Great Texts of the Bible
An Opened Book and a New Song
They sing a new song, saying, Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.—Revelation 5:9.
1. The previous chapter of Revelation shows us how creation reveals God’s glory. But what of His love, and His eternal purpose for man? Were there nothing beyond the revelation of God in nature, we could speak of these only with hesitating lips and stammering utterance. Hence, to the vision of the four living creatures, with their ceaseless song of praise for the blessings of creation, there succeeds another vision, which discloses how the revelation of God’s eternal purpose of love is manifested in the Incarnation, and which thus leads up to the adoration of the Lamb and the hymn of thanksgiving for the blessings of redemption. Once more the Seer looks, and sees in the right hand of the Almighty seated on the throne “a book written within and on the back, close sealed with seven seals.” This book wherein are written “the things which are to be hereafter” is best interpreted of the expression of God’s purpose and will. It is “close sealed,” because apart from Christ, God’s purpose is inscrutable.
2. On the unsealing of this book and the revelation of its contents depends the possibility of counselling and encouraging in advance the trembling Churches of Christ; and the heart of the Seer is heavy as he realizes that even in heaven no one can be found who is worthy to open the book. To the cynic, life may be a comedy that provokes to laughter; but to all thoughtful and serious men, if there be no Divinely given explanation of its purpose, it is a tragedy that moves to tears. No wonder, then, that St. John weeps much as he stands before the sealed book, unable to read it himself or to find one to open it and interpret its contents to him. His tears, however, are stopped, for the voice of an angel proclaims: “The Lion that is of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath overcome, to open the book and the seven seals thereof.” The mystery is not destined to remain insoluble. There is One who can unravel it.
3. When the promised figure of the One who is worthy appears, He is seen under the figure of a Lamb, a Lamb “as though it had been slain”—slain in sacrifice, as the word suggests. The lion is the symbol of all that is strong and kingly and majestic, the very type of power and might; the lamb is the symbol of all that is meek and gentle and lowly. Its associations are with suffering and death; it is the animal fittest for sacrifice. The vision thus teaches us that only in Christ and through the Incarnation and Passion are God’s love and purpose disclosed. None but Christ can “open the book.” And it is a thought that is full of significance for us that, even when heavenly voices were proclaiming the victory of the Son of God, the saint could see nothing that looked like strength and power and kingship, but only that which was weak and suffering, and bore the marks of sacrifice and death—“a Lamb as it had been slain.”
4. When the Lamb “takes the book,” when it is seen that there is One capable of revealing God’s purpose and of disclosing His will, at once there is a burst of praise from all created life. All Heaven fell down and worshipped the Lamb with a “new song,” the Hymn of Redemption, a redemption purchased unto God by the sacrifice of His life; the purchase being “men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.” This new song breaks first from the lips of the heavenly host, from the four living creatures, and the four-and-twenty “elders”; but it is caught up by voices which have not been heard as yet. Created things not only in heaven but also on earth add their harmonies to swell the song. For now, through the salvation which has been wrought by the Lamb, a place has been made for them along with the unfallen angels, the beings unstained by sin; the theme of their rejoicing worship is not the redemption only, but to that they add the creation too, which in the preceding chapter had been hymned by the angels alone. The worship which these had offered “to him that sitteth upon the throne,” and the worship which is offered by earth and heaven to the Lamb, now flow together in one stream. All God’s creatures join to sing the double hymn of creation and redemption, wherein the glory of God is complete.
The meaning of the passage has been obscured by the adoption in the received text of the Authorized Version of an inferior reading which makes the angels sing, “Thou hast redeemed us to God.” It is to this incorrect reading that we owe the luckless misconception by which the kingly angels have been transformed into representatives of humanity. But these beings were regarded by the Seer as superhuman and, consequently, were not objects of Divine redemption. The Revised Version has followed the better reading and translates, “Thou didst purchase unto God men of every tribe,” making the necessary changes throughout the hymn.
