Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Revelation 2 and 3 - of a vast picture gallery. And this not so much because of the number of the pictures, as their sublimity and extent. Revelation 1. is the portraiture of "the Son of man." Then there is a vast canvas, stretching from Revelation 4 to 11, and representing the judgment and fall of Jerusalem. Then from Revelation 12 to 19 another similar one, representing the judgment and fall of Rome. Then yet another, much smaller, representing the final conflict and overthrow of the enemies of Christ; and then, the last and most precious of all, in Revelation 21. and 22., the glowing picture of the new Jerusalem, the saints' eternal home. Now, in looking at a great picture we need to study it carefully, closely, continuously, and portion by portion. We have tried to do so in regard to the first of these, and also in regard to two most important sections of the second one. In this vast second scene we have viewed the high court of heaven, and the inauguration of Christ's mediatorial reign, which was the subject of Revelation 5. And now we come to another most interesting but unquestionably difficult part of the same great subject - the opening of the seals. Indeed, the interpretation of this book, from the beginning of this chapter onwards, is one concerning which the only certain thing is that absolute certainty concerning any given interpretation is unattainable. It matters little, however, for the profitable reading of the book, that there is and must be this uncertainty as to the actual meaning of the many mysterious symbols with which it abounds; for whether we regard them as telling of the history of the Church in its relation to the world continuously to the end of time; or whether, as surely is the more reasonable way, we take them as telling of those tremendous events which, when St. John wrote, had begun, and were shortly to come to pass, the time being at hand, and by which the Church of Christ was so much affected, - whichever way we read these symbols, their main lessons for us and for the Church in all ages is one and the same; and these, by patient, prayerful study, we may hope to learn. As to this Revelation 6., the sheet anchor for its interpretation is our Lord's discourse in Matthew 24. and its parallel in Mark. No doubt that discourse, as this book, looks on to the times of the end; but as surely it contemplated, as does this book also, events which many of them - not all - were nigh at hand. God's judgment on Judaism and the Jews is its near subject, as the same is of the vision of which this chapter forms a part. And now let us look at -
I. THE SIX SEALS TOGETHER, or rather, at what is disclosed by the opening of them all. And, without doubt, terror is their one badge and mark. The four horses with their riders all tell of terrible things. The souls under the altar, whom we see at the opening of the fifth, cry for vengeance on their murderers, and all horrors seem accumulated in one at the opening of the sixth. The reading of the chapter makes one's heart tremble; our flesh shudders with fear at the visions of distress which, one after the other, are unfolded. There is a seventh and a very different vision at the seventh seal; but the opening of that will not be for a long while, and therefore we first consider these six which are near in time and in character also. And whether we read the pages of Josephus, or whether we regard Gibbon as furnishing the more accurate explanation of these symbols, - in either there will be found more than enough to warrant all that St. John has here portrayed. The dreadful days of the fall of Jerusalem were drawing on, and none who know the history of the horrors that preceded and accompanied that event can question that they were more than enough to fill up all that these vivid and terrible symbols import. Our Lord says of those days that "except they should be shortened, there should no flesh he saved." And yet - and here is the marvel - it is "the Lamb," he who is the Ideal of all grace and love, he it is who presides over, directs, and governs all these events, dreadful as they are. And then the highest, the holiest, and most beloved of his ministers, they who cluster closest round the throne of God and the Lamb, appeal to him and pray him to "Come." At the opening of each of the first four seals one of the four living ones thus appeals to Christ. It is evident, therefore, that they are in full sympathy with him in this matter, and would not have him do otherwise. And it is the same with the whole of that high court of heaven. There must be, then, in all these and in all such things - and this is their lesson for us - a force for the furtherance of God's blessed will amongst men such as less stern methods could not have. True, in one aspect it is all the result of man's wild wickedness and folly.
