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Four angels … holding the four winds.
The four winds
I. The events figuratively represented by the four winds. Different opinions have been expressed respecting these winds. Bishop Newton and other writers understand by them those Pagan persecutions which assailed the Christian Church prior to the time of Constantine, and which were removed when he took the Christian religion under his protection. The text evidently includes all winds that injure the Christian Church and impede true religion in the world; but Constantine only suspended one wind to let loose another, equally, if not more, injurious than the wind of persecution; I mean the winds of error, formality, earthly-mindedness, and general corruption. Mr. Jones, author of the history of the Waldenses, makes these winds to mean the influences of the Holy Spirit, which, he says, were withheld from the Church when she became the favourite of the state under Constantine. It is quite true that the influences of the Holy Spirit are frequently represented in Scripture by the figurative term “winds.” Still this cannot be the true meaning of the term “winds” in this passage, for this reason, the four angels are commanded to restrain these winds till the servants of God are sealed; whereas this sealing cannot be effected without the influences of the Spirit. What, then, are we to understand by the winds mentioned? I answer, two things:
1. Divine judgments. Wars, famine, pestilence, the overthrow of kingdoms, and the universal wreck of all earthly things. The particular judgments to which these winds refer are, I think, those mentioned in the sixth seal, at the close of the sixth chapter, and whose fearful operations are represented by the seven trumpets in the eighth chapter.
2. All events and influences unfavourable to the cause of Christ. The wind of persecution; the wind of false doctrine; the wind of delusion and wild fanaticism; the wind of temptation; the wind of infidelity; the wind of open profanity and blasphemy; the winds of affliction, adversity, and distress; by all of which the Church is frequently assailed. These things are called “winds,” because they produce agitation and commotion--breaking the branches, blasting the fruits, and uprooting the trees of God’s spiritual vineyard. They are called “four” winds, to show their universality, their wide-spreading desolation. They are called winds of the “earth,” because earth is the scene of their operation--they are for ever excluded from heaven; their coming from the four cardinal points at once shows their violence, rage, and fury.
II. The agents to whom they are committed. This notion of angels ruling the winds is very ancient. Herodotus says it was held by the Persians; Eusebius says it was held by the Phoenicians; Pausanias says it was held by the Greeks; Tertullian says it was held by the Romans; Seneca and Virgil say it was held by the Gauls; and most of these people worshipped these ruling spirits. Some understand by the four angels four monarchies, the Babylonian, the Grecian, the Persian, and the Roman; but this cannot be, for at the time to which this passage refers, the monarchies will have long been forgotten, while existing monarchies will be the objects of this vengeance, and not the executioners of it. Others understand by these four angels four emperors, Maximinus, Galerius, Maxenfius, and Licinius, or their praetorian prefects; but the same objections stand against them as against the monarchies. Others think that four persecuting powers are meant. Others think four evil angels, or demons, are meant, who hold back the winds of the Spirit from blowing upon this valley of death, that the dry bones might live; or who are charged with destructive powers, as the messengers of an angry God; but as their work is first to restrain all antagonistic influences to the gospel, while it effects the high purposes of God, and then to execute the Divine vengeance at the day of Christ; and as these employments are nowhere ascribed to wicked angels, this cannot be the real meaning. These are four good angels. This appears first, from the fact that they are here represented as taking a part with the fifth angel in sealing the servants of God; also from their being entrusted with such an important post--restraining wicked spirits, persecuting men, antagonist influences, and Divine judgments, till grace has worked out its wonders. Then their attitude--standing--signifies that they have no settled dominion; that they are the movable ministers of God; that they are ready to do His pleasure.
III. The great Being who commands their postponement or suspension.
1. Bishop Newton, and several other writers both before and since his day, tell us that this angel was Constantine the Great, who, they say, brought light, protection, and deliverance to the Christian Church that had been greatly afflicted under the persecuting tyranny of the Pagan Roman emperors. As far as I can judge, there is not even the shadow of a reason for thinking that this angel was Constantine.
(1) The language applied to this angel is too sublime to refer to a fallen creature like Constantine.
(2) The events which this angel is said to control, and the magnificent work he is said to accomplish, are not the narrow and limited circumstances of one man’s life, but they stretch through ages; spread over kingdoms, continents, sea, and land.
(3) The character of Constantine differs widely from what we must believe was the real character of the angel referred to in this passage.
(4) The influences on true religion, which followed Constantine’s interference, were, in many respects, just the opposite to those which the angel in the text is said to produce. This angel not only suspends persecution and postpones judgments, but vital godliness greatly prospers, as is evident from the number that are said to be sealed. Besides, this prosperity of genuine religion is not for a brief period, but it appears to extend through centuries. Now, is there anything analogous to this, which may be regarded as the result of Constantine’s interference? That some good resulted to the then existing and persecuted Church, from this interference, we do not deny. Persecution was suspended. Still we maintain that the evil accruing from this change preponderates; it brought her in contact with a secular power that tarnished her purity, beclouded her glory, enervated her native power.
2. Well, who is this Angel? Why, the Lord Jesus Christ, the uncreated Angel of the Covenant, to whom the figurative language of the text applies to the very letter. This Angel is described--
(1) By the point of His ascension. “And I saw another Angel ascending from the east.” This was literally true of Christ; He came from the east, and hence He is called the East, or, as it is commonly rendered, “the Day-spring from on high.” But His ascending from the east shows the favourable nature of His mission and character. The east is the great fountain of light, life, fruitfulness, purity, and joy; so this Angel, Christ, is called the Sun of Righteousness, that visits our world with healing beneath His wings. He is that bright, shining Sun, that never sets, but whose heavenly radiance always beams upon His Church, giving salvation, light, beauty, and joy.
(2) By credentials He bears. “Having the seal of the living God”; which refers, first, to His office as Mediator between God and man. This refers to a custom among the kings of the earth, who have their own confidential servants to whom they deliver certain seals of office. These seals of office are the influences of the Spirit without measure; authority to bestow them, procured by virtue of His atonement; energy, to carry all His plans into successful operation; and all power, both in heaven and in earth, to render all things, creatures, and events, subservient to His designs. But His having the seal of the living God goes further still. It refers to the dignity of His person, as the Son of God, as well as to the glory and credentials of His office, as the Saviour of the world. Having the seal of the living God--that is, having in His own nature the visible impress of deity, the authentic testimony, proof, and demonstration that He Himself was the living God, the brightness of His Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.
(3) By the supreme authority He assumes. “He cried with a loud voice,” the emblem of supreme authority and power; He commands or forbids as He pleases, and whatsoever He wills is done.
(4) By the command He gives. “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea nor the trees.” No devastating wars, no raging persecutions, no fearful and wide-spreading judgments, must be permitted to hinder the cause of Christ. The contrary winds must sleep at the feet of their presiding angels, till the ark of salvation is filled with the whole family of God and safely moored in the peaceful bay of heaven.
IV. The reason assigned for their suspension. “Till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”
1. The nature of it. To seal a person or thing is to set a mark upon it for a specific purpose. The term is frequently employed in the Scriptures to express the operations of grace, by which believers are separated from the world and made meet for heaven.
2. The agents of it. “We.” The work of salvation is of Christ from first to last.
3. The subjects of it. “Servants of God,” that is, true believers, those who serve God by obeying His commands and seeking His glory. They are sealed to serve Him here and to enjoy Him hereafter.
4. Visibility of it. “In their foreheads.”
5. The chief design of it. That believers should not be “hurt” by the fearful calamities that are predicted in the sixth seal, as speedily to fall upon the wicked. God marks them as His special property; and being thus sealed, they live under the special protection of His providence while here, and will meet with an effectual shelter in the great day of His wrath.
6. The extent of it. The question was once put to Christ, “Lord, are there few that shall be saved?” Here the question receives an answer which shows that there will be many, so that in this, as well as in all other things, Christ will have the pre-eminence.
(1) We have a specific number. Twelve thousand out of each tribe were sealed, making one hundred and forty-four thousand in the whole, which in prophetic language signifies completion and perfection.
(2) We have a general number. The whole assembly of the redeemed, including Jews and Gentiles, rises in splendid array to the apostle’s view.
7. The ultimate glory of it. “They stand before the throne, and before the Lamb.” (Wm. Gregory.)
God’s government of the world
I. God employs the highest order of celestial intelligences in the conduct of His government. Nowhere throughout immensity does He appear to act directly on matter and mind at all (Hosea 2:21-22). The mere scientist accounts for the various objects and phenomena of the material world by what he calls blind forces or natural laws; I prefer ascribing all under God to the “angels standing on the four corners,” etc. A wonderful view of the universe, truly, we have here. True, a telescope opens to my vision world upon world and system upon system, until imagination reels at the prospect, and my spirit seems crushed with a sense of its own insignificance; but in these words I have a telescope by which I see the wide fields of air, the rolling planets, the minute and the vast, the proximate and the remote peopled and working, reaching in regular gradation from my little being up to the ineffable throne, and all under God.
II. God, in employing these agencies, enjoins on them a special regard for the interests of redeemed men in the world (verses 2, 3).
1. There is some method by which angels can aid man.
2. Man’s salvation is of paramount importance.
3. Service to the lowest is consonant with the highest greatness.
4. Man’s obligation is to seek the spiritual good of his fellows. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A sketch of an impending judgment
I. The world exposed to judgment. Winds are the symbols of judgment (Jeremiah 49:36-37; Daniel 7:2). The four winds indicate the universality of the judgment. Conscience, Providence, and the Bible all point to this universal judgment.
II. The judgment entrusted to angels. Angels are the ministers of God. He employs them to execute His judgments.
1. They appeared amidst the terrors of Mount Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2).
2. They appeared with our Saviour in the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:30-31).
3. Angels have been frequently engaged in executing Divine judgment on this earth (Exo 12:22; 2 Samuel 24:16-17; 2 Kings 19:35).
4. Angels are represented as active in the final day of retribution (Matthew 13:39; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 25:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). The Eternal Judge then, as now, will work through others.
III. The angels restrained by a mediator. Who is this angel? Who is represented in this particular case I know not. But I know that the Great Angel of the Covenant answers well this description. He came from the orient depths of glory with Divine credentials and with great earnestness, in order to stay the angels of retribution from executing their terrible commission. Our great Redeemer holds back the hand of the destroying angel, and the burden of His intercession is, “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea,” etc. To Christ we owe the postponement of the judgment.
IV. The Mediator restraining because His work is unfinished.
1. There are men who are yet to receive the seal of God.
2. That the judgment is delayed until the number of the sealed ones is completed. (Homilist.)
The seal of the living God.
The angel’s seal, set upon God’s faithful servants, when hurtful winds are blowing in the Church militant
I. Notice some of those pernicious winds where with the Church of Christ is infested while here in a militant state.
1. There is the wind of open violence, persecution, and bloodshed.
2. Sometimes, and very frequently, the hurtful wind of error in doctrine is suffered to blow in the barn or field of the visible Church.
3. Another hurtful wind is the wind of strong delusions as to everlasting soul concerns; and this is consequential unto the former.
4. There is the wind of temptation that blows in the visible Church. This was a wind that blew hard on the glorious Head and Captain of our salvation (Matthew 4:1-25.).
5. Another hurtful wind is the wind of profanity and open ungodliness.
6. All these winds are commonly followed with the winds of desolating judgments, such as sword, famine, and pestilence, whereby the wicked are turned off the stage of time into a miserable eternity.
II. Inquire who are those servants of God for whose sake the hurtful winds are restrained, that provision may be made foe their safety when they do actually blow.
1. The servants of God are such as “keep the commandments of God,” i.e.--
(1) They are holy persons; the “sanctified and preserved in Christ Jesus.” Or--
(2) As Durham observes, they “keep the commandments of God,” it is to be understood of a keeping the laws, ordinances, and institutions of Christ, in opposition to a set of men in the Antichristian Church, who, through their traditions, were making void the commandments of God.
2. The faithful servants of God are said to be such as “have the testimony of Jesus.” By the testimony of Jesus we are to understand the gospel of Christ, or the doctrine of faith in its purity, which only is “the power of God unto salvation” (Romans 1:16).
III. Speak a little of the seal that is set upon the servants of God.
1. Who is He that seals them? It is Christ, the Great Angel that hath the seal of the living God.
2. What is implied in the sealing them?
(1) That He is their great owner and proprietor; for a man seals his own goods, that it may be known they are his.
(2) A seal is for distinction, to distinguish one man’s goods from another.
(3) A seal is for confirmation. The king’s seal appended unto a charter establishes and confirms it.
(4) A seal is sometimes for secrecy. We read of a book (Revelation 5:1) which was sealed with seven seals because of the great secrets and hid mysteries contained in it. And so it may import that God’s people are His hidden ones, and that His secrets are imparted to them, and not to others.
(5) A seal is a badge of honour, love, and esteem. And so it implies that His servants are honourable persons, precious in His sight (Isaiah 43:4).
(6) A seal is for custody and preservation. So the saints and servants of God, they are “the preserved in Christ Jesus, kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.”
3. When and how are they sealed?
(1) From all eternity they were sealed with His electing and everlasting love.
(2) In their conversion and effectual calling they are sealed in their own persons with the image of the second Adam.
(3) They have a seal of blood set upon them in their redemption and justification; for, as you see (verse 14 of this chapter), “they have their garments washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.”
(4) They have the seal of the Spirit of promise set upon them (Ephesians 1:13).
4. But why are they said to be sealed in their foreheads? This may import two things.
(1) Their visible profession of Christ and their open owning of the Lord, and His way and cause in the time of the greatest opposition, when error and delusion and persecution was most rampant in the visible Church.
(2) Their being marked or sealed in the forehead implies that, in the time of common calamity, God will make such a visible difference between His own faithful servants and others, that he that runs may read, according to that (Malachi 3:18).
IV. Inquire into the reasons why Christ, the Angel of the Covenant, will have His servants marked in their foreheads when the winds are to be let blow?
1. In so many words He will have them sealed, because they are His Father’s gift, “Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me,” and for the Father’s sake that gave them, He will have them sealed.
2. Because He hath bought them at a dear rate, even with the price of His precious blood, not with silver, or gold, or such corruptible things, etc.
3. He seals them because they believe in Him (Ephesians 1:18). “After that ye believed, ye were sealed,” etc.
4. He seals them because they love Him, so as to mourn for injury done Him (Ezekiel 9:4).
5. He seals them because they are His faithful witnesses, that confess Him when others deny Him.
6. He seals them that they may not suffer hurt by the destroying winds that blow in the visible Church. They keep the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus; and therefore He will keep them in the hour of temptation, according to the promise (Psalms 91:8; Psalms 91:7). (E. Erskine, D. D.)
I. Pent-up judgment. Righteousness produces judgment, and grace restrains it. Grace does not nullify or cancel judgment; it simply suspends it. The history of our earth is one of suspended judgment. Of this judgment, we may say that it is--
1. Slow. When it comes, it comes swiftly; but meanwhile it is not rash, nor precipitate. This slowness often deludes the sinner.
2. Silent. It makes no sign. The fermenting elements are noiseless. There are often no thunder-clouds, but a calm, blue sky.
3. Sure. It will not miss its mark, nor mistake its victim, nor forget its time. Its slowness and silence contribute to its certainty.
4. Terrible. The blow, when it comes, is overwhelming. The pent-up torrent, when it breaks its barrier, carries all before it. So God’s vengeance is infinitely terrible. Who can stand before it?
II. The sealing. In the chapter before us it is a Jewish multitude that is specially named as sealed; but as in verse 3 it is the “servants of God” that are said to be sealed, we may infer that by that expression both Gentile and Jew are meant. The sealing seems (as in Ezekiel 9:1-11.) to intimate exemption from the earthly judgments of a particular time. I do not dwell on this further than to point out God’s care for His own in days of trouble--as in Noah’s days, in Lot’s days, in Ezekiel’s days, in the time of Jerusalem’s great siege. I would remind you of the ninety-first Psalm also, which is specially written for evil days.
III. The ingathering. It is not simply for temporal protection that God stays His judgments, but for salvation. A time of pent-up judgment is a time of ingathering. A time of judgment may also be so, but a time of suspended judgment still more so. For at such a time God is in earnest--in earnest in His grace, in earnest in His righteousness. His long-suffering is salvation; His patience is life eternal. He pities to the last. Judgment is His strange work. At such a time the gospel comes with peculiar power. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The sealing of the elect
There is here revealed to us a Divine idea, and a Divine law of action, which is now advancing with perpetual energy, past, present, and to come.
I. God has a forekown number whom He will gather out unto Himself. The whole of the new creation sprung from, and surrounding, the second Adam in the kingdom of life eternal; the mystical Person of Christ, both the Head and the Body, all perfected by that which “every joint supplieth”; the true and eternal Vine, complete in all its symmetry from root to spray; the heavenly court, compassed about with ranks of angelic hosts; the order of patriarchs, and the multitude of saints, ascending to the Incarnate Son: all this Divine and glorious mystery of miraculous love and power stands in the foreknowledge of the Eternal, full, perfect, and accomplished.
II. The course of this world will run on until this foreknow number shall be gathered in. All things are for the elect’s sake. What is the history of the world but a history of man’s warfare against God? of our provocation, and of His patience?
III. Even now, while judgment is stayed, the Church in the midst of us is sealing God’s elect. The angel ascending from the east is a type of the ministry of angels and men knit together in one order of grace, to gather out the heirs of salvation. The visible polity of the Church, its stately ritual and public solemnities, its fasts and feasts, its chants and litanies, its missions and preachings, all the public order and movement which meets the eye and ear--all this is as the “net let down into the sea, which taketh of every kind, both good and bad.” But this is not the sealing of the elect. It is an inner work of grace, a choosing from among the chosen, a preparation for that day, when, upon the eternal shore, the angels “shall gather the good into vessels, and cast the bad away.”
1. The ultimate and true election of God is not collective but several, not of bodies but of persons. Born alone, alone we must live; alone repent, pray, fast, watch, persevere, and die; each one for himself “work out his own salvation,” and make his “calling and election sure.”
2. This mystery of election, as it is personal, so it is strictly consistent with our personal probation. God made man free, and elects him to and in the exercise of freedom, will, and power. And what is this seal of the living God, but the image of God renewed in the soul by the power of the Holy Ghost; the likeness and the mind of Christ stamped upon us by a perfect regeneration; the inward reality of a saintly spirit wrought in us, either by a life of steadfast obedience or by a true repentance, by a persevering grace or by a perfect conversion?
IV. Let us try ourselves by some plain questions of self-examination.
1. What is our character? By this we mean the clear, conscious, and definite shape and direction which has been given to our whole spiritual nature. Surely it is no hard thing to find out whether we are living in any known sin or not; whether we are striving against temptation or not; whether we have mastery over our faults or our faults over us; whether we desire the love of God or not; whether sin is to us a sorrow, and the very thought of holiness a delight; whether we are living for this world or for the next.
2. If we have not this higher character, what are our tendencies? Is sin losing hold, and the spirit of sanctity gaining power over us? Are our temptations weaker, and we stronger; our faults fewer, and our repentance deeper?
3. What is our habitual intention? The true self of sincere minds is that which speaks and aspires in their better moments. The lower level on which they move at other times is the way of their infirmity. As the resistance of the atmosphere stays the keenest arrow’s flight, and bends it to earth again, so the purest and directest intention is slackened by the gross thick airs of our daily life. Not to sink into a slower, earthlier motion is the portion of those who are lifted into a higher and heavenlier sphere, where the actings of the soul have nothing to resist them. In heaven “they rest not day nor night”; hut on earth the most unresting intention is overcome by weakness and weariness at last. It cannot always be conscious and actual; but that does not take away from its true and habitual reality. Let this, then, be your continual endeavour, to uphold and to prolong these higher intentions. Quicken and strengthen them by a life of prayer, by meditation, by habitual communion, by self-examination, by confession; by exercises of the heart, and by acts of faith, hope, and love. (Archdeacon Manning.)
