Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.Revelation 22:1
You are seeking your own will, my daughter. You are seeking some other good than the law you are bound to obey. But how will you find good? It is not a thing of choice: it is a river that flows from the foot of the Invisible Throne, and flows by the path of obedience.
—Savonarola to Romola, in George Eliot's Romola.
'Clear as crystal'—not concealing, but revealing. For in the day of eternity all faithful children shall be as that Father of the faithful of whom the Lord once said: 'Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?'
—C. G. Rossetti
Through the care of my parents I was taught to read nearly as soon as I was capable of it; and as I went from school one day, I remember that while my companions were playing by the way, I went forward out of sight, and sitting down I read the twenty-second chapter of Revelations: 'He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb,' etc. In reading it my mind was drawn to seek after that pure habitation which I then believed God had prepared for His servants. The place where I sat, and the sweetness that attended my mind, remain fresh in my memory.
—John Woolman's Journal.
References.—XXII. 1.—H. A. Paul, Penny Pulpit, No. 1612, p. 295. XXII. 1, 2.— W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, p. 20. XXII. 1-5.—J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. ii. p. 282. XXII. 1-11.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Revelation, p. 366.
In the Midst of the Street
Was there ever half so beautiful a street as that seen by the aged eyes of the seer of Patmos? In a loving description of the new Jerusalem, the city that descended from God out of heaven, he noticed that in the midst of the street there was a river, and on either side of the river there were trees—trees of life. A tree in the street! And what a tree! Ever young and fair, bearing fruit all the year round, and dressed in leaves which were able to heal the sick and torn nations of the world as soon as they entered this street of the city of God and plucked thereof. Beautiful street of a beautiful city! If only our unbelieving eyes could catch a sight of such a street with the magic, beneficent tree in the midst of it, how eagerly we too would run to pluck its leaves and heal our distracted hearts!
I. But what is it that keeps us back? Why do we not see the city? And why do we not eat of the fruit of this tree of life? Is it because they are so far away? Perhaps they are not so far as we think. For this city, remember, is not in the heavens; it is a city that came down out of heaven upon the earth. Call it, if you like, a dream city; but it is a dream of this world, and not of the skies. For, note, there are nations to be healed. The work of the world is not yet done. Its nations are sick; the mind and the heart are not sound; they need healing. And they find it on the leaves of the tree in the street of the city of God. So it would seem as if the vision that sustained the aged heart of this true seer was that of some heavenly city in this world. True, there lies upon this city a wondrous light, such as never was on sea or land; and no city that has ever been built by human hands can compare with it for the nobility of its inhabitants. But it seems, after all, to be a city set up upon the earth, inhabited not by spirits but by living men, with the living God among them.
II. Wherever men are gathered together, there is some not altogether ignoble life. For the existence of cities, when you come to think of it, is a recognition, however unconscious, of the brotherhood of men and of their need of one another. Every one who is honestly working is doing something for that great organism which we call society; each, in doing his own work, is serving the others—it may be unwittingly—and blessing the whole. Where two or three are gathered together in the name of Jesus, there He is in the midst of them, to bless them; and where hundreds and thousands are gathered together in the interests of a common civilisation, we may well believe that Jesus is not far away, though there is not a little on which He could only look with eyes of sorrow. And we may well believe that there is a tree of life somewhere in the midst.
III. The obligations of religion to the street and to all that ramified social life which the street implies, are very great. Jesus loved the street There were indeed times when He had to bid His disciples go apart into a desert place and rest awhile; but it was that they might enter on their work again with strength renewed. He left the wilderness in which He sojourned for a while after the call to His ministry, to work among the busy haunts of men in the cities on the shore of the lake of Galilee. The city, its needs and its redemption, were ever in His thoughts. He would fain have gathered her people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. He did not shirk the responsibilities of the unlovely street. To Him it was not unlovely; it was the field on which He believed that, in the far-off day, there would be a golden harvest.
The tree of life was in the midst of the street, and its leaves were for the healing of the nations.