"Man, proud man,
II. THE OPENING OF THE FIRST SEAL. (Ver. 2.) The vision of the white horse and its rider bearing a bow, with its sharp arrows ready for conflict, and wearing a crown, the emblem of victory. In Zechariah 1:7-11; Zechariah 6:1-8; Habakkuk 3:8, 9; Isaiah 41:2; Psalm 45:4, 5; we have similar representations of the horseman told of here, and his identity seems settled by Revelation 19:11-16, where he is distinctly called "the Word of God." When the first seal was broken, then there passed across the stage, as it were, this vision. But of whom else can we think as corresponding to the rider of the white horse, than of him of whom we read in Psalm 45., "In thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows shall be sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee"? Of the Lord Jesus Christ going forth conquering and to conquer, in spite of, in the midst of, and by means of, all the dread events which are afterwards declared - of him we believe the vision tells. Not of any ordinary human warfare; still less of the prosperous condition of the Roman empire under the Antonines; but of Christ our Lord. And most cheering is it to be taught that, let come what will, however calamitous and distressful the events of life, nothing can stay his course. They cannot bar his way, but will be made by him to further that way. This first vision is, therefore, full of good cheer. And let it not be forgotten that the vision has an individual application as well as a world wide one. It tells every believing soul, "Christ will overrule all that happens; thy trials and crosses, thy disappointments and disasters, shall not hinder his purposes of good for thee. He goeth forth 'conquering and to conquer,' and who can turn him aside?"
III. THE OPENING OF THE SECOND, THIRD, AND FOURTH SEALS. These give the visions of the red, the black, and the pale horses. Cruel war, black famine, and all-devouring death, by pestilence probably, are meant by these visions. And more summarily and distinctly they are foretold by our Lord. "Wars and rumours of wars," "famines and pestilences," - these with other woes he plainly predicts; and his meaning is, we are sure, the meaning of St. John. Famine and pestilence were the common accompaniments of war. But they are not to have unrestrained power. For as in the discourse of our Lord, so here in the vision of St. John, there are plain suggestions that in wrath God remembered mercy. The voice that proclaimed the nearly twelve times enhanced cost of wheat and barley, tells - as does also the blackness of the horse which suggests the black lips, the sign of extreme hunger - of dreadful famine. But that same voice tells also of distress mitigated, not suffered to become utter destitution. This is the meaning of the added charge, "See that thou hurt not the oil and the wine." It is a difficult saying, but coupling it with the express words of our Lord that "for the elects' sake" these dreadful days should "be shortened," we take them as telling that, whilst owing to the ravages of war there should be, as there could not but be, great scarcity in those things which, as corn and barley, depended upon constant cultivation; yet the olive and the vine should still yield their increase, they not requiring to be replanted year by year, and being in various ways likely to be less affected than the level corn lands which lay along the plains, and which therefore became the common camps and fighting grounds of hostile armies, to the utter destruction of all things grown thereon. Moreover, that to death and Hades were given power, not over all the earth, but over only one-fourth part, this seems also to point to the same blessed truth that the instruments of God's judgment are held in and not allowed to do their work a hairbreadth beyond their appointed limit. "He does not willingly afflict nor grieve the children of men," though, as these visions do plainly tell, he will ruthlessly both afflict and grieve when man's sin and folly make it needful that he should. As a loving mother will hold down her own dearly loved child to the surgeon's dreadful knife, if only so it can be saved from death, so will the Lord, the Lamb of God, pour out upon us of his awful judgments, if by our sin we force him thereto. As we read of these visions, this should be our prayer that never may we thus force him to deal in such manner with us. May his love constrain us, never our sin constrain him.
