Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE VISION ITSELF. St. John begins his account of it with a "Behold." And well may he do so. He repeats this when he sees the "throne" and him that sat upon it. Again in Revelation 5:5, when he sees Jesus, the "Lamb as it had been slain." And if in like manner this vision come to us, we shall be filled, as he was, with wonder, with adoration, and awe. St. John saw:
1. A door set open in heaven. The sky was parted asunder, and in the space between, as through a door, he witnessed what follows.
2. The throne and its Occupant. He could see no form or similitude, any more than Israel could when God came down on Mount Sinai (cf. this vision and that, Exodus 19.). All that St. John saw was one "like unto a jasper stone and a sardius." The pure, perfect, flashing whiteness, as of a diamond, but with the carnelian redness, the fiery gleams of the sardius (cf. the "sea of glass mingled with fire," Revelation 15:2). Such was the Being who sat upon the throne - that throne, probably, as that which Isaiah saw (Isaiah 6.), being "high and lifted up," some stately structure befitting so august a court.
3. The rainbow, overarching the throne, the mild and beautiful green, emerald-like rays predominating amid its seven-hued splendour. Then:
4. The assessors of him that sat upon the throne. On either hand of the throne were twelve lesser thrones - twenty-four in all; and upon them were seated twenty-four elders, clad in white robes, and with crowns of gold on their heads.
5. Then in the space before the throne were seen seven burning torches. Not lamps, like those that symbolized the seven Churches, and which were after the manner of the seven-branched lamp which stood in the holy place in the ancient temple; but these were torches rather than lamps, destined to stand the rude blasts of the outer air rather than to gleam in the sheltered seclusion of some sacred edifice.
6. Then further off, beyond that central space, was the "sea of glass," like crystal. Clear, bright, reflecting the lights that shone upon it, but not tempest-tossed and agitated, unstable and ever restless, like that sea which day by day the exile in Patmos beheld barring his intercourse with those he loved, but calm and strong, firm and restful, - such was this sea. Then, also in the central space, or probably hovering, one in front, one on either side, and another at the rear of the throne, were:
7. The four living ones. The "four beasts," as, by the most melancholy of all mistranslations, the Authorized Version renders St. John's words, appear here to occupy the same relation to the throne as did the cherubim which were upon the ark of God in the Jewish temple. Strange, mysterious, unrepresentable, and indescribable forms. As were the cherubim, so are these; their faces, their eyes - with which it is said they "teem," so full of them are they - and their six wings, are all that we are told of; for the lion and ox-like aspect, the human and the eagle, tell of their faces rather than their forms, and do but, little to enable us to gain any true conception of what they were. Such were the mysterious beings whom St. John saw in immediate attendance on him who sat upon the throne; and as such, standing or moving around or hovering over the throne, we cannot certainly say which. And all the while there were heard, as "in Sinai in the holy place," voices, thunderings, and lightnings, proceeding from the throne. Such was that part of the vision with which this chapter is occupied. As we proceed we find the scene is enlarged, and more Divine transactions take place thereon. But now note -
II. THE MEANING OF THIS VISION. And:
1. The door set open in heaven. This tells, as did the vision of the ladder Jacob saw, of a way of communication opened up between earth and heaven.
2. The throne and its occupant. "The whole description is that of a council in the very act of being held. It is not to be taken as a description of the ordinary heavenly state, but of a special assembly gathered for a definite purpose" (cf. 1 Kings 22:19). And this symbol, which mingles reservation with revelation, and conceals as much as it declares, bids us think of God in his majesty, glory, supremacy, and as incomprehensible. "Who by searching can find out God?" It is a vision of the great God - we know that; but of his nature, substance, form, and image it, tells us nothing, nor was it intended that it should. But many precious and important truths concerning him it does tell. Of his awful glory, of his unsullied purity and spotless holiness, of the terror of his vengeance, of his interest in our concerns, of the worship and adoration of which he is worthy, and which he ever receives; of the character, condition, and service of those who dwell in his presence; of the ministers he employs; and much, more.
