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THE CITY, THE CITIZENS, AND THE KING
Is the vision of the New Jerusalem to be realized in the present or in the future? Such features as the existence of ‘nations’ and ‘kings of the earth’ outside of it vs. 21, 24, and leaves of the tree of life being ‘for the healing of the nations,’ favour the former reference, while its place in the book, after the first and second resurrections and the judgment and at the very end of the whole, seems to oblige us to hold by the latter. But the question must be answered in the light of the fact that the Christian life is one in essence in both worlds, and that the difference between the conditions of the society of the redeemed here and there is only one of degree. The city ‘has already come down from heaven; its perfect form waits to be manifested.
The passage is partly the close of that vision vs. 1-5, and partly the beginning of the epilogue of the whole book vs. 6-11. The closing description of the city is saturated with allusions to Old Testament prophecy.
It is like the finale of some great concerto, in which the themes that have sounded throughout it are all gathered up in the last majestic, melodious crash. Here at the farthest point to which mortal eyes are allowed to pierce, the ‘tree of life’ that the first of mortal eyes had looked on waves its branches again. The end has circled round to the beginning. But now there is no more prohibition to pluck and eat, and now it grows, not in a garden, but in a city where the perfection of human society is entered into.
Here, on the last page of Scripture, the river, the music of whose ripple had been heard by Ezekiel and Zechariah bringing life to everything that it laved, and by the Psalmist making glad the city of God,’ flows with a broader, fuller stream, and is fouled by no stains, but is ‘clear as crystal.’ River and tree have the same epithet, and bring the same gift to the citizens. All the blessings which Jesus gives are summed up, both in John’s Gospel and in the Apocalypse, as life.’ The only true life is to live as God’s redeemed servants, and that life is ours here and now if we are His. It is but a ‘stream’ of the river that gladdens us here, the fruit has not yet its full flavor nor abundance.’ It is life, more life, for which we pant,’ and the desire will be satisfied there when the river runs always full, and every month the fruit hangs ripe and ready to be dropped into happy hands from among the healing leaves.
In verses 3 and 4 we pass from the city to the citizens. Perfect purity clothes them all. There shall be no more anything accursed’; that is, any unclean thing drawing down necessarily the divine ‘curse,’ and therefore there shall be no separation, no film of distance between the King and the people, but ‘the throne of God and the Lamb shall be therein.’ The seer has already beheld the Lamb close by the throne of God, but now he sees Him sharing it in indissoluble union. Perfect purity leads to perfect union with God and or rather in Christ, and unbroken, glad submission to His regal rule. And that perfect submission is the occupation and delight of all the citizens. They are His bond-servants,’ and their fetters are golden chains of honour and ornament. They ‘do Him service,’ ministering as priests, and all their acts are ‘begun, continued, and ended in Him.’ Having been faithful over a few things, they are made rulers over many things, and are yet bond-servants, though rulers.
In that higher service the weary schism between the active and the contemplative life is closed up. Mary and Martha end their long variance, and gazing on His face does not hinder active obedience, nor does doing Him service distract from beholding His beauty. His name shall be in their foreheads,’ conspicuous and unmistakable, no longer faintly traced or often concealed, but flaming on their brows. They are known to be His, because their characters are conformed to His. They bear ‘the marks of Jesus’ in complete and visible assimilation to Him.
The vision closes with an echo of Old Testament prophecy Isa_60:19. ‘No night’ - perhaps the most blessed of all John’s negative descriptions of the future state, indicating the removal for ever of all the evil and woe symbolized by darkness, and pointing to a state in which no artifices of ours are needed to brighten our gloom with poor, man-made candles, nor any created light, though mighty and resplendent as the sun, whose beams fade into invisibility before the immortal radiance that pours out for ever from the throne, brightening every glorified face that is turned to its lustre. Thus seeing, serving, and being like ‘God and the Lamb,’ they, as a consequence, shall reign for ever and ever,’ for they are as He is, and while He lives and reigns they also live and reign.
With verse 6 begins the epilogue. An angel speaks, the same as in chapter 1:1 - is represented as ‘signifying’ the ‘revelation’ to John. He now, as it were, sets his seal on his completed roll of prophecy. To discriminate between the words of the angel and of Jesus is impossible. Jesus speaks through him. ‘Behold, I come quickly’ cannot be merely the angel’s voice. As in verse 12, a deeper voice speaks through his lips. The purpose of that solemn announcement is to impress on the Asiatic churches and through them on the whole Church through all time, the importance of keeping ‘the words of the prophecy of this book.’ ‘Quickly’ - and yet nineteen hundred years have gone since then? Yes; and during them all Jesus has been coming, and the words of this book have progressively been in process of fulfilment.
Again, the speedy coming is enforced as a reason for not sealing up the prophecy, as had been commanded in chapter x. 4, and elsewhere in the Old Testament. And a very solemn thought closes our lesson - that there is a moment, the eve of any great day of the Lord,’ when there is no more time or opportunity for change of moral or spiritual disposition. ‘Too late, too late, ye cannot enter now.’ Let us ‘redeem the time,’ buy back the opportunity while yet it is within our grasp.
THE TRIPLE RAYS WHICH MAKE THE WHITE LIGHT OF HEAVEN
One may well shrink from taking words like these for a text. Their lofty music will necessarily make all words of ours seem thin and poor. The great things about which they are concerned are so high above us, and known to us by so few channels, that usually he who says least speaks most wisely about them. And yet it cannot be but wholesome if in a reverent spirit of no vain curiosity, we do try to lay upon our hearts the impressions of the great, though they be dim, truths which gleam from these words. I know that to talk about a future life is often a most sentimental, vague, unpractical form of religious contemplation, but there is no reason at all why it should be so. I wish to try now very simply to bring out the large force and wonderful meaning of the words which I have ventured to read. They give us three elements of the perfect state of man - Service, Contemplation, Likeness. These three are perfect and unbroken.
I. The first element, then, in the perfect state of man is perfect activity in the service of God. Now the words of our text are remarkable in that the two expressions for ‘servant’ and ‘serve’ are not related to one another in the Greek, as they are in the English, but are two quite independent words; the former meaning literally ‘a slave,’ and the latter being exclusively confined in Scripture to one kind of service. It would never be employed for any service that a man did for a man; it is exclusively a religious word, and means only the service that men do for God, whether in specific acts of so-called worship or in the wider worship of daily life. So that if we have not here the notion of priesthood, we have one very closely approximating towards it; and the representation is that the activity of the redeemed and perfected man, in the highest ideal condition of humanity, is an activity which is all worship, and is directed to the revealed God in Christ.
That, then, is the first thought that we have to look at. Now it seems to me to be a very touching confession of the weariness and unsatisfactoriness of life in general that the dream of the future which has unquestionably the most fascination for most men, is that which speaks of it as Rest. The religion which has the largest number of adherents in the world - the religion of the Buddhists - formally declares existence to be evil, and preaches as the highest attainable good, something which is scarcely distinguishable from annihilation. And even though we do not go so far as that, what a testimony it is of burdened hearts and mournful lives, and work too great for the feeble limits of our powers, that the most natural thought of a blessed future is as rest! It is easy to laugh at people for singing hymns about sitting upon green and flowery mounts, and counting up the labors of their feet: but oh! it is a tragical thought that whatsoever shape a life has taken, howsoever full of joy and sunshine and brightness it may be, deep down in the man there is such an experience as that the one thing he wants is repose and to get rid of all the trouble and toil.
Now this representation of my text is by no means contradictory, but it is complementary, of that other one. The deepest rest and the highest activity coincide. They do so in God who ‘worketh hitherto’ in undisturbed tranquility; they may do so in us. The wheel that goes round in swiftest rotation seems to be standing still. Work at its intensest, which is pleasurable work, and level to the capacity of the doer, is the truest form of rest. In vacuity there are stings and torment; it is only in joyous activity which is not pushed to the extent of strain and unwelcome effort that the true rest of man is to be found. And the two verses in this Book of Revelation about this matter, which look at first sight to be opposed to each other, are like the two sides of a sphere, which unite and make the perfect whole. ‘They rest from their labors’ ‘They rest not, day nor night.’
From their labors - yes; from toil disproportioned to faculty - yes! from unwelcome work - yes! from distraction and sorrow - yes! But from glad praise and vigorous service - never! day nor night. And so with the full apprehension of the sweetness and blessedness of the tranquil Heaven, we say: It is found only there, where His servants serve Him. Thus the first thought that is presented here is that of an activity delivered from all that makes toil on earth burdensome and unwelcome; and which, therefore, is coincident with the deepest and most perfect repose.