IV. THE OPENING OF THE FIFTH SEAL. Here no living creature cries: "Come," but the appeal comes from the martyred saints themselves. We have had no mention of an "altar" before, but now it is seen as part of the vision which untolded itself before St. John. "They shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you" - so had our Lord foretold, and here the actual fulfilment of that word is symbolized. Not to the martyrs under Diocletian, yet less to those under papal Rome, but to those who were, in St. John's own day, fast falling beneath the persecutor's sword, does this vision specially belong. Nevertheless, it is designed for the consolation and support of all Christ's persecuted people in every age and in every land. Hence Milton, with all possible appropriateness, sang concerning the martyrs of the Alpine mountains, whose sufferings righteously roused the rage of their fellow believers here in England —
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Forget not: in thy book record their groans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they "Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Vers. 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, 31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, 4; Isaiah 2:12, 19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then. "Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
Forget not: in thy book record their groans The vales redoubled to the hills, and they "Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Vers. 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, 31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, 4; Isaiah 2:12, 19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then. "Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
The vales redoubled to the hills, and they "Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record V. THE OPENING OF THE SIXTH SEAL. (Vers. 12-17.) Nearly every detail of this dread event is given by our Lord (Matthew 24.). And St. John's language is modelled largely on that of the older prophets (Joel 2:30, 31; Isaiah 50:3; Isaiah 34:3, 4; Isaiah 2:12, 19; Hosea 10:8; Jeremiah 4:23-26). And in the great catastrophe by which Judaism was overthrown, and in the fall of Rome, and in the events which usher in the last great and terrible day of the Lord, have been and shall be seen the fulfilment of this awful vision. There is that which is called "the wrath of the Lamb"! Not Scripture alone, but historic fact alike declare this. And it will be poured out on the ungodly when the Lord shall come again. How will that day find us? Confident, or ashamed and dismayed? The answer may be known. How does Christ find us now? Trusting and obeying him, or disregarding and disobeying? As now, so then. "Lord, in this thy mercy's day,
I. We think of THE FOES AGAINST WHOM THE ANTAGONISM OF THE LORD IS RAISED. Not here named, but implied. In one word sin. Sin lurking in the hearts of men; sin embodying itself in the lives of men. Hence sinners - all who ally themselves with evil, who are the agents of evil, "servants of sin," "children of the wicked one." Thought of as an army led forward by "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience." In the conquest of this is the conquest of the persecuting foes of the first Churches, the form in which sin was then rampant.
II. We think of THE ONE CONQUEROR IN WHOM THE WHOLE IDEA OF THE ARMY IS REPRESENTED. He only is in view, for all victory is of him. He only slays and conquers. We see the Conqueror prepared to do battle, seated on the war horse, carrying the war weapon.
III. We think of THE NATURE OF THE CONFLICT. In the symbol this appears only in the person of the Conqueror, and in the colour of the horse - it is in righteousness. White is the consecrated colour; it is the symbol of purity.
IV. We think of THE INEVITABLE CONQUEST. The crown - the laurel crown is upon the Conqueror's brow. It is the symbol of anticipated victory: "He shall reign."
V. THE ASSURING WORD. "He came forth conquering, and to conquer." The whole revelation in this word. Again and again this is represented. Here the true comfort. He shall bring into subjection to himself whatever is not in harmony with his Name, and that in the individual heart and in the universal sphere. - R.G.
government of the world, and as held in the bands of Christ who is the great Expounder. The opening of these seals suggests to our notice and presses on our attention the constant development of good and evil in human history. Notice -
I. THE DEVELOPMENT OF GOOD IN HUMAN HISTORY. By the good, I mean the true, the beautiful, and the right. Good and evil are here working among the moral tenants of this planet; perhaps it is not so in other planets. In heaven there is good, and good only; in hell, evil, and perhaps evil only; but on the earth the two are at work simultaneously, constantly, and everywhere. Taking the conquering hero as going forth on the "white horse" as an illustration of the right and the good on this earth, it is suggested:
1. That the good is embodied in a personal life. "Behold a white horse, and he that sat on him [thereon]." The right in this world is not a mere abstraction, it is embodied in human life. In Christ this was so in perfect kind and degree. "Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." He was the Right - incarnate, breathing, living, acting; and this, not only during his corporeal life here, but in all his disciples through all times. He is in them; he is the conquering Hero destroying the works of the devil.
2. That the good embodied in a personal life is aggressive in its action. "And he went [came] forth conquering, and to conquer." Right is an invading force; it is ever making aggressions on the wrong. This is according to its very essence. Wherever the sunbeams break, darkness departs; so with the right, it is always conquering. Wonderful are the conquests it has achieved in past ages, and its victories are still proceeding, and will proceed until it becomes the might of the world. This right is not something elsewhere, it is here; not something that has been, but something that is and shall be. The supreme King of righteousness is constantly proceeding on his triumphant march, and one day "every knee shall bow to him, and every tongue confess." In its aggressiveness it moves:
(1) Righteously. "A white horse." The horse is the instrument which the right employs to bear it on to victory. The good is not only pure in its nature and aims, but pure in its methods.