It is possible to estimate the greatness of a man’s thought by the effect it produces on other master minds. This test can be applied to the Seer’s vision of the worship of the Lamb, with the utmost confidence in the result. This chapter of the Revelation fired such enthusiasm in the soul of Hubert van Eyck that he produced the masterpiece which called the Flemish school of painting into existence. But it is not necessary to travel to Ghent to view the Adoration of the Lamb in order to realize the force of the inspiration which is inherent in these visions. The massive choruses at the close of Handel’s “Messiah” represent the highest flight of human genius in the endeavour to suggest the mighty volume of praise which the Seer has built up on the great pedal note of Redemption.1 [Note: R. W. Pounder, Historical Notes on the Book of Revelation, 173.]
The New Song
“They sing” are the opening words of the text. Who are “they”? If we look back at the preceding verse, we shall see that those who swelled the chorus of the new song are divisible into two companies, two types of life. There are, first, “the living creatures,” the representatives of nature animate and inanimate, now “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” Then there is redeemed manhood. These united together to swell the new song, which extolled the accomplishment of human redemption. As such it was the continuation and final close of the hymn to the incarnate and suffering Redeemer which had ruled the psalmody of heaven and earth from the Fall. When it began in heaven we know not; but we hear it throughout the Scriptures which testify of His coming. It is the melody which the Bible makes everywhere in its heart to the Lord. It first proclaimed from age to age a coming Deliverer; that song became old, and a new one extolled His Advent; and now the hymn of the Incarnation, which indeed can never become old, receives its perfection when it glorifies the attainment of the great end of the Incarnation—the redemption of the human race. That song began in heaven; for only a few upon earth knew the mystery of the Passion, and none knew it in all its meaning, when the Redeemer left the earth. Nor can we extol the finished work of the eternal wisdom and justice and mercy with the same insight into its glory as is vouchsafed above. The song of creation can be magnified worthily only in heaven. Much more is the song of redemption reserved for that higher scene. There only can it be set to fitting music; and hence the new song, “Thou wast slain and didst purchase with thy blood” remains the standard and text of our feebler echoes upon earth.
We know not upon how many points Redemption touches; what unseen worlds, what unborn generations, what undeveloped forms of being it embraces. We know not to what Warfare, to what Accomplishment our Lord referred when He spoke those words, “It is finished.” We know not, in short, as Butler says, what in the works and counsels of God are ends, and what means to a further end, or how what appears to us as final may be initial with Him. But we see enough around us, and within us, to show that it was necessary that Christ should suffer many things, and after that enter into His glory. Enough to learn that we shall find no higher thing above, shall pierce to no deeper thing below, than the Cross and its solemn and tender teachings. If we would climb up into heaven, it is there; if we would go down into hell, it is there also. He alone among men who has clasped this great mystery of grief and love to his bosom sees, if it be as yet but through a glass darkly, how pain and love, yes, joy also, all things that have a living root in humanity, come to bloom under its shadow; how love that cannot die and faith that grows to certainty, and hope that maketh not ashamed, root themselves about it, with all fair things that wither in life, and noble things for which it has no room.1 [Note: Dora Greenwell, The Patience of Hope (ed. 1894), 33.]
1. It was a new song—new, because its topics were new; for what so new and strange as God incarnate shedding His blood upon the cross, and by virtue of that offering redeeming the lost kindreds and nations of the earth?—new, because it is the song of the new creation, the song of those to whom “all things are become new”—new hearts, new lips, new hopes, new graces. And so it is new, and shall be new for ever; no newness to grow old some day; no name of newness to become an anachronism when a few years or a few generations are gone by; but new with an eternal newness, like the everlasting strength and undecaying youth of the Most High. All is new; new to the ancient worshippers of heaven, new to the redeemed who now first join them, new to the saints who daily and hourly enter within the veil, new to the Seer who wrote the word, and new to us who hear it.