First, then, man being compassed with a cloud of witnesses of his own infirmities, and the manifold afflictions of this life, had need of some light to show him the right way, and some strength to enable him to walk safely in it. And this light and strength is here proposed in the assistance of an angel. Which being first understood of angels in general, affords a great measure of comfort to us, because the angels are faithful and diligent attendants upon all our steps. But our security of deliverance is in a safer and a stronger hand than this; not in these ministerial and missive angels only, but in His that sends them, yea, in His that made them. This angel, which does so much for God’s saints, is by many expositors taken to be our Saviour Christ Himself. And will any man doubt of performance of conditions in Him? Will any man look for better security than Him who puts two, and two such, into the band, Christ and Jesus: an anointed King, able, an actual Saviour, willing to discharge not His, but our debt? This security, then, for our deliverance and protection, we have in this angel in our text, “I saw an angel,” as this Angel is Christ; but yet we have also another security, more immediate and more appliable to us. Besides this all-sufficiency of the Angel of the Covenant, Christ Jesus, we have for our security, in this text, “I saw an angel,” the servants of Christ too. This angel is indeed the whole frame and hierarchy of the Christian Church. So, then, to let go none of our assistants, our safety is in the Angel of the Covenant, Christ Jesus, radically, fundamentally, meritoriously. It is in the ministry of the angels of heaven invisibly; but it is in the Church of God, and in the power of His ministers there, manifestly, sensibly, discernibly. This addition is intended for a particular addition to our comfort; it is a particular endowment, or enlargement, of strength and power in this angel, that he comes from the east. Those angels which have had their sunset--their fall--they came from the east. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning?” He had his begetting, his creation, in the east, in the light, and there might have stayed for any necessity of falling that God laid upon him. Take the angel of the text to be the Angel of the Covenant, Christ Jesus, and His name is The East. Every way the gospel is an angel of the east. But this is that which we take to be principally intended in it, that, as the east is the fountain of light, so all our illumination is to be taken from the gospel. If thou suffer thy soul to set in a dark cloud of ignorance of God’s providence, or in a darker of diffidence of His performance towards thee, this is a turning to the west, and all these are perverse and awry. But turn to the east and to the angel that comes from thence, the ministry of the gospel of Christ Jesus in His Church. It is true thou mayest find some dark places in the Scriptures, yet fix thyself upon this angel of the east, the preaching of the Word, the ordinance of God, and thine understanding shall be enlightened, and thy belief established, and thy conscience unburthened. Our angel comes from the east, a denotation of splendour, an illustration of understanding and conscience, and there is more--he comes ascending. “I saw an angel ascend from the east,” that is, still growing more clear and more powerful upon us (1 Samuel 28:13). Take the angel to be Christ, and then His ascension is intended. But as this angel is the ministry of the gospel, God gave it a glorious ascent in the primitive Church, when as this sun ascended quickly beyond the reach of heretics and persecutors. Now to give way to this ascent of this angel in thyself, make the way smooth, find thou a growth of the gospel in thy faith, and let us find it in thy life. If thou find it not ascending it descends. If thou live not by it nothing can redeem thee, thou diest by it. “Of the living God.” The gods of the nations are all dead gods: either such gods as never had life--stones, and gold and silver--or such gods at best as were never gods until they were dead, for men that had benefited the world in any general invention, or otherwise, were made gods after their deaths, which was a miserable deification. If we seek this seal in the great Angel, the Angel of the Covenant, Christ Jesus: it is true He hath it, for “the Father hath committed all judgment to the Son.” Christ, as the Son of Man, executes a judgment, and hath a power, which He hath not but by gift, by commission, by virtue of this seal, from His Father. The servants of God being sealed in their foreheads in the sacrament of baptism, when they are received into the care of the Church, all those means which God hath provided for His servants, in His Church, to resist afflictions and temptations, are intended to be conferred upon them in that seal. This sealing of them is a communicating to them all those assistances of the Christian Church. Then they have a way of prevention of sin, by hearing; a way to absolution, by confession; a way to reconciliation, by a worthy receiving the body and blood of Christ Jesus. And these helps of the Christian Church thus conferred in baptism, keep open still, if these be rightly used, that other seal, the seal of the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:22). (John Donne, D. D.)
The servants of our God.--
The best service
I. We ought to be the active servants of our God. It is necessary for us to pray, and if we pray aright, it will make us active in going about doing good. Do not let us enter into the business of life solely an our own account; let us be servants in all we do on God’s account. How earnestly most business men seek opportunities of doing anything and everything to increase their trade and make it prosperous. Why do not we as Christians be equally earnest in attracting people to our churches and chapels? We may be co-workers with God. Your holy, charitable life and manners may melt the opposition of men who hate goodness and truth.
II. Then let us further be consistent servants of our God. The world watches us, waiting to see whether we are true or not. Don’t be pious in singing hymns, and impious in something else. Be consistent. If you have faults, don’t rest until you get rid of them. Grow daily in grace, piety, and religion, like healthy plants, which grow in beauty day by day.
III. Be a free servant of our God. Don’t let any bad habits make you their prisoner. It is said that habit is second nature; and man is a bundle of habits. You know that when you walk across a field for the first time you make scarcely any impression on the grass. But if you go several times a day for a year you will make a beaten path. So one sin may not do you much injury, but it is the beginning of many. One drop of water from yonder hill soon dries up, but if it be followed by fresh drops every moment, by and by it scoops out a way through the hardest rocks, and becomes a rapid, gurgling stream, which dashes from stone to stone until it reaches the broad river. So these bad habits grow upon us and enslave us. “Blessed is he that overcometh.” The Lord God has promised that if any one ask Him, He will send His Holy Spirit into that man’s heart, and deliver him from all his bad habits.
IV. Be God’s servants, showing forth the beauty of holiness. Young man, you may not possess a titled name, but you may make yourself the embodiment of honour. You may not possess great wealth, but you may be known as one of the upright of the earth. When a beautiful woman dies, nobody mourns her; but when a woman who is beautiful in soul passes away, angels welcome her to glory and good men weep for her. Be beautiful in life. (W. Birch.)
The number of them which were sealed.
I. Who, then, are these 144,000 sealed ones?
II. The nature of the sealing of which these 144,000 are the subjects.
1. It is manifest that the transaction takes place on earth, and in the case of people contemporaneously living in the flesh.
2. This sealing involved the impartation of a conspicuous and observable mark.
3. It is something Divine. The seal with which the sealing is done is “a seal of the living God.” It so pledges Him, and to Him, that it must be regarded as His own act.
4. The office of this sealing is in the hands of an angel, who comes forth from the sun-rising. He is a high officer from God. He carries a seal of the miracle-working God, and he gives commands to the angels of judgment. Many take him to be the Lord Jesus Himself. There is much to sustain this view.
5. This sealing was, moreover, amoral, and not a mere arbitrary or external thing. Those who receive it are described as “the servants of our God,” as contradistinguished from other classes of men. And from what is said of them in the fourteenth chapter they are very eminently God’s servants. It is the common law of the Divine proceedings that His special honours are never otherwise conferred than in connection with special dutifulness and fidelity under very special trials and difficulties.
6. And from this we are enabled to get a still deeper glance into the nature of this peculiar sealing. The seal of God is the Spirit of God, particularly in His more unusual gifts.
7. Very various and diverse: hence would also be the outward manifestations of this mark. It would show itself in the doctrines professed by the sealed ones, in the power with which they announce and defend them, in a particularly holy, prayerful, and self-denying life, in a bravery and fearlessness before gainsayers which no earthly powers can daunt, and in a wisdom and heavenliness of demeanour.
III. The intent and effect of this marvellous sealing. It is agreed on all hands that it is a merciful and gracious act. Its first effect is to stay the blasts of judgment, and to produce a lull in the work of vengeance. So it is ever. God’s people are the salt of the earth. But for them, and God’s gracious purposes toward them, judgment and ruin would instantly break over the globe. Governments stand, society exists, the waters flow, the trees live, the sea retains its salubrity, the grasses grow upon the earth, and the death-blasts of the destroying angels are restrained, only because the Lord is engaged taking out from among the nations a people for His name, the number of which must first be made up. But this sealing was more particularly for the comfort, assurance, and security of the sealed ones themselves. As the gift of the Holy Ghost certified and assured the apostles of the Divinity of the cause they had espoused, of their acceptance as God’s acknowledged ambassadors; so this sealing with the seal of the living God certified and assured these 144,000 of the unmistakable character of their faith, of their election as a firstfruits of incoming new administrations, and guaranteed unto them not only security amid She blasts of heightening judgment upon earth, but also a peculiar and blessed portion with Jesus in His glory. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. The number of the blessed. The hundred and forty and four thousand am the twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes; and these mystic figures, though they may mean much else, seem at least to represent a certain perfect number contemplated by God. Let it be a mystery, this apparent limitation of the number of the elect! let God’s foreknowledge and man’s freewill defy our explanation, and be confused in our attempt to see the relation of number to Him who is infinite!--yet the believer feels a sensation of repose in the thought that the work answers to the design, and that the number of the redeemed is perfect according to the will of God. In all our anticipations of the result of labour for God, this faith must rule our hearts, viz., that the Divine love will not be disappointed. Care must be had for the few, that they may lack nothing which the Church can give.
II. There is a great multitude. There are few minds that are not swayed by a comparison of numbers. The multitude who agree to forget God charm us with the thought of impunity, if we be no worse than they; the difficulty of holy living is increased by its singularity. Is not one blessing, which we derive from a contemplation of the angels, the thought of support which the obedience of their “innumerable company” lends to cheer the hearts of those who on earth are fighting against numbers?
III. Their happiness.
IV. There is a reason why even Christians hesitate to call a man happy till he is dead, not because he may fall into misfortune, but into sin. As long as life lasts, so long lasts temptation. Exhaustion of body, or extremity of pain, or influence of opiates, or dreadful memory of early sins, exercises at times a desperate tyranny over the quiet of the closing day. Therefore with such dangers even to the last, well may we hold our breath and cal no man happy till he be dead.
V. There is in the religious life scarcely a sorer trial than doubt. And not only in matters of speculation and doubt, but in every common incident of daily life, let us force ourselves to imagine what our departed friends now feel, not what they once felt.
VI. A contemplation of the dead will relieve us of the painful thought that death cuts short the work of life. The life beyond the grave has been beautifully compared to the heavens at night. Think how, at the creation of day and night, Adam must have marvelled to see the sun withdraw; how dread and awful must have been the first darkness veiling from his eyes a world of perfect beauty; what a blank it must have appeared in his sight! But greater far was his amazement when stars broke out, and one by one lit up the hollow vaults of heaven, and the whole spaces of the air were jewelled with bright orbs, and countless worlds like unto his own were presented to his eyes! If the sun by day can so blind us, and the darkness of nightfall can reveal so many worlds, why may not death not only compensate a man for the loss of life, but open to his clearer vision regions of untraversed light which it had not entered into his heart to conceive?
VII. Remember above all things that the happiness of those we speak of depends not on themselves. God Himself is their light and life and their exceeding great reward; their eyes rest on Him; salvation is His free gift. (Canon Furse.)
A great multitude, which no man could number.
The saints in heaven
I. What John saw and heard.
1. A great multitude of all nations. When John was on earth he saw but few believers. The Church was like a lily in a field of thorns--lambs in the midst of wolves; but now quite different--thorns are plucked away--the lilies innumerable. Every country had its representatives there--some saved out of every land. All were like Christ, and yet all retained their different peculiarities.
2. Their position. They stood before the throne; yea, nearer than the angels, for they stood round about. This marks their complete righteousness. In Christ they stand, not in themselves. Nearer than angels; the angels have only creature-righteousness--these have on Creator righteousness. If you are ever to be near God, you may come freely to Him now. Why keep so far away?
3. Their dress--white robes and palms. They have all the same dress, there is no difference. It is the garment of Christ. Awakened persons are sometimes led to cry, “O that I had never sinned!” but here is something better than if you had never sinned.
4. Their song. The substance of it. Salvation. They give God all the glory. The effect of it: it stirs up the hearts of the angels (verses 11, 12). How do you feel when you hear of others being saved and brought nearer to God than you? Do you envy and hate them, or do you fail down and praise God for it?
II. Their past history. Two particulars are given. Each had a different history; still in these two they were alike.
1. They had washed their robes. You think to go to heaven by your own decency, innocency, attention to duties. Well, you would be the only such one there: all are washed in blood.
2. They came out of great tribulation. Every one that gets to the throne must put their foot upon the thorn. The way to the crown is by the Cross. We must taste the gall if we are to taste the glory. Go round every one in glory; every one has a different story, yet every one has a tale of suffering. One was persecuted in his family, by his friends and companions; another was visited by sore pains and humbling disease, neglected by the world; another was bereaved of children. Mark, all are brought out of them. It was a dark cloud, but it passed away: the water was deep, but they have reached the other side. Not one of them blames God for the road He led them--“Salvation” is their only cry.
III. Future history.
1. Immediate service of God. Here we are allowed to spend much of our time in our worldly callings. We shall spend eternity in loving God, in adoring, admiring, and praising God. We should spend much of our present time in this.
2. Not in the wilderness any more. At present we are like a flock in the wilderness, our soul often hungry, and thirsty, and sorely tried. Learn to glorify Him in the fires, to sing in the wilderness. This is the only world where you can give God that glory.
3. Father, Son, and Spirit will bless us. (R. M. McCheyne.)
Humanity in heaven
I. Humanity in heaven form one vast community. This fact implies--
1. The marvellous success of the gospel.
2. The impartiality of the gospel.
3. The socialising power of the gospel.
II. Humanity in heaven are distinguished in position. “Stood before the throne.” This indicates--
1. The highest service.
2. The highest honour.
3. The highest integrity.
III. Humanity in heaven are glorious in appearance.
1. Perfectly sinless. “White robes.”
2. Completely triumphant. “Palms.”
IV. Humanity in heaven are delightful in employment. Singing is worship in its perfect form. The song is--
1. Redemption in its theme.
2. Grateful in its purpose.
(1) To God as the author of salvation.
(2) To the Redeemer as the medium of salvation.
3. Enthusiastic in its spirit.
4. Contagious in its effect.
V. Humanity in heaven are perfect in bliss.
1. Freedom from all evil.
(1) No more sin.
(2) No more suffering.
(3) No more sorrow.
2. Enjoyment of all good.
(1) Divine service.
(2) Divine fellowship.
(3) Divine care. (B. D. Johns.)
The saints in heaven
There is no good reason why this graphic picture of the heavenly land should be in our hands except for some practical purpose. The Bible is a practical book. The Bible comes to put the seen where it belongs, and give the unseen a chance to get hold of us, lest, in wilful near-sightedness, we miss altogether the eternal realities with which lies our chief concern. Linger in the vestibule we must for a time, but how? With faces averted from the cathedral entrance, indifferent to what lies beyond, or intent upon the grander thing that lies before us, for whose revelation we wait with expectant heart? In this picture--
(1) Heaven is nothing if it be not realistic. It has a local habitation as well as a name. So had it to all Bible-men of faith. How real to them i
(2) Again, what catholicity in heaven! Of the covenant mercies of the Jewish tabernacle it was hard for a Gentile to get a glimpse; to sit down as one of the true Israel was his only as by reluctant concession to an alien. But this exclusiveness lingers not even to cast a shadow. No barrier of race nor of high or low, of early or late, intervenes to hinder that they come into that high fellowship of God-like catholicity.
(3) But, though so catholic, there is a discrimination of character which makes them one, which also gives to heaven an air of exclusiveness. They are white-robed, all of them, and not one robe made white by any process save one. The fact and the manner of it are both significant. There are no notes of discord in the song they sing--no praises but of One and the efficacy of His atoning blood, Rejecting Christ as the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, be it by Jew or Gentile, is turning away from Him who opens and no man shuts, shuts and no man opens. It is to reject the only means of blanching character to snowy whiteness, the only condition of sin’s forgiveness.
(4) Note the contrasts to their former condition. (H. C. Haydn, D. D.)
The human population in heaven
I. Its numbers are too great for calculation.
1. A reproof to all sectarianism.
2. An encouragement to all Christly work.
3. A response to all philanthropic desires.
4. An attestation of benevolent Creatorship.
II. Its variety includes all the races of mankind.
1. Our highest aim should be to become true men.
2. Our highest love should be for men.
III. Its gloriousness transcends all description.
1. Their position.
2. Their attire.
3. Their blessed rest.
IV. Its engagements are rapturous in devotion. “Salvation” includes restoration from ignorance to true knowledge, from impurity to holiness, from bondage to soul liberty, from selfishness to benevolence, from materialism to genuine spirituality, from the reign of wrong to the reign of right. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The redeemed in glory
I. The redeemed in heaven are exceedingly numerous.
1. We might infer from some passages of Scripture that very few persons would be saved.
2. We might infer from the present aspect of society that very few persons would be saved.
II. The redeemed in heaven are greatly diversified.
1. The society of heaven will be greatly diversified. From all ranks and conditions in life.
2. The service of heaven will be greatly diversified.
III. The redeemed in heaven are highly exalted.
1. They have access to the throne of God.
2. They have fellowship with the Lamb of God.
IV. The redeemed in heaven are perfectly happy.
1. Perfectly holy.
2. Perfectly safe. (J. T. Woodhouse.)
The redeemed in heaven
I. The great number of the redeemed. It is in the highest degree probable that the number of the redeemed will finally exceed the number of the lost. For consider--
1. The vast number of children that die.
2. The predictions of Scripture, that a time is coming when the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
3. Jesus Christ is represented as ultimately to be a conqueror.
II. The extensive variety of the redeemed. Every geographical barrier which now separates people from people will be swept away; every national antipathy will be extinguished, and every denominational peculiarity will be at an end.
III. The beautiful appearance of the redeemed. The white robe is an emblem of the moral purity which characterises the redeemed in heaven. Faith in Christ is the grand and the only specific for moral purification. Its efficacy is the same for men of all generations and of all climes.
IV. The delightful song of the redeemed. The glories of God, as displayed in the works of His hand, will furnish the occasion of growing wonder and delight. Then, too, we believe that mysteries of Providence will be disclosed. And yet, glorious as will be the discoveries that God will afford of His works in creation, and of His ways in providence, it will still be “salvation” that will be the keynote of rejoicing to the Church triumphant. And who will be the objects of their praise? God and the Lamb. (Charles Hargreaves.)
The great multitude
The vision of pent-up judgment begins this chapter; then the sealing and the ingathering. Our text is the result of the ingathering, as seen in heaven.
I. The numbers. “A great multitude, which no man could number.” The three thousand at Pentecost were a large number, but this is greater. The hundreds and thousands, both in Judea and throughout the Gentile world, at Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and other places, were specimens of the great ingathering; but here we have the aggregate, the summing-up of all. Like Israel, they cannot be numbered for multitude; they are like the stars of heaven, or the sand which is by the sea-shore.
II. The nationalities. Every people furnishes its quota to this great assembly; every tribe has its representatives here; every region, every colour, every language, every kingdom, every people, every age and century. It is the general assembly and Church of the first-born. Here all nationalities meet in one great heavenly nationality, without jealousy or distrust; all one in Him who redeemed them by His blood.
III. The posture. “Standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.” They “stand.” It is the posture of triumph and honour; “having done all, they stand” (Ephesians 6:18). Not bowed down, nor kneeling, nor prostrate, their erect posture indicates the high position to which they have been brought; and especially is this honour apparent when we see them standing “before the throne, and before the Lamb,” in the very presence of the King.
IV. The raiment. They are “clothed with white robes.”
1. It is the raiment of heaven (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Acts 1:12).
2. It is the raiment of purity and perfection.
3. It is the raiment of triumph. It is given to him that overcometh (Revelation 3:5).
4. It is the festal dress. At the marriage-supper this is the raiment provided; the bride sits down at the table in the King’s pavilion “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white” (Revelation 19:8).
