Revelation 4:11 Glory to the Glorious One
Revelation 5:6 The Weakness and the Power of Christ
Revelation 6:10 How Long?
Revelation 6:10,11 The Recompense of Martyrdom
Revelation 7:1-3 Pent-Up Judgment
Revelation 7:9,10 The Great Multitude
Revelation 7:13 The Earthly and the Heavenly
Revelation 8:3-5 The All-Fragrant Incense
Revelation 11:8 The Cross Of The Lord Jesus
“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory.”—Revelation 4:11.
“In His temple, every one speaks of His glory.”—Psalm 29:9.
The above verse of the 29th Psalm is more exactly rendered in the margin, ‘In His temple, every whit of it utters glory.’ The incense fills the house, and comes forth from it breathing glory. The volume of sound fills the temple in every part, and pours itself from every stone and timber; from floor to roof in every part, proclaiming glory. Such was the praise of Israel according to the flesh, in the temple; such is the praise of Jehovah in the heavenly city and temple, ascending everywhere. ‘The glory of the Lord fills the house.’
(1) The THEME of the praise. It is ‘glory.’ All that is excellent and perfect in Him is the theme of the song that is sung. Glory is the fully developed, or unfolded excellency, of a thing. The flower is the glory of a plant—the fruit is the glory of the vine or olive. It is the excellency of Jehovah which is the theme of praise in His temple; especially the glory of Messiah, for He is the Jehovah of the Psalm, the God of Israel. The heavens tell His glory, and earth is full of it. All creation speaks of it—sea and land, man and beast. But His temple is the special place which this glory fills, and from which its praise issues forth.
(2) The PLACE of the praise. His temple—the place which He built for His worship; where His altar smokes, and His incense arises, and His sacrifices are offered up, and His priests minister—that is the place of the great self-revelation and of the proclamation of His glory; the glory of His greatness, and righteousness—specially of His grace, for when Moses asked to see His glory, He proclaimed Himself as the Lord God, merciful and gracious.
(3) The THINGS that praise. ‘Each one,’ or ‘everything,’ or ‘every whit of it.’ There is no vacant spot; no idle voice; nothing mute. All is vocal with His praise. Everything utters ‘glory.’ Every echo is ‘glory.’ Without and within—each pillar, each vessel, each chamber, each altar, each priest, each sacrifice—all and each utter the same sound, ‘glory’! Glory to the righteous One! glory to Messiah, King and Priest, Lord of heaven and earth! His name is as ointment poured forth—His excellency is the theme of every song.
In connection with the words of David, we take up the words of John, ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory.’ Yes! Jesus, Messiah, the Lamb who was slain, the King on the throne, Creator of the universe, Head of all things—is worthy to receive the glory! And why?
I. Because of His PERSON. As having in Himself all the perfections of the Creator and of the creature—as very God and very man—the Word made flesh—He is ‘worthy to receive glory’. Godhead and manhood, united in one wondrous person, make Him infinitely glorious. Through Him new glory comes to the whole Godhead. He is the Revealer of the Father. His glory thus overflows, and fills both heaven and earth—more, the whole universe!
II. Because of His WORK. The excellency of His atoning sacrifice is infinite. It is excellent—
(1) in itself;
(2) in its revelation of divine wisdom;
(3) in its manifestation of divine love;
(4) in its reconciliation of grace with righteousness;
(5) in its everlasting results.
Because of such a work it is said, ‘You are worthy to receive glory.’
III. Because of His LIFE on earth. His whole earthly life was marvellous. There has been nothing like it, neither shall be. It was absolute perfection in every part—the perfection of a human life; the life of a son of Adam; a life upon a fallen earth, assailed by Satan, amid evils, and enemies, and weaknesses, and sorrows; the perfection of infancy, of childhood, of boyhood, of manhood; perfection in the whole round of that which we call the life of man; perfection, not only as measured by man, but as estimated by God— ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’
Because of this life, it is said, ‘you are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory.’
IV. Because of the REDEMPTION of His Church. His people sing, ‘You have redeemed us;’ and in the various parts of this redemption, from the eternal purpose to the glorious completion, there is such excellency, such an exhibition of power, and wisdom, and love, that because of this (not simply because of the result, but of the wondrous process) we look up and say, ‘You are worthy to receive glory.’ He said, ‘I have glorified You on the earth—I have finished the work which You have given me to do; and He who glorified the Father on earth has been glorified by the Father in heaven. ‘Father, glorify me,’ was His prayer; and it has been fully answered. The Son of man, as the Redeemer of His Church, has been exalted to the glory, and has received the name which is above every name. As the Creator of all things, He is worthy of the glory—still more, as the Redeemer of His Church.
V. Because of what He is now in heaven. He has triumphed over His enemies; He has abolished death; He has emptied the grave; He has risen; He has ascended on high; He ever lives to intercede; He has received the crown of heaven; He is the head of principalities and powers; He sits on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. Thus enthroned and crowned, mediating and interceding, He receives the homage of heaven, ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory!’
VI. Because of what He is to be and to do when he comes again. His excellency, though perfect, cannot be said to be completed. It is always on the increase, as new rays of splendour issue from Him. At His second coming, He appears as King of kings; the renewer of creation; the restorer of Israel; the binder of Satan; the executor of the Father’s righteous vengeance on a guilty earth. He comes as Judge, as Deliverer, as the second Adam—as not only the King of Israel, but the King of earth. Then shall be the fullest manifestation of Godhead, according to the eternal purpose of divine self-manifestation. Well may this song be sung—’You are worthy to receive glory.’
(1) Let us appreciate His excellency! Taking God’s testimony of Him, and God’s estimate of His glorious worth, let us prize Him as He deserves to be prized. ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!’
(2) Let us thoroughly trust and love Him! He merits all our trust and love. Let us do justice to His love—and love Him in return.
(3) Let us make use of His fullness! It contains all we need, and it is always accessible—a well of heavenly water—a storehouse of inexhaustible provisions—a treasury of infinite wealth.
(4) Let us bow before Him! Every knee is yet to bow. Let us bow before Him and worship Him now on earth, as we shall hereafter in heaven.
(5) Let us sing the song of praise! When we get a glimpse of Him now, we praise Him; when we shall see Him as He is hereafter, we will praise Him more, and sing the song of the redeemed, ‘You are worthy to receive glory!’
“A Lamb as it has been slain.”—Revelation 5:6.
“Put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”—1 Peter 3:18.
“He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power.”—2 Corinthians 13:3-4.
Mark the CONTRASTS given us in these three passages.
—the Lamb slain and the Lion of the tribe of Judah;
—death and life;
—the flesh and the spirit;
—crucifixion and resurrection;
—weakness and power.
These words, which read almost as if the one contradicted the other, bring us to the cross of Christ, show His empty tomb, and proclaim a risen Lord, to whom all power is given. The third passage is more detailed and explicit than the first; let us take our outline from it, keeping, however, the others before us. This third passage affirms also our connection both with the weakness and power of Christ—with His death and life. We are one with Him in death and life; we have fellowship with Him both in His weakness and strength. As He lives again by the power of God, so do we. As He was put to death in the flesh, so are we. As He was quickened by the Spirit, so are we.
There are two declarations here made concerning Christ—the one negative, the other positive; the first as to His non-weakness, the second as to His power.
I. His non-weakness. He is not weak in Himself, says the apostle; nor is He weak toward you. He is Judah’s Lion, though for a season He does not act as such. Yet there are many things which look like weakness in His person and history, and in His Church’s history.
(1) He entered our world an INFANT. Helpless as the most helpless of the sons of men. He was scarce born when He had to flee from danger. His life was feebleness—He was persecuted, and had to hide Himself at times. He was taken prisoner, bound, tried, condemned, by a Roman judge. Was all this not weakness? From infancy He is the Lamb.
(2) He was CRUCIFIED. This is the event which the apostle takes hold of, conceding it as a proof of weakness. He was crucified through weakness. Every part of that awful event betokens weakness—His submitting to an unjust sentence—His allowing Himself to be scourged, bound, buffeted—then nailed to the tree—then crucified. All was weakness—weakness just like that of the thieves at His side. He is the Lamb slain.
(3) His DEPARTURE from earth. True, He rose. But after His resurrection there was no forth putting of power; and He left this earth without avenging Himself on His enemies—as if unable to do anything against them—as if they had prevailed against Him, and succeeded in banishing Him.
(4) The CHURCH’S history since He left. He left, saying, ‘All power is given to me.’ ‘Lo, I am with you always.’ But the story of the Church since then has been one of weakness, not of power. A bare existence is all that she has had, amid persecution and mockery; divisions, backslidings, inconsistencies within, hatred and hostility without; no progress in the earth; gaining a little in one place, losing it in another; her members, like the conies, a feeble folk, making their nest in the rock; made up of smoking flax and bruised reeds. ‘Harmless as doves,’ is the Master’s picture of His disciples. Does not this look like weakness in her Head?
(5) The WORLD’S history since He left. Earthly power and glory have increased—empires of idolatry have risen. Paganism, Popery, Mohammedanism divide the world between them. The name of Christ is not a name of power among the nations—it takes no place in commerce, or politics, or war, or art. The world honours not, obeys not, the Son of God. It is in rebellion against Him; and this rebellion has lasted centuries, and is not yet put down. Is this weakness, or is it not?
(6) The progress of ERROR and EVIL since He left. Evil has not diminished; the human heart has not improved; sin has not been dried up; evil men and seducers wax worse and worse; and the last days are the worst. Errors multiply; infidelity is leavening society, and working its way into the Church of God. The Bible is assailed; the gospel is denied; the cross is ridiculed; the blood is repudiated; the authority of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King—is disowned. Satan, too, still works; death still triumphs; pain and disease are still at large—working woe and havoc in God’s creation. Does not this look like weakness? Does it seem as if evil had gotten the upper hand entirely?