—J. E. Macfadyen, The City With Foundations, p. 237.
References.—XXII. 2.—G. A. Gordon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 72. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1233. Bishop Chadwick, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 356; vol. lx. p. 283. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 60; ibid. vol. vi. p. 277. XXII. 3.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1576. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, p. 79. XXII. 3, 4.—R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 16.
The Heavenly Service
In the first Paradise there was service in the dressing and keeping of the garden. One might say that there was more than service, in that the garden had to be kept as against some hostile influence; that there was working and watching, if not working and warfare, for man in Eden. We have now a harder work, a more earnest watching, a sorer conflict for we are weaker as fallen, and the enemy is bolder. Every one of God's children has to work and watch and fight until his rest be won.
In the second Paradise there is no watching or warfare, because there is no enemy, no curse. Service alone is the task of heaven; not toilsome, for the taint of the curse no longer vitiates it; not mechanical, but spiritual; cheerful also, and perfect, because there is nothing to depress or mar it in the presence of the healing leaves of the tree of life.
Four things make the service perfect in matter and spirit:—
I. His Servants shall see His Face.—There is no hiding or darkening or overclouding of God's face; nothing to intercept the brightness of His countenance, and the full, clear tokens of His favour; no painful mysteries, no dark dispensations, no forsakings. The vision of God's face will make the service full of joy and strength and spirit, and banish all feeling of toil and drudgery and discontent
II. His Name shall be in their Foreheads.—They are His servants here and now doing His work. But their service, like themselves and Him whom they, serve, is not always recognised where it is rendered. God's name is on their foreheads now: He reads it there; angels read it there in their ministry. But the world does not see it; and it is often illegible or invisible to the servants themselves. They have not all or always that full assurance of faith which is so mighty a stimulus and so great a strength for God's service. It is not easy to maintain integrity and do work as God's servants amid the promiscuous company of the visible Church, which disturbs and deadens holy feeling and certitude, embarrasses activity, throws hesitancy and suspicion upon Christian life and work here; but there, where no forehead shall bear any other name than God's; where His name shall be visible and legible wherever it is written; where each shall know himself and know his brother as marked by the common and only name; where each shall have the full assurance that he is God's servant and is surrounded only by God's servants—there, there will be nothing to paralyse, disconcert, or hinder that service with which God's servants shall serve Him.
III. There shall be no Night there.—No night for rest or refreshment to interrupt the service and renew flagging energy; no night of ignorance as to God's will, or of sin to obscure their perception of duty, or of sorrow to distract their attention. No natural, artificial, borrowed, or secondary light needed, for pushing on delayed, or overtaking neglected, work; no light that can go out or fail, to the hindering of the service. What a service that must be which is carried on for ever in the unfading and unsetting light of God Himself by men who know Him and their duty, no longer through means and ordinances and providences circuitously, but directly and immediately, as they see light in His light!
IV. They shall Reign for Ever and Ever.—They serve, but they also reign. They contemplate their service and execute it as from Christ's throne on which they reign with Him. They have reached their kingdom through overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, through faithfulness over a few things. They will welcome their kingly state, their rule over many things, not as giving them exemption from all service, but as inspiring and fitting them for a nobler service and a more perfect fidelity to duty. They will feel that the dignity to which they have been promoted, the higher capacities with which they have been invested, and the unbounded confidence which has been placed in them, bind them to a loftier and more extensive and more successful service; to a service in which there is nothing petty, or mean, or sordid; to a service where no trace can be found of paltry motives, and jealousies, and resentments, such as touch the loyalty of mere subjects or servants; to a service which, in its largeness and frankness, and fearlessness and loyalty, is worthy of those who are, not only servants, but kings reigning for ever and ever.
References.—XXII. 4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 824. A. R. Ashwell, God in His Work and Nature, p. 46.
J. M. Neale wrote of the death of Charles Simeon: 'I cannot tell you how much I am grieved for his loss. I should think there was a great deal of sorrow to-night in Cambridge. I was going to say, What a glorious night for him! but there is no night there.'