It may seem strange to think of a blessed life which has no effort in it, for effort is the very salt and spice of life here below, and one can scarcely fancy the perfect happiness of a spirit which never has the glow of warmth that comes from exercise in overcoming difficulties. But perhaps effort and antagonism and strain and trial have done their work on us when they have moulded our characters, and when ‘school is over we burn the rod’; and the discipline of joy may evolve nobler graces of character than ever the discipline of sorrow did. At all events, we have to think of work which also is repose, and of service in which is unbroken tranquility.
Then there is further involved in this first idea, the notion of an outer world, on which and in which to work; and also the notion of the resurrection of the body, in which the active spirit may abide, and through which it may work.
Perhaps it may be that they who sleep in Jesus, in the period between the shuffling off of this mortal coil and the breaking of that day when they are raised again from the dead, are incapable of exertion in an outer sphere. Perhaps, it may be, that by reason of the absence of that glorified body of the Resurrection, they sleep in Jesus in the sense that they couch at the Shepherd’s feet within the fold until the morning comes, when He leads them out to new pastures. It may be. At all events, this we may be sure of, that if it be so they have no desires in advance of their capacities; and of this also I think we may be sure, that whether they themselves can come into contact with an external universe or not, Christ is for them in some measure what the body is to us here now, and the glorified body will be hereafter; that being absent from the body they are present with the Lord, and that He is as it were the Sensorium by which they are brought into contact with and have a knowledge of external things, so that they may rest and wait and have no work to do, and have no effort to put forth, and yet be conscious of all that befalls the loved ones here below, may know them in their affliction, and not be untouched by their tears.
But all that is a dim region into which we have not any need to look. What I emphasize is, the service of Heaven means rest, and the service of Heaven means an outer universe on which, and a true bodily frame with which, to do the work which is delight.
The next point is this: such service must be in a far higher sphere and a far nobler fashion than the service of earth. That is in accordance with the analogy of the Divine dealings. God rewards work with more work. The powers that are trained and exercised and proved in a narrower region are lifted to the higher. As some poor peasant-girl, for instance, whose rich voice has risen up in the harvest-field only for her own delight and that of a handful of listeners, heard by some one who detects its sweetness, may be carried away to some great city, and charm kings with her tones, so the service done in some little corner of this remote, rural province of God’s universe, apprehended by Him, shall be rewarded with a wider platform, and a nobler area for work. Thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things.’ God sends forth His children to work as apprentices here, and when they are ‘out of their time,’ and have ‘got a trade,’ He calls them home, not to let their faculties rest unused, but to practice on a larger theatre what they have learned on earth.
One more point must be noticed, viz., that the highest type of Heaven’s service must be service for other people. The law for Heaven can surely not be more selfish than the law for earth, and that is, ‘He that is chiefest amongst you let him be your servant.’ The law for the perfect man can surely not be different from the law for the Master, and the law for Him is, ‘Even Christ pleased not Himself.’ The perfection of the child can surely not be different from the perfection of the Father, and the perfection of the Father is: ‘He maketh His sun to "shine," and His blessings to come - on the unthankful and on the good.’
So then the highest service for man is the service for others; - how, where, or whom, we cannot tell. We too may be ministering spirits, sent forth to minister Heb_1:14, but at all events not on ourselves can our activities centre; and not in self -culture can be the highest form of our service to God.
The last point about this first matter is simply this - that this highest form of human activity is all to be worship; all to be done in reference to Him; all to be done in submission to Him. The will of the man in His work is to be so conformed to the will of God as that, whatsoever the hand on the great dial points to, that the hand on the little dial shall point to also. Obedience is joy and rest. To know and to do His will is Heaven. It is Heaven on earth in so far as we partially attain to it, and when with enlarged powers and all imperfections removed, and in a higher sphere, and without interruptions we do His commandments, hearkening to the voice of His word, then the perfect state will have come. Then shall we enter into the liberty of the glory of the children of God, when, as His slaves, we serve Him in the unwearied activities done for Him, which make the worship of Heaven.
II. Next, look at the second of the elements here: - ‘They shall see His face.’
Now that expression ‘seeing the face of God’ in Scripture seems to me to be employed in two somewhat different ways, according to one of which the possibility of seeing the face is affirmed, and according to the other of which it is denied.
The one may be illustrated by the Divine word to Moses: ‘Thou canst not see My face. There shall no man see Me and live.’ The other may be illustrated by the aspiration and the confidence of one of the psalms: ‘As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness.’
A similar antithesis, which is apparently a contradiction, may be found in setting side by side the words of our Saviour: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,’ with the words of the Evangelist: ‘No man hath seen God at any time.’ I do not think that the explanation is to be found altogether in pointing to the difference between present and possible future vision, but rather, I think, the Bible teaches what reason would also teach: that no corporeal vision of God is ever possible; still further, that no complete comprehension and knowledge of Him is ever possible, and, as I think further, that no direct knowledge of, or contact with, God in Himself is possible for finite man, either here or yonder. And the other side lies in such words as these, which I have already quoted: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ ‘As through a glass darkly, but then face to face.’ Where is the key to the apparent contradiction? Here, I think. Jesus Christ is the manifest God, in Him only do men draw near to the hidden Deity, the King Invisible, who dwelleth in the light that is inaccessible.
Here on earth we see by faith, and yonder there will be a vision, different in kind, most real, most immediate and direct, not of the hidden Godhood in itself, but of the revealed Godhood manifest in Jesus Christ, whom in His glorified corporeal Manhood we shall perceive, with the organs of our glorified body; whom in His Divine beauty we shall know and love with heart and mind, in knowledge direct, immediate, far surpassing in degree, and different in kind from, the knowledge of faith which we have of Him here below. But the infinite Godhood that lies behind all revelations of Deity shall remain as it hath been through them all - the King invisible, whom no man hath seen or can see. They shall see His face in so far as they shall hold communion with, and through their glorified body have the direct knowledge of Christ, the revealed Deity.
Whether there be anything more, I know not; I think there is not; but this I am sure of, that the law for Heaven and the law for earth alike are, ‘He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’
But there is another point I would touch upon in reference to this second thought of our text, viz., its connection with the previous representation, ‘They shall serve Him’ - that is work in an outer sphere; ‘they shall see His face’ - that is contemplation. These two, the life of work and the life of devout communion - the Martha and the Mary of the Christian experience - are antagonistic here below, and it is hard to reconcile their conflicting, fluctuating claims and to know how much to give to the inward life of gazing upon Christ, and how much to the outward life of serving Him. But, says my text, the two shall be blended together. ‘His servants shall serve Him,’ nor in all their activity shall they lose the vision of His face. His servants ‘shall see His face’; nor in all the still blessedness of their gaze upon Him shall they slack the diligence of the unwearied hands, or the speed of the willing feet. The Rabbis taught that there were angels who serve, and angels who praise, but the two classes meet in the perfected man, whose services shall be praise, whose praise shall be service. They go forth to do His will, yet are ever in the House of the Lord. They work and gaze; they gaze and work. Resting they serve, and serving they rest; perpetual activity and perpetual vision are theirs. ‘They serve Him, and see His face.’
III. The last element is, ‘His name shall be in their foreheads.’ That is, as I take it - a manifest likeness to the Lord whom they serve is the highest element in the perfect state of redeemed men.
We hear a good deal in this Book of the Revelation about writing the names and numbers of persons and of powers upon men’s faces and foreheads; as for instance, you remember we read about the ‘number of the beast’ written upon his worshippers, and about ‘the name of the new Jerusalem, and the name of my God ‘being written as a special reward, upon him that overcomes.’ The metaphor, as I suppose, is taken from the old, cruel practice of branding a slave with the name of his master. And so the primary idea of this expression: ‘His slaves shall bear His name upon their foreheads,’ is that their ownership shall be conspicuously visible to all that look.
But there is more than that in it. How is the ownership to be made visible? By His name being in their foreheads. What is ‘His name ‘? Universally in Scripture ‘His name’ is His revealed character, and so we come to this: the perfect men shall be known to belong to God in Christ, because they are like Him. The ownership shall be proved by the likeness, and that likeness shall no longer be hidden in their hearts, no longer be difficult to make out, so blurred and obliterated the letters of the name by the imperfections of their lives and their selfishness and sin; but it shall flame in their foreheads, plain as the inscription on the high priest’s mitre that declared him to be consecrated to the Lord.
