ver. 8) points to one scene where that judgment has already fallen; and the message of the third angel (ver. 9) is one of awful threatening against the sin which would bring the judgment upon "any man." Very far removed, then, is this gospel from that which we commonly understand by the word "gospel."
II. BUT IT IS A GOSPEL. Any message that announces the destruction of a power that is cursing the human race, and spreading misery and despair on all sides, must be a gospel. Like the news that a ferocious wild beast that has slain many is at last itself slain. There have been men who, from their crimes, their ambition, their unscrupulous cruelty, and the devastations that they have caused, have won for themselves the name of "enemies of the human race." When, then, these cruel oppressors have met their fate and been overthrown, the tidings have justly filled men's hearts with joy. In view of similar facts, the psalms bid us "Sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth... for he cometh to judge the earth." Judgment and joy are joined together as cause and effect. And so here this message from God, that "the hour of his judgment has come," is a joyful message, a gospel. In the New Testament Christ's destructive work, his overthrow of Satan and all the power of hell, is, as is right, gratefully and constantly commemorated. And to the persecuted Church, groaning beneath the oppression of the tiger in human shape, who then ruled the world, and whose thirst for blood no amount of slaughter could slake, must it not have been a gospel for them that this angel proclaimed?
III. AND IT IS AN "ETERNAL" GOSPEL. For not once alone, but throughout all the ages of the world, its message has been sooner or later embodied in deed. The tyrants and oppressors of God's people have been hurled from their place of power which they had so abused, and have had to meet and endure the awful judgment of God. The records are in the Bible, and in all the world beside. It is a fearful fact for him to face who, Pharaoh like, is hardening himself against God, but a blessed fact for those who groan beneath his cruelty. It is the conviction of this eternal gospel which gives patience to men who witness cruelty and outrage inflicted on those who cannot defend themselves. They know that the God of this gospel lives, and in due time will reveal and vindicate himself as the Refuge of the distressed, and the Helper of the helpless.
IV. AND IT IS FOR ALL NATIONS - FOR HUMANITY AT LARGE. As in Revelation 13:7 "the beast" had power given him by the devil "over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations," so now this gospel was to be proclaimed from the mid heavens, where the angel was seen swiftly flying "over [the word, ἐπὶ, is the same] every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people." God forgetteth none; he knows and is touched with the sorrows of all; he is the all Father, the "our Father, which art in heaven." His "chariot wheels" do doubtless oftentime seem "long in coming;" but he will come. Man anxiously scans the heavens, and frequently fails to see the angel that St. John saw; but the rush of his pinions shall one day be heard, and the brightness of his countenance shall one day be seen, and the "great voice" with which he shall give forth his message shall fall upon our listening ears. Let all who hope in God rejoice; let all his foes and ours be in great fear.
V. GOD IS CONCERNED TO MAKE IT KNOWN. The gospel is entrusted to men. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels," said St. Paul, "and he hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." But this gospel of judgment is committed to an angel, who is seen flying swiftly to make proclamation of it far and wide. These facts, that it is an angel to whom it is entrusted, that the angel flies swiftly, that he proclaims his message with "a great voice," - all seem to point to the Divine urgency and concern that it should be made known. Nor is the reason far to seek. There is nothing so hinders man's belief in the goodness of God as the experience of the cruelty of his fellow man. The children of Israel would "not listen" to Moses, who came to them with the good news of deliverance, "by reason of their bondage." Their fellow man was the highest placed of any being they knew, and he was hard and cruel, and shut out sight and thought and faith of that far other Being, who was their fathers' God - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And how many there are who through fear "are all their lifetime subject to bondage"! It is of no use to proclaim to such a scheme of mercy; they ask for justice - justice upon their oppressors, justice for themselves and those who suffer with them. Men can believe in and respect justice without mercy, but they can neither respect nor believe in mercy without justice. Therefore, to the great company of the oppressed, the proclamation of judgment is a gospel, and must precede the message which we specially call the gospel. And therefore the angel is sent, and on speedy wing and with loud voice the gospel of judgment is proclaimed.
VI. WHAT SHOULD BE ITS EFFECTS.
1. The fear of God. (Ver. 7.) What other could result from such a message? And a blessed result it would be.
2. The giving of glory to God. From the delivered people, and from those who were filled with salutary fear, there would be this giving of glory. And this for God's revelation of his righteousness; for his deliverance of them from oppression. And on the part of the wicked who had heard and believed God's warning, they would give glory for that they had been spared, and not cut off in their sins, as they well might have been.
3. Worship. This, with fear and the giving of glory, had been demanded for "the beast" by himself, and the demand had been complied with. But it is now demanded for God, who, as the Creator of all things and the Judge of all the earth, alone has right to worship. Oh that wherever there be a hardened heart, the message of judgment may come with such power as that there shall be real repentance, revealing itself in holy fear of God, in giving him glory, and in the worship of his Name! - S.C.
I. THAT IT IS A GOSPEL OF PERPETUAL ENDURANCE. "An eternal gospel." It is ever to be proclaimed as good news. It never ceases to be good news. It may be hindered, and for a time even apparently destroyed; but it still lives. It is eternal.
II. IT IS FOR ALL. The good news is not to be confined to a few, or to favoured races only. It is for "them [i.e. all them] that dwell on the earth," even for "every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people." The universal diffusion of the gospel is a pledge that persecution shall not "stamp it out."
III. IN ITS TEACHING IT URGES:
1. The fear of the Lord - "Fear God" - which is the beginning of all wisdom; and to heathen and idolatrous nations the first truth.
2. The paying to him due honour. "Give him glory."
3. It declares the approach of his judicial rule. "The hour of his judgment is come."
4. It calls to his worship as the true Lord, who "made the heaven, and the earth, and sea, and fountains of waters." - R.G.
I. THE DISSEMINATION OF GOOD. The good here is called "the everlasting [eternal] gospel" (ver. 6).
1. The gospel in itself is good. It is at once the mirror and the medium of eternal good. It contains and communicates to man that which reflects the Divine character and constitutes the heaven of souls. "Everlasting" - eternal. Good is eternal. Unlike evil, it never had a commencement, and. will never have an end; it is as old as God himself.
2. The gospel in its ministry is good. "And I saw another angel fly [flying] in the midst of [mid] heaven" (ver. 6). It comes from heaven and is conveyed by heavenly messengers to men. Angels are so interested in this gospel that they speed their flight through mid heaven bearing its blessed message.
3. The gospel in its universality is good. "Having the everlasting [eternal] gospel to preach [proclaim] unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred [tribe], and tongue, and people" (ver. 6). It overleaps all geographical boundaries, all tribal, national, linguistic distinctions, and addresses man as man.