3. The fail,bow overarching the throne. This is the emblem (cf. Genesis 9:12-16) of God's gracious covenant which he hath established forevermore. And it told to St. John and to Christ's Church everywhere that, awful, glorious, and terrible as our God is, all that he does, of whatsoever kind, is embraced within the mighty span of his all-o'erarching grace. The Church of Christ was to pass through some dreadful experiences, to endure fearful trials, and they are not ceased yet; but she was to look up and see that all God's ways, works, and will were within not without, beneath not beyond, because and not in spite of, his all-embracing love. All were to find shelter, expanse, and explanation there. It was a blessed vision, and, unlike the ordinary rainbow, may it ever be seen by us, and its teaching believed.
4. The four and twenty elder's. These represent the whole Church of the Firstborn, the blessed and holy ones whom God hath made kings and priests unto himself. Their white robes tell of their purity, their victory, their joy, as white robes ever do; and their golden crowns (cf. Exodus 39:30), the peculiar possession of the priest of God, tell of their high and holy functions in the presence of God. The priest's office was to intercede with God for man and with man for God, to he - as was he, the great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ - in sympathy alike with man and God, seeking to unite man to God, even as God was willing to unite himself with man. But seeing them there, associated with God, does it not tell that the holiest and most blessed of the saints know and approve of all he does? This is why the saint's are so blessed, because they do so know God. They understand what he does, and why; and hence those dark facts of human life which so bewilder and distress us cause no distress to them; for they, whilst in deep love and sympathy with us who are left sorrowing here below, have come to know, as here they could not, and as we cannot, the loving and holy wisdom and the omnipotent grace which are working in and through all these things. If, then, those who know are of one mind with God in regard to them, surely we may learn therefrom to "trust and not be afraid."
5. The torches of fire. These are said to be "the seven Spirits of God" - the holy and perfect Spirit of God in the varied diversity of his operations (1 Corinthians 12:4). The witness of the Spirit as well as of the Church to the ways of God is shown. He too, as well as they, testify that God is holy in all his ways and righteous in all his works.
6. The sea of glass. If it were merely the sea that was seen here, we should regard it, as many do, as the symbol of the depth and extent of the judgments of God (cf. Psalm 77:19). But it is a sea of glass, like crystal, and its clear calmness, its firm strength, its perfect stillness - for we are told (Revelation 15:2) that the redeemed "stand upon" it - all this reminds us of the results of God's holy rule. "Thou rulest the raging of the sea, the noise of their waves, and the tumults of the people" (Psalm 89:9; Psalm 65:7). Here, then, is another witness for God and his ways - the progress of peace on earth, concord amongst men; the orderly, quiet, and undisturbed life; the security and peace which are amongst the marked results of the progress of the kingdom of God in the world. Let the results of missionary enterprise amid savage peoples now civilized and at peace attest this.
7. The four living ones. The meaning of this part of the vision is not clear or certain. All manner of opinions have been held. We regard them as answering to the cherubim of the Old Testament, and they are apparently the representatives of those who stand nearest to God, and by whom he mainly carries on his work. Hence the chief ministers of the Church of God - prophets, priests, evangelists, and apostles. The ancient Church very generally regarded these "four living ones" as the representatives of the four evangelists, and in many a picture, poem, and sculpture this idea is portrayed. But we prefer to regard them as part of the symbol, and not the whole. And the different creatures which are selected for these four are the chiefs of their several kinds: the lion amongst beasts, the ox amongst cattle, the eagle amongst birds, and man amongst all. And these several creatures tell of the main qualifications for the ministry of God: courage and strength, as of the lion; patient perseverance in toil, as of the ox; soaring aspiration, "to mount up on wings as eagles," heavenly mindedness; and intelligence and sympathy, as of the man. Ministers so qualified God chiefly uses in his great work. Their wings tell of incessant activity; their being "full of eyes," of their continual vigilance and eager outlook on all sides, their careful watch and ward in the Divine service. Such are his ministers. It is said they represent the whole sentient creation of God. But we find them told of here as leaders of worship, as singing the song of the redeemed (Revelation 5:9), with harps and golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." They say, "Thou hast made us kings and priests," etc. Surely all this belongs more to human, redeemed ministries than to vague abstractions, such as "representatives of creation." And if so, then such being the ministers of God is a further reason for the trust, the confidence, and the assured hope of the Church of God in all ages. And titan all are heard as well as seen, and that which we have is the Trisagion, the Ter-Sanctus, the "Holy, holy, holy," which Isaiah heard when in the temple. He also saw the vision of the Lord of hosts. And the uplifting of this holy song serves as the signal for the yet fuller outburst of praise which the twenty-four elders, rising from their seats and reverently placing their crowns of gold at the Lord Jehovah's feet, and prostrating themselves before his throne, render unto him that sitteth upon the throne, saying, "Worthy art thou," etc. (ver. 11). The vision is all of a piece. It strikes terror into the hearts of God's adversaries, as - to compare great things with small - do the pomp and paraphernalia of an earthly tribunal strike terror into the heart of the criminal who is brought up to be tried, and probably condemned, at its bar; but fills with holy confidence the hearts of all God's faithful people by the assurance of the holiness, the wisdom, the love, and might of him that ruleth over all, and in whose hands they and all things are.