References.—XXII. 6.—W. H. Evans, Short Sermons for the Seasons, p. 170. S. Bentley, Parish Sermons, p. 127. C. Bradley, Faithful Teaching, p. 178.
Revelation 22:7 f
When you have read, you carry away with you a memory of the man himself; it is as though you had touched a loyal hand, looked into brave eyes, and made a noble friend; there is another bond on you thenceforward; binding you to life and to the love of virtue.
—R. L. Stevenson.
References.—XXII. 8-21.—C. Anderson Scott, The Book of Revelation, p. 322. XXII. 9.—Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 139. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 12a XXII. 10-12.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 118.
From this text George Gilfillan heard Dr. Chalmers preach in Edinburgh on 9th October, 1831.
'Being near-sighted, and the morning rather dim, we could not catch a distinct glimpse of his features, we saw only a dark mass of man bustling up the pulpit stairs, as if in some dread and desperate haste. We heard next a hoarse voice, first giving out the psalm in a tone of rapid familiar energy, and after it was sung and prayer was over, announcing the text, "He that is unjust let him be unjust still (stull, he pronounced it), he that is filthy (fulthy, he called it), let him be filthy still, and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still, and he that is holy let him be holy stull". And then, like an eagle leaving a mountain cliff, he launched out at once on his subject, and soared on without any diminution of energy or flutter of wing for an hour and more. The discourse... had two or three magnificent passages, which made the audience for a season one soul—a burst, especially, we remember, in reference to the materialism of heaven—"There may be palms of triumph, I do not know—there may be floods of melody," etc., and then he proceeded to show that heaven was more a state than a place.'
Reference.—XXII. 11.—Archbishop Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, p. 147.
Piety cannot maintain itself if God makes no difference between the godly and the wicked, and has nothing more to say to the one than to the other; for piety is not content to stretch out its hands to the empty air, it must meet an arm descending from heaven. It must have a reward, not for the sake of the reward, but in order to be sure of its own reality, in order to know that there is a communion of God with men, and a road which leads to it.
References.—XXII. 12.—Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 187. E. A. Bray, Sermons, vol. i. p. 320. XXII. 13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 646. A. J. Mason, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 28. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Apocalypse, p. 92. Phillips Brooks, The Mystery of Iniquity, p. 810.
Under the head of spiritual self-seeking ought to be included every impulse towards psychic progress, whether intellectual, moral, or spiritual in the narrow sense of the term. It must be admitted, however, that much that commonly passes for spiritual self-seeking in this narrow sense is only material and social self-seeking beyond the grave. In the Mohammedan desire for paradise and the Christian aspiration not to be damned in hell, the materiality of the goods sought is undisguised. In the more positive and refined view of Heaven, many of its goods, the fellowship of the saints and of our dead ones, and the presence of God, are but social goods of the most exalted kind. It is only the search of the redeemed inward nature, the spotlessness from sin, whether here or hereafter, that can count as spiritual self-seeking pure and undefiled.'
—Prof. James, Textbook of Psychology, p. 185.
References.—XXII. 14.—J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 267. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Revelation, p. 380. XXII. 14, 15.—G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons (2nd Series), p. 63. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 338.
In Dr. Andrew Bonar's diary for 18th September, 1849, there is this entry: 'This morning early I had awakened and looked out. It was about four o'clock. The morning star was shining directly before our window in a bright sky. One part of the window was misty with frost, the other clear, and through the clear part the star shone most beautifully. I thought of Christ's words, ὁ ἀστὴρ ὁ λαμπρὸς ὁ πρωϊνός (Revelation 22:16). Christ is all this in this world to me till the day break. I fell asleep, and when I next awoke the sun was shining through my room. Shall it not be thus at the Resurrection? Our shadowy views of Christ are passed, and now He is the Son of Righteousness'.
