And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven to the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.…
These mystical locusts personify the lusts and passions which destroy the soul, and which, destroying the soul, destroy all things. Our text suggests that sin affects great things, it promises great things, and it never gives what it promises. "On their heads were as it were crowns of gold." It is not a real, solid, golden crown, but "as it were." Sin always acts by an infernal magic; it is full of illusion, imposition, and mockery. There is indeed a Mephistophelean element in all sin; it saves its word whilst it lies, it gives a spurious gift, it is ironical, scornful, and derisive. It is the supreme sophistry; the supreme satire.
1. There is no reality in the GREATNESS that sin promises. Sin promises distinction, glory, fame. The devil is quite flush of crowns. But men always find at last that selfish greatness, soiled greatness, unrighteous greatness is false greatness, and that it only mocks those who have made such immense sacrifices on its behalf. Take a conqueror, of whom Napoleon is the type. He was himself a locust, with a crown upon his head. And just as the locusts strip the trees and leave rich and smiling landscapes desolate, so did this imperial locust and his legions strip kingdoms and leave a track of blood and ruin. But how empty was all his glory, and how little it came to! An exile at St. Helena, you feel he got the crown, "as it were." And to-day how utterly discredited he is, and how beggared all his greatness! The world knows him as a colossal brigand. Take a poet, and let Byron be our typical instance. How much of greatness and fame did he seem to acquire, and yet his career was based on egotism, sensuality, godlessness; and how poor he looks now! Take a politician. I have been reading the biography of a notorious statesman. He was a brilliant man and he loved brilliance. All his letters are about splendid events, gorgeous pageantries, eloquent speeches. He breakfasts with wits, takes tea with duchesses, dines with the queen. You read about literature, diplomacy, rank, but the great words of righteousness and humanitarianism are hardly breathed. How poor it all looks now! How theatrical it looks, how theatrical it was! How differently we look upon Wilberforce, who brought men liberty; upon Cobden, who gave us bread; upon Shaftesbury, who made mercy to distil upon waste places as the gentle rains drop upon the plains, beneath. Their crowns are solid, they glow as they age; but as for my dramatic statesman, ms diadem was dust before he was. It is always so. Wherever glory is built on egotism, violence, unrighteousness, it possesses only an apparitional crown. "The burglar seizes property, but in his hands it is no longer property, but pillage." The sensual man seizes love, but beautiful love thus seized instantly dies and becomes a ghastly corpse — that we call lust. The ambitious man seizes greatness, but the moment that he touches it in the spirit of egotism and pride the splendid crown becomes tinsel. "The coveted thing, whatever it be, loses its essence when the lawless lust has got it." If you want greatness and glory seek for it in another and truer pathway. You young men, be sure that you seek it in the ways of truth and wisdom and purity. "Wisdom is the principal thing." "She shall bring thee to honour." You professional men. You justly contemplate promotion and distinction in your calling, lawyer, physician, artist. Be sure you make no compromise. Be ready to go without a crown that you may get one. You municipal men. You political aspirants. Bring the religious and moral into your life or some day you will be mocked by knowing the crown for which you struggled is only a miserable counterfeit. And then we all hope for a larger glory and honour still. It is astonishing what a faith we have in the possibilities of our nature; what an instinct for greatness; what an appetite for glory! Years ago I remember a poor woman dying; she was a very poor woman, and was carried to the grave from a lowly cottage. But her children put this verse on her funeral card: "And a great sign was seen in heaven; a woman arrayed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." They felt she was great enough to have the sun for her robe, the moon for a footstool, and Orion, Venus, Sirius, Arcturus, Aldebaran, for the stars of her forehead. And they were right. The most magnificent things of the Apocalypse do not startle us. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." But let us aim at true greatness — not mock greatness. We do not want the crowns of the locusts — we want one of those other crowns, such as the elders wore, as the angels wore, as the saints wore. The true crown is a crown of righteousness, it fadeth not away.