4. The gospel in its purpose is good. "Saying with a loud voice [he saith with a great voice], Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" (ver. 7). The supreme aim of the gospel is to induce all men to worship him who made heaven, earth, and sea. Man is made for worship. There is no instinct in the soul deeper, stronger, more operative; there is no service for the soul more worthy, nay, so worthy and so blest, as that of worship. Worship is the Paradise of souls.
II. THE DESTRUCTION OF EVIL. "And there followed another angel [another, a second angel, followed], saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen [fallen, fallen is Babylon], that great city [the great], because she [which hath] made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication" (ver. 8). I take Babylon here as standing, not for the capital of Syria, not for Rome, either pagan or papal, nor for the site, the masonry, the institutions, or the populations of any city that ever has been or ever will be, but as representing the spirit of evil that moulded and mastered the old metropolis of Assyria. Babylon to me stands as the mighty aggregation of all the moral evils at work throughout all society in all the metropolises of the universe. This aggregation of evil is what Paul calls "the world." Two remarks are suggested.
1. This aggregation of evil must fall. Babylon must tumble into dust. The colossal image will not only be smashed into atoms by the "little stone" of truth, but every particle will be borne away by the winds of Divine influence, so that "no place will be found for it." Faith is to overcome the world.
2. This aggregation of evil falls as the good advances. The gospel having been proclaimed to every "nation," and "tongue," and "people," and all brought to worship him that made heaven and earth, Babylon totters, crumbles, and rots. The gospel destroys the spirit of evil, and its forms fall to pieces. You may destroy the forms of evil in the habits and institutions of the world, but unless the spirit is extinguished you have done no good. Burn up Rome, but if its spirit remains it will grow and work, and produce, perchance, forms more hideous and oppressive. No pontiff that ever occupied the papal chair has ever had more popery in his nature than can be found in many a Protestant clergyman, ay, and in many a Nonconformist minister too.
CONCLUSION. Would you have Babylon to fall? Then speed on the gospel; not the gospel of sects or of creeds, but the gospel of the evangelists. - D.T.
ideal preacher. Looking at them in this light, we observe concerning the ideal preacher -
I. HIS THESE IS GLORIOUS. "The everlasting gospel." Observe:
1. It is a gospel. That is "good news," or "glad tidings." It is a message, not of Divine partiality or Divine wrath to the world, but of Divine love - the love of the great Father for his fallen children.
2. It is an ever enduring gospel. Everlasting:
(1) Because its elementary truths are absolute. These truths are the existence of God as Maker and Manager of the universe; the obligation of all moral beings to love him supremely because of his supreme goodness, etc. These are mere specimens of the truths that abound in the gospel, and as such they cannot die out, they must continue as the laws of nature. Continue, not only amidst all the revolutions of time, the discoveries of true science, but amidst all the cycles of eternity.
(2) Because its redemptive provisions are complete. Its special mission is to effect man's restoration to the knowledge, image, and enjoyment of his Maker. It has all the elements and the powers for the purpose, Nothing is lacking, nothing can be added to it. It is complete. It is everlasting in the sense that the sun is everlasting, because it contains all that the centre of the planetary system requires to fulfil its purpose. Thus it contains the things that cannot be moved.
3. It is a world wide gospel. "To preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people." This means that it is not for a sect or a class, but for humanity. It is for man as man, irrespective of his colour, his country, his character.
(1) It is a necessity to all mankind. It is the supreme necessity of unregenerate mankind the world over and the ages through. If a man is to be happy, he must have it. It is not merely adapted to him, it is essential to him.
(2) It is equal to all mankind. It is not like a feast, prepared for so many and no more; it is more like a perfect piece of music, having in it an exhaustless power - a power as capable of charming all souls as one, pouring its thrilling and inspiring influence over all lands, down through all times with unabated power Such, then, is the theme which the ideal preacher has to propound; not the speculations of the theologists or the crotchets of the sect, not the crudities of his own brain, but the "everlasting gospel." What a sublime mission!
II. THAT HIS MOVEMENTS ARE EXPEDITIOUS. "Fly in the midst of heaven." He is to move, not like the ordinary terrestrial beings on the earth, but rather like the swift fowls of the air - impulses excited, eyes dilated, pinions expanded, darting on their ethereal way. It is characteristic of an ideal preacher that he is expeditious. He is not a drone; he is on fire. lie is "instant in season and out of season," like his great Original; he worketh while it is "called today," knowing "the night cometh when no man can work." Why thus expeditious?
1. The message is urgent. The world is guilty; it bears pardon. The world is diseased, about dying; it bears elements of life. The world is enthralled a captive of the arch enemy of the universe; it bears liberty.
2. The time is short. Short, when compared not merely with a future life, but with the work necessary to be done. There is not a moment to spare. "Today, saith the Spirit." The Spirit knows the urgency of the work, and the time necessary for its fulfilment.
3. Life is uncertain. Uncertain both for the preacher and for his hearers. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Hence the necessity of this expeditious movement.
III. THAT HIS SPHERE IS ELEVATED. "Fly in the midst of heaven," or "in mid heaven." It is the characteristic of all truly regenerated men that they are not of the flesh, but of the Spirit; that they set their "affections on things above;" that though "in the world," they are "not of the world;" that they live in heavenly places. All these representations mean that they live and move on a level high up and distinct from the level on which worldly men live and work. Like Christ, they have "meat to eat" that the world knows nothing of. They are "separate from sinners." This is preeminently the case with the ideal preacher, he moves above the highest; he does not mind earthly things; uninfluenced by worldly motives, despising worldly aims and fashions, towering like an angel above them all. Ah me! how different this ideal to the actual conventional preachers! Do they mow through mid heaven? Do they not rather crawl on the earth, trade even in the gospel, and make gain of godliness"? The great reason why preaching is so ineffective now is because we preachers move not in this elevated sphere, but are down with the common herd in spirit.