III. ITS GENERAL INTENT AND PURPOSE. Beyond the immediate needs of the Church of St. John's day, surely it is designed to teach us all:
1. The reality of the heavenly world. The seen and the temporal do not a little dim and often shut out altogether the sight of the unseen and eternal. It is difficult to realize. Hence whatever tends to bring to bear upon us "the powers of the world to come" cannot but be good. And this is one purpose of this vision.
2. Another is to awaken inquiry as to our own relation to the judgment of God. How shall we stand there, abashed and ashamed, or bold through the atoning sacrifice of Christ which we have believed and relied upon? How shall it be?
3. To excite desire and aspiration after participation in its blessedness. Hence the door is set open in heaven, that we may long to enter there, and resolve through Christ that we will. "What must it be to be there?" - that is the aspiration which such a vision as this is intended to awaken, as God grant it may. - S.C.
I. THE THRONE SYMBOLICAL OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. A government by law and authority.
II. THE OCCUPANT OF THE THRONE, whom no man hath seen nor can see, represented as "like a jasper stone and a sardius," symbolical of essential holiness and punitive justice. Symbols have but their limited teaching. Here the two aspects of the Divine Name represented which the circumstances of the Church needed - persecuted, suffering. The detente of the holy ones by the holy God; the punishment of the enemies of truth, who are enemies of all who love the truth. "I will repay, saith the Lord."
III. THE DIVINE THRONE ENCOMPASSED BY SYMBOLS OF COVENANTED MERCY. "The rainbow" - "the symbol of grace returning after wrath."
IV. THE DIVINE THRONE ENCIRCLED BY THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE CHURCH.
1. The high honour to the Church.
2. Divine recognition of.
3. Utmost glory of: they sit on thrones - fulfilment of many promises.
4. Their character - purity, indicated by "white robes."
5. Their kingly honour: "on their heads crowns of gold."
6. The universality and unity of the Church represented in the "four and twenty ciders" - "the twelve tribes of Israel," "the twelve apostles of the Lamb."
V. THE SYMBOLS OF THREATENED JUDGMENTS PROCEEDING FROM THE THRONE are "lightnings, and voices, and thunders," all effected by the manifold operations of the Holy Spirit of God - "seven lamps of fire."
VI. THE DEPTH AND PURITY OF THE DIVINE ADMINISTRATION SYMBOLIZED in "a glassy sea like unto crystal." Thy judgments are a great deep."
VII. To THE RIGHTEOUSNESS, JUSTICE, WISDOM BENIGNITY, OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT ALL CREATURE LIFE BEARS WITNESS. Thus the four living creatures. - R.G.
humanly accessible and spiritually entered. Each of these we shall employ as the germ of a separate homily. In the text it appears as humanely accessible. Notice -
I. THERE IS A DOOR TO ADMIT. "A door was opened in heaven." What is the "door"? Christ says, "I am the Door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture" (John 10:9). He shall enter into this super-mundane world with absolute safety and abundant provision. He is "the Way." Christ's absolute moral excellence makes him the Door of admission to all that is pure, beautiful, and joyous in the universe. "Beholding as in a glass the flee of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory," etc. Two things may be predicated about this door.
1. It is transparent. He who looks into Christ's character looks into heaven. In his spirit we see the light that animates all heaven, and the principles that set all heaven to music. He who knows Christ experimentally knows heaven, and no other.