Does not every fresh morning that succeeds a day of gloom and east wind, seem to remind us that for a living spirit, capable, because living, of renovation, there can be no such thing as 'failure,' whatever a few past years may seem to say?
—F. W. Robertson, Letters.
References.—XXII. 16.—Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 14.
Yet some Christians traverse the world like walking funerals rather than like wedding-guests! (Know thyself.)
—C. G. Rossetti.
References.—XXII. 16.—J. Johnston, Penny Pulpit, No. 1609, p. 209. J. C. M. Bellow, Sermons, vol. i. p. 15. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 450.
The Holy Spirit and Christian Missions
I. It either is or is not true that the Spirit of God works in the heart of every man on the face of the earth. It is or is not true that God leaves not Himself without witness in every heart, that there is a light which lighteth every man, that the nations which have not 'the law,' or 'revelation,' as generally understood, have the law or revelation written on their hearts. It either is or is not true that when truth, as truth is in Jesus, is faithfully preached, the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. And if these tilings are true, according to New Testament conceptions, the scattering of the seed of the kingdom throughout the whole is sowing in a prepared field.
But a belief in the Holy Spirit implies more than this. It implies a living link between all human spirits, because the same Divine Spirit speaks to all Carlyle's Irish widow in Edinburgh, when charitable relief for herself and her children had been refused, proved her sisterhood to those who disowned her, when the typhus fever, of which she died, spread and killed seventeen others in the neighbourhood. There are many ways of proving the solidarity of the race, but one of the soundest and most abiding is the fact that under the strangest disguises the human heart has the same needs, the same kinship to the Divine, and is more or less effectively taught by the same Divine Spirit.
All the efforts man can put forth for the extension of the kingdom are needed, but it is the touch of the Divine which inspires, transforms, vivifies. Any overpowering force which would compel all Christians always to put first things first in spiritual work would revive the Church today and regenerate the world tomorrow.
This may be seen if we think out the direct operation of the Spirit in relation to (1) religious convictions, (2) Christian motives, and (3) the spirit and temper of Christian enterprise. So many of the religious ideas that are current today are not deep convictions, and they need to be made such. So many genuine convictions are held in reserve in the background of the mind, and they need to be made living, active, fiery, penetrative. Christian motives operate, but languidly and imperfectly.
Only the Divine Spirit Himself can so stir and shake the Church to its very depths that truisms may be translated into truths that will prove mighty to the pulling down of strongholds and the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
II. The Holy Spirit alone furnishes the secret of true unity. Unity in the ranks of the Christian army as it goes forth to bloodless victory; unity amongst the kingdoms of this world when at last they become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Christians at least profess always to be seeking for unity, but a large proportion steadfastly refuse to adopt the only promised means for obtaining it.
The New Testament Churches were at one because they enjoyed 'the unity of the Spirit'; they were bidden not to make it, but to keep it (Ephesians 4:3). St. Paul obviously meant a oneness which the Holy Spirit Himself effected by His indwelling, the 'one Spirit' mentioned in the next verse It is true he mentions 'one body,' and the mystical body of Christ cannot be multiplied or divided. But it is the living Head who makes it one, and the indwelling Breath of God that keeps it one. St Paul would never have separated the two halves of Irenaeus' sentence, 'Where the Spirit is, there the Church is; and where the Church is, there the Spirit is and all true liberty'. But if he had been compelled to take either alone, he would have chosen the former half—the root which would bring the fruits, not the fruit which is unable to exist without the roots. If the Church was truly one at first, it was not in virtue of a uniformly defined creed, or a universally accepted code, or an exactly identical mode of government in all the Churches, but because all acknowledged one Father, one Lord and one Spirit who was the very bond of fellowship with the Father and the Son and the bond of union in the members one with another.
—W. T. Davison, The Indwelling Spirit, p. 195.