CONCLUSION. Such, then, is the ideal preacher, and all Church history shows that the men who have approached nearest to this ideal have achieved the greatest victories for souls - Paul, Augustine, Savonarola, Tanner, Whitefield, Wesley, etc. - D.T.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY "BABYLON"? There can be scarce any doubt that the name points to:
1. Persecuting Rome. She is spoken of under this pseudonym because it was not safe to write, or in any way openly utter, words which might be construed as treasonable to the empire. There were laws sharp and stern, and accusers only too willing to bring those laws into action, which would involve in ruin and death those who spoke or wrote such open word. Therefore under this disguise, penetrable enough by the Christian Church, the name of Rome, her cruel and relentless persecutor, was concealed. Because also she stood in the like hateful relation to the Church of God as in ages gone by Babylon had stood to the Church of her day. Babylon had been of old, as Rome was now, the ruthless ravager and the bloodthirsty destroyer of God's people. And as the judgment of God was denounced and came upon Babylon because of her crimes against God's Church, so now like judgment had been denounced, and was about to come upon Rome for her crimes against the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as Babylon had been one of the world wide empires, so now Rome occupied the same pre-eminence. None could compare with Babylon, in the days of her greatness, for wealth or power or glory; and so, when St. John wrote this book, none could compare, in any of these respects, with Rome. And there is yet, perhaps, another purpose in this name here given to Rome - the purpose to recall to the mind of the suffering Church the certainty of the coming judgment on Rome, by the fact that such judgment had come on Babylon.
2. All persecutors. The mind of God to such is shown by what he did to Babylon of old. He would have us learn that he will ever do the like to those who sin in like manner. Did ever any persecuting power find that it bad done wisely and well? Let the records of history reply from Egypt down to Spain.
3. And all idolaters. Idol worship was not a merely intellectual preference for one form of religion rather than another; had it been only that it would not have brought down upon it so many awful judgments, nor have been branded with so foul a name. But it was a system of abominations; it was "earthly, sensual, devilish." It was a religion that laid no constraint on the passions, no bridle upon the will; that left man to his likings so only as the ceremonial of idolatry was observed. And every religion that leaves man thus has an idol. A creation of the mind, if not of the hands, instead or God, is idolatry in substance, whatever it may be in name.
II. IN WHAT SENSE COULD BABYLON BE SAID TO HAVE FALLEN?
1. Rome had fallen in a very real way when St. John thus wrote. For there had been a great moral fall. Rome had a noble past. God had raised her up to great power, had endowed her with magnificent qualities, and made her the mother of many noble sons. In the unfolding of the great drama of Divine providence, she had a high and honourable part to fill, and none who know her history can deny that for a long time she fulfilled the wilt of God. But an evil spirit took possession of her, and then she became what is here said. Cruelty and lust, pride and oppression, and whatever was unclean and abominable, found welcome and home in her. "Fallen" was the absolutely true and righteous verdict that could alone be given concerning her. But there was to be an outward fall corresponding to this inward one. And it is spoken of as already come, because:
2. It was already decreed. The sentence had gone forth, and was but awaiting execution.
3. It had begun. An empire that had become the prey and prize of one successful general after another; that might be won and lost any day at the caprice of bribed bands of soldiers, had lost all stability, and was already "as a bowing wall and a tottering fence."
4. But chiefly because it was so soon to be accomplished. To the quickened vision of the seer, the barbarian nations were already plunging over her borders, and wasting and destroying on every hand. Rome was to him as if already in the deadly grip of those fierce hordes who should one day crush out her life. The vision was so vivid to him that he speaks of it as actual, real, and present. And in all these senses the judgment of God is gone out against ungodly men. "Condemned already" is our Lord's word for such; and "is fallen, is fallen," is St. John's. Oh for the quickened vision to make all this real to godly men, that they might labour and pray more in order to "snatch brands from the burning;" and to ungodly men, that they might "flee from the wrath to come"!
III. THE GROUNDS OF THIS AWFUL JUDGMENT. It was no arbitrary sentence, nor one that had been hastily or without righteous reason pronounced. Yea, there had come to be imperative necessity for it, and it would have been unrighteous had it been withheld.
1. Rome had come to be one mass of corruption. St. John adopts the prophetic style, and speaks of the "wine of her fornication," by which he means that she had come to "work," not "all uncleanness" alone, but all manner of godless abomination besides, "with greediness;" as with greedy grip the drunkard grasps the wine cup. Rome had become a "putrefying sore." Let Tacitus tell.
2. And she was the seducer of others. Holding the position she did, she could not but be a fountain of influence for all cities and lands that came under her wide reaching rule. And she had corrupted them all; she had "made all nations drink of the wine," etc. And he who branded forever the name of Jeroboam the son of Nebat because he "made Israel to sin," has here again declared his wrath against all, whether nations or individuals, who do the like. And:
3. The cup of sin becomes the cup of wrath. Such is the Divine law. This is the meaning of the condensed sentence, "the wine of the wrath," etc. The wine of her sin, and the wine of God's wrath upon it, are drunk out of the same cup. "In the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red... but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them" (Psalm 75:8). "Our pleasant vices," Shakespeare tells us, become our scourge; and life is full of proof that so it is. At the bottom of every cup of sin there is "wrath." Ah! what need have we all to offer continually the prayer, "Give us a heart to love and dread thee, and diligently to live alter thy commandments"! - S.C.
I. IT IS A PLEDGE OF DIVINE COOPERATION. For the puny arm of the feeble flock cannot grapple with the great and mighty nation that can compel obedience. But God is above all.
II. IT IS THE SATISFACTION OF THE CHURCH'S UTMOST DESIRE CONCERNING EVIL. For it is its uttermost destruction. The Church is ever to be comforted by the assured hope of the conquest of all evil.
III. IT IS THE ASSURANCE OF THE CHURCH'S FINAL DELIVERANCE FROM ALL OPPOSING AND OPPRESSING POWER. And as such -
IV. IT IS THE TRUEST ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE CHURCH TO "PATIENCE" - to "keep the commandments of God," and to the maintenance of "the faith of Jesus." - R.G.
I. WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
1. It seems to mean that the ungodly shall be punished with incessant and unspeakable torments in hell fire, and that forever and ever. This is the doctrine that has been deduced frown this passage again and again. It is one of the buttresses of the popular theology. It is always quoted in support of this doctrine, and is regarded as one of the chief of the proof texts. But if it do teach this, we ask:
(1) Would not the language be more clear? Who certainly knows what the two beasts, the first and second, stand for? Who can do more than guess, with more or less of probability, what St. John meant by them; much less what it was intended we, in our day, should understand by them? And what is "the mark of the beast "? and how do men receive it "in their forehead," or their "hand"? We may think we understand all this. But can any one be sure? But consequences so awful as are threatened here would not be told of in language so ambiguous. If we today be threatened with such doom, the offences that incur it will surely be set forth in words unmistakably plain, and not such as we find here.
(2) May not temporal judgments be so described? May not the same language be used for something quite different from what it is said this means? Yes, for Isaiah thus speaks of Edom (Isaiah 34:8-14): "The smoke thereof shall go up forever." The temporal judgments that came upon Edom are thus described. And so, in Revelation 18., we have word for word the fulfilment on earth, not in Gehenna, of the threatenings we are now considering (cf. vers. 9, 15, 18). Why, then, may not temporal judgments be what are meant here?