And so that lovely and blessed thought is here of a perfect likeness in moral character, at all events, and a wonderful approximation and resemblance in other elements of human nature to the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ our Lord, which shall be the token that we are His.
Oh! what a contrast to the partial ownership, proved to be partial by our partial resemblance here on earth! We say, as Christian men and women, that we bear His name. Is it written so that men can read it, or is it like the name of some person traced in letters of gas jets over a shop-front - half blown out by every gust of wind that comes? Is that the way in which His name is written on your heart and character? My brother, a possibility great and blessed opens before us of a nobler union with Him, a closer approximation, a clearer vision, a perfecter resemblance. ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is’!
One last word. These three elements, service, contemplation, likeness; these three are not different in kind from the elements of a Christian man’s life here. You can enjoy them all sitting in these pews; in the bustle and the hurry of your daily life, you can have every one of them. If you do not enjoy them here you will never have them yonder. If you have never served anybody but yourself how shall death make you His servant? If all the days of your life you have turned away your ear when He has been saying to you ‘Seek ye My face,’ what reason is there to expect that when death’s hammer smashes the glass through which you have seen darkly, ‘the steady whole of that awful face’ will be a pleasant sight to you? If all your life you have been trying, as some of you men and women, old and young, have been trying, and are trying now, to engrave the name of the beast upon your foreheads, what reason have you to expect that when you pass out of this life the foul signs shall disappear in a moment, and you will bear in your brow ‘the marks of the Lord Jesus’ in their stead? No! No! These things do not happen; you have got to begin here as you mean to end yonder. Trust Him here and you will see Him there. Serve Him here and you will serve Him yonder. Write His new Name upon your hearts, and when you pass from the imperfections of life you will bear His name in your foreheads.
And if you do not - I lay this upon the consciences of you all - if you do not you will see Christ; - and you will not like it! And you will bear, not the Image of the Heavenly, which is life, but the image of the earthy, which is death and hell.
THREE INSCRIPTIONS WITH ONE MEANING
‘HOLINESS TO THE LORD.’ - Exo_28:36 .
‘HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD.’ - Zec_14:20 .
‘ His name shall be in their foreheads .’ - Rev_22:4 .
You will have perceived my purpose in putting these three widely separated texts together. They all speak of inscriptions, and they are all obviously connected with each other. The first of them comes from the ancient times of the institution of the ceremonial ritual, and describes a part of the high priest’s official dress. In his mitre was a thin plate of gold on which was written, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ The second of them comes from almost the last portion recorded of the history of Israel in the Old Testament, and is from the words of the great Prophet of the Restoration-his ideal presentation of the Messianic period, in which he recognises as one feature, that the inscription on the mitre of the high priest shall be written on ‘the bells of the horses.’ And the last of them is from the closing vision of the celestial kingdom, the heavenly and perfected form of the Christian Church. John, probably remembering the high priest and his mitre, with its inscription upon the forehead, says: ‘His servants shall do Him priestly service’-for that is the meaning of the word inadequately translated ‘serve Him’-’and see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads.’
These three things, then-the high priest’s mitre, the horses’ bells, the foreheads of the perfected saints-present three aspects of the Christian thought of holiness. Take them one by one.
I. The high priest’s mitre.
The high priest was the official representative of the nation. He stood before God as the embodied and personified Israel. For the purposes of worship Israel was the high priest, and the high priest was Israel. And so, on his forehead, not to distinguish him from the rest of the people, but to include all the people in his consecration, shone a golden plate with the motto, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ So, at the very beginning of Jewish ritual there stands a protest against all notions that make ‘saint’ the designation of any abnormal or exceptional sanctity, and confine the name to the members of any selected aristocracy of devoutness and goodness. All Christian men, ex officio , by the very fact of their Christianity, are saints, in the true sense of the word. And the representative of the whole of Israel stood there before God, with this inscription blazing on his forehead, as a witness that, whatsoever holiness may be, it belongs to every member of the true Israel.
And what is it? It is a very unfortunate thing-indicating superficiality of thought-that the modern popular notion of ‘holiness’ identifies it with purity, righteousness, moral perfection. Now that idea is in it, but is not the whole of it. For, not to spend time upon mere remarks on words, the meaning of the word thus rendered is in Hebrew, as well as in Greek and in our own English, one and the same. The root-meaning is ‘separated,’ ‘set apart,’ and the word expresses primarily, not moral character, but relation to God. That makes all the difference; and it incalculably deepens the conception, as well as puts us on the right track for understanding the only possible means by which there can ever be realised that moral perfection and excellence which has unfortunately monopolised the meaning of the word in most people’s minds. The first thought is ‘set apart to God.’ That is holiness, in its root and germ.
And how can we be set apart for God? You may devote a dead thing for certain uses easily enough. How can a man be separated and laid aside?
Well, there is only one way, brethren, and that is by self-surrender. ‘Yield yourselves to God’ is but the other side, or, rather, the practical shape, of the Old and the New Testament doctrine of holiness. A man becomes God’s when he says, ‘Lord, take me and mould me, and fill me and cleanse me, and do with me what Thou wilt.’ In that self-surrender, which is the tap-root of all holiness, the first and foremost thing to be offered is that most obstinate of all, the will that is in us. And when we yield our wills in submission both to commandments and providences, both to gifts and to withdrawals, both to gains and to losses, both to joys and to sorrows, then we begin to write upon our foreheads ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ And when we go on to yield our hearts to Him, by enshrining Him sole and sovereign in their innermost chamber, and turning to Him the whole current of our lives and desires, and hopes and confidences, which we are so apt to allow to run to waste and be sucked up in the desert sands of the world, then we write more of that inscription. And when we fill our minds with joyful submission to His truth, and occupy our thoughts with His mighty Name and His great revelation, and carry Him with us in the hidden corners of our consciousness, even whilst we are busy about daily work, then we add further letters to it. And when the submissive will, and the devoted heart, and the occupied thoughts are fully expressed in daily life and its various external duties, then the writing is complete. ‘Holiness to the Lord’ is self-surrender of will and heart and mind and everything. And that surrender is of the very essence of Christianity.
What is a saint? Some man or woman that has practised unheard-of austerities? Somebody that has lived an isolated and self-regarding life in convent or monastery or desert? No! a man or woman in the world who, moved by the mercies of God, yields self to God as ‘a living sacrifice.’
So the New Testament writers never hesitate to speak even of such very imperfect Christians as were found in abundance in churches like Corinth and Galatia as being all ‘saints,’ every man of them. That is not because the writers were minimising their defects, or idealising their persons, but because, if they are Christians at all, they are saints; seeing that no man is a Christian who has not been drawn by Christ’s great sacrifice for him to yield himself a sacrifice for Christ.
Of course that intrusive idea which has, in popular apprehension, so swallowed up the notion of holiness-viz. that of perfection of moral character or conduct-is included in this other, or rather is developed from it. For the true way to conquer self is to surrender self; and the more entire our giving up of ourselves, the more certainly shall we receive ourselves back again from His hands. ‘By the mercies of God, I beseech you, yield yourselves living sacrifices.’
II. I come to my next text-the horses’ bells.
Zechariah has a vision of the ideal Messianic times, and, of course, as must necessarily be the case, his picture is painted with colours laid upon his palette by his experience, and he depicts that distant future in the guise suggested to him by what he saw around him. So we have to disentangle from his words the sentiment which he expresses, and to recognise the symbolic way in which he puts it. His thought is this,-the inscription on the high priest’s mitre will be written on the bells which ornament the harness of the horses, which in Israel were never used as with us, but only either for war or for pomp and display, and the use of which was always regarded with a certain kind of doubt and suspicion. Even these shall be consecrated in that far-off day.
And then he goes on with variations on the same air, ‘In that day there shall be upon the bells of the horses, "Holiness unto the Lord,"‘ and adds that ‘the pots in the Lord’s house’-the humble vessels that were used for the most ordinary parts of the Temple services-’shall be like the bowls before the altar,’ into which the sacred blood of the offerings was poured. The most external and secular thing bearing upon religion shall be as sacred as the sacredest. But that is not all. ‘Yea! every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of hosts, and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them,’ and put their offerings therein. That is to say, the coarse pottery vessels that were in every poverty-stricken house in the city shall be elevated to the rank of the sacred vessels of the Temple. Domestic life with all its secularities shall be hallowed. The kitchens of Jerusalem shall be as truly places of worship as is the inner shrine of the Most High.