2. It is ample. Millions have passed through it, and millions more will to the end of time; thousands are passing through it, and all the men of coming generations will find it wide enough.
II. THERE IS A VOICE TO WELCOME. "And the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking [speaking] with me; which said [one saying], Come up hither, and I will show thee things which must be [come to pass] hereafter." Whither? Up the heights of the supersensuous universe, lying even beyond the stars. Thither in imagination we may ascend. Who, indeed, in the stillness of the night, has not heard as it were a "trumpet" coming down into his soul from those bright orbs which in teeming legions traverse the infinite fields above? Whoever gazed upon their shining, Nor turned to earth without repining, Nor longed for wings to fly away, And meet with them eternal day? Come up hither, they seem to say. Let not your minds be confined to your little, cloudy, stormy, perishing planet. Earth was only intended as the temporary home of your bodies, not the dwelling place of your souls. The great universe is the domain of mind. We roll and shine in our mighty spheres around you to win you away to the serene, the height, and the boundless. "Come up hither," immortal man, wing your flight from orb to orb, system to system; count our multitudes, mark our movements, gauge our dimensions, breathe in our brightness, rise beyond us, scale the wondrous heavens still far away, revel in the Infinite, be lost in God. But the elevation to which we are called is not local, but moral. "Seek those things which are above." What are they? Truth, rectitude, holiness, fellowship with the Infinite. Herein is true soul elevation. To this the "trumpet" bids us. Hear this trumpet from the infinite silences around you, from departing saints above you, from the depths of conscience within you, "come up hither."
CONCLUSION. Are we morally ascending? Then we shall experience three things.
1. Increasing dominion over the world.
2. Constant growth in moral force.
3. Augmented interest in the spiritual domain. - D.T.
mental vision is often more real, more significant, more impressive, than a material. Commentators of this book have treated these objects as those which were addressed to the senses of the apostle, and have thus turned it into a wilderness of confusion; and preachers have used it to excite the imagination, stir the sensibilities, and stimulate the wildest and idlest speculations concerning a man's higher sphere of being. The whole is a mental vision. We shall take the vision not as a symbolic puzzle, or even a metaphorical representation, but merely as an illustration of two things.
I. THE EXTRAORDINARY CHARACTER of man's higher sphere of being. All things here seem to be of a unique nature and order. An air of the wonderful spreads over all.
1. The general appearances are extraordinary. Observe the social appearances are extraordinary. Royalties abound. "A throne was set in heaven," with one Occupant supreme, as brilliant in aspect as a precious stone. "He that sat was to look upon like a jasper [stone] and a sardine stone [sardius]: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald [to look upon]." Then there were other royalties and dignities seated round the central throne. "And round about the throne were four and twenty seats [thrones]: and upon the seats [thrones] I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed [arrayed] in white raiment [garments]; and they had on their heads crowns of gold." Now, the social appearances of this world are nothing like this. Everywhere there is degradation, not dignity; heads encircled with poverty, sorrow, and care, not "crowns of gold." Indeed, the great bulk of our social world do not even see the throne of the Supreme One in the heavens. They see the motion of the mere material machinery, or a scheme of what they call laws and forces, but not the One central and universal Ruler of all. Man's higher sphere of being, socially, is widely different to this. In the higher one free moral agents are the ruling power, not blind forces. And then over all there is One, and but One over all, on the central throne. Again, the physical phenomena are extraordinary. "And out of the throne proceeded [proceed] lightnings and thunderings [thunders] and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God." True, we have lightnings and thunders here occasionally, but articulate voices in the heavens we hear not, nor do we see torches of fire blazing before the throne. The firmament that spreads over the higher sphere of being will no doubt, in many respects, be very different to the heavens that encircle us. So, also, with the waters. "Before the throne there was [as it were] a sea of glass [a glassy sea] like unto crystal." We have a sea here rolling in majesty round three parts of the globe, but it is not like glass or crystal, ever calm, sparkling, and clear; it is never at rest, often lashed into fury, and black with rage. How calm and clear will be our higher sphere, "a sea of glass," mirroring the peacefulness and the glory of the Infinite! The living creatures also are extraordinary. "Round about the throne were four beasts [living creatures] full of eyes before and behind. And the first beast [creature] was like a lion, and the second beast [creature] like a calf, and the third beast [creature] had a face as [as of] a man, and the fourth beast [creature] was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts [living creatures] had each of them [having each one of them] six wings about him; and they were full [are full] of eyes within [and round about]." Although we have in this earth such beasts and birds and faces of man as here represented, a striking difference is indicated. They had "six wings" and were "full of eyes." Whilst some have the courage of the lion, the patience of the ox, the towering tendency of the eagle, and the sympathy of the man, they are all endowed with transcendent organs of vision and powers of speed - they teem with eyes and wings. It is here suggested, then - I do not say that it is intended to be taught, for I am not gifted with the power to interpret such passages - that man's life in the higher sphere of being differs widely from the present. "Eye hath not seen," etc.