(3) Why, in the closing vision of this book, are death, hell, and the lake of fire, pain, sorrow, death, and all such things, declared to have "passed away" and to be "no more" (cf. Revelation 21.)? All these things have not been transferred to some other planet, to defile its surface and darken its heavens. They have "passed away," he alone abiding who "doeth the will of God."
(4) Why is the language of the Bible so constantly of such a kind as to lend the strongest colour to the belief that death, destruction, perishing not a never ending existence in suffering - is the doom of the finally impenitent? That this is so can hardly be denied. The passage before us is, probably, the only one which seems to teach everlasting suffering.
(5) And, if it were a Divine doctrine, would it not, like all other Divine doctrines, "commend itself to every man's conscience in the sight of God"? The truth that St. Paul preached did so commend itself. If this be part of it, why does it not also so commend itself? It is notorious that it does not. Conscience revolts against it, and insistence upon it has generated more unbelief and atheism than, perhaps, any other cause whatsoever. We, therefore, cannot believe that what this passage seems to many minds to mean, it actually does mean. But:
2. We note the following facts.
(1) The occasion of this threatening. Terrible persecution, when it was absolutely necessary to fortify and strengthen the minds of Christians with every consideration that would help them to be faithful under the dreadful trials that beset them.
(2) And in this way this threatening, and others like it (cf. Matthew 10.), were used, and were no small help to the steadying of the wavering will and the strengthening of the feeble heart. "The ancient Cyprian often strengthened his exhortations to steadfastness under bloody persecutions with this word."
(3) The fulfilment of this word (cf. Revelation 18, and parallels). Therefore, whilst not limiting it to temporal punishments:
3. We regard it as telling of that "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord," which shall be the doom of all apostates and all who persist in rebellion against the Lord.
II. WHAT DOES IT TEACH? Amongst other lessons these:
1. The retribution of God upon unfaithful and wicked men is an awful reality.
2. That in the midst of temptation the remembrance of this will he a great help.
3. That it is the love of God which tells us the truth.
4. That they are fools and self destroyed who will not "come unto" Christ that they "might have life." - S. C.
I. THE DIREST EXPRESSION OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE. The worshipper shall "drink of the wine of the wrath of God."
II. THE INFLICTION OF DIRECT PERSONAL SUFFERING. "He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone."
III. AN ESPECIAL AGGRAVATION OF THE SUFFERING. It is endured in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.
IV. IT IS A STATE OF CEASELESS DISTURBANCE. "They have no rest day nor night."
V. IT IS UNENDING. "Forever and ever." Let any read this, and say if the consequences of devotion to evil are not in the highest degree dreadful. - R. G.
I. SOUL PROSTITUTION. "And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud [great] voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive [receiveth] his mark in his forehead, and in his hand," etc. (ver. 9). The "beast and his image." What meaneth this? Does it mean some king or pope? Or some great wrong institution, civil or religious? No one knows, and it matters not. I take the expression as a symbol of wrong in its spirit and forms. Two things are suggested in connection with this.
1. That the prostitution of the soul to wrong is an alarming crime. Here is a warning. "The angel followed, saying with a loud voice." Amongst the teeming populations of this earth there is nothing more terrible and alarming than to see human souls made in the image of God, rendering a practical devotion of all its spiritual powers to the morally unworthy, "the world, the flesh, and the devil;" because, according to a law of mind, the object of the soul's devotion transfigures it into its own character. Hence the human spirit gets buried in the fleshly, absorbed in the selfish and the worldly. Thus everywhere we find minds that should expand into seraphs sinking into grubs, worshipping the "beast;" sordid sycophants, not soaring saints; the miserable creatures, not the mighty masters of circumstances.
2. That the prostitution of the soul to wrong always incurs lamentable suffering. It is said, "The same [he also] shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture [prepared unmixed] into the cup of his indignation [anger]; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb" (ver. 10). The metaphors here are borrowed from the sacred books of the Hebrew people, and they convey the idea of suffering of an alarming kind, suggesting:
(1) A consciousness of Divine antagonism. "Wine of the wrath of God." In the sense of malignant passion there is no wrath in him who is Love. But it is a psychological tact that the man who suffers because he has done another an injury, has a consciousness that the one he has offended is angry with him, and this consciousness is the chief element in his suffering.
(2) A sense of intense agony. "Shall be tormented with fire and brimstone." Brimstone adds intensity to the heat and fury to the flames of fire. "My punishment is greater than I can bear," said Cain. A guilty conscience has its Tartarus or Gehenna within itself.
(3) A state of constant restlessness. "They have no rest day nor [and] night" (ver. 11). There is no rest in sin. "The wicked are like the troubled sea." A guilty soul under a sense of sin is like Noah's dove fluttering over tumultuous billows.
II. SOUL LOYALTY. "Here is the patience of the saints" (ver. 12). "The meaning here," says Moses Stuart, "is either thus: here then in the dreadful punishment of the wicked every Christian may see of what avail his patience and obedient spirit and faith in Christ are; or here is a disclosure respecting the wicked which is adapted to encourage a patient endurance of the evils of persecution, and a constancy in obedience to the Divine commands and to the Christian faith." What is patience? It is not insensibility. Stone people are lauded for their patience who should be denounced for their stoicism and indifference. Patience implies at least two things.
1. The existence of trials. Where the path of life is all smooth, flowery, and pleasant, where all the winds of life are temperate, bright, and balmy, where all the echoes of life are free from discordant notes, and beating the sweetest melodies, where, in fact, life is entirely free from trial, there is no room for patience. Patience lives only in difficulty and danger, in storms and tempests.
2. The highest mental power. Man's highest power of mind is seen, not in unsurpassed mechanical inventions, or the sublimest productions of art, not in the most baffling and confounding strategies of bloody war, hell's own creation, but in the successful effort to govern all the impulses and master all the boisterous passions of the human soul. "The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power." This is a remarkable expression. It seems as if the Prophet Nahum meant that God is slow to anger because he is great in power; if he had less power he would be less patient. A man may be slow to auger and slow to deal out vengeance because he lacks power to do so. But God is slow to anger because he has abundance of power. His power of self control is infinite. Truly does Solomon say, "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." The greater the sinner and the greater the sneak, the better able to take cities; but it requires the greatest man to govern his own soul.
