They have shed the blood... thou hast given them blood to drink. Grateful, indeed, ought men to be not alone for the golden rule which commands us to do unto others as we would be done by, but also for the converse of that rule, the eternal law - that as we have done so shall we be done by. It is the lex talionis
- the law that ordains "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" that "with what measure ye mete, it shall be meted to you." And here in the text we have a vivid and awful illustration of it. And there have been a vast number more. They, everywhere and always, who have shed the blood of God's servants, have had given to them, sooner or Later, "blood to drink." Their turn has come, and it has been the more terrible because of what they have done to bring it upon themselves.
I. CONSIDER SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS LAW. Egypt. The memory of how she shed the blood of God's servants, and how blood was given her to drink, not merely in symbol by the water of her river being turned into blood, so that her people loathed to drink of it, but actually by the destruction that came upon her - the memory of all this is evidently fresh in the writer's mind. The atmosphere of Egypt, the bondage, and the Exodus, is all around this record of the seven vials. Israel under Ahab and other idolatrous kings. He and they shed the blood of God's prophets. But sure revenges came. At Carmel; in Assyria, where Israel was carried away captive, and where as a nation she perished. Assyria. Cf. the Book of Jonah for its sins and its predicted doom. Fate of Sennacherib. Destruction of Nineveh about B.C. 606, when Sardanapalus the king, in despair, burnt himself, with his concubines, eunuchs, and treasures. Persia. Cf. the Book of Esther, and the king's edict for the destruction of the Jews, and how averted and avenged. Greece. Cf. the Books of Maccabees, as to persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes; his miserable death. Jerusalem. Cf. our Lord's words, "It cannot be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem," etc. (Luke 13:33, 34). Her siege and fall. Rome, both pagan and papal (cf. Gibbon, for fall of pagan Rome; Alison, for calamities that came on Rome and Italy during the wars of the Revolution). France. Her persecutions of the Huguenots led on to the horrors of her revolution. Spain, once the greatest of European powers, became infamous for her bigotry and cruelties on all outside the Romish Church; she was the home of the Inquisition, and the auto-da-fe. But the persecutor's doom came upon her. Her glory has departed. The Stuart dynasty in England, who harried and drove tens of thousands of godly men out of the Church and out of the land; and then their turn came, and their race and name passed away in ignominy. And had England's loss of her American colonies nothing to do with her maintenance of the accursed slave trade? And did not America's civil war spring from that same bad cause? Such are some fulfilments of this law, some more, some less, evident. Doubtless Jerusalem, at the hour when St. John wrote in the very throes of her mortal agony, when blood was indeed given her to drink; and Rome, racked with civil war and the fierce factions fomented by this chieftain and that, and for whom yet more fearful fate waited - these were uppermost in St. John's mind. But the law lives yet, and lived before St. John's day; not one jot or one tittle of it has failed or can ever fail. And the Bible and the facts of life supply illustrations not a few of the fulfilment of this law in individuals as well as nations. And where the eye cannot trace the fulfilment, it is not to be thought that the law has failed. In his moral life - that which is within and unseen - the law can lay hold on the transgressor, and does so. Every man's sin finds him out, even if he be not found out.
II. ITS MODE OF ACTION. It is, like as most of God's laws are, self acting. There is no need for God to interfere to see that the law is vindicated. Power, perverted to persecution and oppression, and pampered by such means, becomes hideous and hateful to mankind, who after a while will turn upon the tyrant and hurl him from the place of power which he has prostituted to such vile uses. And so because he or they have "shed blood," blood is given, etc. Man may as well think to put in motion any given cause and to hinder the due effect from following, as to hinder the fulfilment of the law we are considering. Sow the seed, and its harvest will follow, not some other; there will be no need of miracle to secure this. And the seed of blood shed will infallibly secure a like harvest. Men may deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the existence of laws, self acting, and which have an awful power of ensuring their own vindication, let men's opinions be what they will.
III. ITS LESSONS TO US ALL.
1. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that," etc.
2. The inveteracy, violence, and virulence of sin. Notwithstanding all that God has done, and does, to deter men from it, they will cling to it still.
3. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." "When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them." - S.C.
The seventh angel poured out his vial into the air. I.
HOW MUCH OF EARTH'S SIN MUST THERE BE FOR GOD TO WITNESS!