II. There is no reality in the WEALTH that sin promises. Wealth without morality, without humanity, without spirituality, is in an extraordinary degree unreal and tantalising. On the Stock Exchange is what is known as "phantom gold." Certain transactions in gold are known by this name. It is gold that exists only on paper, and it is dealt in as a pure speculation. But how much of the wealth of society is "phantom gold"! It is on paper only; it is truly a visionary, speculative thing. There is no real solid joy in it. Look at illegitimate wealth — wealth gotten by immoral means. Men sometimes get it, and then they are detected and they are deprived of it. There are rogues in prison to-day who have been deprived of their ill-gotten wealth. You have seen a mouse in a trap — it gets the cheese "as it were." And if they do not go to prison, wealth that comes badly has a trick of melting away swiftly. They put it into a bag with holes, they get it and are poor, they never have anything. Fairy gold turns to withered leaves and dust. And sometimes conscience will not let them enjoy it. Look at Judas! He got the thirty pieces of silver "as it were." And there is much the same deception and disappointment with all selfish, godless, unspiritual wealth. Men have it, and yet they have it not, they get the golden prize, and then harndling it find it "as it were." They have it, and it is a phantom. It is like a man promising you money, and then showing you a five-pound note in a looking-glass. Balzac, the French writer, built himself a splendid mansion, but when he had finished it he had exhausted his resources, and so he proceeded to furnish it in imagination, Here a ticket announced a great picture, there a cabinet, conch, table, etc. The realities were not there, only labels. And it is often much the same with the selfish unspiritual rich, their outward life overbrims with riches, lint their soul is empty. They have certificates, title-deeds, parchments declaring that they have wealth and power and happiness, but the realities are utterly wanting in their deepest, truest life. They can't translate it into the true riches of brain and heart, of character, experience, and hope. A friend of mine in London is a jeweller for the theatres, and he was showing me the other day the jewels of the stage. What a size those jewels are! Mammoth gems, mountains of light, stars of the first magnitude. What colours those jewels have! Rich, burning, gorgeous hues. And what a quantity! Pearls by the peck. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, abound. Crowns, mitres, diadems, necklaces on every side. The crown-jewels in the Tower look mean and shabby compared with this treasury of gems. And yet one crown jewel would far more than have bought them all. Clever, ingenious, plausible — they were still Brummagem. One simple, small, modest gem of royalty outweighs all the gay and garish gems of the mimic kings and queens of the gaslight. And it is much the same with Vanity Fair, with all unspiritual glory, and fashion, and luxury. The rich and gay are but actors, their purple brings them no self-respect, their gold no gladness, their splendour no satisfaction of soul. Have no unrighteous wealth. It will only deceive and curse you. Do not hold your wealth in the spirit of selfishness. Be the steward of God, using for His glory, for high and generous purposes, whatever He gives you. And be sure of this, that no wealth is truly yours until it is realised in the spiritual and godly. "The gold of this land is good."
III. There is no reality in the PLEASURE that sin promises. Pleasure that is not moral; pleasure that is selfish; pleasure that has no thought of God in it is always fictitious. It is imagination, illusion, falsehood. I remember a picture of the Prodigal Son, and there was one fine touch in it. The poor fellow had come to the feeding of the swine, and the painter had put in one of those poetic touches which mean so much a few poppies gave bits of colour to the dismal picture. Yes, one deep lesson of the parable was there — the prodigal had been under the power of opium, he had been the victim of illusion. And this illusion had betrayed him to the far country, the swine, the hunger, the brink of despair. It is always thus — the poppy plays the grand part. The devil makes men to see wondrous delights in sensual, selfish, godless pleasures. But they prove sooner or later as the podigal son did that it is illusion, that unrighteous and unspiritual enjoyment is a miserable cheat. The African saw blocks of silver on the other side of the river, but when he crossed the river they turned into black stones. He never gives you a crown of roses but "as it were." Brethren, seek for a real crown — greatness, wealth, pleasure. Make for this. Don't be deceived. And there is One who can give it. It is in the truth and grace and power of Christ that you shall realise all the grand and beautiful and enduring satisfactions of the heart. There is no "as it were" in Jesus Christ. It is reality; it satisfies, abides.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.