It is related of Peter Mackenzie, the Durham miner, who became the noted Wesleyan preacher and lecturer, that when he first started out on his career as an evangelist his purpose was to get a crowd of people together for others to preach to. He would gather the crowd himself, and then get somebody to speak to them. But one day he had a large crowd but no speaker, so they forced him into speaking. He said, “If I must preach, give me my subject,” and they said, “Preach about heaven.” “Very well,” said Peter Mackenzie, and thereupon launched out in a characteristic description of heaven. Right in the middle of his sermon some one shouted out, “Peter, what do they do in heaven?” He paused for a moment, and then said: “One thing they do is to sing. I expect one day to walk along the streets of the eternal city, and come face to face with David playing an accompaniment on his harp to his own great song, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ I expect some day I shall lead the choir in heaven, and if ever I do, there are two songs I am going to give out. One is No. 749 in the Wesleyan Hymn-book, ‘My God and Father, while I stray’; but if I ever give out that song in heaven, half the angels in the choir will say, ‘Peter, you are in heaven, and you cannot stray.’ Then if I give that out, and they cannot sing it, I will try another, No. 651, in the Wesleyan Hymn-book, ‘Though waves and storms beat o’er my head’; and then, not half the angels, but the whole choir will be on their feet, saying, ‘Peter Mackenzie, this is heaven; there are no storms here.’ Then I think I shall stand in wonder and amazement, and say, ‘What shall we sing?’ and from every angel in the skies will come the answer, ‘Sing the New Song!’ ‘Sing the New Song!’ Then all the redeemed in heaven, from the least unto the greatest, will join in singing an ascription of praise unto Him who hath loved us and washed us from our sins in His own precious blood.”1 [Note: J. Wilbur Chapman, Bells of Gold, 36.]
2. The new song is sung both by saints on earth and by saints in heaven. It is the song with which the whole company of the redeemed shall enter into the joy of their Lord, sung by the saved as they pass into their full consummation of body and soul. When the judgment is past and the final glory of heaven is attained, we shall all together sing. Those worshippers without us will not be made perfect. That final hymn ear hath not yet heard, nor hath it yet entered into the heart of man, whether in heaven or on earth, to conceive. It cannot be sung till all the singers are made ready; nor shall it be heard but in the New Jerusalem, where He that sitteth upon the throne shall for the last time say, “Behold, I make all things new.” St. John gives us one brief glimpse, but what we then behold is only the beginning; the spirits of the just made perfect were already there in countless multitudes, as we are told, and their number has been swelling onward from that day to this, filling fast the many mansions of our Father’s house. Singers of this song are constantly passing from the outer courts, where they rehearse it, into the Holiest. Each moment adds a new voice to the harmony of heaven, and not one added voice does the Redeemer’s ear fail to distinguish. The ransomed of the Lord are returning to Zion, not merely one by one, but in ever-increasing tribes, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. This door of hope in our valley of Achor gives us a glance that should comfort our life by showing what death is: that it is to the prepared only a passage for his soul, with the same uninterrupted song, scarcely faltering in death, into the presence of Christ and the saints who wait for him.
Dr. Magee, then Bishop of Peterborough, was one of the speakers at a discussion on Pessimism that took place at the Manchester Church Congress of 1888. Christianity, he maintained, was at once both the most pessimistic and most optimistic of all the philosophies of life. “You, the pessimist,” he said, “tell me of the sorrow, the suffering, the misery of humanity; and I tell of the time when death shall be destroyed, and when sorrow and sighing will be done away with, and when men will weep no more. You tell me here of mystery and difficulty and perplexity; and I tell you of the time when we shall know even as we are known, and doubt and mystery, like sin and sorrow and shame, shall fade away in the white light around the throne on which sits the Lamb that died for mankind. There, in the future, lies the completed optimism of Christianity. Here, in the Christian life, though working feebly and imperfectly as it does, is to be seen the evidence of the truth of Christianity that we may take home to our hearts. Let us strengthen this evidence, each one of us, in our daily Christian life, and meanwhile we can patiently await the time when the day of full unclouded vision shall dawn, and the shadows of our fears and doubts shall flee away for ever.”1 [Note: J. C. Macdonnell, Life of Archbishop Magee, ii. 254.]
3. We must be encouraged to learn this new song for ourselves. St. John came down from his Patmos elevation, as he came down from Mount Tabor, but not to forget what he had seen and heard. He was still in the Spirit, though he no longer heard these unutterable things; and we know by the opening doxology of this book what strain it was that lingered in his ears. We also are learning the same song. It is our blessed privilege to sing, in these our probationary days of sorrow, and conflict, and salvation not yet finally secure, the song of confident assurance: “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood be glory and dominion for ever.” Redemption from our guilt through faith in the atonement; salvation from our defilement through the washing of His Spirit purchased by His blood; the priestly consecration of dominion over our own souls in the strength of union with Himself—these are the three-one blessings which we may rejoice in by an assured experience in this lower world. If we are taught that song by the Spirit here, and hold fast our confidence unto death, we shall one day sing it new in our Saviour’s Kingdom.
