Great Texts of the Bible
God’s New World
And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.—Revelation 21:5.
In this chapter of Revelation, we are at length in still waters. We have read of trials and judgments; we have read of foes and battles; we have read of sorrows of the righteous and triumphs of the ungodly. Shall there be no end of these things? no end of this state of imperfection, of warfare, of unrest? no end of these vicissitudes and alternations, of these inversions of right and wrong, of these perpetual renewals of a strife once decided? Yes, out of the ruin of the old world there rise a fresh heaven and a fresh earth. The Holy City is now seen descending from the hands of its Builder and Maker, prepared “as a bride adorned for her husband.” The voice of one of the angels is then heard, proclaiming, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with man, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them”—the full realization of the prophetic name, Immanuel, God with us, bestowed upon our Lord (Matthew 1:23)—their God. “And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain, any more; the first things [that belonged to the old order, the fashion of this world] are passed away.”
Then for the first time St. John hears God the Father speak: “Behold, I make all things new” (fresh). It is the voice of the Throned One, the One who rules over all things from the beginning, and who has presided over all the changing scenes of earth’s history; it is He who makes even the wrath of man to praise Him, and who causes all things to work together for good to them that love Him, who gives this heart-helping assurance. “I am making all things new.” In spite of all the moral disorder, the pain and grief, the dark shadows of life and history, the new creation is being prepared, and will rise, like the early creation, out of chaos.
i. The Speaker
1. The Speaker is God the Father. Throughout the whole Book of Revelation, says Swete, “he that sitteth on the throne” is the Almighty Father, as distinguished from the Incarnate Son. And so it is probable that here for the first time in the book we listen to the words of God Himself, for it is the first time that “he that sitteth on the throne” is represented as speaking. His words go to the centre of things and reach to their circumference, and they are gracious in their purpose: “Behold, I make all things new.”
2. Is there a difficulty in the representation of the Father as Judge supreme? The doctrine seems to join issue with John 5:22, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son”; and indeed with the whole current of early Christian tradition. Swete finds a possible reconciliation of the two views in the oneness of the Father and the Son (John 10:30)—when the Son acts, the Father acts with and through Him (John 5:19). St. Paul speaks of the judgment-seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), and also of the judgment-seat of God (Romans 14:10).
It would seem as if the threefold Personality had become united in one name. No more we hear of “Let us make”; we are now confronted by an intenser term, “Behold, I make all things new.” It would seem as if each Person in the Divine Trinity had times of special expression and times of special relation to nature and to man and to providence and to destiny; now it is the Father, and the other Persons of the Trinity are concealed, as it were, behind His glory: now it is the Son, the only-begotten Son, the Saviour of the world; and, finally, it is the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, who rules the whole mystery of human development. And what if now the Three should in a peculiar and definite sense be One—as if the Three-One should all be speaking in, “Behold, I make all things new”?1 [Note: Joseph Parker.]
ii. The Place of the Promise
There are three texts which should be taken together:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together (R. V. marg. “with us”) until now” (Romans 8:22).
“And he that sitteth on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
God’s world is the subject of these three verses. The first describes God’s world as it was; the second, God’s world as it is; the third, God’s world as it shall be.
1. God’s world as it was when He made it.—The report of it is—and it is God’s own report—that it was very good. It could not be improved. It was perfect. God’s eye saw no flaw in it, God was satisfied and delighted with it. It was all glory and beauty, music and song, happiness and peace. The Greek word for “world” contains the idea of order. Nothing was out of place in God’s world. But the word “very good” has more than a material and more than an artistic meaning. It is a moral word. It means that there was a contrast between the world as God made it and the world as it afterwards became. It means that there was no sin in God’s world as He made it.
2. God’s world as it is.—It is no longer very good. Ichabod is written across the face of it. Its glory has departed. Not that the primal order has become pure chaos. God “in His heaven” has been working in the world from the beginning until now. Wherever His hand is not interfered with by the will of man there is order still. Nature is even continually restoring the beauty that man has defaced. It is the moral world and all that depends upon it, the sphere in which the will of man works, that has suffered an eclipse. For sin has entered, and with sin death: the first a murder, the last a suicide. “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1). “God’s in His heaven”; but it is prophecy, not history, to say “All’s right with the world.”