II. MEN OFTEN ASK — WHY IS GOD SILENT SO LONG?
III. WHATEVER MAY BE THE TRIAL OF FAITH THUS CAUSED, WE ARE CERTAIN THAT GOD FORGETS NOTHING.
IV. GOD HAS GREAT PURPOSES TO ANSWER IN PERMITTING EVIL TO GO SO LONG UNPUNISHED.
V. AT THE APPOINTED HOUR THE LONG-SUFFERING WILL CEASE.
VI. THEN BABYLON THE GREAT, WITH ALL HER SINS, SHALL COME UP FOR FINAL BECKONING AND RECOMPENSE.
VII. THE FACT THAT ALL IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD IS A GUARANTEE OF PERFECT EQUITY.
VIII. WITH OUR GOD THE EXECUTION IS AS CERTAIN AS THE PURPOSE. The seer heard "a great voice from the temple, out of the throne, saying, It is done!" Note —
1. Amid the perplexity caused by the prevalence and power of evil, let us stay ourselves on God.
2. Let us do right, and wait God's time.
3. Revenge is never to be any part of our policy.
4. Let us be glad and grateful that believers in God are not left in the dark as to the meaning, aims, and issue of the Divine government of the world.
The air which has received the last vial may be considered as the home or seat of the devil and his angels. There is no fancy in this, for you may remember how St. Paul himself describes the devil as "the prince of the power of the air." It is, however, of little importance that we determine where fallen angels have their habitation; and perhaps the associating the devil with the air is not so much for the purpose of defining the residence of Satan as to give us information as to the nature of his dominion. We mean that probably we are not hereby taught that the devil dwells in the air — though that also may be the meaning — but rather that he has at his disposal the power of the air; so that he can employ this element in his operations on mankind. And we know of no reason why the power of the devil should be regarded as confined to what we are wont to call spiritual agency, so as never to be employed in the production of physical evil — why the souls and not also the bodies of men should be considered as objects of his attack. Indeed, forasmuch as the soul is the nobler part of man — the more precious and dignified — it would be strange if this alone were exposed to his attack, and the body were altogether exempt. We believe, therefore, that Satan may have a great deal to do with those pains and sicknesses which so abound in the world. It is certainly the representation of Scripture that Satan has much to do with inflicting diseases of the body. The woman who had "a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together" — what said Christ of her, when the ruler of the synagogue was indignant at her being made whole on the Sabbath day? "Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo! these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" Again, we know not exactly what that "thorn in the flesh" was from which St. Paul suffered. But the expression makes it seem probable that it was some acute bodily pain, or some oppressive infirmity; and the apostle distinctly calls it "a messenger of Satan, sent to buffet him." Do we not seem warranted in inferring from these intimations that Satan is greatly concerned in bringing maladies on men's bodies? And if this be once allowed, we may enter into the meaning of the title, "The prince of the power of the air." We are accustomed, and as it would seem with much accuracy, to refer to certain states of the air as producing certain diseases of the body. Without being able precisely to trace the connection, or investigate the cause, we consider that the atmosphere is frequently impregnated with disease and sickness, so that we may be said to inhale death whilst inhaling what is essential to life. Thus we virtually suppose the "power of the air" to be a power over health and over life; and therefore, that he who possesses that power — and this St. Paul says is the devil — must be one who is greatly instrumental in the inflicting disease. If you add to this that many of the worst calamities, as well as sicknesses with which men are visited, may be traced to the air, you have the materials from which to show that it is assigning to the devil an awful dominion to give him the sovereignty of the air. Again, we remind you that we are fully aware that Satan can do nothing except as he is permitted by God. We speak only of the power which he can wield when the permission has been granted. Never can I hear of a land which is laid waste by plague, and never can I hear of the rushing of the tornado, passing over fertile plains, and leaving them a desert, without the most startling apprehensions of the fearfulness of the enemy who can use this element as his engine, and without also feeling how justly may the final triumph of good over evil be associated with some great deed that shall be wrought in the air, even according to the representation of our text — "And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done." We Cannot well doubt that this association of the air with the devil is equally appropriate when the devil is regarded under the more common point of view — that of the assailant of the soul, the instigator to sin in all its varieties of form. It may not be so easy to show the appropriateness in this case; for we cannot make much way when we would endeavour to explain what is generally understood by spiritual agency — the operation of spirit on spirit, whether it be for good, or whether it be for evil. There is nothing more mysterious with our present faculties and capacities than those secret influences to which we are undeniably subjected — influences which employ no visible, tangible instrumentality, but whose sphere is at once the inner man, and which make themselves felt, though we know not how they enter into that hidden world, which each bears within himself. We are not, however, concerned with more than the fact, that the spirit of evil, as well as the spirit of good, has access to our minds, and can bring