(2) Triumphantly. "He that sat on him [thereon] had a bow." The bow carries the arrow, and the arrow penetrates the foe. Truth wins its victories by the arrows of conviction.
(3) Royally. "There was given unto him a crown." Right is royal, the only royal thing in the universe, and the more perfectly it is embodied, the more brilliant the diadem. Hence Christ is crowned with glory and honour. He is "exalted above all principalities and powers," etc. Kind Heaven, quicken the speed of this "white horse;" and may the victories of its triumphant Rider multiply every hour; and soon may "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God," etc.!
II. THE DEVELOPMENT OF EVIL IN HUMAN HISTORY. I take the passage as giving illustrations of five great evils at work in human life.
1. War. "And there went out another horse that was red ['and another horse came forth, a red horse']: and power was given to him that sat thereon [and it was given to him] to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill [slay] one another: and there was given unto him a great sword." Mutual murder, man destroying his brother. This evil refers to no particular period or place; it has been going on from the days of Cain and Abel through all times even unto this hour. The spirit of murder burns throughout the race. The "red horse" is ever on the gallop. His ruthless tramp echoes through all souls and communities. "Whence come wars? Come they not from your lusts?" etc. Alas! that there should be found in a country calling itself Christian governments that should be feeding and fattening this "red horse" of rapine and bloodshed.
2. Indigence. "I beheld, and lo [I saw, and behold] a black horse: and he that sat on him [thereon] had a pair of balances [a balance] in his hand. And I heard [as it, were] a voice in the midst of the four beasts [living creatures] say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny." "Whilst making food scarce, do not make it so that a choenix (a day's provision of wheat, variously estimated at two or three pints) shall not be got for a penny. Famine generally follows the sword. Ordinarily from sixteen to twenty measures were given for a denarius" (Fausset). The state of want here described means no more than that the whole of a man's labour is exhausted in the purchase of the bread required for one day; and this certainly does not amount to that indigence which prevails amongst thousands of our countrymen who are starving for bread where wealth and luxury abound. This evil, then, like the others, is not confined to any age or clime, but is here and everywhere. Let every man trace this national indigence to its true source.
3. Mortality. "Behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell [Hades] followed with him. And power was given [there was given authority] unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill [slay] with sword, and with hunger [famine], and with death, and with the beasts [wild beasts] of the earth." "The colour pallid or livid," says Bishop Carpenter, "is that deadly greenish hue which is the unmistakable token of the approach of death. The rider is Death, not a particular form of death, but Death himself. Attending him, and ready to gather up the slain, is Hades. The fourth seal is the darkest and the most terrible. Single forms of death (war and famine) were revealed in the earlier seals; now that the great king of terrors himself appears, and in his hand are gathered all forms of death - war, plague, famine, pestilence. For the second time the word 'death' is used it must be taken in a subordinate sense, as a particular form of death, such as plague or pestilence." This mortality is, then, another evil confined to no period or place. Death reigned from Adam to Moses, and from Moses to Christ, and from Christ to this hour. Men are dying everywhere - all are dying. With every breath I draw, some one falls.
4. Martyrdom. "I saw under [underneath] the altar the souls of them that were [had been] slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud [great] voice, saying, How long, O Lord [Master, the], holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood?" Who is the martyr? The words suggest:
(1) He is one who dies for the truth. "Slain for the Word of God." He is not one who has merely been murdered, or one who has been murdered on account of his own convictions, but one who has been put to death for holding right convictions - belief in the Word of God. Such a belief which they attested by ample testimony.