V. The Badge. They had “palms in their hands.” The palm is the symbol of gladness and of victory. Here it is specially used in reference to the feast of tabernacles, the gladdest of all Israel’s festivals (Leviticus 23:40). The true feast of tabernacles, the memorial of our desert sojourn and earthly pilgrimage ended for ever, the saints shall celebrate in the New Jerusalem. The days of their mourning shall be ended; their everlasting joy begun.
VI. The shout. They “cry with aloud voice, Salvation to our God that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (H. Bonar, D. D.)
What they wear and do in heaven
I. How shall i begin by telling you of the number of those in heaven? One of the most impressive things I have looked upon is an army. Standing upon a hillside you see forty thousand or fifty thousand men pass along. You can hardly imagine the impression if you have not actually felt it.
II. Their antecedents--“of all nations, and kindreds and tongues.” Some of them spoke Scotch, Irish, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Tamil, Burmese. I suppose, in the great throng around the throne, it will not be difficult to tell from what part of the earth they came. In this world men prefer different kinds of government. The United States want a Republic. The British Government needs to be a Constitutional Monarchy. Austria wants Absolutism; but when they come up from earth, they will prefer one great monarchy--King Jesus ruler over it.
III. The dress of those is heaven. It is white! In this world we had sometimes to have on working-day apparel. Bright and lustrous garments would be ridiculously out of place sweltering amid forges, or mixing paints, or plastering ceilings, or binding books. When all toil on earth is past, and there is no more drudgery, and no more weariness, we shall stand before the throne robed in white. On earth we sometimes had to wear mourning apparel--black scarf for the arm, black veil for the face, black gloves for the hands, black band for the hat. But when these bereavements have all passed and no more sorrow to suffer, we shall put off this mourning and be robed in white.
IV. The symbols they carry.
V. The song they sing. In this world we have secular songs, nursery songs, boatmen’s songs, harvest songs, sentimental songs; but in heaven we will have taste for only one song, and that will be the song of salvation from an eternal death to an eternal heaven, through the blood of the Lamb that was slain. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
I. The redeemed of the Lord is their station above: brought not merely to the same world in which their Saviour dwells, to the same kingdom, to its metropolis, to the palace, to the Court, but into the very presence chamber of the King, and stationed before His throne. Not that throne of grace before which on earth they bowed in penitence, brokenness of heart will then for ever pass away; not the throne of judgment around which they will gather at the last day, they will have passed from that; but the throne of glory--to behold God “face to face”--to “see him as He is”--not merely by an intellectual apprehension, but by the eyes of the glorified body. They “stood before the throne”; a word importing holy confidence, consciousness that they are welcome.
II. The appearance of this multitude.
1. Clad in “white robes” importing their complete justification and acceptance with God. We have only to look at the scene before us to see the indispensable necessity of the Divinity of Christ, to constitute the efficacy of the atonement. These two stand or fall together. If there be an atonement for sin, it must of necessity make way for as clear a display of Divine justice as well as mercy, in the salvation of the redeemed, as if they had suffered the penalty of their transgressions in their own proper person, and had sunk under their guilt down to the lowest hell. There must be an equivalent by the atonement, whatever it be. I do not mean a money equivalent; but there must be a moral equivalent. It would be no atonement if a way were not made for the manifestation of Divine justice, as clear and as impressive as it would have been if the whole redeemed had sunk under the chains of their transgressions. Look, then, to the redeemed, and think of countless myriads washed in the blood of the Lamb; and who must that Lamb be but, in another view of His nature, the Son of God, equal with the Father? But the expression imports another thing with respect to the redeemed: their entire sanctification. Their robes are washed in the blood of the Lamb; their sanctification is effected by the work of the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is granted through the mediation of Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit uses as the means of our sanctification the great truths presented in the atoning sacrifice of the Cross; and therefore our sanctification is effected by the blood of Christ, as well as our justification.
2. “Palms in their hands.” Heaven will be the sweeter for the power of contrast. We, in the enjoyment of victory, shall think of the conflict.
III. The number--“a multitude which no man can number.” Add these things together--the fruits of the Father’s eternal love, of the Son’s redeeming work, and the Spirit’s sanctification; think of the answer of the prayers of the righteous in every age who have wrestled with God for the outpouring of His Spirit: and then say whether the multitude will not be greater than can be numbered.
IV. Their variety--“of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” Various are the systems of Church polity, and the rites and the ceremonies and the usages, that distinguish and divide Christians now; and, alas! not merely for poor human nature, but for poor renewed nature--the party spirit, the bitterness, the strife, to which these differences give rise! But one heaven shall contain them all. Why cannot we be more one now since we shall certainly be one hereafter?
V. Their occupation. They are “before the throne.” They are presented to us in an act of praise. The adoration of God, the service of God, fellowship with God, will be the felicity of the redeemed. We must never let drop that idea. We are to see God; “His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face.” We shall see God in Christ. Such appears to be our eternal occupation, mingled with the other occupations in which we engage. Just look at the theme of their praise--“salvation.” If salvation be little thought of on earth, it is much thought of in heaven; if it is the lowest in men’s pursuits here, it is the highest in their enjoyments there. Think of the object of their praises: not only “God,” but “the Lamb.” What an argument for the Divinity of Christ!--that in the heavenly world He is presented as occupying the same seat of dignity, surrounded with the same worshippers, receiving the same homage as the Father! Look at the harmony of their praise. Iris one song. Yes, we shall be harmonised in heaven, if we are not upon earth. Notice, lastly, the rapture of their praise--“they sing with a loud voice.” Hosannahs will be changed into hallelujahs. And that sung not with dulness, as we too often now worship God; not with coldness, as if our praises came from lips of ice; no, but with rapture of hearts too full to hold their bliss. The song will never cease and never tire. I have a question to ask you: Will you be there? Will you join that multitude? Will you swell that choir and anthem? (J. A. James.)
A glimpse of the redeemed in glory
I. Who are there?
1. “A multitude.” The region is not solitary. Once it was. The period was when God was all in all. There was the throne, and the great I AM sat upon that throne. But there was no world beneath it, and no multitude before it. And even after the sons of God were made, it was long before any of our race was there. When Abel found himself before the throne, he found no human comrade there. But thus it is not now. There is “a multitude”--so many, as to give the region a friendly look of terrestrial brotherhood--so many, that the affinities and tastes which still survive will find their counterparts--so many, that every service will be sublimed, and every enjoyment heightened, by the countless throng who share it.
2. A mighty multitude. “A great multitude, which no man could number.” Not a stinted few--not a scanty and reluctant remnant; but a mighty host-like God’s own perfections, an affluent and exuberant throng--like Immanuel’s merits, which brought them there, something very vast, and merging into infinity.
3. A miscellaneous multitude. “Of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” For many ages one nation supplied most of the inhabitants. But Jesus broke down the partition wall; and since His gospel went into all the world, all the world has contributed its citizens to the New Jerusalem. All kindreds and people are there--men of all aptitudes and all instincts--men of all grades and conditions. And there, suffused with sanctity, and softened into perfect subjection, we may recognise the temperament or the talent which gave each on earth his identity and his peculiar interest. Blended and overborne by the prevailing likeness to the Elder Brother, each may retain his mental attributes and moral features; and in the dimensions of their disc, and the tinting of their rays, the stars of glory may differ from one another.
4. A multitude who once were mourners. “These are they which came out of great tribulation.” To live in a world like this was itself a tribulation--a world of distance from God--a world of faith without sight--a world of wicked men; but they have come out of that tribulation. To have had to do with sin was a terrible tribulation--from the time that they were first convinced of it, all along through the great life-battle, contending with manifold temptations--contending with their own carnality and sloth, their pride and worldly-mindedness, their unruly passions and sinful tempers: but they have come out of that tribulation also.
5. And they are a multitude who shall form an eternal monument of the Redeemer’s grace and power. Such are the human inhabitants of heaven.
II. But what is it that they do there?
1. They celebrate a victory. They have “palms in their hands.” They are “overcomers.”
2. They serve God. Adoration at the throne, activity in the temple--the worship of the heart, the worship of the voice, the worshiper the hands--the whole being consecrated to God--these are the service of the upper sanctuary. Here a week will often see us weary in well-doing; there they are drawn on by its own deliciousness to larger and larger fulfilments of Jehovah’s will. Here we must lure ourselves to work by the prospect of rest hereafter: there the toil is luxury, and the labour recreation--and nothing but jubilees of praise, and holidays of higher service, are wanted to diversify the long and industrious “Sabbath of the skies.”
3. They see God. “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them;” or, as in Revelation 22:4, “They see His face.”
4. They follow the Lamb. “The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters.” Even in heaven something of the mediatorial economy survives. Even where they see God, they follow the Lamb, and a close and conspicuous relation continues to subsist betwixt the Redeemer and His ransomed. He remains the Leader of His blood-bought company; and whilst He prescribes their occupation, He is the immediate source of their blessedness.
5. And--just to complete the glance--there are some things which there they never do. They do not want, they do not weary, and they do not weep. (James Hamilton.)
The redeemed in heaven
I. The text presents the redeemed in heaven as forming one blessed and glorious society. Man is formed for society, which not only furnishes some of his sweetest enjoyments, but is necessary to call forth the powers of his mind. Without it the best purposes of his being would be defeated; the benevolent principles of his nature would be rendered useless. His pleasures, from having no kindred soul to share them, would cease to please. Hence society is eagerly sought as essential to our happiness; but the pleasures which it is fitted to yield are greatly impaired by a variety of disagreeable circumstances, arising out of the imperfection of the present state. But it is otherwise with the society of heaven. There the honey is without the sting, and the rose without the thorn, and attachment and intercourse without any detraction or alloy. Their opportunities of intercourse are ample, and the pleasures which flow from it are of the purest kind. Here it is with difficulty that we can select from the crowd a few with whom we are disposed to unite in intimate fellowship; hut there are to be found all the great and the good who ever existed in the universe of God. Their intercourse is free and unreserved. The caution and concealment which we often find it necessary to observe in our correspondence with one another, are, amongst them, altogether unknown. One common principle of sympathy is diffused throughout the whole; and whatever each has to communicate finds a response in every bosom, and awakens a reciprocal emotion in every soul. Their attachment for one another is also sincere and ardent.
II. In the text the redeemed in heaven are represented as a society of vast amount. Heaven is not to be viewed as a thinly peopled country, or a place of narrow and confined dimensions, containing only a few inhabitants. We are taught to conceive of it as a large and extensive empire, teeming everywhere with a happy and active population. When we think of the number who, during the long period of the Old Testament dispensation, lived and died in the faith of the Messiah to come--and of the still greater number who, since His coming, have believed in Him to the saving of the soul--the whole, taken collectively, will be found to be a countless multitude. To those who are now in the world of glory we must add the multitude who shall believe in the Son of God ere the gospel dispensation comes to a close; and then, who shall be able to calculate their amount?
III. In the text the redeemed in heaven are represented As collected from the varieties of the human race. Heaven is not the destined dwelling-place of any one class only of the human race. The gospel reveals a common salvation, and opens a path to heaven for all the diversities of the human race. Many have already “come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and have sat down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven”; and every day is adding to their number. No power shall prevent the universal diffusion of the gospel when “the time to favour Zion, even the set time, is come.” Scepticism and infidelity shall find a grave. Pagan superstition shall pass away as the mist which rolls up the mountain’s side disappears before the rising glory of the summer morn. Then “all the ends of the world shall remember, and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Him: for the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is the Governor among the nations.” He shall take to Himself His great power and reign.
IV. In the text the redeemed in heaven are represented as in the immediate presence of their God and Redeemer. Even in this dark and distant world the people of God enjoy His gracious presence. To them He manifests Himself as He doth not unto the world. He blesses them with the knowledge of His character, and with a sense of His love; but here they see Him only obscurely. They see Him through the medium of His Word and ordinances, as in a mirror, darkly. It is otherwise in heaven. There He gives displays of His glory, of which the Shekinah, the bright shining cloud in which He appeared of old in the holy of holies, was but a faint and feeble emblem. There He is beheld, not in the dim vision of faith, but clearly, as with our bodily organs we behold the sun shining in the firmament. Even in heaven it is true, that as to His essence, God will be for ever unseen and unknown. But there He manifests Himself by such external tokens as show that He is near. The beams of His glory are so diffused over all that happy land, that all its inhabitants have the clear and intimate perception of His presence, and a full and distinct consciousness of abiding in it. They feel themselves to be walking continually in the brightness of His face!
V. The text represents the redeemed in heaven as distinguished by spotless holiness. From all that was imperfect in their character here below; from all that was wrong in their temper or disposition; from all that was feeble in their love and devotion; from all that was displeasing to the view of others, they are entirely and for ever freed. They appear “without fault before the throne of God.”
VI. In the text the redeemed in heaven are represented as enjoying the honours and bliss of a triumph. (D. M. Inglis.)
Society in heaven
1. There is nothing which is so distressing to an earnest man as the thought which sometimes rises in his mind, that here we are bound together in families and nations; that after death all such relations cease; that all becomes individual and solitary. If St. John’s teaching is true, this teaching is false. The multitude that no man can number is a society. Their robes have become white, because every stain of selfishness has been washed from them by the blood of the Lamb. Their palms show that they have gotten the victory over those causes which have destroyed the unity of kindreds and nations here. There is no dull uniformity, no single tongue: but all is harmonious amidst diversity. In that company the one word which is connected with the Divine name is Salvation; salvation from the curse that men have made for themselves.
2. The sight of this multitude from every nation and kindred must have been a lesson to the missionary of that day, may be a lesson to the missionary of this, tending to abate his pride, but also--why do I say but, why not therefore:--his despair. He sometimes tries to console himself with thoughts of God’s mercy to those who are ignorant, and have had no means of knowing better. But then he sees that the heathens among whom he goes are actually brutalised and corrupted; no tolerance of their religion can make that fact less appalling to him. And then, when he thinks how few can ever hear his preaching, how few can understand the sounds he utters, he begins to doubt if God has not deserted His own world. But it is not so. His converts may be few. He may have little power of making himself intelligible. But He of whom the missionary speaks, He who has sent him, has His ways of making Himself intelligible, has His ways of bringing people of every nation, and tongue, and clime, through much tribulation, to knowledge of the Lord who died for them and is ever with them, to a knowledge of His Father and their Father.
3. I am aware how easily a captious bystander, knowing nothing of the real anguish of a missionary, or of his real inspiration, may turn what I have said into an argument why he may be indifferent to the work, seeing it will be performed without him. In hours of unutterable sorrow, voices of consolation have come to you, you knew not from whence. In times of temptation, when your souls were balancing on the edge of a precipice, some old sentence has been brought back to you from the field of sleep, some house or tree has served to pour forth strange warnings or encouragements. Why may not those whispers have been borne from those who spoke them of old to the ear, not as now to the heart? Why may not elder patriots and martyrs be echoing Christ’s own words in the ears of their brothers, in lonely dungeons which no friend in the flesh can approach, at the stake when no visible smile may greet them, when God’s name is used to condemn them--“Be faithful unto death, He will give you the crown of life.” And why may not these same be the teachers and evangelists of the lands for which they wept and bled below?
4. There is one thought more in connection with this subject which I dare not suppress. In the calendar of a great part of Christendom All Saints’ Day is followed by All Souls’ Day. We may remember that the angels of God rejoice over one sinner that repents, because God rejoices. We may be sure that He, without whom a sparrow does not fall to the ground, does not lose sight of a soul which He has made. We may be sure, therefore, that all saints care for all souls. Their affections, their powers of sympathy and blessing, are not limited as ours are by circumstances of time and space. They are limited only by that love of God, the height and depth and length and breadth of which they are as incapable of measuring as we are, but which flows forth to them, and in them, and through them everlastingly. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The great multitude
It is a refreshing thing to look away for a moment from the strife and uncharitableness of human systems and conclusions, each disposed to narrow heaven within its own pale and party, and to behold “a multitude, such as no man could number,” entering by the gate into the everlasting city. But whilst we may justly rejoice in being able to appeal from human judgment to Divine, in having the authority of Scripture for not only assigning vast capacity to heaven, but for regarding it as the home of an interminable throng, we are to take heed that we lower not the conditions of admission, as though the entrance must be easy, because a great multitude shall be there. The great, the solemn truth remains, that “there shall enter into the city nothing which defileth,” “neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they that are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” And a glance at the context should suffice to keep down any rising thought that, because there shall be “a great multitude” in heaven, and, therefore, perhaps, numbers whom their fellow-men never expected to be there, some may find admission who have taken no pains to secure so great a blessing. So far from there being anything for you to reckon upon, ye who are not striving after a moral fitness for heaven, in the alleged vastness of the multitude which is to occupy heaven, there is much to admonish and warn you: if ye know nothing of the “great tribulation,” of the warfare with “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” ye may forfeit your places: but those places will not stand empty: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham”; and He will not be reduced through the want of faithful disciples to the admitting into His presence the rebellious and unclean. Yea, and over and above there being a warning to us in the fact that heaven shall be peopled to the full, even should we ourselves come short of the inheritance, is it not an animating thing to be told of all “nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” as contributing to the occupancy of the majestic abode? Oh, glorious society which shall thus be gathered from all ages, all ranks, all countries! There is beauty in diversity, there is majesty in combination. Even now it is felt to be an ennobling, inspiriting association, if the eminent of a single Church, the illustrious of a solitary country, be gathered together in one great conclave. How do meaner men flock to the spot; with what interest, what awe, do they look upon persons so renowned in their day; what a privilege do they account it if they mingle awhile with sages so profound, with saints so devoted; how do they treasure the sayings which reach them in so precious an intercourse. And shall we think little of heaven when we hear of it as the meeting-place of all that hath been truly great, for of all that hath been truly good; of all that hath been really wise, for of all that hath yielded itself to the teachings of God’s Spirit, from Adam to his remotest descendant? But it is not merely as asserting the vastness of the multitude which shall finally be gathered into heaven that our text presents matter for devout meditation. We are not to overlook the attitude assigned to the celestial assembly, an attitude of rest and of triumph, as though there had been labour and warfare, and the wearied combatants were henceforward to enjoy unbroken quiet. “They stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” Not that by repose we are to understand inactivity, for Scripture is most express on the continued engagement of every faculty of a glorified saint in the service of the Creator and Redeemer. The great multitude stand before the throne--the attitude implying that they wait to execute the commands of the Lord; and they join in a high song of praise and exultation, “Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.” No idleness then, though there is perfect repose. But rest, as opposed to anything that is painful or toilsome in employment--repose, as implying that there shall never again be weariness, exhaustion, difficulty, or danger, notwithstanding that there shall be the consecration of the whole man to the work of magnifying the Lord. What an attractive, what an animating view of heaven is that of its being a state of repose, as contrasted with our present state of warfare and toil--the white robe in place of the “whole armour of God”; the palm in place of the sword in the hand. For--let the course of the Divine dealings with any member of the Church be the very smoothest that is compatible with a state of probation, still, compassed about as we all are with infirmity, called upon to do many things to which we are naturally disinclined, which we can neither perform without painful effort nor omit without sinful neglect; exposed to temptations from the world, the flesh, and the devil--indeed it were hard to understand how any believer could often be other than “weary and heavy laden.” It is not that he would give up the service of God, but that he would be able to serve God without weariness. It is not that he would be released from the struggle with corruption, but that he would have no corruption to struggle with, the final touches of sanctification having been given, so that he is “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing.” And such a state of repose awaits us in heaven. There is another distinguishing feature of the heavenly state which may be gathered from our text. You cannot fail to observe that, though the great multitude is collected from all nations and tribes, there is perfect concord or agreement; they form but one company and join in one anthem. The redeemed are to constitute one rejoicing company. Nay, and the representation may almost be said to go beyond this. How are they to constitute this one company, associated by close ties, and joining in the same song, unless they are to know one the other hereafter? When Christ speaks of many as coming from the east and the west, He speaks also of their sitting down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. But this were apparently no privilege, unless they are to know these patriarchs. It argues a heart still bound up in selfishness, if it be little to us that, admitted into heaven, we are to be freed from all petty bounds and distinctions, and to form part of one close but countless community. The soul should be stirred within us as we think of patriarchs, and prophets, and priests, and kings--of apostles, confessors, and martyrs; of the illustrious, not by earthly achievements which too often dazzle by a false glare; but the illustrious in the fight of faith--and not only of the illustrious whose names go down in Christian biography, the precious legacy of age to age; but of that unknown, that unremembered multitude, the good, the godly, of successive generations, who, in the quiet privacies of ordinary life, have served their God and their Redeemer--for “he,” saith Christ, “that overcometh shall inherit all things”--oh, I say, the soul should be stirred within us as we think of such an assembly, and hear ourselves invited to join it, and are told that we may have the friendship of each and every one in the interminable gathering. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Is not this a strengthening, elevating thought--this of that countless multitude which wilt one day stand before the throne? How often we are tempted to be out of all heart. The worlds seems so strong, and the Church seems so weak--Christianity itself almost a failure, unable to enlist the affections of men, at least of the men of this generation, impotent to contest the battle-field of the earth with the powers which are arrayed against it. Put away from you thoughts like these. They are the pleas of our indolence, the outcomings of our unbelief. They may be few here or few there! but let them all be gathered into one, and they will constitute an innumerable company. God would not be satisfied with less. He will have no solitudes, no vacant thrones in heaven, but infinite multitudes to be sharers in His blessedness, to declare to all creation and through all eternity the wondrous counsels of His love. And then what thoughts arise in the heart as we contemplate not the numbers only, but the quarters from which all these will have been gathered--from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues.” Those who were divided here by all which could divide, who were separated from one another by immense distances of time, of space, of culture--barbarians to one another here--yea, those who were kept asunder by far sadder barriers than these, those who misunderstood, perhaps mutually anathematised one another, shall yet, being one in Christ, one in their faith and love to Him, stand together before the throne, and exchange the long alienations and miserable discords of earth for the blessed concords of heaven. Think, too, from other points of view, what a marvellous company will that be! Think of all that will be there, and--awful thought!--of all that will not be there. Not there many who have walked in the full blaze of gospel light, who, knowing much, have loved not at all; whose places, therefore, for there were places for them if they had shown themselves worthy of them, shall know them not; while there will be found in that wondrous company not a few who, amid much darkness, superstition, and error, have been true to the central truth of all, have clung to Jesus with full affiance of heart; and when it shall be inquired with something of wonder why this one or the other is so near to the throne, “He loved much,” or “She loved much,” will be the key and explanation of all. (Abp. Trench.)