itself into such association and intimacy with us as to act by and through our own thoughts and feelings. Assuming this fact, it is our business to endeavour to show that our spiritual adversary, as the adversary of our souls, may fitly be described as inhabiting the air. In order to this we would remind you, that whatever is visionary and unstable, whatever is a mere delusion and cheat, this we are accustomed to connect with the air; so that we describe as aerial what we find to be unsubstantial or deceptive. It has undoubtedly been through the putting a cheat on man, that the devil, from the first, has effected his destruction. His endeavour has been too often successful l has been to prevail on man to substitute an imaginary good for a real, the creature for the Creator, and to mock their own capacities for happiness by seeking it in the finite and the perishable. If it be by what we should call a series of optical deceptions that he acts on our race, distorting one thing and magnifying another, and throwing a false colouring on a third, how is he proceeding but so as to avail himself of those strange properties of the air whence spring such phenomena as that of the Egyptian morass, the weary traveller being cheered with the appearance of the blue waters of a lake, on whose margins green trees are waving, but finding as he approaches that there is only the hot sand and no drop of water wherewith to cool his tongue? If, again, it be by crowding the field of view with witching but unsubstantial forms, with gorgeous thrones and splendid pageants, which sweep before the mind and beckon onward to disappointment — if it be thus that Satan retains, undisputed, his dominion over thousands, what can he be truly said to employ so much as the power of the air, weaving those brilliant phantoms which have seemed to hurry to and fro, as though hurrying from cloud to cloud, and causing those strange delusions which have startled the peasant, and made him think the glens into which he was entering tenanted by shadowy and mysterious beings — in short, if it be that Satan tries to deceive mankind by the inconstant and unsubstantial — if the ambitious, and the voluptuous, and the avaricious, be all and each pursuing a beckoning shadow — if the whole apparatus by which the world is lulled into moral slumber, or roused to self-destruction, be made up of the mere imagery of happiness, could any description be more apposite than one which represents the devil as lord of that element in which floats the meteor, and through which glides the spectre, and out of which can be formed nothing that we can grasp, though it may be the vehicle of a thousand deceptions arrayed in beautiful array? We take this subject of discourse because we desire, by every possible means and by all varieties of illustration, to make you aware of the powers, and put you on your guard against the malice of the devil. We are indeed well aware that it is not the devil who destroys man. It must be man who destroys himself. The devil can do nothing against us, except as we afford him opportunity, yielding ourselves to his suggestions and allowing him to lead us captive at his will. But it may at length come to pass, if we persist in walking as children of disobedience, that we quite expel from our breasts the Spirit of God, whose strivings have been resisted and whose admonitions have been despised, and enthrone in His stead that spirit of evil, whose longing and whose labour it is to make us share his own ruin. And then is there as clear a demoniacal possession as when the man was cast into the fire or water through the fearful energies of the indwelling fiend. Every sin which you wilfully commit helps forward the great design of the devil — the design of obtaining such hold on you that he may claim you as his own; and "as a strong man armed, he keepeth his goods." Let us look now once more with careful attention to our text and its context. We read in the chapter before us of seven angels, having the seven last plagues, in seven vials, each of which is filled with the wrath of God. These plagues are manifestly those tremendous judgments which are to conclude the present dispensation, and make way for that glorious season when Christianity shall have a home in every land and in every heart. The first six vials are emptied on the earth, or on the waters, or on the sun, and are followed by fearful catastrophes which are preliminary to a more tremendous one which is to close the strange work of vengeance; but it is the seventh vial with which seems associated the final deliverance of the creation — the overthrow of the Lord's enemies, and the vindication of all His attributes. For, as you learn from our text, so soon as the seventh angel pours out his vial, there is heard a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, "It is done!" as though this were the completion and consummation of a mighty and long-protracted work. Why this triumphant exclamation, "It is done!" as though the emptying of the seventh vial had finished the extirpation of evil, and made a clear scene for the erection of the kingdom of Jesus. Our whole discourse has turned on this — the vial is emptied into the air. We identify the air with the residence and dominion of Satan, and hence the seventh vial may be considered as containing those judgments which are immediately directed against the devil. The destruction of the devil's sovereignty will be the emancipation of the whole creation which has so long groaned and travailed in pain, hence the shout. Not on the land, not in the sea, not in the fountains is the vial poured; it is poured into the air, and fallen angels, who have their abode in that element which they have long polluted and spoiled, are driven down to their heritage of fire. And then the atmosphere has all the blandness and freshness of a new spring, and the lost flowers of Paradise once more cover the earth.