A minister was calling upon a dying man, who would not accept Jesus. He said God was merciful, and he would trust God. “Well,” said the minister, “what will you do when you get to heaven?” He said, “I shall do what everybody else does.” “Well, what do they do?” asked the minister. “They sing,” he said. “Will you sing?” said the minister. “Yes,” he said, “I shall sing.” Then the minister quoted Revelation 14:3 : “And no man could sing that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, they which were redeemed from the earth.” But he had misquoted it. It is not that way; it is thus it should read: “And no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, they which were redeemed from the earth.” You have got to learn it here to be able to sing it yonder. You have got to strike the note to-day to be able to sing it tomorrow. You have got to get into tune now, or be out of tune yonder.1 [Note: J. Wilbur Chapman, Bells of Gold, 38.]
4. One peculiarity of the “new song” lies in those who sing it. For the first time in history it is a united voice—a voice out of “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.” It is not that there has ceased to be a separate tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation. It is from out the diversities that the song is heard. It is not the voice of a brotherhood which has been purchased by the elimination of distinctions; it is a harmony pulsating through these. It is a declaration of the fact that humanity is deeper than all its varieties. It is a protest against the belief that any difference of environment can ever counterbalance the points of agreement between man and man. It is emphatically a new song—quite foreign to the spirit of paganism, not native even to the spirit of Judaism. It is the emergence into the world of a fresh thought—the idea of an equal human nature lying below the accidents of time and space—the brotherhood of soul with soul.
It is a delight to a soldier or traveller to look back on his escapes when they are over; and for a saint in heaven to look back on his sins and sorrows upon earth, his fears and tears, his enemies and dangers, his wants and calamities, must make his joy more joyful. Therefore the blessed, in praising the Lamb, mention His redeeming them out of every nation and kindred and tongue; and so, out of their misery and wants and sins, and making them kings and priests unto God. But if they had nothing but content and rest on earth, what room would there have been for these rejoicings hereafter?2 [Note: Richard Baxter.]
5. Four terms (“tribe,” “tongue,” “people,” “nation”) are employed, as if to give emphasis to the universality of redemption, for four is the number of extension in all directions. The suggestion is that the redemption of Christ is world-wide. There is nothing local in it. There is no restriction in its intention, and there is no restriction in its application. It is co-extensive with the earth in its design; it is co-extensive with human nature in its efficacy. There is no disposition, no conformation, no peculiarity of temper or understanding, of state or of heart, which “the purchasing blood” cannot reach and meet. And it will be seen that it has reached, that it has met all. It will be seen that, where it has failed to save, it has not been because it was inappropriate, but only because it was unappropriated; because men would not use it, not because it was even for them useless.
Kindred, tongue, people, nation, will not, it appears, be obliterated from the Communion of Saints. Since in that blessed company similarities and varieties will alike become bonds of affection, motives of sympathy, we see as in a glass what they should even now already be to us who are militant here on earth. For earth holds heaven in the bud; our perfection there has to be developed out of our imperfection here.
By grace love of kindred learns to embrace the whole human family. By grace nations become bound and welded together in the unifying Presence of God (see Zechariah 8:20-23). By grace; but not by nature. Now even kindred often lack warmth, tongues make discord, peoples encroach on one another, nations learn and practise war.—Lord, forgive and help us.
A lesson against antipathies. Every kindred, every tongue, every people, every nation, promises to be represented there and associate there: French with Germans, Italians with Austrians, English with Irish, whites with blacks, all ranks with all ranks, all men with all men,—an alarum against antipathies!1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, The Face of the Deep, 185.]
They are flocking from the East
And the West,
They are flocking from the North
And the South,
Every moment setting forth
From realm of snake or lion,
Swamp or sand,
Ice or burning.
Greatest and least,
Palm in hand
And praise in mouth,
They are flocking up the path
To their rest,
Up the path that hath
Up the steeps of Zion
They are mounting,
Throngs beyond man’s counting;
They are thronging
From the East and West,
From the North and South;
Saints are thronging, loving, longing,
To their land
Palm in hand
And praise in mouth1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti, Poetical Works, 256.]