The saved a great multitude
Looking through a large library the other day, I came upon an old collection of tracts, printed some two hundred years ago, and one of them, written by an Oxford professor, bore the wonderful title, “Moral reflections upon the number of the elect, proving plainly that not one in a hundred thousand, probably not one in a million, from Adam to our time, shall be saved.” (W. Baxendale.)
Salvation to our God … and unto the Lamb.
The song of the Church in heaven and on earth
The work of redemption by Christ fills the Church in heaven and earth with wonder, gratitude, and joy; “Salvation to God, and to the Lamb.” God Himself rejoices in the work of redemption. When He made the world, He rested, and was refreshed--all was very good; when the scheme of His providence shall be wound up, He will rejoice in all His works; but He delights more in the work of redemption than in those of creation and providence; for these are only subservient to this illustrious display of Himself. The saints in heaven and on earth rejoice in the work of redemption, and praise God for it: “Salvation to God and to the Lamb.” They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb; the wonders of creation, and providence, and grace. On earth the saints praise God with many imperfections. How can they sing the Lord’s song in strange land? But they sing in faith, in hope, with sincerity, and with true gladness of heart. The same principle which influences the saints in heaven to rejoice in the increase of their own number, operates in the saints on earth, when Sion breaks forth on the right hand and on the left. They rejoice, therefore, when they hear that the Word of the Lord runs and is glorified over all the earth. The holy angels rejoice in the salvation of sinners by the Lamb (verse 11). God reveals as much of His plan of grace towards sinners of Adam’s family to the angels as fills them with wonder and love. They rejoice in this work, because they rejoice in God Himself as the author of it. The joy of angels in relation to the work of the redemption of sinners is continually upon the increase. They rejoice in the additions dally made to the glory of Christ--in the new crowns set on His head, the new victories of His grace over Satan and sin--the now evidences of the Divinity of His religion--and with the Church shall sing a new song, when nations are born at once, and a people in a day! The work of redemption is a proper foundation for joy. In heaven they sing for ever of it; on earth, all who know it admire and adore God who hath abounded in it in all wisdom and prudence. It is the chief of His ways. The work of salvation by Christ gives wonderful displays of God, and therefore is a foundation of joy and wonder. In this stupendous work of redemption God is seen as a God of infinite mercy. His mercy flows in the atonement of His Son, for He is a just God, as well as merciful, and a Saviour. The salvation of sinners greatly exalts the character of the Saviour. Each person in the Godhead has His own distinct part in salvation and His own distinct glory. The glory belongs to the eternal Three, but the Lamb is the chief subject of praise by the Church. (The Christian Magazine.)
The worship of heaven
Heaven’s worship is the worship of praise. Prayer Is not offered there. The ordinance, “Every one that asketh receiveth,” does not extend to heaven. Heaven’s tenants are always receiving; but they receive everything without asking. The spiritual discipline of asking is not needed in heaven. Complaint is not heard there; deprecation is not heard there; intercession is not heard there. God’s attributes are celebrated in chant and song. If the spirits in heaven were disembodied there would still be worship; but it would be silent worship--worship in affection; worship in volition. But if corporeal form shelter human souls there, and the faculty of utterance be given to those forms, surely that faculty must be consecrated to the purposes of devotion. There are bodies, and there is utterance. The praise of heaven is common--not solitary. There are no mere listeners there--all worship. And this praise is melodious. It is not praise in common speech, or ordinary language. There is music as well as voice. There are harmony and melody. The celestial congregation do not speak praise--they sing praise. It is known to all, moreover, that the worship of heaven is neither localised nor limited to seasons. There is incessant worship. The worship of the Paradise regained corresponds with the worship of the Paradise lost. All the ground is hallowed; every day is a holy day; every hour a season of worship; and worship is always in season. Is it possible for us men ever to be engaged in this worship? What are the qualifications of redeemed men for the worship of the skies? Capacity, qualification even for the worship of the skies, is involved in all that constitutes your salvation; involved in your new birth; involved in the position which you occupy as justified before God; involved in your sanctification.
1. A saved man has a capacity for the worship of heaven in his personal holiness, and in the knowledge of God with which that holiness is associated. Born with a sinful nature, and going astray from the beginning of life, he could not always see God in himself. Conscience then was smarting; but the wound is healed. Memory was then burdened with a load of transgression; but that load is taken away. Sin in various forms had dominion in that heart; but the dominion of sin is for ever destroyed.
2. Glorified saints have ability to worship in ever increasing knowledge of God; for in all celestial objects God is seen, and seen in those objects more and more.
3. The saved in heaven are capable of celestial worship through the influence over them of superior spirits. Before redeemed men rank angels and seraphs; and rising above them are thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. All these worship, and they excite, and they encourage the saved man to worship. To be silent would be to imprison his own heart, and to fetter his own mind.
4. The serenity, the peace of mind which characterises the redeemed is another element of power for worship. The peace of God--that quietness of soul which, as you know, is essential to the highest worship, to adoration and to praise--keeps their hearts and minds; and there is no confusion of mind, no perturbation of soul. The troubled sea is an emblem of an unpardoned soul; but a sea of glass is a symbol of the glorified spirit. Understanding, reason, imagination, conscience, emotion, will, are all in their place, performing with accuracy and vigour the functions assigned to them. Here is no intellectual dulness or obliquity, no misguided or misplaced affection. The harp is strung and tuned, every string perfect, and the tension complete. The voice is strong, and sweet, and clear: there is no harshness, no lack of melody.
5. The equal development of every spiritual faculty and grace increases the capacity for worship. Inequality in our spiritual development is a great hindrance to worship. Here we often see narrow minds, feeble hearts, weak faith, fickle love, wavering hope, or broken utterance. In heaven the development is like that of a full-blown flower, or of perfectly ripe fruit.
6. Conscious identity is another element of power. Into the “I am,” and the “I was,” the glorified Christian fully enters; and the contrasts prompt him to worship. “I was,” he says, “in danger--I am safe. I was a criminal--I am a righteous child. I was a sufferer--I am now without a tear, without a sigh. I was poor--I have now an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.”
7. They have qualification also in the knowledge of all things with which they need to be acquainted. Many a matter that we have here called a mystery will there be fully explained.
8. A mighty power in worship is that of love--the love of gratitude and the love of complacency. We mean a deep sense of obligation to God, and a thorough joy in God. (S. Martin, D. D.)
All the angels stood round about the throne.
The existence and employment of the holy angels
I. The existence of angels. To what purpose discourse to us concerning the inhabitants of a world future, remote, and of which our ideas are very confused? Let us rather attend to the world in which we live, and to them that dwell therein. It would be perfectly right so to do if the world in which we live were the only one with which we were connected, and death the final period of our existence. But if there be another world which is to receive us for ever, the existence of its inhabitants becomes a speculation both pleasing and important. This state of our being, you say, is future. It is so to-day, but before to-morrow it may be present to some. You say it is remote. That by no means appears. It may not be “far from every one of us.” The spiritual and eternal world, into which we are, at a destined hour, to be born, may be, like its Divine Maker and King, near us, and round about us, in a manner of which we are not aware, nor shall be, till we enter it. But our ideas of this future world are confused and indeterminate. We have the Divine assurance of God’s Word that such a world exists. But the truth is, that whatever ideas of a future and invisible world may be, at certain times, impressed upon our minds, they are presently effaced by a tide of business or pleasure, and stand, therefore, in need of being continually renewed. Now, what can do this so effectually as frequent meditations on the blessed inhabitants of that world, the holy angels? We love to recollect a place, by the circumstance of those friends we have in it. By thinking of them, we are led to think of the place where they are, and learn to love and desire it the more. An intercourse is by this means opened, a correspondence established, between heaven and earth.
II. Their nature and condition. Angels are spirits. Not formed of the same gross materials, they are free from the inconveniences we feel, the temptations and sufferings to which we are subject. Their appearance is glorious as the light of heaven; and their motion, like that, rapid, and, as it were, instantaneous. The contemplation of so many excellent and happy beings opens our understandings, and enlarges our conceptions of the Creator’s power and goodness. But if we ourselves are miserable, what benefit, it will be asked, can result to us from contemplating the happiness of others? Will not our misery be rather aggravated than alleviated by it? We do not cease to be wretched upon earth because the angels are otherwise in heaven. Redeemed by the Son of God, leave off, O man, to complain! Wait but for a little while in faith and patience, and their happiness shall be yours.
III. The perfect service, ready and unlimited obedience by them, paid to their almighty creator. Their felicity does not consist in freedom and independence. Like the lightnings, which say, “Here we are,” they are represented as waiting before the throne, ready, at the Divine command, to fly to the extremities of the world. Nor are the angels more exact in loyalty to their King than in preserving due subordination in their several ranks and under their respective leaders, without which peace could not be in heaven any more than on earth.
IV. The benevolence and charity of the holy angels; the love they have always shown for man, and the services by them rendered to him. And here a scene opens worthy of all admiration, gratitude, and praise, for never do those blessed spirits obey with greater delight the commands of their Maker than when mankind is the subject of those commands; so deeply, from the beginning, have they interested themselves in our welfare. (Bishop Home.)
What are these which are arrayed in white robes.
What and whence are these?
I. Concerning the bright spirits in heaven--whence came they? “These are they which came out of great tribulation.”
1. They were then like ourselves, for, in the first place, they were tried like others.
(1) The saints now glorified were not screened from sorrow. I saw to-day a number of lovely flowers; they were as delightful in this month of February as they would have been in the midst of summer; but I did not ask, “Whence came they?” I know very well that they were the products of the conservatory; they had not been raised amid the frosts of this chill season, else they had not bloomed as yet. But when I look upon God’s flowers blooming in heaven, I understand from the voice of inspiration that they enjoyed no immunity from the chill breath of grief; they were made to bloom by the master hand of the Chief Husbandman, in all their glory, amid the adversities and catastrophes which are common to men.
(2) They were not even screened from temptation. To the child of God, temptation to sin is a greater grievance than the suffering of pain. Storms on any sea are to be dreaded; but a whirlwind raised by Satan on the black sea of corruption is horrible beyond conception. Yet, do not say you cannot enter heaven because you are tempted, for all those snow-white bands attained their glorious standing through much temptation, as well as through much affliction.
(3) They were men who as keenly felt trial and temptation as we do. Good men, because they are good, are not the less sorrowful when their beloved ones are taken from them: gracious men are not by grace petrified so as to despise the chastening of the Lord. Jacob mourned for Rachel, and David for Jonathan. Peter wept bitterly, and Paul had continual heaviness. Tribulations abounded and afflictions were multiplied to the first disciples, and we wrong both themselves and us if we dream that it was easier for them to suffer than for us. I grant you that they possessed a secret something which enabled them to endure, but that something was not homeborn in their nature any more than it is in ours. They were fortified by a secret strength which they found at the throne of God in prayer, a patience which the Holy Ghost wrought in them, and which He is equally ready to work in us.
2. The saints who are now in heaven needed trial like others. To what end do men need tribulation? We reply, they often require it to arouse them; and yonder saints who serve God day and night in His temple, once slept as do others, and needed to be bestirred. They required adversity to educate them into complete manhood, for they, too, were once babes in grace. They needed tribulation, moreover, that they might be made like their Saviour.
3. The children of God who are in heaven in their trials had no other support than that which is still afforded to all the saints.
4. If there was any difference between those saints and ourselves, it lay in their enduring superior tribulations, for “these are they that came out of great tribulation.”
II. What are these? The reply was, “They have washed their robes,” etc.
1. All those in heaven were sinners, for they all needed to wash their robes.
2. All who are in heaven needed an atonement, and the same atonement as we rely upon. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Not one of them became white through his tears of repentance, not one through the shedding of the blood of bulls or of goats.
3. The saints in heaven realised the atonement in the same way as we must do. The act which gave them the virtue which lies in the atonement was the act of faith. There is nothing to do, and nothing to feel, and nothing to be, in order to forgiveness; we have but to wash and the filth is gone.
III. Now, what of all this? Why, first of all, we must not draw the conclusion that trouble and temptation are any argument that a man will get to heaven. I add a caution. I would, however, have you learn that no amount of trial which we have to suffer here, if we are believers in Jesus, should lead us to anything like despair, for however trouble may encompass us to-day, those in heaven came through as great a tribulation, and why may not we? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Whence come the saints?
“Whence came they?” Heaven, then, itself has a retrospect as well as a fruition. Heaven itself is a sequel and a consequence as well as a fact, and a present. Heaven is an arrival; heaven is a development; heaven is a result, in one aspect, however infinite its capacities of attainments beyond. “Whence came they?” Then they were somewhere before. These same persons, different as they are, transfigured as they are from anything that we see, yet were once here. We have seen such persons; we have talked with some of them. The dark river was known not to them, and it was no unmaking and remaking of them to us. “Whence came they?” They came from this earth, and they are perfected. But the question as It is answered in the context has a fuller meaning than this--it pre-supposes this, and passes on. “From earth,” of course is the answer, but from earth how conditioned and how used? Heaven is a sequel and a consequence--a consequence of what sort of earth? Heaven is a consummation, though never itself to be consummated. Then of what experience is it the consummation? He calls it two things: two only--pain and purification. “These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes.” The simplicity, the brevity of the answer may surprise us? “Whence came they?” We might have expected in answer, From every possible variety of condition, private or public, humble or conspicuous, adverse or prosperous; wealth and length of days, or else sickness, privation, distress, and woe. Not so. The kind of earth from which they came was one and but one. “These are they that came out of great tribulation.” Pain, then, is the common feature of the earth, of which the terminus is heaven. It is a thought which has exercised Christian people, and we cannot wonder at it. If those who wear the white robes came out of great tribulation, what prospect is there for me to whom tribulation is an experience unknown? The question ought to press upon us. It is easy to say, You cannot force, you need not invite, and you must not simulate pain. If pain does not come the fault is not yours. Pain may be on its way--you must bear it when it comes. This is true, but it is not all the truth. If life smiles on you personally, if it supplies your abundant needs, if its occupations are pleasant, if its friends are many, if its bereavements are few and far between; if, therefore, you cannot affect not to be happy, it is plain that as regards yourself, the only two questions on this head can be--Are you thankful? and Are you kind? Do you receive your blessings from God, and do you share them generously with men? But much more than this. The compass of pain is not thus limited. If neither bodily pain nor mental is yours, we go on to ask, What of spiritual? Is it no pain to feel myself so sinful, that when I would do good evil is present with me; when I would feel the wonderful love there is no response; when I would mount up into the heaven, which is God’s, I faint, and fall back into the dreamy world where God is not? But while spiritual pain is one kind, one ingredient of the great tribulation, there is another--the purely unselfish pain: the pain which looks upon the animate creation groaning in travail, and travails in pain with it; the pain which looks on this anguished England, with food not enough, and work not enough for its toiling millions; feels, too, with the foolish misled dupes of the so-called sympathy or philosophy which leads them on to quagmires and quicksands unfathomable. Yes, there is an unselfish as well as a spiritual tribulation; and I think some of the white-robed in heaven have come out of it. So, then, pain is one of the two earths out of which heaven is made. Now for the other. We have called it in one word, purification. They washed their robes down here and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Purification: the being made white; Oh, who shall give me that for this black thing, this spotted, sullied, sordid blackening which is all around me? I feel it, I am ashamed, I am unhappy. Oh, for the whiteness, oh, for purification. Is it a name; is it a dream; or is it a reality? These white-robed ones in heaven, they have it; nay, they had it down here. So then justification, which is in other words the forgiveness of sins, sets in motion sanctification, which is purification, too. But, lastly, we would bid you all ask, are you in process of purification? “Who can say,” a Scriptural writer asks, “Who can say I have made my heart clean? I am pure from my sin?” (Dean Vaughan.)
Final blessedness of the saints
I. The previous condition of the persons here presented to John’s notice. One unacquainted with God’s ways, or with the history of our race, would have been, perhaps, ready to conclude that, in their journey hither, their path had been strewed with flowers and gladdened with perpetual sunshine. This we ourselves would be apt to desire. But the ways of God are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts. The zeal of saints for the truth of God; their opposition to the sinful practices which abounded around them; their diligence in the cultivation of holy affections; and their zeal in the discharge of private and public duties--all standing forth in marked contrast with the maxims and customs of a world lying in wickedness--have ever exposed them to innumerable trials, to reproaches, and sufferings. In addition to the causes of tribulation which we have now specified as the peculiar lot of the Christian, I mention farther the remains of sin within him.
II. The means by which they have attained their present state.
III. This blessedness of which these saints are represented as partakers. (James Clayson.)
The worshippers in the heavenly temple
I. The temple here spoken of. It is a heavenly temple; a holy place, standing not on this perishable world, but on the everlasting hills of heaven. All other temples have been erected by man, but this temple has been built by Jehovah Himself, to be the eternal dwelling place of His Church, and the seat of His own glorious throne. The most glowing descriptions that language can convey, and the most exalted conceptions to which our imaginations can reach, fall infinitely short of that dazzling splendour which fills the courts of the living God. The world which we inhabit, though defiled by sin and under the curse of God, has yet so much beauty and magnificence in it, that we are often delighted and astonished as we contemplate its scenes. What, then, must be the glory of that world which has never felt the polluting touch of sin, which was prepared before the foundations of the earth were laid? Happy are they who dwell in such a templet Blessed is the man who is but a doorkeeper in such a house!