"Be patient, oh be patient! Put your ear against the earth, "Be patient, oh be patient! The germs of mighty thought "Be patient, oh be patient! Go and watch the wheat ears grow, "Be patient, oh be patient! Though yet your hopes are green,
"Be patient, oh be patient! The germs of mighty thought "Be patient, oh be patient! Go and watch the wheat ears grow, "Be patient, oh be patient! Though yet your hopes are green,
"Be patient, oh be patient! Go and watch the wheat ears grow, "Be patient, oh be patient! Though yet your hopes are green,
Vale, vale, in aeternum vale! of broken hearted paganism is gone, never to return. The broken pillar and the extinguished torch are no longer fit emblems to place over the grave of our loved ones. The pillar rears its fair shaft and lacks not its beautiful coronal, and on the eternal shore the torch burns more brightly than ever, and is by no means gone out, though our dim eyes for a while see it not. And this unspeakably precious gospel, which brings us such glad tidings of great joy, it is which some men want to silence as effete and incredible, that they may substitute for it their own dismal speculations, the only outcome and clear utterance of which is that, in regard to religious faith, there is nothing solid under our feet, nor clear over our heads; all is one great "perhaps;" nothing certain - nothing; neither soul, nor God, nor eternal life. To all such we say, "If we be dreaming, as you affirm, then for God's sake let us dream on, unless you have some better, surer belief to which we may awake." But let us now think awhile of the unspeakably precious truth our text contains. And we note -
I. WHOM IT CONCERNS.
1. Those "in the Lord." "It is obviously of the utmost moment that we rightly understand who are spoken of. Alas! the context has warned as that the blessing here pronounced is not for all. The blessed dead are placed in marked contrast with those who in this life have borne the mark of the beast, which is the world, in their forehead and upon their hand. How glad are we, for ourselves and for those dear to us, when it comes to the last solemn moment, to forget that there is any distinction between the death of the righteous and of the wicked; between the death of one who has loved and served Christ, and of one who has lived 'without him in the world'? It seems so hard to preserve that distinction" (Vaughan, in loc.). But there it is, and may not be overlooked, though, to the unspeakable hurt of men's souls, it too often is. Now, "to die in the Lord," we must first have been "in the Lord." And can any be said to be "in the Lord" if they never think of him, never call upon him, never look to him, and never seek to live to him? "In the Lord" is the constant phrase which tells of a living trust and hope and love towards the Lord; and how can the description be applied where none of these things are? God help us all to remember this!
2. And these when they are dead. Just then, when we want to know something of them; when with streaming tears we yearn
"For the touch of a vanished hand, II. WHAT IT SAYS OF THEM. 1. That they are "blessed." What unspeakable comfort there is in this assurance for those who are left behind! Not unconscious, for such high epithet as "blessed" belongs not to mere unconsciousness. Not in purgatorial pains, for neither could that be called blessed. Doubtless Christ's transforming, assimilating power, through the energy of the Spirit of God, goes on in the departed believer, as it is necessary that it should. For St. Paul teaches us that "he who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Therefore that good work is going on still; death does not hinder, but accelerate it. But the process is not by those hideous means which mediaeval monks imagined, and which the very word "purgatory" suggests. But they are blessed; that is enough to know, enough to uplift the mourner's heart. 2. And immediately that they quit this life. Such is the meaning of the word "henceforth." "It means substantially even now; not merely in the new Jerusalem which is one day to be set up on the renovated earth, but from the very moment of their departure to heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). 3. They die to rest. "Yea, saith the Spirit, in order that (ἱνα) they may rest [or, 'that they shall rest'] from their labours." Death, therefore, is for them but the Divine signal that the day's work is done, that the evening hour has come, and that they are now to go home and rest. The wearisome work and toilsome trying task, which has often well nigh worn them out - such is the significance of the word "labours" - all that is over, and death is the Lord's call to them to now lie down and rest. 4. Their works follow with them. Not their labours, the element of distress and pain in their work, but their works. How do they follow? Perhaps: (1) In that they are carried on still. They were works for the honour of their Lord, for the good of their fellow men - prayers and endeavours to draw others to Christ, intercessions for the Church of God, all manner of beneficent deeds. Are all these to cease? Is there no room for them where the blessed dead now are? Shall the sainted mother who here besought the Lord for her children that they too may be saved - shall she cease that "work"? The Lord forbid that she should; and our text seems to tell us that she, and all they like her, will not, for their works follow them. (2) For reward. There is the scene, there the day, of recompense. Not here or now. "Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids straight before thee." "Oh how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee!" (3) In their effects upon their character. We cannot see the soul, we saw only the man, and faulty enough he was, we well knew; but all the while, as the days of his life went on, and this or that work was put upon him to discharge, the soul was, by means thereof, as the marble by the sculptor's chisel, being wrought into a condition of beauty and faultlessness such as from the first had been in the Creator's mind. (4) As ministers to their joy. The joy of gratitude that they were enabled to undertake and accomplish them. The joy of knowing that as seed they will yield blessed harvest, and, perhaps, of witnessing that harvest. St. Paul spoke always of his converts as his "joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus." Such "works" will be a joy to remember, to look upon in their results and to continue in. They cannot but be, every way, ministers to our joy. III. THE EMPHASIS THAT IS LAID UPON IT. 1. It is declared by "a voice from heaven." This voice "may well be conceived to be that of one of 'the just made perfect,' testifying from his own experience what the true members of the militant Church on earth have to expect in heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). When we remember that the attestations to our Lord's Divine Sonship were made in similar manner by a voice from heaven, this declaration is thereby lifted up to a like high level of authority and importance. 2. It was commanded to be written. "This command to 'write' is repeated twelve times in the Revelation, to indicate that all the things it refers to are matters of importance, which must not be forgotten by the Church of Christ." 3. It is confirmed solemnly by the Holy Spirit. "Yea, saith the Spirit." With such solemn sanctions are these words so inestimably precious to the Church, introduced to our notice and commended to our reverent heed. IV. THE PURPOSE OF ITS PROCLAMATION. 1. It was a truth most necessary for the time when it was given. See the circumstances of the faithful Church, how fearful their trial, how dire their need of all and everything that would fortify their minds amid such awful temptations to be unfaithful to their Lord. And what truth could be more helpful than such as this? 2. And it is needed still. (1) To comfort us concerning our departed brethren in Christ. (2) To strengthen us in view of our own departure. (3) To cheer us amid work that often seems thankless and unfruitful, although it be the "work of the Lord." With our hope we ought never to be weary in such work. Noble work has often been done by men who had no such hope. Think of the three hundred at Thermopylae. Think of the holy men of old to whom the grave seemed to end all, to be the place where they should be "no more," and yet who became heroes of the faith (cf. Hebrews 11.). (4) To every way ennoble and elevate our lives. (5) To draw forth our love and devotion to him "who having overcome the sharpness of death, hath opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Are these purposes fulfilled in us? - S.C.