Yet, in spite of all these strange phenomena in Christ’s own history and that of His Church, the apostle declares, ‘He is not weak;’ He is not weak in Himself; He is not weak to us. Whatever may be the cause of these anomalies, it is not weakness, and never has been so. The weakness is only in appearance—and even that appearance is but temporary.
II. His POWER. He is mighty—mighty not only toward you, but in you; mighty in the midst of you; mighty in your hearts. Apparent weakness—but real and true power. This is the wonder; and in this wonder there are contained other wonders—wonders of wisdom, love, and long-suffering; wonders which could not have been exhibited in any way but this; this marvellous adjustment of forces, moral and physical; this holding of His own for ages against the augmenting power of creature-evil and creature hostility; this meeting each fresh development of evil by wondrous contrivances of His own—all of them moral and spiritual, not miraculous or forcible; keeping the vast hostile forces of earth and hell in check by invisible influence; saying, yet not audibly, to the tides and billows of the stormy deep, thus far, but no farther; reserving the great physical demonstration of His power until the day when He comes to take vengeance on His enemies.
Yes, says the apostle—He is mighty. Whatever appearances may say; whatever we might be tempted to infer from the power of the world and the weakness of the church; from the prevalence of evil and the scantiness of good; from the depression of His friends, and the elevation of His enemies—He is mighty—mighty in Himself, and in all things pertaining to Him. His word is mighty; His gospel is mighty; His purposes are mighty; the arm with which He wields the world’s sceptre, and holds Satan’s bridle, is mighty. He is mighty over the world, and in the world; mighty over the church and in the church, and in behalf of the church; so mighty, that no weapon forged against her, or against one saint, shall prosper; so mighty, that she is entirely safe—secure in the midst of danger, and wiles, and power. All His strength is ours; it belongs to the Church; it belongs also to each member of His body. We are strong in the Lord.
The weakness of the Lamb slain belongs to the Church; yet also the strength of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. She can do all things through Christ, who strengthens her. She lives by the power of God. The source of her strength is above, and the preservation of her heavenly strength is connected with the preservation of her Nazarite locks. When these, the pledges and marks of her consecration, are shorn, she becomes weak like other men.
Our strength is not in numbers, nor wealth, nor political influence, nor human learning, but in Him who was crucified through weakness. He is both the wisdom and the power of God. The arm of flesh has always been a broken reed for the Church of God. It is in the power of a risen and glorified Christ—in the power of the Holy Spirit—that she is strong. It is only in this power that she can be holy, or work for God, or fight His battles, or war with Satan, or confront the gathering hosts of evil, or contend with error, or win the everlasting victory!
“And they cried with a loud voice, saying—How long, O Lord, holy and true, do You not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”—Revelation 6:10.
The words ‘How long?’ occur frequently in Scripture, and are spoken in various ways—
(1) As from man to man;
(2) as from man to God;
(3) as from God to man.
I. The passages in which the words are between man and man may be briefly noticed. They are such as, Job 8:2, ‘How long will you speak these words?’ Job 19:2, ‘How long will you vex my soul?’ Psalm 4:2, ‘How long will you turn my glory to shame?’ They are the complaint of the troubled against his troublers, and of the righteous against the wicked. Strange interchange of words between man and man! But we do not dwell on this. We come to the other two, in their order.
II. The words as from man to God. Looking up to God, man breathes the deep-drawn sigh, ‘How long?’ Let me note the chief passages—Psalm 6:3, ‘My soul is sore vexed—but You, O Lord, how long?’ Psalm 13:1, ‘How long will You forget me, and hide Your face? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, and sorrow in my heart? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?’ Psalm 35:17, ‘How long will you look on?’ Psalm 64:10, ‘How long shall the adversary reproach?’ Psalm 79:5, ‘How long will You be angry?’ Psalm 89:46, ‘How long will You hide Yourself?’ Psalm 90:13, ‘Return, O Lord, how long?’ Psalm 94:3-4, ‘How long shall the wicked triumph?’ Habakkuk 1:2, ‘How long shall I cry?’ Revelation 6:10, ‘How long, O Lord, do You not judge and avenge our blood?’ These are the chief passages in which the expression occurs. Instead of dwelling on each of these in succession, let me thus sum up and classify their different meanings. It is the language of—
(1) Complaint. It is not murmuring or fretting—yet it is what the Psalmist calls ‘complaining.’ The righteous man feels the burden and the sorrow and the evil that have so long prevailed in this present evil world, and he cries, “How long?” Have these not lasted long enough? Would that they were done! In this complaint there is weariness, and sometimes there is sadness—almost despair—when unbelief gets the upper hand. Creation groans. Iniquity overflows. Death reigns. The wicked triumph. God seems to forget the earth and to hide His face. The saint ‘ groans within himself, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body.’ ‘Woe is me,’ he says ‘that I dwell in Mesech!’ Yes, we that yet are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened. We daily cry, ‘How long?’ We are oppressed, and oftentimes cast down. We are not desponding—yet we cannot laugh with the world.
(2) Submission. While impatience sometimes rises, yet the cry does not mean this. It is really a cry of submission to a wise and sovereign God. It is the cry of one putting all events, as well as all times and seasons, into His hands, as Jesus did in Gethsemane. When we pray for deliverance, or plead for the Lord’s coming, we do not mean to be impatient—but simply to utter our weariness—to unbosom ourselves to a gracious God. While we say—How long? We say also—Not my will, but Yours be done. We utter our own conscious helplessness, and put all into the hands of God.
(3) Inquiry. In all the passages there is an implied question. It is not merely—Oh that the time would come! But—When shall it come? We may not ‘know the time how long,’ but we ask earnestly, with the prophet—How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? We are warranted in asking, for God has given the prophetic word, that our inquiries may be stimulated and directed. The disciples inquired, and Christ answered fully (Matthew 24:3,4).
(4) Expectation. It is the voice of faith, and hope, and longing desire. The present is dark, the future is bright. God’s word is sure concerning the coming glory; and so we, looking for and hastening to that glory, and depressed with the evil here, cry out day by day, ‘How long?’ When will the day dawn? When will the kingdom come? When will the glory break forth? Faith hears the voice of the Beloved, and says, ‘Make haste;’ it hears His ‘Behold, I come quickly!’ and it says, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’ We ‘look for and hasten (unto) the coming of the day of God’ (2 Peter 3:12).
III. The words as from God to man. I note the following instances—Exodus 10:3, 16:28, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself?’ Joshua 18:3, ‘How long will you be slack to go in the possess the land?’ 1 Kings 18:21, ‘How long halt you between two opinions?’ Psalm 82:2, ‘How long will you judge unjustly?’ Proverbs 1:22, 6:9, ‘How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity?’ Jeremiah 4:14, ‘O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be heard—how long shall your vain thoughts lodge within you?’
Taking up these words of God as spoken to different classes, we would dwell on the following points—
1. Long-suffering. Jeremiah’s words to Jerusalem are the words of a patient God, ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ He is the infinitely patient God, as such most unwilling to smite. He speaks in pity to the sinner, ‘how long will you not be saved?’—like Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.
2. Admonition. How long halt you between two opinions? How long shall you be of deciding? How long of trusting me? How long will you treat me as a false God, and do injustice to my grace?
3. Entreaty. How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? God beseeches man. He entreats him to give up his sin—to come and be saved. How long will you refuse my love?
4. Earnestness. God’s words are all sincere. They are not the language of duplicity or pretense. He means what He says, and He says what He means. ‘You will not come to me!’ ‘How often would I have gathered your children!’ ‘O that you had known!’
5. Sorrow. It is not at random that God says, ‘How long?’ His are not mere words of course. ‘It grieves Him at His heart.’ Every moment’s continuance in unbelief is vexing and grieving the Spirit.
6. Upbraiding. As He upbraided Israel with being slack to go in and possess the land, so He upbraids us. There is the land, the kingdom, why do you not go in? The door is open—the way is clear.
7. Warning. As He warned the judges and princes in Israel, so does He warn us. How long will you deal unjustly? He said to them. How long will you persist in your unrighteousness and unbelief? He says to us. The day of grace is ending. The day of wrath is coming. Be warned. Flee from the wrath to come!
They called loudly to the Lord and said, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge the people who belong to this world for what they have done to us? When will you avenge our blood against these people?” Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of the servants of Jesus had been martyred.—Revelation 6:10,11.
The chief symbols in this chapter are horses—expressing the external, visible human (or earthly) agencies employed in the scenes and events predicted. Here it is not angelic forces that are at work, but human. In like manner, it is not angels who open the seals, but the Lamb. Angels blow the trumpets, and pour out the vials; but everything relating to the seals belongs directly to the Lamb—the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This chapter, then, is peculiarly connected with Him; it begins with His opening of the seals, and it ends with His infliction of wrath. The Son of God has much to do with earth and its nations, even though seated at the Father’s right hand.
‘His eyes behold the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves’ (Psalm 66:7). He is Judge and King of earth; the holder of the golden sceptre, and the wielder of the iron rod.
We speak of ‘Providence’ when we should speak of Christ. As He walks among the seven golden candlesticks, so does He go to and fro among the thrones of earth; for the kings of the earth are as responsible to Him for service in their appointed spheres as are the ministers of the churches. Because this is the day of the fourth Gentile empire, the dispensation of election and of the Church’s pilgrim state, therefore some strangely conclude that the responsibility of kings and nations to serve the Son of God does not exist! As if, because Scripture foretells the persecution of the Church, therefore kings do not sin in persecuting her, but rather fulfil God’s will! As if, because the church’s state in this dispensation is that of being trodden down, therefore it is the duty and vocation of earthly rulers to tread her down!
‘We will not have this man to reign over us’ is the wild shout of earth’s nations and kings; for they know that He claims supremacy, and that supremacy they hate. Christ’s supremacy in the State is as true and real a thing as His supremacy in the Church. The full development of that supremacy over kingdoms man resents and resists; and many Christians seem to think it a carnal doctrine, unworthy of men who believe in the church’s heavenly calling. Yet is the full development of that supremacy that is to make earth a holy, peaceful, glorious kingdom; and it is for that development that we pray, ‘Your kingdom come.’