2. The supreme service is extraordinary. What is the supreme service in that higher sphere? Worship. "And they rest not [have no rest] day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God [the] Almighty, which was, and [which] is, and [which] is to come. And when those beasts [the living creatures] give [shall give] glory and honour and thanks to him that sat [sitteth] on the throne, [to him] who liveth forever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall [shall fall] down before him that sat [sitteth] on the throne, and worship [shall worship] him that liveth forever and ever, and cast [shall cast] their crowns before the throne," etc. The worship there is the one ruling, intense, unremitting service. It is anything but that here; business, pleasure, aggrandizement, - these are the great and constant services of life. Real worship is indeed rare.
II. THE REAL ENTRANCE into man's higher sphere of being. "Immediately [straightway] I was in the Spirit." It is suggested that this higher life, this supermundane world, is entered by the Spirit. "Flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." There are two ways by which man can enter the invisible.
1. By the efforts of the imagination. The whole scene before us is evidently the product of the imagination. Extraordinary visions men often have in the stilly watches of the night, in the season of dreams. But imagination can act more accurately, if not more vividly, in the hour of consciousness and intellectual activity. Thus Milton beheld his heavens and his hells, his angels and his devils. We can all, by the force of imagination, penetrate the visible, the material, the tangible, withdraw the sublunary curtain and step into the world of spiritual wonders.
2. By the influx of a new spirit. It is not uncommon for men to come into possession of a new ruling spirit, and with a new spirit comes a new world. When the philosophic spirit enters a man (and it does so in the case of a few in every age and land), the man is ushered into a new world a world of high thoughts, invisible forms, and remedial forces. When the commercial spirit enters the rustic lout, he soon finds himself in a new world - a world of speculations and struggles, of losses and gains. When the parental spirit enters the soul, it is borne into a world before unseen - a world of solicitude, absorbing interests, pains and pleasures, sorrows and joys. When the genuinely religious spirit enters the soul, it enters this higher sphere of human life - the world of brightness and beauty, the world of an "innumerable company of angels, the spirits of just men made Perfect," etc: "And immediately [straightway] I was in the Spirit." "Heaven lies about us in our infancy, and we have only to be in this spirit to realize it. The great Teacher taught that no man can see the kingdom of God, unless he comes into the possession of this spirit. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."
CONCLUSION. Search not for an outward heaven, but rather search for that new spirit, that spirit of Christliness, that will let you into the heaven that lies about you and within you. Were the twelve hundred million men that tenant this earth today to come into possession of this spirit, they would arise on the morrow and exclaim, "Behold, a new heaven and a new earth!" Evermore the state of a man's soul determines his universe. The ruling life within him measures out, builds up, and moulds the external. - D.T.
