Revelation 20:6 The First Resurrection
Revelation 20:11-15 The Great White Throne
Revelation 20:14 Death and the Grave
Revelation 21:1 The Vision of the Restitution of All Things
Revelation 21:3 God’s Tabernacle On Earth
Revelation 21:4 The Coming of the Perfect
Revelation 21:5 The New Things Of God
Revelation 21:6-8 The Conqueror’s Reward
Revelation 21:9 The Glorious Bride
Revelation 21:10 The Holy City
Revelation 21:23 The Light of the New Jerusalem
Revelation 22:1 The Life River
Revelation 22:2 The Tree with its Twelve Harvests
Revelation 22:3,5 The Serving and the Reigning
Revelation 22:3-5 The Curse Cancelled, and the Kingdom Begun
Revelation 22:4 The Vision of God
Revelation 22:14 Entrance Into The City
Revelation 22:17 Come, O Saviour! Come, O Sinner!
Revelation 22:18,19 The Divine Word, and the Doom of its Defacers
Revelation 22:21 The Free Love of Christ
Revelation 22:21 The Last Amen
“Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection—on such the second death has no power; but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”—Revelation 20:6.
Resurrection is our hope—not death. It has always been the Church’s hope—the hope of patriarchs and kings and prophets. Martha only uttered the confession of the Church universal when she said, ‘I know that he shall rise again.’ Israel knew resurrection well—and the Old Testament assumes the truth of it.
It is not the putting off this vile body (or this ‘body of our humiliation’), but the putting on of the immortal and incorruptible that is our hope; not our going to Christ, but His coming to us; not merely our victory over sin and its spiritual consequences, but victory over death and the grave. This hope grew brighter as the ages went on, until it was fully revealed in Him who is the resurrection and the life. But still more was needed; and it was reserved for Paul and John fully to unfold the hope.
This twentieth chapter of the Revelation is a very wonderful one, and specially valuable as giving us details of the resurrection hope.
An angel is seen descending out of heaven; he has the key of the bottomless pit, or abyss, and a great chain in his hand. He seizes the dragon, the old serpent (the murderer and liar from the beginning, John 8:44), who is the Devil, and Satan; binds him a thousand years; casts him into the abyss; locks him up; sets a seal above or upon him, to hinder his escaping and deceiving the nations for a thousand years. Then thrones are set up (Daniel 7:9); and there are sitters upon them, to whom judgment is given (1 Corinthians 6:2); the souls (Acts 2:41, 7:41) of the martyrs and the non-worshipers of the beast are made to live again; and being thus raised, they reign with Christ (Revelation 5:10). But the rest of the dead are not raised until the end of the thousand years. This is the first resurrection.
It gets the designation of ‘first,’ not because of its pre-eminence and glory, but because it is before another. Properly speaking, the great resurrection fact is but one—’all that are in their grave shall arise;’ but it divides itself into two parts or acts, separated from each other by a considerable interval—an interval (like that between the Lord’s two comings) not at first revealed. But here the interval is explicitly announced—a thousand years. The righteous rise to glory at the beginning of that period, and during it they live and reign with Christ. At its close, the wicked rise, and are judged. This resurrection of the wicked at the close of the thousand years, sets aside the doctrine of annihilation entirely. They do not rise in order to be annihilated. They do not get new bodies merely in order to have these new bodies destroyed.
I. WHEN is it to be? When the Lord comes the second time. In the preceding chapter he is described as coming with the hosts of heaven for the destruction of His enemies. (See 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). He comes as the resurrection and the life; the abolisher of death, the spoiler of the grave, the raiser of His saints.
II. WHO it is to consist of? This passage speaks only of the martyrs and the nonworshipers of the beast; but other passages show that all His saints are to be partakers of this reward. ‘This honour have all His saints;’ all who have followed Christ, or suffered for Him, from Abel downwards. They have suffered with Him here, and they shall reign with Him here. They have fought the good fight; they have overcome the world, and the god of this world. The conflict and the tribulation have been sore, but the recompense is glorious. Oneness with Christ now secures for us the glory of that day.
III. WHAT it does for those who share it? It brings to them such things as the following:
(1) Blessedness—Peculiar blessedness is to be theirs. God only knows how much that word implies, as spoken by Him who cannot lie, who exaggerates nothing, and whose simplest words are His greatest.
(2) Holiness—They are pre-eminently ‘the saints of God;’ set apart for Him; consecrated and purified, both outwardly and inwardly; dwelt in by him whose name is the ‘Holy Spirit;’ and called to special service in virtue of their consecration. Priestly-royal service is to be theirs throughout the eternal ages.
(3) Preservation from the second death—They rise to an immortality which shall never be recalled. No dying again, in any sense of the word; not a fragment of mortality about them, nothing of this vile body, and nothing of that corruption or darkness or anguish which shall be the portion of those who rise at the close of the thousand years. ‘Neither shall they die any more’ (Luke 20:36). They ‘shall not be hurt of the second death’ (Revelation 2:2), but shall feed upon the tree of life. Their connection with death, in every sense, is done forever.
(4) The possession of a heavenly priesthood—They are made priests unto God and Christ—both to the Father and the Son. Priestly nearness and access; priestly power and honour and service; priestly glory and dignity—this is their recompense. They, with their glorified and reigning Head, form the link between creation above and creation below—between the Creator and the creature, carrying up the incenses of prayer and praise and service from all parts of a holy universe, now linked to Godhead forever, beyond the possibility of fall. They maintain the communication between God and His world, between Paradise regained and the Paradise that was never lost—no, between God and His innumerable worlds throughout all space. For priesthood is not for sacrifice alone, but for carrying on the endless communion between heaven and earth.
(5) The possession of the kingdom—They shall reign for a thousand years over a renewed earth, where there are traces still of the fall, and on which Satan is for a brief season to be let loose; and they shall reign forever and ever over a world thoroughly restored and purified, into which Satan shall never again find entrance. They are kings as well as priests, both in one—God’s Melchizedek’s, wearing the priestly mitre, and wielding the royal sceptre. Having their home and place and throne in the new Jerusalem, they rule over a delivered creation, over the converted nations, over a world now filled with the Holy Spirit in all its nations.
Such are our prospects—let us live accordingly. Let our coming honours influence us now—making us self-denied, consistent, heavenly—quickening us to zeal and love.
Sinner, walking on in unbelief, and worldliness, and pleasure, what are your prospects? Have you considered them? Are they satisfactory? What is your hope?
What is judgment to do for you? What is resurrection to bring? Look at the following alternatives, and ask which is to be yours.
Everlasting gladness—or everlasting sorrow?
Everlasting glory—or everlasting shame?
Everlasting songs— or everlasting wailing?
The marriage supper of the Lamb—or the perpetual banishment from all that is good and holy?
The new heavens and earth—or the eternal wilderness, with its parched and burning wastes?
The heavenly Jerusalem, with the Lamb as its light—or the blackness of darkness forever?
The fruit of the tree of life and the waters of the celestial river—or the eternal hunger and the unquenchable thirst? (Luke 16:24).
The first resurrection—or the second death?
These are the alternatives before you—and there is no middle doom.
O that second death, and that resurrection unto condemnation! (John 5:29; Revelation 20:13.) You shall arise, O man—but what will that rising do for you? When you were carried out at the first death, there were tears shed upon your coffin; but shall it be so when you are carried out at the second death? Your funeral procession moves on; but there are no friends, no mourners. What means that dark procession? It is a legion of fallen angels come to escort you to that place where the worm dies not. They lament not, but rejoice that they have got you, both soul and body, into their keeping forever. O man! Man, made in the image of God, and made for fellowship with God—is this to be your end? Man, with a soul susceptible of such gladness and such sorrow, and with a body capable of such pleasure and such pain—is this to be your doom? Is this the end of all time’s hopes, and fears, and dreams—its songs, and smiles, and laughter? Is this the end of sermons, and Sabbaths, and sacraments? Is this the end of warnings, and judgments, and providences, and entreaties, and messages of love?
Well may hell from beneath be moved at your coming, and say—Have you too become like one of us?
Oh, before the last trumpet sound, before you lie down upon your earthly deathbed, lift up your eyes to the saving cross! There is healing in a look. Look and live!
Though it were your last look here, before the eye closed forever, it would suffice. The uplifted Saviour saves even at the last—saves even the chief of sinners!
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”—Revelation 20:11-15.
This ought to have begun a new chapter, or formed a separate section. It is a new scene—following, no doubt, close on the judgment terrors of the preceding verses, but still separate from them. It is a scene of infinite grandeur and solemnity; a scene from which the world shrinks back, but which shall one day be realised on this very globe. John ‘saw’ it—in vision, no doubt; but in a vision presented by God Himself—a true picture of coming realities to man and man’s world. All this scene shall one day come true. It is the ‘vision,’ and it shall be one day the reality of—
(1) A THRONE—YES, a royal seat, a seat of judgment, the seat of the great King and Judge of all. There have been many thrones on earth, but none like this—one throne in place of the many.
(2) A GREAT throne—All earth’s thrones have been little, even the greatest—Nebuchadnezzar, or Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon—but this is ‘great;’ greater than the greatest—none like it in magnificence.
(3) A WHITE throne—White is purity, truth, justice calmness. Such is the throne to be—unsoiled, untainted, incorruptible—no one-sidedness nor imperfection—no bribery nor favour there. All is ‘white’—transparent and spotless perfection.
(4) One SEATED on it—It was not empty or unoccupied, nor filled by a usurper, or by one who could not wield the power required for executed its decrees. God was seated there; that very God before whose face heaven and earth flee away; that God whose presence melts the mountains, and made Sinai to shake (See Psalm 102:26; Isaiah 34:4, 51:6; Jeremiah 4:23, 26; Revelation 6:14, 16:20). In the last two passages we find men upon the earth, and hail falling from heaven upon them, after it had been said that all had fled away; which shows that it is not annihilation that is meant in any of them. Nothing is annihilated. Our bodies return to dust, but return out of dust into themselves again; so earth will undergo changes, but will come out of these the same earth, only purified. For our bodies there is resurrection, for earth restitution, but for neither annihilation. If annihilation is the portion of the wicked—what then, does their resurrection mean? He who sits on this throne is the mighty God, able to judge and to carry out His decrees in spite of all human or hellish resistance. How terrible to stand unready before such a Judge and such a throne! All justice, all perfection, all holiness!
Who can abide His appearing?
But besides the Judge and the throne, there are the millions to be judged. They are—
(1) The dead; those who did not rise in the first resurrection, called ‘the rest of the dead’ (20:5). They remained behind the dead in Christ, but they must rise at last.
(2) Small and great; from the youth to the old man, from the feeblest to the strongest, all are there. ‘They shall not escape.’ They have to do with unerring eyes.
These ‘stand before God.’ There are others who ‘stand before God,’ or ‘before the throne of God,’ but for very different purpose.
‘The angels stood before God’ (8:2); the two witnesses ‘stood before God of the whole earth’ (11:4); the great white-robed multitude ‘stood before the throne’ (8:9-15); the elders ‘sat before the throne of God’ (11:16). But all these are very different from the ‘small and great’ who stand before ‘the great white throne.’ The former stand for honour and glory and gladness, the latter for judgment.
The process of judgment is also seen. (1) Books are opened—books probably containing God’s history of the sinner’s life. His record of the sinner’s deeds. How different from man’s! How different God’s story of our great men, our literary men, our poets, our philosophers, our captains, our kings, from man’s! The divine version of human history—how unusual it will be! How unlike all earthly annals! Most of the leading facts the same, yet how differently told! Most of the scenes and events and actions the same, yet how differently put the interpreted! What a strange thing will be a biography, a human life, seen by divine eyes and recorded by a divine pen! What ‘books’ these will be! Alongside of these is another book, called the book of life—the register of those whose portion is life eternal, whose home is to be the land and city of life, whose heritage is to be that God in whose favour is life. (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 21:27).
The books first mentioned contain the materials for the Judge’s decision. Out of them the individuals are judged, ‘every man according to his works.’ The ‘things written in these books’ being thus connected with the ‘works’ mentioned, lead us to conclude that they are the record or annals of the works of each. All things are written down. God keeps His diary of every soul’s doings and sayings and thinkings. Nothing is forgotten! Every deed awakes from its slumbers and speaks on that day! What a resurrection of each buried thought and word at that great white throne!
The judgment will be just and fair; nothing overrated, nothing underrated. Every fact will speak exactly for itself. Each word will be weighed in perfect balances. No one shall be able to complain. God will be justified in all. What a scrutiny! What impartiality and calmness, yet what exactness and minuteness!
It shall be universal judgment then. Sea and land shall give up their dead. Death and the grave shall part with their victims. Each region of earth shall furnish its thousands or millions of the dead for judgment. And again it is said, ‘according to their works.’ On these each man’s judgment is to turn.
Then death and the grave are utterly destroyed. They exist no more, but are consumed. The lake of fire is their portion; and in this lake there is the second death. The first death passes away only to give place to a second far more terrible; a death that never dies, that has no grave, and no end. The second death! The lake of fire!
What words of horror are these! Yet they are not exaggerations, but God’s own calm and solemn language. It indicates real punishment, not annihilation.
And all who are not found in the book of life are cast into this fiery lake—handed over to this second death, this eternal mortality, this never-ending dying—this death that is always both present and to come—the worm that never dies, the fire that is never quenched. Such is the eternity of the lost, according to God’s account of it. Man may dilute or disbelieve or allegorize the statement, but there it stands. Eternal sorrow or eternal joy!
(1) Is it all true? Do we believe it? All this about the great white throne, and the Judge, and the books, and the lake, and the second death? Are all these things true?
(2) Does it bear upon us? Have these scenes of judgment any bearing upon us? Are their terrors for us? Has humanity anything to do with that lake of fire? Or is it only for lost angels?
(3) Is it rousing to us? If anything could awake us, it would be a futurity like this. That Judge, that judgment, that woe!
“And death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Revelation 20:14.
It is of His two chief enemies that God here speaks—’death and the grave,’ or ‘place of the dead’ (Hades)—for such, and not hell, ought to be the rendering of the latter of the two words.
This is not the first time, nor the only place, in which they are thus classed together. There is a striking series of passages, running through all Scripture, in which they are names as allies—fellow-workers in the perpetration of one great deed of darkness from the beginning. Often are death and the grave in the lips of Job. David thus speaks of them—’In death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who shall give You thanks?’ (Psalm 6:5.) Solomon thus uses them in figure—’Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave’ (Song 8:6). Hezekiah thus refers to them—’The grave cannot praise You; death cannot celebrate You’ (Isaiah 38:18). Isaiah thus mentions them in their connection with Messiah—’He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death’ (53:9). Hosea thus proclaims their awful fellowship in evil—’I will ransom them (His people) from the owner of the grave; I will redeem them from death; O death, I will be the plagues; O grave, I will be your destruction—repentance shall be hid from my eyes’ (13:14). Paul thus takes up the language of the old prophets—’O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is the victory?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55.) And then, as the summing up of the whole, we have these strange words of the Apocalypse—’Death and the grave delivered up the dead which were in them; and death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.’
These last words accord strikingly with those in Hosea; yet they are not meant as a mere quotation or reference, but as an intimation of fulfilment—an announcement as to the way in which God is to execute His threat. ‘O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction,’ is the old prediction; and of this John records the awful fulfilment, ‘Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.’ This is the end of that death-power which was let loose in Paradise, and which has continued to exercise dominion upon earth through these two channels. The reign has been long and sad; it has been one of dissolution, and blight, and terror; but it ends at last! This dynasty of darkness, this double vice-regency of hell, is broken in pieces—death and the grave are cast into the lake of fire—which is the second death, the death that absorbs all other deaths, the death of deaths, the deepest death of all, the death after which there is no life, and no resurrection, and no deliverance forever.
These two enemies of God and man are here personified as two powers of evil, the one the handmaid of the other—twin demons, coming forth from the blackness of darkness, and returning to the darkness from which they sprang—servants of, or rather co-operators with, the prince of darkness, with him who has the power of death, even the devil, in carrying out the inexorable sentence, ‘Dust you are, and unto dust shall you return.’ They are treated as two hideous criminals; who, though for a time permitted to go forth, like the Assyrian and Babylonian ravager, to execute the divine commission, are at last called to reckoning, for the havoc they have wrought, and dragged forth, as pre-eminent in crime, to receive their sentence of doom—and to be cast into the lake of fire.
DEATH has been the sword of law for ages; but when it has done its work on earth, God takes this sword, red with the blood of millions, snaps it in pieces before the universe, and casts its fragments into the flame, in the day of the great winding-up, in token that never again shall it be needed, either on earth or throughout the universe.
The GRAVE has been the chain and the prison-house of justice; but when its purpose is served, and justice has got all its own in the heaven of the saved, and the hell of the lost—God gathers up each link of the chain and flings them into the lake of fire upon the head of the great potentate of evil! He demolishes the dungeon to its foundation, and buries its ruins in a grave like that of Sodom—the lake of the everlasting burnings. Death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire!
The great truth taught us here is God’s abhorrence of death, and His determination not merely to end it, but to take vengeance on it. Let us then inquire into this, and into the reasons for it.
I. God abhors death. The fact of its existence on earth by His permission, is of no proof of His non-abhorrence; else would the prevalence of sin, side by side with death, be demonstration that He does not hate it. Accustomed with death, as WE sometimes are by its frequency—HE abhors death more truly than even we do who are the subjects of his ravages. We cannot but hate death, even when we have ceased to fear it, and know that for us its sting has been extracted. We hate it, and thrust it from us; loathing its advances, and waging daily war with it—seeking by every contrivance of skill to overcome it and ward off its stroke. We hate it because of its darkness—and its coldness—and its silence. We hate it as the great “robber of our loves and joys”—who gives nothing but takes everything. It cuts so many ties; it rends so many hearts; it silences so many voices; it thins so many firesides; it comes with its dark veil, its screen of ice, between friend and friend, between soul and soul, between parent and child, between husband and wife, between sister and brother. Of human sympathies it has none; it concerns not itself about our joys or sorrows; it spares no dear one, and restores no lost one; it is pitiless and mute; it is as powerful as it is inexorable, striking down the weak, and wrestling with the strong until they succumb and fall.
No wonder, then, that death is so unlovable to us—no, of all objects the most unlovable in itself, though occasionally acquiring some faint attractiveness, or at least losing some little of its hatefulness by its being made the termination of pain, and conflict, and weariness, and the gate into the presence of Him who is our life and joy.