II. The happy beings who are the worshippers in this splendid temple.
1. The former condition of these worshippers.
(1) It was an earthly condition. They were not, like the angels, always in this house. They were natives of an apostate world.
(2) Their condition, too, was a sinful one. There is not one among them who was not a transgressor while on earth, and who has not to this very hour a remembrance of his guilt.
(3) They were also in an afflicted condition. Many of them came here out of a state of peculiar distress and suffering.
2. Their present condition.
(1) It is a state of peace, a state of freedom from pain and sorrow. The billows of adversity which once filled them with fear still swell and rage, but they are all raging far beneath them, and can never again toss them with their waves.
(2) It is also a state of purity. “They have washed their robes,” etc. They were indeed continually contracting fresh defilement as long as they remained on earth, and were constrained to wash again and again in the same fountain that cleansed them at first; but if this fountain had left the unpardoned guilt of only one sin upon their souls, that one sin would have disqualified them for the pure services of the habitation of God, and have barred for ever its sacred doors against them. This free and full pardon of sin is not, however, the only blessing which the heavenly worshippers have obtained through the blood of the Lamb. The same fountain that freed them from the guilt of sin, washed away sin itself, and freed them from its power. Not that they were at once brought into this state of perfect purity. Years passed away before some of them were completely sanctified, and made meet to minister among the saints in light; and they were all harassed to their dying hour, in a greater or less degree, with the struggling corruptions of their evil hearts. But sin could not follow them beyond the grave.
(3) The state of these worshippers in the temple of God is one of triumph. They have “palms in their hands.”
3. The greatness of their number. Satan does not number among his subjects all the inhabitants of our globe. The Redeemer has a people on the earth. Who can tell how many an humble Christian has been travelling to the land of rest, while almost all around him, and even the honoured instrument that first turned his soul to God, have been ignorant of his faith?
1. The gospel of Christ does not promise to its followers any exemption from the calamities of life.
2. How great is the contrast between the present and the future condition of the followers of Jesus!
3. A loud call to self-examination. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
I. The white robes of innocence. The devil stains our souls. The world, too, stains them. Alas! we stain them by our own folly and fault.
II. The white robes of promise. These are the baptismal robes.
III. The white robes of cleansing. God gives us not one start alone in life; He gives us many. We make our promises, and we break them. But God never bids us give up hope. Try to do better. Lift up your hearts.
IV. The white robes of victory. It will not always be striving here. It will not always be staining our robes and cleansing them anew, and then, alas! staining them once more. If we persevere, we shall win. It is not failing to succeed which is so bad, but failing to try. And all who try, however feeble they may be, however often they may give in to the forces against them, shall at the last “stand … clothed with white robes,” etc. (J. E. C. Welldon, M. A.)
The human population in heaven
I. Their earthly life was marked by great trial.
1. This should teach us contentment under our trials.
2. This should inspire us with magnanimity under our trials.
II. Their celestial circumstances are pre-eminently glorious.
1. Their appearance.
2. Their employment.
3. Their companionship.
4. Their blessedness.
III. The difference between the earthly and heavenly condition is attributable to Christ.
1. They were originally polluted.
2. The self-sacrifice of Christ has a purifying influence.
3. Their cleansing by this influence had taken place when on earth. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The sainted in heaven
I. The beings to whom attention is directed. They were not the unfallen, in other words, the natives of that better country: they were redeemed human spirits. They were born of human parentage, and nursed upon a human breast. Their first expression on coming into existence was a wail, and their last, perhaps, a groan. And between those periods they had known their share of human suffering. If they had suffered, they had also sinned. No lingerers on the margin of wrong, no prodigals of a day, they had wandered into a far country, and theirs had been the alienation of years. And, if they had sinned, they had repented under the influence of the Holy Ghost; their hearts had turned in longing towards their Father’s house. Nor had their experience ended here. Young Christians, in the first joy of forgiveness, are apt to think heaven very near to them--that the celestial shores will soon loom upon their view. In passing through a Christian career, there are trials to be endured, Men were they “of whom the world was not worthy.” Into their labours we have entered. The harvests of their life we reap. “They came out of great tribulation.” Again, they went to heaven by the way of death.
II. Their position and glorious appearance.
1. They are before the throne of God. The meaning of the throne of God we know not. Heaven is said to be His throne, and earth His footstool. The presence of His infinite nature is diffused throughout all things; but, purged from the grossness of earth, the glorified have a more vivid sense of His presence than is given us. Then notice their glorious appearance: “Clothed in white robes”
(1) As being typical of their parity. No evil is there lurking within the blessed, and they shrink not beneath the Divine scrutiny.
(2) White robes are significant of triumph.
(3) White robes are significant of rest. The man who has laboured throws aside the garments worn in toil, and puts on others in which to repose. In this world, the condition of the Christian is not that of rest but of labour.
III. The employment of the redeemed. A very natural thought is that contained in the line of the American poet, when, speaking of a departed friend, he says: “Day after day we think what she is doing.” The rest of heaven is not that of death, but of infinite life. The repose of the redeemed does not consist in cessation from employ, but rather in the constant prosecution of congenial labour. Multiform will be the character of life in heaven.
1. There will be social life. There the golden chain of love will link all souls together, binding them to the throne of God. There a feeling of common love will flow through every heart. All will be at home.
2. There will be an intellectual life. The glory of man is his mind. To cultivate this stands among the highest duties of the present life. The present is the infancy of our being, but there is before us a majestic maturity.
3. The employment of heaven will be religious. In this, more than even his intellectual nature, man is capable of unlimited improvement. Even in this life no bounds can be set to faith, and hope, and love, so will it be in the future. Oh, it overwhelms us to think of the position of unfallen spirits, our brain grows dizzy from the height, our eyes dazzle in the excess of glory. Yet is there no altitude where created being now stands, but what man may attain to in the upward career of his moral progress, and for ever; and for ever will he continue to advance through the infinitudes of his nature’s possibilities. (S. Clarke.)
The blessed state of the redeemed
I. The condition out of which the redeemed have come.
1. They came out of a state of tribulation. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
(1) Disease, perhaps, sows its poisonous seeds in his frame.
(2) Death bereaves him of those who were the desire of his eyes.
(3) Adverse providences involve him in disappointment and indigence; the malice of men, in vexation and disgrace; and his own errors and imprudence in inextricable difficulties.
(4) Existence itself may become a burden through a complication of calamities.
(5) It is generally thought, however, that there is here an allusion to those sorrows which are peculiar to Christians. Like Stephen, they winged their way from martyrdom to the presence of God.
2. They came out of a state of impurity. The earth on which they dwelt is one wide scene of disobedience and rebellion against the Majesty of the universe. The taint of moral pollution adheres to all its intelligent inhabitants, and introduces disorder into its very frame.
II. The means by which the redeemed have been advanced to glory.
1. By washing their robes, and making them white in the blood of the Lamb, they acquired a title to be before the throne.
2. By washing their robes, and making them white in the blood of the Lamb, they acquired a meetness to be before the throne. They are freed from their inability to love and enjoy God; they are blessed with an incipient and growing meetness for heaven.
III. The nature of the felicity to which they are exalted.
1. They are raised to an exalted station. Those before the throne of God witness His glory in its brightest manifestations, and enjoy the most intimate communion with the Father of their spirits. The near sight which they obtain of God gives them more distinct apprehensions of His nature--produces more complete assimilation to His image, and fills with livelier joy. The servants who stood in the presence of Solomon must have caught something of the wisdom of their master; and those who are before the throne of God, cannot fail to advance in everything heavenly and divine.
2. They are engaged in the most exalted employments.
3. They are freed from all the infirmities, imperfections, and sufferings of the present life.
4. They make continual advances in the knowledge and enjoyment of God. (J. Kirkwood, M. A.)
All Saints’ Day a witness of grace
Putting aside those festivals in the Church’s year which speak to us of the life and death of our Blessed Lord, there is no festival so sublime as that which we keep to-day. We commemorate to-day, not the life of any one servant of God, but the life and example of all; of those whose very names we know not, save that we know that they are written in the Book of Life. There is a threefold lesson which speaks to all of us through this festival.
1. The lesson of faith. Especially is this a festival which tells of faith, inasmuch as, above all others, it bridges over the gulf which separates this world from the world beyond the grave. This life is to the future state what the bud is to the flower, the blade in the ear to the full corn. This is a truth of especial importance to us to-day, when we commemorate the faithful dead, whose warfare is accomplished. For it teaches us that there is a real fellowship between them and us; that their relation to us is not done away by death; that their souls are not sleeping idly; that they are living more truly, and in a nobler sense, than we ourselves. In this world, men of noble birth desire--and a right feeling it surely is--to keep the brightness of their name untarnished, not to disgrace the title which their fathers bore. “My ancestors,” such an one will say, “were brave and pure; they helped to vindicate liberty; I will try to be not less brave, not less upright, not less generous and true, than they.” Canst thou remember this, O Christian, and forget of what spiritual lineage thou art come? so noble, so pure, so ancient, that by its side the noblest title of this world is but of yesterday? that thou art of the communion of God’s saints, and they thy fathers and ancestors in the faith? Canst thou remain cowardly, remembering that they were brave?
2. But again, the doctrine of this festival is a witness for Christian endurance. It is difficult not to feel sad when we think what multitudes of our fellow-creatures are living sordid burdened lives, whose earthly course seems little else than a constant round of suffering and care. Yet let us observe, that wherever a ray of light shines in on this mystery of suffering, it is from the blessed thought of a life unseen. Or, take the case of one, whose life is often burdened by a consciousness of sin--who finds himself compassed with infirmity; who is often wearied of this constant struggle against besetting sins, “Oh, blessed day,” such an one may well say, “when this strife shall cease; when God in His pardoning mercy shall make me to become that which I long and pray to be.”
3. But again, this blessed festival, inasmuch as it thus throws rays of brightness on the sorrows of earth, teaches us a lesson of final perseverance and spiritual joy. We need to remember that in the dreariest November, the gloomiest days of the decaying year, there still stands out a festival of summer gladness, telling of that meeting beyond the grave, where no parting shall ever mar the unity of perfect love; that gathering on the eternal shore, as when the apostles beheld on the shore of the Lake of Galilee the presence of their risen Lord. (J. S. Bartlett, M. A.)
All Saints’ Day
We are not the first travellers; we are followers of those who have inherited the promises; and, far as the eye can reach, there is one long line of precursors all looking back to assure us that the proposed path is the right. Shall it then be questioned, that the greatest confirmation for faith is to be obtained from the memories of the worthies who have tried and verified the Christian religion? If there were a flaw in its proofs, it must have been long ago detected: if there were forgery in its documents, it must have been long ago exposed. And now how mighty are the external evidences of Christianity--evidences which the labours and events of centuries have piled up as an impregnable bulwark. It is enough for my private conviction, that Christianity is eighteen hundred years old. But this only applies generally to the truth of Christianity. Suppose me convinced of its truth, then how is my faith strengthened by the memory of those who have gone before me to heaven? We reply at once, that whatever man’s theoretical persuasion that Christianity is from God, there will be nothing like a practical exhibition of its energy to prevail on him to put faith in its disclosures. The great object of Christianity is to induce me to throw aside all dependence on my own moral strength, and to trust implicitly to the merits of a surety. If I will, indeed, do this, I shall find myself strengthened for conflict with my own evil nature, and at last made more than a conqueror over sin and the grave. Yet there may be misgiving, and if we were the first to put the promises to the proof, we might almost be pardoned for hesitating ere we dared take them to ourselves. The very greatness of the thing promised, and the smallness of the condition prescribed, might cause us to question whether we had not been deceived in concluding the Bible divine. And, therefore, oh, for the history of men who have made the experiment, and proved by experience that believers in Christ gain all which is promised! Here it is that we are vastly advantaged by being followers instead of forerunners in the Christian course. You cannot show me a promise in the Bible of whose fulfilment I cannot bring you evidence in the registered experience of some believer in Christ. Does the promise refer to support in affliction? Then what is that voice that rolls in upon us from the caves of the earth, where the persecuted have taken refuge--“God is a very present help,” a most “strong tower” to all who flee to Him for refuge? Is the promise that of immortality--glorious announcements that entrance shall be ministered abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our God and Saviour? Indeed, you may tell me that no biography can exhibit the fulfilment of this promise. I cannot track the burning flight of the emancipated spirit delivered from the flesh, and launched into immortality. We own this. But, nevertheless, we can show you that these promises have sustained men in the very hour of dissolution. And though this does not show you that the promises are made good after death, yet proving them accomplished up to the very moment at which our inspection must cease, proving that they die not when everything that has not in it the breath of immortality does die, we call it nothing better than evasion, if you would plead the want of evidence of its fulfilment, because we cannot with our eyes of sense pierce the deep secrets of futurity. Now, hitherto we have spoken only of that confirmation of faith which is derivable from the experience of the righteous whom we this day commemorate; but let us now briefly consider how we may be strengthened also in patience; for those who are “clothed in white robes” are they who “came out of great tribulation.” The fact that afflictions have been the portion of the faithful should remove all surprise that we ourselves have to wrestle with sorrow; the fact that God hath not forsaken the faithful, but brought good out of evil, should scatter all fears that we may be left to perish in our distress. And what will they reply if we ask them whether they regret what they suffered for Christ, or whether, if they had to live over again, they would wish to pass through the same painful discipline? Oh! for melodious sounds in which to syllable their answers. The harshness of human speech ill suits the music of their whispers. They tell you with one voice, one peal of grateful acknowledgment, that the “sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory” revealed in them. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Saints made from sinners
Professor Hy. Drummond addressing a meeting, said that as he walked through the city that morning, he had noticed a cloud like a pure snow-white bank resting over the slums. Whence came it? The great sun had sent down its beams into the city, and the beams had gone among the puddles, even the nauseous puddles and drawn out of them what they needed, and taken it aloft, and purified it, and there it was, above the city a cloud as white as snow! “And God,” said the professor, “can make His saints, who walk in white, out of material equally unfavourable; He can make a white cloud out of a puddle, He can make saints out of the most depraved.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
These are they which came out of great tribulation.--
The ministration of suffering
Let us, in some few points, contrast suffering on earth with its fruits in heaven.
1. Earthly suffering seems to come either as a vengeance or as a calamity upon men. It is still a surprise until we have been long wonted to it. But the heavenly side, as disclosed in the apocalyptic vision, shows that suffering ordinarily comes neither as a vengeance nor as a calamity; for, although we may understand that God sometimes employs suffering for purposes of punishment, yet such an employment of it is special. Suffering is intercalated upon the course of nature, and is part of a universal experience. Storms may be most destroying, overflowing the land, tearing up foundations, sweeping away bridges, and submerging harvests; but this result of storms is exceptional. The fall of rain and the sweep of winds are part of the economy of mercy. It is not for destruction, but for benefit. And so sufferings may, at times, in the hands of God, be punitive, but ordinarily they are not. Suffering is intended to make us let go of things that are lower, and to rise a grade higher. Here it seems as if God were angry; but in heaven it is seen that He was dealing in mercy. Here it seems as if great disaster had overwhelmed us; but there the breaking of the cloud over us appears as the waters of a bath from which we shall emerge purer, cleaner, and more manly.
2. Suffering seems to some contrary to the course of nature; an interruption and violation of natural order; but the revelation of the effects of suffering upon the future state shows that it is in accordance with the course of nature. It would seem rational to suppose that God built the enginery of the human mind for happiness; that the way of growth ought not to be through bafflings; that men should not find their stability by overthrow, and their liberty by restraint. At first view everything apparently tends towards freedom and full development. Men fail to see, however, that while there is one tendency toward liberty, there is another toward restraint. If anything can be shown by the indications and facts of nature, it is that man never grows to a man’s full estate without the ministration of suffering; and that suffering is a part of nature, or it could not be universal.
3. The contrast between the earthly appearance of suffering as something that weakens and beats us down, and the glorious light of the heavenly side is very striking; for while on earth suffering seems, in all its immediate tendencies, to take away from man, it is, in point of fact, adding to him. It seems to beat him down; but when we look forward to the full disclosure, we find that it is building him up. While the storm pelts, men shrink. While the thunder sounds, they slink down. While the tempest rages, it is as if they were ruined. But when the violence abates a little, they begin to lift up their head, and to perceive that it was not all dark, that it was not all thunder, that it was not all beating, that there was an element of good in it; and gradually they learn the sweet bounty and benefit that God meant to bestow upon them by afflictions.
4. The seeming cruelty of much of suffering, and the unnaturalness of it, are contrasted with great relief with this vision of the final state of those who have suffered in this world. The fatherliness and benevolence of suffering does not appear in its mere earthly relations. In heaven it is clearly pictured. There we see what it has wrought out. Human nature is very much like some elements of vegetation. In tapioca, one of the most harmless of all articles of food, there is one of the most deadly of all poisons. But the poison is of such a volatile nature, that when it is subjected to heat it escapes, and leaves only the nutriment of the starch. I think that the heart of man originally is full of poison, but that, when it is tried by affliction, little by little the poison, the rancour, the virus exhales, and leaves all the rest wholesome indeed.
5. Earthly suffering seems to weaken, to discourage them, and to destroy them; but the fact is, that it does not really destroy or weaken them. That part in us which suffering weakens is usually that very part which ought to be weakened. The great trouble in turning flax into thread or cloth is caused by that which gives the green plant its very power; for when the flax is growing, it needs two things--one is its ligneous or woody structure, and the other is its gluten. But when it has grown enough, and man wants it to make garments, to furnish the queen in the palace and the peasant in the cottage, he must get rid of these two things. And how is the flax separated from them? It is plucked and thrown into the field, that, under the influence of repeated rains and dews, the wood may rot; then the flax is taken and put through the brakes, until every particle of the stiffness and strength that it had is destroyed, and all but the stringy fibres can be shaken to the winds; then it is subjected to certain chemical processes by which the gluten is taken away; and not till then is it in a proper condition to be carried to the spinning-wheel and the loom, and manufactured into materials for use. So it is with men. There are a great many qualities which they need up to a certain point, but which beyond that are a disadvantage to them. We need a given amount of self-will and independence; but after these qualities have been carried to a certain point, the necessity for them measurably ceases, and there must be superinduced on them opposite qualities. For man is made up of contraries. He is to be as firm as iron, and as yielding as silk; he is to be persevering, and yet most ready to give up; he is to be as steadfast as a mountain, and yet easy to be entreated; he is to abhor evil, and yet to love with an ineffable love; he is to be courageous, and yet to have that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Certain qualities, when they have served their purpose, must give place to opposite qualities. Afflictions, under the supervision of Divine Providence, are working out in those that are exercised thereby beneficent results; so that suffering, while it seems frequently to be wasting and destroying men, is only wasting and destroying that part of them which they are better without than with.
6. Suffering on earth seems to set men apart from their fellows. Sometimes it puts them into obscurity. It is an experience full of solitude, voluntary and yet inevitable. Every heart knows its own bitterness. There is a delicacy in grief often. And though sometimes it is clamorous and vocal, oftener it is silent. But there is a process quietly going on, though it may not be apparent, by which those who seem to be separated in the present shall in the future be gathered together by sorrow. Those that weep apart on earth shall joy together in heaven. Those who in their sorrows are cast out from the sympathies of their fellow-men shall be gathered into the fellowship and sympathy of the heavenly host. This separation and disintegration are only apparent. Really, it is a preparation for fellowship in the world to come. (H. W. Beecher.)