This, no doubt, is the day of the Church’s tribulation and persecution. Hence we find in our text reference to the martyrs—their death and testimony. But in their death they testify to Christ as Prince of the kings of the earth, the avenger of their blood upon those rulers that had slain them. Their ‘souls’—even when separate from the body—are seen under the altar, as if all gathered there, as one by one they passed from the fire, or the sword, or the torture. The place of ‘martyr gathering’, is the altar of God. The place of ashes and of blood, is the place where they lay.
I. The martyr cry. It is the widow’s cry, ‘Avenge me of my adversary.’ It is the cry which we so often find in the Old Testament (especially the Psalms), and because of which some Christians have harshly concluded that the old saints were much more imperfect than we, and had a lower standard of morality and spirituality; forgetful that the Psalms objected to, are the words of the Son of God Himself; forgetful also of such a passage as that of our text, containing the feeling, not only of New Testament saints, but of the ‘spirits of the just made perfect.’ The arguments used by some in arguing against ‘the revengefulness of the Old Testament saints,’ are such as would, if true, condemn the verdict of the Judge, ‘Depart, you cursed ones,’ and make the doctrine of future punishments inconsistent with Christianity—a relic of patriarchal barbarism or Jewish bloodthirstiness.
They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” This has been that long and bitter cry of the ages—not loud, indeed, but deep; the cry of the injured; the cry, not of mere personal feeling, but of righteousness trampled on, and all holy government subverted by the slaughter of the saints. It may seem ‘narrow,’ or worse than ‘narrow’—it may be called ‘bigotry,’ or worse than bigotry—to sympathize with such sentiments; but there the words stand. Let modern sentimentalists tell us what they mean, or else boldly proclaim them false and cruel. The day is at hand when such sentimentalism shall be valued at what it is worth, and the great truths of a righteous law, and a righteous sceptre, and a righteous Judge, and a righteous recompense, shall be acknowledged as at once the basis and the cornerstone of a happy universe.
II. The martyr honour. ‘White robes were given them.’ Each of these martyrs, as they passed from the persecution of earth, entered the holy presence with the cry, ‘How long?’ and as the immediate answer to this, and the pledge of yet brighter things, white robes were given. White robes—the pledge of triumph and splendour—the pledge of eternal joy and song—the pledge of the festal and bridal day. What a contrast to the poverty of their clothing here, as they came out of prison—to the bloodstains and filth upon their earthly apparel! White robes! This is God’s immediate response to the beloved and honoured band. They cry, ‘How long?’ and He speaks to His angels, saying, ‘Bring forth the best robe and put it on them.’ Such is the martyr honour and blessedness even now!
III. The martyr REST. They get immediate rest as well as honour. The apostle Paul says, ‘And God will provide rest for you who are being persecuted.’ (2 Thessalonians 1:7). The fullness of the rest, (Hebrews 4:9) is in reserve for the Lord’s revelation from heaven; but rest, meanwhile, is theirs. Rest, how sweet after the torture and toil of earth! It may be that there is peculiar rest for the martyr band; and yet there is rest for all who are the Lord’s, even though they may not have passed to it through the flames. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth—Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them’ (Revelation 14:13). They sleep in Jesus; not the sleep of unconsciousness or death, but the sleep of blessedness—the ‘sleep of the beloved’—the ‘rest’ of paradise—with Him who has ‘rested’ from His toils and sufferings, and who bids them come and share His rest.
IV. The martyr HOPE. It is not expressly mentioned here. It is something which shall be given when the whole band is gathered—the whole martyr-band from the beginning. The seven epistles reveal that hope; and the three closing chapters of this book unfold it more fully. It is the hope of the first resurrection; of reigning with Christ; of entry into the celestial city; of the crown of life; of the inheritance of all things!
Prospects like these sustain, and comfort, and purify. We are to look into the future, that we may realize the details of this hope, as God has made them known. We may not be called to martyrdom; but we are all called to labour and suffering, to self-denial and self-sacrifice. The bright future of the Church, both between death and resurrection and after resurrection, throughout the everlasting ages, is meant to impact upon us here. With such a future, can we be worldly, or pleasure loving, or self-pleasing? Shall we live here—unworthy of our hope, unworthy of our place hereafter in the kingdom? Shall we turn aside from the path which the Master trod? Or shall we shrink from the crown of thorns—even if there were to be no crown of glory? Shall not the love of Christ constrain us to serve, at whatever cost, Him who bought us with His blood, and who has bought for us such a glory as that which shall so soon be ours?
After these things, I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.”—Revelation 7:1-3.
The scenes in the sixth chapter are scenes of judgment, ending with the great day of the wrath of the Lamb—no interval of blessedness between—no millennium before the great and dreadful day. The seventh chapter is in vision after the sixth, but not necessarily in fulfilment; for both in the Old Testament and New we find a vision running on to the Advent, and then the next coming back and going over the same period for another purpose—so that ‘after these things’ refers generally to the sequence of the vision, not of the fulfilment.
The seventh chapter, then, does not take up the events at the close of the sixth. ‘After these things’ refers simply to the order of vision, not of execution; that execution or fulfilment may go back over the whole events of the previous chapter. Without, however, attempting to determine this more minutely, we take the seventh chapter as describing a time (1) of pent-up judgment; (2) of sealing; (3) of ingathering.
I. Pent-up judgment. Righteousness produces judgment, and grace restrains it. Grace does not nullify or cancel judgment—it simply suspends it. The history of our earth is one of suspended judgment. In the case of every sin, righteousness calls for a sentence against it, and for the execution of that sentence. The sinner who accepts the Substitute obtains complete and immediate remission, by the transference of his guilt and sentence to the Sin-bearer. He who refuses the Substitute braves the sentence, and takes his risk of the vengeance. In his case the sentence is not immediately executed; the wrath is treasured up; the judgment is pent up; the cup is allowed to overflow. But sooner or later the vengeance comes. It may be long pent up, but it comes at last. Of this judgment, we may say that it is—
(1) SLOW. When it comes, it comes swiftly. But meanwhile it is slow of foot—not rash, nor precipitate. This slowness often deludes the sinner.
(2) SILENT. It makes no sign. The fermenting elements are noiseless. There are often no thunderclouds, but a calm, blue sky.
(3) SURE. It will not miss its mark, nor mistake its victim, nor forget its time. Its slowness and silence contribute to its certainty.
(4) TERRIBLE. The blow, when it comes, is overwhelming. The pent-up torrent, when it breaks its barrier, carries all before it. The lightning comes noiselessly—and irresistibly. So God’s vengeance is infinitely dreadful. Who can stand before it?
The pent-up judgment for the earth, or for a kingdom, is like the above. The storm gathers, but the four angels hold it in, until it can be restrained no longer. Frequently it tries to break out, but is restrained by the ‘four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth.’ We hear of wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes in different places. These are the judgments breaking through their barriers, and then forced back again. The storm is pent up. It gets a little vent, as if one of the four angels had for a moment lost his hold; and then it is restrained, for the time is not yet come. We are living in a day of pent-up judgment—the fire ready to descend, the storm ready to burst forth. How solemn to all! How startling to the sinner! How rousing to the saint! The end of all things is at hand—be therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.
II. The sealing. In the chapter before us it is a Jewish multitude that is specially named as sealed; but as in verse three it is the ‘servants of God’ that are said to be sealed, we may infer that by that expression both Gentile and Jew are meant. The sealing seems (as in Ezekiel 4) to intimate exemption from the earthly judgments of a particular time. I do not dwell on this further than to point out God’s care for His own in days of trouble—as in Noah’s days, in Lot’s days, in Ezekiel’s days, in the time of Jerusalem’s great siege. I would remind you of the 91st Psalm also, which is specially written for evil days. It is true that in general the good as well as the evil suffer in times of pestilence, or war, or trial; but still it will be found that there is often-times alleviation (sometimes an exemption) of the believers from the evils of the evil day.
In all cases and times, God’s care for His own is abundantly manifest. He covers them with His feathers, and under His wings He bids them hide. He is their shield and butler. As He protected Israel in the day of the slaughter of Egypt’s first-born, so does He still. In that day the blood was His seal set on Israel; and other such seals He has for every evil day. He sends His angels to seal His servants, that the evil may not come near them. Why are you so fearful, O you of little faith? Trust in the Lord forever. Sealed and safe! Is not this blessedness—whatever may be coming on the earth?
III. The ingathering. It is not simply for temporal protection that God stays His judgments—but for salvation. A time of pent-up judgment is a time of ‘ingathering’. A time of judgment may also be so—but a time of ‘suspended judgment’ still more so. For at such a time God is in earnest—in earnest in His grace, in earnest in His righteousness. He is not slumbering nor sleeping. He is urging us to repent, saying, O that they would hearken to my commandments! Turn! Turn! Why will you die? He is yearning over us with his ‘How shall I give you up?’ He is weeping over us with His ‘O that you had known!’ His patience is salvation—and His patience is eternal life. He pities to the last. Fury is not in Him. Judgment is his ‘strange’ work.
At such a time the gospel comes with peculiar power. When we tell men that they are living under a fiery cloud of ‘suspended wrath’; when we cry aloud to them of coming doom and ‘stored-up vengeance’—we are approaching them with the strongest motive of fear. And when we tell them of infinite love, of divine long-suffering, of the patience and forbearance of that God who wills not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, we approach them with the strongest argument that can win a human heart. We entreat them to flee from the wrath to come. We point them to the cross, and ask them to look and be healed. We beseech them, in Christ’s stead, to be reconciled to God; for now is the accepted time—the day of vengeance is at hand!
“After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number—of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues—stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. They cried with a loud voice, saying—Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!”—Revelation 7:9-10.
The vision of pent-up judgment begins this chapter—then the sealing and the ingathering. Our text is the result of the ingathering, as seen in heaven. The process of taking out this people, this election, from Jew and Gentile, may be almost invisible, attended also with labour, and grief, and persecution; but the result is glorious—visible in heaven! The sower has been doing his work in weeping, but the sheaves are plenteous, and the harvest one of everlasting joy. Let us look at this heavenly vision.