I. REVIEW THE SCRIPTURE NOTICES OF THE CHERUBIM. They are mentioned in connection:
1. With the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. We read, "So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword, which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24). Now, from this passage we learn but little as to the nature of these exalted beings - only that they were deemed worthy to occupy the place where alone perfect righteousness could dwell. But from the word rendered "to place," which signifies rather "to place in a tabernacle," and from expressions which we find in Revelation 14:14-16, it seems as if this "place" wherein God had appointed the cherubim had become a sort of local tabernacle, and was called "the presence of the Lord," from which Cain mourned that he was driven out; and so for a long time it remained, probably until the Deluge. For how else could the idea of the cherubim, so connected with that place, and apparently so familiar to the Jews, have continued in their minds? That it did so is shown by the fact that Bezaleel (Exodus 31.), when he was bidden make cherubim of gold for the ark of God, knew exactly what he was to do. Here, as at Eden, they were where sinful man could not approach. Then the next mention of them is:
2. In connection with the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:18-20). Such were the commands of him who, but a little while before, amid all the majesty and awe of Sinai, had commanded, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of anything," etc. (Exodus 20.). This command was engraven upon stone, and placed within that very ark of the covenant upon which the golden cherubim stood. And Solomon, too, with apparently the full concurrence of David and of the priests of the Lord, substituted for these cherubim, or else added to them, two others of colossal size, whose wings, stretching overhead, filled the most holy place in his new and gorgeous temple (1 Kings 6:23). Besides this, the figures of cherubim were multiplied in the varied forms of gold work and tapestry which were about the temple. Woven into curtains, placed as supports of the priests' laver at the entrance of the sanctuary, they were found on all sides, although they certainly seemed like plain contradiction and disobedience to the law which forbade the making of all such images. But we have no clear idea what they were like. We are told only of their wings, their faces, and their posture - not anything more. And the command against graven images helps us, I think, to understand partly what they were not. For that command contemplates only objects, regarded as sacred, which might be used as idols and for worship. And these cherubim fulfilled the very letter as well as the spirit of the Law. They were unlike "anything in heaven above," etc. If you seek to put together the various descriptions given of them in the Bible, you get an impossible combination, an unnatural union of bodily parts and organs, such as no known creature of God ever possessed. And still less were they designed to represent the supreme God. They were simply symbols divinely appointed, the meaning of which it is ours to discover. Then:
3. Isaiah's and Ezekiel's visions. (Isaiah 6.; Ezekiel 1:10.) Ezekiel describes certain "living ones" that he saw in vision. In Revelation 10. he sees again, but now in Jerusalem, these "living ones;" and he says, "This is the living one that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar, and I knew that they were the cherubim." And then he proceeds (Revelation 10.) to describe them. And:
4. In the vision of St. John. (Cf. Revelation 4:6-9.) With slight modifications, it is evident that we have the same mysterious beings referred to. Therefore inquire -
II. WHOM DO THEY REPRESENT? They are called "living ones," and therefore not the mere elemental forces of nature. This has been argued from Psalm 18:10, where it is written, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind." But the swiftness of movement attributed to these beings, their many wings, so that Ezekiel compares their going to "a flash of lightning," is sufficient to account for what we read in the psalm. But now, gathering together the scattered notices of them which we have reviewed, we learn:
1. They represent servants of God. Every passage that speaks of them shows this. In Eden; in the tabernacle and temple; in Isaiah's vision in the temple, and in Ezekiel's; so, too, in St. John's.
2. Chief ministers of God. See how near they are to him, standing to represent him or in closest attendance upon him.
3. But human, not merely creatural and sentient. From the creature forms, or rather countenances, ascribed to these "living ones," they have been regarded as representations of God's sentient creation (cf. homily on vers. 1-11). But they worship God; they join in the song, "Worthy is the Lamb;" they are in sympathy with God's servants here on earth, bearing golden censers "full of odours, which are the prayers of saints." So, then, as they are chosen and chief amongst the servants of God, so also are they human. But:
4. Holy also. These "living ones" represent, not humanity as we see it, but as it shall be in the presence of God by and by. Their position in Eden, where no sin might be, and in the most holy place, and in closest attendance upon the throne and upon him that sat upon it,—all prove how holy, how sinless, they must be. And:
5. Redeemed. They could only be where they are in consequence of redemption. We know that sinful man was not allowed to enter Eden, whence he had been driven out, nor the most holy place, nor the presence of God. Therefore something must have been done, in and upon and for them. Moreover, their song, "Worthy is the Lamb" (Revelation 5:12), and their standing on the mercy seat over the ark of the covenant - that mercy seat which was sprinkled with the blood of atonement - show that it is to redemption they, as we and all the saved, owe their all. And:
6. Perfected. See the creatural symbols, the lion, ox, etc. (cf. former homily), which tell of those qualities which go to make up the perfected character of the saints of God - courage and submission, aspiration and thought. Of such service and servants do the cherubim, these "living ones," tell.