The Opened Book
1. The “new song” vindicates for Jesus Christ the unique place which He has taken in the history of the world. By a supreme act of self-sacrifice He has purchased men of all races and nationalities for the service of God, founded a vast spiritual Empire, and converted human life into a priestly service and a royal dignity. He who has done this is worthy to have committed into His hands the keeping of the book of destiny, to break its seals and unroll its closely packed lengths.
In the opinion of the author of the Apocalypse, life with its problems is a sealed book. That is absolutely in accordance with universal human experience. We are asking to-day the same questions as men asked in the earliest days of which we have any record. Look at that old stone Sphinx lying upon the sands of Egypt, relic of those dim, unmeasured stretches of time prior to the Bible. What is it but an effort to express the insoluble riddle of the world; to set forth the complex consciousness of a mystery, which has seemed at times terrible as a lion, at others fascinating and inconsistent as a woman? The elusive smile that still lingers on its face has done successful battle with the sandstorms of long ages; and, in answer to the perennial questions, What? Whence? Whither? seems mockingly to say, “Nothing is known, nothing.”
We reached Cairo on Christmas Eve , and during the week we saw something of old Cairo under the guidance of friends. Through the kindness of the Sirdar we were able to stay a few days at the deserted villa just under the Pyramids, built many years before by the Khedive for the use of the Empress Eugenie. The Sphinx had at once enthralled Signor; he therefore greatly wished to stay near it, and so be able to see it under various conditions of light. New Year’s Day found him, in its early hours and late, studying this riddle of the ages; “itself a symbol of time,” he said, “strong and calm, inexorable, with a smile that is cruel. No words can have described, or I think ever can describe, the Sphinx. It is not beautiful in the ordinary sense, yet it has some elements of unexampled beauty. It exercises an extraordinary fascination. The line of the cheek, as seen against the sky, is surprisingly beautiful—a sweep of twenty feet, and the expression of the face, battered out of shape as it is, has still something indescribably impressive.” He knew he had undertaken much when he set himself to paint the portrait of the Sphinx; he tried for the massiveness and the weight of this rock-hewn giant, with yet a certain delicacy, and even tenderness, both from the quality of line and from the crumbling surface of the sandstone, at the same time wishing to express what he perceived in it—an epitome of all Egyptian art, its solemnity, mystery—infinity!1 [Note: M. S. Watts, George Frederic Watts, ii. 65.]
2. “I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book … close sealed.” There is a great and majestic Personality seated upon the throne of all things, in whose right hand is a book which contains the answers to all our serious problems. There may be “clouds and darkness” round about Him, but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” Though the mysteries of birth and death, of whence and whither, of pain and sin, cannot be solved by human reason, there is One who knows. Books do not write themselves; in the right hand of Him that sitteth on the throne there is “a book … close sealed.” “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a great voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?” It is moral worth that is the looked-for qualification. The angel asks the right question, not “Who knows how to open the book?” but “Who is worthy?” The problems of life are not intellectual puzzles, but paths of duty. Genius will not solve them; their secret may be unfolded in the consciousness of a child. Moral worth will open the book. “No one knoweth … the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” “And no one in the heaven, or on the earth, or under the earth, was able to open the book, or to look thereon.” No one who has tried to untie the knots of the seven seals with reason has been able to give a satisfactory answer.
The Redeemer takes the book; all the problems of life are answered in redemption. “Worthy art thou to take the book.” Why is that? Because human nature is identical in all ages; we are made for God, and unhappy till we find Him; one step out of self is a step into God; “he that abideth in love, abideth in God”; Christ lifts us out of self. We hear the echoes of St. Paul’s cry, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?… I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Redeemer solves the great problem of life: How can we be delivered from the imperious dominion, the exacting tyranny, of self? By a greater spell He dissipates the Circean enchantments. He ransoms us from the bondage of self by laying down His life, from the flesh-pots of Egypt we loathe and yet love, curse and yet accept, by suffering for us upon the tree. He comes asking nothing but a cross whereon to die. The only life of pure, unselfish, devoted, cleansing, elevating love the world has ever seen is willingly yielded to be broken on the wheel of man’s insensate hate, for the life of the world. He was slain, not for Himself, for He was perfect; but for us, for we are sinful.