3. God’s world as it shall be.—The first thing is that God is to come down and dwell in it. His tabernacle is with men, and He will dwell with them. The next thing is that He will recognize, and be recognized by, His people. They shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them and be their God. And the third thing is that death and sorrow and pain shall be no more. And how is it that these three things are brought to pass? They are brought to pass through “the blood of the Lamb.” There has been a sacrifice made for sin and uncleanness, and the sacrifice has taken away sin. When Christ said, “It is finished,” He made an end of sin, and opened the way for God to dwell among men, opened the way for their reconciliation and fellowship, for the removal of all the things that follow in the path of sin.
I have seen a stream sink down into the tiniest volume, and I have seen it trailing through the mud in disgrace; and then, far away on the mountain range, clouds gathered and burst, and it was not many hours before the stream came down with the first wave six feet high, and the banks were full of sweet, clean, rejoicing water before the evening. So did Christ come in to this poor human race, and behold the veins have swollen again, not with unclean blood. We can stand and say to the tempted man, Christ died on the cross to conquer sin, and He sits on God’s right hand to administer the effects of His victory. And we can tell the chief of sinners through Christ he can be made a new creation.1 [Note: John Watson.]
Thou sayest: “Behold, I make all things new”: Good Lord, renew us to fresh powers of loving Thee in the joy of Thine unveiled Presence. Yet to each of us be Thou the Same, and be each soul to Thee the same: say Thou, “It is I,” and give each of us grace to answer, It is I. Amen.
New creatures; the Creator still the Same
For ever and for ever: therefore we
Win hope from God’s unsearchable decree
And glorify His still unchanging Name.
We too are still the same: and still our claim,
Our trust, our stay, is Jesus, none but He:
He still the Same regards us, and still we
Mount toward Him in old love’s accustomed flame.
We know Thy wounded Hands: and Thou dost know
Our praying hands, our hands that clasp and cling
To hold Thee fast and not to let Thee go.
All else be new then, Lord, as Thou hast said:
Since it is Thou, we dare not be afraid,
Our King of old and still our Self-same King.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 487.]
iii. Newness not Novelty
It is not a new world; it is the old world made new. It is not creation; it is redemption. God has not destroyed the world, to begin again; He has renewed the inhabitants of the old world in the spirit of their minds.
There are two words in the original which are necessarily translated alike—“new”—in our versions. Of these two adjectives, one signifies new in relation to time (νέος), the other new in relation to quality (χαινός)—the first temporal novelty, the second newness intellectual or spiritual. The first indicates that which is young, recent in time; the other not only that which succeeds something else in time, but that which in idea springs out of it, and not only succeeds but supersedes it.
So this word, “I make all things new,” is not the announcement of a perfectly new thing; it does not proclaim an act at that moment done; it is not an exercise, as it were, of instantaneous Omnipotence. This is the completing and the perfecting, rather, of the work of the long ages, the seal of a mighty progression, the top-stone of the great temple, the finishing of the work of the Sabbath of God from the periods of the First Creation.
To make things new is not the same as to make new things. To make new things is the work of the hand; to make things new is the work of the heart. Whenever one sits upon the throne of the heart, all things are made new. They are made so without changing a line, without altering a feature. Enthrone in your heart an object of love, and you have renewed the universe. You have given an added note to every bird, a fresh joy to every brook, a fairer tint to every flower.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Times of Retirement, 92.]