After all, however, our estimate either of its attractiveness or repulsiveness would be of little significance, were it not that on this point God takes our side. His estimate of death coincides with ours. It is to Him even more unlovable than it is to us. He has set limits to its power; He has made it to His saints the very gate of heaven—for blessed are the dead that die in the Lord. He has proclaimed resurrection and incorruption. But still, with all these abatements, He hates it—nor is reconciled to it in one act or aspect. It is, in His eyes, even more than in ours, an enemy, a destroyer, a demon, a criminal, a robber. So thoroughly does He loathe it, that in order to make His displeasure known, He reserves it to the last for doom; He sets it apart for a great striking condemnation, and then casts it into the lake of fire.
But besides this final condemnation, He has given us others equally explicit. He calls it ‘the king of terror;’ ‘the last enemy;’ and thus addresses it—’O death, I will be your plague; O grave, I will be your destruction—repentance shall be hid from my eyes’—that is, never will I revoke my sentence against you (Hosea 13:14). Hardly could words be found to express more strongly God’s estimate of death, and His determination to abolish it utterly and forever. For six thousand years death has been the fulfiller of His purposes, His rod for the chastisement of His saints, His scourge for clearing earth of His enemies—yet He hates it; and as soon as His ends with it are accomplished, He will show His displeasure against it by casting it into the lake of fire.
There is then abundant consolation for us in this dying world, from the thought that God sides with us in our abhorrence of death and the grave. He is the enemy of our enemies; and specially of this, the chief. When He raised His Son from the dead, He showed us that life and not death, was His purpose, both for Him and for us. Resurrection is at once our faith and our hope. In His great love He has revealed to us the coming victory over death, when He who is our life shall appear to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all those who believe. Because He rose, we shall arise. He has taught us to say, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives;’ and to add, ‘God shall redeem my soul from the power of the grave.’ He has made us to hear the sure words—’Your brother shall rise again;’ ‘I will raise him up at the last day;’ ‘He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His own glorious body.’
So that in covering dust with dust at the grave of a saint, we look beyond the tomb and see the glory; our eye rests not upon corruption, but upon incorruption; our fellowship is not with death, but with life. We shall arise. That which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power. The reign of death is hastening to a close, the reign of life about to commence its eternal gladness. Our true life is coming; the conqueror is on His way; He will redeem His own people from the power of the grave, and swallow up death in victory. Behold, I come quickly, He cries. We respond, Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
II. God’s reasons for abhorring death. It contains nothing in itself that is lovable; nor has it done any excellent works because of which God or man might love it. Its history is one of evil, not of good; of wrong, and sadness, and terror; of breaking down, not of building up; of scattering, not of gathering; of darkness, not of light; of disease, and pain, and tossings to and fro, not of health and brightness. But God counts it specially unlovable for such reasons as the following—
(1) Death is the ally of sin—’Sin entered into the world, and death by sin’ (Romans 5:12). With sin it has gone hand in hand, passing down the generations, and spreading itself round the earth. Partners in evil—sin and death have held dark fellowship together from the beginning—the one reflecting and augmenting the odiousness of other—like night and storm, each in itself terrible, but more terrible as ‘companions in havoc’. God abhors death as the fellow and the offspring of sin!
(2) Death is Satan’s tool—One of the most fearful of Satan’s designations is, ‘he who has the power of death.’ Death is Satan’s most satisfying work—his trustiest weapon. To inflict disease—but not to heal; to wound—but not to bind up; to kill—but not to make alive—these are the works of the devil—which God abhors, and which the Son of God came to destroy. The evil workman and his tool—the master and his servant—are alike hateful in the eyes of that God who loves not evil—but good; not death—but life.
(3) Death is the undoing of His work—’In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good.’ Specially did he rejoice in man as His handiwork and His property, and in man’s body as that material form which His Son was afterwards to assume. God did not intend creation to crumble down or evaporate. But death has seized it! Death—the poison of hell has penetrated everywhere! Man’s body and man’s earth are falling to pieces, undermined by some universal solvent; the beauty, and the order, and the power giving way before the evil invader! The sculptor does not love the hand that spoils his statue, nor the mother the fever that preys upon her darling—so God has no pleasure in that enemy that has been ruining the work of His hands.
(4) Death has been the source of earth’s greatest pain and sorrow—Pain is the messenger of disease, and disease is the touch of death’s finger—and with disease and death what an amount of sorrow has poured in upon our world! We come into contact with sorrow only in ‘fragments’ or ‘drops’, as it falls upon ourselves and our friends. We cannot estimate the accumulated grief of a year or a century, or even of one day, all over earth. There is no ‘sorrow-gauge’ to measure the quantity that has fallen all over our earth, since the first drop alighted. If there were such a measurement, we would be appalled at the amount of sorrow which death has inflicted on our race!
But God has measured it! He knows what the amount of human grief has been; and He abhors alike the evil and the doer of it. He does not love sorrow—He has no pleasure in pain—He is not indifferent to creation’s groans—and He will yet avenge Himself, and avenge man and man’s earth for all the woe which death has wrought—in the day when He destroys death, and banishes pain, and dries up tears, and delivers creation from the bondage of corruption!
(5) Death has laid hands on God’s people—Though He permitted Herod, and Pilate, and Nero, and the kings of the earth, to persecute His Church, He was not thereby indifferent to the wrong—far less in sympathy with the wrong-doer. He treasures up wrath against the persecutor—He will judge and avenge the blood of His own. So will He take vengeance on death, the last enemy. He will yet vindicate His saints, and honour the ‘holy dust’ that has been scattered over sea and earth. Death and the grave shall be cast into the lake of fire, to make known to the universe eternally—His sense of the wrong done. Speaking of the resurrection of His own, and His plucking the prey from the spoiler, He says, ‘I will redeem them from death, I will ransom them from the power of the grave;’ and then, shaking His hand against the spoiler, He proclaims His purpose of vengeance—’O death, I will be your plague! O grave, I will be your destruction! Repentance shall be hid from my eyes.’ For in proportion to His love for His own, is His abhorrence of their injuries—’He who touches them, touches the apple of His eye.’
(6) Death laid hands upon His Son—Death smote the Prince of life—and the grave imprisoned Him! This was treason of the darkest king, the wrong of wrongs, perpetrated against the highest in the universe—God’s incarnate Son! And shall not God avenge for this? Shall not His soul be avenged on such a destroyer—for such a crime? If the lowest of His saints shall be avenged—how much more His beloved Son? In the day when God shall judge the world, this deed of darkness shall come into remembrance; and God, in casting death into the lake of fire, shall intimate His abhorrence of death, and His displeasure against this the worst of all his deeds—the slaying of His only-begotten Son!
It is not then resurrection merely, but something more than this, that our text reveals—even God’s condemnation of all that death has done. We see, too, His joy in resurrection, and His determination to prevent the recurrence, more—the possibility of the recurrence of such an evil as death. To take the sting from death was much—to abolish death was more—but it is something more still to cast death and the grave into the lake of fire! Surely as over Babylon, the prison-house of the saints, so over death and the grave, when they are thrown into the abyss—we may sing this song of triumph, ‘Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you of her—for in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.’
Then shall resurrection be not merely a prospect and a hope—but an accomplished fact; and not merely an accomplished fact—but an irreversible condition of creaturehood. ‘Neither shall they die any more,’ is the consummation to which resurrection brings us. The inhabitant shall not say, ‘I am sick.’ The eye shall not be dim, and the ear shall not be dull, and the brow shall not wrinkle, nor the hair be gray, nor the limbs totter, nor the memory fail. There shall be no more curse, nor death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain; for the former things have passed away!
We know that our Redeemer lives, and because He lives, we shall live also! He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and when He appears, we shall appear with Him in glory. And He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry—and those who sleep in Jesus God will bring with Him.
We preach Jesus and the resurrection; Jesus the resurrection and the life; Jesus our life. We bring glad tidings concerning this risen One, and that finished work of which resurrection is the seal; glad tidings concerning God’s free love in connection with this risen One. The knowledge of this risen One is forgiveness, and life, and glory. Oh then, what is there in our dying world like this to impart consolation and gladness?
We shall not die, but live. Eternity is a life, and not a death; a life with Christ, and a life in Christ. For the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of waters, and God Himself shall wipe away all tears from our eyes!
“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth—for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away—and there was no more sea.”—Revelation 21:1.
Of these two last glorious chapters, we could say, ‘You have kept the good wine until now!’ They take us into the shrine of shrines—into the very heart of the glory—into the paradise of God; into the royal banqueting-house—into the very splendour of eternity! What a summing up of God’s purposes is here! What a conclusion of the divine oracles! What a termination to the long, long desert-journey of the Church of God, calling forth from us the exulting shout which broke from the lips of the Crusaders, when first from the neighbouring height they caught sight of the holy city, ‘Jerusalem! Jerusalem!’
The first book of Scripture—and the last—fit well into each other; the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two of Revelation fit together like the two halves of a golden clasp set in gems. Enclosed between the two is the history of six thousand years. And what a history! What a beginning, and what an ending! It began with the new, and it ended with the new—the strange checkered ‘old’ lying mysteriously between.
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’
‘I saw new heavens and a new earth.’
Of these Revelation visions, some were seen by John on earth, and some in heaven, according as the point of view suited best the vision and the prophet. His sight of Jesus in His priestly glory was from earth, Patmos itself. Jesus had come down to him and showed Himself face to face. The epistles to the seven Churches are written from Patmos also.
But after this John is called up to heaven, like Paul, to see and hear unspeakable things, which, however, unlike those which Paul saw, would be ‘lawful for a man to utter;’ and most of the subsequent visions are from this heavenly standing-place. What eyes must his have been—to look upon such terrors and such glories unmoved and undazzled!
Let us notice a few of the many things regarding which he says, ‘I saw’—while standing in these heavenly places. We cannot cite even one half. ‘I saw twenty-four elders sitting,’ Revelation 4:4. ‘I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice,’ Revelation 5:2. ‘I saw under the altar the souls of those who were slain,’ Revelation 6:9. ‘I saw, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands,’ Revelation 7:9. ‘I saw, another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud,’ Revelation 10:1. ‘I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire,’ Revelation 15:2. ‘I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-coloured beast,’ Revelation 17:3. ‘I saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints,’ Revelation 17:6. ‘I saw an angel standing in the sun,’ Revelation 19:17. ‘I saw thrones, and those who sat upon them,’ Revelation 20:4. ‘I saw a great white throne, and Him who sat on it,’ Revelation 20:2. ‘I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God,’ Revelation 20:12. ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth,’ Revelation 21:1. ‘I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven!’ Revelation 21:2.
This new heaven and earth which John saw were still future. He saw the future as if it were the present. Yet this new creation shall not be shadowy, but real—as real as that described in Genesis. The former creation passes away, and the new creation comes—new heavens, new earth, new sea. The old creation is not annihilated but only purged and renewed. It passes away as the gold passes into the furnace—to come out purified. It passes away as this ‘vile body’ does into the grave, to come forth glorious and immortal, yet the same body. The ‘restitution of all things’ is to do for earth and heaven what resurrection is to do for the body. What a change! What a perfection!
What a holy blessedness! Oh when shall the day break, and the shadows flee away!
This first verse most significantly brings before us such things as these—all of them blessed.
I. Here is the end of SIN. The world has lain in wickedness—but it shall do so no more! The overflowing flood of evil shall then be dried up, and sin be known no more upon this earth and under these heavens. What an ending shall be the ending of sin! For six thousand years it has triumphed—then its triumph ends. Not the ‘shadow’ of sin or evil in any form shall pass over this fair globe. It shall, even more than at the first, be very good!
II. The end of the SERPENT and his seed. How many ages had run out from the time that the serpent seduced Eve and ruined our world—from the hour when God said, ‘You are cursed above all cattle—I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed!’ The seducer’s triumph is now over—he himself is cast out of this earth and bound—the terrible battle of so many ages has been fought, and the battlefield cleared forever—earth is now no longer at Satan’s mercy—and no trace of his long dominion over it remains. The creation that he marred, rises from its ruin and sorrow more glorious than at first. His reign is ended—his legions are in chains—his spell is dissolved—his work of disfigurement all undone!
III. The end of the CURSE. From this time there shall be ‘no more curse.’ He who was made a curse for us, has cancelled earth’s curse forever! No cursed thing in any shape shall again be seen—only that which is blessed and holy. The earth and its fullness shall then be the Lord’s, in a way until now unknown. Blessed kingdom, and blessed King! From every particle of dust—from air and earth and sea—shall the curse be expelled forever! O fair and spotless creation, great paradise of God! The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose!
IV. The end of CORRUPTION and MORTALITY. These are the FRUIT of the curse—and with the curse they disappear. Death is no more. The grave is emptied. Disease is abolished. The inhabitant shall no more say, I am sick. Feebleness and weariness are unknown. The head aches not, nor the heart. The eye grows not dim, nor the ear dull. All is immortality and incorruption—and beauty and eternal health.
V. The end of SORROW. Into this new creation no grief shall ever enter. The days of mourning shall be ended. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. God Himself shall wipe away all tears. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying. There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun—for it is written, ‘The Lord shall be the everlasting light, and your God your glory!’ ‘You shall weep no more.’ Everlasting joy shall be upon our heads. The valley of tears, shall then be the land of song!
And with the end of these things, shall come the beginning of the glorious and the blessed. The old passes away, and the new comes up like the sun in its strength. Winter is over and gone. It is sweet spring and perpetual summer now. It is the kingdom which cannot be moved—the undefiled inheritance—the reign of righteousness—the reign of the righteous King. Into this nothing that defiles shall enter—nothing unworthy of the presence of the glorious King!
All this for those who once were sinners—the lost and worthless! Blood has brought it. The cross has done it all. Through death, life has come. The crucified Christ has opened the gate for us—and all may go in. The same Jesus who has brought the glory for us, bids us come. Far and wide go out the messages of invitation—Come in, Come in! At each gate waves the blessed hand afar, beckoning us with all urgency to enter. Echoing amid earth’s valleys and hills, through every land, the trumpet sounds that summons the wanderer, and assures him of most loving welcome. Will you hesitate, O men, or neglect, or scoff, or refuse? All this glory waiting you! These open gates inviting you! And this poor, dark, death-stricken earth speaking to you each hour, and saying, “This is not your rest—I have nothing for you but sorrow, and pain, and despair!” O men of earth, will you miss the prize thus placed within your reach? Will you despise the love that yearns and weeps over you in your folly? Will you not listen and live? Will you not listen, and go in, and become heirs of the glory and the joy?
“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying—Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men—and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”—Revelation 21:3.
The voice that uttered these words is said to have been a great one, indicating their importance, and God’s desire that we should listen to the announcement. It is not surely without a meaning that a great voice should be thought needful to speak the words, and that a special note of its greatness should be left upon record for us.
We are not told who uttered it. It came ‘out of heaven’—that is all we know. It was not the inhabitants of earth looking round and wondering at something which had thus taken place in the midst of them; it was the inhabitants of heaven looking down from the upper glory, and rejoicing in what had at length, after so many ages and so many hindrances, been accomplished upon earth. It reminds us of the joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, though the occasion is one of far greater magnitude and wider compass.
Yet it does not seem in this place to be the voice of God Himself, but the voice of the angel multitudes that fill the heaven of heavens, and stand before His throne. That the tabernacle of God should be pitched in heaven, and among themselves, was nothing new—but that it should be pitched upon earth, and among the sons of men, this calls forth admiration and gladness. ‘Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!’
Frequently in the course of these visions does John hear ‘voices,’ which, like explanatory words, come in to cast light upon the symbols, and to tell us the impression which the scenes are making, not merely upon John, but upon other beings, both in earth and heaven. Sometimes it is the voice of a ‘mighty angel’ (Revelation 5:2); sometimes the voice of ‘many angels’ (verse 2); sometimes the voice of the elders and living creatures (ib.); sometimes it is the voice of ‘many people’ (Revelation 19:1); of a ‘great multitude’ on earth (verse 6); sometimes it is a great voice ‘out of the temple’ (Revelation 26:17); sometimes it is a voice from the ‘altar’ (Revelation 9:13); sometimes from the ‘throne’ (Revelation 26:17); sometimes it is a voice ‘in heaven’ (Revelation 11:15, and 12:10); sometimes it is a voice from or ‘out of heaven,’—which two last expressions come with fuller meaning when contrasted with that other passage, ‘there was silence in heaven’ (Revelation 8:1). This great voice from heaven is heard making such announcements as these—’Come up here’ (Revelation 11:12); ‘the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.’
It is this voice which is as the voice of many waters and of a great thunder; which is as the voice of harpers harping with their harps, who sing new songs before the throne, which none could learn but the hundred and forty and four thousand who were redeemed from the earth (Revelation 14:1-4). It is this voice out of heaven which, in our test, proclaims, ‘Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!’ Perhaps it is the same with the ‘shout’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Taking up this announcement as containing something of unspeakable interest and importance to us, we consider the great event which it proclaims, not indeed as yet accomplished, but most assuredly to be so in God’s wise time; so that just as eighteen hundred years ago the cry was heard from earth, ‘It is finished,’ so the second great cry shall be heard from heaven, ‘It is done.’ ‘Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!’ ‘Behold! I make all things new!’
As to the TIME when this great phenomenon comes to pass, I do not say much. It is, of course, after Christ has come the second time; yet not perhaps immediately, at least to its full extent. For while the millennial age of peace and glory may be truly called the tabernacling of God with men, the new heavens and the new earth—it is still imperfect, being but the first and preparatory stage of the more glorious, and perfect, and eternal consummation which is to follow, and to which specially our text refers.
Keeping this in mind, we consider—
The desirableness of this event.
God’s declared purpose of this event.
The manner or process by which God brings it about.
I. The DESIRABLENESS of this state of things. Many things show us this—
(1) The interest which the inhabitants of heaven take in it, as seen in the words before us. Though not of the race of man, nor dwellers on earth—they rejoice in the holy blessedness which has now taken possession of earth. They do not envy our race, nor are they jealous of our earth as having obtained an honour which once belonged exclusively to themselves and to heaven. There is no bitterness of selfish rivalry, no uneasiness felt at the prospect of having their ‘monopoly of glory’ thrown down, and the prerogative of being the metropolis of the universe shared with a planet like ours—so inferior in size, and once the seat of most hateful evil. They can do nothing but rejoice in seeing earth become the dwelling-place of Jehovah—in beholding the tabernacle of God now pitched among the children of men.
(2) The pains and costs which God has been at to bring about this issue. He has grudged nothing; He has not spared His only-begotten Son—so infinitely desirable does He reckon this result. Surely that must have a large space in His eye and heart, for the accomplishment of which He was willing to make such a sacrifice! Surely the ultimate glory must be precious in His estimation, when, in order to bring it about, He can submit to allow such developments of evil, such an overflow of sin, such a reign of Satan for so many thousand years—instead of at once setting fire to the guilty world, and burning it into a second hell.