Victor Hugo was one of the few novelists who have understood the Atonement. In “Les Misérables” he puts the truth in that oft-told story of the escaping convict, Jean Valjean, hospitably entertained by the good old curé, and robbing him of his silver candlesticks. When the gens d’armes caught and brought him back with the booty in his possession, the curé said, “Why should he not take them, they are his?” Then, when the astonished officers of the law had retired, “Jean Valjean, I have bought you from yourself; go and be a better man.” So Christ’s forgiveness buys us from ourselves, lifts us into a higher life.1 [Note: H. H. Snell.]
3. The Lamb of God, who was slain on Calvary, alone has the power to disclose and to interpret the mind and purpose and ways of God. Christ breaks the seals and gives us to read pages which otherwise had been dark to men. We cannot read the Old Testament except in Christ’s light. Only by an effort of the imagination can we realize how closely sealed and how dark with mystery the Old Testament would have been if Christ had not died and risen again. The truth is as clearly illustrated by the New Testament Scriptures. There are some to-day to whom the New Testament is still a sealed book. Read the Gospels and the Epistles in the light of that death for sin, and every word and deed is translated. The cradle of Bethlehem, the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth, the Jordan water at baptism, the wilderness of temptation, the garden of Gethsemane, and all the riches of grace in sermon and parable and miracle, stand out as the life-story that leads to the cross. It is the Lamb who was slain that unfolds, interprets, and expounds the New Testament.
Thomas à Kempis ever preaches the Cross as life’s great secret and underlying fact. Christ is to him the perfect example of self-abandonment and oneness with God, and His Cross is the universal Cross. His victory is the triumph of all disciples who live in Him. While the mystic generally thinks solely or mainly of the Incarnation, Thomas à Kempis never forgets the Cross, and thereby at once he safeguards personality as well as preserves his religion from ecstatic excesses. Dying to self and living to God—renouncing self and regaining self in the holy Jesus’ love, are the keynotes of his message. The following of Jesus is to him cross-bearing, as the road to inner consolation and peace. “Why fearest thou to take up the Cross which leadeth thee to a kingdom? In the Cross is salvation, in the Cross is life, in the Cross is protection against our enemies, in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the Cross is strength of mind, in the Cross joy of spirit, in the Cross the height of virtue, in the Cross the perfection of sanctity. There is no salvation of the soul, nor hope of everlasting life, but in the Cross.”2 [Note: D. Butler, Thomas à Kempis, 133.]
4. Men who come to Christ always find the key to destiny in His hands. He has opened the book, and for them no longer fate but Jesus Christ is lord and master of their lives. It is not only the Lamb, but the Lamb slain that we see; not only love but sacrifice. The Lamb has death-wounds on its body, as it stands in the first pathos of death, slain though not yet fallen. This is indeed the kind of love that conquers destiny. There are many kinds of love—placidly selfish love, good-humoured and easy-going affection, that knows nothing of sacrifice. But this is by far too great a task for such love. The book of destiny remains for ever closed to selfishness. So we come in sight of the ancient truth, old indeed as the world though but slowly apprehended, that man must sacrifice to destiny. To gain either the understanding or the mastery of fate we must give up ourselves. It is a hard lesson, but it is the way in which the world is made, and we must all learn it. It is sacrifice, and sacrifice alone, that avails in the last resort to give either peace or victory.
Many a song of praise had previously been sung on earth and in heaven to the glory of the self-existent and eternal God. Many a psalm had also been chanted in honour of the coming Messiah are He made His advent in our world. When He had completed His work of redeeming love on earth, He ascended into heaven amid the acclamations and songs of thousands of angels. But now the redeemed around the throne behold their Lord, whom they remember as the Lamb slain, the Victim which suffered for their sins, taking up and carrying on the design of God in the administration of His Kingdom, so that He may make all things redound to His Father’s glory and to the completion of human redemption. Then they burst forth in this new song.