We now come to the year which was, to her, the epoch, the turning-point of her career. On the night of March 7th, 1838, came the moment of moments. “I got up, that morning, one creature,” she herself often said; “I went to bed another creature. I had found my power!” And, all through her life, she kept the 7th of March, with a religious solemnity; she would ask to have herself remembered on it with prayers; she treated it as a second birthday. And rightly; for, on that day, she woke to herself; she became artistically alive; she felt the inspiration, and won the sway, which she now knew it was given her, to have and to hold.2 [Note: H. S. Holland and W. S. Rockstro, Jenny Lind the Artist, i. 55.]
iv. The Evidence of the Newness
1. The first evidence will be the death-blow of evil.—What are the present evils under which the creation groans and travails? Suffering is one. It is Stoicism, not Christianity, that says suffering is no evil. Sickness and weakness are evils; feebleness of hand and step; toil and want; old age, solitary and begrudged and despised; sorrow and crying, not to be comforted because the loved one is not. All these things will depart on that day, because that will be the execution-day of sin.
If the end of Providence were to secure this race in a garden of Eden, lapped round with comfort where no one should ever taste hunger or pain or loss, then let it be freely granted that this world is a conspicuous failure. It is so badly arranged and so loosely governed that it would bring scandal on a human monarch. Things are so much out of joint that we are obliged to seek for another working theory of life than the garden one, and we find it in the New Testament. Jesus and His Apostles teach that the supreme success of life is not to escape pain but to lay hold on righteousness, not to possess but to be holy, not to get things from God but to be like God. They were ever bidding Christians beware of ease, ever rousing them to surrender and sacrifice. They never complained of their own hard lot, but rather considered that it was gain. Winds blowing off the snow breed hardy men, and fierce seas breaking on rocky coasts make skilful seamen; and if the mind of God was to compel this race up the arduous road that leads to perfection, our dark experience is an open secret.1 [Note: John Watson, The Potter’s Wheel, 134.]
2. The second evidence of the renovation will be the reinstalment of God.—The Seer saw no temple therein. Why? Because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. He saw no sun. Why? Because the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. What is the occasion of sickness? It is because the Healer is absent from the earth. Of Death? Because the Life-giver is not at hand. Of loneliness? Because sin has taken away our Lord. But thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Do we not believe in the mission of the Christ on earth? Do we not believe that the Kingdom of God can come, and His will be done, on earth? It was just this that our Lord taught to be saving faith. His offer of salvation was conditioned; it depended on a corporate repentance from all acquiescence in evil, a joyous corporate expectation of the perfect good. It is this joyous expectation that ought to be embodied in all our creeds. It is this faith that the Kingdom of Love is at hand that we should be reciting at all our formal worship. It is by this faith, and by this faith alone, that we can accept the full salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ which has been so often rejected.
The revelation of the Gospel, if we judge of it by its main drift and most salient characteristics, was certainly to declare God’s intention of bringing about a renovated earth—to proclaim that it was to come, not by coercion, but by the power of love; not by God without man, but by God within man, who is able
“To accomplish all—more than all things,
Far transcending all our prayers, all our imaginings,
To an extent whose measure is that mighty impulse which thrills us through” (Ephesians 3:20, Way’s translation).
Loving-kindness springs naturally from this realization of God’s love and power; and the strength of man’s corporate impulse of faith and loving-kindness is the measure of God’s power on earth.1 [Note: The Practice of Christianity, 111.]
v. The Results of the Newness
1. The “far-off” is brought nigh.—He who was a stranger to God becomes a child in his Father’s house, an heir of God, a jointheir with Jesus Christ. When John Wesley was dying, in a brief moment of returning consciousness, he asked, “What was the text that I preached upon last Sunday?” And when one standing beside him repeated, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich,” he exclaimed, “Yes, that is it. There is no other.”
In the supreme and central fact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the great utterance, “Behold, I make all things new,” finds its typical fulfilment. It is the verity and the hope of the Resurrection that strikes the keynote of the New Testament: the idea of renewal, of a new beginning, of a new spiritual impulse. The latest book of the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, sums up the experience of humanity before the Saviour’s coming: “The thing that hath been it is that which shall be, and there is no new thing under the sun.” But with the Resurrection on the third day old things passed for ever away. Jesus risen is the one essentially new thing in the world. He is our hope for the future: our well-spring of life and energy and gladness. Fast bound in misery and iron, humanity has “an eye unto him” and is “lightened.” To Him as the risen Saviour and Revealer of God, it can lift the Psalmist’s cry, “All my fresh springs shall be in thee.” So the last book of the New Testament closes with the vision of the holy city, “New Jerusalem,” coming down from God out of heaven. Here then is the keynote of our faith; a new doctrine, a new covenant, a new commandment, new wine in new bottles, a new name, a new creation, a new man, a new song, a new heaven and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness: all things new.1 [Note: R. L. Ottley, The Rule of Faith and Hope, 71.]