I. The NUMBERS. ‘A great multitude which no man could number.’ The 3,000 at Pentecost were a large number, but this is greater. The hundreds and thousands, both in Judea and throughout the Gentile world, at Corinth, Rome, Ephesus, Philippi, and other places, were specimens of the great ingathering—but here we have the aggregate, the summing up of all. Like Israel, they cannot be numbered for multitude. They are like the stars of heaven, or the sand which is by the sea-shore. The ‘little flock’ shall have multiplied into the innumerable company—and the few drops shall become the mighty ocean. What a difference between the then, and the now!
II. The NATIONALITIES. This is not the harvest of Israel, but of the world. The word has gone out from Jerusalem into all the earth. All nations hear the gospel, and some out of each of them obey it, and turn to the Lord. Every people furnishes its quota to this great assembly; every tribe has its representatives here; every region, every colour, every language, every kingdom, every people, every age and century. It is the general assembly and Church of the First-born. How various the company in face, in speech, in manners, in dress, in habitation! Here all nationalities meet in one great heavenly nationality—without jealousy or distrust—all one in Him who redeemed them by His blood! Now it is seen that God has made of one blood all nations of the earth, and that under the shadow of the one great Sacrifice all these find shelter—sinners, yet pardoned—lost, but saved—vile, but washed white in the blood of the Lamb!
III. The POSTURE. ‘Standing before the throne, and before the Lamb.’ ‘He who sits on the throne’ and ‘the Lamb’ are distinguished the one from the other. This mighty multitude stands before both. They ‘stand.’ It is the posture of triumph and honour; ‘having done all, they stand’ (Ephesians 6:13). Not bowed down, nor kneeling, nor prostrate—the erect posture indicates the high position to which they have been brought; and especially is this honour apparent when we see them standing ‘before the throne, and before the Lamb;’ in the very presence of the eternal King! To stand before the throne is, next to sitting on it, the highest elevation. Both the sitting and the standing are connected with glory; and it would seem as if these ‘redeemed’ ones sometimes occupied the throne, and sometimes stood before it. Their shame and distance are at an end—glory and nearness are now their portion forever. They stand before the King, and not before base men.
IV. The CLOTHING. They are ‘clothed with white robes.’ Christ’s transfiguration-clothing was white, shining as the sun—so is theirs! They are like Him in this, as in all else. Their old earthly garments are gone; they have received the glorious clothing which assimilates them outwardly (as they are already inwardly) to their Lord. ‘My beloved is white and ruddy’ (Song 5:10).
(1) It is the clothing of heaven. Not only is it Christ’s robe, but it is that of angels. When they come down to earth, they appear in white, shining garments (Mark 16:5; John 20:12; Acts 1:12); even the seven angels of vengeance are clothed in ‘pure and white linen’ (15:6). When Christ appears to John, His ‘head and hair are white like wool, as white as snow’ (Revelation 1:14). The ‘stone’ is white (Revelation 2:17); the horses are white (19:14); the cloud is white (14:14); the throne is white (20:2). Whiteness, as the combination of all that is beautiful and perfect in colour, is the hue of heaven, and with this the redeemed are invested—’clothed with white robes.’
(2) It is the clothing of purity and perfection. It is the fitting clothing of those who are ‘blameless’ (Philippians 2:15); ‘faultless’ (Jude 24); ‘unblameable and unreproveable’ (Colossians 1:22); ‘without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing’ (Ephesians 5:27). No other hue could express the perfect purity of the redeemed. The false Church—the ‘mother of harlots,’ has her scarlet, and purple, and gold, and gems (Revelation 17:4). But the true and pure Church has her ‘fine linen, clean and white’ (Revelation 19:8, 14). ‘There is no spot in you!’ (Song 4:7).
(3) It is the clothing of triumph. It is given to him who overcomes (Revelation 3:5). Purple might be the robe of the Roman victor, but Christ’s victorious warriors are arrayed in white (Revelation 19:14)—as their Captain goes forth on the white horse, ‘conquering and to conquer’ (Revelation 6:2).
(4) It is the bridal dress. ‘White’ is the invariable colour used both by the bride and the bridesmaids. So we find it at the marriage of the Lamb. The clothing of the bride is white—at her marriage she wears the robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. Her dress is connected with the cross. She knows what it is to be ‘justified by His blood’ (Romans 5:9).
(5) It is the festal dress. At the marriage-supper this is the clothing provided—the bride sits down at the table in the King’s pavilion ‘arrayed in fine linen, clean and white’ (Revelation 19:8). How glad that marriage-day and marriage-feast! How glorious the Bridegroom and the bride!
V. The BADGE. They had ‘palms in their hands.’ The palm is the symbol of gladness and of victory. Here it is specially used in reference to the feast of tabernacles, the gladdest of all Israel’s festivals (Leviticus 23:40). The true feast of the tabernacles, the memorial of our desert sojourn and earthly pilgrimage ended forever, the believers shall celebrate in the New Jerusalem. Their heavenly palms carried in their glorified hands shall have a meaning then and there unknown before. The days of their mourning shall be ended—their everlasting joy begun!
VI. The SHOUT. They ‘cry with a loud voice—Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ It is not a song they sing; no measured melody. No harp, nor flute, nor dulcimer are here. It is the irrepressable shout rising and bursting forth from rescued men, from conquerors on a hard-fought field, that have as yet no time to throw their feelings into elaborate song or harmony. What a thrilling shout!
‘Salvation!’ We are saved at last! We are landed on the shore at last! We are in the New Jerusalem, and before the throne at last! Who would not desire to be there, to join in that ‘cry’ that ‘loud voice,’ that multitudinous shout, that shall fill both earth and heaven! In that day, shall we not be ‘satisfied’ (Psalm 17:15); no, more than satisfied?
“These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”—Revelation 7:13.
“We shall be like Him.”—1 John 3:2.
“And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven.”—1 Corinthians 15:49.
‘These in white robes—who are they?‘ They are sons of Adam. ‘Where did they come from?’ From the horrible pit and the miry clay. ‘We shall be like Him.’ When? Not just yet, but when He shall appear; then He shall change our vile body, that it may be like His own glorious body.
‘We shall be like Him.’ In what? In all things in which it is possible for the created to be like Jesus. Even now are we the sons of God, but then shall we really be, in all respects, soul and body, what we are now only by title.
‘We shall be like Him.’ Who? Those who are His! Those who have received this crucified and risen Christ as their Lord and God. He who believes on Him now, shall wear His likeness when He appears.
‘We shall be like Him.’ How long? Forever! No losing of that likeness in the process of the ages. No feature nor line of a feature becoming effaced—but ever deepening and deepening—likeness to Jesus becoming greater—perfection becoming more perfect—throughout eternity.
‘Resurrection’ is presented to us as the consummation of our hope; and yet there is blessedness even before it comes. Not until then is the likeness complete; but there are white robes before. Resurrection perfects the transformation of the earthly into the heavenly—but we read of ‘the spirits of the just made perfect.’
In a dying world like ours, it soothes and cheers to think of resurrection. Yes, resurrection! How bright the thought and dear the word! But what is that to be to us?
For there are two resurrections. Is ours to be the resurrection of the just—the resurrection unto life? The two lasts of these three passages speak of the latter; for they refer to those who belong to the risen Head. They are the ‘we’ to whom he refers—they whom the Son of man came to save, died to quicken, lives to glorify. The white robes are theirs, and likeness to their Lord is theirs.
I. We have borne the image of the earthly man. This image or likeness is something which we ‘bear’ or carry about with us. It is not a casual or occasional thing, but something cleaving to us; inherent in us—evil, carnal, low, unholy. What then is this image of the earthly man? It is something pertaining to spirit, soul, and body—it is of the earth, earthly.
(1) It is human. We are flesh and blood as he was; born of the flesh; as thoroughly human as was our first father—for that which is born of the flesh is flesh.
(2) It is sinful. The image is not that of uprightness and perfection—but of his sinfulness. Sin pervades us, actuates, us, fills us.
(3) It is mortal. Death reigns in us, as well as over us. Mortality was Adam’s lot—it is ours. Dust we are, and unto dust we return. Corruption, disease, pain, decay, imperfection of every kind—make up the sad image.
This was our lot by birth; it is still in part our lot, though we have been born again. Sad lot! Sad image! Do we not shudder at it? Do we not shrink from ourselves? We are earthly, not heavenly! We are like him who is earthly—no, we are his sons! We bear his image on us, all over!
II. We shall bear the image of the Man from heaven. The ‘as’ declares (1) the certainty, (2) the completeness of the resemblance. As certainly and as completely as we have borne the one image, we shall bear the other. The ‘Man from heaven’ is of course the last Adam, the Lord from heaven, who was made a quickening Spirit for us. ‘We shall be like Him’ hereafter. We begin to be like Him now, as soon as we are begotten again. The outline of His image is traced upon us at conversion; our life is to be the filling up of this; the consummation is when He comes again, to raise and glorify us.
Two processes go on—
1. The erasing all the lines of the first Adam’s portrait in us—the effacing of our former selves.
2. The becoming more and more unlike the earthly man—and more and more like the heavenly Man. Line by line, feature by feature, the latter takes its place. Intermixed they often are—the one contending for mastery with the other, like dissolving views—but in the end the heavenly predominates and prevails; the carnal and grosser elements are struck out or chiselled away, and nothing remains but what is spiritual and celestial. This image, after which we are modelled, is—
(1) Divine. We were created ‘in the image of God’—and the new creation restores this lost image—no, adds to it, intensifies it, establishes it forever. We are made partakers of the divine nature; and thus we take on the image of the heavenly Man. We are ‘born of the Spirit;’ ‘born from above;’ made sons of God; heirs of God; conformed to the image of His Son—we are in Christ, and He in us. All that can be communicated of the divine and the celestial, belongs to our regenerated nature. We are raised to a higher level; and while not less truly human, we are yet more identified with the divine.