The song sung by this great multitude, including even the representatives of nature, now “delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God,” is a new song, for it is the song of the “new creation”; and its burden, it will be observed, is not creation, but redemption by the blood of the Lamb, a redemption through which all partaking of it are raised to a higher glory and a fairer beauty than that enjoyed and exhibited before sin had as yet entered into the world, and when God saw that all that He had made was good.
As we see Christ moving on towards Calvary, we tremble as we realize how the fate of the world turned on that cross. By accepting it, He revealed the meaning of man’s destiny, and He conquered it for man. The Lamb slain prevailed to open the book. The revealing power of the cross has showed how through suffering man is made perfect, and changed the mystery of pain to the hope of glory, the bitter cry to the shout of victory, and the victims of life to the sons of God.
“Thou didst purchase us unto God with Thy blood.” The slave of past guilt, of besetting sin, of frailty and futility, of dark despair, Jesus ransomed me. And not by a mere act of sovereignty and might. No, but by breaking the alabaster vase of His unblemished body for me, and by pouring forth the costly spikenard of His blood. Can I ever forget it? will it not be the theme of my praise through the unending years of the future?1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Hour of Silence, 97.]
Others have been compelled to acknowledge mysteries of reason which prepare for and harmonize with the mysteries ascribed to religion by the Christian Church; they have felt that the Incarnation and Passion are not incredible to those who believe and meditate on the earlier mystery of creation; that the difficulties which beset the one are the same in kind as the mysteries which beset the other; that in the region of philosophical thought an acting is a suffering God, and that whatever inclines a commencing inquirer to reject as absurd a belief in a “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world,” the same principle if pursued into its philosophical consequences would lead to rejecting the belief of any personal God at all.2 [Note: Life of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, 465.]
O Lamb of God, our Light, of fleece how luminous!
If speech would come, as water-lilies rise
From the deep founts and offer sacrifice,
Then might I hope
In majesty of many a trope
To open unto man the glorious Sign
How Thou the Lamb even as a lamp dost shine.
White must Thou be that we may recognize
Thou art the Host, and there must be
In Thy appearing marks of Calvary:
But deep in thought, untainted by event.
Even as from Thy Father’s Bosom sent,
Thou must be manifest. The great “I am”
Shines through prevailing fleeces, Abel’s Lamb.3 [Note: Michael Field, Mystic Trees, 131.]
An Opened Book and a New Song
Carpenter (W. B.), The Revelation (Ellicott’s New Testament Commentary), 76.
Chapman (J. W.), Bells of Gold, 26.
Gibson (E. C. S.), The Revelation of St. John the Divine, 81.
Jeffrey (R. T.), Visits to Calvary, 43.
Kelman (J.), Ephemera Eternitatis, 242.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., i. 92.
Little (J.), The Day-Spring, 229.
Livesey (H.), The Silver Vein of Truth, 106.
Matheson (G.), Sidelights from Patmos, 123.
Milligan (W.), The Book of Revelation (Expositor’s Bible), 82.
Moberly (G.), Sermons on the Beatitudes, 236.
Nicoll (W. R.), The Lamb of God, 55.
Nixon (W.), Christ All and in All, 414.
Philip (R.), Redemption; or, The New Song in Heaven, 1.
Pope (W. B.), Discourses on the Lordship of the Incarnate Redeemer, 393.
Pounder (R. W.), Historical Notes on the Book of Revelation, 172.
Robinson (C. S.), Studies in the New Testament, 261.
Rossetti (C. G.), The Face of the Deep, 181.
Scott (C. A.), The Book of the Revelation, 161.
Simcox (W. H.), The Cessation of Prophecy, 158.
Smellie (A.), In the Hour of Silence, 97.
Spencer (I. S.), Sermons, ii. 464.
Swete (H. B.), The Apocalypse of St. John, 80.
Talmage (T. de W.), Sermons, v. 237.
Vaughan (C. J.), Lectures on the Revelation of St. John, 148.
Waddell (R.), Behold the Lamb of God! 177.
Christian Commonwealth, xxxi. (1911) 265 (R. J. Campbell).
Christian World Pulpit, xiii. 258 (W. J. K. Little); li. 394 (T. Jones); lx. 49 (C. Gore); lxxv. 4 (H. H. Snell).
Church of England Pulpit, lii. 194 (C. Gore).
Church Family Newspaper, Nov. 8, 1912 (C. G. Lang).