On the whole, the prophet’s teaching is that, in the ideal state of man upon earth, there will be an entire abolition of the distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’; a distinction that has wrought infinite mischief in the world, and in the lives of Christian people.
Let me translate these words of our prophet into English equivalents. Every cup and tumbler in a poor man’s kitchen may be as sacred as the communion chalice that passes from lip to lip with the ‘blood of Jesus Christ’ in it. Every common piece of service that we do, down among the vulgarities and the secularities and the meannesses of daily life, may be lifted up to stand upon precisely the same level as the sacredest office that we undertake. The bells of the horses may jingle to the same tune as the trumpets of the priests sounded within the shrine, and on all, great and small, may be written, ‘Holiness to the Lord.’
But let us remember that that universally diffused sanctity will need to have a centre of diffusion, else there will be no diffusion, and that all life will become sacred when the man that lives it has ‘Holiness to the Lord’ written on his forehead, and not else. If that be the inscription on the driver’s heart, the horses that he drives will have it written on their bells, but they will not have it unless it be. Holy men make all things holy. ‘To the pure all things are pure,’ but unto them that are unclean and disobedient there is nothing pure. Hallow thyself, and all things are clean unto thee.
III. And so I come to my third text-the perfected saints’ foreheads.
The connection between the first and the last of these texts is as plain and close as between the first and the second. For John in his closing vision gives emphasis to the priestly idea as designating in its deepest relations the redeemed and perfected Christian Church. Therefore he says, as I have already explained, ‘His servants shall do Him priestly service, and His name shall be in their foreheads.’ The old official dress of the high priest comes into his mind, and he paints the future, just as Zechariah did, under the forms of the past, and sees before the throne the perfected saints, each man of them with that inscription clear and conspicuous.
But there is an advance in his words which I think it is not fanciful to note. It is only the name that is written in the perfected saint’s forehead. Not the ‘Holiness unto the Lord,’ but just the bare name. What does that mean? Well, it means the same as your writing your name in one of your books does, or as when a man puts his initials on the back of his oxen, or as the old practice of branding the master’s mark upon the slave did. It means absolute ownership.
But it means something more. The name is the manifested personality, the revealed God, or, as we say in an abstract way, the character of God. That Name is to be in the foreheads of His perfected people. How does it come to be there? Read also the clause before the text-’His servants shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads.’ That is to say, the perfected condition is not reached by surrender only, but by assimilation; and that assimilation comes by contemplation. The faces that are turned to Him, and behold Him, are smitten with the light and shine, and those that look upon them see ‘as it had been the face of an angel,’ as the Sanhedrim saw that of Stephen, when he beheld the Son of Man ‘standing at the right hand of God.’
My last text is but a picturesque way of saying what the writer of it says in plain words when he declares, ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ The name is to be ‘in their foreheads,’ where every eye can see it. Alas! alas! it is so hard for us to live out our best selves, and to show to the world what is in us. Cowardice, sheepishness, and a hundred other reasons prevent it. In this poor imperfect state no emotion ever takes shape and visibility without losing more or less of its beauty. But yonder the obstructions to self-manifestation will be done away; and ‘when He shall be manifested, we also shall be manifested with Him in glory.’
‘Then shall the righteous blaze forth like the sun in My heavenly Father’s Kingdom.’ But the beginning of it all is ‘Holiness to the Lord’ written on our hearts; and the end of that is the vision which is impossible without holiness, and which leads on to the beholder’s perfect likeness to his Lord.
THE LAST BEATITUDE OF THE ASCENDED CHRIST
The Revised Version reads: ‘Blessed are they that wash their robes that they may have the right to come to the Tree of Life.’
That may seem a very large change to make, from ‘keep His commandments,’ to ‘wash their robes,’ but in the Greek it is only a change of three letters in one word, one in the next, and two in the third. And the two phrases, written, look so like each other, that a scribe, hasty, or for the moment careless, might very easily mistake the one for the other. There can be no doubt whatever that the reading in the Revised Version is the correct one. Not only is it sustained by a great weight of authority, but also it is far more in accordance with the whole teaching of the New Testament than that which stands in our Authorized Version.
‘Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the Tree of Life,’ carries us back to the old law, and has no more hopeful a sound in it than the thunders of Sinai. If it were, indeed, amongst Christ’s last words to us, it would be a most sad instance of His ‘building again the things He had destroyed.’ It is relegating us to the dreary old round of trying to earn Heaven by doing good deeds; and I might almost say it is ‘making the Cross of Christ of none effect.’ The fact that that corrupt reading came so soon into the Church and has held its ground so long, is to me a very singular proof of the difficulty which men have always had in keeping themselves up to the level of the grand central Gospel truth: Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy. He saved us.’
‘Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right to the Tree of Life,’ has the clear ring of the New Testament music about it, and is in full accord with the whole type of doctrine that runs through this book; and is not unworthy to be almost the last word that the lips of the Incarnate Wisdom spoke to men from Heaven. So then, taking that point of view, I wish to look with you at three things that come plainly out of these words: - First, that principle that if men are clean it is because they are cleansed; ‘Blessed are they that wash their robes.’ Secondly, It is the cleansed who have unrestrained access to the source of life. And lastly, It is the cleansed who pass into the society of the city. Now, let me deal with these three things: -
I. If we are clean it is because we have been made so. The first beatitude that Jesus Christ spoke from the mountain was, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ The last beatitude that He speaks from Heaven is, ‘Blessed are they that wash their robes.’ And the act commended in the last is but the outcome of the spirit extolled in the first. For they who are poor in spirit are such as know themselves to be sinful men; and those who know themselves to be sinful men are they who will cleanse their robes in the blood of Jesus Christ.
I need not remind you, I suppose, how continually this symbol of the robe is used in Scripture as an expression for moral character. This Book of the Apocalypse is saturated through and through with Jewish implications and allusions, and there can be no doubt whatever that in this metaphor of the cleansing of the robes there is an allusion to that vision that the Apocalyptic seer of the Old Covenant, the prophet Zechariah, had when he saw the high priest standing before the altar clad in foul raiment, and the word came forth, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ Nor need I do more than remind you how the same metaphor is often on the lips of our Lord Himself, notably in the story of the man that had not on the wedding garment, and in the touching and beautiful incident in the parable of the Prodigal Son, where the exuberance of the father’s love bids them cast the best robe round the rags and the leanness of his long-lost boy. Nor need I remind you how Paul catches up the metaphor, and is continually referring to an investing and a divesting - the putting on and the putting off of the new and the old man. In this same Book of the Apocalypse we see, gleaming all through it, the white robes of the purified soul: ‘They shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.’ ‘I beheld a great multitude, whom no man could number, who had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’
And so there are gathered up into these last words, all these allusions and memories, thick and clustering, when Christ speaks from Heaven and says, ‘Blessed are they that wash their robes.’
Well then, I suppose we may say roughly, in our more modern phraseology, that the robe thus so frequently spoken of in Scripture answers substantially to what we call character. It is not exactly the man - and yet it is the man. It is the self- and yet it is a kind of projection and making visible of the self, the vesture which is cast round ‘the hidden man of the heart.’
This mysterious robe, which answers nearly to what we mean by character, is made by the wearer.
That is a solemn thought. Every one of us carries about with him a mystical loom, and we are always weaving - weave, weave, weaving - this robe which we wear, every thought a thread of the warp, every action a thread of the weft. We weave it as the spider does its web, out of its own entrails, if I might so say. We weave it, and we dye it, and we cut it, and we stitch it, and then we put it on and wear it, and it sticks to us. Like a snail that crawls about your garden patches, and makes its shell by a process of secretion from out of its own substance, so you and I are making that mysterious, solemn thing that we call character, moment by moment. It is our own self, modified by our actions. Character is the precipitate from the stream of conduct which, like the Nile Delta, gradually rises solid and firm above the parent river and confines its flow.
The next step that I ask you to take is one that I know some of you do not like to take, and it is this: All the robes are foul. I do not say all are equally splashed, I do not say all are equally thickly spotted with the flesh. I do not wish to talk dogmas, I wish to talk experience; and I appeal to your own consciences, with this plain question, that every man and woman amongst us can answer if they like - Is it true or is it not, that the robe is all dashed with mud caught on the foul ways, with stains in some of us of rioting and banqueting and revelry and drunkenness; sins of the flesh that have left their mark upon the flesh; but with all of us grey and foul as compared with the whiteness of His robe who sits above us there?