III. THEIR MINISTRY TO MAN NOW. It is full of interest to observe the seasons when the visions of the cherubim were given. These occasions have all one common characteristic - they were when the way man had to take was very dark and drear. As when our first parents went forth from the blessed Eden to the thorns and thistles of the wilderness which was to be their future home. So, too, when "that great and terrible wilderness," amid which the Israel of God had to wearily wander for so many years. And when Isaiah was called to his ministry of sorrow because of his people's sin (Isaiah 6:9, 10). And Ezekiel, when in the sore captivity at Babylon he strove to comfort and cheer the hearts of his countrymen. And St. John saw them in the midst of the tribulations and persecutions which befell the Church of his day. So that the ministry of the cherubim seems to have been, besides all else that it was, a ministry of consolation to troubled and sorrowful men. To tell them what and where one day they should surely be, whatever their hard lot may be now; that they should be redeemed, holy, in the presence of God, serving him day and night in his temple - serving him, too, with perfect service, and he who "dwelt between the cherubim" should dwell among them forevermore. It was as a "Sursum corda" to the dejected, downcast children of God, bidding them be of good cheer and "hope in the Lord." And this is the purpose of this revelation still. - S.C.
I. THE SONG OF THE UNIVERSAL CREATURE-LIFE IS A CEASELESS SONG. "They have no rest day and night" That which is represented is that which should and which shall be. It is the ideal. Wicked man puts himself outside of the otherwise universal chorus; but he shall also be brought to sing. "Thou wilt make the wrath of man to praise thee." Throughout the widespread universal life a never-ending song of praise ascends; angel and archangel, cherubim and seraphim, continually do cry. All creatures in their vast variety, their marvellous structure, their mutual service, praise him who gave them birth.
II. THE CREATURE'S SONG CALLED FOR BY THE HOLINESS OF GOD. This the first, the chiefest attribute of the Divine Name. "His Name is holy." In the creature's elevation the essential holiness of God shall become the central light into the depths of which, with eager if with veiled eye, shall the holy ones seek to inquire. This the essential "beauty of the Lord."
III. THE CREATURE'S SONG CALLED FOR BY THE ETERNITY OF GOD. The Ever-living One is praised by every living one. Each, receiving his life from the Life, shall render back that life in ceaseless songs of praise. The unfathomable depth, the infinite beyond, the eternal past, true matter of praise to the creature: "which was, and is, and is to come."
IV. THE CREATURE'S SONG DEMANDED BY THE OMNIPOTENCE, THE ALL MIGHTINESS, OF GOD. The Lord God is the Almighty. To this high subject the limited, feeble creature rises as more and more he searches into the vast works of the Almighty hand which none can let or hinder.
V. THE SONG OF THE CREATURE, AS IS MOST MEET, IS A SONG OF PRAISE, the true praise being, not the attempted estimate of the Divine Name b v the creature mind, but the simple assertion of the Divine excellence: "Holy, holy, holy," etc. - R.G.
I. THE SUBJECT OF THE SONG. That of "the living creatures" is "the Lord God," the Almighty, the Ever-living. The subject of the Church's song is the creative power of God, in recognition of which "glory, honour, and power" are ascribed. It is the ground of hope for the final triumph of the Divine kingdom over the opposing kingdom of evil which is so soon to be brought into view.
II. The song is offered by the Church's representatives; it symbolizes THE ENTIRE CHURCH REJOICING IN THE UNIVERSAL SONG OF PRAISE. "When the living creatures shall give glory." The Church's song of praise for redemption wilt presently be heard; but it is preceded, as is most meet, by praise to God "for his excellent greatness and for his mighty acts."
III. The song is presented by the Church IN LOWLY PROSTRATION. Never do the songs of praise from the earth rise higher than when presented in the lowliest humility. Not only do the elders "fall down before him that sitteth on the throne," but in recognition of his absolute supreme authority, they "cast their crowns before the throne." In presence of the one Lord, all authority, all honour, all might, must be ignored.
IV. The matter of the song recognizes THE EXALTED WORTHINESS OF THE MOST HIGH, to whom pertains the highest "glory, honour, and power," illustrated in the creation of all things.