II. WHAT IT SAYS OF THEM.
1. That they are "blessed." What unspeakable comfort there is in this assurance for those who are left behind! Not unconscious, for such high epithet as "blessed" belongs not to mere unconsciousness. Not in purgatorial pains, for neither could that be called blessed. Doubtless Christ's transforming, assimilating power, through the energy of the Spirit of God, goes on in the departed believer, as it is necessary that it should. For St. Paul teaches us that "he who began a good work in us will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). Therefore that good work is going on still; death does not hinder, but accelerate it. But the process is not by those hideous means which mediaeval monks imagined, and which the very word "purgatory" suggests. But they are blessed; that is enough to know, enough to uplift the mourner's heart.
2. And immediately that they quit this life. Such is the meaning of the word "henceforth." "It means substantially even now; not merely in the new Jerusalem which is one day to be set up on the renovated earth, but from the very moment of their departure to heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.).
3. They die to rest. "Yea, saith the Spirit, in order that (ἱνα) they may rest [or, 'that they shall rest'] from their labours." Death, therefore, is for them but the Divine signal that the day's work is done, that the evening hour has come, and that they are now to go home and rest. The wearisome work and toilsome trying task, which has often well nigh worn them out - such is the significance of the word "labours" - all that is over, and death is the Lord's call to them to now lie down and rest.
4. Their works follow with them. Not their labours, the element of distress and pain in their work, but their works. How do they follow? Perhaps:
(1) In that they are carried on still. They were works for the honour of their Lord, for the good of their fellow men - prayers and endeavours to draw others to Christ, intercessions for the Church of God, all manner of beneficent deeds. Are all these to cease? Is there no room for them where the blessed dead now are? Shall the sainted mother who here besought the Lord for her children that they too may be saved - shall she cease that "work"? The Lord forbid that she should; and our text seems to tell us that she, and all they like her, will not, for their works follow them.
(2) For reward. There is the scene, there the day, of recompense. Not here or now. "Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids straight before thee." "Oh how great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee!"
(3) In their effects upon their character. We cannot see the soul, we saw only the man, and faulty enough he was, we well knew; but all the while, as the days of his life went on, and this or that work was put upon him to discharge, the soul was, by means thereof, as the marble by the sculptor's chisel, being wrought into a condition of beauty and faultlessness such as from the first had been in the Creator's mind.
(4) As ministers to their joy. The joy of gratitude that they were enabled to undertake and accomplish them. The joy of knowing that as seed they will yield blessed harvest, and, perhaps, of witnessing that harvest. St. Paul spoke always of his converts as his "joy and crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus." Such "works" will be a joy to remember, to look upon in their results and to continue in. They cannot but be, every way, ministers to our joy.
III. THE EMPHASIS THAT IS LAID UPON IT.
1. It is declared by "a voice from heaven." This voice "may well be conceived to be that of one of 'the just made perfect,' testifying from his own experience what the true members of the militant Church on earth have to expect in heaven" (Hengstenberg, in loc.). When we remember that the attestations to our Lord's Divine Sonship were made in similar manner by a voice from heaven, this declaration is thereby lifted up to a like high level of authority and importance.
2. It was commanded to be written. "This command to 'write' is repeated twelve times in the Revelation, to indicate that all the things it refers to are matters of importance, which must not be forgotten by the Church of Christ."
3. It is confirmed solemnly by the Holy Spirit. "Yea, saith the Spirit." With such solemn sanctions are these words so inestimably precious to the Church, introduced to our notice and commended to our reverent heed.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF ITS PROCLAMATION.
1. It was a truth most necessary for the time when it was given. See the circumstances of the faithful Church, how fearful their trial, how dire their need of all and everything that would fortify their minds amid such awful temptations to be unfaithful to their Lord. And what truth could be more helpful than such as this?
2. And it is needed still.
(1) To comfort us concerning our departed brethren in Christ.
(2) To strengthen us in view of our own departure.
(3) To cheer us amid work that often seems thankless and unfruitful, although it be the "work of the Lord." With our hope we ought never to be weary in such work. Noble work has often been done by men who had no such hope. Think of the three hundred at Thermopylae. Think of the holy men of old to whom the grave seemed to end all, to be the place where they should be "no more," and yet who became heroes of the faith (cf. Hebrews 11.).
(4) To every way ennoble and elevate our lives.
(5) To draw forth our love and devotion to him "who having overcome the sharpness of death, hath opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers." Are these purposes fulfilled in us? - S.C.
(1) assured by the heavenly proclamation: "a voice from heaven." It is
(2) confirmed by the Spirit's testimony: "Yea, saith the Spirit." It is
(3) promised to them who are spiritual: "in the Lord." It is
(4) the reward of fidelity maintained to the end of life: they "die in the Lord."
The reward is
(1) a state of felicity: "blessed" are they.
(2) It consists in a state of repose after toil, danger, and exposure: "They rest from their labours."
(3) It is exhibited as the consequence of and acknowledgment of their diligent, obedient labour: "Their works follow with them." Here is the encouragement to
(1) self denial;
(2) patient labour;
(3) undying devotion. - R.G.
I. HEAVEN'S DESCRIPTION OF THE CHARACTER OF THE SAINTED DEAD. "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord." Their character was that of vital union with Christ. The Scriptures represent this union by a great variety of figure. It is compared to the union of a building with its foundation stone - its existence depends upon it; to that of the branch and the vine - its strength, foliage, fruit, life, of the one depend upon the sap it derives from the other; to that of the spirit and the body - the former being the source of animation, the impulse of activity, and the guide of the movements of the latter. These figures confessedly indicate a union the most close and the most vital. This union may include two things.
1. Their existence in his affections. We live in the hearts of those who love us. Children do thoroughly live in the affections of their loving parents, that they control their plans and inspire their efforts. Because the child lives in the heart of the affectionate parent, the parent lives and labours for his child. In this sense Christ's disciples live in him; they are in his heart; he thinks upon them, he plans for them, he works for them, he causes "all things to work together for good."
2. Their existence in his character. Without figure, we live in the character of those we admire and love. Arnold's most loyal pupils live in his character now. They see their old master in their books, and hear him in their sermons. Christ is the grand Object of their love, and the chief subject of their thought, and to please him is the grand purpose of their life. As loving children identify themselves with all that pertains to their parents, so they feel a vital interest in all that relates to the cause of Christ. This Paul felt. "I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." This character implies two things.
(1) A moral change. Men are not born in this state. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The change is so great that the man must be conscious of it.
(2) A judicial change. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus." Their sins are pardoned, their iniquities are forgiven; they "have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Such is the character of the sainted dead as here described. "They die in the Lord."