(3) The work of Christ, through which it has been brought about. Not without the sacrificial work of Christ could this end have been attained. As it would have been unrighteous in God to pardon a sinner without this work, so would it have been no less so without this to restore and re-glorify the sinner’s world. The leper’s habitation, no less than the leper himself, requires the sacrifice, and the blood, and the cleansing water. In the restoration of earth, and its re-inhabitation by God—Christ sees of the travail of His soul.
(4) The desire with which prophets and righteous men have desired this event. The times of the restitution of all things have been spoken of by all the holy prophets, since the world began. All prophecy is full of this coming glory. Holy men spoke of it, prayed for it, waited for it, saw it afar off, and were glad. Surely that which their pens so largely wrote of, and their hearts so earnestly longed for—must be infinitely desirable.
(5) The change which it will produce on earth. Over all its face, sin has spread itself, like the over-flowings of some dark river of hell. Evil has prevailed—Satan has reigned—a rebellious hatred of Jehovah has showed itself—pain and sorrow have poisoned it in every part—disease and death compass it about. It is a blighted, withered, ruined, woe-stricken world! It is so as seen by our eyes—how much more when seen by angels’ eyes! How much more still when seen by the eyes of God! How infinitely desirable that all this evil should be undone—this curse torn up—this death exchanged for life—this sorrow turned into joy! And what a difference it will make when such shall actually be the state of things on earth! Sin shall no longer defile—death shall no longer destroy—sorrow shall no longer overshadow. God shall not longer be banished from His own creation.
Who, when reading such prophetic descriptions as the following, can fail to realize the desirableness of the glorious change? ‘There shall be no more curse; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him!’ ‘There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light, and they shall reign forever and ever!’ ‘There shall never enter into it anything that defiles!’ ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away!’
If, then, that change be so infinitely desirable—if the event described in our text be so inconceivably glorious—how needful that those who are expected to share it, should meanwhile walk worthy of it! The prospect of such a glory should be as transforming as it is comforting, as sanctifying as it is gladdening. If this be our hope, what kind of people we ought to be, in all holy conversation and godliness! Is it so with us?
II. The declared PURPOSE of God as to this glorious event. God having His tabernacle (or dwelling) with men. One of the earliest statements is an intimation of God’s purpose respecting this. Paradise was meant not merely as man’s abode—but as God’s abode with man. The great original purpose of God to have His dwelling with men, continued to be presented to man in type and prophecy from that day forward, to show that it had only been postponed, not abandoned—postponed in order to be carried out more fully and more gloriously than it could have been before. Especially was this the case in Israel’s history, from the time that the tabernacle was erected in the wilderness to the day when the temple and city were laid in ruins by the hand of the aliens. The name of the tabernacle was ‘Jehovah’s Tent’—the tent in which He took up His abode, and round which He gathered the tents of Israel—’the tent which He placed among men’ (Psalm 78:60). The whole story of Israel is the exhibition of God’s desire to dwell with men—and man’s refusal to allow God to dwell with Him.
The statement in the Gospel of John regarding the Son of God is another declaration of this same purpose—’The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us;’ literally—tabernacled or pitched His tent among us. And, in our Lord’s words, we have more than once the intimation of the same thing, or rather of a twofold purpose—that God should dwell with man, and that man should dwell with God; as in that remarkable answer to one of His disciples, ‘If any man loves me, he will keep my words—and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him’ (John 14:23). And it is this which is the complete fulfilment of Christ’s name Immanuel, ‘God with us.’
God then has all along been telling us not merely that He has a heaven of which He desires to make us partakers—His own blessed heaven, the paradise that was never lost—but that He means to make a second heaven of this very earth of ours; and out of that paradise, that Eden, that earth, which was lost and marred by man, to bring a more blessed and incorruptible paradise, in which He will pitch His tent, and where He will make His dwelling with the sons of men. As in the person of Christ we see these two things—man taken up to God, and God coming down to man—so as indissolubly to combine in one perfect being all that is excellent in the Creator and in the creature; so in the universe of God the same two-fold perfection is to be exhibited—man taken up to dwell with God in God’s holy heaven above, and God coming down to dwell with man in man’s holy earth below.
And are not these two things brought before us in these words of Christ spoken to the Laodicean Church—’Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man will hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me?’ I with him as well as he with me! And is not this the filling up of all blessedness, the consummation of all glory? Without it would not something have been a wanting both in earth and heaven—both to God and man?
From the beginning then, God has announced this as His purpose. Age after age has He set this before us—in type and prophecy. All that has taken place on earth has been bearing upon this, and helping it forward. God means yet to dwell with men!
This is the Bible message to us. God means to dwell with men. This is His eternal purpose; and had it not been so, would He not long since have abandoned such an earth as ours—and either made it pass into nothing or turned it into hell?
Nor have there been any intimations of God’s design ultimately to abandon earth, after He has accomplished His certain ends. He has nowhere said that after having spared it, and made use of it for a certain time, and for certain ends, He will leave it to desolation, or reduce it to nothing. On the contrary, all that He has said and done hitherto indicate His intention to restore it, to glorify it, and to fit it for being His abode. God has, beyond mistake, declared His purpose as to the destiny of earth—and that purpose shall stand.
The BARRIERS in the way of its accomplishment are vast and many. The whole power of the fallen creature, both men and devils, is arrayed against it. Sin and righteousness alike oppose it—the former blighting it, and the latter forbidding the removal of the blight. Death and life alike oppose it—the former destroying it, the latter refusing to come and restore the desolation. The evil, too, has increased so great, and has been of so long standing; the curse has had its full and protracted sway, so as to eat into the very core of everything good and beautiful; the poison has had time so thoroughly to infuse itself into the constitution of creation, that its life’s blood seems poisoned, and the taint of corruption become ineradicable; the weight of guilt which is upon it, calling for eternal judgment, seems so tremendous specially the guilt of crucifying the Lord of glory; the authority of Satan over it seems so complete and so irrevocably established—that the hindrances in the way of creation’s restitution seem all but insurmountable! Yet the eternal purpose shall stand. Not a jot of it shall fail—even that pertaining to the smallest atom of this moldering earth. All shall come to pass. Eternal Sovereignty has decreed it. Infinite Wisdom has planned it. Omnipotence will bring it to pass.
III. The means, or PROCESS, by which God is bringing all this about. This whole process, from first to last, centres in His Son. As the Christ of God, He is the accomplisher of the Father’s purpose; and through Him God has been all along ripening that purpose, removing the hindrances, and hastening on its full revelation.
1. The first actual step was the INCARNATION. When ‘the Word was made flesh,’ the first link was formed which was to secure creation from sinking into utter ruin—to fasten it to Godhead—and in the end to raise it up to a brighter glory and excellence than that form which it had fallen! The Son of God took bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; and as our bodies are part of the dust of the ground, out of which they were formed, so He, in taking to Himself a true body, took into His person the materials of creation—the dust of our very earth—thus linking creation to Himself by an indissoluble tie—and fastening earth to heaven. He took not upon Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham; and while this identified Him with our race, it no less identified Him with that earth which was given us as our special home and dwelling-place and kingdom. By thus taking a body made out of the substance of earth, He joined Himself in perpetual affinity with man and his world—and that which God has thus joined together, who shall put asunder?
2. HIS LIFE ON EARTH was the second step towards the end in view. His living here for thirty-three years was the declaration of His desire and purpose to make earth the seat of His dwelling place. But in His life we see more than this. We see him taking possession of creation; we see Him doing battle with its oppressors; we see Him casting out Satan, healing diseases, overcoming death. We see Him hushing the winds, calming the sea, exercising dominion over its inhabitants, creating bread for the multitudes, walking upon the deep, and giving others power to do the same. In all this we see not merely power and love, but we see the visible and material pledges of the deliverance of creation from the bondage of corruption. He who did these things has, by doing them, pledged Himself to do more—to do all that earth requires. He who did these things in the day of His humiliation and weakness—and before His great work upon the cross was accomplished, will surely do exceeding abundantly more than all these, in the day of glory and power, now that He has finished His work, and put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
3. His DEATH was the next step. For it is through death, that life is to come—both to man and to his earth. Only the death of Him who has identified Himself with us and with our world can remove the guilt under which earth was groaning, can secure the revocation of the sentence, can obtain forgiveness for earth, as well as for man, its dweller. He was earth’s Sin-bearer as well as man’s. He took upon Him the curse of earth as well as man; and the thorns which formed His crown showed how truly He was bearing the curse upon creation, which Adam’s sin had caused. As the bearer of man’s guilt, He was nailed to the cross; as the bearer of earth’s curse, He was crowned with thorns. Earth has now been sprinkled with His blood; and that blood cleanses from all sin.
4. His BURIAL was the next step. Death had taken up its abode upon earth, and every sepulchre on its surface was one of his strongholds. Until death then be overcome in his very fortress—until he be dispossessed out of his dwelling—there can be no hope for earth. Mortality would still reign. But Christ went down and fought the lion in his den! From his lair He drove him out; and in demonstration of His victory He compelled him to let go a company of saints, who, when He rose, rose with Him as a pledge of His final victory over death, and of the expulsion from earth of the last enemy which had hitherto devastated it. By death the Prince of life overcame death; and in His burial He was pursuing the routed foe, and compelling him to deliver up his prey. Thus did He commence the expulsion from earth, of that mortality and corruption which had defaced it so sadly.
5. His RESURRECTION was the next step. Wresting His own body from the dominion of death, He showed how before long He is to wrest, not only the bodies of His saints—but the whole creation, from the bondage of corruption. If He on whom sin was laid, and who on account of that load went down to the grave, thus threw off mortality, and shook Himself free from its fetters, bringing life and immortality to light, how certainly may we conclude that He is able to do the same thing for that creation which was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who had subjected the same in hope! Christ’s resurrection not only proclaimed Him to be the Son of God with power—but also the Prince of the kings of the earth!
6. His ASCENSION into heaven was the next step. When He ascended, He not only led captivity captive, but He carried up into heaven His own body as the representative of earth. That body is now at the Father’s right hand, the pledge of earth’s security and final glory. An ascended Christ is earth’s great pledge of restitution, and another step of the process towards the accomplishment of the purpose of God. That portion of earth which, in His body, He has carried up into heaven, proclaims to the inhabitants of heaven His interest in earth, and to the inhabitants of earth the certainty of His purpose respecting earth’s final restitution. And for what is this ascended Saviour interceding? Not only for His Church, but for earth itself. ‘Ask of me, and I will give you the uttermost ends of the earth for Your possession.’ He pleads for earth—earth, where He was born, and lived, and died; earth, whose air He breathed, whose plains and hills He walked, and whose soil He watered with His blood; earth, out of whose dust His body is composed, and the future bodies of His risen saints. Nor shall these intercessions be long in vain. Soon shall they be all answered, and the cry be heard, ‘Behold! the tabernacle of God is with men!’
1. SAINT, are you making ready for that day? Are you walking worthy of an heir of that glory? Are you remembering that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? Are you at one with Father and with Son in your desire for that restitution of all things? Do you not only long to depart and to be with Christ, but do you also long for the arrival of Christ here, and for God’s making His tabernacle with the children of men?
2. SINNER, what are your thoughts of that day? What hopes have you of sharing its blessedness? At present, none! None! What have you to do with it? What has an unforgiven soul to do with a forgiven and delivered creation? What has an unrenewed sinner to do with a glorified world—a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness? From that world all sin is swept away; and can you hope to dwell in it? Nothing that defiles shall enter; and do you expect to enter it?
Yet Christ says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock—if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in unto him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’
Let the Son of God enter now; His entrance now will be the pledge of your entrance into the new Jerusalem. Admit this Christ whom you have long shut out. Admit Him at once. He will come in, and dwell in you and with you; and that will be the pledge of the eternal indwelling, the eternal fellowship, the eternal blessedness, when the tabernacle of God shall be with men!
“The former things are passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
‘The things which are seen are temporal,’ says the Apostle Paul; and again he says, ‘Old things are passed away;’ and again, ‘The fashion of this world is passing away.’
These are words that suit us well in our changeableness, and vanity, and mortality. It would not be well for us, if our present earthly condition were immoveable and eternal. Fading and dying, and then entering on the possession of an unchanging life—this is surely far better than a ‘prolonged mortality of pain and weakness’ like that which we have here and now.
The words do not teach annihilation of any kind—of man or matter. When one is renewed of the Spirit, there is a new creation—old things pass away, all things become new, yet the man’s identity is unchanged. He is the same individual, and yet a new man. So is it here. Former things pass away, all things are made new—yet all are in the truest sense the same—the same, only without the sin, and the evil, and the pain, and the decay.
These former things are many—great and small, material and spiritual—all of them more or less connected with earth and man. Note some of these:
I. The former things connected with the BODY have passed away. Our bodies shared the ruin into which sin brought our race. Mortality and corruption took possession of them. They became subject to pain, and weariness, and disease—in every organ and limb. The one drop of poison coming from Adam’s sin has spread itself out and pervaded every part of us. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. We begin with pain—and we end with it. Our flesh, from the cradle to the tomb, is feeble, broken, ready to faint—the cause and the inlet of a thousand sorrows. It is truly an ‘earthly house,’ a frail tent, in which we groan, being burdened; a ‘vile body,’ needing such perpetual care, and food, and medicine, and rest—yet, after all, incapable of being preserved; the seat of a daily warfare between life and death; in spite of all our pamperings, hastening on to the sick-bed and the separation from its guest, the soul.
All this shall yet be reversed. Former things shall pass away. This head shall ache no more; these hands and feet shall be weary no more; this flesh shall throb with anguish no more. ‘God Himself shall wipe away all tears from these eyes; and there shall be no more death; neither, sorrow, nor crying, for the former things are passed away.’ ‘He will take these vile bodies of ours and change them into glorious bodies like His own!’
He who once hung upon the cross, but now sits upon the throne, says, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ ‘This corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality, and death be swallowed in victory!
II. The former things connected with the SOUL have passed away. The beginning of this renovation was our ‘being begotten again into a living hope.’ This rebirth displaced the old things and introduced the new. The sin, and the darkness, and the misery, and the unbelief, and the distance from God—all these shall come to a final end. In their place shall come holiness, and love, and light, and joy, and everlasting nearness—unchanging and unending fellowship with that Jehovah in whom is life eternal. Every fragment of evil shall be expelled from our souls—and we shall then know what perfection is—perfection according to the mind and after the image of God—perfection without a flaw, or taint, or shadow—perfection without the possibility of reversal or diminishing. From our heart, from our conscience, our intellect, our feelings, our affections, from every part of our spiritual being—shall all evil depart. ‘Former things shall pass away.’ We shall be holy as God is holy; we shall be perfect as He is perfect; we shall be children of the light and of the day in the fullest sense—no trace of remaining sin in any part of us. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is! We shall be changed into His image from glory to glory!
He who is righteous shall be righteous still; he who is holy shall be holy still.
III. The former things connected with the EARTH have passed away. Since man fell, this earth is the seat of evil. The curse came down on it—creation was subjected to the bondage of corruption—Satan took possession of it. It has been overshadowed with sin, overspread with misery. Its air full of sighs and groans—its soil made up of decomposed bodies—its cities the centres of ungodliness and rebellion—its thrones the fountain-heads of misrule—God disowned—Christ rejected both in State and Church—the Bible despised—the gospel mocked—blasphemy resounding on all sides—evil everywhere!
These are the former things which shall pass away. Satan shall be bound, and his angels traverse earth no more. The devouring lion shall be in chains, and ‘no lion shall be there.’ The curse shall vanish from creation; the blight disappear. Beauty shall clothe all things. Paradise shall return. Holiness shall revisit earth. God shall once more delight in it and set His throne in it. The second Adam shall be its Lord and Ruler. His sceptre shall supersede the oppressive sceptre under which the race has groaned from Nimrod downwards. Righteousness shall flourish, and holiness to the Lord be inscribed everywhere. The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the lamb. The meek shall inherit the earth—and the glory of the Lord shall shine over all its skies. There shall be the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.
And all this irreversible! No second fall. No second overflow of evil. No failure on the part of the righteous King. No waxing old; no ruin; no decay; no return of disease and death. All is everlasting! Messiah—even He who died for us and who rose again—is on the throne, and no usurper can assail it! He ever lives and ever reigns!
Blessed consummation and hope! It draws nearer and nearer. Soon shall ‘time’ no longer be. Soon shall this present evil world give place to the glorious world to come. Our king is coming! He will not tarry. Our Bridegroom is at hand! He is not slack concerning His promise. In an hour when we do not think, He will arrive. Are we ready? Is the oil in our vessels? Have we put on the garments of beauty? Are we preparing to bid Him welcome? ‘Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him!
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for these words are true and faithful.”—Revelation 21:5.
There are many ‘new things’ spoken of in Scripture, some of more, and some of less importance. Of the less important we have such as these—Samson’s new cords (Judges 15:13); David’s new cart for the ark (2 Samuel 6:7); the new sword of the giant who sought to slay David (2 Samuel 21:16); Elisha’s new cruse (2 Kings 2:20) the new tongues of Pentecost (Matthew 16:17); Joseph’s new tomb (Matthew 27:60). These are not so directly connected with things spiritual and eternal, and so we may call them of less importance; yet they have all their important lessons.
But let us take up the following as specially the new things of God—
I. The new TESTAMENT or covenant (Matthew 26:28). That which was old has vanished away. It was insufficient; it could not help the sinner; it said nothing of forgiveness. But the new covenant is all a sinner needs; it comes at once with a free pardon; it presents a work done for the sinner, not a work for the sinner to do. The motto or theme of the new covenant is, ‘Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.’
II. The new MAN (Ephesians 4:24). This seems to correspond with the ‘new creature’ (2 Corinthians 5:17); with the ‘new heart’ (Ezekiel 18:31); with the ‘new spirit’ (Ezekiel 11:9); with the ‘heart of flesh’ (Ezekiel 36:26); with the ‘new birth’ (John 3:3); and the being ‘begotten again’ (1 Peter 1:3). It supposes the destruction or removal of the old man and the creation of the new—this new thing being the workmanship of God, the production of the Holy Spirit. Newness of nature, or heart, of life, of words, of the entire being, is the basis of all religion and true worship.
III. The new WAY (Hebrews 10:19). The approach or access to God by the sinner is said to be by a ‘new and living way’—that way being Christ Himself, for through Him we have access by on Spirit to the Father. It is a new way in contrast with Adam’s old way; a new way, because newly made by Him who had newly died; a way into the holiest; a way through the veil, by means of the blood. All God’s dealings with the sinner are on a new footing, that of free love, simple grace. It is a free way, a sufficient way, an open way, a perfect way. He who walks thereon is safe; for the way not only leads to life, but is the life. Yes, life and truth are in Him who is the way; for Christ is all and in all.