Ah I would that I could bring to all hearts that are listening to me now, whether the hearts of professing Christians or no, that consciousness more deeply than we have ever had it, of how full of impurity and corruption our characters are. I do not charge you with crimes; I do not charge you with guilt in the world’s eyes, but, if we seriously ponder over our past, have we not lived, some of us habitually, all of us far too often, as if there were no God at all, or as if we had nothing to do with Him? and is not that godlessness practical Atheism, the fountain of all foulness from which black brooks flow into our lives, and stain our robes?
The next step is. The foul robe can be cleansed. My text does not go any further in a statement of the method, but it rests upon the great words of this Book of the Revelation, which I have already quoted for another purpose, in which we read ‘they washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’ And the same writer, in his Epistle, has the same paradox, which seems to have been, to him, a favorite way of putting the central Gospel truth: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.’ John saw the paradox, and saw that the paradox helped to illustrate the great truth that he was trying to proclaim, that the red blood whitened the black robe, and that in its full tide there was a limpid river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the Cross of Christ.
Guilt can be pardoned, character can be sanctified. Guilt can be pardoned! Men say: No! We live in a universe of inexorable laws; "What a man soweth that he must also reap." If he has done wrong he must inherit the consequences.’
But the question whether guilt can be pardoned or not has only to do very remotely with consequences. The question is not whether we live in a universe of inexorable laws, but whether there is anything in the universe but the laws; for forgiveness is a personal act, and has only to do secondarily and remotely with the consequences of a man’s doings. So that, if we believe in a personal God, and believe that He has got any kind of living relation to men at all, we can believe- blessed be His name! - in the doctrine of forgiveness; and leave the inexorable laws full scope to work, according as His wisdom and His mercy may provide. For the heart of the Christian doctrine of pardon does not touch those laws, but the heart of it is this: ‘O Lord! Thou wast angry with me, but Thine anger is turned away, Thou hast comforted me!’ So guilt may be pardoned.
Character may be sanctified and elevated. Why not, if you can bring a sufficiently strong new force to bear upon it? And you can bring such a force, in the blessed thought of Christ’s death for me, and in the gift of His love. There is such a force in the thought that He has given Himself for our sin. There is such a force in the Spirit of Christ given to us through His death to cleanse us by His presence in our hearts. And so I say, the blood of Jesus Christ, the power of His sacrifice and Cross, cleanses from all sin, both in the sense of taking away all my guilt, and in the sense of changing my character into something loftier and nobler and purer.
Men and women! Do you believe that? If you do not, why do you not? If you do, are you trusting to what you believe, and living the life that befits the confidence?
One word more. The washing of your robes has to be done by you. ‘Blessed are they that wash their robes.’ On one hand is all the fullness of cleansing, on the other is the heap of dirty rags that will not be cleansed by you sitting there and looking at them. You must bring the two into contact. How? By the magic band that unites strength and weakness, purity and foulness, the Saviour and the penitent; the magic band of simple affiance, and trust and submission of myself to the cleansing power of His death and of His life.
Only remember, ‘Blessed are they that are washing,’ as the Greek might read. Not once and for all, but a continuous process, a blessed process running on all through a man’s life.
These are the conditions as they come from Christ’s own lips, in almost the last words that human ears, either in fact or in vision, heard Him utter. These are the conditions under which noble life, and at last Heaven, are possible for men, namely, that their foul characters shall be cleansed, and that continuously, by daily recurrence and recourse to the Fountain opened in His sacrifice and death.
Friends, you may know much of the beauty and nobleness of Christianity, you may know much of the tenderness and purity of Christ, but if you have not apprehended Him in this character, there is an inner sanctuary yet to be trod, of which your feet know nothing, and the sweetest sweetness of all you have not yet tasted, for it is His forgiving love and cleansing power that most deeply manifest His Divine affection and bind us to Himself.
II. The second thought that I would suggest is that these cleansed ones, and by implication these only, have unrestrained access to the source of life: ‘Blessed are they that wash their robes, that they may have right “to the Tree of Life.” ‘That, of course, carries us back to the old mysterious narrative at the beginning of the Book of Genesis.
Although it does not bear very closely upon my present subject, I cannot help pausing to point out one thing, how remarkable and how beautiful it is that the last page of the Revelation should come bending round to touch the first page of Genesis. The history of man began with angels with frowning faces and flaming swords barring the way to the Tree of Life. It ends here with the guard of Cherubim withdrawn; or rather, perhaps, sheathing their swords and becoming guides to the no longer forbidden fruit, instead of being its guards. That is the Bible’s grand symbolical way of saying that all between - the sin, the misery, the death - is a parenthesis. God’s purpose is not going to be thwarted, and the end of His majestic march through human history is to be men’s access to the Tree of Life from which, for the dreary ages - that are but as a moment in the great eternities - they were barred out by their sin.
However, that is not the point that I meant to say a word about. The Tree of Life stands as the symbol here of an external source of life. I take ‘life’ to be used here in what I believe to be its predominant New Testament meaning, not bare continuance in existence, but a full, blessed perfection and activity of all the faculties and possibilities of the man, which this very Apostle himself identifies with the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ. And that life, says John, has an external source in Heaven as on earth.
There is an old Christian legend, absurd as a legend, beautiful as a parable, that the Cross on which Christ was crucified was made out of the wood of the Tree of Life. It is true in idea, for He and His work will be the source of all life, for earth and for Heaven, whether of body, soul, or spirit. They that wash their robes have the right of unrestrained access to Him in whose presence, in that loftier state, no impurity can live.
I need not dwell upon the thought that is involved here, of how, whilst on earth and in the beginnings of the Christian career, life is the basis of righteousness: in that higher world, in a very profound sense, righteousness is the condition of fuller life.
The Tree of Life, according to some of the old Rabbinical legends, lifted its branches, by an indwelling motion, high above impure hands that were stretched to touch them, and until our hands are cleansed through faith in Jesus Christ, its richest fruit hangs unreachable, golden, above our heads. Oh! brother, the fullness of the life of Heaven is only granted to them who, drawing near Jesus Christ by faith on earth, have thereby cleansed themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
III. Finally, those who are cleansed, and they only, have entrance into the society of the city.
There again we have a whole series of Old and New Testament metaphors gathered together. In the old world the whole power and splendor of great kingdoms were gathered in their capitals, Babylon and Nineveh in the past, Rome in the present. To John the forces of evil were all concentrated in that city on the Seven Hills. To him the antagonistic forces which were the hope of the world were all concentrated in the real ideal city which he expected to come down from Heaven - the New Jerusalem. And he and his brother who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, whoever he was - trained substantially in the same school - have taught us the same lesson that our picture of the future is not to be of a solitary or self -regarding Heaven, but of ‘a city which hath foundations.’
Genesis began with a garden, man’s sin sent him out of the garden. God, out of evil, evolves good, and for the lost garden comes the better thing, the found city. ‘Then comes the statelier Eden back to man.’ For surely it is better that men should live in the activities of the city than in the sweetness and indolence of the garden; and manifold and miserable as are the sins and the sorrows of great cities, the opprobria of our modern so-called civilization, yet still the aggregation of great masses of men for worthy objects generates a form of character, and sets loose energies and activities which no other kind of life could have produced.
And so I believe a great step in progress is set forth when we read of the final condition of mankind as being their assembling in the city of God. And surely there, amidst the solemn troops and sweet societies, the long loved, long-lost will be found again. I cannot believe that, like the Virgin and Joseph, we shall have to go wandering up and down the streets of Jerusalem when we get there, looking for our dear ones. ‘Wist ye not that I should be in the Father’s house?’ We shall know where to find them.
‘We shall clasp them again,
And with God be the rest.’
The city is the emblem of security and of permanence. No more shall life be as a desert march, with changes which only bring sorrow, and yet a dreary monotony amidst them all. We shall dwell amid abiding realities, ourselves fixed in unchanging but ever-growing completeness and peace. The tents shall be done with, we shall inhabit the solid mansions of the city which hath foundations, and shall wonderingly exclaim, as our unaccustomed eyes gaze on their indestructible strength, ‘What manner of stones and what buildings are here!’ - and not one stone of these shall ever be thrown down.