The memory of grief and wrong
Whether a race of finite and imperfect beings could have been trained for any worthy end, or have reached a state of conscious happiness, without the ministry of suffering, we are not competent to say. Whether this be the case or not, it is certain that very many of our happiest experiences, and of our best frames of mind and traits of character, are to be traced, if not to the direct agency, at least to the memory, of grief and wrong. I might remind you, in the first place, that the lowest degradation into which a human being can sink is a state in which there is no retentiveness, nay, hardly a transient consciousness, of painful emotion. Let a child, born in sin, be cast in very infancy upon the bleak world, without shelter, education, or guidance, exposed to the pelting of the elements, spurned and buffeted at every hand’s turn, that child becomes in his very infancy almost invulnerable to every outward influence, and incapable of feeling neglect or injury, but in this process he grows up an absolute brute. He is incapable of attachment and of gratitude. Gentleness cannot tame him, nor can severity awe him. As the frozen limb must be made sensitive to pain, before it is capable of healthy circulation or free motion, the first step towards making him happy will be to unseal the fountain of sorrow. He must weep before he can enjoy. Take next the ease of one who has fallen into loathsome degradation from a favoured and happy early lot. That fall was not without frequent and severe suffering, probably not without full as much wrong received as committed. But the degraded being has lost his sensibility. Rags, hunger, blows, the alms-house, the prison-cell, have become congenial; and the traces of every new hardship or infliction are like those of the arrow in the air. Nor yet can you excite penitence or remorse by any moral representation, however pungent or attractive, of the evil and misery of guilt or the loveliness of virtue. You must go back to the days of innocence--to the earliest steps in the evil path. You must awaken the remembrance of obsolete wrong and sorrow. You must recall the prodigal’s first wretched pilgrimage from the father’s house. Let us pass now to experiences that lie more within our own sphere of consciousness, and, first, to domestic happiness. We can hardly be aware how much of the joy, how much of the purity and tenderness, of our home relations springs from the very events which we most dread, or from the shadow or apprehension of them. Two young hearts are plighted to each other in the most fervent love, and enter on their united life under the most prosperous auspices and with the highest hopes. Let everything answer to their anticipations--let their life flow on without grief or fear, and their love is either suddenly exhaled, or gradually frittered away. They grow mutually intolerant of their necessary differences of taste, opinion, and feeling. If they remain without mutual discord or dislike, it is through the negative power of passive good nature, while the heart-ties are all the while growing weaker, so that their dissolution would be more and more slightly and transiently felt. But, with their first weighty cares or solicitudes, they are drawn into an intimacy of feeling closer than they had ever imagined before. A similar view presents itself with regard to our religious characters. Could those of us, who are endeavouring to live in the fear of God and the love of Christ, trace back the growth of the religious life in our hearts, we should find that, while the germ was there before care or sorrow had taken strong hold upon us, yet in many instances its first decided development and rapid increase were in connection with pain, perplexity, or grief. It was the clouding over of earthly prospects, that opened to us a clear and realising view of heaven. It was the failure of fond hopes that sealed our determination to lay up treasures where hope cannot fail. It was the falling away of objects of our most confident dependence, that cast us upon the Most High as our only enduring refuge and support. I have spoken of the sheltered scenes of home, and of the interior life of the soul. In the outward relations of society, we are equally indebted to the ministry of affliction. How many are the pure and virtuous friendships, now sources of unalloyed gladness and improvement, which had their commencement in a common grief, or in a burden of solicitude or sorrow, which one, whom previously we had not known how to prize, hastened to bear with us, or we with him! In old age we can also trace the genial influence of sorrow. As the cloud, that has flashed its angry lightnings and poured its desolating showers, retreats fringed with gold and crimson, and spanned with the glorious bow of God’s unchanging promise, so do the griefs that have been the heaviest and the most cheerless, when they lie in the remote horizon of the past, glow with celestial radiance and Divine beauty. As the aged Christian looks back on the conflicts and sorrows of earlier years, every cloud has its rainbow, every retreating storm dies away in whispers of peace. It is the softened, painless memory of trial and of grief that feeds the spirit of patient, cheerful resignation, reconciles the soul to dissolution as it draws near, and sustains the willingness to depart, the desire to be with Christ. I have spoken chiefly of the sorrows that come to us by the direct appointment of Providence. Are there any of us who can look back on wrong and injury done to us by our fellow-men? Even this, if we were wise, we would not wish to forget. Far more noble is it to remember in full and yet forgive, to retain our sensitiveness unimpaired, and yet to take the offending brother to our hearts as if he had done us no wrong. Thus only can we make the wounds of carelessness, unkindness, envy or malice, permitted, though not wrought by Providence, coincide in their blessed ministry with the griefs that flow from the hand of God. Thus do we turn our enemy into a benefactor, by making him the unconscious instrument of calling out in our hearts traits more elevated, Christlike, Godlike, than without his agency we could have put into exercise. Finally, the connection in which our text stands leads us to extend the benign ministry of sorrow to the world where sorrow is unknown. The frequent trials of the present state, its disappointed hopes, defeated plans, withered joys, may, far along in the heavenly life, supply the term of comparison, reveal the measure of our happiness, quicken the flow of adoring gratitude, and sustain a full consciousness of the felicity in which we are embosomed. (A. P. Peabody.)
Why the heavenly robes are white
I. What did these white robes mean?
1. The white robes show the immaculate purity of their character. White signifies perfection; it is not so much a colour as the harmonious union and blending of all the hues, colours, and beauties of light. In the characters of just men made perfect we have the combination of all virtues, the balancing of all excellences, a display of all the beauties of grace. Are they not like their Lord, and is He not all beauties in one?
2. By “white robes we also understand the fitness of their souls for the service to which they are appointed; they were chosen before all worlds to be kings and priests unto God, but a priest might not stand before the Lord to minister until he had put on his appointed linen garments; and therefore the souls which have been taken up to heaven are represented in white robes to show that they are completely fitted for that Divine service to which they were ordained of old, to which the Spirit of God called them while they were here, and in which Jesus Christ leads the way, being a Priest for ever at their head.
3. “White robes” also signify victory. I should think that in almost every nation white has indicated the joy of triumph. True, the Romans adopted purple as their imperial colour, and well they might, for their victories and their rule were alike bloody and cruel; but the Christ of God sets forth His gentle and holy victories by white: it is on a “white cloud” that He shall come to judge the world, and His seat of judgment shall be “the great white throne.”
4. White is also the colour of rest. Well may the redeemed be thus arrayed, for they have finally put off the garments of toil and the armour of battle, and they rest from their labours in the rest of God.
5. Chiefly, white is the colour of joy. Almost all nations have adopted it as most suitable for bridal array, and so therefore these happy spirits have put on their bridal robes, and are ready for the marriage supper of the Lamb.
II. How did they come by those white garments?
1. Those characters were not so pure, or, in other words, those garments were not so white by nature. They are washed, you see, and therefore they must once have been stained. Original sin has stained the character of all the sons of Adam. Do not think of one saint who has gone to his reward above as being in any way different in nature from yourselves; they were all men of like passions with us, men who had within them the same tendencies to sin. But it might be suggested that perhaps they came to their rest by a cleaner way than that which now lies before us. Possibly there was something about their surroundings which helped them to keep their garments white. No, it was not so; they passed along the road of tribulation, and that tribulation was not of a less trying kind than ours. Their road was just as miry as ours, and perhaps even more so. How this ought to assist us to feel that albeit our pathway is one in which we meet with innumerable temptations, yet inasmuch as all the glorified have come up white and clean from it, by virtue of the atoning blood, even so shall we.
2. Their garments came to be white through a miracle of grace, because they came through the great tribulation, where everything tended to defile them. I do not think that the text refers to some one great persecution, but to the great conflict of the ages in which the seed of the serpent perpetually molests and oppresses the seed of the woman. The enmity takes all sorts of shapes, but from the beginning even until now it is in the world. Now the white robed ones had come out of that continuous and general conflict uninjured: like the three holy children who came out of the furnace with not so much as the smell of fire upon them. Some of them had been slandered: men of the world had thrown handfuls of the foulest mud upon them, but they washed their robes and made them white. Others of them had come out of remarkable temptations from men and devils; they were tried by the most defiling of temptations, but they overcame through the blood of the Lamb, and were delivered from every polluting trace of the temptation by the efficacy of the atoning sacrifice. It was by the operation of the blood of Christ, and by nothing else, that the glorified saints were made clean.
3. Some of the trials of the saints are evidently intended, by those who are the instruments of them, to make them sin. Tribulation has a tendency to create, even in good men, new sins: sins into which they have never fallen before. “Brother,” thou sayest, “I shall never repine against God.” How knowest thou that? Thou sayest, “I have never done so unto this hour.” Art thou not in health and strength? Why, then, shouldst thou murmur? But suppose the Lord were to strip thee of all these things, O man, I fear me thou mightest murmur as others have done. In some men tribulation works a very fierce temptation to distrust.
4. So, too, great trials are wonderfully apt to reveal the weakness of our graces and the number of our infirmities. Spiritual storms make a man discover what utter weakness he is, and then he is wise to fly to the blood of the Lamb. Oh, what a sweet restorative is found in the atoning sacrifice!
III. What lesson comes out of this?
1. I would say to you, first, meditate on it. A sight of Christ in His agony is a wondrous sure for our agonies.
2. But the chief thing is this--in all times of tribulation the great matter is to have the blood of Christ actually applied to the soul. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sufferings of the redeemed
God’s Word does not conceal, but, on the contrary, rather forewarns, that the road to Heaven is one of trial. Christ prepared His people for the highway thither being hedged with tribulation. “Beloved,” says St. Peter, “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you, but rejoice.” These trials are the ladder-steps by which the immortal spirits in this vision attained their bliss. We can almost imagine ourselves listening to their varied testimony. “God laid me,” would be the experience and retrospect of one, “on a bed of sickness. I was living a life of engrossing worldliness. I was taking my health as a thing of course. I had no thought of death. He who gave me the abused talent stretched me on a couch of pain. Year after year I was familiarised with the dim night-lamp--the sleepless vigils--the aching head. But He allured me into the wilderness that He might speak comfortably unto me. I now praise Him for it all. Through the chinks of the battered earthly tabernacle were admitted the first rays of the heavenly glory. In the solitary night-watches my lips were first tuned for the heavenly song.” “I was reposing in the sunshine of earthly prosperity,” would be the testimony of another. “The fabled horn of plenty exhausted its ample stores in my lap. Riches increased; ah! I set my heart upon them; my closet, my Bible, my family, were sacrificed in the demon scramble. At an unexpected moment the crash came--the whole fabric of a lifetime (the golden fabric) fell to the ground. Seated amid empty coffers, and dismantled walls, and blighted hopes, I was led to bring the perishable into emphatic contrast with the eternal. I too thank my God for it all. But for that simoom-blast which swept over ms, burying the hoarded treasures of a vain existence, I would have died the fool that I lived.” “I was an idolater of my family,” another would tell. “I was leaning too fondly and tenderly on some cherished prop--some gourd in the earth-bower of my happiness. The prop gave way--the gourd withered. But as some gentle spirit (be it that of husband, or wife, or child, or brother, or sister) winged its flight to the realms of glory, It brought me, as I was never before, into near and holy contact with the Unseen. The tie snapped on earth bound ms to the throne of God. These thorns inserted in the earthly nest drove me to the wing, and suffered me not to stay my flight until I had reached the golden eaves of the heavenly home!” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
The richer flowerings of character caused by trial
It is said that gardeners sometimes, when they would bring a rose to richer flowerings, deprive it for the season of light and moisture. Silent and dark it stands, dropping one faded leaf alter another, and seeming to go down patiently to death. But when every leaf is dropped, and the plant stands stripped to the uttermost, a new life is even then working in the buds, from which shall spring a tender foliage and a brighter wealth of flowers. So, often in celestial gardenings, every leaf of earthly joy must drop before a new and divine bloom visits the soul.
Character formed by tribulation
I saw a beautiful vase, and asked its story. Once it was a lump of common day lying in the darkness. Then it was rudely dug out and crushed and ground in the mill, and then put upon the wheel and shaped, then polished and tinted and put into the furnace and burned. At last, after many processes, it stood upon the table, a gem of graceful beauty. In some way analogous to this every noble character is formed. Common clay at first, it passes through a thousand processes and experiences, many of them hard and painful, until at length it is presented before God, faultless in its beauty, bearing the features of Christ Himself. Spiritual beauty never can be reached without cost. The blessing is always hidden sway in the burden, and can be gotten only by lifting the burden. Michael Angelo used to say, as the chippings flew thick from the marble on the floor of his studio: “While the marble wastes the image grows.” (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Tribulation ministers to manhood
You may in the conservatory rear the trailing vine or rear the tropical plant, but put into it hardy English oak, Or the tall Norwegian pine, and they, within the conservatory, would die--their life is exposure. Give them the heaven, the wind of heaven in their branches; give them the dew and the rain of heaven on their leaves: give them the great spacious earth beneath into which they can send their roots in search of moisture, and in search of strength; and they will live, and become things of beauty and joy for ever. So let man in the grace, and by the strength of God, face life; stand in front of it, with all its trouble, with all its tempest, with all its sorrow, with all its suffering! The tribulation will work patience, make the more of a man of him, make him the more able to stand in the presence of God as a servant approved. (A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)
Therefore are they before the throne of God.
The worship and privileges of the heavenly temple
I. What is the nature of that worship which is offered to the Lord in His holy temple in heaven? We may obtain an imperfect answer to this inquiry by contrasting the services of its priests with the polluted offerings of the servants of God below.
1. In contrasting the worship of these two worlds we may observe, first, that the worship of heaven is uninterrupted, constant. They who worship there never need repose. There is no weariness to put a stop to their service, nor any cares and anxieties to distract and pollute it.
2. The worship of the heavenly world is also pure. All who are engaged in it are holy worshippers. Their number is immense; they form a great multitude; but not one formalist, not one deceiver, not one hypocrite can be found amongst them. And not only are all the worshippers pure, their worship itself is free from all mixture of imperfection and sin. There is no blemish either in the priest or in the sacrifice; all is “holiness to the Lord.”
3. Their worship, too, is fervent. No coldness of feeling, no deadness of love distresses their souls.
4. Hence the worship they offer is a delightful worship. All the difficulties of our service will have passed away, and every act of worship will be elevating to the spirit, and bring with it an unspeakable and glorious joy.
5. The service of heaven is also a united service. They worship in the same temple, and are all engaged in the same work; the same spirit lives in every soul, and the same song is heard from every mouth.
6. The worship of heaven is humble. In the midst of all their glory the redeemed saints appear in the heavenly temple in the character of creatures and of sinners. We see no presumption or self-exaltation in their worship, no unholy familiarity.
II. The privileges which these heavenly worshippers enjoy.
1. The dignity of their station in this temple.
(1) To be before the throne of God implies that they are admitted to the enjoyment of close communion with Him; that they are brought into His immediate presence, and have an intimate, enlarged, and continual intercourse with Him; that they talk with Jehovah as a man talks with his friend. To stand before the throne of God implies also a participation of His glory and happiness, an entering into His blessedness.
2. The text tells us also of the rich provision which is made for all the wants of the heavenly worshippers. As the priests in the Jewish temple not only dwelt in the house of the Lord, but partook of the sacrifices which were offered therein, so the priests in Jehovah’s temple above find in it all the spiritual provision their souls can desire. Their happiness consists in having all their spiritual desires kept in unceasing exercise, and in having them fully gratified. They still thirst after the water of life, and it is supplied to them largely from those rivers of pleasure which flow around the throne of Jehovah.
(1) The happiness which results from this provision made for their souls is uninterrupted and unmixed. Nothing can enter their habitation to disturb or mar it.
(2) Their happiness, too, is everlasting. They are not supplied out of a cistern which may be broken or exhausted, but from a fountain which can never fail. Lessons:
1. No man can be happy in heaven who has not first learned to delight in the worship of God. Death will make no material alteration in our tastes and desires. What we love in time we shall love in eternity. What is hateful to us now, will be hateful to us then. We must have a relish for the happiness of angels now, or we shall be utterly incapable of enjoying it hereafter.
2. The great importance and blessedness of the worship of God here on earth.
3. How desirable is death to the spiritual and heavenly-minded worshipper of God. (V. Bradley, M. A.)
Man in heaven
I. Our spiritual heaven. Its great and representative idea is worship, in which we reach at one bound the highest conception of our nature--humanity perfected, humanity in its highest conclusion, and humanity in its highest act.
1. The condition or character of the worshippers is described. Christ, in the sanctifying influences of His sacrificial work, was the reason of their heaven. The condition of their spiritual heaven, therefore, was the perfection of the spiritual part of their nature. It was not the locality merely--not the mere presence of God--not the employment, the robe, the palm, the harp, the worship: it was the perfect moral sympathy of their spirits with holiness, the holiness of God.
2. Their moral victory. “They came out of great tribulation.”
(1) Remark how strikingly the two affirmations are brought into conjunction. Their position before the throne is in the same sentence ascribed to the blood of the Lamb, and to the moral results of their tribulation, that is, to the meritorious cause, and to the efficacious instrument. In our ordinary logic we are apt to deem one agency exclusive of another. “It is God who works in us,” therefore, we conclude we need not work. The logic of Scripture is “Therefore let us work.”
(2) The natural and uniform tendency of affliction to produce tenderness and sanctity of heart. In the light of human experience we feel no surprise at this sequence of “tribulations and glory,” of “light afflictions,” and an “exceeding great and eternal weight of glory.” And the beatitude that is described here--exemption from hunger and thirst, and all the evils of which they stand as the representatives--is quite congruous to our thoughts and feelings, with the tribulation that preceded.
3. Their worship itself. In heaven they only praise, they sing a new song; the old song of lamentation, the wail of sorrow, the misery of sin is forgotten.
(1) Their worship is immediate. The worship of “faith is lost in sight,” the worship of symbols in the thing signified; they “see the King in His beauty.”
(2) It is united and catholic. There is but one robe, one palm, one song, one Father’s house, one glorious Model to which all are to be conformed.
(3) The constancy of heavenly worship. “They serve Him day and night.” “They rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” God’s work hinders not His rest, neither does the service and worship of the glorified. Their praise is but the utterance of their love; and the constant utterance of love is its rest and joy.
(4) The fervour of their worship. Oh I how unlike our cold and formal service here--our words, our acts of mechanical conformity, of unspiritual temper, of unloving prompting.
(5) Its purity and joy. They who ascribe the heavenly sanctus, themselves are holy. They “see God,” because they are “pure in heart.” There is no blemish in their sacrifice, no drawback in their joy; they have “come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sadness have fled away.”
(6) Its perfect satisfaction. “The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them to living fountains of waters.” As on earth, so in heaven, their dependence is on Him; “they live, yet not they, it is Christ who liveth in them.”
II. Such is the spiritual heaven of our spiritual humanity. Of the material heaven of our material humanity we can say but little, and that only in negations. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.” No painful want, no painful infliction, finds its way into that kingdom of blessedness. As it realises all the good that we can crave, it excludes all the evil that we can deprecate. The condition and necessity of probation, and therefore of discipline will be ended; the effects of sin will be destroyed; character will be perfected; reward will be realised; our heavenly Father’s hand will wipe every tear from the eye, and pluck every thorn from the heart. Such is the glorious heaven for humanity, both soul and body, which the seer beheld, such the multitude before the throne. (H. Allon, D. D.)
The heavenly happiness
I. It is partly constituted by an exemption from all those pains and sorrows which embitter and poison the cup of earthly felicity.
1. It is exempted from error, and consequently from suffering upon this account.
2. It is exempted from sin, and all its attendant train of evils.
3. It is exempted from the snares to which we are exposed in this world, and the sufferings to which we are subjected by falling into them.