IV. The new SONG (Psalm 33:3; Revelation 5:9). Every new day brings with it a new song; or rather it brings materials for many new songs, which we should be always singing. Our whole life should be full of new songs. Yet the old songs are not thereby made obsolete; they do not grow tame or unmeaning. As the old songs of a land are always fresh and sweet, so is it with the old songs of faith. They never come amiss, and they help us with the new. These new songs have to do with the past—for often, in looking into the past, we get materials for a new song—with the present, and with the future. They are connected with ourselves, our families, with the Church, with our nation, with the work of God just now, with resurrection, with the restitution of all things, with the glory, the new Jerusalem, and the new creation. It is specially with the last that the new song of the Apocalypse is connected,
V. The new COMMANDMENT (John 13:34; 1 John 2:8). It is both an old and a new commandment which Christ gives us; substantially the same as from the beginning, yet in many respects altogether new; a new lawgiver, a new motive, a new standing-place (Zion, not Sinai), new light fullness; everything in the commandment now connected with Christ Himself and with His love. This new commandment bases itself on ‘God is love,’ and revolves round the cross. Love me, says the Master; love one another with a pure heart fervently; love the brethren as I have loved you—thus fulfilling both the old and the new commandment at the same time, more—treating them as one.
VI. The new WINE (Matthew 26:29). In one sense the Lord’s Supper is new wine; and there we remember His love, which is ‘better than wine.’ But Christ, in using the expression, ‘until I drink it new with you,’ refers to the heavenly feast, the marriage supper of the Lamb. There is in the highest sense and degree ‘the new wine’—wine made from no earthly vine, but from him who is the true vine, and from the juice of whose grapes there comes the new and royal wine, the wine of the kingdom. He is Himself the giver and the gift. His blood is drink indeed here—much more hereafter. It is ‘new’ here—it will much more new hereafter.
VII. The new Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12, 21:3, 10). This is no earthly city. It is not the old Jerusalem rebuilt; that is another thing. This is a new and more glorious city, heavenly and divine, which comes down out of heaven from God; and it has the glory of God and of the Lamb. It is altogether new; for the risen and the glorified; for God’s kings and priests; the city and the palace of the Great King.
VIII. The new HEAVENS and new EARTH (Isaiah 65:17; 2 Peter 3:13). The whole of what God had made, and which sin had defiled, is made new. The universe is renewed; it is the restitution of all things; it is the replacing of all creation on a higher and more glorious footing, from which there shall be no second fall. There dwells righteousness; it is the kingdom of the righteous King.
IX. The new NAME (Revelation 2:17). This is for the dwellers in the new Jerusalem, the inhabitants of the new heavens and earth. Let us consider what it is and what it means. What the actual individual name is we know not; it will be as unlike the past as ‘Israel’ (the prince with God) was unlike ‘Jacob’ (the supplanter). It will be—
(1) A name of love—The Father’s love will be in it—Christ’s love will be in it.
(2) A name of honour—It will be no mean nor common name—but glorious and celestial.
(3) Of blessing—It will proclaim blessing—it will be a name of blessing—a blessed name.
(4) A name of wonder—It will astonish the possessor, and everyone who hears it; no one shall know it or guess it until it comes out. As Christ’s new name is one which no one knows but Himself (Revelation 19:12), so with the conqueror. It will be a name of glad astonishment.
(5) Given by Christ—’I will give.’ As He gave names to Abram, Jacob, Peter, John—so will He give this new name, superseding our old earthly appellation.
(6) A name most suitable and characteristic—It will in itself condense and summarize our past history and character, or perhaps our eternal prospects, as seen by God Himself. It will be a name full of divine meaning—interpretative, perhaps, of God’s dealings with us, and indicative of His love.
(7) A name contained in a white stone—The white stone is the stone of acquittal. In that stone of acquittal the new name is inscribed by Christ. It is as an acquitted man, a conqueror, one to whom the Master says, ‘Well done,’ that we get the name. It is the everlasting seal of forgiving love.
“And He said unto me—It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end—I will give unto him who is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He who overcomes shall inherit all things—and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone—which is the second death.”—Revelation 21:6-8.
The speaker here is ‘He who sat upon the throne.’ He is the author of the new creation—’Behold, I make all things new.’ He declares the truth and certainty of what has been, and what is to be spoken in this book—’These words are true and faithful.’
For His name is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God. He calls Himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending—the all-possessing, all-comprehending, all-communicating One—whose fullness is from eternity.
He was the babe of Bethlehem; he is now the risen and glorified Son of God! He spoke on earth the words of grace; He speaks the same from heaven. There is no change in His heart. As it did not require ages to make Him the gracious One, so the lapse of ages and the glory of heaven cannot make Him less gracious or alter the feelings of pity with which He yearns over a rebellious world—even as He wept over impenitent Jerusalem when He saw her doom approaching.
For these words refer to the crisis of earth’s history—’He said unto me, It is done;’ just as He said on the cross, ‘It is finished.’ The fullness of the times has come; the prophetic word has been fulfilled; the seals are opened; the trumpets are blown; the vials are poured out; the battle of the great day of God Almighty has been fought; Babylon has fallen; Satan is about to be bound; creation about to be delivered from the bondage of corruption; the saints to be raised; the great kingdom to begin! It is just at the crisis; just when the consummation is about to take place; just when the last vengeance is about to descend, and the gate to be closed—that the Lord sends out this last and most urgent summons of grace. Come! Enter! In another hour you will be too late! The door will be shut!
I. The fountain for the sons of men. Each word here deserves special notice.
1. The thirsty—These are those who are seeking rest but finding none; going after pleasure, yet obtaining no happiness; hewing out the ever-breaking cisterns; ‘spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which does not satisfy.’ They are not those thirsting after righteousness, but after pleasure, saying ‘Who will show us any good?’ They are the weary, worn-out, empty, sorrowful, broken-hearted sons of sin.
2. The water—That which refreshes, satisfies, fills, makes happy. ‘This He spoke of the Spirit’ (John 7:39). Frequent are the allusions to this water both in the Old Testament and the New. It is called ‘living water,’ ‘water of life’—it is that which quickens and revives, which fills the soul with heavenly gladness. This Jordan is better than Abana and Pharpar—though the world slights and shuns it. All joy is in it. The life of heaven is in it.
3. The Giver—It is He who gave Himself—Jesus the Christ, who not only has all fullness, but gives it. The Son is the gift of the Father, and the Spirit is the gift of the Son. He is the great Giver of all blessing to a poor and empty world. He gives from the Father’s throne. He gives according to His love. He gives of the water of life—no, of its fountain—freely. Undeserved and unpurchased He gives! The wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3) are His, and He lets down His bucket and draws for us—not merely the surface water, but its depths—’creating in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.’
Thirsty spirit, take the living water! Drink and be happy. Deal with Jesus about it. Deal with Him alone, and face to face. Deal with Him as One who desires sincerely that you should drink and be refreshed.
II. The conqueror and his reward. The designation ‘he who overcomes’ carries us back to the seven epistles, in each of which the expression occurs. As believers we are saved; as conquerors we get the recompense. Seven kinds of reward for seven kinds of victory; and here is the eighth! It says, Fight, for the great Captain leads you on. Fight, for the reward is as great as it is sure. The reward here is threefold:
1. The inheritance of all things—We are heirs of God; joint-heirs with Christ. As such the universe becomes our possession; heaven and earth, and the wide regions of farthest space; all that God possesses, all that Christ has become heir to—all is the portion of the conqueror. A kingdom wide as widest space, large as God’s possessions, endless as the eternal ages—such is the overcomer’s heritage, the conqueror’s recompense!
2. The divine portion—’I will be his God’—a repetition of Abraham’s blessing (Genesis 17:7). Jehovah is our God! Does not this include everything? If God be not my God, I have nothing. If God be my God, I lack nothing; nor should I be poor though stripped of everything, and though not an atom of the universe were mine (1 Corinthians 3:21, 23).
3. The divine adoption—The conqueror becomes a son, and all that is contained in sonship is his—all the paternal love—all the divine patrimony—all the endless glory. He our Father, we His sons (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18). Noble paternity, blessed sonship!
‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called sons of God!’ (1 John 3:1). This glory, this new and peculiar relation to Godhead, we shall owe entirely to the free love of Him who gave His Son for us!
III. The coward’s doom (verse 8)—Though the ‘fearful’ or coward is specially singled out here, yet there are others associated with him in his awful doom. The ‘coward’ is the first in the roll; but the whole roll is dark. They are all of earth, sons of Adam, men—not devils. Let us take them as they are set down here.
1. The fearful—This does not mean those who are full of fears— timid, doubting Christians—those ‘who are of a fearful heart’ (Isaiah 35:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). It means the cowards who refused to come out from the world and join Christ, though their consciences urged them; who shrunk from confessing Christ; who, through fear of men, of the world, of their good name, of earthly honour and gain, either kept their religion to themselves or threw it away. Of this class was the young man in the Gospel and Demas; those who ‘drew back,’ in Hebrews 10:38—the opposite of the ‘overcomers.’ Of this class are those who tell you they keep their religion to themselves, and would not in company name the name of Christ; would blush if caught upon their knees, and apologize if a Bible were seen upon their tables. They are those whom our Lord denounces—’Whoever shall refuse to confess me before men.’ Beware of cowardice in the things of God, of being ashamed of Christ!
2. The unbelieving—These are the rejecters of Christ. The fearful do not actually go so far, though virtually they do. The (the fearful) shrink from owning Christ—but the unbeliever refuses Him. It is this disowning of the cross, this rejection of the testimony, this turning the back on Christ, that is here condemned. It is ‘the evil heart of unbelief’ which is held up to view as fit only for ‘the second death’. ‘He who believes not shall be damned.’ Oh the hatefulness of unbelief! For there is no place but the ever burning alike for it! What must it be to refuse God’s testimony to His Son! To refuse that Son Himself!
3. The abominable—Those who were partakers of the abominations and filthiness mentioned before (17:4)—revellings, banqueting, riots, blasphemies. These are open sinners, swearers, lewd talkers, gluttons, drunkards, and the like—foetid, ill-odoured, emitting the stench of hell. They do ‘the abominable thing’ which God hates.
4. Murderers—Whose hands are red with blood; whose heart is full of angry passions, envy, malice, revenge, grudging; whose lips give vent to irritating and angry words; all who either in heart or by hand defy the sixth commandment—’You shall not kill.’
5. Immoral—All who give way to their lusts, who live in uncleanness; those whose eyes are full of adultery, and who cannot cease from this sin. What a warning to our young men and women, who make light of this abomination, and forget the doom of the immoral!
6. Sorcerers—Those who have taken part in Babylon’s sorceries and witchcrafts; who consult with the evil one; all spiritists and allies of the evil one, and workers of the lying wonders of the last days.
7. Idolaters—Not only the heathen worshippers of engraved images—but all who have chosen another god—who love the creature more than the creator—who bow before crosses or crucifixes—who worship mammon, pleasure, art, splendour, or gold, for ‘covetousness is idolatry.’
8. All liars—All who speak falsely in any way—who practice dishonesty—who care not for truth. Not Cretans only, who were pre-eminently liars, but every false tongue, every dishonest lip—hypocrites, pretenders, formalists; all the untrue and unreal; who vow to serve Christ at His table—but give the lie to their vow every day of their life; who vow at baptism to teach and pray for their children—yet never do; who come to the sanctuary—yet go away and serve the world; who are at the prayer meeting one day—and at the ball the next. These are the liars! How much of lying is there in the life of every man! How little of the real, the open, the sincere, the true!
The doom of all these is sure! They cannot deceive God! He will not be mocked. He will bear long—but not always. Hell is waiting. Its gates are open. Its fires are kindled. Its torments are ready. The sentence is coming—’Depart, you cursed ones,’ for their judgment lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not.
Yet remember the apostle’s words to Corinthian sinners, ‘And such were some of you—but you are washed!’ O man of earth—come and be washed! Fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable—come! Murderers, immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, liars—come! Come, let us reason together, says the Lord—your scarlet sins shall be as white as snow—your crimson sins as white as wool!
“And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, come here, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”—Revelation 21:9.
These are two names for the church of God, the redeemed from among men. They are not the same in meaning, though both referring to the Church’s peculiar relationship to Christ. They point out her two successive states, her present and her future, in the former of which she is the bride, in the latter the wife. First she is the bride—then the wife. The ‘bride’ up until the day of the Bridegroom’s return—after that the ‘wife’—the ‘Lamb’s wife.’
She is represented here as the new Jerusalem; but this is in a figure, just as God speaks of the old Jerusalem as His wife—meaning thereby the people, the dwellers in that city, His chosen Israel, whom He had betrothed to Himself by an everlasting covenant (Isaiah 54:5-10). In the wilderness, Israel was the bride or betrothed one (Jeremiah 2:2); in Jerusalem, she was the ‘married wife’ (Isaiah 54:1, 62:5)—so is it with the Church. In this, her wilderness state, she is the bride; in her coming city-state, or Jerusalem-state of glory, she shall be the wife—the days of betrothal being ended, and the marriage come. Hence, it is that the bride addressing the Bridegroom says, ‘Come!’ and the Spirit, who had been preparing and adorning her for the marriage day, joins her in desiring its arrival—’The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Revelation 22:17).
Regarding this ‘bride’ or ‘wife’—for we consider her as both in what follows. We inquire—
I. Who and what she was before she became the bride. She had no high descent to boast of. Her lineage was not royal, but low and base. Of the old Jerusalem it was said, ‘Your father was an Amorite, and your mother an Hittite’ (Ezekiel 16:2, 3); all this, and much more may be said of the Church. She was an outcast, utterly poor and unknown—no, defiled and hateful—without goodness, without beauty; without personal or family recommendation; unloving and unlovable; an alien, a captive, a rebel. She lacked everything that could make her lovely in the eyes of one seeking a bride; she possessed everything that could forbid and repel. Such were you once, O saint; such are you still, O sinner!
II. How and why she was fixed upon. The Father chose her; that is all that we can say. ‘Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.’ In the good pleasure of His goodness, and according to the exceeding riches of His grace, He fixed on her—the unlikeliest of all—to be the bride of His Son. Of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of this sovereign purpose, what can we say but this—that in one so unlovable and worthless it found opportunity and scope for the outflow and display of free love, such as could be found in no other? She is the object of the Father’s eternal choice, as Rebekah was the choice of Abraham for his son. She is also the object of the Son’s choice and love, as Rachel was Jacob’s choice, and as Pharaoh’s daughter was Solomon’s. It was the Father’s free choice, and the Son’s free choice, that made her what she is now—the bride, and what she is through eternity to be—’the Lamb’s wife.’
III. How she was obtained. She is a captive, and must be set free. This the Bridegroom undertakes to do; for her sake becoming a captive. She is a criminal, under wrath, and must be delivered from condemnation and death. This also the Bridegroom undertakes; for her sake submitting to condemnation and death, that so her pardon may be secured, her fetters broken, and life made hers forever. Thus she is plucked from the dungeon and the curse and the wrath—which were her portion.
IV. How she was betrothed. The Bridegroom Himself came down in lowly guise to woo and win her for Himself. But now He is carrying on His suite in absence, through the intervention of others, as Isaac’s proposals to Rebekah were carried on through the faithful Eleazar of Damascus. It was with this suit that Paul felt himself charged, when he went about ‘preaching Christ’; for, speaking to the Corinthians, he says—’I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ’ (2 Corinthians 11:2). So it is with this suit that ministers are charged—no, all friends of the Bridegroom. We come to sinners as did Eleazar to Rebekah. We tell of our Isaac’s noble lineage, His riches, His honours, His worth. We tell of all that He has done to win your love, and set before you the glory of His person, that you may see how worthy He is of all this love—how blessed, how honourable it would be for you to be the bride of such a bridegroom—and we say, ‘Will you go with the man?’
V. How she is prepared and adorned. It is through the Holy Spirit that this is carried out. This Spirit having overcome her unwillingness, and persuaded her to consent to the glorious betrothal—immediately commences His work of preparation. He strips her of her rags—and puts on royal apparel. He cleanses her from her filthiness—and makes her whiter than the snow. Having taken her out of the horrible pit and the miry clay—having drawn her with the cords of love and the bands of a man—He proceeds to divest her of everything that made her unlovable—and to bestow on her everything that could make her lovely and attractive in the eyes of the Bridegroom.
Part of the preparation is now in this present world—but much is reserved for the future, and especially for the day of the first resurrection. White robes are given her—not purple, or scarlet, or glittering jewels, such as the harlot Church is decked with—but the fine linen, which is the righteousness of the saints. For her a throne is prepared; a beautiful crown set upon her head; a royal banquet is made ready; and all this in the Bridegroom’s own glorious city, the new Jerusalem!
Of this wondrous future we know but little now. It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. To that day when the marriage shall take place, and the long-waiting bride shall become the Lamb’s wife, Scripture has bidden us look forward as our hope. And it is a blessed hope. For then shall the long absence cease, and we shall see Him face to face, whom not having seen we loved. Then shall the day break and the shadows flee away. Then shall the everlasting festival begin in the great palace hall of the new Jerusalem. Then shall the Bridegroom rejoice over the bride. ‘He shall rest in His love, He shall joy over her with singing.’ Then shall the Song of Songs be sung and understood, in a way such as it could not be sung or understood before; and we shall hear the Bridegroom call his bride the ‘fairest among women,’ ‘His love, His dove, His undefiled;’ and we shall hear her call Him ‘the Chief among ten thousand!’.
Such then is the honour in store for the redeemed—to be ‘the bride, the Lamb’s wife!’
As such He writes upon her the name of His God, and the name of the city of His God, and His own ‘new name;’ so that after the marriage is completed, the bride loses her own and takes her Husband’s name; the Lamb and the Lamb’s wife becoming more indissolubly one—one in name, and nature, and glory, and honour, and dominion—forever! To get the tree of life and the hidden manna—to get the white stone, and white clothing, and the morning star—all that is much. But to be the bride, the Lamb’s wife, and as such to be partaker of His love, and blessedness, and glory—this is surely more—how much more only the day of the Bridegroom’s coming will reveal!
Such is the love of God. It is the love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father chooses in His own sovereignty; the Son washes in His own blood; the Spirit purifies and prepares by His mighty power. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us! It is free love! Sovereign love! Eternal love!; Unchanging love! Boundless love! Love which not merely delivers from wrath—but which makes the delivered one an heir of God, more—the bride, the Lamb’s wife!
This is the day when the proposals are made to the sons of men; when, in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we urge the blessed entreaty upon sinners, that they may be partakers of this infinite honour. We set before you all the worth, and the glory, and the love of this divine Bridegroom—and ask you to accept the proposal and ally yourself to this glorious One. Among men, to be offered the prince’s hand in marriage is counted no small honour; what then must be the offered hand of the King of Kings?