II. HEAVEN'S DESCRIPTION OF THE CONDITION OF THE SAINTED DEAD. "Blessed are the dead."
1. Their blessedness is in rest from all trying labour. Not rest from work, for work is the condition of blessedness; but from all trying labour, all anxious toil, all wearying, annoying, irritating, fruitless toil.
(1) Rest from all trying labour pertaining to our physical subsistence. By the sweat of our brow here we have to eat bread. Not so yonder.
(2) Rest from all trying labour pertaining to intellectual culture. How much trying labour is there here to train our faculties and to get knowledge! "Much study is a weariness of the flesh." Not so yonder.
(3) Rest from all trying labour pertaining to our spiritual cultivation. Here we have to wrestle hard against our spiritual foes, and often have to cry out in the struggle, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Not so yonder.
(4) Rest from all trying labour to benefit our fellow men. To do good here is a trying work. The ignorance, the callousness, the ingratitude of men whom we seek to help, often distract and pain the heart. Not so yonder. Rest! What a cheering word! It is the couch of the weary traveller; it is the haven for the storm tossed mariner; it is home for the veteran who, after many a battle, has won the victory.
2. Their blessedness is in the influence of their works. "Their works do follow them." No one act, truly done for Christ and in his spirit will be lost. All good works springing from faith in Christ shall follow the worker into the eternal world - follow him in their blessed influence upon himself, in the happy results they have produced in others, and in the gracious acknowledgment of God. The moment we appear on the other side, we shall hear the voice addressing us, "Call the labourers, and give them their hire." We shall then find that the smallest effort is not lost.
3. Their blessedness began immediately after death. "From henceforth, saith the Spirit." From the moment of death the blessedness begins. This stands opposed to two errors.
(1) That there is an obliviousness of soul until the resurrection; and
(2) that there are purgatorial fires which must follow death. "From henceforth." "Not from the waking of the soul into consciousness after the sleep of centuries; not from the extinction of purgatorial fires; but from death. "Today shalt thou be with me;" "Absent from the body, present with the Lord."
4. Their blessedness is vouched by the Spirit of God. "From henceforth, saith the Spirit." Who declares this blessedness? An erring Church? Not even the highest angel. It is the Spirit. He who knows the present and the future; he who hears the last sigh of every saint on earth, and his first note of triumph. The Spirit saith it. Let us believe it with an unquestioning faith. The Spirit saith it. Let us adore him for his revelation. This subject speaks:
1. Comfort to the bereaved. Weep not inordinately for the good that are gone. "Sorrow not as those who are without hope." Your loved ones still live: they "rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
2. Courage to the faint. You disciples of the Lord, who feel the journey of life to be trying, the battle to be severe, and feel at all times depressed - take heart; yet a little while all your trials will be over. You shall "rest from your labours; and your works shall follow you." "Go thou thy way until the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days."
"I would die my death in Christo;
Joel 3:13; Jeremiah 51:33). In Matthew 13. both harvests - that of good and evil alike - are told of "Let both grow together until," etc. Still more commonly the figure stands for the people of God and their ingathering into his blessed presence. And we think that here, whilst there can be no doubt as to what the vintage means, the "harvest" does not mean the same, but that gathering of "the wheat into his garner" which shall one day most surely be accomplished. For see the preface (ver. 13) to this vision. It speaks of the blessed dead and their rest. And but for the plain pointing out that the vintage did not refer to them, that also would have been so understood. And the Lord Jesus Christ - for he is meant - is himself the Reaper (ver. 14), himself thrusts in the sickle (ver. 16), whilst the vintage of judgment is assigned to an angel (ver. 17), indicating that it is a different work from the other. And the figure itself, the harvest, the precious corn fully ripe, belongs generally and appropriately to that which is also precious and an object of delight, as is the company of his people to the Lord whose they are. It is not the time of the harvest, but the corn of the harvest, which is spoken of here, and this is ever the type of good, and not evil. Thus understood, let us note -
I. THE HARVEST. "The harvest of the earth." This tells of:
1. The multitude of God's people. Who can count the ears of corn even in one harvest field? how much less in the harvest of the whole earth?
2. The preciousness of them. What do we not owe to, what could we do without, the literal harvest of the earth? Our all, humanly speaking, depends upon it.
3. The joy of God in them. Cf. "They shall joy before thee with the joy of harvest."
4. The care that has been needed and given.
5. The "long patience" that has been exercised. Who but God could be so patient? We often cry, "How long, O Lord, how long?" But he waits - and we must learn the like lesson - for the harvest of the earth, for that which is being ripened in our own soul. Harvest comes only so.
6. The evidence of ripeness. We know of the natural harvest that it is ripe by the grain assuming its golden hue. "Knowest thou what it is that gives that bright yellow tinge of maturity to that which erst was green and growing? What imparts that golden hue to the wheat? How do you suppose the husbandman judges when it is time to thrust in the sickle? I will tell you. All the time the corn was growing, those hollow stems served as ducts that drew up nourishment from the soil. At length the process of vegetation is fulfilled. The fibres of the plant become rigid; they cease their office; down below there has been a failure of the vital power, which is the precursor of death. Henceforth the heavenly powers work quick and marvellous changes: the sun paints his superscription on the ears of grain. They have reached the last stage; having fed on the riches of the soil long enough, they are now only influenced from above" (Spurgeon). And when it is thus with the people of God, when the golden light of the Sun of Righteousness shines on them and they are transformed thereby, then the evidence of ripeness is seen, and the season for the sickle has come.
7. God will certainly gather in his people. "Harvest shall not fail" - such was the primeval promise, and it has never failed; nor shall this harvest either. "Look up, lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
II. THE VINTAGE. Under the altar on which was "the fire," over which the angel told of in ver. 18 "had power," were the souls of them that had been slain for the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 6:9). They had asked, "How long, O Lord,... dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" And now the answer is given. The vintage of vengeance has begun. For the "grapes" of the "vine of the earth" are fully ripe. It is the judgment of the whole earth, when "all nations" shall be gathered (Matthew 25.) before the Son of man. The square of four - four ever the symbol of the earth - amplified by hundreds, the "one thousand and six hundred furlongs" of ver. 20, likewise point to the universality of this awful judgment. Minor fulfilments - presages, predictions, and patterns of the final judgment - of these there have been many and will be many; but in this vintage of vengeance upon the world's sin all are summed up and fulfilled. But will there be any such event at all? Will Christ "come again to judge the quick and the dead," as the Creed declares? or is it all a myth and imagination, a nightmare, which the sooner the world shakes off and awakes from the better? Many affirm that it is this; many more would like to think so. But what is the truth?