The Bride of Christ
There are some very curious ideas in men's minds as to what the Church is. The Scriptural idea of the Christian Church is something more than a building. It is nothing less than a body, which is styled the Bride of Christ. Christ the Bridegroom, the Church the Bride. And if people would only realise the Scriptural conception of the Christian Church, then I think that the Christian Church would begin to do its work, to realise its place, and to become what Jesus Christ would have it be. It is because the Christian Church has never yet, as a whole, risen to its high ideal as the Bride of Christ that it is so weak, so poor, so feeble.
Now let us look at it The Church the Bride of Jesus Christ What is the character of the Bride of Jesus Christ?
I. United in its Parts.—It must be a Bride united to Christ by the very closest possible ties. It is a Bride which must be united to the Father, God. It is a Bride in which there is no division, in which there is unity of character, of purpose, and of aim. Our Lord prayed earnestly for those who composed His Church, the Bride of Himself, 'that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee'. No less an ideal than the unity of the Father and the Son must be the ideal which Christians must aim at developing in their midst, every Church member united to other members of the Church even as God the Father and Son are united as one.
II. Holy in its Entirety.—We are told, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Church must be without 'spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing'. We are told in that very same chapter of the Lord Jesus Christ, the wonderful Bridegroom, that He will sanctify and cleanse His Church, His Bride. The Lord Jesus Christ will come and take His Church, sanctify it, set it apart, comfort, consecrate it, make it holy, pure, spotless, fit to be the Bride even of Himself. Oh, the marvellous character that the Christian Church ought to possess! If every one of us could sometimes sit down and turn to 1 Corinthians XIII. and read through that marvellous description of love—'love thinketh no evil,' and so on, right through from the beginning to end—that is just the picture of what the Bride of Christ should be, the character of the Church of the living God.
III. It should be Alive.—The Church which is the Bride of Jesus Christ can only be manned by living men—live men in the pulpit, live men in the pew, live men as officers. The Bride of Christ must thrill with life, with power.
IV. Animated by Loyalty.—The Church of Christ united, holy, alive, will be animated with loyalty to the common Head, aye, and loyalty to the different parts. If there is anything the matter with one's eye, the hand immediately goes up to it, to see whether it can put it right. You see the analogy St. Paul uses—the analogy of the body—to show how every part is depending on every other part, and so the Christian Church is animated with loyalty, not only to Jesus Christ, but that very loyalty to Jesus Christ implies loyalty to each other, loyalty to each other's character and life. Never detract, then, from the merits of another, but rather add to them, 'in love preferring one another'. You may always tell how close the Church is to Jesus Christ by how close it is to its different parts.
References.—XXII. 17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 279; vol. viii. No. 442; vol. xxiii. No. 1331; vol. xxvii. No. 1608, and vol. xlvi. No. 2685. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 88. E. M. Geldart, Faith and Freedom, p. 94. Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 38. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 221. J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 209. T. H. Ball, Persuasions, p. 23. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 382. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 168. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 212. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Revelation, p. 391. XXII. 18, 19.—Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 208; ibid. vol. vi. p. 124. XXII. 20, 21.—H. Bonar, Short Sermons for Family Beading, p. 456.
The Grace of Christ
What is Grace? In ordinary parlance, grace is beauty; and, etymologically, grace means that which gives joy, that which is delightful. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ was the quality of His life. I would note the salient characteristics of this grace, the beautiful grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. And the first note is, holiness. The beauty of holiness was on Christ, and indeed He was the only man to Whom the word 'holy' can be applied without any reservation at all.
II. Great was His lovingkindness. He was utterly disinterested. And the charm of His character is enduring.
III. He was so humble—meek and lowly of spirit. Servant of servants, washing the disciples' feet. Holy, loving, humble, forgiving—that is the grace of our Lord Jesus, and that grace is the best thing in life, is the loveliest quality in our human nature.
—B. J. Snell, The Examiner, 12th July, 1906, p. 673.
Grace is needed to make a man into a saint. Whoever doubts this knows neither what a saint is nor a man.
The last words of Mr. Honest were: Grace Reigns. So he left the world.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:
And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads.
And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.
Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand.
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.