(2) Holy. We take on unholiness at our first conception—’Behold, we were shaped in iniquity.’ We begin to part with this, and to take on the holiness, at our being begotten again; for ‘of His own will begat He us.’ We are ‘born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible.’ Sin, like the troops of a conquered city, begins to evacuate our conquered being; and holiness, like the troops of the victorious army, enters in to fill up all the room. Sin, all sin, of every form and name, is cast out—holiness, all holiness, of every name and form, in word and deed, takes its place in us. It is after the image of the Holy One that we are modelled.
(3) Immortal. The heavenly Adam is immortal. He died once, but He dies no more—and His immortality is for us. By it we are made immortal—not, indeed, now or here—but in the ages to come, when death is swallowed up in victory. He shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like His glorious body. When we awake, we shall be satisfied with His likeness. Resurrection will complete the conformity to the image of the heavenly. Perfection of body as well as soul! No suffering and no sinning!
Is not this hope glorious? Does it not (1) stimulate, (2) sanctify, (3) comfort? Should it not quicken prayer and watchfulness? Such a prospect should not be idle or vain!
In connection with all this, let me notice the apostle’s words in another place—’When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away’ (1 Corinthians 13:10)—where we have the imperfect present, contrasted with the perfect future.
We love to contrast things. We cannot help doing it—the past and the present, the present and the future, yesterday and today, winter and summer, old-age and youth, last year and this. Sometimes the contrast is between evil and good, or of death and life. Sometimes it is between the perfect and imperfect, as when we speak of the increase of knowledge. Sometimes it is between the part and the whole, as when we compare the seed and the tree, infancy and old-age, the progress of a year, and the progress of a thousand years. These contrasts are profitable. They reprove, or they quicken, or they comfort.
The apostle’s object here is to quicken and to comfort. His comparison or contrast is between the present and the future, and this in one special aspect. The present is the imperfect—the future is the perfect; the present the fragmentary—the future the complete. It is not a comparison between the sin of the one and the holiness of the other; between the sorrow of the one and the joy of the other. It is the comparison between the part and the whole; between infancy and manhood; between the blossom and the fruit; between the small fountain and the mighty lake into which its waters expand.
It is of divine revelation, or of our knowledge of it, that the apostle is speaking; and he contrasts the imperfection of our knowledge here, with the perfection of our knowledge hereafter. ‘We know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be down away.’
All that we have here are but fragments; perfect in their way and measure—but still fragments. The Bible is but a fragment—perfect in its different parts, perfect in truth and language, but still a fragment; and if the fragment be so glorious, what will the whole be? It is like photographs or pictures of the different parts of Palestine; each is faithful, but still it is only a part. You have Bethany, or Bethel, or Shiloh, or Nazareth; but these are not the land itself. It is like chips from the temple-wall; true pieces of the very temple; yet mere fragments; not the mighty temple itself.
John says that he gave but a few of the events of his Master’s life, telling us that the world could not contain the books that would be written, if the whole story were told. So is it with revelation in general. All we get here is but a drop; a little light, a little truth, a little knowledge; but we wait for more. And how excellent will that coming fullness be, if the fragments which we have at present be so divinely excellent! O how eagerly should we press forward to this glorious perfection!
1. There is perfection—Blessed thought! Perfection in—wisdom, light, holiness, love, and glory! Men speak of the ideal, as if perfection were only to be found there; but the perfection announced by the apostle is real. It is perfect reality, and it is real perfection. We only get glimpses of it now—but it exists. We see so much evil here, and this is such a broken world, that we sometimes ask—Is perfection possible? It is possible! It is; it shall be—as truly as there is perfection in and with God, so surely is there perfection for us—perfection for heaven and earth—perfection for the universe.
2. It will come in due time—God does not mean to keep it for Himself—nor to withhold it from us. He means to give it—fully, truly, everlastingly. That which is perfect shall come! It may not come immediately, or at once, but in due time it shall. This is God’s assurance. Each revolving sun brings it nearer. Nothing shall be able to hinder its arrival and revelation.
3. That which is ‘in part’ shall be done away—The partial, the fractional, the fragmentary, is a necessary part of the present. But it shall cease, and all shall be complete, full-summed, and perfect—in the glorious future. Nothing of the imperfect shall be carried into the world to come. No vile body there, but the incorruptible, the immortal, the glorified. No dim eye, or dull ear, or falling hands, or feeble knees, or fainting limbs. No ignorance, nor unbelief, nor unteachableness, nor weariness of spirit, nor slowness of comprehension. No haltings, nor stumblings, nor uncertainties, nor doubtings. All that is ‘in part’ shall be done away. No half-light, nor half-love, nor half-knowledge, nor half-faith, nor half-desires. All that is ‘in part’ shall be done away.
All that we know here we know imperfectly; then shall we know as we are known. Truth we know but in part. Christ we know but in part. His person, His work, His blood, His kingdom, we know but in part. All the things of God, both the natural and the spiritual, we know but in part. But all this is to end. These parts shall become wholes. These beams shall become suns. These drops shall become seas. These fragments of scattered blue in our cloudy sky shall become a glorious sky. That which is in part shall be done away. No more dimness, or cloud, or vagueness, or guessing, or groping. All shall be fullness, and perfection, and glory forever!
What blessedness is in this prospect! How it cheers! How it makes us content with weakness and imperfection for a time! How it quickens us to press forward to the perfect and the glorious!
What misery to miss all this—to come short of such perfection; no, to lie down in darkness and sorrow! To have sin, and imperfection, and uncertainty, and weariness, and misery, for our eternal portion!
“Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.”—Revelation 8:3-5.
The first verse here speaks of the seventh seal and its opening. At its opening ‘there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.’ As if, in the prospect of some great event about to happen, all heaven was silenced—only for a brief space—but still silenced. Its praise ceased; its service was suspended; and all its worshipers were fixing eye and ear upon something which God was about to do. The hush of heaven’s perpetual music, its everlasting song, was something awful. The 65th Psalm illustrates this—’Praise waits (is silent) for You, O God, in Zion;’ the songs of the sanctuary cease for a season; all is still; no voice is heard of priest or people. Then prayer goes up—’Unto You shall the vow be performed’—just as in our text, when the much incense goes up with the prayers of all saints. After that all flesh fall down before Him (Psalm 65:2); they confess sin; the chosen ones go in and approach to God. Then by terrible things in righteousness, God answers, as in our text (verse 5). Such seems to be the meaning of the ‘silence in heaven;’ as Eliphaz says (Job 4:16), ‘There was silence, and (then) I heard a voice.’
The second verse intimates the great event, or events, for which heaven was silent. God was ‘coming out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the world for their iniquity’ (Isaiah 26:20). His people had gone into their chambers (their ‘closets,’ Matthew 6:6), and shut their doors about them, and God was coming forth for vengeance. The seven angels who stand before God (nearest to God) receive their trumpets, the sounding of which is to bring woe upon woe on an impenitent earth.
What follows, from the third verse to the fifth, is the first part of the great trumpet scene, or rather the preface to it; the intimation of the terrors in store for earth; the pledge of what is coming; a few drops of the fiery shower; the shower of divine wrath, long pent up, but poured out at last.
I. The angel and the altar. It is the altar that stood in the holy place which is here referred to in the third verse, not the brazen altar; it is the golden altar, the altar of incense; the altar of prayer and praise; the altar at which the priests ministered, and where also blood was sprinkled. In what respects it differed from the mercy seat (as the place of prayer) does not quite appear. At this altar all who are God’s priests, all His royal priesthood, officiate. Here specially they stand, as pleaders with God, as intercessors on behalf of His own or against His enemies. To this altar the angel comes (not one of the seven), and here he takes his stand for a special purpose. Who he is, and what is his name, we know not. Only once is the name of an angel (Michael) mentioned in this book (12:7). All other angels are without name to us, though not without name to God. Strange that so many angels should be spoken of, and no names given! Why he comes to the altar appears from what follows. It is priestly work that he has to perform.
II. The angel and the censer. He comes to act as priest; and priestly messenger from God. As once an angel was seen over Jerusalem with a sword, so here he is seen with a censer. God puts into the hands of one a sword, and of another a censer, as the occasion calls for. The angel is one of those who minister in heavenly places, among heavenly things, which were the pattern of the earthly; and he stands at the incense altar with a golden (symbol of what is divine and heavenly) censer in his hands. He has a special errand to discharge. His fellows are about to sound their trumpets of judgment, and, like Aaron and Hur of old, he goes to prepare the way for the avenging of God’s people upon the Amaleks of the last days. He goes to awake the slumbering cry of the Church, ‘How long will you not judge?’ ‘Avenge me of my adversary.’ God has sent him on his errand, and given him the golden censer. That censer is the link or connecting link between the throne of God and the judgments upon the earth. The vengeance is that of the anointed King on Zion (Psalm 2:6); but the introduction of that vengeance is the interposition of the Priest above.
III. The angel and the incense. It is no empty censer that he holds; it is not for show that he waves it. Incense is there; incense not his, but supplied by another—’There was given him.’ It is much incense, or, literally, ‘many incenses,’ out of which were to come innumerable wreaths of fragrant smoke. This incense was to be ‘offered with’ or ‘laid upon’ so as to cover or envelop the ‘prayers of all saints’—yes, all saints, from Able downwards; for this seems to be the gathering into one of all prayers from the beginning, that at length they may be answered (Luke 18:3,7). Upon the golden altar in front of the throne the prayers of the saints of all ages have been laid; there they have accumulated; the unanswered ‘How longs?’ not forgotten.
At length upon this wondrous heap is poured the heavenly incense; and the whole contents, thus mingled together upon the golden altar, rise up to God in one fragrant cloud—the evil odour of what was earthly, and fleshly, and sinful, and unbelieving in these prayers being so absorbed in the divine fragrance as utterly to disappear, and leave nothing behind but the ‘sweet savour’ of that heavenly incense, which, like the precious spikenard in Bethany, fills the chambers above, and, going up in its sweetness to the throne, and to Him who sits thereon, prevails to draw down at length, the long-deferred answers to the prayers of ages.