(2) He is one who in heaven remembers the injustice of his persecutors. "How long, O Lord!" The Almighty is represented as saying to Cain, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me." As if the earth itself was craving for justice, and groaned for retribution of wrong. The cry of the martyr in heaven is not for vengeance, for all heaven is full of love; but the cry is rather for information when justice will be done: "How long?" As if they said, "We know that thou wilt judge and avenge our blood sooner or later: but how long?" The truly good in all ages have an unbounded confidence in the rectitude of the Divine procedure. "I know," said Job, "that my Vindicator liveth." Justice will come sooner or later.
(3) He is one who in the heavenly world is more than compensated for all the wrongs received on earth. "And white robes were given unto every one of them [and there was given them to each one a white robe]." They have white raiment in heaven - the emblem of purity. They have repose in heaven: "rest for a little while." They have social hopes in heaven: "Until their fellow servants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
5. Physical convulsion. "And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood," etc. Observe:
(1) Our earth is constantly subject to great physical convulsions. Geology reveals some of the tremendous revolutions that have been going on from the earliest dawns of its history; and such changes are constantly occurring. Volcanoes, earthquakes, deluges, tornadoes, seas overflowing their boundaries and engulfing whole continents, etc. Perhaps no generation of men have lived who have not witnessed some of the phenomena here described: "the great earthquake, the sun becoming black as sackcloth, the moon as blood, mountains and islands removed," etc.
(2) Great physical convulsions are always terribly alarming to ungodly men. "The kings of the earth, and the great men [princes], and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men [the rich], and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens [caves] and in the rocks of the mountains. And said [they say] to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the race of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his [their] wrath is come; and who shall be [is] able to stand?" Fear is an instinct of wickedness; terror is the child of wrong. "The wicked flee when no man pursueth."
"Oh, it is monstrous! monstrous!
(3) The alarm of ungodly men is heightened by a dread of God. "For the great day of his [their] wrath is come; and who shall be [is] able to stand?" Dread of God is the soul of all fear. "I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid." How unnatural is this dread of God - the dread of one who is at once the Essence and the Fountain of all good! "Hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb." The "wrath of the Lamb"! This is a monstrous phenomenon. Who has ever seen a lamb in a rage, meekness aflame with indignation? A more terrific idea I cannot get. "The wrath of the Lamb."
CONCLUSION. In these "seals," then, we have human history. We need not puzzle ourselves about the meaning of the utterances in this chapter, or search for some mystic meaning. It is full of current events occurring in all times and lands, and we are here commanded to study them. At each event some living creature, some Divine messenger in the spiritual empire, says, "Come and see." "Come and see" the triumphant Hero of the good, going forth on the white horse conquering, and to conquer; mark the aspect, the movements, and the progress of good in the world in which you live; take heart and speed it on. "Come and see" the red horse, the spirit of murder and bloodshed, that is creating discords and fightings everywhere, rifling families and communities of all concord, filling the air with the cries of the dying, and the wails of the widow and the orphan. Come and study the demon of war; study it in order to destroy it. "Come and see" the black horse trampling in the dust the food which Heaven has provided, and which man requires, thus leaving millions to starve. Study this national poverty until you realize the true causes and apply the true cure. "Come and see" the pale horse hurrying through the world, visiting in his turn every individual, family, community, nation, trampling underfoot all men, regardless of character, age, position, nation. Study death, its moral causes, its final issues. "Come and see" "the souls of those who were slain for the Word of God." Study martyrdom, despise the persecutors, and honour their victims. "Come and see" the great physical convulsions of nature. Study the physical phenomena of the world, and cultivate that love for the God in all, who is over all, and that confidence in his love, wisdom, and power which will enable you to be calm and triumphant in the most terrible physical convulsions, enabling you to sing -
"God is our Refuge and Strength, And though the mountains be carried
And though the mountains be carried
I. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH ARISES FROM THE EXCITED ENMITY OF THE WORLD, THE SPIRIT OF WHICH IS CONDEMNED BY "THE WORD OF GOD AND THE TESTIMONY" HELD BY THE FAITHFUL.
II. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH AT TIMES REACHES THE UTMOST DEGREE OF SEVERITY. "They were slain." Not only the earliest sufferers, but many also "their fellow-servants and their brethren." The Church in its conflict with the worldly power uses its own weapons of truth and righteousness; but the weapons in the hands of the enemies of the truth are carnal. It is the long story of bitter, painful, cruel, ungodly persecution.
III. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH FROM THE EXCITED ENMITY OF THE WORLD MAKES ITS GREAT APPEAL TO THE LORD OF THE PATIENTLY ENDURING BELIEVERS. "How long, O Master?"
IV. BUT THE CHURCH'S SUFFERING HAS ITS LIMIT DEFINITELY MARKED. It is "yet for a little time." It is apt forever; but until their fellow servants and their brethren had finished their course.
V. THE SUFFERING OF THE CHURCH IS FINALLY REWARDED IN THE SPIRITUAL ELEVATION AND PURIFYING OF THEM THAT ENDURE. "There was given to each one a white robe."
VI. THUS THE CHURCH IN ALL AGES IS ENCOURAGED PATIENTLY TO SUFFER IN FAITH AND HOPE THE CRUEL PERSECUTION OF A WICKED WORLDLY POWER. - R.G.
i.e. men "that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held." If they bad been slain for anything else they would not have been martyrs.
I. THEY LIVE IN SACRED SECURITY. "I saw under the altar the souls of them." The "souls," not the bodies; the bodies had been destroyed, their ashes were left Souls can exist apart from the body - a wonderful fact this. These souls were "under the altar." They were in a position of sacred security. No one could touch them there, safe forever from their persecutors.
II. THEY LIVE IN EARNEST CONSCIOUSNESS. They have an earnest consciousness of the past. "How long, O Lord, most holy and true." They remember the earth, remember the cruelties they received on the earth, and long, not maliciously, but benevolently, for justice being done to their persecutors. No doubt their desire was that God should strike such a moral conviction into their hearts on account of their wickedness that would lead them to repentance.
III. THEY LIVE IN HOLY GRANDEUR. "White robes were given to them." Or more probably, "a white robe," emblem of purity and conquest.
"Their blood is shed Till persecution dragged them into fame, And history, so warm on meaner themes,
Till persecution dragged them into fame, And history, so warm on meaner themes,
And history, so warm on meaner themes,
I. THE REPRESENTATION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT ON THE UNGODLY ANTAGONISTS OF THE CHURCH TAKES THE FORM OF AN UPHEAVAL OF THE VISIBLE UNIVERSE. It is the destruction of the worldly sphere. All those things that seem to be fixed and permanent are moved out of their place. The earth is rent and quakes; the sun is darkened; the moon is as blood; the stars fall like unripe figs; the heaven is removed as a scroll; the mountains and islands are moved from their places. So is taught the instability of all earthly things - the earthly, which is the sphere of the Church's enemies.
II. THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS INSPIRE THE UTMOST TERROR INTO THE HEARTS OF THE UNGODLY WORLDLY POWERS. They fear - they fly - they seek death.
III. THE DREAD OF THE UNGODLY IS EXCITED BY THE VISION OF HIM WHO IS DEAR TO THE FAITHFUL. The ground of offence is antagonism to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, to whom the Church gives glory. The judgment upon the adversaries is found in the revelation of the Divine government, and the power and authority of the despised Redeemer. As the obedient and faithful ones find their joy and rejoicing in the presence of God and the Lamb, so do the enemies of truth find therein their greatest punishment. - R.G.
I. MEN DREADING THE FACE OF CHRIST. "The face of him that sitteth on the throne." Here are men preferring annihilation to a sight of that face. What is the matter with that face? It was, indeed, the human face Divine, the serenest, the loveliest, the kindliest face ever seen on earth. It was a face whose expression towards men was, "Come unto me," etc. What change has come over it now? Why are men afraid of it now? Their guilty consciences have made that face terrific. The sight of that face will call up such memories of their ingratitude, their folly, their impiety, as will make existence intolerable.
II. THE LAMB WROUGHT INTO WRATH. "The wrath of the Lamb." How strange and unnatural is this! The wrath of love is the most terrible of wrath.
