And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the earth,
He had in his hand a little book open. Like as there was an interval between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, so is there between the sounding of the sixth and seventh trumpets. The record of this latter interval, and of the events which took place in it, stretches through this tenth chapter down to ver. 13 of Revelation 11. This chapter is occupied with the account of the little book which St. John saw in the hand of "another strong angel coming down out of heaven." The other "strong angel" is spoken of in Revelation 5:2, in connection with the seven-sealed book held in the right hand of "him that sat on the throne, and which only the Lion of the tribe of Judah" was found worthy to take and open. This book told of here is described as "little" as compared with that, and, probably, in contrast with it. Now, although the historical interpreters affirm that this little book means the Bible, as we have it, yet the difficulties that beset this interpretation are so many and so great, that it has been abandoned by all the more reliable expositors of the Apocalypse as inconsistent with its avowed purpose to declare the "things that must shortly come to pass," and the time of which was "at hand;" still, what is here said of this "little book" does suggest to us not a few of the most interesting and important characteristics of the Word of God. For note -
I. THE AMBASSADOR WHO BRINGS IT. Much may be learnt concerning any message that is sent by an earthly monarch from the character and rank and insignia which belong to the messenger. If the business which he has to transact be of great importance, and it be desired to impress its significance upon the minds of those to whom he is sent, he himself will be of such dignity, and accompanied with such tokens of authority and power, as will prepare those to whom he comes rightly to receive the message he brings. So here, he who brings God's message to mankind is one of no mean order, and the tokens of his authority are of the most impressive kind.
1. He comes from heaven. The Bible is not a merely human production. It is inspired by God; it is a message from heaven. It contains what no human mind could have known or invented; it speaks with an authority that they who receive the message realize to be from God. Inspiration cannot be argued and so demonstrated to the intellect, but it speaks to the soul, and is felt to be present in the Scriptures, which therefore are declared to be the Word of God. It wakes up a response in the soul, quickening, informing, strengthening, consoling, uplifting, sanctifying it, as no mere human words have ever done or can do, save as they draw their inspiration from this source.
2. It is mighty in its potter. It was "a strong angel" that St. John saw, suggesting to him and to us the strength of that message which he was commissioned to bring. What trophies of its power has not the Bible won? Where is the age, the country, the rank, the character, the intellectual condition, the circumstances of any kind, amid and over which it has not proved strong to subdue and bless and save?
3. Its truths fill the soul with awe. The angel was "clothed with a cloud " - symbol this of the majesty and mystery that surround and invest the foundation teachings of the Word of God. The soul can only bow in reverence and awe before them, and confess its feebleness in their presence.
4. But they are crowned with blessed promise and grace. "The rainbow was upon his head." Though there be so much that we cannot penetrate or comprehend, nevertheless the predominant characteristic is that of "grace," that of which the rainbow was at the first and is ever the beautiful and blessed symbol. Even those awful judgments of God spoken in ver. 7 are there declared to be part of "the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets" (see Revised Version). And when we preach out of the Bible we are said to preach the gospel. This is its main character and intent.
5. They irradiate and illumine all our earthly life. "His face was as it were the sun." "Truly the light is sweet, and pleasant thing it is to behold the sun" - so says Ecclesiastes 11:7. And the confession of this radiant grace, this blessed light which streams forth from the Word of God, is commonplace of all the sacred writers and of all who have rejoiced in that light.
6. And they shall never be driven forth or removed. "His feet as pillars of fire," and ver. 2, "He planted his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth." His invincible power is signified by "the pillars of fire;" and his having set his feet upon the earth and sea tells of "the immovable steadfastness of the heavenly Conqueror against all the resistance of his enemies." He is come to stay, and he cannot be driven forth. When and where has not the attempt to dislodge the Word. been made? But it has never succeeded. All Church history proves this. In many ages and places it has been death to keep a copy of the sacred writings. Wherever they were found, they were ruthlessly destroyed, and often they also with whom they were found. But every copy of the Bible that we possess today proves how partial and ineffective all such endeavours were. Glory be to God that they were so!
II. THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN OF IT. "A little book open."
1. A book. The Bible is not the revelation itself, but the record of it. But without the record the revelation would not have availed us. Great scorn has been poured on the idea of "a book revelation," and an immense deal of poor wit has been expended upon the idea that God should have used such mean materials as books are made of as the vehicle of his revelation of himself. But the Bible is not the revelation, only its record; and it is reason for eternal gratitude that his revelation has been so given that it can be thus recorded. In what other way could the knowledge of God have been so well preserved or spread abroad? (Cf. on this ' The Eclipse of Faith,' by H. Rogers.)
2. Its seeming insignificance. It is "a little book." In these days of gold and guns, when wealth and armies are thought to be the great means of accomplishing everything, the spiritual force that lies hidden in "a little book" counts but for little. But what hath not God wrought by it? And we may be grateful that it is little, and not a ponderous library which it would need a lifetime even to know part of, but one small volume which can be read and reread and carried everywhere as we will. No doubt the littleness of the book here spoken of is intended to be in contrast with that vast volume told of in Revelation 5., which was written within and without, so complete, so full, was it. This tells of but "part of his ways;" that seems to have been the declaration of all his will. But it suggests the seeming insignificance, both in form and force, of that which we call the book of God, but whose insignificance is, indeed, only seeming, not real.