IV. The angel and the fire. The angel having emptied the censer of its incense, fills it with fire; the pouring out of the one from the censer being the signal for the coming in of the other into that vessel from which the incense had been poured out. The fire that follows the incense, and which is the effect of that incense, is not to remain in the censer. The half an hour’s silence is all the time allowed for this transaction—this giving of the incense, this pouring out of the incense upon the altar, this filling of the censer with the devouring fire of judgment. Half an hour for this symbolic prayer!
Half an hour for this imparting of power and excellence to the prayers that had been lying on the altar! The long pent-up judgments are the answer; ‘terrible things in righteousness;’ first, the ‘voices, and thunderings, and earthquake,’ the prelude and pledge of something more terrible—the seven trumpets, with all their fullness of devastation and woe. The fire of the altar did the terrible work of vengeance; but the prayers of the saints were the true and irresistible cause. They prevailed. Hitherto they have lain dormant on the altar; now they awake, and forthwith the mighty works of God’s judgment and mercy show themselves in the earth; the arm of the Lord is revealed.
The unanswered prayers get a more abundant answer; and God is now seen doing ‘exceeding abundantly, above all we have asked or thought’. The whole machinery or instrumentality of judgment is now set in motion. There is delay no longer. ‘The seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.’ They had stood in silence before God (verse 2), waiting for the signal. They had received the trumpets, but until the incense is poured on the altar, and the fire shaken out from the censer, they must not use them. Now their successive blasts fill the air, and the effects are stupendous. Many LESSONS are here.
(1.) Prayer remains often long unanswered. Days, months, and ages it may lie unanswered, yet not one petition shall fall to the ground. The reasons for the long delay are often far beyond our reach; but in the end they will be found infinitely wise and gracious. ‘He answered her not a word’ (Matthew 15:23) is a sentence which the saints of God have often pondered, and which the history of the Church has in all ages illustrated. Many delays there have been, until hope deferred made the heart sick. But the Hearer of prayer well knows what He is doing.
(2.) Prayer is not lost. It lies on ‘the golden altar which is before the throne.’ We lay each petition there, as we say, ‘for Christ’s sake.’ We have entered the tabernacle. We have passed the brazen altar, and, accepting the sacrifice there, we have been accepted. We go in to the inner altar, and lay our prayers upon its gold, where there lie heaps upon heaps of prayers waiting for their answer. Not one petition, even the poorest or feeblest, has dropped from that altar, or been swept away, or lost in the process of time. All, all are there. In themselves they are poor, having no fragrance; but their intrinsic imperfection cannot change the nature of that altar on which they are laid. There they are preserved—each sigh, each tear, each cry, from child or aged man, from the chief of sinners, from the thief upon the cross, from the chamber of weakness and sorrow, from the crushed spirit and the broken heart—there they are—the groanings that cannot be uttered.
The ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner;’ the ‘How long?’ of the tortured martyrs; the moan of the suffering saint upon his tossing sick-bed—there they are—the father’s prayer, ‘Lord, save my child;’ the child’s prayer, ‘Lord, save my father’—there they are—the pleadings for the church of God, for the overthrow of Antichrist, for the binding of Satan, for the deliverance of earth, for the consummation of the eternal purpose! Not one cry lost—not one petition gone astray. All there!
(3.) Prayer will be answered. Sooner or later every petition will receive its true and proper answer—an answer that will satisfy the petitioner to the full; an answer from Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer. Delay will only add to the fullness of the answer, and increase our joy when it comes. And it will come. He is faithful who promised. He cannot deny Himself.
(4.) The answer will come in connection with Christ’s surpassing excellence. His fragrance is to be cast upon these long-lying prayers, that seem without life or motion, and they shall arise. ‘Lazarus, come forth,’ will be heard again, and the prayers of ages shall have life poured into them. It is written, ‘Your dead men shall live; my dead body shall they arise’—so may it be said of our prayers laid upon the altar.
His divine perfection cast upon them and pervading them, absorbs and extracts all their imperfection, and they ascend, as odours of divine sweetness, perfect and irresistible, before the throne of God! That which was lacking in them is far more than supplied. Their lack of faith, and earnestness, and coherence, disappears. The simple cry which they contained—the core or kernel within—thus stripped of its vile accompaniments, goes up in melody and power, bringing down at length the full and glorious answer. Christ is magnified in such answers; out of our infirmities there comes honour to Him.
(5.) Prayer is often answered in ways we little thought of. We know not what we ask, though we think we know it well. We pray for the hastening of the King and the kingdom. Have we considered the judgments which that arrival is to bring? We looked for peace, and behold trouble; yet out of that trouble peace is to come; for light, and darkness has come; yet out of that darkness shall light arise. We ask for faith and holiness; we get sickness, or bereavement, or earthly disaster. Yet out of these the longed-for purity and faith shall come. We plead for the reign of the Prince of peace, and lo, wars and rumors of wars! for the removal of creations curse, and lo, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences in diverse places! Yet out of these are to come the new heavens and earth, wherein dwells righteousness. We shall one day get all we prayed for, and much more. Let us pray always, and not faint. This is the day of prayer; the day of the answer is coming. Glorious shall that answer be, though perhaps unexpected; blessed shall it be, yet perhaps terrible in the events which it brings.
Our prayers offered long ago—’the prayers of all saints’—are lying now on the altar—in much weakness, and imperfection, and unbelief. They are waiting for a fresh application of the divine fragrance, which will make them irresistible. That fragrance is on its way—it is at hand.
The church is on her knees. The burden of her cry is, ‘How long?’ For earth is not improved, and its guilt is accumulating. Human evil, in spite of science, and literature, and art, is growing too great and too hopeless for man to contend with, either for removal or punishment. The unrenewed heart works out its plans of progress and elevation, in defiance of God’s sentence against sin, and in contempt of the two divine remedies for the maladies of the human heart—the cross of the Substitute, and the power of the Holy Spirit.
It refines and polishes, and thinks thereby to turn iron into silver, and silver into gold. It charms the adder, and imagines that its sting is gone. It fertilizes the soil, and boasts that the curse is removed. It reforms states and parliaments; it diplomacizes, and musters its armies, and prepares new weapons of war, blind to the will of Him by whom kings reign and princes decree judgment; heedless of the eternal purpose, or of the one bright outcome of all earth’s confusion, and gloom, and anguish—the arrival of the righteous King, to break His enemies in pieces with His iron rod, and to sway His holy scepter over an earth which, having passed through the fires of judgment, shall be fit for the habitation of the just!
“Where also our Lord was crucified.”—Revelation 11:8.
“The cross of Christ!”—1 Corinthians 1:17.
“The preaching of the cross.”—1 Corinthians 1:18.
“Where also our Lord was crucified.” The first of these passages strikingly identifies the Master and the servants—our Lord and His witnesses. They were to suffer as He suffered and where He suffered—one with Him in life and death, in shame and glory—one with Him on the cross, in the grave, in resurrection, in ascension, and on the throne. The words, ‘Where also our Lord was crucified,’ come with a strangely solemn power. It is the last reference to the cross of Christ in the Bible, and corresponds well with that frequent expression in the Revelation, ‘the Lamb slain,’ carrying us back to the ‘the seed of the woman’ and ‘the bruised heel.’
The second passage is one of the many (nineteen in all) in which Paul refers to the cross and its meaning, the cross and its connection with the good news, the cross and the way of preaching it. In his estimation that cross stood out pre-eminently as the great centre around which his faith revolved. It was the basis of his hope towards God; it was the main article in his creed, from which all others shot forth like rays from the sun. It stood alone and unapproachable in the matter of salvation; as the altar of the burnt-offering—as the place outside the gate where the sin-offering was consumed—as the point where all the offerings meet.
It was not to Paul, the mere place of the great self-surrender, the example or model of self-sacrifice; it was the place of propitiation, the substitution of life for life—the Just One there suffering for the unjust—the Blessed One bearing our curse—the Holy One bearing our sin. In preaching this cross, the apostle dreaded and shunned the wisdom of words—human eloquence—lest thus the naked cross should be disguised and disfigured. It must stand out bare and unadorned, ‘majestic in its own simplicity,’ as the brazen serpent on the pole. That serpent and that pole need no ornament of man. There they stood, with the divine remedy for Israel. To cover them, to deck them, to paint them, would be to destroy their power to heal—to make them of none effect. So is it the naked cross that does the work of healing. To deck it with flowers, and rites, and pomp, and eloquence is to destroy its power—to grieve that Spirit whose office is to turn the sinner’s eye to it as the health of the world. Look and be healed! Look and be saved! The virtue of the cross is drawn out by simply looking. Know and be blessed! For ‘by His knowledge (the knowledge of Himself) shall my righteous Servant justify many.’
‘The cross of Christ!’ O world, this is your one hope. That cross contains all that you need of love, and healing, and peace. Under its shadow the chief of sinners may sit down and rejoice.
‘Where also our Lord was crucified.’ O Israel, O Jerusalem, here is your condemnation. O world, here too will be your condemnation, if you look not, and believe not! That cross will utterly condemn all its rejecters and despisers. That cross overthrew Jerusalem, city and temple, for her rejection of the crucified One; it scattered Israel—what will it not do to each person who has slighted it? Round it the world’s history revolves—on it the world’s destiny hangs.
(1.) The cross was the place of GUILT and CONDEMNATION. (Matthew 27:22, 26, 28)—The condemned of men were there. The thieves were there; it was their ‘own place.’ Connection with the cross inferred crime, worthy of death.
(2.) The cross was the place of SHAME. (Hebrews 12:2) It was shame that was there; and each one who was sent there was treated as a shameful thing—one of whom his fellow men were ashamed, and who might well be ashamed of himself. It was the type of the shame and everlasting contempt in reserve for the unbelievers. Hence it was a ‘reproach’ and ‘offence’ (Galatians 5:2).