O men, accept the glory! Listen to the proposals made to you in the name of the Son of God. We describe His excellency and beauty. We tell you also of the honour for which the church is destined. We say, ‘Come here, and I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife!’ We point you to the resplendent glory of that city, which is after all but part of her dowry, part of her adorning; and we invite you to a share in its glory! We make known the Father’s testimony concerning His own free love, and concerning the blood and righteousness of His Son. We demand your present acceptance of that testimony, that in the belief of it you may become a sharer of the glory and the kingdom!
“That great city—the holy Jerusalem.”—Revelation 21:10.
This city is not earthly, but heavenly, and is among the heavenly things said by the apostle to be purified by the ‘better sacrifices’ (Hebrews 4:23). Why did such a city need ‘purifying?’ Not because unclean, but because sinners were to dwell in it; and they would have defiled it, had it not been for the great sacrifice. For the blood does two things—it makes the unclean clean, and it keeps the clean from being defiled. Its use in the holy of holies was not to cleanse that place, but to prevent its being defiled by the entrance of the sinner. Our possession of this heavenly city, then, we owe to the blood of the Lamb; and hence He stands on Mount Zion, and sits on the throne, as the Lamb slain (Revelation 5:6, 14:1).
The earthly Jerusalem is to be cleansed from its impurity by the blood of the Lamb; and the heavenly Jerusalem is to be preserved from impurity by the same blood. The inhabitants of both will find that they owe all to this blood. It is the blood which opens the entrance—and it is the blood which secures the everlasting possession for sinners. This double efficacy of the blood we see also in the case of the elect angels. It is this that keeps them from falling, just as it is this that raises man out of his fall. Let us prize that blood which works such wonders. It is ‘precious blood.’ O man, do not trample on it!
But let us mediate on the city as described in these two chapters. It contains in it everything that is excellent and lovely, perfect and enduring.
1. It is a great city. ‘That great city,’ said John, gazing on it. Its province is vast, beyond Babylon, or Nineveh, or Paris, or London. That ‘mighty city,’ says John, speaking of Babylon the Great (Revelation 18:10); but this is mightier far. There has been no city like it. It is the city, the one city—the great metropolis of the mighty universe—the mighty city of the mighty God.
2. It is a well-built city. Its builder and maker is God. Its foundations are eternal; its walls are jasper; it gates pearls; its streets paved with gold. It is ‘compactly built together,’ a perfect cube, and complete in all its parts, without a break or flaw, or weakness or deformity.
3. It is a well-lighted city. Something brighter than sun and moon is given to fill its heaven. The glory of God lights it; the Lamb is its ‘light’ or ‘lamp,’ so that it needs no candle, no sunlight. There is no night there.
4. It is a well-watered city. A pure river of the water of life flows through its streets, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb. What must its waters be! What must be the rivers of pleasure there! Who in it can ever thirst? Its inhabitants shall thirst no more.
5. It is a well-provisioned city. The tree of life is there, with its twelve variety of fruits and its health-giving leaves. It has more than Eden had. It is paradise restored; Paradise and Jerusalem in one; Jerusalem in Paradise, and Paradise in Jerusalem.
6. It is a well-guarded city. Not only has it gates, and walls, and towers, which no enemy could scale or force; but at the gates are twelve angels, keeping perpetual watch.
7. It is a well-governed city. Its king is the Son of God, the King of kings, Immanuel, the King eternal, whose sceptre is righteousness who loves righteousness and hates iniquity. No misrule is there, no disorder, no lawlessness, no rebellion.
8. It is a well-peopled city. It has gathered within its walls all generations of the redeemed. Its population is as the sands or the stars; the multitude that no man can number; the millions of the risen and glorified.
9. It is a holy city. Its origin is heavenly, and it is perfect as its builder. Nothing that defiles shall enter; no spot or speck or shadow of evil. All is perfection there, divine perfection.
10. It is a glorious city. The glory that fills it, and encircles it, is the glory of God. All precious stones are there; no marble nor granite such as we boast of now—all of it is gold, and pearls, and gems. Everything resplendent is there. It shines like the sun.
11. It is a blessed city. It is truly ‘the joyous city.’ It is the throne of the blessed One, and all in it is like Him. Its name is Jerusalem—the city of peace. Its King’s name is Solomon—the Prince of peace. There is no enemy there; no sickness, no curse, no death, no weeping, no pain, no sorrow, no change forever. Those who dwell in it shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more (Revelation 7:16, 17).
Blessed city! City of peace, and love, and song! Fit accompaniment of the new heavens! Fit metropolis of the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness! How eagerly should we look for it! How worthy of it should we live! It has not yet arrived. Eye has not seen it. But God points to it above, and assures us that it shall come. The right of citizenship is to be had now; and those who are to dwell in it are not angels, but men; not the unfallen, but the fallen. It is as such that we apply for the ‘freedom of the city.’
He who is its Builder and Maker gives it freely. He who is its Prince, whose blood has bought and opened it, gives it freely. He waits to receive applications—no, He entreats men to apply. He announces that whoever will only take Him at His word, and trust Him for entrance into it, shall have it. He specially proclaims to us His own sacrifice, His infinite propitiation, His divine blood-shedding on the cross, and gives us to know that whoever will receive the testimony to this great work of atonement shall enter in through the gates into the city. It is the blood that brings us to the mercy seat—it is the blood that brings us into the city. It will be a joy to enter that joyous city. By this joy we beseech you now to make sure of your citizenship, by making sure of your connection with the King. He who has the King—has the city.
It will be a sorrow to be shut out. By that sorrow we entreat you to make sure. Believing the good news, become citizens of this great and holy city. Then all shall be well with you forever!
“And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did light it, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”—Revelation 21:23.
It is of the ‘new Jerusalem’ that these words are written; the city of glory and blessing; the city of the saints and home of the redeemed; the metropolis of creation; the city of God and of the Lamb; the habitation of the bride, the Lamb’s wife; the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
The passage might more truly be rendered, ‘the Lamb is the lamp thereof,’ or ‘its lamp is the Lamb;’ for lamp, not light, is the correct translation. The two clauses in this verse are meant to give us the complete idea of the illumination of the city. ‘The glory of God did light it—and the Lamb is its lamp.’ All that sunlight-splendour is to a city—the ‘glory of God’ or Shekinah is. And all that lamps are to a city, publicly or privately—the Lamb is. As with us now there is the alternation of the lights of day and night, so then and in that city there is to be the alternation of the glory of God and the Lamb. There shall be no night there; and they ‘need no candle (no earthly “lamp”), neither light of the sun,’ for they have that which is better than both; not created nor borrowed light, but uncreated, unreflected light from the divine and eternal fountainhead. That which is written of the earthly Jerusalem is much more true of the heavenly, for the one is the image or counterpart of the other.
‘No longer will you need the sun or moon to give you light, for the Lord your God will be your everlasting light, and he will be your glory. Your sun will never set; your moon will not go down. For the Lord will be your everlasting light. Your days of mourning will come to an end!’ (Isaiah 60:19, 20).
The figure here carries us back to the temple and the lamp in the holy place—the seven-branched lamp of gold which burned day and night in the sanctuary. As the Shekinah, which rested between the cherubim, enlightened ‘the most holy place,’ and the seven-branched lamp ‘the holy place,’ so in that coming day, when both these places shall be one—the veil no longer existing—the type shall be fulfilled, when that shall come to pass which is written, ‘The glory of God did light it, and the Lamb is the light (lamp) thereof.’
But the figure of our text is wider than this, and refers not to a temple merely, or a chamber in a temple; but to a city, and to every house and chamber of that city. It gives us the idea of a resplendent lamp hung in some vast hall or palace, shedding a mild and tempered light down upon some festal assembly, such as that in the father’s house upon the prodigal’s return, when the household were gathered together to eat and make merry. But it does more than this. It shows us a wondrous lamp, of infinite luster, suspended above a whole city, as was the pillar-cloud above the camp of Israel in the desert. This is the picture presented in these words—’Its lamp was the Lamb.’
Christ the light of the heavenly city; the crucified One the lamp—a lamp at once human and divine. The Lamb in the midst of the throne is the lamp of the new Jerusalem. All is concentrated in Him—all excellency, and power, and perfection, and beauty, and glory. Now at last He gets the praise, the love, the admiration that are His due.
I. It is a SPECIAL light. There is none like it. Fed by no earthly oil, its blaze is not earthly. Yet it is truly light for men. It is divine, but it is also human. All created and all uncreated brilliance is concentrated in it. The man Christ Jesus is there. God over all is there. The Word made flesh, and that flesh truly ours—that flesh broken and given for the life of the world—this is the essence of the light. Christ Jesus filled with the Spirit—the Lamb to whom pertain the seven lamps of fire—Christ Jesus, the Lamb slain—it is He as such, that is the lamp of the holy city, possessing and giving forth all the light the city needs, yet that light softened and mellowed by His cross and grave. It is not so much as God, or as the Christ, that He is the lamp of the city, but as the Lamb.
II. It is UNCHANGING light. He from whom it emanates is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Here there is no rising nor setting; no clouding nor eclipsing. It is one calm, full, clear light, from which nothing can be taken, and to which there can be nothing added; without variableness or shadow of turning. It terminates and supersedes all other lights, and itself remains forever, like the lamp of the temple which went not out by night nor by day. The lamps of the virgins who went forth to meet the Bridegroom are no more needed now; and He who in the dark ages of His own absence from earth walked in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, has now become so fully the light of His saints and of their city, that they shall fear no darkness. He Himself has become their everlasting light, and that in a larger and completer sense than when He announced Himself as the light of the world.
The foolish virgins might say ‘our lamps are gone out;’ but of this eternal lamp there shall be no quenching, no going out. The wise virgins would find that when they entered into the marriage-hall of that Bridegroom whom they had gone forth to meet, there was no more need of their lamps; for the Bridegroom Himself would be their light forever; a lamp that would never burn low or wax dim, but retain its brightness for evermore.
III. It is FESTAL light. The feast is spread; the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ The light of this great feast—the lamp of this hall and of this city—is the Lamb. This feast-day has not yet come; the Bridegroom is absent, and His friends are fasting, not feasting; and not only fasting, but passing through this land of deserts with just enough of light to show them the way. But when they enter the festal hall and sit down at the marriage supper, then shall they not only feed on the royal dainties, but enjoy the light of that lamp which is to gladden their festival with its soft rays—rays which shall be altogether in harmony with the bridal feast, the bridal dress, and the bridal song.
IV. It is ALL-PERVADING light. It is not confined to a few favoured dwellings; to a palace, or a temple, or one region of the city. The whole city shall be full of light. It shall enter every house, and room, and chamber, until each corner and crevice is illuminated, and every face made to shine with the gracious splendour, as was the face of Moses when he conversed with God, or the faces of the disciples on the transfiguration mount. The light is all pervading. It penetrates everywhere; it fills all things; it can be excluded by no hindrances; no, the very walls, which here on earth shut out the light, there help to convey it and to enhance its brightness. Christ is all and in all, spiritually and materially, for soul and for body!
As our earthly atmosphere finds its way everywhere, unbidden and unsought, so shall it be with this heavenly light. We shall not need to go in search of it. It shall be in every place, night and day, round the whole year. Its walls are Christ; its foundations are Christ; its cornerstone is Christ; its joy is Christ; its glory is Christ; its light is Christ.
V. It is the light of LIFE. It is living light, life-giving light; not dead and inert like that of our sun, and moon, and stars, but living; instinct with life, and health, and immortality. It fills the whole man with life—body, soul, and spirit. Where it is, death cannot enter, and the curse cannot exist. It diffuses blessing as it shines—the blessing of undecaying health and an endless life. When enjoying ‘summer’s sunshine’ here, we feel as if there were health in it, life in it; much more shall we find of the true health and life in this more glorious light. The Sun of righteousness has healing in His wings, and He who is the Sun of righteousness is the lamp of the new Jerusalem.
VI. It is the light of LOVE. For that name, ‘the Lamb,’ contains within it the revelation of the love of God. Where the Lamb is there is love, the love of God—the love of the Son in coming, and the love of the Father in sending. That lamp, which is the Lamb, then must be love; its light must be the light of redeeming love. It pours its radiance through transparencies, which all speak of the cross and the blood, of Gethsemane and Golgotha, flooding the golden streets of the jasper city with an effulgence that shall speak throughout eternity of the broken body and shed blood of the Lord. Every ray shall carry us back to the cross; and the light which shall be cast by it on every object in the happy city shall partake of that crimson tinge, which shall not merely remind us of the ‘Word made flesh,’ but of the great propitiation, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. From the lamp of the new Jerusalem there shall shine forth the eternal song, ‘Unto Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, to Him be glory and dominion forever!’
We have then a city for our residence hereafter; a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Yes, God is not ashamed to be called our God, for He has prepared for us a city. The proprietor of it is the Lamb; and as the Lamb, He gives it to us for an everlasting possession. As the Lamb, He is its king and priest; and He makes us partakers of His royal priesthood in this city of the great Melchizedek. As the Lamb, its honours are His, and He shares them with us; its glories are His, and He shares them with us; its joys are His, and He shares them with us; its riches are His, and He shares them with us; its festivals are His, and He shares them with us; its light is His, and He gives it to us; its trees are His, and He gives us their shade and their fruit; its halls are His, and He brings us unto His banqueting house, where His banner over us is love; its living waters are His, and the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of water, and God Himself shall wipe away all tears from our eyes!
We are heirs of God, as His sons; but this is not all. We are not heirs in some inferior sense or degree, nor do we come in for some little fragment of the family estate. We are ‘joint heirs with Christ,’ sharing along with him all that He possesses as Son and as heir of all things; for not only do we read, ‘He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God, and he shall be my son,’ but, ‘to him who overcomes will I give to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on His throne.’ This city of the living God, of which we have been speaking, this new Jerusalem, with all its splendour, He shares with us. It is our city as well as His; ours, because His; the centre and capital of our kingdom, because the centre and capital of His. There Christ is all. He is not only its King—the Son for whom the Father built the city—but He is its joy, its glory, its lamp and light. All that makes it bright and blessed is from him. All that gladdens its citizens is from Him. Its foundations speak of Him. Its gates proclaim Him. Its golden streets reflect Him. Its river glows with Him. Its trees tell of Him. Its dwellings are His; its palace is His; its throne is His; its beauty is His; its festivals are His; its songs and hallelujahs are His.
The Lamb is everywhere. He is on the throne; He is at the head of His redeemed, leading them to living fountains of waters; He is in every dwelling and in every chamber; He is the glory over all; Prince, Shepherd, Bridegroom, lamp and sun; alpha and omega, beginning and ending, first and last. He meets you at every step; He is seen in every object; He is heard in every sound; His name is the theme of every melody; and the chorus of each Psalm and hymn is, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive blessing, and glory, and honour.’
What are the attractions of that city to us? Are they the gold and gems that make up its everlasting splendour? And when we read, or hear, or sing of its glory, is it the external brilliance that dazzles? Is it its exemption from sorrow, and change, and death, and night, and darkness, and the curse? Or is it the presence, the universal presence, of the Lamb? Sentimentalism can feast itself upon the former—but only faith and love upon the latter.
The question—What think you of the new Jerusalem? Is intimately connected with the more searching one—What think you of Christ? What is He to you? What is His cross to you? To be engrossed with the splendour of the new Jerusalem, while yet you have not tasted that the Lord is gracious, nor been begotten again unto a living hope—will profit nothing. Your imagination is kindled or soothed with the picture of our text, ‘Its lamp is the Lamb;’ but what do you say to His own words on earth, ‘I am the light of the world?’ Has that light which has enlightened millions enlightened you? He is the light of life, the true light that enlightens every man that comes into the world, and all light is darkness, but that which radiates from Him. What has that light been to you, or done for you? It is this present light on earth, filling the soul, that is the preparation for enjoying the light of the city; and he who walks in darkness here, shall walk in darkness forever.
We bid you look away from every other light and turn to this. It is the light of the cross! For the cross is light and not darkness. It is the light of love. It sheds its rays of pardon, and reconciliation, and joy into the darkest soul. These rays go out with each proclamation of the gospel; for our gospel is the gospel of the light, the gospel of the risen Sun. He who receives that gospel receives the light; and he who holds fast that gospel abides in the light, being a child of the light and of the day. He who receives it not, is a child of darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not where he goes, because the darkness has blinded his eyes!
“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.”—Revelation 22:1.
In the first Paradise, and in connection with the first creation, we find a river—’a river went out of Eden to water the garden’ (Genesis 2:10); and in connection with the second Paradise and the new creation, we find a river also—a river without a name—but simply designated ‘a river of life.’ The earthly and the heavenly thus run parallel with each other, though the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
In connection, not merely with earthly fruitfulness and beauty, but with spiritual blessings, we have many allusions to rivers. ‘The river of Your pleasures’ (Psalm 36:8); ‘there is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God’ (Psalm 46:4); ‘you enrich it with the river of God, which is full of water’ (Psalm 65:9); ‘peace as a river’ (Isaiah 48:18); ‘the Lord shall be to us a place of broad rivers and streams’ (Isaiah 33:21).
The earthly river beautifies, fertilizes, refreshes, gives life, quenches thirst. All these and much more does the heavenly river do for us. In this life-river is the reality of those things of which the earthly river is the shadow. What would the first Adam’s Paradise have been without the river? What would the second Adam’s Paradise and city be without the river of life?
But let us gaze a little on this life-river which John describes, and see its qualities and glories. Of it we may say, ‘It is good for drink, and pleasant to the eyes, and a river to be desired;’ for no river on earth, Nile or Jordan, can be compared with it. It contains all that a soul needs; and it is not for angels—but for men.
I. It is a river of HEAVEN. These two concluding chapters speak of no earthly city, no earthly Paradise, no earthly tree of life, and no earthly river. It is a stream fed from heavenly sources, filled with heavenly water, and resplendent with heavenly beauty. Everything pertaining to its origin, and course, and nature, partakes of heaven. It is the river of God, conveying on its pure water all that heaven contains of blessedness. Those who drink of it must drink immortality and love. ‘It is the river of God.’ To gaze on it, to wander by its banks, to bathe in its pure flood, to drink of its waters—this is heaven itself!
II. It is a river of GRACE. It flows from the throne of the Lamb; and everything that has connection with the Lamb is necessarily of grace. The Lamb is, of all the names of Christ, that which most explicitly expresses grace, and the channel through which that grace flows to us. Name but the Lamb, and you proclaim God’s love to sinners, His riches of grace towards the most worthless of human creature-hood. The Lamb is the name by which Christ is most commonly spoken of in this book; and this seems to be done, in order that we may, in the midst of the terrors and the glories of which it is full, be made to feel the grace of God as it pours itself out over the dwellers in this poor earth. And this grace goes on through eternity; there is grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is the grace of earth, there is the grace of heaven. There is the grace of the first coming, there is the grace of the second.