V. The song terminates in AN ADORING ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE FINAL END OF CREATION. "Because of thy will." "He spake, and they were created: he commanded, and they stood fast." The "will" expresses the pleasure of God, and for his pleasure they are, and were created. The end of their being is not to be found in themselves, but in the Divine will. It is worthy. And as by the Divine will all things are, so all things will be made to serve that will, yea, even the rebellious elements in human life, for he will make the wrath of man to praise him. - R.G.
mental, Divine, and symbolical vision of heaven: the "door is opened," and a voice commands him to ascend and enter. By "heaven," of course, I do not mean heaven as a place, but as a state of the Christly soul - the heaven within, a subjective paradise. The text leads us to infer -
I. THAT MAN IN THIS HEAVEN HAS REACHED THE HIGHEST DIGNITY. He has "crowns." We are not to suppose, of course, that there are material crowns in heaven; these, whether formed of gold, or diamonds, or both, are the mere toys of earth; but crowns are used here as the emblem of the highest dignity. The earth has nothing higher to offer man than a crown; men have hazarded their lives and waded through seas of Blood to get a crown. Because of the importance which universal man attaches to a crown, it is employed to represent the dignity of men in heaven. This crown is called in the New Testament "a crown of righteousness." Earthly crowns are often associated with iniquity; their history is one of violence and wrong. But the dignity reached by men in heaven will be "righteous" - it will be in harmony with universal rectitude. There is no Being in the universe that can charge them with having reached their position by unjust means. It is called "a crown of life." The crown which the visitors in the Grecian games obtained soon withered and died; the weaved garlands soon became dust. The crowns which sovereigns wear in more modern times are corruptible, the diamonds will grow dim. and. the gold will wear out; but the crown of man in heaven is "a crown of life." It is not something pat on; it is the expression of his being. The crown is to the man what the blossom is to the tree, what the halo is to the sun - something rising out of the being - the fruit of his life. It is called "a crown of glory." What is glory? Paul says, "There is one glory of the sun and another of the stars; and we may say there is one glory of the earth and one of the heavens. The things to which men attach the idea of glory are puerilities in the estimation of Heaven. Take the most magnificently attired sovereign of the world, surpassing all other monarchs of the earth in the pomp and pageantry of his movements, what is the glory of that poor mortal, on which the empty crowd stares with wonder? It is only the glory of a gaudy actor on the stage, garbed in the tawdry and tinselled robe, put on for the hour for popular effect. But this is a glory altogether different. It is the glory of an intellect in harmony with the truth, the glory of conscience in sympathy with the right, the glory of the soul centred in God. What is there so glorious as a noble soul? If this be the state of man in heaven:
1. Let us have faith in the improvability of our nature. When we look round upon society, and see the gross sensuality, the dishonesty, the profanity of men, we feel disposed to loathe our very species: but when we look to heaven, we feel that the worst are capable of improvement - that "dry bones can live." "Such were some of you," etc.
2. Let us be consoled under the departure by death of the good. "I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord;" "These are they which came out of great tribulation;" "Sorrow not as those that are without hope."
3. Let us not judge of providence without taking into account the future as well as the present. "I reckon," says the apostle, "that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
II. THAT MAN IN THIS HEAVEN ASCRIBES THE DIGNITY HE HAS REACHED TO JESUS CHRIST. "They cast their crowns before the throne." This implies:
1. A conviction that they owed all their honorers to Christ. Whence did they obtain their crowns?
2. A readiness to acknowledge their obligation. The greater our natures the more ready to acknowledge our obligation.
2. The surpassing glories of Christ. He is in the midst of the throne, and all ascribe their all to him. Napoleon I., after he had conquered empires, and planted his foot upon the neck of kingdoms, determined to be crowned emperor. To give pageantry and lustre to the occasion, he compelled the Pope of Rome to be present. In the act of coronation, the emperor refused to receive the crown from the pope; his proud spirit told him he had won it himself: he placed it upon his own brow, thus declaring to the spectators and the civilized world the fact that he was indebted to himself only for imperial power. How different this to our Cromwell, who in spirit towered high above all the Napoleons of history! After the crown of England had been offered to him by successive Parliaments, he refused it! Great souls are above crowns. All in this subjective heaven of goodness cast their "crowns" at the feet of Christ, and say, "Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory." - D.T.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com