2. Bitterness is turned into blessing.—A wonderful sentence comes to us from the Middle Ages. Out of the turmoil, the vice and the bloodshed of the Florence of that day, we hear the voice of the great poet as he says in his immortal words: “In sua voluntade è nostra pace” (“In the doing of His will lies our peace”). How did Dante know that? Has any thought risen higher than that through all the centuries? In the doing of God’s will, the surrendering of ourselves to His appointment, the accepting of the cup because He sent it, is not only the discipline we need, not only the promise of strength and attainment, but, far more than this, the deep abiding Divine peace of the soul.
I know no more intellectually of the Truth than when I first believed; but what a result comes from its abiding! A deeper, deeper happiness absorbs the heart and pervades the soul. A deepening calm rules and assimilates the faculties, and compels them into action; not excitement, but definite and proper action. The peace of God, which passes all understanding, which baffles analysis, which has an infinitude of depth about it. As you cannot understand remote stars, nor the everchanging vault which you cannot at all explore, but can only feel as you feel your life, so you cannot touch this Peace of God with your understanding. It lies round you like an atmosphere. It dwells in you like a fragrance. It goes from you like a subtle elixir vitæ. “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you.” May God double to you His peace.1 [Note: Letters of James Smetham, 81.]
It is a rest that deeper grows
In midst of pain and strife;
A mighty, conscious, willed repose,
The death of deepest life.
To have and hold the precious prize
No need of jealous bars;
But windows open to the skies,
And skill to read the stars!
Who dwelleth in that secret place,
Where tumult enters not,
Is never cold with terror base,
Never with anger hot.
For if an evil host should dare
His very heart invest,
God is his deeper heart, and there
He enters into rest.
When mighty sea-winds madly blow,
And tear the scattered waves,
Peaceful as summer woods, below
Lie darkling ocean caves:
The winds of words may toss my heart,
But what is that to me!
’Tis but a surface storm—thou art
My deep, still, resting sea.2 [Note: George MacDonald, Poetical Works, i. 294.]
3. The unproductive has become fruitful.—The promise is, “Ye shall bear much fruit.” This is to be the measure and the reward of true discipleship. This is Christ’s reward. This is how He is to see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied. There is that in every heart which responds to this thought. We can all understand something of the feeling of the farmer leaning on his gate and looking at the waving fields of grain about him. He has planted and cultivated, and waited for the harvest, and here it is. He has made the waste land fruitful, and his soul is filled with a supreme satisfaction. Look at the light in the face of the young father over his new-born child, or the joy of the mother as for the first time she presses her infant to her heart. Life has produced life. Fruitfulness has come, the blessed gift of God. We all know its significance; even the dullest and weariest long for its privileges.
Sir Wilfrid Lawson the elder (father of the late baronet), on reaching middle life, had a dangerous illness; and when brought (as he thought) to death’s door, and when the unseen realities of the eternal world seemed breaking upon him, he longed for religious instruction, guidance, and consolation. This he did not expect to find among the worldly or sporting parsons of the neighbouring parishes, and so he sent for a humble Presbyterian minister from the neighbouring hamlet of Blennerhasset—a Mr. Walton—who, by his instructions and prayers, by God’s blessing, brought peace of mind to Sir Wilfrid, so that when he rose from his sick-bed it was with a new view of life and a new purpose in living. In a word, he had become a true earnest Christian upon personal inquiry and conviction, and his tastes and inclinations and aims were completely changed, and he determined henceforth to spread those views of truth that had changed and blessed him, by devoting time and thought and means to their diffusion among his neighbours and friends. Having obtained a peace of mind never known before, he was anxious that those around should share the same priceless treasure. The Scriptures were a new revelation to him, and with strong faith in Jesus Christ as a loving, ever-present Saviour, he felt constrained by example and word and walk to lead others to trust in and serve Him.1 [Note: G. W. E. Russell, Life of Sir Wilfrid Lawson, 3.]
vi. The Extent of it
The words of the Seer are suggested by Isaiah 43:18-19 : “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing.” But, says Swete, the scope of the old prophecy is enlarged indefinitely by the words “all things.” All the fruits of the New Covenant are included.