III. It is a river of POWER. It comes from the throne—the throne of God; and therefore possessing the properties of that throne. It communicates, it infuses power into the soul of every one that drinks, or even that walks along its banks. The power and authority of God are in it; for it issues from the fountainhead of universal owner. O mighty river of God! How mighty do they become who betake themselves to you! Mighty river! The symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37), proceeding from the Father and the Son, from God and the Lamb—what infusion of power may we not receive from you here; how much more hereafter! In this wilderness much; in the glorious city, more.
IV. A river of PURITY. ‘A pure river of water of life!’ The word pure almost invariably refers to priestly or sacrificial cleansing. This river then owes its purity to the same blood which makes the garments of the redeemed white; and just as the gold of the city is called pure gold, like unto clear glass—so the river gets the like designation. A pure river! Like the Lamb from whose throne it comes, who is without blemish, and without spot! A pure river! Like the city through which it flows, into which nothing that defiles shall enter! As it pours its heavenly waters on us now, it purifies, it cleanses; and hereafter it will preserve in us eternally that purity which it began in time, as the tree of life will preserve forever the immortal life which it created here in us. Think often of this river, you who feel the impurity of your soul; wander by faith along its banks even now; refresh yourself with its transparent waters; for is it not promised, I will give to him who is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely? The pledge of this we get just now; but the full accomplishment is reserved for the day when ‘the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne shall lead us to the living fountains of waters’ (Revelation 8:7).
V. A river of LIFE. Wherever the river comes it quickens; just as of Ezekiel’s river it is said, ‘the waters shall be healed, and everything shall live where the river comes’ (Ezekiel 47:9). Each drop is life giving; it contains everlasting life, for the Spirit of life is in that river. And He from whom it comes is the Lamb, even He who said, ‘I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish;’ ‘because I live, you shall live also.’
VI. A river of BRIGHTNESS. The words ‘clear as crystal’ should be ‘bright as crystal’—the same word as in verse 16, ‘the bright and morning star.’ It is a river of splendour, divine and heavenly splendour. No earthly river, shone upon by the brightest earthly sun, can equal this. It is radiant all over, and it communicates its radiance to those who dwell upon its banks. It makes them shine as the sun. It is a river of glory—God lights it, and the Lamb is the fountain of its splendour! O river of brightness, will you not cast down on us here some of the radiance of your pure water? River of glory and holiness, will you not gladden and purify us, by causing us to behold your beauty in some measure here, that we may be prepared for beholding that splendour in fuller measure hereafter, when the days of our shame, and sin, and mourning are ended?
“In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month—and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”—Revelation 22:2.
Faith looks into the unseen past, hope into the unseen future. The ‘things hoped for’ are very glorious. Eye has not seen them, nor ear heard them; but ‘God has revealed (the name of this book is the “Revelation”) them unto us by His Spirit.’ That Spirit has given us
(1) eyes to see;
(2) objects to look upon; and
(3) light to see them with.
It is the glory of the new creation, and specially of the new Jerusalem, that is here described. It is no longer, as at first, Paradise alone without a city, and with only our first parents to inhabit it; nor is it Jerusalem alone without Paradise, and without a river, and without a tree of life. It is Paradise, and Jerusalem together. The city is in the garden, and the garden in the city; the tree of life springing up in fruit-bearing beauty, and the bright river flowing through the street and under the shade of the trees. Nor is this Paradise without its ‘Adam,’ nor this city without its Solomon. The second Adam is here, the Lord from heaven. The throne of God and of the Lamb is here. All is heavenly, yet all is earthly too; all is divine, yet all is human. There is perfection everywhere—there is glory over all. It is the perfection of the material and visible, as well as of the spiritual and invisible. Creation has reached its summit—the eternally predestined height from which it cannot fall.
Into the regions of this glory we would seek to enter now. Time is fleeting. The world passes away. Our life is but a vapour. This present world is a waste, howling wilderness. Darkness and clouds are here. The ice and frost, the blast, the storm, the earthquake are here. Night, and death, and the curse, and the grave are here. We eagerly look beyond these, and anticipate the promised perfection and blessedness of the new creation.
I. The STREET of the city. The word refers to the main or broad street of the city. A wide central street, in the midst of which the river flowed, is the picture here. It is the great street of a well-built city—the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The city is the ‘heavenly Jerusalem,’ the ‘holy city,’ of which we become citizens even now in believing, so that ‘our citizenship is in heaven,’ and we, ‘are come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God,’ realizing ourselves as already in the city, and the city as already here.
That glorious city is to be the eternal centre of the universe, the seat of government, and the centre of social life and blessed being. We need not try to sketch the city and its street, nor to answer the question, Is all this to be real and material, or is it only spiritual? Spiritual certainly, in the sense in which our resurrection bodies are to be (1 Corinthians 15:44), but still real and material; for the gold and gems, the walls, and foundations, and gates, are evidently given to indicate something material, corresponding to all these, and which could only be represented to us by these. This ‘street,’ or great thoroughfare of the celestial city, suggests to us all that a similar street in any of our great cities now calls up to view. It is the place of concourse; the place of fellowship; the place of splendour; the head and heart of the city—that city which is to be the metropolis of the universe, as the lower Jerusalem is the metropolis of earth.
II. The RIVER of the city. This is described in the previous verse. It is like, and yet unlike, all earthly streams. Its source is divine; its waters are bright; its flow is endless. Jordan, and Nile, and Euphrates cannot be compared to it. This magnificent river flows right through the centre of the street, which is in the centre of the city, dividing it into two, so that the whole city equally gets the benefit of its waters. It distributes on both sides its heavenly blessing as it pours along, carrying on its fair bosom refreshment, and gladness, and beauty. ‘Well-watered’ is this city; and with provisions for every beneficent purpose. It is ‘the river, the streams of which make glad the city of our God’ (Psalm 46:4); it is the river of peace, for on it ‘shall go no war ship, neither shall mighty ship pass thereby’ (Isaiah 33:21). It contains in it all physical blessings which a river can contain, and it is the symbol of all spiritual blessings. ‘You shall make them drink of the river of Your pleasures’ (Psalm 36:8). Not from any earthly source does this river flow; not even from the rock of the desert; not from the sanctuary (Ezekiel 47:1); not from the eternal hills—but from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
III. The Tree of Life. This carries us back to Paradise, with its unfallen glory. It is the ‘tree of righteousness’ (Isaiah 61:3); the ‘plant of renown’ (Ezekiel 34:29); the tree of the old creation, and the tree of the new; the living and life-giving tree. There is the earthly tree and the heavenly tree, just as there is the earthly and the heavenly Jerusalem; the tree of the lower Paradise, and the tree of the upper Paradise; but the glory of the terrestrial is one, and the glory of the celestial is another. Here we have the celestial; and yet, when we read this chapter in connection with the forty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel, we see that the two are connected the one with the other—like the upper and the nether springs; like the higher and the lower stories of the great palace; like the outer and the inner courts of the great temple. This tree of life lines the river of life; extending like a fringe along its margin on both sides, between it and the street; shooting up like a long avenue of palms in the midst of the broad street, through the centre of which the river flowed. A wondrous tree; or rather a forest of wondrous trees pleasant to the eye, good for fruit, and excellent for shade and fragrance, under whose shadow we shall sit down with great delight, in the day when the tabernacle of God is with men.
IV. The FRUIT of the tree. It is ‘good for fruit.’ Take it either physically or spiritually, it is so. Take it in both ways—referring to both body and soul—the food of our risen life, the sustenance of our risen bodies and perfected souls, it is ‘good’—it is ‘very good.’ It nourishes and cherishes. It imparts and sustains the incorruptible life. It communicates its celestial properties to the whole being of the redeemed—body, soul, and spirit. It bears twelve kinds of fruits, or rather ‘twelve fruits’—that is, harvests or crops. Like the orange tree among us now, it is always blossoming, and always bearing. The revolving year is one perpetual harvest, every month producing new fruit.
The description of the ‘celestial’ is very like that of the ‘terrestrial’ in Ezekiel, which runs thus—’many trees were now growing on both sides of the river! All kinds of fruit trees will grow along both sides of the river. The leaves of these trees will never turn brown and fall, and there will always be fruit on their branches. There will be a new crop every month, without fail! For they are watered by the river flowing from the Temple. The fruit will be for food and the leaves for healing.’ (Ezekiel 47:7, 12). Here then is the food of the redeemed—eternal nourishment, suited to their redeemed being! Here is perpetual spring, perpetual summer, perpetual autumn—no winter, no withering, no famine, no decay! Life for eternity, sustained by the fruit of the live-giving tree, which shall nourish all the parts and powers, mental and material, of our everlasting and incorruptible nature!
V. The LEAVES of the tree. These are for health. As the fruit is for food to the celestial dwellers, so the leaves are for healing. It may be also that these leaves are needful for the preservation of health. In any case, we see the meaning of the words, ‘The leaves of the tree are for the healing (or health) of the nations.
All this is beyond doubt connected with the Lord Jesus Christ—’the Lamb as it had been slain;’ for as every infliction of the curse here or hereafter is connected with Him as such, so every part of present and future blessing is linked with Him. We might in this aspect say, Jesus is the river, He is the tree, He is the fruit, He is the healing leaf. But perhaps it is more correct to say, He is the fountainhead of all blessing in heaven and earth, in this world and in that which is to come; and these material things are the channels through which He pours out His fullness.
(1.) The bright and refreshing river. Weary man of earth, come here. There are waters for you, enough and to spare. All free and all accessible. ‘Come to the waters;’ ‘let him who is athirst come;’ ‘I will give to him who is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely;’ not merely of the ‘water’ or of the ‘river,’ but of the ‘fountain,’ ‘the spring shut up, the fountain sealed.’
(2.) The plenteous and life-giving fruit. It is the ‘bread of life;’ it is better than angels’ food. It is the hidden manna; the fruit of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Eat, for it is the nourishment you need; eat, for it is free and within your reach; eat, for it is living and life-giving food. You will find it sweet to your taste. It confers immortality on the eater. He who eats of this fruit shall live forever.
(3.)The healing leaf. We cannot say of this tree, ‘Nothing but leaves;’ still there are leaves in abundance, and each leaf is precious. It is like the hem of Christ’s garment, through which healing came to all who touched it. It is like ‘the handkerchiefs and aprons’ from Paul’s body that healed the sick (Acts 19:12); or like ‘the shadow of Peter passing-by’ (Acts 5:15) that ‘over shadowed’ and healed the sick of Jerusalem. These were healings for the body. In like manner there come healings for the soul. Christ is the healer of a sick world. The simplest touch in any part heals. Will you be made whole? Take a leaf from the healing tree. Are you sick again? Take another and another. Take them every hour!
Setting these two passages together, we get these two truths, that the redeemed are servants, and that they are also kings! Their eternity is to be an eternity of service—and an eternity of dominion. For both of these they have been redeemed. It is not mere deliverance from the wrath to come, but glory, honour, dominion, and power that are their portion. The new Jerusalem is to be specially the place of service—and the centre of dominion.
I. SERVICE. His servants shall serve Him. They are the servants of God, and the servants of the Lamb. Once servants of self, of the world, of Satan—now servants of God. As Christ was the Father’s servant, so do we become servants. Let us ask—
(1.) When this service begins? It begins at conversion. For conversion is
(1) a change of service,
(2) a change of masters,
(3) a change of motive,
(4) a change of work.
(2.) How it begins? Christ answers this—’If any man serve me, let him follow me.’ It begins by taking His yoke; by taking the cross; by denying self; or, as the apostle expresses it, by ‘obeying from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered unto us.’ Yes, we must be made free that we may serve.
(3.) How it is carried on? By a life of devotedness to God and His Christ; by doing His will, working His work, carrying out His plans, running His errands, looking after His interest. We are, as it were, His domestic servants, His public servants, His agents and instruments—in all things waiting on Him and carrying out His will daily, not our own.
(4.) Where it is carried on? First here on earth, and afterwards in the new Jerusalem before the throne. It is carried on everywhere; in the closet, in the family, at the table, round the hearth, in the market, in the shop, in the field, on the highway—everywhere. We are to be the servants always, less than the servants never; always able to say—Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business? How it is to be carried on hereafter we know not. In the city and out of it; at the throne and away from it; all over space; from star to star; doing every kind of work, and going on every kind of errand—such shall be the service hereafter.
(5.) How long it shall last? Forever. It has beginning, but not an end. It is an eternal service. It is not the service of the hireling, who earnestly desires the end of the day; it is not limited by days and nights; it knows no end. Nor would any one engaged in it wish it to terminate; it is so blessed and so glorious; it wins us so many smiles from the Master; it is rewarded so bountifully; and it is itself so unspeakable joyful! Who then would not serve? Who would not engage himself to this heavenly Master? All other services are bondage, this is liberty; all others are drudgery, this is blessedness throughout. Who would not serve now? Who would not serve hereafter? The Master now waits to hire you—will you not be hired?
II. The DOMINION. They shall reign forever. This is wholly future. The dominion is not now. The kingdom is not yet set up. We are indeed kings, but the crown and throne are yet in reserve. The name and the title we get just now; the reality we enter on when the Lord returns. Then we shall reign; all things shall be put under our feet as under His.
(1.) Who are these who reign? They are men—not angels. They sing, ‘You have redeemed us.’ They are from this earth of ours—not natives of heaven.
(2.) Where did they come from? They came out of sin, out of weakness, and persecution, and tribulation. They once were not what they are to be forever. From the lowest pit they came, and from the miry clay.
(3.) How did they become what they are? They washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb. They sought and found the Lord. They obtained mercy. They were forgiven. They believed and became sons of God.
(4.) What raised them to this dignity? Grace! God’s free love. It was His love, His sovereign love alone, that made them what they are and shall be. They did not raise themselves, nor obtain it by inheritance, or merit, or purchase. Free love did it all—the free sovereign love of God!
(5.) In what way did they reach the throne? They fought their way to it. For the crown and kingdom are to the overcomers. ‘To him who overcomes will I grant to sit with me on my throne.’ It was through much toil and warfare that they won the crown.
(6.) How extensive is this dominion to be? He who overcomes shall inherit all things. It is the universe that is to be their dominion. Heaven and earth are theirs. For they are ‘heirs of God, and join heirs with Christ.’
(7.) How long is it to last? Forever! It is an everlasting dominion, a kingdom that shall not be destroyed. The throne, and crown, and glory are all eternal.
How great the contrast between the present and the future! The Church—trodden down, afflicted now—then reigning! Now the lowest—then the uppermost! Now like Joseph in the pit—then upon the throne!
What a hope! How quickening, purifying, comforting! Let us keep gazing on it. Let nothing of earth come between, nether sorrow nor joy, life nor death. It may soon be realised. Let us live as men who believe it!
“And there shall be no more curse—but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and His servants shall serve Him—and they shall see His face; and His name shall in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God gives them light—and they shall reign forever and ever!”—Revelation 22:3-5.
Here we are carried back to the third chapter of Genesis—for here we have the undoing of the evil which the first Adam and the first sin wrought on man and man’s earth. Here is blessing and dominion; nearness to God, and deliverance from all evil; the kingdom of light, and the endless reign of His saints. How bright the picture!
What a contrast with the scene of the sentence and the expulsion from Paradise! What a contrast with the present evil state of earth, and the present tribulation of the Church! Here is the glory to be revealed in us; the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; the ending of all the woes and wickedness that have been depicted in this book. No more room for Satan and his demons. No more place for Antichrist; or for the beast, and false prophet. No more tolerance for evil and error. No more scope for misrule and disorder; no more conflict, and darkness, and tempest. All is perfection—the perfection of God and of the Lamb; not simply a perfect and glorious heaven, but a perfect and glorious earth.
I. The removal of the curse. Many are the curses that have lighted upon earth—the original curse, with all the many curses that have flowed out of the first sin. It is true that there is no curse pronounced against the man, or the woman, or their race. That would have been inconsistent with the revelation of divine grace. It would have rendered unintelligible the love of God just announced. The curse is on the ground, and on the serpent; and this, though not directly aimed at man, affects man and his whole race. The curse has come in like a pestilence upon earth; and man must breathe the poisoned air.
All this is now reversed; the sentence is cancelled; the curse is exchanged for blessing. The cursed one is cast out of air and earth, into the bottomless pit. The atmosphere is purged. The sun scorches not by day, nor the moon by night. Thorns and thistles disappear. Fertility is restored to earth. The wolf lies down with the lamb, and the leopard with the lamb; and there is nothing found to hurt nor to destroy in the holy mountain of the Lord. There is the new earth wherein dwells righteousness.
II. The eternal throne. Here is the setting up of the throne. In the King’s absence all things have fallen into disorder; while the presence of a hostile claimant or usurper has intensified the evil and increased the confusion. But now the usurper has been dethroned, and the true monarch comes in. ‘The throne of God and of the Lamb are in it.’ The new Jerusalem has come down out of heaven from God. The great kingdom has come. It is not only the kingdom of God, but of the Lamb. He is King forever. He is the centre of the universe; head of all things in heaven and earth; the second Adam, who with His redeemed bride the Church is to reign forever and ever. This earth shall be honoured in being made the seat of His eternal throne. It is no longer to be said,
‘Earth is His footstool;’ but the throne is to be in it; and its rulers are to be those who claim kindred with its once cursed soil. (Revelation 7:15). O matchless honour conferred on earth and on it sons! O exceeding riches of grace! Where sin has abounded, grace much more abounds.
III. The eternal service. ‘His servants shall serve Him.’ They serve him day and night in His temple’ (Revelation 7:15). The words ‘shall serve’ are here used in reference to religious service, the worship of God (Matthew 5:10; Philippians 3:3; Hebrews 9:14). There the throne and the temple are one; those who serve in the kingdom, serve in the temple too. They are kings and priests unto God. It is priestly royal service to which they are called. And as the throne and the temple are one, so are ‘God and the Lamb,’ whether this means ‘the Father and the Son,’ or ‘He who is both God and the Lamb.’ It is not ‘their servants shall serve them;’ but His servants shall serve Him. It is to this high service that the redeemed are called—eternal service, in the city and palace and temple of God and the Lamb!
IV. The eternal vision. ‘They shall see His face.’ Those who ‘saw the king’s face’ (Esther 1:14) were ‘the first in the kingdom;’ the nobles of the nobility, who stood nearest the king. It was blessedness, it was pre-eminence, it was honour. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart—for they shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8). ‘I will behold Your face in righteousness’ (Psalm 17:15). Not in a glass darkly, but face to face; not afar off, but near; not with cloud or veil between, but unclouded and unveiled—they shall see the face that is most glorious to behold. ‘Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty’ (Isaiah 33:17). They shall be employed in that worship and service which is the most honourable of all. They shall occupy the innermost circle of the universe; for they are the redeemed from among men. And then shall that word ‘brought near through the blood of Christ’ be no figure, but an eternal and glorious reality. ‘You set me before Your face forever (Psalm 41:12).