3. It is to be an open book. St. John saw it "open" in the hand of the angel. There have been and there are those who would have the Word of God closed, if not entirely, yet to large extent. They affirm it is not a book for the common people, but for the priests of the Church; and for centuries it was kept closed, and is even now looked upon with more or less of dislike. But, blessed be God, it is open, not to the eyes alone, but to the mind. For though it contains the profoundest truths that the intellect of man has ever studied, still it contains also those truths - and they are the most numerous and important - which the humblest and least instructed are able to receive and rejoice in. God hath caused the vision to be written and made "plain," so that the unlearned may learn, and the most simple comprehend.
III. THE VOICES FOR AND AGAINST IT. We read that the angel cried with a loud voice, and that the seven thunders uttered their voices. Now:
1. The angelic voice suggests:
(1) The startling effect of the Word of God upon mankind. The angel's voice was "as when a lion roareth." So did the Word of God affect men. See when at the Reformation it was first freely given to Europe. How it roused men's minds, awoke them from their lethargy, nation after nation heard the sound and broke away from the superstition and sins in which they had so long lived! And it is so still. "What must I do to be saved?" is the intense, the sometimes agonized cry, of men whom the lion-like, awful voice of the Word has aroused from their sin. The conviction of sin which the Holy Spirit produces through the Word is, often, to men "as when a lion roareth," arousing them indeed.
(2) The assured persuasion it gives concerning the mystery of this present life. The solemn oath of the angel (vers. 5-7) did but represent what the Word of God accomplishes. As he gave, so it gives, solemn assurance that what now is - so much of it so mournful, so full of mystery - is not ever to be, but shall have an end. Life is a mystery now, even in these comparatively calm days of ours; but what must it have appeared to the persecuted outraged Church of St. John's day? And were not we assured that what we now see is but part of God's ways, one link in the chain of his purposes, only a portion of his one great, wise, holy. and loving plan, how could we believe in him as either wise, holy, just, or loving? The mind. would rush to atheism, and the man to suicide; for what better could be done? But the Word of God, like the solemn oath of this strong angel, assures us of God that
"His purposes are ripening fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower."
2. The thunder voice. (Ver. 4.) The brutum fulmen, the full-voiced anger of him who uttered it. The question comes - Whence this voice of the seven thunders? It has, we think, been too hastily assumed that St. John is referring to the sevenfold voice of the thunder mentioned in Psalm 29. And, doubtless, in this book thunders are referred, to as coming forth from the throne of God (cf. Revelation 4:5). But the true interpretation is given, we think, in the strikingly parallel passages in Daniel 8:26 and Daniel 12:4-9, where that which the prophet is commanded to "seal up" is not what God shall do, but what his people's enemies shall do against him and them. And so here, we believe, the thunders tell of the wrathful response, the angry mutterings, of God's enemies against his truth. And thus regarded, they tell of the opposition the Word arouses in the world of the wicked. It has ever been so. In St. John's day; at the era of the Reformation, witness the cursed cruelties which the Roman Catholic Church in those days perpetrated in the Netherlands, in our own land, and wherever also she had power. And still those "dark places of the earth, which are full of the habitations of cruelty," are filled with rage when any real invasion of them is made by the messengers of the Word. Still Christ's Name is as a "sign to be spoken against." And it was fitting that these voices should not be written. The purpose of this book was to console and strengthen the Church, not to distress and alarm. Hence the Divine forces on the side of the Church and against her foes are what this book mainly reveals. It tells us, "The Lord is on our side; we will not fear what man can do unto us."
IV. THE DIRECTIONS CONCERNING IT. As it was with the "little book" so must it be with the Word of God:
1. It must be received as from God. If we look upon the Bible as on "any other book," as on ordinary literature, we shall lack that reverential docile spirit which is necessary in order to receive its truths. The book was to be taken from the hand of the angel (ver. 8).
2. It must be taken into the soul This is the meaning of the strange command, "Take it, and eat it up." It is as when Jeremiah said, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them;" as when our Lord said, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man," etc. (John 6.). We are to "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" its truths; make them part of our very self. So must it be with those who would know the power of God's Word.
3. When so taken, it will produce both sorrow and joy. The first taste will be pleasant. "In thy mouth sweet as honey." And it is so. It is not a joy that we have a revelation from God at all; that we are not left in the dark as to our whence and whither; that we are assured God is "our Father which art in heaven;" that our salvation is "without money and without price," for that Christ died for us? Yes; "sweeter also than honey and the honey comb" are these precious truths. But the after taste will cause distress and pain. Witness the Saviour's tears wept over lost souls, and the like tears shed still by those who know "the fellowship of his sufferings." That men should resist and reject such a Saviour; that we should so long have done so, and do not yet wholly receive him; - yes, this after taste hath pain.
4. When eaten, it qualifies for witness bearing for God. (Ver. 11.) This is the real qualification, this deep experimental knowledge of the power of God's Word. All else is as naught compared with this. Only such God ordains to be his prophets. Thus doth this "little book," though it meant not the Bible, tell of the Bible. - S. C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,