(3.) The cross was the place of WEAKNESS. (2 Corinthians 13:4) Christ was ‘crucified through weakness.’ It was the exhibition of man reduced to the extremity of helplessness. In order to save us who were ‘without strength’ (Romans 5:6), our Surety took our helplessness upon Him, and became ‘without strength’ for us.
(4.) The cross was the place of PAIN. (Hebrews 13:12) Anguish of body was there to the uttermost; and thirst was there; wounds and bruises were there. There is no pain like that of crucifixion. Here is the fulfilment of the roasted lamb of the Passover—here is the passing through the fire.
(5.) The cross was the place of the CURSE. (Galatians 3:13) ‘Cursed is every one who hangs on a tree.’ The Blessed One was made a curse for us. He went to the accursed place, and there bore our curse, that we might receive His blessing.
(6.) The cross was the place of REJECTION. (John 19:6) ‘Away with Him!’ was the cry; ‘not this man, but Barabbas.’ Those who were nailed to the cross were the outcasts of men. Christ was ‘despised and rejected of men’ (Isaiah 53:3).
(7.) The cross was the place of HATRED. (Matthew 27:25) ‘Let Him be crucified!’ ‘His blood be on us!’ Here was human hatred speaking out. ‘His citizens hated Him!’ This is the heir; come, let us kill him!’ ‘They gave me hatred for my love!’
(8.) The cross was the place of DEATH. (Matthew 20:18,19) It was death that was there; here we read, ‘The soul that sins it shall die.’ Death, the death of the cross, was our Surety’s doom. The place of death became the place of life to us. ‘By His stripes we are healed.’
Such were the evil things connected with the cross, which by the work done by the Son of God have all turned into good. All our evils He took upon Him that He might secure for us all the good belonging to Himself. For condemnation, He gives us pardon; for shame, honour and glory; for weakness, strength; for pain, ease and comfort; for the curse, the blessing; for rejection, acceptance; for hatred, love; for death, life everlasting. He who believes has all these things! All the evil passes to Jesus, and all the good to us, on our crediting the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the cross and the things done there.
This cross, where so many evil things meet, is the place where all GOOD THINGS are to be found. God gathered all the evil to that spot, that He might utterly make away with it, through Him who took all the evil on Himself, that He might bring out of it only good. At the cross it was consumed by fire—it was buried out of sight. The crucifixion transformed the evil into good!
‘He His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree’ (1 Peter 2:24). The sin-bearing work was completed there, when the cry went up, ‘It is finished!’ The expiating blood was shed on the cross. The atoning work—the work that justifies—was consummated on Golgotha. Nor can justification be separated from the cross, or transferred to resurrection. ‘ The chastisement of our peace was on Him; and by His stripes we are healed.’ ‘He was wounded for our transgressions He was bruised for our iniquities.’ The ending of His vicarious course on earth was the giving life for life. His death, instead of ours, satisfied the law. A divine death was the substitute for a human death. All the sacrificial virtue of the transaction, and all the value of the substitute, were transferred to us. Jesus died that we might not die. He was the propitiation for our sins. He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The cross is the place of exhausted penalty and magnified law. That which covers the sinner entirely and shields him from wrath was finished there. That covering, that propitiatory covering, whose power and virtue are unchangeable throughout all ages, and underneath which we are secure from wrath, was wrought out there. The propitiation of the cross is the substance of the glad tidings which we bring. It originated in the love of God; it contained and embodied the love of God; it gave effect to and carried out the love of God; it brought home the love of God to us as sinners.
(2) It is the MEETING-PLACE. (Exodus 29:42) It is the place where we meet with God, and God meets with us in friendship, and love, and joy. It is the place where the Father meets the prodigal and embraces him. On this spot alone, and underneath this tree alone, can God and the sinner look each other in the face, without fear on the one side or displeasure on the other. There God speaks with us, and there we speak with Him. We take the Lamb, lay our hands upon it, present it as ours, confess our sins over it, that so all the evil in us which stood between us and God may pass from us to Him, may be carried by it to the altar, and there consumed, so as no longer to hinder the meeting.
With sin thus transformed from us to the divine victim, thus carried away and consumed by fire, we are no longer afraid to look up to God, and no longer stand in doubt of His favour towards us, and His willingness to bless us. Ten thousand times a day we sin; but as often as we sin, that sin passes immediately away from us to the sacrifice, which, once offered and accepted eighteen hundred years ago, is better than ten thousand times ten thousand sacrifices to keep up the reconciliation, to secure perpetual forgiveness, and to maintain unchanged the security of the meeting place—the place of communion and fellowship between us and God.
(3) It is the place of LOVE. God’s love is there, shining in its full brightness, unhindered and undimmed. ‘God so loved the world’ gets its interpretation at the cross. On the one hand, we see how much man hated God, and, on the other, how much God loved man. Herein is love! It is love that has found for itself a channel whereby to flow down to us; love that has opened a well of blessing gushing forth from the foot of the cross.
(4) It is the place of ACCEPTANCE. Here we become ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ Here the exchange takes place between the perfect and the imperfect. Believing in the perfect One, we become ‘complete in Him.’ Conscious only of evil, we take refuge in Him in whom there is no evil, that we may be represented by him before God, and so treated by God as being without evil, even in the eye of His holy law. Feeling our utter lack of goodness, we flee out of ourselves to One in whom there is all goodness—who is absolutely perfect; so perfect, so infinitely perfect, that He has enough and to spare of His perfection for us. The fullness of evil that is in us is thus not only covered over by the atonement of the atoning Son of God, so as to become invisible, as if it were non-existent—but is supplanted by the fullness of all goodness, is exchanged for the perfection of another, even of the perfect One, so that God, looking at us, sees only our Representative, and deals with us according to His excellency and preciousness. What we should have received, in the shape of punishment, He gets for us; what He claims and deserves in the shape of reward, and glory, and favour, we get, as represented by Him, and treated by God as entitled to all that to which He is entitled.
Our consent to be treated on the footing of this foreign merit, this perfection of another—is what God asks of us. Such is the proposal which the gospel makes to us. This is substantially the meaning of our believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Receiving the divine testimony to the sin-bearer as true, we give our consent to be represented by Him before God. Thus we exchange places and persons with Him. He was made sin, we are made righteousness; He takes the curse, we take the blessing. We hear the cry upon the cross, “It is finished”—and we know that the work which justifies is done. All that follows—resurrection and ascension—is the result of the completed work; not the completing of it, but the fruits of its completion. ‘He was delivered, because we had sinned; He was raised, because we were justified’ (Romans 4:25). As it was ‘by the blood of the everlasting covenant’ that He was brought from the dead (Hebrews 13:20), so was it because our justification was finished on the cross that He rose from the dead. The knowledge of this brings to him who knows it forgiveness, acceptance, justification—we become ‘accepted in the Beloved.’
The cross accomplished such things as the following—
(1.) The cross removed the wall of partition. (Colossians 2:14) Between Jew and Gentile it threw down the middle wall of partition. It rent the veil in twain from top to bottom. It swept away all that hindered a sinner’s access, and said, ‘Come boldly to the throne of grace;’ ‘come unto me.’
(2.) The cross made peace. (Colossians 1:20) The great quarrel between heaven and earth, between God and the sinner, it made up; for it removed the ground of that variance, and provided a righteous basis for reconciliation and peace. The peace is made. It is paid for. It is finished. It is a true and righteous peace.
(3.) The cross has secured oneness. (Ephesians 2:15-16) This oneness is not simply between Jew and Gentile, but between both of these and God; between them both, because between both and God. Both are reconciled in one body by the cross, the enmity being thereby slain. He was ‘numbered with the transgressors’ (Mark 15:28), that we might be numbered with the righteousness.
(4.) The cross has brought life. (2 Corinthians 13:4) ‘He was crucified through weakness, yet He lives; we are weak in Him (as He was on the cross) but we shall live.’ His weakening and emptying on the cross gave opportunity for the whole life-giving power of God to flow in. We, thus weakened and emptied (when, in believing, made one with Him), are filled with the same life-giving power. The cross, the place of weakness and of death, thus becomes to us the place and fountain of life. From a crucified Lord life flows to the dead.
(5.) The cross contains power. (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23) It is ‘the power of God unto salvation.’ Power for us, for the weak, for the sinful—’the power of God’—is there. Omnipotence has made its dwelling there. The cross is its storehouse or treasure house. There is the hiding of divine power. There is the arm of the Lord revealed.
(6.) The cross is the focus or centre of all wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:24) The wisdom of God is there. It is the fullest and most glorious exhibition of Jehovah’s wisdom. Here is the perfection of wisdom; and all the wisdom which the sciences exhibit—(astronomy, anatomy, or the like)—cannot be compared with this. The world thinks it foolishness. God thinks it wisdom; and every soul that has come to know its own needs and sins thinks the same.
(7.) The cross crucifies the world. (Galatians 6:14) To the believing man the world is a crucified thing. There is now enmity, not friendship—hatred, not love—between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed. The cross has produced the enmity. It has slain the world, and made it altogether unlovable. One sight of the cross strips the world of its false beauty and attractiveness!
(8.) The cross furnishes a theme for glorying. (Galatians 6:14) Paul gloried in it, counting it the only thing worth boasting of, worth admiring, worth caring for. The cross is the scorn of the world—it is the glory of the saint. It is the theme of the church’s song, the theme of her praise. She glories in the cross.
(9.) The cross is the model and test of service. (Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) It calls us to liberty, yet to service also—the service of liberty. Thus it both liberates and binds. It takes off one yoke to give another (Matthew 11:29). It gives us the perfect example and pattern of obedience and service, in Him who was obedient unto death—the death of the cross. It tests our service by giving us a cross to carry; not Christ’s cross—that no man can carry—but a cross of our own. Each man must take up his own cross and follow the great Cross-bearer. Self-denial, self-surrender, self-sacrifice, are all exhibited there. There especially ‘Christ did not please Himself’ (Romans 15:3). “Not my will, but Yours be done”—is to be our motto, as it was His. Looking unto Jesus and His cross fits and nerves us for this. ‘Follow me’ is the voice of the cross.