V. The eternal inscription. ‘His name shall be in their foreheads.’ The one name of God and the Lamb shall be engraved—not on their ‘vesture or thigh,’ not on the palms of their hands, but on the forehead—visible, conspicuous, glorious, never to be erased; engraved by no earthly Bezalel, upon earthly gold or gems—but upon foreheads which have been washed in blood, and smoothed from every wrinkle and stain by the hand of Him who redeemed them for Himself. Jehovah’s name, written by Himself, on our foreheads—how great the honour and the blessedness! (Revelation 3:12).
VI. The eternal day. This is stated ‘negatively’—no night, no need of lamp nor of the sun! (Isaiah 60:19). Here on earth, night alternates with day; here we must either have lamp or sunlight because of the darkness. Not so there. All is day—day without night; light without darkness. No night! nor any of the things that make night so dreaded and dreary—no pain, nor sickness, nor weariness, nor tossing to and fro, nor danger, nor enemy, nor storm. All these have passed away with the night, out of whose bosom they came. Everlasting day! Everlasting light! Everlasting spring!
VII. The eternal Sun. ‘The Lord God gives them light.’ The Lord God is a Sun even here. He is in every sense to be our Sun hereafter, superseding all other suns and lights. ‘The Lord shall be their everlasting light.’ ‘The Lamb is the lamp thereof.’ The light of heaven and earth, of all things material, and all things spiritual—is to come from the face of Jehovah Himself—the one sun of the universe, the one sun of the soul! Then shall we know, as we have never done before, the meaning of the words, ‘I am the Light of the world.’ ‘The day shall break, and the shadows flee away.’ All that we have hitherto known of light, outward or inward, material or immaterial—shall be as nothing to the effulgence of that eternal day.
VIII. The eternal reign. ‘They shall reign forever and ever!’ It is not merely everlasting life, but an everlasting kingdom, that is in store for us. It is dominion, and glory, and honour, such as that which belongs to Him who has redeemed us by His blood, and made us God’s kings and priests. From the lowest depths we are taken to the highest heights; from the degradation of bondage to the liberty of the sons of God—the inheritance of the saints in light. And of this kingdom there shall be no end. Christ does not deliver up the kingdom in the sense of parting with it, but in the sense of presenting it complete and glorious (1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22). Our reign is like Christ’s—an eternal reign.
A bright future is this for everyone who has received the testimony of the Father to His beloved Son; for on our reception of that testimony does our right to that kingdom depend. That future is meant to impact upon our present—and that in many ways. It is so lovely a prospect that it cannot fail to influence us now.
(1.) It purifies us—For all in it is pure and perfect. We gaze into its glorious vista, and take on its perfection and purity. Like light, it transforms each object on which it rests into a brilliance like itself.
(2.) It invigorates—The prospect of an inheritance like this nerves us for conflict, and makes us invincible. It rouses us when called to the great battle of life with Satan and the world. It enlivens mightily.
(3.) It cheers—A hope like this lifts us out of depression, and bids us be of good cheer. The light will soon swallow up the darkness. The time is short. The glory will be enough to make up for all!
(4.) It comforts—We need more than cheering; for sorrow sometimes covers us with so thick a cloud that we cannot see through. It crushes us, and breaks us to pieces. It smites us to the dust. Then we get a glimpse of the glory beyond—and are comforted. After all, ours is ‘light affliction,’ and ‘but for a moment.’ It will soon be swallowed up in the eternal joy!
Our title to all this surpassing and eternal glory is simply the blood of the Lamb. He has bought it for His Church; and it is hers forever. The nightless day, the unsetting sun, the incorruptible life, the undefiled inheritance, the new name, the heavenly city, the everlasting kingdom—all are hers; hers through ‘the blood of the everlasting covenant.’ She is to walk worthy of it here—worthy of such a crown, such a heritage, such a city, such a Bridegroom, such a joy. ‘Be holy;’ ‘be perfect;’ ‘walk worthy of the Lord.’
The entrance stands ever open, and each one is invited to go in. ‘All things are ready.’ You dwellers in the highways and hedges—go in. There is the marriage hall, and the marriage feast, and the loving welcome of the Master—go in.
‘He who believes’ enters in. We go in when we credit the divine record concerning the Son of God, and concerning the eternal life that there is in Him, for the dead in sin. It is not working, nor buying, nor waiting—but believing—which secures this eternal kingdom. Believe, and enter! Believe, and be blessed!
“They shall see His face.”—Revelation 22:4.
It is the new Jerusalem that John is describing—the city of glory; the home of light; the metropolis of the universe; the palace of Jehovah, where is the throne of God and of the Lamb. No sin there; no curse; no night; no death; no tears; no sorrow. There is the tree of life; the river of the water of life; the never-closed gates; the never-fading beauty; the never-setting sun. But of all the happiness and honour that fill that city of glory, this is the sum, and the centre, and the overflow—’They shall see His face.’ Let us ask—
I. Whose face? It is the face of God; and that face is Jesus, the Word made flesh; the brightness of His glory, and express image of His person—for we know that the light of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ. On the transfiguration ‘His face did shine as the sun!’ (Matthew 17:2). And that face is at once the face of the Son of man and the face of the Son of God; fairer than the children of men; the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. It is the face of majesty, yet the face of love; the face of a king—no, the face of the King of kings! There is no other face like it in earth or heaven—in all the vast universe of God—so bright, so lovely, so perfect, so glorious, so divine.
II. Who shall see it? His servants. ‘This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord.’ ‘Blessed are the pure in heart—for they shall see God.’ ‘Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty.’ They of whom it is written, ‘If any man serves me, let him follow me;’ and ‘where I am, there shall also my servant be;’ ‘if any man serves me, him will my Father honour.’ It is only those who are admitted within the resplendent walls of that holy city, who shall see His face. From all who are shut out, that face is forever hidden. They are called ‘servants’ here, yet are they sons, kings, joint-heirs with Christ! As He is a servant, so are they; servants, yet sons and friends; and the name of servant is one of honour and dignity.
III. What is it to see His face? This is explained by Psalm 41:12, ‘You set me before Your face forever;’ and by Esther 1:14, ‘The seven princes which saw the king’s face, and which sat first in the kingdom;’ and by 2 Kings 25:19, ‘Five men of them which were in the king’s presence,’ literally, ‘which saw the king’s face.’ In this, then, there is implied:
(1.) Nearness—These servants form the inner, no the innermost, circle of heaven. They stand nearest to God, ‘always beholding the face of their Father in heaven.’ There is no nearness like this; even that of angels is distance when compared with it.
(2.) Blessedness—The nearest of the disciples was the most blessed, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The nearest to Him in heaven will the most blessed. For nearness is blessedness; and seeing Him face to face is the perfection of joy.
(3.) Honour—To see the king’s face was the great earthly honour; so is it the greatest heavenly honour. Those who see it nearest and most often are the most honoured; they are those whom the King delights to honour—His nobles, His princes, His sons, more—His bride. Theirs is the place of honour.
(4.) Power—Those who see the King’s face are His counsellors, His vice-regents, the doers of His will. They are invested with His authority, and go forth to exercise His dominion. ‘Power over the nations’ (Revelation 2:26); ‘Dominion over ten cities’ (Luke 19:17). This power belongs to the redeemed. Christ’s throne is theirs; His crown, His sceptre, His kingdom—all these universal—for ‘he who overcomes shall inherit all things.’
This seeing of the face of God and His Christ will be:
(1.) Eternal—It cannot end. It is an everlasting vision; and therefore an everlasting nearness, blessedness, honour, and power. No lapse of ages can cloud the vision, or dim the eye that sees it. The vision and the joy are alike forever.
(2.) Unchangeable—No interruption; no eclipse; no cloud; no darkness; no setting; no dimness of eye; no unbelief; no distance! The glory cannot change. No intervention for the world; no faintness on our part; no veil drawn by Satan; no old age or failing faculties; no distraction from other objects; no discomposure from cares or sorrows; no unsteadiness of sight; none for these can diminish the vision. It is as perpetual as it is perfect and divine.
Learn from this hope such lessons as these:
(1.) Live a joyful life—May not a prospect such as this make a man joyful? Should not the very hope of it make his countenance to shine?
(2.) Be strong for toil—Let this hope nerve us for labour, and animate our zeal. Let it rouse us out of sloth, and make us grudge nothing, either of labour or sacrifice. Toil on; fight on; spend and be spent.
(3.) Be comforted under trial—The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to be revealed. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The vision of the face of God will more than make up for all.
And it may be soon! He will not tarry. The Lord is at hand. The new Jerusalem is coming. The glory will soon be revealed. The time is short. A few years, perhaps less, and we shall see His face—and share His glory!
“Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.”—Revelation 22:14.
The last three chapters of Revelation correspond with the first three of Genesis. Creation—and new creation; the Paradise of man—and the Paradise of God; Paradise lost—Paradise regained; man expelled—man brought back. This fourteenth verse fits in with the twenty-fourth verse of the third of Genesis. Let us look at its parts.
I. The CITY. It is the new Jerusalem. At the first creation there was no city—only a garden with one man in it; now there is a city in the midst of the garden, and the citizens are the multitude that no man can number. It is a glorious city; well-built, well-watered, well-founded, well-paved, well-lighted—altogether perfect! ‘God has prepared for them a city’—a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
II. The GATES. These gates are twelve; each one a pearl; gates for redeemed men to enter by; gates never shut; gates for both men and angels; gates which lead into the palace of the King, through which the sons of the second Adam can enter into the new Jerusalem. They are made by God’s own hand. They are the everlasting gates or doors sung of by David, at which the King of glory enters. They are the gates through which there is the ‘abundant entrance’ into the everlasting kingdom. No longer ‘narrow’, but wide; not painful to pass through, but pleasant and glorious. Divine gates, for a divine city, in the midst of which there is the palace of the King.
III. The TREE. It is the tree of life, spoken of in Genesis, and also specially noted in the promise to the Church of Ephesus. It is the life-giving tree—not only now in the midst of the earthly Paradise, but the Paradise of God; nor only in the midst of Paradise, but in the midst of the city—for Jerusalem and Paradise are now one. The tree, which no doubt symbolizes Christ Himself (as does the water of life), is doubtless a real tree; only more heavenly, more spiritual, than that which grows on earth. The tree is laden with fruit; it has twelve kinds of fruit; it has a monthly harvest; its leaves are for the healing of the nations. As there is the bread of life, and the hidden manna, so is there also this tree of life—this true plant of renown.
IV. The BLESSED ONES. It is God who calls them blessed, and they must be so whom He calls by such a name. Throughout this book this word occurs several times. ‘Blessed is he who reads;’ ‘blessed is he who watches;’ ‘blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’ In our text let us notice three points of BLESSEDNESS.
(1.) They keep His commandments. This carries us back to the 119th Psalm, and reminds us of the blessedness in which David rejoiced. In keeping of these commandments there is great reward, and great peace. We are called and forgiven, that we may keep these. It is to a life of such keeping that we are called. By such a life, we partake of blessedness as well as glorify God. We are redeemed that we may be holy—that we may walk in the commandments of the Lord our God and delight in His law after the inner man. This delight is blessedness. Thus one of the names of a Christian is a ‘keeper of the commandments of God’.
(2.) They have a right to the tree of life. Not by merit, only by grace—yet still a right; something which they can claim. The reception of pardon is simply in believing; but the reward is the result of good works. This statement as to keeping the commandments and its fruits, is no more inconsistent with a free salvation than such an expression, ‘Holiness, without which no man can see the Lord;’ nor with our Lord’s ‘Beatitudes,’ each of which gives expression and forfeiture reversed, and we introduced into the better Paradise, with the conscious certainty that we cannot fail or be driven out! No flaming sword to guard the way! All open and free! To feed on that tree forever; and in feeding find ourselves nourished and invigorated in every faculty! No death, nor disease, nor weakness, nor weariness, in sight of such a tree as this! All life and health forever!
(3.) They shall enter in through the gates into the city. They are blessed in a threefold way, as doers of the commandments, as partakers of the tree of life, as triumphant conquerors, entering in procession through the gates into the city.
(a.) The city is their city—Its name is the new Jerusalem. It is not for angels, but for men. God has built it for them; and so He is not ashamed to be called their God. The ‘fire’ into which the unrighteous are cast is not prepared for these redeemed ones. Their citizenship is in heaven, though they shall not enter it until their Lord returns as the King of glory. As Paradise was Adam’s garden, so is the new Jerusalem their own city.
(b.) They shall enter through the gates into it—Not over the wall; not by stealth; but as conquerors in triumphal procession, their Lord, as King of glory, at their head. They are the conquerors so often mentioned in this book; and they shall be seen as such in the day of their entrance.
(c.) They shall possess it forever—This is evidently implied. Eternal possession! They shall go out no more. They are citizens of a magnificent city—a joyous city. They shall not be driven out. They, as the true cherubim, shall occupy the true Paradise, in which not only shall the tree of life be assessable, but the tree of knowledge shall be no more forbidden.
“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come! And let him who hears say, Come! And let him who is athirst come! And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely!”—Revelation 22:17.
The speaker here is Jesus Himself, as the context shows. But who is the one spoken to? Is it one person or more than one? Is it the sinner that is addressed (as most think)? or is it first Christ and then the sinner? The last is the truth.
The verse is twofold. In the first part, Christ is addressed; in the second, the sinner—though the word ‘come’ runs through the whole. ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come! and let him who hears say, Come!’ are words addressed to Christ, pleading for His advent. ‘Let him who is athirst come! and whoever will, let him take the water of life freely!’ are the words of invitation from Jesus to the sinner.
I. The cry for Christ’s coming. It is this advent that is the great theme of the Apocalypse, and the central object of its scenes. It opens with, ‘Behold, He comes;’ it goes on with, ‘Behold I come as a thief;’ and it ends with, ‘Behold, I come quickly.’
All the predictions throughout the book bear upon this event, and carry forward the Church’s hopes to this great goal. But there are three parties here represented as uttering this prayer—
(1.) The Spirit. He cries, ‘Come.’ He who has been speaking to the Churches; who has inspired all the predictions relating to the event—He Himself is brought in personally as breathing the desires which He has dictated. He has sympathized with them all; and those longings which He had put into the lips of others, now come forth from His own. ‘The Spirit says, Come.’ What so interests the Spirit in the advent?
(a.) Christ will then be fully glorified, and it is the Spirit’s office to glorify Christ. He has not yet got His glory on earth at all, nor even His full glory in heaven.
(b.) Then the whole earth will be converted, and the Spirit will get full scope to all His longings and yearnings over men. He shall no longer strive, but prevail. He shall no longer be vexed, and grieved, and quenched. No wonder that He cries, ‘Come!’
(2.) The Bride. The Lamb’s wife, the whole Church as a body, as a virgin betrothed, looking for the marriage day. In one sense an injured widow, in another the bride. She expects the marriage; the union, the fellowship, the blessedness, the glory; the ending of loneliness and weariness, of sorrow and shame. No wonder, then, that she sighs for the Bridegroom’s arrival, ‘Come!’
(3.) He who hears. ‘Blessed is he who hears.’ Not as if the hearer was not part of the bride; but the word thus singles out each one on whose ears the message is falling. The moment you hear it, you should cry, “Come! Come, Lord Jesus! For then our sins and sorrows are ended; then our victory is won; then this vile body is changed; then we meet and unite forever with the loved and lost; then shall the ransomed of the Lord return, and come to Zion with songs.” Let this, then, be the theme of our morning and evening cry, Come! as we read of wars, and blood, and human passion, cry louder and louder, Come!
II. The invitation to the sinner. In this latter part it is clearly the sinner that is spoken to—’Let him who is athirst come; and whoever will.’
(1.) The inviter—Christ Himself; the same who said, ‘Come unto me.’ He invited once on earth; He now invites from heaven with the same urgency and love. He speaks to us with His own lips; He would have us know that He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever; that He still receives sinners; that there is still joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
(2.) The persons invited—They are first described as the ‘thirsty’; but lest this should be supposed to narrow the message or to exclude any class of men, it is added, ‘whoever will.’
1. The thirsty—Those who would gladly be happy, but know not how; who are seeking rest, but finding none; who are asking for good, ‘any good,’ anywhere; who are hewing out broken cisterns; who are betaking themselves to dried-up wells; who are drinking of the Dead Sea’s bitter water. ‘Ho, every one who thirsts! (Isaiah 55:1; John 4:10, 7:37).
2. Whoever will—This is a wide enough description. It shuts out none; it names every one. Are you in quest of water for your soul? It is here. Do you want to be happy? Joy is here for you—whoever and whatever you are.
(3.) The blessings invited to—The water of life. ‘Water,’ that which will thoroughly refresh you and quench your thirst; ‘water of life,’ living and life giving; a quickening well; a well of water springing up unto everlasting life. Not a shower, nor a stream, but a well—a fountain (Revelation 21:6). This water is the Holy Spirit Himself, who comes to us as the bringer of God’s free love, with all the joy which that love introduces into the soul. His wrath withers up the soul, His free love revives it, like rain upon the mown grass. His condemnation carries death, and gloom, and bondage; but His forgiveness reverses all this. What is there that this free love of God does not contain?
(4.) The price—Freely! without money; so that the poorest can have all they need. The free gift of God! Free as the rain and dew; free as the sunbeam; free as the reviving air around. Absolutely, unconditionally free! Free to each one as he is—though the chief of sinners, the emptiest, wickedest, thirstiest of sons of men.
(5.) The time—The invitation comes forth at the close of that book which sums up all revelation. It contains Christ’s last words, meant specially for the last days of a weary, thirsty world; when men, having tried every pleasure, vanity, lust, folly, and found nothing, having exhausted every cup and broken every cistern, will be found more thoroughly weary and thirsty than before. The last generation of earth, as it will be the wickedest, so will it be the thirstiest of all. Just when human thirst is at its height, when the gates are about to close, when the last trumpet is about to sound, the message of free love to the sinner comes forth, in greatest largeness, in undiminished fullness. It is no feeble, no fettered gospel—no dried-up well!
“For I testify unto every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book—If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book—and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”—Revelation 22:18, 19.
This warning in reference to the Book of Revelation is applicable to all Scripture, and carries us back to Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32. ‘You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish from it.’ It is given in the form of a testimony—from the faithful and true witness, to show its importance, and its truth. To everyone who hears that testimony the warning comes. How great the responsibility of those who have the Bible in their hands! How solemnly they should look on it, and listen to it, and handle it! In this testimony, then there is declared to us—
I. The perfection of God’s word. Man may not meddle with it—either to add, or to take away. He may meddle with his own words, or doings, or plans—to alter, to correct, to complete—but not with what is divine. The words and things of God are not for him to touch. They are perfect; perfect for the ends required; perfect for God’s purpose in speaking them to man. Can man improve the works of God? the mountains, rivers, flowers? the blue sky, the stars, the sun? Even so is the word of God too perfect for him to touch.