4. It is exempted from temptations, and all their attendant dangers and mischiefs.
5. It is exempted from the disappointments to which mankind are exposed in this life.
6. It is exempted from the real and unavoidable calamities to which mankind are subjected in this world, and which constitute a large proportion of human misery.
II. It is completed by the union of all those ingredients which can improve or secure the bliss of the heavenly inhabitants.
1. The vision and enjoyment of God, and the resemblance and conformity of our nature to the Divine.
2. The enlargement of our faculties, and the employment of these upon objects suitable to and worthy of them.
3. A progressive improvement in knowledge and goodness.
4. The society of angels, and of the spirits of the just made perfect, and especially of those virtuous persons with whom we were, in this world, connected by the ties of reciprocal love and friendship. (W. Duff, M. A.)
The redeemed in heaven
I. The redeemed in heaven occupy The most elevated position. They are “before the throne.” A throne is the emblem of regal authority. In heaven there is--
1. A permanent consciousness of the supreme rule.
2. An exalted consciousness of the supreme rule.
II. The redeemed in heaven are engaged in the grandest service. “And serve Him day and night.” They serve Him in every department of action.
III. The redeemed in heaven are blessed with the loftiest companionship. “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell amongst them.” What will it be to have God--the source of all wisdom, purity, and blessedness--as our constant companion? (Homilist.)
The happiness of the saints in heaven
I. The happiness of the saints in perpetual communion with God in His temple above.
1. Let us consider the happiness of the saints in that part of their celestial worship which is internal and spiritual; and in general we must frequently recall to our minds the imperfection of our present discoveries, and remember that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive what the Lord hath laid up for them that love Him.” There may, for anything we know, be discoveries, and by consequence, acts of worship, and dispositions of mind corresponding to them, totally different in kind from anything we are now capable of, as well as higher in degree. Of these we must be absolutely silent. Whatever acts of worship we have now any experience of shall then be performed to far greater perfection, and with infinitely greater joy.
(1) Acts of adoration. By these I understand the immediate contemplation of the glorious excellence of the Divine nature, and the exercise of those affections of soul which correspond to it.
(2) Acts of gratitude and praise.
(3) Acts of desire. There is much of this in the disposition of the people of God on earth; they say with the prophet (Isaiah 26:8). And as every agreeable object is the more desired the more it is known, so the clear discovery that is made in heaven of the glory and excellence of God, and the delightful communications of His love, must still increase our desire of further and further degrees of it; and there is a fulness, both in the Divine nature and benignity, that can never be exhausted.
(4) Acts of trust and subjection.
2. Let us now consider the worship of the saints in heaven, as it is external and sensible. This is the temple of God in which His servants shall serve Him, in which we may suppose the general assembly of the Church of the first-born meet together for the joint celebration of their Creator and Redeemer’s praise. And surely if in this lower world and that part of the creation which is at present subjected to our view, there is so much order and beauty, so much splendour and magnificence, though it be the abode of guilty creatures under manifest tokens of Divine displeasure, what must be the unclouded lustre and perfect beauty of that place where the glory of Almighty God is peculiarly displayed, and which was prepared for the reception of the objects of His special love before the foundation of the world? But the external circumstance which, in my apprehension, will contribute most to the delight and happiness of the saints in their heavenly worship, will be their union and society in it. (J. Witherspoon, D. D.)
The pleasures of heaven and the service of earth
The crucial word of the passage is just the one no person would so think of, viz., “therefore,” indicating the connection between life here and hereafter, and showing that the nexus is never broken.
I. That their submission to a sacrificial life has its reward in bestowal of Divine power. He that sitteth upon the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them.” It is paradoxical that a sacrifice is the way to a throne and strength. It would be peculiar in any sphere but one. The heart, however, only gains power as it ceases to be free. We must be imprisoned by the mighty power of love before we can be free. How is it refined ladies as hospital nurses can go through scenes which would make men blush? Because they are bound in the fetters of an intense love of humanity.
II. Their temporary crushing of will was rewarded by its being made chromic and habitual. “Came out of great tribulation,” therefore “Serve Him day and night in His temple.” The popular idea that calamities of life are sent to prepare us for heaven by way of contrast is pre-eminently false. They are rather sent to prepare us for the life of heaven by resemblance. Heaven is veritably service. A little girl of my acquaintance was the subject of protracted suffering, and, questioned as to her conception of its purpose, surprised me by replying, not in the direction of contrast, but in that of resemblance. “Don’t you know,” said she, “I am preparing to be a ministering spirit?” It is coming out of great tribulation which fits us for service. I am much impressed by the fact that the Children of Israel never journeyed when the cloud rested over the tabernacle. Nor should we; but rather rest until the cloud be lifted.
III. Their sacrificial life was rewarded by their receiving a new organ of vision, viz., a sacrificially pure heart. “They have washed their robes,” and have a front pew; “Therefore are they before the throne.” If our spirits be bathed in suffering, we shall ever after regard it not as accidental, but as habitual. Sacrifice is the type after which the world is climbing, as illustrated in Abraham on Moriah, Jacob at Bethel, and Moses in Midian. We go to Christ through Egypt and the wilderness of Sinai. We do not expect--or should not--to get new robes, but washed robes. Creation now waits for the seventh morning, which will come when men have “washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.” (G. Matheson, D. D.)
And serve Him day and night.--
Service in heaven
When you come to think about it your hearts revolt from the heaven which is set forth in the sentimental hymns. Having nothing to do may be very pleasant for a while, but it would be very intolerable for an eternity. Heaven is a place of sweet activities. The redeemed are serving God day and night before His throne.
I. The highest life is a life of perpetual service. The reward which God confers upon His faithful ones is ability and permission to serve, and when He calls them from the lower to the higher places, the higher honour is that they are enabled and privileged to serve more. In God’s view rank is determined by the measure of service. It is strange how the world has reversed this principle in its conceptions of rank and dignity. We speak of service with a sort of disdain, and of servants as inferior persons. You would find thousands of people ashamed to be seen with soiled hands, where you would find one ashamed of living an utterly profitless life. And we often pay the greatest respect to men and women who are of so little good to the world that almost the best service they could render would be to remove themselves out of it as speedily as possible. What a curious spectacle this must present to those who look down upon the earthly life from above. In days to come, when Christ shall truly rule in the hearts of men, they will find it hard to believe that there was ever a time when hats were doffed and knees were bowed to selfish and unserviceable lives. And even now if we look with Christ’s eyes, we shall think the most ignorant ploughman who earns his daily bread a far nobler being, and of more exalted rank than the cultured voluptuary who neither uses hands nor brain to serve his fellows and make the world a little better than he found it. We shall honour the meanest workman more than the noblest of society’s indolent darlings. We shall be as much ashamed of living unserviceable lives as of being detected in some glaring felony. The homes on earth which most resemble heaven are those in which from the father down to the youngest child, every loved and loving one is serving and being served by each and all; where love is always giving, yet receiving more than it gives; where all are servants, and because servants, masters; where all are happy because all are ministering to the joy of others.
II. The highest life is a life of service in the temple, or rather of temple service. There is no temple, because it is all temple. And all the service, of whatever kind it is, all the work, all the ministry of love there is emphatically temple service, not necessarily singing, praising, preaching, or anything of that kind, but temple service, because the atmosphere, the thought, the motives, the emotions are sacred, holy, and divine; because everything is done in view of Him who sits upon the throne. There is the very spirit of the sanctuary in it all. There is the gladness and the praisefulness of the sanctuary in it all. And here again we find the model for our lives below. The highest life on earth is a life made up entirely of temple service--a life in which we do all things from the least to the greatest in the same spirit in which we sing hymns and offer prayers honestly, reverently, and purely, as in the sight of God and our Master Jesus Christ.
III. The highest life is a life of work inspired by love, by love and not by necessity. They hunger no more, neither thirst any more. For the Lamb doth feed them and lead them to living fountains of water. We regard labour as a curse because it is a necessity. There is no choice where need drives. It is the hunger and thirst that make us bondsmen. We must toil to satisfy want. But in the highest life they work not to get their needs supplied, but because those needs have been supplied; not to secure wages, but because the wages have been sweetly and abundantly paid; not to make their robes white and clean, but because Christ has washed them until they shine like lustrous snow. In a word their service is inspired by gratitude, devotion, love; and that service never tires. Day and night they serve Him in His temple. Much of our earthly service may be made of this kind--nay, all of it in a certain sense. In all that we do there may be the willing, thankful, rejoicing spirit, a feeling of infinite indebtedness to God for His great gifts and His great love, which gives, as it were, wings to the feet that are engaged in common labour. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.--
The Divine presence in heaven
I. Heaven is the place of God’s special presence. It is the beginning of our happiness to have His presence with us here, and it will be the consummation of it to be for ever with Him in the world to come. The Psalmist took this view of it, for he said, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” It is further called “appearing in God’s presence”; “standing before Him”; “bowing before His throne”; “abiding in His tabernacle”; “dwelling in His house for ever”; “beholding His face”; “being for ever with the Lord”; “seeing the King in His beauty”; “sitting with Christ on His throne.”
II. The nature of the Divine presence in heaven. On earth the believer enjoys, in a certain sense, the presence of his God. Not only His essential presence, not only His presence in nature, where His wisdom, power, and goodness are clearly displayed; not only His presence in providence in overruling the unbridled passions of men, in improving the framework of society; not only His presence in the appointed means of grace, but a special presence; a presence which he can feel and enjoy, but which he cannot fully explain; a presence which though secret and invisible, is real, influential, and blessed. The presence referred to in the text is more than His essential presence. His essential presence is as really on earth, and in hell, as it is in heaven; for it fills heaven and earth, nor can the heaven of heavens contain it. It is also more than His special gracious presence by His Spirit, for though the saints have this on earth, they are said to be absent from the Lord. The presence of God in the text means--
1. A wonderful display of His natural and moral perfections--His wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and mercy, with all other attributes which constitute Him such a glorious being. Now in consequence of the weakness of our powers, and the obscurity of providence and other mediums through which they are contemplated, these perfections are but dimly seen and inadequately appreciated in the present state.
2. A wonderful display of His regal glory. He is to dwell among them sitting upon His throne; that is, surrounded with the ensigns of regal glory.
(1) It sets forth the absolute sovereignty of God and His dominion over all in heaven, and hence Isaiah saw the Lord sitting upon His throne, high and lifted up. His sovereignty is seen there in greater perfection and grandeur than anywhere else.
(2) It sets forth His peculiar glory and majesty, which are manifested in heaven more luminously than anywhere besides.
(3) It sets forth further, that there the deepest homage and respect is paid unto Him.
III. The manner in which this presence is manifested.
1. Here we have His presence in creatures, providences, and ordinances; but in heaven He will be seen immediately without the intervention of means. The mind will there be perfectly free from everything which here dims and interrupts its visions of the glory of God. There is no sin there to weaken and becloud its powers, nor any temptation to draw off the affections. There the light of glory has burst in upon the soul, and the perfection of its holiness secures its devout and unceasing contemplation of spiritual realities. The body, too, will then be fashioned like unto the glorified body of Christ; and instead of hindering and beclouding the spirit as it does now, it will greatly aid the soul in her Divine contemplations. And then shadows will be exchanged for realities.
2. He that sitteth upon the throne shall dwell among them, or, as in another place, in the midst of them; so that He is equally accessible to all, and His glory, as from a centre, diffuses its splendours over the whole assembly of heaven. Here some believers live in the sunshine and some in the shade; but it is a most delightful thought that the immediate and distinct vision of God in heaven is not the special privilege of the few, but is common to all that people the realms of bliss, both angels and men.
3. The presence of God in heaven is a fixed and abiding presence, for He shall dwell among them. Not as He frequently does now, like a wayfaring man who only turns aside for the night, but He will be always in our eye, for we shall be ever with the Lord, and shall always behold the face of our Father in heaven.
IV. The influence of this Divine presence upon the eternal state of the redeemed. As the presence of the sun warms, enlightens, fructifies, and blesses the earth; so, only in a far higher and more important sense, does the presence of God shed the most delightful influences upon the whole region and family of heaven.
1. It will advance their moral perfection.
2. It will secure and promote their eternal happiness.. The visible and immediate presence of God will banish all that is inconsistent with the progressive happiness of the redeemed, just as the presence of the sun banishes darkness, coldness, and gloom. Then this immediate presence of God not only banishes all that is opposed to the happiness of the saints, but it is productive of positive happiness. It is the presence of His approving smile that makes heaven, for there He rejoices over His people with joy: He rests in His love, He joys over them with singing. Oh, what bliss to live in the smile of a reconciled God! (Wm. Gregory.)
(with John 1:14; Revelation 21:8):--The word rendered “dwelt,” in these three passages is a peculiar one. It literally means “to dwell in a tent,” or, if we may use such a word, “to tabernacle,” and there is no doubt a reference to the tabernacle in which the Divine presence abode in the wilderness and in the land of Israel before the erection of the temple.
I. First, then, we have to think for a moment of that tabernacle for Earth. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt, as in a tent, amongst us.” The human nature, the visible, material body of Jesus Christ, in which there enshrined itself the everlasting Word, which from the beginning was the Agent of all Divine revelation, that is the true temple of God. We have to be content with a recognition that the manner is beyond our fathoming, and to accept the fact, pressed upon our faith that our hearts may grasp it and be at peace. God hath dwelt in humanity. The everlasting Word, who is the forthcoming of all the fulness of Deity into the realm of finite creatures, was made flesh and dwelt among us. But the tabernacle was not only the dwelling place of God, it was also and, therefore, the place of revelation of God. So, in our text, there follows: “we beheld His glory.” And how did that glory make itself known to us? By miracle? Yes! But, blessed be His name, miracle is not the highest manifestation of Christ’s glory and of God’s. The uniqueness of the revelation of Christ’s glory in God does not depend upon the deeds which He wrought. For, as the context goes on to tell, the Word which tabernacled among us was “full of grace and truth,” and therein is the glory most gloriously revealed. Still further, the tabernacle was the place of sacrifice. So in the tabernacle of His flesh He offered up the one sacrifice for sins for ever. In the offering up of His human life in continuous obedience, and in the offering up of His body and blood in the bitter passion of the Cross, He brought men nigh unto God. Therefore, because of all these things, because the tabernacle is the dwelling-place of God, the place of revelation, and the place of sacrifice, therefore, finally is it the meeting place betwixt God and man. In Christ, who by His Incarnation lays His hand upon both, God touches man and man touches God. We who are afar off are made nigh, and in that true tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man we meet God and are glad. The temple for earth is “the temple of His body.”
II. We have the tabernacle for the heavens. In the context we have a vision of the great multitude redeemed out of all nations, and kindreds, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, and palms in their hands.” The palms in their hands give important help towards understanding the vision. We are not to think of the Roman palm of victory, but of the Jewish palm which was borne at the Feast of Tabernacles. What was the Feast of Tabernacles? A festival established on purpose to recall to the minds and to the gratitude of the Jews settled in their own land the days of their wandering in the wilderness. Part of the ritual of it was that during its celebration they builded for themselves booths, or tabernacles of leaves and boughs of trees under which they dwelt, thus reminding themselves of their nomad condition. Now what beauty and power it gives to the words of my text, if we take in this allusion to the Jewish festival. The great multitude bearing the palms are “keeping the feast,” memorial of past wilderness wanderings; and “He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle above them”; as the word might be here rendered. That is to say, He Himself shall build and be the tent in which they dwell; He Himself shall dwell with them in it. He Himself, in closer union than can be conceived of here, shall keep them company during that feast.
III. Look at that final vision which we have in these texts, which we may call the tabernacle for the renewed Earth. “Behold the Tabernacle of God is with men, and He will tabernacle with them.” The climax and the goal of all the Divine working, and the long processes of God’s love for and discipline of the world, are to be this, that He and men shall abide together in unity and concord. That is God’s wish from the beginning. We read in one of the profound utterances of the Book of Proverbs how from the beginning the “delights” of the Incarnate Wisdom which foreshadowed the Incarnate Word “were with the sons of men.” And, at the close of all things, when the vision of this final chapter shall be fulfilled, God will say, settling Himself in the midst of a redeemed humanity, “Lo! here will I dwell, for I have desired it. This is My rest for ever.” He will tabernacle with men, and men with Him. We know not, and never shall know until experience strips the bandages from our eyes, what new methods of participation of the Divine nature, and new possibilities of intimacy and intercourse with Him may be ours when the veils of flesh and sense and time have all dropped away. New windows may be opened in our spirits, from which we shall perceive new aspects of the Divine character. New doors may be opened in our souls from out of which we may pass to touch parts of His nature, all impalpable and inconceivable to us now. And when all the veils of a discordant moral nature are taken away, and we are pure, then we shall see, then we shall draw nigh to God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst.
I. The perfection of the provision which is enjoyed in heaven.
1. The glorified dwell under the shadow of God. It is for this reason that “the sun shall not light on them nor any heat,” because they dwell in God. Oh, what a dwelling-place that will be!
2. Next, we are assured that they shall have all their necessities prevented. “They shall hunger no more.” To be supplied when we hunger is the mercy of earth: never to hunger at all is the plenitude of heaven. God shall so fill the souls of His redeemed that they shall have no longings: their longings shall be prevented by their constant satisfaction.
3. Further, as we read we discover a third blessing, namely, that every overpowering influence is attempered--“Neither shall the sun,” etc. To us even “our God is a consuming fire” while we are here; but in the saints there remaineth nothing to consume. The light of God is not too bright for eyes that Christ hath touched with heaven’s own eyesalve. Blessed, indeed, are they who shall behold the King in the ivory palaces above!
4. When it is added, “Nor any heat,” we learn that injurious influences shall cease to operate. By our surroundings here we are troubled with many heats. The very comforts of life, like warm weather, tend to dry us up. A man may have gold, a man may have health, a man may have prosperity and honour till he is withered like the heath in the desert in the day of drought. Unless a dew from the Lord shall rest upon the branch of the prosperous he will be parched indeed. We have need of grace whenever God gives us blessings of a temporal kind. But no heat of that sort shall happen to saints in heaven: they can be rich, and honoured, and perfectly beautiful, and yet under no temptation to self-exaltation.
5. “Neither shall they thirst any more”; they shall feel that the Lord Jesus is such an all-satisfying, all-sufficient portion that their desires can go no further. In the fair haven of the love of God in Christ Jesus shall my spirit abide for ever.
II. The description of the Provider. Who is this that feeds them? It is the Lamb.
1. Does it not teach us, first, that our comfort and life must come from our incarnate Saviour--the Lamb? The expression is very peculiar. It is written, “The Lamb shall shepherd them.” This is an accurate interpretation. How is that? A shepherd, and that shepherd a Lamb! Here is the truth which the words contain,--He that saves is a man like ourselves. He that provides for His people is Himself one of them--“For which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” The Lamb is their hope, their comfort, their honour, their delight, their glory.
2. Does it not mean more than that? “The Lamb” surely refers to sacrifice. The glorified drink the deepest draughts of delight from the fact that God was made flesh, and that in human flesh He offered perfect expiation for human guilt.
3. “The Lamb” must refer to the meekness of character, the lowliness and condescension of the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ on earth was “led as a lamb to the slaughter.” He was “meek and lowly in heart.” The character of our Lord, then, brings our spirit all that it needs; but yet this is not all: the text speaks of “the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne” as feeding them. Think of that, the Lamb in the midst of the throne. Can you put these two things together, a sacrifice and a throne? He that stooped to be made sin for us is now supreme sovereign, King of kings and Lord of lords. Think of that and be comforted. Our Representative is glorified. Our covenant Head, our second Adam, is in the midst of the throne.