(10.) The cross is the badge of discipleship. (Luke 14:27) The disciple is not above his Master. He is a cross-bearer—a ‘crusader,’ in the true sense of the word. No cross—no discipleship. He who is ashamed of the cross is ashamed of Christ. The daily life of a disciple is to be a carrying of the cross. He who does so will find few admirers and sympathizers. He will know the loneliness of his Lord and Master.
(11.) The cross is God’s way of salvation. (Acts 10:39-43) Pardon is written on the cross; salvation; eternal life. The saved thief, who went from his cross to paradise, is the great illustration of the saving power of the cross. For salvation we know nothing, except for Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The glad tidings are written on the cross—good news of a free salvation to the unsaved—salvation through Him who came to seek and save the lost—who upon the tree of death bore their guilt in His own body, and now sends out the glorious message—the tidings from the saving cross! The love of God is written on it—no, ‘God is love,’ is the true inscription for it. ‘God is love’ beams out from every part of it—and to know this is to be saved!
(12.) The cross is the measure of Christ’s endurance and obedience. (Philippians 2:8) He descended from the highest heaven, that He might take flesh, and in our flesh endure and obey as man. It was a vicarious endurance and obedience—all His life long. He stood in our stead from Bethlehem to Golgotha. The cross, with its agony, and shame, and death, was the extremity of His willingness to do the Father’s will—to bear our burdens—to drink our bitter cup of wrath and woe. Thus the ‘perfection of our substitute’ not only covers our imperfection, but is legally and judicially ascribed to us by God Himself. The law lets go its hold of us—and deals with our Substitute.
(13.) The cross is the pledge and standard of divine love. (Romans 5:8) The Father’s love is here—for God so loved the world that He gave His Son. Christ’s love is here—the love that passes knowledge, the love which many waters could not quench, nor the floods drown; love to the uttermost; love grudging no toil, nor pain, nor weariness, nor reproach for us! If you want to know how much you have been loved, look to the cross of Jesus! That meets and answers all our doubts.
(14.) The cross is the revelation of God’s character. (1 John 4:10) In the person of the God-man, ‘the Word made flesh,’ God’s character is contained—all that is in God is there. In the life of the God-man there is the unfolding of that character as the gracious God. In the death of the God-man upon the cross there is a yet further revelation of the character of ‘the God of all grace.’ Here the divine perfections came out in full harmony—all that seemed discordant being here reconciled—truth and mercy meeting—righteousness and peace kissing—God just and the justifier of the ungodly—infinitely holy, yet pardoning the unholy!
In the cross God has given us His true name, and the true interpretation of that name. His whole character and actings are here announced, explained, and harmonized. Let us listen to the testimony which the cross gives respecting God’s gracious nature—His loving heart—His compassionate purposes to sinners; and in accepting that testimony all blessing will flow in. Let us accept God’s interpretation of His own character in the cross! Let us beware of misconstruing Him. Let us acquaint ourselves with Him.
(15.) The cross is God’s lamp of light. The world is dark. The cross is light. The cross shines with the very light of heaven. He who is the God of light hung there! That which the cross makes known concerning God and His love is the light of a dark world. Only from the cross can the sinner derive his light. ‘They looked and were enlightened;’ for He who hangs there says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ And never was He more its light than when He was nailed to the cross in helplessness. From the cross that light still shines out to a dark world. Let us walk in the light of the cross. God says to us, ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come!’ ‘The true light now shines!’ ‘The day has broken, and the shadows have fled away.’ The ever-burning lamp of the cross is sufficient for the darkest child of a dark world—in his darkest day and hour!
(16.) The cross is the universal magnet. (John 7:32) ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.’ Here is the true centre of gravitation. Here is the great attraction, or attractive force. The Christ of Bethlehem attracts; the Christ of Nazareth attracts; the Christ of Bethany and Nain attracts; the Christ of Sychar and Jericho attracts—but most of all, the Christ of Golgotha! There is that in the cross which wins the sinner’s heart. The cross beckons him; it calls him; it invites him; it beseeches him; it draws him. A crucified Christ, the uplifted Son of man, is the one universal magnet! Its magnetic power is irresistible; yet it is the irresistible of love and not of law. Law compels; love attracts. Law crushes; love lifts up. And all love is in that cross—the fullness of God’s forgiving love.
(17.) The cross is the universal balm and medicine. The cross is the balm of Gilead—and the crucified Christ is the Physician there. From that tree distils the healing for the sons of men. The leaves of it are for the healing of nations. Its medicinal properties have been tested by time—and have been found divine. There is no disease which is able to resist its medicinal powers—they flow out on all sides, and flow down everywhere. He who approaches, he who touches—no, he who ‘looks’, is healed! Eternal health is yonder. Let it flow in. The world is sick—sick unto death. Here is healing for it. Will you be made whole, O man? Go to the healing cross—go to the divine Healer and become whole!
(18.) The cross is man’s estimate of sin. Not only was the deed of crucifixion a denial of sin and a defiance of God, but it was the setting up of a new standard of sin. It was man saying, We do not need a Sin-bearer; we are no such sinners as to need a Substitute; sin is not such an evil as to require expiation. This was ‘the way of Cain;’ it was Cain’s rejection of the burnt offering, his refusal to acknowledge the evil of sin, or to own himself worthy of death. God’s intention in the cross was to declare the evil of sin; man’s intention was to make light of it, and to defy its consequences. For man, in making light of sin, despises God’s threatenings against it, and braves the divine penalties.
(19.) The cross is God’s verdict against sin, and His estimate of it. (Romans 8:3) Here is God’s condemnation of sin—of the flesh—of the world. Look at that cross!—and learn how God hates sin! How He unveils the flesh with all its lusts—how He strips off the world’s mask, and exposes its deformity. When disposed to make light of sin, or to indulge the flesh, or to admire the world, let us hear God’s voice bidding us look to the cross, and to Him who was nailed to it by that sin, that flesh, that world.
The cross says—Oh, don’t do that abominable thing which I hate! If God thought as slightly of sin as man does, would that cross have been needed? Would Christ have needed to suffer? Would any expiation have been needed, beyond a few tears or sighs? God points to Christ’s cross as the proof of His hatred of sin!—and when man would treat it lightly, He bids him listen to the expiring agonies of the Sin-bearer! Or when man would excuse himself, or palliate his guilt, God answers—Did your sin crucify my Son? What do your sins deserve, though other sins might be light?
(20.) The cross is man’s estimate of the Son of God. Already He had been valued at thirty pieces of silver. But here we have a still lower estimate. Here is the value man sets on His person, His life, His teaching, His blood. God asks us—”What do you think of Christ?” Our answer is the cross—”Crucify Him!” Here is man erecting the cross, then nailing the Son of God to it! Such is the heart of man! Such is man’s rejection of the Christ. The cross is the standing proof and witness of man’s rejection of God’s beloved Son and His salvation. To this day the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block to man. He both hates and despises it!
(21.) The cross is God’s interpretation of law and its penalties. Not merely grace, but righteousness is unfolded here—the righteousness of law—of the law. God here shows us what law is, what law requires, what law can do, how law can avenge itself, how law can vindicate God, as well as how God can vindicate law. In this aspect it is truly law that planned and erected the cross; law that demanded the victim’s death; law that cried “Crucify!”; law that nailed Him to the tree! In the cross we see how holy, and just, and good is that law, (Galatians 4:4). The cross had undertaken to answer law’s demands for us—He was seized by it and led out to the place of execution as the worst of evildoers. If the law were not holy, and broad, and pure, why did the Son of God—the giver of the law—hang on the cross? Why was He forsaken by God there? Why did He die there?
Thus interpreted by the cross, how perfect does the law appear! God has given us many interpretations of it, but the cross is the most explicit, and clear, and complete. In the cross, God protests against all attempts to undervalue or dilute the law. Man may think it too strict. God does not; and in proof of this points to the cross and His Son there, bearing our penalty. Would the Father have laid these burdens and pains upon His Son—unless the law had absolutely required them? Would he who most honoured the law have been punished by the law—unless He had been bearing sin? Let those who speak of the gospel being a modified law, by obedience to which we are saved, look at the cross. Is there any appearance of a modified law there? No! we see the law in all its undiluted perfection exhibited in the life, and in all its unmitigated strength and penalty, in the death of the Son of God! The gospel is founded on a fulfilled and unmodified law—a law unchangeable and inexorable. Our pardon and salvation are all legal and righteous, springing from law—as truly as from love. Our life comes from the substituted death of another!
Thus we see in the cross, an epitome of the Bible. The whole revelation of God is there! From the cross we hear the truth, ‘where sin abounded, grace has super abounded.’ All the love of God is there. The sinner’s condemnation and the sinner’s pardon are there. God’s invitation issues forth from it, to the chief of sinners. ‘Come!’
‘Look unto me and be saved.’ God’s eternal purpose is here unfolded—’the good pleasure of His will.’ The fountain opened for sin is there. The rest for the weary is there. The relief for the conscience is here. The refuge for the guilty is there. The balm of Gilead is there. Peace to the troubled is there. There God meets with man, and man meets with God—heaven and earth embrace each other. Herein is love! It is love that takes in the worst—love that took in the dying thief—love that knows no bounds—love that looks for no qualifications in him who comes, but that he needs it—love which is yearning over the lost, and stretching out its hands to the most rebellious and unholy—love which offers not merely pardon, but the perfection of the Son of God to the sinner—with all which that perfection can claim!
Yet in the cross also is the doom of the unbeliever! He who takes the cross for what God tells him who it is, is saved, and no amount of sin can hinder its virtue from flowing out to him perpetually! He who refuses or neglects the cross must not only bear his own sin, but the sin of rejecting God’s salvation. That cross will be the millstone tied round his neck to send him to the lowest hell! When He who hung upon the cross ascends the throne, where will the rejecter of the cross appear, and what will he say for his rejection?