II. The honour God puts on it. He has magnified it, even above His works; so that he who disparages the word of God is more guilty than he who disparages the works of God. Whether we see its perfection is not the question. We may be blind to it; but whether blind or seeing, God expects honour at our hands for His word. It is the fullest expression of His mind, the completest revelation of His character. It is such a declaration of the name of God as can be found nowhere else.
III. Our responsibilities in regard to it. It is not given us for mere speculation or gratification; but for something far higher. We are responsible for the way we treat it, study it, profit by it. Its perfection makes our responsibility very great, and appeals to our consciences most powerfully. Were it not so perfect, we might deal with it as we deal with a human volume; were it not divine, we might forego the honour to it of which we speak. Hence the modern dislike to the idea of a perfect Bible; because the pressure upon the conscience is felt to be so solemn and so overpowering, with no possibility of evasion or escape. Definite Bible doctrine, the age hates, as trammelling its freedom—specially doctrine defined by a divine revelation.
IV. The sin of tampering with it. In regard to many of the things of God, the idea is, that while it is a misfortune to be in error, there is no sin in it. No sin in differing from God! No sin in trifling with His truth, or denying it! No sin in undervaluing His revelation! The sin of tampering with the Bible is one of which man is not easily persuaded; yet in the reckoning of God it is real and great. Every low thought about the Bible is sin. Every attempt to touch it, either in the way of addition or subtraction, is sin.
V. The danger of meddling with it. The danger is exceeding great; and the punishment awarded to the meddlers is the declaration of the danger. God will not be mocked in this!
There are two opposite ways in which men treat the Bible—to add or to take away; and both these our text condemns in the most fearful way.
(1.) The doom of those who ADD. ‘God shall add unto them the plagues written in this book.’ Those plagues are very fearful. Read the plagues of the seals, the trumpets, the vials. Are they not fearful? They are for this life, as well as for that which is to come. The very mention of them is appalling. Who in our day credits such things, or believes that God will execute such terrible vengeance upon all such as add to His word! The Pharisees added to it; the Romanists add to it; and we ourselves often add to it, by the way in which we enter on its perusal with unteachable hearts, with preconceived opinions, which would make the obvious meanings of the word give way before them. Let us tremble at the word! Add not unto His word, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar. God adds His plagues to the adders of His book!
(2.) The doom of those who TAKE AWAY from it. This is especially the sin of our age. We sit in judgment upon its verities; we tamper with its certainty; we trifle with its words. We take from it; we render it null and void; we deny its authority; we object to its inspiration; we cut off what books we please! But let us not be deceived. God is not mocked. He also can take away—and He will! He will take away—
(a.) Our part of the book of life—effacing our names, and inserting them in the book of death!
(b.) Our part in the holy city. No holy city, no new Jerusalem—for the deniers of His word!
(c.) Our part from the things written in this book. These are many—the promises to the seven conquerors, the first resurrection, the marriage supper! How much we lose!
What a condemnation is there for those who reject or mutilate the divine word!
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” —Revelation 22:21.
Thus the Bible closes with blessing. In this prayer we have the summing up of all the blessings which the word of God has uttered.
In the prospect of the Lord’s coming, and with His voice proclaiming, ‘Surely I come quickly!’ the apostle breathes out the prayer, ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.’
It was sent to the seven Churches of Asia—it is sent to us in these last days. Nor do we need it less. It suited well the Church in the beginning of her history—it suits her as well at its close. The love which passes knowledge is contained in it—and in that love all that a sinner needs at first, as well as all that a saint needs to the last.
Grace abounding, grace reigning, grace conquering, grace justifying, grace comforting, grace purifying—such is the key to the history of the Church of God. It is the history of Christ’s free love, and of ‘salvation to the uttermost,’ through that free love flowing down to earth. For everything pertaining to the sinner’s deliverance and eternal life comes down to us from God. Man is simply the receiver and the enjoyer of a love as boundless as it is unbought!
I. What is this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? Free love! Divine favour, unbought, unsolicited, and undeserved! With this the Bible begins, and with this it ends. The free love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! This is the ‘good news’ which the messengers of God have brought to us; the ‘good news’ which the cross of Christ has made available and accessible; the ‘good news’ which remains ‘good’ to the last, unchanged and unweakened by the lapse of time. The gospel has not become a dried-up well or broken cistern. The free love of God, coming to us through His Son, has not been exhausted or made less free. In these last days, we can take up the old message of grace to the sinner, and sound it abroad as loudly and as freshly as at the first:
no delight in the death of the wicked!
delight in his turning from his ways and living!
yearning over the impenitent,
tears for Jerusalem sinners,
stretching out of the hand to the rebellious,
invitation upon invitation to the weary;
the open door,
the universal call,
the beseeching to be reconciled,
All this, continued to the last, marks the unutterable compassion of God to the sinner, the riches of the divine grace, the boundless fullness of God’s heart, as it pours out its longings, and proclaims its long suffering to the chief of sinners.
Return to your Father’s house, and be blessed!
Come, and be forgiven!
Look, and be saved!
Touch, and be healed!
Ask, and it shall be given!
II. How this grace has been shown. In many ways, but chiefly in the Cross. The words of Christ were grace—the doings of Christ were grace—but at the cross it came forth most fully. Grace all concentrates there—grace shines out there in its fullness. The cross is the place and pledge of grace. The cross did not make or originate the grace; but it made it a righteous thing that grace should flow out to us. It threw wide the gates of the storehouse; it unsealed the heavenly well. From the cross comes forth the voice of love, the message of grace, the embassy of peace and reconciliation. This grace flows everywhere throughout a guilty earth; but its centre is the cross; and only in connection with the cross is it available for and accessible to us. The ‘it is finished’ of Golgotha was the throwing down of the barriers that stood between the sinner and the grace.
The grace itself was uncreated and eternal; it did not originate in the purpose—but in the nature of God. Still its outflow to sinners was hemmed in by God’s righteousness; and until this was satisfied at the cross, the grace was like forbidden fruit to man. Divine displeasure against sin, and divine love of holiness, found their complete satisfaction at the altar of the cross—where the ‘consuming fire’ devoured the great burnt-offering, and gave full vent to the pent-up stores of grace. The love of the Father, giving His Son, was there. The love of the Holy Spirit, by whom a body was prepared for Him, and by whom ‘He offered Himself without spot,’ was there. The cross is the great exhibition of the grace!
III. How we get this grace. Simply by taking it as it is, and as we are; by letting it flow into us; by believing God’s testimony concerning it. Grace supposes no preparation whatever in him who receives it, but that of worthlessness and guilt, whether these be felt or unfelt. The dryness of the ground is that which fits it for the rain; the poverty of the beggar is that which fits him for the alms; so the sin of the sinner is that which fits him for the grace of Christ. If anything else were needed, grace would be no more grace, but would become work or merit. Where sin abounds, there it is that grace much more abound. How many are shutting out the grace by trying to prepare themselves for it! Open your mouth wide and I will fill it, is all that God asks. Our thirst may be but the thirst for happiness; our hunger may be but the hunger of earth; our feelings may be altogether unspiritual; our sense of sin nothing—yet all this does not make us less qualified for Christ’s free love, or that free love less immediate or less bounteous in its flow. In the belief of God’s testimony to the grace of His Son, we let in the grace, and become partakers of the pardon and the joy.
IV. What grace does for us. It does so many things, that we find it not easy to reply to this question, any more than to such—What does the light do for us? What does the air do for us? It does for us exceeding abundantly, above all we ask or think.
(1.) It pardons—Forgiveness through the grace and work of Christ is the beginning of the good news. He who believes God’s record of the grace of Christ is forgiven.
(2.) It pacifies—It brings peace to the conscience. Not the grace without the blood—but still the grace that comes to us through the blood, pacifies.
(3.) It liberates—Dread of God’s anger kept us in bondage; the knowledge of the grace of Christ reaching us through the finished propitiation of the cross sets us free, by removing this dread.
(4.) It enlightens—With the grace there pours in light from Him who is the Light of the world. The grace dispels the darkness.
(5.) It strengthens—The sight of the free love brought to us by the blood invigorates the soul. Until we see it, our hands hang down, and our knees fail us.
(6.) It purifies—It is holy grace, holy love; and it carries its purifying power into the soul that receives it. The cross is the wondrous revelation of divine holiness—and the love which comes to us through the cross, is purifying love.
(7.) It comforts—Only such free love can sustain the soul in sorrow, or speak consolation, or bind up the wounds of the broken-hearted!
V. How long grace lasts. Forever! It has no end. Christ loves forever. His grace is unchangeable like Himself. Its fullness is inexhaustible. It will be a perpetual fountain throughout eternity. It does for the evil days here—and for the glorious days hereafter. It suits us on earth—it will suit us in the kingdom. There is grace that is to be brought to us, at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and in the ages to come God will show us the exceeding riches of His grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus our Lord!
Amen is a Hebrew word, signifying truth and certainty in the first place; and then our affirmation of something as a certainty, or our desire that it should be so. It comes also to signify faithfulness and steadfastness in a person, so that that person is himself regarded as truth personified—the truth, the Amen. Hence it is that Christ takes to Himself the designation of the Truth, and the Amen—the faithful and true Witness. Hence it is that He so often (eighty times at least) uses the word ‘amen’ or ‘truly’ in His discourses. As the True One and the Truth, He is the Amen. As the confirmer and fulfiller of all the promises of God; as the channel through which they flow down to us—He is the Amen—the truth.
Further, it has come to signify faith and confidence—specially faith and confidence in God. It is the word used in reference to Abraham, ‘He believed God,’ and to Israel, ‘They believed the Lord.’
But it is with the common use of it that we have now to do—that use of it which we make daily when we conclude even our shortest prayer. Amen; that is, so let it be; let it be according to our request, and according to Your promise. Used in this way, it means much. It is the summary or recapitulation of the whole previous prayer; and therefore it should be uttered in no light or heedless spirit, but with profound reverence and fervour; for it is ‘in testimony of our desire and assurance to be heard that we say Amen.’
There are, however, different ways of using it; different feelings with which it is uttered—and it is to these that we would now attend.
I. There is the Amen of IGNORANCE. Simple and common as the word is, thousands use it without knowing what it means, or what they themselves intend. We might say that not one out of a hundred uses it intelligently. It is the approved way of finishing off a prayer; it is the word which intimates that the prayer is concluded—that is all; and were it to be introduced at the beginning or middle, as well it might be, men would wonder. It is to them a word, no more; a concluding word or sound, where the voice ceases, and after which the eyes are opened, and the hands unclasped! This is the Amen of ignorance. Are your Amens of this kind? or are they uttered with the understanding—the full realization of the large and solemn meaning which they contain?
II. The Amen of HABIT. All are not ignorant of its significance. Ask many what they intend by affixing it to their prayers, and at once they will tell you. Yet mark them, and you will find the word slipping from their tongue without any corresponding thought as to its sense. They have uttered it quite unconsciously thousands of times. They would not terminate a prayer without it; yet it has become a mere word of habit, into which, when used, no feeling, no earnestness is thrown; a commonplace, random expression, with nothing of soul attached to it, like a well without water; a mechanical utterance, into which they have been educated, and without which they would think the prayer incomplete, but which means no more to them than the oscillations of a pendulum, and which has no more connection with genuine prayer than have the garments in which they are dressed, or the floor on which they kneel.
Are your Amens those of habit—pieces of ornament—the useless appendages of useless devotion—or is your soul thrown into them? Are they the essence of your previous petitions—the concentration and summing up of all your desires? Do you say Amen simply because you are done? or, like David, do you say ‘Amen and Amen; the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended;’ that is, summed up in this? How many Amens of habit have you uttered? Amens of indifference, that are not better than mockeries? No, and do not some of us, whose petitions are fervent throughout, make void all their earnestness by the lifeless, mechanical, heartless Amen with which we sum them up? Is not our Amen sometimes the dead fly that spoils the precious spikenard of the apothecary?
III. The Amen of UNBELIEF. It seems strange that a word like this should ever be uttered in unbelief; yet such is the case. No, sometimes it would seem as if the most unbelieving part of our prayer part of our prayer is that which should be the most believing—the Amen. We may well wonder how it should be so. It seems almost incredible that a word like this, meant to be associated with faithfulness, and truth, and certainty, should be connected with unbelief, more—should be the utterance of unbelief—the frequent, the daily utterance of unbelief; yet so it is. Our unbelieving Amens are about the most melancholy parts of our prayers—the worst indications of distrust in God. It is vain to speak of wandering thoughts, or to excuse our selves for such thoughts, by the number of the petitions. For here we have but one word, and in that one word our whole prayer is recapitulated and summed up; so that, if unbelief or vain thoughts had pervaded the previous parts, they might have been made up for, as one may say.
Yet that single word is the vainest of the vain words spoken; that word, in which faith seeks to infuse itself twice over into our prayer, is the word from which it is specially excluded. Oh what a reproach to us are our unbelieving Amens! What a mockery of God, and of His promises! The sin of these would be of itself sufficient to shut out our supplications. Yet how little we think of this! With what ease and carelessness do we pronounce that word of unbelief, which should have been the great and special word of faith!
IV. The Amen of FAITH. This is the true Amen; the Amen of souls who have heard the gracious words of Him who cannot lie, and who act upon these. Amen is the proper and natural voice of faith. Whether it is we who are speaking to God, or God who is speaking to us, we say Amen. In the one case it is the expression of faith, in the other the response of faith.
But why should Amen be thus linked with faith? Because that which calls it forth is not simply a desirable thing, but a truth and a certainty. Amen is not the mere utterance of desire—earnest desire—but of believing desire. Let us see how this is. It has to do with such things as the following—
(1.) The free LOVE of God. It is God’s testimony regarding His own free love that we listen to in the gospel; and our first belief of that gospel is our saying Amen to His declarations regarding that free love. And as we begin, so are we to go on. Each Amen goes back to this free love, to the beginning of our confidence, and is a renewal of that confidence. In every prayer we keep our eye on this; for without the recognition of this grace, this abundant grace, what would prayer be? Let all our Amens then do justice to the free love of God.
(2.) The TRUTHFULNESS of God. The faithful saying was that to which we first said Amen; for we had made the discovery that it was the true utterance of Him who cannot lie. We were satisfied that He could not speak an untrue word, nor promulgate a statement of fitted to mislead, nor hold out to us a promise which He did not mean to fulfil. Being thus persuaded of the divine truthfulness, we ‘believed the report;’ we said Amen to each gracious declaration, satisfied of its absolute truth and certainty. So did we at the first; so do we to the last. God is true—truthful, faithful; we will not make Him a liar in any one thing, in any of our communications with Him—least of all in our prayers. Let all our Amens do justice to the truthfulness of God.
(3.) The POWER of God. What He has promised He is able also to perform. He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly, above all we ask. Our prayers rest themselves as much upon His power as His grace and truth. On this we rested when we first came to Him as ‘able to save unto the uttermost;’ on this we rest still. Every prayer is a recognition of power, and of divine willingness to put forth that power in the behalf of all who will apply for it. It is infinite power—omnipotence. Let each Amen of ours do justice to the power of God.
In addition to these things, to which the faith of our Amens attaches itself, we would only further say that it specially leans upon the cross of Christ in connection with these three. It is round that cross that this faith flings its arms; it is here that it sits down in quiet satisfaction. It sees the grace, the truth, the power of God flowing to us through the blood of Golgotha; and it says Amen to all that God has testified concerning that blood; to the ‘it is finished’ of the Son of God upon the tree.
It is thus that the believing Amen of our prayers springs out of that which we know of God and His crucified Son. Knowing all this, shall our Amens be those of uncertainty or doubt? Shall they not be the Amens of faith? Shall we ever go to God mocking Him with distrustful Amen? Rather let each Amen be the utterance of triumphant faith; so that even though unbelief may have mingled with our previous petitions, we at the close dismiss all that unbelief, and, looking back upon each petition, quicken them into happy life by the believing Amen with which we conclude the whole.
V. The Amen of HOPE. God has written much to us concerning our hopes. He has filled our future with ‘things hoped for;’ and He has bidden us desire them, wait for them, pray for them. There is the hope of the kingdom, of the inheritance, of the glory; above all, there is ‘the blessed hope’ of the Lord’s appearing. These hopes occupy large space in our expectations and prayers. They are still futurities; but they are certainties—bright and blessed beyond what eye has seen or ear heard. In our pleadings regarding these, we use the Amen of hope; realizing it as a hope that makes not ashamed. We say, ‘Hallowed by Your name,’ and we add the Amen of hope; ‘Your kingdom come,’ and we add the Amen of hope; ‘Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,’ and we add the Amen of hope. We hear the Lord’s own voice from heaven saying, ‘Surely I come quickly,’ and we add with the apostle—Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen!
Are our Amens bright and big with hope? As we utter them on our knees before God, do thoughts of the glory fill us? Does that glory stand out before our eye as a certainty—a divinely revealed and divinely promised certainty—a certainty quite as great as that which rests over the past? Each time we utter the Amen in connection with these blessed futurities, does our hope kindle up anew—the hope calling up the Amen, and the Amen making the hope to shine out with fresh brightness? In anticipating such a future, how can we utter a cold, heartless, passive or despairing Amen? Let all our Amens be those of exulting hope!
VI. The Amen of JOY. There is joy set before us, even as before our Master; it is joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is joy springing both from the past and the future. It is the joy of conscious pardon; the joy of friendship with God; the joy of adoption and heir-ship; the joy of our whole new created being; the joy because of the blessedness in prospect. Past, present, and future—all furnish us with materials for joy. And in our thanksgivings for the past, we breathe out an Amen of joy; in our consciousness of present peace and heavenly favour, we repeat our Amen of joy; in our pleadings for larger blessing to ourselves and to our world, we say Amen with gladness; and in our pressing forward to the mark for the prize of our high calling, looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of God, we say Amen and Amen with ever-deepening joy of heart.
How gladly should that word ‘Amen!’ come forth form our lips! Should it ever have a sorrowful sound? It seems so full of comfort and exultation, that one wonders how we can ever utter it with a sorrowful heart. There is no shade upon the objects in regard to which we utter the Amen; should it not then be a word of joy at all times?
Are our Amens such? Do they speak of joy? Do they arise out of joy? Do they cherish and augment the joy? Is the word sweet to us because of the joy which it contains and utters? Many a poor, gloomy Amen have we spoken, belying our profession, and misusing the word. Let us be done with these.
Let our Amens be songs—songs gushing up from the fullness of happy souls!