III. The manner of providing. In two ways the saints in heaven enjoy it--the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them. Go over this, and think first of the feeding of them. The Greek word is “shall shepherdise them.” In heaven Jesus is a shepherd ruling over all His flock with a happy, genial, sympathetic sovereignty, to which they yield prompt and glad obedience. Here He has undershepherds, and He hands out the food by our poor instrumentality; and, alas I sometimes we are found incapable, or forgetful, and the flock is not fed: but it is never so in heaven, for the Lamb Himself maintains the pastorate, and acts the shepherd in a manner which none of us can emulate. Then it is added, “He shall lead.” You may read it, “He shall guide them to fountains of waters of life”; it is but a variation of the same thought. Now, even in heaven the holy ones need guiding, and Jesus leads the way. As eternity goes on, I have no doubt that the Saviour will be indicating fresh delights to His redeemed. “Come hither,” saith He to His flock, “here are yet more flowing streams.” He will lead them on and on, by the century, aye, by the chiliad, from glory unto glory, onward and upward in growing knowledge and enjoyment. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Heaven above, and heaven below
(with Isaiah 49:10):--In the New Testament text we have the heavenly state above; and in the Old Testament text we have the state of the Lord’s flock while on the way to their eternal rest. Very singular is the sameness of the description of the flock in the fold and the flock feeding in the ways. The verses are almost word for word the same. When John would describe the white-robed host, he can say no more of them than Isaiah said of the pilgrim band, led by the God of mercy.
I. The heavenly state above.
1. The supply of every need. “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more.” The unrenewed man is always thirsting; but Christ can stay this even now, for He saith, “He that drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.” There is not, in all the golden streets of heaven, a single person who is desiring what he may not have, or wanting what he cannot obtain, or even wishing for that which he has not to his hand. Oh, happy state I They are filled with all the fulness of God.
2. The removal of every ill. Thus saith the Spirit, “Neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat.” We are such poor creatures that excess of good soon becomes evil to us. Hence we need guarding from dangers which, at the first sight, look as if they were not perilous.
3. The leading of the Lamb.
4. The drinking at the fountain is the secret of the ineffable bliss. “The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters.” We are compelled to thirst at times, and, alas! we stop at the very puddles by the way, and would refresh ourselves at them, if we could. This will never happen to us when we reach the land where flows the river of the water of life. There the sheep drink of no stagnant waters, or bitter wells, but they are satisfied from living fountains of waters. In the home country souls have no need of the means of grace, for they have reached the God of grace.
II. The heavenly state below. I think I have heard you saying, “Ah! this is all about heaven; but we have not yet come to it. We are still wrestling here below.” Well, if we cannot go to heaven at once, heaven can come to us. Isaiah painted our Lord’s sheep in his presence on the way to heaven, and John drew the same flock in the glory with the Lamb: and the fact that the pictures are so much alike is full of suggestive teaching. Here are the same ideas in the same words.
1. First, here is a promise that every want shall be supplied. “They shall not hunger nor thirst.” If we are the Lord’s people and are trusting in Him, this shall be true in every possible sense. You shall have no anxious thought concerning what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, but, mark you, if you should know the trials of poverty, and should be brought very low in temporal things, yet the Lord’s presence and sensible consolations shall so sustain you that spiritually and inwardly you shall know neither hunger, nor thirst. Our Lord can so adapt our minds to our circumstances, that the bitter is sweet, and the burden is light.
2. Then, next, there is such a thing as having every evil removed from you while yet in this wilderness. “Neither shall the heat nor sun smite them.” Suppose God favours you with prosperity; if you live near to God you win not be rendered proud or worldly-minded by your prosperity.
3. Further, it is said, that on earth we may enjoy the leading of the Lord. See how it is put: “For He that hath mercy on them shall lead them.” Here we have not quite the same words as in the Revelation, for there we read, “The Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall lead them.” Yet the sense is but another shade of the same meaning. Oh, but that is a sweet name, is it not? “He that hath mercy on them.” He has saved them, and so has had mercy on them. Yes, that is very precious, but the word is sweeter still--“He that hath mercy on them,” He that is always having mercy on them, He that follows them with mercy all the days of their lives, He that continually pardons, upholds, supplies, strengthens, and thus daily loadeth them with benefits.
4. But now the last touch is the drinking at the spring-head. We were not surprised to find, in our description of heaven, that the Lamb led them to the fountains of waters; but we are delighted to find that, here below, “even by the springs of water shall He guide them.” You can even now live upon God Himself, and there is no living comparable to it. You can get beyond all the cisterns, and come to the river of the water of life, even as they do in heaven. To live by second causes is a very secondary life: to live on the First Cause is the first of living. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
All Souls’ Day
The imagery is Oriental. To a dweller in the East, the first essential is protection from the heat of the sun, and from the radiating heat that pours forth in the evening; the one blasting the energies at noonday, the other enervating the spirits at the coming of the night; and then waters to drink in a thirsty land.
1. Let us, then, enlarge our thought, and say, The life of the dead is a protected life. Think of the great multitude that stands before God to-day. Think of the little children brought into this world all warped and twisted, so that they never knew how to play. Think of the young that have grown up with the promise of joy, only to see the cup of happiness dashed from their lips. Think of the lives that have been misunderstood--the lives that have gone on day by day doing their duty, sacrificing themselves, seeking only for what was noble and pure and of good report, and all the time misunderstood, unappreciated, without sympathy, left to bear the burden and the heat of the day alone. Think of those who have lain for years and years on the bed of sickness. Think of the women that have borne great burdens--burdens not only of misapprehension, of misunderstanding, but of cruel brutality. Think of the multitudes that have risen day by day only to labour and toil, and have lain down at night too feeble, too weary, too much oppressed, for any thought of God, crushed by the burden and the labour of life. Now the word of St. John is that from all these things they are protected. A life free from care and responsibility, and the burden and heat of the day. This is the first thought that St. John would impress upon us in regard to the life of the dead. Nevermore can those things that are so hard for us light on them. All Souls’ Day should be full of joy for the protected life of the dead. But that is not all. “They hunger no more; and the Lamb doth lead them,” etc.
2. A life of satisfaction; a life in which every wish and aspiration of the soul is gratified. What a life is that! I like to think of the great multitude of God’s children who have entered into that new world and into that new life, seeking such different things because their needs are so different. One soul seeks only for rest; and that is given it. Another soul needs peace and harmony after the long struggle to make peace on earth. Another has been frightened, and longs for the sense of safety, and that is given. Another has all through life been thirsting for the sight of the Eternal Beauty, which no picture, no statue, no flaming of the sky at sunset, could adequately express. “We shall see,” said the prophet long ago, speaking for these artistic souls--“we shall see the King in His beauty.” Others have found the satisfaction of their souls in “the sound of the harpers playing on the harps.” The great multitude whose souls have been stirred by music, and yet in the most glorious symphony, in the noblest chorus, have always felt the human discord that underlay the harmony--there they are satisfied, there the perfect harmony of the Eternal Life soothes, invigorates, and inspires them. Others have laid hold of the tree of the knowledge of life. All through life they hungered for knowledge, and yet all getting of knowledge was the getting also of sorrow. There it is changed. There the tree of life is seen to be the tree of knowledge. Drinking deep of the Divine life, filling themselves with the life of the Lamb of God, these souls have found that not through knowledge did they gain life, but that through life they have gained knowledge. Oh, how wonderful it is to think of this vast expansion of humanity, as the flower expands that has been transplanted into a more genial clime! It is good to think of the lives that are satisfied to-day, as they stand before the throne of God, and are led by the Lamb to the living fountains of waters. The life satisfied; the life rejoicing in the knowledge of the thing that it has dreamed of as impossible; the life rejoicing in the knowledge that every hope that has shot across its sky was the witness of a reality which God had prepared for them that love Him. Full salvation. Sin has fallen away like some filthy garment, and the soul stands in the presence of the King, and the glory of the King clothes it, and it finds its satisfaction in beholding His beauty. And how has all this come to pass? “The Lamb shall lead them forth.” The spirit of Jesus is typified by the Lamb. The spirit of perfect sacrifice is meant by the Lamb. And that spirit has entered into the lives of these men and women and children. It is the new spirit that has taken possession of them in the new life that has made the protection and the eternal satisfaction. It opens up before us the thought of the endless progress of the dead. They are being led by the Lamb. And now turn back from this picture of the life of the dead to that other one with which we are so much more familiar, which we may call the death of the living. We are not protected. On us the sun does light and the heat does burn; with us the sorrow and sin, and suffering and pain, and misunderstanding and cruel suspicion, and unkindness and weariness, and discouragement and hopelessness exist. How sad it all is! How dark the picture is, as compared with the glory that is revealed by the other! And I think it is because of this picture, that men so often ask themselves, Things being as they are, how is it possible that the dead should have perfect joy? Now St. John entered into that mystery. And he has not pretended that their joy is complete. He did believe that their life was protected. He did believe that they were being satisfied day by day, because they were following the Lamb. But he adds, “God shall wipe away all tears from off their faces.” Tears! Yes, tears in that glorious life--tears must be there, because of the incompleteness of human life. It is inevitable that they should sorrow. It is no less inevitable that their sorrow should be comforted of God. Only standing before the throne of God there comes the eternal comfort that must always come with the remembrance of power and wisdom and goodness. And so their tears are wiped away. It is not a life without sorrow. It is a life comforted of God. And what is their word to us? It is--Follow the Lamb. Strive to have the spirit of Jesus Christ. For they that have that spirit have now the foretaste of the life of the dead. FollOw the Lamb, for in following Him and striving to have His spirit there comes the satisfaction that the soul can find in no other way; and all the joy and beauty and glory of life is found to have its interpretation and its full realisation in the beauty of the life of Jesus Christ. (Leighton Parks, D. D.)
The Lamb … shall feed them.--
The eternal folding of the flock
I. The shepherd. It is evidently the vision of a pastoral scene which is now in the eye of the Apostle of Patmos.
1. The description implies that there will be a continual remembrance on the part of the ransomed of the death and sufferings of their Shepherd. A Lamb slain! Strange symbol, in the place where suffering never enters, and death is unknown!
2. A second truth we may gather from this figure of the Lamb leading the ransomed in the heavenly world is, the perpetuity of Christ’s exalted human nature. It is not as a kingly Shepherd He leads, but as one of the flock Himself--wearing their nature. He is, and ever will be “that same Jesus,” unchanged and unchangeable.
II. Let us pass now from the glorified leader to the glorified flock.
1. All the joys of the ransomed flock will be associated with the love and companionship of their Shepherd. He feeds--He leads--He wipes away all tears from their eyes; and in a previous verse (15), under a different figure, it is said, “He that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them.” Heaven would be no heaven without Jesus. “Leading” them, “feeding” them,--wiping the very tear-drops from their eyes. What figurative language could express more intimate fellowship and communion! The fellowship of the believer and his Saviour on earth--alas! how fitful, intermittent, transient! “In Thy presence there is fulness of joy.”
2. This description would seem to denote an infinite progression in the joys and felicities of the ransomed flock. The Shepherd is seen leading them from pasture to pasture, from fountain to fountain, higher and yet higher up the hills of God. The heavenly pilgrim will be attaining ever new views of God--new unfoldings, and revelations of the Divine purposes--new motives for the ceaseless activities of his holy being. Heaven will thus, in the language of the old divines, be “a rest without a rest.” “They rest.” “They rest not.”
3. The figurative language of the evangelist further indicates that there will be an unfolding of the Shepherd’s wisdom and faithfulness in His earthly dispensations. God is represented as wiping away all tears from their eyes. As if, when they entered glory, some lingering tears were still there. As if the eye had not recovered from the night of earthly weeping. As in a forest, after a drenching thunder-shower, every bough, and blade, and leaf is dripping with rain; for a considerable time after the sun has shone out, and the sky is blue, and the birds of the grove are singing, the lingering drops gem the branches and sprinkle the sward. But the sun is up: and his genial rays are drinking up the moisture--nature’s tear-drops. One by one they evaporate, slowly, gradually; and the refreshed forest rejoices, and basks in the sun’s radiance. So with the great Sun of Deity in heaven. One by one earth’s remaining tears vanish before the radiance of that Sun of Wisdom and Love.
4. Yet once more, this description would seem to indicate that there will be a variety and diversity in the joys of Heaven, suited to the various capacities and tastes of the redeemed. It is not to one fountain to which the Lamb is said to lead them; they are “living fountains of waters.” Like the four-branched river in the first earthly Eden, there will be, from the one great river of Deity, streams which make glad the city of God. The pastures will be different. We delight to think of the flock of heaven--each member of it perfect in the full measure of its own bliss--but each under the Shepherd’s eye, thus following the pasture, or climbing the mountain-steep, or browsing by the streamlet, it most loves. And yet all the fold, in these separate and distinctive ways, combining to glorify their Shepherd-King. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
God shall wipe away all tears.
No more tears
The principal sources of the tears shed upon earth by those whose character resembles that of the multitude whom John beheld may be reduced under the four following heads:
I. The firmest spirit is liable to be discomposed by the consequences of that intimate connection which subsists between the soul and the body. Life is often embittered by a constitutional debility, or by accidental violence; by the acute pains of some diseases, by the effects of those exertions and indulgences that were prompted by health and vigour; and by the growing infirmities of years of that dissolution from which nature recoils. But they who are before the throne of God have received, in place of the earthly house of this tabernacle, a building of God.
II. Independently of bodily distress, we are exposed to numberless sorrows by the degree in which external objects affect our happiness. Many are hardly able with sweat and toil to earn that measure of the good things of life which is necessary for subsistence. Some fail in every scheme which they form to better their fortunes: at one time, the visitation of heaven, at another, the imprudence, the treachery, or the malice of man, snatches from them the fruit of their labours. But when the great plan of the Divine government with regard to the human race shall be accomplished, there will be no further Heed for that seemingly unequal dispensation, which, although the source of many tears, is, in mercy and love, employed by the Father of mankind, to administer correction to their vices, to afford a trial and a display of their virtues, and to carry forward purposes too important and too remote for their apprehension. The sufferings of the righteous will no longer form part of that discipline which the imperfection of human nature requires; nor will the unmerited success of the wicked be continued, as an instrument of good to those to whom it appears to bring evil.
III. A third source from which the tears of good men flow is that kind affection which God, who is Love, hath planted in the human breast. Although this principle be the solace of life, although it create those pleasing attentions and toils without which the repetition of the same scenes would become wearisome, and the labour of life intolerable; yet, in the mixed state in which we are called to exercise kind affection, it multiplies our cares and anxieties, and it often fills our hearts with anguish. The objects of our affection are not allowed to remain with us always, and there is no time when we hold them secure. The living sometimes inflict the most cruel wounds upon an affectionate heart. But the tears which flow from the distresses, the departure, or the improper behaviour of others, shall be wiped away from the eyes of those who are before the throne. In the city of the living God there is no affliction that demands the tribute of sympathy from those who are unable to give any other relief; no depraved mind that proves unworthy of the affection of which it had once been the object; no painful separation of kindred spirits; the people are all righteous, and the pure spiritual joy of righteousness and benevolence gladdens the whole company of the redeemed.
IV. If the servants of God were able in this state to attain the perfection of virtue, they might bear with composure bodily distress, the difficulties of their outward state, but the best of the children of men are bowed down under the consciousness of vain thoughts, of idle words, and of unprofitable actions. But God shall wipe away the tears of sin from the eyes of those who, knowing this bitterness, do indeed hunger and thirst after righteousness; for the day is coming when they shall be faultless. There will then be no sophistry to mislead the understanding, no false appearance of good to excite improper desires, no example of vice to allure imitation; there will then be no remainder of corruption to afflict and humble the spirit, no grovelling appetite to war against the soul, no mean passion to tarnish the beauty of holiness. Conclusion:
1. If all tears are to be wiped away hereafter, it follows that religion does not profess to wipe them away here.
2. If we believe that the time is coming when our tears shall be wiped away, let us prize the gospel of Christ, which hath given us this blessed hope.
3. This description of the happiness of heaven, like every other which the Scriptures contain, reminds us of the necessity of a virtuous life. (G. Hill, D. D.)
The ministry of tears
1. It is the ministry of tears to keep this world from being too attractive. You and I would be willing to take a lease of this life for a hundred million years, if there were no trouble. After a man has had a good deal of trouble, he says, “Well, I am ready to go. If there is a house somewhere whose roof doesn’t leak, I would like to live there. If there is an atmosphere somewhere that does not distress the lungs, I would like to breathe it. If there is a society somewhere where is no tittle-tattle, I would like to live there. If there is a home-circle somewhere where I can find my lost friends, I would like to go there.”
2. It is the ministry of trouble to make us feel our complete dependence upon God. We lay out great plans, and we like to execute them. It looks big. God comes and takes us down. As Prometheus was assaulted by his enemy, when the lance struck him it opened a great swelling that had threatened his death, and he got well. So it is the arrow of trouble that lets out great swellings of pride. We never feel our dependence upon God until we get trouble. We do not know our own weakness, or God’s strength, until the last plank breaks. It is contemptible in us, when there is nothing else to take hold of, that we catch hold of God only.
3. It is the ministry of tears to capacitate us for the office of sympathy. The priests under the old dispensation were set apart by having water sprinkled on their hands, feet, and head; and by the sprinkling of tears people are now set apart to the office of sympathy. Where did Paul get the ink with which to write his comforting Epistle? Where did David get the ink to write his comforting Psalms? Where did John get the ink to write his comforting Revelation? They got it out of their own tears. When a man has gone through the curriculum, and has taken a course of dungeons, and imprisonments, and shipwrecks, he is qualified for the work of sympathy. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
In heaven there are--
I. No anxieties. In that world there is “no more curse.” There, too, sickly bodies will Hover be seen. There the head shall languish and ache no more. The eyes shall no longer refuse to see, nor the cars to listen. There no paralysis cripples. There no nerves tremble and are afraid. The inhabitant of that bright city shall no more say, “I am sick.” There all labour and anxiety for provision for yourselves and families will be ended.
II. No bereavements. Our Saviour tells you that, if you are amongst “the children of the resurrection,” you and your departed relatives who loved Christ shall meet again, and that thenceforward neither they nor you will “die any more.” There are no graves in heaven.
III. No sin in others.
IV. No sin in ourselves. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
No tears in heaven
I. Tears are to fill the eyes of believers until they enter the promised rest. How numerous, too, are the tears of unbelief! We manufacture troubles for ourselves by anticipating future ills which may never come. Tears of repentance, we cannot carry thither with us. Tears for Christ’s injured honour. These are holy drops, but they are all unknown in heaven. Tears of sympathy: when we “weep with those that weep” we do well; these are never to be restrained this side the Jordan.
II. Even here if we would have our tears wiped away we cannot do better than repair to our God. He is the great tear wiper. God can remove every vestige of grief from the hearts of His people by granting them complete resignation to His will. Our selfhood is the root of our sorrow. He can also take away our tears by constraining our minds to dwell with delight upon the end which all our trials are working to produce. He can show us that they are working together for good. Moreover, He can take every tear from our eye in the time of trial by shedding abroad the love of Jesus Christ in our hearts more plentifully. He can make it clear to us that Christ is afflicted in our affliction. The Lord can also take away all present sorrow and grief from us by providentially removing its cause. Providence is full of sweet surprises and unexpected turns. Still, the surest method of getting rid of present tears, is communion and fellowship with God.
III. The removal of all tears from the blessed ones above.
1. All outward causes of grief are gone. Poverty, famine, distress, nakedness, peril, persecution, slander, all these shall have ceased.
2. Again, all inward evils will have been removed by the perfect sanctification wrought in them by the Holy Ghost. No evil of heart, of unbelief in departing from the living God, shall vex them in Paradise; no suggestions of the arch enemy shall be met and assisted by the uprisings of iniquity within.
3. All fear of change also has been for ever shut out. They know that they are eternally secure. Saints on earth are fearful of falling. No such fears can vex the blessed ones who view their Father’s face.
4. Why should they weep, when every desire is gratified? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 7". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26