1. It implies the greatest moral enormity in the object of it. The wrath of malign natures is soon kindled, is capricious, often rages without reason. But when love is indignant, there must be fearful enormity in the object.
2. It exerts most agonizing influence upon the conscience of its object. The anger of malign natures seldom touches the conscience of its victim, but often awakens contempt and defiance. Not so when love is indignant; the indignation of love is crushing. What power on earth is so withering as the indignation of a parent who is essentially benevolent and loving?
3. It is unquenchable until tile reasons for its existence are removed. The wrath of malign natures often burns itself out, but the wrath of love is a determined opposition to evil.
III. HUMANITY CRYING FOR ANNIHILATION. "And the kings of the earth, and the great men... hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us," etc. Love of life is the strongest instinct in human nature, and hence the dread of death. Here is the chief and first of all dreads. What will men not give away to avoid death? But what a change now! They earnestly cry for that which they dreaded! They cry for annihilation.
1. The cry is earnest. "Mountains and rocks." The language breathes earnestness. Existence has become intolerable. It is a curse that can no longer be borne.
2. The cry is general. "The kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, and the chief captains, the mighty men, every bondman and every free," etc. The conquerors of the world, the iron masters of nations, men whose names struck terror through ages, now quail in agony and cry for extinction.
3. The cry is fruitless. They cry to the "mountains and rocks." What can they do for them? Can they hear them? Have they hearts to feel? No; insensitive, immovable, these remain amid the wildest shrieks. But were they to fall on them would they crush them? The material universe cannot crush a soul. It is an inextinguishable spark. God alone can quench a soul. - D.T.
wrath of the Lamb. "Hide us." Who says this? "The kings of the earth, the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man." These men had, no doubt, braved terrible things during their existence, but they could not brave this. It struck an overwhelming horror into their souls. What makes this wrath so terrible?
I. ITS UNEXAMPLED STRANGENESS. Who ever saw a lamb in a rage? The wrath of a lion, a tiger, or a bear, - this is common, this is natural. But the lamb is essentially meek, tender, yielding. Of all creatures this is the last creature that could be excited to wrath. As a rule, whatever is strange is more or less alarming. A strange comet, a strange heaving of the sea, or a strange vibration in the earth. The wrath of a tender, loving, meek-minded man is a far more terrible thing than the wrath of an irascible nature. The more difficulty you have in exciting wrath the more terrible it is when it appears. When the Lamb is in wrath it implies some terrible provocation, and that provocation is sin. The wrath of the Lamb is an ocean of oil in flames. Well may it strike terror. Another reason why this wrath is so terrible is -
II. ITS INFINITE PURITY. The lamb is the emblem of innocence. The wrath of the Lamb is not a passion, but a principle. It is not malign, but benevolent. It is not against existence, but against its sins and its crimes. Anger in man is necessarily an evil. Hence we are commanded to be "angry and sin not." Learn from this that we turn our greatest blessing into the greatest curse. Our optic and auricular organs may be so diseased as to give to the most beautiful objects and most melodious sounds in nature a power to convey into us the most poignant anguish, and so our moral nature may become so corrupt as to turn love into wrath, and blessedness into misery. - D.T.
great day. It will be great on account of the number and variety of the moral beings that will be assembled together; great on account of the results which will then be effected - redemptive providences ended, and the agencies of a righteous retribution brought into full play; great on account of the Divine glories which will then be displayed. Our point is, "Who shall be able to stand on that day?" In order to illustrate this solemn question with that simplicity that may make it spiritually serviceable to us now, I shall suppose a case. What under a legal charge could enable you to look calmly forward to the coming day of trial, feeling that you could stand? We can only conceive of six things which would answer that purpose.
I. A CONSCIOUSNESS OF INNOCENCE, AND THE POWER OF SHOWING THAT THE CHARGE HAS NO FOUNDATION. The feeling of innocence in itself would brace you with energy, and enable you to look onward with imperturbed heart to the day of trial. But if you felt that in connection with this you have the power of demonstrating your innocence to the full conviction of the court, would you not feel even the stronger and calmer still? Now, have you this in relation to the day of judgment? Are you conscious of your innocence? Still less are you conscious of the power to demonstrate it? No; your conscience condemns you, and "God is greater than your conscience, and knoweth all things." This, then, will not serve you, will not enable you to stand in the judgment.