1. Men have ever felt that there ought to be such judgment. See in the Old Testament, m the Psalms, Job, in the prophets, what distress of soul God's people were in, because they feared for the faith of a just God. So many wrongs were perpetrated, and no one called to account. Wicked men in great prosperity, "flourishing like a green bay tree," and all the while godly, innocent men trampled in the very dust by these wicked, well off ones. And many saints of God were heartbroken under the pressure of indubitable facts like these, asking for, and not finding any, redress. Men who were not saints, as they could not find any law of judgment, took the law into their own hands. And hence they added torture to death. For merely to kill a man was no punishment at all. Who would care for that? Death rids a man of all trouble. Make him suffer, therefore, whilst he is alive. So they thought and acted, and hence the whole system of tortures, from the imagery of which some of the most dread emblems of this book are drawn. But the tears of good men, in view of this problem of righteousness unrewarded and persecuted, whilst unrighteousness went not only unpunished, but held high festival; and the tortures inflicted by cruel men when they got a criminal into their hands; - both are testimonies to the conviction that a Divine and perfect judgment ought to be.
2. And now it is declared that such judgment shall be. Conscience assents to it. What endorsements of God's Word the guilty conscience gives. Read 'Macbeth' for one illustration out of thousands more.
3. Human law and justice strive after right judgment. What consternation there is when some great criminal escapes and baffles all means of discovery, and what joy when such are caught and tried and condemned! It is all confirmation of the truth taught by this "vintage."
4. And the judgments that come now on ungodly nations, communities, and individuals are all in proof. History rightly read reveals the truth in luminous light: "Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth." This harvest for God's holy ones, and this vintage of those for whom his holy vengeance awaits, are both to be. When the sharp sickles that gather the one and the other are put in, where shall we be found? That is the question of questions for us all to answer. God, of his mercy, give us no rest until we can answer it aright! - S.C.
I. THE FINAL CESSATION OF THE CHURCH'S SUFFERING. Her warfare may be long continued. Generation after generation of believers may be called upon to suffer, but an end is appointed. It will be proclaimed: "The hour to reap is come." The life of "earth " - ever the symbol of that which stands in opposition to the heavenlies - has been patiently borne through much long suffering. But this is at an end - "the harvest of the earth is over ripe." The command is issued, "Send forth thy sickle, and reap."
II. THE GATHERING OF A HARVEST HAS THE PREVAILING CHARACTER OF GRACIOUSNESS. It is the ingathering of that which sprang from "the seed" which "is the Word;" and, in our view, indicates the gathering for the heavenly garner.
III. THE FIGURE OF THE VINTAGE IS RESERVED FOR THE EXPRESSION OF THE WRATH OF GOD. "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel?... I have trodden the wine press alone." Here it is distinguished as "the great wine press of the wrath of God." No such designation is given to the wheat harvest. In this, then, we are to see the final judgment upon the wicked. Thus are set before us both the ingathering of the holy - the harvest waiting for which "the husbandman" has had "long patience," and the ingathering or crushing of the wicked. "Terrible," indeed, "is he in his doings to the children of men." - R.G.
moral seasons implied in this section of the Apocalyptic vision.
I. THE RIPENING SEASON. "And I looked [saw], and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud One sat like unto the [a] Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle" (ver. 14). This language may be taken as an illustration of that supreme Divinity that presides over all the moral seasons of mankind. He is glorious. He is encircled with a "cloud," dazzling and splendid, he is human. He is "like unto the Son of man." Supreme Divinity is full of humanity, and humanity is full of God. He is royal. He has "upon his head a golden crown." He is "the King of kings, and Lord of lords." He is absolute, he has "in his hand a sharp sickle." He has the power to put an end to the whole system whenever he pleases; he kills and he makes alive. Such is the Being that presides over our histories, our lives, and destinies. Our world is not left to chance or fate, blind force or arbitrary despotism. There is an intelligent Being over it, all glorious, yet human, royal and absolute. He presides over the ripening season. Months before the sickle is thrust in the ripening has been going on. There are two classes of principles, good and evil, which are seeds growing in all human souls. Both are implanted. Neither of them is inbred. The seed of evil is not constitutional; the seeds of good are almost exterminated by the seeds of sin. "A man sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat." The spirit of evil implants the one. "An enemy came and sowed tares." The Son of man implants the other. Both, in all souls, are constantly growing and advancing to ripeness. Although human nature is made for truth and right, it can grow error and wrong. It can develop a false impression or an erroneous sentiment into a upas that shall spread its baneful branches over empires, and poison the heart of ages.
II. THE HARVEST SEASON. "Thrust in [send forth] thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come" (ver. 15). All life culminates in maturity. "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear." Growth is but life running into ripeness, the river runs to the ocean. "The harvest of the earth is ripe, the grapes are fully ripe." In connection with this it is suggested that the harvest is under the direction of a supreme intelligence. "And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud" (ver. 15). The angel had no power to snatch the sickle from the Divine hand and employ it. The Divine permission is absolutely necessary; life and death are with him. "There is an appointed time for man upon the earth." No creature or combination of creatures, however mighty, can abbreviate or prolong the appointed period. There are no premature deaths in human history. Angels, it may be, in countless numbers await his behest. They are reads to strike down when he permits. Death is ever on the wing; silently and stealthily he approaches every human being, and strikes the moment he has permission.
III. THE VINTAGE SEASON. "Thrust in [send forth] thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe" (ver. 18). The vintage is a section of the harvest. The vine reaches its maturity and has its harvest, as well as the ears of corn, and the pressing of these grapes is the vintage. Three things are suggested in connection with this vintage.
1. Divine severity. "The great wine press of the wrath of God. And the wine press was trod, ten without the city, and blood came out of the wine press" (vers. 19, 20). Grapes in the press were usually trodden by the feet of men (see Isaiah 63:2, 3; Lamentations 1:15). The idea of severity could scarcely fail to be conveyed to the spectator whose feet trampled on the soft, blooming, beautiful grape, so that the juice like its very blood streamed forth. "The wrath of God." There is no wrath in God but the wrath of love. Divine law is but love speaking in the imperative mood; Divine retribution is but Divine love chastising the child to bring him back to the right and the true.
2. Great abundance. "Blood came out of the wine press, even unto the horse bridles" (ver. 20). That is, the juice flowing like a deep river, rising to the very bridles of the horses. Who shall measure the final issues of the moral seasons of humanity?
3. Extensive range. "A thousand and six hundred furlongs" (ver. 20) - a hundred and fifty miles. A definite number of miles for an indefinite space. The final issue of souls will be as wide as immensity. - D.T.