Dear friends! the sum of all my poor words now is the earnest beseeching of every one of you to bring all your foulness to Christ, who alone can make you clean. ‘Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before
Me, saith the Lord.’ ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.’ Submit yourselves, I pray you, to its purifying power, by humble faith. Then you will have the true possession of the true life today, and will be citizens of the city of God, even while in this far-off dependency of that great metropolis. And when the moment comes for you to leave this prison-house, an angel ‘mighty and beauteous, though his face be hid,’ shall come to you, as once of old to the sleeping Apostle. His touch shall wake you, and lead you, scarce knowing where you are or what is happening, from the sleep of life, past the first and second ward, and through the iron gate that leadeth unto the city. Smoothly it will turn on its hinges, opening to you of its own accord, and then you will come to yourself and know of a surety that the Lord hath sent His angel, and that he has led you into the home of your heart, the city of God, which they enter as its fitting inhabitants who wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb.
CHRIST’S LAST INVITATION FROM THE THRONE
The last verses of this last book of Scripture are like the final movement of some great concerto, in which we hear all the instruments of the orchestra swelling the flood of triumph. In them many voices are audible alternately. Sometimes it is the Seer who speaks, sometimes an angel, sometimes a deeper voice from the Throne, that of Christ Himself. It is often difficult, therefore, amidst these swift transitions, to tell who is the speaker; but one thing is clear that, just before the verse from which my text is taken, our Lord has been proclaiming from the Throne His royalty and His swift coming ‘to render to every man according’ to his work, and to gather His own into the city.
After that solemn utterance He is silent for the moment, and there is a great hush. Then a voice is heard saying, ‘Come! ‘It is the voice of the Bride in whom the Spirit speaks. What should she say, in answer to His promise, but pour out her wish for its fulfilment? How should the Bride not long for the bridegroom? Then apparently the Seer breaks in, summoning all who have heard Christ’s promise, and the Church’s prayer, to swell her cry of longing. For, indeed. His coming is the Divine ‘event to which the whole Creation moves’; and in it all the world’s dreams of a golden age are fulfilled, and all the world’s wounds are healed. ‘Let him that heareth say. Come!’
But who speaks my text? Apparently Christ Himself, though its force would not be materially modified if it were the voice of John, the Seer. It is His answer to the cry of the Church. He delays His coming; for this among other reasons that all the world may hear His gracious invitation. Then there are two comings in this verse - the final coming of Christ to the world; the invited coming of the world to Christ.
Now, it is obvious, I think, that such a way of understanding our text, with its vivid interchange of speakers and subjects, gives a far richer meaning to it than the interpretation which is so common amongst us, which recognizes in all these ‘Comes’ only a reference to one and the same subject, the approach of men to Jesus Christ through faith in Him.
Let us, then, listen to this Voice from the Throne, almost the last recorded words of the ascended Jesus, in which are gathered all His love for men and His longing to bless them.
I. Now, first let me suggest the question - To whom Christ from the Throne thus calls?
The persons addressed are designated by two descriptions: they that are ‘athirst,’ and those that ‘will.’ In one aspect of the former designation it is universal; in another aspect it is by no means so. The latter designation is, alas! anything but universal, because there are many men that thirst; and, strange as it seems, will not to be satisfied. But we take these two apart, and look at them separately.
The first qualification is need, and the sense of need. These two things, alas! do not go together. One is universal, the other by no means so. When a man is thirsty he knows that he is. But it is quite possible that your soul’s lips may be cracking and black with thirst, and you may be all unconscious of it. There is a universal need stamped upon men, by the very make of their spirits, which declares that they must have something or someone external to themselves, on whom they can rest, and from whom they can be satisfied. The heart yearns for another’s love; the mind is restless till it grasps reality and truth. The will longs to be mastered, even though it rebels against the Master, and the whole nature of man proclaims, ‘My soul thirsteth for God; for the living God.’ No man is at rest unless he is living in conscious amity with, and in possession of, the Father’s heart and the Father’s strength.
But, brethren, half of you do not know what ails you. You recognize the gnawing discontent, the urging restlessness, the continual feeling after something more than you have, and it often impels you on the wrong road. There is such a thing as misinterpreting the cry of the Spirit, and that misinterpretation is the crime and the misery of millions of men and of many in this building this evening. That they shall stifle their true need under a pile of worldly things, that they shall direct their longings to what can never satisfy them, that they shall put away all thoughts of the one sufficient anchorage, and hold, and nourishment, and refreshment, and gladness of the spirit, is indeed the state and the misery of many of us.
Perverted tastes are by no means confined to certain forms of disease of the body. There is the same perversion of taste in regard of higher things. You and I are made to feed upon God, and we feed upon ourselves, and one another, and the world, and all the trash, in comparison to our immortal desires and capacities, which we find around us. It seems to me sometimes, looking upon the busy life in the midst of which we live, and the way in which, from Monday morning to Saturday night, each man is hurrying after his chosen pursuits, as if we were all stricken with insanity, and chasing after dreams; or as if, if I might take such an illustration, we were like the actors upon a stage, at some banquet in a play, pretending with great gusto to be drinking nothing, out of cups tinseled to look like gold, but which are only wood. Do you interpret aright the immortal thirst of your soul? Having the need, brother, are you conscious of the need; and, if conscious, do you know where the fountain bubbles up that will supply it? I fear- I fear that there are many who, if they would interrogate their own hearts honestly, and look this question in the face, would have to answer. No! It is ‘as when a thirsty man drearaeth, and behold! he drinketh; but he awaketh; and, behold! he is faint, and his soul within him hath appetite.’
Now, I dare say there are many who are not aware of this thirst of the soul. No! you have crushed it out, and for a time you are quite satisfied with worldly success, or with the various objects on which you have set your hearts. It will not last! It will not last! It is not likely to last even the length of your life. It will not last any longer. Some of us may be like the cactus that grows in hot, light soil in eastern lands, having a considerable store of moisture in the fleshy spike that will help it through a long time of drought, but the store gets used up. Be sure of this, that, until you go to Jesus Christ, you dwell in ‘a dry and thirsty land where no water is.’ So far as the sense of need goes this text may not appeal to you. So far as the reality of the need goes it certainly does.
Then, look at the other designation of the persons to whom Christ’s merciful summons comes: ‘Whosoever will let him take.’ Now, I said that the former designation, in one view of it, covered the whole ground of humanity. We cannot say that of this other one, for we are brought face to face with that strange and most inexplicable and yet most certain and tragic of all facts in regard to men, that they do turn away their wills from the merciful call of God, and that some of them, gnawing their very tongues with thirst, yet put away with impatient hand the sparkling cup that He offers to them freely. There is nothing sadder, there is nothing more certain, than that we poor little creatures can assert our will in the presence of the Divine lovingkindness, and can thwart, so far as we are concerned, the council of God against ourselves, ‘How often would I have gathered,’ said the foiled, long-suffering Christ - ‘how often would I have gathered . . . and ye would not!’ Oh! brethren, it is an awful thing to think that with this universal need there is such a partial yielding of the will to Him.
I do not enter here and now upon the various reasons or excuses which men offer to themselves and one another for this disinclination to accept the Divine mercy, but I do venture to say that the solid core of unwillingness to be saved upon Christ’s conditions underlies a vast deal- not all, but a vast deal - of the supposed intellectual difficulties of men in regard to the Gospel. The will bribes the understanding, in a great many regions. It is a very common thing all round the horizon of thought and knowledge that a man shall believe or disbelieve largely under the influence of prejudice or inclination. So let no man be offended if I say that what we have to guard against, in all regions of thought, we have also to guard against in our relation to the truths of the Gospel, and make very sure that, when we think we are being borne along by pure, impartial reason, the will has not put a bridle in the nose of the steed, and is guiding it astray.
But for the most of you who stand apart from Jesus Christ this is the truth, that your attitude is a merely negative one. It is not that you will not to have Him but that you do not will to have Him. But that negative attitude, that passive indifference which largely comes from a heart that does not like to submit to the conditions that Christ imposes, makes a positive hindrance to your getting between your lips the water of life. You know the old proverb: One man can take a horse to the water, ten cannot make him drink. We can bring you to the water, or the water to you, but neither Christ nor His servants can put the refreshing, life-giving liquid into your mouth if you lock your lips so tight that a bristle could not go in between them. You can thwart Christ, and when He says, ‘Take, drink!’ you can shake your head and mumble, ‘I will not.’ So, dear friends, I beseech you to take this solemnly into consideration, that the operative cause why most of us who are not Christians are not, is simply disinclination. Wishing is one thing; willing is quite another. "Wishing to be delivered from the gnawing restlessness of a hungry heart, and to be satisfied, is one thing; willing to accept the satisfaction which Christ gives on the terms which Christ lays down is, alas! quite another.