1. Man is included.—The new world begins in the human heart, and it occupies every part of the personality and every aspect of the life. By his words a man is now justified. His thoughts are brought into captivity to the mind of Christ. Moreover, the newness covers the relation between man and man. There will be the fulfilment of both commandments—the first and greater, and also the second which is like unto it.
2. The whole creation is included.—For “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Change the man, and you change his world. The new self will make all around it as good as new, though no actual change should pass on it; for, to a very wonderful extent, a man creates his own world. We project the hue of our own spirit on things outside. A bright and cheerful temper sees all things on their sunny side. A weary, uneasy mind drapes the very earth in gloom. Lift from a man his load of inward anxiety, and you change the aspect of the universe to that man; for, if “to the pure all things are pure,” it is no less true that to the happy all things are happy.
For to those in Christ all things are not only new, but they are growing continually newer. In the old world, and with the old man, it is just the other way. Things are always getting older, until life gets to be an insufferable burden, a dreary round, a wretched repetition, and we see backs bent with nothing but pure sorrow, and heads white with none other sickness than vexation of spirit, and men brought to the grave because life was too wearisome, and time too intolerable, and existence too aimless and stale, to be supported any longer. But in the new world, and with the new man, the whole is reversed; and the new cry ever waxes more frequent and more loud, “Look, and look again, how the old is passing, how the new is coming, how things are getting new.” Every day more of the old is weeded out, more of the new is coming in. Life is “fresher and freer” and fuller of promise. There are new discoveries of the Father’s love, new revelations of Christ’s grace, new experiences of the Spirit’s comfort. Life becomes interesting, and entertaining, and significant, and splendid, and grand beyond belief. What views of life Christ’s world contains; what heavens of expansion overarch it; what hills of attainment are reared upon it; what distances of outlook are discernible from it! Yourself, Christ, God—what thoughts about them all you could never have conceived before! History, Time, Eternity—what feelings they stir in you, you never could have felt before! Purpose, Progress, Achievement—what mighty motions of the will they produce!1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 130.]
Dr. S. Reynolds Turner, who superintends a Chinese colporteur in Amoy, writes: “He is one of the most earnest Christians I have met in China, and a real red-hot evangelist. In visiting our stations I have seen a good deal of him on his native heath, and one remark he made sticks to me, since it was so strange from a Chinaman. We were standing on a hillside over-looking the sea, which at that part of the coast is dotted over with islands, and I was revelling in the beauty of the scene under a bright sun and clear skies. Suddenly he turned to me, and said, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ I agreed heartily, but added that I thought Chinamen did not, as a rule, pay attention to such things. ‘Ah!’ he said, ‘I never saw anything about me, or thought anything beautiful or worth looking at, until I became a Christian; but since then the world gets daily more beautiful, and the more I see of it the more I comprehend our dear Father in heaven.’ ”1 [Note: Report of the British and Foreign Bible Society, 1906.]
I remember, as though it were yesterday, something that happened in my own life at least thirty-seven years ago. I was a boy, and there came to my father’s house a young man who had been brought to Christ in some services my father had been conducting away up among the Welsh hills. This young man one day was out in our garden, and talking to me about all sorts of things. He interested me as a child, and I loved him. Suddenly he stooped down and took a leaf from a nasturtium plant, put it on his hand, and said to me, “Did you ever see anything so beautiful?” And I looked, and saw all the veins, and the exquisite beauty of it all. Then he said, “Do you know, I never saw how beautiful that leaf was until six months ago, when I gave myself to Christ?” I have never forgotten that. How true I know that to be in my own experience!2 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan, in The British Weekly.]
God’s New World
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