II. AN ASSURANCE THAT THE EVIDENCE WILL BE FOUND INSUFFICIENT TO CONVICT. You may know that you are in reality guilty, you may be certain of the impotency of the evidence; there may be no witnesses, or, if there are, they may be shown by the able counsel you have engaged to be unworthy of belief. You may be sure that his genius is sufficient so to colour and torture the evidence as to destroy its worth. All this might make you feel, in the supposed case, that you can stand in the trial. But have you this in relation to the day of judgment? No, no. There will be:
1. The omniscient Judge. He knows everything about you.
2. The people to whom and through whom you have sinned. All your sins against God have had to do with men. The falsehoods you have spoken have fallen on some ear, and your dishonesties, cruelties, seductions, will have to do with those who then by thousands confront you eye to eye. Were you to dare to deny the charge, a million voices would confound you with their contradiction.
3. The conscience within you bearing the strongest testimony against you. This, then, will not serve you - will not enable you to stand in the judgment.
III. A FEELING THAT THE CRIME WITH WHICH YOU ARE CHARGED IS VERY INSIGNIFICANT. "It is true," you may say, "I am guilty, and the evidence of my guilt is irresistible; but the deed is so very unimportant that the case, if entertained in court, will result in a mere nominal penalty." This would enable you to feel that you could stand the trial. But have you this for the day of judgment? No. Sin, believe me, is no trifling matter.
1. Think of it in relation to God. It is a violation of the most righteous laws; for he is your Proprietor, and you are his stewards. It is a violation of the most wonderful love. He is your loving Father.
2. Think of it in its bearing on yourself and on the universe. "One sinner destroyeth much good." What would you think of the man who, infected with a pestilential disease, ran malignantly from house to house in order to spread it? Sin is a pestilence. Think of the judgments it has brought upon the world; think of the crucifixion of Christ, and talk no more about the insignificancy of sin. This, then, will not enable you to stand in the judgment.
IV. A FELT CAPABILITY OF PROVING THAT THE CRIME WAS COMMITTED ACCIDENTALLY, NOT BY PURPOSE. If you were well assured that on the day of trial you could prove that you did not intend to commit the act, you might look forward without any agitation or misgivings. But have you this in relation to the day of judgment? No. You know that your sin has not been accidental, but intentional - not an exception in your history, but the law; not an occasional act, but the habit of your existence.
V. FAITH IN THE SYMPATHY OF THE WHOLE COURT IN YOUR FAVOUR. If you felt assured that on the day of trial the whole jury would be composed of none but warm and attached friends, and that the judge himself would have the kindest and strongest sympathies in your favour, you would have strong hope in being able to stand. You know how love blinds the soul to faults, and turns even opposing evidence to its own account. In such a case mercy is almost sure to triumph over judgment. But have you any hope of anything like this, that will serve you at the day of judgment? None. True, he who will be the Judge on that day is love, and is full of the tenderest mercy now. But whilst no change will have taken place in his nature, he will then, notwithstanding, appear and act as the inexorable Just One.
VI. AN ABILITY TO PROVE THAT YOU HAVE RENDERED SIGNAL SERVICE TO THE STATE. Suppose that you had, by some heroic campaign, hurled back from your country's shores the advancing tide of a terrible invasion; or by some scientific discovery given a new impulse to the industry of the population, and introduced a new and bright era into commerce; - in such a case you might have hope of being able to stand in trial. Though found guilty, your past services would be felt to be such a set off as would obtain for you an acquittal, or at any rate reduce your punishment to a mere nominal thing. But have you anything like this to serve you on the day of judgment? Have you any hope of being able to show that you have been of service to the universe? No, no. You will feel then that the universe would have been better off had you never existed. Had you never thought, never acted, never been, there would have existed less crime and less misery in the creation. - D.T.