Seeing that to know our need and to be willing to let Him supply it in His own fashion are the only qualifications, then how magnificently from this last word of the Christ from the Throne comes out the universality of His Gospel. ‘Whosoever will,’ that is all. If you choose you may. No other conditions are laid down. If there had been any which were beyond the power of every soul of man upon earth, then Christianity would have dwindled to a narrow, provincial, sectional thing. But, since it only demands the need, which is universal; the sense of need, which every man may feel; and willingness, which every man ought to, and can, exercise, it is the Gospel for the world, and it is the Gospel for me, and it is the Gospel for each of you. See that ye refuse not the offered draught.
II. That brings me, secondly, to say a word about what Christ from heaven thus offers to us all.
This book of Revelation, as I have already remarked, in another connection, is the close of the great Revelation of God; and it is full of the echoes of His earlier words. The river of the water of life has been rippling and tinkling from the first chapter of Genesis to the last of Revelation. It is the river that flowed through Eden; the river which makes glad with its streams the City of God, the river of the Divine pleasures, of which God makes His children drink; the river which the prophet saw stealing out from under the Temple doors, and carrying life whithersoever it came; the river which Christ proclaimed should flow from because it had flowed into, all that should believe upon Him, ‘the river of the water of life, clear as crystal,’ which the Seer had just seen proceeding from the Throne of God and of the Lamb. Our Lord’s words to the Samaritan woman, and His words on that last great day of the feast, when He stood and cried, ‘If any man thirst let him come to Me and drink,’ and many another gracious utterance, are all gathered up, as it were, in this last Voice from the Throne.
The water of life is not merely living water, in the sense that it flashes and sparkles and flows; but it is water which communicates life. ‘Life’ here is to be taken in that deep, pregnant, comprehensive sense in which the Apostle John uses it in all his writings. It is his shorthand symbol for the whole aggregate of the blessings which come to men through Jesus Christ, and which, received by men, make them blessed indeed.
The first thought that emerges from this ‘water of life,’ considered as being the sum of all that Christ communicates to humanity is - then, where it does not run or is not received, there is death. Ah, brother, the true death is separation from God, and the true separation from God is not brought about because He is in heaven, and we are upon earth; or because He is infinite and incomprehensible, and we are poor creatures of an hour, but because we depart from Him in heart and mind, and, as another Apostle says, are dead in trespasses and sins. Death in life, a living death, is far more dreadful than when the poor body is laid quiet upon the bed, and the spirit has left the pale cheeks. And that death is upon us, unless it has been banished from us by a draught of the water of life. Dear brethren, that is not pulpit rhetoric; it is the deepest fact about human nature. It is not a mere metaphor. I take it that the death of the body is metaphor, so to speak, the embodiment in material form, as a parable of the far grimmer thing which goes on in the region of the spirit. And I beseech you to remember that according to the whole teaching of Scripture, which I think is countersigned by the verdict of an awakened conscience, death is the separation from God by sin; and the only quickening potion is the water which Christ gives; or rather, as He Himself said, ‘He that drinketh of My blood hath life indeed.’
But, then, besides all these thoughts, there come others, on which I need not dwell, that in that great emblem of the water that gives life is included the satisfaction of all desires, meeting and over-answering all expectations, filling up every empty place in the heart, in the hopes, in the whole inward nature of man, and lavishing upon him all the blessings which go to make up true gladness, true nobleness, and dignity. Nor does the eternal life cease when physical death comes. The river - if I might modify the figure with which I am dealing, and regard the man himself in his Christian experience as the river - flows through a narrow, dark gorge, like one of the canons on American streams, and down to its profoundest depths no sunlight can travel. But the waters are not diminished though they are confined, nor are they arrested by the black rocks, but at the other end of the defile they come out into flashing sunset and sparkle and flow. And away somewhere in the dark gorge mighty tributaries have poured in, so that the stream is broader and deeper, and pours a more majestic volume towards the great ocean from which it originally came.
Brother, here is the offer - life eternal, deliverance from the death of sin both as guilt and power; the pouring out upon us of all the blessing that our thirsty spirits can desire, and the perpetuity of that blessed existence and endless satisfaction through the infinite ages of timeless being. These are the offers that Christ makes to each of us.
III. Lastly, what Christ from heaven calls us to do.
‘He that is athirst let him come; and whosoever will let him take!’ The two things, coming and taking, as it seems to me, cover substantially the same ground. You often hear earnest, evangelical preachers reiterate that call - ‘Come to Jesus! come to Jesus!’ with more fervor than clearness of explanation of what they mean. So, I would say, in one sentence emphatically, and as plainly as I can put it, that Jesus Christ Himself has told us what He means. Because when He was here upon earth He stood and cried, ‘If any man thirst let him come to Me and drink.’ And He explained Himself when He said, ‘He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.’ So let us put away the metaphors of ‘coming’ and ‘taking’ and lay hold of the Christ-given interpretation of them, and say the one thing that Christ asks me to do is to trust my poor, sinful self wholly and confidently and constantly and obediently to Him. That is all.
Ah! All! And that is just where the pinch comes. ‘My father! my father!’ remonstrated Naaman’s servants, when he was in a towering passion because he was told to go wash in the Jordan; ‘if the prophet had bidden thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much rather then when he saith to thee, Wash and be clean?’ Naaman’s strange reluctance to do a little thing in order to produce a great effect whilst he was willing to take a mint of trouble in order to produce it, is repeated over and over again amongst us. You will see men buy damnation dear who will not have salvation because it is a gift and they have nothing to do. I do believe that great multitudes of people would rather, like the Hindoos, stick hooks in the muscles of their backs, and swing at the end of a rope if that would get heaven for them, than simply be content to come in forma pauperis , and owe everything to Christ’s grace, and nothing to their own works.
Why! what is the meaning of all this new vitality of sacerdotal notions amongst us to-day, and of the efficacy of sacraments, and all the rest of it, except the pur-blindness to the flashing glory of the central truth of the Gospel that not by anything that we do, but simply by His Cross and passion received by faith into our hearts, are we saved? Brethren, it is not theology about Christ’s sacrifice, but it is the Christ whom the theology about His sacrifice explains that you must get hold of. And if you trust Him you have come to Him in a very real sense, and have His presence with you, and you are present with Him far more really than were the men who companied with Him all the time that He went in and out amongst them here on this earth. So much for the ‘come.’
‘Let him take.’ Well, that being translated, too, is but the exercise of lowly trust in Him. Faith is the hand that, being put out, grasps this great gift. You must make the universal blessing your own. The river flows past your door, broader and deeper and more majestic than the ‘father of waters’ itself. But all that is naught to you unless you take your own little pitcher to the brink and fill it, and take it home. ‘He loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ Do you say that? Dear brother! are you athirst? I know you are. Do you know it? Are you willing to take Christ’s salvation on Christ’s terms, and to live by faith in Him, communion with, and obedience to Him? If you are, then earth may yield or deny you its waters, but you will not be dependent on them. When all the land is parched and baked, and every surface well run dry, you will have a spring that fails not, and the water that Christ ‘will give you will be in you a fountain of water leaping up into everlasting life.’ Nor will your supplies fail when death cuts off all that flow from earthly cisterns, for they who here drink of the river will hereafter go up to the Source, and ‘they shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, for the Lamb that is in the midst of the Throne shall feed them, and shall lead them to living fountains of water, and God the Lord shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’
THE LAST WORDS OF THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS
Mal_4:6 . - Rev_22:21 .
It is of course only an accident that these words close the Old and the New Testaments. In the Hebrew Bible Malachi’s prophecies do not stand at the end; but he was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and after him there were ‘four centuries of silence.’ We seem to hear in his words the dying echoes of the rolling thunders of Sinai. They gather up the whole burden of the Law and of the prophets; of the former in their declaration of a coming retribution, of the latter in the hope that that retribution may be averted.
Then, in regard to John’s words, of course as they stand they are simply the parting benediction with which he takes leave of his readers; but it is fitting that the Book of which they are the close should seal up the canon, because it stands as the one prophetic book of the New Testament, and so reaches forward into the coming ages, even to the consummation of all things. And just as Christ in His Ascension was taken from them whilst His hands were lifted up in the act of blessing, so it is fitting that the revelation of which He is the centre and the theme should part from us as He did, shedding with its final words the dew of benediction on our upturned heads.
I venture, then, to look at these significant closing words of the two Testaments as conveying the spirit of each, and suggesting some thoughts about the contrast and the harmony and the order that subsist between them.
I. I ask you, first, to notice the apparent contrast and the real harmony and unity of these two texts.
‘Lest I come and smite the land with a curse.’ That last awful word does not convey, in the original, quite the idea of our English word ‘curse.’ It refers to a somewhat singular institution in the Mosaic Law according to which things devoted, in a certain sense, to God were deprived of life. And the reference historically is to the judgments that were inflicted upon the nations that occupied the land before the Israelitish invasion, those Canaanites and others who were put under ‘the ban’ and devoted to utter destruction. So, says my text, Israel, which has stepped into their places, may bring down upon its head the same devastation; and as they were swept off the face of the land that they had polluted with their iniquities, so an apostate and God-forgetting Judah may again experience the same utter destruction falling upon them. If instead of the word ‘curse’ we were to substitute the word ‘destruction,’ we should get the true idea of the passage.
And the thought that I want to insist upon is this, that here we have distinctly gathered up the whole spirit of millenniums of divine revelation, all of which declare this one thing, that as certainly as there is a God, every transgression and disobedience receives, and must receive, its just recompense of reward.
That is the spirit of law, for law has nothing to say, except, ‘Do this, and thou shalt live; do not this, and thou shalt die.’
And then turn to the other. ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’ What has become of the thunder? All melted into dewy rain of love and pity and compassion. Grace is love that stoops; grace is love that foregoes its claims, and forgives sins against itself. Grace is love that imparts, and this grace, thus stooping, thus pardoning, thus bestowing, is a universal gift. The Apostolic benediction is the declaration of the divine purpose, and the inmost heart and loftiest meaning of all the words which from the beginning God hath spoken is that His condescending, pardoning, self-bestowing mercy may fall upon all hearts, and gladden every soul.
So there seems to emerge, and there is, a very real and a very significant contrast. ‘I come and smite the earth with a curse’ sounds strangely unlike ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’ And, of course, in this generation there is a strong tendency to dwell upon that contrast and to exaggerate it, and to assert that the more recent has antiquated the more ancient, and that now the day when we have to think of and to dread the curse that smites the earth is past, ‘because the true Light now shineth.’
So I ask you to notice that beneath this apparent contrast there is a real harmony, and that these two utterances, though they seem to be so diverse, are quite consistent at bottom, and must both be taken into account if we would grasp the whole truth. For, as a matter of fact, nowhere are there more tender utterances and sweeter revelations of a divine mercy than in that ancient law with its attendant prophets. And as a matter of fact, nowhere, through all the thunderings and lightnings of Sinai, are there such solemn words of retribution as dropped from the lips of the Incarnate Love. There is nothing anywhere so dreadful as Christ’s own words about what comes, and must come, to sinful men. Is there any depth of darkness in the Old Testament teaching of retribution half as deep, half as black, and as terrible, as the gulf that Christ opens at your feet and mine? Is there anything so awful as the threatenings of Infinite Love?
And the same blending of the widest proclamation of, and the most perfect rejoicing confidence in, the universal and all-forgiving love of God, with the teaching of the sharpest retribution, lies in the writings of this very Apostle about whose words I am speaking. There are nowhere in Scripture more solemn pictures than those in that book of the Apocalypse, of the inevitable consequences of departure from the love and the faith of God, and John, the Apostle of love, is the preacher of judgment as none of the other writers of the New Testament are.
Such is the fact, and there is a necessity for it. There must be this blending; for if you take away from your conception of God the absolute holiness which hates sin, and the rigid righteousness which apportions to all evil its bitter fruits, you have left a maimed God that has not power to love but is nothing but weak, good-natured indulgence. Impunity is not mercy, and punishment is never the negation of perfect love, but rather, if you destroy the one you hopelessly maim the other. The two halves are needed in order to give full emphasis to either. Each note alone is untrue; blended, they make the perfect chord.
II. And now, let me ask you to look with me at another point, and that is, the relation of the grace to the punishment.
Is it not love which proclaims judgment? Are not the words of my first text, if you take them all, merciful, however they wear a surface of threatening? ‘Lest I come.’ Then He speaks that He may not come, and declares the issue of sin in order that that issue may never need to be experienced by us that listen to Him. Brethren! both in regard to the Bible and in regard to human ministrations of the Gospel, it is all-important, as it seems to me at present, to insist that it is the cruellest kindness to keep back the threatenings for fear of darkening the grace; and that, on the other hand, it is the truest tenderness to warn and to proclaim them. It is love that threatens; ‘tis mercy to tell us that the wrath will come.
And just as one relation between the grace and the retribution is that the proclamation of the retribution is the work of the grace, so there is another relation-the grace is manifested in bearing the punishment, and in bearing it away by bearing it. Oh! there is no adequate measure of what the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is except the measure of the smiting destruction from which He frees us. It is because every transgression receives its just recompense of reward, because the wages of sin is death, because God cannot but hate and punish the evil, that we get our truest standard of what Christ’s love is to every soul of us. For on Him have met all the converging rays of the divine retribution, and burnt the penal fire into His very heart. He has come between every one of us, if we will, and that certain incidence of retribution for our evil, taking upon Himself the whole burden of our sin and of our guilt, and bearing that awful death which consists not in the mere dissolution of the tie between soul and body, but in the separation of the conscious spirit from God, in order that we may stand peaceful, serene, untouched, when the hail and the fire of the divine judgment are falling from the heavens and running along the earth. The grace depends for all our conceptions of its glory, its tenderness, and its depth, on our estimate of the wrath from which it delivers.
So, dear brethren, remember, if you tamper with the one you destroy the other; if there be no fearful judgment from which men need to be delivered, Christ has borne nothing for us that entitles Him to demand our hearts; and all the ascriptions of praise and adoration to Him, and all the surrender of loving hearts, in utter self-abandonment, to Him that has borne the curse for us, fade and are silent. If you strike out the truth of Christ’s bearing the results of sin from your theology, you do not thereby exalt, but you fatally lower the love; and in the interests of the loftiest conceptions of a divine loving-kindness and mercy that ever have blessed the world, I beseech you, be on your guard against all teachings that diminish the sinfulness of sin, and that ask again the question which first of all came from lips that do not commend it to us-’ Hath God said?’ or advance to the assertion-’Ye shall not surely die.’ If ‘I come to smite the earth with a curse’ ceases to be a truth to you, ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’ will fade away for you likewise.
III. Now, still further, let me ask you to consider, lastly, the alternative which these texts open for us.
I believe that the order in which they stand in Scripture is the order in which men generally come to believe them, and to feel them. I am old-fashioned enough and narrow enough to believe in conversion; and to believe further that, as a rule, the course through which the soul passes from darkness into light is the course which divine revelation took: first, the unveiling of sin and its issues, and then the glad leaping up of the trustful heart to the conception of redeeming grace.
But what I seek briefly to suggest now is, not only the order of manifestation as brought out in these words, but also the alternative which they present to us, one branch or other of which every soul of you will have to experience. You must have either the destruction or the grace. And, more wonderful still, the same coming of the same Lord will be to one man the destruction, and to another the manifestation and reception of His perfect grace. As it was in the Lord’s first coming, ‘He is set for the rise and the fall of many in Israel.’ The same heat softens some substances and bakes others into hardness. A bit of wax and a bit of clay put into the same fire-one becomes liquefied and the other solidified. The same light is joy to one eye and torture to another. The same pillar of cloud was light to the hosts of Israel, and darkness and dismay to the armies of Egypt. The same Gospel is ‘a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death,’ by the giving forth of the same influences killing the one and reviving the other; the same Christ is a Stone to build upon or a Stone of stumbling; and when He cometh at the last, Prince, King, Judge, to you and me, His coming shall be prepared as the morning; and ye ‘shall have a song as when one cometh with a pipe to the mountain of the Lord’; or else it shall be a day of darkness and not of light. He comes to me, to you; He comes to smite or He comes to glorify.
Oh, brethren! do not believe that God’s threatenings are wind and words; do not let teachings that sap the very foundations of morality and eat all the power out of the Gospel persuade you that the solemn words, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die,’ are not simple verity.
And then, my brethren, oh! then, do you turn yourselves to that dear Lord whose grace is magnified in this most chiefly, that ‘He hath borne our sins and carried our sorrows’; and taking Him for your Saviour, your King, your Shield, your All, when He cometh it will be life to you; and the grace that He imparts will be heaven for ever more.
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Revelation 22". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19